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Archive for October, 2010

Credit Card Doings & Asset Protection

October 30th, 2010 at 07:39 am

After my recent credit card breach, my new Chase Freedom cards arrived in the mail. A day or 2 later, a lovely note arrived from them about the discontinuation of my rewards. (I knew that was coming - most people with the program have already been cut off).

I couldn't help but feel that them changing every thing over made them do a second look at my card, and spurred this decision. BOO!

All that said, I will consider myself incredibly lucky. I am due for a $250 rebate, come Thursday. Big Grin I can't complain about the timing! (On the flip side, if they cut me off a month sooner, I'd be pretty peeved).

We will meet the $250, even though the card was inactive for a few days. Phew!

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OF course, if I had known, I wouldn't have changed all our payments over to the replacement card. True to my word, I am dropping the card, now that I no longer have the lucrative rewards. No more big banks in my life. Big Grin

Considering that I just applied for a Target card, and my State farm card was just closed, it's not a great time to open and close a second set of cards. But I only expect short term negative FICO consequences. I really don't care!

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I might have been a little rash, but I had my eye on the Fidelity American Express (2% cash back deposited into my IRA). So, I already applied for it.

It just now occurs to me that I should have looked around a bit - see what else is out there. BUT, this has been my plan for a good year - just sitting and waiting. It's hard to beat contributions to my IRA. Big Grin

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I went to a seminar yesterday (For my CPA license) on Asset Protection Planning. IT was actually VERY interesting. (Usually no matter how interesting I think a topic will be, it can either be over my head or a bit of a snooze).

All I Can say is, NEVER take free legal advice. I'll probably be real annoying in the forums, correcting everyone's bad asset protection legal advice, for a while.

(I always say good legal advice is worth paying for, but boy, did I have my eyes opened on a lot of stuff that is taken as gospel and just not true).

For one, IRAs really offer no asset protection from creditors/lawsuits, unless you are of traditional retirement age. That was the scariest part that I learned. (Not sure what to think about that - better to keep as much as possible in ERISA plans, like 401ks and profit sharing plans. Now I am not so thrilled to rollover my profit sharing plan into my IRA). Of course, depends on the state you live in. California does not care if you work hard and work up huge IRA balances.

The attorney who led the seminar was excellent and/or a good salesman. Needless to say, I know who to call if I am ever sued. Though much of what we talked about applied to much more high net worth individuals. But I have ideas rolling in my head to protect our own assets in the future, as they grow.

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I spent the evening in San Francisco last night, after my seminar. Had a really nice time. Spent too much money, ate too much food, stayed up too late, but had a nice time. I have another seminar in the Bay Area next week, so made plans with my parents. I think they were upset I had so little time with them (I crashed with them the night before - my commute was a quick half hour to SF in the a.m., that way).

I still have the San Francisco GPS jinx. We turned on the feature to "Avoid toll roads" in Colorado, and never turned it back off. My astute friend noticed it was sending me in the wrong directions, and I finally realized it wanted me to avoid all toll bridges, which would maybe add an hour to my drive home? UGH! I felt relieved not to get stuck on a huge detour again!

One of the only reasons I feel more comfortable traversing SF is because of the GPS, but I keep running into these type snafus! Third time will be a charm. (Even with the snafus, I find it infinitely easier to traverse the big city with the GPS. Phew!!).

REAL BACON

October 27th, 2010 at 07:44 am

**I went to the bread store yesterday, and the empty building next to it was filled with produce. Signs advertised $1 for 2 pounds, though. It was dark and closed at the time - will be interesting to see what that is. (The store still had all the signs from when it was a paint store - so I couldn't gleam much else).

I suppose I should go by on a Saturday and see what is going on. (I am in the area generally week nights or Saturday mornings for my aerobics class).

**For the life of me, I can't find our little mini broom and dustpan. Lords knows where it went. IT's kind of maddening because I don't generally lose things. (Maybe I should have searched the kids rooms!)

So, dh spent a few dollars on a new one yesterday. Ugh! I hate stupid purchases like that!

**At some point we just switched to the "fully cooked" bacon that you pop in the microwave. Lord knows why. we don't consume a lot of processed foods. As I am increasing my culinary talents, I asked dh to buy me some real bacon.

Um, DIVINE! It's probably been a long time since I had REAL bacon, at home.

I got the inspiration from Alton Brown. Layer foil on a cookie sheet and place a cooling rack on top. That way the bacon grease drips down and you just toss the foil when you are done.

Easy peasy. No more crappy bacon for this family! (Though dh may still use the other stuff for recipes since it is easier to crumble).

I'm heating up some bacon for breakfast. Yummy!

Though we generally make a concerted effort to reuse/reduce/recycle, I have no idea how to tackle that when it comes to GREASE! I suppose limiting greasy foods is all we can do. But we certainly like our grease, in moderation of course!

More Good Medical News

October 26th, 2010 at 06:43 am

I finally got in to a Doctor for the lump on my throat/thyroid.

He really thinks it is nothing. I have an ultrasound Wednesday to look closer, and he is considering if I should get a MRI or a Cat Scan, too. (I guess Cat Scans are better for the thyroid, but do expose you to radiation. No wonder MRIs are the "go to " scan in this day and age).

It's funny because there are a lot of HDHP horror stories out there. For example, my dad's friend called an ambulance once (for a fall? turned out to be nothing?) and they got some huge bill.

I have tried to explain that our deductible is only $3k, and we save more than $3k in premiums, so it we come out ahead, regardless. Until dh's brain tumor, we never hit our deductible, anyway. So we are WAY ahead.

Our out-of-pocket increased this year and I figured that was how they would stick us - this has all been "too good to be true" on some level. Don't get me wrong - we still pay a fortune for insurance, but so much less than we would be if we had no HDHP options.

In the end, once we hit our deductible, they REALLY racheted down what they have been charging us. I could still get a surprise bill down the road (timeliness is not their strong suit). But reading all the fine print, it did seem we wouldn't get charged much beyond the deductible, and that seems to be standing true.

Under the insurance that cost a small fortune, we were charged much more heavily for things like emergency and overnight stays (maybe $500 vs. the $50 we are paying now. That's pretty substantial).

So, overall, I am still happy with our HDHP, all things considered. I feel like we are still ahead, even with a very heavy hospital/doctor usage year.

Doctor visits have been $0 (& I have had a pile), $10 for blood draws, $10 for ultrasounds, and $50 for MRIs. We maxed our deductible in January with dh's surgery, so this is all we have had to pay for, since.

Before the deductible, MRIs cost $1500. So, $50 sounds like a steal, to me. Since we will have 3-4 MRIs between the 2 of us this year. Phew!!

Packing Light

October 24th, 2010 at 01:22 pm

I was surprised how well I did with packing for our recent trip to Hawaii.

Packing light is not my thing. Just ask my dh or any other friend I have traveled with.

Granted, I might have packed one long sleeve shirt in with the shorts, swim suits and t-shirts. There really wasn't anything bulky in my suitcase, so I know this challenge was easier with the tropical destination. But, I have never met the challenge to survive one week with an itty bitty suitcase before, either.

In the end, it is amazing how much the simplicity improved our trip.

You might laugh at me to know we had our netbook, cell phones, MP3 players, a DS for some games, and a GPS to navigate. & a camera, of course! I can't help but feel that this was a reason I Was so content to travel with less (other stuff). I couldn't help but think a Kindle or e-reader would have reduced our bulk significantly (We traveled with about 4 large books).

Electronics aside, I couldn't help but feel I was really feeling the effects of our de-cluttering effort. IT's been many years in the making. I started seriously de-cluttering when the nesting instinct hit me late in pregnancy. Moreso with second baby since I had to clear out my whole extra room (office/spare bedroom with my old furniture) to make way for the baby. From then on, we just make a more conscious effort not to keep stuff we don't really need or use.

On top of this, our vow to live on one income with small children means certainly much less means to go around. I think dh and I have always been good with our financial priorities. But lately, we have had to be ultra efficient in our material purchases.

I think for the most part, I felt it when we traveled. I was able to quite easily carry everything material that really mattered to me. Being very much a homebody, it was profound for me not to get more homesick.

On the flip side of this, I also think resistance to electronics is often misguided. Being able to carry all of my favorite songs (& then some) in the palm of my hand, is kind of amazing. & the fact is it greatly reduces the clutter. As with most of the electronic items I mentioned. Instead of boxes of photo albums, we store most pictures electronically, etc. I just have a lot of very similarly minded friends, and we tend to diverge greatly in our life philosophies when it comes to electronics. We find, in moderation, the electronics greatly simplify our lives.

& i am sure one smart phone will take the place of most of this stuff, in the near future, anyway. Talk about simplicity!

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The reason I was thinking about all this was because I was watching a Real Housewives episode (my guilty pleasure). One of the ladies was traveling just for the weekend, and had about 10 suitcases. (All the make up, clothes, shoes, etc., etc.).

I had to giggle myself.

I know that so many people think more stuff will make them happy. But I can't help but feel I'd rather just have my teeny tiny suitcase with everything I really *need*, any day. Rather than be a slave to all that stuff? Ugh!

Popcorn on the Cob

October 23rd, 2010 at 10:46 am

We haven't made it to our new Farmers Market in ages.

Vacation, sick, soccer games, you name it. I have been looking forward to some FRESH corn again! (We have only made it to the market once!)

So, we made it today. The morning was cool and wet, and the place was pretty empty. I suppose they may close up shop for winter, which would be a bummer.

We just got some corn, grapes, and apples. But next to the corn was some "popcorn on the cob." I am not clear exactly how they prepped the corn for popcorn (I read you can get the same result by freezing corn, but it looks more than just frozen).

So, we decided to give it a try.

These were the kids as they scarfed it down: "I don't like it - it's not salty!" Though it lasted all of 5 seconds. Yes, clearly it was terrible! (I did add a little of salt and gladly would have added some butter if they let me! Wink )

I think we are "popcorn on the cob" converts. We should have asked how long it should last - we bought 3 cobs. Will ask next time.

Beats pre-packaged popcorn by a mile. Yum!

Random Updates

October 22nd, 2010 at 12:53 pm

**The mall is on fire!!! Well, it was. Interestingly, in a region that has suffered so much in the economy, apparently we had a mall that was doing QUITE well. (I didn't know). I was surprised to read that the vacancy rate was only 5%. (Come drive through Sacramento and most of its suburbs, and you will see miles and miles of empty retail and business space. Over 1 million square feet in our own suburb - what I heard a while ago - it's only gotten worse). Needless to say, that 5% vacancy rate is mind boggling to me. 200 stores, ruined and/or out of business at the moment. Some crazy person set the mall on fire yesterday morning.

I initially thought of all the ruined merchandise, but they say who knows when they will reopen, how bad the timing is right before Christmas, how much city sales tax revenue will be hurt, and how many people will be unemployed because of this. Ouch! (Plus, huge loss of seasonal jobs).

I've never been to said mall because I live very close to two other malls (which haven't been doing so well!).

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**The weekend is upon us. Aside from a soccer game, no plans. Phew!! The house is a disaster, and so I suppose it will be a weekend of house cleaning.

Between all the illness, and being gone last weekend, I haven't done much around the house since we got home Oct. 1.

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**Reminds me, I must be crazy! MIL wants to try QUICKEN! I didn't really sell her on it. She uses excel and dh helps here with the formulas/set up all the time. Probably something he set up for her. When the subject has come up, I will just say, "We use Quicken - it's so much easier."

I guess she was listening because the topic came up and I told her she could borrow a copy of mine and try it out. (We'd buy it for her for Christmas or something, if she liked it).

So, next weekend we have a Quicken date.

I should be excited, that I found someone to convert (muahahaha). But, realistically, I am just hoping she doesn't drive me crazy with it. Will see!

Plus side? The plus side is that I feel a little uncomfortable getting all in her financial business, and dh has far more time. SO, I told him that he was going to have to help. I can show them how to use it together. & then I will have more confidence that dh can figure it all out if something happens to me. & if she needs a LOT of hand holding, he can take over (because that is when I will go nuts!)

A little hand holding will be fun. An excuse to call me every single day? What was I thinking?

Good News, Fast!

October 21st, 2010 at 08:34 am

The good is that the Doctor does not think dh's tumor has grown at all.

The bad is he wants to do another MRI in 6 months (because he is not sure). Which just means more $$$$$$$

Overall, it's good!

Credit Card Doings

October 21st, 2010 at 07:13 am

There is no doubt that identity theft and credit card breaches are on the rise.

I don't remember ever having my credit card info stolen, in the farther past, but lately, it just comes with the territory.

I am also concerned because every time I mention any breach, older people always think, "It's the internet!!" No doubt, some of it is the internet, but I know of far many more cases of mail fraud. I can trace my BIG identity theft breach to a lost IRA application (lost in the mail).

IT could be a coincidence, but my HMO bills me and lets me put things on my credit card if I write out the number and mail it back. I always feel uncomfortable doing so, and both times my current info was breached, was within a week of doing so. In the past there was a check washing ring traced to our local post office, so I avoid snail mail as much as possible. I can't help but feel maybe there is still some shady stuff going on. I really just need to pick up the phone and ask if I can pay over the phone, next time. I am getting more and more leery of sending anything in the mail. (A check would be worse, I think. Knowing the check washing history. At least the credit card theft does not affect my cash balance while it gets straightened out).

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So, what is it about OCtober? I am looking and my card was last breached exactly 2 years ago - October. Kind of ironic.

I just logged in, and saw a few odd charges in NYC. Nope - haven't been to NYC lately. The charges were a quarter for parking, $50 at Rite Aid, and $150 at some east coast super market.

Unfortunately, random traveling and trips to the super market aren't unusual at all. (The first place we went in Hawaii was to the grocery store!) This is the first time that I have caught a breach like that before the credit card company did.

Should be easy enough to straighten out. I only automatically pay about 1 bill, so will have to fix that and memorize a new number. Eh.

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In other news, I have had a State Farm credit card for a LONG time. It was my backup card, though I more recently got a credit union credit card, to fit the bill.

So, I got a note in the mail that they were going to close the SF card if I didn't use it in the next 30 days.

I figure it's for the best. I don't really need 3 cards. I was keeping it for my "backup card" when I closed the Chase card (when they reduce my rewards or up my fees). Backup cards are a must for time like these. I hate cash, and I don't want to be credit card-less while they issue me new cards.

BUT, it is taking way longer for Chase to scare me off than I imagined, and now I am eyeing another card with 2% cash back to my retirement account. Basically, when Chase pisses me off I will shop for a new 2nd card. I am fine with letting go of the State Farm card.

I have never found that closing old cards amounts to a hill of beans to my almost perfect credit score. Though I closed my first credit card a few years ago, I learned since that good credit stays on your credit report for a whole decade. I can't help but feel this may be why I have never noticed much impact from closing old cards (& keeping my list of credit cards very small, manageable, and most useful - best rewards). Because absolutely none of my credit history has fallen off my report, I can only assume FICO is using it too. & by the time it falls off, I will have 10 years of new history.

Property Taxes

October 20th, 2010 at 08:17 am

**I scored some *free* toothbrushes. They were on sale for 99 cents, and I got $1 0ff coupons for Walgreens, for buying them. I bought one, and went back and snatched up 3 more (I hadn't realized they were on sale, and I didn't realize the coupon was for the toothbrush, so I got another one). If I had realized I would have bought one at lunch and one after work (the Walgreens is on my way home), to make them all essentially FREE. But what I did was run back first thing in the morning to snatch up more before the sale ended. I hadn't realized they were on sale until I got home and looked at the receipt. Doh.

Was nice, since I like a particular kind of toothbrush that usually cost more like $4 or $5.

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I got our new property tax bill. No surprises since I had looked up our property assessment earlier in the year.

In our state, property taxes can not go up more than 2% per year, but they can go down as low as property values go, any given year. (These rules were put in place when absurd price appreciation meant a lot of seniors could no longer afford the property taxes to keep their homes).

I have no complaints about our property taxes, as they have steadily gone up 2% per year (even while the price of our property more than doubled in a very short time). But with the economy, I welcome the chance to pay even less.

Last year our bill went down $400 for the year. This year, it went down about $300. That's some pretty substantial savings. We are still in this sweet spot where we have over 20% equity, etc. (Last year, our assessment fell to the price we paid for the house. This year, down another $15k or so).

For net worth purposes, I long ago decided just to track the assessment to value our home, since it was only a steady 2% increase. (Fair market value has been crazy and volatile, on the other hand). On the flip side, a large loss of value would be more important to track and is accurately reflected with this method. It just works for my purposes.

SO, I have to lower my assets by $15k for the year. But I won't complain too much, since I have no plans to move anytime soon, and welcome the lower tax bill. Phew!

Cross Your Fingers for my DH

October 19th, 2010 at 06:46 pm

He is going in for an MRI tomorrow. (He did finally set that up!)

IT would be a miracle, but I am hoping his tumor shrunk/died/disappeared.

It looks like the odds are that either it is growing again, or it stopped growing. So, realistically, I can only hope for no growth.

We probably won't know any results until the following week.

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I am so glad we waited 6 months to bring this whole thing up again. It is still very likely that his doctor will recommend radiation. (cyber knife - small amounts of radiation directed only at the tumor - much safer than other radiation. A VERY simple procedure).

We just couldn't handle all this immediately after his surgery recovery. But, I think we feel ready to open that discussion and tackle it, if need be. So, I am kind of bracing myself for round 2 - which may be brought up even if there is no growth.