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Archive for December, 2011

Verizon

December 31st, 2011 at 07:30 am

So, I think I have been pretty clear that I do not do auto pay. I am way too much of a control freak about that. Too easy to think, "Well, the bills are paid, so whatever - I will look at them later." I think mostly it would drive me nuts to not have more control over payments being made. I set up the gym (a whopping $15/month) as auto pay and a couple of city utilities who would only let me pay by credit if it was automatic. But, that's about it. When it comes to bigger bills and giant corporations, I couldn't do it. I want to be able to choose not to pay a bill when I don't agree with it, etc. It is MUCH easier to dispute bills before you pay them - trust me. & I only allow regular payments to my credit card. More recourse when there is a disagreement - doesn't screw up my bank account if THEY make a mistake, either.

SO. I just saw this:

[url]http://www.mymoneyblog.com/verizon-wireless-2-payment-f...

"On December 29th, Verizon Wireless announced via official press release that “Starting January 15, a new $2 payment convenience fee will be instituted for customers who make single bill payments online or by telephone.”

A day later, on December 30th, after a barrage of consumer complaints and a possible FCC investigation, Verizon retracted their fee.

Sigh, Verizon. You do realize you’re charging us to pay you, right?"

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Where was I? I hadn't even heard all of this.

I have also said that I don't do business with big banks, giant corporations, big cable, etc., etc. BUT Verizon is the one shining example. They have always been affordable and pleasant and no issues in over 10 years.

*This* would be a horrible precedent. One I am not sure I could put up with. So I am relieved to see they changed their minds. OF course, as Mr. MyMoneyBlog said, they could certainly offer a discount to those who pay automatically or work it out in a more hidden way over time. But, that is the more PR thing to do. Any of that is certainly better than "pay us to pay us!" I mean, it didn't occur to them that people would be pissed about that?

ETA: I know better to take secondhand commentary as gospel. I do usually look at the source, but hadn't bothered in this case. Anyway, I just read the Verizon press release and it was a REALLY BADLY WORDED PR kind of thing that basically says they will charge a $2 convenience fee to customers who pay one-time with credit card. Um, from my experience this is very standard. To be clear, they are not charging people to pay by check, to pay by EFT, or to pay with online bill pay. Only with credit card. This is not how I read it, initially, so I am way less outraged! I've never had anyone pull a switcheroo like that, but whatever. Many many many businesses pass on the cost of credit card merchant fees to their customers. Those are the ones I don't use my credit cards with. Lord knows why they worded the press release in that manner - it does come across to charge every customer $2 to pay their bill, then lists all the exceptions (all-non-creditcard payments, and auto pay).

Of course, I do admit in an era where most businesses are dropping charge card fees, that this is pretty backwards. I had mentioned that as of 2011 the only holdouts seem to be the government and any mortgage company. Oh, and PG&E - who seems to be in the dark ages. I can't charge my mortgage, I can't pay the county utility (though all the city utilities are fine with no-fee credit payments), I can't charge payments made to the IRS or state or county without being charged a fee. & PG&E. & Verizon wants to be added to that very narrow list??? I suppose after thinking about it, it is still pretty stupid. But I am sure they will find a way to get that money back another way.

BUSY!

December 28th, 2011 at 06:00 pm

This is the worst week of the year for me, at work. April 15th isn't exactly easy, but we have several months to prepare. This is a 4-day workweek and it's all about the year-end CRUNCH. (Plus, heck, we just extend tax returns. Wink )

I think it's extra frustrating because everyone else has the week off and doesn't understand why one would be so busy. It's hard to deal with well-meaning friends who think I am just avoiding them or something. *sigh*

Anyway, I have no idea what it is because I try to go for the calm, relaxed, and low-key lifestyle. But someone recently commented that "my life was so busy." She is not the only one, but I don't really understand that impression.

BUT, today I worked non-stop for 10 hours, dealt with a ton of issues, and accomplished a ton. Plus took a couple of phone calls since I got home (from less organized or later sleeping co-workers - I went to work at dawn so I could leave at 5:00). *This* is busy. I feel like I have been going a million miles a minute all day.

Tomorrow and Friday probably won't be much better, but once it's done, it's done. Then I collapse! It's like a good warm up for tax season though - which starts next week. Er, I guess it really started last week - but the 3-day weekends confuse the issue a bit. Only 6-day workweeks starting next week, until May. So I look forward to the 3-day weekend before the craziness REALLY begins.

Of course, it's all relative. Came home by 5:15, had a nice dinner with the fam, and spent the evening watching Elf with the kids. Plenty of hours of down time - could be much worse. I usually have much more morning and noon time, is all. Definitely no lunches home this week...

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Anyway, somewhat related, I read a really great post the other day:

[url]http://simplemom.net/4-minimum-requirements-for-vibrant...

"Ask yourself these things:

1. Food: How are you feeding yourself?
2. Rest: How are you sleeping?
3. Calm: How are you handling stress?
4. Activity: How are you moving (aka exercising)?

Yes, of course we need love and joy, laughter and fresh air. We need spiritual connection and mental stimulation and creativity and purpose. But the truth is, a chronically sleep-deprived mama living off of Diet Coke and cheese doodles is nowhere near as prepared to experience the kind of deep, vital, and vibrant life meant for her. To some degree, we simply must take care of the basics first."

These are words I personally live by.

I commented on the blog post too, because I have been noticing a lot lately how other "moms" don't seem terribly supportive when one chooses to focus on these four basics. I am personally a strong believer in taking care of myself, first. It's not a popular viewpoint with the mom crowd. Especially newer moms who are learning the ropes. There is a lot of "spend every moment with your kids, no time away or other hobbies allowed," and if you exercise and look good then the claws really come out...

Of course, this basic concept applies to anyone - man, woman, whoever. The blog I link just caters to moms, is all. It's hard to do much of anything if you don't take care of yourself first. No matter who you are!

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I was also thinking about all this in terms of New Years goals. I have no New Years goals. I generally get a raise every Jan. 1 (since I started my job 1/1) and most our bills tend to go up Jan. 1. So, for me it is a time to review the past year financially and revise the budget for new numbers and think to new goals. Nice how it works out, I guess.

BUT, I am entering busy season at work so I have no other goals. "Survive tax season" just about covers it. OF course, the more sleep and exercise I get the easier it will be.

I just don't get the "Set a ton of goals at once" mentality. & of course I watch my friends fail at the same pile of goals every single year. I am sure it works for some, but I have always followed the approach of "one thing at a time." I am all about the "one thing at a time." It REALLY works. You accomplish one big goal and set a good habit, and then you move on to the next one. IT certainly does not happen overnight.

Bills, Bills, Bills, + $20

December 26th, 2011 at 09:11 pm

Today I paid bills, bills, bills and more bills. I suppose most of the big stuff seems to be due this time of year (property taxes, home insurance, flood insurance, umbrella insurance, disability insurance), plus paid for school lunches the rest of the year, paid the refi deposit, auto insurance, and some car repairs - new battery and new tires. All of the above was $5000+. Of course, we set aside 1/12 of all these type bills every month so no biggie, but I imagine not preparing for the bill landslide could be VERY overwhelming. Just a reminder to "plan ahead." Aside from the refi, all of this was extremely foreseeable. I paid for the refi deposit with cash Xmas gifts.

I put some of this on the credit card and so I don't have to pay cash for about $1000 of it until February. Some I had to pay off in December (Am Ex had a very short grace period) - so if kind of spreads over 3 months. It's just most of this stuff is due between Dec. 10 and Jan. 10.

Oh disability insurance ticked up. I barely noticed but then saw that it was about 30% higher AND that it had been stagnant the past several years. I guessed it - getting older! IT's still dirt cheap. About $300 with a "one-time 10% discount" due to the economy. But I saw the rates tick up every 5 years. (I also have to belong to two professional associations to get the rate, so that doesn't tell the whole story. It's still reasonable when you consider that - maybe $1k-ish per year). They've been aggressively trying to get me to increase my coverage. Um, considering it can't be more than 60% of my current income? I'd love to, but they are sure wasting a lot of paper and postage trying to convince me to get more coverage - I simply can't.

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Appraisal is tomorrow. Woohoo! Crossing my fingers for $250k+.

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My mom slipped me $40 for Christmas food and stuff. Lord knows we spent nowhere near $40, but it is appreciated. I returned $20 to dh for the money I took to pay the mortgage this month. I was going to deposit the other $20 but was digging in our cash stash for $5 bills (that's a LONG story). Anyway! It occurred to me I didn't need the $20 for anything, and so should add it to the cash stash. The "cash emergency fund," which we do have but is not always front of mind. It's probably been a couple of years since I added to it. Since MIL has been handing us so much cash, I will have to remember to add to the stash next time.

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I think I will pay the mortgage again tomorrow. That way it will be paid up through mid-March, and won't have to deal with that again during the refi process. (You know, every time you make a payment, it changes the balance due, etc.). Then there's no "don't make the mortgage payment" if it doesn't close in time or it doesn't go through - don't want to deal with a potential late payment. I am quite sure I am being overly cautious, but overly cautious works for me. Wink That, and it does just simplify things for us. I have the cash flow with Christmas cash gifts. I get paid Friday anyway and will just do ROTH contributions with the next paycheck after - usually I do ROTHs on 1st and mortgage with mid-month paycheck. IT's just a little shuffle helped along with a little bit of extra cash.

Christmas Spending

December 24th, 2011 at 06:13 am

Spent about $250 on Christmas this year.

Of course, it is also birthday season here, so includes a lot of birthday spending.

In addition, donated $200 cash to charity. I usually just apply some of the gifts/bonuses we get to charity, so don't usually count it as a Christmas expense. BUT, with all the credit card rewards, we spent so little, so I just paid out $200 a couple of weeks ago, from the budget. I won't be so generous with the cash gifts we receive because I am hoarding those to pay for our refinance costs.

OF course, money received so far:

$1000 from my mom
$ 50 Bday money
$ 110 from dh's Grandad (we used for a nice dinner out on 10-year move/house anniversary. Since it arrived that DAY - perfect timing!)
$ 250 work bonus (didn't end up getting more for *10 years.* Bummed about that, though happy to get anything. This is the money I usually give to charity. Usually $50 back to boss and $200 to charity).

In-Laws always gives us $1000. Will find out today, for sure.

The Spending??

$200 Charity
$20 to Gardener
$50 towards boss gift
$20 for in-law gifts (Grandkid photo calendars, gift cards, split 50/50 with SIL)
$ 8 Christmas plates/bowls (cute and on sale!)
$ 4 calendars (for kids)
$ 8 Almond roca for my dad
$17 toys for kids (some game? - was a July purchase)
$15 Frame/print for work gift exchange
$ 5 Gag gift for my mom
$15 Birthday Pie for me
$30 Frames/prints for our home (Bday gift to self)
$40 Dh/kids bought me some t-shirts (dh kept one too)
$20 lighted bows and flowers (for us, though may give the flowers to my mom to take home Xmas Day. Lighted bows were cute! We can re-use)
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$452 TOTAL
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Of course, with cash gifts, we come out ahead about $2000. Woohoo!

In addition to the above we did all the following for free (credit card rewards and creativity):

Nintendo DS3 for the kids
Several used video games for the kids
LOTS of free books/games for the kids (Scholastic)
Kindle for my mom
Kindle for dh's folks
Kindle Fire for us
$25 Amazon gift card for my dad's 60th B-Day
$25 Amazon gift card (x2) for teachers
$300 free books for teachers, approximately (Scholastic)

In addition, I printed out some sheet music from some of LM's favorite video games. The kids are with Grandma so I practiced them a bit to surprise him tomorrow. I thought of it because #1 - dh got some free CD of video game themes played by a Symphony - that kind of thing. LM LOVES it. & also we are trying to talk him into starting piano lessons. So, I thought maybe this would encourage him a bit. Wink But I can't wait to see his face when I play "Chocobo theme song" and "Angry Birds Theme Song." Big Grin For extra motivation I need to find some easier arrangements for BM. (To showcase what one year of piano lessons can do). I am sure I will find something - the internet is AMAZING. I couldn't believe all the free music I found. I usually pay for music. & I will be mindful to buy it if I find a good arrangement. But there is just so much free stuff being shared by people online, too. Like, their own arrangements of popular songs. WOW!

This year was certainly a unique year with so much opportunity for so much fancy free stuff!!

We probably usually spend about $500 on Xmas + $200 to charity. So, we saved about $250 this year, with credit card rewards. (Plus, were able to be extra generous).

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BTW, framed print of my dad's photo was a HUGE hit at work gift exchange. I did good! Funniest part? Boss and his wife are really into art and have ridiculously expensive frames, etc. around the office. I had to get my frames approved for my certificates for example - to hang them in my office. Um, they approved my cheap Michael frame to hang on their wall? Seriously? OF course, I am thinking GIFT idea for THEM next year. I should go buy another of these frames - if they approve. (I love how nice and sturdy and sleek they look though I paid little more than $10 for them on sale!)

I received a dainty little gold watch. I LOVE it. The funny thing is that I have been thinking I could use a watch, but haven't exactly voiced that out loud. Must be "good gift" karma!

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Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, to everyone.

This will be a monster post!

December 23rd, 2011 at 05:06 am

Oh, work has just been crazy as it always been this time of year. So, I have about 10 things I want to blog about but haven't had time to. Will see how much I can squeeze in a post.

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UGH!

I got a bill from our HMO last night. I peeked at it while I was out at the mail box and was surprised to see a bill for $1500. Holy Heck! I just assumed it was probably in regards to the emergency room visit last October. They aren't particularly known for prompt billing. (Heck, likely more related to my surgery in January).

BUT, imagine my second surprise when I saw this was for dh's ultrasound LAST WEEK. Rolleyes

Anyway, though my annoyance level is pretty darn high, I am 99% sure this is a mistake, so am not too stressed out about it.

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BTW, dh seems to be feeling much better. It was "nothing" and it has passed. Will see...

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I had forgotten that the deductible is basically included in the monthly cost of our health insurance. We have ALWAYS maxed out, and the whole point of switching was that it was a little cheaper, with deductible, than our old plan. Which means, if you look at it that way, our health insurance will cost MORE than our mortgage after this refi. $950/month versus $1050/month. Ouch! (Our old health insurance plan must cost $1100+ these days. IT cost about $900 when we switched - it was insane). But yeah, I am just adding the average $250/month deductible we have been paying - adding that to the insurance premium.

& yes, we have made HUGE efforts to cut our living costs down. HUGE moves, and I think getting our mortgage down under $1k is pretty respectable from a regional perspective. (The average person I know has a $2k+ mortgage. Rent isn't any cheaper as an option). BUT, I don't know if I should feel exasperated with the medical side, or just glad we have controlled what we can as much as we have, so it doesn't kill us financially. I feel a little of both. Grateful we can afford it all, but still a little exasperated. I just was telling dh last night, more than 25% of our take home pay went to medical and dental bills this year." Ouch!

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This week I gave blood - that is my giving for the holiday season.

(Actually, we gave a little cash too. Good thing we did that before monster medical bill. Wink )

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My dad is upset because for the first time in his life he can not contribute to an IRA! I had to inform him that he needed "Earned income" to contribute. HE didn't earn a cent in 2011.

My dad is still on COBRA, and I think they can easily live on unemployment, for the most part.

My dad was telling me how many of his friends can't find any work and how screwed they are financially. I am starting to REALLY realize that the reason our generation is in such a financial mess has everything to do with my dad's generation. This is the common story: Bought a big house, fancy cars, private schools, supporting adult kids well into their 30s, divorce.

All of the above is VERY expensive. & then I wonder what financial planet most of my peers are on? This is how they grew up?

(To be clear - I Am talking about people who had $100k-$300k steady paychecks for the last 2 decades. THIS is what I See all around me).

My parents did none of the above, and the reward is a *shrug* if he can never work again.

OF course, my dad just never took his income for granted, and having grown up dirt poor, I just think he felt VERY content at a much lower spending level. Food, shelter, what else do you really *NEED*? More where I get my own attitude from.

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Anyway, I didn't see much point for my dad to contribute to ROTHs near retirement, when he had a huge income. BUT, he has been converting since unemployed. This year he was able to convert $50k. He will pay some taxes, but nothing above 15%. Basically, will pay in the tax instead of making ROTH contributions.

IT's kind of funny because I have never heard of this tax strategy, but we have both used it. Contribute to 401k and regular IRAs while income is really high and get a HUGE tax break. When income is low, convert to ROTH and pay no or little tax on the conversion. Win-win.

All the more reason to just keep our IRAs for the long run. We are not any more than the 15% tax bracket, even with a big conversion. But I haven't wanted to come up with the cash. & I am thinking that I probably shouldn't. Maybe we can convert those during the early years or our retirement. ??? If it would make sense to?

Anyway, we were most definitely in the 25% tax bracket and took advantage when we both worked. 401k and IRAs. But our income has been so low since having kids, that we did a big ROTH conversion at the 10%/15% tax rate. When you figured the state taxes, we might have gotten a 30% tax break up front, but converted and paid 15%.

Heck, my dad might have saved 40% on his taxes, with 401k and IRA deductions, being in a higher tax bracket, but will pay little more than 15% total on this conversion. Pretty sweet!

Of course, you may wonder why on earth I would recommend him to convert now, to ROTH, and pay tax. On a practical level, my parents can probably live off social security (starts in 5 years?). So, less money in regular IRAs = less RMDs. & of course, RMDs and social security will eventually equal a large tax bill for them. Certainly not as large as when my dad worked, but definitely more than 15% tax. Right now they are just kind of in limbo - no real taxable income. But I have enough retired clients to know that won't last. Wink

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Squeaky Wheel Update

CU called me back yesterday. I think it was good I called so much. Customer service is majorly lacking over there, but whatever.

They put in a request for an appraiser because "locked in rate a week before application was approved." I am not sure what this means except they are really damn slow to approve applications? So, we may have sped up the appraisal process being squeaky.

I Was griping to dh that the whole application was online, but I have to sit and play phone tag. When I am swamped I can much easier reply to an e-mail. ANYWAY, no sooner than I griped, my loan processor e-mailed me to assure me her supervisor told her I Called, that the requests for info are in the mail, the appraisal is ordered, and to E-MAIL her if I need anything. PERFECT!

I just wanted to make sure all the time consuming stuff was rolling and I was doing everything on MY part to get this thing through on time. Getting a request for documents, and an appraisal, is a good start. Hopefully we get the appraisal done first of January.

I've got all the documentation I should need. I will probably drop it off in person. Or hopefully I can just send it securely over the internet. I will not be mailing all that personal information (too many bad experiences with mail). But, however I deliver it, it will be done the second I get the request. My part will be DONE! & hearing all the stories, I am really curious how the rest of this will go. I am bracing myself for odd requests and follow up questions, though it's hard to be more straightforward than our situation. Borrowin 80% or less equity, W-2 income only, ample cash savings, all of our investments in retirement. No other debt. PITI will be about 20% of income. What else is there to analyze? & yet I know people in FAR better financial situations being put through the ringer with these mortgage loans. But I think a lot of them have self-employment income, other mortgages, stuff like that. So I am hoping we get it easy. Will see!!!

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Spending Christmas Eve with the family (in-law gift extravaganza) and Christmas Day here at home. I've done nothing to prepare and will do nothing to prepare. (Anything to be done has been done, ages ago). Well, might scrub the toilet tonight? That's about it. Dh is doing grocery shopping today and making a butternut squash soup today, for Sunday. YUM. Take and bake pizzas, also. The ones at our grocery store are DIVINE. The kids went with Grandma yesterday, and we pick them up Saturday.

In regards to MIL drama of Christmases past, I won't hold my breath, but I think she found something else to do Christmas morning. Hallelujah! It's more of a charity minded thing, but this is the second year in a row. Could this be a tradition? She actually DROPPED THE DRAMA and found something more positive to do on Christmas Day? I can't believe it!

Anyway, if we get 2-3 hours with MY parents, alone, and MIL doesn't cry the whole time she is here, it will be a success. That is ALL I ever asked for. Can I hope? Big Grin

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Anyone who read all this gets a gold star from me!

Ditto!

December 20th, 2011 at 03:53 pm

Why didn't I think of this?



Actually, we took the kids out to look at Christmas lights and someone did the same to a REALLY decked out house. BUT, they pretty much just set up a giant piece of cardboard and put the "ditto" lights on that. Was maybe wood, not cardboard, but was very much a "thrown together in a few minutes" kind of look.

LOVED it.

I told dh that if we every move into a neighborhood with crazy Christmas spirit, we knew how to play along without looking like total scrooges. I'll stick to the "ditto." Wink OF course, why bother with the arrow? I don't think the one we saw had an arrow - the meaning was clear. LOL.

$199,999

December 19th, 2011 at 05:36 pm

I am really surprised the bank updated their balance so fast. They tend to be a little slower.

So, it is official!

Per bank:



I suppose this is the first time our debt load has ever been under $200k, since being homeowners.

Woohoo!

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My checking account is also drained, as mentioned before.

I am not really sure how much money to expect for Christmas. I don't know if 10 years at my job buys me a bigger Christmas bonus?

BUT, whatever cash we receive this week, I will be hoarding for our refinance. It probably won't be too much of a cash drain in the end, to pay cash for the closing costs. Will probably receive enough cash this month to cover it. That wasn't my plan, but it works out very well!

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Tomorrow is our day of many anniversaries. (Primarily, 10 years of owning this home and moving to our low cost haven). I thought of more (I've had my CPA license 10 years, too). Boy were we BUSY 10 years ago! I am not feeling very reflective or philosophical, so maybe tomorrow I will think of a better post. For today, I am just relaxing and enjoying this milestone.

Tomorrow we do dinner out - lots to celebrate.

My DOH Moment

December 19th, 2011 at 06:43 am

I braced myself and went to Walgreens over the weekend to pick up some almond roca for my dad.

Um, there was no one there??? How bizarre. Actually, there were people there, and there was a line, but it was just for cigarettes. I often run in for a soda, and notice a lot of people buying cigs. They must make bank on our bad habits. Wink

Anyway, I slapped a bow on my dad's almond roca (the one I got from a gift given to me last week) and wrapped up the big box I had for the work gift exchange. I had packaged it up, but the box was so big I Was procrastinating on actually wrapping it.

And so I was in the mindset of wrapping things up, and I thought, "Hmmmmm - I should have given the teachers their gifts on Friday?" Doh! I majorly spaced on that. I have known all along the kids have no school for two weeks, but just spaced on the details.

Anyway, I was totally serious when I told the kids that it is okay and we will just give them "New YEars Gifts." They will be totally surprised and the gifts will be totally unexpected. Works out. & dh gave them some Scholastic credit which they LOVED, so it's not a total loss.

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Maybe I always notice it, but this year I am REALLY noticing that the more broke and financially screwed people seem to be giving more. Kind of, "Look at me, look how generous I am - look how I am doing okay." IT probably stands out a bit more because all of the really fiscally sound people I know are pretty *over* the materialism. This is one reason Christmas is easy on us. Our siblings and cousins say, "PLEASE do not buy any gifts for our kids. We have way too much." & they are always very open to giving that money to charity, instead. & then of course my bankrupt friends will be spending thousands of dollars on gifts. Maybe it's because I know everyone lose their home to foreclosure, or is in the middle of losing their home to foreclosure. The holiday spending seems extra insane this year.

'Tis the season to be broke!

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In other news, dh is making an appointment with a specialist this week. *sigh* We seem to have an affinity for January medical procedures. At this point we really have absolutely no idea what is wrong with him.