Home > Archive: July, 2017

Archive for July, 2017

Ting Update

July 29th, 2017 at 12:47 pm

Life Update:

--Murphy has moved into our home. Something about summer months and trips to the UK. Yeesh! (See my blog July/August 2013. That whole year was some Murphy year from hell but those months were particularly absurd).

I'll have to post more about that later.

--We are knee deep in back-to-school. Since we keep things simple, not too much to do. But MM starts high school and has a lot of orientation type stuff next week.

I don't foresee spending much. The most of it is going to be funding their lunch accounts, which I haven't had to do in a while.

This is the first year we will have a child in regular public school. Our state is pretty strict about not requiring money to be spent to attend public schools. The public charters have been more lax on this and both my kids' schools have at times "required" that donations be made for this or that supplies. I feel like the public high school won't do this, but will see. (So far they have just asked for supplies directly, and not in a "this is required" kind of tone. This is what I expected).

--I am just in chore mode with trying to get caught up at work and getting the house ready for our trip. I guess a lot of the house stuff isn't entirely necessary, but was trying to use it as a motivational deadline since I am behind on all things domestic. I am so behind because the last year has been totally insane, including being off my feet for several months.

My default is to dread a big trip like this, so I am fine with the distraction and busy-ness. (If I thought about the trip too much I'd just stress. Really not much to do but pack, which I will probably do the day we leave).


Ting (Cell) Update:

Here's my Ting referral code (for $25-off), if this post entices you at all:

Text is and Link is

So yeah, I saw a discussion about cell phone costs in another forum. Ting is clearly cheaper than any other provider. (Though of course, it depends on your phone usage). I am just saying I saw 100+ other people recommending more expensive cell service than what we pay for Ting.

Someone in that discussion did mention that they had got a Ting credit from Ting customer service for "being awesome". Too funny!

In the end, the kids have been on our Ting for a while and it's been of basically no financial consequence. They've only been on one at a time, so MM is the only one with cell coverage right now. I expect to add back DL any minute now. It's $6/month per line to add each of them. So we are paying $12/month when they both have cell service.

With Ting you pay for what you use. The kids just don't use anything, so we aren't paying anything else to add them to our cell bill. We were absolutely genius in the way we set up our kids with cell phones. We gave them cell phones years ago and set them up with google hangouts. With hangouts, you can call and text anyone over wifi. So this put them in the HABIT of seeking out wifi. They had to if they wanted to use their phones. *This* is why they don't use any data.

I just checked last month's bill and MM used -0- minutes -0- texts and about 12MB of data. (You need to use 500-1000 MB to bump up to a more expensive tier, for reference. An extra 12MB isn't going to cost us anything. Ting even has a grace amount if you go over by just a wee little bit. They don't charge you for that).

This of course does not mean that my 13yo has no friends and never texts anyone. He just did all his texting over wifi.

In contrast, we told him to go crazy when he was in DC/NYC trip with his class. Just, you know, he has cell service and won't get wifi everywhere. To not worry about using what he needs. According to Ting he used no minutes or texts, but used 182MB of data that month. Since we generally pay $20 to use 1000-2000MB of data (for 5 devices), his 182MB did not increase our phone bill that month. (I am not sure how he texted us during that time, since I had tons of texts from him while he was out and about. ???) Not sure what that is about. But Ting barely charges anything for texts so not that it would matter. It's $5 to send 1,000 texts. We all use google hangouts/wifi mostly, so we've never been anywhere close to 1,000+ texts.

EDITED TO ADD: DOH. He was using data to send texts, I just realized, so maybe that part backfired a bit. (The google hangouts calls/texts will go over data if you are not on wifi).


The above ties in to my recent posts and an article I saw from MMM:

A Lifetime of Riches – Is it as Simple as a Few Habits?

Text is and Link is

"As it turns out, habits are little chunks of auto-pilot behavior that get burned right into your neurology – permanently. Once you develop a habit, you can never truly erase the program, even if you manage to deactivate it.

It gets even crazier than that: when your brain starts running one of its many habit scripts, a good part of your conscious judgement is shut off for the duration. The habit takes over, controls you until you get to the end of the script, and then dumps you out at the end. And this is not just a rare occurence – depending on who you ask, habits are in at least partially in control for between 50 and 90% of our waking hours."

I guess I have been thinking about this a lot lately. As people ask me how we raise kids that don't seem to have any spending habits. It's what we've modeled for them.

I am SO thankful to my parents, who did the same for us. They taught us not to buy things we can't afford; only pay with cash. That buying cars on credit is WEIRD to us. Someone told me a while back that it must have felt so awesome to pay cash for my last car (this was in the forums). The reality is: *Shrugs* That wonder-ment about it presumes that you are in the car debt habit. We've never been in the car debt habit so it all feels very normal and boring to pay cash. It's all we've ever known. Entrenched habits aren't very exciting. Wink (I didn't even know this was "weird" at all until we were well into our 20s).

It's the big and the small things. I've been kind of fascinated by talks about food delivery in recent months. I've absolutely never paid for food delivery? It's not a habit we ever established. Honestly, it just sounds WEIRD to me. I am so entrenched in my habit of not getting food delivery. So it goes the opposite way for me.

What I am really noticing lately is the Starbucks habit. When I was in middle school no one drank coffee. ??? I am sure those were still the "coffee stunts your growth" days. It was when I was in high school and college that the coffee shops really started to take off. My friends tried their hardest to get me on the coffee habit, but I can't stand coffee and had been raised in a house with no coffee.

I've been noticing this since MM's DC trip. They made a big to-do about making stops at Starbucks. (Which honestly just annoys me, because took chunks of time from seeing the sights and so on. My kid had absolutely no interest in taking a Starbucks break). So I was kind of incredulous. The middle schoolers drink coffee? I mentioned to my MIL at some point and she told me of course they drink coffee! That my super frugal SIL stops there with her kids on the way to school. Seriously!? My niece is 12.

We are so removed from that habit, I just had no idea. If you think about it, it's not surprising. There's only so much "Do as I say and not as I do" that's going to fly. If you stop at Starbucks every day (or week, or however often) at some point your kids are going to become part of that equation. Apparently by the time they are 12.

If you want to give your kids a financial leg up, think about the example you are setting. I think the other thing is too if you are making six figures and you are annoyed about these discussions about the latte factor, that's totally cool. But remember that your kids are going to have to start basically from scratch at some point. I am grateful that I didn't have to battle habits like this in my teens and 20s. At 40, if I want to go start buying lattes every day, it's not like it's going to make much financial difference at this point in my life. But it would have made ALL the difference when just starting out.

Harvesting Tax Gains

July 20th, 2017 at 07:50 pm

Today I harvested some tax gains. Is a strategy to keep "taxable" investments tax-free.

In the process, I just converted to admiral shares and way lower expense ratios. In theory, I'd generally just immediately buy back what I sold; selling solely to lock in 0% tax rate on those gains. But in the end I decided to move funds over in the process and to be a little more efficient.

For myself, technically any long-term capital gains are tax-free for Federal. But... That's not entirely true because bumping up our AGI (even just a couple of thousand dollars) wreaks all sorts of havoc on the rest of our taxes. It decreases what we can put in tax-deductible IRAs and reduces our medical expense deduction, etc. But, whatever. It's not like it's going to get better than a 0% tax rate. (I mostly expect our income and taxes to be much higher in the future).

Since we've mostly been able to shelter our investments in retirement funds, this is the first time that I've had a tax-free gain to harvest. At about $3,000 for long-term gains and I figured I could live with that. (I probably wouldn't want to add much more to our tax return. We are already on track to maybe have 10% more wage income than last year).

For the kids, I have been selling off funds frequently to the same end, though I got a bit of a break the past two years. But for today, MM was at a good selling point. $1,000 investment income is tax-free for them. $1,500 is just some very minimal state tax. I might have timed it well enough that they are more in the $1k range and won't owe any state taxes.

Note to self:
$1,000 investment income is the sweet spot for kids. No requirement to file a tax return at this investment income level.

If you have no idea what I am talking about, here is a link that explains:

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I guess this came to front of mind because my dad *finally* sold some mutual funds that he had wanted to sell a few years back. He's waited for tax reasons, and I guess given my tax perspective I have no idea what he has been waiting for. !! I mean, Obamacare was the reason the last two years, but now in 2017 I would have sold January 1. Not sure how long 0% investment tax rate will be around and am glad he finally took advantage.

As for the kids' "college" money, it's conservatively invested (balanced fund) and I have an equal amount in cash (our cash savings/emergency fund). So I feel that I Can shoulder any short-term market fluctuations. It seems way too premature to do anything with that. Kids start college in 4 & 6 years. Keeping in mind that we used our own "college money" for a home down payment instead of college. (College is still super cheap here and housing is only more insane now than it was then). This really could be money that remains untouched for 10+ years. So for now, we have no plans to cash out any college money or to shift to a more conservative allocation. We may set aside more new money in cash, as college becomes more imminent.

Eating In

July 18th, 2017 at 08:18 pm

Frugalwoods had a GREAT article yesterday. I am sharing in case anyone missed it:

How To Stop Eating Out According To Frugalwoods Readers

Text is and Link is

"I must highlight that the #1 reason cited for eating out is a failure to plan ahead.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a planned, agreed-upon-in-advance, special dinner out. It’s delightful to plan for it all month, anticipate what you’ll order, and then truly enjoy yourself. But scrambling to order sub-par Thai at 8pm on a Tuesday because you forgot to go grocery shopping? That’s what needs to stop."

"Caroline says it’s about planning ahead and having a low barrier to entry, “Make sure you have enough ready-to-cook-in-a-short-time food at hand, whether at work or home."

"Anna reports it’s actually a time-saver to cook at home, “What has helped me with takeout is realizing how quickly I can make a meal, particularly a quick veggie pasta or white rice with steamed veggies in the rice cooker. Less than 30 minutes start to table, and we never get delivery or back and forth to a restaurant quicker than that.”

"Sarah says, “We have a rule that you can have anything you want, so long as it comes from the grocery store for those times when planning fails or life just gets in the way. Even it it turns out to be something fancy or expensive, it’s always cheaper than takeout/restaurant for 4."

"Carissa wrote, “We NEVER make single portion meals. Everything is big enough to last us both for at least 3-4 meals. We have no problem eating leftovers, and it’s great to just reheat delicious home-cooked food for lunch or dinner."

Anyway, there were a LOT of good suggestions. There was also a large focus on freezing and cooking ahead. That's just not our thing. I copied and pasted more of the things that are our approach. But I think it's important to read through the whole article if you need any inspiration on this front. Everyone's different, and was reflected in the wide variety of ideas.

I'd say our approach is mostly to plan ahead and buy for a few meals every week. From there, we just go with the flow. Allows us just to cook according to our mood during the week. The idea of choosing a set meal for every day of the week would drive me insane. I feel about the same way about cooking and freezing ahead. Then it gets to be too much work or we lose the flexibility that we prefer. Just to share our overall strategy. & after 15 years of 99% home cooking our meals, whatever we cook is far better than any restaurant food. That was another point that someone brought up. But that takes time to get to.

Oh, and one thing that I was surprised that no one mentioned? Recruiting other help in the household. I guess there is no world where I cook for three other perfectly capable human beings 100% of the time. Whether I work or not. NO WAY! I mentioned this in another blog comment I think: MH is thinking ahead to going back to work full-time and also to his parents watching our kids for a couple of weeks while we are in Europe. We have had the kids cover dinners before, but never got to a set schedule that stuck. So we are determined to get the kids in the habit of cooking this summer (one meal per week, each). By the time school starts, we just don't want to have to put any mental energy into it. Want to make it a habit that sticks.

A couple of weeks ago DL(12) wanted to make beenies/weenies. Last week he made saag paneer (Indian spinach/cheese dish) in the crockpot. I guess the kids often lean towards my simple recipes which will probably be good for college years, but they are also used to higher end meals from stay-home father "chef". & so that is how that happens. Big Grin

& it's been kind of genius because MH lets them choose what they are going to cook every week. DL(12) told me last week that the work was worth the reward. He LOVES being able to choose dinner.

I did ask him what he is going to make this week, and he said sushi. I told him no. WE are not there yet. !! (In the future, maybe).

I share because DL is kind of all over the place. MM's "signature dish" is taco rice salad. He wanted to make crockpot chili last week and chili hot dogs this week.

Credit Card Rewards Update

July 18th, 2017 at 01:47 pm

2017 TALLY:

$500 (AmEx Gold, Moi)
$525 (Citi Thank You, MH)
$499 Travel Rewards Cards (Capital One Venture,MH)
$200 Cash (WF Wise, MH)

**In addition, various monthly rewards that I will tally at 12/31.


In the end, we are on track for one of our best years: on track for $3,000. I think what put us over the edge is using travel rewards. We usually stick to cash and gift cards. Travel rewards don't do much for us because we mostly avoid flying and can get a free hotel room regardless, so not something I expect to do a lot of in the long run.

I just activated the Citi card. That one is a bit of an experiment. It seems MH should be able to get $500, but we've done that one so much it makes me wary. (Technically you are supposed to wait 24 months in between).

Will see!

Anyway, I logged in online and that credit card is going to close tomorrow (monthly cycle). I was going to pre-pay a couple of months of health insurance, so figured I'd wait a day or two so I don't have to actually pay those for an extra month.

In the meantime, MH got a direct mail offer for American Express Gold. Spend $1,000, get $250. I find those really hard to come by. But I thought I recalled those were a "once in a lifetime" reward. MH got a kindle in 2010? Was from an AmEx Gold reward.

Anyway, since MH *just* applied for three cards, I figured I'd look up the rewards and see if I really want to bother. In the end I found this:

Text is and Link is

$500 reward if you spend $2,000. I tried a few different browsers and I got the $500 offer to pop up! I really don't recall ever having this card and I did check my blog. I figured they would deny me since I never get these offers. But in the end I was accepted! Woohoo!

I've got three months to do the spend. I usually just charge up these cards when I get them. Very little brain power. But in this case, I am going to pre-pay 2 months of health insurance already. Do I want to pre-pay 4 months, right now? I suppose it probably doesn't really matter. It just complicates life in the interim. Maybe it is easier to just wait 30-45 days before I do that one.

I have to remember to close this card within a year. It has an insane annual fee for the second year. I will make some notes in Quicken and in my calendar so that I do not forget.

Oh, the rewards are still very so-so on this card, but last time we enjoyed them more than I thought we would. So I will stock up on dining out gift cards and some gift cards to give as gifts.

On the Citi, MH was starting to eye the Best Buy gift cards and was thinking of funding some larger purchases. So might be $500 "ridiculous electronics splurging" (which we tend to do with these rewards) and $500 "restaurants and gifts."

I don't know that I see the point of doing any more rewards this year, except my 24-month clock has reset on Citi and I should really take advantage if I can find a $500 reward for that one. MH's was a direct mail offer. It would figure if that one would work right now. I really only do these things "one at a time" generally. Maybe it is just something I will keep an eye out for once the dust settles on these two rewards.

Edited to add: Look what I saw just posted TODAY?

Text is and Link is

It's $4,000 spend for $500 reward. We usually spend $3k for these rewards so definitely will pass.

On Being Content

July 14th, 2017 at 01:38 pm

When we asked what our kids wanted for their birthday they both said, "nothing." For Christmas they were both absolutely delighted with their one simple gift. We bought DL(11) a blanket and he made a point last month to tell me how much he loved it and it is the BEST gift. Six months later!

I've been pondering this a bit. This is nothing I expected from my kids. (Much like my last post, where I didn't necessarily expect them to be "super frugal" through their childhood). The best I can guess is that all their needs are WELL met (can't help but think of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). & beyond that, they just absorb what they see. We are VERY content. We like our toys and we have our stuff but we aren't constantly shopping/spending.

& let me make it real clear. My kids have computers and cell phones and a virtual reality system. (Which I know many people think would cause kids to go the opposite way). There is no deprivation going on in this house. But they aren't over-saturated. They can appreciate something as simple as a blanket.

In fact, I received a big box with the new pots and pans I bought. My kids (12 and 14!) are having a BLAST with the box. It's cracking me up. I encouraged MH to just leave it be for the cat to play with. The kids seem to have the same wonder and excitement about it as the cat does. It's along the same lines. We haven't over-saturated them so much that they can't appreciate the small things.

Anyway, I saw the most amazing article from Frugalwoods today, that ties into this.

How Making Luxuries Rare Increases Our Happiness

Text is and Link is

Some highlights:

"Repeated exposure to stimulants deadens our ability to derive pleasure from them. These stimulants range from shopping for stuff we don’t need to sugar to dining out. Anything designed to deliver jolts of dopamine and excitement are best if used sparingly."

"After embarking on our extreme frugality journey, I was suddenly awakened to a slew of behaviors that I performed ritualistically without much consideration for whether: a) they were good for me; b) I needed them; c) I actually derived any true, lasting pleasure from them. I was a consumer automaton, ritualistically buying new clothes every season, automatically getting a latte if I happened to walk past a coffee shop, dumping a ludicrous amount of ersatz sugar into my coffee mug."

"Spending money works in precisely the same way and impacts the same pleasure centers in our brains. We humans have the remarkable ability to acclimate ourselves to almost any level of comfort or deprivation. We can all craft a reality in which we’re deprived or in which we’re surrounded by abundance (with caveats for privilege and the understanding that not everyone enjoys the basic necessities of shelter, food, and safety required for this exercise). Abundance denial is exactly what it sounds like: a failure–or inability–to appreciate our blessings."

"When we sign-up for our culture’s materialistic consumer carousel, we’re signing up for a lifetime of spending money. There is always more to buy, more to crave, and more to convince ourselves we “need.” There is no path to lasting happiness through excessive consumption because you’ll never reach a point of enough. You’ll never look around your home and experience the gratitude of wanting what you already have; rather, you’ll look around your home and constantly identify more things you can buy. Marketing is designed to continually create these false needs for us and to continually convince us that we are lacking and deprived and uncool if we don’t consume at the level that’s advertised to us."

"“But buying things makes me happy!” you might be thinking. And you’re right, it does make you happy, but only for a brief period of time. That’s the key–the adrenaline and pleasure of making a purchase fades quite quickly and leaves you casting about for something else to buy. There’s a deeper, more permanent happiness to be had when you stop this cycle and instead start to focus your energies on people, activities, and experiences that are meaningful to you.

It’s also true that you’ll have more time. I often hear the complaint that frugality takes too much time, but I find it’s quite the opposite: frugality takes far less time and frees up your physical and mental energy for fulfilling pursuits. Imagine for a moment if you didn’t have to run a million errands this week: no dry cleaners, no haircuts, no manicures, no dog groomer, no shopping (other than for groceries)… that’s what my weeks are like. I’ve created time and space for myself by ceasing to participate in the consumer carousel.

When we instead acknowledge that we do, in fact, have enough, we surrender to a default position of gratitude. We look around our house–that very same house–and think “I am so grateful to have a couch for my kids to snuggle on. I am so thankful we have a roof that doesn’t leak.” We no longer notice the stains on the couch and the scuffs on our furniture or our non-trendy-looking appliances. Instead, we see all of these things as benefits in our lives and evidence of how fortunate we are to have running water and electricity and the ability to safely cook inside our home–all things that many people in the world so desperately need."

"Our culture writ large doesn’t encourage temperance or restraint. Frugality is viewed as miserly and boring. But in reality, it’s the golden ticket that delivers us off the hedonic treadmill and out of the “you never have enough” mentality and away from the buy-your-way-to-happiness prompts that we’re all old enough to know are empty, false promises.

Frugality is not about depriving yourself, it’s about reconstructing your worldview so that you need less, want less, and spend less in order to achieve a higher level of happiness. Spending is a vicious cycle of always feeling that happiness is out of your reach whereas frugality engenders a virtuous cycle of knowing that what you have is indeed enough."

Kids' Money, Birthday Doings

July 13th, 2017 at 12:52 pm

Post from 2014:

"The kids get $2/per week/each "allowance", to learn money management. They have had the same allowances since they were 5. We have discussed raising it but they just don't spend their money! So, will leave be for now.

I don't even think it's so much that they don't spend money. It's more that they are extremely frugal. For example, going in on most purchases together and primarily buying used goods, or just being generally creative with their purchases. They just don't seem to have much motivation to spend."

This is still true. It's becoming obvious that we will never raise their allowances. They way we do it in our families is we will turn off allowances once they can more easily earn money. I'd say 14yo is there, but by the same token we expect the kids to work so much that I am not big on pushing it too soon. Not expecting *anything* of him this summer. But in a summer or two he will mostly be on his own.

I had an epiphany the other day. I was wondering if it was harsh to just turn off allowance when he turns 15. I had to laugh at myself when thinking about it a little further. His allowance is a whole whopping $100 per year. Clearly he will survive. Wink Beyond that point, we will turn off the "automatic allowance." I suppose we can make it more discretionary beyond that.

If you told me (5 or 10 years ago) that we'd never raise their allowances, and how much money they'd have save up, I never would have believed it. It's crazy!

This reminds me of a conversation we had with our parents while we were at camp. My dad said something like they had not expected me to get a job so young. That I had been the one to want to get a job. I just got a job the minute I turned 15. ??? You know, I think he is right!? That really shocked me on some level. I didn't remember it that way until I stopped to think about it. By 17 (when I graduated high school) my parents told me they had not saved any college money for me and I was pretty much on my own. I had always given them credit for being honest and preparing me (versus friends who were told when college started or after college started that they could no longer help with college; pulling the rug out from under someone is NOT the same situation I had). I guess they prepared me in their own way. They really did, but it wasn't in such a direct, "get a job and start saving" way that I recalled. I guess I had no inkling at 15/16/17 that I should be saving up for college.

That really blows my mind!

Anyway, back to the kids' money. I'd say for the most part they don't receive much money. BUT, now that MIL is accepting of MM's lack of "wanting stuff," she's been throwing a lot of money at him lately (cash versus material gifts). For example, I don't even see any deposits of any note during the prior year. But in the last 12 months MIL gave him $40 for his New York trip, $70 for his graduation (no one else gave him anything for 8th grade graduation, we all think that is dumb). & then MIL gave him $20 for his birthday. I know she had given him some Christmas cash too ($60) but I guess maybe he spent that money. (He only got $20 for his birthday because he though of a material gift that he wanted; she otherwise would have given him much more).

Anyway, I brought this up in the first place to say that MM(14) has surpassed the $1,000 mark on his savings. Woohoo!


Even though the kids had elaborate birthdays (for us) MH had gotten it in his craw that he wanted to take them out for a birthday sushi lunch. Some all-you-can-eat place. So they went out yesterday and spent $50 on lunch.

{He had been planning this before all the birthday spending came up. It's a rare treat}.

I feel very *shrugs* about it because MH also got a $20 Amazon refund that he doesn't think is quite right. He said it was some automatic price match but the algorithm didn't take into account that he hadn't paid the full price in the first place?? I don't know, but there was that and we had some other large refund, so the sushi splurge happened on a good money day.

Birthday spending is done. We still have DL's party this weekend, but will just buy some food/dessert with grocery budget. We already had two cakes (one per kid) so I am thinking birthday ice cream.

Accomplished some Purging

July 11th, 2017 at 04:28 pm

In the end I tossed two pans (the ones we used the most, but should have been tossed a long time ago). & I freecycled 8 pans. One of them was actually pretty nice but just too high maintenance for me. The rest were crap though some of the stainless steel maybe could have been cleaned up. Again, just too high maintenance for us.

So that's minus 10 pots and pans? I purchased 7 new ones. So I guess that's a bit of a downsize. Besides replacing frying pans, the rest was more just doubling up on what we use the most. I did not go super high-end because convenience is the bigger factor for us right now. I Want something we can use and abuse and put in the dishwasher every day. (We cook and dishwash pots and pans probably every single day). I was not willing to literally pay 5 times as much for handwash-only pots and pans, in contrast. Doubling up on the frequently used pots will save us a lot of energy; we spend way too much energy co-ordinating cooking and dishes.

I didn't even realize until I typed this out that we ended up with less pots and pans in the end. My husband is a minimalist of sorts (he just has his things, he is also a hoarder so depends on what we are talking about). So he didn't seem to understand why I wanted to double up. But it could also be that only so much fits in the washer. The new pans are so easy to clean, I don't mind volunteering to handwash any excess pans. I suppose he'd rather just use what fits in the dishwasher, but that approach drives me a little crazy.

These are all high enough quality that they should last 10+ years of heavy use. If I had really thought about it, I would have just replaced those pans a long time ago. A whole whopping $20 for a really nice mid-range pan. Lesson learned.

Put this in the "Working smarter" category.

I also had it on my radar to get rid of some old humidifier that we never use (maybe used once?). I saw it in the kids' bathroom cabinet a while ago. I freecycled that yesterday. I had some other odds and ends that I tossed and freecycled.

My next task is a pile of returns. I'd like to get the cash back before our credit cards close for the month. I did okay on swimsuits (nothing perfect, but stuff that will work). & I am not returning any of the pots or pans. Shoes were a bust so I will just give up for now. Mostly I need to just print return stuff and box it up. MH will run it all to the postal place later. There's a business down the street that accepts UPS returns (Zappos free returns). They may mail out my other return for me (I will have to pay postage) or MH can do that at the grocery store where we have some post office services. I have NO IDEA. I just give MH the boxes and he is the post office fairy. Big Grin

I am waiting for one Kohls order that I expect to partially return. I will do that return in person.

Oh, and I did list a couple of items for sale on local neighborhood website. Not getting bites there for anything (not even the free stuff). So I will move my for-sale items to Craigslist this weekend. Might make some cash??

I have some other clean-up and de-clutter goals for the summer but not expecting to make much progress this week. Too many birthday festivities this weekend. I will be happy to get all returns returned and to attempt some sales for cash. I am usually more of a fall cleaner but I got sidelined about one year ago with a broken foot and then work was *crazy* after that. So I feel some extra motivation now I guess. (Will see if the heat changes my mind. There is a reason that I do "fall cleaning").

Edited to add: I did get kitchen island cabinets all cleaned out and wiped down and hand-washed all new pots/pans before putting them away. That is all I accomplished in the kitchen but it's a start. I could probably do an upgrade/purge with bakeware. It should be less significant (I need maybe a higher quality muffin tin and a couple of higher quality baking sheets). It can wait until the fall (baking season).

Weekend Plans

July 8th, 2017 at 02:50 pm

We always have a tendency to zig while everyone else zags. It just seems to always be this way. I don't know why!

Anyway, having a very Murphy type month so far. & splurging on kids' birthdays. Last year we spent like nothing on the kids, but this year seems to be the polar opposite. (I don't mind splurging once in a while. Or saving some years so we can do bigger things other years).

LOTS of money being spent.

I planned a chore weekend, somewhat planned around replacing some pots and pans. But I forgot I had a lot of other commitments already. So it will be a bit busy,

This morning I am driving MM to the animal shelter. I have some shopping to do (while waiting for him), which is what I did last time (two weeks ago). Over the long run, I DO NOT plan to shop every other weekend. But for now, during the hot summer months, it works. On my list is a birthday cake mix for younger son and a sympathy card for my sister (lost a fur child last week). {I don't generally do cards, more for environmental reasons than any other, but will make exceptions for illness and death}. Just some stuff like that.

I need to run the kids to their credit union to withdraw their interest. They earn 7% on first $500 but nothing after that. So we take the money out once per year (unfortunately we have to do this in person). & the in-laws gave them some loose change that they can deposit at this CU (no charge). I am guessing something like $5 each.

I bought some new pots and pans because our old ones were ridiculously sad. Should have replaced a while ago, but just had enough last weekend. Probably a function of having some time to actually deal with that.

So my plan is to clean out the entire kitchen. At least, doing a major pots and pan purge. & cleaning out that section of the kitchen. But probably should just go through the whole kitchen.

I have some other things to freecycle and sell, so will at least get a pile going for that.

(We haven't bought pots or pans since we have been primarily home cooking, so this is a really nice upgrade and I have any idea what we actually need/want/use. I think this will make life a LOT easier and will be a very nice upgrade. I am excited to purge the old crap!)

Tomorrow is DL's birthday. I haven't given it much thought. We did buy him a drum set, but it won't arrive for a few more days. In-laws are coming to take the kids out to celebrate both their birthdays. He wants to do a sleepover the following weekend. Which is confusing because that's his brother's birthday. But we had to do brother's party early to accommodate friends' summer vacation plans. Anyway, I guess in-laws mostly have tomorrow covered. I asked DL if there was any food treat he wanted, thinking something $1 or $2 at Target while I am there today. He tells me he wants Drumsticks (ice cream) plus a bag of ruffles and two containers of dip. All for himself. Okay, dude, I just spent $300 on a drum set, so this is all sounding like a lot at this point. But I don't have a gift for him to open so I guess that's what he gets.

I will have to run to the (grocery) store later. Which I have to do anyway. I was going to make ceejay's sauerkraut recipe with dinner tonight. Need to pick up some cabbage. That was the other thing. MH is also having the kids cook two nights a week, trying to get into a more long-term habit with that. DL chose one of my recipes, so I am helping DL to make that tonight. Beanies and weenies. Real fancy stuff, but the sauerkraut would be a nice side dish for that.

Man, as I type all this out I am exhausted. Wonder what the odds are I get anything done in the kitchen today. Big Grin

Interesting Interactions

July 8th, 2017 at 02:00 pm

On Thursday I took MM(13) and his friends to the water park. Everyone he invited could go!! (Rare for a summer birthday party). Except for a mutual friend (mutual with his brother). Which worked out because DL dropped out at the last minute. Probably for the best because I don't think he'd really want to have been there all day.

The kids had a blast.

There was probably absolutely nothing frugal about this trip. Except I did bring in bottled water. They did allow those and it was a million degrees. I just grabbed a 6-pack on my way home the night before and threw them in the freezer. That worked out perfect.

The kids were very polite about lunch and tried to order frugally. (We served them dinner and cake at home, afterwards).

MM bff's father called me the night before because they had been vague on details. He told me his son had just told him about the party that day and he didn't have a present yet. He mentioned something about bff picking MM's brain during the party. I told him, "Good Luck." The kid doesn't want anything. Anyway, he didn't skip a beat and said maybe they'd take him out some time. I think that sounds perfect! (& it was nice to skip all the hounding about how he's a teenager and he must want SOMETHING). This is a lot of why I chose to just take him to the water park in the first place.


For the rest, I have to back up. We are from the Bay Area, where housing prices are out of this world. It probably never occurred to me that I could even afford to buy a home (until my husband ran the numbers with me in our early 20s).

In the end, we could not afford a single family home and decided to move to a city with 70% cheaper housing. From our perspective it was dirt cheap. & if making such a big move solely to afford a home, might as well splurge a bit. So we bought a fairly nice home in a high-end neighborhood. I am guessing by most measures our house is pretty average, but probably feels like a mansion to us. We do live in a community with big and expensive homes, and some people with big money live here. I think we forget a lot of the time because we really just don't care about that stuff. If we cared, we would have bought one of those homes. We more bought the modest home in the fancy neighborhood. (Our buying considerations really had nothing to do with the specific neighborhood. Just to underscore how much we could care less).

In the early years I believe we got a lot of raised eyebrows. We were only 24 when we bought this house and we had actually planned to only have a $150k mortgage (should have sold first home for another $80k cash). It was just SO CHEAP to us, so after that fell through that we just stayed the course, even with an additional $80,000 to borrow. But I share just to say that our intent was really for this was not to be any kind of big financial splurge. In the end, our $200k mortgage has been smaller than average most years we have lived here. & it sure as heck beat having a $400k+ mortgage for a house half the size. Anyway, back then it was presumed we had family money or just made bank on Bay Area real estate. Honestly? After like 75% of your income goes to the roof over your head... Even when MH lost his job, this mortgage was never of any concern. *shrugs*

After the housing bust I was in awe of people's short term memories. During that time it was so ubiquitous to be on the verge of foreclosure, everyone would ask us what we were going to do about our housing problems. We'd always say, "We don't have any housing problems?" Some people would realize that we didn't buy during the bubble and would seem to understand. But mostly people would be completely unable to comprehend how this was so. I'd think back to all the crazy assumptions we got just 6 years ago about family money or hitting it rich somehow, but even those excuses seemed to have flown from people's consciousness during that time. Confused

You just never know how people are going to react.

So... MM's friends are all very sweet boys. One of them spent some time in the shade with me (at the water park) and asked a lot of personal questions. I think if it was anyone else, I don't know. But he just seemed very genuine. Most the kids around here lived in some McMansion their parents could not afford. If our mortgage has generally always been $200k or less, keep in mind that our house was worth $650k at the peak. So a lot of people seem to presume we paid that much and/or that is the size of our mortgage. Just for some frame of reference. (It would never occur to anyone that we put any money down, because mostly no one does that).

Anyway, this kid clearly is more lower middle class? He lives in a very modest house. In this city, is not something I've generally seen. Everyone was just over-buying for the most part. Even when they lost their homes, the tendency was to continue living far beyond means. (In addition, so many people move from more expensive cities and buy bigger homes. Most our immediate neighbors are from the Bay Area or LA, so more view this as "cheap" housing). In contrast, this kid lives in a rough neighborhood. Maybe not super rough, but certainly compared to our current neighborhood.

What this kid doesn't know is that all we could afford was an apartment in a rough neighborhood, old city. We thought that would likely be where we raised our kids.

So the kid asks me when we moved into our house and if we own it. The way he asked and how genuine he is, I didn't mind. He asked my about my profession and so on. I think he's genuinely curious and somewhat thinking to his own future. I can't say these were any questions that weighed on my mind as a 13-year-old.

I tried to give him some sense of the above, but he was not comprehending at all.

Anyway, THEN he changed the topic to movies. I told him about the free advanced movie screenings. He was completely incredulous. He asked me two or three times, "You mean you don't have to pay anything!?" I just think he would really and truly appreciate it. I told him that you have to wait in line and it gets crowded, so keep it on the down low. My husband is probably annoyed that I told anyone, but if he was there he would have done the same.

Credit Card Rewards Update

July 2nd, 2017 at 08:43 pm

2017 TALLY:

$481 Travel Rewards Cards (Capital One Venture,MH)
$200 Cash (WF Wise, MH)

**In addition, various monthly rewards that I will tally at 12/31.


There is a 24-month wait to re-dip a Citi Thank You card. I believe I passed 24 months a while ago, but I haven't seen a worthwhile bonus since then.

In the end, MH received a direct offer for a $500 bonus (same card). I read through it carefully and checked some of the credit card reward blogs, and it looks like it's exempt from the 24-month rule. WOW! I told him I kind of hate to use it since we are almost there (he could have applied in a few more months). But I don't know when he will ever get an offer again, either. So will just bite the bullet and try.

If this one works, I will have $500 to add to my tally. In the end, it will be a better credit card bonus year than I would have expected.

Back from Camp

July 1st, 2017 at 09:16 pm

We are back from our annual family camp trip. (10th year! Hard to believe. 9th year at this camp).

I hadn't thought too much about it, but was describing to a co-worker. It's basically like summer camp for the whole family. The camp is run by our city. Year 1 we tried San Jose's camp (near Yosemite). But Sacramento's camp (near Tahoe) has nice cabins. It's easier to get to, and we all just love it. So as I described to my co-worker the nice cabins, how all food is provided (dining hall) and they serve beer by the patio. The more I described it the more heavenly it sounded. So that was a couple of days before we left and I really started to look forward to our trip.

I haven't had more than a day off since November? So it all sounded very luxurious the more I thought about it. Otherwise, I just hadn't given much thought to the whole thing.

Last year was really a dud because we could only fit in our DC trip if we left on the last day of school and came back the day before camp. UGH. Anyway, I never planned to stay the whole time, and DL (11) was just not having it. We both ended up leaving camp even earlier than I had planned (last year). The year before my nieces had not come up, and so the last two years were kind of a bummer.

This year my nieces made it up for camp and the kids just had a BLAST with them. I think next year if their cousins can't make it up that we may let them invite friends. It just makes all the difference, for them.

MH had also bought a couple of games right before the trip. Rolleyes It's not like we don't have a million games. But one of them, Codenames, was a HUGE hit. We just had a blast with that one. It's one of those games that is more fun with more people.

Lake Tahoe was filled to capacity. After falling below normal levels due to drought conditions in recent years. I just thought it didn't look like it could be much more full. There was barely any beach left. I looked it up yesterday and it's at its peak. They are releasing water. Extra so since we had a heat wave last week with a lot of snow melt.

Since I had heard the ski resorts would have skiing well into July this year, because of so much snow this winter, I did look it up and we had planned to go up to one of the ski resorts instead of going to the Lake on the Lake day. It would have been $$$$$, but how often can you go sledding the end of June? Big Grin In the end, the kids changed their mind last minute and wanted to go to the beach. Saved me a lot of money. I was thinking how that $15 game was infinitely more entertaining. I really wouldn't have minded spending the money for a one-time thing (the resort had rock climbing and ropes courses and all sorts of thing my Monkey Monkey would LOVE). But I think it worked out in the spirit of camp to just not spend any money. In the end, it was probably the nicest (camp) trip we have ever had.

Oh, and the theme was Hawaiian or something along those lines. We aren't really much into the themes but I bought a few leis at the party store (a couple of bucks). In the end, MH brought his ukelele. (He got into it more than he would admit). It was a fun theme. Camp was super fancy this year; they had hula dancers!

{This trip is paid for by the in-laws. My dad usually goes with us too}.


MH had free advanced screening tickets (plus extras) for the Spiderman movie, Wednesday night. He saw some kid running around camp in a spider man costume. So he approached him and offered him tickets. I was surprised because he is generally protective about his secret movie source. But he told me that he just said he got the tickets from a friend.

{In the end, they went and LOVED being able to see the movie early}.

MH kept two tickets just in case, but we all felt up to going to the other movie he had gotten us tickets for: The Big Sick. Patient Saver mentioned in her blog about the cultural diversity in New Jersey. Growing up in California, that's all I know. (The population was something like 3% white where I grew up. Any house on my street growing up would be a look into a different culture and world). Anyway, I bring up because the movie was about the melding of cultures. & it speaks so much of my upbringing and my childhood friends' struggles with their parents. Loosely based on the true story about how comedian Kumail Nanjiani met his wife. In the end she got sick and ended up in a coma after they broke up, and he bonded with her parents during that time. MH had already told me that they ended up married so not too much of a spoiler? It's more a story about all the pressure his parents were putting on him to marry a Pakistani girl, and about her parents warming up to him and working through their own stereotypes. & also some about hospitals and Doctors/nurses. (Sometimes medical stuff is just a little too close to home. Especially when it's written by someone who has been through a big medical ordeal).

Anyway, we took the kids and they liked it more than we expected them to.

Oh, and MH got Spiderman tickets for another day, so all is well in his world.

June Savings

July 1st, 2017 at 05:15 pm

Received $39 bank interest for the month of June.

Snowflakes to Investments:

Redeemed $50 credit card rewards (cash back) from our grocery card.

Redeemed $48 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $5 cash back on Visa dining/fuel card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$15 Savings from Target Red Card
--$7 refund from Amazon (some sort of settlement)
--$140 Dividends
--LESS: $70 diverted to Europe Trip

Snowballs to Europe trip:
--$481 credit card reward (travel credits applied)
--$200 credit card reward (cash)
--$200 sale of old TV
--$ 70 Diverted from Snowflakes

Note: $0 cash out-of-pocket needed for Europe spending this month

Savings (From my paycheck):

+$ 200 to investments
+$ 300 to cash (mid-term savings)
+$ 900 to IRAs

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):

+$1,300 to cash
- 425 Misc. Expenses**
- 90 Dentist

{Note: MH has no wages during summer months}.


**Misc. Expenses: Had some time to do some catch up shopping, and had some little things come up. Bought a (fancy) sleeping bag for MM(13) because he had a field trip coming up and outgrew his old one. I figure he will keep this one for a LONG time. Gave some money to the kids' school to top off our "hours" requirement. We were generous with Mother's Day gifts this year. MM needed some clothing. (These were all May charges, which is when my work let up a bit).

With that, I've pretty much exhausted our short-term savings. The second half of the year will all go to property taxes, insurance, car maintenance, and the dentist. For summer, I will keep pulling form short-term savings and will just figure it out at the end of the year. In Fall, will have to pull from MH's paycheck if anything comes up. (I expect his paycheck to cover kids' clothing, and stuff like that. Since they are growing and we need a bigger clothing budget now that they are getting to be adult sized and I can't just buy everything on clearance for $3). What this means is a very tight summer. We pretty much did all our splurging for the year already, so this is the flip side of the coin.

That said, it is some give and take. We are still at "peak liquidity" and will continue to be as long as no huge expenditures come up. I am probably going to spend a lot on MM's birthday (taking 6 kids to the expensive water park). It's not the kind of thing we do very often, but it seems silly to say "no", given our current means. In the end, the admission is way cheaper than I expected, but I imagine the food in the park is where they get you.


I am still working on 3% savings account. Having some technical difficulties on that. Will probably have the money moved over around July 5th.


I decided to just pull from snowflakes this month, to cover the rest of the Europe money. If we can still add $400-ish to investments, then it is all good.

{I still will work on selling a couple of items from around the house. Will just invest the snowflakes like I usually do, or can maybe use for some fun summer money}.