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Eating In

July 18th, 2017 at 08:18 pm

Frugalwoods had a GREAT article yesterday. I am sharing in case anyone missed it:

How To Stop Eating Out According To Frugalwoods Readers


"I must highlight that the #1 reason cited for eating out is a failure to plan ahead.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a planned, agreed-upon-in-advance, special dinner out. It’s delightful to plan for it all month, anticipate what you’ll order, and then truly enjoy yourself. But scrambling to order sub-par Thai at 8pm on a Tuesday because you forgot to go grocery shopping? That’s what needs to stop."

"Caroline says it’s about planning ahead and having a low barrier to entry, “Make sure you have enough ready-to-cook-in-a-short-time food at hand, whether at work or home."

"Anna reports it’s actually a time-saver to cook at home, “What has helped me with takeout is realizing how quickly I can make a meal, particularly a quick veggie pasta or white rice with steamed veggies in the rice cooker. Less than 30 minutes start to table, and we never get delivery or back and forth to a restaurant quicker than that.”

"Sarah says, “We have a rule that you can have anything you want, so long as it comes from the grocery store for those times when planning fails or life just gets in the way. Even it it turns out to be something fancy or expensive, it’s always cheaper than takeout/restaurant for 4."

"Carissa wrote, “We NEVER make single portion meals. Everything is big enough to last us both for at least 3-4 meals. We have no problem eating leftovers, and it’s great to just reheat delicious home-cooked food for lunch or dinner."

Anyway, there were a LOT of good suggestions. There was also a large focus on freezing and cooking ahead. That's just not our thing. I copied and pasted more of the things that are our approach. But I think it's important to read through the whole article if you need any inspiration on this front. Everyone's different, and was reflected in the wide variety of ideas.

I'd say our approach is mostly to plan ahead and buy for a few meals every week. From there, we just go with the flow. Allows us just to cook according to our mood during the week. The idea of choosing a set meal for every day of the week would drive me insane. I feel about the same way about cooking and freezing ahead. Then it gets to be too much work or we lose the flexibility that we prefer. Just to share our overall strategy. & after 15 years of 99% home cooking our meals, whatever we cook is far better than any restaurant food. That was another point that someone brought up. But that takes time to get to.

Oh, and one thing that I was surprised that no one mentioned? Recruiting other help in the household. I guess there is no world where I cook for three other perfectly capable human beings 100% of the time. Whether I work or not. NO WAY! I mentioned this in another blog comment I think: MH is thinking ahead to going back to work full-time and also to his parents watching our kids for a couple of weeks while we are in Europe. We have had the kids cover dinners before, but never got to a set schedule that stuck. So we are determined to get the kids in the habit of cooking this summer (one meal per week, each). By the time school starts, we just don't want to have to put any mental energy into it. Want to make it a habit that sticks.

A couple of weeks ago DL(12) wanted to make beenies/weenies. Last week he made saag paneer (Indian spinach/cheese dish) in the crockpot. I guess the kids often lean towards my simple recipes which will probably be good for college years, but they are also used to higher end meals from stay-home father "chef". & so that is how that happens. Big Grin

& it's been kind of genius because MH lets them choose what they are going to cook every week. DL(12) told me last week that the work was worth the reward. He LOVES being able to choose dinner.

I did ask him what he is going to make this week, and he said sushi. I told him no. WE are not there yet. !! (In the future, maybe).

I share because DL is kind of all over the place. MM's "signature dish" is taco rice salad. He wanted to make crockpot chili last week and chili hot dogs this week.

Credit Card Rewards Update

July 18th, 2017 at 01:47 pm

2017 TALLY:

$500 (AmEx Gold, Moi)
$525 (Citi Thank You, MH)
$499 Travel Rewards Cards (Capital One Venture,MH)
$200 Cash (WF Wise, MH)

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


In the end, we are on track for one of our best years: on track for $3,000. I think what put us over the edge is using travel rewards. We usually stick to cash and gift cards. Travel rewards don't do much for us because we mostly avoid flying and can get a free hotel room regardless, so not something I expect to do a lot of in the long run.

I just activated the Citi card. That one is a bit of an experiment. It seems MH should be able to get $500, but we've done that one so much it makes me wary. (Technically you are supposed to wait 24 months in between).

Will see!

Anyway, I logged in online and that credit card is going to close tomorrow (monthly cycle). I was going to pre-pay a couple of months of health insurance, so figured I'd wait a day or two so I don't have to actually pay those for an extra month.

In the meantime, MH got a direct mail offer for American Express Gold. Spend $1,000, get $250. I find those really hard to come by. But I thought I recalled those were a "once in a lifetime" reward. MH got a kindle in 2010? Was from an AmEx Gold reward.

Anyway, since MH *just* applied for three cards, I figured I'd look up the rewards and see if I really want to bother. In the end I found this:


$500 reward if you spend $2,000. I tried a few different browsers and I got the $500 offer to pop up! I really don't recall ever having this card and I did check my blog. I figured they would deny me since I never get these offers. But in the end I was accepted! Woohoo!

I've got three months to do the spend. I usually just charge up these cards when I get them. Very little brain power. But in this case, I am going to pre-pay 2 months of health insurance already. Do I want to pre-pay 4 months, right now? I suppose it probably doesn't really matter. It just complicates life in the interim. Maybe it is easier to just wait 30-45 days before I do that one.

I have to remember to close this card within a year. It has an insane annual fee for the second year. I will make some notes in Quicken and in my calendar so that I do not forget.

Oh, the rewards are still very so-so on this card, but last time we enjoyed them more than I thought we would. So I will stock up on dining out gift cards and some gift cards to give as gifts.

On the Citi, MH was starting to eye the Best Buy gift cards and was thinking of funding some larger purchases. So might be $500 "ridiculous electronics splurging" (which we tend to do with these rewards) and $500 "restaurants and gifts."

I don't know that I see the point of doing any more rewards this year, except my 24-month clock has reset on Citi and I should really take advantage if I can find a $500 reward for that one. MH's was a direct mail offer. It would figure if that one would work right now. I really only do these things "one at a time" generally. Maybe it is just something I will keep an eye out for once the dust settles on these two rewards.

Edited to add: Look what I saw just posted TODAY?


It's $4,000 spend for $500 reward. We usually spend $3k for these rewards so definitely will pass.

On Being Content

July 14th, 2017 at 01:38 pm

When we asked what our kids wanted for their birthday they both said, "nothing." For Christmas they were both absolutely delighted with their one simple gift. We bought DL(11) a blanket and he made a point last month to tell me how much he loved it and it is the BEST gift. Six months later!

I've been pondering this a bit. This is nothing I expected from my kids. (Much like my last post, where I didn't necessarily expect them to be "super frugal" through their childhood). The best I can guess is that all their needs are WELL met (can't help but think of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). & beyond that, they just absorb what they see. We are VERY content. We like our toys and we have our stuff but we aren't constantly shopping/spending.

& let me make it real clear. My kids have computers and cell phones and a virtual reality system. (Which I know many people think would cause kids to go the opposite way). There is no deprivation going on in this house. But they aren't over-saturated. They can appreciate something as simple as a blanket.

In fact, I received a big box with the new pots and pans I bought. My kids (12 and 14!) are having a BLAST with the box. It's cracking me up. I encouraged MH to just leave it be for the cat to play with. The kids seem to have the same wonder and excitement about it as the cat does. It's along the same lines. We haven't over-saturated them so much that they can't appreciate the small things.

Anyway, I saw the most amazing article from Frugalwoods today, that ties into this.

How Making Luxuries Rare Increases Our Happiness


Some highlights:

"Repeated exposure to stimulants deadens our ability to derive pleasure from them. These stimulants range from shopping for stuff we don’t need to sugar to dining out. Anything designed to deliver jolts of dopamine and excitement are best if used sparingly."

"After embarking on our extreme frugality journey, I was suddenly awakened to a slew of behaviors that I performed ritualistically without much consideration for whether: a) they were good for me; b) I needed them; c) I actually derived any true, lasting pleasure from them. I was a consumer automaton, ritualistically buying new clothes every season, automatically getting a latte if I happened to walk past a coffee shop, dumping a ludicrous amount of ersatz sugar into my coffee mug."

"Spending money works in precisely the same way and impacts the same pleasure centers in our brains. We humans have the remarkable ability to acclimate ourselves to almost any level of comfort or deprivation. We can all craft a reality in which we’re deprived or in which we’re surrounded by abundance (with caveats for privilege and the understanding that not everyone enjoys the basic necessities of shelter, food, and safety required for this exercise). Abundance denial is exactly what it sounds like: a failure–or inability–to appreciate our blessings."

"When we sign-up for our culture’s materialistic consumer carousel, we’re signing up for a lifetime of spending money. There is always more to buy, more to crave, and more to convince ourselves we “need.” There is no path to lasting happiness through excessive consumption because you’ll never reach a point of enough. You’ll never look around your home and experience the gratitude of wanting what you already have; rather, you’ll look around your home and constantly identify more things you can buy. Marketing is designed to continually create these false needs for us and to continually convince us that we are lacking and deprived and uncool if we don’t consume at the level that’s advertised to us."

"“But buying things makes me happy!” you might be thinking. And you’re right, it does make you happy, but only for a brief period of time. That’s the key–the adrenaline and pleasure of making a purchase fades quite quickly and leaves you casting about for something else to buy. There’s a deeper, more permanent happiness to be had when you stop this cycle and instead start to focus your energies on people, activities, and experiences that are meaningful to you.

It’s also true that you’ll have more time. I often hear the complaint that frugality takes too much time, but I find it’s quite the opposite: frugality takes far less time and frees up your physical and mental energy for fulfilling pursuits. Imagine for a moment if you didn’t have to run a million errands this week: no dry cleaners, no haircuts, no manicures, no dog groomer, no shopping (other than for groceries)… that’s what my weeks are like. I’ve created time and space for myself by ceasing to participate in the consumer carousel.

When we instead acknowledge that we do, in fact, have enough, we surrender to a default position of gratitude. We look around our house–that very same house–and think “I am so grateful to have a couch for my kids to snuggle on. I am so thankful we have a roof that doesn’t leak.” We no longer notice the stains on the couch and the scuffs on our furniture or our non-trendy-looking appliances. Instead, we see all of these things as benefits in our lives and evidence of how fortunate we are to have running water and electricity and the ability to safely cook inside our home–all things that many people in the world so desperately need."

"Our culture writ large doesn’t encourage temperance or restraint. Frugality is viewed as miserly and boring. But in reality, it’s the golden ticket that delivers us off the hedonic treadmill and out of the “you never have enough” mentality and away from the buy-your-way-to-happiness prompts that we’re all old enough to know are empty, false promises.

Frugality is not about depriving yourself, it’s about reconstructing your worldview so that you need less, want less, and spend less in order to achieve a higher level of happiness. Spending is a vicious cycle of always feeling that happiness is out of your reach whereas frugality engenders a virtuous cycle of knowing that what you have is indeed enough."

Kids' Money, Birthday Doings

July 13th, 2017 at 12:52 pm

Post from 2014:

"The kids get $2/per week/each "allowance", to learn money management. They have had the same allowances since they were 5. We have discussed raising it but they just don't spend their money! So, will leave be for now.

I don't even think it's so much that they don't spend money. It's more that they are extremely frugal. For example, going in on most purchases together and primarily buying used goods, or just being generally creative with their purchases. They just don't seem to have much motivation to spend."

This is still true. It's becoming obvious that we will never raise their allowances. They way we do it in our families is we will turn off allowances once they can more easily earn money. I'd say 14yo is there, but by the same token we expect the kids to work so much that I am not big on pushing it too soon. Not expecting *anything* of him this summer. But in a summer or two he will mostly be on his own.

I had an epiphany the other day. I was wondering if it was harsh to just turn off allowance when he turns 15. I had to laugh at myself when thinking about it a little further. His allowance is a whole whopping $100 per year. Clearly he will survive. Wink Beyond that point, we will turn off the "automatic allowance." I suppose we can make it more discretionary beyond that.

If you told me (5 or 10 years ago) that we'd never raise their allowances, and how much money they'd have save up, I never would have believed it. It's crazy!

This reminds me of a conversation we had with our parents while we were at camp. My dad said something like they had not expected me to get a job so young. That I had been the one to want to get a job. I just got a job the minute I turned 15. ??? You know, I think he is right!? That really shocked me on some level. I didn't remember it that way until I stopped to think about it. By 17 (when I graduated high school) my parents told me they had not saved any college money for me and I was pretty much on my own. I had always given them credit for being honest and preparing me (versus friends who were told when college started or after college started that they could no longer help with college; pulling the rug out from under someone is NOT the same situation I had). I guess they prepared me in their own way. They really did, but it wasn't in such a direct, "get a job and start saving" way that I recalled. I guess I had no inkling at 15/16/17 that I should be saving up for college.

That really blows my mind!

Anyway, back to the kids' money. I'd say for the most part they don't receive much money. BUT, now that MIL is accepting of MM's lack of "wanting stuff," she's been throwing a lot of money at him lately (cash versus material gifts). For example, I don't even see any deposits of any note during the prior year. But in the last 12 months MIL gave him $40 for his New York trip, $70 for his graduation (no one else gave him anything for 8th grade graduation, we all think that is dumb). & then MIL gave him $20 for his birthday. I know she had given him some Christmas cash too ($60) but I guess maybe he spent that money. (He only got $20 for his birthday because he though of a material gift that he wanted; she otherwise would have given him much more).

Anyway, I brought this up in the first place to say that MM(14) has surpassed the $1,000 mark on his savings. Woohoo!


Even though the kids had elaborate birthdays (for us) MH had gotten it in his craw that he wanted to take them out for a birthday sushi lunch. Some all-you-can-eat place. So they went out yesterday and spent $50 on lunch.

{He had been planning this before all the birthday spending came up. It's a rare treat}.

I feel very *shrugs* about it because MH also got a $20 Amazon refund that he doesn't think is quite right. He said it was some automatic price match but the algorithm didn't take into account that he hadn't paid the full price in the first place?? I don't know, but there was that and we had some other large refund, so the sushi splurge happened on a good money day.

Birthday spending is done. We still have DL's party this weekend, but will just buy some food/dessert with grocery budget. We already had two cakes (one per kid) so I am thinking birthday ice cream.

Accomplished some Purging

July 11th, 2017 at 04:28 pm

In the end I tossed two pans (the ones we used the most, but should have been tossed a long time ago). & I freecycled 8 pans. One of them was actually pretty nice but just too high maintenance for me. The rest were crap though some of the stainless steel maybe could have been cleaned up. Again, just too high maintenance for us.

So that's minus 10 pots and pans? I purchased 7 new ones. So I guess that's a bit of a downsize. Besides replacing frying pans, the rest was more just doubling up on what we use the most. I did not go super high-end because convenience is the bigger factor for us right now. I Want something we can use and abuse and put in the dishwasher every day. (We cook and dishwash pots and pans probably every single day). I was not willing to literally pay 5 times as much for handwash-only pots and pans, in contrast. Doubling up on the frequently used pots will save us a lot of energy; we spend way too much energy co-ordinating cooking and dishes.

I didn't even realize until I typed this out that we ended up with less pots and pans in the end. My husband is a minimalist of sorts (he just has his things, he is also a hoarder so depends on what we are talking about). So he didn't seem to understand why I wanted to double up. But it could also be that only so much fits in the washer. The new pans are so easy to clean, I don't mind volunteering to handwash any excess pans. I suppose he'd rather just use what fits in the dishwasher, but that approach drives me a little crazy.

These are all high enough quality that they should last 10+ years of heavy use. If I had really thought about it, I would have just replaced those pans a long time ago. A whole whopping $20 for a really nice mid-range pan. Lesson learned.

Put this in the "Working smarter" category.

I also had it on my radar to get rid of some old humidifier that we never use (maybe used once?). I saw it in the kids' bathroom cabinet a while ago. I freecycled that yesterday. I had some other odds and ends that I tossed and freecycled.

My next task is a pile of returns. I'd like to get the cash back before our credit cards close for the month. I did okay on swimsuits (nothing perfect, but stuff that will work). & I am not returning any of the pots or pans. Shoes were a bust so I will just give up for now. Mostly I need to just print return stuff and box it up. MH will run it all to the postal place later. There's a business down the street that accepts UPS returns (Zappos free returns). They may mail out my other return for me (I will have to pay postage) or MH can do that at the grocery store where we have some post office services. I have NO IDEA. I just give MH the boxes and he is the post office fairy. Big Grin

I am waiting for one Kohls order that I expect to partially return. I will do that return in person.

Oh, and I did list a couple of items for sale on local neighborhood website. Not getting bites there for anything (not even the free stuff). So I will move my for-sale items to Craigslist this weekend. Might make some cash??

I have some other clean-up and de-clutter goals for the summer but not expecting to make much progress this week. Too many birthday festivities this weekend. I will be happy to get all returns returned and to attempt some sales for cash. I am usually more of a fall cleaner but I got sidelined about one year ago with a broken foot and then work was *crazy* after that. So I feel some extra motivation now I guess. (Will see if the heat changes my mind. There is a reason that I do "fall cleaning").

Edited to add: I did get kitchen island cabinets all cleaned out and wiped down and hand-washed all new pots/pans before putting them away. That is all I accomplished in the kitchen but it's a start. I could probably do an upgrade/purge with bakeware. It should be less significant (I need maybe a higher quality muffin tin and a couple of higher quality baking sheets). It can wait until the fall (baking season).

Weekend Plans

July 8th, 2017 at 02:50 pm

We always have a tendency to zig while everyone else zags. It just seems to always be this way. I don't know why!

Anyway, having a very Murphy type month so far. & splurging on kids' birthdays. Last year we spent like nothing on the kids, but this year seems to be the polar opposite. (I don't mind splurging once in a while. Or saving some years so we can do bigger things other years).

LOTS of money being spent.

I planned a chore weekend, somewhat planned around replacing some pots and pans. But I forgot I had a lot of other commitments already. So it will be a bit busy,

This morning I am driving MM to the animal shelter. I have some shopping to do (while waiting for him), which is what I did last time (two weeks ago). Over the long run, I DO NOT plan to shop every other weekend. But for now, during the hot summer months, it works. On my list is a birthday cake mix for younger son and a sympathy card for my sister (lost a fur child last week). {I don't generally do cards, more for environmental reasons than any other, but will make exceptions for illness and death}. Just some stuff like that.

I need to run the kids to their credit union to withdraw their interest. They earn 7% on first $500 but nothing after that. So we take the money out once per year (unfortunately we have to do this in person). & the in-laws gave them some loose change that they can deposit at this CU (no charge). I am guessing something like $5 each.

I bought some new pots and pans because our old ones were ridiculously sad. Should have replaced a while ago, but just had enough last weekend. Probably a function of having some time to actually deal with that.

So my plan is to clean out the entire kitchen. At least, doing a major pots and pan purge. & cleaning out that section of the kitchen. But probably should just go through the whole kitchen.

I have some other things to freecycle and sell, so will at least get a pile going for that.

(We haven't bought pots or pans since we have been primarily home cooking, so this is a really nice upgrade and I have any idea what we actually need/want/use. I think this will make life a LOT easier and will be a very nice upgrade. I am excited to purge the old crap!)

Tomorrow is DL's birthday. I haven't given it much thought. We did buy him a drum set, but it won't arrive for a few more days. In-laws are coming to take the kids out to celebrate both their birthdays. He wants to do a sleepover the following weekend. Which is confusing because that's his brother's birthday. But we had to do brother's party early to accommodate friends' summer vacation plans. Anyway, I guess in-laws mostly have tomorrow covered. I asked DL if there was any food treat he wanted, thinking something $1 or $2 at Target while I am there today. He tells me he wants Drumsticks (ice cream) plus a bag of ruffles and two containers of dip. All for himself. Okay, dude, I just spent $300 on a drum set, so this is all sounding like a lot at this point. But I don't have a gift for him to open so I guess that's what he gets.

I will have to run to the (grocery) store later. Which I have to do anyway. I was going to make ceejay's sauerkraut recipe with dinner tonight. Need to pick up some cabbage. That was the other thing. MH is also having the kids cook two nights a week, trying to get into a more long-term habit with that. DL chose one of my recipes, so I am helping DL to make that tonight. Beanies and weenies. Real fancy stuff, but the sauerkraut would be a nice side dish for that.

Man, as I type all this out I am exhausted. Wonder what the odds are I get anything done in the kitchen today. Big Grin

Interesting Interactions

July 8th, 2017 at 02:00 pm

On Thursday I took MM(13) and his friends to the water park. Everyone he invited could go!! (Rare for a summer birthday party). Except for a mutual friend (mutual with his brother). Which worked out because DL dropped out at the last minute. Probably for the best because I don't think he'd really want to have been there all day.

The kids had a blast.

There was probably absolutely nothing frugal about this trip. Except I did bring in bottled water. They did allow those and it was a million degrees. I just grabbed a 6-pack on my way home the night before and threw them in the freezer. That worked out perfect.

The kids were very polite about lunch and tried to order frugally. (We served them dinner and cake at home, afterwards).

MM bff's father called me the night before because they had been vague on details. He told me his son had just told him about the party that day and he didn't have a present yet. He mentioned something about bff picking MM's brain during the party. I told him, "Good Luck." The kid doesn't want anything. Anyway, he didn't skip a beat and said maybe they'd take him out some time. I think that sounds perfect! (& it was nice to skip all the hounding about how he's a teenager and he must want SOMETHING). This is a lot of why I chose to just take him to the water park in the first place.


For the rest, I have to back up. We are from the Bay Area, where housing prices are out of this world. It probably never occurred to me that I could even afford to buy a home (until my husband ran the numbers with me in our early 20s).

In the end, we could not afford a single family home and decided to move to a city with 70% cheaper housing. From our perspective it was dirt cheap. & if making such a big move solely to afford a home, might as well splurge a bit. So we bought a fairly nice home in a high-end neighborhood. I am guessing by most measures our house is pretty average, but probably feels like a mansion to us. We do live in a community with big and expensive homes, and some people with big money live here. I think we forget a lot of the time because we really just don't care about that stuff. If we cared, we would have bought one of those homes. We more bought the modest home in the fancy neighborhood. (Our buying considerations really had nothing to do with the specific neighborhood. Just to underscore how much we could care less).

In the early years I believe we got a lot of raised eyebrows. We were only 24 when we bought this house and we had actually planned to only have a $150k mortgage (should have sold first home for another $80k cash). It was just SO CHEAP to us, so after that fell through that we just stayed the course, even with an additional $80,000 to borrow. But I share just to say that our intent was really for this was not to be any kind of big financial splurge. In the end, our $200k mortgage has been smaller than average most years we have lived here. & it sure as heck beat having a $400k+ mortgage for a house half the size. Anyway, back then it was presumed we had family money or just made bank on Bay Area real estate. Honestly? After like 75% of your income goes to the roof over your head... Even when MH lost his job, this mortgage was never of any concern. *shrugs*

After the housing bust I was in awe of people's short term memories. During that time it was so ubiquitous to be on the verge of foreclosure, everyone would ask us what we were going to do about our housing problems. We'd always say, "We don't have any housing problems?" Some people would realize that we didn't buy during the bubble and would seem to understand. But mostly people would be completely unable to comprehend how this was so. I'd think back to all the crazy assumptions we got just 6 years ago about family money or hitting it rich somehow, but even those excuses seemed to have flown from people's consciousness during that time. Confused

You just never know how people are going to react.

So... MM's friends are all very sweet boys. One of them spent some time in the shade with me (at the water park) and asked a lot of personal questions. I think if it was anyone else, I don't know. But he just seemed very genuine. Most the kids around here lived in some McMansion their parents could not afford. If our mortgage has generally always been $200k or less, keep in mind that our house was worth $650k at the peak. So a lot of people seem to presume we paid that much and/or that is the size of our mortgage. Just for some frame of reference. (It would never occur to anyone that we put any money down, because mostly no one does that).

Anyway, this kid clearly is more lower middle class? He lives in a very modest house. In this city, is not something I've generally seen. Everyone was just over-buying for the most part. Even when they lost their homes, the tendency was to continue living far beyond means. (In addition, so many people move from more expensive cities and buy bigger homes. Most our immediate neighbors are from the Bay Area or LA, so more view this as "cheap" housing). In contrast, this kid lives in a rough neighborhood. Maybe not super rough, but certainly compared to our current neighborhood.

What this kid doesn't know is that all we could afford was an apartment in a rough neighborhood, old city. We thought that would likely be where we raised our kids.

So the kid asks me when we moved into our house and if we own it. The way he asked and how genuine he is, I didn't mind. He asked my about my profession and so on. I think he's genuinely curious and somewhat thinking to his own future. I can't say these were any questions that weighed on my mind as a 13-year-old.

I tried to give him some sense of the above, but he was not comprehending at all.

Anyway, THEN he changed the topic to movies. I told him about the free advanced movie screenings. He was completely incredulous. He asked me two or three times, "You mean you don't have to pay anything!?" I just think he would really and truly appreciate it. I told him that you have to wait in line and it gets crowded, so keep it on the down low. My husband is probably annoyed that I told anyone, but if he was there he would have done the same.

Credit Card Rewards Update

July 2nd, 2017 at 08:43 pm

2017 TALLY:

$481 Travel Rewards Cards (Capital One Venture,MH)
$200 Cash (WF Wise, MH)

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


There is a 24-month wait to re-dip a Citi Thank You card. I believe I passed 24 months a while ago, but I haven't seen a worthwhile bonus since then.

In the end, MH received a direct offer for a $500 bonus (same card). I read through it carefully and checked some of the credit card reward blogs, and it looks like it's exempt from the 24-month rule. WOW! I told him I kind of hate to use it since we are almost there (he could have applied in a few more months). But I don't know when he will ever get an offer again, either. So will just bite the bullet and try.

If this one works, I will have $500 to add to my tally. In the end, it will be a better credit card bonus year than I would have expected.

Back from Camp

July 1st, 2017 at 09:16 pm

We are back from our annual family camp trip. (10th year! Hard to believe. 9th year at this camp).

I hadn't thought too much about it, but was describing to a co-worker. It's basically like summer camp for the whole family. The camp is run by our city. Year 1 we tried San Jose's camp (near Yosemite). But Sacramento's camp (near Tahoe) has nice cabins. It's easier to get to, and we all just love it. So as I described to my co-worker the nice cabins, how all food is provided (dining hall) and they serve beer by the patio. The more I described it the more heavenly it sounded. So that was a couple of days before we left and I really started to look forward to our trip.

I haven't had more than a day off since November? So it all sounded very luxurious the more I thought about it. Otherwise, I just hadn't given much thought to the whole thing.

Last year was really a dud because we could only fit in our DC trip if we left on the last day of school and came back the day before camp. UGH. Anyway, I never planned to stay the whole time, and DL (11) was just not having it. We both ended up leaving camp even earlier than I had planned (last year). The year before my nieces had not come up, and so the last two years were kind of a bummer.

This year my nieces made it up for camp and the kids just had a BLAST with them. I think next year if their cousins can't make it up that we may let them invite friends. It just makes all the difference, for them.

MH had also bought a couple of games right before the trip. Rolleyes It's not like we don't have a million games. But one of them, Codenames, was a HUGE hit. We just had a blast with that one. It's one of those games that is more fun with more people.

Lake Tahoe was filled to capacity. After falling below normal levels due to drought conditions in recent years. I just thought it didn't look like it could be much more full. There was barely any beach left. I looked it up yesterday and it's at its peak. They are releasing water. Extra so since we had a heat wave last week with a lot of snow melt.

Since I had heard the ski resorts would have skiing well into July this year, because of so much snow this winter, I did look it up and we had planned to go up to one of the ski resorts instead of going to the Lake on the Lake day. It would have been $$$$$, but how often can you go sledding the end of June? Big Grin In the end, the kids changed their mind last minute and wanted to go to the beach. Saved me a lot of money. I was thinking how that $15 game was infinitely more entertaining. I really wouldn't have minded spending the money for a one-time thing (the resort had rock climbing and ropes courses and all sorts of thing my Monkey Monkey would LOVE). But I think it worked out in the spirit of camp to just not spend any money. In the end, it was probably the nicest (camp) trip we have ever had.

Oh, and the theme was Hawaiian or something along those lines. We aren't really much into the themes but I bought a few leis at the party store (a couple of bucks). In the end, MH brought his ukelele. (He got into it more than he would admit). It was a fun theme. Camp was super fancy this year; they had hula dancers!

{This trip is paid for by the in-laws. My dad usually goes with us too}.


MH had free advanced screening tickets (plus extras) for the Spiderman movie, Wednesday night. He saw some kid running around camp in a spider man costume. So he approached him and offered him tickets. I was surprised because he is generally protective about his secret movie source. But he told me that he just said he got the tickets from a friend.

{In the end, they went and LOVED being able to see the movie early}.

MH kept two tickets just in case, but we all felt up to going to the other movie he had gotten us tickets for: The Big Sick. Patient Saver mentioned in her blog about the cultural diversity in New Jersey. Growing up in California, that's all I know. (The population was something like 3% white where I grew up. Any house on my street growing up would be a look into a different culture and world). Anyway, I bring up because the movie was about the melding of cultures. & it speaks so much of my upbringing and my childhood friends' struggles with their parents. Loosely based on the true story about how comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his wife. In the end she got sick and ended up in a coma after they broke up, and he bonded with her parents during that time. MH had already told me that they ended up married so not too much of a spoiler? It's more a story about all the pressure his parents were putting on him to marry a Pakistani girl, and about her parents warming up to him and working through their own stereotypes. & also some about hospitals and Doctors/nurses. (Sometimes medical stuff is just a little too close to home. Especially when it's written by someone who has been through a big medical ordeal).

Anyway, we took the kids and they liked it more than we expected them to.

Oh, and MH got Spiderman tickets for another day, so all is well in his world.

June Savings

July 1st, 2017 at 05:15 pm

Received $39 bank interest for the month of June.

Snowflakes to Investments:

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

Redeemed $48 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $5 cash back on Visa dining/fuel card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$15 Savings from Target Red Card
--$7 refund from Amazon (some sort of settlement)
--$140 Dividends
--LESS: $70 diverted to Europe Trip

Snowballs to Europe trip:
--$481 credit card reward (travel credits applied)
--$200 credit card reward (cash)
--$200 sale of old TV
--$ 70 Diverted from Snowflakes

Note: $0 cash out-of-pocket needed for Europe spending this month

Savings (From my paycheck):

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

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

+$1,300 to cash
- 425 Misc. Expenses**
- 90 Dentist

{Note: MH has no wages during summer months}.


**Misc. Expenses: Had some time to do some catch up shopping, and had some little things come up. Bought a (fancy) sleeping bag for MM(13) because he had a field trip coming up and outgrew his old one. I figure he will keep this one for a LONG time. Gave some money to the kids' school to top off our "hours" requirement. We were generous with Mother's Day gifts this year. MM needed some clothing. (These were all May charges, which is when my work let up a bit).

With that, I've pretty much exhausted our short-term savings. The second half of the year will all go to property taxes, insurance, car maintenance, and the dentist. For summer, I will keep pulling form short-term savings and will just figure it out at the end of the year. In Fall, will have to pull from MH's paycheck if anything comes up. (I expect his paycheck to cover kids' clothing, and stuff like that. Since they are growing and we need a bigger clothing budget now that they are getting to be adult sized and I can't just buy everything on clearance for $3). What this means is a very tight summer. We pretty much did all our splurging for the year already, so this is the flip side of the coin.

That said, it is some give and take. We are still at "peak liquidity" and will continue to be as long as no huge expenditures come up. I am probably going to spend a lot on MM's birthday (taking 6 kids to the expensive water park). It's not the kind of thing we do very often, but it seems silly to say "no", given our current means. In the end, the admission is way cheaper than I expected, but I imagine the food in the park is where they get you.


I am still working on 3% savings account. Having some technical difficulties on that. Will probably have the money moved over around July 5th.


I decided to just pull from snowflakes this month, to cover the rest of the Europe money. If we can still add $400-ish to investments, then it is all good.

{I still will work on selling a couple of items from around the house. Will just invest the snowflakes like I usually do, or can maybe use for some fun summer money}.

Summer Doings

June 23rd, 2017 at 01:53 pm

For the first 10 days of summer break, we have absolutely nothing planned. It's a sweet relief after a long/trying school year.

Actually, most of our summer looks like this. We aren't big on filling up our schedule, but the kids' summers are so short and sometimes it fills up very quickly, regardless. So, we are ALL happy to have a very slow summer planned. We will break up the peace and quiet with our annual camping trip and then birthday festivities for the kids.

In addition to just soaking in the peace and quiet, we've also blown all our "fun" money on our trip abroad. So doesn't leave much else. Extra motivation to keep it low key. We have plenty of frugal/FUN things to do, and so I feel very *shrugs* about this part. For example, going to the pool or the beach.


MH and MM went to a free movie yesterday. We've been having a heat wave and usually they make you line up outside (for free advanced screenings). But in the end, they let them line up inside yesterday. Phew! (MH had gone to another movie on Monday and he had waited outside in the heat. It was another theater).

{The movie they saw last night was "Baby Driver". MH said it was really good and he is telling everyone because the general reaction is that the name of the movie sounds stupid, and no one's heard of it. Even among his movie friends}.

MH did make it into one free movie screening (a few weeks ago) that was really meant for college students. I didn't go because I didn't think we'd get in, and didn't want to waste my time. In the end, the movie was really good and he got tickets for a more normal (all ages) screening next week. So we are all going to see that movie.

Yeah, pretty much MH sees *every* movie before it even comes out. You see why I am not concerned about our lack of "fun money". Wink


Over the weekend I decided to order some shoes and swim suits.

It's mostly impossible to find shoes that fit my feet, but I found a pair that feel like sneakers and double as casual or work shoes. I bought like 3 pairs of that shoe. So I have probably been good for a while. (That was a few years ago, and I bought a couple of extra pairs that I have yet to wear).

{I was amused when someone at work complimented me this week on my shoes. I've worn them every day for YEARS. I just chuckled to myself how people don't notice these things. Realizing this, goes a long way to saving space and money}.

I am just trying to replace a flat shoe that I have, and I see the same shoe but can't find them in a wide size now. *sigh* I decided that I don't remember ever shopping flats at Zappos so I gave it a try. (Several days later, I've returned them all. A couple fit but just weren't right. One was close and I might try double wide on that brand).

For whatever reason, this reminded me that I really want to replace my swimsuit too. I don't remember when I bought it, but I know I had it 2010 when I went to Hawaii. It's fine, but starting to fray a bit. (I've tried to buy another swimsuit at some point, but have yet to find something).

Anyway, I checked Bealls of Florida and they had some suits on sale in the $10 range. Like really nice swimsuits. So I just bought up a bunch. Something will have to work. & I bought a couple of more expensive ones also. (I only plan to keep one).

So... I told MH that I had just spent $400. He didn't bat an eye. He says, "Yeah, how much are you going to return?"

Well I already returned $260 in shoes; the entire freaking order. He knows me too well. Big Grin

Edited to add: I am reviewing the June spending today. Apparently I haven't bought anything for myself since the beginning of February. Replacing worn out shoes and swimsuits, I'd probably put under "clothing" versus "personal spending". But regardless, I have spent $0 on clothing this year AND $0 for personal spending (before these purchases).

Mortgage Update

June 22nd, 2017 at 01:48 pm

I think it's been a long time since I have done a mortgage update.

The short version is that our last refi was in 2012, for lower interest rate. Given the high unemployment rate here, we've not felt comfortable with a 15-year mortgage. (Well, between that and our health insurance literally going up by $1,000 per month). But we also did not want to reset the clock all over again for 30 years. So our goals with our current (30 year) mortgage have been to pay more principal than interest, and to also not have a mortgage on this house for more than 30 years total.

To that end, as long as we are well employed, we do throw an extra $3,000 per year at the mortgage. I fund with my overtime. (I think we did a bit more in the beginning to have more "principal than interest." Maybe an extra $1,000 in year 1).

We will want to shave off 10 years, so that we don't have a mortgage on this house for 40 years total.

I do have to say that these lower interest rates are absolutely amazing when it comes to mortgage amortization. Our first mortgage on our first condo was $1,500/month. We paid $1,400/month interest! (Only $100 was going to principal). We really barely paid anything down the first 10 years or so of home ownership. (We had basically the same mortgage amortization when we bought our current home).

In contrast, we've paid $40,000 off of our $200,000 mortgage, since our last refi. We are paying off about $8,000 per year, and that is just accelerating with time. So it feels like we are making some real progress. & to be clear, this is with much smaller mortgage payments. It's just that so much less of the payment goes to interest.

Current status:

We have shaved off 4 years off this loan. So that leaves 6 more years that we want to shave off. Will keep chipping away at it.

{Note: Our last $3,000 payment shaved off 7 months}

We don't have any plans to throw any (additional) extra at the mortgage. We have kids starting college in the near future and so are hoarding up cash and investments to that end. Would rather err on saving up enough for college and not having to take out any new loans.

It's all fairly moot as it is 100% likely that we will sell our house in the next decade (while still in our 40s). I am guessing it is most likely that we will sell before we ever pay off? It seems more prudent to save up the down payment for our next home. (Our plan is to downsize and pay cash for our next home. But I am guessing we will settle in our next home before sell current home. A down payment will give us more options on that front, versus having to wait to sell first).

TV Sold!

June 14th, 2017 at 01:41 pm

We sold the TV that we just replaced.

Probably could have gone about it better. MH really thought he could get $400. Which is how these things seem to go. He thinks he is going to get more and then can get kind of stubborn about it. & then he also gets emotionally attached to these things, which makes it harder. So I was skeptical, but in the end, he just wanted to be rid of it. I am relieved. He'd probably be totally fine listing it all year and waiting for the right price. But beyond that, he was more motivated than I expected him to be. (In contrast, if I have anything to sell, I just want it gone the day or week I list it. But I will admit I don't sell many high dollar items).

So... He's been trying to sell for a while at this point. We were surprised how little interest it was getting at $200, which is what we have it down to after several weeks.

This past weekend I listed a few free items on our neighborhood website. My husband is always weird about putting higher end electronics on there (just obvious that we have this type stuff or may be upgrading, and it's not anonymous at all). But for whatever reason he asks if we should just put the TV on there too. Um, YES!!

I wasn't thinking at all that people might feel more comfortable buying TVs in that manner. I saw one guy trying to sell a TV (flat screen) and no one wanted it. So anyway, I just copy and paste MH's Craigslist listing and didn't think too much about it.

Within 15 minutes, two people wanted it. Seriously! & they came right over to get it.

All else being equal, I don't even care. Just glad to be rid of it. But since I am working on coming up with $270 to fund our London trip, I could just kick myself that I didn't ask for $250.

The only other thing of value that I have to sell is an outgrown sleeping bag (of very nice quality). I washed it and was going to list it, but I noticed it had a big rip. So that one is moved to the mending pile, for now. I still plan to sell it.

In the meantime, still looking for $70 in snowflakes. The less of our regular income and savings we use now, the more we will have to spend while we are in London. So trying to keep everything we book ahead within our vacation budget, or paid for with snowballs/snowflakes. (Whatever we spend in Europe will have to come out of savings. Wasn't planning to travel abroad this year).

As to the free stuff I listed, no one wants it. I will put it on Craigslist this weekend probably.

Busy Weekend

June 13th, 2017 at 01:19 pm

I found the "super secret password" to get MM(13) into the teen (animal shelter) volunteer program. Phew! (Pretty much, you had to follow on Facebook to get the info. I am lucky that I saw it). The plus side is that we (adults) don't have to volunteer alongside. I certainly wouldn't mind, but just don't want the commitment right now. The downside is that it is the farther away shelter. But if I understood correctly, it sounds like parents can drop in to help. I'd rather do that than just sit in the car and wait. I just appreciate the non-commitment way to help.

MM just really wants to help. I think it made an impression when we adopted our cat from the shelter. But in addition, we always give money to the shelters, the kids know we had adopted our prior cat from the shelter, and I've probably talked about all my past volunteering helping animals. I am thinking it's a little bit of all of the above.

Aside from getting that sorted out, we had two BBQs to attend on Saturday.

In between BBQs I got most the kids' school stuff sorted. Washed their backpacks, lunch bags, PE clothes, etc. In the past their school just provides everything. But DL started a new school this past year and we had bought supplies and a PE uniform. In the end, I put everything useable back into his backpack. I figured that was the simplest so we can find everything when school starts back up. MM just has an empty backup, in contrast.

I don't remember what we did Sunday. I feel like I just did a lot of light chores. MH made us watch Whiplash.

A charity is coming by today (the second in just 4 days). I only rounded up school uniforms (which we will no longer ever need - woohoo!) and that's all I got to. But that will work. Out of the house it goes.

MM(13) is off camping at the beach. The 8th graders' last hoorah. Tomorrow is their graduation.

Two Down, One To Go!

June 9th, 2017 at 07:17 pm

DL(11) finished up school yesterday. Phew!

Today is MM(13)'s last academic day. (It's all fluff next week: overnight field trip to the beach, and then graduation).

Last night I took down all the school calendars off the fridge. Phew!

Next year will be more simplified and efficient, though the reality is our kids will be at separate schools for their high school years. I am guessing that it will all seem like a piece of cake, after this last year. Their schools are only one mile apart from each other. The kids were initially going to get out 15 minutes apart but it seems DL's school might change that to 1/2 hour (which is overall a good change for other reasons). Whatever. We basically told them we have bent over backwards to oblige them for the past 9 years (of grade school), meaning we always pick them up right when school gets out and have never had them in any after school care (or "study hall" at DL's 6-12 school), but in turn they might have to do some "waiting around" next year. It would only make sense to drop them off and pick them up at the same time.

We are definitely going out to celebrate tonight! Taking the kids out to their favorite restaurant.

That reminds me, the teachers put on a very nice dinner for the 8th graders. Last weekend. They got a free? (or at least discounted) banquet room at the hotel down the street. (Mental note for the future: was a very nice venue). They had a DJ and a photo booth, and a catered buffet dinner. For the 8th graders and their parents only. It was very nice.

Next week will be the graduation festivities.

The only other thing of note is that MH took me to a free advanced movie screening last night. It was one we weren't expecting a big turnout for (My Cousin Rachel). BUT, we got there an hour early and barely got in! It's the first time we have ever left the kids for one of those on a weeknight. The thing is you generally have to get there an hour early (though admittedly no commercials or previews, as an offset to that extra time). & they are strict about using phones (which is rough if you want to be reachable to your kids). But the kids were totally fine. I think more often I just don't go because I am tired and not a night person.

Savings Accounts, General Updates

June 7th, 2017 at 03:26 pm

MH finished up work last Friday. His summer chore list is VERY long. (Next week he is taking DL to the dentist and the optometrist, and DL will get shots too. The cars both need oil changes. We have a couple of bigger home improvement projects to get through. Not BIG, but we've mostly done nothing but painting and very basic maintenance, so they feel "big").

DL's last day of school is tomorrow. I am so relieved we made it! I haven't blogged much about his moods because he's been back to his old self. He just doesn't do middle ground well. He's either like the "perfect kid" (mature, responsible, and wise beyond his years) or the "falling apart" kid, but there's just not been much in between. Absolutely nothing to report. We've learned that he doesn't handle change well (even 100% happy/good change), particularly with the mix of pre-teen hormones. I am just a little wary about our Europe trip since we leave about 2 weeks in (school year). We wanted to give him time to get settled, but it is around the time when he fell apart last year. He will have 7 new classes and teachers, and they did actually completely change the school schedule. So it will be a lot of change, but maybe being comfortable at the new school and knowing all the kids will be enough. I don't know if he will have some of the same teachers again. That would help. I suppose for drama and art he would. & PE.

{The in-laws will watch the kids at our house, while we are in Europe, so the kids won't miss any school. Is why I worry about DL since it will be a bit of a change-up. In any normal circumstances he would be totally fine. The kids often spend time apart from us.}


We've mostly got through Phase 2 of Europe trip. Phase 1 was booking hotel/airfare (Purchased because crazy cheap, paid for in cash). Phase 2 is booking tours and paying for those with credit card rewards. I am surprised that I only have to come up with about $275 cash for Phase 2. We booked two long day tours, plus a day trip to Paris. Phase 3 will be food and transport while we are there, and whatever admissions we end up paying. We have 3 full days covered already, plus a few days dedicated to free museums, so I expect the bulk of the (admission type) costs to be covered already.

Total out-of-pocket so far: $2,875

I am guessing we can keep the entire trip down to $2,000 per person. This includes non-stop flights & staying in a luxurious hotel/apartment.

Since I got the cash part down to $270 for Phase 2, that reminds me that we can probably get $200 for old TV. Maybe I will work on selling some other things to come up with that last $70. I don't think we really have much, but was just thinking (the other day) that we can probably sell DL's fancy sleeping bag (outgrown). Will see what else we can come up with. Plus, MH is home, so he can spend some of that time and energy on listing and selling.


This reminds me, I have a bag for charity. I keep missing the charities that come around, since I had been so busy for work. The bag may have been sitting there for several months. Anyway, a charity is coming by Friday and I will be sure to set out the full bag.

Another charity is coming by Tuesday and I thought maybe I could make it a goal this weekend to come up with something for that. It just hit me today that MM(13) will be done with school uniforms this week. Woohoo! {He has to fit for *two* more days. Boy, it was getting close!} Since this was the last uniform year for either kid, is not a lot. I bought the bare minimum for this school year. & I threw some smaller/backup polo shirts into that charity bag, about a month ago. He had clearly outgrown those. But I will be sure to wash and bag up the rest this weekend. I am sure that my clothes could also use another pass. I am sure I can find something.


FrugalTexan mentioned Kasasa(?) bank accounts for higher interest rates. I don't know if I heard of them before, but quickly ruled out because too many hoops to jump through (direct deposit and numerous debit card transactions). But I share if you are okay with those hoops and haven't heard of it. (FT can chime in more in the comments!)

This is what I posted end of April:
I had a CD mature this month, so a little less interest income. Since we do want to replace our vehicle, I think I will keep this CD money in our savings account. There is that, and I am also just completely exhausted with work. Maybe in a month or two it will sound appealing at all to jump through hoops to earn more interest. For now, I am over it.

{The "jumping through hoops" I was thinking to was just having to open a new bank account. I didn't have the mental energy for even that. But in addition, I can generally find a very high interest rate for some of my cash; those just come with a bit more hassle}.

Because of FT's comment, she kicked my butt into gear and I looked around a bit. I came across MH's old CU offering 3% interest! (You have to live or work in that region, so I doubt it's anything that anyone else will find very useful. If you are in the Bay Area and want to know about it, just leave a comment). Since we no longer live or work there, we can still join because I knew my in-laws had an account. I had to get their account # to join. They are super peeved that the interest rate is only available to new customers!

As to jumping hoops, they won't let me set up that 3% account online so I will have to call later and see what the deal is. *sigh* {That I can't just do this online, I find super annoying. It's just becoming more of a time suck}.

Then a couple of days ago, My Money Blog did a "Best Interest Rates on Savings" post. There was some in there that I had not seen. I always like it when someone else does the work for me. Big Grin Which is probably the other reason I had been dragging my feet on this front. Anyway, I share because it is very helpful:


If I can't get this other 3% account to work, then I guess I will look at some of the bank accounts mentioned in this blog post.

Prisoners of Clutter

June 6th, 2017 at 07:16 pm

Interesting Article seen today:

Today’s families are prisoners of their own clutter


"That sums up Boston parents’ reaction to new research by UCLA-affiliated social scientists concluding that American families are overwhelmed by clutter, too busy to go in their own backyards, rarely eat dinner together even though they claim family meals as a goal, and can’t park their cars in the garage because they’re crammed with non-vehicular stuff."

"Managing the volume of possessions is such a crushing problem in many homes that it elevates levels of stress hormones for mothers."

"Most families rely heavily on convenience foods even though all those frozen stir-frys and pot stickers saved them only about 11 minutes per meal."

"Let’s let Katy Colthart, a social worker from Watertown, take it from here. Shopping at Target on a recent Sunday afternoon, she said with some remorse that she finds herself popping frozen chicken nuggets into the oven for dinner — even though she knows they don’t save her much time. But with a job and two young children to pick up from day care, things get hectic at the end of the day, and prepared foods give her a much-needed mental break.

“They give me the illusion of saving time and energy,” she said."

I really loved that last part. BINGO! That's how I have always felt about it, the way people act like we must spend a billion hours cooking. I always think, "It would take more time to go out." Or even if it really averages to 11 more minutes per day (to home cook), as quoted, it doesn't warrant the melodrama I get about it. I think people are just defensive about their illusion. But it makes it hard to have a realistic conversation about it. & though I see that it's not a real and true time saver to eat out, I understand the "turn off your brain and just barrel through" aspect of it. I think it's more about mental energy than time. & (mostly) no one knows how to cook, so there is also that. Maybe no idea where to begin.

It's all very correlated to lack of time. People clutter up their time just as much as they do their homes. & they speak to that in the article.

Credit Card Rewards Update

June 3rd, 2017 at 03:13 pm

2017 TALLY:

$481 Travel Rewards Cards (Capital One Venture,MH)
$200 Cash (WF Wise, MH)

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


Just doing an update to add in the $200 cash back reward.

All of the above is earmarked for travel expenses. I was able to use the Travel reward for a tour that we booked in the UK, so it looks like we can pay for all our tours that way.

I can see using this travel card again (getting one in my name) next time we plan a trip. I expect this to end up being a $500 reward (total), with the spending we plan to do in UK. (Mostly just food and public transport, but that will add up over 10 days).

May Savings

May 31st, 2017 at 05:44 am

Received $36 bank interest for the month of May.

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

Snowflakes to Investments:

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

Redeemed $26 cash back on Citi card.

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

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

Savings (From my paycheck):

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

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

+$1,300 to cash
-1,000 London Hotel
- 140 passport expenses
- 100 wireless router (issues with old one)

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


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

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

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

Credit Card Rewards Update

May 29th, 2017 at 02:52 pm

2017 TALLY:

$465 Travel Rewards Cards (Capital One Venture,MH)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


May 28th, 2017 at 05:26 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Easy Dinner

May 28th, 2017 at 03:09 pm

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

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

Chow Mein Copycat


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

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

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

Korean Beef Bowl


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

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

Counting Down the Days!

May 17th, 2017 at 02:49 pm

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

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

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

More on the Common Data Set (College)

May 9th, 2017 at 09:02 pm

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

{See last post}.

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

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



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

The Cost of College

May 7th, 2017 at 01:47 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Much Better!

May 6th, 2017 at 03:57 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Real Estate Update

May 6th, 2017 at 01:51 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another College Post

May 5th, 2017 at 06:04 pm

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

As College Deadlines Near, Families Wonder What They Can Pay


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

& re: free college in New York:

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

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

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

April Savings

April 29th, 2017 at 02:30 pm

Received $35 bank interest for the month of April.

Snowflakes to Investments:

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

Redeemed $65 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $4 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$20 Savings from Target Red Card (made a big purchase)
--$40 Insurance refund

Snowball to investments (MH Paycheck):

Savings (From my paycheck):

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

+$3,000 OT to savings (will fund my mortgage goal)

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$1,000 airfare London
-$ 500 life insurance
-$ 400 Drama Camp


I had a CD mature this month, so a little less interest income. Since we do want to replace our vehicle, I think I will keep this CD money in our savings account. There is that, and I am also just completely exhausted with work. Maybe in a month or two it will sound appealing at all to jump through hoops to earn more interest. For now, I am over it. (Now that I think about it, I haven't done one of those since MH was unemployed. We've had this "nice and simple" CD for 22 months. Though my exhaustion speaks more to my work situation than his. So we will see in another few months).

I had a complete DOH moment today. American Express is really finicky with their gas rewards. They often don't give rewards for gas stations they clearly label as "fuel" on their statements. ??? I has a DOH moment today as I recalled we might have gas rewards on other cards. We do! In the end, we can get 3% back on our CU Visa. It will take me a while to remember, but MH is really good at keeping track of all this madness. I'd rather use our credit union than the big banks, any day. So this is good.

My last entry I mentioned OT status, so nothing new there. I don't know when I will literally transfer the $3k to our mortgage. Maybe soon, since I also have all this cash that had been tied up in a CD. I just need some time before I tie up money indefinitely. I will put it to the mortgage sometime between now and January 1.

From short-term savings, I paid off the London airfare. I did also fund drama camp, apparently a full month earlier than last year. Drama Llama LOVES his drama camp.

Neither kid was interested at all in other summer classes. We didn't push it. I think us parents just need a break. We will have a very lazy low-spend summer. It sounds absolutely divine!

OT Update

April 24th, 2017 at 01:09 pm

**Work has been totally crazy and will be for a while. On the plus side, I did get my annual OT payout.

I do have $3,000 to throw at the mortgage, which is my minimum annual OT goal.

**I did also pay off the TV with my OT check.

My husband was so aggravated with the store he bought the TV from. He had negotiated at several stores, trying to see how much wiggle room he could get on price. & settled on one store that we buy most our electronics from. Since he was haggling, they told him to just buy it on an installment plan. Not the right thing to say to my husband. He was PISSED. He told me about that later. He said, "Who on earth buys a TV on credit?!" Um, just about everyone?? He just has no clue. He's a "debt = hair on fire emergency" type, so he was just completely dumbfounded by the suggestion, and aggravated that they were trying to sell him a payment plan to "save money." Rolleyes

{In case I wasn't clear, their whole sales pitch was, "Who cares how much it cost? Just throw it on credit!" We chose to *care* and to negotiate the price down.}

Even though I am well aware that most people put this kind of stuff on credit, I suppose it often doesn't register. I wondered aloud in a recent blog post why people would pay full retail price for these type things. When wondering that, I Was presuming everyone pays cash. It's not always front of mind how "weird" we are. I guess it makes a little more sense if I step back and realize that most these sales are made on credit.

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