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Archive for December, 2020

Credit Card Rewards Tally 2020

December 30th, 2020 at 03:12 pm

2020 TALLY:

$745 Cash (Chase Sapphire Quadruple Dip, Moi) 

$ 25 Cash  (Citi Black Friday Bonus; 5% online shopping)



Ongoing rewards:

+$283 AmExRewards (6% cash back groceries/streaming services)

+$65 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)

+$154 Visa Rewards (3% cash back fuel/restaurants).  Ended up also using for groceries in Q4 (3% cash back)

+$835 Citi 2% card (2% back everywhere - health insurance/medical is the *big* expense that we charge, is more than our mortgage payments)

Grand Total = $2,107

I just want to add that historical figures below do also include bank bonuses. They just don't generally work very well for us so I do not utilize as much.  (We did -0- bank bonuses in 2020).

Year 2011 = $4,164

Year 2012 = $2,782

Year 2013 = $2,623

Year 2014 = $3,128

Year 2015 = $2,585

Year 2016 = $1,906

Year 2017 = $3,578

Year 2018 = $2,096

Year 2019 = $2,266

Year 2020 = $2,107

Total 10 Years = $27,235 ***Mostly Tax-Free Income***

Note: I have been tracking since 2011 because that's when the rewards got CRAZY. We have always utilized cash back on credit cards. It's just been extra rewarding during the past decade.

I updated sidebar to finalize the amount of snowflakes we invested this year: $2,074.  This includes dividend re-investments.  Is not the amount of our credit card rewards because I did not invest the big one-time reward; that was more of a snowball than a snowflake.

***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.***


Holiday Doings

December 27th, 2020 at 02:43 pm

Work is insane, but it's all relative.  Not as bad as my prior job was this time of year, so I am appreciating the quiet long weekend.  I suppose it's extra nice when Christmas is more than just a single day off in the middle of the week.  

Christmas Day was nice and quiet, at home.  The COVID surge is crazy here, so probably more on lockdown than ever.  COVID aside, it's not worth risking a longer drive (risking an accident) when the hospitals are full.  I expect it to be hell here during the next few weeks.  We've spent some time with our families this year, but now is just not the time. 

This was our fourth year of receiving $1,000 to donate to charity, our gift from the in-laws.  We have a long tradition of also donating my work Christmas bonus, was usually $250 (prior job).   In the end, I had decided not to donate any of our own money this December.  We will be scrambling to get our IRAs funded, with the newer car purchase, and with mega money funneled into our 401K to avoid taxes.  & probably factoring MH's unemployment, etc.

But...  Some random unemployment check showed up in the mail (I really thought we had exhausted benefits) & MH's Grandfather sent him a bigger Christmas check than usual.  So I decided to add $400 to the donations, for a total of $1,400.

In addition to that, I received a $100 cash gift from work, and a small bottle of champagne, in lieu of the annual Christmas party.  I couldn't fathom what I would spend that $100 on, I just wanted to pay it forward.  My plan was to just donate to the first thing I saw.  Thinking super local, like a neighbor in need.  

In the end, I rounded up and we donated a total of $1,550.  Our focus this year was on the food banks and homeless shelters, due to the pandemic.  

I also decided to send my mom flowers for her 70th birthday.  I just made her a birthday card, which was more than enough.  But...  I think because not being able to see her and realizing it was such a milestone birthday.  I decided to send her flowers.  

I was then extremely impulsive on Christmas Eve (when I was looking up the florist I used last time), and I decided very last minute to send Christmas flowers to GMIL.  She lives alone and is very isolated right now.  I am glad I did send the flowers, she was very surprised and happy. 

This pretty much sums up the Holiday for us.  I mentioned in a recent post that our Holiday focus is charity, not gifts. 

I know that we are extremely blessed.  


Busy Day

December 20th, 2020 at 05:05 pm

I've delighted in recent years in getting really good/creative gifts for my Dad in like the $10 range.  One example: a lifetime senior pass to the National Parks.  Others were more creative.

This year we went the complete opposite direction.  MH noticed that one of their favorite musical artists is doing private concerts.  The gift fits in the theme of recent gifts (very unique and special) but...  Went the polar opposite way as far as cost.  Was $250 + fees.  But it was also somewhat of a selfish gift.  That ended up being on my Dad's birthday so we made it a birthday gift.  He invited a couple of friends, and we also attended (online concert).  That was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Amazing!  Making lemonade out of these lemons.

I've mostly never bought school pictures of the kids (the quality is generally terrible and/or way too expensive).  But... 10th grade seems to be the magic year.  They both had really nice 10th grade pictures.  That said, I think MM's 10th grade pictures were nice *and* reasonably priced. DL's (this year) were nice but the cost was completely ridiculous.  Whatever, I could at least send all the grandparents some pictures and make it a "Christmas gift".  It's extra appreciated because we generally never do formal pictures.

{It's senior year for MM.  The plan: Just going to have my Dad do some nice photos of him in the spring.}

As to the money for my Dad's gifts?  Usually MH's mom is *all* about the gifts.  But...  She didn't want the adults to give/get any gifts this year, so probably the money we usually spent on them, we redirected to my Dad.  So that probably evens out in the end.

{Our Christmas budget is $0.  We usually only buy for in-laws, and they give us more cash than we would ever spend}.

Today is busy busy.  The prior week ended up being completely absurd, and my client wasn't ready so I had to push off my side work to this weekend.  In the end, I crashed and did absolutely nothing yesterday.  Work has been exhausting.

Today is busy busy with various paperwork I have to tend do (financial aid forms, professional license renewal, latest forms for the study that MM is participating in  ~ in all cases just a lot of paperwork).  I want to get all of that off of my plate and I also have some side work to do (my last client, that I intend to fire next month).   MH and I also need to sort out menu planning for the next couple of weeks.  He's been down to shopping every 14 days with flu season and extra so with the current COVID surge.  We just started to think of some ideas for Christmas dinner.  I also want to try a couple of Instant Pot recipes.  I just want to make sure I can get my input in today, since I will be in the office tomorrow while he is grocery shopping. 

Edited to add:  I initially forgot the one financial thing on my mind.  I think I am just going to rip the band aid off and throw $3K extra at the mortgage.  It's a placeholder goal from 2018, when I never received my OT Pay (when employer sold company).  Cash isn't particularly high with retirement over-funding this year and car purchase (paid cash).  But... I do have the cash to fund this.  I am getting more resigned to just selling investments to fund 2020 IRAs.  It feels very "now or never", since I expect that all mortgage pre-payments will probably stop the next several years while we pay cash for college.  

I also had a "typing in this blog helps me process" moment because...  I totally forgot we sold off some investments this year to beef up our emergency fund (during pandemic; never in a million years thought my employer would have a record sales year).   That cash still in our investment account. So...  Duh.  It's not even a taxable event to move that money out of there into my retirement.  I could do it today if I wanted to.  I was more concerned about financial aid and creating more "income" but I guess that's moot.   

I updated my sidebar, now that I know how 2020 goals sorted out.  


2021 Planning

December 20th, 2020 at 04:04 pm

I got my 2021 raise and so am able to start planning out next year.  

I am completely ignoring college, for now.  That is the giant question mark that will take some re-figuring mid year.

For now...  

I presume that MH will have no income.

I think it's possible his job will come back next fall, but wouldn't hold my breath that his company survives all of this. 

His unemployment expired this month.  He's not looking for a job, so I just presume no more unemployment income.  

Before I even knew what my income would be for 2021, the obvious was that I will have to choose between longer-term savings and funding IRAs.  I think the reality will fall somewhere in the middle.  I can probably fund one IRA and keep adding to our longer-term savings.  We do have $36,000 set aside in taxable investments, so that would give us 6 years ($6,000 x 6) to fund the second IRA.  & obviously the max will go up at some point, but we are also continuing to add to investments.  I feel confident we can cover the next 6 years. 

In the end, the college years are going to be very deja vu (financially) to the daycare years.  We were already kind of, "Meh, not sure it's worth MH looking for a job" and I feel this 1,000 times more as I run through the math.

What I was thinking was with a small cost of living raise and re-figuring one-income taxes, I might be able to squeeze $1,000/month savings out of my paycheck.  Currently I am saving $550/month for more longer-term and bigger purchases.  (MH was funding IRAs).  

In the end, when I took out everything but my salary, our income taxes were -$0-.  I did have a small cost of living raise, and so the $1,000/month savings is realistic.

In the end, while we've paid very little taxes since having kids, I was a little thrown off by my initial -$0- single income tax projection.  Not sure it's been quite that low since our kids were infants.   I eventually figured it out.  I had left my Traditional IRA contributions in my tax planning, which is something we never did in our early one-income years.  We always did ROTH IRA contributions instead (while paying very little in taxes).

Because $20K-ish of income is the difference between a 0% tax rate and a 50% tax rate...  I held my breath as I pulled out that $12K deduction, not knowing what to expect...  But...  Phew!  If we do ROTH contributions in 2021, our marginal tax rate was 15%.  I can live with that, and it would be a no-brainer to fund ROTH IRAs if it's just my salary next year.  

That will bring my savings down to $800/month, if I plan to withhold enough taxes to cover ROTH IRA contributions.

{I will also funnel 9% into my 401K plan}.

& so that is the plan.  I never make the final IRA decisions until the year is over.  We have the cash to fund 2020.  For next year, I will set aside the $800/month and will decide what to do with it the end of the year.  If we can fund IRAs with that, great, but I expect other things will come up.  Even at $12,000 per year (max), that buys us 3 years to shift taxable investments over to IRAs.  The IRAs will get funded, just not from my salary.

I think I will just keep throwing an extra $100/month at the mortgage, but that is going to be the first thing to go if we need the money for college.

We are also throwing around $150/month (snowflakes) to investments (can also redirect to college if need be).  

2021 goals will be roughly same as 2020 goals, but will increase cash savings goal (with extra tax savings) and change IRA funding to being funded from "other sources" than MH's wages.


College Plans

December 20th, 2020 at 03:07 pm

At the last minute I did end up opening a 529 plan for MM(17).  I always presumed we might utilize if MH took on a full-time job or we had some other sort of windfall.  Otherwise, it's just a lot of red tape with absolutely no benefit to our personal tax situation.  In addition to that, want to keep things flexible.  Our public colleges cost pennies, so want to be able to use this money potentially after college.  

In the end, while in complete limbo with college and no idea which way it might go, I decided last minute to put MM's money into a 529 plan.  There's no downside.  It's all in cash, so even if he decided tomorrow to not go to college, we just take it all out without any penalties.  It's only the earnings that are penalized if not used for college.  So...  That's about $150 per year we have to make sure to spend on college.  I think we can live with that.  We just didn't want to commit a lot of dollars that could only be used for college.  But I guess waiting for so long also dodges that bullet.  Which is probably why the more I thought about it, the more it seemed obvious we should just bite the bullet.

If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.  This was what worked best for our personal situation.  It was easier to keep the investment growth tax-free when the money was in the kids' names.  & this kept these funds very flexible.  The 529 plan never made any sense until we started applying for colleges (529 plans are not factored as much for financial aid).  & like the plan was all along: it's easy to change your mind at any point along the way. 

{I don't know what I will do for DL.  If he only applies to in-state public colleges, then it's pointless to mess with his college money.  Will think about it in another 2 years.  I think he's much more likely to go the community college route}.

I've also been thinking more about Plan F, G & H, (versus Plan A, B, C) while applying for private colleges and with MH being unemployed, etc.  The end result?  *shrugs*  Feeling non-fussed about it all. 

I think the obvious is that we can slow down or stop retirement contributions, to pay cash for college.  More of a Plan H type scenario, after running through Plans A-G.  I wanted to share for a couple of reasons though.  Mostly, wanted to share as a heads up that this plan is on the table (so it's not a total shock if we go that route).

But...  I also figured out I had been re-inventing the wheel.  It seemed like the obvious and logical thing, as we are "put our oxygen masks on first" personalities who are far ahead on retirement savings.  In the end, I perused Bogleheads a bit and those are my people.  I realized I had been re-inventing the wheel re: what is a very common approach over there.  Amazingly smart people who know their tax stuff (which might be my yardstick, as a tax professional.  In general, free tax advice is worth about as much as you pay for it, so Bogleheads always stood out to me).  But...  Bogleheads is also very crowded and just "too much" for me so I don't spend much time there.  I just sometimes go over there to look up a specific question.

It wasn't just just this one point that was very Bogleheads.  It was our entire approach to college, which is why I feel like I have been re-inventing the wheel this whole time.  If nothing else, it's a lot of "put your own oxygen masks first" personalities over there, which becomes a very different approach than the average college advice.  (The only reason we have any money to put into a 529 is because it was gift money from grandparents).

I think for most things, I have exceptional real-life mentors.  But...  probably feeling a little out of my depth on this one.  Our parents and us just went to very affordable public colleges.  My parents did not help me whatsoever with college, so though they may be my biggest financial mentors, this is where we diverge.  My other biggest financial mentor did not have children.  

So...  We are just in limbo land for another 3-4 months until college acceptances and scholarships and financial aid sorts out.   

To clarify, in the past we have decided we are "done" with retirement savings.  Our money will compound to where it needs to be at 65, if we stop contributing entirely to retirement.  We keep contributing because we want to retire early and also for the "worst case" scenarios.  

More to the point though, the biggest reason given for not skipping retirement contribution years is to "not give up retirement space."  As someone who also likes things like food and shelter 😁, we give up tens of thousands of retirement space every year.  For us, this is a nonsense reason.  Our three biggest household expenses will literally disappear or decrease substantially when our kids are done with college and fly the nest (mortgage, health insurance, food spending).  We can literally just double up our retirement contributions for a few years after college and end up in the same place anyway.  I wanted to jot this down, because it's a point I may forget.

Edited to add:  The 30% we put to retirement in 2020 was nowhere near the max we could have contributed.  But like I said, I do also like things like food and shelter.  😉

Edited in Late March:  This is entirely moot at this point.  We've ruled out anything far from home (travel costs) or mega expensive.  So...  We will keep our 20%+ retirement savings rate while paying cash for college.  If we just go with Plan A, then...  Plan H is *way* off the table.


Retirement %

December 19th, 2020 at 04:05 pm

General life update:  Life is absurd and crazy as ever, so no recent blog posts.  The work I planned to do last weekend was delayed to this weekend.  I am exhausted (emotionally, mentally) but at least have a couple of long weekends to look forward to.  

Also, lots going on financially (sorting out 2020, planning for 2021, college, etc.) so I have a few posts I want to try to get out today.  

I've got final #s for 2020.  

Expenses will be same as 2019.  The only noticeable difference is a reduction of auto costs by $2K-$3K this year, which will be a permanent budget change with the purchase of an electric car.  In 2020 we might have done a lot less driving, but in the future our fuel will cost a small fraction of what it used to.  Also less maintenance, no oil changes, etc.

While I am personally not surprised our expenses remained the same (we are aggressive savers without much fat in our budget).  I will say that this year was *easy* on this front.   I think we usually navigate a lot more pressure to spend money, and that just completely evaporated this year.  We might have also had more wiggle room in our budget for other splurges.  I probably don't remember an easier year on this front.  

Income was a record breaker this year.  The extra unemployment bumped our income by about $10,000 (above what we would have otherwise earned this year).  I will also receive a $3,000-ish retirement plan bonus, due to PPP loans.  & work was record breaking on the income/profit front, so I got another bonus on top of that.

At first I just attributed the mega income to the financial ease of this year.  But I do think it's the combo of extra income and less spending pressure.

Of course, the extra unemployment income was pushing off a tax cliff and so I put one month of my salary into my 401K.  I was hoping I could keep a wee little bit of my bonus, but it was not meant to be.  I had to put the whole thing in my 401K.

First world problems.

In the end we will be contributing 30% of our income to retirement this year.  Which is by far a record.  The prior record was 21%, the year MM was born.  (I had a generous work retirement benefit, and we had substantial savings to plow into our IRAs.  It ended up being a big % of a very low income year).

Of course, the 30% is even more exciting, because it was 30% of a big income year!

{Pretty much, we put all that unemployment income into my 401K}.

In the end, this is why I miss blogging.  I would have gotten here much sooner if I can write it out and process.  But... I guess I got there.

I started to think that's ridiculous (we do have other financial goals too).  & so I eventually got there that we don't *have to* max out our IRAs too.  Last I ran the numbers we could put $8K in our Traditional IRAs (which I will do for the tax break) but the ROTH IRA contributions seemed pointless and would free up $4K cash.  I just felt better realizing at least I could squeeze out some cash somewhere, from all this extra income.

Then I changed my mind again, because we have assets we can shift to IRAs.

In the end...  I am kicking that can down the road and making it an April decision.  I know it probably makes the most sense just to plow that money into our ROTH IRAs.  That money is *always* there if we need it.  But...  The only thing giving me pause is the whole college thing.  I think it will be easier for me to commit to the ROTH IRAs once I have some clarity on the college front.  Which should happen before April 15th, so I have some time.

If I could just sell off some taxable investments, it would be done.  But...  That's a whole other worm hole with taxes, college and financial aid and everything...  I've been very good about harvesting tax gains in the kids' accounts.  I have been not so good doing the same with our own accounts.  It's probably what I will do, but I am already so knee deep in financial aid forms and various tax projections.  Just more reason to kick the can down the road.   I will look at it next year with a clear head and a 2021 focus.  


Busy Busy & Cute Nails

December 6th, 2020 at 07:07 pm

Nope, there is no peace here.  *sigh*  Back on the crazy train.  I suppose I spoke too soon.  My one remaining 'dumpster fire' employee had *two* significant emergencies this week.  & my Dad got some all clear for maybe a week or two and is now sent back for a bajillion medical tests.  So... Back to the same old, same old. 

December is shaping up to be busy busy.  

My plan for this weekend was to get through all things financial aid and scholarships.  Instead of just completing everything ASAP, we moved some assets around and maximized our timing.   Sorted everything out by 11/30, so completing all of the financial aid forms this weekend. 

I did end up adding a College category in Quicken.  We've been spoiled with the schools paying for all things AP/ACT/SAT.  But...  Will probably spend $400 on college apps this month and $60 on financial aid form submissions.  I am just using MH's unemployment money to cover all of these fees.  MM applied for two State colleges already and will probably spend winter break finalizing his private school applications. 

The plan for next weekend is to do side work and to renew my professional license.  I guess my general plan was to free up the last two weekends of the year to be more relaxed.  

Work is so busy this time of year, I generally don't participate in the Holidays.  This year is probably extra low key with the cancellation of my work Christmas party.  I bought the kids some stocking stuffer type gifts, but that's about it.  Gum for DL, because he is getting his braces off!  I spent a whole whopping $14, and that may be the extent of my Christmas spending.   Charity instead of consumerism, is more of the focus for us.  

If things don't shut down entirely, DL should be getting his braces off around New Year's eve.  That's exciting!  (I don't know if dental/ortho is on the shut down list.  Prepping for a big shut down due to lack of hospital beds in our region).

It sounds like DL(15) is going to pass on getting his driver's permit right now.  I am not surprised whatsoever.  MM, MH and I were all "get our driver's license the minute we turned 16" personalities.  DL is the tortoise to MM's hare (they are so complete opposites) and so I was not surprised.  That said, he also never learned to ride a bike.  So we are going to lean on him pretty hard to at least get the license and the practice (even if he never buys a car and just embraces uber/lyft culture).  He just needs to rip off the band aid and do it.  He will never get easier practice than just driving to school every day.  In the end, he told us he wanted to wait out the pandemic.  I think that's fair enough and I will save the 'leaning on him' for next winter if he is still balking.  Winter break is a good time to do the online part of the driving course. 

Will have to sort out the car situation in that case, but will cross that bridge when we get to it.  It sounds like DL might be open to getting his permit over the summer.  At that point, we should have a much better idea if MM has any use of a car (based on college choice).  Then we sort out all things car.  

I did buy $500 in Target gift cards yesterday, 10% off.  I've never done the max before, but we had so much extra income this year.  And...  Expect so much less income next year.

In the end, I decided to load up all our (old) gift cards in our Target account.  So...  I ended up with $300 (probably everything I bought last year 10% off and never used).  We have $300 sitting in our account now and $500 gift cards to load once we get through these old ones.  We used to keep a bunch of $20 gift cards in hand for random gifts and stuff, but we don't seem to be using.  I had also earmarked some for school supplies, but didn't use the last couple of years.  (For high school, kids really mostly seem to need paper and pens/pencils, which MH stocked up on some point when on sale).

We spend about $100/month at Target, for groceries.  So is why I bought the $500 gift cards this time.  Instead of "saving gift cards for later", this time will just spend them down while MH is unemployed.  

In other complete randomness, I bought some nail wraps a while ago.  I picked them up on Etsy for $3-$4 per set.   They were so easy to apply and lasted for so long... I wanted to pick up some Christmas/winter ones for December so did my second order.  

I share because I have some friends doing Color Street? and a co-worker was buying some of those.  When I told her these were $3 on Etsy, she told me she had been paying $10 for some of them.  Yeesh!  


Gift Card Balances Dec 2020

December 5th, 2020 at 06:43 pm



$50 Barnes & Noble (we always gift these to FIL)




$100 Regal




$50 Cracker Barrel

$50 Olive Garden

$25 Chili's

$ 25 x 2 Jamba Juice (Birthday Gift)




$ 100 x 3 Target (Emailed/paper gift cards)

$ 75 Kohls ($50 + $25)


Note: Edited over time to remove used gift cards. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Commentary in a separate post.

Edited to add:  Duh, also forgot to add gift cards received as birthday gifts.   I will add those now too.