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Archive for August, 2011

This & That

August 29th, 2011 at 01:35 pm

Looks like we probably have about $500 left in vacation budget. Should do for So Cal trip (primarily need to pay for park tickets, and food). Not much left for Napa, but oh well. Dh got us tickets for his favorite pod cast - live audience. Since it was in the vicinity. Relaxing and enjoying the scenery should mostly do. Both trips will have a kitchen, so we can at least whittle down the food costs.

This past weekend we went to the night slides at another local water park. IT's one we have never been to (kind of pricey), but we had a BLAST! IT was so HOT the day we ended up going. Worked out well. (I think while Irene hit land, we were baking in line at the water park!). I was having second thoughts about the crowds - but in the end the experience was really pleasant - we can maybe do night slides next year once or twice. To keep costs down, just BM and I went - met up with friends. LM could not ride any of the slides at this place, anyway. Maybe he can next year (just needs to grow a couple of inches).

LM ended up at a focus group getting a free toy, instead.

Next weekend is the annual "Gold Rush Days" in Old Town Sacramento. Always SO FUN!!! & some relatives are visiting the in-laws from Australia. We invited some friends to the Gold Rush since MIL will be busy entertaining (she LOVES to come, usually). We will maybe go down to San Jose for the day to see relatives. Will break our rule not to drive anywhere on big holiday weekends! But, aiming for the middle of the weekend/day trip type thing to avoid traffic.

Soccer season has started, but it's been bearable to break up the duties. BM had a seeding tournament on Saturday (HOT DAY) and I got stuck there from about 12:30 - 2:30. Some frozen water bottles and an umbrella for shade saved the day. (What are the odds we'd have an umbrella? Not like we ever really need one - but found one in the car. PHEW!) Dh took morning shift which was longer, but cooler. ORiginal plan was for me to bring lunch and switch off, but we were lazy and went to Taco Bell instead. On the weekdays I take BM once a week to practice, dh takes the other day.

$1000 free gift cards officially redeemed!

August 26th, 2011 at 08:53 am

I know - I need to add a new category for "credit card rewards." I should do that. I went on a balance transfer binge a couple of years ago (0% balance transfers - take the cash - invest in FDIC-insured CDs at high rates). So, this isn't the first binge I have been on for free money.

Anyway, I just redeemed the Southwest rewards - $500 Amazon gift cards.

Annoying part was with Citi (which didn't have Amazon G.C.s) you could redeem other gift cards for $100, and even more. But, with the Southwest rewards, they only come in $50 increments. So, I had to order 10 gift cards. Oh well! Beggars can't be choosers...

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No word on trying to apply for dh's expired direct mail offer (in my own name). Generally, Chase takes a week to call me and verify my identity (fraud alert on my credit bureau accounts). So, no surprise I haven't heard anything. This one was a Citi card - not sure I have ever had a Citi card. I assume they will call and verify my identity in a few days time. (No outright rejection bodes well?)

I haven't applied dh for the Southwest card yet - going to hold back and bide my time a bit. Let's see what else comes along.

For one - I just paid off 3 credit cards. I set them ALL up in my online bill pay, and paid them all off. I will double check the payments clear, get my rewards, and then work on closing them all. Would be nice to get that all done before I try to juggle new cards.

Some Decent Cost Cutting & Other Updates

August 25th, 2011 at 01:10 pm

**Our regular credit card received a fraud alert because dh and I both got gas about 1.5 hours apart (same gas station). I know in the past dh had asked if that would be a problem (getting gas the same day - twice). It never has been, but this time was just close enough to do the trick. I was relieved that was all it was!

**I think my family never returned anything (growing up), and so I am slow with returns. I mentioned how MIL was all excited to buy the kids a bunch of clothes we don't need! & she didn't seem to care that we absolutely did not need them! I finally thought to look if she gave me a receipt, and she had. So, I simply took them back for needed items (school shorts).

MIL just e-mailed me that she wanted to buy some pants, too. I have to inventory what I need, but I appreciate her asking first. & there is always returns...

I would like to buy BM a nice jacket (the one I bought him in Kinder has been handed down to LM), but can probably swing that with gift cards. So, I may get off easy on the school clothing this year. Like -$0- easy.

**I mentioned yesterday that I redeemed a bunch of gift cards, which means I shouldn't have to pay money to buy anything for AGES.

**MIL is officially paying for piano lessons for BM. Was all *talk* for a long time, but now is for real. Starting next month. On one hand, was paying it from the "payroll tax holiday" which should be this year only. I figured we'd work it out next year some way. This takes care of it, but I want to keep setting aside the money so that we don't rely on her to *keep* lessons. For this year, will probably put to the mortgage. For next year, will have to figure it out. (IT's possible if we cut cable - that will cover it. Next year - may put the amount to ROTHs - while MIL pays for it. Or mortgage, if ROTHs are maxed). We settled on her paying $80/month, which covers lessons most months. We will cover extra weeks, books, supplies.

**I had awesome timing in closing out our old credit card. I literally closed it days before our newspaper subscription renewed. I am not sure if I was aware or maybe just didn't remember that the good rate I found last year was contingent on auto renewal. Sure, I know the industry is hurting, but the bill regularly goes up 30% or so. I'd prefer to get the bill and decide if I want to renew.

No official bill, this time, but we did get a letter that we owed $130 (up 30%). I discussed with dh and he really wanted to keep it, so I told him to put it on one of our recently opened credit cards (which will be closed by next month probably). Buys me less hassle factor for next year's renewal. Less hassle if I don't want to blindly pay a huge increase.

That said, dh told me it was no doubt cheaper than the Sunday paper. Whatevah! I went to the corner store today and proved that wrong. BM and I are early birds, and I told him we would gladly go pick up the Sunday paper every weekend before he wakes up. He won't know the difference. Wink It's $2 a week and though we could do even better if we were new customers, it's far better than any delivery deal we get as *old customers.*

Oh - I am sure they might grovel if we literally call to cancel, but I finally talked dh into it! Big Grin He even said not to bother with the Sunday paper, but I will probably get it for compromise. It's not some big splurge that needs to be denied him. I'd just rather take a walk every Sunday than pay the increase.

**COUNTDOWN TO NO CABLE**

I'm all for the *no cable* thing and have done well enough without it when money was tighter. BUT, I did marry a wanna-be film maker, and my dh LOVES his TV and movies.

But, my dh is also cheap, and does not like to be ripped off. I think we've gone as long as we have, because most of the last decade we had a little local cable company that was very good and reasonable. But, since they got bought out it's just double "UGH." Couple that with recent technology advances like roku, and abundant streaming (netflix, etc.), and dh is ready to cut the cord. Woohoo!!!

I think the deciding factor is that we got fiber optic internet, and a new TV (which streams internet), and the netflix streaming quality met dh's uber high expectations. Which I don't think he ever expected it would. So, ever since we have had netflix, we have talked about cutting the cable. (I don't care for watching TV on the computer - but this *streaming to the TV* stuff is awesome!)

BUT, dh went out and signed a contract with our cable company RIGHT before that - for some discount. Rolleyes So we have been sitting and waiting all year to get this done and over with. {I know - how often have I said that we do not do contracts. We usually can not get any cable discounts, because the catch is you have to commit! But, after a decade of cable, I guess dh found it hard to fathom that we would give it up any time soon. Well, that and our current cable is very nice and great customer service, but it is insane expensive).

I am not holding my breath. I am not sure it will work. BUT, dh is committed to trying through the end of the year.

We were just looking it up, and the contract date is sometime around September 15th.

I am counting down the days!

Since we already have netflix and blockbuster, dh just wants to subscribe to hulu plus and maybe buy some amazon streaming content. We may be saving $80/month with this move. (Yes, and that is with the contract/commitment/discount. It is absurd!)

Dh seems to think I may have problems with the whole thing. ??? I'll take $80/month over cable ANY DAY. I can not imagine a world where I will have real problems with no cable. But, I guess we will see... (Sure - I Watch it and enjoy it because I pay for it - but I can't see missing it too much!) I've been really digging netflix as an UBER cheap alternative, myself. & since I didn't have cable until about the year 2000, and have rarely had HBO, I have decades of programming to catch up on. (I suppose most of the HBO programming I have watched was on DVD, after the fact, anyway. But there are still several series I haven't gotten through yet).

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Anyway, all of the above means some significant savings through the end of the year. Ideally!

Worth a Try?

August 24th, 2011 at 08:45 pm

I redeemed $500 gift cards from Citi today (dh's account).

I chose:

$150 Kohls gift cards
$ 50 Barnes & Noble
$300 Wal Mart
(Will convert $100 Wal Mart to $95 Amazon gift card, and $200 Wal Mart cards into cash - I believe 85 cents on the dollar at PlasticJungle.com?)

{I am giving dh my $500 Amazon gift card from Chase - which I should be able to redeem any second}.

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Dh received a Citi offer in the mail today - the same one we just redeemed. I got the idea to apply for the same card.

Almost like, why didn't I before?

Oh yeah, because initially it came with an annual fee (not waived). I would usually 100% rule out any up-front fee, but I already got $1000+ from ONE Chase offer this year. I figure I could re-invest some of the bounty!

& then dh got a better offer in the mail and we got the fee waived! (For the one I just redeemed).

I still have the original offer (addressed to dh), and it says it expired July 31. I had already applied so didn't apply with the specific offer code. On a whim, I applied for it online today - my name. Our credit profiles are pretty much identical. I thought I might just get rejected off the bat, since I am not him! I put in the information, and changed the first name from his name to my name (it came up with an application pre-filled for the most part - I had to add all the really personal info). & it let me submit it!

The terms were still clearly no annual fee, though I saw no indication of the rewards. They are offering 50,000 bonus points all over the place, but not sure this favorable one will fly if it expired July 31. If it flies, I only have to spend $1000. Well, will be an interesting experiment. Big Grin

If they deny me this deal, I may try another offer. Paying one annual fee for $1000 in gift cards (2 citi cards) is probably worthwhile.

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I heard today that the Southwest rapid rewards card had a $250 gift card offer. (I just earned $500 Amazon gift cards on mine). I was thinking of having dh apply for $250 Amazon gift cards. It had a smaller up front fee. All it took is one purchase - so it was an easy one. Plus, dh wants to buy a $250-ish game system, anyway. Paying the credit card annual fee, instead, is a 72% discount off retail.

& so it keeps going...

If we go through with these, it will be 3 cards each - applied for in a short time - for one-time rewards. It's not that much, really. I see people in other blogs that do far more volume. IF I Were single, I can't say I would be applying for 6 cards. Well, heck, we are starting to double up on the same cards - which would also be impossible otherwise.

SA Blogs = Lightbulb Moments

August 22nd, 2011 at 01:00 pm

I got around to picking my free 8 x 10 up from Walgreens, today. Really confused the cashier, who was skeptical and could not quite believe my picture order would be free. Big Grin

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I had 2 great "lightbulb" moments today - just reading SA blogs.

So thank you everyone for the enlightenment!!

**From Baselle**

Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?

[url]http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/21/magazine/do-you-suffer-from-decision-fatigue.html?_r=2&src=me&ref=magazine[/url]

Per Baselle:

"The basic point of the article is that decisions of any size require energy. The more you make during a day, the more likely you will either make a crappy one or that you will go with what is recommended to you ... and in a sales situation, its always going to cost."

"People sometimes consider my tactic of setting a routine to be ho-hum, but it means that I don't have to re-make routine decisions and I free myself for the biggies during the day."

"Every so often the question, "what is the most frugal skill one can develop?" pops up. I thought it was math estimation skills but I might make the case that preventing decision fatigue might well be it."

So true!

On a simplistic level, I also think that being anti-debt also sinplifies the decision making process. It's pretty simple to arrive at a "Can I afford that or not?" conclusion. The answer is if I have the cash or not (on a very basic level). Having access to large amounts of readily accessible debt really makes the answer to this question harder to pinpoint. (Or - if you don't have any form of a budget or spending limit!) That, I have observed over the years. But I never thought beyond that to how fatiguing it would be to have to constantly evaluate those type decisions. For me, I simply don't. Just one more way in how simplicity brings a level of peace and happiness that is hard for people deep in the debt cycle to comprehend. (What appears to be deprivation and "ho hum" on one level, is actually very simplifying and freeing!)

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Petunia shared an article today that gave me a huge "aha!" moment.

Housing horror: Worse than you think

[url]http://money.msn.com/home-loans/housing-horror-worse-than-you-think-marketwatch.aspx[/url]

She was sharing the article just as another doom and gloom real estate report.

OF course, I think real estate is very doom and gloom (just looking around me), but I have mentioned that I seem to be in a sea of people who have no clue, and think real estate is the next big thing! (I see a *bubble repeat* in buying behaviors in our own region. People still buying more than they can really afford, and buying far more frantically than they need to).

There was this quote in the article:

"Simon also points to the affordability index, which measures the ability of a family with the median national income to buy a median-price home at current mortgage rates. The index is near an all-time high and double its level in 2006 at the peak of the bubble.

"I would never have believed this index could get so high," he says. A rise in affordability should have spurred purchases, boosting prices and keeping a lid on the index. "What this instead means to me is that the credit is not available to most people," he says. "Houses aren't cheap if you can't get the loan." Simon worries that the problem will get worse in October, when Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the Federal Housing Administration drop the maximum mortgage they will buy to $625,000 from $729,750 as a temporary increase expires."

I had to read these paragraphs a few times to get it to sink in. I know everyone around me is chanting, "home prices are lower than ever - deal of the century," blahblahblah. & I have no idea what planet these people are on - beyond maybe not having an inkling what real estate did before the year 2001 or 2002. (& I do think that is a big part of the problem. Society today equals such SHORT TERM thinking).

So, this is why I had to do a double take that some affordability index was supporting this *crazy thinking.*

**Lightbulb Moment**

People are looking at home affordability based on monthly payments. *ding ding ding*

Sure, you could buy a home for significantly cheaper as recently as 1999, say. BUT, interest rates were twice as high then.

BINGO!

I finally *get it.*

I look at things at full price and big picture. I can't get all excited, myself, just because loan rates are temporarily down. This only really matters if refinancing was never an option. But, the truth is most people who bought just a decade ago, have refinanced and are enjoying these record low rates, too. Thus, they bought when affordability was far better (in a big picture way).

& so now I get it.

& I personally ain't buying it!

But at least now I know what everyone else is talking about! & I Feel stupid for not realizing it sooner. I know that most of my peers think in terms of payments versus actual price (when it comes to everything else). I should have figured this out ages ago!

Camping Mt. Diablo

August 21st, 2011 at 05:42 pm

{See last post for some older photos I finally got around to posting.}

With the likes of Tahoe and Yosemite in our backyard, it's probably no wonder we have NEVER heard of this gem before. We went camping on Mt. Diablo this weekend, and it was just amazing! (& a MUCH shorter drive - turned out to be about 80 miles from our home).

We met my dad for lunch around 1:00. We met at a fabulous and reasonably priced Thai restaurant. We feasted! I thought, "Where else can you eat authentic Thai cuisine, and drive 15 minutes into the wilderness for some amazing camping!" Maybe other places, but not many?

Our plan was to set up camp (check in 2:00), explore the famed "rock city," and drive up to the peak in the morning before we left, for the views.

Wildlife spotted: primarily deer, hawks, owls, coyotes (?), rabbits. Which isn't terribly exciting because these are the same animals we see at home. But, we saw the coyote a handful of times running around very close. Was beautiful. I suppose we also saw a lot of lizards. I didn't see any spiders bigger than a centimeter or so, so no complaints!!

"Rock City" was just amazing. BM loves to climb anything and everything. & though I held my breath a few times and had to chastise the kids to be more CAREFUL, they just had a BLAST. It was a huge rock playground. Just beautiful!

When we drove in we saw there was a star gazing event, and decided to go. (What luck!!!) Just BM and I went with Grandpa. We drove up to the top of the mountain and saw the most AMAZING sunset. We were above the fog rolling in, and arrived at a great scenic overlook just as the sun finished setting over the horizon.

At the top of the mountain, the night sky was pretty amazing for how early it was and how much light was coming up from the valley down below. If we had been up to staying longer, would have been even more amazing. The fog was starting to roll in (below us)and drown out the city lights when we left closer to 10pm. The moon was nowhere to be seen, and the sky couldn't have been more clear. We saw a handful of shooting stars. Basically, several people were there to show off and share their telescopes. IT was so much fun!!! We looked at several planets, galaxies, nebulae, stars, etc. I used to have a telescope, and love astronomy. We had actually planned this trip in the hopes of spotting the tail end of the recent meteor shower, but got much more than we had hoped for!

In the morning we hit rock city one more time to let the kids play, and then drove to the top. We stopped at the same scenic overlook again. Camp was very foggy and WET in the morning (got to test the water proofness of our tent - it passed. & it was so clear it would have been easy to leave off the water proof cover. It has sort of an open design for watching stars, etc. But for whatever reason we put the whole thing up. It felt like a little rain, when I Walked away from the trees, but was possibly just fog and condensation that hit our tent all night. My dad said the coastal redwoods get gallons of water from the fogs and he never quite understood that (until he slept under a tree in the fog!)

Anyway, so we drove up above the fog line and just soaked in the view for a LONG time. We decided to not drive to the very top of the peak since the observation tower was temporarily closed. I think we were happy with what we were able to see!

The peak was about 3500 feet - and probably the highest peak in the Bay Area. (I am not sure, but we saw several peaks in the distance that were quoted as being 2500 feet high - like Mt. Tam. I suppose we only got a view of the west, so not sure what else can be seen on the east side. Heck, to the east are the Sierra Nevadas. REAL mountains, but those are far off in the distance).

We let the kids play on the rocks some more before we drove home.

Throw this in the "vacation lifestyle" category because it was about on par with our last Hawaii vacation, but was mostly a 24 hour vacation! & certainly MUCH cheaper!!! We are definitely going back for a whole weekend next year. & is a good spot for day visits as well (when driving to/from visiting family).

Frugal note: We took gas sipper (compact vehicle). We were able to easily fit all of our camping gear (for 4), 4 camping chairs (clearly not necessary), etc. I share because most people look at us like we are crazy to try. Big Grin Of course, kids have short legs so not like there is any need for more space. I just find it funny how giant vehicles are seen as such *necessity* in this day and age - the minute you have one child. & yes, we have a minivan, but it is certainly not a necessity. Anyway, was for the best because we probably couldn't have parked at the campground otherwise - not a lot of room for cars. The gas sipper can squeeze in anywhere (& squeeze we did!)

Pictures Long Overdue

August 21st, 2011 at 04:45 pm

First off, camping was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G, and there were no tarantulas to be seen.

I will do a separate post to share some pictures, and events of weekend.

When getting pictures off my phone, I realized I hadn't taken any off my phone in a while.

So, here are a few random pictures:

First, just a small part of the spread for public TV volunteer appreciation dinner:



Last time we were at six flags, BM was wearing a very bright yellow shirt. The fish seemed VERY attracted to him - they all swam over to him at once and popped their heads out. We realized a lot of the staff wore yellow and they probably thought BM was there to feed them. Was just funny!



We saw tons of butterflies there and at the Academy of Sciences. This is just one of many amazing shots.



We did go to the free symphony concert (+ free ice cream) at our alma mater a few weeks back. The place was a mob, but we actually found a pretty nice place towards the front. This is maybe 1/4 of the crowd? But the concert was absolutely amazing. There was no traffic/crowd parking - maybe we knew better where to park.



We passed this house on the way to camping on Saturday. There were also several homes on the base of the mountain. I looked up this house just to see if I could find a better picture online. The real estate in the area was amazingly cheap considering what it is and where it is. ($1 millionish - but heck - we have friends and family who own pure crap at those prices). This may be my new dream place to live or get a second home. I didn't price out any condos, but I am sure if there are any there they would be very reasonable. & even owning a house on the mountain is not entirely unfathomable. I suspect some of the pricing is the economy, and the rest is the "out of the way" factor. (Homes on the mountain were on lower section - higher up was state land).



This picture does not do justice, but we caught the sunset last night (unplanned, and didn't have my camera with me!). It was probably the most amazing view I have ever seen in my life. We were above the fog rolling in. Picture didn't come out as terrible as I expected.



Now I have to go through my camera pictures, and no doubt my dad will have some amazing shots from his super fancy camera!

New Tires

August 18th, 2011 at 06:20 pm

I've been meaning to take dh's car in forever for new tires. Lord knows how old the back tires were (maybe 6 years old?), but they don't seem to wear down very quickly. So, we just replaced the back tires. (Front tires were replaced exactly 2 years ago).

I had been meaning to do that forever, but we keep pushing it off since it is not urgent.

It's been maybe 18 months since we have had any service but an oil change. So, we had them look it over (check brakes, fluids, etc.). Damage = $225 or so. Not bad!

Still no brake work needed. I am absolutely in awe of cars these days. If we buy a newer car every 10-15 years, it's always a whole new world with each new car. This 2001-2005 technology blows me away. There is also an element that we are extraordinarily light on brakes up here (primarily drive freeway - no traffic). & the landscape is very flat?

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IF the theme is cars, I just got the first smog check request for my vehicle. I had no idea that new cars aren't required the first 6 years? Something like that? We bought dh's car in 2002, so you think I would have figured it out. Maybe just didn't notice since we tended to keep our cars hers/his before kids. Now it's whatever makes the most sense to drive for any given purpose.

Anyway, I was bummed that my van is now indoctrinated into the smog check routine. Dh will take it in for me, but will probably be a good $50.

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My vehicle has also been extraordinarily low maintenance of late. I don't think I took it in for anything but an oil change in 2010 or 2011 thus far. I was tempted to just drop it off today when we picked up dh's car - have them look it over to. But, I will just do it next month or so.

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Dh's car has been getting terrible gas mileage (compared to usual), but one tire has had a slow leak for AGES. I am presuming the new tires will solve that problem. I haven't been the best at keeping up with the tire. So, I am glad to not worry about that any more.

Anyway, crossing my fingers that solves the mileage problem.

How Annoying!

August 17th, 2011 at 08:49 pm

I just packed up all the credit cards - 4 for the slicer. (We earned all our rewards!)

That said, I logged into Chase to make sure dh hit $500 purchases today (I was pretty sure he did).

Um, we've had the card like a week, if that, and they closed the monthly cycle already. Rolleyes Oh well - the reward was $200. I was going to put it to the mortgage, and didn't expect the cash before 8/31, anyway. The annoying part is that it is one more thing to remember (can't just kill them all THIS month). Dh spent about $125 today - after the credit card closed for the month. Bah!

I got a haircut over the weekend and so charged that on the Southwest Chase. One purchase = $500 Amazon gift cards. Yay!

Dh hit $2000 on the Citi. Health Insurance hit today. We should have $1000 in gift cards to redeem by the end of the month, between this and the Southwest Chase. Woohoo!

+$200 to the mortgage in September... If I don't forget! Big Grin

(I checked - and it hasn't even been a whole month since I applied for the stinking card - what's with the super early mid-month cycle thing?)

It's back to earning a steady 2% cash back on the AmEx. This is much easier! Phew!