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Archive for August, 2009

Investing Surprises

August 31st, 2009 at 06:35 pm

Just looking at my year-to-date returns. I keep track in yahoo. I enter my fund shares at the end of every year. The performance I track is everything I had invested as of 12/31 of prior year. I can track more current progress in Quicken.

My first thought is I wonder when some people who "Cashed out" at the low are going to bother to get back in. Some relatives come to mind. Not counting new money, my portfolio is up about 25% for the year. There's certainly been a lot of upside!

Secondly, one my my funds really stood out as I was perusing them today. I have a T Rowe Target Retirement fund that is up 25%. It's having a good run this year. The funny thing is the only reason I bought it was because I could invest T Rowe with a mere $50/month (& no other initial investment). Today I have almost $4k in there. I chose the Target retirement fund because it had a slew of high performing managed funds for a low expense ratio. IT hasn't always beat the market by a mile, but this year it is kicking the other Target funds' butts! Ironically, it has a more conservative mix than most the others for the same target date.

Other things of note? I have considered selling my Dodge & Cox fund because all I hear is how these funds were awesome in their hey dey, but that they are so bloated with assets that the fund is no longer very manageable.

Today, I am glad I didn't listen. Highest performing fund of ours, up 36% for the year. I am a long-term investor and wasn't ready to just sell. Though I was looking at it critically in recent months.

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Any surprises in YOUR portfolio?

Going Away, Yay!

August 31st, 2009 at 12:11 pm

All big expenses aside, I feel well with the financial universe lately.

It could be the feeling that life is short (more obvious lately as my dad faces his health problems), or it could be that we just spent a pile of money on the unexpected, and are still a mile ahead of last year. It could be that our life is kind of settling into everything we have been working for the last 15 years. I kept thinking all weekend, "This is precisely where I want to be." Mostly as I found time for things I haven't had time for in many years.

For whatever reason, I felt rather zen the last couple of days.

We already spent our vacation budget for 2009, and last night dh brought up our anniversary. We discussed much about the many getaways and weekends alone we could conjure with little money spent. Use free timeshare points for a weekend anywhere? Stay home and day trip to Tahoe or San Fancisco? Spend a weekend in Reno (usually cheap hotels can be found, maybe more than usual in this economy. One night would do it). Spend a weekend at the family cabin for free? Go camping? Possibilities endless, really. & the only way we have mostly vacationed in our life. Most our years together being broke college students or sacrificing additional income to be home with our kids.

What I told dh was that I really just wanted to go to Pismo Beach. IT is something we had both been looking forward to, and even tried to plan a couple of times, but it always falls through the cracks. It's my favorite area of the state, and yet I don't think we had ever been, since we moved up north. It's been 8 years at the least.

We have a favorite hotel there, and the timeshare points won't do. We figured it would probably be a $500 weekend between the hotel, gas, and food. The hotel is beachfront and an absolute STEAL (it's apparently been remodeled but still only $100/night. Phew! We will splurge $150/night for the ocean view). We discussed how a couple of dinners out and fast food stops on the drive would be preferred, but that we would be happy to pack some PBJ sanwhiches for lunch. Not like we have to spend a pile on eating out. The gas will be the cheapest part of the trip.

We still have to arrange babysitting, but since our annniversary is less than a month away, I am excited at this rather "spontaneous" vacation. Big Grin IF we can't make it until October it will be okay, but September is an ideal month to visit the beach.

I am just so excited to finally make this a priority!







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As an aside, I checked the hotel's website last night as we discussed the feasibility of this last-minute splurge. Today, I decided to check a few of the travel websites to make sure there were no better deals.

I almost fell over, and had to check a few sites to make sure I could believe my eyes. If we went through any other travel website, about, the room costs $350/per night, as opposed to the $150/night we found at the hotel wesbite. WOW!

A decade ago, these travel websites were little known, and you would not believe some of the steals we found on travel over the years. But these days, more and more, I find booking flights and hotels directly is the cheapest way to go. Any more, you just pay a premium for "travel sites". Funny thing is the hotel price is more what I remembered it being. Of course all the travel websites boast "low price guaranteed" with their premium quotes.

I double checked and triple checked to make sure it was the same hotel and same type room. It was!!

IT pays to do your due diligence, that is for sure.

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We also talked about our wish to go to Hawaii next year. I think that will be delayed because we have other financial goals to meet first, and all these car repairs are delaying things.

Dh and I discussed how waiting one additional year to go to Hawaii is not a big deal. I don't want to delay it for 10 years. But one more year? I can certainly wait!

We will probably be able to go on a free Alaskan cruise next year anyway. So, what the heck. The "free" part is looking rather appealing.

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In other news, I have been pondering my workout clothes.

I don't mind spending a litte bit of money on work clothes. I don't spend a ton, but clothes shopping is frustrating enough I prefer to just shop new. I consider a "nice wardrobe" as part of my job description, and something reasonable to spend my income on. Since I have settled on the same size for about 5 years, and have been buying higher quality clothing the last few years, it's something I find I spend less and less on, anyway.

"Workout clothing" is a different animal. I have some really old t-shirts and a couple of workout pants I got at Marshalls for like $10 each, ages ago.

I keep thinking one of these days I need to update my workout wardrobe a bit. But it certainly hasn't been a priority.

It has become a priority as I bike ride more. I usually try to avoid the outside as MUCH as possible in the summer. OR the winter really. My wardrobe is extremely mild and full of dark colors. I can't help but feel I need some brighter colors for safer bike rides, and will definitely need more warm and cool clothes for the seasons.

As I type this I realize I should probably just make a trip to Marshalls and/or Ross, and stock up. They tend to have pretty good deals, and plenty to choose from.

The kids' school also made it amazingly hard to buy school logo clothing in the past, but just opened an online store. I was thinking buying a couple of t-shirts and sweatshirts might be a good way to update the wotkout wardrobe a bit. The money mostly goes to a good cause. The t-shirts are rather affordable.

Speaking of all that, I am going to buy a bike helmet in September. I keep putting it off due to other purchases. Heck, I think it's time for a new seat too (I logged about 5 hours over the last 2 weekends - and a more comfortable seat is certainly high on my mind).

I guess September will be rather spendy!

Hot Weather; Beautiful Skies

August 29th, 2009 at 05:29 pm



This picture was actually taken the other day, but it was like 100 degrees and I tried to fathom how it could be so hot with all the clouds (heat is common in summer; not clouds).

Picture just turned out gorgeous - camera phone and all.

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A friend told me about a bike path that was just down the street for our home. "Huh???" I said.

We checked it out. It was gated and said, "closed, no trespassing, patrol" etc., etc. But the gate wasn't locked and my friend assured me it was fine. With some caution we went through the gate and decided to check it out.

There are a couple of roads along both sides of the canal - probably for service vehicles - mostly gravel. We saw a number of people jogging and walking their dogs on the gravel. No doubt it is usually more highly traveled. It was hotter than Hades!

But not far away from the canal was this bike path. I had looked at the map online and mostly wrapped my brain around it, but was confused because we biked so much around and never saw it. BM asked where we were going. I said, "exploring!"

Anyway, it was kind of silly in the end because the path quickly turned into some open neighborhoods and ended on a busy intersection. BEsides the "entrance" by us, there really wasn't any "no trespassing" signs. It's a public park.

I just ignored it before since it's all blockaded on our end. So I am really relieved it was mentioned.

I thought it looked like the path went right past our favorite little secluded park in the middle of "homes never built land." (I've shared pictures before). & it did! It was just far enough away from the park that we couldn't see it from there.

This is the funny part. BM and I stopped by the park on our return and enjoyed some of the "hills" in the park landscape. The bike path was flat as flat can be, and though convenient, and good for some more exercise, it was pretty boring. So I told BM, "The path was really safe because there are no cars to worry about, but it was rather boring, don't you think?" HE replied something like, "Yes, cars make it more interesting."

Yes, that is what I am afraid of!!

I am pleased to have a nice, decent sized bike path to do some "training" on, right outside my door. But I am really looking forward to more weekends on the river parkway. I cringed as I described that path as "hilly," but I appreciate it's challenges a little more after finding the flat as flat can be bike path. I am afraid that is all we have close to home!

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I made it to aerobics this morning. Phew. I tried to go on Thursday, but traffic was a mess. Not sure traffic was ever so bad that I aborted my aerobics detour, midway. But that day I certainly did! It was just the worst of the worst. There were many accidents that day, plus a fatal one near my final destination (fatal accident wasn't even on the freeway). It probably would have taken hours to get there, so I'm glad that I turned around. I was bummed, because I had missed many classes due to our car situation.

Anyway, so I went to aerobics this morning (1 hour class), and then we did our bike ride. I am starting to remember why I was so skinny before I had children. !! As I resume my more active lifestyle... I am also surprised I so easily handled working out for 2 hours. I've been so bad about the gym and everything with how crazy everything has been the last month or 2.

Dh had to volunteer today so I made "breakfast for lunch." Kids were estatic.

I took a nap in the afternoon. Thank goodness I squeezed it in. I woke up feeling extremely relieved I was chipper enough to run after the kids. They have since quietly played together. It's not always so easy, these days, but I forget they don't need that constant, exhausting, supervision. I knew they would be fine while I napped, but I figured I had a long afternoon ahead of me.

Instead, they were content playing together so I did some financial chores. paid all the bills and determined that our savings accounts sit at a solid $21k, still. Phew! I transferred a chunk out to pay the van body work, and all that. Set up the few bills I had to pay for September. An hour a month mostly takes care of the bills and such.

The kids are excited about "lunch for dinner" now. They also want "dinner for breakfast," but I think I will pass on that one.

It's HOT today. When we got back from our bike ride (which seemed pretty hot for 10am) the A/C was already on. Oh boy, is that a bad sign! We've been squeaking by with only really turning it on in the evenings. I've felt rather trapped inside all afternoon. Blech!

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I am trying to enjoy the slowness of our next couple of weeks.

It occurs to me, as I pay the bills, that fall clothes shopping will be upon us soon. (Um yeah, that's probably why I have largely ignored Back-to-School shopping. Haven't tried on the kids' fall wardrobes yet. IT's only 100 degrees).

Halloween is just around the corner, and all the rest of those holidays. IT will be busy and though we aren't big spenders when it comes to the Holidays, there are always MORE expenses to contend with during that time of year.

Weekend is Here...

August 29th, 2009 at 07:12 am

At work the last few weeks I feel like, "I am not an expert in fill-in-the-blank, I just play one on TV." I have been working on all sorts of unusual stuff. Being a "tax expert" covers some pretty wide territory. I mean, how many taxes can you think of. I am expected to be an "expert" in every tax known to man. & then some.

At some point during the week I wondered if I was really any more qualified to do anything I was working on, than my clients. I decided, yes. If nothing else, it's like tax form legalize is a foreign language and I know how to translate it. IF that's my only advantage, it's a big one. I actually had a few more advantages. But it's just been a frustrating week. Then again, it certainly hasn't been boring!

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As of right now, we are a fiber optic household. Woohoo!

My dh was funny because he had "signed up" a while ago, but had wanted to talk to a techie over there and figure out all that was involved with the install. IT fell through, and a sales guy came by again and convinced him again, recently. So I ask dh a few questions and he really doesn't know much. If we try their TV service, all the installation is free. Except last time dh was wary of all the work involved in installation and didn't really want any part of it. Today he was like, "eh." I am not sure why, and left me a little worried. He had me convinced they would be putting holes into walls or something.

Thankfully, they had a MUCH better installer than dish. The guy knew what he was doing (quite obvious), it only took a few hours (as opposed to like 10 hours for a stupid Dish), AND it turned out to be pretty painless. All of our phone jacks are still working (if we decide to switch back). In fact, we have had had no internet connection with some of our computers since switching to DSL, etc. So now, everything but the laptop is back to being hardwired together. & dh is very happy about this!

So yeah - we now have VOIP for phone, fiber optic for internet, and not sure how the TV is classified. I guess they call it "digital." ?

We took the TV setup for free installation as everything (as I mentioned) but we doubt we will switch). Our 10-year-old TIVO is amazing (we are still hanging on in case we can use it again). DISH is decidedly subpar, but on an initial try, dh is not very impressed with this new setup.

Dish does have some plus sides. In the last year, they have SIGNIFICANTLY improved their DVR, and we only have one DVR for the entire house (2 TVs). Now we have 2 DVRs. & they seem even less user friendly than the Dish (if that is possible).

We will probably revert to having 2 TIVOs eventually, but it's worth having TWO of those.

In the interim, if we can't utilize our TIVO with our setup, I have to give Dish props for the "one-DVR per house" thing. It takes something even worse to appreciate what we have, I guess.

My mind is blank on the name, but the other satellite company is rolling out a HD-TIVO that is compatible with their satellite service, later this year. That's what Dh REALLY wants for our TV. Since the rollout will roughly coincide with LM being done with private preschool, I won't whine and complain too much about the cost of it all. He'll probably get his wish - next year.

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We made a few Amazon purchases the last month, and keep getting free Mp3s. It's kind of sweet. (I wasn't even aware of the promotion).

I downloaded 5 Mp3s last night. Dh was out volunteering so I figured I would give it a whirl - trying to download it all onto my Mp3 player. I actually figured it out. Woohoo.

Historically, if I want a song, I just ask dh for it. He takes care of all things music. My Mp3 is magically set up and CDs are magically burned. For the longest time we used a legal Mp3 service that were pennies were download. They were eventually shut down (something about credit card companies - I don't remember why) and so we haven't been buying so much music lately. Which is fine. We have a HUGE music library. Not much more we need! I have been getting quite a few free Mp3s, and every once in a while I order a favorite CD. That's all I need.

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Thank goodness for a mellow weekend!!!!

I literally have nothing planned for the weekend. That feels DIVINE!

We will likely hit the pool tomorrow. It will only be open a few more weeks, for summer.

Today I want to go on a bike ride close to home. We had a playdate yesterday and my friend told me about a bike path right down the street that I didn't even know about. I found another extended path I did not know about either - a short drive from here. So BM and I will go explore.

We also talked about how she often sees coyotes on said bike path. We have seen them around, but it still throws me off a bit. Coyotes? We are on the edge of the city - just empty fields all around. Shouldn't be that surprising I guess. I often feel like I am in the middle of the city - why would there be coyotes???

So yes, plenty of "free" activities to keep us occupied.

We have membership to a local park and we don't go much in the summer with all the heat. But we usually go a little more often. I may take LM there tomorrow. It's more the rest of the year that we go. But it has been a while, and that will be a pretty frugal activity as well.

We have been so spendy. It's just been an unusual summer. But I am remembering all our frugal standbys, and thankfully there are a LOT!

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I put some pictures of our recent weekend swimming and bike riding, up on Facebook. It was absolutely DIVINE. A well meaning relative asked if I had any any spare time. It just struck me as funny. Yes, I actually do have quite a lot of spare time these days. Much more than I did with wee little babies. Since when is going to the pool and bike riding a "chore?" LOL. Sure, I was in charge of the kids, but this age is just fun that they can do all this stuff.

It's just funny. I am in my element. Life is good. & someone is marveling if I have "free time." Teehee.

Phew!

August 27th, 2009 at 07:10 am

Life resumes to "normal," I guess.

Took the car in for the AC yesterday, and assumed it may take a while. But, we already got it back!

After 10-days of being a "1 car family," we are very grateful to have 2 vehicles again.

Not sure if this is good or bad, but they couldn't find anything wrong with the AC. (Heck, it was working fine when we took it in). They drained the freon (had some moisture in it) and refilled it. It seems to be working much better.

Total cost? $100. PHEW!!!!! (I was worried this would be another $1k bill).

Of course, we will see if this fix "holds." But with summer nearing its end, if it doesn't "hold", not sure I care at this point. Either this is it, or we can survive until next spring.

Phew!

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I also was proud of myself. My parents found it important to teach me basic car maintenance. But, I don't remember getting much education on tires. I can change one, but that's about it.

So, historically, relative, friend, mechanic, says "OMG - you NEED new tires." & so we replace them.

Deciding maybe we need a better method, I have been trying to keep better track of the age of our tires.

Dh's tires are at about 50k miles so I was going to ask the mechanic's opinion. BUT, before we went over, I checked the treads myself. He had one bald tire (thing is OLD - might have been a used tire we bought a few years back - just kind of overlooked. Lord knows how old the thing is). Another tire was iffy. But the back 2 tires seemed just fine, which was actually rather surprising. But I figure this is my guess - I have NO IDEA what I am doing.

We had decided to just get the tires taken care of while we were carless all day.

So, mechanic agreed. Replaced 2 front tires and had a re-alignment. I am not sure how much life is left in the back tires. It's kind of nice we didn't have to replace 4 tires. BUT now it's just more work to keep track of it all. But I was proud of my own diagnostic. Big Grin

I should probably just check the treads at the end of every summer. Now that I am getting the hang of it.

So, yes, about $250 spent on tires and alignment.

Obviously, a very expected part of auto maintenance!

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As we know all of our auto expenses, we can come up with a game plan.

I was rather surprised we only spent $500, to date, on car maintenance. We took the van in THREE TIMES already, but I guess it was all small stuff.

$500 + $350 AC repair/Tires = $850.

We budget about $1500 per year for regular vehicle repairs and maintenance.

For now, I think I am going to pull $1k from short-term savings, towards the van's door replacement. It puts us over $1500 YTD for auto expenses, but I have some wiggle room there.

I am going to pull the other $1200 from the medical fund.

The year is not over yet. BUT, ideally we will have enough in there to cover the Dodge's computer problems (estimates at $1k) AND ideally we won't need it for medical expenses.

Doing all this, we still have a chance to make it to $10k in our mid-term savings fund this year. I haven't touched a dime of the money I saved up this year (Current balance? $9000!).

So, worst case, we can always dip into that. I am just trying my darnedest not to!

Teriyaki Sauce

August 25th, 2009 at 08:01 pm

Just google "teriyaki sauce" and there are recipes galore.

I find this one to be fine. I just keep it in tupperware in the fridge - we use it often enough that I don't bother dating it or anything. I am sure one could buy a nicer container for their teriyaki sauce.

Anyway, I perused google but couldn't find my recipe so I will just share it. I just don't know where I got it or who to give credit to (oh well).

& I am sure there are BETTER recipes. After perusing the internet a bit, I think I may try some others.

1.5 cups soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
3 Tbsp Sherry (I use cooking sherry)
1 Tbsp garlic powder (I use fresh garlic)
1 tsp ginger powder

Stir until sugar dissolves.

Enjoy!

Weekend Roundup

August 24th, 2009 at 09:33 am

Weekend Successes:

*Lounged by the pool
*Went on a marvelous bike ride
*Did good deeds (volunteer work)
*Prepared LM's "student of the month" collage (was actually kind of fun).
*Prepared birthday Thank Yous (phew!)
*Changed e-mail address for what felt like 100 entities (all our financial institutions + every online account I could think of).
*YEsterday was cool enough, we didn't use AC. (I am starting to think thermal drapes do better in summer than winter. I had forgotten about those. Could be another reason why electric bill has shrunk).

Weekend Failures:

*I STILL haven't got my haircut. (Maybe tonight?)
*House still looks like a disaster.

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On some levels the week is a lot easier. Work. Crash. Repeat.

Since I am not much of an evening person, I put off as much as possible to the weekends!

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I was able to transfer BM's account to the "Target Retirement Fund" today. (Another good stock day!) Yay! I can go back to waiting for the market to fall to contribute money to stocks. Waiting for it to go up was very counter-intuitive!

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Could be another week as a 1-car family. Bah!

It's not so bad, but I will sure be happy when both cars are in full working order again. WE are definitely spoilt.

Today is not so bad - I get the car since work is the only driving destination.

Tomorrow is a bit crazy with preschool, karate and aerobics. Without 2 cars, I don't get to go to aerobics. Frown