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Archive for January, 2009

Cali sent my refund!

January 28th, 2009 at 05:44 pm

Boy, am I a lucky duck!!!!

State announced for sure it wouldn't issue refunds for tax returns filed this week or later. (Can't afford to pay them right now - delayed at least 30 days - but who knows how long).

Anyway, I got my taxes filed last Monday, after the announcement. I had the feeling I would get it, but wasn't 100% sure.

Well, my check arrived today!!!!!!!!!

Woohoo!

I got $550 for my savings account...

& yes, I lowered my withholdings. Whatever California. You don't want to issue refunds? Then I will just pay you less. I overpaid because Cali is a PITA to figure out so I just told my boss to wihhold $50 a paycheck. This year I decided $30. Yeesh.

Ebay Challenge

January 27th, 2009 at 07:56 pm

Goal: NET $1200 in Ebay & Craigslist Sales for 2009

Two Sources of sales:

One: Selling items around the house; 100% profit

Two: Dh's Ebay/Craigslist business (buying and selling used video game systems, accessories, and games).

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

January
-------
1/15: Gross $70 Ebay - $30 profit
(video games and controllers)

1/27: Gross $90 Ebay - $45 profit
(5 video games)

1/27: Gross $40 - used game store - $40 profit

January net profits: $115

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Basically, dh bought 2 Gamecubes off Craigslist, complete with accessories and games.

Sold some of the accessories at the used gaming store. Sold a pile of games on Ebay for about $160. Sold the Gamecubes back on Craigslist (sold them with the bare minimum accessories and the crappy games. Maybe held back a couple of nice games to sell with the systems).

So far in January he retained Donkey COnga Jungle Beat, for our pleasure. (It's pretty fun too!). SO you can add one free game to our profits.

I might even transfer the money to mid-term savings. ??? We had a good month. Dh just started this a few months ago and I have mostly been using the money to pay bills (or he has been funneling it to buy himself stuff, like a used Wii). But this month, I think I may have $100 for savings, which is pretty sweet!

Today's Ebay sales closed $20 higher than predicted. Woohoo!

Back to Reality

January 27th, 2009 at 12:44 pm

I was jolted back to reality this week rather quickly.

Foreclosure 2 doors down. Asking insanely low price of $240k (for smallest home). I don't mind. Last foreclosure so close asked $300k a bit ago and sold FAST. As long as it sells fast I am happy. We don't need a row of forelcosed homes on the street. Some in the greater neighborhood have been sitting empty for YEARS. I am curious which banks own those and which ones are acting so fast. Kudos to the banks owning near MY house!

So, we'll see.

$240k is just about prices when we bought. Still $10k higher. Still have equity equity. YEah, not for long!

Also, lay offs seem to be contagious around here all of a sudden.

I don't know how it is in other regions, but Cali has been hit HARD this decade. Most of our friends and family had lay offs in 2002 with the tech bust. MANY of them had lay offs again in 2005. & of course the same people are being laid off again now (a lot of lay offs last week I guess). I mentioned before the housing bubble was not ALL about greed. I know a lot of people used their equity to get by layoff after layoff. Not sure what there plan of actions is this time. It is scary when it comes to the foreclosures. It's BAD but everyone laid off can only make it worse. Since the people who can afford their mortgages won't be able to if they are out of work for a long time.

It's pretty scary out there. Just wondering if our slice of suburbia will become a foreclosure wasteland...

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P.S. I am closing all my old credit cards and my FICO will still be over 800. How do I know? Because I always close my old credit cards (My oldest card I have only had about 3 years though I have used cards for 15+ years) and my score is just about always over 800. & if it dips down to like 790, well, I could care less. This whole fear of FICO strikes me as completely ridiculous most of the time. Fair enough if you are working on improving a low score. BUT if your score is already 780 or 800, I think you have way more important things to worry about!

What do I know? My score has mostly been 800+ for my entire adulthood.

I did obliterate my score a bit (down to 750, which is the same as 830 to most lenders BTW). Anyway, with all the balance transfers. & then I paid them off, closed the cards, and my score went right back up (to 805 as of Jan. 1).

I am not too worried about it. !

Anyway, if I read one more article or comment how I shouldn't close my old cards. Egads!!!!!














Rejuvenated

January 26th, 2009 at 01:49 pm

Well, it was awfully decadent to slip off so close to January 31, for the entire weekend.

But we did have a BLAST!

I was second guessing the wisdom of taking 2 nights away as we pulled up to our hotel in San Francisco at 9:30 pm, Friday. Since I had to work all day, was about the earliest we could swing. (Particularly since we dropped the kids off in another city). I was thinking I should have saved the timeshare points for a three-day weekend. But in the end it worked out - glad we did it.

We stayed at the same place we stayed a few years ago. I didn't realize and didn't really have great memories, but we ended up with a nice suite.

The weather was kind of blah.

We went to Ghiradelli for ice cream - it was right across the street. I actually had the idea beforehand because we used to take the 45-minute drive to SF in college, dh & I once in a blue moon very late at night, and pig out on their giant sundaes. So it we decided to relive our youth a bit.

It was a little dissapointing. For one, the place was filled with college kids so we did feel rather old. (The tourists cut out early I guess, and the college kids take over). PLUS they reduced the size of their sundaes by at least half. What the heck????? Good for the waistline I guess, but I had looked forward to an ice cream gourging. What I could barely finish in my 20s was now topped off in 5 minutes. LOL.

Saturday we lounged around and watched DVDs since it drizzled most of the morning. We were meeting good friends for lunch (who I am terrible at keeping in touch with) and they chose a nice restaurant in an old neighbohorhood where another friend had lived in college. We were already in the car when they said they may be an hour late, so we decided to visit the old neighborhood. Not sure if I took dh there much but there's these beautiful cliif side trails just about a half mile down from where we were meeting, so we went on an impromptu hike over there.

The area is called the "Cliff House" and there used to be an old arcade museum there with a lot of old fortune telling machines, player pianos and such. I couldn't find it though I Was sure it had been down by the beach. Dh thought I Was mistaken.

We eventually found out it had been moved to a big warehouse just blocks from our hotel. So we found it in the end.

[url]http://www.museemechanique.org/[/url]

So it was definitely great fun going back to that area, and we made it to the museum too, later. Then we met my friend for lunch and drinks. We made all sorts of plans to visit the City more. I was appalled she hadn't seen my youngest since he was an infant. I had just told him I would take him on the Bay Area "subway" sometime soon, so I think we have somewhere to take it to. (He is obsessed with trains, so that will be fun to do someday).

We actually were making plans to go to a sketch comedy show in the evening and to gorge ourselves on Indian food, but the comedy club was sold out and we decided at the last minute to get some Deli Sandwhiches and to go back to the hotel. We walked to the Fisherman's Wharf and all that, but it was crowded and not much exciting there. We decided to be cheap and boring instead. Big Grin

Sunday we went for a walk around some of our old hangouts (the sun came out and it was just gorgeous that day). But we were kicked out of the hotel at 10am.

We decided to meet my parents for lunch and had some nice, quiet, no-kid time with them. My mom and I just ate sandwhiches while dh and my dad went out to some Asian buffet. So we just had a nice time.

We headed over to a cousin's birthday party at 2:00 to pick up the kids. MIL kept telling us not to come until 4:00, but we knew when the party was and we wanted our kids, so we crashed it I guess. LOL.

WE didn't quite get out until 4:30 and we're hoping to get home in time for dinner.

We got on the road and it was magnificent. One of my most fond memories is our 1st Wedding ANniversary when we took the day off work and went for a drive on the coast, paid for a really fancy lunch on the beach and watched this magnificent lightning storm (quite rare). IT was just one of those incredible days.

So as we headed east towards the hills yesterday, they were just emrald green but there were these massive storm clouds in the distance and rainbows just everywhere. We saw some lightning in the distance and thought we might get quite a show. It didn't really amount to much, but we apparently missed a massive hail storm by about minutes. WE passed a number of accidents that had just happened, and there were piles of white ice around each accident. We marveled how we were lucky we got out a little slower than we intended. We hardly saw any rain the whole drive, so it was actually quite nice. The storm seemed to be heading in the opposite direction. I don't know if I have ever seen such magnificent rainbows though.

Anyway, yeah, I feel completely rejuvenated. Nothing like a weekend of astounding beauty to just rejuvenate your soul. I forgot how beautiful San Francisco can be. & the drive home was incredible.

We ended up spending about $170 for the weekend. Not bad, if you ask me. Big Grin

$45 parking (2 nights), $20 gas for the car (drove about 350 miles; took the gas sipper), about $25 eating in (breakfast, snacks, deli), and about $80 on eating out, drinks, ice cream. About $60 of that was lunch and ice cream. We ate some fast food with the kids on the drive down. My dad treated for the lunch buffet. I treated my mom to sandwhiches though.

My frugal move was to bring my own soda.

Well, it's back to reality for me. I got some pics I will share later.

BUSY

January 23rd, 2009 at 02:03 pm

I am still alive.

It is just busy.

I was trying to time our weekend away, Bay Area dentist visit, and our weekend off from work (for carpet cleaning) all at the same time. Instead they ended up 3 different weekends. I should have been more insistent about pulling BM out of school early this Friday. This is crazy. We're s'posed to be working all these hours and I get 3 weekends off instead.

So I worked really hard to justify it this week, and well, I guess it has paid off. I finished all my W-2s (8 days ahead of schedule thank you) and made a pretty good dent in the 1099s. I could have gone to the dentist next Friday and drove back Saturday a.m. to work, but I think I won't have to. I may work Sunday instead as a compromise. But glad to be mostly done with the deadline stuff.

Plenty more deadlines on the horizon thought! 2/15, 3/15, and of course 4/15!

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The weather looks sucky (wet and gloomy) for our weekend getaway, but I guess we will survive. It will still be nice to get away.

Dh called to ask if they had a DVD player. Score. He had downloaded season 2 of Big Love. Not that we have HBO he suggested if it was too rainy we could watch some of that and he would record season 3 on the DVR.

It feels like it's been years since we watched that. I'm like, "They are only on Season 3?" Not as behind as I thought.

I LOVED Six Feet Under & Curb Your Enthusiasm but I am not like dh. He has to see everything the second it airs. Or he will just die. I have patience. So I have just been watching them all on DVD as they come out, etc. So if I get hooked on some new shows, I won't sweat it. Dh is another story though. Wink

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Not much else to report. I have struggled with putting in the hours my boss really wants me to work the last few years. Since 2002. He seems okay with it, but he also rewards well financially for lots of overtime. So, I don't know what it is. Getting more sleep, hormones settling down, all of the above, but I feel like I can take on the world. I am going to work hard on extra hours this tax season. The hours I've pulled this week I have not been able to do since pregnancy and kids. They are just so exhausting. In another life I worked non-stop. Not that I wanted to work like that forever. But it's been frustrating to go from that to this. BUT things are looking up.

Even with the fam I don't mind kicking it up a notch for tax season. It's only a few months of the year. Makes the rest of the year feel like easy street really.

Anyway, my main online time is in the a.m. before work, so I will have to work on a new schedule. This week I mostly skipped it (blogging at all). Plus with it so busy I just haven't had much to say!

DIE Call Waiting, DIE

January 20th, 2009 at 09:16 am

Well, it only took 8 years of marriage, 9 years of living together, but I *WIN*

LOL.

(& it cracks me up some of the responses in my last post).

I posted yesterday I was reviewing the phone bill and decided to drop long distance. & since dh had talked about HBO Recently, I thought maybe I could talk him into dropping the ridiculous $6/month charge for call waiting.

I wasn't optimistic. At all.

So, I called him and the second I said the words "call waiting" he started to go off. BEcause we have had this fight quite a few times. & he likes to argue anyway.

But he said something about how we HAVE to have it, blahdeblah.

& seriously, all I said was, "But we have our cell phones. If anyone NEEDS to reach us they have our cell phones."

& he stopped his little tirade and just said, "YEah. You are right. We haven't had this discussion since we've had cell phones, have we?"

LOL.

So I didn't even have to offer HBO - I could have talked him into it.

Woohoo.

Boy, that was too easy. Should have done this a few years ago.

I mentioned the HBO anyway. I was surprised when told me he only wanted it about 3 months for a particular show.

Since it was his birthday and we hadn't gotten him a thing, I figured 3 months of HBO was a fair enough present.

So now everybody is happy. Big Grin

It's a wash with the HBO, but when he drops it again, we will be saving about $16/month.

We just slashed our land line bill in half. From about $30 to $15 monthly. We had discussed a lot lately dropping it, but it's a little luxury we like to keep. We only use our cell phones for emergency and calling family (long distance) for the most part. We don't want to use our cell phones for EVERYTHING. Plus, if we did, we would need a more expensive plan with more minutes. So I think this is a pretty good compromise.

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P.S. If you want to know why I HATE call waiting more than anything. My dh INSISTS we have it so people can get through. Anyway, I can't tell you how many times HE has ignored me when I was trying to get through, and he was talking to someone else. Seriously. "Oh it was an important call." "Oh, it was my grandfater long distance." Blahblahblah. God forbid I ignore the call waiting. But he seems to ignore it an awful lot for being so "call waiting holier than thou." I mean that is just the final nail in the coffin for me. If he would walk the walk as much as he talked the talk, then it wouldn't be so aggravating.

The cell phones have call waiting of course, but it's not quite the same. It's not a separate charge. & if I Want to ignore call waiting on my phone, that's my problem. He has his own phone. So the issue doesn't come up much. It's not like he misses calls because I ignore my call waiting. So, phew. May we never argue about call waiting again. Wink

Lots of stuff

January 19th, 2009 at 10:43 am

Boy, when I don't update very much, well, I have a lot to chat about...

**I was paying the phone bill and it seemed high. I looked at the bill closer (it's usually the same every month) and thought long distance was the culprit. $10? What did it do? Double?

Looked closer, and long distance was same as prior month, but flat service rate (& taxes) had gone up about $5.

Um, I think we will drop the long distance. We haven't used it since we upgraded our phone plan. I didn't realize how expensive it had gotten. We've been sharing minutes with my parents for a few months at this point. We have plenty minutes. We can call each other for free (which is our main long distance usually) AND we have been using skype more.

The other thing that peeves me about my bill is $6 for call waiting. I HATE call waiting. I think it is very rude; I never use it. But dh wins this one. He hates people who don't have call waiting more than I hate call waiting. If that is possible. Well, I wasn't going to end our union over call waiting, I'll put it that way. LOL. We both feel strongly about our call waiting stances. But it's flipping $6. I think that is crazy. I am going to broach the subject. He had asked something about HBO recently and I said "No way!!!" BUT I would be willing to get HBO if we could drop the long distance AND call waiting. I'll put the offer on the table. I don't expect him to bite. But I rather pay $15/month for HBO than $6/month for call waiting. Big Grin IT's worth some negotiating.

I think dh loves call waiting more than HBO, but I could be wrong.

& oh yes, we pay $1/month for an unlisted # even though it pops up all over the internet now. It's like, nevermind. More wasted money. So much for unlisted. Gah!

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**I filed my taxes. I would have done it sooner, but for various reasons, couldn't do it until today. The state has said refunds will be delayed 30 days at minumum. I am expecting $600 for our savings (mostly state, if I ever get it). I tried to at least be first in line? Big Grin W-2, itemized expenses (all detailed in Quicken). We have no taxable accounts but some savings accounts. It was all very simple. I didn't spend more than an hour on it all.

ETA: State just announced filers before Feb. 1 will get refund ASAP. Woohoo!!!! BUT status subject to change. Won't hold my breath...

**I closed my Virtual Bank accounts. I had a token $100 in there thinking I may use the account for some savings bucket, one of these days. Interest rate was not horrid. I noticed it just dropped down to 1% interest rate (from like 2.5%?). Nevermind. Decided to bail.

BUT this was my first high yield online savings account. Ah, the memories. I will miss ya.

I really don't like jumping around accounts too much (what a headache). I am still mostly loyal to GMAC. They may not have the highest rate at any one point in time, but they have a good track record. Slow to lower rates; first to raise them, overall.

Now that my vbank account is closed, I will be open to testing out another high yield bank though. I think 2 is my limit at once. Flagstar bank caught my eye because they have our new mortgage, but it looked like merely promotional/temporary rates. I'll sit and watch for a while.

**I was good and I called a handyman. The good and bad thing about us is we are very cautious. We very rarely make snap decisions. If something needs to be done around the house, we wait. If it's not urgent anyway. As a result, though we had PLENTY of cash in the bank to do everything I want to get done, back in 2005 when some of these things came up, we really hesitated. I am not quick to call it a fault of ours. We have learned over the years that by putting off purchases and such, we often realize we can live without. So it's kind of like, let's wait a year or 2 or 3. The impact on our finances is astounding. BUT at the same time, we probably put off stuff we shouldn't. That is true.

Anyway, we have some issues with our gutters and I didn't want to drag my feet on it. I draw the line at anything that can cause further damage if not fixed ASAP.

Researched and found a very highly recommended handyman. Turns out he could work on all the jobs we need help with right now. I asked him to come out to fix the gutters and give us quotes on the rest. We'd see how we like him.

AND, he never showed up.

I was astounded. 1 - because he was billed as SO reliable. 2 - because Craigslist is filled with desperate pleas for work. I assumed the laborers would be less flaky than usual.

Boy was I wrong. With all that I heard I gave the guy the benefit of the doubt, and called to try to reschedule. For all I know he was incapacitated or something. But he never returned my call.

I give up!

As I perused Craigslist printing out ads for dh to follow up on (I don't have time for this!!!!!) I saw this handyman guy busy posting ads on the day he stood us up. What the heck????

I don't *get* people!!!!!!!!!!!! Too busy looking for work to do the work that is given???

Since today is dh's birthday I will leave it be, but the rest of the week he has some work to do. I've spent enough time as is trying to search out someone reliable. Ugh. I give the job to him!

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**Dh's birthday is today. His mom brought lasagna and pie yesterday. & took us out for Benihana's. I had NEVER been. We had a blast.

Dh's aunt came along. She is moving to China for 3 years to do missionary work and such (she already lived there many years - I didn't meet her for a long time or see her much when we first dated. But we have gotten used to having her around more lately -kids are very close with her).

So it was our "good bye" to her as well.

They asked a couple of times if we would bring the kids to China. What a loaded question. Of course; would be awesome. Um, not sure if that is in the budget!!!!!! Ask me in 3 years. I have the feeling all 4 of us will not go, no. Maybe dh and the kids. I did just go to Japan after all. It's just one of those things where paying for 4 people is so mind boggling. I know MIL would love to take the kids, but they are young enough, I don't think so! I am sure negotiations on that will ensue in the upcoming years. The kids will be very blessed if they are able to go. In the long run MIL will probably take dh and the kids. But then there is the fairness to his sister. & yeah - I just don't know.

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On a frugal note, I am meeting dh for lunch at our favorite buffet. He gets a FREE meal on his birthday.

We also have only spent about $40 on gas for the cars, all month. What the heck? We were hard pressed to stay within $300 some months last year. This month will be $100 easy, even with 2.5 trips to the Bay Area & one trip to the snow. Craziness. We may eke out some extra savings.

2009 Budget

January 18th, 2009 at 08:03 am

Every time my pay changes I look at the flow of bills and see if I need to move anything around. I also evaluate all of our savings contributions, etc.

So I came up with a rough new budget.

Because we pay so many of our bills on our credit card (just about everything we can), I don't have a lot going on in my checking account. This is pretty much how it goes:

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+ 2757 (first of month)

-1400 Credit Card (groceries, gas, utilities, misc.)
- 300 Other/Utilities (Gardener, HOA, water, sewer, gas, electric)
- 500 Short-Term Savings
- 333 ROTH

+ 2757 (mid month)

- 550 Medical Insurance
-1100 Mortgage
- 300 Preschool
- 500 Short-Term Savings
- 500 Long-Term Savings

Of course, if anything else is due in any given month, we pay it from savings (insurance and taxes, etc.). Or any small cash amount that we can not throw on the card. Comes from savings.

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I found the way I had it set up before, I had too much stuff piling up and due at the beginning of the month.

I decided the simplest thing to do was to begin to prepay the preschool payment at the end of the month. This is fair enough. I used to pretty much do this anyway, but had gotten into the habit of paying it with my paycheck on the first. But often I can't pay until like the 5th then. Which is fine, since I prepay the whole month (not required) there have been no complaints. But I think it will be simpler to just pay it on the 31st, going forward. I may have to pull a little out of savings for the first month, which is fine.

I have a built in "emergency fund" in my checking account. The credit card is not due until the end of the month and the mortgage is not due until the middle of the following month. But I just pay them all ahead of time, for simplicity. If I ever needed cash in an emergency that is an easy $1100, by delaying those payments to the due dates.

Anyway, I have been paying paying the credit card around the 20th, which is cutting it a little close for me. Never had a problem (knock on wood) but I look forward to re-arranging some things and paying that on the 1st again. As a result, I won't have to RUN to the bank when I get my paycheck. Phew. I prefer to not care so much about payday.

I can't put anything else on the card. (Mortgage, preschool, most utilities, etc.) Everything else that I can, I do. For rewards, of course. & simplicity though - it's just very convenient.

I was funding the ROTHs evenly every paycheck, but I am loading up one of our ROTHS for 2008 right now (the only one that will let me apply automatic savings to last year), and so figured once a month is fine. It probably makes sense with the current incarnation to switch to once a month contributions, indefinitely.

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This is the extent of my budgeting. We keep the card expenditures at $1400/month. (It will be more when we charge medical fees or dental bills, auto repairs, etc. These are all things we pay from savings).

So if the card is more or the utilities come out to more, it gives us pause. & we re-evaluate.

& of course we take all of our one-time expenses, add them up for the year, and divide by 12, to make sure we save ample amounts.

That is about the extent of my "budget." I re-evaluate it once a year. More often if we get out of whack. I don't like to spend inordinate amounts of time and effort on it. I don't like thinking about it every day. Kind of a PITA if you ask me. Our savings were very much on "auto pilot" when we both worked, our budget was strict, and we saved plenty. Never thought much about it. That is my end goal. Evaluating every month or quarter or year is fine. Every day is too much for me. As much as I love numbers I don't like to obsess over a budget, for sure. I was far happier when I didn't have to obsess so much, and I am getting there, slowly but surely. I think this year is going to be way more relaxed. Phew!

Of course, I mention we budget around $500/month for groceries and $300 for gas. Kind of rules of thumbs (actually, more like maximums). BUT if we have a cheap month elsewhere we don't mind going over a bit. We worry more about the totals than any one particular category too much. Definitely prefer that flexibility.

Just a little peek into my method of madness...

Savings Rates for 2009

January 17th, 2009 at 07:23 am

Just a quickie. Now that I have my compensation, I am figuring our savings rate for 2009.

I am not a fan of the "rules of thumb." They mean nothing to us in our situation. Since we pay cash for everything, we need a fair amount of savings. Since we don't have medical benefits, we need a fair amount of savings. Etc., etc.

But here goes:

Retirement - 15%
(5% ROTHs & 10% Employer)

Cash Savings - 4%
(9% when LM is done with preschool, 2010)

Medical Savings - 4%

Short-term Savings - 15%
(To be used within the year)

As such, 28% of my paycheck goes directly to savings, every month. 33% when we are done with preschool (Phew!)

Another 10% is added to my retirement account (more like a 401k than anything) annually.

(I don't necessarily consider the short-term savings as "savings." So take that out and the percentages are a more meaningful 13%/18%).

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This is probably ample, but we have 2 things at play.

1 - We rely too much on employer retirement plan. Given. Then again, I don't have medical benefits. The two are about equal, so I expect some day I can get similar pay and better medical benefits. & it's really moot if dh returns back to work, benefits or not.

But in the interim, our goal is to get to 10% into our ROTHs. We will have enough cash to do so when LM is done with preschool in 2010, so I am happy enough with that. We will probably divert that cash to other savings, BUT if I lost my retirement benefit, 10% minimum to ROTHS would be our goal. In the meantime we have some pretty big contributions to retirement while we are young, which means we could cut back more later if need be. With the plan to move forward again, of course.

2 - We have some catching up to do. Our savings rate was $0 for a few years when we had kids. Very planned. But though I feel we are in a pretty good spot, we still have some catching up to do!

& it just depends on Murphy really. We didn't need much of our medical deductible last year, BUT we used up all of that savings for unexpected dental bills in the end.

If we don't use our medical deductible this year, we can ideally shift that cash into our ROTH or into more long-term savings. That all depends on how lucky we are in 2009 though. Not exactly holding my breath. Wink