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Archive for August, 2008

Electric Bill / Cell Phone

August 28th, 2008 at 06:42 pm

The good news: I got the electric bill and used an average of 44.66kwh/day, down from 53.12 in July and 55.59 last August. Definitely going in the right direction. We haven't used the air conditioning nearly as much as in the past and we haven't missed it at all.

The bad news: I'm on a budget billing plan that resets in November and as of this month, we have $47.02 in our favor, and actual usage was about $25 over our budget billing amount. I was hoping for a noticeable reduction when the bill resets, but even if I could get it up to $120, that would only work out to a savings of $10/month, not counting rate increases. (Don't get me wrong, I'll take it, and I'm glad to see the results of my efforts, and there's still more to do. It's just that I'm stuck with the reset rate for 6 months, so I was hoping to make a bigger dent in it).

One thing I did notice: the bill isn't due until the 22nd of the month, but they were doing the automatic debit from my checking account on the 8th. It would help me from a cash-flow perspective if they could take it on the 15th, when we get paid. I called and the rep said they couldn't switch it. So I cancelled auto pay and I'll pay it myself on the 15th. A little more inconvenient for me, but it's worth it.

Cell phone is a totally different story. Hubby dropped his in the pool by accident (don't ask). Unfortunately, he just got a new phone 2 WEEKS AGO! HE's not eligible for a reduced price upgrade and we don't have insurance for the phone, so he was looking at $225 to replace his phone. Uh no. Turns out, my MIL's line, which is on our plan, is eligible for an upgrade. Supposedly, we can get the upgrade through her, but activate it under hubby's number. I'll need to go to the Verizon store and have them do it, but hopefully it will work. We'll still need to pay for the phone, but not $225.

As a result of the frustration of the cell phone event, we ordered out from the pizza place for dinner. I was a little bummed because I had something available for dinner and we've done a great job planning our meals, but such is life. We'll have tonight's dinner tomorrow, and at least it reduced the stress level a bit...

Low Spend days

August 27th, 2008 at 10:40 am

I've felt great about spending the past few days. Yesterday, I spent about $40 for pool chemicals, but other than that, it was a no-spender. Despite the fact that I took the kids to the dentist for their 6 month checkup (no cavities, covered by insurance). Then, after the pool store, I took the kids to Wendys for dinner and used some of the paper gift certificates I had. (Store took them, no problem). Today, I'm home all day.

Made dinner in the crockpot yesterday and today. I'm really enjoying the idea of having dinner done by 1:00 pm. It also gave me the opportunity to clear out my pantry a bit (beans, tomatoes, etc.). So all in all, a pretty good day...

What we have here is a failure to communicate!

August 26th, 2008 at 04:22 am

It's weird when two people mean the same thing but say it in two completely different ways. That's what's happening with me and DH. He's totally on board with the idea of controlling our spending, but we approach it from two completely different angles.

He wants to focus only on the big-ticket items that seem to come out of our budget every month (some planned, some not). I want to look at every last dime, because I know that sometimes the big things (car repair, etc.) can't be avoided.

We did agree that one of our problems is that we were tracking our spend in a very reactive way ("Oh look, we spent $x on food last month), instead of proactively setting a budget for the upcoming month and sticking to it. So we're going to do that for Sept-Dec and see how it goes.

I am glad that he's into it though. Makes it a lot easier...

Week 2 Grocery Challenge: $89.52

August 24th, 2008 at 02:24 pm

Even though the challenge won't "officially" start until September, week 2 resulted in $89.52 spent ($111.44 before bonus card and coupons). Again, I'm relying on a few things in the freezer, but so far so good. Here's my plan to keep this going: Each week, I'm going to use a $100 grocery store gift card. If there is anything left, I'll just hold on to it and use a fresh $100 card the following week. That way, if a week comes along where I need more than $100, I can use one of the cards that has a remaining balance. Otherwise, I can save those cards for the holidays when I know full well that $100 isn't going to cut it. We'll see how that goes.

The trip to Baltimore went well. Friend offered to pay for the tix, but the cost was offset by my share of the gas (they drove) so we broke even. Fun time, but I'm not sure it was worth the $250 or so that it cost us in the end. We're thinking about dropping the trip next year.

I can't wait for my electric bill this month. The weather has felt like September lately. Cool mornings. The house hasn't gotten above 74 degrees so the A/C has been for a while.

I'm looking forward to getting organized for the week, and heading back to the gym tomorrow morning (man have I been slacking!). At least all of my meals are planned!

No more Julie McCoy - RANT

August 22nd, 2008 at 06:54 pm

For those of you who fondly remember the Love Boat, I'm done being Julie McCoy, Cruise Director.

A few weeks back, we went to the Police concert. I got 4 tickets ($110 each), for me, hubby and another couple. Shortly after buying the tix, the other hubby decided he didn't want to go, and the wife got a friend to go with her. On the night of the concert, other wife (one of my best friends) told me she forgot her checkbook and will give me the check next time she saw me. Wife's friend gave me a check that night for $110.

Earlier this week, I find out that wife's friend's check bounced. I know the girl, but not THAT well, so I feel a bit awkward calling her about it. (I'm figuring that she'll see her check bounced and call me to have it redeposited). On top of that, wife never gave me her check, either. I'm not entirely sure what her financial situation is, but I know things are tight, so I don't want to ask. Do they have an emoticon for a smiley face with a lollipop for its head (i.e., SUCKER!)

We're going to Baltimore tomorrow with another couple to see the Yankee game. Again, fronted the tix months ago. To her credit, friend (different friend from the wife above) asked me what she owes, but things are SUPER tight with them, so I'm not holding my breath.

It goes beyond tickets. It's class mom, team mom, anyting else that requires me to lay out money, and others to pay back their share. I'm done. Capital D. Let someone else do it. I'm happy to pay whatever they tell me I owe, but I'm not doing it anymore. JUST SAY NO!!!

Wow that felt good. I think I'm just sleep deprived because the Olympics are ending SO LATE, but they've been SO GREAT that I've had to stay up to watch. Going to bed at 12:30 and getting up at 6:15 for two weeks has definitely taken its toll on me. I need to go to sleep!

Daily musings

August 19th, 2008 at 12:48 pm

I sold a book on 1/2.com for $2.00 plus shipping. Not much, but better than nothing. Someone also requested a book from me at paperback swap . com, so I need to get that in the mail as well.

Cancelled my newspaper subscription. I love the paper, but I can read it online just as easily. The only thing I'll really miss are the coupons, but it turns out that it would be cheaper to buy the Sunday copy than have it delivered everyday, (if I can't bum coupons off my friends, that is!).

I also changed a service on my cell phone that I was receiving and used, but I didn't love it enough to keep the $15/month charge.

I'm really trying to weed through my expenses and shave them down wherever I can. Next call: insurance company to raise auto deductible to $1000. Slow and steady wins the race...

$100.08

August 18th, 2008 at 08:45 am

That's the grocery total for the week. Woohoo. Spent $23.56 at the A&P, and $76.52 at the ShopRite.

On the plus side, we stayed to $100, and were able to accommodate last minute guests for dinner, without blowing the food budget, which is huge for us. On the down side, we didn't stick to the list entirely. Things that were on the list were taken off last minute, and things that weren't on our list appeared in our carts!

I'm super curious to see how this continues. We had a number of meals in our freezer that we'll be using this week, so that helped keep costs down as well. On the flip side, looking closely at what we bought, there are definitely things (Rice Krispies treats!) that I could make SO much cheaper at home. So far so good.

Peach picking was a success, but we were too early for blackberries and raspberries. It was an absolutely gorgeous day! Today we're heading down to brother and SIL's house for dinner. They live about 90 minutes away (yikes on the gas), but should be an otherwise no spend day.

Also on the plus side, I found $50 in Walmart gift cards that we received as a Christmas gift last year (but we don't live that close to a Walmart, so I forgot about them!). There is one near MIL's house, so I'm going to save them for either Christmas shopping, or one month if the grocery bill needs some help. I also got 2 $5 gift cards for Target.

On the down side, I received a call from a Market Research firm hired by the auto company for the car we drive. They wanted me to spend 90 minutes taking a survey and would pay $120, but they were looking for people who go to Jiffy Lube and places like that for service, and we always go to the dealer, so I couldn't participate. Huge bummer...

Hope all is well with everyone. Have a great day!

Grocery Challenge Underway!

August 17th, 2008 at 07:04 am

Although DH's official grocery challenge was to begin September 1st, he's actually so into it that he suggested we start this week. (Who are you, and what did you do with my husband?!)

Phase 1 is done. We've read through the sale ads and planned our menu. Our goal is to shoot for $100, but be flexible to have it go to $125, which will keep us between $400-$500/month. Based on our list, we should be just around $100, though I had to guess for some things like meat, where I won't know the exact price until I see the piece I get.

I'll post after the shopping is done to give you an exact figure, but so far so good.

Later on today, we're going peach, blackberry and raspberry picking. We do this every year at a local farm and it's great fun.

DH's Grocery Challenge...

August 14th, 2008 at 06:06 am

...and my financial planner story.

I'm back. Vacation was great. Not necessarily relaxing with 2 young kids at the beach and boardwalk but really fun. (I'm like a kid myself - LOVE the rides at the boardwalk)! But now I'm back to reality.

Hubby and I have been having major conversations about our financial situation over the last few months. The prices of everything are through the roof, and it's too tight for comfort for me. I showed hubby the numbers and indicated that we really need to crack down on all areas of spending. His response: the problem is the grocery bill, which averages about $600/month (including detergent, personal and paper products).

While that's certainly not the only area we could attack, it's definitely a good place to start. We could plan meals better, waste less produce, etc. to get it down some. But I think he may have an unrealistic view of how low it can go. (He's thinking in the neighborhood of $400).

So I gave him a challenge. I'll give him $400 (or $450, or $500 - whatever he finally decides) on September 1st and he will be completely responsible for grocery shopping for the month. I'll help him however I can, as far as planning meals, cutting coupons, whatever, but he's going to the store and shopping. If he's successful, maybe I can learn some of his tricks. If he's unsuccessful, at least he'll have an appreciation for what things cost and agree to attack some of the other categories that he's avoiding now. Either way, it's a win-win for me.

On another note, we met with a financial planner yesterday. What an absolute crock! We did it as a favor to friends who used this guy and recommended him to us. He's a "wealth management" advisor. His advice: 1) stop overfunding your 401(k). (We currently max out). His suggestion was to only contribute to the company match and invest the rest in his investment vehicle. 2) Refinance our current mortgage. We currently have a 15-year fixed at 4 5/8%, with 9 years left to pay and a balance of about $187k. He wants us to take out a 30-year fixed, leaving only 20% equity in the house and invest the rest in this investment vehicle. His logic: The return on the investment plus the additional tax deductions more than make up for the additional interest you incur moving from a 15 to a 30-year.

Are you kidding me? I won't bore you with the details of his argument, but suffice it to say that we weren't biting. I'd much rather have the peace of mind of being debt free with no tax deductions, then having a $600k 30-year mortgage hanging over my head at the age of 38. I'm sure people who aren't as cynical as I am lap up what he says, and are probably responsible for all of the "for sale" signs going up in my neighborhood. Unreal.

Plan for today is to work on cutting some more expenses, filling out some FSA paperwork, and the like. I'm also going to open the windows and let some fresh air in!

So much for the challenge

August 7th, 2008 at 02:10 pm

Got an email from the 1/2.com person. Turns out they didn't need the book and asked if I would issue a refund, since I hadn't shipped it yet. Bummer...

The back to school papers are starting to come home. I got the kids' teacher assignments, milk and lunch order forms, etc. I'll take care of all that when I get paid on the 15th.

Not sure if any of you have Commerce Bank by you, but they're running a promotion over the summer where, if your child reads 10 books, Commerce will deposit $10 in their savings account. Valley Nat'l had a different $10 promotion which I took advantage of a few years back. I'll switch the kids' money before school starts to take advantage of the extra $$.

We're off for a long weekend at the beach. We go every year with MIL. I have to dig out a few gift cards form the boardwalk that had money on them last year (don't expire). MIL pays for hotel and food, so aside from the boardwalk and water park (which is actually really expensive, everything else is free to us.

I'll report back on Monday when I return. Have a good weekend!

Sold a book!

August 4th, 2008 at 05:27 pm

Sold a book on 1/2.com today. This was a good one: $4.65 + shipping. That will go into my $20 challenge, along with the $.15 I started with.

Trying to be frugal this week. I have $90 to spend at Kohls (bonus $ that expire on the 12th, due to some overspending last week!). We also went a little overboard at Blockbusters (2 kids movies/2 adult movies. Total, just under $20). People talk about the dangers of shopping with kids all the time. Hubbys are just as bad!

We're meeting with a financial planner on the 13th. It's a favor to a friend, who used this guy and really liked him, and gave him our name. No money out of pocket, but I've no doubt that he's going to suggest we move our money out of our mutual funds into annuities and load mutual funds. Maybe I'm being cynical. We have a pretty good hold on our financial picture so, while I'm interested in hearing what he has to say, I'll definitely think twice (or thrice) before doing anything he suggests.

That's about it for today. Gearing up for a long weekend at the beach this weekend (courtesy of MIL).

$15 smores - NOT

August 3rd, 2008 at 08:57 am

I work one block away from a Godiva chocolate shop. For the past week they've been adveritising smores. They look absolutely amazing on the poster...you can practically taste the graham crackers, gooey marshmallow and melted chocolate. I was thinking about picking some up for me, hubby and the kids as a special treat, until I saw the price tag right above the picture: $3.75 each. That's $15 for the four of us. Are you kidding me?

I totally had a craving for them (I don't think I've ever had a real smore in my life!), so when I went grocery shopping yesterday, I bought a box of Keebler graham crackers ($2.50), a jar of marshmallow fluff ($1.89), and a Hersheys chocolate bar ($1.50). For less than 6 bucks, we each had 2 smores for dessert (they were REALLY good), and we have enough left over, except for the chocolate Smile to make more. I recognize that stores are in business to make money, and I'm all in favor of them jacking up the price a bit in return for convenience, but paying $6 for 8 smores plus leftovers, vs. $15 for four is ridiculous!

We're going to see the Police in concert tonight. I paid for the tickets a while ago, but our two friends are repaying me tonight, so that's cool. We're going to get sandwhiches to eat before the concert, so it will be a cheap dinner.

Following Up

August 2nd, 2008 at 09:54 am

Hubby came home late from a trip last night. Instead of ordering out, as we'd normally do, he suggested that we make the frozen ravioli we had. I figure we saved $20-$25. Not bad. A big key for us is keeping food like that around that we enjoy eating and can get right out of the freezer.

I went to the Wendy's website. It says that they will still honor paper gift certificates indefinitely, so maybe I just hit a franchise that didn't want to be bothered. I'll try them at the one closer to my house and see if I have better luck. If they don't take them, I'll call customer service about exchanging them for a gift card. At least I won't lose their value, which is cool.

Back on MyPoints. I have a balance of 1885 points, which can actually get me a $10 gc somewhere. I'll hold off and get more and get one when we get closer to the holidays. Also cancelled my Weight Watchers membership. I'm paid through the 16th, so I can always go on before then to get whatever info I need.

I went to the Today Show website and checked out that piece on what percentage of your income should go to different things. They must have been talking net pay, because they said it should break down like this: Housing (30%), Transportation (18%), Debt (10%), Savings (10%), Food (14%), Utilities (7%), and Other (11%). There's no way we're keeping to 11% for other, especially if you include taxes and health insurance, which come out of our gross pay.

So I checked out what our percentages are (gross), and they break out like this:
Housing: 16.14% (mort, insurance, prop tax)
Auto: 8.82% (car pmt, insurance, maint, gas, pkg)
Debt: 0.69% (Payments on HELOC)
Food: 3.43% (groceries, eating out, food @ work)
Savings: 16.91% (401k, 529s, whatever's leftover)
Utilities: 4.35% (gas, elec, phone, cell, internet, cable)
Taxes: 30.53% (fed, state, fica)
Insurance: 2.35% (health & life)
Other: 16.77% (everything else)

I think utilities, food and other are the 3 big categories for me to focus on. My goal is to be able to live on one salary, which would put a lot of these categories out of whack.