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Archive for January, 2012

Frugal Entertainment

January 30th, 2012 at 08:38 pm

Bummer!

Just saw the art museum is having a film festival this week - the cost is $4. I'd so be there, but I got 3 days notice and we have other plans. I am bummed! Also could have been a great networking opportunity for dh.

That said, as broke college students dh and I went to concerts all the time. I've blogged a few times how that was always cheap entertainment, and suddenly we can't go to a concert (hardly any concert) for under $100 for the two of us.

That said, a concert came up with $15 per person tickets. Holy cow! Ah, the nostalgia... We had a great concert opportunity in July too (ended up being free) but I Was so sick and missed it. HEre's to good health this time.

& we have no idea what we will do with the kids, since it is a week night. But we will figure something out. (Neighbor teenager can stay up late, or maybe one of our moms will come up and spend the night. Or we can leave early).

Here is to more frugal entertainment in the near future.

Random Stuff

January 29th, 2012 at 04:59 pm

**Work is Crazy - Tuesday is huge deadline. Hopefully I can *breathe* at that point.

That said, today I mostly slept in bed. Felt a cold coming on, and the fam went to San Jose without me. So I worked very early, and slept from about 12-4. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhh...

I have been eating out way too much. It's less of a *time* thing and more of a *stress eater* thing. I like my comfort food. But probably need to coordinate better with dh. He has been trying some new recipes, and I don't think we have been fans. So, less usable leftovers. I'd be tending to just grab leftovers for the day and work through lunch, otherwise. It's been more coming home from a long day and wanting nothing more but a BK chicken sandwich! & not another weird dinner that no one likes. Wink

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**I just noticed *Millionaire Mommy Next Door* completely disappeared a while back (over a year ago?). Makes me curious what is up with that. Actually, my first thought is she probably shared way too much personal info and maybe regrets it a bit. THough really, who knows!

My first rule if I ever won the lottery or anything like that, would be "is fine as long as absolutely no one else knows." Otherwise, easily ruins relationships, etc. Everyone expects a handout.

So, kind of what I Was thinking about her. I hope all is well.

It's not my most favorite blog out there - apparently it had been ages since I checked it out. But I think I liked it overall, it just didn't speak to me personally so much. So I didn't read it daily, but I did like it and checked up on it once in a blue moon.

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**Kind of mildly related:

My dad had some photography classes up by us and stayed with us Friday night. As always, we seem to primary talk about finances. Kind of both our hobbies, I guess.

So he starts mentioning my Great Aunt who worked for about 60 years? and was single her whole life. He tells me I would be surprised how much money she has. I said, "Well, I never really thought about it, but now that you mention it, I don't think I'd be surprised." I mean, heck, she could easily have millions. But my dad kind of shies off the subject and doesn't want to give away too many details. & basically says she never had any stocks, but did pretty well considering. So, no, not even $1 million, but maybe pretty darn close.

So I say, "Um, okay dad, so how the heck do YOU know how much money she has?"

"Oh, my cousin told me. But don't tell anyone."

Rolleyes

Mental note: Don't tell anyone how much money I have when I am 90+. I just felt it was king of wrong we were even having this conversation. I met her once. See what loose lips do?

Then dh asks me what she will do with that money? What the heck do I know? I met her once! LOL. Probably my dad will inherit some - but I think he has like 100 cousins. So doesn't mean much. Wink For all I know she is giving it all to charity.

Then we somehow got on the subject of one of my aunts who I'd write off as dirt poor. My dad told me she was actually doing pretty well and not the worst off of his sisters. I was really surprised. Told me her house was paid for, but she just didn't want anyone to know that for a long while. (Smart lady). Boy, you just never know!

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Still spectacular sunsets and sunrises - daily:




What are the Odds? (Stock)

January 26th, 2012 at 09:17 am

I don't buy stock for 10 years (individual stock) and the first one I buy post-2011 is the "#1 Stock of the Year." Up 68%, as of this morning. (Netflix).

I think *we* are up about 60% - except I already sold some at a 30% or so profit.

I actually don't want to share my strategy on this. Wink But I will share after the fact.

Of course, this is the point where *I* would take the money and RUN! & it's in our ROTH so it is TAX-FREE profit.

But dh has a point. Now that they showed some awesome earnings and beat analyst's expectations, people will start jumping back in. That's his theory and I think he has a valid point.

Anyway, I will be making moves on this soon, so will you keep you updated. But, we agreed not to sell any today. Well, not at current price.

I kind of expected dh to relearn why we aren't in individual stocks. It's very soon and I admit it is very likely we will relearn all the bad. But, I amfraid the opposite has happened. It's been kind of fun. Though seeing the "#1 stock" headline was a wake up call. This is as good as it gets. Basically, a reminder not to expect anything like this. Ever again. We got lucky. I mean, 60% return in a couple of months??? Definitely not average. Wink

& I think dh I and make a good investment team. We respect each other's opinions but have different points of view. I already sold some to hedge our bets, for one. But dh kept me from selling it all. So, will see... (You know, it's not "my husband threw away all our money and I didn't agree" or "My wife wouldn't let me invest one penny in stocks," and talking it out really helps us think it through).

For reference, last we *gambled* in the stock market, it was almost everything we had (because we were young and didn't have anything to begin with). These days, we are sticking to 1-2% of our investments. It's a very different game. I hear 5% recommended, but we are pretty conservative, plus just dipping our toes back in. We have never put anything in stocks we couldn't afford to lose, but I think we took much heavier losses in the past. Was maybe 50% of our investments, in the 2001 era. & we lost it all (all the stocks). So, there you go. Losing 1% is much easier to stomach. Plus I think we are much smarter investors these days.

Refi Progress & Taxes

January 24th, 2012 at 06:50 am

I think I am still in utter shock with this 4% refi. Like, I won't believe it until I see it.

But excitement factor is starting to increase as we near our lock deadline.

Plus, I heard from the CU. They wanted a copy of our HOA bill. So far - still very EASY stuff. Will see...

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I took the time to finish up our taxes, after all. I have had everything I needed to finish since about 12/30. Our taxes are pretty darn simple.

When I had grabbed my medical expenses to estimate I must have looked at the wrong number. Was about $1000 higher than I had estimated. SO, I Was able to change our ROTH/Traditional IRA contributions from 75/25 to 80/20. Bigger refund from state (almost $70?) but net is still about $500 due in the end, as expected. I expect to do 100% ROTHs in 2012, but with the cash outflow of the refinance, I didn't really feel like giving the IRS another $400 or so, this April. I have a lifelong habit of making this decision about every January. How much to put into Traditional IRAs, for best tax scenario... I think 10% of our income to ROTHs is more than ample, and might as well put a little into the Traditional IRA since I probably won't make any more contributions for a long time...

I couldn't file though because our tax software was not updated at work. I might be able to file Wednesday.

Our federal tax rate is about 4% of income and state tax rate is about 1%. As I say, we don't pay much (thanks to marriage, kids, mortgage, medical bills, etc. If I had no mortgage I'd still be an itemizer). The medical bills are probably our biggest deduction. I know my boss is severely confused by my paycheck. Everyone else in my office has a working spouse and pays BIG taxes. I get to take home most of my gross, in comparison. Which is hugely key on surviving on one income. I know a lot of 2-income couples who make a lot more income than us but take home less (when it comes to taxes, daycare, working expenses, etc.). He must just think my mortgage is insane. Wink He has seriously like asked me if I Was sure on my withholding, before. & he's a tax guy. Funny enough, we usually owe about $0 - and sometimes get refunds - I withhold plenty.

Oh and Grandma wants me to do her taxes again, and pays generously. So, I think that means I won't touch my savings for my IRS bill come april. Heck, I will probably just pay the IRS when Grandma pays me. That is GOOD news! She gave me $300 last year, and the other $200 should be easy to come up with.

*Perfect* Eggs & Weekend Doings

January 22nd, 2012 at 09:48 am

**I have mastered easy-peel hard boiled eggs. So we have been eating them a LOT lately. (They are suddenly not a chore to make!)

Of course, I think a lot of it depends on how fresh your eggs are and how your stove is, etc., etc.

But what is working for me?

**Boil water & THEN add the eggs. Boil on medium-high for 6 minutes. (Just not a roiling boil so the eggs don't get knocked around too much).

**Take off burner and cover pot, let sit for 1/2 hour

**Cool eggs in ice water for 10-15 minutes

That's it. They practically pop out of the shell. In fact, we boiled a dozen last night and was going to keep 6 shelled for later. Within a minute the kids had shelled them all. *Then* I remembered I wanted to keep some. Anyway, was glad to see the shelled ones keep about as long. I ate on for breakfast and thought I had never seen a more perfect hard boiled egg, so had to share.

I just take then straight from the fridge to the boiling water - it seems to work well that way. We just have store bought eggs - these eggs were just bought they day I boiled them, so maybe there is something to "fresher" eggs.

On average, only one per dozen has been cracking with this method, and still turns out well anyway. (I think generally advised not to put into already boiling water, due to cracking, but that seems to be the least of my issues with boiled eggs - I'd rather not spend all day peeling them!).

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I should probably try to get my taxes done the first weekend in February. I just feel slammed with work and 1/31 deadlines right now, plus would like to go out of town next weekend. SO, will probably have to wait 2 more weeks. I owe the Feds so no huge hurry, buy I think I might get $20 or so back from the state. If it's $5, I will file ASAP, otherwise lord knows when I will get it. Too many years of IOUs in this state. I was really not expecting a refund this year, at all. But was close enough that I will just leave my withholding as is.

I probably should have done the taxes sooner. I usually have them done by 1/31, but usually not so swamped.

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Work is crazy but for none of the usual reasons. I've been frustrated with clients who want everything yesterday that are not deadline related, etc. So will probably work a pretty long week this week to get my 1/31 deadlines done. Way far behind for usual, which I didn't really expect since I was out 1-2 weeks the last 2 Januaries with our surgeries. I thought this year would be EASIER. But we lost one employee, and everyone wants everything yesterday. It's just been hectic.

All that said, I Really don't mind. The tax side gets really stressful, but this 1099/W-2 stuff is mostly low key. So am just enjoying this kind of work before I get slammed with more stressful taxes. w-2s and 1099s are pretty EASY.

I'd probably work today but dh had a commitment this morning and I didn't want to work in the afternoon. So, will probably just bring some work home during the week.

I feel like I have no time for anything. It is amazing how much an extra 13 hours a week of work makes. 13 hours lost of free time. & I generally leave work 5:00 every day. It just still feels like an intense adjustment. Anyway, I have never met anyone in the industry who works as little as our firm does. & I also get paid overtime. So no complaints here. I know I have it GOOD!!! Just 3 more months, and back to normal. The extra income is always nice. The boss does not like us working too much and getting burned out. Then quality of work suffers, know what I mean?

It's hard to believe that this is the first January in three years that dh and I are not having major surgery. He says, well, his mom is having surgery. Yeah, but I don't have to pay for it or take a ton of time off work for that! Nor try to recover and care for my family and all that. So I am surprised how swamped I have been feeling. I expected this year to be much easier than past years - particularly January. Anyway, yes it sucks that she is having surgery, but it doesn't affect us quite in the same manner. Her surgery is on the 30th I believe - I will keep you updated. All seems to be good news but "they won't know for sure until they get in there."

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The weather was GORGEOUS yesterday and crappy today. I'd work Sundays instead, but then Sundays would be pretty and Saturdays would be all gloomy. Can't seem to win. Wink

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Oh, and I paid the February bills. It's amazing how quickly the checking account balance piles up when you put all savings and mortgage payments on hold (waiting for refi to finish). Anyway, which means once I get paid 2/1 I can probably resume some ROTH payments. I have 2-3 months on hold due to credit card rewards and refinance. I'd have funded those amounts to ROTH by now, but I need more "cash in the bank" per CU request than I expect to *really* need. For one, I've paid off $1200 of mortgage since I applied for refi the first of December. So I won't need *that* $1200 for the refi. But I need to keep it in my checking account until they re-run their figures for actual closing.

Rewards Update (2011) $4164

January 21st, 2012 at 07:00 am

I got my nook!

I got those gift cards fast. Phew! Will probably give old nook to FIL for his birthday coming up.

{Though I have received some of these rewards in January, all of these rewards were earned in the year 2011. I suppose tehcnically these are all the rewards I expected to receive in 2011, though I am just getting the last of the rewards right now. AmEx was 4 weeks slower to let me redeem my point - compared to ANY of the others. I had really expected to have these gift cards in hand by Dec. 31}.

UPDATED TALLY:

$1030 cash Chase Sapphire (moi)
$200 cash Chase Freedom (dh)
$625 gift cards - Chase SW (dh)
$515 gift cards - Chase SW (moi)
$260 gift cards - AmEx (moi)
$500 gift cards Citi (dh)
+$100 gift cards - Citi for trying to close card
$310 gift cards - Citi (moi)
-$99 annual fee (SW card)
+$99 annual fee refunded when closed card
-$69 Fee (SW card)
+$69 annual fee refunded when closed card
-$41 lost value for exchanging some Citi gift cards for cash and amazon gift cards
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$3499 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

+$ 500 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back)
+$ 25 cash back Fidelity Am Ex
+$ 76 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)
+$ 64 Visa Rewards (1% cash back - for places that don't take AmEx)
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=$4164 Total CC REWARDS 2011
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For 2012, I already redeemed $50 to my ROTH. So, am getting a good head start! But, that said, I don't expect to pull anywhere near $4000 this year. Once our refi is done, will probably have dh apply for Chase Sapphire. He hadn't done that one, so will see. That's a $500 reward. That will put us closer to our usual $1000 average in rewards. We might hit closer to $1500 this year if dh can get $500 from Chase.

Flippers Gone Crazy!

January 20th, 2012 at 06:14 pm

WOW!

The flippers are back with a vengeance.

Um, remember the house 2 doors down that sold for $250k and let me squeak by with a $250k appraisal?

I just saw it listed for sale. For $315k.

Seriously???

I've been proven wrong before. These people do find idiots to buy at hugely inflated prices. I just don't think the banks are going for it these days. So, will see. (Even if they find someone dumb enough, where would they get the appraisal for that high??)

I am looking up that last flip we just had behind us to refresh my memory. Paid $182k (much smaller house) and sold in a few days for $218k. The interesting thing about that one is they put in the listing that it was a flip. I commented on here that I have no idea why one would advertise that, but it seemed to work. It sold lightning fast. Guess that is preferable from buying from a bank. OF course, buyers probably don't know the house was in perfect condition before the flip. Maybe they assume a lot of work was done to it.

Sounds like a sweet profit? IT was much better than I expected them to get, but you figure with all the costs and everything that it seemed like a lot of hassle to probably make very little in the end. That said, these are homes that really shouldn't need ANY work. The one that is two doors down in GORGEOUS (marble throughout) but I don't think they just put that in. I am sure it was probably pretty move-in ready already. I admit I am guessing - but people went crazy with the upgrades here the past decade. & it's not like I have seen any construction crews over there - it just sold a couple of weeks ago (to the flipper).

Er, I saw a bigger home like ours on sale for $224k that was sitting for a couple of months. I don't remember which street and can't find it now. Maybe it is in escrow. Another sold for $240k recently. So this is why I think $315k is pushing it. The smaller homes here have been selling $210k-$220k pretty consistently in the last couple of months - lots of sales. Price difference is generally $20k-$50k for more square footage. These days, anyway. The spread was $200k+ at the peak!! (Land is expensive here, so split levels are a really good value - usually bigger yards since the home footprint is smaller and more square footage too, of course).

Um, a house sold for $305k, BUT it had almost TWICE the land. I think this flipper is REALLY pushing it! But, will see...

So yeah - this is the new normal. Bank forecloses, flipper buys, flipper sells. This is the second home in our immediate vicinity. The flippers are back! I think flipper #1 got a very good deal on his investment. I am not so sure on flipper #2. Maybe it is the same person. The listing looks totally different - so I don't think it is the same one. Unless they got advice to leave out the flipper part on the listing. Wink

ETA: This could be a good thing because seems banks are unloading homes faster to investors, through auction. The home behind us was vacant for a time, but the one that just listed was listed as sold before the owner even moved out. Wonder if eviction is part of the buyer's responsibility, these days? Not the banks? Either that, or public record date was wrong. But, hey, no house sitting empty for months. That's an improvement.

Pretty Sunset

January 18th, 2012 at 11:02 pm



The sunsets and sunrises have just been GORGEOUS the last few weeks. Of course, we have barely had a cloud in the sky, either. I have been enjoying as I seem to be driving to work with the sunrise and driving home with the sunset, lately. IT probably won't last much longer as the days are starting to get longer.

Some storms are rolling in so I saw some clouds today...

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Tomorrow is dh's birthday.

He didn't really want anything on the food side (weird to me - we celebrate with FOOD). But I remember he really likes my fudge, so will make that tomorrow a.m.

I also decided to just take the kids to school tomorrow, as a surprise. I am off of *school drop off* until tax season is over, otherwise. Work is purely INSANE and so I probably shouldn't do it. But, many years we go away for the weekend, so I figure sleeping in a bit one day won't hurt too much. That will probably be dh's best present.

OF course, part of my concern with this plan was that I was also meeting dh for lunch. Will just have to be uber productive at work tomorrow...

Going to the "free on your birthday" sushi buffet. I guess we will celebrate with food.

I think I will also let him get that stupid quieter garage door opener. Haven't seen the point, but we were advised to replace it (by my dad) since it has been giving us some trouble. I keep putting it off due to cash flow, etc. But I guess since I know we have enough equity for refi (not tempted to put cash towards that) and since BM didn't need that $150 for track, after all... Will probably just tell him to get it. If I was really nice I would buy it and get it installed, but I think he can handle it. He's got infinite more time than I do right now. I might have arranged it if I thought of it sooner. I think I was too up in the air with this refi and thinking we should wait. IT was the cancellation of track which swayed me - $150 extra all of a sudden.

Dh will appreciate it because he has to fix it when it gets stuck. Wink Which it hasn't done in a while, and would be nice to replace before it gets stuck again... He's wanted a *quieter* one since the day we moved in (it's been 10 years) though the rest of us could sleep through anything and our bed is nowhere near the garage door anyway.

Of course dh tells me the other day when I brought it up, "The noise doesn't bother me any more." Seriously??? 10 years of complaining, I give in, and that is his response? But I think he will be happy anyway.

This & That

January 17th, 2012 at 12:58 pm

While you all have been having cold weather, it's been record breaking sunny and warm here.

BUT, that sure changed the last few days. The COLD has definitely arrived.

Actually, it was hard to work Saturday because it was so sunny, warm and gorgeous outside. So Sunday I made the family go for a walk. I thought a hike might be perfect, but we were all a little too lazy to go anywhere but out our front door. For the best. We walked about 1/2 way around the lake, but once we turned around the COLD wind was blowing in our face. It was like we walked a good 1/2 mile or so before we realized how freaking cold it was. Guess the wind was pushing us along? We were going to let the kids play at the park a good hour, but changed our mind to about 10 minutes. BRRRRR. At least we got a nice walk in. It was about 50 degrees Sunday versus 70 degrees on Saturday. If I had known, I would have worked Sunday instead.

We've still got sun, but it was freezing this morning. It will be nice to get some rain. I think weather has been more on the normal side, but I just remember endless endless snow and rain the last 2 winters, so it's been weird. I know I usually have a winter setting on the lawn irrigation but I don't have the foggiest what it was since I haven't used in about 3 years. I have just been flipping it on once a week, and turning it off not wanting to leave it on during a freeze. My dad asked if I had been over-watering. HA! I said "under watering." Forgot what to do when it isn't raining all the time.

For summer I have the irrigation set to come on twice a day because it gets so hot. (Not every day, but maybe every other day). So this basically means for 3 years we have been watering twice a day or never. Nothing in between?

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It's official. It is IMPOSSIBLE to find shoes. I am so frustrated. I am returning all the shoes I bought last week. I kept one pair which I thought would be perfect, but they are too tight in the toes. I am keeping them in the hopes of stretching them out over time. It's all I got.

My problem is big/wide feet and apparently complete lack of "in styleness" of flats and low heels these days. This has been going on for years, but usually Payless has SOMETHING. All Payless has right now is really uncomfortable shoes. & maybe only one or two styles in a large wide. Rolleyes

I increased my price range significantly and still can't find anything, anywhere. So, not sure what to do.

The really high heels are the best I got (bought them a bit ago and they are comfy for what they are). I am giving these shoes a week, but they are killing my feet in the interim. I went back and read the reviews again, so don't think next size up will help.

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BM has been wishy washy about track. He didn't want to do it, but now he does want to do it. So I sent dh off with a check and an application last night. He came back with the check. Track is cancelled. It's a bummer for BM, but can't say we are upset. There are other options but they are all competitive. He is only 8. We are going to put that on the back burner for now. We are going to focus on tennis as a winter sport. Er, maybe spring. I had been thinking of doing lessons with him, but work is crazier than I thought it would be. So, will see. Maybe we can do tennis in May.

Not doing track will save us a LOT of gas and time. I will re-divert that $150 to other sports/activities for the kids. The cost was really the least of it. The traveling and time commitment was pretty intense.

Of course, the reason I signed him up is the kids LOVE to go to the track down the street. So we will probably do our own unofficial track practice. We've got a track, tennis courts, a swimming pool, and some walking trails and bike paths. I think I prefer "track when we feel like it" versus 3 hours a week on cold nights! We have plenty non-structured activities to keep us busy and fit.