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Archive for December, 2006

The eye of the disorganization hurricane!

December 31st, 2006 at 05:26 pm

What a great day. We cleaned out the closet that is at the center of all of our disorganizational woes. (btw, after catching up on some other blogs, is December 31st the official day to clean out closets, or what?!)

It's the kind of closet where, if we could just get it cleaned out, it would make room for stuff from other rooms, which would make room for other stuff, which would eventually get us to the point where the whole house is organized. That's the plan at least.

So we made progress. The closet is cleaned out, and I was able to start organizing some kitchen cabinets by moving things from there into the now cleaned out closet. Slow and steady wins the race.

So while I started the "organization" resolution early, of course I'm holding off the "healthy eating/lose weight" resolution until 12:01...Not quite THAT bad, but I'm sure not skimping on anything, including the gnocchi we had for dinner (in a light cream sauce)...wahoo...

Looking forward to a fantastic 2007...hope everyone has an enjoyable evening, and a happy, healthy year!

Year-End Numbers 1-10

December 30th, 2006 at 06:08 pm

The 2006 year-end numbers are in. They formed the basis for my resolutions (listed earlier), and they look like this:

1. My highest monthly expense is Federal Taxes. No action items here...We max out our 401(k)s, take advantage of FSAs, and have started paying quarterly estimates so we don't have a huge hit in April.

2. Mortgage is next. No action items here, either. We refinanced a few years ago, to a 15-year fixed at 4 5/8%. We have about 11 years left, so it'll be paid off before we're 50. We also put an extra $100/month toward principle.

3. 401(k) contributions are next. We already max them out, and will increase our contributions next year to meet the higher limit. I do need to check into whether or not we can write a check for the few hundred dollars between what comes out of our check and the maximum.

4. NYS taxes are next. No action items here. I could increase the 529 contributions to the kids' college funds. NYS lets you deduct up to $10k from your state taxes, and we only contribute $6k. Unfortunately, we have some debt that needs to be taken care of first.

5. We have 2 car payments. One is 4.25% and one is 3.99%. Not much I can do here, although I am able to apply rewards from my Citibank credit card toward a car payment, so I can use that to help pay it down a little earlier.

6. Fed OASDI/EE taxes are next on the list. I don't even know what these are, so I'm assuming there's not much I can do to reduce them!

7. Property Taxes - Got reassessed in 2006. Now they top $10k per year. I do need to set up autodraft from my checking account this year.

8. Groceries - Here's where the rubber hits the road. Averaged $635/month in 2006. My new goal is $575 Jan-June and $500 July-December 07. How to do it? Let me count the ways...

9. We went vacation crazy last year. In 2007, we have one week in NC planned for July 4th week. We may or may not do anything else...

10. Kids' college fund came in at $500/month. That'll probably stay the same in 2007.

So those are my top 10 expenses. Groceries and vacations are the big ones to target here. 11-20 coming up.

2007 Resolutions / Steps to take

December 30th, 2006 at 05:24 pm

Apologies in advance for this being so long...I have a lot to improve! Smile

1. Lose 2 lbs per month. Should be doable, that's only 1/2 lb per week. Even moderate exercise combined with planning and executing meals a little better should do it. Wow, that sounds easy.

2. Get my house organzied. Anyone who reads my blog knows how tough this is for me. My goal is to do 1 thing per day. One drawer, or one closet, or one cabinet. Keep it small and it should be doable. Try the whole EBAY thing, and keep my half.com listings up to date.

Even though these two aren't explicitly financial, both impact my finances, and I definitely need support for them, so they made the list. On to real "financial" goals, in no particular order:

1. Spent $35/month eating breakfast and/or lunch at work. That's less than $2/day, so it never seems like a big deal at the time, but it adds up. My goal is to limit it to no more than $10/month, by eating breakfast at home and bringing lunch. Save $300/year in the process.

2. Compare life insurance and auto rates for hubby and me. I do this every year, and as long as they're competitive, I'll stick with what I have. Always like to go through the exercise, though.

3. Revisit homeowner insurance coverage to make sure I'm properly covered, and move scheduled items from my old insurance company to the new one.

4. Reduce my phone bill by using my cell phone and phone cards for long distance calliing. Should be able to save $10/month by doing this.

5. Take the defensive driver class from AAA to reduce my auto insurance bill by $120/year. Been meaning to do this for a while and never got around to it. Also call the insurance company to let them know I'm not using the car to commute anymore, and decide what we want to do about our third car now that I'm no longer driving to work.

6. Reduce my grocery bill by planning my meals better and making better use of leftovers.

7. Reduce my dry cleaning bill by only going on Wed/Sun when they have deals, or when I have a coupon.

8. Unplug 2nd fridge now that the holidays are over to cut down electric bill.

9. Check out every organization, credit card, etc. that I belong to, to see what benefits I could be taking advantage of. This is a big one for me, because I know there's more out there.

10. Re-categorize my entries, becuase I don't like the categories I've chosen, and I don't think they're doing much for me.

As I go through the December and year-end numbers, I'll try to come up with a few more. The tough thing, as I've mentioned previously, is that my biggest expenses are either fixed, or I've already taken advantage of opportunities to cut. So now I really need to get creative. I think I can, I think I can...

Recent musings

December 30th, 2006 at 06:07 am

I need to keep my recent happenings separate from the whole "2007 resolution" thing, otherwise the entry would be 5 pages long!

Went shopping with my SIL. Made out great and was really proud of myself. 1st stop Target. Bought wrapping paper and Christmas cards for next year and a few chotchkas at 75% off. Spent about $20, but I had a gift card, so no cash out of hand there.

At Christmas Tree Shoppe, bought a housewarming gift for a party we're going to next week ($10) and a few more Christmas chotchkas for 50% off. Spent a total of $16.

Finally, at Bath & Body Works, made out great. They had their semi-annual sale. Pretty much bought out all of the American Girl lotions, body wash, etc. that was on sale. DD8 and her friends are totally into both American Girl and frilly stuff for the bathroom, so it's a great combination. I got enough to make 5 baskets for the next 5 birthday parties we go to. Cheap, cheap, cheap!

My brother and SIL are leaving today, which gives us a night to relax until MIL comes back tomorrow for new year's eve. Even that should be pretty low-key, as it will be just the three of us. I'm looking forward to finally winding down after a fun, but hectic few weeks.

The big goal today is to do about 6 loads of laundry, as well as do some cooking to use up leftovers from the week.

Car Maintenance

December 28th, 2006 at 02:25 pm

Took advantage of the week off to put our car in for new brakes and tires. (Of course I also needed transmission work and a new belt). Rather than charging it and paying it next month, like I'd normally do, I'll write a check this month, thanks to a year-end bonus. I really want to start 2007 with a clean slate.

I've also managed to go through the December numbers, and have come up with goals and resolutions for 2007. That'll have to wait for the next entry, though, as dinner is on the stove!

Sick as dogs...

December 23rd, 2006 at 05:45 am

That's what we all are here. I think it's the culmination of too many weeks burning the candle at both ends (and in the middle)! Fortunately, the two kids and I each happened to have our annual checkups this week, so I saved $75 in copays by not making a separate trip. Even better, the three different doctors told us the same thing: they'll write us prescriptions for various medecines in case we don't get better over the holiday, but they're generally against knee-jerk RXs for stuff like amoxicillin, so other than a prescription cough medecine, we're taking all otc stuff. I'm really hoping we can kick it by tomorrow, because we have Christmas dinner here, followed by my brother's family for 5 days, and my kids will be on overdrive with his kids.

As for Christmas, I officially, finally, finished my shopping yesterday. Hubby has one bottle of liquor to get today. That's it. Done. I'll tally up the damage later on, but I think I did ok. Either way, I get my bonus from work in the 12/31 paycheck, so I'll get all the bills paid then so I can start the new year off at the right spot Smile!

I do have to finalize the menu for Christmas dinner, and do the grocery shopping. Hopefully today, if not tomorrow (I'm running out of time!). MIL brings the antipasti and lasagna, and other guests are bringing dessert and wine, so I pretty much need to cover just the main meal and veggies. I have a 20% off coupon from Shoprite from a promotion they ran last month, so I'll be applying that for sure. I also have to wrap every single gift in my house...

On the savings front, I'm still trying to wrap up the 2006 numbers and set my goals for 2007. As long as I get to it by 12/31, I guess I'm ok there.

One cool thing I just found out: We have a Citibank Drivers Edge credit card, that gives you 2% credit on everything you buy. I thought you could only redeem the rewards on a new or used car. Turns out that you can also apply it toward car payments. So I'm excited to that, because the rewards expire after 3 years, and I'm not in the market to buy anytime soon, but I do have car payments, unfortunately. This reminds me of one New Year's resolution, which is to (again) go through every credit card, affiliation, organization, etc. that we belong to, and understand the benefits we get from each. There are often things you can take advantage of right under your nose, but you never seem to look...

So that's been my week. We're off to friends' house tonight and home alone (with mil) for a quiet Christmas Eve tomorrow. If I don't post before then, I hope all my Saving Advice friends have a wonderful Christmas and a happy, healthy 2007!

Busy but Happy

December 18th, 2006 at 09:17 pm

I'm totally swamped, but it's all good.

We had our big blowout Christmas party/open house on Sunday. 20 adults and 23 kids over at my house. Sounds scary, but it was 58 degrees out, so they were outside most of the time, and the house came away unscathed. We're already booking a day for next year, and I have a ton of food leftover that I was able to freeze.

All my focus for the last week was on the party. Now I'm in "1 day at a time" mode. DD's birthday is tomorrow. (8 years...can't believe it!), so I had to make cupcakes for her class, wrap her present, etc. I still have some last minute gifts to get, parties/dinner with friends on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, then Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. So it's all busy but it's all great!

Money-wise, I'm just trying to wrap up the year, update the budgets and lay out some goals for next year. I'm really looking forward (as always) to a clean slate and quiet start to the new year.

Status Quo

December 11th, 2006 at 01:57 pm

Not much happening here...

We went into NYC on Sunday. It was totally congested (100 times worse than normal, which is pretty bad), but fortunately travel in and out was smooth.

Went to the American Girl store, so DD could spend some of her birthday money. The marketing people at that company are geniuses. If you're familiar with American Girls, you'll know what I mean. If you're not, consider yourself lucky...

Made some more progress on Christmas shopping. I only have a handful of things left. I can't wait to compare this year vs. last year's gift total, because I think it should be alot better.

Speaking of comparing, I'm starting to analyze where I ended the year and set goals for next year. Hopefully they'll be ready to post before 12/31!

Gas savings even better!

December 6th, 2006 at 01:10 pm

I must have misread my last bill. I got a letter today from the gas company saying that my monthly payment will drop from $319 to $241/month! Well that's more like it. They revisit it every 6 months, and of course with the winter here I'll need to be really diligent about trying to keep it down so it doesn't go right back up again...Yeehaw!

I also got the Bullet Train today, so I'm anxious to sit down with that and a glass of wine tonight Wink.

Direct TV Savings

December 5th, 2006 at 07:42 pm

I had a question about my Direct TV bill, so I called up a rep. Turns out I'm an "A-List Customer" (oh yeah!), so I'm entitled to $15/month off my bill for the next 6 months, as well as a new DVR receiver (read TIVO) to replace one of my existing receivers. The cost of the receiver and the installation is free with a 1-year commitment. Well that's a no-brainer...I just scored a $15 discount for 6 months, and hubby would NEVER give up Direct TV, if for the football package alone! So they're coming the day after Christmas to install my new receiver.

So that's 2 bills reduced (Direct TV and PSE&G gas), and 1 bill (electric) staying the same.

Finalized November numbers and got up-to-date on December, so I can start looking at how the year is shaking out and plan my goals for 2007. I'll have to go back and reread some of my entries from this past January to see how I've done.

Everything's coming up roses!

December 4th, 2006 at 03:07 pm

First of all, thanks StressLess and HouseHopeful for the Amazon tips. I was able to cancel just the video game. Everything else should be here next week, and my account has been credited. Painless. I like painless...

I'm having a great day! Already received my November RiteAid rebate ($36.94), and my $2 Drug Fair Nov. Rebate. I entered them Thanksgiving weekend and the check was in the mail today. Not too bad.

I also got my gas bill today. Unlike the struggles I had last week with the electric company, my gas bill for the next 6 months has been lowered by $11/month. I don't want to get too crazy here...they were billing me a whopping $319/month, every month, for my gas bill, now it's $308/month, which is still ridiculous. But I ended the year with a $377 credit, so I don't have to pay December's bill (awesome, what with the holidays and all), and I still have a $58 credit to apply toward my January bill.

I went to CVS today to pick up some of their promotional items, including a Gillette Fusion power razor, free after the Extra Care Bucks and a $4 coupon, and Sunsilk shampoo for $.50/bottle. $.50 Kraft MacNCheese also. Of course I had to pick up a small thing for each kid (I usually try to shop alone, but hubby's away). Fortunately, I had a $4/$20 coupon, so I applied the $4 toward that.

My goal tonight is to start writing out the Christmas cards and take care of a few Christmas packages. I need to make a trip to the post office tomorrow.

Amazon Frustrations

December 2nd, 2006 at 11:25 am

OK OK, it's my own fault. Thinking I was on top of things, I ordered a bunch of Christmas stuff from them on 11/19. I still haven't received it, so I logged on to see what was up. Turns out, one of the video games I bought for my nephew (which, by the way, I would need to return anyway because he's not getting the hardware for Christmas), won't be released until 12/22. Because I chose free shipping, they wait until all products are available, meaning I won't get my order until at least 12/30!

So I wrote customer service an email (no phone # available), asking if I can either remove the video game from my order and have them send the rest, or pay shipping to have the rest of the items sent to me. Otherwise, I told them that I'd have to buy everything locally and return the whole order when I receive it.

UGH!!!

On to other things, we're going to dinner at a friend's house tonight. We exchange gifts with this couple, so I need to run out to B&N later today to pick up a cookbook for them. I have a gift card, so there should be minimum out of pocket expenses.

Hubby's leaving on a business trip tomorrow afternoon, so I'm going to take advantage of the few days alone to finish up the November budget, and start to review where I'll end up for the year. I'll also get my Christmas cards written up and sent out...

Finally, I need to look into how my coupon trains are running. They're doing ok, but I think some improvements could be made to make them more useful to the members, so that's a goal for the month as well.