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August Savings

August 30th, 2016 at 08:42 am

Received $41 bank interest for the month of August.

Snowflakes to Investments:

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

Redeemed $43 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $4 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$10 Savings from Target Red Card

Savings (From my paycheck):

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

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

+$1,300 to cash
-900 Auto Insurance and Maintenance
-300 Staycation Spending
-165 70th Birthday Party
-100 Kids' Birthdays

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Other Snowflakes:

--I did earn $250 in gift cards but have yet to be able to redeem them.

--Dh earned $150 cash from a focus group. We invested in a used knee scooter/walker and I am hoping we can sell it next week. When we sell it we will probably buy a used violin for Drama Llama. I don't expect that to cost an entire $150. It seems more sensible to buy used than to rent.

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Kind of a boring month financially. I have some medical bills that will charge next month. Most the expenses above were for July spending. August has been more of a "stuck on the couch" month for me, and busyness with back to school.

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July Flashback:

In August we really need to get moving on some home improvements. I know I am procrastinating because I don't wanna. *sigh*

August Update:

No movement on this. I can't imagine readying for contractors in my current state. Though we have lost MH's free summer time to deal with this, work is really slow for me this time of year and I can handle it. I need to at least start getting some quotes in September.

This week we are taking the kids to the Doctor (well visits/shots), putting new tires on the newer car (replacing low quality stock tires before rainy season) and I got a referral for tree trimming and dead shrub removal. I am pulling a list of contractors to call but I don't know if we will get to that this week. As long as we are steadily ticking things off the list, it can wait a bit longer. Physically, I might be up to dealing with readying the house this weekend.

P.S. Also labeled this post in the *one income* category since dh had no income during June/July/August. His income is more in the "snowflake" range anyway. (If he had a larger income I don't know that I'd differentiate on or off months, but I am definitely feeling the difference without the extra breathing room). I am not even entirely sure he has a job still, so I guess that is some of it.

July Savings

July 30th, 2016 at 06:24 am

Received $39 bank interest for the month of June.

Savings (From my paycheck):

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

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

+$1,300 to cash

Nothing was pulled out of Savings in July.

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July was kind of a crazy spendy month, but that will be funded with August income. We spent $1,500 on auto insurance, auto maintenance, auto repairs, birthdays (3), and our trip to San Francisco. I will deduct all this from short-term savings next month.

I decided to apply snowflakes to bills this month. That was my instinct last month but I stuck to the investments. This month am going to take a break since the budget needs a breather.

Snowflakes to Bills:

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

Redeemed $75 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $12 cash back on Visa/dining card.

--$20 Savings from Target Red Card

I also received a random $50 settlement claim check.

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I did round up the mortgage payment by $9 since that got us down to the next $xxx,999. I could care less about round numbers and would rather see a lower number in the thousandth place!

I just tend to round up when I make a large extra payment (one or twice per year). I guess I felt I should snowflake something this month.

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In August we really need to get moving on some home improvements. I know I am procrastinating because I don't wanna. *sigh*

P.S. Also labeled in the *one income* category since dh had no income during June or July. His income is more in the "snowflake" range anyway. (If he had a larger income I don't know that I'd differentiate on or off months, but definitely feeling the difference without the extra breathing room).

2015 Goal Update

January 2nd, 2016 at 06:46 am

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

2015 Goals

**Financial**

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

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

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

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

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

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

2015 Rewards Update (Ummm... Bought a CAR with Rewards!)

November 7th, 2015 at 05:44 am

2015 TALLY:

$525 Gift Cards (Citi, dh)
$300 Cash (Chase checking reward, dh)
$200 Cash (AmEx Card Everyday, Moi)
$200 Cash (Barclay card, dh)
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$1,225 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

Other Rewards:

**Free Prime For One Year

**$40 cash back (Amex Reward for spending $40 at Amazon)

**$85 Citi Price Rewind

Ongoing rewards (projected through 12/31):

+$200 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back; health insurance charged to this card)

+$300 AmExRewards (6% cash back groceries/3% fuel)

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

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

+$525 Citi 2% card (2% back everywhere)

Grand Total = $2,515

Year 2011 = $4,164
Year 2012 = $2,782
Year 2013 = $2,623
Year 2014 = $3,128
Year 2015 = $2,515

Total 5 Years = $15,212
***Mostly Tax-Free Income***


***CAVEAT - I absolutely do not recommend utilizing credit card rewards in this manner, unless you are in full control of your credit card spending.***

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We have utilized credit card rewards for decades. It's only in the past 5 years I have been tracking them so closely in my blog because they started to get so substantial.

This year started out kind of slow and I Wasn't expecting much for this year. But as the rewards started to pile in for the last quarter of the year, I decided to do a tally.

& I realized, WE BOUGHT A CAR WITH CREDIT CARD REWARDS. Seriously! The $15,197 we amassed the passed 5 years was more than enough to pay for our most recent car purchase.

WOW!!

That said, I can not stress the CAVEAT part of this post enough. We personally have extreme fear of debt and have never paid a cent to a credit card company (no interest or late payments or carrying balances or whatever). I know not one penny of that $15,197 went back to the credit card companies in the form of any kind of interest or fees. The bulk of what I charge up for rewards is our health insurance (a bill we obviously are going to be paying regardless). Also, groceries and utilities. We charge up the fun stuff too, because we charge up everything, but I've never justified a splurge for a credit card reward. That would defeat the whole purpose.

If you are going to end up paying one single cent to the credit card companies, or can't treat your credit card like simply like it's an ATM card, then I would never recommend going for these kinds of rewards.

On the flip side, if you avoid debt like the plague and you have the personality for it, it's really not that big of a deal. You know, in response the DR mentality that it's impossible to win with credit cards. To that, I say: I got a FREE CAR! Big Grin

P.S. On average I'd say the earning power on these rewards is about $1,000 per hour of time and energy. This is the most efficient income stream that we have, by a mile. Least effort/most reward.

September Savings & Spending

October 1st, 2015 at 06:52 am

Received $40 bank interest for the month of August.

Snowflakes to investments:

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

Redeemed $33 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $3 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Redeemed $50 AmEx rewards as a ROTH contribution.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$ 30 Ting credits (no cell bill this month)

Savings (From paycheck):

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

+$1,500 cash gift (to savings)
-$1,500 to pay off medical bills

I suppose that last part was a wash.

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$ 385 auto insurance (other vehicle)
-$ 325 Life Insurance
-$ 120 School Lunch for 6-12 months

{I'll be draining the "short-term" part of our savings in the next month or two to pay property taxes}.

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LM has hit $500 in his savings account! I can't tell you how motivating the 7% accounts have been for the kids. Now that they both have $500 that is the max that can earn the 7% interest on.

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Dh did receive a $125 focus group payment this month but I didn't snowflake it. We seem to be in the hole this month. Spent more than we should have.

August Savings

September 2nd, 2015 at 05:56 pm

Received $39 bank interest for the month of July.

Snowflakes to investments:

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

Redeemed $52 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $1 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$ 30 Ting credits (no cell bill this month)
--$100 Random refund (from a developer fee paid to city like 15 years ago)

Savings (From paycheck):

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

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$ 540 auto insurance
-$ 200 Back to School Expenses
-$ 160 Spending during So Cal weekend

July Savings

August 3rd, 2015 at 05:57 am

Received $38 bank interest for the month of July.

Snowflakes to investments:

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

Redeemed $50 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $2 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$ 30 Ting credits (no cell bill this month)

Savings (From paycheck):

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

But... Took out $800 for medical bills.

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$2,000 Hawaii airfare

June Savings

July 2nd, 2015 at 06:49 am

Received $38 bank interest for the month of June.

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

Redeemed $83 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $1 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes:
--$200 (no piano lessons July)
--$300 sale of piccolo
--$ 30 Ting credits (no cell bill this month)

In the end, I added all the snowflakes to savings. Savings got drained a bit for the car purchase and mortgage pre-payments. So I felt all the windfalls were better used to bulk up savings a wee bit.

Savings (From paycheck):

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

But... Took out $2,600 for summer school, medical bills, and wildlife vacation. OF course, after that drained savings further for car purchase/mortgage paydown.

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$60 Medical
-$385 Auto maintenance/repairs

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Current cash position:

Still have about 8 months of expenses in the bank, so am happy with that. Plus a 9th month in taxable investments.

Upcoming known expenses:

--Medical, medical, medical

--Still have not paid anything for Hawaii yet

May Savings

June 2nd, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Received $35 bank interest for the month of May.

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

Redeemed $37 cash back on Citi card. Deposited this snowflake into investments.

Redeemed $4 cash back on Visa/dining card. Deposited this snowflake into investments.

Redeemed $50 AmEx rewards as a ROTH contribution.

Savings (From paycheck):

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

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$1,132 for concerts/events, vet visits, medical, dental, summer class registration, printer ink, organization purchases, pirate gear for camp (pirate theme this year!) and other misc.

CRAZY month!! In May and June of last year we had -0- in non-monthly expenses. For this May I had ten different entries on my spreadsheet (as to 10 different kinds of expenses). Which is probably like more than we have ever had.

I am happy to put May behind me. It wasn't anything big but just a lot of little expenses. It was just a weird month. We are overall in a "no spend" kind of mode with our big vacations this year. (Not planning anything else all year and being more homebodies than usual). On the flip side, there is also a feeling of "doing very well financially" since we keep surpassing financial goals at a more and more rapid pace. This could be some of the spendy-ness. (It seems silly to deny some random things that came up this month).

I've noticed that "May spendy crazy" seems to have been a common theme for SA bloggers.

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For June dh has a pretty busy schedule and so I will probably have lots of time to work on some more house organization and de-cluttering. It's the kind of thing that sounds so awful and boring to me, but since diving in I have gotten a bit in the *zone*. & it's probably a good redirect of energy since we won't really have any "fun" funds for the rest of the year. (Spending it all on big trips!) So my attitude has adjusted a bit and if I am stuck at home I better make the best of it. OF course, joining a group is also really motivating.

{& I wouldn't feel sorry for me. The worst case is we just lounge by the pool all summer, which is what we have been doing. Boohoo? Big Grin }.

I have more to blog about organizing and de-cluttering but honestly I've been spending less time blahblahblah and more time keeping my house in order. Maybe not a bad thing? Though I do expect to eventually get over the other side of the mountain. I don't want to spend all my time cleaning for eternity. I am enthused to make 2015 the year to get well on the other side of the mountain! & I know blogging about it will keep me motivated too. So more on all that later.

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).

Doings

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!

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**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).

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Doings:

**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).

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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.

January Savings

February 2nd, 2015 at 06:00 am

Received $42 bank interest for the month of January. I am still just adding this to cash, for simplicity. We never seem to have enough cash, anyway. When I have "too much cash" we can re-evaluate. Wink

Dh received $70 birthday money. He generally prefers to save this money but we had such a good year I encouraged him to splurge. I think he only spent $40 of it. He had wanted to get Prime but I told him that I would just get it for free. He signed up for a free trial in the meantime and we have what feels like is a million TV shows and movies (on top of the million we already had). I can't say that we miss cable *at all*. (We already had netflix and hulu and get all sorts of free content over the internet).

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

Redeemed $43 credit card rewards (cash back) from our 2% card.

snowflakes into investment account:

$68 cc rewards (per above)


Savings (From paycheck):

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

I updated sidebar for all of the above.

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$530 for insurance (home/auto)
-$195 school lunches (6 months)
-$100 passport expenses

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:

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.

RETIREMENT:

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).

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.

HOME:

The value of our home remained the same.

MORTGAGE:

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.

TOTAL NET WORTH:

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.

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2015:

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
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NET WORTH + $42,000
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**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...

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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.

Final Christmas Shopping

December 6th, 2014 at 11:20 am

I think I am DONE, but still have to help the kids pick up a birthday gift for dh. At least we have some time for that.

Note to self: shopping the first Saturday in December is okay as long as you wrap it up by 10am.

So yeah, I lied. I did go out shopping. I did do as I said I would - avoided crowds and traffic. I guess my sole goal was to get a Christmas present for work gift exchange. I drew the new girl and decided I'd just pick up a nice Christmas decoration. (Recalling a really pretty one someone picked out last year). I printed out some Michael's coupons. I thought Target would be try #2 if need be, but Target opened earlier. I also noticed my wallet is falling apart, so figured I'd look at wallets while I was out.

So stop #1 was Target around 8:30am. Pretty empty and calm and nice so I took my sweet time. Could not find a wallet like the one I had. Could not find almond roca for my dad (the other thing I decided to get while I was out).

I did find a GIANT snickers bar. Dh had told me he wasn't going to do any stocking stuffers but then he was. I figured the kids would love that!

Defeated on the wallet and gift front, I decided to go to Marshalls later, which would be on the way home. When I got to Michaels a little after they opened I realized that there was a Ross next door. I popped in and failed on the wallet and the gift front but I found a good deal on almond roca! I will have to remember that for the future. No one was there and there was no line.

(I ended up getting some almond roca for the kids too and dh was happy with that for the stockings. Phew! I was actually just going to give it to them, but waiting is fine too).

It was probably closer to 9:30 by the time I got to Michaels - they opened at 9. Huge sale there and it was a bit crazy. Waited in line for a bit but at least it was early and they had a lot of registers open.

I found a second gift for my mom - so she is all covered for birthday and Christmas. (I wasn't necessarily going to get her anything but found a $8 gift she would love - the only thing I paid full price for).

Spent about $15 on a cute basket and some ornaments for work gift exchange. I also have a Starbucks gift card left over for last year, to round out that gift.

Saw the perfect gift for Japan friend, though I almost didn't get it! Then I had my "doh" moment that BM plans to be traveling to Japan in April. That's taken care of.

Found the cutest gift for a friend I am meeting up with on Monday. We just have that relationship where we don't necessarily exchange gifts but buy each other cute things here and there. Just, no pressure or commitments, which I love with buying gifts. I spent a whole $2.40 and the gift was perfect!

I also picked up some really cute ribbon which didn't make it into my bag or onto my receipt. Frown I don't know what happened with that. But I will survive.

Hoping that I am now officially done with stores and shopping for the rest of the year!

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Other Doings:

Today dh is taking the kids to stock up on free Scholastic books. Has like $300 in vouchers, in exchange for volunteering. (Much much more than that will go to teachers and school).

Dh also did some de-cluttering and sold a pile of books and video games for $100+ credit at the used store. So, he has close to $150 to spend there now. That will keep him rich in movies and video games for a while.

I closed two credit cards opened for one-time bonuses, and applied for another one. The card I applied for - the website just flashed a "thank you" real quick and went back to the home page. I will wait a couple of weeks and then call and see if my application went through or not. I don't see why I wouldn't be approved, but maybe the website glitched. So the new card is in limbo but I think everything else is officially closed and done with. Just waiting to hear if my $99 Chase Southwest fee is refunded.

Payday

November 3rd, 2014 at 06:39 am

Today is payday for me.

I won't be able to deposit my check until later today but the $5,000 transfer I made for property taxes showed up in my account today. So I paid all the bills I planned to. I can pay the property taxes after my payroll check hits my CU today.

I paid the mortgage payment and I paid off most the October credit card charges. The handful of bills I can't charge were already set to pay this Friday.

Next payday I will pay off the projector. IT costs exactly the amount that I usually put into savings every month, so we are just cash flowing it.

Other Fiscal Minutiae:

Received $33 bank interest for the month of October

Redeemed $50 credit card rewards towards my ROTH

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

Dh earned $35 cash from a focus group

Snowflakes into investment account:

$50 cc rewards (per above)
$15 internet savings (placeholder)
$10 from focus group
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=$75 TOTAL

I had planned to use focus group money towards most recent cell phone purchase, but I am projecting $11 left in the bank account at 11/30, so I transferred $10 of that into investments.

Retirement Savings Advice (For the Young)

October 22nd, 2014 at 05:58 am

Excellent Article:

Comparing Three Major Levers You Can Pull On Your Retirement Portfolio

http://www.mymoneyblog.com/retirement-lever-comparison.html

The gist:

--Investor begins working at 25, but saving at 35
--12% savings rate
--50%stock/50% bonds asset allocation
--Salary starts $30k and rises with age

Initial plan, portfolio at 65: $474,000
Change to 80/20 allocation: $577,000
15% savings rate: $593,000

**Begins saving at 25: $718,000**

DING DING DING!!!

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I share because I think this is very important in regards to efficiency and balance. Not helpful if you are no longer 25, but I do share for any young person who comes across my blog.

Our personal average retirement savings rate since age 24 is 12%. I get a lot of comments that we must not be saving enough or will have to work for 50 years. Considering we are well on track to retire at age 50, I am not worried about it.

Of course, we contribute more when we can, and that is important too. I just happened to notice the other day that our "average retirement savings since having kids" was 14%. I think this is counter-intuitive for many. It is most often assumed that our retirement is being sacrificed (with my spouse not working). The opposite is more the case. It's easier to save a bigger percentage of a smaller income. We simply don't have to save as much? (Some years we have put away 20% to retirement; those were our smallest income years, when 20% was just not that much money). That's all there really is to it. But it isn't setting us backwards because the smaller income is more than enough for us to live on and is a fine base for savings percentage.

We personally plan to save more over time. We are savers, and we like to prepare for the worst. That said... I would say that we are pleasantly surprised how well our retirement savings is doing. We've already done the heavy lifting, no doubt about it. Which is kind of ironic because it doesn't necessarily feel like it. IT feels like retirement has been more on the back burner than we care for, due to kids and economy and medical woes. It's nice to look back and see our steady/consistent contributions working for us over the long haul.

Our personal rule of thumb has been to never put less than 10% of post college income to retirement. We started with that, and then got a lot more serious about retirement savings in our 30s. (Maxing out retirement vehicles, around age 30).

P.S. I notice one very important lever left out of this discussion. Fees and costs. MyMoneyBlog has also touched on this point in the past. http://www.mymoneyblog.com/lower-costs-higher-returns-again-...

Balance

September 6th, 2014 at 07:51 am

Things are going pretty well financially. Knock on wood. (They never seem to go this well for very long, so will see...). I suppose my positive feelings and measurement of "well" is just that we have a pre-kids level of cash and are saving at a pre-kids/dual income pace. Which was a good measure of financial freedom. Today we have all that plus a heck of a lot more assets.

I still make a solid $20k less than our highest "dual income", but I am taking home more with the $20k+ decrease in taxes. I have been for a couple of years probably, but have had some catching up to do on the savings front. This tax/income interaction is really key on the balance side of things. We could easily make an extra $20,000 - $40,000 and be NO BETTER OFF. I see it every single day. Show me someone who has a $30k higher wage and I will show you someone who is paying $30k more in taxes than I am. This is an important point to understand when it comes to balance. That you can work significantly less and be just as well off.

I personally credit my parents for being extraordinary examples of balance. I don't know if I appreciated it before, but in recent years that balance and the benefits of that balance has become pretty clear. & I know that it seems to come pretty easy to me.

I don't know if I had given it much thought lately, but it really hit me as I was evaluating our current finances. I'd say we are back to our peak financial comfort level, which was pretty darn comfortable. So, what do I want to do with all this financial comfort? With more wiggle room, is there something we should be splurging on?

The answer? Nothing. There is absolutely nothing we want to splurge on. We have more than we could possibly need or want. This wasn't really the answer I was expecting to come up. But that is where our strong sense of balance has put us.

This is all well and good because I have a ton of financial pressures coming up on the horizon. Our plan is actually to do a couple of big splurges, and then nose back to the grindstone. Which is for the best with the economy, with kids nearing college age, and all the other financial pressures we know are on the horizon.

Even our splurges have a solid "Plan B". Which is also an important part of balance. So you don't feel deprived when everything doesn't go as you expect it to. So you don't even feel particularly set back when life happens. Because life will always happen.

Big Splurges?

Dh does have his eye on a $3,000 projector. His parents have already vocalized giving us that money for Christmas and it's all his. I've even given him a thumbs up to keep an eye open for sales. Will probably buy late winter (after cash in hand) unless a sales comes up before then. But we will jump on a sale prematurely if it will put us ahead for the long run. (Fall is when new models come out? So we may make a purchase next month if the price comes down at that time).

Plan B: No matter what we will upgrade his projector this year or next. I am just not sure if we will go with a $1k or a $3k purchase. Either way is a huge step up and will make him happy. I think the $3k purchase will make him more happy for longer. But we are both interested in sticking with a reasonable budget.

You can file this away under, "ridiculous splurge that we never could have justified the past few years." He's also been enjoying his higher quality TV and sulking about his loss of hearing. I am personally happy to see him excited about his movie theater again - the one we bought the extra big house for. We don't plan to downsize for another solid decade, so he might as well use and enjoy. Or the kids are getting to an age where they will use and enjoy.

I admit dh has had this projector on his wish list for a while, but this will do it for him. He's got nothing else on his want list.

The other big splurge is BM's Japan trip in the spring. That is a given and I have a creative way to fund his trip. IT's just that the opportunity popped up now, but it is good timing for us financially. Plan A is for both dh and BM to go, but Plan B is to just send BM. I don't think we will decide until next year. Will see how the next few months go financially and where we are at. It is possible (but unlikely) that my parents will chip in a bit for that trip. So, waiting to see how that sorts out before we commit to anything.

What about me? Well, it is mostly true that I have everything I could possibly want or need. But I suppose I have one caveat to that. What I want more than anything is lots of cash to tide me over for my next job transition. Both of our long-term employment situations are just clear as mud, for the moment. I just want to be able to take some relaxing time off in between jobs. (I don't know if this is possible, but it is what I want). & I want to be able to take my sweet time and find that perfect job. I have always had that time and freedom in the past (which is why my current job is so awesome - I know the awesome jobs are out there). For the first time in this economy I feel a bit of that again - that I have the luxury to take my sweet time and to hold out for that ideal job. It's also been almost a decade since my last maternity leave so I am ready for some time off and a reboot. My next job transition just seems a natural time and way to take that reboot.

& so is the plan. A couple of big splurges and then noses back to the grindstone. It's also that final stretch before BIG expenses like college and so on. If unemployment is never an issue, then we will have plenty of other uses for any savings in the next few years.

One final thought on balance. It probably pains me on some level to plan to spend $9,000-ish that can be set aside to pay 2 months of our expenses in event of job loss. But I am not sweating it. Times are good and we should enjoy. I know it will make any period of unemployment or adjustment easier because we did splurge and enjoy when we could. We've been saying "no" to a lot of things since we had kids and I know there is a lot of "no we can't do that" for the next 10-ish years until we get our kids through college. I think it's important to relax and enjoy when we obviously can. & I think we can do so while being well prepared for all of the uncertainty. & that feels awesome!

Fiscal Updates

May 24th, 2014 at 07:24 am

Fiscally, things are going quite well.

*knock on wood*

Aside from saving up for our homes, we are maybe $5,000 away from the most we have ever had in savings. Which would be more than we have had saved up since having kids. I don't know the exact (peak) figure since I just track net worth every 12/31. Since my first pregnancy went so well we diverted a lot of that money into retirement that first year. So pre-kids was the peak; we were saving up for multiple maternity leaves and so on. We spent it down and redirected because we never imagined dh would be out of work 5 years later, much less 12 years later! It's been slow going to build that back up, but we are getting there.

Along the same lines, I wanted to update about a "big picture" goal. Last year we achieved more assets than debts. We've always had a positive net worth, but I mean we reached the point where we could pay off our mortgage with our savings and investments. We reached that goal in March 2013.

Where are we today? Today we could pay off our mortgage and have $50,000 left over. Woohoo! I think that's great progress for one year. (& that was with a very very expensive and trying 2013).

The next big goal for us? More in retirement savings than owed on mortgage. We are within a few thousand dollars of that milestone.

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After years of consolidating and cleaning things up, we seem to be moving in the opposite direction. I am opening more accounts (two taxable investment accounts this past year) and I have to open a Traditional IRA for dh. He only has a ROTH. We had converted all of our money into ROTHs during some of our lowest income years, but I have a Traditional IRA from a work retirement plan rollover in the years since.

OF course, the kids have their 7% savings accounts and I just opened two bank accounts for bonuses. So, yeah, it feels like I am opening a LOT of accounts. I suppose that is a GOOD thing.

Taxes

February 9th, 2014 at 08:28 am

**We made it to our 3 San Francisco days of events. I thought we were driving to San Jose twice more this month, but dh seemed to think we would combine trips. Will see. It will be a lot to celebrate his folks' anniversary and his Grandma's birthday on one weekend day. Two weeks might be better for me, though more driving. (I was thinking of skipping the birthday, anyway).

THEN we will probably be on low-spend mode until May.

**It's funny because I really thought SIL (more means) would want to do an extravagant party for the in-laws' 40th anniversary.

But, since they are moving into their $1 million+ home this month? Dh has yet to talk to her about this anniversary at all ( Rolleyes ), but we got the message loud and clear. They aren't planning to spend a penny.

{I am rolling my eyes that dh has yet to speak to his sister about it - rolling them at him}.

I suppose it works out. I was trying to set aside $1k - $2k of money that in-laws gave us, in case it was a big dinner party out kind of thing. BUT, I have failed miserably given how 2013 was, and so it is what it is. I doubt we will spend a penny. Dh and I will offer to take them out to dinner. I just can't imagine them letting us pay.

Dh is working on a video, but has been struggling with his own family. I think it's easier to do for other families - maybe being more removed from the subject? I am sure he is also being too hard on himself.

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**I finished our taxes. Being organized and having a simple tax situation (& having really nice professional software), it was not a time consuming endeavor. Maybe one hour, max, to gather information and file all of our tax returns. I harvested some tax gains for the kids, which means having to file for them when they sell mutual funds.

I always aim for breakeven, but my withholding and deductions have been pretty sporadic in recent years.

I did adjust my withholding in 2013 because our medical deductions are more limited with Obamacare AND our mortgage interest went down significantly (with latest refinance). About $6,000 less deductions than last year, from those two things. Plus income went up a bit, etc.

In the end, I did good. $30 net refund. (Er, I think I just got lucky).

The big question for me is what to do about our IRA contributions. *sigh* I am squarely in "flip a coin" territory with this.

Tax rate has gone up from negative (less than 0%), up to 23%, in the years since we have had kids. So, the ROTH is officially no longer a "no-brainer."

25% is a strong tipping point for me. One reason is because in the past we took a larger deduction up front and then converted ROTHs in lower income years. I am also in the middle of converting my parents' ROTHs (early retirement/no income years). All this to say that it is not a simple situation with a simple answer. (It could be a MUCH better tax savings decision to skip the ROTH for now).

I think the long and the short of it is that even at 23%, it's a lot of money to throw away in the hope that the tax code and our circumstances work out to our favor in the long run. $11,000 x 23% = $2,530 tax savings. Which is certainly no small beans, to me. This would boost our savings rate significantly. ($2500 is like 3% of my income - we'd just turn around and invest the tax savings).

That said, we don't have to decide until next April. At which point we will have more information. If we can easily cash flow the ROTHs at that point, we may just to do so. If not, we can do the Tradiitonal IRA, or do 5/50.

For 2013, I had already committed to doing the ROTHs. Kind of glad about that. Because if I thought to check before I filed, I might have changed my mind. We got our ROTH balance to six figures already, so I think we will do fine whatever we decide. (Those ROTHs will be no small beans when we reach retirement age, even if we stop contributing to them).

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.

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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.

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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

First 2014 Snowflakes

January 1st, 2014 at 07:51 am

Last I ruminated, I wasn't so sure what to do with mortgage snowflakes. For December I did not make a mortgage payment, so just abandoned snowflakes for the month.

BUT, we got a nice cash gift for Christmas and I was able to fund dh's ROTH with it. I was already leaning towards continuing mortgage snowflakes this year anyway. (IT just works the best psychologically, for us). I was just tempering that feeling with feeling like I should put a screech on all mortgage snowflakes until we got our ROTHs back in order. But as of right now the "screech" seems pretty unnecessary. (My ROTH will be funded with Feb. 1 paycheck, assuming nothing else BREAKS. & I do have until April 15th).

So... Snowflakes it is!

I didn't make the December mortgage payment - will pay it today. (Didn't need the interest deduction last year, so pushed it forward).

These are my December snowflakes (paid to mortgage in January):

$20 carpool saving**
$15 internet bill promo savings**

January snowflakes:

$20 carpool saving**
$15 internet bill promo savings**
$25 gas/grocery credit card reward (I just redeemed)
$180 Visa credit card reward^^

**I don't expect these savings to last forever, so am just making an expense "placeholder" with mortgage snowflakes.

^^On the last one, it's a 1% cash back on our CU visa that we receive every January. The amount is only so large this year because they had a 2% promo for a time. (Usually this reward is more like $60).

OF course, we just shifted those rewards from one card to the other. All this money would have gone to our Fidelity AmEx otherwise - those rewards go to my Fidelity ROTH. This just means the mortgage gets a boost because our credit union ran a nice promo. (All else being equal, Visa is accepted more places and I'd rather give the business to my credit union than a big bank).

Snowflakes 2014: $275

Unfortunately, not expecting to keep up THAT kind of momentum. But it's definitely a nice start to 2014.

Big Milestones Surpassed!

May 15th, 2013 at 06:56 am

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

http://monkeymama.savingadvice.com/2012/09/14/progress-not-p...

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.

FREEDOM!!

March 15th, 2013 at 06:40 am

We have crossed over. Woohoo!

More cash and mutual funds than DEBT!!!

*Most* our our savings is in retirement funds, so obviously not planning to cash that all out to pay the mortgage. But I am very pleased to be here. What might not be that exciting of a milestone to some is extra huge to us because of the high cost of living here. I don't think we would be in this financial position without or low-cost move.

This is a very tenuous goal, as these things seem to be. So, the next goal is just to KEEP it this way. To get so far on the other side that we will stay there. That might take one year or five years. I don't know. (Historically I find these kind of goals take about 5 years to stick, but that's with the economy in the crapper and everything).

There is nothing spectacular we have done over the years. Save a little every year. Don't borrow any money against home. That's really it. Time does the rest. I share because it's so important just to save what you can. To consistently save and to stay the course. I am sure I would have found these numbers overwhelming or impossible when I Was younger.

Being very debt adverse, the mortgage still has never bothered me much. (Though obviously no plans to keep it forever!!). Why not? Because if we wanted to be 100% debt-free tomorrow, we sell the house. The End. Debt Free. There is certainly a lot of bad mortgage debt out there, but we have avoided putting ourselves in that type situation.

So why is this such an exciting milestone? For the first time I can envision paying off the mortgage and being 100% debt-free, *while keeping the house.* That feels AMAZING!! That means, keeping a roof over our head and not having to pay rent or a mortgage. & to me, this is a level of financial security we have never achieved before. Woohoo!!

I totally understand it's a little premature to get too excited about it. But then again, it only took about 4 years to turn $100k to $200k. Our savings level is back to where it was last we both worked - trying to save about $30k per year. At some point it becomes an obvious choice to save and invest rather than to be "debt free, today."

At current, I still envision paying off the home age 45 or 50. I am 36 today. If we have another good stock market run in the interim, I'd consider cashing out at a peak and being debt free. It just depends on all factors. With these low interest rates I lean towards investing in mortgage payoff (4%) versus bonds and more cash. If interest rates were higher I'd maybe keep more conservative investments in cash or bonds, earning more than our mortgage rate. I am a risk-adverse type, so will not be putting 100% of our money in the stock market. & it seems silly to settle for less than 4% with the more conservative portions of our investments (above and beyond more immediate cash needs). This is something we just evaluate constantly as economic factors change. What I am doing this year might look totally different next year. It wasn't that long ago I had a 6% CD at the bank. Big Grin So, will see.

In other news, real estate is HOT here. Our house might be worth $350k today and will easily hit $400k this summer. Homes are selling in minutes and going up in $25k increments. Bubble 2.0 is here. (I call it Bubble 2.0 because no one is putting down any money on these homes, nothing seems to have been learned in the first Bubble. I don't feel like we ever got anywhere near true rock bottom with all the investor speculation keeping home values artificially inflated. The market is spiking as real families are actually starting to buy these homes, to live in).

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

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.).

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Expenses

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)

--Insurance

--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.

---------------------------------------------------
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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.

More Thoughts on Christmas Simplicity

December 18th, 2012 at 07:21 am

**I feel redeemed this month in "making do with what I have." MIL brought me piles of gifts for my birthday and left us with all the white tissue paper. ??? So, I decided to just wrap gifts with that stuff. What the heck. What else am I going to do with it?

BM is wrapping up his big Mission project for school. Dh had him use the leftover foam board we had from his Halloween costume, in place of poster board. That works.

I feel relieved. Like we still have our mojo. It's been such a stark contrast to September when dh's Grandma was in the hospital. There was a week or two in there where I felt I went to the store 100 times and everything was completely out of control. It's like when one thing is *off* then everything goes *off* and it spirals out of control from there. IT was an endless parade of "I need this yesterday" and so forth with the kids. & dh was MIA, and we spent a bajillion dollars it felt like.

So, phew!! It's December and I'd prefer not to go near *any* store for a while.

BM was even asking for gloves for a school trip, and then told me nevermind that they can not wear gloves. Saved by the bell.

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I *loved* this post about keeping Christmas simple:

http://smallnotebook.org/2012/12/17/12-tips-easier-christmas/

& another one:

http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2012/12/17/resisting-the-h...

Credit Card Rewards Update

December 8th, 2012 at 02:19 pm

Honestly, the credit card rewards were way higher than I realized this year. I haven't been keeping as close track. I actually mentioned earlier in the year I shredded absolutely *everything* one-time credit card reward - the paperwork was getting to be too much! But I very quickly pieced all this together between my blog (for gift cards) and Quicken (cash deposits). In addition, I know I received a few $10 or $20 gift cards here and there, but I did not track those carefully and so did not add these to the total.

FINAL TOTAL:

2012 TALLY:

$532 cash Chase Sapphire
$420 cash Chase (Chase Sapphire double dip*)
$150 cash Flagstar
$500 Amazon gift cards (Citi double dip*)
$250 Amazon gift cards
-$125 annual fee (Citi)
+$115 annual fee refunded when closed card
-----------
$1842 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

+$ 600 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back)
+$ 25 cash back Fidelity Am Ex (bonus for some alternating category?)

+$ 95 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)

+$ 68 Visa Rewards (1% cash back - for places that don't take AmEx - primarily dentist/insurance/utilities)

+$ 80 AmExRewards (6% cash back groceries/3% fuel - new card for 2 months only)
+$ 150 New AmEx (new card bonus)
-$75 annual fee on new AmEx
----------------------------
=$2785 Total CC REWARDS 2012
----------------------------

*double dips = rewards redeemed twice. We redeemed both these rewards in 2011 initially, and waited 12 months to redeem a second time, in 2012.

Year 2011 = $4164
Year 2012 = $2782

Total 2 Years = $6946
**Tax-Free Income!!**


Three more things:

1 - I have always always always utilized credit cards for rewards. No year in the past 20 years has come anywhere close to the years 2011 and 2012. I was maybe averaging $1000 cash back per year the few years prior.

2 - CAVEAT - I absolutely do not recommend utilizing credit card rewards in this manner, unless your credit is excellent, and you are in full control of your credit card spending. I can 100% honestly say I did not charge anything that I wouldn't have just paid for in cash otherwise. I am wired to treat my credit card as if it were a debit card, basically.

3 - The one-time rewards cards have all been cancelled and cut up. I generally close the cards right after I receive the reward.

Also, I suppose I should clarify that both my spouse and I have been utilizing these rewards, so have been able to double up significantly (versus if I were just single - we have both applied for several of the same offers. I also no doubt have many more expenses, supporting a household of 4 people versus just myself).

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

What have we been doing with all this money? We advanced several months of ROTH contributions so that we are maxing out by 12/31 this year (versus taking out time until next April). We have paid down an extra $6,000 to our mortgage, as well. We have certainly splurged some of the rewards too, but I have no doubt our financial goals have gone very well in otherwise financially trying times, due to these significant windfalls.

In fact, at the end of 2010, I was thinking about getting some part-time or temp work. The bottom line has really been, "Why bother?" when I can make all this money with barely lifting a finger!?! It's been totally great timing for my family. My motivation to find a second job was to start paying down the mortgage more rapidly.

Christmas Doings

December 1st, 2012 at 08:36 am

I am glad I had such a wonderful beach weekend last weekend, and T-Day, because I have paid since. What a crazy week at work. Next week won't be any better - big IRS audit. I am frustrated about it on many levels. & in addition, because it has been so time consuming, I am very behind on everything. Which is not the worst because I See lot of December overtime pay for me. Woohoo. It's starting a little early, but just means more money for the mortgage. Big Grin

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

I like the thankfulness posts that have been going around thanks to Paulette.

I think being thankful on a daily basis is a key practice to happiness and contentment. I practice this in my personal life, but feel it is kind of private. But wanted to chime in and share that.

I think people often think I am happy because I have a nice home and a good job and yadda yadda yadda. There is nothing special about having a nice home. I am every day grateful that I even have a home!! I am endlessly grateful for the opportunities we have and our kids have, that those before them didn't have. It's being grateful for the little things that keep us grounded.

No doubt that thankfulness also breeds contentedness. Our culture is so opposite though - it doesn't focus on gratefulness and contentedness. We all need more of this.

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I suppose this is may annual Christmas post.

I used to pride myself by doing all things Christmas before December.

Over the years it has gotten kind of moot. All our friends and family have stepped back and said, "We have all we need and don't want to exchange gifts any more." The exception is dh's parents and grandma, but they don't expect much from us. Dh goes in with his sister and sorts out the details, so I generally just write SIL a check. In addition, the in-laws give us tons of crap and money, so they pay for their own gifts (we use some of the money, and often return some of the gifts - either way it doesn't cost us anything).

Of course, we obviously could spend our time focusing on gifts from the heart. BUT, with my current job I mostly choose to sit out the holidays. Work is busy this time of year and so we focus on keeping it simple instead.

If not for my job, I'd probably be baking a lot of cookies and donating more money in people's names. I like to focus on more consumable items than piling on more of the materialism. I am sure we would spend a lot more time and effort on charity if it were a slower time of year for us.

This year is shaping up to be the most simple and least expensive Christmas I remember:

--Kids: Dh already bought a few gifts throughout the year. He will get free Scholastic books and has some "free" used games set aside for them. This year we did not get any spectacular gifts of any sort.

Teachers: Dh will get each teacher a $100 scholastic voucher. Free, in exchange for labor.

Gardener/Piano Teacher: I will bonus both $20.

Donations: We all choose a charity to donate $50 to every year. Last year was the first time the kids got to choose a charity - they LOVED it. (It doesn't have to be an official charity. If the kids wanted to hand $50 to a random person on the street or to a friend in need - anything that pulls at our heartstrings is fine).

Everyone else: If I see something for anyone in my family I just buy it for them, no matter what time of year. I bought my sister a few souvenirs in October. I actually bought my mom a couple of things in October. It is tradition to buy my dad almond roca every year. None of this stuff warrants a Christmas budget.

Work: My employer has gone the way of bah humbug over the years, like me! LOL. We used to do the Christmas party thing but it stopped at some point. We all prefer it that way. Phew!! We still do a gift exchange and a gift for the boss.

Boss will give me a $250 bonus, and I will contribute $50 towards his gift, from the bonus.

There is a woman in my office who is basically "me." LOL. I drew her name this year which means EASY to shop for. I was at Walgreens the other day waiting in line and saw Starbucks gift cards so picked up one for $15. My plan was to do that and maybe find a $5-ish gift on Etsy.

Reminds me, I don't regularly give gifts to anyone else, but can always find a uses for a regift. (Starbucks reminded me of that, because I don't drink coffee, but few people *get* that. That is something I always seem to have in my regift pile. & it sure makes people happy!)

So, to sum up, I have some Etsy shopping to do, and I am DONE!! & maybe an almond roca run at some point - easy to pick up anywhere and any time.

Budget? Christmas bonus covers boss gift and donations. Money/gifts from in-laws covers the $100-ish dh spends on them every year.

$60 total for co-worker, gardener and piano teacher. In-laws will basically cover this.

We bought some other gifts, but just absorbed in regular misc. budget items throughout the year.

Christmas Budget = $0.

**We always get a bazillion gift boxes to reuse, or use what we have around the house for wrapping, and we have a fake Christmas tree. Dh and I sometimes buy gifts for each other, but rarely. The fun has been kind of taken out of the "material gift giving" since he stopped working and all our accounts are joint. This year no gifts because we have gorged on credit card rewards heavily in recent years and don't want for anything in particular. The kids buy us and each other presents with their own money (since they have no expenses otherwise - to practice money management). 90% of our family's birthday is this month and next, so this covers most the gifts for the year, and could be why most the adults don't want MORE December gifts. We might enjoy all the gifting more if we could spread it out a bit! Kids excepted - they are rare summer babies.**


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