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Archive for April, 2007

$150 spent

April 30th, 2007 at 12:11 pm

Hmmm, I think I will go back to tracking spending here/sharing more, now that I have more time.

Well, just put almost $150 on the card. Paid the diaper service. (I put everything on the card for rebate money - am due $250 in just a month or so - woohoo!!!).

& since we decided to sign up LM for toddler class this month when I looked up the # I saw the community center had the summer catalog. So I looked through and found oodles of classes for the kids. Good thing so cheap.

One thing BM has been wanting to try is MArtial Arts, and gymnastics. When he turns 4 in the summer there will be lots more options, but there is a little Toddler one, one night a week, we will give it a whirl. Will make it a hectic day, but oh well. I also saw the swim catalog and surfed the web a little as I wasn't as pleased with the community center's swim lessons last time. He's turning 4 and I think really he should know how to swim this summer. The plus side is his preschool got a pool late last summer, and worked with him, and we have a community pool. So we can work with him, and his preschool will too. But I looked up the YMCA (where I learned to swim at 4 or 5) & it was insanely expensive!!! Wow! I think the private lessons offered at our pool are cheaper, and I think it is a very important skill so maybe I will call the homeowners association and see if they are offering lessons this year or what. May be worth it. Or we will just take the cheap community center ones, watch what they are attempting to teach, and work with him I guess. We could do that. We can work with him a lot this summer, it is nice having access to a pool just down the street!

I also have pretty much avoided gym memberships and workout classes since having kids due to time and costs. Last year I was still breastfeeding (hard to get away much more than for work), spent 18 months pregnant the last few years, etc. But the aerobics class is only $2.50 a class or $30/month for 12 hours a month. So I called dh and asked if he would mind terribly if I spent 2 nights a week at aerobics, and a saturday morning too (usually let him sleep in because I am an early bird - well he can still sleep in sundays).

Anyway, he didn't really care or mind, so I signed up and start tomorrow. I have been wanting to get back into it and get in shape, but just no motivation. Shelling out the money and having to go to class 3 days a week, is the motivation I need. $2.50/class - can't beat it. Hopefully it works out!

So 1 class each for us was about $30 each - so just charged almost $150 to the card with that and diapers.

I think for BM we might try gymnastics and martial arts this summer. Most of the classes we have taken through the community center have been so excellent and affordable, I hope the martial arts is the same - he will be so excited. & he can try out the gymnastics too later in the summer. Plus we will be working on some swimming. Busy busy busy I guess. For the long run probably make him choose one or the other, but he has seen karate on t.v. and thinks it is way cool. Of course he tries to imitate crazy gymnastic moves too, sometimes worry he is going to break his neck, so that will be a good outlet too. There's a nice kid's gym down the street from my work, but it cost twice as much. & the martial arts is even worse. So we'll give the cheaper option a whirl and see how he enjoys. As long as we're paying for preschool is probably the best he will get.

Gosh, I don't remember the last time I did something so for ME! 3 days a week for me, to get in shape. Hehe - I am excited. I kind of miss just going to the gym - I love working out and am a gym girl, etc. But just hasn't been in the cards for years. So something like a cheap aerobics class makes me giddy. I have to get on my neighbor's case too. She has a dance studio in her home and offered to teach aerobics to some of us moms on the weekends. I should bug her too, to get on that. Now that would be convenient!

Bookeeping = Big Money, & other Monday rambles

April 30th, 2007 at 07:18 am

Before forget, you knew I was perusing craigslist the other day (was looking at cars - well at least dh and I both have our own downfalls - which we really do keep to a minimum - I swear - LOL). But while looking at the convertibles, and even considering going for something cheaper and lesser quality so I can buy one sooner (eh, decided against it) I started perusing rest of Craigslist and skimmed the want ads. There were a handful of adds offering $65k to bookkeepers. What in holy hell??? That's how much I made last year 5 years as a CPA - LOL. Anyway, I am looking at the ads and scratching my head. But the interesting this is most of the ads were from CPA firms, and in fact we have been looking for some experienced bookkeepers as well. We just can't find enough CPAs, and well, if we can find anyone who can do the work, as long as the CPAs oversee it, is all that matters. But with not enough interest, we are really upping the ante.

So what does my CPA license and degree buy me today? Maybe a few thousand a year for now, which is good. Definitely a lot more with time and more responsibility. But in the interim, I just have to say if you didn't go the CPA route and you enjoy bookkeeping, go check the want ads. Holy cow! You aren't doing 1/2 bad. I was just telling my mom last night about this since my sister just got her AA degree in accounting. Of course, with no experience, she won't get any of these jobs. But it is interesting. The industry is just crazy right now - and they keep saying like 1/2 of the CPAs are retiring in the next decade. I think it will be nearly impossible to strike a work/life balance in this unfortunate set of circumstances. Sure the pay and job stability is amazing, but the lack of qualified workers is pretty hard to work around all the same - my boss says this was the WORST tax season he has ever had in 30 years, and he lost a lot of clients to retirement these last few years. Of course maybe as so much of the workforce retires, it will kind of work itself out. ???

But anyway, I am not big on lots of responsibility. I would love to just drop back and be a bookkeeper. Frankly, is why I love my job. I have felt like a glorified bookkeeper - paid very well for easier work - in years past. But these days more and more responsibility pushed my way. As long as I have a CPA designation there is probably no way around that - I just have to get used to it. I expect a big raise next year thought - wow! I didn't see anyone paying my job more (in the ads) than $75k which is about what I will gross this year with my bonus. But it is kind of cool to know I could downgrade my job and not lose much income. Makes me wonder if we should demand bigger raises still in coming years. The industry has just been in overhaul, I have hardly had anything less than a 5-10% raise as is, and it doesn't seem to be slowing down - that is the crazy thing.

Well, today is the first day of "normal" in months. I am going to take BM to preschool and leave early to pick him up.

I don't plan to work past 5 all week!

I may even come home for lunch 1 day this week.

& I will sign up baby for his toddler class this month. Might as well, I can break away from work and go with him.

Ah, back to normalcy.

& if the week goes well I might even take Friday off!!! Woohoo. Still have to see how the workload and deadlines go. I have a tax appointment tomorrow too - ugh - procrastinators - LOL.

I think I am going to bite the bullet and apply for credit cards and see how it goes. I am going to apply for one with 9-month free balance transfer and $100 in gift cards and dh is going to apply for a 12-month 0% BT & $50 gift card. I am going with citi card because it seems they are the EASIEST to get a check, and they definitely have no fees, etc.

My plan is for next year for both of us to apply for Discover cards so we can do a BT to the old cards and extend it out for another year.

Then we're going to pay them off AND cancel the cards, and see what that does to our credit score. & then cool it for a while. I couldn't play that game on and on and have a ton of cards. We were originally going to just test one of our credit scores, but we decided it really didn't matter. I don't know. Last time we borrowed a lot of money, paid it off and closed it in a short time our credit shot up to the 800s so overall I am not too worried. But we'll definitely keep an eye on the score and proceed slowly. The gift cards (Target!!) will be a nice perk! I was going to let dh use one to get a game controller for the PS3 ($50?) but he just found a way to get one for free - so go dh.

The unfortunate thing is that I have to apply for the cards, get them, and make a purchase, to get the gift cards. Then will pay it off and do the BT. So no cash for a couple of months. I read the blog instructions and the fine print on the cards like 100 times to be sure, and now I am ready. How exciting! I hope we both get $5k - $10k, but who really knows... I'll let you know!

I used to think it was so awesome to be debt free, and lately I keep saying, well "I am debt free except the loan that I choose not to pay because I make more in the bank." But you know what - I am just going to say I am debt free. This does not count - LOL. I am going to borrow the money, put it in the bank, and not touch it. Or should I just start saying I have all good debt for leverage. It's funny when I joined here I was like, I don't want to be wealthy, I just want to live and retire comfortably. I guess that is still my goal, but I am sitting back and thinking about the big picture more. Where once I would not consider carrying any debt it is quite a mind-shift, and wealth-building attitude, to use low interest debt to our advantage.

I feel confident as I have never paid a credit card fee in 14 years of card ownership. Pay the bills on time, read the fine print, just doesn't seem very hard. All the same I still have a fear, what if I screw up - the fees could be nasty. So we'll see. At least we'll get some gift cards - LOL. I even told dh I was going to put the BT transfer info with our will stuff so if something happens it gets paid right away. I can just imagine our family's surprise if they found we had $20k in cc debt - what the heck??? LOL. & I will make sure dh knows when the bills are due and where the money is in case something happens to me. Maybe a little overkill, but just don't want it to bite us in the ass for ANY reason. Not even to our estate if something happens to us- wouldn't give the credit card companies the satisfaction of squeezing a dime from us for any reason. Oh yeah, I probably hesitate because of my overall disdain for them, but all the more reason to take free money from them I guess. Wink





Crazy Local News

April 29th, 2007 at 07:49 pm

Um, apparently the freeway melted and collapsed from a giant tanker truck fire. Who knew that could even happen? Luckily was 3am - sounds like so far no one was hurt?

[url]http://www.pleasantonweekly.com/news/show_story.php?id=134[/url]

Yikes!!!!

ETA: Still say no one was hurt or killed (except truck driver who walked away from the scene - he isn't so bad off...).

Amazing.

Summer Here

April 29th, 2007 at 08:05 am

Oh yeah, it is a bad sign when you have to turn on the a/c in April. Yikes. It was a hot weekend and we waited it out, but last night it was up to 85 in the house so I turned on the ac for a bit to cool off the upstairs for the kids, before bed. Good move since I later opened the window but the neighbors were LOUD last night, and quickly closed the window - hehe. The 10-15 minutes of a/c did the trick and kept the house comfortable for the night. It's 77 in here right now and quite comfortable, as long as I don't do too much work in the house. Was over 90 outside yesterday - ick. The summers where it doesn't hit 100 degrees until July, I can deal with. But sometimes it starts hitting in May, and I am getting scared it will be one of those LONG summers. Hopefully it will cool off for a bit - I really rather have 1 more month of no a/c! The electric bill has been so nice and low!

Yesterday was REALLY nice. Dh had wanted to go to the Scottish Festival, which was quite expensive really. I told him I didn't want to be too stingy and cheap, but since we are going to Monterey next weekend... So we decided to go to the zoo and Fairytale Town which we have memberships too. & you would be proud of us. We packed up a lunch. There happens to be a pond and park between the zoo and Fairytale Town and so we decided to hit FT first, stop and eat lunch ,and maybe run by the zoo for a bit - it is very small.

Anyway, the heat was a bit much as the day progressed, but overall a very cheap and fun day. Kids had a blast.

The little FT also had a promotion where they are going to put in a "yellow brick road" and you can buy an inscribed brick for $100. Would love to to so - I think that is cool. Will have to think what we want to inscribe in it. For a good cause and all.

Anyway, for the ever present truth that less is more to kids, I had to share this. Fairytale Town has a few farm animals and slides and stuff to climb in. A fancy playground I guess. But they have this thing called the "crooked mile" which is basically a little raised path that winds round and round. So when we got there I plopped down and let BM run through it about 10 times. It might as well be a fancy roller coaster as far as he is concerned - the kids just LOVE it. Dh and I have always scratched our head on that one - who knew something so simple could be like the main attraction? LOL.

Here's a glimpse:



& then where we had our picnic lunch:



& the big duck who tried to grab my food. I was a little scared of him, but started snapping his picture and he ran off - he didn't like it - LOL. I guess he was a duck - I don't know - some big fellas.



We figured we wore out the kids real good and they would nap all afternoon and maybe even sleep well at night, but the plan backfired. They went on nap strike and were extra grumpy to boot, plus we were exhausted. Oh well. Baby had another awful night. Ugh.

We actually went to the SF zoo last year once and it was quite cheap, but the food did us in. So we are thinking about it for this year - we just need to pack up a lunch and go enjoy - the zoo even has free parking. I guess gas will be the pricey part, but is such a nice zoo. All we have to do is rein in the food costs to make it a pretty affordable excursion.







Recent Lessons Learned

April 28th, 2007 at 07:43 am

I have learned a couple of big lessons lately that are leading me to tweak my goals again.

I think I can sum them up into 2 lessons:

1 - The answer to most financial questions is: it depends. No one-size-fits-all!!!

2 - Doing something without truly thinking it through and looking at the big picture (like doing it on a gut feel) is not smart.

My gut feel used to be I wanted a lot of cash and no mortgage, etc., etc. But I was falling behind on all my financial goals by being so short-sighted about the BIG picture.

I've been coming to this realization slowly over time, but I finally gave into the other side of the great mortgage debate and completely change my tune. I no longer am paying an extra dime to the mortgage. I don't see the point. I decided to change my tax withholding because I was a little behind. At first I was frustrated as it significantly compromised my savings goals. & then I looked at the stupid $30 extra mortgage payment and decided I would commit that to retirement instead. Much smarter! Before I looked at it as a forced savings, a small amount I wouldn't bother with otherwise. But forced with such a huge budget change, I thought, gosh, I have been saving that $30 no prob - why not just put it to retirement instead. I can commit to save a small amount. & that is huge - a huge change in my thinking just over the last few months. Getting away from the so all or nothing thing.

We also have formulated a plan for our cash savings. We are going to keep 3 months bare minimum expenses and that is it. The rest - again to retirement - much better returns in the long run. We are losing out on so much earnings potential wanting a lot of cash in the bank.

In my new thinking I am just able to weigh everything with our goals and make decisions now. Vanguard dropped their fees so the $50/month I have been adding in a slow attempt to erase the fee of 1 fund (thought it was screwing up my allocations - and was why I was doing it slowly) - well I no longer have that need. I dropped the investment plan yesterday. By doing so we are on track to meeting our 3-month EF by December, $1k to invest, and the $1500 to do my final ROTH conversions. No more money to retirement this year, but with a $13k contribution from my job this year, just makes sense. We can go into 2008 with a full e-fund, an investment account started, all ROTHs, and can contribute heavily to the ROTHs in 2008. Woohoo.

Anyway, many circumstances have changed this month, but having the big picture in mind it was easy to make the appropriate changes and work with them.

Anyway, besides 3 months in expenses we will be adding $100/month & my overtime to savings for bigger purchases (cars and house maintenance) but should be plenty, with these interest rates anyway. We will start investing a very minimal amount in a balanced fund, since my new-car horizon is so far away. & for longer-term stuff. & then hoping to set aside about 8% to ROTHS. But of course, any unexpected windfalls will got to max those out. So I think the odds are high we can max out next year and still make decent progress on our savings. My gut wants to max out the ROTHs, but realistically, we don't need a 25% retirement contribution next year. Not at cost to all else. We'll get there in a few years. No hurry for now. Having more than enough for my own ROTH, on one income, sounds nice and dandy. But if anything extra comes along... It is reachable to fund both, all the same!

Some reasons I have changed my tune:

1 - thinking about our time horizon and how we have a 40-year plus investment horizon for investments. Longer horizon means more time to ride out the wave.

2 - Even if we take the full 30 years, the house will be paid off in our young 50s or well before retirement, no need to stress about it right now. It will be so much easier to make extra payments in a few years and will still have a significant impact - if we our making all our other goals.

3 - Our interest-rate is low and we will have the mortgage deduction (effectively making it lower) for years to come.

4 - I feel confident in the ability to earn twice as much over the long haul - 8 - 10% vs. the effective 4-5% mortgage interest rate.

5 - Yup, 8-10% because in the ROTHs it is all tax free earnings! Makes it the no-brainer.

6 - Over 90% of our net worth is in our home - we need to spread out our investments.

7 - Our mortgage is very reasonable and low-cost for the area. If I had a huge windfall I would have NO urge to pay off the house. I find small monthly payments much more manageable. I NEVER got the idea to pay off a house with life insurance, but I guess being the sole breadwinner I wouldn't - LOL. I look at life insurance as more of the retirement contributions that my dh would have made in life. Of course if something happened to him I would downsize the house anyway, may be able to pay it off in that case. On the flip side, the mortgage is quite huge at $215k. It would take a big effort to significantly pay it down early, at all costs to retirement. Instead I expect we will have the income in a few years to pay it down faster and in the end will still pay it off just as fast as originally planned. But will have lots of money in the bank, earning a nice return, to boot. Wink

8 - I still can't get past the idea that my house could flood away or we could get sued for something stupid and have it taken away, but that our retirement is so safe from creditors, bankruptcy, lawsuit, etc. I just do not feel warm and fuzzy about having a $600k asset paid off. Frankly, it scares the hell out of me to sink all our cash into the house. If it was a $200k or $300k house I would feel differently. It's all in the sheer size and weight in our overall wealth I guess.

& as far as cash:

1 - job security out the ying-yang

2 - Plenty of insurance on all fronts

3 - Plenty of 0% credit options as well as plenty of well-off family to fall back on (loans) if we hit some really horrible times like the house flooding away or major medical bills.

So though I really want to hoarde a lot of cash, we probably could hardly be in a better position to not really need it. We just have a lot of options. So we decided to stick with the 3-month expense thing. The odds I will be out of work for more than like a day are just really slim to none in this market, and my job is quite recession-proof to boot. ( I exaggerate a tad, but not really, I could go find a job in a day - it is just crazy in my field right now). Disability actually would cover all of our bills - both the short-term and long-term (disability), and we have plenty of life insurance and all that. Medical is the big unknown for now, but we have low deductibles at least. I am starting to think we should keep a little less in the bank and try to pay for the higher premiums again next year. Might just be worth it to keep the costs controlled, even if the premiums are insane. Something to consider.

Anyway, overall it is amazing to me how much my thinking has changed in just the last few months. But I think we are looking at the big picture a lot better and are maximizing our wealth.

I still can't believe car is paid and we are so on track to so many goals this year. Though the year is young and anything can happen, all the same.

All that and a HDTV!

But setting goals and being focused has sure paid off tenfold... I had the focus before, just really not any tangible goals. What the hell were we doing anyway? LOL.















Annoying Assumptions

April 28th, 2007 at 06:47 am

Hey, I went to get my car yesterday and no charge - they'll just bill me when they finish the work - how nice. I called to ask if we could cancel the part order and call around some of the dealers and at first he said yes, but called later to say it was too late. I figured we'll just replace it. But maybe a good lesson to call the dealers for a second opinion at the least, you never know. Maybe this is a common problem with a quick fix.

Anyway, reminds me how this mechanic has annoyed me in the past with annoying assumptions! He'll look at the car, fix what I bring it in for, have it all ready, and then when I pick it up he says "you need this and this done too. Bring it back later." But not knowing us better I guess made the sweeping assumption (maybe the more common choice) that we rather wait and save up the money and bring it in later. In reality I want it taken care of while I went out of my way to go carless for a day or 2. Gah. It's just my pet peeve. In some cases maybe it paid to wait. But anyway, after a few times I told him, look, I rather get it all done now. We have such a great long-standing relationship with our mechanic back home and he is very honest about what is critical and what can wait, etc. So I have been trying to get this info more out of him. But if it really can't wait more than a couple of months - please just do it now!!!! So I think he is getting it. Of course, he still hasn't 100% learned. Am I sure I really want to fix my power locks now? Um yes - it is driving me batty - I left all the doors unlocked yesterday because I completely forgot - at work - not the best area. I need my locks!

Anyway, this also happened at the hospital. We were in for dh's ear appointment after he started losing his hearing suddenly. Overall something big and major - right? But the doc looks at our chart and says, oh, I would usually send you to the PT, but looking at your high co-pay plan, oh, you are just better off waiting a few days first - it might go away. In the end that was better advice, and it did. I am glad we didn't output the money. But the assumption that we should put off some procedure because we probably don't have the money? Ugh. There it goes again. It's his hearing!!! I will pay good money to get it fixed!

Geez.

I just find it interesting the assumptions made. If we had a better plan (which by the way cost another $300/month!!!) and were wearing expensive clothes would we have had an unnecessary PT appointment? Hmmmm. It only would have saved us $25 on the co-pay but we'd be out another $3600 all year for the premiums. So yeah I would rather have that advice on the other plan - LOL. People are funny.