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Viewing the 'Budgeting & Goals' Category

Fiscal Plans & Closing an OLD credit card

May 21st, 2015 at 01:19 pm

Payday this week. With the cash inflow I have ample cash savings + $11,000 set aside for 2015 IRAs.

I am thinking through our rough annual plan. $1,200/month to cash x 7 more months = $8,400 more to savings.

Planned Allotment:

-$1,000 Hawaii
-$2,000 Medical
-$1,000 Home Repair
-$3,100 to mortgage
-$1,200 to investments

So I guess that is roughly where we are at.

We went forward with Hawaii plan this year even though we ended up doing some bigger splurges in recent months. I figured I could probably fund with credit card rewards. As is, we haven't spent our vacation budget and that will cover airfare. Our room is free. We are setting aside a generous (& also unnecessary) $1,000 for activities. This is like the *one* super splurge-y vacation I want to take my kids on.

Anyway, I am SO glad that I went forward with this trip. It seemed a little ridiculous, earlier in the year. But I kept thinking, "How much do we really need to spend? Worst case we lounge on the beach all week??"

I have seen a couple of angles to get airline miles but I am also fine with just cash flowing, which seems to be the much easier and more likely route. Relieved to feel that we will have ample cash for a splurge-y trip.


Car replacement talks are very up in the air. May be just put off until next year. Not feeling any rush to make any decisions.

I am always amused by perceptions that aversion to car payments is just about interest. It is so much more than interest! (Maybe interest is the least of it??) Right now it seems that we just don't have a lot of motivation to jump on a car purchase. The longer we wait the more cash we will have to buy a nicer car. Paying cash seems a very strong incentive to keep cars longer. I have always felt that, but just even moreso as we are considering next car purchases.

We endlessly save up $100/month/each to replace our cars so have a rough $15,600 set aside to replace this car. $100 x 156 months. Our budget will be $10k-$15k. I don't even know that I see the point in spending more than $10k. Last time we stumbled upon a car deal for about 33% less than we planned to spend, so I am hoping for something like that to happen again!

{I guess in the past the most we have had to save up for a car was just a few years??? So it's nice to have all that time for those little amounts to add up! But also not feeling like we need to spend all of it...}.


In other random news, dh and I basically have identical credit histories except he still has his very first credit card. I don't know if I have a credit card that is any older than 2 or 3 years. If I don't use them I cancel them. Our FICO scores are identical. (Since having a mortgage, that seems to be the meat of our FICOs. 100% on-time payments and is the only other kind of credit we have had aside from "paid off monthly credit cards").

Over time I guess I thought he was hanging onto that for FICO reasons or something. I guess the truth is that he just wanted a backup card in case we were out and about and joint card did not work. Which was maybe a valid concern a while ago but today we have like 3 joint credit cards that we use often. (Chasing all those rewards!) We keep different cards in our wallets.

So anyway, he finally finally agreed to cut up that credit card and cancel it. WOOHOO! I am so happy because my fear was it getting fraudulent charges and not noticing. Or terms changing and getting hit with some fee. Just one more thing to loosely keep track of though it's probably had no activity for like a decade.

The deed is done! I shot them a quick e-mail the other day and they closed the card. The end. Goodbye 20-year-old credit card!

April Savings

May 2nd, 2015 at 07:18 am

Received $50 bank interest for the month of April.^^

Redeemed $50 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card. Deposited this snowflake into investments.

Redeemed $27 cash back on Citi card. Deposited this snowflake into investments.

Savings (From paycheck):

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

**I did pull out $1,800-ish for Japan expenses. (All this Japan stuff had been saved up last year, so am not considering it a step backwards for this year's savings).

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$535 for Dentist/Ortho (for 3)
-$400 Summer class for LM
-$150 new glasses for LM

^^Monthly interest peaked this month. I have a 6% CD that matures this month. I can probably renew at 3% but you can only put $500/month into the CD and I have to pay a $35 annual fee to be eligible for this CU. That last part makes it not very worthwhile and it was kind of a pain anyway. (Membership was free for the first year). So I look forward to closing this account and simplifying. Between this and huge Chase checking incentives, I haven't really been paying attention to interest rates. I will probably close this account (and already closed the Chase accounts in December) and will shop around banks/CUs a bit. Probably look at what other CDs are out there right now. I don't expect much but may consider the Ally "raise your rate" CDs since we are so flush with cash. We could maybe just throw our emergency fund into that. I will check terms and pros and cons and other CDs before deciding for sure.

We have about "3 months" of emergency fund that I don't see ever using outside of an extreme emergency, so I think that money is appropriate for a CD. We haven't been this cash flush in recent years so haven't wanted to tie up much in CDs to earn a whole whopping extra 0.25%. But with our current situation it makes more sense to do that. (We also have lots of additional cash that we will not tie up in a CD).


April 17th, 2015 at 06:17 am

**I received my annual OT check yesterday. My plan was to put 20% of it to investments and $3,100 to the mortgage.

I have about just enough to do that. BUT... Hoarding cash and allocating later seems to work best for us. We also received word that we might know in October if LM needs surgery for impacted tooth. October is also our Hawaii trip. So I think we will at least hold on to the cash until that point. I've also got a lot of expenses coming up in May.

I've already paid for the Japan trip, with my regular check, so will just deposit all this to savings.

I mostly expect to follow through with original plan by 12/31. Just maybe not if LM needs an expensive procedure!


**We bought dh's mom some thank you flowers. Mostly she just gets annoyed at those kind of gestures but I think we nailed it this time. Dh had no clue what kind of flowers she would like but we apparently picked her favorite! So glad that worked out. She sent me a picture and they were gorgeous. Money well spent. (Was a, "thanks for watching my kid for 10 days," and otherwise helping with that trip).

**Dh bought a new kindle. With $200 credit card reward.

**I bought two $20 Amazon gift cards and already received $40 back from our AmEx card. (Per my last post).

I ended up just going ahead and ordering placemats. (I had bought a set of 4 and liked them, and had been wanting to order 4-8 more. To go with our new table cloth). In the end, it cost me $8 cash to buy 8 more place mats.

Dh wants to use his $20 to get the ads off the kindle but feels like it's kind of a waste. The timing couldn't be more perfect for that since he had his Kindle for a day or two, felt annoyed with the ads, and then a free $20 fell out of the sky to cover that.

**I ordered a couple of dresses and swim suits for Hawaii. I figured I might return a couple. But dress #1 came yesterday and was *perfect*. Will see how much I keep and return but is my little splurge. Gearing up for *my* big trip this year...

**We will eat well this weekend. Today dh is taking me out to lunch. It's the first lunch date we could arrange post Japan trip, but will also celebrate the end of tax season. Going to my favorite Thai restaurant.

Since my phone stopped ringing off the hook, and apparently everyone thinks I am on vacation, I am thinking of taking this weekend entirely off. I can cram next weekend if need be. It's probably how it always goes. I am stressed and worried how it will all get done... Then I have a quiet day or two at work and it all seems easy peasy. It's amazing what you can get done without a million interruptions!

**This weekend is the kids' school International Festival. It is DIVINE. Homemade meals from around the world. So yeah, we will eat well today and tomorrow.

March Savings & Doings

April 6th, 2015 at 08:12 pm

Received $45 bank interest for the month of March.

Redeemed $50 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card. Deposited this snowflake into investments.

Redeemed $42 cash back on Citi card. Deposited this snowflake into investments.

Savings (From paycheck):

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

**I did pull out $1,100 cash for Japan airfare.

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$500 for life insurance

Short-term savings is robust right now (you might have noticed way more + than - in recent months) but that is mostly because we prepaid property taxes in December. Which leaves an extra $2,500 cash buffer or so since we've already saved up the next property tax installment (which isn't due until December).



**Life has been busy. Mostly work.

**I did finally sign up for that credit card reward. $200 cash back + free prime for one year. Should get the rewards soon.

**Mid-month I get my OT check for the year. I will also have to sort out overseas trip expenses with my dad. OT should be way more than expenses. So I am mostly just looking forward to sorting all that out. Then we can see where we are at financially and look ahead.

**The funny thing about "more money" is more choices and stress. That's the mode I am in right now. A lot of stuff is popping up on the horizon now that we have some extra money. I think it's just a matter of time -we need to think through and prioritize. But for the moment I am feeling very overwhelmed. Some of it I haven't talked over with dh yet and I know it will be better once we sit down and talk it all out. (Who knows - he may outright veto me. That would make it easy).

Our "year of splurge" is definitely over when it comes to the frivolous, but there is still a lot of less frivolous stuff to sort out. Home improvements and medical stuff.

With the extreme drought situation here we may have the opportunity to redo our front yard landscaping. (Both city and HOA approval, perhaps. Both have been very picky with the unnatural lush green lawns). We can do the back whenever but it's been more of a dream more than a priority. Talking about being able to do the front yard too and having some extra money is suddenly bumping that up to the top of our priorities. Maybe the theme for us this year is "conservation". I really want to dump the gas guzzler too.

(We've wanted a more appropriate yard, for our climate, for ages. It's just not something we really thought through before we bought our house. We didn't really know the local climate either. Since living here for a time, it's always bothered me what a water wasting city this is compared to our last city. & we met a few people who had more appropriate landscaping so kind of put it in the back of our heads that is what we really wanted. It was just I had never heard of the idea before, I guess. When we did start seeing other kinds of yards we had no money).

Anyway, I went for a walk in parents' way more water conservative (though less dry) city over the weekend and saw a lot of ripped out lawns. I am going to broach the subject with dh. At the least let's kill the backyard lawn. Why have we not done that yet??? That part is a frugal (free) step. The problem is that I perused the websites/portfolios of a few recommended landscapers. So now I am dreaming of a fancy hardscape kind of backyard. Big Grin I am sure everything I was drooling over was expensive.

Of course, maybe I should dream away. We are probably at a point where we could be rid of our gardeners. I'd love to keep them on but the most of what they do is mowing lawns. I don't know that they'd still help us with our meager yard work if we have no lawns. It is something to consider though. If we go REALLY low maintenance we would save $1,000 per year on help. Maybe this is sounding more sensible. Well, if I have to talk to dh about it and get some quotes. Our neighbors are kind of ritzy so I don't think I was looking at reasonable landscapers. (Neighborhood recommendations). It will be a little more work to seek out a deal. But, we won't know until we start getting quotes and doing more homework.

I think that is a lot of my being overwhelmed. I personally tend to estimate things high and plan for the worst. Which is good financially but maybe unnecessary stress at times. Right now I just have a lot of question marks.

February Savings

March 1st, 2015 at 08:26 am

Received $42 bank interest for the month of February.

Redeemed $25 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card. Deposited this snowflake into investments.

Redeemed $50 credit card rewards to our ROTH

Savings (From paycheck):

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

**2014 Maxed out in Feb. On to 2015!

I updated sidebar for all of the above.

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$515 for insurance, smog check, registration (autos)

The combination of low gas prices and putting some more wiggle room in our budget has been great! Our fuel expense was $75 lower than average last month though we made several trips to the Bay Area. Our usual strategy is to way over-save up front. Which is fine - it works very well for us. But this year our savings pace seems more realistic with our budget. OF course, I am fine with relaxing the budget because I am happy with our savings pace. (I'd say we are still pretty aggressive on the "pay ourselves first" but just not as much as the last couple of years. I still don't foresee ever having a penny left over at the end of the month to add to savings. It's relative).


An update to our free month of Amazon prime (trial): Dh got bored with the TV shows because we can pretty much get 90%+ of what we want elsewhere. (Which is what he has always said and why we have not gotten Prime before. Just that Hulu and Netlfix makes more sense for our personal tastes). Anyway, so our free trial expired yesterday I believe and now dh doesn't want to pay for it. So, phew! I may still do the free year but haven't gotten around to opening that credit card yet.

2014 Review

January 24th, 2015 at 07:15 am

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 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.


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).


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.


The value of our home remained the same.


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.


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.



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.

This & That

January 18th, 2015 at 08:08 am

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.

Fiscal Updates

April 18th, 2014 at 05:56 am

**I received my overtime for the year (paid as an annual bonus) and was able to fund a chunk of my savings. For the rest of the year all our monthly savings goes to IRAs, and my 2014 raise will go to savings. To top off those goals in my sidebar.

I can't believe how behind I feel still after last year. That said, though I would like to fund 2014 IRAs in 2014, it's not a necessity. That buys us a little buffer if crap happens.


$5,000 to savings
$ 300 to mortgage
$ 100 new kids bike

I was planning to spend more on the bike, but we just happened to find a $100 bike this week. So that worked out perfect.

Great-Grandma insists on giving me $300 for doing her taxes. I asked her not to, but I know her. Will see. This way I figure I already threw $300 to my mortgage so I really don't care either way.

If she insists, I could use $300 for summer classes for older child. I don't sweat that stuff any more. Whether they know it or not, Grandma (MIL) and Great-Grandma pay for that. BM is attending a camp with his school next month and I used Christmas money to pay for that. & I get the feeling Great-Grandma is paying for summer school...


**My gross check was about what I expected, with extra overtime on a big project last year. BUT, the net did not reflect all that extra work. UGH!! I have said that if spouse worked we wouldn't take anything more home. But, my own income seems to be entering that black hole. It's extra shocking because I am used to literally keeping 90% of my paycheck. You get used to what you get used to.

I ran a tax projection and everything looks fairly breakeven for 2014.

Our tax rate on last $10k - $15k of income is hitting about 25%. So, it looks like we will be doing Traditional IRAs this year. I like the way this works out. Our taxes are even steven if we change our mind. But if we do the Traditional I should be getting about a $2700 refund. Which will go straight back into retirement savings. (This would bring our retirement savings rate up to 18%. But, I don't know if that is all good, as we give up the ROTH contributions to do so. I think it just means we need to save more to pay for future taxes. Saving more doesn't necessarily mean much to our bottom line. Though I suppose I will probably be able to work some tax magic on the back end. When we retire).

I also checked the extra property tax deduction and that would save us about 25% too. For several reasons, will probably do this year. I just want the simplicity of one tax payment per year. But I want to make the extra payment in a year I actually get a tax benefit.

We've been doing ROTHs for so long because we haven't been paying any income taxes of any note, since spouse stopped working. But I am not personally comfortable with paying $2,700 taxes that I don't need to. Circumstances change, so we re-evaluate.

In our young 20s I Was strongly encouraged to fund ROTHs. I kind of understand it more with age. There has just never been any tax break quite like it. So when I entered the tax profession it was, "Are you crazy??? Do the ROTH!!!" BUT, we were young and starting out and paying a crapload of taxes. We chose to fund my 401k and our Traditional IRA. I am sure we could have cashed flowed the ROTHs and whatever, we were saving 50%+ of our income. Not like we NEEDED the tax break. BUT... Absolutely no regrets. When dh stopped working, we converted *everything* over to ROTHs. It was win-win. Get a big tax break up front. Convert over at a lower tax rate. So, I am pretty partial to just taking the tax break. I don't know if we will ever be able to convert again, but we do have $100,000+ working for us in our ROTHs. As Dave Ramsey would say, that will be $5 million or something in 40 years. Wink (I don't think it will ever be near that much, but it will do nothing but grow, and I am happy with that. All our aggressive investments are in the ROTHs, for sure).


Housing Update:

I guess housing has settled down here. Absolutely nothing has listed in immediate neighborhood for about 12 months. A house went for $400k last spring, which meant a 65%-ish increase over a couple of years. (Nothing new, around here. It's always a roller coaster!). But then, that was it.

SO... I saw 3 houses like ours up for sale this month and that piqued my curiosity. I just saw that one had sold for $400k. It will be interesting to see what the others go for.

Overall, I think this is a good sign. Anything much more than that is getting back into crazy bubble territory. Our house actually peaked at $650,000. Which is crazy insane. At this point, anything much more than $400k is "crazy insane". Especially given the chronic unemployment, regionally. But even in a robust economy, the local wages just don't support these kind of home prices.

So I am kind of marveling at the restraint. No huge bidding war??? Heck, the other two houses have been up a week and are still available. (Not a common sight in these parts, even when the bottom was falling out). I am hoping these are all good signs, overall. That things are settling a bit. A sellers market is good for us, but another market collapse would not be good. I am all for sustainable home prices.

Though, who knows... Bay Area real estate is crazy crazy crazy right now. & that always blows up our housing prices, because then our real estate looks super cheap compared to that. (Which is the only reason anyone ever paid $650k for a house in our own neighborhood). IT will be interesting to see how things play out this summer.

Saving Saving Saving

April 3rd, 2014 at 06:39 am

I guess this is the opposite of my last post. Big Grin

**I finally got my 2013 ROTH funded. Sent $4,950 off yesterday, after my paycheck hit the bank. I did not have to come up with the other $550 because my credit card rewards covered it (those get deposited automatically every month).

I updated sidebar.


**Grandma always *insists* on paying me $300 for doing her taxes. I am going to try to be more vocal this year about her not paying me. She owed a lot of tax. So, I will try.

But... If she insists, we will just throw it at the mortgage. I would be pleased with that. IT would put our snowflakes to $1,000-ish for the year, which is about all we came up with in 2013. So I would be very pleased with that. We don't plan to throw any snowflakes at the mortgage for the rest of the year, so it will be a nice goal to meet in April. That said, I am not really concerned with it either way. If I can talk her into not paying me, we will let it go or I will just deposit $300 from my overtime check.


**I guess it's feast or famine. I intend to hit most my "2014 savings" goal with my overtime check in 2 weeks. So, that might be $10,000 in financial goals officially hit this month (Overtime + 2013 ROTH). {I could have tallied ROTH savings month to month (have just been hoarding up cash since February 1), but I didn't really want to update my sidebar until I transferred money physically into my IRA}.

The goal for the rest of the year is to save $1300/month towards 2014 IRAs.

In addition, we will save $150/month + snowflakes and windfalls. I am going to open a "taxable" investment account for this money. I put "taxable" in quotes because our investment returns will mostly be tax-free due to our low tax bracket. We are starting small, but expecting to gain some significant momentum pretty quickly. Since our cash savings is pretty robust at this point, this should be where all our non-retirement savings goes.

This & That

January 17th, 2014 at 12:20 pm

**I can't believe it - I got a raise! My boss told me two years ago that no one else in office had gotten a raise for years. So I did not expect anything.

In the end, it was the biggest raise I have gotten in 6 years (since economy soured significantly). About 2.5%. What's even more exciting is that I had already covered health insurance increase with other cost savings, and so the raise is pure gravy. Which maybe has never happened since we have had children (our health insurance has gone up in cost 1,000% in that time). I feel like I have always just been grateful that any raise has covered our healthcare costs.

The net increase is $135 per month. With our cell phone savings, I will just round that up to $150/month and add that to our savings.

**Those that are "by the book" will be happy to know that this boosts our retirement savings rate up to 15%. (I've never particularly cared because we have been mostly saving more than we need for retirement, without saving that much. Some of it is utilizing ROTHs - no taxes later - the rest was just starting young and never contributing less than 10%).

We are already maxing out our ROTHs, and so I would like to open a taxable investment account for this money. (Which, for now, we won't be taxed on, due to low tax bracket and some simple tax management). But we are also a little behind on ROTH funding for 2013, so I think I will wait until April and see how things shake out. Honestly, I Was doing the paperwork last summer, to open a new investment account, because things were going pretty well, and then we had the "Great Murphy Year of 2013". I feel like we should be saving TONS at this point, but life seems to have other plans. IT seems silly to contribute a penny to a taxable account until our ROTHs are well funded. But I kind of feel like sometimes things never go right until I just dive in and make it happen. So, for now I will just assume we can get that started in April or May. Will see... At the least I won't open that account until 2013 ROTHs are funded.

To help get some momentum going, will probably divert all snowflakes over to this new account, for a while. Though I would like it to be a general hands-off account, it will have more purpose than retirement. $150/month is a nice match to the college money grandparents are providing ($1k per year, per child). Whatever is not used for college, will eventually go to mortgage payoff or retirement. I don't actually expect to use any of this money for college. Seems unlikely at this point, but just for a Plan B.

I am abandoning the mortgage payoff for the interim. This account will take precedence because my job is a bit up in the air, so this will help us get a good start to some "potential long term unemployment savings". I really don't expect to have to use it for that either, but just hedging our bets.

Of course, the only reason we were hitting our mortgage harder the past couple of years was due to losing equity in our house. Even at the worst, we never went below 20% equity. But it was close, and we took proactive measures. Today we are back over 50%. So, it's fallen lower as far as priorities. {I'd love to pay it off today, but have to balance wants with reality. Reality is I have to get college and employment sorted out first, and crossing my fingers this is just a giant "mortgage payoff" fund, in the end}.

Anyway, the plan is $150/month, plus snowflakes, starting around May. I'd like to be agressive with putting gifts and credit card bonuses and such in this account. Once we get some momentum going on this account, we may consider a 50/50 save/pay down mortgage type plan. Or 70/30, or whatever makes sense.


I work well under pressure. I did some major mad declutter and cleaning progress, last weekend. It generally would not be my preference to do that kind of big job in the middle of tax season, but apparently it works for me. (I never did as much as I wanted to last year because I got really bored with working and chores all the time - am used to fairly laid back summers and falls, and work was kind of busy too). So whatever, I will embrace it. Any chore I can cross off my list before, "want to relax and enjoy" time.

The problem is I got some major momentum and couldn't stop for a while. It might be okay for January and February. For March and April, I will have to slow it down and put work as a higher priority.

I had a genius idea this morning. I was thinking the downstairs was pretty decently decluttered, except for I have to sort through the piano music. I used to teach piano, and so I have hoards of materials. It just flitted across my mind this morning that I wanted to tackle that nasty chore this weekend. (Something I have just put off and off and off, otherwise). & it occured to me I could probably store a lot of that stuff digitally and be done.

I don't know why I never thought of that before!!! I've just got so many freaking photo copies of music. & part of me doesn't really want to give it up - could always be a nice side income stream. Storing stuff digitally is a good compromise, though I don't foresee "piano teaching" in my near future.

I will have to ponder that as I go through that type stuff in the house (things that can be just be kept on computers). For some things we are well ahead of the curve on that (financial records and photos and so on). But, for other things, we could use some strategizing and rethinking.

I don't expect to tackle all that music stuff this weekend, but I do hope to make a dent.


P.S. Dh just won $50 in Ting credits. One more month we won't have to pay anything (sharing Ting with my parents and will give them the benefit of the credit too). I am starting to wonder if we will pay *anything* for cell service this year. Big Grin

2013 Review

December 20th, 2013 at 06:48 am

Wow - what a mixed year it has been!

I am optimistic that the big ugly black cloud hanging over our heads since, September 2012, has moved along. It's only been about 15 months. !!! But anyway, will see... It's only been a couple of weeks of calm and so it's a bit premature to get too excited about it.

Because of this, we did terrible on our financial goals, maybe the worst ever. BUT, all our prior savings worked very hard for us, so it was a banner year for net worth and the big picture. Phew??

Anyway, I wanted to close the books on 2013 because I am SO over it! So, unless something big happens in the next two weeks, this is my final "general" commentary on 2013.

In general, we tend to make our financial goals aggressive and we tend to always meet our goals anyway. This year is a first in I ever remember failing. Spectacularly. The optimist in me is fine with that - if some years we do better than planned then it is expected to do worse in other years - it all evens out.


Cash is up $5,000 by some miracle. We try to increase by $5k every year. Actually, we had decided to hit our goals one at a time this year. It's a mixed bag. We have not particularly put any money into our ROTHs yet (had wanted them funded by 12/31, and expected to do it easy peasy). BUT, if we had, we'd just be really cash poor and stressed right now. So, I think I am happy with this approach. The ROTHs will get funded. I am just considering doing it in April to preserve cash flow and liquidity. (To be clear: We have never in our lives had a crazy expensive year like this one - so it was pretty unusual).

Our goal for 2013 was to save $10,000. We were going to splurge on a trip to Asia. That is completely out the window because we needed *all* of that money for home repairs. Which leaves me ending the year off with some stress since we were supposed to be so ahead of the curve at this point to be able to splurge on a $10k vacation. I share this to illustrate a point. I have friends who will say we never splurge big and do anything fun. BUT, you see what happens when we try. & it's not like I got caught offguard for not planning ahead. !! Instead I am thankful that we had all that cash to cover it and not dip into savings at all. On the flip side, maybe this was just the universe telling us to do something else with that money. IT was kind of an obligatory trip and our relative in Asia doesn't seem to want us to visit her anyway. So... We aren't too broken up about our change in vacation plans. Heck, I am RELIEVED because I Was never very enthused about it. (Note to Universe: Um, you could have left SOME Of that money to do something fun with though???).


We put a whopping $1,500 into our ROTHs this year, and that is all gifts and credit card rewards. I have been saving the money ($900 per month), but just putting it all into cash waiting for the hemorrhage to stop.

This is our primary goal (above basic liquidity and being able to pay cash for all of our needs) and so it will 100% get done. But, I am pushing it off until April. Mostly so I can fund the ROTH without depleting any cash (from current level). Ideally.

I can't boast a $100k balance in our ROTHs until I get them funded for 2013. So, that will have to wait until next year.

The good news is that our retirement funds are up $23,000 even though all we put in was $1,500.

Retirement milestone hit: 2 x income saved

Retirement investments are, on average, returning as much as we put in. I think that is a SWEET milestone. & also means that going forward that our investments are working harder than we are. (Note: This year was not average - obviously we earned far more than we put in).

& all of that makes this year infinitely easier to deal with!


Along the same lines, home value is up 30%. It's been an excellent year for our overall net worth.


Like all our other goals, we failed spectacularly on this one. Only added $950 (snowflakes) to the mortgage payments. Had expected to pay down an extra $4,000. (The rest went to home repairs and other emergencies).

I made the last 2013 mortgage payment in November. Don't need any more tax deductions so will pay the December payment next month (around January 1). So, I was pretty non-motivated on the snowflakes this month. Which is fine, I need to shift focus on the ROTHs. Just waiting to see where the dust settles. (I think I have some snowflakes already applied to the next mortgage payment - probably ones I earned in November since I expected to already pay the mortgage payment, otherwise).

The ending mortgage balance is $190,000-ish. I was going to go for $189,000, as the year progressed, but decided not only did I not need to make another payment this year (Waste of a tax break) but that I really needed to shift focus to ROTHs.

I am not 100% sure what I Will do for 2014. Mortgage has only been a higher priority in past year because of two reasons. 1 - Real estate values were tumbling and we risked having less than 20% equity if things continued. Which is a position I would consider an "emergency". Not an EMERGENCY emergency, but it would be worthy of some drastic measures to correct. 2 - I Thought we were more ahead of the curve and could throw more money at the mortgage.

Today we have over 50% equity (our home never dropped below 20% equity) and clearly we are not very ahead of the curve right now. Not where I Want to be. So, I think mortgage is falling off my radar for the moment as far as pressing financial goals.

BUT, I think the mortgage is ideal for snowflakes. So that is the part I am not quite sure on for 2014. It seems useless to put the snowflakes to the ROTHs because I will fund those regardless. & with anything more short-term I don't find it particularly useful or rewarding. I want to tie up those snowflakes for the long haul (retirement or mortgage). So I may just keep throwing snowflakes at the mortgage even if I am not particularly mortgage-paydown motivated otherwise, in the short run.

For 2014 I am going to focus way more on liquidity, which I think is wise given my job situation. I hesitate to say I am actually kicking the mortgage off my list of goals, because any money we save up and don't need for unemployment can eventually get thrown at the mortgage. It's more of a "better keep it just in case but mostly likely will go to the mortgage eventually," plan.


Our net worth has increased by $125,000 this year. Since our goal is to increase this by $30k per year, we have quadrupled our goal. Wow, what a year!!! (Last year was similar, but we were making up for a lot of really pathetic years with the stock market and real estate market. This year was some serious forward movement). The $30k figure is just 50% of our annual expenses. That is how much we aim to grow our net worth every single year.

So, yeah, how is that for a mixed year? I don't particularly have anything to complain about. It's always disconcerting when things REALLY don't go as planned, but I also know we had a great year financially, in the grand scheme of things.



I hadn't thought about it yet.

I think our goals will have to be:

1 - Fund 2013 ROTHs
2 - Increase cash by $5k
3 - Fund 2014 ROTHs
4 - Snowflakes to the mortgage ($1k is probably doable)
5 - Increase net worth by 40k**

**My "annual net worth increase" goal has been 30k for several years. 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.

A realistic goal for now is 40k:

Mortgage paydown $ 5,000 (includes $1k snowflakes)
ROTH Contributions $11,000
Cash Savings $ 5,000
Overtime Savings $ 5,000 (to 2013 ROTH)
Investment Returns $14,000^^
TOTAL $40,000

^^Assuming average 8% return, annually

I did not include real estate because way too crazy volatile, particularly regionally. For that reason, $40k may be a conservative estimate. (I did not include additional sources of income, gifts and so on, either).

It is not surprising that we are able to increase net worth more with time - is starting to compound a bit as we move past the real estate bubble and the last stock market crash.

I don't know what a realistic timeline is to consistently increase net worth by $60k annually. I think it will largely depend on short term market fluctuations.

Most of the $10k bump from $30k to $40k "net worth increase" estimate is due to lower mortgage interest rates (faster payoff) and stock market returns on increased investments. When I first estimated annual $30k net worth goal we were probably only paying mortgage down at a rate of $3k per year and probably had less than $50k in retirement savings. Our income has been pretty stagnant in all that time. But mortgage is being paid down faster (with a smaller payment) and investment returns are 3-4 times what they were in 2007 with investment balances 3-4 times as large. Smaller mortgage payment has also increased our savings ability (more to savings).


Here is my sidebar update (putting it here for the future):

**2013 Financial Goals**

[ ]$11,000 to IRAs 2013 (MAX)
...(6,050 @ 12/31/13)
...Delaying funding to April 2014, to keep cash intact.

[X]$5,000 to savings
...(13,000 @ 12/31/13)
...Had to bump up savings due to lots of emergencies and repairs this year
...All but $5k redirected to expenses

[X]$5,000 saved for Hong Kong
...($5,000 @ 12/31/13)
...redirected to plumbing repairs

[ ]Pay more principal than interest to mortgage (+$4,000) - admittedly a pie in the sky goal
...($950 @12/31/13)
...Redirected the rest to home repairs, medical, vet bills, etc. What a Year!!

Goal savings rate = 30% of gross
(Actual savings rate = 11%? This may be our worst savings rate *ever*?)

[X]To have more cash/mutual funds than debt (mortgage)
...Goal Met as of 3/15/13!

[X]To increase net worth by $30k (or 50% expenses)
...(Up $125,000 at 12/31/13)

Big Milestones Surpassed!

May 15th, 2013 at 06:56 am

As a follow up to an earlier post on my BHAG:


I had posted about my goal to surpass $150k in retirement by age 35, which was a really huge/big/aggressive goal. So I did not beat myself up when I did not achieve at age 35. I knew I would be pretty darn close?

How close? About 5 months after turning 36. Because I achieved the goal yesterday. Well, I think that is AWESOME. Good enough for me...

If investments return 8%, than this means we are earning more than we are putting in, at this point. Since the only retirement vehicles at our disposal are the ROTHs.

I think this is why I am not feeling behind at all with the loss of work retirement plan. It was a very generous 10% contribution by employer. But it was invested conservatively for my mostly "retirement age" co-workers and eaten up by administration and investment fees. Compounding has easily taken over those contributions. Sure, another $8k per year to our retirement funds, in addition, would be awesome. But, it's just we aren't falling behind or feeling the pinch. & maybe $8k only felt like $4k with all the other factors, and we have been easily able to make that up. I appreciate that I had that extra compensation in the years we really needed it - very early on and our lowest income years (maternity leaves and such). This means our retirement was always growing very healthily and is why we were able to meet this goal.

I also just noticed that we surpassed the $200k mark on our investments. Woohoo!! $100k was surpassed some time in 2009. Which means it literally took about a decade to save $100k but only 3 years to turn $100k to $200k. $200k can turn into $400k over 10 years if we don't add another penny. The power of compounding at work. I have this large feeling that the early years were by far the hardest and that we are over that hump. This compounding stuff sure makes life easier.

I also think this is why it is hard for many to understand why my spouse has not had to work. I've said here many times that we always saved 100% of my spouse's income, which laid a nice financial foundation. Anyway, I remember someone telling me very early on that they "to each their own," but how they just could not neglect their retirement like that.

Neglect retirement? Who said anything about neglecting retirement? Big Grin

I haven't really set the next BHAG for retirement. I am thinking I should just set it to "$500k by age 45." It's about as realistic as "$150k by age 35" felt. It sounds huge, but I know it is doable. A modest rate of return and current contributions (just the ROTHs) will easily put us to $400k+. So $500k is my aggressive twist on the goal. It should be easy to remember. I think that visualization is very important - our subconscious works in ways we don't even understand.

Small Victories & Thoughts on Goals

January 17th, 2013 at 12:37 pm

**I saw a press release this week that our property taxes would go down. Some bonds were refinanced to lower interest rates (terms not extended). NOW we are talking. It's nice to get people in office who know what they are doing, and who look at reasonable ways to cut expenses. (Especially after the fiscal mess our school district has made. Stuff like this is the complete polar opposite of stupid/horrible fiscal decisions of years past).

There is hope...


What I have learned this week is that I am a horrible goal setter. LOL.

But I wanted to share in case the typical goal setting model just did not work for you.

I was thinking about talking about this anyway, in response to wino's post. But then Dave Ramsey was going on and on about the same thing, so I took this as a sign to write it down. !!


--They have to be specific and measurable, and attainable. SO agreed!

--They need a time limit. They do?

--If you DON'T write them down they will never happen. Huh??

I was flashing back to when my last employer made us set these arbitrary "5 goals per year" and I hated those stupid things with a passion. IT was such a pointless exercise. & I Was thankful to be moving and quitting before I ever had to achieve those goals. Wink So thinking about it today, it's all coming back to me, but I Am realizing fully why I hated the exercise.

I am a VERY goal oriented person, so I figured I would share my goal methods for anyone who has found all of the above to be useless.

#1 - Unless there is a specific reason or advantage to having a time limit, I do not set time limits on my goals. I think there are few goals in my life that I have set a time limit on. In general, if I put my mind to do something, I do it. (This is probably also why I have never written down a goal, aside for my SA blog).

Just as an example, our home buying goal was:

"Buy a home when we have 20% and when it makes sense."


"Buy a home in 5 years."

I think because my personality is so in the middle with the grey areas. I don't like "black and white" stuff. Doesn't account for all of life's little variables. How the heck am I supposed to know when in the long-term future when it makes the most sense to buy a house? I do know I won't even bother looking at *any* houses until I have 20% down. THEN we move on to the next step.

One thing I have ALWAYS been a stickler for in my goal setting, is small, manageable pieces. Successes are layered one on top of each other. I think this is why I like to set annual goals. I don't particularly set more long-term goals (that are very rigid and have a time limit) UNLESS I have a compelling reason to. I totally understand goals with time limits because they have to have time limits to work or make sense. But, other than that, I work better with the smaller pieces - one at a time. One year at a time. & is probably how I tend to break down bigger goals, anyway.

Some things I will likely never do: Resolve to lose weight, be the best mom and wife ever, to be high-achieveing at work, and to save half my income. All at once. HA!! I will probably also never move, get married, start a new job, and have a child, in the same year. All of the above would make my head explode. {But doing them one at a time - and layering successes and good habits on top of each other? - that works!}

One final note. I think the other reason I am not a big fan of overly long goals and time limits, is that I am very intuitive. The result is that dh and I have often made some seemingly rash decisions, based on our intuition. We are always moving in a certain direction, but the specifics always come to us at the last minute. & we go with it, because it has always served us well to just go with it. I think because we are so deliberate that people often assume we are just control freaks who plan everything into eternity. The truth is we have really often flown by the seat of our pants. But, that's not quite the same when you thought ahead and made up several back up plans.

I kind of feel this way about college. I really have no idea what college will look like for our kids, and wouldn't waste the ernergy trying to figure it all out, 8 years before my eldest is college age. BUT, I have thought about it enough, know what our options are, always talking to people with kids currently in their college for their take, etc. I think I have a plan A, B, C, D, and E on the financial side. So yeah - this is the perfect example. We are *prepared* though any and all of the specifics are about as clear as mud to us in this stage of the game. I always cringe when someone with a 1-year-old tells me how they got college figured out for their child. Down to every last detail. Where they will go to school, who pays for what, what kind of job their kids can get 20 years in the future and if it will work with their school schedule. "Yeah, good luck with that." Wink I think this is how most parents think. It drives me *crazy.* I understand why people feel so strongly about it, but I think the strong feelings over-rule common sense and logic. I think logic will be our edge. I don't have any strong feeling either way about the world ending because my kid goes to a private school versus public, if they live at home or live on campus, if they have lots of skin in the game or none. IF they work or they don't. Depends depends depends. None of these decisions are inherently bad. Depends on the individual and the circumstances. So, it's really hard for us to set concrete goals for something like college.

All this to say, you have to set goals in ways that it works for you.

Taxes Taxes Taxes

January 2nd, 2013 at 11:03 am

I have extremely mixed feelings about the tax bill that just passed in Congress. I will note the changes at the end of this post, for inquiring minds who want a quick summary.

My feelings are a little bit of "Holy heck, our taxes would have been insane" without these tax extensions. On the flip side, the tax extensions are expected to add $4 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. My ire goes to why these tax cuts were ever put in the first place (during times of high spending/war, etc.). This can be seen as very political, but to me it just is what it is. We certainly wouldn't run our household in this way financially - it is totally insane.

I think a lot of it is fine temporarily with the economy in the toilet, but not sure why so much of this is being made more permanent.

As to Congress? Seriously? Like you couldn't have figured this out 30 days ago? 2 weeks ago? Life has been rendered beyond complicated for me in the tax field. I feel more sorry for software developers and the IRS, though.

I am so relieved AMT is patched and we saved that $500. Not that I have strong opposition to paying another $500 in taxes. But I Really thought Congress was going to pay lip service to middle class tax cuts while letting stealth taxes like AMT run rampant. As they have been for a long time. The fact it was going to affect us was not a good sign for the lower middle class. I am more relieved that they made a permanent patch, indexed to inflation. This should have been done about 15 years ago...


I ran some tax projections today. We are still at owing about $1,000; is what I projected early in 2012. Final number was highly dependent on medical bills for the year, which ended up as low as could be.

I ran tax projections for next year, but our software has not been updated for the very recent tax law changes. So, I refigured what it will be. Interesting to note, our taxes would have gone up $2500 this year without recent tax law changes. Add in $1500 for the payroll tax holiday ending. That is no small sum, to me. 5% of our income would have gone to increased taxes. Ouch! Dodged a bullet, for sure. We'd survive, but not sure how most people would handle it. Which is why I have so many mixed feelings... (ETA: I think more to the point - our Federal income taxes would have about *doubled* with that $2500 increase. Ouch! I think that is what bothered me more than anything. I'll agree our taxes are too low and should go up, but no matter how you slice it, it is going to be painful when it comes to pass).

Since the payroll tax holiday expires, and my withholdings are probably due for a change due to less medical deductions allowed in 2013 (Obamacare tax increase) and lower mortgage rates, I refigured my paycheck at a few different exemption levels. Decided to move my allowances down from 12 to 10. I also increased my state withholding by $20 per month.

The net effect of all this is to decrease my paycheck by $230 per month. But would have me at about breakeven for our taxes *this year.* Which means we will still owe a little next year with all the reduced deductions - is fine.

Our health insurance also went up about $75/month. So we are down about $300/month between this and taxes. I had set aside the payroll tax holiday and refinance "monthly savings" to our savings account last year, but will lose that $300/month.

This leaves my savings goals mostly as is:

--$1200/month to short-term savings. I was thinking of upping this to $1300 for property tax increases, but that will only be half the year, and I have run out of savings room anyway. Paying more income taxes and owing less later will help with just keeping our savings at $1200/month. All this money is spent within the year (mostly various insurances and taxes)

--$400/month to mid-term savings.

--Max out ROTHs, of course

--Overtime saved for China

--Extra mortgage payments will have to be snowflaked and come from other income sources. I think $4k is still very possible. Dh's folks seem very generous of late. It is also not every year that we will be saving a large sum for an overseas trip. More like "once every decade or two." So still gives us wiggle room for ever rising health insurance and ability to prepay more to the mortgage in future years, all else being equal.

--Raise? Perhaps, but doubt it will be much if anything. If so, I will put it to the ROTHs. We have been doing about $800/month. $900/month is a better clip for the new contribution limits. (It doesn't matter for this year, since I already advanced the additional $1000, but will help for next year, and is probably where any raise should go).


**I harvested some capital gains in the kids' accounts this year, since the stock market kept going up, up and up. Basically, first $1900 or so of investment income is tax-free for them, annually. I was also unsure if this would still be true for 2013 (0% capital gains rate for them, and us, in 2012).

We don't bother with the complications of 529s and such, because hell would freeze over before we actually were eligible for any financial aid, and because it is pretty darn simple at this stage in the game to keep their earnings tax-free. Our strategy can always be re-evaluated as money grows and actually starts hitting kiddie tax limits. For now, I sell high and reset the cost basis of their mutual funds. This is the first time I have ever had any motivation to do so (in about 10 years).

I checked today and they were well under the limit. They both had about $1,100 in investment income for 2012. I was checking to be sure, when projecting our taxes.


**Did you hear that California now has highest income tax bracket in the U.S. 13.3%? Ouch! A huge tax increase just went into effect on higher incomes. Thing is we already totally gouge the rich. I don't intend to ever be *that* rich, so we are okay. Our effective income tax rate for 2012 was less than 1% of my salary.

It's such a progressive tax state, that I don't have many complaints at our income level. I was thinking of tracking our sales taxes this year, out of curiosity. I don't think we pay that much because we don't consume that much. But I am curious to see real numbers. I may only have the energy to track for a month. Might be pretty tedious.

Obviously this is more painful with big purchases. So not that it never affects us - but less likely to affect us much on a day-to-day basis.

The ugliest taxes we pay are probably gasoline taxes. I should probably track those too.


Recent Federal tax changes of note:

--Top rate 39.6% (up from 35%) for individuals making $400k+ and married households with $450k+ income.

--Payroll tax holiday is gone - Social security tax goes up from 4.2% to 6.2%, starting January 1.

--AMT patch made permanent, indexed to inflation, starting 2012.

--The maximum capital gains tax will rise from 15% to 20% for individuals taxed at the 39.6% rates ($400k+ income, as noted above)

--The itemized deduction phase-out is reinstated, and personal exemption phase-out will be reinstated, but with different AGI starting thresholds (adjusted for inflation): $300,000 for married filing joint, and $250,000 for single.

--The estate tax will continue to provide an inflation-adjusted $5 million exemption (effectively $10 million for married couples) but will be applied at a higher 40% rate (up from 35% in 2012).

--The $1,000 Child Tax Credit will be extended through 2017.

The following is for 2013 only:

--No taxes on discharge of debt (e.g. foreclosure) for primary residence.

--Mortgage insurance premiums treated as deductible interest.

--college tuition deductions

--favorable business write-offs for equipment purchases, extended one year

2012 Was Prosperous

December 30th, 2012 at 07:33 am

I've already talked about all of this, but will do one final 2012 wrap up.

Net Worth

Cash: +$5,000
Investments: +$32,000
Home Value: +$65,000
Mortgage Debt: -$6,000

Total Net Worth: +$108,000

I have failed on my net worth goals the past 4 years, but this almost makes up for all those years. (Real estate had plummeted those years, only to rebound to 2007 levels in the current year). Going forward, still have a goal to increase net worth by "50% of our expenses" on an annual basis. (This year, $108,000, is almost "200% of expenses" - which covers goal for past 4 years, and makes up for some bad real estate years).

Oh, and as of today our net worth is about exactly $300,000. Depends how the stock market does on Monday...

ETA: Officially ended the year at $300k!!



Income was *awesome* this year.

--A solid $2800 in credit card rewards (tax-free)
--$6,500 overtime (it helped that no one was in the hospital this year!)
--$1,000 in amazon and craigslist sales
--smaller amounts of bank interest and focus group money
--Cash gifts galore (tax-free)

The interesting thing is that this year we surpassed our prior two-salary income level (when you count all the extra in-flows). But it is not apples to oranges in the least. You will notice how much of the extra this year was tax-free. This means we blew our "two income take-home" completely out of the water, this year. I share because the one-income thing for us has always been about "working smarter, not harder." The linear idea that we literally live on "half as much" has always been completely ridiculous.

I know we are extremely blessed to receive some nice cash gifts this year. I also know we made excellent use of the windfalls (extra payments to the mortgage, bulked up cash, sped up ROTH contributions, visited aging grandparents, etc.).



As far as the monthly expenses, we are a well-oiled machine. Money to savings first. Live on the rest. As such, there is little variability to the sum of all our monthly expenses. (There may be give and take between categories).

The less predictable expenses varied more (some come from savings, from extras, etc.). BUT, I already noted that we didn't spend any more money in 2012 than 2011. I find that fascinating since we were able to buy and do so much.

The variable expenses breakdown:

--Dining Out - spent $600 less

--Home Repairs - spent $1,000 more (versus about -0- in 2011)

--Medical - spent $2,000 less (no surgery!!)

--Misc. - spent $4,000 more
(New dishwasher, new garage door opener, a bed for LM, new couch, new smart phones, new TV - feeling the prosperity - some long overdue purchases here. I couldn't fathom buying anything large next year, in comparison, if we fulfilled several years worth of waiting and wants in 2012)

--Mortgage interest - Spent $2,000 less (thanks to lower interest rates!)

--Piano lessons - Spent $1,000 less because in-laws decided to pay all year

--Vacation - Spent $2,000 more (due to gifts, and status of aging grandparents we intended to visit)

**Consistent expenses:

--Auto (fuel, insurance maintenance)

--Groceries (almost to the penny)


--Utilities (traded cable for smart phones)

--Mortgage principal (paid same amount as last year)

--allowance, clothing, gifts, gym/aerobics, HOA, gardener, haircuts, sports, Christmas

--The rest of our misc. expenses (not big purchases) were pretty consistent. Further details: script software for dh (after he finished his first script, ironically - he used free software for his script), watches for kids, toothbrush heads, hair clips, movies, SA meetup expenses, concerts, events (robot wars), blu ray burner, camera accessories, CDs to burn, birthday party/gifts for kids, swim goggles, school supplies, pet supplies (litter boxes), piano tuning, bowling, golfland, online backups. This stuff is just all too small for its own category; largely where we put any purchases or any entertainment.

On the expense side, there is room for improvement. If we hadn't done all the extras, you see we have room to trim expenses. This year reminded me of lower income years when it seems luck went our way and we did not spend large sums on home repairs and medical bills and such. To be fair, we had an emergency room visit, a broken heater, and had to replace a dishwasher and spent a fair amount on our garage door, and I think we drove to San Jose MANY times when Grandma was in the hospital, on and on. BUT, it didn't seem to come from all sides/all year like it had been doing in recent years. Phew!! For one, it made all the difference not to miss work because one of us was having surgery! I am still working on decreasing overall spending for next year. IT's give and take because I wouldn't be surprised if we had some large vet bills and appliance replacements in 2013. But, if we don't, it could be a decent year to decrease our overall expenses.


I have no idea what to expect for 2013! I know we will be losing $130/month with the payroll tax holiday ending.

I know our income taxes will be going up, and we could possibly stuck with AMT too.

I know our health insurance and property taxes are going up significantly.

I don't know if I will receive any raise.

So, more to ponder once January shakes out. Too many unknowns in the immediate future - I hope to get some tax and salary clarification in the next week or two.

We also have absolutely *nothing* on the purchase horizon, but the cat is getting old, our cars are getting old, and so is our fridge and hot water heater. These are the predictable nearer-future expenses.

Merry Christmas Eve to Me

December 24th, 2012 at 04:20 pm

My last post was long and blah blah blah.

I had disconnected from the fact that I had a large check to deposit - which meant I could cash flow most the rest of our payments before payday (12/31).

I got an e-mail that my deposit (Christmas $$) posted. I suppose I also just figured the CU might be closed today. (I phone deposited the check late last night).


**Sent $650 to my ROTH to max out 2012. We are both officially maxed out. Woohoo!!

**Paid mortgage payment +$650.

Plan was to pay more principal than interest on our newest (refinanced) loan - partial year. Paid $5248 principal + $5245 interest. Mission accomplished.

Extra payments on new loan were $2875, year-to-date.

We paid $6,000 of principal in year 2012 (entire year). At current, regular payments are only $300/month to principal.

I do not wait for my payments to post. I know how to calculate the interest and principal. It's paid, I know the numbers; it's done!

{Next year if we add $4,000 in extra payments, more will go to principal than interest (whole year). I think this is doable. This is thanks to the lower interest rate for the entire year}.

**Payday will 90%+ go to savings. I have a couple of small bills set to pay on 12/31.

If I have the cash flow I will pay off AmEx (November charges) and send $1000 to the other AmEx for the TV purchase. Tonight. Just have to check my Quicken checkbook.

I probably do have the cash flow, because I can not send that $1k to the ROTH until January 1.


I should maybe be doing more festive things, but I am at work crunching numbers for all my clients. Figured I'd give myself some number crunching time too. Wink I am *thrilled* to get all of the above done.

Vacation Budget & Planning

September 18th, 2012 at 06:35 am

I was going to do this a few days ago, but then everything vacation was up in the air.

But since we seem back on track, here we go. I find it useful to write everything down, just so there are less surprises. & it always adds up faster than you think!

Our annual vacation budget is $1500. We usually spread it out a lot more throughout the year and do a lot more staycation type stuff. Or travel closer to home (driving). This year, we haven't done squat, so we have $1500 leftover.

I was looking at the budget last week and I think we had about $100 left over for food, so I figured we'd be tapping into other savings a bit. This is just a unique/rare trip. But, that said, I would be a lot more stressed about the food side while we are there. Because every penny over would have to come from somewhere else.

I knew the in-laws would likely give us a couple of hundred dollars (which has the added bonus that we don't have to go to the ATM - just one less chore - since we don't keep any cash with us in general, but like to have a few more dollars on hand when traveling - even if we usually just deposit most of it when we get home).

BUT, MIL gave us a generous check over the weekend - intending to pay for all the parks. Which it just about exactly will pay for. {I was not expecting anything like this, in the least!!}

I only added $500 of it to the budget, since we don't need to spend $1,000+ on food. Wink $709 left over for food is also ridiculous, but it's just the point where I am not going to stress. Whatever we have left over upon our return will go to savings/mortgage.

My first inclination was to put the $1k check to the mortgage, but I have medical bills on the horizon (could be large - I am not sure) and we have another vacation coming up in November. So I already put the $1k to the credit card (balance is a credit balance) and I will consider the parks paid for. (There is always a possibility we will not go to all these parks - someone could be sick - we may chose to chill one day - so could have even more left over for savings).



I wanted to lay out my vacation planning because I have been doing it a little bit at a time. All we really have left to do is make the arrangements for our cat and pack. !! I feel like all the hard work is done.

--Around May? we decided to go to Florida and book our airfare. Since $1500 is obviously not enough for a week in Florida, we decided to divert 5 months of savings to airfare. We have already replenished it, and by careful airfare shopping I was able to drop the figure down to "4 months of savings."

{This is the first *big* flight/trip for four that I have ever considered as a family with our own funds}.

So this is why I don't have airfare on this budget - it's done and paid for. I am trying to manage everything else that we have yet to pay for.

--Cat Care - I already checked with neighbor and a friend if they would be available to help with the cat. So I just have to finalize that. I am doing a tax return for a friend, so will probably give neighbor $30 for the help (is a teenager). My cat makes such a mess in her old age, that I bought a GIANT litter box in the hope she isn't as messy as usual. I literally scoop it every day, and am just trying to make it easier on whoever watches her. I will probably buy a second GIANT box to that end.

WE can't find any spare house keys, so dh will make a couple this week.

--Dh has been collecting quarters for tolls, and I am just rolling my eyes. Obviously extremely slow going consider how we don't even use cash for anything. Wink One of us will run to the CU and get two rolls of quarters - he finally agreed this made sense. Rolleyes

--I spent a lot of time last week considering transport options. Airport parking is the most expensive, BUT there is not savings of any note by paying for transport. So, parking wins. Convenient convenient convenient. (One option we have living so close to the airport is that several hotels in our neighborhood have parking at $2-$3 per day cheaper, but their shuttles "run every hour" and had some pretty poor reviews. So, we will pass! The shuttle/economy parking at our airport is very good- never remember waiting at all - they must run every 15 minutes. I will double check before we depart, as these things do change).

--In May or June we booked our hotel - free with MIL's timeshare points. Sometimes they have fees (usually taxes or parking). So, will see.

--On the car rental - I reserved around $130 for one week. We will probably want to add me as a driver - will pay whatever it is. I read that we do not need a transponder and that they try to tack it on anyway, so we will be vigilant about that. We will have our quarters for tolls - their transponder fee is absurd. This will be an issue in the future since apparently they are going all electronic. But I researched carefully that we do not have to have a transponder for the areas we will be driving.

We were planning to buy a booster car seat there, but I found one at Target for $15 last week (very small). I was going to put it in our luggage but not sure it will fit. At least I know $15 seats will be easy to find (I can return it and just buy a seat in ORlando). LM is 7 and very tall, so I have no problem waiting until we get to the store, or driving him to and from the airport without a booster. The car seat rental industry absolutely sucks eggs, and the car rental company charges more like $13 per DAY. Rolleyes The airline will likely make us check it, could get lost, could charge us - so I don't want to mess with our nice seats.

I have been so looking to the day where we don't deal with all this. We are 90% there. Next time will be heaven! Big Grin

--I priced all the park tickets, taxes and parking. I haven't found any discounts, because we are buying only one-day tickets. IT is what it is. Dh and I have two one-day park hoppers left over from the year 2000. So we are saving a little there. The plus is we are just buying all tix at the gate - this leaves us a lot of flexibility. IF we all get sick one day and have to skip one day, we won't be out the tickets.

--The museum and Gatorland are just big *maybes* if we are up to it. I have never been to Gatorland, so that one is probably more of a priority. It's dh's family tradition.

--Aside from gas and food, I don't see us spending anything else while we are there. GMIL gave the kids $50 for souvenirs, but I wouldn't be surprised if they keep it to spend on something more important to them (like video games). So, will see. None of us is into the "stuff."

--I got paid yesterday, so paid all the bills through mid-October. So I don't have to worry about any of that on vacation (& jiggled things around since I won't get my paycheck until we return).

--We borrowed two carry-ons from family - might only need one (for the kids). I already have one. We have never traveled "four of us" and "so long a trip" since airlines started charging for checked bags (airlines have also reduced carry-on sizes, rendering most our bags useless). I think 2 carry on luggages will probably be more than ample (we will also all carry backpacks). Our strategy is to pack 3-4 days of clothes and to do laundry mid-week. Since it's a "family visit" too, we should have plenty of down time for that. Florida = packing light clothing, so makes it easier. I picked up a couple of light exercise/water resistant type shorts at Target, on sale/clearance. It will help me immensely to pack light, and to be comfortable. It's just not the kind of clothing we have or need in our non-humid/dry climate.

So, all in all, I got some cat things to take car of, and we have to pack. Dh is going to get keys made and I will pick up some quarters. I think most the work is done!!

We don't leave for a couple of weeks. I really am the anti-procrastinator. I just want to relax and enjoy best we can. I think I have done everything that I can to that end!

Progress, Not Perfection

September 14th, 2012 at 06:31 am

I quote Lucky Robin. Big Grin

In the year 2007 I believe, I made a pretty aggressive goal to have "$150k in retirement" by age 35. I think I was thinking more like the day I turned 35, and was definitely counting some more work retirement contributions in that calculation (another $10k-$20k that I never got). & even then, this goal felt pretty "pie in the sky."

For reference, in the year 2007 I only had $55k-ish in my retirement funds.

But, for all the setbacks, and how aggressive I felt the goal was at the time, I am getting pretty darn close!!

As of yesterday, had about $135k, including cash I already have for ROTHs but did not contribute yet. I can't physically put any more money into retirement accounts (that cash maxes me out), so it is what it is. I also don't really have any other investments (aside from things that are in the kids' name - obviously not for retirement!).

& I could set aside more money "for retirement" (in taxable accounts) to meet my goal, but it doesn't make any sense considering big picture, tax considerations, etc. So I will not do that.

But, will see how the rest of the year goes. At this rate, I suppose anything is possible. 3 more months until my 36th birthday. Big Grin

& I would be willing to max out ROTHs 1/1 to meet this goal. Off by 30 days from my goal? Who gives a flip! I am at the whim of the stock market. Who cares about *perfection*? I can't beat myself up about it if the stock market takes a dive tomorrow.

I'll post again on this subject and my progress, around my birthday. Again on January 1, if need be.


Next goal? Pay off mortgage by age 45. I have no idea how - but I think even if I fail, I will be pretty darn close. What's the worst that happens? Pay it off at 46?

{Truth is, I can imagine scenarios where we pay it off in just a few years. Other scenarios it would be put off indefinitely - like prolonged job loss - but you just have to hope for the best}.

P.S. Our retirement vehicles are maxed out, so not much else to do there. To obviously be re-evaluated as economic and job factors change. But on the retirement, I do feel the *hard* part is done. Around the $100k mark, compounding really starts to take over. We can commit to max out, but other than that, I think it's prudent start hitting other financial goals. I think I am just a "one focus at a time" person - always have been. I really enjoyed hitting the mortgage hard when younger, and hitting retirement hard for a time. IT's going to be back and forth until the mortgage is gone. But I do think the *hard* part is done with both of these monsters. Big Grin Plenty of work to still do, but over the hump.


I like aggressive goals for two reasons:

1 - If you fall short, you still did pretty darn good. Big Grin

2 - I am continually amazed at what I have been able to achieve in this life. It definitely takes more than "thought." But, by the same token, "thinking it" is often 90% of the battle.

Perfect example? My spouse told me he thought we should buy a residence, in our early 20s. & I thought he was out of his flipping mind!! But, we sat down and ran the numbers, it actually made sense, and we were buying a condo just a couple of years later. I basically went from "I can never afford a home here" to "homeowner" in 2 years.

Goals, Goals and More Goals

June 30th, 2012 at 12:45 pm

I maxed out dh's ROTH and am well on the way to maxing out mine this calendar year. Since we have been maxing out by 4/15 the following year, that was my goal this year to do it by 12/31.

So, what next? Pat myself on the back and call it a day? Big Grin


I have two similar goals to improve on that.

1 - Max out by 1/1.

Will probably max out 2013 by June 2013, and then aim for 1/1 in the year 2014.

2 - ROTH conversions

I've got more ROTH conversions to do. Feeling comfortable with the idea now due to cash flow. Just in the "thinking about it" stage, though good to keep front of mind in case of a substantial stock market dip. (low values = low taxes on conversion).

3 - I suppose a third unrelated goal is my salivating over 15-year mortgage rates. Not quite ready to make that leap, as would like to pay down enough to keep a very low/reasonable mortgage payment. But it gets more tempting by the day. {Honestly, if we refied today it would be a pretty darn reasonable payment; just been spoiled with the three-figure mortgage payments of late).

I guess these goals are all kind of pressing due to circumstances. ROTH conversions should be done to take advantage of our low tax rates at current. Another refinance would take advantage of record low interest rates. So that is why I am thinking about these goals in particular. Seems the obvious next steps.

One More Week

February 25th, 2012 at 07:44 am

February has been good financially. Will see how the next week goes. Credit card closes next Saturday, so have another week. I foresee spending $100 on gas and $100 on groceries. Nothing else is planned or on the horizon. Will see...

I added $1000 to the credit card payment, since I have been hoarding cash anyway. Might as well pay off our big purchases this month. I decided to do that rather than max out our ROTHs. I might be able to max out mid-month (next paycheck). Another refi date has passed, so time to badger them again. This couldn't possibly take longer than our longest refi ever? Could it? 4 months is our record, but that was some *crazy* financing. All they asked me for was a couple of pay stubs and my employer's info to verify employment. & they did an appraisal 2 months ago. I couldn't tell you what on earth takes 3+ months. We refied only three years ago and it took 2-3 weeks. I know mortgage broker guy is pissy we didn't go with him again. It comes down to the rate. Waiting 3-4 months is fine for the better rate. As annoying as it is, it isn't *that* annoying. It hasn't taken any more effort on my part. I've been a little more proactive, but they also didn't really ask me for much of anything, so I think it evens out on how much it has put me out. So far...

Anyway, the Visa closed for the month and so I carded the DMV ($85 tags on older car) and auto insurance on van - both due in March. Last time I carded the insurance I had to pay it that day. Since it is due in March I was waiting for next credit card month. Today I put the pay date as 3/1, on a whim, and it took that date. So I think they updated their system to take future payments. Woohoo! I would have set it to pay, ages ago, if I realized.

All the March bills are paid.

So, between now and April 15th I have to max out our IRAs, pay the IRS about $500, and pay the property taxes ($2000). I will probably just pay the IRS when Grandma pays me to do her taxes. Last year she gave me $300. That will mostly cover it. IRAs will be maxed with April 1 paycheck, but I can cash flow it sooner. Property taxes are already saved for.

It will be an ugly/spendy 30 days or so with all this stuff, but being prepared means that it means very little in the grand scheme of things.

Will see how March goes. BUT, since dh and I did not have surgery this January I am actually on track for some record overtime this year. Last 2 years have been pretty abysmal with "life in the way" and many years prior to that I am sure. I didn't exactly work a ton of hours with toddlers and babies, for one. I don't think I earned *any* overtime last January with my surgery, for one. So means I have already earned about as much OT this year as I did last year?

OF course, that said, it will go fast. When/if I get the check mid-April. Will replenish refinance costs, and will cover our medical deductible for 2013. If we have anything left over, I will probably apply the rest towards maxing out our IRAs on a calendar year basis. If this refinance ever finalizes I have some additional principal payments planned (not a lot, but to work we need to pay more this year - so we can pay less later). & on and on and on it goes. IT would also be nice to earmark $1k-$2k "some day" to a nice vacation. For example, to visit dh's family in Florida without having MIL foot the bill. But, I suppose it becomes obvious when managing a big windfall that is the least of our priorities. It's certainly not going to happen this year. At this rate, I'd just be happy if it didn't all go to medical bills.

So here is to March, health and some more overtime!

ETA: Ugh. Just realized I should pay property taxes next week and be done with it. I don't want my CU, or any bank, touching my property taxes with a ten foot pole. Fretted about it a bit and decided to pay online like I did last time (skipped the extremely unreliable local postal service) and will send receipt to loan officer with a request for a new ETA on closing date. The last ETA I had has just passed. I can inform her at that point that my property taxes are paid so don't bother with them, thanks. {Banks don't have the best track record with caring about paying your property taxes on time - certainly not as much as *I* care and can ensure myself. I just realized we are getting close to property tax due date and they will likely ask for the tax payment at closing}.

I guess that means property taxes on 3/1 pay day and ROTH/IRS next month (April 1). Maybe I will reduce that $1000 off the credit card again and push it to next month. Then cash flow is just all kind of the same in the end. I'll just pay the taxes early and the rest will still be on the early side if I pay 4/1.

Feeling the Pinch...

February 1st, 2012 at 08:03 am

I did fiscal chores last night - updating the spreadsheets.


Did good on the grocery budget. Squeaked by with about $500 for January. Apparently is still very doable for us. I've narrowed down overage to wine/beer and growing kids. But dh is being more mindful in cutting other costs. That said, we had shrimp for dinner. I think we can still clearly cut a lot of fat, if need be. I just need to report to dh on a monthly basis. He does the shopping and takes budget overages to heart.

Our spending actually looked pretty low and on track for January, but I came up with a negative $300 for the month. Last couple of months was kind of the same but *I forgot parents owed us $200* - stuff like that. So I initially thought I Was just missing some income.

So, pretty much, I couldn't find the $300, and it was giving me a headache. About to give up and look later, when I found it. Almost $200 on dining out. UGH! Plus it was dh's birthday and his dad's birthdays - gifts were purchased that were really beyond our super tight discretionary budget.

February is a short month and so plan of action is just to make up what I can next month. I am also getting state refund ($50-ish) so may just use that.

Our credit card cycle runs through Friday but pantry is filled and cars are gassed. NO-spend 3 days = easy peasy. I don't want one more cent on the credit card this month.

I told dh and the kids we would spend no money in February. We generally keep it pretty non-spend during tax season, so not a huge biggie. I just think we got used to a lot of freebies last year (credit card rewards) and were rolling in cash in December (birthdays and Christmas, etc.). The end result is that *normal* feels like a severe tightening of the reins. Hence the *ouch.* We just need a few months to re-adjust. There is an element of "some of my overtime can go to increased convenience costs during times of high stress." I just wasn't quite thinking $300/month for that. Maybe $100/month?

January is extra *ouch* because I only received one paycheck. $0 to savings. (1/1 paycheck was received 12/30 and put to 2011 financial goals - will get an extra check end of 2012 to make up for it).

But today is payday so I added 2/1 savings to the sidebar. $415 to savings, $10 interest to savings ($425 was exactly enough to cover heater repair from savings account, so not exactly forward progress, no to mention refi costs ready to go out of my hands - easy come, easy go), and $50 credit card reward to ROTH plus $750 ROTH contribution.

For bigger frame of reference, budget is tight, but we are on track to put away $30,000 this year. I need to remind myself, too. Easy to get caught up in feeling *broke* because can not afford a meal out. The big picture helps me relax. Secondarily, cash savings is for more immediate future. (I am tired of getting a lecture on inflation every time I mention I sent $5 to my savings account. Rolleyes Yes, that is why I don't put my long-term savings in cash! Wink )

I added some fiscal chores to my side bar:

1 - Some how I got an extra savings account at my CU with $1. I need to close that.

2 - I've got a ROTH with about $1000 in it that I really need to consolidate - I've got 3 other ROTHs with more substantial balances.

3 - I need to double check that my name is on kids' investment accounts. I know we got my name added to their CU savings account at some point (dh had opened them), but can't remember if I ever added my name to their Vanguard Funds. (They were opened in conjuction with dh's Vanguard ROTH, which was only in his name - no obvious way to add my name). Kind of hard to believe we didn't get that taken care of with his brain surgery and all, but were probably a little distracted (I think I remember feeling happy all our ducks were already in a row so I didn't have to worry about any of this - this duck being small and forgotten).

The kinds of things I had to write down lest I keep putting off.

Raise & Budget

January 16th, 2012 at 01:07 pm


Got another $1000 raise - now I can work on budget now that I know the income side.

{Side note: Really interesting talk with boss. He told me I am the only one in office to get a raise the last couple of years. Of course he said before raise would be bigger if economy didn't suck. But today he told me this tidbit and that it's "coming out of his own pocket, but he doesn't care." So I was kind of surprised by that, but very pleased. To be fair, most everyone else in the office is MUCH older and paid much more. But I think it kind of explains one reason everyone seems so tight with money lately - even all the ultra conservative accountants. I think they were getting accustomed to the big raises of the last decade, and buying things assuming more raises. How it seems. It's not like I identify how hard it must be to *only have a $200k income* - their spouses work good jobs and all that. But it never occured to me everyone else had a salary freeze over the course of the last couple of years. It at least explains a little}.


As to the budget:

Health insurance went up $73/month and raise is $83/month. With taxes though, I am a little bit behind. But the *phew* is for getting another raise to cover health insurance increases. I Certainly was not counting on it.

This means I can continue to save:

$750/month to ROTH (about 12% income)**
$400/month to savings
$150/month payroll tax holiday to mortgage or savings

**Between this and credit card rewards, is $9500 per year. Last $500 per year will come from overtime. The only reason I am putting so much away at this point is that we dropped cable. I just bumped it up from $650 to $750/month when we dropped cable.

I am still waiting to finalize refi to revise numbers for new mortgage. The plan on that is to pay more principal than interest, from the start. So I may pay an additional $50/month (over current payment) to do so. Though I am not sure where that $50 will come from. Maybe will just have to do the "more principal than interest" thing on an annual basis. Or just deposit $600 when I get my overtime bonus ($50 x 12).

I'll post the numbers later - I have my little budget excel sheet.

Christmas Spending

December 24th, 2011 at 06:13 am

Spent about $250 on Christmas this year.

Of course, it is also birthday season here, so includes a lot of birthday spending.

In addition, donated $200 cash to charity. I usually just apply some of the gifts/bonuses we get to charity, so don't usually count it as a Christmas expense. BUT, with all the credit card rewards, we spent so little, so I just paid out $200 a couple of weeks ago, from the budget. I won't be so generous with the cash gifts we receive because I am hoarding those to pay for our refinance costs.

OF course, money received so far:

$1000 from my mom
$ 50 Bday money
$ 110 from dh's Grandad (we used for a nice dinner out on 10-year move/house anniversary. Since it arrived that DAY - perfect timing!)
$ 250 work bonus (didn't end up getting more for *10 years.* Bummed about that, though happy to get anything. This is the money I usually give to charity. Usually $50 back to boss and $200 to charity).

In-Laws always gives us $1000. Will find out today, for sure.

The Spending??

$200 Charity
$20 to Gardener
$50 towards boss gift
$20 for in-law gifts (Grandkid photo calendars, gift cards, split 50/50 with SIL)
$ 8 Christmas plates/bowls (cute and on sale!)
$ 4 calendars (for kids)
$ 8 Almond roca for my dad
$17 toys for kids (some game? - was a July purchase)
$15 Frame/print for work gift exchange
$ 5 Gag gift for my mom
$15 Birthday Pie for me
$30 Frames/prints for our home (Bday gift to self)
$40 Dh/kids bought me some t-shirts (dh kept one too)
$20 lighted bows and flowers (for us, though may give the flowers to my mom to take home Xmas Day. Lighted bows were cute! We can re-use)
$452 TOTAL

Of course, with cash gifts, we come out ahead about $2000. Woohoo!

In addition to the above we did all the following for free (credit card rewards and creativity):

Nintendo DS3 for the kids
Several used video games for the kids
LOTS of free books/games for the kids (Scholastic)
Kindle for my mom
Kindle for dh's folks
Kindle Fire for us
$25 Amazon gift card for my dad's 60th B-Day
$25 Amazon gift card (x2) for teachers
$300 free books for teachers, approximately (Scholastic)

In addition, I printed out some sheet music from some of LM's favorite video games. The kids are with Grandma so I practiced them a bit to surprise him tomorrow. I thought of it because #1 - dh got some free CD of video game themes played by a Symphony - that kind of thing. LM LOVES it. & also we are trying to talk him into starting piano lessons. So, I thought maybe this would encourage him a bit. Wink But I can't wait to see his face when I play "Chocobo theme song" and "Angry Birds Theme Song." Big Grin For extra motivation I need to find some easier arrangements for BM. (To showcase what one year of piano lessons can do). I am sure I will find something - the internet is AMAZING. I couldn't believe all the free music I found. I usually pay for music. & I will be mindful to buy it if I find a good arrangement. But there is just so much free stuff being shared by people online, too. Like, their own arrangements of popular songs. WOW!

This year was certainly a unique year with so much opportunity for so much fancy free stuff!!

We probably usually spend about $500 on Xmas + $200 to charity. So, we saved about $250 this year, with credit card rewards. (Plus, were able to be extra generous).


BTW, framed print of my dad's photo was a HUGE hit at work gift exchange. I did good! Funniest part? Boss and his wife are really into art and have ridiculously expensive frames, etc. around the office. I had to get my frames approved for my certificates for example - to hang them in my office. Um, they approved my cheap Michael frame to hang on their wall? Seriously? OF course, I am thinking GIFT idea for THEM next year. I should go buy another of these frames - if they approve. (I love how nice and sturdy and sleek they look though I paid little more than $10 for them on sale!)

I received a dainty little gold watch. I LOVE it. The funny thing is that I have been thinking I could use a watch, but haven't exactly voiced that out loud. Must be "good gift" karma!


Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, to everyone.

Mortgage Update

December 1st, 2011 at 05:49 pm

Just deposited my paycheck and paid the mortgage.

Mortgage Balance? $200,874!

What I have so far to apply to the balance on 12/31 is:

$311 regular payment (principal portion)
$150 payroll tax holiday
$461 Total

Leaves about $415 to come up with. I am just crossing my fingers for Christmas money. If I don't get enough, will transfer from savings.

Ending balance should be $199,998


I will probably wait until Christmas so that I can use Christmas money to pay it down. Merry Christmas to me!

Anyway, most extra payments made were from credit card rewards this year. Here are the extra principal payments made this year. I haven't had to touch savings for any of these, so crossing my fingers that I can say the same for December:

JAN - 72.79
FEB - 132.79
MAR - 156.00
APR - 177.79
MAY - 65.00
JUN - 552.79
JUL - 50.00
AUG - 300.00
SEP - 450.00
OCT - 150.00
NOV - 150.00
DEC - 876.00
TOTAL $3133.16

Boy do those mortgage chips add up fast!

I did mention none of these payments came from regular income? & just a place to park the payroll tax holiday, so I don't get used to it.


I also wouldn't be surprised if we refinance AGAIN. The refinancing never ends. I am holding off and attacking the mortgage a bit in the hopes of getting 3%-ish for a 15-year loan. The 30-year isn't quite worth it, but getting close. I could never regret our last refinance - it freed up $200/month and locked in a GREAT rate. I wasn't sure if the value of our home would hold, and I am not one to wait for better rates when they are ROCK BOTTOM. But I knew there was a chance that rates would go even lower. So, we just refinance again. Every time I tell my hubby, "This is the last time ever - I swear!" He just hated those loan people, and the whole process. He knows I wouldn't bring it up unless we could save a ton of money! Our home value has held, and I just saw my FICO was 800, credit card dealings and all. So, now I just wait for the right time. (& if I miss the boat - oh well - I can't complain about 4.875%!) One thing that is interesting is that our rate is so low as is, that a small interest rate drop is rather significant. Also, the many times we have refinanced, 15-year rates were generally close to 30-year rates. So I am in awe of these low low low 15-year rates and trying to figure out how to snag one of those without regretting the bigger mortgage payment. All I can do is pay down the principal as much as possible, and hope these rates hold a while longer.

Mortgage Goal

November 22nd, 2011 at 10:55 am

Well, if we can go 8 more days with no major unexpected bills, then 2011 should wrap up pretty AWESOME-ly. (& frankly, even if I end up in the emergency room, what are the odds any bills would be due before December - things are looking promising). {Note: Any unexpected December bills can be charged in December and paid physically in January - which would not affect 12/31/11 cash position or net worth}.

I am looking at knocking out 3 huge (long-term) financial goals this year. I find it fascinating that all goals will probably be met at about the same time. What are the odds? IT has not been particularly a banner year of any sort. Hell, I started out in January by having another surgery. BUT medical bills aside, we have not had one large expenditure this year. I have not touched our savings for ANYTHING, and so it has flourished, though I honestly saved less this year than I have the past several years. (This would still be much more impressive if we could also stem the tide of medical bills).

Of course, credit card rewards will largely be responsible for meeting agressive mortgage goal this year. I suppose over all, much more financial luck this year than the past few years.

Last I mentioned, I Was about $165 or so short on mortgage goal - to come out of savings or birthday money. Well, Chase is sending me a $69 annual fee refund, so that takes care of some of that - I will just put it to the mortgage.

I wondered if my annual Christmas bonus would be bumped up this year - now that I have been here 10 years. ??? Will find out in about a month. It's nothing overly special - usually $250. But I believe it was $50 or $100 for first 5 years, $250 the last 5 years, and will see for this year. I've got mortgage and ROTH goals to fund, though if it is more than usual, I probably will put $100 to top off the mortgage goal, and the rest to charity. Will see!

Come December 1 I will update you all on my amazing goal progress. I won't believe it until November passes! I did pay all the December bills already and updated my progress on the side bar, so you can see all the goals I believe I have achieved for 2011. The trifecta part is that my cash position is much higher than expected!

2011 Goal Update

October 20th, 2011 at 11:59 am

Knock on wood, but the goals seem to be going good.

ROTH IRAs - I just checked where we were, and I only seem to be $300 short on maxing out. (I had estimated $1500 at some point, and already made a $500 deposit to lessen that shortfall). It seems likely I forgot to count AmEx deposits to our ROTH? Woohoo!

$300 from savings - will try to do before the end of the year. THAT is easy peasy. Though we won't max out until April.

Goal for 2012 is to contribute $9,000 from income ($750 x 12), earn $500 in credit card rewards, and pay 10% of overtime to get up to $10,000. Meaning, as long as I have a paycheck, it should basically be auotomatic from pay and rewards. It depends on our health insurance - I am assuming I get just enough raise to cover the usual crazy insane annual increase, and that I can stick with $750/month to ROTH. Will see...

Mortgage Goal - Goal is to hit $199,999 by 12/31.

We've gotten so many credit card rewards this year that I haven't touched savings for this at all. Since MIL just took over paying for piano lessons, I am adding $150 to the mortgage every month. This will leave me with a shortfall of about $412 to reach my goal. I expect $250 for Christmas work bonus and will apply it to mortgage. This leaves me $162 short. I doubt I will get this much birthday money, but might get $100. Birthday present to me? Extra to the mortgage! I expect I might need to transfer the last $62 or so from savings. Will see... I'd generally say that dh could make that money EASY PEASY on Amazon during Holiday season, but I mentioned before they banned all non-high-volume-sellers for the Christmas season. I could also convert upcomoing credit card rewards into cash, but I think I will leave as is since I have so little to come up with.


Cash Savings Goal

I was optimistic earlier in the year that we would FINALLY hit $30,000. I suppose it is a double whammy in that $30k is a pretty solid 6-month *emergency fund* while also being a level of cash we can't seem to achieve on one income, with kids. IT's a very meaningful goal to me - one that has been very elusive - so close but so far!

Anyway, I did transfer $500 to the ROTH and had almost $1000 in medical/dental bills, so I pretty much give up this year. (& I just said I had plans to transfer another $300-$400 out to reach other goals).

But, I won't give up. I think next April will be it! Overtime bonus in April. How many times have I said that before, huh? Well, no one in my household having major surgery would be extremely helpful... So I am hoping for that. I've got about $28k in the bank, today.

Vacation Update

October 9th, 2011 at 12:03 pm

We did it - Disney under $1,000. Woot!

Disneyland $236 (special night event)
Legoland $162 (kids were free)
Museums $84 (3 museums; one was free the day we went)
Parking $18 (Legoland + Hollywood street parking)
Souvenirs $80
Food $250
Gas $140
Sunblock $4
TOTAL $974

Some thoughts and commentary:

**Hotel was 100% free. Though we are used to free hotel stays with MIL's timeshare, it was because of her new *elite* status that we were not charged fees for taxes or parking. Yay! So literally paying -ZERO- was a nice surprise.

**We took the gas sipper and 4 tanks of gas got us there and back. We had good luck finding cheap gas. Phew!

**We'd generally spend $0 on souvenirs, but I let the kids go a little hog wild on the day we got rained out of Disney. I also really wanted to get them swords/shields at Legoland (their friends had gotten them a while back), BUT it does add up fast! (I am not sure I Would have gotten them either, but dh and I had miscommunication on the price). I hope they enjoyed because next time is probably going to be $0 budget for souvenirs!

**Food is always the biggest part of our budget when we vacation. I think this illustrates why. It's the biggest number of the bunch! & of course, it hurts to spend like 50% of our monthly food budget, in just 5 days. Ouch!

**Interestingly, we spent absolutely $0 on snacks. Last time we went to Disney it was a HOT week and I remember we were just always hungry, and buying up snacks, which did not help the food budget at all. I think you have the tendency to feel hungry when thirsty and also need that extra jolt of energy. This time we brought TONS of snacks from home (I was more aggressive in sneaking them into the parks) and barely touched them. Figured! In fact, all we bought while we were there was some sunblock (Was forgotten at home and only needed it one day). Food was strictly bought for lunch and dinner. Hotel had continental breakfast. We only went through our piles of snacks in the car. I couldn't tell you why - we all have huge metabolisms and usually have to eat more often. I am surprised what a difference the cool weather made. We were probably not used to eating such hearty lunches.

**I am personally not opposed to TV watching in the car. If it keeps the kids happy on a long drive, whatever. I certainly remember my parents torturing me on long drives through half the united states when I Was kid. I would have loved a TV to help pass the time!! But, the kids are pretty good at traveling (used to many 4-hour roundtrip drives to see family). & though a TV in the back would be nice for them, it doesn't do much for those of us in the front seat or specifically for the driver. SO, our main entertainment was audio books borrowed from the library. Between that, sleeping and video games, I didn't hear one, "Are we there yet???" Phew! & the trip went pretty fast for us adults, too. Dh and I always do audio books (library) on long road trips. I just think it was the first time we could all agree on something - kids were too young to appreciate last big road trip.


The vacation budget is definitely blown for the year, but I think we did very well!

So Cal Week $974
San Francisco $100
San Francisco/Staycation $200
Camp Sacramento - 3 nights $100
Six Flags Staycation $200
Camping Trip $140
Water Park/Monterey $145
Water Park with friends $40

TOTAL - $1,899

Vacation budget is $1500. MIL gave us $200 for Disney, bringing total to $1700. At face value we are over budget by $200 for the year, but some of the gas and food can come from our gas and food budget. SO, I think we just squeezed in with our budget.

That said, we still have weekend Napa trip for our anniversary. Point is to get away and enjoy the scenery. I doubt we will spend much of any money on the trip. I don't think we care at all - the hotel is supposed to top notch and we will enjoy that.

I am expecting a $300 credit card reward in November, so may consider that to pay vacation expenses and/or to allow one nice dinner in Napa. I haven't really decided what to do with it yet, but considering I put most the rest of our substantial rewards this year to the mortgage, I can live with splurging this last $300. It is one reason we decided to go to Disney Monday night (we had also planned to go another full day if not rained out - $300).

Significant Goal Progress

August 2nd, 2011 at 12:44 pm

If we can keep this momentum (no really expensive surprises?), we are on track to do *awesome* with our financial goals this year.

Will probably:

**Put $10k into ROTHs (have never maxed out both?)
**Hit $30k+ cash savings
**Hit $199,999 balance on mortgage (30% down; 70% to go).

All of these goals have been YEARS in the making.

I'd be happy to spread out these wins a little, but for whatever reason it's boom, boom, boom. (On track to all be solid around 12/31).


I had an interesting epiphany today about the mortgage. I am extremely hesitant to put extra to the mortgage, considering the logic factor of investing instead, and the past experience of tying too much up into the mortgage.

Epiphany? Last time I put extra to the mortgage, I didn't have a solid big picture financial plan. Meaning, I wasn't making retirement/savings a priority, etc. I believe it came about when we refinanced about the time my first son was born. When I went back to work, I resumed the old mortgage payments (extra principal). It was dumb. Our gross income had been halved, and expenses were rising with a new child. At the time, it felt dumb to not keep the old payment, but the truth was something needed to give.

A number of things have swayed me this year, and I think this was the final realization I needed. With ample savings and maxed out ROTHS, it's not dumb and I probably won't regret it. Clearly, my gut is telling me to pay more - so I will listen. (My gut always serves me well).


Speaking of the gut...

I have been really intent to get to a cash savings level of $30,000, for years. Last year, I Was so intent on finally reaching this goal, than I started commiting $1000 per month to this goal. I had like $25,0000 to start? I didn't get anywhere. The more I saved, the more life threw at me.

This year, I threw up my hands. I give up! I reorganized my financial priorities, and suddenly it falls into the place. This is with extra mortgage payments, so is one reason I have made that mind shift with the mortgage. You can't argue with better results. The universe agrees with *this* plan.

Anyway, if no cash surprises arise in August (we usually charge everything, anyway), then our cash balance may hit $30,000 for about five minutes on September 1st. (Before the car insurance is due). No matter. I expect some car repairs, car insurance, and kids' dental visit to be charged this month and paid in Septmber. But absolutely nothing planned in October, so it is feasible to hit this goal for real on October 1. (Then again - BM Might be due for some expensive dental work - so won't get too excited).

The motivating note on my desk says:

$35,000 - 2002
$27,000 - 2003
$24,000 - 2004
$17,000 - 2005

Nope - I haven't had this much cash since I have had children. The note reminds me that the hardest thing we have found with this one-income/kid thing is lack of cash. Lack of cash = lack of flexibility. Lack of freedom.

It's all relative. If you asked most my friends, they'd wonder what the heck I have to worry about. (People are SO CLUELESS about money)! But seriously, ask any 30-something I know. $30,000 in the bank - what the hell? Live a little. Blahblahblah.

So, does this mean when I reach my goal that I will move on to other goals? More college savings? Taxable investing? Go hog wild?

Um, no. Got to keep chugging along. $5000 per year to cash savings. $8000 in years we use our medical deductible: every year?

$30,000 will break down approximately as follows:

$15,000 emergency fund
$ 3,000 medical deductible fund (2012)
$12,000 savings

Just about enough savings to replace dh's 10-year-old vehicle.

I haven't even started saving to replace my 6-year-old-vehicle.

The plan to buy a brand new house and not put money into it for a decade has worked out extremely well. But the decade is about over. More home maintenance savings is needed.

Kids are both on track for significant orthodontia.

Dh may want to go back to school.

We want to plan 2 big parties for our parents' anniversaries in the next 2 years.

& all of this will easily hit in the next 5 years (don't invest money you need in 5 years).

We don't borrow for things, and not sure how that would help anyway. Then I could just have a bunch of payments and have $0 for savings.

I prefer the flexibility of cash. Plan B is to not replace any cars until dh goes back to work (if have to - can live with one). Plan C is we are both content to spend $2k or $5k on a car - if that is all we can afford. Just depends on our financial picture when that time comes. (We've always done well with older cars - and frankly didn't pay that much for our current vehicles - both bought one-year-old).

Will keep adding to cash - doesn't seem like that will change for a long while.

I did wonder for a few minutes: This goal met? What next? But then I looked at reality. We've got a heck of a lot of expenses in the near-term horizon.

Mortgage Update

April 5th, 2011 at 07:24 am

I am copying Petunia's idea.

Of course, I was rushed and it isn't so pretty, and now I realize I highlighted the wrong payment.

But, here goes:

At this rate, we continue to find an extra $100/month. & we usually get around $1500 for Christmas, so we may just use that for the last $1k.

We wanted to pay off some of the closing costs we borrowed from our last refi, and psychologically hit the $199k mark since we expected this year to be pretty good financially.

So far we have knocked off $17/year in interest. If we pay off the extra $3k we plan to, we will save about $150/year in interest.

That said, once we reach our goal, I don't foresee continuing to put so much to the mortgage. Will wait until dh finds a job, and then we will put a TON more to the mortgage. IT's just one of those things I don't want to tie a lot of resources into while we still have 300 payments left. When we can start to significantly and rapidly knock it down is another story. This is why I don't mind putting a chunk of a second income to it - because we can knock off years very quickly in that case. In the interim, we have more pressing financial goals where I don't want to tie up all that money for eternity.


Today I redeemed $100 in credit card rewards. $100 will be deposited into my ROTH in the next few days.

I am mailing off my property taxes today and watching my cash balance dwindle down to $22k. Frown It will hopefully be back to $25k at the end of the month.


I was thinking about those studies that show people's pain centers (in their brains) are not activated when they use a card instead of cash.

That might be true for the average person. I am just wired differently. I think I get more pleasure from saving than spending, personally.

Anyway, with how horrific April is with the property taxes, medical bills, and all the other bills due, and even being prepared and having saved up for it all, I think I am going to cringe every time I make a purchase this month. Credit or cash doesn't matter - will be painful! (I've never carried a balance so credit is same as cash to me! I just don't treat it any differently and can attest it is just as painful).

10% to retirement - or close enough

March 11th, 2011 at 07:15 am

Was able to fund 10% to 2010. Woohoo!

Maybe 9.6%, but close enough for me. Big Grin


Background? We always put 10% gross income to retirement. Since we graduated college at age 22.

It's mostly non-negotiable. 10% to retirement. (Usually we put in more, but that is the minimum).

Then 2010 came along. We maxed our our medical deductible in both December 2009 and January 2010, with dh's brain tumor stuff. & then I got a 10% reduction in compensation around that time.

We quickly decided to put $0 to retirement in 2010. Was just a crappy year. We needed a year to just regroup.

I was not happy about it, but kind of felt it would work out. When we first had kids and neither of us was working for a time, we decided to put $0 to retirement, for the short run. In the end, we were able to put in about 12% every year since my spouse stopped working. So, I remembered back to when I had my first child, and how we were able to meet our retirement goals even when we chose to temporarily put them aside.

I didn't expect the answer to fall out of the sky, this time, but I did know that I had about 16 months to find more money for retirement, and that something would probably work out.

& so it has.

So how did we do it?

$1000 in mid 2010 - deposited into a new IRA I had to open to roll my work retirement plan into.

$3000 in December 2010. Transferred $3k from cash Efund to ROTH cash efund. Might as well not give up the contribution. This portion doubles as efund for now. I did have to be creative. But this made me feel better - at least I set 5% away in retirement accounts. Without depleting cash.

$2000 tax refund - all the medical bills gave us a nice tax refund. I was able to milk an extra $500 by depositing the refund in my regular IRA instead of a ROTH or savings. (I had kind of counted on the tax break, all along - knew this would come through. A very small return on all the medical bills).

That is $6000, and I was pretty happy with that. About 8% gross income for 2010.

I also felt so behind (another surgery - another maxed deductible 2011), that I gave up on putting more to 2010. In the past I just cram all my retirement into the last year (before April) because I want retirement to be all maxed out if some windfall comes along. Though we've had some lower income years, there is no doubt we could max (this year, last year, whatever possible) the minute dh returned to work, too. So, bigger income/windfalls are always perpetually on the horizon. We try not to give up retirement contributions, accordingly. Maxing out in more recent years - even if it took 16 months to do so.

It was probably stupid to give up on 2010, because dh and I have even talked about him returning to work this year. But after a not-so-great year financially, and being so "creative" about that 10% I think I was just DONE. I gave up. I Was tired of finding $1k here and there and not thinking I was going to do much better.

But I had a change of heart. In one of my last posts I said I may get $1300 (for taxes and piano lessons), from dh's family. Entirely unexpected. & so I start thinking I should finish funding 2010. Suddenly it seems actually doable. Max out 2010!?! Hard to believe...

I went ahead and put $500 to 2010 ROTH, which was just what i Was putting away this month in dh's ROTH. Vanguard apparently makes it really easy to switch your year designation (before April, anyway). I was able to switch last month's ROTH contribution to 2010. With the click of a button.

If I earmark next month's $500 ROTH contribution to 2010, that will get our grand total to $7500 for 2010.

10% - DONE.

I think I am done with 2010 though. Still, exhausted. Ready to move on and stop thinking about 2010.


I know. I don't want to have to do that again. Blech!

This year I am just setting aside $700/month. Which is a little more than 10%.

Since I moved $1500 to 2010, I have to find another $1500 now. For 2011. That's the only thing. (I already had to find $1500 to max out).

I'll work it out in December, or next April. Coming up with an extra $3k is much less daunting than feeling like I could put away $0, one year ago.


2010 was actually much better than expected. About $3k less medical bills than initially expected, plus a $1k break on our flood insurance. So, phew!

Unexpected cash is going to cash savings, for now.

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