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Napa Weekend

January 16th, 2018 at 08:40 pm

Weekend Spending:
$12 Groceries
$100 Dinner (Friday)
($100) Cash Gift
$100 Hotel Fees, Dining Out (Saturday)
($100) Gift
$100 Room service (Saturday)
($100 Credit)
$28 Dining Out (Sunday)
($50 Credit)

Spent less than $0!

In the end, we spent around $20-ish for the entire weekend away from home. Some of the groceries we brought back home, and the Sunday dining out was included dinner after we got home.

I didn't plan it that way, MH is just charmed like that!

{We have since received a $50 credit from the hotel. So I guess we made money?? Big Grin I edited above to reflect this credit).

We aren't a big fan of the restaurants in Napa (way over-priced and have yet to find anything that lives up to the hype), BUT we did find an excellent restaurant on a prior visit and planned to return. I expected that to really be our only expense this weekend, and so was fine with the high cost. The food was DIVINE! In the end, MH received some birthday cash to cover that.

The timeshare company and/or the resort screwed up the reservation and so we got a small hotel room instead of the suite we reserved (with full kitchen). I had no idea what on earth we'd spend the $100 credit on, that they gave us to compensate for the error. MH is smart, and figured we could order room service. It worked out since we had planned to buy some groceries and just hole up in the room most of the weekend. $100 covered brunch and dinner on Saturday.

We usually pay -$0- when we stay at timeshare properties, but some hotels have incidental fees (usually parking fees in places like San Francisco). We've stayed at this resort a few times before and I recalled they charge taxes directly to us. So we paid $60 for two nights. (Not a bad deal!) We also made sure to use up entire $100 credit and went over a bit, owing $15. Spent $25 on lunch out Saturday. All that added up to $100, but MH happened to receive a $100 birthday check (in the mail) when we got home. That worked out nicely!

{In the end, MIL was beyond peeved and found out that we can get the taxes refunded if she calls every time. They charged us because we aren't timeshare owners. We probably never mentioned to her in the past?? Anyway, she called to complain about everything and we supposedly have another $50 credit coming to us. Did I mention that MH is charmed?}.

Sunday we ate lunch at our favorite deli chain before heading home, and then I took the kids out to dinner since we had no food in the house (no one was up to running to the store AND cooking). That said, DL started to give me a laundry list of food items. I told him, "If you want me to pick it up for you, you get to order one menu item." I just didn't want some mega order and they had already eaten VERY WELL all weekend. MM(14) ordered a double whopper, which was more than half of the $11 we spent on dinner. We had some food in the house to supplement.

Some Wineries/Landscape:




The view from our hotel:


On Saturday we ended up doing a brewery tour and some beer tasting. We then went to a 2-hour podcast recording. All that was free, except we ordered an appetizer and a beer sampler while waiting for our tour. (Officially they don't do free beer tasting on the weekend, but apparently they do ply you with free beer).

I enjoyed the relaxing weekend. I won't have a full weekend or any weekday off until May. So it was nice to have such a relaxing weekend. MH was telling me that everyone seemed confused that he doesn't go to Napa for the wine. It's only an hour drive from our house, so probably the closest vacation destination we have. Tahoe is nice, but could be treacherous to get to this time of year. & it's twice as far away. Napa is where we go when we want to relax. It's just close and relaxing.

----------------------------------------------------

I was not going for "uber frugal" this month at all, and would roll my eyes at the idea of our lifestyle being uber frugal. (I've lived many adult years on pennies, and we live rather extravagantly these days, compared to any frame of reference I have living in Bay Area or how I grew up).

So I am amused how the month is shaping up. MH and I have a $50 gift card for a fancy meal this week (will go on his birthday). The weekend after that we will probably take my dad to Benihana (belated birthday gift; I have a $100 gift card).

I think I will be able to redeem my last $500 credit card rewards (gift cards) this week. No idea what to even do with that! I will probably donate some.

Raise, Taxes

January 16th, 2018 at 01:53 pm

Was shocked to get a raise this year. Just seemed unlikely given economics of employer. (Was a bit of a niche market that just happened to fared very well during the recession, but now we have an aging/retiring client base). There is still a weird dynamic where I am youngest in office but have surpassed some of my elders, and so have been the only one to get raises over many years. Ever since I realized this, I've not taken raises for granted. I was legitimately shocked this year.

Well, that's easy! I can take care of everything I wanted to in 2018 budget/spending plan without worrying about it.

--Health insurance went up $65/month
(Where the vast majority of my raises have gone since having kids. This year was a small increase in the grand scheme of things.)

--MM wanted to attend third weekly gymnastics class offered this year. We told him we have better things to do than to drive him over there 3 times a week (yikes!) But, that we could discuss after my work review. I am more open to it now; will have some extra funds. Will still have to find some reasonable balance.

--I wanted to bump up our short-term savings. Expenses like insurance (life, disability) are creeping up. Most especially since I turned 40. (Maybe some "leaping up" in that case). This gives us more breathing room in the budget because we use short-term savings for one-off expenses. It's a hard balancing act because if we save money we want to leave it there, and I think psychologically it might work well being a little tight. But it's starting to get a little out of balance and is stressful at the end of the year when I really haven't saved enough for all this stuff.

This breaks out to:
$5,500 property taxes
$4,300 insurance (various)
$2,000 vacation
$1,500 car maintenance
$1,200 Dental
$2,300 Misc.

The extra $1,200 to Misc. = some breathing room. Phew!

When I plugged my new salary into a paycheck calculator I came up with +$280 monthly income with a $250 monthly raise. I presumed that was because of the new tax tables. Anyway, I will do some tax projections today and figure out what to do. I barely withhold any taxes from my monthly paycheck, because I get a OT check every year that's taxed like a bonus. So while it would probably be wise to adjust my withholding with the extra windfall, I also don't see the point of letting the government hold my money all year. It may be that I just decide to put the entire difference ($80/month?) into investments. That is money I can put into tax withholding if my job situation changes.

But I will do a tax projection, make sure I am paying in enough state tax, etc. Once I figure out how much I need for taxes, I can finalize my 2018 goals.

I may just leave sidebar goals as is because they are very aggressive. Not really entirely sure I can or even want to make these goals, but aiming high seems to work well for us.

Tax Notes:

--Our taxes will remain unchanged with the new tax laws. Our "taxable income" will increase substantially because we lose all of our exemptions. Which probably doesn't bode well for the long run. (For the short run, like just a couple of years, this increase is offset by child tax credits)

--That said, MH's small income is getting taxed at 15% instead of 30%. If we are shifting to a two full-time income, then the timing works out pretty well. As long as we have kids, I still pay "almost nothing" as to taxes on my income. Which is why the high tax rate on an additional few thousand dollars has been so jarring.

--Accordingly, we will probably drop the 401k contributions. We've only done for tax reasons, which annoys me, because increasing cash flow would be the motivation for this job. Will build up taxable investments instead of adding to 401k, which just makes more sense given our financial situation.

It depends how my tax projections go today. Not 100% decided, but I like that I feel less tied to the 401k.

--Will stick with the Traditional IRAs (as much as we can; MH is being phased out). Taxes are complex, and we need the Traditional IRAs to increase our itemized deductions and to lower our taxes. I believe last I calculated was a 24% savings for every dollar we put in Traditional IRA, because it increases our itemized deductions the more we can decrease AGI. So that is why. I will check today now that I have some better salary estimates to plug in. Oh, and we have to do the Traditional IRAs to keep our taxable investments tax-free. Between those two points, I don't see any ROTH contributions in our near future.

Edited to add: It was probably a bigger second income which was much more palate-able with the new tax law. Which is just interesting timing for us. I can't re-create that 15% tax rate with current income situation, so I am guessing that was a more long-term/higher income tax projection.

I ran numbers today and we save 32% for every dollar we put into 401k+Traditional IRA. Looks like we will stick with the 401k. (It's the loss of 0% investment tax rate that is tripping me up).


2017 Goal Update

January 16th, 2018 at 03:15 am

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

2017 Goals

[X]$11,000 to IRAs 2017 (MAX)
...($11,000 @ 12/31/17)
...We save $900/month

[ ]$5,000 to savings
...($4,013 @ 12/31/17)
...We save $300/month, plus interest.
...Topping off with snowballs

[ ]$8,000 to investments
...($7,236 @ 12/31/17)
...$2,200 from monthly contributions; $2,636 snowflakes/snowballs; $2,400 tax savings
...We save $200/month, plus snowflakes
...Will also invest tax savings ($2,400) when contribute to Traditional IRAs
...Will top off goal with snowballs

[X]$3,000 to mortgage
...($3,225 @12/31/17)
...$3k per year to pay off in 20 years (from last refi); also ensures that we pay more principal than interest
...Funded with overtime

In addition, we save 100% of MH's income.


My goal has been to save 100% of MH's (take-home) pay. I think that's been a little hit and miss. But probably complicated by paying all of the income taxes out of my check (though we pay 6x as much tax on his income; my salary is almost tax-free and is why there is such a substantial difference). I know we have also been using to justify some splurges. Which I am totally cool and fine with. Just don't want second income to be going towards basics like housing and groceries, insurance, etc. Don't want to get used to it. We have always used the second income for more one-off expenses and larger purchases (while primarily invested).

I will have to re-evaluate with tax law changes and all that. I'll update my sidebar when I figure it out.

As to the rest, I fell about $1,500 short of savings goals. Considering we spent about $2,000 on random last minute London trip (over and above vacation budget), I think that pretty much sums that up. Considering we easily paid $1,500 less to go in 2017 (versus any other recent years) and we can now cross that off our list, it probably all evens out in the end. Which is why we take advantage of opportunities like this.

At the end of the day, I always find it hard to sweat these things when our assets are up substantially. I am happy with how 2017 turned out.

January 12 Spending

January 15th, 2018 at 05:52 am

January 12
$3 Donut shop
$19 Groceries
$28 gas for car
Dinner: Out of Town (separate post)

If MH told me anything about groceries, I don't remember. Too many days ago!

Used 25-cent gas coupon at gas station.

I ended up going to donut shop on Friday morning. Hadn't really thought of it, but really wanted a soda. Was thinking logically I should just go to CVS (right by MM's school). For reference, I have been driving him to this school for 5 months and have never made a stop like that. Is not a frequent thing for me. But I do sometimes stop for donuts. I decided to just grab a soda at the donut shop. Sure, a donut sounds good too. In the end, all they had was 12 oz soda cans, so not really what I wanted. But it worked in a pinch.

Buying (bakery) donuts is something no one in our house did the 13-ish years that MH was home. Is definitely a "more household income" kind of treat.

January 11, Almost to Vacation!

January 12th, 2018 at 06:19 pm

January 11
$16 Networking
Dinner: crockpot chili

MH went to a fundraiser for a (new to him) independent film group he is trying to get involved with. My first impression would be he hasn't jived with them in the way he has with other film crews. BUT, to be fair, they haven't done any filming yet! I think working together probably creates some bonding. (I think they are going to film this summer; probably bigger budget than anything MH has worked on before).

Any other week we probably would have gone out and enjoyed, together. It sounded really fun actually. Was a late night out with various forms of entertainment. But as is, I usually go out -0- nights and I already had two other commitments this week. AND I had to ready the house for in-laws (because I had no time otherwise).

Since MH didn't expect to know anyone and doesn't do loud (he can't follow conversations in loud environments because of his hearing loss), he really expected to show up buy a ticket, and come home. He just wanted to show his support. By 9pm or so he wasn't home; we went to bed. In the end, he ran into someone he knew (outside of this group) and he enjoyed himself and stayed for a few hours. I am glad, because I was really thinking he shouldn't bother. He was generally exhausted and dreading the whole thing when he left the house.

I'd probably have no idea how much he spent, because he paid cash. But, he told me this morning he spent $16 on admission and a beer.

Work was slow this week and I just soaked it in. I evaluated my OT and decided I don't even need to cram in many hours this tax season (because worked so many OT hours already, that will be paid out in April). For the long run, not entirely sure how it will shake out and will aim for more hours so I don't fall behind on workload. BUT, decided to not work more than 40 hours this week. (Which means I only had to work until noon today). We have our Napa weekend away, starting tonight.

Most of my angst/busy-ness this week is put on myself for trying to give MH this weekend away. I look forward to RELAXING the next two days.

Weekend plans: One expensive dinner out and two different "free" events. (We aren't wine drinkers; we go to Napa for the scenery and peace).

January 10, Night Out

January 11th, 2018 at 02:20 pm

January 10
$4 Taco Bell Lunch
Dinner: leftovers

My go-to lunch in a pinch is generally in the $2 range, ordering off the dollar menus. (Is what I would order regardless).

Soda/treats are fine, but generally relegated to the grocery store (where the cost is significantly less). In this case, I ran out of soda (more bad planning) and so I just got some soda when I ran out for lunch. I did remember to ask for no ice. The hard part is remembering. The worst is paying $2 for a bucket of ice and a wee bit of a soda. Big Grin I also only generally order soda from Taco Bell because their small sizes are actually small. In this case, I chose Taco Bell because it's the only place I know to get any decent food near my work. Most everywhere else has shut down (or should). I am sure there are hundreds of eateries, but the very few I frequent are all terrible and have generally gone out of business. I just use this as extra motivation not to eat out.

MH and I did a late night out last night. I remember doing this once before without a babysitter (probably even later at night) and DL(12) was kind of sad about it. It must have been more than 18 months ago, because I can't imagine doing that once he had his depression/anxiety issues last school year. Anyway, we told the kids we'd be home by 10:30 probably, and that they'd have to put themselves to bed. I think MM was very *shrugs* about this last time, and he is a "falls asleep when his head hits the pillow" type, so he was snoring by the time we got home at 10pm. DL was reading in bed, but was very *shrugs* about the whole thing. I suppose we are getting to a space where we can more seriously go out on a school night and whoop it up. Woohoo! For us, would be very rare. I am not a night owl at all.

We went to a special movie screening. We had planned to pay full price. The movie pass was not supposed to apply to this showing, but in the end they took it! I then thought we were going to pay $12.50 (for my ticket). I hadn't realized MH used up the movie gift card (for my ticket). So less spending than I thought. They were advertising all the classic movie special events they do and so on. I told MH, "We should go to some of those, if your ticket is free." He agreed.

January 9, Bad Planning

January 10th, 2018 at 08:14 pm

January 9
$24 Groceries
Dinner: Saag Paneer (Indian cheese & spinach)

We had a school PTA meeting. So I didn't have any down time at all.

MH went to the grocery store; $10 of that was at the Indian grocer.

MH did tell me that he got on the guest list for one of the podcasts that he watches. We haven't 100% decided if we will go, but will be in the area this weekend. We went once before and it was entertaining. He mentioned how he was thinking it would be free entertainment (and he wanted to go regardless). I think it's just a perfect example of how there are many very interesting and fun things to do that don't necessarily cost money. (Or at the least, don't cost much).

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Today I am suffering from bad planning.

The kids always start school late on Wednesday, BUT they had the last couple of weeks off AND they didn't start late the Wednesday before that.

So... Today I was felling "meh" with all the food on hand and thinking I'd just come home for lunch. Decided I'd just pick up DL at lunch time, and give MH a break from the constant back and forth to/from schools. Then I could take more time to scrounge up some lunch at home.

My kids are very responsible and I don't generally have to wake them up. But everyone was asleep around 7am so I woke the kids up. After I awoke DL I realized it's about 15 minutes early for him. (I so rarely wake him up I don't remember, but sometimes he flips out if he is awoken early). He was in a chill mood, so, PHEW! I woke up MM and he tells me, "It's Wednesday." Ah yes, it is!

I'm already in "go to work" mode though, so I wake up MH and ask him if he will take the kids to school. He is fine with it. But I said I'd pick up DL at lunch, in exchange. He said, "At 2:30?!" Okay, no I will not do that! Back to the drawing board. (I'd be handling all this if MH was working this week, but since he's home I hadn't even bothered to look at the schedule).

I remembered I was in the middle of some tedious project at work that I could just work on from home. Kind of perfect, really. I told him "Plan B: I will take MM to school (like always) but I will pick up DL tomorrow at lunch." I then got an hour of work in and all was well.

I just felt dumb when I was driving to work, because this week was so rushed in general and I had no time to finish the chores I wanted to do. So I had a "DOH" moment that I really should have used the morning time to tend to chores. I was just thrown so completely offguard by the whole thing. So that is how I made my life more complicated than it has to be.

We will all get back into our groove next week.

January 8, Quiet & Relaxing

January 9th, 2018 at 03:07 pm

January 8
$10 Gymnastics
Dinner: Falafels

MH used his movie pass today. He's not used very much because he just hasn't had time. The movie was free. I asked him if he had any free screenings to go to. He said there was one this week, but we have plans every night pretty much. He usually goes to the advanced screenings a couple of times a week. So I wouldn't be surprised if he just started going to regular movies 2-3 weeks instead. But the advanced screenings are fun, and by far the better deal if the kids and I ever want to go too.

Work was so quiet and calm. It has been constantly crazed for the past month or so. I am used to more quiet days than crazy days, in general.

I got confirmation that insurance issue is squared away with mortgage holder. Phew! That was just the icing on the cake and it feels like a load had been lifted off my shoulders (between that and work settling down a bit). Don't get me wrong, it's a horrible deadline month and these new W2/1099 deadlines are entirely impossible. But I just feel like I can slow down and breathe this week. Panic can resume next week.

When I came home, MH was in a similar mood. He was thrilled he had time to go to the movies!

P.S. I've noticed in the past that MH's menu planning seemed to be more themed. Chicken one week. Lots of beef another week. Then a vegetarian week. I think it's subconscious. Anyway, I didn't notice that so much this time until now. Last 3 meals were non-meat?? (I made the sloppy joes, last minute, so was not part of the meal plan at all).

January 7, Baking & Cleaning

January 9th, 2018 at 02:59 pm

January 7
$110 Weekly Grocery Run
Dinner: Spicy Stir-Fried Tofu & Coconut Rice

MH was going to go to the grocery store during the week, but noticed we were out of shower cleaner. So he ran to the store Sunday. We don't always hit $100, but when we do we get a 25-cent gas coupon. I will probably have MH use that coupon because we are driving out of town the next two weekends.

Sunday was just a big chore day. We took down the Christmas Tree. I cleaned up the house. It all seemed easier than I was envisioning, but then I remembered I wanted to clean up the upstairs (since in-laws will be staying here next weekend). Then I remember why it's so overwhelming. I otherwise never have the whole house tidy at once. It's been way too busy and MH reminded me I already have 2 commitments this week (& I was sitting out a third, before I even remembered the second commitment).

I did not clean the whole house, but I got through the bare minimum. Tried to leave a reasonable amount of housework for the two weeknights I have free this week.

Sunday we also did several loads of laundry. The kids did their own, but I did two loads of kitchen towels and cleaning rags.

The good thing is I got through my baking queue. Phew! I had picked up some ingredients on Christmas Eve, to bake. I probably would have had time to bake on Christmas, but there was the complicated factor of guests with strict diets and in the end I didn't get to it. Sunday I baked up a second batch of chocolate chip cookies and a new pumpkin bread recipe I wanted to try. I have enough pumpkin left for my other pumpkin bread recipe, so I guess I have added one more bake to my queue. (This is a super easy/fast recipe; can whip up any weeknight).

DL(12) has finals and short days all week; thankfully MH is home to handle that.

January 6, Smart Thermostat

January 7th, 2018 at 05:03 pm

January 6:
$100 Smart Thermostat
$44 Groceries
$35 Fuel
$30 MH allowance (movies)
Dinner: Sloppy Joes, Asian Salad

In addition, $10 was spent at Target (cat food) but MH did a return for me ($17.50?).

MM(14) volunteered at the animal shelter. I have been 100% taking him (since summer) but knew I would pass the baton to MH during tax season. I know MH ran to Target (while waiting) and the used book/music store (where he has credit to spend if he bought anything).

That reminds me, MH picked up some board game at the library. He is a bit of a game hoarder so I am ecstatic about that!

I decided to fill up the van (used coupon, saving $8). I *may* squeak by with this gas tank for the rest of the month. (Or at least for this credit card cycle. Probably not for the calendar month). Since the kids had devoured the sourdough bread in mere minutes, I decided to go pick up some more bread and get some gas. In the end I decided to make lunch and picked up a few other things (needed more butter and some bleached flour for baking). I did pick up pistachios because they were on sale. They only seem to sell ground hamburger in 2-3 pound packages these days, so I bought more than I needed.

Comment I made on January 1:
I don't see why we would spend much this month.

Reality:
I forgot that this is a chore month for MH. So I guess there will be lots of spending on that front.
Dental appointments, Doctor appointments, oil changes, etc.

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Did you notice the $100 thermostat purchase?

What a day!!

Upstairs thermostat has been on the fritz for a while. It DIED when I touched it the other night. Because we have two zones for out HVAC system, it's not particularly critical. (Which is probably why we haven't fixed it before). Honestly, the downstairs zone heats most the house and all the heat wafts up to our bedroom. & the kids don't particularly even like it when I turn on the heat upstairs (they prefer the cold). So, it's not critical, but we had a very short window that my dad could maybe help us (before he went out of town for a while). So we decided to attempt to fix it and arranged for him to come up today if we needed help. (It is probably the coldest month of the year and could get uncomfortable if we couldn't turn on the upstairs heat. Not critical, but not ideal either).

In the end it was a very frustrating all-day endeavor, but we figured it out.

MH took the opportunity to price out a Smart Thermostat. It had to be something he could just pick up in person. We settled on a $100 model at Target that is not sold in stores. MH went over to a regional electronic store that price matches. That way he could just pick it up that day at the best price he found.

{While there, he bought some movies on deep discount; the first allowance spending of the year}.

In the end, the new thermostat was just as dead. We were really darn close (more than once) to just calling our HVAC repair guy and not even bothering my dad with this. It seemed we had a much bigger problem.

I said to MH at some point, "It seems to me the problem must be on the other end of the wires." He is the smart engineering one and I am the polar opposite, but I guess I have lived with engineer types my whole life and they are rubbing off on me. He didn't seem to comprehend, but "the other end" meant climbing up into the attic (which is little more than a crawl space) and messing with the heater. I think he was just in denial.

Eventually he got out of denial (the more obvious it became that this is the only other obvious solution and might save us $100 if he just checked). There was some 5th wire needed for this thermostat that we checked and knew we had coming out of the wall, but I guess in the end it had never been connected on the other side. Yeah, it seemed kind of obvious to me that was the problem. Something wasn't connected right. I expected maybe some other wire was loose (why we had problems at all) but in the end, all the rest of the wiring was completely fine; the old thermostat is just dead. So we feel better about just replacing it. We just happened to make life more complicated by transitioning to a thermostat that needs more wires. Up to that point, all we knew was we had two thermostats that wouldn't work at all.

Much to my chagrin, at that time MH connected the 5th wire to the heater, it still wouldn't work. Which is about the time we 99.99% gave up.

MH fiddled with it one more time, and it worked!! PHEW!!

In the end, we weren't interested in the super smart thermostats, which are more expensive anyway. Our house is very well insulated and we live in a mild climate. Is significantly more comfortable and frugal for us just to use the heat/air as needed. For example, the thermostat may say 62 in the fall but may feel really comfortable (because is not that cold outside). But on a winter day the thermostat may say 70 and I might be *freezing* because I am sitting near a window. As such, I don't know that we have any predictable patterns. & turning on the heat/air while we are on the way home (geofencing?) would just be excessive and would be a huge energy waste.

That said, we do have excessive heat in the summers and we do have a pet. I feel the $100 is a bargain as to the luxury of being able to see remotely how hot the house is and being able to turn on and off the A/C to keep the house reasonable and comfortable. Would probably only use if we were out of town any length of time, but you don't know how much energy I've spent in the past worried about pets when we've vacationed during summer months.

It will also be nice to be able to control the thermostat from bed.

Will give it some time to see how much we use and like. If we love it, I am sure we will upgrade the downstairs one (this year?) but want to give it some time. While the remote app stuff is really nice, and I know I could cool some of the house off in a pinch, it would be far more useful to have this feature for the downstairs zone that provides 90% of our heating/cooling.

Financial Updates - 2017 Year End

January 6th, 2018 at 03:55 pm

We did really well on net worth for 2017. Up $95,000 for the year. Our goal was to increase net worth by $50,000.

Mortgage: -$ 8,000
Home Value: +$25,000
Investments: +$62,000
TOTAL: $95,000 Increase Net Worth


Our savings rate was 30% in 2017. 25% of our income went to long-term investments and retirement.

If we paid off our mortgage, we'd be debt free and we would have $225,000 in investments. We'd have to cash out our cash and taxable investments to do this, as well as 2/3 of our ROTHs. We could leave college money and Traditional IRAs intact. I suppose it's feasible, but not wise. I don't think we would seriously consider this unless our mortgage was in the $50k range. & we wouldn't cash out (most of) our ROTHs to pay off our mortgage. So we have a ways to go. I just know that we will ponder more as this number gets bigger.

2017 was a very good income year for us. I mentioned last year that MH's income was offset by loss of other side income and that economically we were about the same as we were before, which is what I expected. (His income is more about getting a foot back in the workforce, more than any meaningful contribution to the household). But anyway, this year we had a banner year with the credit card rewards and I made tons of OT so our income (W2) increased by 6% this year.

Last year our W2 income matched our highest (two-income) year (2001). This year was a significant improvement and some forward movement. I know we have significantly more expenses in some regards (health insurance, kids) but we are also no longer saving up frantically for a house (with real estate appreciating faster than we could ever possibly save), so I'd say this "feels" the most financially comfortable we have ever been. I suppose we also have a wee bit more assets now than we did in 2001.

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My long-term goal has been to get to a point where our net worth increases by our expenses every year. I figured if we could do this in our 40s that we would consider "financial independence" at 50.

Of course, this would be an average of a $60k increase per year, since our annual spending is at the $60k level. But I am fine with aiming for $50k since this will probably be a more reasonable expense level when our mortgage is paid off (and kids are grown). Also, if we can achieve these net worth gains, I know they will just grow with time, as investments compound. All this to say, my goal for the next 5 years or so will be to grow our net worth by $50k per year. In 5 years I will probably re-evaluate and hope to push that goal up to $60k or $70k per year. Maybe averaging $60k per year, for this next decade.

It was nice to have a strong start for Year 1!

Estimate Net Worth Change for 2018 (Year 2):

Mortgage: Paydown $8,000
Investments: Contribute $8,000
Retirement: Contribute $11,000
Investment Returns: $14,000 (would need 4% gain)
Real Estate Increase in Value: $9,000 (would need 2% appreciation)
TOTAL INCREASE: $50,000

I don't get too hung up in the "year over year" changes, as I am more concerned about the next decade as a whole. Just to say that I more than well aware that the market can go the other way (been there done that).

I've updated sidebar to reflect this 10-year plan.

January 5, Glasses

January 6th, 2018 at 02:23 pm

January 5:
$100 Doctor Visit
$195 Glasses
$30 Fuel
$14 ice cream scoop
Dinner: Spinach manicotti (er, lasagna) & mediterranean salad

MH improvised dinner with lasagna noodles, but it was not as good as the manicotti version. It worked in a pinch.

The ice cream scoop: We have some old/sad ice cream scooper that has apparently gone missing. (???) I personally would just use a spoon and don't see the point. But MH likes his ice cream scoop and so he ordered a very durable one that should last forever.

MM(14) had an optical appointment. (This was on the top of MH's chore list. Was waiting to get off work, and only had this week to co-ordinate with MM's school break). Yes, of course he needs glasses too. & so just like that, we went from just me to a house full of glasses wearers. (MH got glasses just a couple of months ago; DL has not had glasses very long either).

I do buy my own glasses online (for about 1/10 as much) but the kids' glasses are not as expensive and I think you have to try on and figure out what works and doesn't when it's new. For the kids, I can see always just buying in person, though I'd order online if they lost a pair or they broke.

MH bought gas with a coupon ~ 25 cents off per gallon. I have a 50-cent coupon and a minivan with an almost-empty gas tank. Would probably make my life easier to make sure that gets filled up this weekend. (We always save the bigger coupons for the bigger gas tank).

Weekend plans: work, clean house, bake. Not time for all of it, but is all the stuff I need to get done.

January 4, Fence Work

January 5th, 2018 at 09:35 pm

January 4:
$1.50 fresh baked bread
$46 can of paint
Dinner: Chicken enchilada skillet

I guess it worked out that they were out of bread the day before; sourdough was on sale for $1.50 yesterday.

We are having some of our fence replaced (more details below) and the quote did not include paint on the street side. That said, the contractor asked MH if we had any paint ~ said he'd just take care of it (in about an hour). So MH ran to Sherwin-Williams to get some HOA approved paint. MH called me after he left the house to see if I could find a color match or something. I perused Nextdoor (neighborhood social media) and told him someone had taken a piece of fence down to Home Depot to color match. Others have just asked around for extra paint, which I could do. He told me was already out of the house so whatever, but that yes these were all much smarter ways to go about it. But we were both in the "get it done" headspace, and happy to have one less chore to do.

As to the fence, I would have replaced eons ago but neighbors have been too broke and/or cheap. *sigh* In the end, we have a new neighbor on one side and we had discussed in the summer when their neighbor on the other side replaced their shared fence. They were open to it, but they have a big dog and were really put out by the whole thing, so we figured we'd revisit this month when MH has time off work. In the end, the fence blew down a couple of weeks ago. (I presume that is the opposite of Murphy? When you've already penciled in the repair?). Neighbors were happy with their contractor and took the lead. Probably more expensive than we'd go because we are in the head space of, "We've lived with a falling down fence forever at this point, and we won't even be here another 10 years." But felt it best to just "go with the flow". Just happy they agreed at all. But I am pleased with the cost/quality. It's the longest side of our fence and so was $1,100 for our half, plus $400 to replace the gate.

We have a reasonable quote to replace the back fence (by far the worst section; is currently propped up by a pole ~ I think that section blew over about a year ago). Is a smaller length of fence, so cheaper. I'd love to have a uniform fence. But no idea how that will go with neighbors. It will depend how they react. I'd probably just pay for it, but MH doesn't want to. So he has to negotiate with them, and if that doesn't work, he will have to negotiate with me. No idea how that will resolve (but probably most likely with a cheaper contractor, if at all).

We decided to leave side #3 for now. It's mostly obscured by house and bushes. Just, too many neighbors to deal with it, and more expensive than I was guessing. Will get to it eventually. I'm more open to using cheaper wood on that side since we don't "see" that side so much. & it may be that we revisit this year, but just don't have to be this month.

January 3

January 5th, 2018 at 02:58 pm

January 3:
$30 Gymnastics ($10 class + $20 annual registration)
Dinner: Shepherd's Pie

We don't have as many no-spend days with MM's gymnastics class. They only accept cash payments the day of class. This is definitely new since the last time I have tracked spending. It's probably our biggest no-spend killer, but it is what it is. MM(14) LOVES tumbling.

MH told me he went to Target (grocery run). I suspect he spent less than $50 because I don't see any charges on our Target card and he finally took the $50 gift card I laid out for him several weeks ago. We just pick up specific items that are significantly cheaper than our grocery store (mostly breakfast type foods and snacks).

I ran to the grocery store after work to pick up a fresh loaf of sourdough. This is definitely one treat we have been enjoying with MH working. (Is $2 for a baguette, but those run out crazy fast and I sometimes buy other shapes/sizes). I called MH on the way home to ask if he needed anything. He asked me to check for manicotti. We had gone to *three* different grocery stores on New Year's eve looking for manicotti and could not find any. He checked Target today but didn't think they even sell it (didn't see an empty place on the shelf like everywhere else). Anyway, our usual grocery store was entirely cleared out of fresh baked sourdough and any of the other bread we usually buy (strange) and so I gave up and went to the pasta aisle. I found the manicotti signage on the bottom shelf and so had to practically crawl on the floor to make sure there really was no manicotti. No idea what that is about. MH is planning to improvise with lasagna instead. (Who knows, maybe it will be better/easier with lasagna. Stuffing those manicotti shells is a pain). I left the store without buying anything. I'd maybe pick up a bakery item, but we already have fresh baked cookies at home and I have a queue of baked goods I never had the time/energy to get to.

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Got an e-mail from MIL that she finally got the Napa timeshare reserved. Woohoo! This will save us $200, and gives us a nice resort in Napa. MH is charmed, so this doesn't surprise me at all. He REALLY wanted to stay at this place. (I canceled the other reservation with the click of the button).

My dad also got a river raft trip booked, and told me he will cover 100%. So, instead of spending $500-ish this month (1/4 of our annual vacation budget) I am down to -$0- vacation spending for the month. Woohoho! We don't have any vacation plans this year, but will leave the vacation budget for now because something always seems to come up.

January 2

January 3rd, 2018 at 02:13 pm

January 2
$52 Lunch
$240 Dentist
Dinner: Zuppa Toscana soup (copy cat recipe)

Note: Just tracking spending. Not attempting to cut expenses or to be uber frugal.

No sooner than I typed up my last entry, MH asked me how much he could spend on dining out. It was an unusual question (because he pretty much never eats out, and when he does he usually doesn't ask my permission). But I think this means he was listening to me grumble about paying too many bills last month. Wink He told me he wanted to treat the kids to the expensive sushi place; it's their only weekday off together (for entire winter break). I said I thought that sounded fine. He brought home an extra $500 working these extra weeks, so whatever. (It's more like the "reasonably priced all-you-can-eat sushi place," but I suppose it's relative. When I asked him how lunch was, he told me, "Expensive!")

DL had a dentist appointment. MH asked me why we hadn't moved him over to our cheapie dentist yet. I told him because I was waiting for him to outgrow the pediatric dentist. But that it is probably fine to transition him over. It will save me in the realm of $600/year to get both kids moved over. I would be more excited about this if I wasn't staring down the barrel of braces (times 2!). (He wouldn't be able to get into our dentist for months, so we kept this last pediatric dental appointment. MH has a dental appointment later this month and will take care of getting DL moved over for next time).

I was expecting to cough up airfare this month for MM's summer trip with my dad. My dad generously was going to pay thousands of dollars for a guided river trip (Grand Canyon) but wanted us to cover airfare. In the past, my parents have many times said things like this and forgotten or changed their minds. So lord knows what our financial contribution might end up being. BUT, I think they are acclimating to their (very) comfortable financial position. As such, he told me about a year ago he wanted me to cover airfare (which I think is more than fair). Yesterday I was told he is paying 100% everything. I think he means it. If he is reserving everything now, I guess that doesn't give him much space to change his mind. Unfortunately, he is looking at wait lists and didn't reserve as early as he should have. (I don't know what happened, we've been discussing this like 1.5 years already). I hope that he is able to work it out for this year.

January 1

January 2nd, 2018 at 01:07 pm

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

That's copy and pasted from the last no spend challenge. Not sure what it is, but I way prefer the uber frugal challenge. I really like Frugalwoods, and her challenge make more sense to me. I was never a fan of the no spend challenges, in contrast. Whereas I enjoyed the blog entries during the last UFM.

That said, I still personally feel the same way about my own participation. It's been a while since I have done any spending tracking in my blog, and I will participate in that way. But I don't have any motivation to cut back our spending at all. I will just be listing daily spending.

I feel that we are infinitely more lax in our finances these days (our household W2 income was up 6% last year, or about 6% higher than it's ever been!), but we are also still very frugal and mindful of our spending. Considering the mountain of gift cards we have and MH's free movie schemes, I don't see why we would spend much this month.

January 1:
-0- Spending
Dinner: Chicken Satay, brussel sprouts
+ fresh baked chocolate chip cookies

I did book a hotel stay today. MH wanted to get away for his birthday. He didn't say this specifically, but was longing for some time away, though we had probably otherwise discussed that we had put his parents out enough with our Europe trip last summer. Anyway, it was too last minute to get a free timeshare stay anywhere we'd want to go. I found a hotel near Napa $100/night with a kitchen/suite. It's so reasonable because it's outside of Napa. It's possible that we will be able to cancel this reservation; MIL is trying to get the place we usually stay in Napa. That place was $700 for the weekend if we booked on our own. HA! The place we ended up with is a Hilton property with similar accommodations. It won't be so picturesque or "new and shiny", but that's okay. We just wanted something with a kitchen where we can mostly hole up inside and relax. Is only 10 miles from where we usually stay in Napa. Anyway, it was $0 to reserve, and I will cross my fingers that I can exchange this reservation for a free room.

Now that MH is off work, we are going to plan a Friday lunch at Ruth Christ Steakhouse. I have a gift card, but they are only open for lunch on Fridays. That will be our other planned big "splurge" for the month.

Checking In

January 1st, 2018 at 04:53 pm

Work has been crazed. The last week of the year is always the busiest/most stressful work-week of the year for me, but was compounded this year by many different factors. I am taking this long 3-day weekend off to recover and reset. Then it's diving head first into the busy season (for the next 4 months).

MH was asked to work the prior two weeks, and there was talk of maybe this week too? He usually has 6 weeks off during winter. In the end, Friday was his last day of the season and they said they will probably need him again in three weeks (normal start time). He missed having winter break home with the kids, but they are old enough I don't know that it mattered. If they were younger, he would not have worked so long. We are so present with our kids though, I will admit it felt weird for us to be so tied up with work. During tax season (and December usually), his work is REALLY slow, and so most of the time it works out to be more yin and yang.

In addition to all that, I've been running kids all over the place. They had infinite short days at school (prior 2 weeks ~ I think because two different schools so every day one of them had a short day for this or that reason, just happened to not be the SAME days), and DL's vocal performance ended up being a 4-night commitment. Their vocal concert was absolutely amazing though, and I didn't mind some forced breaks. On Friday I picked up DL from a sleepover at 11am. Just a lot of domestic stuff that MH generally would have been handling.

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FISCAL DOINGS:

Ended the year with net worth up $95,000. !! I think that is the first time we've done that without the bulk of the gains being real estate gains. (We've done this many times before ~ six figure increases ~ with California real estate).

More details later...

SOME FINANCIAL NOTES RE: IN-LAWS:

**Was discussing timeshare with MIL. She is VERY tone deaf (her way or the highway) and her plan has always been to pass on her timeshare(s) to us though we are not interested in the slightest. Sure, free places to stay wherever is all good. But paying the annual fees and dealing with all the red tape, plus feeling obligated to use every year? No thanks!? Especially for two people who would be perfectly content to never get on an airplane.

Anyway, she is getting really disgruntled with her timeshare situation. & has made very clear she is not sticking us with that crap. I guess if you wait long enough (20 years!?) sometimes these things sort themselves out.

**MIL and FIL have decided to gift their car to MM(14) next Christmas as they are both VERY excited about this!

Again, this is one of those things that just needed time. There was talk of buying MM a car at some point, which just made me uncomfortable. They are totally the types to do that without consulting with us. I thought that might be a FUN bridge to cross eventually (NOT!). But they also have 4 grandkids very close in age and I am guessing they were getting ahead of themselves. Anyway, the latest is that they want to gift their vehicle to MM when he turns 15.5 (which is actually very helpful as it gives him a car to learn to drive on). They made clear to MH that this car is for BOTH kids. Again, is kind of what I was thinking anyway. So maybe this will resolve in a very helpful way.

{I don't remember the details, but it may be a 2005 with something like 150k miles? I think it sounds like a perfect first car for a teenager. I would happily pay for it, knowing it was well cared for. But I am not surprised they just want to give it to him}.

In my case, my parents weren't in any kind of financial situation to help me and neither were my grandparents. & I could just walk to school. I bought a car because I *wanted one* but that fell entirely on my shoulders. This situation is just very different. MM would prefer to ride his bike to school, but it's just way too dangerous. We don't have any public transport, and he knows he's not going to get any freedom on that front unless he has a car to drive. (Meanwhile, he would have preferred to just bike or take the bus for the past several years). BUT, he also has a brother that is only two years younger. MH would like to go back to work full-time, and we would put that responsibility on MM (taking his brother to school). I would rather provide a car in a situation where the car is more needed AND will make our lives easier. I was thinking that gives him two years to save up for a car and to come up with a more long-term plan. It only seems fair to offer the same to his brother. When he turns 18 and goes off to college, then his brother could use the "temp/learning" car.

I don't know how long it will last, but I will enjoy being on the same page with the in-laws. Will see how it shakes out in another year or so. I wouldn't hold my breath. But it's nice to have a plan and to be offered such a generous gift.

**On the flip side of the coin, MIL did not fund kids' college this year. No idea what that is about. MH won't ask her about it and I wouldn't touch that with a ten foot pole.

Is out of character for her, so I thought she might realize eventually (nieces' birthdays or Christmas). Christmas came and went with no mention, so I guess it's official the kids' college money will not be added to (2017).

I honestly think she forgot.

This doesn't change anything for us. I just share because their "college" accounts will be stagnate unless MIL starts contributing again (was $1k per year, per child). Anything we save up, we would not put in our kids' names or tie up in education funds. & I don't see making the effort to save any more than we already are.

December Savings

January 1st, 2018 at 04:28 pm

Received $50 bank interest for the month of December.

Credit card rewards:
--Redeemed $25 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card.
--Redeemed $70 cash back on Citi card.
--Redeemed $10 cash back on dining/gas card.

Savings (From my paycheck):
+$ 200 to investments

Snowball to investments (MH Paycheck):
+$ 600

Mid-Term Savings (cash saved for non-annual expenses/emergency):
-$ 500 Computer (for DL)

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):
-$ 720 Home Insurance
-$ 535 Disability Insurance
-$ 450 Flood Insurance
-$ 240 School Lunches (5 months x2)
-$ 215 Umbrella Insurance
-$ 115 Auto repairs
-$ 90 Dental
-$ 76 Medical

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December was a bit of a mess. Not sure what to do with that, but trying to summarize the way I usually do.

I abandoned saving anything. Not for any of the usual reasons (we didn't spend anything substantial on the holidays). But I was doing a credit card reward and paid ahead several large bills. It made my life complicated in December but I knew we'd have some extra cash inflows to offset. Usually it's just so much at the end of the year that I try to spread it out or pay bills closer to due date (though most the rest of the year I generally try to stay more ahead of the curve). So the outcome is we had a huge cash outflow in December, but I have got all the bills paid ahead and won't be cash flowing $2,000 in January and February. (I just looked at last year and saw I put off most these bills to January and even February last year).

It hurts for now, but we will quickly build up cash in the next few months.

I've been slowly getting further ahead on bills. The mortgage is paid one full month ahead. Credit cards are paid in full the end of every month. Getting these end-of-year bills tamed I think is the last stop for me. I am fully transitioned to just paying bills when I receive them (or even earlier in many cases). This is what I did in early adulthood, but with online bill pay and cutting our income in half, I would more and more just set the bills to pay on their due dates. (I liked that I could get the bill paid when I received it but could set the due date to later and utilize the float). With more means, I've been going back in the other direction. Rather than save more cash and into an emergency fund, I am giving us some space and buffer.

When sitting down and trying to get to December balanced out, I abandoned all savings for this month and used credit card rewards to cover bills. In the end I had $200 left in the checkbook, so I went back and put that $200 into investments. That was all we saved this month. We did receive enough cash for Christmas to cover the rest.

I did also throw an extra $225 at the mortgage. That was what I had decided at some point (to get below $159k), and I had enough cash to cover that.

I did also donate my work Christmas bonus ($200), per our annual tradition. I earmarked this sum entirely for the local animal shelters.

One other note: I believe that our flood insurance (FEMA) is the only bill I *have to* pay by snail mail. I initially held onto the bill because I wanted to throw it on a specific one-time credit card (for rewards) and then got lazy and ended up mailing it closer to its due date (maybe a couple of days before, but I remember it sitting here for maybe two weeks in the meantime). Wouldn't you know it? It got lost in the mail! (Which is precisely why I avoid snail mail for anything important; this is the second hugely important item to be lost in the past 2 months). Anyway, I think I got it squared away about 3 weeks later, but in the meantime my mortgage holder was freaking out I didn't have proof of insurance. & lord knows I did not enjoy going without flood insurance for 2 weeks.

So anyway, all this to say, I am paying that bill the minute I get it next year, or about 30 days earlier. Yeesh!

Big picture: I am about $1,750 short of sidebar goals for the year. (I've updated sidebar). This is equivalent to the amount we redirected to spontaneous Europe trip. I am fine and happy with how the year shook out. Our savings goals are always very aggressive, and I am okay with directing that sum to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

EDITED TO ADD: I forgot that 50% MH's check went into his 401k, or $600. I guess in the end we invested more than I was thinking when I typed this up.

Final Credit Card Tally 2017

December 31st, 2017 at 02:56 pm

2017 TALLY:

$500 Gift Cards (AmEx Gold, Moi)
$500 Gift Cards (AmEx Gold, MH)
$525 Gift Cards (Citi Thank You, MH)
$499 Travel Rewards (Capital One Venture,MH)
$200 Cash (WF Wise, MH)
-----------
$2,224 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

Other Rewards:
$21 Citi Price Rewinds
$30 AmEx insurance payment rebate
$ 5 AmEx for mobile app login

Ongoing rewards (through 11/30):

+$355 AmExRewards (6% cash back groceries/3% fuel)

+$114 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)

+$86 Visa Rewards (3% cash back fuel/restaurants)

+$698 Citi 2% card (2% back everywhere - health insurance/medical is the big expenses that we charge, is more than our mortgage payments)

Grand Total = $3,533

I just want to add that historical figures below do also include bank bonuses. They just don't generally work very well for us so I do not utilize as much. (We did -0- bank bonuses in 2017).

Year 2011 = $4,164
Year 2012 = $2,782
Year 2013 = $2,623
Year 2014 = $3,128
Year 2015 = $2,585
Year 2016 = $1,906
Year 2017 = $3,533

Total 6 Years = $20,721
***Mostly Tax-Free Income***


Note: I have been tracking since 2011 because that's when the rewards got CRAZY. I have always utilized cash back on credit cards. It's just been extra rewarding during the past decade or so.

***CAVEAT - I absolutely do not recommend utilizing credit card rewards in this manner, unless you are in full control of your credit card spending. We treat our credit cards like debit cards; only charging if we have the cash on hand already. We've never paid a cent of late fees or interest.***

At this point in my life I just pay the balances off the end of every month so that we go into each new month with -$0- credit card debt. This is really simple because there is no remembering bills or due dates or any of that. I just go in and pay them all the last day of every month. I have set all my credit cards to close for the month around the 28th of the month, so that the statement is closed by the last day of every month and every charge for the month has been posted. (I can just voluntarily pre-pay any charges that didn't make it on the statement for the last week of the month). From an accounting standpoint, anything else would drive me crazy, maybe especially since we do have so many credit cards that we use every month for rewards. This way, I just don't have to really keep track of anything and I know they will always be paid several weeks before due date. This also keeps all of our charges on a monthly cycle, which lines up with our monthly paychecks and my monthly accounting.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I expect 2018 to be more like 2016, but you never know. I don't feel like we need to put as much emphasis on the credit card rewards with MH working and with interest rates (on our savings) increasing. We really relied on these to boost our income and to stretch our dollars further when MH was home with the kids. I also have something like $1,000 unused gift cards laying around, which is about $1,000 more than usual. (In the past we mostly redeemed cash back, but those are harder to come by and it seems it was mostly gift cards and travel rewards for this year). If all I can do is gift cards next year, I imagine I would probably scale back but might consider focusing on those more for charity. If I had gotten this last $500 in time for Christmas, I would have donated those gift cards.

This & That

December 11th, 2017 at 12:49 am

Spending:

**Spent $85 on tickets for DL's vocal performance next week. I guess this is the flip side of all this free instruction. The tickets are $10 per ticket, just to see a standard school recital. But that said, it will be no ordinary school recital.

I bought some tickets for grandparents, which probably worked out because I got some group discount with offset some ridiculous ticket fees.

In the spring we might have to do the same + there will be a band performance. But again, I don't have to pay for all his drama, band, and vocal instruction. Being from that world, I know I come out FAR ahead.

**MH spent $20 on an electronic newspaper subscription. He gets lots of free movie tickets through the newspaper website rewards, but they changed it that you had to pay for a subscription. His initial reaction was, "Nevermind," but then they had some Black Friday type deal.

{He doesn't need this for most of the free movies he sees, to clarify. But for some of the movies, it's another avenue to get tickets}.

We will come out far ahead. MH already won tickets for us to see George Takei. It was part of a Speaker Series, so the only way to get tickets otherwise was to pay $600 per person for the whole series. So, $20 for THAT and a whole bunch of free movies? That is a no brainer. MH is going to try to get tickets for the next speaker in the series. I don't know the odds, but I saw a lot of people upset because they *just* wanted to see George Takei. I can't imagine very many people would be interested in the other ones. But I guess the flip side of that is they may not even have those tickets to offer. Will see...

**For Target gift cards, I bought $20 x 5 gift cards for gifts, while 10% off. We did that last year and it worked out nicely.

**Took the van in to the shop on Friday. It's been somewhat wonky the past couple of years, probably largely because we are/were between shops. Anyway, imagine my surprise that it was just a $10 repair (new radiator cap).

Clearly I have failed at shifting from "newer car" mode to "old car" mode. "Old car" mode was my first 10 years of driving; I am well trained in checking fluids and so on, but I just *never* think of it since buying new-ish cars (didn't need to look under the hood for 10+ years). I am embarrassed about how long it took me to check under the hood this time. I thought to check the oil but then I noticed the coolant was low. I feel extra aware how much money that saved me because the last two times we had coolant leaks they were far bigger repairs. Since clearly I can't remember this on my own, I will put it on my calendar to check at least once per month. As I get into that habit again, it will be more front of mind as problems arise.

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I completed giving tree shopping.

**Bought one requested item for retail price online

**Went in person to Target to buy $100 gift card at 10% off. {I went when Target opened; no crowd or lines}.

**MH picked up about $75 worth of books for $2.50.

Dropped all of this off while MM was volunteering at the shelter. Phew!

Glad to cross that off my list with little effort, because I will be working a billion hours this month. Is why I don't generally participate in these things. This was early enough that I could pull it off.

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Money Mustache had a timely post on charitable gift giving. He mentioned The Life You Can Save

The mission of The Life You Can Save is to help change the culture of giving in affluent countries while dramatically raising annual donations to highly impactful nonprofits that reduce suffering and premature death for people living in extreme poverty.

The website lists charities where you can have the most impact. We are considering these charities for our charitable gift. (I think we have mostly narrowed down, but have not finalized yet).

Gift Card Balances December 2017

December 3rd, 2017 at 06:02 pm

Just tracking my gift cards. Not *all* credit card rewards, but most of them are.


GIFTS:
------

$100 Benihana ($50x2) **DECEMBER 2017**
$ 50 x2 Barnes & Noble **DECEMBER/JANUARY**
$ 20 x5 Target


MOVIES:
--------
$25 Regal gift cards ($25 x 1)


RESTAURANTS:
------------

$50 Ruth Chris Steakhouse
$50 California Pizza Kitchen **Ecard**
$50 seasons 52


RETAIL:
-------

$100 Target ($50x2)
$50 Staples **School supplies next summer?**
$50 Home Depot
$75 Kohls ($50 + $25) **to replace kids' shoes?**

Note: Edited over time to remove used gift cards

Frugal Doings

December 3rd, 2017 at 12:15 am



That's a $4 flower bouquet that I bought the day before Thanksgiving. I just took the picture, it still looks gorgeous. I love treats like this. Just a reminder of "thinking outside the box" versus "doing without".

Which I guess is the theme of my post today.

{In this case, our high end grocery store sells very fresh flowers at a great price. In warmer months, the farmers market works too}.

MIL asked MH to pick up some discounted books for her. There was a specific box set one of my nieces wanted. MH gets 1/2 off? & these books are already 1/2 off? Anyway, he didn't even know, but I guess there was a set on the "damaged" shelf because it lacked shrink wrap. It was otherwise pristine. When he tried to buy one from the "new" shelf, his co-worker pointed that out. I believe the entire book set cost 50-cents in the end.

Since I was requested to buy books for a baby (giving tree), I asked MH to check the "damaged" shelf. & to pick up some other books too since I have to buy new in this case. In the end, he had been given a $25 "gift certificate" and didn't know when he would use it. (I can't transfer the gift certificate; I'd just donate it if I could).

I was otherwise waiting to see if Target did 10% off of their gift cards. (They are ~ woohoo!)

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Black Friday Shopping:

I ended up ordering season passes for the local water park (was 45% off retail). This was for the premium season passes, which gives us access to the Bay Area location (we like that water park a lot more). I hadn't realized when I bought them, but the premium pass also includes free State Fair admission. I guess that's an additional perk. Going to the fair in the middle of summer is not on my list of fun things to do (and why we mostly never go). But, I am documenting in my blog so that I don't forget. Not having to pay admission x4 might tilt the scales a bit.

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In the end, we did get free passes to see Disaster Artist. I really liked that one. The book was better, as always.

MH *finally* got his movie pass. {$10/month for basically unlimited movies in the theater}. We know it was lost in the mail about 7 weeks ago. He ended up getting (a replacement) movie pass last Friday (the day after Thanksgiving). We went to see three movies already. (I had the week off). He still earns loyalty rewards from the theater as if he paid, and so already earned a free ticket. I guess we might go back tomorrow. I will be done humoring him at that point. Just happens to be a lot of good movies out right now. I have some gift cards to cover my tickets. In the long run, will probably stick to the $6 showings. I am only entertaining going this weekend ($$$$) because I have a free ticket. Beyond that, usually he sees just about everything and tells me not to bother. I usually go to movies in the theater just a few times per year. I don't see that changing too much. Was just an unusual set of circumstances.

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That reminds me, Thanksgiving went about as well as it could have. 90+yo Grandma used to insist on driving up at dawn to stuff the turkey. She wasn't doing so well a couple of years ago and was one reason I really wanted to drop hosting. In the end I think she switched Doctors and/or meds and is doing much better since. They did rush up last Thursday but ended up doing the stuffing separately?? I told MH to tell them NOT to come so early next year. Yeesh. (When I brought it up, he was kind of like, "Yeah, I didn't think about that.").

We went to see the art school production of Christmas Carol last night. Was a cross between that and the Nutcracker I guess, since it was a musical and they incorporated the dance company. Makes me want to see the Nutcracker. Anyway, it seemed very fitting to watch A Christmas Carol while the Senate rammed through their ridiculous tax bill. *sigh* (Republican Senate = Scrooge right now).

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In my last post I mentioned Best Buy recycling of e-waste. I know it got buried so felt it was worth mentioning again.

E-Waste

November 30th, 2017 at 03:00 pm

When we prepped the house for Thanksgiving, I noticed the "e-waste recycle" pile was getting a little out of hand. I recall taking big things in the past, but usually MH handles most of it.

Clearly he hasn't been handling it, but we drive by Best Buy once or twice a week when MM has gymnastics. So I just took care of it.

Of note, I had an external drive, some computer speakers (2 sets) and a broken car stereo face plate.

I wanted to put it out as a reminder, in case anyone has anything they can recycle. I know I have mentioned before, but it's probably been a LONG time. (Check the website, they take a lot of different kinds of things).

https://www.bestbuy.com/site/clp/recycling/pcmcat14990005002...

November Savings

November 29th, 2017 at 02:20 pm

Received $49 bank interest for the month of November.

Snowflakes to Investments:
--Redeemed $50 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card. But... Paid annual $95 fee. I will subtract $95 from snowflakes/investments.
--Redeemed $83 cash back on Citi card.
--Redeemed $10 cash back on dining/gas card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$12 Savings from Target Red Card (grocery purchases)

Snowball to investments (MH Paycheck):
+$950

Savings (From my paycheck):
+$ 200 to investments
+$ 300 to cash (mid-term savings)
+$ 900 to IRAs

Mid-Term Savings (cash saved for non-annual expenses/emergency):
-$1,850 Medical Expenses
-$1,400 Home Maintenance

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):
+$1,300 to cash
-$5,300 Property Taxes
-$ 430 Life Insurance
-$ 349 Auto registration
-$ 30 Dentist

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I mentioned in my last (monthly) post that these past two months would be a bit of a wash. Lots and lots of bills paid this month.

For the most part, all bills are paid for 2017. Any charges past this point won't be cash flowed until 2018. The only exception is if something comes up that has to be paid for in cash.

Holiday Spending

November 22nd, 2017 at 03:56 pm

MH just bought some concert tickets (including one for my dad). I told him that we should just cover it. Make it a Christmas present. Is the same gift he got last year (but a different band).

This is about how much thought/energy I am giving to the season. We don't celebrate in any big or materialistic way. I'll be figuring out some other gifts, but nothing I have to "plan" for or will spend much energy on. We don't save any money for Christmas, accordingly.

For us, the focus continues to be more and more on charity every year. I am still not in a place where I have any time for the Holidays. So though we generally give more time than money, there's not a lot we sign up for this time of year. It's easier for us to just write checks in the month of December. But I am taking the week off after Thanksgiving and I saw that someone needed help with a giving tree, and so I volunteered to help. Will see how it goes and if I want to do the same next year. (I've volunteered for the sorting in the past, which is probably more my thing, but this year I signed up to shop).

Other than that, we usually donate my Christmas bonus ($200). To the local food bank and the animal shelters, though it varies.

In addition, we are getting a $1,000 check (from in-laws) to donate to charities of our choice. This is a new tradition. They started last year with $500. For this year, $1,000 has been thrown out. Wow! I am SO EXCITED about this! I don't know why I find that number so mind blowing. Because it is 4 figures? I don't know. It sounds/feels like so much more than we have been able to give in the past.

Real Estate Update & Movies

November 11th, 2017 at 03:48 pm

I paid the property taxes. One month early, but I don't have to think about it again for another year. & also gives plenty of time to correct if there are any problems. This is why I never pay things like the day they are due. That sounds way too stressful. Crap happens, and I still want my payment to be on time when the crap happens.

Our county stopped charging a convenience fee for paying online. AWESOME! Smart on their part. There is no way I would pay by check and send in the mail. I have been paying with e-checks. Clearly they must have less mail loss and so on, with this change. Our mail here is TERRIBLE. I forgot this was one reason I had started paying just once per year. I don't care if the fee was $5. It was worth it to get my payment where it needed to be in a timely fashion. It had been a $1.50 fee, and now I never have to pay it again.

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I mentioned recently that our specific home model seems to rarely go up for sale, but one was for sale (and remodeled so beautifully in a black/white theme, which I guess is "in" these days. Seeing that more and more).

A second one just sold for the same price (around $490k). & I just saw a "coming soon" sign on our neighbor's house. NO WAY! So pretty much those models rarely go up for sale, but now three in a row...

I think all are immaculately kept and remodeled to the hilt. The third one, you can just tell from the care they've done to their tiny front yard and all the enhancements they have added, which most don't bother with. That said, historically people have not paid premiums for those things in the areas we have lived. & real estate generally moves upwards. So if they fetch a similar price, is just what I will use for net worth. I think things will stagnate around $499k for a while and I think is somewhat reasonable (though definitely getting into bubble territory). The local economy is better (A LOT) than the entire 17 years we have lived here, but it's not like people make that much money. The single story home are at peak level and are selling for $400k - $450k. If the median wage in our city is something like $50k, clearly this is ridiculous. Maybe some part of me just hopes things settle down a bit (and this isn't really Bubble 2.0). But bubble aside, it also takes time for people to wrap their brains around buying a house for 5xx,xxx. It will take a while, but $500k to $599k won't take as long. The demand for local housing currently far outstrips supply, but people also seem to be favoring smaller homes and more reasonable budgets. My co-worker even told me that new home models were more small and efficient, versus the grandiose/wasted space/GIANT kitchens and master suites of the 2001 era when we bought our house. I like to hear that, that there is some sanity on this front. Everything was so grandiose during the bubble.

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We went to another free movie screening. It was a screening of The Room, which if you have not heard of it is the "worst movie ever made."

The reason for the screening was because of a release of a movie about the making of The Room. The new movie is called the Disaster Artist. MH got a free shirt and won a book for the new movie. (They often have merch at these things, which drives me crazy because he hoards weird crap). But he will wear a shirt and read/sell a book, so I guess it was good merch. (I donated a couple of free movie shirts recently without telling him. He insisted I take them, the kids didn't want them. I finally donated them. I don't need a closet full of free shirts. It just gets to the point of ridiculous).

Anyway...

O.M.G. If you ever hear of a showing of The Room, I recommend. I *almost* didn't go because it was two movies in one week and I have been pretty slammed at work. I wasn't expecting much because it was one of those things where I thought I saw the highlights so many times already. I am well aware of the movie, the bad script, the bad acting, and some of the ridiculous scenes.

I was wrong.

First, every second of the movie is so BAD it is hilarious. I thought I Was going to die laughing the first 5 minutes. At some point I guess you adjust (so that you don't die laughing). Okay, every detail is BAD. Every line, every actor, every screen frame, EVERYTHING. I had no idea it was non-stop funny.

In addition to that, it has a cult following like Rocky Horror. So this is a very interactive movie. It was hilarious on its own, and hilarious to laugh with a crowd, but this just brings it to a whole other level.

I started reading the book MH won (Disaster Artist) and it is fascinating. I can see everything behind the scenes was just as bad as on screen. I have absolutely no time to read a book right now, but I can see the value in reading it with the movie still fresh in my mind. Anyway, I think the Disaster Artist movie releases the week after next. I entered to win tickets. I don't know if the tickets will be available through the usual channels. If they are, MH will find a way to get tickets.

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This reminds me, one of MH's co-workers is a film student. Is the only other person MH knows who is cheap enough and interested enough to see ALL the free movies. Anyway, film student was doing some project in one of his classes and needed a script. Asked if he could use one of MH's scripts he had read. For the class, they are going through the pre-production process. (Most the other groups already had scripts, but for whatever reason no one in his group had a script for this project). The feedback has been, "Forget making this movie. Why doesn't he SELL it?" Aw, youthful idealism. Wink

But I think this is some of why MH is, "Of course you can use my script!" You never know who is going to be the right person (or meet the right person) somewhere down the road. Beyond that, they sound very cute and idealistic. Big Grin But I think the ego stroking is good in the here and now, amidst all the rejection. You need some motivation to keep trying. He's still writing scripts and trying.


Gravy Raise

November 9th, 2017 at 08:25 pm

I know I have said in the past that living in a high cost region has several advantages. Most of it was more region specific advantages, but some of it is directly related to the higher cost of living.

On the higher cost side, if the second income is pure gravy, the gravy is bigger. (Because wages are higher).

We seem to be experiencing this right now. MH received a 3% raise this year. (His raise last year already corrected for minimum wage increase January 2018). His pay was going to be something like $xx.5875. Seriously!? This was driving me crazy because I always just calculate his check (he gets paid before we get his pay stub).

Then, while he was in Florida his last paycheck hit and it was all wrong. For the first time in two years, it was not right. But it was to his favor. He always gets his pay before his pay stub so I had to wait to figure it out. On his pay stub, which I could see a few days later, they had given him an 8% raise instead. But he had already received the weird pay rate for one pay period. I figured it was a mistake.

Anyway, MH had a chance to bring it up this week and he was told by his supervisor that he thinks the manager gave him the raise. He confirmed that today. They gave him a nice raise, and no one bothered to tell him. {I told MH that from my experience pretty much no one looks at their pay stub. So, most people wouldn't even notice. I can't believe they didn't tell him}.

This is a nice surprise! The gravy is getting bigger. Oh, and it is a nice round amount that is easy to remember. I like that part too.

When I initially said the gravy is bigger in our high cost region, I was thinking that he could easily find a job making $50k or $60k per year. Is more what I was getting at, when I said this several years ago. But this works too. (Working very seasonal/part-time/minimum-wage for now, for reference. But is also definitely more than it would be in most areas of the country).

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We went to a free movie (advanced screening) on Tuesday night. MH really wanted to take me because it had really good reviews. In the end, it was a small turnout. We were running a little late and got stuck in a lot of traffic, but it worked out because there wasn't a long line. The movie was Ladybird. It was really good. This was definitely a fun one to see at a screening because the movie was set in Sacramento and was filmed here.

Usually MH feels a compulsiveness to see everything, and he sees a lot of crap. But I will say that there were some really good movies this year. It seems more than usual.

October Savings

November 5th, 2017 at 06:43 pm

Received $52 bank interest for the month of October.

Snowflakes to Investments:
--Redeemed $25 credit card rewards (cash back) from our grocery card.
--Redeemed $61 cash back on Citi card.
--Redeemed $7 cash back on dining/gas card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$5 Savings from Target Red Card (grocery purchases)
--rounded up $2 for an even $100 snowflake deposit

Snowball to investments (MH Paycheck):
+$1,200

Savings (From my paycheck):
+$ 200 to investments
+$ 300 to cash (mid-term savings)
+$ 900 to IRAs

Mid-Term Savings (cash saved for non-annual expenses/emergency):
-$300 Trombone purchase

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):
+$1,300 to cash
-$ 85 museum membership (renewal)
-$ 275 auto insurance

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I think this month will end up being the polar opposite of next month. I literally deposited $4,300 into savings/investments this month. We save about $4,000 in a month that MH works and that we don't have any one-off expenses. (Rare, because there's usually some non-monthly expenses). But I am also replenishing savings for pre-paying some big expenses for credit card rewards.

Next month: We've already racked up $4,000 in medical bills and home repairs (and includes some smaller expenses). Will pay property taxes for the year, so that's $9,000 outflow right there.

This is the 4th year that I am just pre-paying property taxes, by paying it all up front (the second installment is not due until April). This is just done from a simplicity standpoint. If interest rates ever rise I guess I can re-evaluate, but I think we are building enough wealth at this point in our lives that I'd prefer simplicity over a little extra bank interest. But I probably only feel that way because interest rates are only 1%.

This & That

November 3rd, 2017 at 05:53 pm

Mortgage Update: Officially into the 150s. Woohoo!

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This weekend will be SPENDY! We have an unofficial reunion with the group MH and I worked with when we met. The last time I recall seeing any of them was when MM(14) was an infant. It has been a while.

Anyway, they chose an expensive Bay Area buffet, but my kids are looking forward to all the food. At least I get my money's worth with them. Wink

We also have an expensive outing planned with my SIL and her kids. I haven't heard any details and need to e-mail her. I *think* we have plans. (I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't make reservations, but honestly the kids just want to hang together. As long as they have a little time for us is all I care about. SIL wanted to plan a big to-do).

Busy weekend! Should be fun, but tiring.

I don't know how much of it is regional, but with housing so expensive people seem to be waiting until 40 to have kids. Just to say that MH and I have by far the oldest kids in that work group (we may be the youngest people with the oldest kids). They are going to freak when they see our 14-year-old (who is such a mini-me of his father).

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On the first night that MH was out of town (last week) I saw that PF Chang's had a free sushi night. I also had a free gift card, so I took the kids out. We had never been before.

O.M.G.

There was no minimum purchase and I really just thought they would bring us each like one free piece of sushi. When we ordered, the look on our waiter's face said otherwise. I tried to clarify with him but we just weren't communicating well. BUT... My kids could eat a horse, so I just let it go. The kids and I looked at each other like, "We are getting SO MUCH sushi," after he took our order. "Are we getting SO MUCH sushi!? I think we are!" & we did. We ordered an appetizer, two entrees, 2 plates of sushi, and 3 FREE pieces of sushi! So they brought us out 5 plates of sushi. It was totally hilarious. In another situation I would have corrected our order, but I wanted to use my gift card and I knew the kids would eat it. So we just let them bring us tons of food. (We spent $15 cash for all that).

In the end, we brought home a lot of MM's rice dinner because it was enough to feed an army. I brought home my dinner. It was a small serving, but it was way too much for me and everyone was full by then. The rest was devoured.

I already put the free sushi day on my calendar for next year. The food was surprisingly good.

It was enjoyable because no one seemed to know about it and the place was not packed at all.

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In other news, I saw that our school district is desperate for teachers (though they already pay VERY well). As a result, they are offering to pay for credential, plus monthly stipend while earning credential, plus a $5k or $10k bonus (depending if you hit certain marks).

Seriously!

This is something we have discussed endlessly over the years, for MH. The last he seriously considered was 17 years ago when the city we were living is was issuing emergency teaching credentials.

In contrast, this is a WAY better deal! Wow! A full teaching credential, plus all that cash to boot?

It's complicated. Though in most regards I think this would be his dream job, he has very low tolerance for bureaucracy, and I think that's what we have decided over the years. All his family are teachers and his mom has like always forbid him to ever become a teacher (because she knew he wanted to at some point). So it's a whole thing. Either of those things by itself, maybe he could work through it, but together is a lot.

With a deal like this, I don't think there's anything to lose. I doubt he will go down this route, but I share in the offchance he does. & also to say that there are always opportunities if you keep your eyes and ear open.

For now, he's been out of town and we hadn't really discussed. I Was kind of surprised he didn't say, "NO thanks." It's maybe piqued his interest.

Edited to add: I since saw that another school district is paying subs $500/day (during possible teacher strike). & several teaching job posting on a job board I joined on Facebook. I've not seen any "teacher" postings whatsoever in the past, but I guess there is a lot going on. I had a chance to talk to MH about it. I think his gut feeling is it's not really for him, but he told me it was hard for him to pass up opportunities. I think we both tend to be that way anyway, but maybe extra so for someone who struggled so hard in the job market for so long.

Florida Trip

November 1st, 2017 at 04:55 pm

MH is back from Florida. He was gone for 5 days, to celebrate his Grandfather's birthday. He really wishes we had gone with him, but I am really happy I didn't have to deal with all that travel. Phew!

The entire cost of the trip? $25!

I initially thought we were going to cover airfare, but his parents had miles and wanted to cover it.

I figured he'd treat for something while there. On Sunday I checked the credit cards and it was clear he hadn't spent anything and probably wouldn't. I figured he was the baby of the family and no one would let him pay for anything. That is what he confirmed. (Said everyone was fighting over the dining out bills and he wasn't interested in joining the fray). So I thought he might spend $100 or $200, but in the end it was $25 for two airport meals. That is all.

That said... His relatives were there from Australia and we are seriously considering going to Australia next summer. Will see. (I think they are near Brisbane/Gold Coast). I told him everyone is going to think I am totally full of crap. I do NOT want to travel. Really and truly. It's just complicated because we have family all over the world, and our parents love to travel. Even if it is generally not how we want to spend our own time and money, we are probably a little too "go with the flow."

& so that is how a $25 trip to Orlando might cost me several thousand dollars. Wink

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Halloween was a real bore at our house. MH was majorly jet lagged and I had to work. I've got two seminars this week and weekend plans, and just really no other time I could get some of this work done.

Anyway, my kids the last few years have had absolutely no interest in Halloween, but then often get swayed at the last minute. I've just kept some old costumes (Whatever still fits, like masks) and they like to dig through and mix and match to come up with weird costumes. In the end, the kids were invited to a fun friend's house where they dressed up as zombies and scared the neighborhood kids. That was really perfect because I had forgot it was Halloween when I made plans to bring work home. But by then the kids were already gone and the house was quiet. They had a blast, MH got a long nap, and I got some work done. Phew!


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