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This & That

October 9th, 2019 at 07:45 am

I did an Amazon return at Kohls the other day. I had never done that before. They gave me a 25%-off coupon for Kohls, for one transaction in-store. I was going to look around anyway so I used it.

I don't know any of the details, if you can only return certain things to Kohls or what. But it sure makes it easier to shop on Amazon.

Today I paid a handful of annual bills. When I went to pay to renew the registration on MH's car, they were trying to charge a $5 fee for using credit card. UGH. Apparently this was a change that only went into effect during the last week or so. Bummer, that I didn't pay sooner and squeak that one through. We've been spoiled. I don't remember them charging any credit card fees during the past decade or so. I haven't decided how I will pay that bill. I don't know if some of the other government agencies have followed suit and if I will find more surprises.

I honestly don't know how I am going to pay this bill now. I declined paying by echeck, but I know logically (and from personal experience) that mailing a check is far less secure. *sigh* I set it aside to flip a coin later.

MH and I are planning a somewhat impromptu getaway. We are going to LA for 2 nights (just before Thanksgiving) and then we want to stop by Hearst Castle on the way back. I suppose we can make this somewhat a "Top 100 Movie" field trip as we have been talking about it more after watching Citizen Kane. The original plan was one night in LA, but we are staying two nights for free (minimum stay with MIL's timeshare). The third night we will stay in Pismo Beach, and then we can see Hearst Castle on the way back. The extra night makes it a more slow/relaxing trip. The cost will mostly be gas and food (and one hotel night). I will probably just earmark one of MH's paychecks next month since we already maxed out our vacation budget for the year.

We will probably do a somewhat repeat trip for Spring Break, since we want to check out the one college in LA. But that trip will be with kids.

September Savings

October 6th, 2019 at 07:07 am

Received $73 bank interest for the month of September.

Snowflakes to Investments:
--Redeemed $53 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card.
--Redeemed $56 cash back on Citi card.
--Redeemed $8 cash back on dining/gas card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
$ 3 Savings from Target Red Card (grocery purchases)
$ 20 Citi Price Rewind
$150 Dividend

TOTAL: $290 snowflakes to investments

401k Contributions/Match:
+$700

Savings (From my paycheck):
+$ 550 to cash (mid-term savings)

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):
+$1,400 to cash
-$ 210 Car Maintenance (new battery/oil change)
-$ 160 Misc. Purchase MH (disability related)
-$ 70 Misc. Purchase MH

TOTAL: $2,573 deposited to cash and investments

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I don't think that things could be any more financially mellow. I am experiencing the reward of working my butt off earlier in the year. Phew!

October should be a good money month. MH received a 12%+ raise (minimum wage increase) and was asked to work more hours. It's becoming more obvious that we should just use his income to fund our IRAs. But 2019 is well covered so we will probably start that in 2020. I also have about $500 in side work to bill, so we will have a few snowballs to add to savings.

Anyway, I can tell you that money has been entirely in the background through all of this, but it's just even moreso right now. We had a lot of big expenses earlier in the year, but it's just a little slice of quiet and calm right now.

Note to Self: Grocery Rewards

October 5th, 2019 at 05:04 pm

Trying to jot down the grocery rewards plan because I completely lost that post.

Our American Express card caps grocery rewards at the $6,000 per year spending level. It looks like they are calculating this from January 1 of every new year.

In the end, we hit $5,950 already for this year. We are switching to our credit union card (3% cash back on groceries) for the rest of the calendar year.

I do buy $5 here and there, and actually spent about $30 today at the grocery store. So I will keep the American Express in my wallet and will see if the cutoff happens where I think it will. If I am off by some $5 purchase it's not as a huge of a deal as losing rewards on a $150 purchase.

Plan for 2019:

**Switch to credit union card (3% cash back groceries) for rest of year.

Will just pull the American Express cards out of our wallets.

Plan for 2020:

**Use Chase Freedom for 5% grocery quarter

It looks like the Chase Freedom card has 5% back one quarter per year. I was going to do this anyway, but it just works out that apparently we need the reward for exactly one quarter.

I had gotten the Chase card intending it to be a card just for MM(16). But it is what it is. I have the card and might as well use the grocery benefit.

Note re: Teen Credit Card

When looking up some other grocery rewards or strategies I noticed that there are a lot of new cards that offer 3%? cash back for the first year. The catch is that these cards don't offer a sign up bonus. I wanted to remember this because it might be a good strategy to apply for one of these cards for MM around his next birthday. Then he can just use it for one year and he should be able to more easily get his own credit card when he turns 18. (I am personally not going to sign up for a higher reward if it expires after just one year, but just makes more sense for someone who was going to change cards in one year anyway).

Note re: American Express

While typing all this out, I remembered that I got rejected for an American Express card that I tried to apply for, re: grocery rewards. American Express changed their terms to some very loose "can deny rewards at any time for any reason" language. I will be cautious doing any new rewards cards with them, but I guess it's somewhat moot if they are just going to reject me.

Sorry About That!

October 3rd, 2019 at 06:03 pm

I took ceejay's advice and grabbed the posts from this year that I wanted to keep. (Thanks Ceejay!)

{Sorry for so many posts at once.}

I think the monthly savings posts are a good snapshot. & there was *so much* going on with MM(16) this year, with driving, first credit card, college, etc. I know I lost a couple, but I was able to find the first few that I thought of. Phew!

I can't find the grocery rewards card thing that I just posted with some notes to self. But I may look again this weekend (or can just jot down some notes).

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In other news, there was another very serious accident in the family last week. & more (accidents) in our circles this week. *sigh*

As to this website, it's just kind of *shrugs*, what isn't a disaster at this point...

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Minutiae:

MH won tickets to see "Dial M for Murder" at the movie theater last night. It was really fun. I don't know when we'd ever pay full price for a movie, but in this case I noticed it would have been $21. So it was nice to *win* $21. We are going another night this month (okay, so we were going to pay full price, this will help with the sticker shock I would have experienced). They are playing a bunch of Hitchcock films at a more artsy theater (MH doesn't have a membership and we don't have any gift cards). But we were going to go back later this month to watch one of the Top 100 movies.

I find it hard to believe, but we made it through the first 50 movies. I was pretty non-committal, even before everything went totally insane. So now that we made it through the first 50, I am more confident that we will actually make it through the rest. Many weeks we have watched 0 movies, sometimes we have watched 2-3 movies. The podcast we are following is going at a "one movie per week" pace. It took us 18 months to get through the first 50.

EDITED TO ADD: NO JOKE - ANOTHER ACCIDENT TODAY. UGH!

Coming Up for Air (09/08/19)

October 3rd, 2019 at 06:00 pm

I was going to say something like, "Things have been going along pretty well," but then that seems silly because they are not well at all. I think I've just reached a point of relativism. Sadly, facing some of life's biggest challenges is a point of peace and calmness for me, right now. Because that's just how life has been. Everything else has settled down a wee bit and I have any mental space whatsoever to deal with anything.

So... everything else has settled down significantly and I have been able to catch my breath. The first couple of weeks of this new state of things, I did not do much at all. & then Labor Day was a huge blessing and I was able to get caught up on some house chores. Last weekend, Saturday was dealing with very heavy family stuff. Sunday was collapsing due to mental and emotional exhaustion. But I still had Monday, and Monday ended up being quite productive. I have chores that haven't been done for YEARS at this point. So I started to tackle some of those.

I guess this gave me some good momentum. I am hitting the house chores hard this weekend. I think there is largely a feeling of, "it's now or never".

I think 16yo getting driver's license is a huge reason for this shift and a little calmness in my life. If I had to drive him everywhere he needs to be, last weekend would have been insane. MH and I actually left the kids two weekends - two weekend in a row? - to go take care of our parents. This is just something we couldn't do before, not with 16yo sports schedule. & we wouldn't have left our kids to go out of town. In this situation, maybe, but it's easier to do with a self-sufficient driver and both kids being high school age.

I am mostly of the, "I should be working and digging out, I should NOT be blogging" mode. Except it's a weekend morning, everyone is asleep, and this is usually my quiet/brain dump time. But I could probably work on some minutiae posting, going forward. I know I just also feel buried on the blog front, as with everything else. I completely give up and I realize this blog is probably going to just be a black hole void for most of 2018/2019. I really wish I could share more of what has happened, but there's just not enough hours in the day. I've not had time to process most of it, much less blog about it (which does help me process). It is what it is. A side effect of that is having no idea where to begin, as I try to jump back in.

I am already being thrown head first into the next chapter of my life. I feel like I've barely started this chapter. But the next chapter is taking on more of the parental role with my parents. Both my parents are not doing well. I think it's a little bit, "The calm before the storm." The storm has already started and has been pretty nasty at times. But I guess the best analogy I have is that I am in storm prep mode and just trying to get my life in order and take a few deep breaths so I can deal with this whatsoever.

It's been a shift in our relationship, for a while now. I remember very distinctly feeling that I worried more about my mother (the way a parent worries about a child) more than I worry about my own kids any more. This was about a year ago, in regards to my mom's physical health. I couldn't remember the exact moment, because that was just one drop in the ocean of insanity last year. But I did see in my blog that I mentioned worrying about her after she had a fall, and then my dad jetted off somewhere. That was probably it. & it seems very small right now, compared to current medical issues both my parents are having. So I am being tossed into that caregiver role in a way I hadn't really anticipated, certainly not *right now*, particularly with married/living parents.

I don't really have any answers or clarity, but will try to blog when I do. Unless I am taking care of my parents 100 miles away. You might understand why this might just fall in the black hole void.

Credit Card Rewards Tally 2019

October 3rd, 2019 at 05:59 pm

2019 TALLY:

$550 Gift Cards (Citi, Moi)
$150 Bank Bonus
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$700 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

Other Rewards:
$ 29 Citi Price rewinds (RIP)

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

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I posted earlier that I was reminded to do some price rewinds, when price matching a wedding gift. Citi had a "Price Rewind" where you could just enter a purchase and they would check 60 days for lower prices. It was *awesome*. Unfortunately, today is the last day they are offering this perk.

We had a few big purchases during the last few months. I always put bigger purchases in because you never know when a price will drop, and it's the biggest bang for your buck.

In the end, we didn't get any money back on the big purchases (no surprise) but I found a smaller purchase that had been done (in a time of chaos) and that I knew was ridiculous. So I will get $20 back. In addition, we had received $9 back when we bought our washer/dryer earlier this year, so I need to add that to my year-to-date tally. Total $29 in price rewinds for the year. There won't be any more because this reward is dead.

MM(16) also should be getting a $150 bonus for the credit card I signed him up for. He has not gotten the reward yet because he spent -$0- during the last billing cycle. But he has since gotten gas and hit the spending level for the bonus. I presume that he will probably have his gas covered for the next 4 or 5 months. I am not adding this reward to my tally because he is using it for his own spending/bills.

I don't foresee doing any other one-time bonuses this year. But... you never know when an irresistible deal might pop up.

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

July Savings

October 3rd, 2019 at 05:57 pm

Received $75 bank interest for the month of June.

Snowflakes to Mortgage:
--Redeemed $47 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card.
--Redeemed $66 cash back on Citi card.
--Redeemed $15 cash back on dining/gas card.

Other snowflakes to Mortgage:
$ 3 Savings from Target Red Card (grocery purchases)
$39 rounded up mortgage payment

TOTAL: $170 snowflakes to mortgage

401k Contributions/Match:
+$600

Snowball to Savings:
-0- {No side income this month}

Savings (From my paycheck):
+$ 550 to cash (mid-term savings)

Mid-Term Savings (cash saved for non-annual expenses/emergency):
-0-

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):
+$1,400 to cash
-$ 280 Car Stereo for MM(16)
-$ 265 Car Insurance for MM(16)
-$ 220 Vacation Expense (brought friend to camp)
-$ 130 Amazon Prime
-$ 120 Dentist

TOTAL: $1,780 deposited to cash and investments

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This is more of a June sum up (on the spending side), since we mostly charge everything and pay off the following month.

From last month:
June went pretty well. It was a very low spend month. Without all the stress and extra income, we just fell back on our old habits (which is living on a shoestring). It's an easy default for us.

It was the first month of my new salary reality ($1,000 less per month), without any side income or additional income. June went very well and we were still able to hit aggressive savings goals. I wish I could say July went so well, but I sat down and went through the books for July today (I always pay everything the first of the month) and July was pretty ugly. It was a "death by a thousand cuts" month, though I think we did pretty well considering. Just not sure if I will have anything to add to (cash) savings next month. It will be a bit of a breakeven month. I expect August (spending) to be more like June. Maybe more low key since the kids will be back at school for the entire month. We are also done with vacations, birthdays, etc.

Our dining out rewards were also clearly insane. I had about $200 in spending (kids' birthdays) that were reimbursed by other people. Plus a lot of vacation eating out, etc. Our grocery bill was actually quite reasonable. (Probably not reasonable enough, considering MM was mostly gone for 8 days. But was much better than other summer months. Phew!)

401k contributions dropped a bit since it was just my income/contributions this month.

Short-term spending was very kid-centric. We paid final expenses on car (before handing it over to MM on his birthday). As a birthday present, we got him a new car stereo with bluetooth. We also paid for DL to invite a friend along to camp. (Which is no big deal because most years MIL insists on paying for us. Just paying it forward).

I did decide to throw all my snowflakes to the mortgage this month. I expect this may likely be the "last hoorah" with our mortgage. I had been paying down an extra $3k per month (OT money) to keep payoff within 30 years of original mortgage. (We've refied several times as interest rates drop, but never felt comfortable with a shorter mortgage term with the volatile economy in our lower-cost locale). I am no longer getting paid OT and so don't have that extra money to throw at the mortgage. MH's income will probably fund IRAs this year (bigger priority). I put a placeholder on my sidebar, but as more time passes and there's no windfall to cover it, it seems less likely I will pay any extra on our mortgage again. So, why the extra payment today? Completely psychological. It's a year or two later than I expected, but we finally dropped below the $150k mark. I had to throw the extra $170 this month to get there. It feels good. Having a $14X,XXX mortgage, feels extraordinary for this California girl.

We've absolutely never hit our mortgage hard. Never more than $20 here or there, or the "extra $3k per year after I cut the monthly payments down by $7,500 per year" kind of thing. Still paying far less than when we started (at 8%). So throwing the extra $3k per year was throwing it a bone, and making sure we don't have a mortgage for more than 30 years But it all seems pretty moot at this point. We are only planning to stay in our home 5-ish more years. We will never pay off before we sell. & we plan to downsize into a home we can pay cash for. Our bigger goal right now is to save up a down payment for our next home. It would be our preference to buy our next home before we sell this one. It just keeps things more flexible and will allow us to jump when we find the right home.

This is also compounded by this whole "kid starting college in 2 years" thing. There will also be cash hoarding in prep for that. I don't know how much I can succeed on either of these fronts (down payment, college costs) with my salary, but MH is looking for full-time work to that end. If he starts bringing home $2k-$3k every single month, we are just going to start hoarding cash. We will never live up to a second income. We will use it to buy a house (again) or pay for a temporary expense like college.

Anyway, I feel much better about this after having reached this psychological milestone. It's easier to just let it go. Will be happy to have an under $150k mortgage for a few years, and then will be done with the only debt we have ever had.

Edited to add:
I suppose I officially reached cash savings goal for 2019. It's not that exciting, because it depends on what comes up the rest of the year (that might drain cash) and I still need to come up with IRA money. I mean, I have $12k cash for our 2019 IRAs, but that was all saved from second income. I need to start meaningfully saving for 2020 and forward. Trying to get ahead of the curve as much as possible, until we get our income back to where it was.