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Archive for September, 2012

Google Wallet - Update

September 28th, 2012 at 04:45 pm

Success!! *barely*

& thank you to the very patient CVS checkout person who helped us get this stupid thing to work. !! {See my last post}.

We went to CVS today and dh had the grand idea to buy gift cards. I think we settled on $25 Amazon GCs and $20 BK GCs (because not much came in less than $25, and we weren't sure if there would be tax. Probably not - but why risk going over $50 - because then it would definitely not work).

I grabbed a couple of candy bars to round it out and the google wallet would not work. Cashier told us they needed last 4 digits of credit card to buy gift cards electronically. I imagine there was probably some rule about buying gift cards. IT could even be more of a CVS rule than a google rule. Dh was pretty peeved.

Plus, this is like the third time in recent weeks I ran some errands in the middle of the day and it was really crowded. You should have seen the backup we caused. !! {Mental note: Never go shopping in my neighborhood in the middle of the day - nights and weekends are WAY preferable - if nothing else more cash registers open. Maybe that is a lot of it}.

So, back to square one. Since it mostly seemed to be working, gift cards aside, we decided to give it a go. So, we shop shop shopped. OF course, then it wouldn't go through. We tried about 5 or 6 times, and the last time it decided to go through.

MEanwhile, the people behind us are like, "WOW - that is COOL!" Dh, me and the cashier were like - "Um no - this is not cool." LOL. It's cool if it would work.

The CVS is not too close to us, but I was impressed with the prices. Should hit it up more - it is on the way to the gym, to piano lessons, to soccer, etc. So can be utilized without going out of the way.

We scored:

-2 liter of pepsi
-Halloween Candy (5 bags)
-lifetime supply of soap, so it seemed (16 bars?), because were "buy one get one free"
-2 deoderants
-4 candy bars (for airplane)
-Travel-sized Toothpaste
-Several hair things (plastic clips) - some "buy one get one free"

Total was $46 - so we have $4 left. Also got a $3 coupon - "extra bucks" - for later. I don't know if it will make sense, but technically gives us $7 total to use in Florida. Might be nice to buy sunblock (is all I have on my list so far - to buy there - aside from hitting up a grocery store. IT will have to be on the way though. Because who knows if the google wallet will even work).

So, I think we did well for how little thought we put into it. Got some practical things.

Which reminds me, the "travel size" section was really cracking me up. & I probably didn't need the travel sized toothpaste, but I am picky about my toothpaste, it was free, and will free up some space. Some of that stuff is just silly! Razors in packages of two? Because you can't buy a bigger package and pull out 2 razors? I really don't get it!

Google Wallet

September 28th, 2012 at 12:33 pm

When we got our new phones, one of the perks was getting a free $50 balance on google wallet. Woohoo!

*Woohoo,* except it has *never* actually worked. Rolleyes

So yesterday I was talking to my mom and she mentioned how my dad liked to pay things with his phone. I said, "Really? Is he using google wallet?" Yes, he was. "Where the heck did it even work?"

CVS!

So dh and I have a mid-day CVS date. HA! I told him I would gladly help spend that money. I have no idea on what.

I am trying not to get too excited because odds are it will not work. My mom was kind of like, "Gee - I wouldn't give up on a free $50 like that!" I was like, "you don't even know." You don't even know how many stored we tried. & then it's frustrating because you planned things around the "free" purchase but maybe you needed it anyway and didn't want to not just pay for the stuff and move on. A lot of the places are food places. Dh went to a food place and it didn't work. But you still want to pay for the food. On and on and on. Which as why at some point we just gave up.

I know the whole point of the free stuff is to get you to like it and use it - but this is something that has really backfired.

Oh, and apparently dh's balance expires like next week - so it's use it or lose it time! Glad I had that random conversation. Big Grin

2013 Retirement Fund Limits

September 27th, 2012 at 07:19 am

**I was recalling that it must be getting close to that time of year. Several have calculated that the IRA contribution limits will be $5,500 next year. ($17,500 for 401k). It's not "official," but looks to be certain.

I think that is awesome, because we can max out. It will have been 5 years since it increased.

On the flip side, I am wary of how much we will have for any mortgage pay-down, this year or next. I'd rather put it to the ROTH/tax shelter, so I am okay with that.

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**In other news, Grandma is finally home from the hospital. & she is good as new! Dh spent the weekend with his family, and it was well needed. They apparently go insane when family crisis hits. I didn't expect that. I figured they were insane with dh because it was dh, and his surgery was so super serious. But, apparently that is just how they are. Dh gave me an earful when I got home and I knew precisely what he was talking about - they totally drove me *insane* when he was in the hospital. I think it's possible Grandma was able to go home because he brought some calmness and sanity to her hospital room for a couple of days. I can only hope they take it down a notch now that she is home. *crossing fingers.*

For one, they are just so negative. They whispered to dh how they were concerned she will *never* recover from this. Meanwhile all the hospital staff says is that they have never seen anyone recover so fast. For the record, the first thing she did when she got home was clean her apartment. Rolleyes Obviously she is totally fine. Not bed ridden or brain damaged, in the least.

So, dh is a SAINT.

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Dh and I went out to dinner Monday to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary. Wooohoo!

Among our peer group, this is basically unheard of. Especially among our like-minded friends, which is hard to wrap our brains around. (Why are our like-minded friends so marriage-phobic or have so many failed marriages - the failed ones failied VERY quickly). Anyway, so every year that passes I feel like we have been married like 50 years or something, any more. We are hands down the "old married" ones. I just know we are blessed and have something rare. & since we met so young and waited a while to marry (wanted to finish college first, etc.), it's more of a "17 year" celebration. How am I even that old??? Big Grin

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P.S. Almost forgot the GOOD news! Got an ER bill for $250. This was knocked down from an estimate of $900. I can not be sure this is all of it, but apparently the estimate I did get was rather useless. (I had a feeling - I just had no idea if it was high or low).

Double Dip Worked

September 24th, 2012 at 10:37 am

I have been checking, because waiting for the first billing cycle to close on my latest Chase card. Today I logged in and it hadn't closed yet, but I happened to notice my reward points already posted. !! That is the first time I have seen points post before a statement, though it is possible the statement is there now. Maybe they were processing it when I peeked.

Whatever the reason - woohoo! I can redeem my $420!
We are using it for a hotel stay in November, on the beach.

This means I will seriously think about more double dips. We already did a Citi double dip.

On to the triple dips!!

Never Boring!!

September 22nd, 2012 at 08:10 am

**I don't even know where to begin on our weekend to-do list. !! Soccer, robots, both kids have big projects due, etc. Plus it would be nice to catch up around the house - looks a bit like a tornado hit it.

**Welcome to Hotel Monkey. Dh's friend needed a place to crash. My dad will crash the night before we fly out - but we scored a free ride to the airport, in exchange. Big Grin This will probably save us $50! We will just catch a cab ride home - it was the 2-cab-thing that cost just about as much as parking. This changes things drastically. Can you tell I am excited? My dad has something going on in our city the day we fly out - early in the morning.

**I've been shopping shopping shopping. SO over it. May I never need to step in a store for the rest of the year! IT will be possible. I usually don't shop much. Still trying to sort out my messy cat (so keep running back to the pet store for stuff). I bought some awesome Christmas/Birthday gifts for my mom for $7. I am very pleased with that! Big Grin I won't wait for Christmas. Dh is delivering for me this weekend. Though I saved the birthday one for later because it wasn't quite as exciting. Had to pick up some snacks for soccer. I could have had dh do it, yes, but felt I was out shopping shopping anyway. Picked up some more $2 clearance shirts at Target - for the older child.

**Yesterday we got to say goodbye to the Space Shuttle Endeavor on its "Farewell California" tour.

I didn't personally see it, but it did rumble right over my head. BM says it flew pretty low over his school too - at least he got to see it fly by.

**It's not surprising that some of our neighbors are getting involved in local politics. They are the types. BUT I think they have just been so focused on our charter school - has been a lot of energy and work to get it set up and to continually add grades {& most these people had small children, to boot. Who are growing and taking up less energy on some level}.

That energy is being redirected in several ways. More focus on after-school type stuff. & now a friend of ours is running for the school board. This is awesome, and dh is committed to any non-financial support he can give. (Though he assured us even $10 would be a great help - so we will probably contribute something like $20).

Boy, dh's schedule is getting awfully busy!!

Anyway, last night a neighbor held a meet and greet for the candidate, so we scored some free food in exchange. Maybe we can make it a $30 donation, since we were well fed!

Freebies

September 21st, 2012 at 07:33 am

**Amazon withdrawal! Our amazon credits ran out. Dh was telling me how there was all sorts of cool stuff coming out this next month (of course). Blu Rays, cds, whatever. I told him he could pass off whatever possible on my Christmas wish list too. Though patience is not his strong suit. (You would think his family would know by now that I am not into that crap in the LEAST - but would be worth a try?).

Anyway, he has a substantial credit at the new/used store, and so picked up some new stuff on credit. Phew! Will carry us through until the next credit card rewards?

We both have birthdays, and Christmas coming up, and his family is generous. Considering how much we have caught up this year, I could not imagine asking for one thing for Christmas. We certainly don't *need* anything. [I usually keep a list throughout the year, or focus on needs]. So, seriously, I will just fill my wish list with his crap. It's plenty of "gift" not to have to pay for that stuff. Christmas/Birthday is largely where dh scratches this type of itch.

He hasn't been buying or selling any games and systems lately - it's just been very dry. For some of these new blu rays he may have some old DVDs to sell.

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**Dh went to a volunteer appreciation potluck the other day at the public TV station. I didn't go because it was during BM's soccer game. Dh received a free water bottle and a $25 jamba juice gift card. Score!!

The kids and I already redeemed 3 jamba juices. Probably enough to buy 3 more. {I told them not to get used to it - and hope they like my homemade smoothies since they are infinitely cheaper!}

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**Dh's grandma is still in the hospital as they are just now allowing her to eat and drink again. Crossing our fingers that goes well - getting her digestive system back up and running. Dh will go this weekend to be with his family - the rest of us have too much to attend to at home - and kids couldn't see her anyway.

I think if we hadn't had so much hospital time in the last few years that I would be much more open to working more at this point in our life. BUT, it's been such a luxury to be able to deal with all this (when it was us) and to step up to the plate when it is our family. Because, the rest of our siblings and cousins have not been able to step up to the plate in the least. My dh is very nurturing. He may be more taking care of our parents than working in the years to follow. I didn't grow up near any family, and I feel extraordinarily blessed to be flexible enough and close enough to help when times get rough. Even better to be with someone like dh who handles it all very well.

I Was thinking about it because BM had quite a schedule this year, and it kind of fell apart the last couple of weeks between him and Grandma both in the hospital. I was thinking, "I knew we could handle this, but of course the crap had to hit the fan at some point. I hadn't planned for that." Though I should have - because it always does!

We also totally flaked on a meeting with BM's teacher - HA - due to all the chaos. We rescheduled and I was worried she would express concern with us not quite keeping up with everything the last couple of weeks. She was totally cool, so phew. Somehow BM thrives in all the chaos. I think we are so used to being conscientious and holding up our end of the deal that we largely feel, "So what if we are letting things slack?" these days. Can't be perfect all the time! BM missed a lot of soccer and robot club. We begin to make it all up and catch up, this weekend. Kind of sort of, because then we go on vacation. Big Grin Well, here's to October and November then. Things should settle down. & if they don't, what can you do?

Medical Bills / Tax Update

September 20th, 2012 at 07:21 am

**I was starting to think I could make mad progress on the mortgage this year. Just waiting to see how things settle out the rest of the year.

HA!

This is also one reason I am reluctant to invest aggressively outside of ROTHs. Once we build up a certain sum, that will be fine, but there is too much "need it now/need it NOW!" IT's going to take a while to work up to that - where I actually have monies that I might not need for 5+ years.

Anyway, just bills bills bills. As long as 15%+ of our income is going to medical bills, I don't have a lot left for the mortgage. But this is why I Was leaving final decisions to 12/31. I didn't want to put a chunk to the mortgage, and then be scrambling to pay bills.

So, we wait and see.

**The kids' dental visit actually wasn't too bad. They needed all kinds of sealants - I am happy to pay money for prevention. IT seems to be working - BM has outgrown his cavity-proneness.

So between checkups, x-rays, sealants (all times 2) the bill was $1k. Ugh! To be fair, I am sure I had $500 in the budget, so is only $500 more than expected. This on top of recent medical bills. & poof - $1500 *less* for the mortgage - in just one week.

They also reduced their no-insurance discount. Was 10%. Now is 8% by check or 5% by credit card. Will probably stick with the 5% by credit card (can get 2% off that, with the credit card reward). IT's all tax deductible for me - we itemize medical deductions since well over 7.5% of our income. So there is a 20% discount of sorts, on top of that.

Orthodontist wants to see him in 6 months. I will brace myself for that one!

This dental office has an ortho in-house, which is very convenient. BUT, we will shop around once they start recommending any real work. For one, this office is a bit of a drive. I think age 10 is when ortho talk tends to get serious, so I am gearing up for that next year.

**I thought as medical bills were mounting, that maybe I should revisit my tax calculation. I know I have been under-withholding a bit, BUT, the medical bills are a HUGE variable. The year before I got refunds - last year I owed a lot - only difference being the medical.

So I plugged in some better estimates, and relieved to see we will only owe about $900 for 2012. That is with 100% ROTH contributions - no reuglar (tax-deductible) contributions. Phew! I am fine with that. AMT would put us owing closer to $1500. OUCH!! I am quite sure AMT will be fixed. For reference, our income is low enough that the Feds only tax us about 3% on our entire income last year. AMT = the tax for the rich of the rich. Just to illustrate how broken AMT is. Rolleyes

**I think many assume that my tax bill is so low due to my tax knowledge. I suppose I make better tax decisions due to my tax knowledge. But I did not choose my job (employer had large tax-free compensation for many years), did not choose to buy a house, to marry, or to have kids, and to pay insane sums for medical insurance, due to the tax code. The way I live my life is just heavily incentivized. (Is that a word? Big Grin )

& so it continues! Because I worry next year that taxes will start to go steep, and at some point I will have to increase my withholding due to this refinance. & higher taxes. My "breakeven tax return" has turned into "owing $900" over the past few years - I haven't changed my withholding in ages. Mortgage interest deduction has been decreasing, etc.

& then it hit me - orthodontia will be a nice tax break for us. I just never had even thought about it before. SO, probably no need to change my withholding. One more thing I didn't choose for the tax break, but it will help us limp along with LOW taxes another few years.

Fiscal Doings

September 19th, 2012 at 01:05 pm

**Dh earned $85 for a focus group last night. Woohoo!!

**I got an emergency room statement - looks like bill may be $1k-ish. Will see. This was not a bill. So if it is a good estimate, it is useful. If not, it is not useful! Heck if I know. Though I'd be content with $1k. (Our deductible is $3k, and I am worried I will get a $3k bill).

I just received a $1k check from MIL. It was supposed to be for vacation, but welcome to my life. Easy come, easy go.

I don't know why it feels like it would be a miracle if we could just stay out of the hospital one year. *sigh* But I do know people going through so much worse (cancer and so forth), so I find it hard to complain. But I still feel underlying/passing aggravation. I'll forget about it quickly. Nice to vent, but no reason to dwell.

**Reminds me, kids have dentist appointments today, which is rarely good news. Will see! Beyond BM's wimpy cavity-prone baby teeth, I hold my breath every time as he is getting to that orthodontia age. One of his best friends - same age - just got braces. Lord help me - I thought I had at least one more year.

**Today I bought tickets for the Robot Wars. We are so excited about that!! Very nerdy. We were watching them last year on TV and since the robot wars are local we decided we have to see that live!! It will be in late October. I'll probably just tack this on tho the vacation budget - was $70 for the four of us. Basically it's "demolition derby" with robots. Totally cool!!

Vacation Budget & Planning

September 18th, 2012 at 06:35 am

I was going to do this a few days ago, but then everything vacation was up in the air.

But since we seem back on track, here we go. I find it useful to write everything down, just so there are less surprises. & it always adds up faster than you think!



Our annual vacation budget is $1500. We usually spread it out a lot more throughout the year and do a lot more staycation type stuff. Or travel closer to home (driving). This year, we haven't done squat, so we have $1500 leftover.

I was looking at the budget last week and I think we had about $100 left over for food, so I figured we'd be tapping into other savings a bit. This is just a unique/rare trip. But, that said, I would be a lot more stressed about the food side while we are there. Because every penny over would have to come from somewhere else.

I knew the in-laws would likely give us a couple of hundred dollars (which has the added bonus that we don't have to go to the ATM - just one less chore - since we don't keep any cash with us in general, but like to have a few more dollars on hand when traveling - even if we usually just deposit most of it when we get home).

BUT, MIL gave us a generous check over the weekend - intending to pay for all the parks. Which it just about exactly will pay for. {I was not expecting anything like this, in the least!!}

I only added $500 of it to the budget, since we don't need to spend $1,000+ on food. Wink $709 left over for food is also ridiculous, but it's just the point where I am not going to stress. Whatever we have left over upon our return will go to savings/mortgage.

My first inclination was to put the $1k check to the mortgage, but I have medical bills on the horizon (could be large - I am not sure) and we have another vacation coming up in November. So I already put the $1k to the credit card (balance is a credit balance) and I will consider the parks paid for. (There is always a possibility we will not go to all these parks - someone could be sick - we may chose to chill one day - so could have even more left over for savings).

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PLANNING

I wanted to lay out my vacation planning because I have been doing it a little bit at a time. All we really have left to do is make the arrangements for our cat and pack. !! I feel like all the hard work is done.

--Around May? we decided to go to Florida and book our airfare. Since $1500 is obviously not enough for a week in Florida, we decided to divert 5 months of savings to airfare. We have already replenished it, and by careful airfare shopping I was able to drop the figure down to "4 months of savings."

{This is the first *big* flight/trip for four that I have ever considered as a family with our own funds}.

So this is why I don't have airfare on this budget - it's done and paid for. I am trying to manage everything else that we have yet to pay for.

--Cat Care - I already checked with neighbor and a friend if they would be available to help with the cat. So I just have to finalize that. I am doing a tax return for a friend, so will probably give neighbor $30 for the help (is a teenager). My cat makes such a mess in her old age, that I bought a GIANT litter box in the hope she isn't as messy as usual. I literally scoop it every day, and am just trying to make it easier on whoever watches her. I will probably buy a second GIANT box to that end.

WE can't find any spare house keys, so dh will make a couple this week.

--Dh has been collecting quarters for tolls, and I am just rolling my eyes. Obviously extremely slow going consider how we don't even use cash for anything. Wink One of us will run to the CU and get two rolls of quarters - he finally agreed this made sense. Rolleyes

--I spent a lot of time last week considering transport options. Airport parking is the most expensive, BUT there is not savings of any note by paying for transport. So, parking wins. Convenient convenient convenient. (One option we have living so close to the airport is that several hotels in our neighborhood have parking at $2-$3 per day cheaper, but their shuttles "run every hour" and had some pretty poor reviews. So, we will pass! The shuttle/economy parking at our airport is very good- never remember waiting at all - they must run every 15 minutes. I will double check before we depart, as these things do change).

--In May or June we booked our hotel - free with MIL's timeshare points. Sometimes they have fees (usually taxes or parking). So, will see.

--On the car rental - I reserved around $130 for one week. We will probably want to add me as a driver - will pay whatever it is. I read that we do not need a transponder and that they try to tack it on anyway, so we will be vigilant about that. We will have our quarters for tolls - their transponder fee is absurd. This will be an issue in the future since apparently they are going all electronic. But I researched carefully that we do not have to have a transponder for the areas we will be driving.

We were planning to buy a booster car seat there, but I found one at Target for $15 last week (very small). I was going to put it in our luggage but not sure it will fit. At least I know $15 seats will be easy to find (I can return it and just buy a seat in ORlando). LM is 7 and very tall, so I have no problem waiting until we get to the store, or driving him to and from the airport without a booster. The car seat rental industry absolutely sucks eggs, and the car rental company charges more like $13 per DAY. Rolleyes The airline will likely make us check it, could get lost, could charge us - so I don't want to mess with our nice seats.

I have been so looking to the day where we don't deal with all this. We are 90% there. Next time will be heaven! Big Grin

--I priced all the park tickets, taxes and parking. I haven't found any discounts, because we are buying only one-day tickets. IT is what it is. Dh and I have two one-day park hoppers left over from the year 2000. So we are saving a little there. The plus is we are just buying all tix at the gate - this leaves us a lot of flexibility. IF we all get sick one day and have to skip one day, we won't be out the tickets.

--The museum and Gatorland are just big *maybes* if we are up to it. I have never been to Gatorland, so that one is probably more of a priority. It's dh's family tradition.

--Aside from gas and food, I don't see us spending anything else while we are there. GMIL gave the kids $50 for souvenirs, but I wouldn't be surprised if they keep it to spend on something more important to them (like video games). So, will see. None of us is into the "stuff."

--I got paid yesterday, so paid all the bills through mid-October. So I don't have to worry about any of that on vacation (& jiggled things around since I won't get my paycheck until we return).

--We borrowed two carry-ons from family - might only need one (for the kids). I already have one. We have never traveled "four of us" and "so long a trip" since airlines started charging for checked bags (airlines have also reduced carry-on sizes, rendering most our bags useless). I think 2 carry on luggages will probably be more than ample (we will also all carry backpacks). Our strategy is to pack 3-4 days of clothes and to do laundry mid-week. Since it's a "family visit" too, we should have plenty of down time for that. Florida = packing light clothing, so makes it easier. I picked up a couple of light exercise/water resistant type shorts at Target, on sale/clearance. It will help me immensely to pack light, and to be comfortable. It's just not the kind of clothing we have or need in our non-humid/dry climate.

So, all in all, I got some cat things to take car of, and we have to pack. Dh is going to get keys made and I will pick up some quarters. I think most the work is done!!

We don't leave for a couple of weeks. I really am the anti-procrastinator. I just want to relax and enjoy best we can. I think I have done everything that I can to that end!

It's Going - surgery update

September 16th, 2012 at 07:59 am

So, GMIL had her surgery already!

Still too early for final decisions, but vacay is probably a go.

GMIL did great!! Tumor was not cancer. We have this streak in our family lately. Lots of tumors - always benign. Admittedly no final biopsy results yet.

She is doing really well but dangerous part is she will be off her feet so long. she was 100% spry going into surgery - not sure she will ever be as active again. But I still think she has good odds. Most 87 yos might not fare well with this kind of surgery and bed/recovery time. But most 87 yos aren't so healthy, active, and have so much family support. Next few days may be riskiest as she is 100% bed ridden for whatever reason. Seems its always so important to get up and walk after surgery. So that seems to be the area of most concern right now.

Dh was initially concerned that MIL was holding back info. (As she left some relatives in dark and based on past experiences). So I think he feels great relief to be with family and to see her in hospital. I told him if he was that concerned that he has all the time in the world and to stick to MIL like glue. Wink . But since things are well I think he will come home with us today.