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February Savings

March 1st, 2015 at 08:26 am

Received $42 bank interest for the month of February.

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

Redeemed $50 credit card rewards to our ROTH

Savings (From paycheck):

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

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

I updated sidebar for all of the above.

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

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

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


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

January Savings

February 2nd, 2015 at 06:00 am

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

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

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

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

snowflakes into investment account:

$68 cc rewards (per above)

Savings (From paycheck):

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

I updated sidebar for all of the above.

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

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

Fiscal Updates

May 24th, 2014 at 07:24 am

Fiscally, things are going quite well.

*knock on wood*

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

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

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

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


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

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

This & That

January 17th, 2014 at 12:20 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

First 2014 Snowflakes

January 1st, 2014 at 07:51 am

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

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

So... Snowflakes it is!

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

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

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

January snowflakes:

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

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

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

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

Snowflakes 2014: $275

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

Big Milestones Surpassed!

May 15th, 2013 at 06:56 am

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How To Track Savings Subaccounts

January 20th, 2013 at 08:00 am

Petunia asked me some questions about my savings methods, and I thought she might find my method useful.

I found this idea on a personal finance blog many moons ago. I don't remember what blog. I would much prefer to link the clear and concise instructions I read many years ago. Big Grin But I will try my best.

One banking benefit that I really don't give a flip about is subaccounts. My spreadsheet method is an alternative to relying on bank functionality.

I suppose I do it this way is so that I can completely divorce *where* my money is from *what* it is. My banking strategy is basically to find the consistently highest interest rates with the least hassle and fees. My savings strategy is to save x for a and to save y for b. Combining the two strategies gives me a headache. Using a spreadsheet just keeps it separate.

At current I basically have 3 savings accounts. I always keep a token amount in my old account when I find a better interest rate and move to a new account. So I will in general always have two online savings accounts. I will close the lowest performing account when I find a better interest rate elsewhere, so there is always generally two accounts. I also have a savings account at my primary credit union, linked to my checking account. I always keep about $1,000 in there. Give or take, it doesn't have to be exact. (My checking account is little more than a conduit, I always run it to $0. The $1,000 account means I don't literally only have $0 at my disposal. You could call it a baby emergency fund. The interest rate sucks, but I have instant access to it. Though frankly, the primary reason I have/use the account is so that I don't transfer money back and forth to other accounts very frequently. You will see what I mean...).

FIRST, you do not need any fancy software to track subaccounts. I use openoffice. You can download it for free. (It is virtually identical to Excel - which just cost a LOT more). Or if you have any other spreadsheet software at your disposal...

I will start with the main sheet and then drill down:

My sub-accounts are: Short-term cash, mid-term cash, medical fund, and cash Efund. (Your subaccounts can be anything and everything. Vacation Funds, down payment funds, debt payoff funds, car replacement funds, however you organize things).

The totals for the subaccounts are being pulled from other spreadsheets. I have one "sheet" for each subaccount.

This first sheet reconciles the total in each subaccount with the grand total of all my savings accounts. **I just manually enter the bank balances at the end of the month.** I check that it is balanced about once every month (after the end of the month). If the difference between both totals is -zero-, then there is success!!

**You do not have to limit yourself to cash. If you have bonds, mutual funds, stocks, whatever, same method can be used.**

Okay, now for the subaccounts.

Let's start with an easy one:

CASH EFUND. This balance has been $5k *forever.* I don't have to do much with this.

My medical savings is the same kind of thing.

The ones I update regularly are the short-term and the mid-term, as I save a set amount monthly towards these savings accounts:

As I mentioned before, the totals just automatically flow through to my first subaccount Total sheet.

I generally enter the income and the outflow to these subaccounts as I make the transfers or payments. Since I generally charge everything, I usually do all this ahead of time before I actually need the money or do the actual transfers. BUT this should still work fine for a more cash method. You don't want to make 10 transfers every month from your bank account (there are legal limits and penalties for that kind of thing!). But, the money I transfer every month generally serves as a buffer until I finalize it all at the end of the month. If I have plenty of money in my checking account I might do my regular "to savings transfers" at the beginning of the month, and figure out what I need to transfer back, later. BUT, if not, I just leave it all to figure at the end of the month. Many months the two figures (to savings/from savings) are kind of a wash. I most often do just one transfer a month, and I will explain that at the end.

**I do think using an electronic check register, like Quicken, is essential with the way I do things. I often just move things around so that my checking balance is always positive. This is far more complicated to do with pen and paper. In a really spendy month I can easily rejigger in Quicken - change a payment date here and there.**

Anyway, so I jot it all down as the info becomes available, but put an "x" next to each transaction when I literally record it in Quicken (or you could do the same when you record it into whatever kind of check register you use - paper or electronic). When I record it in Quicken is not necessarily when transfers are made. This just means, I didn't forget anything in my check register. If everything has an "x", everything will easily reconcile, UNLESS I messed up a spreadsheet formula. Which is usually what throws me off once in a blue moon.

Okay, so now that you see the nitty gritty details for each account, let's go back to the summary.

Got it?


Two more notes:

This is what my $1,000 linked savings account (with crappy interest) generally looks like:

I am not a stickler on the $1,000. It's just if the amount starts to get to be more than $1,000 at the end of every single month, then I know I have some money to transfer to my higher interest savings. Likewise, if the account balance is $5,000, but I know I have $4,000 in bills coming up - I just leave the $5,000 in there.


** I do not do 10+ transfers per month to/from my savings accounts!**

I generally do one transfer per month.

What I do is add up all the money I need to transfer back out of savings (adding up all the little things in my spreadsheets), and put the total in my Quicken register (check register). That could be one total for 10 transactions.

In this example I needed to transfer $1,665 for several different insurances and expenses. This my checking account register:

It's really this simple. I need to transfer $1900 to savings, but I need to pull out $1,665 for expenses. SO, the net is $235.

What I actually do is just transfer $235 to savings. The End!

{Looking at the savings register above, before this last check register, you will note I did just *one* 12/30 transfer for a heck of a lot of transactions. There were like 8 transactions - all I did was transfer $570 to savings at the end of the month}.

**Quicken is a little finicky about this. What I do is delete all savings transfers when they download, and hit the "reconcile" button. I find if I do it this way, and manually reconcile the savings transfers, it works beautifully. If you try to finalize the reconciliation automatically, during the download process - which is quite easy to do by accident - then things can get messy. & it won't let you go back and mark off the savings transfers to make it balance. But after a while you know better NOT to do that. You will learn quickly once you figure out how to make it work. The trick is to choose to reconcile *before* closing off the "accept/match transactions" screen.**

So there you have it. What appears to be a little bit complicated actually just makes my life VERY simple.


For the spreadsheet uneducated, I found this. I am sure there are also lots of useful internet and library resources. My spreadsheets that I have shared are VERY basic.



I also use spreadsheets to track our net worth, and to track all things financial. ALSO is really great for loan amortizations. Etc., etc.

2012 Was Prosperous

December 30th, 2012 at 07:33 am

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

Net Worth

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

Total Net Worth: +$108,000

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

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

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



Income was *awesome* this year.

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

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

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



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

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

The variable expenses breakdown:

--Dining Out - spent $600 less

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

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

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

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

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

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

**Consistent expenses:

--Auto (fuel, insurance maintenance)

--Groceries (almost to the penny)


--Utilities (traded cable for smart phones)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Little Things add Up

November 3rd, 2012 at 10:51 am

Oops - the site ate my post!! I usually copy and paste and all that but wasn't thinking. Grrr...

I added a page to my side bar.


I don't know if I will keep up with it, but trying to remember to share all the little savings.

Surprisingly, I've been able to come up with something every day. Saved almost $100 this month, already.

Most of it is pretty usual.

Of note, I had to do some back to school type shopping for BM. The kids rarely wear pants, but I guess BM's new school campus is on the cold side. Considering it's like pulling teeth to get them to wear pants in January (when it's often 30 degrees when they walk to school), it must be really COLD!

So, usually I don't buy a whole school wardrobe, and try to hit the thrift shops or wait for a sale. But it was rather last minute and I couldn't remember the last time I bought any school clothes. So I hit Target for that yesterday.

They also had some really nice jackets at Target, but none in his size. They weren't online at all. I will be in San Jose today so crossing my fingers that the closest Target to my folks house has some jackets in his size!

While perusing online for school pants, I found some clearance items at Kohls. They might be good items for the kids to give each other for Christmas - so they might reimburse me for those. If not - presents or stocking stuffers.

Reminds me, I am not doing any Christmas preparations because I am mostly *out* of the Christmas spending. Dh's family goes big, but they also give us cash - so they just pay for their own presents and dh takes care of all that. IT's not just us - no one else we know is just into the materialism. So it's been a pretty mutual thing over the years with the rest of our friends and relatives.

Anyway, I asked dh yesterday what he was thinking about the kids for Christmas, because I was thinking the $20 I spent yesterday was probably enough. (Dh will get free books and games, and already bought them a few things throughout the year). Thankfully, he was totally on the same page. Phew! We both agreed they were WAY spoiled last year and for their birthdays, and so we look forward to an uber modest Christmas under our own roof. Dh is into having the kids buy us and each other gifts to teach them money management skills, which is fair enough, but I am not even into that so much any more. I think I am just so over the materialism of it all. I don't remember the last time dh and I regularly bought each other gifts. I have no gifts in mind for dh - he is spoiled too. Big Grin


P.S. I really like creditcardfree's snowflake posts. I suppose I wanted to share as a reminder that there are probably 1 million ways to snowflake. I know we all do it a little differently. I think my snowflakes are heavy on the credit card rewards (which have been more like giant snowballs the last couple of years - yeesh!)

All the little savings aside, last month we actually pocketed $578 cash from other income sources:

$85 focus group
$10 sold costume
$8 ATT settlement
$470 credit card rewards
$5 sold old cellphone to Sprint

I will include all this stuff in my "Little Things Add Up" page - going forward.

Mortgage Milestone

September 25th, 2011 at 10:05 am

Was just paying the October bills since we will be on vacation soon. Making sure everything is in order and paid ahead of time.

I am not 100% sure, but think we have reached the milestone of lowest mortgage balance ever. $201,333. Woohoo! (Hard to tell because all I have record of is some mortgage payoff when we sold our first home - the payoff included interest).

We are on track to hit $199,999 by 12/31. I expect a $250 Christmas bonus, and so just have to scrounge $165 Christmas money to top it off. $199,999 will most definitely be the lowest mortgage balance we have ever had. Big Grin

& so I welcome FORWARD PROGRESS.

Story is that our first mortgage was $210k or so (for just a condo). But we traded for a luxurious home (+ yard and garage and stuff like that) for a $230k-ish mortgage. My dh also got laid off and we had a child, so we dropped the 15-year mortgage. Which basically means it took us, oh, 10 years to get back to where we started. A $202,000 or so mortgage. But, you know, no complaining here. The infinitely nicer home, and the spouse not working for a decade - all that is 100% WORTH IT. But I am just excited to make FORWARD PROGRESS. Versus, owing as much at age 34 that I did at age 24.

In another 10 years, we pretty much expect to have our home paid off. (I can handle the 15-year amortization, and dh doesn't need to bring in that much income to knock off 5 more years).

Woohoo to forward progress!

The super plus side is that we were paying in the realm of $1800/month for a smaller mortgage in the year 2001. 15-year amortization. For the next year, looks like we can cobble together $1400/month to the same end (15-year payoff). Low mortgage rates are definitely not all bad. (We can't even justify refinancing below 4.875%). That said, if interest rates stay low, and we can knock off enough principal, we will refinance to a 15-year. I am salivating at 3.25% rates. We just aren't quite there yet.

Hard to whine since we are saving $400/month over our last 15-year amortization. 10 years ago I was paying $1800/month for a flipping condo in a so-so neighborhood. Today we pay $1400/month to pay off dream home in 15 years (same mortgage balance). I suppose we have experienced much forward progress - just nice to move forward with the debt numbers, too.

It's Official - No Cable

September 22nd, 2011 at 11:39 am

Dh did well!

We had discussed what to do if cable company offered incentive to stay. Since past cable companies seemed to care less if we left, I really didn't expect anything. BUT, told dh kind of no matter what it was, I think we were pretty committed to trying no cable for 6 months.

Anyway, today was the big day.

Apparently, our full cable/phone/internet bill is $196 or so. We have been paying about $165 on a one-year contract. I figure cable was about $100 or so of that.

So, they offered dh $105/month.

Honestly, not bad. Not bad at all! SO, I am proud that he declined.

What's even better is that on a contract, they gave us $50/month for phone/internet. This is smoking fast fiber optic internet. No one else offers it, and there is no way in heck we would drop it for anything else. So, I don't mind the contract.

& so it is OFFICIAL! We are a no-cable household. For 6 months, at least. Ideally. Assuming dh doesn't cave. I still don't foresee caving, myself. Hulu has annoyed me, but I think that means I will just be more of a Netflix and a "watch after the fact" type. Like, instead of suffering through commercials, I rather just wait a couple of years until these shows come out on DVD. I can already tell that rather than seeking out my old usual shows, I will probably drop them for easier to watch shows on netflix.


With the new internet deal, we will save exactly $100 per month. Comes out to about $115, but Hulu will cost about $15/month. So, $100/month savings.

Dh may need to buy 2 antennas for network TV, but they are only $20-ish, each. We have one, but I guess it's older and they switched things around so it doesn't get all the channels it could otherwise. So, we hooked it up to our main TV, for now, to get some channels. We may invest in 2 antennas so we have sports for relatives, public TV access, access to live news, etc. On both TVs.

We subscribe to both netflix and Blockbuster, regardless.

We will be buying some shows off of Amazon (streaming). The only thing we have discussed specifically, is Breaking Bad. We are in the middle of the season, and there is only one more season left, after this one. We want to see it through (& it's certainly worth paying for!!). But, that's about it so far.


$100/month savings goes to mortgage, for now. For next year, will probably go to ROTHs, but we should be maxed out for 2010.

Of course, if we drop cable indefinitely, dh is going to start begging for a smart phone. Will see... The data plan on ONE smart phone is significantly cheaper than cable. But, then it is just MORE contracts and all that. & we will probably have to change carriers - and our cell plan is currently pretty darn cheap. We shall see!

Credit Card Reward Round Total Update & Mortgage Update

September 7th, 2011 at 01:00 pm

Officially Received, between 1/1/11 and 9/7/11:

$1030 cash (Chase Sapphire)
$1015 gift cards (Citi $500 + SW rewards $500)
$ 350 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex)
-$99 annual fee (SW card)
-$23 lost value for exchanging some Citi gift cards for cash and amazon gift cards
$2273 TOTAL


Dh is still due $200 cash from Chase.

=$2473 TOTAL

Today I signed dh up for a reduced Southwest deal. Deal is to make one purchase, pay a $69 fee, and get $250 in amazon gift cards. (HE is eyeing the new kindle, so this will cover it. & how easy is it to just make one purchase)?

I've got my eye on a Citi deal - $300 gift card reward + no fee first year. BUT, I am going to hold out a bit and see if I can get a better direct mail offer. Or, maybe close all the other cards before I start this merry-go-round again. I think you have to spend $1500 in 3 months? I am waiting to redeem that $200 cash from Chase in a couple of weeks. So, I will re-evaluate at that time. For now, the SW card was a no-brainer since it only involved one purchase. Anything more complicated than that, I rather close the chapter on all the other cards first!


If I get that $300 deal, I will probably turn it into cash for the school. Will see!



Expect to make an extra $450 mortgage payment this month, with credit card rewards.

This puts the balance to about $201,750. I had expected to use savings/Christmas money, etc. to pay this down to my $199,999 goal, but doesn't seem too necessary. Normal principal is around $300/month, and I can add $250/month for the rest of the year with no cable + payroll tax holiday (& piano lessons covered by MIL). So, that about covers it.

This is good, because I probably need to divert about $1500 from savings, to max out our ROTHs in 2011. We are on track to put in a full $10k this calendar year, but also diverted a LOT of that to fund tax year 2010. So, I ran the numbers and a $1500 deposit will get us maxed out by April.

I am keeping an eye on the market. If it REALLY tanks, I will slip in that $1500 earlier. IF not, will wait until the last minute (either December or April - just depends). For now, seems like lots of downward pressure on the markets, so I will wait it out and build up more cash, first.

$30,000 cash goal is still so close but so far!! Kids have dental appointments today, which is never good news! I also need to set aside about $1500 for taxes. (The usual was not withheld from my overtime - so will owe)! & that ROTH money I just mentioned. & so it goes - on and on and on!


I got $10 off at Kohls (Kohls cash) for buying stuff with my free gift card. Woohoo! (I think usually when I spend enough to get Kohls cash - the last thing I need to do is go shopping there again)! But this was a little different.

I also have a 20% off coupon, so will buy myself a treat today. Probably a nice top that I can wear to work. I don't think I've bought any work clothes this year, and I am feeling the boring-ness of my wardrobe.

Insurance Savings

May 1st, 2011 at 07:29 am

We never keep collision/comprehensive long on our cars. Mostly because we tend to drive really old/inexpensive cars.

When we picked up HBO for a few months to watch a new series ($5/month) I recalled that we still had comprehensive on dh's car. (It's worth $2k at most, is 10 years old, has a high deductible anyway, and we have the cash to replace it with a 1-year-old car we have our eye on for next vehicle).

I don't remember precisely when we dropped collision - but it was years ago. Comprehensive was far cheaper, and we seem to have high odds of flood/auto theft. Which mattered more when the car was worth twice as much as it is now and we had no intention of replacing it barring worst case scenario.

Dropping it saves about $60/year - or enough for one year of HBO. Woohoo!


I think my newspaper just saved me $150. Paid for itself this year.

Read about State Farm's "Drive Safe and Save" program:


I skeptically looked it up not expecting it to apply to us, etc. In the past you had to drive less than 7500 miles per year to qualify for any low driving discount.

Looked it up, and low and behold, discount applies to less than 19k miles driven per year. More discount the less you drive.

We drive both our cars about 10k per year, on average. Looks like we will save 5% or 8% off of our premiums.

It took a click of the button to sign up.

I registered the van, which probably will yield the bigger savings. (We drive it far less when gas prices are high, and is the more expensive insurance since it is newer and has full coverage).

I couldn't register the gas sipper, so I e-mailed my agent to ask why not. I didn't see any reason why I shouldn't be able to. Discount applies to almost everything - not just collision/comprehensive.

He probably thinks I lost my job or something. Fishing for those pennies! I just talked to him about the comprehensive last week.

Will see. Very little effort to save $200-ish per year. Big Grin

I have no idea why I have not heard of this program! So I had to share. That said, it is only available in 4 states. Keep an eye out though - wonder if this will become more common.

Mortgage Update

April 5th, 2011 at 07:24 am

I am copying Petunia's idea.

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

But, here goes:

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


March 12th, 2011 at 04:32 pm

Received $850 this week.

Dh gave me $50 from his focus group. ($15 of $65 went to kids' allowances).

Got $300 from a relative for taxes.

Got $500 from MIL, for 6 months' piano lessons.

Total $850.

I am also expecting $110 from my mom (1/2 cell phone bill 2 months) + $40 from Amazon sales.

I decided to put $80 of the gift money/amazon sales to the mortgage. Will make $130 in extra payments total - just like last month.

If I transferred $680 to savings, the balance should be $9000 (mid-term savings) by end of the month, once interest hits. Sounds good to me. How I determined how much to put to the mortgage. The rest above the $9k mark.

I had expected to put the focus group money + $100 from savings, for some expenses last month.

So, paid for that out of the surprise money. All taken care of!


Next month will be another nice month. $1150 in medial bills due, but I Expect $2k-$3k from work overtime, to replenish the medical deductible fund.

This is one way I found to fund our ROTHs, even with 10% cut in compensation. I usually save $250/month for the medical deductible. This year I am depositing that in my ROTH. It's kind of depressing to put 100% of my overtime to medical bills. But, it is what it is. In fact, there is a chance that we might not even use it all next year.

As such, it's kind of nice to get a small boost to other savings this month.

I actually don't mind putting 100% of my overtime to savings. There is nothing I rather do with it. It is 100% to "medical savings" that just isn't very exciting. But, I will get over it.

Of course, I have been motivated to work more overtime, in the offchance I can take home more than $3000 and can do something else with the rest (like put some in the ROTHs).

10% to retirement - or close enough

March 11th, 2011 at 07:15 am

Was able to fund 10% to 2010. Woohoo!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

& so it has.

So how did we do it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10% - DONE.

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


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

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

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

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


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

Unexpected cash is going to cash savings, for now.


February 16th, 2011 at 06:53 pm

I got a rebate check for my disability premiums, today. This makes the cost the equivalent of $150 per year for good disability insurance. (Sounds crazy but it is true). It is through my professional association, and so I suppose accountants don't get disabled as often as other professions. Accordingly, hard to beat these rates. I suppose my membership due would also sway those costs, but my employers have always paid for that part.

Short-term disability is actually mandatory to have in California (paid through payroll taxes), so I also have a one-year waiting period for the long-term policy, which significantly decreased the cost, as I recall. Short term disability pays about as well. (maybe $3500/month versus $4k per month).

Anyway, I hadn't looked at where I was for the end of the month. Dh took out $40 for some game buying/selling, but I got a $70 amazon deposit today (game sales). What a day, huh?

I needed to buy another set of aerobics classes ($30) and I ended up being about $50 short in the check book, after all that. At face value, the school charity dinner came from cash flow (which is impossible) so instead of transferring the money from savings, it will come from my insurance rebate.

This leaves about exactly $60, which I added to the mortgage payment.

As it stands, I want to come up with another $2k for the mortgage, this year. IT will be interesting to see what else we can come up with. During summer we tend to splurge this kind of stuff (rebates) on outings, etc. BUT, this time of year - we are bloated on stuff from Christmas, the weather sucks, and I am working 6 days a week. To the mortgage. Where else would it go? Usually cash savings or retirement, but this year we have mortgage front of mind.

IT is working well because dh is more motivated by mortgage pay down. I will have to meditate on that next year when the mortgage might not be my primary goal. I don't know why I didn't figure this out sooner. If I want him to get a job, I just have to talk about the mortgage a lot. Hmmmmm... Talking about IRAs is just not his language, for whatever reason. HE is crazy debt adverse, but he is also a huge saver. I have said before, I think not working just doesn't make the IRAs that much of a priority. I just wish he cared more about me being able to retire some day too. Big Grin

I can just see it now - when he returns to work we will agree 100% his income to mortgage. You will all tell me that's crazy, and I will say, hey, we SAVE more this way. You got to play the psychological angle once in a while.

Lunch Update - Part II

February 1st, 2011 at 06:50 pm

For February Lunch Challenge:

Lunch In: 1
Lunch Out: 0

Breakfast - granola bar, apple sauce
Lunch - leftover pasta casserole
snacks - yogurt, raisins

Boss gave away some *old* soda (not old at all) and so I caved and had a can of soda with lunch.

For dinner, dh made this really good smoked chicken enchilada casserole. REALLY good - the recipe is not available online at the moment. I would share, otherwise (a Taste of Home Recipe).


Not sure I will eat out this week at all. Wanted to do a lunch date with dh. Thursday is some kind of school thing (LM is performing), and Friday we already have dinner plans. Tomorrow the kids get out of school early. But will suggest early lunch.

Since dh has no kids and more time lately, we have talked a lot about him coming to meet me for more lunches. BUT, I just got a good coupon for our favorite buffet and coupons for a new Thai restaurant in my neighborhood. My boss lives so close to work - I should ask him to keep all his coupons and give them to me! What I need is some coupons for destinations closer to work.

Anyway, maybe tomorrow would work better if I met dh closer to home. Sushi buffet for lunch. YUM. If we do that - will eat well this week.


Today I got paid. Zapped the deposit online so should show up tomorrow.

Every January I reshuffle everything. See what can be paid with what paycheck. Since everything seems to change. Anyway, it looks like I can pay everything. Mortgage and big credit card gets paid closer to the 30th. Everything else can come out of my 1st check of the month.

So, once my paycheck clears I will send $2k to the credit card (to pay off surgery deposit). I am pleased I can fund our ROTHs, etc., since I initially thought I'd have to wait for my next paycheck. I need to set the ROTH contributions to pull automatically every month. I need to pay all the credit cards (Visa, Target card). Everything else has been set up to pay via credit card or online banking. I just had to wait to the end of the month to see how much the card balances ended up (paid off monthly).


We've had the American Express card a few months. 2% of every purchase should automatically go to ROTH.


I set it up automatically but it didn't transfer.

I tried to redeem "one time" but the link didn't work.

Today another blogger mentioned some sort of credit card rewards and it jogged my memory. The link actually worked so supposedly $50 is being transferred. Said it may take 30 days. Rolleyes

I hope the link is working in a few days since with the medical bills I might actually have $100 more to redeem come February 4th. If I don't make it, will be $50 in a few days, and another $50 in a month. I will claim success once I get any of this money in my ROTH!

Score one for the Savers...

April 20th, 2010 at 02:20 pm

What advantage do savers have?

Rock bottom prices on just about everything, while the economy is sour.

I am so ecstatic - just got a quote to paint our house.

Was discussing with a co-worker, who told me she had been quoted $5k to paint her house, in the last few years. I was expecting $5k-$6k, but saw some lowball adds for the pre-season, and was deciding if we should just bite.

I also blogged how this looked like a case where painting 2 stories cost twice as much as one. I always roll my eyes when people say a house like ours cost twice as much as a house like theirs (to maintain, to heat, to cool, etc.). In general, I have not found that to be the case, at all. This little known thing called, "economies of scale."

But, anyway, from everything I heard, I thought this assertion was correct for house painting.

So, answered an add for a $2000-$3500 paint job (2 story quote) and almost fell over when the guy quotes us $2200.

I do think he was salivating over all the "badly needing paint job" homes in our neighborhood. Good luck with that - most of them are bank owned. Wink But I wouldn't be surprised if we got a bit of a discount for the potential business.

I suppose I should have asked why we luck out on the low end. All I could figure is that our house is very square. Really, that's probably it. (Maybe I underestimate the amount of McMansions in the area, too). They do have a lot of cracks to fill and windows to tape off, so I wish them good luck with that. Glad I don't have to do it. (Oh yeah, I thought the tall height of our house would be another big issue - apparently it doesn't matter to them).

The cheapest this guy paints is for $1700. So, I am happy to say, in this case, it won't cost twice as much as if we had a smaller home.

It's raining cats and dogs today, so I am not sure where that leaves us. (I thought we were done with rain). But we may get our house painted in the next week or 2. Dh and I will discuss our final decision tonight. I couldn't find the paint color for our shutters, so may have to ask my neighbor. Since my feeling on price was so *off* we may get some other quotes. Who knows, but we liked the guy and he looked good on paper.

I am going to start talking to the neighbors about replacing our fence. Just feel them out. If they are too broke, or totally uninterested, so be it. But there has got to be bargains to be had. I kind of don't want to have to scramble while the fence is blown down or anything. Our renter neighbors just moved out and they had a TON of pets. Now would be a good time. Though I have no idea how to get ahold of the landlord. May be worth it just doing it ourselves. Small yards mean cheap fences. But I want something little better quality than the builder put in. It would be nice if the neighbors agreed and pitched in, but will see.


This year really isn't the greatest for us financially. BUT, on the flip side, we have more means than we have had in a while, to do a lot of put off projects. Throw in the prices for the sour economy, and it means we can stretch our dollars further. Maybe it's good we didn't necessarily have the cash for this in the boom.

The irony is that this completely confuses people like my MIL. We basically live the same, financially. We really couldn't be much more alike. But, she has a REALLY hard time understanding other people's priorities. Like, if I didn't have $2k+ sitting around to drop everything and go to Florida for a week. I protested that we didn't have the money. Maybe I should have said, "We have too many other financial priorities right now."

When we got sick of hearing how cheap dh's surgery would be, and pointed out it wasn't "free" like she imagined, means we must be broke. All she knows is "free healthcare." Dh told her we had the cash to pay the bills, but she just couldn't get past why we had any medical bills.

I can just hear it now. "I thought the surgery was SO expensive. How can you afford all this stuff?"

We also have more cash than we have had in a while. This year isn't really a great year for us financially. I did take a 10% hit to compensation. We are still riding the wave of 2009 though. We lowered our house payment by $200/month and cut our preschool costs by about as much. We have cash for LONG put-off projects. Low prices in this economy just means it's a good time to jump on these things.

That is the other thing with MIL - she always was over-estimates what we pay for things. She was JUST bragging to me the other day that they paid $15k or so for THEIR car. (You should have heard this conversation!) I didn't say anything. Dh's car cost $8k, and mine, $12k. Who is she trying to impress? She has made a lot of weird comments about our van, and it was thay conversation that made me realize she thinks we paid $20k for it or something. As did a lot of people, when we bought it. I thought *she* was smarter than that. Apparently not. Is that why she always looks at our van in disgust? She's always had issues with it - I have no idea why. Maybe I should have bragged we only paid $12k for the van. With her, it's just best not to say anything though.


Oh, in other news, I made an optometry appointment. My eyes haven't really changed and I have a spectacular pair of glasses. Which means, it feels very suddenly that I haven't had an eye exam in about 6 years. I know - egads.

I haven't had glasses all my life and just haven't got in a groove. I know I should go in more often.

SO, I decided to just make an appointment with my HMO (Easiest). I actually have VSP through my employer. Really, the only benefit I do have, at this point. BUt, we used our deductible and rather just go there where all my medical records are and stuff. (Will use VSP to pick up some new glasses, elsewhere).

I checked the prices to be sure this wasn't a stupid move financially. They must have updated everything to reflect we spent our deductible! Pretty much everything is free the rest of the year. Optomestrist? FREE. Woohoo! It even confirmed that dh's MRIs will only cost us $50 (what they charged us last time). Woot.

We have $3k to go on our out-of-pocket. I have an GYN appointment, too this year. The kids' checkups are always free (preventive). Probably the GYN ones too.

Even the emergency is pretty cheap. We will try not to end up in the hospital - that will eat out out-of-pocket in week. Was the only thing listed that actually really cost anything. Surgeries and hospital stays, I suppose. Will try to avoid. Wink

DIY Beauty

March 29th, 2010 at 10:47 am

One thing I don't talk much about is DIY beauty. Pretty much because "beauty" is low on my list of priorities. I usually contribute to the discussions by saying, "I don't spend a dime on beauty." But for some soap and shampoo, to stay clean, that about does it for me.

Which I find often gets funny reactions, in online forums. As a perfect example, I used to belong to a regional parenting forum and met some great friends through the site. But a lot of the people I did not meet for a long time, in person. It was clear that most of them could not relate to me on many levels. Money and beauty topics always came up. I swear to you, these women must have imagined me living in a shack, driving a jalopy (howsever you spell it) with hairy legs and a unibrow. This is clearly the image I project online.

It was funny because meeting a lot of the women in person, changed their attitudes towards me drastically. The funniest to me was a very volatile and shallow woman. She really hated me online, and suddenly became my biggest ally, once she saw my nice home for the first time. It was just so obvious that appearances were so important to her, and suddenly she looked at me a little differently.

Anyway, my point is, you don't have to spend a fortune on beauty, to look good.

I honestly think self confidence is the bulk of it. I have gorgeous friends who wouldn't dream of leaving the house without makeup, because they would be too embarassed at the thought. Which I personally think is ludicrous. People all the time tell me, well, I am just lucky I can pull it off. Pfffft. Like I Really believe I have more natural beauty than these people. I don't think so.

Regardless, beauty has gotten low on my priority list over the years. It probably doesn't help that my spouse freaks out if I put on tinted chap stick (he just hates make up). I know other friends who are more beauty obsessed would say I "let myself go." For me, I'd say, "I have other priorities." It would be another thing if my spouse really cared about appearances that much. He just doesn't. & on another level, I am more concerned about living a healthy lifestyle. Which keeps me trim and polished, for the most part. I've got healthy teeth, nails, hair, skin. I don't need to paint it all to "look healthy." Exercise and sun takes care of most of it.

BUT, you may be surprised to know I was a beauty freak in my youth. I have actually swing WAY more "girly girl," than tomboy. Which I know does not come across so much in my current lifestyle and blogging.

& I have always been very DIY when it comes to beauty. Always had a styled hairdo, makeup, and manicures when I was younger. All done by yours truly. All I Can say is, practice, practice, practice.

I actually stopped wearing makeup when I developed allergies and could no longer wear eye makeup (I have always been light on the makeup, regardless, though). With age, I kind of found myself shifting to low maintenance hairstyle, though it is important for me to have nice hair. Thing is I can wash and wear the style I have. & I like to wear makeup once in a while. I just can't do the eye stuff every day.

Manicures? It was since having my second child that I have hardly done a thing with my nails. Though, they are always groomed and clean - good enough for me. Though I will often wear clear polish to give them a bit of shine. That takes like, seconds.

Anyway, I saw the cutest "glitter tip" manicure that was apparently all the rage at my bank. I noticed one teller, and then another on another day. "Oooooh - that's pretty," the old Monkey Mama said.

SO, yesterday I finally got around to giving it a whirl. I was skeptical since it's probably been 5 years since I did the whole "french manicure" thing. I went out and bought about $20 in supplies (way more than I needed - but figured I should throw out most of my old polish).

I experimented on one nail at a time until I found the perfect technique.

In the end, painted the tips (with guide sticker) a glittery/sheeny white that I Already had. This alone makes for a really nice manicure. Looks much nicer than the "bright white tips," to me. Coated the whole nail with light blush. Added the glitter polish to the tips, without guides. This is a realy good technique, since it hides a bit if your lines aren't perfect. Finished with a topcoat. I tried a few different strategies, but this one clearly looked the best. & as a perk, it was the easiest too.

3 people already asked me if I went to the salon. I guess I haven't lost my touch. Wink The funny thing is my right hand turned out better since I did it second. I was wary how steady my left un-practiced hand would be.

The only room for improvement would be a higher quality glitter polish. Which I will be on the lookout for. I couldn't re-create the look exactly, but got close enough. Going forward, technique down, I can keep up the look for pennies.

I tried to snap a picture, but they weren't coming out. I will break out my camera and share later.


ETA: Pictures

Random Thoughts

January 4th, 2010 at 07:08 am


Credit card closed on our spendy month. I am going to get gas this a.m., and book the hotel, as mentioned.

Actually, both our cars need gas. But as such, I can't leave that for dh to take care of - I need some gas to get to work. Big Grin


I've decided that our GPS will be completely invaluable with dh in the hospital. The kids will be staying with 3 or 4 relatives where I always get lost because I am not quite as familiar with their city. (Problem is I think I know where I am - then I drive around in circles). The hospital is in a completely unknown area, etc.

I was thinking if I should get a hotel for longer, but eventually decided against it. The fact is I will be doing a LOT of driving though. BUT, I figure if I could find the nearest library (which dh pointed out will probably have wifi - woohoo), the nearest Taco Bell (cheap food), and the nearest Borders type store (a cushy chair to read in) that I would probably do okay. I am not a fan of coffee shops. Over-priced drinks that I don't like anyway. I'll be going for the library instead! (I suppose our library has cushy chairs, too. So maybe that will be my hangout of choice).

& I also realized if I need to leave, I should probably be with my kids. So, driving it is. Lots of driving back and forth. (I had forgotten about the kids!!)

The GPS will allow me to find all this stuff on a whim. & keep me efficient as I drive all over tarnation.

It never would occur to me that their was "medical rates" for hotel rooms. Particularly ones so close to the hospital. I did see that mentioned by the hospital as well. I doubt if the rates will be much better than my AAA discount and such, BUT I will of course ask before I finalize anything. (Thanks everyone for the tip!!)

Someone asked if I use Hotwire. I actually use Cheaptickets (this was the most awesome travel deal website in the 90s). BUT, in the end, I usually search rates and book the hotel directly. In this day and age, I find the best deals are by calling up and asking. & by booking directly (cut out the middle man!) & in an extreme example, the last hotel we stayed at cost about THREE times as much through all the travel websites. As far as I can tell, those websites are all the same really. I am just loyal to cheaptickets. Though the catch is you do have to prepay. Then again, I haven't actually booked a room through them in a few years. It's just a jumping off point, for me. I have also tried Priceline or whatever, where you don't get to pick your hotel, and had a HORRID experience. I know with a ton of effort, you can work it to your advantage (& get an idea what your hotel will be). But the experience really turned me off. I will just pick my hotel room, thanks!

ETA: Oh Hotwire is one of those where you don't get to choose the hotel. Nope - not going there... Will be in the same area that I had the terrible experience with. Too much "good area" mixed in with "bad."

I've chosen the hotel, so I just need to call and see if I can get a cheaper medical rate. In this case cheaptickets = booking directly (price wise). So I will just book directly... Then I don't have to prepay the room.


In an effort to cheer myself up, since I know 2010 will be a mess financially...

It occurred to me that I am further along on my cash goals, than imagined. When I look at my year-end cash balances for older years (years that I am striving to live up to), I just get my 12/31 statements and look at my cash balances.

I was just thinking about it, because I have $5k sitting in my checkbook today. For net worth and measuring progress, I don't count my checkbook. That money is earmarked to be spent the second it hits my checkbook. Whatever is not to be spent immediately, is transferred to savings, the second I get it. So, for net worth, I don't count my checking. Nor my credit card balance, which do tend to cancel each other out a bit.

So, I thought about it today. If I look at it that way, I can add $5k to my cash balance and be that much closer to my goal. I know it doesn't change anything about where I am at now. But it does change the fact that this elusive goal of $30k cash, is much closer than I realized.

I am not changing my goal, but once I have $25k or so, I Am going to pat myself on the back for making it to a DINK cash level. Big Grin

$30k is still an extremely worthy minimum cash savings goal. We are living on one-income, we own a house, and we have kids. We NEED a lot more cash than we needed as DINKS. But there is something warm and fuzzy about saving as much as we were before kids. I think we are closer than we realized.


Speaking of which. I did update my net worth on 12/31.

Official Result: Net worth DOWN $2300.

Culprit? House! Did awesome on the retirement savings this year. But the house continued on it's backward slide. We start 2010 with the house worth what we paid. I expect 2010 to be ugly, but since we've paid down about 30%, I won't lose sleep over it...

*Cash was about $20k
*The kids are up to about $10k in college money
*Retirement is up to $80k
*we have about $75k in home equity (From $450k at the PEAK!)

I think 2010 will be rather stagnant, in comparison. I don't expect the stock market to be on fire, I don't expect to save as much (with so many large impending bills). & well, I do expect the house value to slide considerably. It's just ugly around here - I don't feel like we have neared the rock bottom on house prices. (Though for the long run, I am not too worried about it - just the short run is pretty ugly!)

Consequences of Having Cash - Prioritizing

November 8th, 2009 at 03:18 pm

The consequence of possibly getting our cash in order within a year, is that when you have cash it is easier to spend it.

In theory anyway. Dh and I are not the greatest examples as we can be a bit of cash hoarders. But by the same token, I do feel like we are about to explode with purchases we haven't been able to justify since having kids.

I am not sure how the 2 sides will balance out, so better safe than sorry.

It is also always good to sit down and talk about this stuff with a spouse. Sometimes you have no idea they were thinking it was a good idea to make a huge purchase in a year or 2.

So, what does this say about us? The only *new* purchases we have on the horizon (things we don't already own):

Bed/Mattress for LM (NEED)
Security/Screen Door
Trip to Hawaii
Play Structure (for kids)
Ping Pong Table
Pool Table

The trip to Hawaii materialized this year as a potential reward for making it this long without dh working, as our finances improve. Also goes will with the whole 10-year-wedding-anniversary thing. Though we are starting to think we should make it an 11-year trip. I feel no pressing need to have to go ASAP.

That is a rather new thing, and the rest centers around our home. Because, well, we are home bodies!

Here's most of the rest of the list. ** Denotes replacing things we already own. Some need to be replaced; others we want to replace with newer and/or better:

**New Computer Monitors (20-ish years old - the both of them).
**Digital Camera (6 years old - pennies to replace with something 4 times better)
**Replace Fence
**Outdoor Furniture
**Replace Sectional Couch (I just hate it)
**Adobe Suite (Software)
**HD Camcorder
**Redo Bathroom Tiles
**Replace Garage Door Opener (Quieter)

Though I am often impressed how little our material wish list is (new items we don't already own), other times I see how overwhelming it can be to maintain a fair amount of material items. IT probably doesn't help that so much that we own was hand-me-down or free. OF course, the irony, if I think about it, is that most of the stuff we want to replace, WE BOUGHT NEW in the first place. Oy vey. No explanation for that! Big Grin

I keep thinking of more things for the list. I will have to update this post eventually. I'm probably forgetting quite a lot.

There will always be a list. I am quite sure some of these purchases will never be made. Not all of them are financially justifiable - & some are more necessary than others.

I am hoping that having a real, solid, written down list (that isn't merely in our heads) will help us to better manage them financially. This is definitely a new thing!

Pay Those Bills Late

November 3rd, 2009 at 06:39 am

What is one secret to squeezing out more savings? Pay your bills "late!"

Actually, the deal is, someone in the forums was asking about a budget problem and not getting paid for 30 days or something. They were concerned about their mortgage payment. If they were that tight for money, I figured they probably already knew their mortgage had a grace period. I didn't want to state the obvious, but brought it up.

The reply was something like, "I could never pay the mortgage late!" Like I suggested something pretty terrible.

Oy vey!

Anyway, I think it's a good tip and it got me thinking, so I had to share.

(I mean, come one MM blog followers - do I delight in paying my bills late? LOL).

Most mortgages (check with yours) allow a 15-day grace period. Meaning, you can pay your mortgage 15 days "late" with no negative consequences. I have always kept this in the back of my mind - it would be the first action in case of emergency - I would pay the mortgage ve after the 1st instead of before the 1st.

& yes, I have paid my mortgage "late" MANY times. I know for a fact that there is no negative consequences.

After that discussion I was thinking about it. Well, my $2150 property tax bill was due Sunday. But no penalty is assessed until December 10th. I mean come on, the REAL due date is December 10. I don't know anyone financially savvy who pays their tax bill in November, unless they just like to pay their bills super early. By waiting for December 1, I will earn $4 in interest. $4!!!!! If you collect pennies, why wouldn't you pay your bills on their real due dates???

So, anyway. I don't know if there are any other bills I habitually pay "late." Probably not. Everything else should really probably be paid on time, to avoid penalties and issues. & credit cards? The earlier the better.

Thing is, most people don't realize their mortgage company can be rather lenient compared to other types of companies.

I googled a bit to see how standard a 15-day mortgage grace period is, and it looks pretty standard. Late payment is not reported until 30 days.

If it were me, and I had no income for a month, and no savings, I would just pay the mortgage late. Even if over 15 days - take the penalty, and call it a day. Beats racking up credit card debt or a loan. If it doesn't affect your credit score, since you paid in 30 days, why not? I still think it seems like the easiest solution, given the scenario. But hey, what do I know???

Anyway, why have I often paid my mortgage "late?" To avoid touching my savings (generally in times of higher interest) for a simple, temporary cash flow issue. I find it easier than juggling all my savings around. I've had a years worth of savings in the bank, and paid the mortgage "late" so I wouldn't have to jiggle money around.

Obviously I take my mortgage very seriously. I wouldn't recommend paying it late, habitually, beyond using it as a money management tool.

I guess the other thing is being an accountant, I view the "due date" as merely a suggestion. I get the feeling that some people view it as a moral obligation. Believe me, as long as said company gets paid and doesn't have to send you a late notice, it's all good!

Feeling Prepared, Phew...

October 17th, 2009 at 07:16 am

The weather here is, ugh...

Big storm Tuesday.

Since then, it warmed up, but there is so much humidity in the air!!! (Our humidity is usually 0).

Skipping showers and wearing the same clothes multiple days, does not fly in this humidity. Times like this I am reminded why it's easier to conserve water when the humidity is 0. Wink OF course, it's also more necessary.

I told dh all week they brought the Florida weather with them. So today I read that our storm was California's equivalent to a hurricane. (A small hurricane, but a hurricane all the same). Also, a lot of talk about how later in the season, a storm like this could easily cause devastating flooding. So, phew...

In the end, I am worried if I will flip on the AC in the middle of OCtober. !! House is about 76 right now, but with the humidity it just feels, blech. We usually set the house to 80 in the summer. But it's the sticky heat that we aren't accustomed to.

Will see how the day goes. Hot and 76 degrees at 7am, is not good. It's not particularly warm otherwise, just humid. The days have only been in the 60s/70s.


In my last post I mentioned the demise of the freedom card.

So, how will I survive with $500 or so less in credit cards rewards, next year?

Very well, phew.

I have spent the last few years scrounging spare dimes, to build up my emergency fund. Through credit card rewards and 0% credit card arbitrage. As higher interest rates and credit card rewards dry up, there goes a fair amount of extra income.

The good thing is we are prepared. It was really helpful to build up our emergency fund, rather quickly. But for now, we can live without.

Dh is also making at least $1200/year through his ebay buying and selling, etc. So he is kind of picking up the slack, there.

It feels good to be prepared.

Love the Sky Here

September 5th, 2009 at 09:29 am

With my new cell phone and ability to take pictures off the camera (the old one had a camera, but we couldn't figure out how to get the pictures off without spending $$). With that, I thought I would take a lot more pictures.

I have.

Apparently, the only thing interesting around here is the sky! Big Grin

The first one was on the drive home from work, again (these cloudy summer skies are awfully unusual).

This one was a sunrise on a bike ride. The foreground is a pile of empty home lots. No doubt, if the homes were built, my rides wouldn't be so nice and scenic!


In other news, I Was so shocked of the low price of our hotel for our anniversary (or moreso the expesiveness of the price at every other travel site) that it didn't occur to me I could get a further discount. Like, I know I could call and ask. But I Was fine to just book it, and figured any further savings was a crap shoot.

So I happily booked a $300 stay that came out to $700+ on all the travel web sites.

Of course, after I booked it, they had said very little about their rules and cancellation policy, so I poked around the website a bit. As I did, I found that there was a 10%-off offer PLUS $20/night dinner gift certificate, if I had seen this promo code and used another link to book.


So I e-mailed them and asked if I could apply the promo code, or if it would be easier to cancel and rebook. With no answer, I figured we'd call today (yesterday I was trying to work and stuff).

They eventually called us back first and we decided just to cancel the reservation.

I haven't rebooked it yet, but since we got 10% off with AAA, I am pretty sure the new offer voided the AAA offer. So we won't save any money on the room. BUT we will get $40 of free food. Which was really going to be the most expensive part of the trip, besides the room.

I am pleased as punch!

We will probably go out on some interesting, exotic lunches. & then just stick at the hotel for dinner. The restaurant hotel is a Marie Callendar's. I think we may buy some pie too.


After I had done my Hanes order, I realized we had bought some sweatshirts for BM through Hanes, last year. They are allowed to wear sweatshirts as part of their "uniform." Which is pretty much all he wears when it gets colder.

SO, I perused their website and saw they were on sale for $5 each.

I did another order for those. Ordered 5. 20% off, free shipping, means I paid $20 for 5 brand new sweatshirts. (The ones I bought last year are fine - they have held up well - but they are just getting small).

This is why I rarely shop thrift for the kids any more. I used to a lot more, but I usually can get similar prices new, for FAR less time and hassle.

I am glad I thought to look.


August 21st, 2009 at 01:06 pm

LM's account hit $3k yesterday, AND the stock market was up this morning. So I executed a trade, for today. Trading his Star fund for Vanguard's 2025 Retirement (He'll hit college age in 2023).

Success! I have been keeping an eye on this for 2 weeks. It's been frustrating.

This changes his stock/bond mix from 65/35 to 80/20. But also is a cheaper expense ratio, and I can put on auto pilot if I like (gets more conservative as 2025 approaches).

For now, just not enough to spread out any more (can't buy more than one fund!). I may prefer to manage it more as the balance grows.

BM is not so lucky. His account was like $5 short today. Bummer.

If August wasn't such an atrociously expensive month, I'd probably transfer $50 over to his account, and be done. I just don't feel I have a dime to spare for it. & I figure, whatever, if the market tanks, may be better to exchange it later. Will see. Maybe in October I will have $50 to spare.

We are also considering matching the kids' gifts going forward. All of their college money is pretty much funded by one grandparent. But they are retiring and we can probably match it starting 2011. (Next year is iffy - match will be easier once both kids are in school). I figure it's good to match it as there may be nothing to match, eventually, as they retire, etc. Then we can take over where they left off.

Dh and I spent pennies on our college, so though I think it's important to save up for it, I also don't feel the sheer panic that most parents do. Colleges here remain abundant and cheap, even today, where we live. (The abundance of colleges means kids won't have to go away to college, etc. Just means plenty of less expensive options).

We also have an entire second income to tap if the kids decide they are destined to be doctors or lawyers. From every angle, I Don't sweat it. BUT it will be nice to put a little aside. IT's been hard to justify until now. (Or until next year, I should say).


Today I updated all of our savings balances through 9/30, etc. I have an idea since we don't pay most our bills (Credit card) until the following month. I think I got a handle on August bills (though admittedly, the month is not over).

& was pleased to see a $23,500+ balance in our savings.

$25k is so close I can almost taste it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

$30k is my goal. $25k is a pretty nice "we are almost there" point, though. Once we reached $30k, we wanted to splurge on a trip to Hawaii. (Well, wanted to reach a little more - did not want to drop below $30k for HAwaii trip).

With all these car repairs, not feeling optimistic on making it next year, after all. But still quite confident that Hawaii in 2011 can be the backup plan. Will see.

So I will enjoy my balance for another month. & I am pleased that even with all these car expenses coming up, that we can probably keep our cash upwards of $20k. That is a pretty nice feeling. Not a feeling we've really had since having kids.

For now the balance is broken down as:

$ 7k ROTH Efund
$ 5k Cash Efund
$ 2k Medical Fund (Deductible)
$ 9k House/Car Fund
$0.5k short-term
$23,500 TOTAL

One thing that helps is I just paid the last of the regular short-term expenses (auto insurance) for the year. Well, about $4k of expenses is due in December (property taxes and insurance). But that will build during the next 3 months and make my cash balance appear cheerier than it really is, in the interim.

I still may get the Mid-Term savings (house/car fund) to $10k this year, regardless of all this. I can hope! The balance on 1/1 was something along the lines of $0.

Today I feel like it's been 3 steps forward, and one step back. I can deal with that. That is the whole point of my savings goals - to stay ahead of the curve.


In other news, kids had clean bill of health (teeth), BUT we were officially told LM will need braces, eventually.

No surprise there!

Funny, they never mentioned for BM. There could still be hope??? (He's older!)

They got my genes and LM's mouth is clearly a mess. I've already been saving up for that, too. IT's just a little more official, I guess.

One thing I may be less prepared for is little kids orthodontia. I didn't get my braces until I Was 10. It seems these days, they start with baby teeth. Will see. I hope I can wait a few more years! But if they can start earlier and if he didn't have to have braces for like 7 years (like I did!), I guess I won't complain. I hear it is a lot easier these days. LEss painful and less ugly. Still, poor kid. It's kind of a bummer.

Where Do I Keep my Cash?

July 30th, 2009 at 08:44 am

The short answer is that I keep most of my cash in one account. I keep a $1k cushion in my credit union savings account - which I can withdraw or transfer (to my checking) immediately if I needed it. I keep some cash in my ROTHs (will explain below). I do keep most of it in one Online Money Market Account. For the long run I will probably invest in CDs. For now, there is really no reason to (low interest rates, etc.).

I do keep my cash readily accessible (I can write checks from my money market savings) BUT it's not something that tempts me. I don't personally need to "hide it" so I don't spend it.

I do prefer to keep at least $5k cash readily accessible, for emergency. I think my $5k is like Dave Ramsey's version of the $1k mini-emergency fund. I don't think I have ever had less than $5k cash in a savings account, in my adult life.

Right now I am all in money market cash, so to speak, because we have been "low" on cash and I haven't felt comfortable tying any of it up. As the balance grows to my goals, we will need to ladder some CDs, etc. We may even look at some bond funds - I just haven't gotten to that point yet.


But, let me go back to the beginning. I've said before, our parents were wonderful financial mentors, but taught neither of us about investing. So WHEN we had $50k+ cash in the past, we were really stupid. IT was sitting in our low-interest savings accounts. Our worst financial mistake ever.

I also had an IRA sitting in cash. No one ever advised me to invest it. !

It was around 2006 and more difficult financial times that we decided to earn some interest on our money. Which was ironic since we had blown through most of it by then. But we opened a couple of high-yield money market accounts since then, and that is where most our savings has sat, since. (We had some CDs when we did some credit card arbitrage - CD interest rates were "high" then).

I was also going to invest my pathetic IRA cash, BUT in 2006 interest rates were higher than I had ever seen them as an adult, AND the writing was on the wall with the economy. We were knee deep in the housing bubble and it didn't look good (just as we had been knee deep in the tech bubble a few years before - we lived in the tech capital and my spouse worked in tech). The writing was on the wall so I took a gamble and converted my IRA into a ROTH and then stuck it in a 5.5% CD for 3 years. Turned out to be a good move. IT matures in 2 months and I will probably be able to invest it at much lower stock prices than I would have been able to in 2006. That's the story on that.

Anyway, as we tried to rebuild our cash reserves, from our $5k low in 2006, we didn't have a lot of money to go around. But I Received a $5k gift a couple of years back and was able to max out our ROTHs that year. I was very intent on building up our cash, but I felt comfortable with this because I knew I could access the ROTH in extreme emergency. So I actually currently have about $7k cash in my ROTH which is designated for emergency. The thing is, for me, maxing out the ROTHs right now is like putting away 23% of my gross income to retirement. Far more than we NEED to put away. But I will do it if I can access the cash in extreme emergency. I don't recommend this strategy if your retirement savings contribution is only 1% - 15% of your income, say. Or if your idea of an emergency is a car repair or a vet bill. Wink I think hell will freeze over before I actually tap my ROTH for cash, honestly. My idea of emergency is prolonged job loss or loss of home (i.e. natural disaster).

Ideally, we will probably keep $10k cash in our ROTH, of our $15k total Efund. Keep $5k accessible cash for mini-efund. So, we may max out our ROTHs this year, with that philosophy.

The ROTH cash is in that CD I mentioned, and in MMFFs. I'll be able to invest a portion of the CD though. We have more cash than I prefer in our ROTHs, simply because my prediction on the recession. (It isn't much - nothing that will make us rich. Like $10k? Wink )


That's the long and the short of it.

The short answer is that all our money is in Money Market accounts, earning as much interest as possible. When we reach our $30k goal we will probably start shopping CDs and developing more of a long-term cash savings plan. Will probably be $10k in ROTH, $1k in Credit Union, $19k in Online Savings. Anything above that can be tied up in CDs. We will start formulating a long-term plan when we get there. I am a "one thing at a time" type gal.

Investing cash well is not an area I have a lot of experience in though. I have some learning to do. Wink

Been a Little Busy

July 29th, 2009 at 08:28 am

I'm still around, it's just been a little hectic.

The weather has been much more bearable around here. We came home Sunday reeking of garlic - think it's worn off by now.

Definitely had a spendy month, but was less expensive than I had expected. It's hard to care anyway, our savings is doing so well lately (knock on wood).


Thinking towards long-term goals lately. I am starting to think we will hit all our "long-term" goals in 2010. Go figure! It depends, but exciting all the same.

I think we will have $30k cash in the bank by next spring. IT's kind of an arbitrary number. It's well over 6 months of "minimal" spending, so certainly an ample emergency fund. The arbitrariness is that we haven't had that much cash since we had our first child. So, um, it FEELS good.

We will be in that range next spring when LM is done with preschool. We have had a few different ideas what to do with that preschool money - $150/month. BUT, we are also saving $250/month for our medical deductible fund, and knock on wood, really haven't used it. As of next summer I would be happy to divert $250+ $150 per month, which is enough to max out our second ROTH (by the following April - meaning we can max both for 2010). I know max may increase, but just one thing at a time here. Putting away $10k per year is more than sufficient! THat's like 12% of my income, on top of the 10% we already contribute to retirement. IT's just too good a tax vehicle to pass up though.

Basically, as long as we are healthy we can max out the second ROTH.

With that, we can still continue to add about $8k per year to cash (which may cover the medical part anyway). I would like to contribute at that level until we have $40k cash. Of course, once we get there, might want to go one more year to $50k. Will see.

Which leads us to our next decision. As our cash balance grows, what do we want to do with the excess?

On one-income, I vote mortgage payoff. I am quite sure long-term investing would easily trump the effective 3.5% interest rate on our mortgage (after tax savings, etc.). BUT, for now life is simple. All our savings is in tax-deferred accounts and cash accounts. Life is very simple. To add taxable investments to the equation just makes me cringe when I think of all the work involved of managing it, and managing the taxes, etc.

Quite simply, paying off the mortgage is easy. IT keeps our taxes very simple, etc. So that is where I lean. Dh probably wants to save more for college. So we have much to discuss there.

If he returns to work it will be a very different ballgame. Our tax bracket will increase drastically. We will probably fund 401ks, HSAs, and 529s instead, to lower our tax exposure. For now, the HSAs and 529s give us no tax benefit, are not very flexible, and cost more than other savings vehicles. For now, I am not offered a 401k. But all these vehicles will save us a lot of taxes if our income increases.

If dh wanted to match his parent's contributions at $2k per year to college - for the kids - I think it's about the most I would really want to set aside. I'd rather start chipping away at the mortgage with any extra cash.

Which means, by end of 2010 we will probably have an ample 6 months' emergency fund, will be maxing our ROTHs (for a total 22% gross to retirement), and saving 10% income to cash. May be funding college. Any windfall could go to the mortgage.

Why so much cash? I'd like $15k for catastrophic emergency (& growing), $20k to replace both cars, and about $10k for home maintenance. Those are all the minimums I Feel we need - though they can overlap a bit. If we use the emergency fund I would gladly buy an old clunker instead, etc. That adds up to about $45k, eh? We tend to hoard cash, but just haven't had the income to do so in a while. I think cash is under-rated for the most part. Has kept our life simple. Will probably keep hoarding cash until we have a years' worth take-home pay in the bank. I have no issue with this if we are maxing out our retirement vehicles. The thing about cash is we can always change our mind down the road (invest it, put a chunk to mortgage, spend it, whatever). & as long as dh is not working, and not terribly employable, I think cash is extra important. IT would be kind of moot if he were working - I wouldn't see the point of hoarding so much then. Interest rates suck now, and have most of our adulthood, but I have managed to earn 5-6% many years on our cash. That time will come again. (I have a 5.5% CD at current - it expires later this year).

All this is probably way optimistic, but the direction we are currently heading in.

The possibility of meeting all of our aggressive savings goals on one income, is very exciting. My last long-term goal of current is to pay off the mortgage by age 45. In like 12 years? I assume dh will return to work to help meet this goal. It still feels like a bit of a pipe dream otherwise. But, who knows.

I am good!

June 30th, 2009 at 01:38 pm

I've apparently worked my budget down to an "exact science."

I hesitate to use the word "budget" because I am not really into the whole tradiitonal budget thing. I would drive myself nuts accounting for all those overages/underages every month. & you might be surprised, but I do not care for a strict budget. I like that if I spent no money on gas or food, that I can go splurge on something else. I do not carry things over month to month. I guess I like flexibility and ease, over rigidity and complication.

So anyway, we had a good month and for whatever reason it popped into my mind that we really could save another $50/month. I just felt it would be very reasonable.

I opened my "budget" spreadsheet on a whim and looked it over.

Lo and behold - when LM started his new preschool I guess I rounded way up and allocated $200/month to that. Thing is, most months it's barely $150.

So subconsciously I am thinking I have $50 per month to spare, and in reality - I really do.

My goal for maxing out first ROTH was to put away $350/month and "wing it" on the rest - scrounge it up somehow.

This officially puts me to $5k per year, just based on $400 monthly contributions (well, the additional $200 will be easy to scrounge).

So, I am very pleased.

I would like to build up more cash savings, but I also think it's important to contribute heavily to retirement in this market. So I am kind of doing $400/month to each, for now. I certainly am tempted to put my spare $50 to cash, but I know we have had a good year and with a little patience will probably reach my cash goals within the year. So I will stay the course!

I whipped this up sometime when we were in preschool limbo and we had a few hundred dollars to spare every month. It's worked out well:

As a recap:

short-term "savings" are to be spent within the year (vacation, car repairs, property taxes, insurance, dental, swim lessoms, misc., etc. - everything that is not a regular monthly expense).

mid-term savings - larger expenses expected in more than one year - car replacement and house maintenance, orthodontia, etc. Car repairs for more than I "budgeted" would fall here too, as well as unexpected large bills, etc.

medical savings - we switched to a HDHP and save $250/month on premiums. We save the difference for deductibles and future rate increases.

I've kind of been honing this system for a while, and I am very pleased with it. Once honed, it's been a rather simple and effective savings system. Though we are saving much less than when we both worked, there is much more thought to the big picture. I think the thought makes up for the decrease in savings, in many regards.

Anyway, yes, I already increased my automatic ROTH contributions - starting with July!


ETA: I do put everything possible on the credit card (for rewards, etc.). It is paid monthly, of course!

Everything not on the card can not be paid with credit cards - bah.

BUT I also worked on this spreadsheet to get an idea what my monthly credit card bills should be - since we recently switched some utilities over to the card, etc. IT can get kind of confusing though since I can put a lot of short-term expenses on the card. It usually runs closer to $2k, BUT I can simply subtract all the short-term items (they tend to be larger/obvious items) and just make sure the rest never tops $1500.

Thoughts on the ROTH

April 15th, 2009 at 08:28 am

I changed our retirement contributions around.

I made my last 2008 contribution on Monday. We maxed out 2007 due to a windfall but didn't even bother trying in 2008. But I always put as much as I can into the prior year. So if we were to have another windfall, or dh were to return to work, we don't let go of ROTH contributions foolishly.

Anyway, since January I have been contributing $350 per month to MY ROTH simply because it was the only financial institution I Could figure out how to make 2008 contributions to automatically, during 2009.

Dh and I view our retirement (As everything else) merely as "one." That being said, he does not work and I have a pretty awesome retirement plan at work. The only downside, and it is a big one, is that if something happens to me, dh only gets something like 50%. I didn't even necessarily realize this until rather recently when I updated my paperwork to add my children as secondary beneficiaries.

Anyway, so between those 2 factors, I think it is a priority to plump up his ROTH. I will probably get $8k in my work plan this year. We will probably only put $4k-$5k into the ROTHs. Seems fair that it should go to him. (In the meantime, life insurance makes up for this unfortunate fact).

That being said, my boss will retire in a few years and I can roll my work retirement into an IRA. So this is certainly not the situation forever.

I am contributing $50/month, going forward, to my ROTH. Just to keep it rolling. I am contributing $300/month to dh's ROTH starting in May. I just set it all up for automatic contributions. Since the last couple of years we have only been contributing around $100/month max, we have stuck to the "retirement funds" and "Total stock indexes." As I changed things around my $50 continues to go to a "retirement fund" and dh's contributions are 50% total stock index/ 25% international index / 25% balanced fund. We haven't bought much international since the market dropped, so it's good to jump back in at lower prices.

I read something the other day like those Retirement funds are risky. Some are down 50%! Well, sure, if you just contributed once, at the peak, and never looked back. Dollar cost averaging significantly smooths those bumps. My "retirement fund" is down 20% today. I have contributed every month since mid 2007. I became a fan of dollar cost averaging when I had my 401k at my last job. It REALLY helps when the market slides anyway. We've unfortunately contributed most of our retirement monies in 2000-2001 and 2007-2008. Great! Right before the busts. But the dollar cost averaging makes it manageable. The losses are significantly muted. Being able to continue to contribute while the market is in the toilet, does pay off in the long run. WE are literally about breakeven - the balance in our retirement today reflect the initial contributions we have put in the last decade. Which kind of sucks that we don't have gains - but happy to say we truly have not "lost" much.


This year has been good to us. We met our 15% gross to retirement and 10% gross to cash savings goals in one fell swoop. I was hoping to meet these goals when LM garduated preschool. Our home refinance and his unplanned switch to a much cheaper school has made these possible about 18 months of schedule.

So I have been stepping back and looking at our startegy. My goals are clear. The best way to achieve them are not.

Maxing out the ROTH (basically, maxing out a second one) is clearly a priority. WE are still in a virtually zero tax bracket and we would be crazy not to take advantage.

Other goals are to save for college and to pay down the mortgage ahead of schedule. I will put up with a mortgage that is reasonable and cheaper than renting, in the short term. In the long run we are extremely debt adverse and want it paid off well before retirement.

I am worried about affording our health care, as usual. But besides those types of expected expense increases there is not a lot on the horizon. WE are very content with our "Wants" spending at present. I know dh wants more gadgets and we talk about more grand vacations when the children are older. But those things can wait for a second income or a big raise. In the meantime we are quite content. The nice thing for our wants wish list is most of them are one time expenses. Nothing we necessarily need a permanently increased income for.

I have personally been tempted to stop or greatly reduce ROTH contributions just long enough to get our cash savings up to snuff. It is TEMPTING!!!!!! IF we had $30k in the bank I think our current $5k annual cash contributions would suffice. But with the market in such a tizzy, dh and I decided to continue the ROTH contributions as is. We are instead nearing $20k in the bank, and so have a decent amount of cathing up to do. But for now we are optimistic we can max out one ROTH and get our savings up to snuff in the next year or 2.

As far as maxing out the second ROTH? If we can avoid using our medical deductible, we can max out a second ROTH, maybe in 2010. We could contribute that money to a HSA but I like HSAs about as much as 529s. Lots of fees and little flexibility. Which leaves me of the opinion that HSAs and 529s will be our friend when my spouse returns to work and we have more savings than we know what to do with (& when our income tax rates are higher). In the meantime? Not ready to contribute to a HSA or a 529. They make little sense for people in our situation.

Which leads me to thoughts on college. No one in my family has spent much on college, and prices are still quite reasonable in California. In fact, my parents did not save a dime of money for me for college and since dh's parents are huge college money gifters, my kids have about as much money as my entire college education cost (a whopping $10k) at age 3 & 5. IT's not something I particularly sweat, and is another reason I would not save TONS in a 529. BEcause you get penalized on the money that is not used for college.

I have been thinking about it and maxing out our ROTH would put us about 25% contributions to retirement. Clearly more than necessary (we have always put away 10% - 15%, since we graduated college). As long as we are in this position I have decided not to contribute more money to the kids. The one exception is I may contribute a little more so I Can diversify their funds a bit more. (Since every fund needs a certain minimum). Aside from that, the ROTHs will become triple purposed. They hold some of our cash emergency fund, they hold a decent amount of our true retirement funds, and now they will hold a decent amount of investments for college in the offchance our kids "must" go to Stanford or something along those lines. In the meantime, truth is, their college will probably be paid for by the grandparents anyway. So even if dh returned to work, not sure we would go the 529 route... I view it more as contributing to retirement, but I can still sleep well at night if I am REALLY wrong about the whole college thing.

Which means simply, after thinking about it, the only true goal we have once our retirement vehicles are maxed, is to pay off the house.

Dh's income literally went about 100% to our house when he worked (down payment). & I think we will resume this plan when/if he returns to work. Literally, take his paycheck and pay down the house. It's amazing to me what a huge difference a mere $5k a year in income could make. That would be quite a dent. But yes, I think we have come full circle.

I tend to be extremely idealistic so we shall see. One thing at a time...

I just wanted to share my thinking with my current goals. They always seem to be evolving as circumstances change.

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