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This & That

March 19th, 2017 at 12:08 pm

**Since MH has never been to Europe, and London probably topped our list of "future travels", we are shifting gears and planning a Europe vacation, quite suddenly. I'd say otherwise it was something we were thinking about in 5+ years. But the thing about travel not being a huge priority for us is we don't want to save for a long time and spend a lot of money on *one* trip. But if we can easily afford it, then it's not a big commitment and we will take advantage.

Hotel and airfare will most likely be covered by our meager vacation budget. (Hard to believe!)

I was already on track to match my highest OT payout this spring, so will have some extra monies to throw at this trip. (I don't expect this to change our sidebar goals at all). For the most part we would be fine with walking around and enjoying the museums, and using the public transport. But since I doubt we will ever go to Europe again, I also feel we should just do the big stuff too. We are thinking of an excursion to Paris, for example.

I seem to travel abroad once every 10 years. MH mentioned my passport. I thought I might squeak by, but apparently it expires 2 months before we are planning our trip. I will renew ASAP. (I don't know when I ever would have thought of that, but I am knee deep in work).

**MH was teased about a $500 focus group. !! But he didn't make the cut. Bummer!

**DL(11) is selecting his electives for next school year. How exciting! He just had to take "a little bit of everything" for this year (art school). He wants to focus on drama and music, next school year.

**MM(13) was accepted into the Honors program at the high school. We never had any doubt that he would be. But... It also looks like he may get back on track with his math. I am so happy that something seems to be going very right on the math front!

We need to find out more, but it looks promising that he will be able to get into Trig next year.

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Edit to add: I spotted London airfare for $504 per person (after taxes and fees) today, for our preferred August dates. Our flights are booked!

Need HELP with London Trip!

March 14th, 2017 at 08:33 pm

Just wanted to throw out another request for any hotel recommendations in London.

We are probably going to go the end of August. We figured it would save us money and be infinitely easier if MH did not have to request time off work. He is off work in August. I did not think it was wise to be gone when the kids start school (or too early in the school year) but the kids start August 9th this year. UGH! Totally insane! But I guess it works in this instance.

So we looked up school calendars and perused hotel and airfare in August. It was the same as Ocotober/November. Unreal! We will probably get airfare and hotel under $2,000. Tail end of August and/or early September. We are going without the kids, if you hadn't realized.

I'd buy airfare today, but MH wanted to wait and make sure we are taking a proper number of days to do everything. I think 10 days is probably about my limit though. Should be fine. Obviously we won't be able to do EVERYTHING. Big Grin

I also wanted to request any must-sees. What are all the things we should really do? Trying to make sure we have enough days to hit the highlights. I am guessing this may very likely be the last time we ever go to Europe, so I guess also keep that in mind. (We both very much dislike longer travels and flying abroad).

Thanks in advance!

UK Peeps!

March 4th, 2017 at 08:41 am

Do you have any idea why roundtrip tickets, non-stop to London, are $500 from the west coast?? Right now, for tickets in October. British Airways.

My husband told me that his co-worker mentioned and I thought it was just a credit card rewards thing. Didn't think too much about it. But I just spent one minute on google flights and it's for reals! (Just to say, you don't have to look very hard to find).

For reference, I've absolutely never priced tickets to Europe and have no idea how prices generally fluctuate.

I've often chose vacation destinations solely based on incredible airfare deals. So... The odds that we will go to Englad in October?? Looking very high at the moment. Big Grin Just curious what is up with that. Don't know how quickly we should jump on it.

If you have any hotel recommendations, I guess that might be useful too.

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Edited to add: I guess I am slow to get the memo since international flights aren't on my radar *at all*.

http://www.wendyperrin.com/airfare-deals-to-europe-are-excel...

I've seen articles going back about 9 months, so am not going to rush out and buy airfare today. But I think that we will seriously consider a fall trip.

February Savings

March 1st, 2017 at 07:57 am

Received $38 bank interest for the month of February.

Snowflakes to Investments:

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

Redeemed $74 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $5 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$8 Savings from Target Red Card

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$20 Citi Price Rewinds (price match for computer parts)
--rounded up $3

Snowball to investments (MH Paycheck):
+$365

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
+ 260 insurance refund
-$1,342 Insurance (various)
-$1,200 Auto Repairs
-$ 90 dentist
-$ 95 Windows OS (for new computer)
-$ 50 Professional Fee

Edited to add: I later realized that I forgot to update short-term expenses paid out this month. It was a spendy month! (I hadn't realized or particularly thought about it because most of these expenses were charged around Jan. 1 and paid off Feb. 1. But I include in February because that is when I transfer the funds out of my savings account).

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One of the insurance bills that I paid was my disability insurance. In the past I have had a $4,200/month benefit without having to have a certain income. I can "up" this to $5,000 monthly benefit now. I really should make this a priority.

I noticed that our gas rewards aren't calculating correctly, so will have to keep an eye on that.

I did receive $1,000 tax refund and have yet to literally deposit that into our investments. It works out because we usually charge health insurance around the 29th, but it went through a few days early with the short month. We actually didn't have any big bills on our credit card this month, but the health insurance was charged twice (1st and 28th). So I will just use the $1,000 to float that. Will put it to investments in April. Just kind of worked out in an easy peasy kind of way.

I am still in a groove where I just pay all the (cash) bills on the first of the month, which includes paying off all prior month credit card charges. Then I don't have to think about it again for another month. (I am just not into automating things. I have to look over things carefully, and this may also be largely driven by not having direct deposit. Lord knows when I actually get my paycheck sometimes, like if we are on a vacation).

March and April are big savings months for us. MH is back at work & all my OT gets paid out in a lump sum every April. Plus, we are just both super busy with work, so we aren't spending money. It is always interesting to see how those months shake out. But then we generally relax and enjoy the rest of the year.

I do have a CD maturing mid-month and will have to figure out what to do with that. I've seen some good options, but will just depend what's available when I get access to the cash. I'll let you know what I find.

Update

February 26th, 2017 at 10:08 am

I know I have been MIA for a while. The rain/snow has been insane here. My parents and us (100 miles apart) both were on the verge of evacuation. Them moreso than us (there was a random flash flood a little too close to their home). We are about 35 miles from that big dam in California. So we have both had a little too much excitement this month.

The snow pack in the mountains was almost non-existent, but there's been enough snow this winter that the snow pack is 200% of normal now. I saw that camp (already completely snowed under) was getting another 4 feet of snow this week? If we can even go to camp (late June) we might be bringing our sleds.

March will probably be tense.

I've also dug my way out of a (work) avalanche. Phew!! There's another one not far behind at all (and a few immediately after that one), but I am taking a day to just relax. Catch my breath.

Doings

February 13th, 2017 at 12:55 pm

**On Friday we had a DIVINE lunch. We had a $50 gift card (credit card reward) for Ruth Chris. We had just planned to go for lunch sometime, but it's rarely open for lunch. So... At some point I put it on our calendar when we had a free Friday.

O.M.G. SO good. We spent about $20 out of pocket for an appetizer, a burger, a lunch special (steak/shrimp), and one dessert. No drinks, just water. I told MH I wouldn't mind going back for lunch for a birthday or something like that. Lunch prices were reasonable. I only got the appetizer because I wanted to spend our gift card. I had forgotten about dessert.

**Sunday we took the kids to the movies, at the fancy theater. We had a gift card, so we spent $12 cash.

**MH officially enrolled MM(13) for high school. It's probably a bit early, but MH has ants in his pants about it. He's been butting heads with the current administration so much on the math issue, that I think he is just ready to move on to greener pastures. I don't know that I am quite so optimistic. This is probably the only regular public school that either of our kids will ever attend. I can see pluses and minuses with the public high school, but probably more minuses (versus the charter schools).

{DL(11) is already enrolled in a charter school that is grades 6 through 12. About this time last year we had no idea where each kid would end up, so it's nice to have their high school paths somewhat set}.

I suppose everyone is also looking forward to ditching school uniforms. I haven't bought MM(13) any new uniform clothing since the summer. It's going to be close. He just has to fit for 4 more months! I usually buy more liberally since he always handed down all his uniform clothing. But now it's just him, and not for very long. Will see...

**MH returned to work today. THANK GOODNESS!

It's not been too bad, since the kids had so much time off in December and MH did end up working 9 days already this year. But... My 10 minute commute can sometimes be a *1 hour* commute when I have to take both kids to school. What a pain! I asked MH just to take DL to school on Friday, for my sanity.

I don't see why I'd ever have to take both kids to school again (this school year). Phew! Next year will be much better. Both their schools will be close together and we will be done with the "out of the way" school.

{When MH works, he just drops DL off on the way, just down the street from his job. MM's school is on the way to my office, with a 15-minute detour. It's all the driving in-between and often getting stuck at DL's school at the *worst time possible* that makes it so insane}.

Pizza

February 4th, 2017 at 01:22 pm

I have no idea why not, but I had never made pizza before. I don't know if that's entirely true since MH has some pizza recipes, but I guess I mean more traditional type pizza.

We are die hard Round Table Pizza fans. Between that and home cooking most our meals, we do NOT do cheap pizza. If the kids have a party we order Round Table. We've got comments about that over the years. I don't know what to say other than I am not going to buy my kids disgusting pizza on their special day. Wink

Round Table always has $5-off coupons that we use. So it's always been something we can squeeze into our budget if we want pizza. In addition, our grocery store had the BEST fresh take & bake pizzas. For something like $10. So we would often serve those pizzas for parties or if we had people over. They stopped carrying those 2-3 years ago. We've tried some others but they just aren't very good.

Every year I try to add at least one or two different dishes that I have never tried before (or different foods that I have never cooked before). For whatever reason I've been thinking about pizza recently and how we really just need to make our own. Since we've never found a suitable replacement for our take-and-bake.

& so that is what I did this weekend. I am happy to say that I nailed it! I choose a pizza sauce recipe that was 5 stars on the internet and everyone was raving about. Doesn't mean much, but I figured I'd start with that. In the end, I think it was very similar to Round Table's zesty red sauce. It's not exactly the same, but I think it's a suitable substitute. (That was a nice surprise!) I had enough for two pizzas and the second one came out kind of perfect. I cooked it for an extra minute so that it cooked more thoroughly.



I just bought pre-made dough. What is surprising to me is how *filling* it was. I only had a couple of small pieces and I was totally good. The kids otherwise finished off two small-ish pizzas, but they agreed that it seemed really filling.

I do want to make my own dough in the future. I just wanted to do it in steps. Get the sauce and everything else right, and then I can work on the dough in the future.

MH mostly can't stand pepperoni pizza, so next time I will ask him what kind of toppings he wants. I just wanted to start with something simple.

I am salivating just thinking about how it must taste with fresh dough. We will make future lunch and dinner guests VERY happy. Everyone always raved about the store-bought pizza. Since mostly no one cooks these days, everyone thinks we are like gourmet chefs. So I can only imagine their reaction to this pizza. & it was SO EASY!

P.S. I'd add the sauce recipe but the link doesn't seem to be working today. I will check it again later.

Long Week

January 30th, 2017 at 07:55 pm

**Last Sunday I took DL(11) to the art museum. We have a membership but I don't know if I have ever eaten in their cafe. In the end they had small salads for $4 and the food was *really* good. It's kind of perfect because he is hard to get there, but once he was there he had a blast. Now I know that I can bribe him with food.

**MH got called to work in Monday (I don't think they've ever called him last minute like that before) and I ended up having to pick up MM for his high school math class. I think it's the first time all year I've had to sign him out of school for that. I have taken him to math a few times, when he otherwise had the day off or maybe if he got out of his other school early.

Just 4 more months of this madness!

**Last week we went to three shows in San Francisco. It was a LOT. We drove there three days in a row. But we had a great time.

One of them was a show I had been wanting to go to for a long time, where random people volunteer to read from their childhood/teen diaries. Absolutely hilarious. Another was an Adult Swim show panel that we took the kids too. We had front row and center for all the shows. In the past the talent has been uncomfortable with kids in the audience, for more plain vanilla shows (like on network TV). Guess they wanted to curse but there were so many kids in the audience. I didn't know what to expect, but in this case they chose to completely ignore us. Phew! They have to figure either we know what we are getting into, or that we are just clueless. Wink We were the only weirdos that brought kids to that one. DL(11) is hard to please, but he actually really enjoyed it. The third show was a podcast; MH found some friends to go with him. Which is *amazing* because everyone is always so broke and busy. Especially on a week night. We had forgotten that we bought the tickets, figuring we'd just cover them. They reimbursed him the night of the show, so that probably covers most of our costs for the week (tolls and eating out). Had totally forgotten that we even paid for all those tickets, so that was nice.

We took the train when it was just 1-2 of us, to help with our sanity. It maybe saved a few bucks when MH went with his friends, and definitely cost more for two of us. But sanity is priceless. (& I mean, we still had to drive an hour to get to the train, but the last few miles is the worst of the drive).

**On Saturday we went to visit MH's parents after the show. His dad's birthday is this week and we gave him a $50 gift certificate (which was a free credit card reward).

**MH went to a free game night last night. Trying to mix up the frugal with the not-so-frugal...

**Our kids were getting cell service in the reverse order. But in the end I don't think DL(11) ever used, and then suddenly MM(13) wanted to hang with his friends after school. His school seems in the middle nowhere, but I guess is a reasonable walk from the library. Several of his friends wait for their parents there every day, but he's only free on short days. So we have just been giving him DL's phone on those days. MH brought it up and I admitted he'd probably want his own phone for the DC trip too. The problem is that his existing phone is not compatible with Ting. So MH picked him up a new phone this weekend. $100-ish. We didn't necessarily have time to wait for the usual deals we get. But MH told him we'd just cover it; he could pay for the difference if he wanted more. Being Mr. McFrugal, he didn't want anything more.

We need a SIM card, so we have yet to activate. But we are just going to give him DL's phone # and turn off the cell service on DL's phone. If DL decides tomorrow he wants to hang with his friends after school, we can turn it back on. So it seems best to just wait until he *really* starts using it. I still expect that they will both be using cell service by next school year and have already included that in our budget.

I leave you with a picture of a sunset:

January Savings

January 29th, 2017 at 07:42 am

Received $41 bank interest for the month of January.

Snowflakes to Investments:

Redeemed $5 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card.

Redeemed $90 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $6 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$4 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
-$1,120 insurance (various)
-$ 200 dentist
-$ 100 school lunches (for rest of school year)

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All of the expenses above were December charges that we paid off in January. So this wraps up 2016.

Not much to report for January. MH had no income this month.

Taxes

January 22nd, 2017 at 07:30 am

Finished our taxes yesterday.

I have the financial records to complete taxes on January 1, generally, but was waiting for investment 1099s (the only info I can't calculate on my own). I got an e-mail that those were ready on Friday.

I also haven't seen a pay stub for MH in months (got locked out of his online account) so will just wait to file until we get his W-2. I otherwise probably wouldn't even wait for the W-2. I expect I know his gross pay within a few pennies or a dollar, but would rather it all match 100%. We do not withhold any income taxes from his check, so that is some of why I don't really need his pay stubs. As long as the direct deposits are what I would expect them to be.

{I am totally fine with filing taxes before I have W-2s or 1099s, when I have any financial records whatsoever. It's just that I am flying pretty blind with MH's income}.

With MH working all year, we bumped up our "taxable income" from $46,000 to $48,000. We are still nowhere near the next tax bracket of 25%.

But, MH's income is being taxed around 30%. Taxes are complex.

In the end, we'd owe $1,400 if we did ROTH IRAs, or we get $1,000 back if we do Traditional IRAs. Total tax savings of $2,400. We can't max out the Traditional IRAs because of MH's work retirement plan. But rounding a bit, we can put $5,000 into his Traditional IRAs and $500 into his ROTH. I will hold off funding those until I get his W-2 and finalize everything. I already knew I could max out my Traditional IRA and did fund that already. We will do the Traditional IRAs and will invest the tax savings, per sidebar goals. (I expect for 2017 that MH won't be able to put nearly as much into Traditional IRA).

When I get the 1k refund I will just throw it at our investments. Not entirely sure how I will come up with the other $1,400. I think I will probably just fund that part when I get my OT check.

When we first started doing this it was like "$2,500 tax refund" for Traditional IRA or "no taxes due" for ROTH contributions. I did it this way because we were really in "flip a coin" territory, and I did want to just invest the difference. I'd say we are still somewhat in "flip a coin" territory, but also I am just covering MH's income taxes from my paycheck. I will just leave it be, for now. I expect everything to change, tax-wise, anyway. So we can re-evaluate from there. For now, this works, and still gives us some room to go either way.

Doings

January 19th, 2017 at 05:42 am

**MH got called into work next week, but then gets two weeks off.

This works out for the best. I don't think he could have worked much this week. This week DL(11) has finals. CRAZY schedule.

We are going to have to take DL out to celebrate. He easily gets all As, without much effort. But... this semester I think he was lucky to pass all of his classes. PHEW! I know he's never had to work so hard. I am just feeling so much *relief* that we made it. The year started out very rocky. He's really done exceptional, given all he has had to deal with.

**MH's birthday is this week. I almost forgot in the work chaos.

We don't exchange gifts. I discussed with the kids, and they just wanted to give their daddy HUGS and home-made fudge. I said I thought that sounded perfect.

He already bought himself a sous vide (precision cooker). It's a long story, but he bought one for his parents for Christmas, and ended up with two. Was supposed to return the other one to Amazon but he seems to have a hang up about paying $10 postage to get a $40 refund. Don't ask me! He is way smarter than that.

I think *I* realized he wasn't going to return it before he did. He was struggling subconsciously with it. & he kept trying to make justifications to keep it. I finally said, "Happy Birthday". Moving on...

That was weeks ago, and he has yet to use it. (Still having some internal struggle about it). Thankfully some meat went on sale and he gave it a try this week. We've been eating like KINGS. I'd say we are accomplished cooks and eat very well, but probably limit ourselves on the meat side to the cheap cuts we grew up with and are familiar with. So this is expanding our horizons considerably. (MH has been salivating over this contraption since his friend cooked him dinner with one several years ago).

He made some seared tuna earlier this week. It turned out more cooked than he preferred. & he generally doesn't eat fish, but I guess is just more picky about it. He told us he over-cooked it. I said if it was any less cooked I'd be putting mine in the microwave. But maybe he will refine us a bit. Wink I thought it was *perfect*

Last night we had pork chops. I don't even know if I have ever had pork chops before. But it was *perfection*

I could get used to this. & it's nice to mix it up a bit and to try new things.

**In other fanciness, we went to the movies on Tuesday night. We got a new theater with the fancy reclining seats. The tickets are $6.50 on Tuesdays. I think our theater bumped up their tickets to $6.25 on Tuesday nights (cheap night) so there isn't any big difference.

MH had been a few times, and I just told him I wanted to check it out.

We agreed that Tuesday night is our movie night. At this theater. From now on! Used to be weekend matinees. Or you can stand in line and get there early on Tuesday nights (by our house). Or... you can just reserve your seats online and show up after the commercials/previews ,and sit in luxury. For an extra quarter per ticket. SOLD!

(MH had seen Star Wars at this theater on opening night. It's the first time he didn't have to wait in line for a Star Wars movie. Worked out because the weather was bad that night. He just reasoned he'd rather just reserve seats ahead of time. Few seemed to think of the option, but the new theater had just opened. Next time might not be quite so easy).

Yes!

January 17th, 2017 at 06:12 am

Yes!

I did an update yesterday with where my head was at with our 2017 goals and budget.

I *know* my employer would pay me more if he could. But given the economics... He told me some years back that I Was the only one in the office getting raises (for several years). I had *no idea*. It was just some weird circumstance of being the youngest in the office but having most of the responsibility. I figured that was a warning of some sort, so have not even expected a raise for the past 2-3 years.

Fast forward to this year. We have a big software conversion, and we are getting really down to the wire. I had to work crazy OT the past couple of months just to get it done before the old software expires. I am actually feeling pretty happy and refreshed because it's January and I am knee deep in the fun part of my job. & the bulk of that software stuff is over. PHEW!

Usually my employer is more open with me, but today he didn't say much. Maybe that's a good sign. Usually he says something along the lines of pulling out of his income to be fair to me. Today all he said was he was giving me a 3% raise. (I don't have any indication that economics are better. I am guessing no speech just because he didn't have to apologize for not being able to do more). & he knew and appreciated how hard I was working. I think I just kind of needed that. Of all years to pull it out, this was the year to do so. I have been working SO HARD.

I *know* I am appreciated at my job, but it's nicer to be appreciated with a raise. Big Grin

(I don't even think it was a bigger raise than usual, percentage-wise, but dollar wise it just feels like more!).

In the end, the raise will just cover our increased expenses for the year, and will allow me to cover MM's gymnastics classes. Just perfect! It was actually kind of crazy because I already went through our expenses a couple of weeks ago and updated for all the little utility increases in recent years. (I don't know that I have been that *exact* lately, just knowing it all seemed to balance in the checkbook). I decided to pull $20/month out of my check for taxes, without looking at the budget. It's just what we needed to do for taxes. & when I plugged my new net check into our "budget" sheet" it was within $1 of our monthly expenses. Seriously! I told MH you would think I PLANNED that. The reality is I got "just enough raise", net of taxes, to not have to rejigger anything. Couldn't have planned it better if I tried.

So, I just threw up some goals in my sidebar. They are basically the same as last year. Still aiming to save 30% of my income. I rounded up investment goal a bit to keep it an even 30% of gross income.

This will get me through April and then I may re-jigger a bit. I get my OT pay in April, and then MH starts the busy season of his work in September. So it just works out to do a tax and goal evaluation every 4 months or so. I need to manage our taxes a bit more, with MH working.

Budget Update

January 16th, 2017 at 10:05 am

No idea on the income side yet, for 2017 (Both MH and I find out this month if we get raises).

So I am just fine tuning the expense side of things. Many years we have had some expenses go up while others go down, but this seems to be one of those "expenses just going up" kind of years.

Monthly Increases:

Gymnastics $100 (added luxury splurge)
Health Insurance: $40
Cell Phones: $35
HOA $11
Internet: $10
Total: $196

Notes:

I did evaluate groceries and we spent about the same both of the last two years, so I think those expenses are leveling off. Phew! (Then again, MM(13) now considers 3 potatoes a single serving; I am not overly confident in the staying power of our current grocery budget). But, for now...

Cell phones: We added a line ($6/month) and I changed our budget since we are covering my parents' cell expenses.

HOA went up. We've been incredibly lucky. The bill has generally never gone up (in 15 years!) The more recent HOA boards have started updating common areas, which I think is reasonable, and some study came back that we were under-funded for something or other (long-term). This is definitely the biggest increase we have ever had, but was probably a one-off type increase.

Internet went up and MH is peeved. We are biding our time for cheaper or maybe even free internet. Our small company got bought out by a bigger one, so I know that was a lot of my husband feeling disgruntled. It's like the third time that has happened to us. (But at least it wasn't Comcast this time. A medium fish swallowed the little fish). On the flip side, we do have 100mbps. As long as MH is working, he can have his insane high speed internet. We do get use/benefits from it. It's been actually saving me a lot of time on a work project, to just take home and use our super fast internet. (We may have 100mbps at work, but it gets bogged down in various ways).

Gymnastics: They only take cash and I have been mostly been funding by selling stuff around the house. I suppose more than that, have just been funding from MH's income. I realized last fall that I never put this in our budget. Something wasn't quite adding up right, until I realized. But I've just been winging it because I didn't have any room for this expense. So... I would like to work this into our budget, which is basically how we allocate *my* salary. I don't know if we will be able to. Plan B is I will allocate MH's salary for this expense. Looking back at 2016, I think that $100/month should be ample. I am okay with MH's income funding "splurges that we can't otherwise justify". I don't want to just wing it again, for this year. It was an expenses we added middle of 2016 and that I didn't give a whole lot of thought, beyond "MH is working and we can swing it."

On the flip side, DL(11) is giving me a bit of a financial reprieve. His first class at art school was a visual arts class, which would have been the lowest on his list of interests. But he LOVED it and he has been working hard on his drawing. I kept telling him he could just take more art classes later, but he felt intimidated by how much talent some of the kids have. I don't mind buying him classes now to get his confidence up, and he can't even take any (free) electives this year anyway. That will come later. But for whatever reason I procrastinated on getting him enrolled in the single drawing class I could find. (I am not a procrastinator usually). By the time the first day of class rolled around I brought it up and said I could try to get him signed up, but he seemed no longer interested at that point. Phew! He is very protective of his free time (which is why I think this art school is so important for him; will give him LOTS of exposure during school, without cutting into his "time to be a kid"). But he also later told me he felt like he had caught up to the other kids. He is practicing and improving on his own time. (If he changes his mind later, we can cover with MH's income, or money from grandparents).

So...

If we don't get any raises, what ever will we do? I actually have $200/month going into investments. It was a placeholder for past raises that we didn't *need*. So I feel very *shrugs* about any scenario at this point. We have been investing the $200/month mostly with funding college in mind. & I mean, we already have enough money to get both kids through college (in a bare minimum kind of way). So this is just extra that allows our kids more options. Either way, it's just gravy.

I will find out today what I have to work with. Then I Can work on figuring out our goals for 2017.

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Edited to add: After getting multiple comments focusing on income (on other blog posts too), I felt it was worth clarifying. This is how we manage our expenses. If I was getting a 50% raise tomorrow, I would still go through this exercise. Keeping expenses down is probably the most important factor, as to early retirement. So, I am just sharing my thought process on the expense side of things. It is very "Money Mustache". I don't care if we double our income tomorrow. If we can find a cheaper internet alternative, we will find a cheaper internet alternative.

The income side is important too, but is rather divorced from the "expense" side, for me.

Trying to Stay Dry

January 11th, 2017 at 05:52 am

After the "worst drought in recorded history", I heard on the radio this past week that we were on track for the "wettest winter in recorded history." (Or something along those lines). It would be enough to wipe out the years-long drought.

So... You can't win!

Anyway, we are in the midst of some huge storms. Was just reading an article how they opened the flood gates to release water. They don't do this lightly. They are letting go of precious water, and won't be able to close the gates again until the water recedes.

We are okay, for now, but we could use a break in the rain. It's supposed to rain for a couple of more days, and all the (MANY) rivers are getting very high and are being closely monitored.

Edited to add: I started to type this out yesterday. Last night I Was woken up around midnight to the most *insane* rain. It was raining several inches per hour. (If I hadn't of laid there for a while, taking some time to get my bearings, I might have thought that the river was roaring down our street. Of course, I got up to be sure it was *just* the rain). Seriously?! The storm went out with a BANG! It was very calm after that; the storm gutters were clear and able to handle the deluge. More rain today and tomorrow.

Doings

January 8th, 2017 at 06:35 am

With MH home for the winter, you'd think the school stuff would be easier, but it seems more complicated. He took three trips to get kids to/from school one day last week. & the high school is still on break! I am looking more and more forward to putting this crazy schedule behind us. The kids will have two completely different calendars next year, but their schools are close together and they mostly start and finish school at the same time. Except for holidays and minimum days and stuff like that, we can just pick up and drop off kids literally on the way to/from our jobs. It sounds very nice!

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MH ended up buying me a very small computer. He kept seeing sales in the $100 range. This is an incredible deal if you already have all the accessories. But I haven't had a desktop since I've been displaced by kids. So... $500 later. The motivation was not "minimalism" but I am LOVING it from that standpoint. The computer is about the size of the original roku? (Or how I recall the original roku to have been). It just hangs off the back of the monitor. & I told MH several times that I did not need speakers. He did not believe me, so he ended up getting me a monitor with built-in speakers. So it looks like I just have a monitor/keyboard/mouse. We got it set up in our bedroom, for now. Glad it is so compact, because I might want to move downstairs in the summer.

We also ended up buying a couple of office chairs off of Craigslist. It felt like quite a splurge, because the vast majority of the chairs in our house were free. From all sorts of random people. Everyone is always giving away chairs. We found two new chairs (retails $100/each) that we paid $40/each for. So far, we are happy with those. MM(13) Wasn't happy with the free used chair he had (it sounds like he has been rough on it over the years), so I got him a chair also. We had an extra desk laying around, for me, but I didn't have a chair. Thus, the purchase of two chairs.

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MH went to a concert in San Francisco this past week. It sounded pretty incredible, but I just didn't think I could get away from work.

We have tickets to three more shows this month in SF, for the Comedy Sketchfest. We toned it down this year, based on show offerings and my work schedule. There's other shows we'd love to go to but are mid-week or just aren't practical at all.

I've been able to slow down and catch my breath for the last week or so. But will be slammed with deadlines for the rest of the month.

It's a stormy weekend and we are stuck indoors. We have watched a couple of movies (MH gets free movie rentals somehow). I am reading a library book.

2016 Final Rewards Tally

January 2nd, 2017 at 06:34 am

2016 TALLY:

$208 Cash (Barclay Card, Moi)
$250 Gift Cards (AmEx Green, Moi)
-----------
$458 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

Other Rewards:

$25 credit AmEx (For Hulu)

$41 Citi Price Rewinds

Ongoing rewards (through 12/31):

+$50 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back; health insurance charged to this card)
**PHASED OUT AND REPLACED WITH CITI 2% CARD**

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

+$97 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)

+$92 Visa Rewards (3% back at restaurants, inflated by large vacation spending this year)

+$788 Citi 2% card (2% back everywhere - health insurance/medical is the big expenses that we charge, is more than our mortgage payments. Also, inflated by large vacation spending this year)

Grand Total = $1,906

I just want to add that historical figures below do also include bank bonuses. They just don't generally work very well for us since we don't use debit cards and don't have direct deposits (the usual hoops that you have to jump through). & the hassle factor is significantly more than it is with the credit card bonuses. Thus, we did not do a single bank bonus this year. I think this might just be where we land with MH working and not needing the extra boost so much.

All of the big bonuses we had been doing with the credit cards (doing the same $500 over and over, between 3 credit cards) have completely dried up. We did okay because our expenses were very high in 2016. But is not generally *how* I Want to earn my credit card rewards. Wink

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

Total 5 Years = $17,188
***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.***

Financial Updates - 2016 Year End

January 1st, 2017 at 02:01 pm

I think this is my last post for the day. I am getting to all my financial updates, since I have time today.

We did really well on net worth for 2016. Up $60,000 for the year. Our goal was to increase net worth by $42,000.

We paid down the mortgage by $8,000. The rest of our net worth gain was investments.

Home Equity is at $250,000.

Cash/Investments have surpassed the $300k mark.

I don't know if I have ever said specifically, but I have a very comfortable emergency fund for next job transition. (It's been a BIG goal for me, and we made it!)

ROTH IRAs and Traditional IRAs seem to be about 50/50, as to their balances. We do not contribute to ROTHs given our current tax situation. But we heavily funded the ROTHs while my spouse was not working (low tax rates). I would guess that the Traditional IRAs will pull ahead in 2017, since we are contributing to those.

Our savings rate was 30% in 2016. 25% of our income went to long-term investments and retirement. The other 5% went to cash savings.

If we paid off our mortgage, we'd be debt free and we would have $150,000 in investments. We'd have to cash out our ROTHs, cash, and taxable investments to do this. We could leave college money and Traditional IRAs intact. I suppose it's feasible (for the first time ever), but not wise. I don't think we would seriously consider this unless our mortgage was in the $50k range. & we wouldn't cash out our ROTHs to pay off our mortgage. So we have a ways to go. I just know that we will ponder more as this number gets bigger.

Our household income hit six figures for the first time. I am just counting "salary" for this purpose. I really thought we had an income around $100k last we both worked full-time. But it turns out we had peaked at $99,000 (per old tax records). This year our salary income was something like $100,200. We just squeaked by. So I guess that is kind of an exciting milestone. Of course, our income is kind of the same as it has been. I just did the math, and once you figure how much less OT I worked and how much less money we made in side hustles, economically we made the same amount in both 2015 and 2016. So while pretty much everyone generally reacts like we are suddenly "made of money" with MH working, it's more as I expected: We are the same financially either way. We've just replaced some side hustle income with wages. & the wages are WAY less efficient, of course, but the motivation has been for resume and "future employment" versus more immediate financial gain.

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

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

Estimate Net Worth Change for 2017:

Cash: Increase $5,000
Mortgage: Paydown $8,000
Investments: Contribute $9,000
Retirement: Contribute $15,000
Investment Returns: $13,000 (would need 4% gain)
TOTAL INCREASE: $50,000

Of course, it also seems likely that the value of our house will increase significantly next year. It's been rather stagnate for a few years, but things are starting to take off in recent months. It looks like a $60k net worth increase is feasible, factoring home equity gains. OF course, almost anything is feasible. I don't get too hung up in the "year over year" changes, as I am more concerned about the next decade as a whole. But this is just what I am starting with.

I had said that maybe I would change my blog focus to "countdown to financial independence" when I turn 40 (last month). But... It's still too far away and nebulous with way too many moving parts. So I am laying out our more long-term plan. I feel that there are way too many unknowns to start a countdown at this point. It's just a very loose plan, for now.

The loose plan will be to get our kids through college, to have $1 mil in investments, and to downsize into a paid-for home (smaller than what we have now, and lower maintenance). We should be able to achieve this in 10 years.

2016 Goal Update

January 1st, 2017 at 01:43 pm

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

2016 Goals

**Financial**

[X]$11,000 to IRAs 2016 (MAX)
...($10,850 @ 12/1/16)
...$10,800 savings;$50 credit card rewards
...We save $900/month

[X]$5,000 to savings
...($5,287 @ 12/1/16)
...We save $300/month, plus interest.
...Topping off with snowballs

[ ]$7,500 to investments
...($7,000 @ 12/31/16)
...$2,416 from monthly contributions; $2,084 snowflakes; $2,500 tax savings
...We save $200/month, plus snowflakes
...Will also invest tax savings when contribute to Traditional IRAs

[X]$3,000 to mortgage
...($3,100 @ 12/31/16)
...$3k per year to pay off in 15 years (from last refi); also ensures that we pay more principal than interest
...Funded with overtime

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Note: Savings goal ended up with a little extra to top off the IRAs, so the IRA goal was met.

2016 was fairly similar to 2015. I just fell short of investment goal by about $500. (Same thing happened in the prior year).

I am VERY happy with how the year shook out. We also had about $6,000 in unexpected vacation expenses. So it does not bother me that we fell a little short of our financial goals.

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Edited to add, because I forgot this one:

[/]50% of dh's income to 401k
...This is the max that he can contribute

We did 50% for most of the year, but not all year. We did what we needed to do for our taxes. Otherwise, I *much* rather put that money towards our mortgage or keep some of it liquid for college. So I do not consider this a goal fail. We ended up putting about 1/3 of dh's salary into 401k. We also put 1/3 into MM(13)'s school DC trip, which I think we only entertained seriously because MH was working. If you want to know why we did not achieve 50%, that is the obvious answer. But lack of tax motivation (at year end) was also part of the equation.

December Savings

January 1st, 2017 at 12:11 pm

Received $41 bank interest for the month of December.

Snowflakes to Investments:

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

Redeemed $95 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $10 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$15 Savings from Target Red Card
--$ 5 American Express Credit
--$ 1 Citi Price Rewind

In addition, I added $16 to investments to get up to a total of $7,000 contributions for the year. I fell short of my goal, but figured I could round up $16 to make it even.

Other snowflakes:
--$85 Craigslist sale

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
-$143 Auto Expense
-$470 Dentist/Ortho

Short-term savings was otherwise drained for the year so I pulled the following out of mid-term savings:

-$500 computer expenses (MM)
-$250 Sketchfest tickets (3 shows)


2016 Spending & 2017 Vacation Plans

January 1st, 2017 at 06:45 am

In the end, it looks like we spent within $90 of what we spent in 2015, for total household spending. I mentioned in my last post that we are VERY consistent.

{Edited to add: Um... The kids owe me like $60 for Christmas gifts that they bought. MH was settling up with them yesterday. Once I settle up with them, I think our spending will be within $30 of the prior year. That is just CRAZY!}

Here are top 5 expenses and bottom 5 expenses for last 2 years:


NOTE: Edited to Top 6, to capture big expenses. All other expenses were $2,000 or below.

I highlighted the vacation spending because we aren't big vacation spenders and these are very one-off type expenses. Our annual budget is only $2,000 for vacation, and is more in the realm of what I foresee spending the next several years.

On the mortgage, we made an extra payment (or two?) versus last year. We should be under the $7,000 mark on mortgage interest in the future. This is one of those expenses that is snowballing downward very rapidly.

Auto expenses include repairs/maintenance, insurance, registration, fuel. (We pay cash for cars; no car payments). You might presume that our auto expenses were down because we now have a newer vehicle. But our repair spending in 2016 was $0 on our 2005 minivan. In contrast, the 2013 vehicle needed a new battery and new tires. (We replaced the crappy/cheap stock tires, and the battery died prematurely).

{I do have details on the autos, and I also track expenses per vehicle. For 2016: $1944 fuel, $1800 insurance, $278 registration, $803 repairs/maintenance}.

Medical expenses are insane, but our insurance has covered almost seven figures in medical procedures for my husband (before age 40). So, at least I know we get our money's worth, and it's very important for us to have high quality insurance. I am sure given different circumstances we would have just gone "cheap". It's been our biggest expense for several years, so is nothing new. It's been our biggest challenge with *one income* living, but we live so far below our means that we have been able to deal with it. But I know it's so glaring that I should address.

**I have not included income taxes because is not a big expense for us.**

The interesting thing about our lowest expenses is that it tends to be our more luxury spending. I am sure I have said it a million times before, but will say it again. We don't do without. We just are careful and rein in costs, and shop around. & prioritize what is the most important. So most of our "luxury" type spending ends up towards the bottom.

The only reason we paid any childcare in 2015 is that our carpools were flakey and they'd forget to pick up our kids (and their own kids too). *sigh* Our attitude for 2016 was to just take care of it ourselves. I am sure this is reflected in additional driving (A LOT), but gas has generally been cheaper this year.

Haircuts went up substantially because MM(13) is suddenly interested in a short hairstyle.

Vet care - we learned that our vet is cheap when it comes to shots.

I did notice that our telephone expenses (not listed) more than doubled. It was one of the more noticeable changes, since everything else was so consistent. We just didn't get as many Ting referrals (discounts) in 2016. So we paid $300 for landline + cell phone service for 2015. We paid closer to $700 in 2016. This included adding cell service for DL(11) the last couple of months. Both years we just paid for my parents during the last 6 months of the year. We are going to add MM(13) to cell plan this summer. So, should be an additional $144 per year, for the long run, with the two new lines. (It's only $6/month to add a line to Ting). I don't expect the kids will use much data/texting. They've had smart phones for years, so they are used to seeking out free wifi. I think we will probably just cover this bill for my parents. We used to split 50/50, but now it's going to be more 66/33. & we seem to use more data which is why we just tell my parents not to reimburse us for the second half of the year. Maybe I should just ask them to cover their $144 per year for the additional lines. As long as their usage remains low, we will just cover the rest. I think this sounds like a good compromise, since I don't know that we need to be subsidizing my parents' phone bills. But maybe $144 is a good compromise where we don't have to try to divide the bill as it gets more complicated. That's just their obvious "share" of the bill. You pay per line and then it's a flat amount for all the data, text and minutes that you use for that month (as a group). Even the first line is just $6/month.

I expect our total expenses to be about the same for the next couple of years. We have some home maintenance ($$$$) to tend to. Starting to talk braces for both kids. So stuff like that will probably replace our recent vacation spending. These are things we also want to take care of while our income is high and before our kids start college.

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

While discussing vacation spending, I want to jot down some notes on that.

2017 Vacation Plans:

I really want to do a National Park vacation. It will have to be without the kids. Aiming for fall. I am thinking more frugal road trip. I don't even know if we'd spend $500 on something like this. So it's like my "Dream vacation" for the moment, but is nothing that is a big financial drain. Grand Canyon is at the top of the list.

MH has plans to go to Florida for his Grandpa's 90th birthday. It's in the fall; the kids and I won't be able to go. So it just works out. (I do not want to go, so it really works out!) That will be with his family, so I expect our only expense will be airfare, which should not be much.

My dad was making plans to river raft down the grand canyon with my son. He told me on Thanksgiving that he would cover the costs and would expect us to pay for airfare. I think that's fine and reasonable. (Though our vacation spending has been insane, I have just been trying to go with the flow, not knowing how this trip would shake out. Time like this, with Grandparents, is just too priceless). As our parents get more financially comfortable, they invite us on trips less often that they expect *us* to pay for. (They also give us more cash, which we set aside for these type things. Is why I often say that "the Grandparents are paying for it," whether they realize or not). Since it was domestic, I just went with it. In the end the trip sounds quite expensive (more than I would have thought), but I believe that my dad will follow through on paying for it. Anyway, we weren't sure if it might be too late to reserve for summer and I mentioned that MM(13) will get out of school the following year on May 31st. No more of this crazy "short summer" stuff, for him. So my dad told me yesterday that the more he thought about it the more appealing it sounded June 1 versus mid-July. It would be just so crazy hot in July. I think it's probably best all around to push that off. MM has his big school DC trip this spring. So this will space out his big trips a bit. Heck, maybe I will try to tag along if they wait another year. I just couldn't even think about it with my broken foot. That gives me time to save up too. (If this seems feasible, I suppose that MH and I would consider visiting Yellowstone instead, in 2017. We will start making decisions this summer).

Checking In

December 31st, 2016 at 07:01 am

PHEW!

Survived the end-of-year work crunch. So crazy behind on everything still, and the deadlines are piling up. (Lots of new government rules and deadlines that affect me next year). It's just going to be one of those years. I Can deal because I know the *crazy* workload is only temporary. I keep telling myself that at least next week is not a deadline week. Hoping to at least feel more "caught up" before I get thrown into January deadlines. I did also decide to "turn off work" for the long weekend. I just need to regroup and spend some time with my family. I expect this is the last weekend that I will have off until May.

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MM has decided to attend his assigned high school next year, or the one closer to our house. That makes life so much easier for us. Phew! We still do have to figure out the transportation. He is VERY independent and if we lived somewhere else I'd just let him ride his bike. But it's so dangerous. For whatever reason there is no public transportation options. I want to give him his independence. But... If MH is dropping DL off at school anyway, right by his work, it makes more sense just to get MM to school safely. So I guess I am a little frustrated on the "independence" side of things. But otherwise, both their schools and MH's work are all close together, and only about 2-3 miles from our home. It should make life much easier for the long run. & they can get themselves to/from school if need be.

I guess it's relative. Some of our neighbors are choosing another charter school a couple of blocks from our house, for the convenience factor. I guess convenience is a factor for us, but not *the* biggest factor. But... I've never considered schools more than 3 miles from our house. A client was telling me this past week that her kids were choosing high schools 15 miles apart. It would have to be a really stellar school/situation (or lack of other options) for me to make a choice like that. So while I wish MM could just take the public transit to school, she made me appreciate how simplified our situation will be next year.

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On the Christmas front:

My parents were sick and so we didn't see them. Frown My dad had wanted to take us out to lunch on Christmas Day (something different). We've tentatively rescheduled for today.

I think the "no tree" thing was probably just a one year break. So I am not even looking at the sales, for smaller trees. DL(11) decided in the end that he missed the tree. I think we can oblige him next year. This year was just too crazy.

Oh, and the in-laws... Had some wins with them.

For whatever reason, MIL accepts MM(13)'s minimalism. I believe that all he received was a gift card and some cash. (Which is AMAZING!!) She can only accept that in him. She won't accept it in me. She won't listen to my SIL, whose kids drown in gifts from both sets of grandparents. (I don't know that SIL is a minimalist, but the last thing her kids need is more stuff). DL(11) collects video games and cows, and MIL seemed to delight in buying him piles of that stuff. Which is really fine. I was impressed she was able to do that while letting it go with MM. I think she just had *no idea* what on earth to get MM, honestly. (Oh, and he did get some parts for his new computer. I knew there had to be something else! But still, it was all stuff he specifically asked for and was more in the useful realm).

As to the charity gift? Meh. It was kind of over the top. I've brought up my MIL's insanity before and get all sorts of well meaning comments. But it's like, "Why not ask for cash instead?" & stuff like that. Oh, they give us cash. It has to be cash AND gifts. I guess all this to say, they didn't scale back. So now it is: cash + gifts + cash to give to charity. I know that charity is where my SIL has been trying to steer MIL. Like we have enough crap, so let's do nice things for people who actually need it. I'd say she didn't *get* it. But I do hope that it is a step in the right direction. MIL completely HATED the idea 10 years ago, so it is definitely a step in a better direction. She just didn't seem to get the memo that "less gifts" should be part of the "more charity" plan.

We did choose a charity to give $500 too ($500 from in-laws). & then we doled out my work bonus ($200) to 4 charities like we always do. Don't get me wrong. It was really nice to write a bigger check for a charity that we support. It was a WONDERFUL gift.

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I've updated my sidebar for 2016 financial goals. I'd say that 2016 went very well.

On the spending side, all I can say is that we are VERY consistent. We spent $85 more than we did last year. HA! (Can't say that we planned it that way). Some categories were the same or within a few dollars.

As to 2017, I won't know our income for another couple of weeks, so will hold off on any goals or budgets or plans until then. I expect things to mostly be the same as 2016.

I'll do some financial updates later, re: 2016.

Some Small Savings & Christmas Stuff

December 14th, 2016 at 07:53 am

**We received a $5 statement credit for checking AmEx account on mobile app.

**I bought ahead $100 of Target gift cards, 10% off. MH later asked me if we should buy up gift cards for kids' to gift for their friends' birthday parties. Smart! We bought 5 Target gift cards during 2016, so I just bought up 5 ($15) gift cards at 10% off.

We probably could/should have done the $300 max, but we already get 5% off our purchases and it is a bit of a hassle. This is the first year we even took the 10% deal.

**I did also get MM(13) switched over to our cheap dentist from the pediatric (not cheap) dentist. I expect this will save us at least $400 per year. DL(11) is not quite there yet, but probably soon.

**The saga of DL's extra tooth is finally over. Phew! We were told maybe 3 years ago that they might have to do surgery to remove it. But we have been waiting (& waiting) and it finally erupted (broke the skin) on its own, without causing too many problems. So he had that tooth yanked this week.

It's one minor win. I expect he will cost me tens of thousands of dollars for the long haul. He has all the teeth/jaw problems that I had. So... I will take any win I can get.

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**We are doing virtually nothing for Christmas.

I generally don't do much because my work is so busy. But this year is just insane busy, starting several weeks early.

I think that's compounded with us just having a crazy year in general, MH being so busy, and being on a general downward trend of Christmas spending.

The kids and I grew up in homes that didn't make a huge materialistic deal about Christmas. So... I am pretty sure that *MH* is the one that broached the subject, but we had discussed not getting the kids any gifts this year. Well, *he* did grow up in a house that made a huge deal about Christmas, so he's been very wishy washy about this. To us and the kids, he clearly has issues. As of this moment in time, we agreed to get them one "need" gift each, and some stocking stuffers (food). I think that's probably where we will land, but lord knows. (& when he said, "no gifts", I figured we'd still be doing stockings/treats, so we seem to be on the same page on that part).

As to the kids, they could care less about if we get them any gifts.

The kids also insist that they don't care about our (plastic) tree, and so we decided not to put it up this year. I don't know if this is more of a break or a more permanent decision. I would like to buy a smaller tree, but will probably let it go for this year and will shop the after-Christmas sales. We might not bother decorating at all. Lord knows I won't be around much to care either way.

Gifts I bought for my parents: a concert ticket for my dad and a charitable gift in my mom's name.

& we always take my Christmas bonus ($200) and each pick a charity to donate $50 to.

For the in-laws, we already bought a big gift, since they generally go big. MH always has some electronic toy or whatever in mind. They will give us more cash than we spend for all of Christmas, so I figure money is no object for their gift.

But... Hell has frozen over! MIL announced a week or two ago that she was going to give us $500 to give to charity. I don't think she has any idea that we already do this. In fact, I told most my friends and relatives (about 10 years ago!) that I'd rather them donate to charity than give me gifts. Everyone was very receptive to this, except my MIL. She was NOT Having it. So... I have no idea what on earth happened, but I guess it's a Christmas miracle. Big Grin (She seems to be toning it down on the gift side of things, though I never for sure until it's over. I am not holding my breath on that part. But... I just feel like she actually gets it on some level, that she would do this. Less emphasis on the stuff).

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

I've spent virtually nothing this year (on myself or on retail). Since I had a few days off around my birthday, I went shopping. WAY behind on allowance spending. & not that I need to spend it all (because I won't). But I updated my wardrobe a bit.

I also found a beautiful table cloth for $30 that goes very well in our formal dining room. You never know if these things will look as good in person, but we put it up yesterday and it is just perfect! I also bought a "Christmas" table cloth and we put it over, for now. I had a couple of Christmas items stored in the china cabinet, so just put those out to anchor the table cloth (the table is over 100 inches long). & I found my Christmas tree scented candle, so we ended up with a little Christmas spirit. I set up a Christmas table for us to put our gifts on.

I had bought a very pretty table cloth (last year) which wasn't practical and I just decided to donate. I also donated a few sweaters, to make room for some new ones.

Oh, and that reminds me. MM is outgrowing his clothes like crazy. DL didn't want most of MM's old shirts, so I had a pile to donate. Plus I took out all of the "baby" hangers from their closets. I had already given MM some of my hangers for his uniform shirts, but otherwise they don't bother hanging up their clothes.

I bought an electronic toy last January that I knew I would most likely sell. I think it was $150 retail and I paid virtually nothing for it because I used credit card rewards. I sold it yesterday for $85.

We went by the school Dicken's fair briefly over the weekend. I ended up picking up a very cool tie dye shirt for myself. I didn't get her business card, and I could kick myself. She had some really neat tie dye. Very talented. If I had more Christmas shopping to do, there would have been some good gifts.

MH and I snuck in a nice lunch date. We've been doing that some on the weekends. Is unusual for us (to go out, to be spontaneous, or to even eat out). But since we didn't invite the kids, it was more of a reasonable expenditure. I had a perpetual headache and I knew it was work stress. So I decided to relax Saturday. Sunday I worked all day. I *might* take Sunday off for Christmas with MH's family. (Not sure where I will be with work and I am fighting off a cold. If I get sick at all I will need the time to catch up). & not that I'd work *all* weekend, but I just won't be able to get much done if I go out of town all day. I may need a mental health day (or physical health day) at home. I will take Christmas Day off. Otherwise it's just work work work, for me. MH's last day of work (for the season) should be Friday. So he can take care of the kids' crazy schedules. All 3 schools have completely different breaks, and 2 have weird final schedules (next week). MH will be home for a month.

Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies

December 1st, 2016 at 07:43 pm

Thanks for the great recipes!

Here is mine:

1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in egg and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon; stir into the creamed mixture until just blended. Fold in oats and chocolate chips. Drop by rounded measuring tablespooonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 10-12 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

The dough freezes well for later. This recipe makes 3 dozen cookies, but the recipe came with the recommendation to bake half and freeze the rest of the dough for later. Or double the recipe and freeze more.

These are pretty much the only cookies I make. I've forgotten all other cookies. These are just too good!

November Savings

November 30th, 2016 at 05:56 am

Received $39 bank interest for the month of November.

Snowflakes to Investments:

Redeemed $25 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card. But... Paid annual $95 fee. I will subtract $95 from snowflakes/investments.

Redeemed $64 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $7 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$17 Savings from Target Red Card
--$40 Focus Group (survey)

Savings (From my paycheck):

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

Savings (From dh's paycheck):
+$ 500 to Investments

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$200 Tahoe Weekend
-$200 Monterey Weekend
-$185 Auto Expenses
-$200 Medical
-$325 Life Insurance
-$5,400 Property Taxes

& with that, we have drained short-term savings for the year. Still choosing to pay ahead property taxes, paying just once per year for simplicity.

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

Our fiscal year should be over. I paid all of the December bills already. Mostly expecting any expenses this month to affect our 2017 bottom line. Anything that comes up in December will most likely be charged and paid off in 2017.

I will update sidebar through December since I will fund December savings tomorrow with 12/1 paycheck. It's just the investments that I do at the end of the month and it looks like I will need to top off a bit. Oh, and I don't plan to pay extra $3k to mortgage until the end of December. Just making sure no surprises come up before I part with that money.

Birthday Weekend

November 28th, 2016 at 11:20 am

This month has been a very long and trying month. I wouldn't even know where to begin. Lots of medical stuff with several family members. *sigh*

I think for now mostly everyone seems okay. Though I don't think anyone is "cured" or out of the woods. Four close relatives off the top of my head; no answers when it comes to any of them. Just random unexplained medical stuff.

Oh, and work is completely crazed. So... Yeah, that's why I haven't been bloggy.

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

It looked touch and go for a while, but thankfully I had a nice birthday weekend. MH was a little under the weather, the weather looked pretty crappy, and DL freaked out when we tried to leave him with grandparents. (Which has *never* happened before, but you know he has been having issues). But... in the end it all somehow worked out. Phew!

Our original plan was to just stay south of San Francisco. We had wanted to do a hike and have lunch at one of my favorite restaurants in SF. But with the weather (very rainy on Saturday) we let it go and just stayed close to our hotel. I chose Half Moon Bay, since I wanted to stay along the coast and didn't really want to stay *in* San Francisco.

It worked out really well. We just happened to drive through that area on our one-year anniversary and there was a spectacular thunderstorm. I guess the place is just kind of magical, to us. We ended up just spending the whole weekend in Half Moon Bay, which was quite all right.

The view from our hotel room:



Given the stormy weather, we were maybe a bit too close to the ocean. Yeesh!

Saturday we were able to do a nice morning and evening walk by our hotel, between rains. It was nice.

Sunday morning we did two hikes before we headed out. The sun came out at it was gorgeous that day.

It was extra nice since it's the first hike I've been able to do post broken foot. I really couldn't walk much when we went to Tahoe last month. We couldn't even do a small hike.





MIL slipped me $200 for my birthday. We actually spent about exactly $200 on food this weekend, including ordering pizza for the kids on Friday since we seemed to have no food in the house. So I already paid off the dining credit card for the month (closes monthly on the 25th) and threw the extra $200 to cover weekend dining expenses.

There was a restaurant next to our hotel which was absolutely divine. They had live piano music and excellent food. We spent $100 there Friday night. Saturday we went to the Moss Beach Distillery. I thought it sounded familiar. I guess it is a famous haunted restaurant. It used to be a speakeasy, as was the first restaurant we ate at. Otherwise we just kept it light. Didn't even eat out Sunday since our hotel served such a substantial breakfast.

I am grateful for the relaxing weekend. Work is just going to be crazy for the foreseeable future. I was planning to take this week off, but I don't see that is going to fly. Just not enough hours in the day. (Will have an extra week of vacation next year, if I don't use my last week up this year, which will be nice).

Edited to add: My birthday isn't for a few more days, but we celebrated ahead.

This & That

November 13th, 2016 at 07:15 am

**Frugal win: We scored a $20 birthday gift for free, thanks to MH's work. The kids have a party to attend this weekend.

**MM(13) earned his first $100 from medical study. Expects $200 more this month.

MH has been using "sitting around waiting for MM" time to buy up computer parts. MM(13) wants to build a gaming computer. The medical study will pay for his half, and we are matching the other half.

**We turned on cell service for DL(11). We live in a time where parents work and people live far from their schools and no one is ever spontaneous any more. BUT... DL has made friends with two boys who live walking distance from his new school. He mentioned that if he had a cell phone he could text us when he makes more spontaneous after-school plans with his friends. I think that is just great! (I guess is more reminiscent of my own childhood).

Anyway, he already has a phone, and it's just $6/month to add him to our Ting cell plan. I expect him to only text minimally, which wouldn't otherwise increase our bill. The kids mostly use Wifi to text and call their friends, so haven't had any interest in cell service.

We did check with MM(13) and he is okay with it. We were already discussing turning on his cell service this summer (just before high school). In the meantime, his school is in the middle of nowhere, his friends don't hang out, and MH picks him up early every day. He just doesn't care that his little brother has more use for a cell phone.

**Other than that, life has been busy. Work is really hectic this month because of a software conversion. As well as a lot of other things coming down the pipe line. Otherwise this would be the slowest month of the year for me. But yeah, it's all kind of insanity right now.

I had been feeling burned out and tried to get out of hosting Thanksgiving a couple of months ago, but no one was having it. I know the peers in our family (some with very small kids) always complain about the drive/traffic and legitimately wasn't sure if 90+ Grandma was up to it. But they insisted they all wanted to be up here. (We host because we live in lower cost city and have the most space. It's definitely the most pleasant and comfortable at our house).

Anyway, the stress of the election put me over the edge. I woke up Wendesday and told MH, "I can't do this". It was just the light bulb moment that I needed. I realized most years I don't break my foot and most years my child isn't a complete basket case. & most years work is a breeze during this time of year. What I thought was more of a multi-year fatigue was probably more about this year than anything. We just do a potluck and it's not like it puts us out too much. Maybe some of it is age and I've been a little more exhausted by it the last couple of years. But I realize even when I brought up a couple of months ago that it was probably more about how exhausted I already am by this year. I just wasn't being very conscious of that aspect. But it seemed very crystal clear to me when the stress got to be too much.

I was a little wary how MH's family would react. In fact, he was supposed to talk to his mom Friday night and he couldn't reach her. & yesterday I got an e-mail about how stressed out his family is. *sigh* (There's a new baby who has been in and out of the hospital plus his Grandma's apartment has water damage from the apartment above and she is temporarily displaced. & the grandmas in that family already do all the childcare so they are just being run ragged while the mom with the 4 little kids is in the hospital with baby). Logically, you think it would be easier on them not to spend 5+ hours in the car Thanksgiving Day, but we already gave them an out and they didn't seem to want to take it. I mean, they knew there would be a new baby and that it would be hectic. So... I am relieved to say that they were absolutely ecstatic when MH talked to them. Which is so stupid. Why wouldn't they tell us that they were stressed and they wanted to keep it local for them? That's less awkward than us saying, "We decided to have it at your house instead." I suppose maybe they hadn't had their light bulb moment yet. I knew logically this would be easier for them, but they didn't seem to agree the last time we brought it up.

Phew!

October Savings

October 30th, 2016 at 08:39 am

Received $43 bank interest for the month of October.

Snowflakes to Investments:

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

Redeemed $62 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $7 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$8 Savings from Target Red Card

Savings (From my paycheck):

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

Savings (From dh's paycheck):
+$ 500 to Investments

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$860 Auto maintenance/insurance/registration
-$280 Medical Bills
-$255 Hotel Deposit (40th Birthday)
-$185 Donations (just random stuff that came up)
- $50 School Expenses

In addition, I pulled $350 from mid-term savings to cover some tree trimming and shrub removal.

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

Our fiscal year is just about over. I paid all of the November bills already. Mostly expecting any expenses this month to affect our 2016 bottom line, but anything that comes up in December will most likely be charged and paid off in 2017.

This month was pretty boring on the financial front. As planned, we funded our VR splurge with MH's income. (I've already paid off October charges, so it's paid for). The other 50% went into his 401k.

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

That reminds me, I also sold the knee scooter. We had paid for it with focus group cash that MH had received the day before we bought the scooter. Since we had paid $150 for it, we just listed it for $150. it sold easily at that price. Net cost was $0 to use it.

I decided to just use that cash for MM's gymnastics, since they only take cash. This should cover him for the rest of the year (particularly with all of the holidays). I also used some of the cash for a school fundraiser. I will account for gymnastics somehow when I do the 2017 budget. But for this year I was able just to wing it.

2016 Rewards Tally

October 30th, 2016 at 08:11 am

2016 TALLY:

$208 Cash (Barclay Card, Moi)
$250 Gift Cards (AmEx Green, Moi)
-----------
$458 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

Other Rewards:

$25 credit AmEx (For Hulu)

$40 Citi Price Rewind

Ongoing rewards (through 10/31):

+$50 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back; health insurance charged to this card)
**PHASED OUT AND REPLACED WITH CITI 2% CARD**

+$375 AmExRewards (6% cash back groceries/3% fuel)

+$65 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)

+$74 Visa Rewards (3% back at restaurants, inflated by large vacation spending this year)

+$628 Citi 2% card (2% back everywhere - health insurance/medical is the big expenses that we charge, is more than our mortgage payments)

Grand Total = $1,715

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

Probably one of our worst years in a long while. I expect there is some element of MH working and not needing to seek out the extra snowflakes as much. BUT... I think more to the point is our lack of eligibility for the usual cash back cards that we use. Chase won't give us any rewards.

I suppose the timing is okay since we are less reliant on rewards for extra breathing room.

One of us is eligible for a Citi Thank You reward but I even read somewhere that those are drying up. But, with the recent $500 splurge on VR, I'd really like to cover that purchase with a credit card reward. So I will continue to keep my eye out. The year is not over yet!

Some Health Updates

October 22nd, 2016 at 09:17 am

**Really worried about my husband. He thinks he has an ulcer but it kind of came out of nowhere and knocked him off his feet. My gut feeling is that something really is not right.

Anyway, he went to the Doctor immediately and won't get ulcer test results until Monday. But in the meantime his Doctor had him do a bunch of other blood tests and his iron is crazy low. I don't know if she will contact him again before Monday, but you know, since he eats a well rounded diet, is not pregnant, is not female/menstruating, is perfectly healthy otherwise, etc. Sounds like internal bleeding. (Long-term internal bleeding??) We are prepared to take him to emergency if he exhibits any symptoms they told us to be careful about. (More severe internal bleeding symptoms were basically the reason to go to ER).

Otherwise, I suppose we find out more on Monday.

*sigh*

**In good news, DL(11) has completely snapped out of his funk. Life is back to normal.

We've not ruled out a mood disorder or something along those lines. I feel like we aren't being taken very seriously because he is so high functioning, which can be very good but can also be very bad. That's very typical in my family. (These are the type people who just randomly commit suicide "out of nowhere" because they can appear to keep it together for a long time. Just to point out why it's problematic). But we were referred to getting more professional help because the school counselor was dumbfounded by him and VERY concerned. It's just that by the time we got him into any help he was back to a range of normal. So I know that my worries are not over-blown but there's not going to be much that we can figure out or diagnose while he is in "happy land".

**In super good news... MH's Grandfather had been ill for a long time and after what seemed like a bazillion tests, they were not finding anything. I think they were just getting resigned to it being old age.

But... He snapped out of it and seems to be returning to normal. After pressing his Doctors about if he could have had some kind of virus, they finally ran some other blood tests.

You will never believe what he had. He's 89 & he had... MONO

Considering that mono almost killed me the month I turned 18... I told MH that his grandfather will live to 110. Wink I expect he had a much milder case. From what we had heard, was none of the typical symptoms. But it looks like most people get mono (or are exposed to the virus) before 30 or something like that. I guess nothing typical about it.

So I guess that's a lot of good news but some worrisome news too.

Doings

October 16th, 2016 at 05:51 am

**MH won $75 at work. More on that below.

**MM got accepted into a study that will probably pay him $300 next month. (It's $100 per visit, and depends if he passes the first one or two screenings. If accepted, it's a 4-year study and they may randomly choose MM for follow ups later). This is an autism study.

I've said in the past that the kids don't really have anything to save up for, so am just thinking longer term. (Just different times, different circumstances. Seems I had more ways to spend money as a kid). BUT... When discussing the possibility of a study (another one that paid $200 up front) MM mentioned that he wanted a new desktop computer. We agreed to buy him a monitor and a OS (probably can get a student-priced OS) and would cover 50% of the rest. He was probably going to have to come up with $300, and then this study just fell into his lap. If the study doesn't pan out for any reason, he has the money saved already.

I am glad he is going through the ropes of a more medium purchase before he buys something like a car. He's going to build his own computer. Right now all he has is a keyboard and a mouse (that he uses with his laptop).

That's the income side of things.

On the spending side of things...

**MH had pre-ordered the PlayStation Virtual Reality system (for about $500).

It is pretty freaking AMAZING. (Seriously, it's hard to imagine this is just the bottom/intro. They are going to do amazing things with VR).

It's the kind of thing we've been paying with credit card rewards (for the past several years). So I was thinking I should probably look for a $500 reward. I know there was one I was eligible for again this month, but it looks like that particular reward has dried up, as many of the others have.

I told MH that we had a good run, but we might not be able to find big bonuses any more. (& not that they don't exist, but if we've done them 3 times already they aren't going to let us do the same bonus again).

I will of course keep an eye out, but I am not expecting much on this front. The cc rewards were a nice income stream while MH was out of work. Plan A was that we were just paying from his income anyway.

We decided that MH should use his found $75 for some games. He already spent $25 (bought the VR game that everyone is raving about the most) and is keeping the other $50 for whatever strikes his fancy between now and Christmas. Otherwise the VR system came with some demos/games and he had bought some play station credits on sale a while ago (25% off?) that he has been using.

In general, MH and the kids aren't big game spenders. But it helps when $75 falls out of the sky like the day you get your new VR system. Big Grin (Otherwise, they are filling up their Christmas wish list and will keep an eye on the used market).

Other spending has been far more boring and mundane...

I hired out someone to get our trees trimmed and to pull out dead shrubs. A LOT of work. We had never trimmed the trees (just one monster tree in the back that *really* needed to be tamed). I mean, we did minor pruning that we could do on our own, but the trees are 15 years old at this point and need more work. In the end, monster tree is still enough of a baby that they said we wouldn't need to do a big pruning for another 5 years. The shrubs that the builder had put in all died in the drought (because we couldn't water enough in summer). I think except for two trees in the front, everything else we had put in. It's a hot/dry climate in general so we always need plants that need very little water. I am pleased that everything else seems to have done well with very little water.

**Yesterday I took MM out shopping. He needed a new backpack and a new jacket.

We stopped by Ross, who had TONS of backpacks a couple of weeks ago, but had since cleared out the inventory. But we found a $20 jacket that was just about perfect. My only concern was that it was a bit bulky, as to something to just keep in a backpack (since my kids mostly refuse to wear jackets. It mostly sits in the backpack to appease the teachers who freak out about their lack of warm weather wear).

So... We went over to Target. We found a $30 backpack that he liked. (I told him not to take off the tags until he is sure everything fits).

And... We found his dream jacket. Super light and thin, just for the rain. It was something like $32. I said "whatever" because he was so pleased with it and I knew it would fit way better in his backpack. It wasn't until I got home that I even realized that jacket was on clearance. Yeesh! (Full price $45?) Since they mostly never wear their jackets I am used to just buying whatever on clearance (more in the $10 range). But with MH working and MM being a teenager, I am trying to let his taste come more into play. Thank goodness for places like Ross. & we could probably hit the thrift stores too, but it's just something I haven't done in so long (almost a decade?) with access to such cheap clearance items. I stopped shopping thrift when Target opened a store near our home. The kids' clothes is most often in the $5 range. Plus I can just order online and have it shipped free to my house. & Ross isn't too far off from that for adult clothing. But... Given our finds yesterday, I suppose we need to re-visit thrift options too.

MH has lots of time to kill (in the vicinity of Ross) while he waits for MM to finish his math class, so I will just have him return the other jacket during the week.

I didn't pick anything else up at Target. It's how I have been since we got a Target credit card. I generally would never do a store credit card and feel uncomfortable with it, but we got the cc because we do primarily grocery shopping there and the 5% off is pretty sweet. I think my reaction to that was to just avoid Target like the plague. I just didn't need any additional temptation. & so is the irony that I have probably never spent less money at Target. I mean, how many years have we had this credit card? At least a few years at this point. I no longer equate Target with hobby shopping or perusing. Just in and out with a list. & I don't think it's an overly conscious thing but it's just how my mindset shifted with the credit card.

Ross is another story. I didn't have my internal alarms turned up, and so my attitude was completely different in Ross. I fell in love with a $10 blanket that I happened to walk by. I actually resisted it the first pass, but then decided I couldn't remember the last time I bought myself something. Just $10! So I am glad I decided to splurge. (The blanket is very soft and just gorgeous).

I also found a drawstring bag (but more sturdier/higher quality) for $3 and so I just grabbed it for our re-usable bag stash. Reminds me that MH also got a free bag from work.


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