I suppose it has been a little spendy, and the MRI bill shocked me a wee bit.
I was scared to look, but am pleased to stay I am still on course. Cash still hovers around $20k, even after paying for all this. I would like to move forward this year (yeesh) but still have time to try. This $20k mark feels like my nemesis, lately. Can't get past it. I am saving $1k per month, right now, and can't get past it!!!! Talk about frustrating. Well, it isn't for lack of trying.
If we can cut out the large/unexpected expenses, I project that I can meet my 2010 financial goals still. Which means I can put some into retirement this year, and end up with about $10k in the mid-term fund. If I make it, hallelujah. Is enough to buy a decent replacement car, which is the place I am struggling to get to. I expect to keep dh's car (the older one of the two) another 5 years. But, by the same token, have to be prepared if it gets totaled tomorrow.
This year has been a challenging one, but it is still possible to meet our financial goals. So, for now, I will stay positive.
The MRI bill stressed me out quite a bit. Knocking off the home improvements with such a lower than expected cost, will offset that tremendously. Phew!
Archive for April, 2010
I suppose it has been a little spendy, and the MRI bill shocked me a wee bit.
So, I had never missed a 6-month checkup, in my life.
We had apparently made a January appointment, during our last appointment, and I forgot. They called me the day before. I think it was right after dh had his surgery. We weren't making it!
I have been with the same dentist for about 30 years, but he has a new receptionist. I called and left a message begging for a Saturday appointment. I have so many vacations planned this year and took so much time off for the surgery, not to mention a school schedule to work around. I really didn't want to use a week day for the 2-hour trip to the dentist! We couldn't fit a 6-month schedule that fit around the kids and mine schedule. They get all this time off during Christmas and tax season, which is the only time I can't spare 5 minutes off work. We could go for summer, but the kids have no days off in November/December. (But for holidays - which doesn't exactly work). I can't take time off January - April. Not for a dental appointment 2 hours away!
So, I told her we had been going forever and yadda yadda yadda. Her only experience with me is that I must be a flake!
She actually had an appointment in like 2 weeks (must have had a cancellation) so we are going WAY earlier than expected. I was hoping to beg for something in June or July.
With the kids in school, we probably need to make a renewed effort to find a local dentist. The last couple of HIGHLY RECOMMENDED dentists I tried out were pure scam artists. I got a third opinion from a dentist friend, who lives about THREE hours away. I know our dentist will retire in the near future, probably, and our friend dentist is not a realistic alternative. (Though it was nice he verified how scammy the other dentists were).
I don't even know where to start. If everyone is happy to settle for scammy dentists, how the heck do you find a good recommendation? *sigh* Our solution has just been to keep our old dentist. It's not a big deal - we visit family all the time. But, I guess it's back to the drawing board. I just dread dread dread it. I should send dh as the guniea pig, this time.
Our current dentist is very conservative. Not only do I want someone who is not a total scam artist (who wants to do $3k worth of work on perfectly good teeth). BUT, I would prefer someone on the conservative side. One dentists did want to replace all my fillings. I don't think that part is "scammy." I just think it is a little unnecessary. I've only had one fixed, since then. Last I dentist shopped was 2005. & it's not just being cheap. Why drill your teeth more than you need to? I like my teeth!
Interestingly, dentist friend told us that dentists who went to public school tended to be less aggressive. Kind of an interesting piece of information. I'll start with that.
The weather is just gorgeous here today!
I think it is working to relax me.
Today, I took the kids to a little zoo/park.
Dh took LM to a birthday party.
I thought BM and I might do a bike ride, but he wanted to play a video game. I obliged him - told him whatever he wanted to do.
We finished the game, JUST as the rest of the family got home. So I sent them outside to run in the sprinklers. Overall, a pretty frugal/nice day. Oh, we had a $5-off coupon so I asked dh to pick up a pizza for lunch. That was a bit of a splurge. I can't resist a $5 off Round Table pizza (we usually just get Take & Bake at the grocery store to satisfy pizza cravings. It's REALLY good).
While at the park, I did get a soda and nachos. Knowing we would get pizza, I didn't want to overdo it. (Not that we ever get more than this, anyway?). But I swear the lady asked me 2 times if I was sure that was it. Yes, I am sure! So then she grabs a small soda cup for me and asks if I am sure if that will be enough. Wants to make sure I know how "small" it is. In the grand scheme of things, it is on the small side. Maybe 12 ounces (filled to the BRIM). Honestly, it was more soda than we needed. Just wanted something to wash down the nachos. The kids barely took more than a sip.
I guess it's somewhat cultural. Do they get a lot of complaints about the "small" sodas? Why on earth wouldn't that be enough for a mid-morning snack?
Anyway, dh returns home from this party with 2 giant bags of candy. He said, "You are gonna love this!" We hadn't really come up with a formal plan of what to do with the excess candy I have been complaining about.
So, we dumped it out and I was probably overly generous letting LM pick out about 10 pieces of candy to keep. We threw it in the candy bowl we have that is still full of V-day and Easter candy. The rest got put in the cabinet to hand out at Halloween. I can already see that we won't need to buy any Halloween candy this year! (More overflow - will move on to ideas to donate it).
As I am sitting here, typing, dh brought me a present. A $1500 bill from his MRI last year. Lovely!
I had totally forgotten about that one. They had told us it would cost $1100, but I think they billed us $2k in the end (up to our deductible).
I had been thinking about it, but then totally forgot. Dh and I agree it is better than some past bills that have "never arrived." It just figured that they waited for the minute that I forgot about it. (The bill is for a MRI 6 months ago). Thankfully, they have been MUCH faster to bill his surgery. We've already been billed up to our 2010 deductible, for that. Most of it was billed the day they discharged him. I prefer this to "waiting forever," to the point of "forgetting about it."
We will get about 30% of it back in credit card rewards and tax breaks. Got to look on the bright side...
I hadn't looked at my net worth this year. It is too depressing.
I don't expect to do well this year, so why track how horrible I am doing? Kind of the attitude.
BUT, I know the stock market has been doing well and so I decided to peak:
Um, I am up about $7k for the year.
I decided since I am not tracking regularly to just update my annual net worth statement, adding "12/31/10" and filling in current numbers to see where I am at.
It's an interesting perspective.
**Cash is hovering around $20k. Though I have made cash savings my primary goal for 2010, to get over the hump, I am still spinning my wheels a bit.
That being said, the house can be painted without pulling money from savings, and is FAR cheaper than I expected it to be. Assuming it all pans out. So that is a good thing, and will help.
**Investments are up about $5k, in returns. I've only contributed $1k to retirement, so far this year.
We've been kind of hovering around the $100k mark with cash/investments, but it seems to depend on the day. With the positive stock market gains, we are at about $105k at the moment.
I'd really like to have more cash/investments than debt (mortgage). I can see it getting closer - which feels real nice! (Don't get me wrong - I've got a ways to go!)
**Mortgage - paid $1500 off this year. Actually, in June we will dip below our "first ever mortgage" balance, once again. We had passed the mark about 2 years ago, but ended up borrowing closing costs to refi last January. We've already past the breakeven mark and it is nice to make true forward progress again. We should break the $200k barrier within 2 years. That is what I really look forward to.
**Net worth is still hovering around $200k. It's not overly impressive since our net worth was a little higher in 2007. BUT, I suppose we haven't had much backward slide either. We really bulked up our investments while the stock market was super low. Right now we are battling sliding house prices more than anything. Though prices actually seem to be holding (knock on wood).
Overall, feeling good about things. I project we will be able to max out both of our ROTHs next year, with my income. Which is something we haven't done (from income alone. Not since living on one income). & I actually think it is possible during the calendar year. (We usually utilize until April to fund). That said, I suppose I could *up* that a notch and just about max out 2009, if we do a May through April funding schedule.
Net worth is still going to slow considerably. I am no longer getting $8k-ish per year in my work retirement plan. That slows things down a LOT. BUT, I also have no other retirement vehicles at my disposal, so it doesn't really change my financial goals. If we max out our ROTHs (about 12% of income), every spare penny will go to mortgage pre-payments.
The loss of retirement benefits just means that dh's "optional return to work," feels less optional at the moment. But I know we can increase our income significantly in a year or 2, so I am not freaking out about it. I almost feel more calm because dh and I have both agreed on a "return to work" date. Which helps since I really think my job will be up in the air very soon. My boss is going to close up shop and I am not quite sure how that will pan out. Another income would be extremely helpful during that time of transition. & honestly, I do not know if I have the stamina for anything more than part-time. My industry is all about 80-hour weeks. My current work schedule is pretty unheard of. Though if dh were working, I may be able to take the time to find a full-time job that pays well and won't kill me. On the flip side, if he settles in a job, I will feel more free to search out part-time/seasonal work. I could work "full-time" half the year and yet have slow summers with the kids. I know there are better part-time options out there - I just can't swing those as the sole breadwinner - too much risk for me.
I am feeling positive, today, but will see what the year has in store for us still...
Our first home was a condo (little upkeep, but had been completely remodeled before we moved in, so we didn't do a thing to the place). Second home was bought brand new.
Needless to say, I don't have a lot of contractor stories, even if we have been homeowners for a decade.
We are probably going to have our house painted in the next couple of weeks.
We have been waiting a year (or two) for some neighbors to paint. To get a good recommendation. To see who was good and who to stay away from.
We gave up on this angle. Since no one has painted their home.
I haven't really asked many friends. I asked a couple of financially savvy friends for referrals. They have never painted their home. This is they kind of thing I wouldn't just taken any referral. I think people tend to be really stupid. I have had terrible referrals in the past. If it's not family, I am wary of any recommendation of this type. I just want a good/ethical contractor that is reasonably priced.
All that said, it's not an area we have any experience with!
I think we may have lucked out with this painter, but won't speak too soon. Found an ad online. Has been in business forever, A+ rating with the BBB, properly licensed and insured, and all that jazz. I picked him because he was giving rock bottom prices "due to the economy." I would stay away from any ad that had the word "cheap" in the price. I don't want cheap - I Want quality. The way his ad was worded, sold me.
Of course, he looks good on paper, but the next step was to meet him in person, and get a quote (and a gut feeling).
I would generally get multiple quotes and maybe we should, but from what I know about prices, I know the price we did get is rock bottom. I know no one has complained about this guy to anyone who matters (licensing board, or BBB) in the last few years. I know he has been in business for many decades. Liked him as much in person. He does not even ask for a deposit (which would be standard). It seemed clear he would go above and beyond the minimum standard - looking at the contract.
So, will see how it goes. & so we bite the bullet. Dh is supposed to call him this week. Though with all the rain, lord knows when we can get it done. No rush - my angle was just to get a discount with the pre-season. Plus, probably best to paint before the wasps move in. Why I kind of wanted to beat warmer weather a bit. But I Can wait a couple of weeks!
Of course, I am open to ANY advice on the subject.
We actually hired a contractor when we first bought our home, to get the backyard landscaped. Concrete, lawn, irrigation, plants/trees.
I am sure it was in the realm of $5k, though I don't remember for sure. At the time, we had tons of landscapers going door to door. We asked a couple of our neighbors who actually did their yards (most waited YEARS - ugh). They all had horror stories and said they wouldn't recommend their landscapers. If nothing else, they don't show up.
We started talking to the door to door guys and settled on someone who sounded like they really knew what they were doing, and was really "cheap," to boot. Wasn't the lowest quote we got. Just the "best feeling" we got. We were really young and no idea what we were doing. Though I am sure we got advice about what to ask about and look for.
The results are mixed. In the end, turns out the guy was using a relative's license (he had a very similar name). The whole thing was kind of frustrating. We would never know, but he didn't pay for the concrete, and so the concrete company put a lien on our house. Yeah. So, dh calls them, and they tell us that they are going to report us for hiring someone without a license. Okay then. Report away. How do you explain how you allow a non-licensed contractor to get a lien on our house??? Maybe they found out after the fact. I have no idea - but they seemed to have a clearer picture of the situation than we did.
Dh tracked down the actual licensed contractor we thought we had hired. HE paid the bill, apologized for his relative, and that was that. No more lien.
So, yeah, not a great experience.
Don't get me wrong - he did a nice job. But we tried to do right, and the whole thing kind of sucked in the end.
Anyway, in the end I suppose it worked. He showed up and did a nice job for a reasonable price. Extra reaosonable because he was a fraud, I suppose.
Sometimes another perspective can be so eye opening. Only recently, one of our neighbors commented how we had the nicest landscape job. I had never really thought about it. But, they had bought a second house in the neighborhood and both the homes just had terrible backyards. She was telling me how much she loved our trees when she lived behind us, and how nice our landscaping look compared to theirs.
I suppose though the guy was a fraud, he obviously knew what he was doing and did a nice job. We asked for "low maintenance" and that is what we got. It was only looking at my neighbor's crappy looking yard that I appreciated that we really could have done a lot worse. So, phew.
Needless to say, when we met with the painter, we asked to see his I.D. He also apologetically told us he had to disclose about the whole lien thing, legally. "Oh, but I've never had to put a lien on anyone's home." Dh and I just looked at each other when that subject came up.
Actually, I am also looking for someone to clean our gutters and do a small repair. I thought that maybe we should just rush that out before the paint job. Probably should, but I can't find anyone. I just want someone license/insured who doesn't have terrible reviews all over the internet. A lot of contractors say they are, without sharing their license #. Clearly not licensed - so probably not insured. Still more homework to do for that one. There's no (big) trees so we have never cleaned our gutters. Dh found a leak and was going to take care of it, but has never got around to it. I had to climb up on the lower roof to remove some of the Dish equipment and saw the buildup in the gutter. It does need a cleaning, to prevent more damage.
Funny enough, a lot of gutter places around here do pigeon cleanup and bird proofing, etc. I had NO IDEA. We hired a guy to put up bird proofing and he moved away. Last time we just called a big pest control company to fix one area, but they didn't clean up all the bird droppings on the roof. Looks like we can get the painter or the gutter cleaner to spray that off. & it's nice to know who to call if we ever have any problems. (Knock on wood, but haven't had any bird issues in a while. The birds are pretty bad around here - well, they were).
I may renew my gutter cleaning/fixing efforts this weekend. Might as well get it done.
Why not do our own? Oy vey! Not the proper tools/ladders/guts for the crazy high gutters. Will spend $150 for a pro. It's a steal.
Going forward, will probably have to do a wee bit more often than once a decade.
Oh yeah - we never wash our windows either. I don't see the point. Painter said they would be "cleaned" in the process with the spray - and they go over them with a squeegee so they look nice. Our house will look so shiny!
I know - I have been so knee deep in work, I haven't felt terribly bloggy.
But, now I am knee deep in home improvements and long put off stuff - all costing money - and thus I swing the other way, to very bloggy.
Quicken helps me micro-manage my money in just minutes a week. I know the impression is that I am overly anal about my finances, and is probably true to a point in lower income years where I tend to have more financial goals than means to cover. When I need to make every penny scream! (& that would by most of my adulthood - we only were a 2-income family for a couple of years - lived on minimum wage before that).
BUT, for the most part, I don't really have an elaborate financial plan. Most of our frugal habits are just that - lifelong habits. Don't think about most of them, most of the time.
I can attest that it is pretty simple to manage your finances, by just setting a few big picture goals. You don't have to track every penny or have a budget to do the following:
1 - Make savings goals your first priority (pay yourself first). Manage goals around tax planning.
2 - Limit regular/recurring spending/contracts, etc. to x dollars
3 - Don't borrow for anything
4 - Strive for balance
If I could sum up my financial philosophy, that would be it. & it works.
#1 I was thinking about because someone asked in the forums how you decide how much to save. Something along those lines. Well, we sit down and figure how much money we need in the future, for x, y, and z, and save accordingly. Right now we need about $1200/month for short-term savings goals (property taxes, insurance, car repairs, vacation, dental visits, and EVERYTHING within the year that is not a regular monthly bill). We need about $5k per year for long term savings goals (car replacements and home maintenance being the biggies). 10% minimum to retirement. More is better, of course.
How we decide to save, what and where, is often influenced by tax law. I had to add that to #1. One day while discussing 529s, HSAs, IRAs, etc., my spouse tells me, "Why do you have to make things so complicated?!?" Ain't that the truth? Don't blame me for tax policy, but I will certainly take advantage. These days we try to put most of our savings into our ROTHs, due to our current income, retirement, and tax situation.
2 - #2 can be summed up as "don't live beyond your means." WE avoid contracts and limit our regular monthly expenses as much as possible. We consciously keep our spending low so that we don't base purchase decisions on our income. Due to low inflation, we have barely increased our spending over the years. Our health insurance used to cost about $1000 per year and now costs about $15k. We used to live on $45k per year before having kids, and now it is about $60k. We haven't really changed our spending, overall. (Not much we can do about the healthcare). In the interim we did buy things like daycare/preschool. Thing is we didn't *need* it, were not locked into any contracts, and would drop in a minute if we had to. Temporary expenses like that are always open for discussion. This year my kids will both be in school and our expenses are mostly same as they were a decade ago. We haven't increased our means for the long-term. That is just an example. Dh's future income would go to savings and one-time expenses. (Maybe nicer things, or a vacation here and there, but nothing that needs additional money to keep or maintain).
I suppose I bring up the healthcare thing because thank goodness we weren't buying a lot of other stuff - who knew it would get so expensive in a very short time. & literally, the rest of our spending has been rather stagnant over the years.
3 - Don't borrow for anything. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying I have never borrowed a dime for anything. But it is a rare day when dh and I borrow money. At this point in our lives, I don't see ever borrowing another dime, again. (0% offers, credit card arbitrage and paying off cards monthly for rewards are fine by me. I just refuse to pay any interest on anything - or to borrow any money that I don't already have in the bank). Exception for us was first car in the $1k range, and our home because owning is way cheaper than renting around here. These are the reasons why. I would have borrowed a very small amount for college if I had to. I figured out other options instead, though. We are pretty debt adverse, which goes a long way to helping with #2 - keeping our expenses down. We don't have any payments in our budget. We buy what we have the cash for - that's about it. Makes it easy not to bite off more than we can chew. To make it work we have just bought a lot of really used things over the years.
Correction: We have a mortgage payment. Hardly count it because it is cheaper than renting. Don't get me wrong - don't plan to keep it forever, either.
P.S. The first car I bought (for $1500?) lasted 7 years, and my $10k public college education (yes - $10k for 4 years - if even that much) gives me the exact same career that a six-figure private degree would have. On the cars, we can afford a little more with every purchase. $1k, $5k, $10k, has been the progression. Cash paid for each one after the first.
4 - Balance is so important. I think this one comes easy to dh and I because we grew up in very balanced families. I think most people really struggle with this, but I feel grateful that we don't struggle with it too much.
An example? I completely agree that it is humanly possible to have a paid off house, very quickly and young. Even with the high cost of real estate here. Dh and I could have put our entire life on hold, he could have worked another 5-7 years, and we could have paid off our home before we had children.
Why would we do this? Where is the balance? Neither of us saw the point. When my dh found out he had a brain tumor at the end of 2009, he told me he had no regrets. If it was his time, it was his time. All he ever really wanted was a family. & he has his nice, little family. He has dedicated the last 8 years of his life to his kids, which is all he ever really wanted to do.
I couldn't help but think about what if we had just paid off our house and were about to start our family? What if we had a newborn? I think my dh would be facing this whole thing with a lot of deep regrets, personally. It's not as simple as "being debt free is the best thing ever." Every financial decision is about sacrifices. You just have to figure out which sacrifices you can live with and are worthwhile. Everyone has their own priorities to sort through. Though I think most our friends and relative would describe us overly-cautious, financially, they also have to admit that we have never put off anything that was truly important to us. We have both significantly put work on hold to spend time with our young kids. We bought our dream home when we were like 25. My spouse has all the time in the world to pursue his passions, without a job. (I just happen to get paid well for my passions). & so it goes.
Of course, the irony is that the more you manage your money, the less you ever have to think about it.