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Archive for October, 2019

This & That

October 9th, 2019 at 07:45 am

I did an Amazon return at Kohls the other day. I had never done that before. They gave me a 25%-off coupon for Kohls, for one transaction in-store. I was going to look around anyway so I used it.

I don't know any of the details, if you can only return certain things to Kohls or what. But it sure makes it easier to shop on Amazon.

Today I paid a handful of annual bills. When I went to pay to renew the registration on MH's car, they were trying to charge a $5 fee for using credit card. UGH. Apparently this was a change that only went into effect during the last week or so. Bummer, that I didn't pay sooner and squeak that one through. We've been spoiled. I don't remember them charging any credit card fees during the past decade or so. I haven't decided how I will pay that bill. I don't know if some of the other government agencies have followed suit and if I will find more surprises.

I honestly don't know how I am going to pay this bill now. I declined paying by echeck, but I know logically (and from personal experience) that mailing a check is far less secure. *sigh* I set it aside to flip a coin later.

MH and I are planning a somewhat impromptu getaway. We are going to LA for 2 nights (just before Thanksgiving) and then we want to stop by Hearst Castle on the way back. I suppose we can make this somewhat a "Top 100 Movie" field trip as we have been talking about it more after watching Citizen Kane. The original plan was one night in LA, but we are staying two nights for free (minimum stay with MIL's timeshare). The third night we will stay in Pismo Beach, and then we can see Hearst Castle on the way back. The extra night makes it a more slow/relaxing trip. The cost will mostly be gas and food (and one hotel night). I will probably just earmark one of MH's paychecks next month since we already maxed out our vacation budget for the year.

We will probably do a somewhat repeat trip for Spring Break, since we want to check out the one college in LA. But that trip will be with kids.

September Savings

October 6th, 2019 at 07:07 am

Received $73 bank interest for the month of September.

Snowflakes to Investments:
--Redeemed $53 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card.
--Redeemed $56 cash back on Citi card.
--Redeemed $8 cash back on dining/gas card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
$ 3 Savings from Target Red Card (grocery purchases)
$ 20 Citi Price Rewind
$150 Dividend

TOTAL: $290 snowflakes to investments

401k Contributions/Match:
+$700

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

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):
+$1,400 to cash
-$ 210 Car Maintenance (new battery/oil change)
-$ 160 Misc. Purchase MH (disability related)
-$ 70 Misc. Purchase MH

TOTAL: $2,573 deposited to cash and investments

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I don't think that things could be any more financially mellow. I am experiencing the reward of working my butt off earlier in the year. Phew!

October should be a good money month. MH received a 12%+ raise (minimum wage increase) and was asked to work more hours. It's becoming more obvious that we should just use his income to fund our IRAs. But 2019 is well covered so we will probably start that in 2020. I also have about $500 in side work to bill, so we will have a few snowballs to add to savings.

Anyway, I can tell you that money has been entirely in the background through all of this, but it's just even moreso right now. We had a lot of big expenses earlier in the year, but it's just a little slice of quiet and calm right now.

Note to Self: Grocery Rewards

October 5th, 2019 at 05:04 pm

Trying to jot down the grocery rewards plan because I completely lost that post.

Our American Express card caps grocery rewards at the $6,000 per year spending level. It looks like they are calculating this from January 1 of every new year.

In the end, we hit $5,950 already for this year. We are switching to our credit union card (3% cash back on groceries) for the rest of the calendar year.

I do buy $5 here and there, and actually spent about $30 today at the grocery store. So I will keep the American Express in my wallet and will see if the cutoff happens where I think it will. If I am off by some $5 purchase it's not as a huge of a deal as losing rewards on a $150 purchase.

Plan for 2019:

**Switch to credit union card (3% cash back groceries) for rest of year.

Will just pull the American Express cards out of our wallets.

Plan for 2020:

**Use Chase Freedom for 5% grocery quarter

It looks like the Chase Freedom card has 5% back one quarter per year. I was going to do this anyway, but it just works out that apparently we need the reward for exactly one quarter.

I had gotten the Chase card intending it to be a card just for MM(16). But it is what it is. I have the card and might as well use the grocery benefit.

Note re: Teen Credit Card

When looking up some other grocery rewards or strategies I noticed that there are a lot of new cards that offer 3%? cash back for the first year. The catch is that these cards don't offer a sign up bonus. I wanted to remember this because it might be a good strategy to apply for one of these cards for MM around his next birthday. Then he can just use it for one year and he should be able to more easily get his own credit card when he turns 18. (I am personally not going to sign up for a higher reward if it expires after just one year, but just makes more sense for someone who was going to change cards in one year anyway).

Note re: American Express

While typing all this out, I remembered that I got rejected for an American Express card that I tried to apply for, re: grocery rewards. American Express changed their terms to some very loose "can deny rewards at any time for any reason" language. I will be cautious doing any new rewards cards with them, but I guess it's somewhat moot if they are just going to reject me.

Sorry About That!

October 3rd, 2019 at 06:03 pm

I took ceejay's advice and grabbed the posts from this year that I wanted to keep. (Thanks Ceejay!)

{Sorry for so many posts at once.}

I think the monthly savings posts are a good snapshot. & there was *so much* going on with MM(16) this year, with driving, first credit card, college, etc. I know I lost a couple, but I was able to find the first few that I thought of. Phew!

I can't find the grocery rewards card thing that I just posted with some notes to self. But I may look again this weekend (or can just jot down some notes).

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In other news, there was another very serious accident in the family last week. & more (accidents) in our circles this week. *sigh*

As to this website, it's just kind of *shrugs*, what isn't a disaster at this point...

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Minutiae:

MH won tickets to see "Dial M for Murder" at the movie theater last night. It was really fun. I don't know when we'd ever pay full price for a movie, but in this case I noticed it would have been $21. So it was nice to *win* $21. We are going another night this month (okay, so we were going to pay full price, this will help with the sticker shock I would have experienced). They are playing a bunch of Hitchcock films at a more artsy theater (MH doesn't have a membership and we don't have any gift cards). But we were going to go back later this month to watch one of the Top 100 movies.

I find it hard to believe, but we made it through the first 50 movies. I was pretty non-committal, even before everything went totally insane. So now that we made it through the first 50, I am more confident that we will actually make it through the rest. Many weeks we have watched 0 movies, sometimes we have watched 2-3 movies. The podcast we are following is going at a "one movie per week" pace. It took us 18 months to get through the first 50.

EDITED TO ADD: NO JOKE - ANOTHER ACCIDENT TODAY. UGH!

Coming Up for Air (09/08/19)

October 3rd, 2019 at 06:00 pm

I was going to say something like, "Things have been going along pretty well," but then that seems silly because they are not well at all. I think I've just reached a point of relativism. Sadly, facing some of life's biggest challenges is a point of peace and calmness for me, right now. Because that's just how life has been. Everything else has settled down a wee bit and I have any mental space whatsoever to deal with anything.

So... everything else has settled down significantly and I have been able to catch my breath. The first couple of weeks of this new state of things, I did not do much at all. & then Labor Day was a huge blessing and I was able to get caught up on some house chores. Last weekend, Saturday was dealing with very heavy family stuff. Sunday was collapsing due to mental and emotional exhaustion. But I still had Monday, and Monday ended up being quite productive. I have chores that haven't been done for YEARS at this point. So I started to tackle some of those.

I guess this gave me some good momentum. I am hitting the house chores hard this weekend. I think there is largely a feeling of, "it's now or never".

I think 16yo getting driver's license is a huge reason for this shift and a little calmness in my life. If I had to drive him everywhere he needs to be, last weekend would have been insane. MH and I actually left the kids two weekends - two weekend in a row? - to go take care of our parents. This is just something we couldn't do before, not with 16yo sports schedule. & we wouldn't have left our kids to go out of town. In this situation, maybe, but it's easier to do with a self-sufficient driver and both kids being high school age.

I am mostly of the, "I should be working and digging out, I should NOT be blogging" mode. Except it's a weekend morning, everyone is asleep, and this is usually my quiet/brain dump time. But I could probably work on some minutiae posting, going forward. I know I just also feel buried on the blog front, as with everything else. I completely give up and I realize this blog is probably going to just be a black hole void for most of 2018/2019. I really wish I could share more of what has happened, but there's just not enough hours in the day. I've not had time to process most of it, much less blog about it (which does help me process). It is what it is. A side effect of that is having no idea where to begin, as I try to jump back in.

I am already being thrown head first into the next chapter of my life. I feel like I've barely started this chapter. But the next chapter is taking on more of the parental role with my parents. Both my parents are not doing well. I think it's a little bit, "The calm before the storm." The storm has already started and has been pretty nasty at times. But I guess the best analogy I have is that I am in storm prep mode and just trying to get my life in order and take a few deep breaths so I can deal with this whatsoever.

It's been a shift in our relationship, for a while now. I remember very distinctly feeling that I worried more about my mother (the way a parent worries about a child) more than I worry about my own kids any more. This was about a year ago, in regards to my mom's physical health. I couldn't remember the exact moment, because that was just one drop in the ocean of insanity last year. But I did see in my blog that I mentioned worrying about her after she had a fall, and then my dad jetted off somewhere. That was probably it. & it seems very small right now, compared to current medical issues both my parents are having. So I am being tossed into that caregiver role in a way I hadn't really anticipated, certainly not *right now*, particularly with married/living parents.

I don't really have any answers or clarity, but will try to blog when I do. Unless I am taking care of my parents 100 miles away. You might understand why this might just fall in the black hole void.

Credit Card Rewards Tally 2019

October 3rd, 2019 at 05:59 pm

2019 TALLY:

$550 Gift Cards (Citi, Moi)
$150 Bank Bonus
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$700 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

Other Rewards:
$ 29 Citi Price rewinds (RIP)

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

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I posted earlier that I was reminded to do some price rewinds, when price matching a wedding gift. Citi had a "Price Rewind" where you could just enter a purchase and they would check 60 days for lower prices. It was *awesome*. Unfortunately, today is the last day they are offering this perk.

We had a few big purchases during the last few months. I always put bigger purchases in because you never know when a price will drop, and it's the biggest bang for your buck.

In the end, we didn't get any money back on the big purchases (no surprise) but I found a smaller purchase that had been done (in a time of chaos) and that I knew was ridiculous. So I will get $20 back. In addition, we had received $9 back when we bought our washer/dryer earlier this year, so I need to add that to my year-to-date tally. Total $29 in price rewinds for the year. There won't be any more because this reward is dead.

MM(16) also should be getting a $150 bonus for the credit card I signed him up for. He has not gotten the reward yet because he spent -$0- during the last billing cycle. But he has since gotten gas and hit the spending level for the bonus. I presume that he will probably have his gas covered for the next 4 or 5 months. I am not adding this reward to my tally because he is using it for his own spending/bills.

I don't foresee doing any other one-time bonuses this year. But... you never know when an irresistible deal might pop up.

***CAVEAT - I absolutely do not recommend utilizing credit card rewards in this manner, unless you are in full control of your credit card spending. We treat our credit cards like debit cards; only charging if we have the cash on hand already. We've never paid a cent of late fees or interest.***

July Savings

October 3rd, 2019 at 05:57 pm

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:
+$600

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):
-0-

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

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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.

May Savings

October 3rd, 2019 at 05:52 pm

Received $60 bank interest for the month of May.

Snowflakes to Investments:
--Redeemed $36 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card.
--Redeemed $88 cash back on Citi card.
--Redeemed $10 cash back on dining/gas card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
$ 10 Savings from Target Red Card (grocery purchases)

TOTAL: $144 snowflakes to investments

401k Contributions/Match:
+$700

Snowball to Savings:
+$1,000 MH Paychecks
+$3,200 April/May self-employment income

TOTAL: $4,200 snowballs to savings

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

Mid-Term Savings (cash saved for non-annual expenses/emergency):
-$ 4,000 Orthodontist (*fingers crossed, this is it?)
-$ 260 Summer college tour for MM (school trip)

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):
+$1,400 to cash
-$1,000 Beach Vacation
-$ 555 Dentist/Medical
-$ 70 Misc.

TOTAL: $1,169 deposited to cash and investments

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We paid cash for school trip this summer, 4 days/3 nights touring several colleges. $260 is an incredible deal. (The school is also covering all the costs of AP, ACT, SAT tests, etc., which I mentioned recently. I am feeling very spoiled on this front right now).

That reminds me too, MM can also take community college classes for free the next two years (junior/senior year of high school).

*As to Ortho costs, that's still another post for another day. It's almost comical how many canceled ortho appointments we had before we had this quote. Yeesh! We had one ortho decide to retire after booking a consult appointment. I think we majorly dodged a bullet! The good news is that though DL(13) completely inherited my mess, he was only recommended 18 months of ortho, versus the 5+ years or whatever hell I was put through. I never in a million years expected him to end up on the lower end of time/cost. MM(15) was told his situation is just cosmetic but no other reasons to have braces; he is not interested. I was planning for the worst case, which I thought was very likely. (To be fair, we already invested $3k-ish in preventative ortho work for MM, when he was very young. It seems to have paid off).

It's not quite so simple. No cause to overly celebrate yet. MM(15) is being monitored for a new problem and may need (relatively minor?) surgery.

We were told up front that DL(13) need major jaw surgery, which I had already assumed. I was not surprised and is one reason why we chose this ortho. He was very up front about it. I had the same surgery at 16. We didn't discuss the reasons for waiting but I think it's because boys stop growing several years later than girls. We are looking at age 20 for him, or 7 years down the road. They are going to do the braces in an attempt to prevent surgery. I am not holding my breath, but appreciate the effort. It's either this or "wear braces forever" so it's not a purely cosmetic surgery, but I doubt it will be covered by insurance. Overall, I could see that one coming from a mile away and don't feel much financial stress about it. But kicking the can down the road for 7 years sounds nice, of course. So that's a quick sum up of everything ortho. We decided to just pay cash (for braces) due to the short treatment, the smaller dollar amount (much smaller than we were expecting for two kids), and probably mostly because of the significant tax break we get for paying cash this year, in addition to cash discount. I am relieved, because it was my very strong preference to pay cash up front.

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June 1 is it. I've managed to kick the can down the road for 8 months, but it's time to accept my lower salary. Unfortunately, the timing hits with MH's summer off work.

June savings update will be similarly nasty, but without all the extra income. I have a $5,000 credit card bill (May charges) that I paid off the first of June. There was probably about $1,000 that ended up being reimbursed by employer (phew) and most the rest was vacation expenses. Plus some medical bills, school lunches for several months, and DMV/insurance on the kids' car.

I did not save all of our side income this month. Well, I suppose I did in a sense. But mostly I was doing a major reset on all things financial. No more, "I have an extra $2,000 coming in this month, and I am completely exhausted, so who cares about $50 here and there."

Where we are at:

Still have 12 months of expenses liquid. Which is very easy peasy with three jobs, but will be more of a challenge with just the one.

I have about $10,000 set aside for 2019 IRAs. Just depends what other big expenses come up this year. Not adding to savings in any long-term meaningful away. Is more "keep afloat level" at this point. I am speaking to just my salary. I realize that I probably have to shift back to letting MH fund IRAs. Which is probably okay with combo of pay cut and work retirement plan (I am able to contribute about 10%, even with reduced salary). Funding IRAs is a very stubborn "live far below our means" goal, and I think is still pretty doable. In the short run, I probably have 2019/2020 covered. In the long run, I am due bonuses/raises (soon) and MH will be looking for more work.

I left enough side income in the checkbook to zero out our checking balance (no projected negative). Mortgage is technically pre-paid by two months. When things are not tight at all, I pay before the end of the month. In addition, am paid ahead one full month. (Other than that, I one million times more rather pay down principal, but I like the buffer of being one month ahead). I am going into June 1 with all bills paid far ahead (still have built-in 6 week emergency fund in that regard). Mortgage paid two months ahead. Credit card balances all zero (as they always are the first of every month). It was mostly knocking the mortgage back to "before the end of the month" to get us started this summer with as much buffer as possible. It would be my preference not to use any of this buffer this summer, but we will have drastically reduced income from what we have gotten used to the past few years. & I have absolutely no plans whatsoever to reduce our savings goals. Will see how it goes.

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I am so late getting to this post. So... How is June going so far?

Dining out is at $20 for the month, with the month 1/3 over. I suppose we have done well with the reset. Gas should go down significantly without work/school (MH kids). I think we may be able to rein in adult grocery spending a bit (without all the stress spending). The big splurge so far this month was $4 at Home Depot to get a couple of house keys made for the kids. MM(15) needed a key, and I just made a copy for when DL needs a key eventually. June should be pretty easy as we will be out of town a few days with all expenses covered.

Life is good. I've been "busy", but the vast majority of it has been family time and self care.

April Savings

October 3rd, 2019 at 05:49 pm

Received $72 bank interest for the month of April.

Snowflakes to Investments:
--Redeemed $42 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card.
--Redeemed $33 cash back on Citi card.
--Redeemed $12 cash back on dining/gas card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
$ 12 Savings from Target Red Card (grocery purchases)
$ 1 Rounded Up

TOTAL: $100 snowflakes to investments

401k Contributions/Match:
+$700

Snowball to Savings:
+$ 800 MH Paychecks
+$2,000 March self-employment income (received April)

TOTAL: $2,800 snowballs to savings

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

Mid-Term Savings (cash saved for non-annual expenses/emergency):
-$ 2,365 Medical Expenses
-$11,000 Fund IRAs 2018

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):
+$1,400 to cash
-$ 720 Auto Insurance
-$ 500 Life Insurance
-$ 300 Dentist
-$ 294 DMV (Auto Registration)

TOTAL: $1,443 deposited to cash and investments

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Last month's commentary:

Still just hoarding cash. Second job is winding down (I hope). I have $3k medical bills coming up, want to pay cash for braces this year (x2), have to cover all my professional expenses going forward, etc., etc. Just hoarding cash for all that, and preparing for a big income drop this summer.

Second job is definitely winding down. I am hoping to deposit another $3,000-ish in the next couple of months. But I am only working two more weeks for old/forever employer. I am cramming on deadlines this weekend and then it's just running up as much hours as I can to pay for braces. The work is there, since their workload is far beyond their capacity at this point. It just depends on my motivation. Which has mostly been wavering, but I have a dollar figure for braces. I am paying cash up front this week. So this is my renewed motivation. Is another post for another day, but it feels good to have more clarity on that situation and to cross a large financial goal off my list.

Last net worth update:
Net worth is up about $40,000 for the year. Or about 2/3 of our annual goal. Most of that is stock market recovery from end of last year.

Net worth is up $60,000 for the year, which is my goal. I am feeling pretty good about dropping second income at this point.

The reduced salary at my new job has little to do with our forward financial progress and is more shifting things around. I've traded $11,500 cash (used to fund IRAs) for $7,500 in retirement benefits. I only need to come up with $4,000 net to be whole. So while I am bracing for significantly less cash in June, I don't expect any change to big picture goals.

College Update (08/08/19)

October 3rd, 2019 at 05:46 pm

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, from prior blog post:

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.

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 (08/04/19)

October 3rd, 2019 at 05:45 pm

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 (08/03/19)

October 3rd, 2019 at 05:44 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, in about 5 seconds), 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.