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Archive for August, 2019

Price Match

August 11th, 2019 at 10:17 am

My sorta niece (long story) is getting married next month. I am really excited about this happy occasion in a sea of very heavy bad news. I am more than ready to celebrate something happy!

The wedding is a whole other post for another day. She's far older (15 years) than the rest of my nieces and nephews (long story) but is really the first of the next generation to get married. MH has already been asked to do the wedding video and feels that is more than enough (it is). But I told him I wanted to pick up something from their registry, that they will always we remember we bought them. I know the wedding video will more than cover it, but I want to be generous with my nieces and nephews, and maybe want to contribute in my own way. So anyway, just thought of it now with MH and we picked up some personalized glasses on zola, off of their registry.

{We never really thought about it before, but holy crap, MH might get buried in wedding videos in another decade or so. He may just have to say no. If he has a full-time job, there is just no way. These are professional quality videos that take a lot of time and effort. Heck, I don't even know if he has the software to do this}.

So anyway, we pick up the $50 glasses from Zola, and I am relieved that at least the shipping is free. I am searching frantically for any coupon code I can find when I see that zola price matches. I am guessing "price match" isn't one of our super ingrained frugal habits because long ago our strategy was probably more not to buy things in the first place. It's one of those things that has entirely fallen off my radar. So I do a quick search, find the same thing for $20 Target (I don't know why, it's $50 everywhere else), and send Zola an email. If for any reason they don't give me my $30 back, I will just price match with our credit card.

I just have this DOH moment now... Price match! Why have I not price matched anything this year!? Probably because I have had no time whatsoever. But I have time now, so I am rounding up receipts.

We did two big purchases last month, so I am running them through the credit card (which has a very simple price match policy; they do all the work of even seeking out the better prices).

Side note: Already got refund from Zola, while typing this post. Score!

Time Off

August 11th, 2019 at 08:47 am

Our Yosemite trip was a success. It's only about 2.5 hours from our home, so lord knows why we only make it every 10-15 years or so. I think that will change now. We stayed in Mariposa, which was absolutely awesome. We rarely enjoy eating out (our home cooking is generally so much better), but every where we ate out was A+.

It was overall a very frugal trip, for one of the most amazing destinations in the world. BUT, we booked rather last minute and so the lodging was totally insane. Instead of spending $250/night or whatever in some hotel too far away, we did vrbo and rented a house. It was totally amazing. But bumped up our total cost to about $1,200. $1,000 of that was for the house (after taxes and fees and everything). We packed some food and packed lunches every day, to keep our costs down.

We had the quintessential Yosemite experience and even saw a bear (a little too close).

The hilltop view from the house was absolutely amazing, and the stars were also amazing at night.

I will leave you with a view of Paradise:

P.S. I did another post that is hidden by this one. Other than this nice treat, life continues to be extremely difficult.

Checking In

August 10th, 2019 at 06:43 am

Looking back on July, I really have no idea how I survived. It was just a giant ball of insanity.

I was feeling pretty frustrated just before our vacation. Felt exactly back to square one, where I had been exactly a year prior. Long story, but work was absolutely insane last month and everything else was a disaster. So pretty much, I still can't seem to move past this rut.

On top of everything else, I have been taking care of my mom. While my dad jets all over the world. He should be home in a couple of days.

On the flip side, MH wrapped up his movie shoot last week. (That's been a huge time commitment, for about 18 months). MM(16) got his driver's license and so I no longer have to take him to school. Things are heading in a better direction, but I feel like I have said that a million times already. *sigh*

But I am blogging here and I guess that's the best indicator of the "insanity factor" of my life for the moment. Since I no longer am taking MM(16) to school, and life isn't totally insane at this moment, I was able to toss my alarm clock. Phew! I otherwise hadn't used since 2005. It was driving me crazy that I had to use it, but starting a new job and working two jobs, etc., etc. Last week I was well rested, so it is done. I suppose the main point is that the school start time was much more firm than my work start time has ever been. So the last school year was driving me a little crazy. But I was also adjusting to leaving the house a full hour earlier than I had been with my prior job.

My plan long-term is to work 7:00-3:30. It sounds DIVINE.

In the end, I worked less than 40 hours this past week, and that was after a week of vacation. I think I've been able to right the work ship. It's a long story but I was able to hire someone new (someone I worked with before) and it's working out very well.

So I feel silly and overly optimistic for even thinking that August will be better. But I guess I keep trying.

Buendia's post reminded me, my kids are already back at school. I have always hated their short summers. There was no "summer" here, this year. It was over in a blink.

College Update

August 8th, 2019 at 05:27 am

Where we have been at with the college thing is that my oldest son has all the tech genes that completely skipped us. So, not only is he interested in the shortest and most practical route from Point A to Point B (typical engineer), but he also lives exactly where he needs to be to go to college. Not exactly where we live, but it's all pretty much in our backyard.

So while I am open to just about anything (within reason), MM(16) has a gazillion A+ colleges to choose from that cost pennies.

So that's mostly where I am at with things (and where I have always been).

On the flip side... MM(16) has always been an extreme outlier. When he was younger, I thought it might mean he was cut out for Ivy League. I always felt very *shrugs* about this because no one in our family (parents/us/siblings) had ever spent any significant dollars on college. & our parents have done *very well* financially over the long term. So, if one out of every 10 of us is an outlier, we have the cash to help them. For us, MH could take on a full-time job to pay cash for college. & in addition to that, our parents would be willing to help. & there's scholarships. MM has nothing but options.

MM(16) went on a tour of several colleges, a couple of weeks ago. We were curiously waiting to see how that shook out. Before that time, he had only toured our alma mater (which has been his #1 choice).

There was one obscure private college that I was glad they were going to hit on the tour. I had a friend (very similar personality) who went there, and so was just curious. I then read it is the "most expensive college in the U.S." So, of course, MM came back with this school as top contender. *sigh*

Honestly and truly, I feel pretty zen about it. If it's meant to be, we have the means to make it work. I think this sums it up pretty well. MH was worried maybe everyone was getting a little too emotional about it. I said last night, "I have the feeling MM will end up at this school, he can get it in, and it will work out. But it's not like we are going to lose any sleep over it if he doesn't get accepted." I think we all feel pretty *shrugs* about it. I just have a very good feeling about it. But you know, *boohoo* if we get to save a billion dollars and he can go to school at any of the top engineering schools in the Bay Area? Pretty much, he can't go wrong. Nothing feels very much at stake here. In fact, I don't even know if MM will choose this private school over more affordable options, if he does get accepted. He's just too logical and practical. We've already discussed that the location isn't particularly ideal. Sure, everyone there gets Bay Area internships. How useful is that when you go to school 6 hours away?

So, that is where we are at with things. It's clear as mud. Flip a coin. Our alma mater is absolutely impossible to beat as far as cost/benefit. So, does he go to school at a school that cost pennies or does he choose one of the most expensive schools? Talk about black and white! Will see...

It's been kind of funny because my husband has accused me often of being close-minded when we talk about college. ??? I always tell him I am open to anything, but come on, there's a 90%+ chance MM just goes to our alma mater. Why would we consider anything else? I guess I know my kid, his talents are the same as many in our family, and I am familiar with most the relevant schools. Even so, I am surprised how much I called it. He's interested in the all of the colleges I would have expected him to be. Some of the other colleges I didn't know much about and he wasn't interested in. So pretty much nothing new came out of this trip, except him being particularly enamored with the one school. It doesn't surprise me at all, but I also wouldn't have been surprised if he decided that was a racket and impractical.

MH has never heard of this school before, and feels kind of like the train left the station without him. We left him in the dust. I finally said, "Do you believe me now? I've always said I am open to absolutely anything." Yeesh! He believes me now. & I admit if I had never heard of the school, I'd probably not be too thrilled with this turn of events. IT's funny how the tables have turned. But for such a small school, they sure have a lot of tours. So we are loosely planning to go tour the college in the spring. We need to get MH up to speed, and lord knows I know very little about the school. We need to see it for ourselves, and ask a lot of questions.

This leads me to revelation #2. So, I am looking into other school tours. We obviously have to hit Berkeley and Stanford. Close to home, easy to tour whenever. Anyway, I am truly open to anything. I am always thrown off when "being open to living at home" or "being open to community college" is taken as the polar opposite. I've gotten so many lectures about this stuff when I've actually never seriously considered that MM would live at home for college anyway. ??? I think that is because of his tech leanings and us being generally underwhelmed by college options in our lower cost haven. Meh. Honestly, I wouldn't even send him to community college here. I think the odds that he will live at home for college are at about 0%. So... I had to laugh at myself when thinking about college tours, I didn't even think of anything local?? & then we went on a drive to Yosemite last week and we passed a billion (so it felt like) colleges I didn't know much about. It's like, "Oh yeah, there's that college and that college and that college..." & then I got home and started thinking about all these other big name tech-y colleges (that I had forgotten about when making initial list). UGH! So, I asked MH if he wanted to tour a couple of the local schools. He did, so I will add them to the list. But I told him that other than that, I Was done. If he heard of some other college that really struck his fancy, to let me know. But I think we can officially check off that we did our job as parents, if we take him on an additional 2-4 tours.

I share, because I think this illustrates why we haven't seriously considered any out-of-state colleges. We are pretty much drowning in affordable/excellent public options. This has always been a very clear trade-off to higher housing costs. I had always planned to take advantage (and we certainly did so with our own degrees too).

I guess #1, this is where we are at currently with all things college. But #2, I have to throw it out there in case I do eventually announce that my son is going to some crazy expensive private college. Because if I don't share this post, it might seem like that is coming way out of nowhere. Like with my husband, I know I have always said I am open to absolutely anything (within reason). But he didn't *get it* until last weekend. I expect it's the same in my blog.

As a refresher, these are our parameters re: college:

We both agree that we expect the kids to work significantly during high school and college, that our own financial health comes first, and that we don't want to borrow a penny for college. We don't want them to graduate with any student loan debt. We are willing to help our kids in any way we can as long as we are within these parameters.

It always strikes me kind of silly as people get really bogged down with the details. If I had a dollar for every person who told me just how their kid will go to college (where, how they will or won't work, if they will live at home or in the dorms, etc.) from like the day their child was born. This has always struck me as completely insane. Heck if I know! Depends depends depends. I've never focused on the details. It's the parameters I mentioned above that matter to me. Not mortgaging my future (or encouraging my kids to mortgage their future), and it has to make any sense whatsoever. But beyond that, I couldn't tell you any of the details. Even 2 years out, still feel very much, "It depends how it all shakes out". & of course, more opportunities always arise when you keep your options open. The second we start locking things down and being inflexible, the less options we will have. Which is why we are going to wait until it all shakes out.

In addition to that, it's been very important for us to have our kids work and save money now, because I don't know how college will shake out. It's very likely my "extreme outlier" child will not be able to work during college. Obscure private college heavily encourages summer work and internships. That would be very much in line with our values. But it's pretty clear that he probably couldn't work during the school year, at that college. I wanted to clarify because I did put "work" in there. I've never taken it for granted that our kids could work as much as we did during college. That was more, "Our kids aren't going to sit on their butts and do nothing during the summers," if nothing else. There will be always be some way to work and contribute, and that's all I mean by that.

Edited to add: To be clear, our "expected contribution" at private college is literally 10 times as much as sticker price at any public college. Unless he does very well on the academic/sports scholarship side of things, the cost of this private college will be ridiculous. It's a decision that is impossible to make until we have college acceptances and scholarships in hand. Until then, it's going to be clear as mud. Will plan for both extremes.

Teen Credit Card

August 4th, 2019 at 07:29 am

I mentioned in my last post that we got MM(16) a credit card for the convenience factor.

I was just so behind and so much I wanted to touch on, but I did want to elaborate on this today, now that I think about it a little more.

Firstly, I didn't particularly have a discussion with MM about this. The discussions have already been had, long ago. I remember my kids being genuinely horrified, when they were 8 or 10, when they learned how most people use their credit cards. I am guessing that is mostly genetic. We both come from a long line of extreme savers. I just don't think it needs to be said out loud. MM in particular is a math whiz. I don't need to explain to him why it doesn't make any sense to carry a balance on a card with a 15% interest rate.

I did tell him that I set all my cards on a monthly cycle (1st through 30th) and that I pay them off the first of every month. & suggested he get in that habit. You know, in the old days we waited for the bill to come in the mail. But this is the internet age. I told him to put it on his calendar and just be done the first of every month. It will be a good habit for him to start.

The other thing that came up is that this credit card has a 0% interest rate for 18 months? MM asked me why he didn't just borrow against the card and leverage his savings account. I told him he could do whatever he wants. But I kind of felt we were starting with the training wheels and I'd like to take them off more slowly. I think MH and I both talked some sense into him. But that's my kid. I am trying to start at A and he's already jumping ahead to Z. (I did tell him that the catch is you have to pay off within that 18 months, or they will backcharge the interest probably).

It will be the same for my other kid. MM was literally born "0 going on 5" and you throw in the math whiz factor, and that's where he is. (So he's now "16 going on 25.") My other kid? He is way way way into economics. I have often said, "I don't know if he's going to be an actor or a hedge fund manager." Literally. He's the one who was always trading his lunches for something better. It blew his mind when he realized the high value of chocolate milk in the lunch room. So he'd start trading for milk first, and then trade for something more substantial. I actually would have more expected him to leap on the 0% leverage. Is just how his mind works. So though they are very different in their underlying personalities, I think the end result is about the same.

Teen Driver

August 3rd, 2019 at 01:42 pm

So much going on, will try to pop out a few posts today.

MM(16) got his driver's license. Phew!

So. Much. Time. This frees up for us adults.

MM(16) is as charmed as always. The in-laws came up a week before his birthday, to celebrate DL's birthday. We took two cars out to eat and I said, "MM, why don't you drive?" His car was already in the street, so was just the easiest. We had a lovely dinner, but when we came out, the coolant had emptied out into the parking lot. UGH! MIL had told us when she gave us the car, she'd pay for any repairs before MM's birthday. Which was just a few days away at this point. That is clearly ridiculous. I wasn't going to have them pay for repairs on a FREE car. But, when I saw the coolant, my first thought was, "Yeah, maybe they could pay for that." It clearly wasn't going to be cheap. It's moot because they were there and they clearly insisted on paying for it.

So that is MM's luck. His first major car repair is with *4* adults and a second car. I mean, don't get me wrong, it was a huge PITA. But it certainly could have been much worse. That, and he gets a free repair.

I mentioned in my last post that we got MM a new stereo system with bluetooth. In our teens/20s we bought older cars, but always upgraded the stereo. I guess that's what is important to us. But yeah, I am also remembering all my friends and family who like rubberband their cell phone to their visor. Um, NOPE. New teen driver can have a proper bluetooth setup; will keep his hands on the wheel.

MM(16) passed his driver's test a few days after his birthday, and all is well. I gassed up the car and ran it through the car wash before officially handing it over.

I did also get a credit card for MM(16). We had planned to get him a secured card at our credit union. But as his birthday approached and I started thinking about it more, it sounded like an extraordinary PITA. So I veered at the last minute and just applied for some new card (in my name) and made him an authorized user. We settled on the Chase Freedom. It just hit all the marks. He gets 5% back on gas (this quarter). 1% back on everything else? $150 sign up bonus. I suppose this also helps his credit (if reported to the credit bureaus) but at this point "convenience" is our primary motivation. He has all of college (age 18+) to start building up his credit. He will be the only one using that card.

{Side Tangent: & that reminds me, I of course lowered the credit limit, because it started at some ridiculous $30k or something like that. This is just a side tangent, but most of what I saw online was NEVER lower your credit limit *sigh* I lowered it significantly, but still room to keep a good utilization ratio. Is better than being on the hook for $30k down the road, in some bizarrely unforeseeable circumstance. People get a little crazed in their "one size fits all" credit score advice. This is not the first time I've ignored the advice}.

I've only been getting cash (ever) for MM's gymnastics, so I told him he could be in charge of his own cash from now on. One more thing to make my life easier. (I will just reimburse him if he ever goes to the ATM; we still intend to pay).

MM(16) was telling me yesterday he needed some deoderant and shampoo, something like that. I told him I did too, so will go this weekend. But he made a comment at some point, "I guess I can take myself." Good point!

I was thinking about it today and thinking it would be easier to just put him on my Target card so that I didn't have to keep track of "his versus ours" expenses (of course I will pay for his shampoo and deoderant) and he could still get the 5% off. So I went ahead and added him to our Target card today.

I did also add him to our AAA account. & got him insured on his car. I am not sure how that will shake out. I think the bill is sitting in our mailbox right now. Will figure it out tonight. I had told him it would be around $1k per year, and is totally his responsibility. But I already paid $250 in June (for 6 months) and he gets a $150 bonus with this credit card. So I told him it would probably be more like $100, the balance due, for 6 months. I think the bill I got was $250 (sitting in mailbox), so seems rather spot on. I presume that's for another 6 months (July - January). I will see the dates when I get the paperwork. So after prepping for a $500 bill, we knocked it down to around $100. I asked MH if he was okay with just giving him credit for what we already paid. He was fine with that. Is just easier that way, and less accounting.

MM(16) did just wrap up work at my job, school starts next week. He's got about $3,500 cash I believe. He should be good for a while. The car is his only expense at this point. (He doesn't spend money, very much like his father). I do not believe he will work at all the rest of the year. Cross country is 2 hours every day, plus weekends. (He quit before because it was too time consuming, but seems to be going for it this year). Will see how he feels when practice resumes mid-day in the middle of summer. But he's been falling asleep every time I drive him home from work (he's been working with me). He is somewhat super human, but I think he has a very full plate. Especially if he wants to run 2 hours every day AND do gymnastics. MH was kind of, "What about a job?" Ahem. MH, who made bank only working summers. All through college. I told MM that it may be a seasonal job will be more his thing. He will probably want to work more hours next summer, finding something more seasonal but full-time. I also mentioned there is a lot of seasonal work around the Holidays. He's clearly got enough money to last through next summer.

All that reminds me, back to the car. So, we learned our lesson. The in-laws had the car all fixed up and checked out and detailed and everything, before they handed it over in December. It's always been very loud and rattly, but we recently replaced two old and rattly cars that our mechanics said were just old and loud. So we didn't think too much about it. (Our 2001 & 2005. This other car is a 2004). So... We had the car towed to the shop and the second they turned it on they said, "That's the water pump." The car is VERY quiet now. Lesson learned. Always get a second opinion. Yeesh! The coolant was unrelated. Looks like a rock or something hit the coolant tank and caused the leak. So it was two repairs. The mechanic just raved on and on about the car, but I think they were just impressed we found an old car in such good condition. I don't know that we are that impressed, because that's how we buy cars. It's an old car with 200k miles. Yeah sure, we know our parents take good care of their cars. (Admittedly, I've never bought or kept a car with that many miles. I'd expect any car to last that long, with our mild weather and driving habits, but we just don't drive that much. It would take us 20 years to get to 200k miles). It may be the odometer they were mostly impressed with, I don't know. If it's not a "rattly" car, I suppose that impresses me too. So while I am a little bit perplexed why on earth their mechanic couldn't diagnose the very loud water pump (that ours could diagnose with just the sound alone), it sounds like they otherwise knew what they were doing. I think they also had been using our mechanic (back home, AMAZING) who passed away a few years ago. He maybe gets most the credit for the good repair of this car.

July Savings

August 3rd, 2019 at 10:11 am

Received $75 bank interest for the month of June.

Snowflakes to Mortgage:
--Redeemed $47 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card.
--Redeemed $66 cash back on Citi card.
--Redeemed $15 cash back on dining/gas card.

Other snowflakes to Mortgage:
$ 3 Savings from Target Red Card (grocery purchases)
$39 rounded up mortgage payment

TOTAL: $170 snowflakes to mortgage

401k Contributions/Match:

Snowball to Savings:
-0- {No side income this month}

Savings (From my paycheck):
+$ 550 to cash (mid-term savings)

Mid-Term Savings (cash saved for non-annual expenses/emergency):

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):
+$1,400 to cash
-$ 280 Car Stereo for MM(16)
-$ 265 Car Insurance for MM(16)
-$ 220 Vacation Expense (brought friend to camp)
-$ 130 Amazon Prime
-$ 120 Dentist

TOTAL: $1,780 deposited to cash and investments


This is more of a June sum up (on the spending side), since we mostly charge everything and pay off the following month.

From last month:
June went pretty well. It was a very low spend month. Without all the stress and extra income, we just fell back on our old habits (which is living on a shoestring). It's an easy default for us.

It was the first month of my new salary reality ($1,000 less per month), without any side income or additional income. June went very well and we were still able to hit aggressive savings goals. I wish I could say July went so well, but I sat down and went through the books for July today (I always pay everything the first of the month) and July was pretty ugly. It was a "death by a thousand cuts" month, though I think we did pretty well considering. Just not sure if I will have anything to add to (cash) savings next month. It will be a bit of a breakeven month. I expect August (spending) to be more like June. Maybe more low key since the kids will be back at school for the entire month. We are also done with vacations, birthdays, etc.

Our dining out rewards were also clearly insane. I had about $200 in spending (kids' birthdays) that were reimbursed by other people. Plus a lot of vacation eating out, etc. Our grocery bill was actually quite reasonable. (Probably not reasonable enough, considering MM was mostly gone for 8 days. But was much better than other summer months. Phew!)

401k contributions dropped a bit since it was just my income/contributions this month.

Short-term spending was very kid-centric. We paid final expenses on car (before handing it over to MM on his birthday). As a birthday present, we got him a new car stereo with bluetooth. We also paid for DL to invite a friend along to camp. (Which is no big deal because most years MIL insists on paying for us. Just paying it forward).

I did decide to throw all my snowflakes to the mortgage this month. I expect this may likely be the "last hoorah" with our mortgage. I had been paying down an extra $3k per month (OT money) to keep payoff within 30 years of original mortgage. (We've refied several times as interest rates drop, but never felt comfortable with a shorter mortgage term with the volatile economy in our lower-cost locale). I am no longer getting paid OT and so don't have that extra money to throw at the mortgage. MH's income will probably fund IRAs this year (bigger priority). I put a placeholder on my sidebar, but as more time passes and there's no windfall to cover it, it seems less likely I will pay any extra on our mortgage again. So, why the extra payment today? Completely psychological. It's a year or two later than I expected, but we finally dropped below the $150k mark. I had to throw the extra $170 this month to get there. It feels good. Having a $14X,XXX mortgage, feels extraordinary for this California girl.

We've absolutely never hit our mortgage hard. Never more than $20 here or there, or the "extra $3k per year after I cut the monthly payments down by $7,500 per year" kind of thing. Still paying far less than when we started (at 8%). So throwing the extra $3k per year was throwing it a bone, and making sure we don't have a mortgage for more than 30 years But it all seems pretty moot at this point. We are only planning to stay in our home 5-ish more years. We will never pay off before we sell. & we plan to downsize into a home we can pay cash for. Our bigger goal right now is to save up a down payment for our next home. It would be our preference to buy our next home before we sell this one. It just keeps things more flexible and will allow us to jump when we find the right home.

This is also compounded by this whole "kid starting college in 2 years" thing. There will also be cash hoarding in prep for that. I don't know how much I can succeed on either of these fronts (down payment, college costs) with my salary, but MH is looking for full-time work to that end. If he starts bringing home $2k-$3k every single month, we are just going to start hoarding cash. We will never live up to a second income. We will use it to buy a house (again) or pay for a temporary expense like college.

Anyway, I feel much better about this after having reached this psychological milestone. It's easier to just let it go. Will be happy to have an under $150k mortgage for a few years, and then will be done with the only debt we have ever had.

Edited to add:
I suppose I officially reached cash savings goal for 2019. It's not that exciting, because it depends on what comes up the rest of the year (that might drain cash) and I still need to come up with IRA money. I mean, I have $12k cash for our 2019 IRAs, but that was all saved from second income. I need to start meaningfully saving for 2020 and forward. Trying to get ahead of the curve as much as possible, until we get our income back to where it was.