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Archive for March, 2011

April 2011

March 31st, 2011 at 01:19 pm

I was going to do one post on how much 2010 sucked and what was going on in April. It felt wrong to mix the two - so you can read my last post if you like. All about everyone's medical whoas.

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April 2011?

I can't even think about it because my head will probably spin. Will still be working weekends, for 3-5 more weeks.

**Indian Spring festival (Holi) this weekend. I am exhausted just thinking about all the packing/planning. Covering the carseats in garbage bags so they don't turn rainbow-colored. Bringing enough towels and changes of clothes, etc. But, it will be fun. I don't think I have the energy to do it every year. Every other year has been our groove.

**The school moved it's awesome International Festival to April. Oh - the food is always DIVINE.

Why April? To torture me, I suppose. (I do remember last year it was like 100+ degrees, and the year before that rained - but I don't think April will assure better weather than May!)

Plus, I remember buying like 10 waters/sodas because it was so ungodly HOT last year!!! Seems they should have made more money. Wink

**BM has two track meets (out-of-town). Lots of driving for these... But we can kill 2 birds with one stone and visit family. I don't think it will be so bad since we have other things to do at our destinations.

Needless to say... BUSY!

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I shared that Weekend Sherpa link, recently. Lots of great ideas of outdoorsy stuff to do in California. (Indoorsy in the winter, I guess).

I haven't really looked at it much since my friend turned me onto it last fall. Tax season, surgery, crappy weather. Maybe I should read it more often - I didn't realize it had a ton of indoor suggestions during our endless rainy March.


Anyway, this is what came to my inbox today:

Rock City - Mt. Diablo


& so I found our first hiking destination for 2011. OMG - the kids will LOVE it.

Too bad we probably can't justify the gas or the time, until May. But will have to set a date.

The cool thing is it is a good half-way point to meet my dad. So, I am thinking a picnic with Grandpa. A cool hike. Neither of us has to drive 4 hours round-trip to do so. Woohoo!

+ $26

March 30th, 2011 at 09:21 am

Too much to post about - not enough time.

So will be short and sweet instead.

**Got gas for first time in a month or so? Price was $3.95. Ouch! Paid $3.75 with coupon. Still $0.40 more per gallon than last time I got gas.

I've gone back to driving dh's car more regularly (the gas sipper). Yesterday I drove 50 miles (met friend for lunch and went to aerobics). Dh drove 20 miles (I noticed when I got in the van today - we both needed a fill up). Played well. Whoever drives more takes the gas sipper, as long as prices are high.

**Dh's cousin gave him $10 for gas, after he lent him money and rescued his girlfriend after her car was towed. He was out of town and girlfriend was penniless. Will see if the check clears, but was an easy $10 profit if the check is good. Wink (He has some serious money whoas, so who knows).

Also got $16 from Amazon. Not a super profitable month, obviously.

So, I added another $26 to the mortgage. At this rate, we will make our aggressive mortgage goal this year. Was an extra $160 for March.

Any other time I might have kept the cash. Meeting a friend for lunch today, and planning an expensive weekend, though March budget is probably blown. (Weekend charges on credit card apply to March - the card closes the 3rd or something).

BUT, I should also get paid some overtime. So, I will just ignore these minor splurges and chuck every last dime to the mortgage this month. Is a unique month, anyway.

**Our nice weather has returned and my good mood has returned. Woohoo!

Next 2 nights? Walks to the park, bike rides, etc. Hallelujah, life is good! This endless rain/no sun thing was really trying. Nice to have things back to normal.

**We've all been sick and work is crazy, but I really look forward to going to Holi this weekend. Unfortunately, the gas will probably be insane. & it will be a long exhausting day. But, probably extra eager to celebrate spring this year.

Oh yes - in years past I might have got away with $10-$12 for me, but I have to pay for BM this year and it is $16 a head. Ouch!

Will be an expensive weekend, but a very worthwhile splurge.

Frugal Advice - Gourmet Meals

March 27th, 2011 at 07:43 pm

The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

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Today my theme is dining out.

Um, I just got a tip that there is a SECOND culinary institute just down the street from our home. Just down the street from the other one who put on an awesome fundraiser for the kids' school.

Though Culinary Institute #1 did an awesome fundraiser for our school, and didn't charge us a dime - the whole night was about $80 for us. $50 dinner (100% to school) and babysitting. Ouch.

That said, look forward to more. We can do better with the babysitting, and a nice exchange for a 100% donation.

That said, second culinary institute apparently serves lunch to the public, a couple of days a week for $7.

$7 for gourmet dining.

I think I know where my new favorite lunch spot will be.

Risk Tolerance and Career Counseling

March 27th, 2011 at 09:03 am

At MyMoneyBlog he did a full review of that book I mentioned:

Text is http://www.mymoneyblog.com/book-review-the-art-of-non-conformity.html and Link is
http://www.mymoneyblog.com/book-review-the-art-of-non-confor...

"One interesting idea was his preference for what he calls Income-Based Financial Independence as opposed to Wealth-Based. Basically, he dislikes the traditional goal of having a “Number” of say a million dollars as a goal. Instead, he wishes to create a certain income from work that he likes to do, while also having the freedom and time to do all the other stuff he wants."

This would sum my own lifestyle, exactly. I want to live life doing what I like to do. But, flexibility is also important to me.

That said, I really liked this comment to the post:

"I think if you’ve got a dream you should pursue it. I just believe people should really consider their risk tolerance before jumping in!"

SO well said.

I did a post recently about how we are often criticized for being too "safe" and "boring." The thing is we LIKE to be safe and boring. & so we have found a way to live our lives that gives us freedom, makes us happy, but appears to be safe and boring. I suppose the author of this book was a little more into adventure, and so though it sounds like I could relate on many levels, I don't have to do something especially risky or "different" to find that happiness, myself.

I think the irony is there is so little conformity in our own lives. We can be labeled conformists for having the white picket fence and the 2.2 children, but that is about where our conformity ends. Wink

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It was interesting when I read this book review, because I just had the most insightful conversation with my spouse the other day.

I've always felt his parent gave him little career guidance but "You have to work a job you hate for good money." This is the complete polar opposite of how I was raised, and I have been annoyed how little his mind shift has changed after FIFTEEN years of being with me.

So, he tells me the other day that he just has NO IDEA what he wants to do. He is good at everything, so he doesn't know where to start. On top of that, he is extremely risk adverse. So, though he knows he wants to do something artistic (orelse he will never be happy), and he does NOT want to ever wear a tie again. But he can't resolve that side of his brain with his extremely practical nature.

For the first time I realized that though his parents' influence has always been very heavy in this, that he really has an internal struggle that I didn't quite realize before.

IT was ironic that he was telling me this just after I read about this book, and was thinking about risk tolerance in my own life.

Basically, my dh needs some serious career guidance. My only suggestions were to meet with the higher ups at the TV station (his dream job at the moment - and he knows everyone since he has volunteered there for YEARS). So he isn't getting anywhere with e-mails and trying to chat during events. I'm like - invite them to lunch and ask them for some career guidance!

Likewise, I think he should probably take some community college classes (dirt cheap here) and talk to the career counselors there. I am sure there are also other state resources for unemployed, etc.

One step he is doing is trying to finish some of his creative projects so he has something to show when he can network more, etc. It's a good start. He is planning a retreat next month (a free stay in the family cabin in the woods) to get away from the TV and internet and kids and just work on his scripts.

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In all this, I realized I was extraordinarily lucky because though dh and I both seem to have the same risk tolerance, I am perfectly happy in a well paying and steady career.

Of course, I don't think dh has to be worried so much about the "Well paying" and "steady" side of things, (being married to me!) but his practical nature will never let him move past that. It is what it is.

Believe me - our kids will get far better career guidance. I just couldn't stand to watch them struggle the same way.

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For myself, I identify with dh in that I also tend to be good at many things, and have many interests. As such, when narrowing down a career, I decided that a steady/safe/consistent job was what was most important to me. Accounting became the obvious choice.

I had seriously considered astronomy, biology, and music for careers. I even have a degree in the humanities. I totally understand how hard it is to narrow things down.

(Humanities - history, art, english, philosophy - was completely written off by the practical side of me - I just enjoyed studying it).

Through college I ruled out science.

My parents were extremely supportive "you can do anything in this world" types. OF course they were. My dad had little ambition until a community college career counselor suggested that he get an engineering degree. Was such a perfect fit for him. This left my dad with a strong sense that you can follow your dreams and do quite well. (Turned his life around significantly since he grew up poor and is now a millionaire).

That said, when I did express interest in music, my dad was always introducing me to his musician friends. He just wanted me to know it was a hard road. Not to discourage me - but to impress that it was something maybe better as a hobby than career. & that was with what he knew about me.

When we moved here, I immediately volunteered for a local wildlife rehabilitation nonprofit. I quickly realized it was not my thing. Thank goodness I didn't go to vet school. I loved caring for all the animals, and maybe I would have been happy as a zookeeper type. But, I just could not grasp the medical side of it at all. To me it was a re-assurance that I picked the right career. Phew!

My love for music and animals fits better as hobbies, for me. I know I could make a decent living teaching piano (I taught through college and had many music teacher mentors who did quite well financially), but I don't think it is as strong a fit for me as accounting is.

I know I Was very blessed to learn all this before I turned 23 or 24. Part of it was really getting my feet wet in a lot of different endeavors. Same careers that sounded great, I Was immediately able to rule out once I stuck my toe in the water. I figure the best I can do for my kids is give them those same type experiences.

For Californians

March 24th, 2011 at 08:43 am

My friend, who lives in San Francisco, told me about this awesome website a while back.

Weekend Sherpa

Text is http://www.weekendsherpa.com/ and Link is
http://www.weekendsherpa.com/

Find weekend activities from hikes, bikes, camping, water activities, and skiing for Northern California

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For reference, Sacramento is only about 90 miles from San Francisco. If that.

As she told me all about this great website, I Was like, "Send me the link!"

Her: Oh, but it's a Bay Area website.

Rolleyes

Like I never go to the Bay Area!

Anyway, she was wrong. It is a Northern California website. Though it may be heavily focused on the Bay Area, there are plenty of other Northern California destinations highlighted in this newsletter.

(I just had to share because Sacramento has this reputation of this no-fun, "middle of nowhere" place to live. So I am perusing this website wondering what world my friend is living in - that I couldn't possibly get anything useful from this website. But, I get this all time. It's a wonder we can enjoy our sad existence in the middle of nowhere). Wink

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Anyway, I just got an e-mail that they are also starting a Southern California newsletter.

So, I thought it was time to share the link again.

The interesting thing is though I don't think it is a goal of this newsletter to be frugal, but since there are so many hikes, bike paths, etc., mentioned, that it does give you a lot of frugal weekend ideas.

I just got some "whale watching from land" ideas - one of our favorite beaches has prime whale watching campsites (I had no idea). I like this idea after our last whale watching sea sick diaster. We really need to do some camping this year.

Zappos

March 23rd, 2011 at 06:23 pm

In my 1-minute chat exchange the other day I asked for a "Refund or a credit."

I know - I should have asked for a refund.

She told me they issued a "credit." So, I presumed that was store credit instead of refund to my credit card.

That said, I didn't see the credit anywhere, but I hadn't returned the shoes yet. (Had asked for a bigger credit since the next size up ended up costing more - when first pair were too small - because sale ended).

Just updating my Quicken, and lo and behold, a refund to my credit card. There it is!

I didn't even put the return in the mail until today. So, they just refunded me, without waiting to see if I followed through with my return.

That's pretty sweet. Big Grin

Now I just have to keep an eye out for my credit for the returned shoes - I hope it hits before the end of the month.

Cookies! + Real Estate

March 23rd, 2011 at 01:31 pm

Well, the weather still sucks and all the rivers are being monitored.

I saw something about fresh-baked cookies in someone's blog, and I have been wanting home-baked cookies since.

I was telling the kids we could make some chocolate chip cookies this weekend (perfect weather for it) and they were whining why we couldn't do it last night or something (was probably 8pm?). I finally gave in and said why don't we make cookies tonight??? Sounds better than waiting until the weekend.

Dh picked up some chocolate chips for us - so will be cooking baking night.

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Kids got some colds - it will be a miracle if booger boys don't give me their germs.

We've had a good year. Even with this cold, we haven't broken out the inhalers yet. I was thinking about it in February - many months since either kid needing their inhalers.

Anyway, they both made it 2/3 through the school year with perfect attendance. We just got their 2nd trimester certificates.

Now that's a miracle!

I don't think BM has ever gotten perfect attendance recognition, before. He is never generally sick. But, he will be sick for a day here and there, spread out throughout the year. I don't think he has ever missed more than a day. (His illnesses are always fast and furious, and done in a flash). But LM is the type to perpetually have a cold. So lord knows how he manages to be so healthy around all those germy kids. I've never seen him so healthy? I think pink eye and strep went around 5 times since January - always some note or other from the school.

I'll cross my fingers that he is outgrowing his asthma. Other than that, the kids have always been pretty resilient. After paying their first year of preschool "sick dues." We were all sick non-stop for about a year - but everyone told me they would be less sick once they hit public school. Seems to be true.

Maybe LM has already been exposed to all the school germs through his brother.

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I had two lunch dates (With friends) this next week but kind of wanted dh to come meet me for lunch. It finally occured to me to just aim cheaper than usual, to fit it in (financially).

Of course, when I called dh to invite him to lunch, the first thing he says is "anything but fast food." Well that made it hard!

I finally remembered a great little hole-in-the-wall mexican restauarant that had expanded back to a full restaurant and their lunch specials. (They had become a little taco bar for a time and we hadn't it made it over there much in that time). Anyway, then dh tells me he also had a "buy one get one free" coupon so we could actually eat a decent lunch for $5.99 (for the two of us).

I was skeptical of his coupon (would they honor it with their dirt cheap lunch special?), but they took it. Then, they brought it back. Wrong restaurant. We paid something like $13 with tip. They must have given dh a discount since he didn't get a drink. Doesn't quite add up if I think about it. Anyway, still, not bad for a REAL meal. Big Grin

Next time he can bring the right coupon and we can do even better.

It was just my "duh" moment of the day. If I want to eat out with the hub, I can. Just had to be a little more creative than usual.

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Came across this as a reply to a very pro housing article (was something like California will go up 25% in 5 years? Really???).

I liked the long list of reasons why the economy is not poised for immediate rebound.

Why Housing is Going Through a Double Dip

Text is http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Why-Housing-Is-Going-Through-cnbc-3403431140.html;_ylt=AuOuetCkNTZ6IFluoCPieNm7YWsA;_ylu=X3oDMTE1NThvbGltBHBvcwM3BHNlYwN0b3BTdG9yaWVzBHNsawN3aHlob3VzaW5naXM-?x=0&sec=topStories&pos=4&asset=&ccode= and Link is
http://finance.yahoo.com/news/Why-Housing-Is-Going-Through-c...

"Consumer sentiment: Awful. No confidence in this market. Only the investors are out in droves, looking for and getting bargains. We need them, but we need real buyers as well."

Precisely!

There are no real buyers in my city. Just investors. Something about that just seems very "off" to me.

It's only speculation that is maintaining my home value for the moment. I'm grateful for that, but nothing about the situation makes me feel warm and fuzzy about the housing market as a whole.

Of course, I am thinking of specific markets like Sacramento and Vegas. Maybe all of California (it's just so over-priced, still).

Asked for the credit

March 21st, 2011 at 01:47 pm

I rarely return anything.

For one, dh usually has more time for that stuff.

Secondly, we try not to buy things we will have to return.

Anyway, I ordered some shoes from zappos that were too small, but when I ordered the next size up, the price had gone up.

I had set it aside in the interim but decided to return the "Too small" shoes yesterday. Hoping for a refund before the credit card closed at the end of the month. So, better get on it!

I had to print out the return postage, so did all that.

I didn't see anything about their exchange policy, so decided to call them today. While looking up their phone #, I saw a "live chat" option. Figured might as well give it a whirl - I was in the middle of a couple of things anyway.

Asked for a credit for the difference, and within a minute I had gotten it.

Don't get me wrong - I have to follow up on that. I printed out the online chat and will keep it as a reminder that I have a credit. IT wasn't apparently obvious in my account, and didn't get further confirmation. But, that said, that was so EASY to ask for and will be so easy to follow up on.

Live chat for customer service - it has won my heart. LOVE it!

Frugal Advice - Arts and Culture

March 20th, 2011 at 06:10 pm

**I suppose I didn't literally do nothing today. I actually helped BM make breakfast (though he did most of it), went to Kohls, and hit the gym. Washed some bed sheets.

Vegged out, read, and watched TV for HOURS. I needed a nothing day to just recharge. Today did the job.

My score at Kohls was 3 sweaters for $10. I "saved $125" in the process. I probably wouldn't have hit the sweaters so hard, but they had a lot of turtlenecks and my neck scar will be pretty ugly for a long while. So, I got 2 turtle necks and another sweater that was like one I have (& really like) but in another color and design.

The weather wasn't horrid when I went out, though it was most of the last couple of days, and for most the 10-day forecast. I have never seen the place so empty. I think the clearance rack had more good pickings than usual, likewise. Woohoo! I was limited by the number of arms I have since I didn't want to do the dressing room more than once.

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The best financial wisdom I have picked up for over the years is that there is usually a way to have something virtually identical for much cheaper.

Just seems to be a constant recurring theme in the discourse of personal finance. A recurring theme in everyday conversation with people around me.

Today my theme is art and culture.

The topic (art/music) came up because my friend called me up last night and invited me to a family concert thing that we had been to before. I declined with the weather and all, and my looking forward to doing NOTHING today.

BUT, it did remind me that we had gone to some great family concerts (FREE) the past couple of years.

There were 2 local Symphonies we had seen, and so I looked up their concert series and marked them all on our calendar. The next performances were in May and October. It's not an "often" thing, but they are free. & geared towards the kids.

Less for the kids, I remember all the performances I saw in college - put on by music students and professors. Always something interesting, unique, and low cost.

So, it seems to me there are plenty of opportunities to get out there and see some art - even if you don't have much money to spend.

Don't get me wrong - if money were no object - I would love to support the arts more, etc. I just have other priorities at the moment. I don't get the feeling my lifetime will be limited to free and low cost concerts. But while a college kid and while raising small kids, that is what I am limited to.

In addition to all that, there are always free performances in the community. A local farmers market is a pretty grand affair - and we love to go picnic there and enjoy free live music in the spring and summer. We also have weekend art walks with street performances, etc. The opportunities are endless.

On top of all this, I am strongly considering a fine art museum membership. I just wanted to go test out the parking situation on their "pay what you want" days that they have once a month. As long as I don't have to pay an arm and a leg to park, the membership is pretty lucrative. (We already have a handful of memberships. Thinking of dropping the zoo one for the museum, as the kids get older).

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Since all our family lives in the Bay Area, we have ample opportunity to explore their arts/culture too. Since I could not find more than 2 concerts per year for the local symphonies, I started expanding my dragnet. I saw the Silicon Valley symphony also has "Target family concerts," which happen to be at our alma mater in the summer. No dates announced for 2011 yet, but it looked like they had put on some GREAT concerts in past years (reading reviews and comments, etc.). So I am really excited about that. There are probably several other large cities in our immediate vicinity that I could dragnet, but I think that is enough for now. I've got 2 concerts on the calendar, and a note in summer to check out the Silicon Valley concerts.

While at it, I did my first precursory check into the local youth bands, etc. I learned to play violin in 3rd grade, and flute in 4th/5th grade in public school. Did concert band and orchestra through high school, and marching band too (high school and college). I know that the public schools are no longer supporting music like they used to. Our school has a hard enough time making ends meet without adding a music program. I just don't expect to have those same opportunities. BUT, I know there are nonprofit organizations and other avenues.

I was pleased to come across a youth band that offered beginning lessons, a beginning band experience, and had many advanced bands and a marching band. Seeing that just made my day. The cost is nothing compared to private lessons, and it is nice to know there are so many group playing opportunities. (The kids can start in 5th grade. Might consider private lessons to start learning an instrument in 4th grade - and then switch to the lower cost option. Just depends on our finances at the time. I would prefer the kids be exposed to piano, a string instrument, and a wind instrument. From there, you can do anything. But piano is a good stepping stone to everything, and where we have already started).

Even in this internet age, I am always amazed by the opportunities I become aware of just talking to neighbors, etc. I have no doubt that once we meet more people in the local music community, that we will hear about far more learning opportunities, concerts, etc.