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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.

The cost of eating at work

January 1st, 2008 at 07:40 pm

I just finished getting the things together for the kids' lunchboxes. (Gotta love January 1st. Normally I do this at 7 in the morning as I'm trying to get out the door to work, but not this year!). Anyway, I pulled out my packet of oatmeal for breakfast tomorrow, and packed some healthy things to bring to work for lunch.

I spent over $350 last year eating in the cafeteria. (It's conveniently broken out on our pay stubs). Unbelievable. It didn't seem like that much each time I spent $1 or $2, but it really added up. Curious to see if I can keep this up throughout the year.

I also walked on the treadmill for 30 minutes and spent no money, so I'd say I had a pretty good day...

Ready for the new year

December 31st, 2007 at 04:09 pm

OK. I went through the finances and balanced the checkbook, so I'm ready to start 2008. The day didn't go as smoothly as planned, though, as DS went to the doctor and has strep throat. I'm a little cynical of the diagnosis, because his throat doesn't hurt and he doesn't have a fever, but I'm just a mom. So I paid the copay and got the prescriptions. We were supposed to get together with friends tonight, but are staying home instead, which is just as well.

I didn't have time before the end of the year to submit a few outstanding medical claims, and to finish filing my flexible spending claims, so I'll take care of that later this week. The plus is that sometime in January I'll be reimbursed for these expenses, which have already been paid out.

Broken Arrow's comment to my last post got me thinking. It's not enough to say my resolution is to "watch my money more closely", although of course I want to do that. So I settled on these 4 specific goals to start: 1) No ATM fees. I didn't tally it up, but I easily spent $100 last year on mac fees. All it requires is a bit better planning on my part. 2) No library fines. I can't add this up because I just paid it with cash on hand, but my last fine was over $23 alone! Wouldn't surprise me if I spent over $50 on this last year. 3) Don't eat out/take out unless I intended to beforehand, and no more than once/week to start (including fast food/pizza for the kids). This means that I have to plan my menus ahead of time, and have food on hand that I can cook in a pinch. 4) Don't get food at work. It's subsidized, so it doesn't cost THAT much, but still cheaper to eat at home or bring it with me. I'll think of others as I go along, but this is a start.

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy 2008!

Direct TV Savings

December 30th, 2007 at 12:02 pm

I've retrieved my blog from the "retired blog" list and am going to try to get back into the daily (more or less) blogging habit.

I read the entry on this site about not making New Years resolutions. I see the point (why wait until New Years, you don't expect to keep them anyway, etc.), but I've always been a resolution girl. There's something about starting fresh with a clean slate that appeals to me.

So naturally, one of my resolutions is to be better about my finances. That didn't happen in 2007. I didn't track anything, didn't watch carefully, etc.

So I started today by calling Direct Tv. I told them that I've been receiving offers from Cablevision, and wanted to see if they could do anything about the price I'm paying. They switched me over to their customer retention department, and offered me $16 off per month ($10 on my basic package and free DVR, which I pay $6/month for) for a full year. They are also giving me free movie channels for 3 months.
As an aside, I did this about 18 months ago with similar results. All it took was a phone call and pleasant demeanor.

I'm looking forward to blogging more. Hope everyone has a Happy New Year!

Cruising along in 2007

January 15th, 2007 at 08:21 pm

Halfway through the month and things are going "pretty, pretty, pretty good" (any Curb Your Enthusiasm fans out there?).

I am on track for the whole "workout/eat better" resolution. I've been on the treadmill 5x/week both weeks, and have eaten 1600-1800 calories per day. My reward: I'm down 4 pounds. I'm trying to let Baselle's words of wisdom temper my excitement, but it's not working. (I'll have to save it for the week I don't lose anything (or worse, gain!!!)). A side benefit: I haven't spent a dime at the cafeteria at work. Last month I averaged $35/month. So far, nada. I am going to lunch with a colleague on Friday, but it shouldn't be more than $3 or $4.

Along the financial front, I got my gas bill and it was great. My actual use was about $60 less than my budget billing, which is amazing for December (though it was unusually warm). My only concern is that it says Estimate, but it should be actual because they put a thing on the meter to be able to read it from the street. If it is actual, that would be a really great start to the winter heating season.

I've also been taking advantage of the monthly rebates at Walgreens, RiteAid, and CVS, which is allowing me to stockpile some stuff, much of which is free or close to it.

The indoor Christmas stuff is coming down tomorrow. That'll help me along the whole organizational front, because I have decorations all over the place. I'm ready to move on to the rest of the year!

January 2 success

January 3rd, 2007 at 08:12 am

Little successes, but they add up. Went on the treadmill again for 20 minutes. Ate pretty well. Transferred music from our cds to my cell phone and hubby's ipod. (We've been meaning to do that for a while, so it was a big accomplishment to get it done). Spent money, but none that was unbudgeted, so I'm still on track after Day 2! Wahoo...

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...

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!

Back on the wagon

June 8th, 2006 at 07:08 pm

Even though I'm on this site every day (and usually several times a day), I feel like I haven't been focusing on my finances as well as I should be. I find that instead of posting daily, I've only been posting two or three times a week, and I've lost track of some things I wanted to do.

So I went back and reread my entries from the first of the year, and wrote down the following things that I meant to do, but never got around to. I'll try to tackle these over the next week:

1) Schedule a date/time to get the kids passports. They sure don't make it easy, as both parents need to appear, or one must send a notarized letter to let the other get them.

2) Check out defensive driving courses. We held off b/c hubby's company usually offers them for less than AAA, but they haven't yet and the year is half over. So I'll check out dates and times and sign us up. Cost will be $120 for the 2 of us, but we'll get a $120 break on our (sky high) auto insurance for 3 years, so it's worth it.

3) Revisit 0% credit cards. I had one with a limit of $7500 that I transferred part of the HELOC to. I tried to transfer the rest of the HELOC to a Chase 0% card, but the transfer didn't go through (my fault, wrong address), and the 0% offer w/ no balance transfer fee was only good the day you opened the card. So I cancelled the Chase card. Despite getting 0% offers regularly, I haven't taken advantage of any others. I still have about $15k on the HELOC, and am paying about $110/month interest (at 7.25%, deductible), so I really need to get going with this.

4) Double check accident insurance rates. Hubby and I both have it through work. I need to check out other companies to see if our rates are competitive. I'll do the same for life insurance, although I checked that not so long ago...

I vow to get back on the wagon...

Two other thoughts as I look back and look ahead...For all of you who did the trial memberships, I've sent vouchers in after I've cancelled and have still received the $10 checks. However, for the last one I tried, I got a letter back from the company saying thanks, but because I cancelled they can't send the $10. Change in policy? Really alert customer service rep? I don't know, but for the $.37 stamps, I'll try once or twice more to see if it happens again.

Second thought: I started MyPoints on 4/15 and I already have 2800 points, primarily for filling out the surveys and clicking on all the emails they send. I need to look to see how much I need to redeem for a gift card, but that added up pretty quickly.

New commute tomorrow

May 17th, 2006 at 03:42 pm

I came up with 5 different ways to commute to my job, all of which are less expensive than my current route. I think one of them will work out everyday, so I'm going to try it out tomorrow. (The rest depend on where my kids are and when they need to be picked up). The new daily commute adds up like this:

Gas: ~$10.50 (vs. $12)
Tolls: $1.40 (vs. $2.05)
Parking: $7 (vs. $20)
Mass Transit: $6 (vs. $3)

Total: ~25/day vs. $37.05. Doesn't Jean Chatzky have a book about saving $10/day? Here it is! And if I can take advantage of some of the other options sometimes, they're even cheaper (and of course, working from home or vacation is the best!).

So I'll try it out tomorrow and see how it goes. Because the kids' schedules and mine change, I'll need to plan out each week or month to see what the best combination is for me. I really hope the timing of this new way works!

On to my coupon train savings: I went to the store today and saved $3.50 using coupons from the train. I paid 4.05 to send the train on, so I'm down -$.55. Not to worry, I'm saving my coupons for a week or two from now when I get to use my 20-30% off certificate.

On to the regular challenge: I called Citi and confirmed that I would be getting the first $100 by June 15th, and the second $100 90 days thereafter. A long wait for sure, but for $200, I'll suffer. I received the $5 Green Giant rebate and another $10 gas voucher, so I'll add the $15 to the challenge, bringing me up to:

New Total: $849.74/$2000

Outstanding items: $100 (Citi bonus 1), $100 (Citi bonus 2), $2 (Chandon rebate), IDT Phone card(s)(?), $8 Tostitos rebate, 4.00 (Apr Walgreens), $.25 (Apr Eckerd), $5 (PNC gas voucher), $10 (EV gas voucher).

I mentioned a while back that we were moving our trip up to the end of July. I checked about using Frequent Flyer miles but none are available on the flights we checked. Regular r/t flights are running in the neighborhood of $450. We were only planning on paying for one (and were hoping it would be cheaper), so I'm going to need to absorb this too. Perhaps my $10/day savings with my commute can fund it...


I'm over myself

May 12th, 2006 at 03:16 pm

Wow, that last entry was a downer...I'm now officially over myself!

It's going to be a dreary rainy weekend, which is ok by me. We've got a birthday party and communion party tomorrow (still need to get the communion gift). Sunday we're going to MIL's for the afternoon. We usually pick up hanging baskets for her, and flowers for hubby's aunts. I'll be hoping (lucky) to keep it under $50.

I'm excited about an email I received today. I have a number of Magic School Bus books listed on half.com. Someone emailed to check the shape of the books, because they wanted them for gifts. I wrote back that they were practically new, and to let me know which ones she wanted. I'm hoping that she'll buy a few of them, which will add $2 each to my challenge.

My goal this weekend (in addition to relaxing) is to start the review of my budget. I took out a new finance book from the library...mostly the same stuff, but I'll use it as reference as I go through my list.

Seeing the glass half-empty...

May 9th, 2006 at 04:08 pm

As I caught up to date with my budget, I figured something discouraging out: The top 3 categories in my budget account for 59% of my spending and I can't/won't do anything about it.

Taxes (Federal/State/FICA/OASDI) top the list at 25% of our gross pay. I already max out our 401(k)s, take advantage of FSAs, pay pretax for health and commuting expenses, itemize deductions, and invest in low-turnover, growth mutual funds. Other than the drastic measure of quitting my job (which I don't want to do), I can't think of anything else to get this category down.

Mortgage/Property Taxes/House Insurance accounts for 17% of gross pay. We have 11 years left on a 15-year fixed mortgage at 4 5/8, which is great. We shopped around for the best house insurance (although I do need to review our coverage to make sure it meets our needs), and property taxes are going up in August, though the final numbers aren't in yet. I pay tax and insurance directly so I don't have an escrow account but again, short of moving (which I consider extreme), I don't see what else I can do to get this down.

Savings account for 17% of gross pay, and include our 401(k) contributions, and savings for our kids' college educations. I'm trying to boost this up, not cut this down, so it's staying where it is.

After the big 3, the next category is at 5% of gross pay, and they all go down from there. So the long and short of my rambling is that it's a bit discouraging to realize that you don't have any "home runs" left to hit. It's great to get the utility bills down, keep grocery spending under control, etc., but when 59% of your spending is locked up in 3 things you can't chage, it's a bummer.

So I will continue to focus on the little things. I went through an exercise last spring where I went line item by line item on my budget and think it's time to do that again. 4 singles=1 home run...

Things are looking up!

April 29th, 2006 at 08:36 am

I fell asleep on the couch last night at 9:45! This almost never happens...I'm more the 11:45 type. I needed it because I was absolutely exhausted, but I woke up refreshed this morning and things are looking up!

I'm going to a Communion tomorrow and hadn't yet gotten a gift. I was planning on getting a piece of jewelry. Money is usually the norm for these things, but the people are LOADED, so I felt wierd giving that. Anyway, a friend who is also going said she was stopping at the jewelry store to get a pair of earrings for the girl. She offered to pick me up a matching bracelet, I told her my budget and it was done! Crossed off my list without leaving the house. (She even offered to wrap it, but I thought that would be taking advantage!). So one thing done.

Then I asked hubby to take DD (and DS) to her softball game today. That will allow me to get out of the house at 1:00 instead of 3:00, which will let me return stuff to 2 stores, take care of Dad's shopping, and run some errands of my own.

Did manage to run the numbers for the end of the month and my net worth increased 1.96% last month, which is awesome considering that I had to take $8000 out of savings to cover the tax bill. Reminds me that we're doing ok, even though I feel like we're struggling. Especially with property taxes due 5/1.

On the challenge front, I received my March Walgreens rebate, which will add $6.30 to the challenge account. I'm also ready to send out April Eckerds and April Walgreens rebates. Also subtracting the $.90 it cost to mail the half.com book.

So all is good in MJRUBE94-land. Hope everyone is having a good weekend...

New Total: $830.64/$2000

Outstanding items: $100 (Citi bonus 1), $100 (Citi bonus 2), $2 (Chandon rebate), $5 (GG Rebate), half.com ($?), $10 gas voucher (Jan-Mar), IDT Phone card(s)(?), $20 BBB gc, $8 Tostitos rebate, 4.00 (Mar Walgreens), $.25 (Mar Eckerd)

Electric Progress!

April 28th, 2006 at 01:34 pm

Always a silver lining in the darkest of months...I went online for my electric bill today. Usage over the month decreased from 695 kwh to 649, for a decrease of 6.6% (YEA!). I'm on the budget billing plan, so my monthly payment is the same, but the credit in my favor went from $188.61 to $262.99. Storing up for A/C season. Also, I think this is the last month I have to pay on the overage from last year (they spread it over 6 months) so my next bill should be lower. It's great to have some good news.

This is going to be a busy weekend. In addition to getting my house in order, I need to buy a Communion gift, return some clothes, grocery shop for dad, and take care of some things on the old to-do list. I suppose I should get started...

Groceries and Gas

April 24th, 2006 at 06:59 pm

I just went through my totals so far for groceries and gas this month. Good news: I've spent $429.70 so far, plus another $35 or so that hasn't hit my credit card yet. I'll definitely come in under my $500 goal, because I won't need to go the rest of the month.

We've also spent $263.26 on gas out of a $300 budget (stretch) or $350 (reasonable). I know hubby filled up one of the cars for about $40, and I filled one up for close to $50. I don't think either of those hit yet, which will put me right at the $350 mark. I think the cars are still pretty full, but there's alot of week left. I'm guessing one will need to be filled again before the end of the month.

I need to return some clothes/sneakers I bought for DS that don't fit, as well as pick up some gifts for Communions we have coming up. The first one is Sunday, so I need to take care of this over the next few days.

Updates to my challenge: I received the $20 Lowes cards and the $20 CC cards in the mail today, so I'm adding $40 to my challenge. We're also having a Cinco de Mayo party, so I picked up 2 bags of chips + 2 jars of salsa. They're on sale at ShopRite for $10 (2/$5 each), and they have an $8 MIR. However, I had $2.10 worth of coupons so they'll be FREE FOR ME! Boy are they going to taste even better with my margarita!

New Total: $825.24/$2000

Outstanding items: $100 (Citi bonus 1), $100 (Citi bonus 2), $2 (Chandon rebate), $5 (GG Rebate), Walgreens Mar (6.30), half.com ($?), $10 gas voucher (Jan-Mar), IDT Phone card(s)(?), $20 BBB gc, $8 Tostitos rebate.

50/30/20

April 18th, 2006 at 07:39 am

I was reading others' entries about the 50/30/20 system. Mine came to 58% needs, 20% wants, and 22% savings. Although the 58 and 20 are a bit off, I'm not too concerned because a few of the categories could go either way. (For example, I need groceries, but some of the groceries are wants). Interesting exercise.

I have a few things leftover from my list last week that I'd like to tackle today or tomorrow. Specifically, I need to close a savings account, go to the grocery store and pick up dry cleaning.

It should be a quiet rest of the week. Hubby's travelling through Friday, so it's just me and the kiddies...


March recap / property tax woes

April 8th, 2006 at 11:49 am

I know, I know...it's April 9th, but I've been avoiding doing my March recap because it was a sub-par month. A few things put me over the top: We spent $509 on gas for the cars! I've been shooting to spend $300. I did great with this in February, so I expected March to be a little higher. Add in the trip to NC (~1150 miles round trip), and that added another $100+ to the bill. Better luck this month.

We also spent almost $400 eating out. We were shooting for $260 ($100 regular + a dinner for $160 that we planned for. The rest was totally unbudgeted.

On the plus side, I finally cancelled AOL ($17.95/mth) now that I have cable internet.

I'll learn a lot more about my financial picture this month. Hubby's raise takes effect this month, and he'll get a small bonus. We need to drop his withholding to zero, plus put $200/month into an account for estimated taxes. Also, our town did a revaluation and our property taxes are going up in August. We currently pay around $7700/year, and after the calculation the town gave us to estimate the new amount, it comes to about $9700. So that means an extra $175/month to that account. Fortunately, this is the last month I need to pay for DS's preschool, which will free up $655/month to cover these new outlays. Curious to see where it all ends up.

I'm looking forward to getting my coupon train...this was a good week for coupons! Other than that, I need to (finally) mail out the taxes and file some stuff!

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

February 28th, 2006 at 07:02 am

I've finalized the February numbers. The good: groceries came in right on target (actually $506.58 vs. $500, with about $35 of that coming back to me as rebates from Eckerds/Walgreens). If I can hit my grocery target in March, I'm going to reduce it to $450 beginning in April. Gas came in under ($244.20 vs. $300). Hubby may have filled up yesterday. If so, it wouldn't be more than $30-35, so I'll still be under. This is a big accomplishment for me. All of my other regular bills were on target.

The bad: Dining out was way over ($192.90 vs. $100). No great meals, just a few visits to TGIFs and the Mexican place. We'll need to cut back on this. Also, my DirectTv bill is back to normal. Hard to believe that 6 months has passed since I called them and got the $10 discount, but it has.

The ugly: I am totally overextended this month due to 3 things: A $500 landscaping bill from last fall that I was just billed for (of course I took the money from Nov. when the work was done and used it for Christmas/birthdays, etc.). The deposit for our vacation was due this month. We get a house each year with my brother and his family. They take care of the details and tell us when they need the $$. Unfortunately it was this month instead of March. Finally, one of my other brothers is getting back on his feet after a stint in alcohol rehab. He had been staying at my dad's, and has just moved into his own place and started a job. I, along with dad and a few other siblings, have thrown him some $$ along the way until his first paycheck (Mar. 15th, though that will be prorated. First full check comes April 15). I never expected to get the money back, but still lent him a bit more than I'm comfortable with. I'll get the full amount back over the next few months (especially since I'm managing his checking account Smile) but I could really use it now.

So unfortunately, I'm not paying anything toward the HELOC, and I still have the looming tax bill, which will come from savings...I'll calculate my net worth tonight after the markets close (always makes me feel better seeing my 401(k) balance), and hope for a better financial March...

Eating out too much...

February 21st, 2006 at 08:02 am

I added up a few categories to see how I'm doing so far this month. I'm right on track with gas for the car ($214/$300). I think I'll come in under for groceries - a first($367/$500), with only one more trip this weekend. The downer for the month is eating out. I only budget $100/month, and although I haven't actually added it up, I know I'm way over (about $175 so far). Ouch. I'll also be over next month, as hubby and I go to an annual fundraiser for $200, in addition to any regular eating out we'll do. Hmmm.

I'm expecting a pretty quiet week. I'm taking Friday off, so it will be a 3-day week for me. Hubby has a few dinner meetings, which will give me some time alone after the kids go to sleep. One of my goals is to see other options for selling used books besides half.com and amazon. I want to look into Swapbooks and ecampus, so if anyone has any experience with either of these, please let me know. Thanks!

Mounds of snow...

February 13th, 2006 at 06:46 am

I looked back at my last entry and saw that we were expecting 6-12" of snow. Yeah, right. 20 inches was more like it! Fortunately, we have a snowblower (great investment made AFTER the blizzard of 1996!), but the snow was so wet and heavy (and so much) that it still took hubby a long time to do the driveway. The kids loved it, though...

Friday I did pick up the free stuff at Walgreens. Plan is to get the rebate back as a Walgreens gift card and pick up the 10% bonus. (Total=$10 + $1 bonus). The $1 bonus will go toward my challenge, the rest back in my account, as I wouldn't have bought the stuff w/o the rebate. The kids also went for haircuts - $35 total. I've got to check out the local coupons to find a cheaper place.

Saturday, I went to used book sales at two libraries. Given my recent uneasiness with ebookdrop, I decided to just write down all of the ISBNs and not buy anything. The libraries have sales each month, so I figure if I get paid for my outstanding orders between now and then, I'll run the numbers through their site and pick up the books. Otherwise, it was a couple of hours wasted. I'm really bummed about all this. The optimist in me says that it seems like a small outfit and they're really overwhelmed with all of the orders and are just slow in paying out. The pessimist says they're going out of business and won't make good on their outstanding orders. Which is right? Anyway, I'm waiting on a total of $36.62 from them, for which I paid $8.64 so other than a lot of aggravation, at least I won't be out much.

Spent about $130 on groceries, most of which were fresh fish, meat and veggies. I've been overbudget on groceries so far in Feb., but I don't think I need to hit BJs this month, so I can make up for it there.

Love the crockpot...used it once over the weekend and have two more recipes to try out this week. That's about it for now...

January Recap

January 30th, 2006 at 07:22 am

So I made it through the first month of 2006 (which technically doesn't end until tomorrow, but I've accounted for all my income and outgo). Here's how I did:

I was right on the mark with groceries and gas for the car. This is a big deal for me, because I'm usually way over on both of these. The gas is even better than it looks, because I have a $57 credit coming back to me next month thanks to my Shell MC. I was also on track with most of my other categories, which don't usually change.

I was way under on car maintenance ($42 vs $150), clothing ($70 vs. $150) and gifts ($50 vs. $250). That's great, but the downside is that I came up with the estimates thinking that I would be using an envelope system, so the good months would offset the bad months. However, I couldn't get that to fly, so I'll have to see the impact of that as we go through the year.

I was on the wrong side of a few categories as well. "Extracurricular Activities" for the kids was way high- $238 instead of $100 budgeted. I'm not worried about it, as most of it is for their Spring activities, and I won't be incurring $100/month for the next few months. Dining out was slightly high ($123 vs. $100) and hubby's life insurance is up to $69/month from $55.

The biggest bummer for me is that I was only able to put $500 toward the HELOC instead of the $1000 I had hoped for. $350 of the difference was due to an unbudgeted repair. The other $150 went to my brother, who is going through a tough time and needed some help. I'm not expecting to repeat either of these next month, so hopefully I can get back to the $1000. Still, $500 is better than nothing.

Had a quiet weekend otherwise. Nothing really new, and no great financial happenings...

Kindergarten Registration

January 26th, 2006 at 08:11 am

I registered DS for kindergarten. Hooray. As excited as I am for him to go, I'm more excited that I only have 3 more preschool bills to pay! The process was painless, though I do need to drop a form at his doctor's office, and another at his preschool, to be filled out.

I took a vacation day today to get this done and run some other errands. I need to mail the half.com book at the post office, we're meeting some other moms for lunch, I need to return some (late) videos to the library, stuff like that.

I started going through my old postings to categorize them. I got through Mar-May 2005. It's interesting to read back on them. I now have a running list of stuff I meant to do and never got around to, that I should get back on my list! I think the categories are great. That way, as I think about different parts of my budget, I can go to other blogs and see their categories right away for helpful hints.

Hubby is away overnight, so I'll try to get some straightening up done tonight. Have a great day!

Feeling better today...

June 1st, 2005 at 08:31 pm

Still not a great day, but I'm feeling a bit better. The car dealer didn't find out why my car wouldn't start, but did find something else that needed to be fixed, to the tune of $245. I ran it by hubby and it sounds legitimate, plus we go to them often and think they're trustworthy. I'll take the car (again) to inspection tomorrow. It should pass with flying colors. Meanwhile, we left our other car to get its oil changed. It is sooo overdue, I was waiting for the engine to seize up on me! So we should be in good shape car-wise tomorrow.

Plugged in our May numbers to my spreadsheet and was pleasantly surprised to find our net worth going up. Our 401(k)s have a lot to do with it, and the stock market must have ended on a good note, because our mutual funds were up. I have a hard time getting too excited about the 401(k), because it will be quite a few years before we retire, but it's nice to see the number going up.

Dropped off some clothes at the dry cleaner ($19.75 - way under my usual $50). Still have library videos outstanding that will cost me a few dollars in fines. Had leftovers for dinner. Tomorrow will be much of the same. Ice cream after t-ball should be the only out-of-pocket...

Final May Numbers

May 27th, 2005 at 07:05 am

Even though it's not the end of the month, it's close enough for me to figure out where I stand. I was able to put $904.67 toward the home equity line. Not the $1680 I was hoping for (which would have gotten the balance below $30k), but better than nothing. The big area of disappointments this month were groceries ($562) and eating out ($205). We can do a lot better than that! The grocery total is a bit high because I usually charge my groceries to get my credit card points, then pay it off the next month. But when I lost my credit cards earlier this month, I had to write checks for groceries, which means that the $562 actually reflects all of my April groceries that I charged, as well as about $130 of May groceries that I wrote a check for. So I expect that June's total will by WAY lower. The eating out total is a whole other thing. I usually only budget for hubby and dd's weekly trip to TGIFridays. But in addition to that, we've gone out a few times, and we've ordered out a bunch. Luckily, school ends in 4 weeks, so the weekly trips will end. I also need to get better about meal planning and grocery shopping to rein this in...

Looking forward to June, I'm going to pick up the budget again and look through it to see where I can save some more. This weekend, I'm going to program the thermostat for the AC to make sure it only goes on when it's 76 and hubby is expected to be home! Other than that, we have a quiet Memorial Day weekend. I have a much needed haircut tomorrow, and DD's Tball game at 1. Then a birthday party Sunday afternoon, and a couple coming for a barbeque on Monday. That's it!! Should be a quiet weekend...

Almost Friday!!!

April 28th, 2005 at 02:10 pm

This week seems to have gone by quickly. Not sure why, but I'm not complaining!

Even though it's not quite April 30, I finished up all of my bills for the month and I can put $2000 toward the home equity line, which will bring the balance down to $31,680! Woohoo! My other good news is that we're making progress on the electric bill. I'm on budget billing, where we're charged $131/month year-round. Each month they compare what the actual is versus what they've charged you, and after 6 months I have $168 in my favor! This is great because we tend to use more electricity in the summer months, so at least I have a buffer. Also, I'm not a big fan of air-conditioning (unlike hubby who needs it on all the time). So I'm hoping to keep it off until 5:00 each afternoon, then set it at 76 for the evening. With any luck I'll keep the credit balance going.

Although April was a good month, I'm not as optimistic about May. I need to buy some clothes and shoes for my kids (about $80 each), we have bday parties to go to, a communion, haircuts, etc. It all adds up! I'll have to see how everything shakes out.

Spent $93 at the grocery store yesterday, but that didn't include food for Saturday when we're having another couple over. (Mostly because I haven't figured out the menu yet...way to wait until the last minute). I'll go out Saturday morning to pick up whatever I need, and I should be ok through the end of next week. Although I have to do it on the sly, because my family would never agree to it, I'm going to do a "clean out the pantry/freezer challenge" over the next three weeks. (Need to stretch it out so it's less obvious). I have a ton of instant oatmeal (bought onsale for $.10/packet - can't beat it), soup, and pasta/cans of tomatoes. Also, there's leftover Easter candy that I can't bear to look at anymore (I'll have to find a good chocolate recipe...fondue maybe). I want to limit my next trip to the store (after Saturday) to milk, eggs, bread and fresh fruit/veggies. We'll see how it goes. This site has also inspired me to list a bunch of stuff on Half.com. My goal is to take an inventory this weekend and post it by Sunday night. I hope it works out. I could declutter my house and make a few bucks at the same time...

Have a great day!

Hotel mix-up

April 18th, 2005 at 06:51 am

Why do I have a happy face icon next to the title of "hotel mix-up"? Because it was in my favor!!! Hubby's birthday was last Thursday, and I bought tickets to see the Yankees in Baltimore on Saturday afternoon. MIL watched the kids, so we were looking forward to a great, relaxing trip. Anyway, we booked the Hyatt Regency 2 months ago. It was the only hotel not already sold out when we booked, and ended up costing $300 for the night. So we get down there at 2:15 for a 4:30 game (check-in was supposed to be 4:00 but we had requested early check-in). The clerk informed us that due to circumstances beyond her control, the hotel was overbooked and they needed to relocate us to a Holiday Inn at the BWI airport (about 20 minutes away).

Now this is a sign that I'm growing up, becuase the old me would have absolutely pitched a fit on this poor woman. But the new, calm, serene me (probably because I didn't have my kids with me lol) just listened to her explain that they were going to put us up for free, and pay our parking at the Hyatt (we had already dropped off our car) and give us cab vouchers to get to and from the other hotel, and give us a voucher good for 1 free night at any Hyatt worldwide, for our inconvenience. Well, all right!!! The inconvenience was minimal, and instead of spending $300, I spent nothing and have a voucher for a free night! Love when that happens! Drove back Sunday morning and, other than breakfast, had a spend-free day. WooHoo.

I think I'm up to the "gifts" category on my budget. I've made one big change to get my spending down here, and that's to buy gift cards on ebay for everything. For Birthday presents, I tend to get Discovery Store cards, as I can regularly get them for 30% off face value. So instead of spending $20 I spend $14, which is much more reasonable for all the school birthday parties we go to. For baby showers/bridal showers I get Toys R Us/Babies R Us/Linens N things, or wherever they may be registered. Combined with some coupons I can usually do ok. The 2 areas I'm still having trouble with are "cash events". In my husband's family especially, people tend to give cash for a lot of events (weddings, graduations, communions, etc.). I haven't thought of a way around this. Where I'd be happy buying a $17 gift instead of a $20 gift, I'd feel weird giving a check for $17. Kwim? The second problem area are unplanned gifts, like housewarmings, sympathy gifts, etc. They usually come up last minute so the gift card thing doesn't work. I need to work on this.

Have a great day...

Spring's around the corner!!

April 4th, 2005 at 02:01 pm

Can't wait for later in the week - temps in the 60's!!!

Had a blah couple of days. The kids are still sick, and between a $30 copay at the doctor and $70+ in prescriptions, I was a bit bummed. But I already turned in the receipts to hubby's FSA and they turn around the cash pretty quickly.

I'm still riding high from my auto insurance score. But I have to focus on some other things. I did the paperwork to get rid of my mortgage escrow but I won't send it in til later in the month, because my property taxes are due May 1 and I don't want anything screwed up. I also need to take a really good look at our homeowners insurance, because I haven't reviewed it at all in 10 years, and our needs may have changed a bit.

Next line item on the budget is groceries/eating out. Man, there are a ton of places I could cut here! First off, I need to leave the kids home because they add a good $10 to my bill each week. Second, I need to plan around what's on sale, because I never do. There are so many more, I'll have to wait until the next entry to think of the rest.

But I am struggling with one thing: Is it better to be organized (big sticking point for me) and go shopping on the same day/time each week and just buy what you need? Or is it better to only go shopping when you need stuff. I really don't know! I'd love to get in the routine of leaving the kids with hubby, doing my shopping and being done with it, but I also know on the weeks I never made it to the store (because I really didn't need anything and was too lazy) I spent practically nothing. I need to watch that I don't run out last minute for stuff, because that's a budget-buster too. What to do? What to do?

Have a great day!

Another rainy day!!!

April 2nd, 2005 at 09:00 am

First of all, thanks to whomever gave my journal 4 stars. Although I started writing this for myself, I know how much I enjoy reading everyone else's posts, and hope that others enjoy my journal as well. I'll "strive for five (stars)" going forward.

Second, yet another crummy weather day in northern NJ. Torrential downpours all day, our gutters were clogged, and dear hubby was out bright and early this morning cleaning them out (while I was getting my hair done...nice).

Third, went to the Eagles concert last night. I quickly remembered why I don't go to concerts that often anymore. The tickets were expensive ($80), but worth every single penny. The concert rocked! It was the other stuff that got me. Parking was $10!!!! And for anyone familiar with the Continental Airlines Arena, there is absolutely no convenient mass transportation, so you're stuck driving. Then, we were totally parched (thanks to Chinese take out earlier in the night) and got a 16oz soda and a bottled water for, are you ready for this?, $7.25!! The water was 3.75 and the soda 3.50. Thankfully, we ate right before we got there so we didn't get anything else. Can't imagine what the people with hot dogs and pretzels were paying...

It's been a spendy day already. Between the haircut and shopping for a birthday present for a party tomorrow, and a special dinner out with the kids later, I've separated myself from some cash. But tomorrow should be a no-spend day, and I'm shooting for 4/5 no-spend days this week. I really need to buckle down.

Next line item on the budget is car expenses. (Actually, it's DirectTv but that's the last item I'm shooting to reduce, becasue it's near and dear to hubby's heart!). We have a $17,000 car loan at 4.25% on one of our cars. We have another 3.5 years to pay on it, but I'm going to tackle it as soon as I pay off my home equity line. Hopefully the car loan should be gone by next summer.

Our insurance is expensive, but we go with Liberty Mutual, and it's always the cheapest (by far) every year when I compare it to others. One way I'm hoping to reduce this is by looking into moving our house insurance to Liberty Mut. Combining both policies should drive down the cost.

We spend between $250-300/month on gas. I've tried to reduce it by buying gas cards on Ebay, but any savings I've gotten have been replaced by higher gas prices, so I'm still in this range. I guess it would be even worse without the cards! As for maintenance, we do the regular stuff, and keep our eyes open for coupons and whatnot. I think the key for me is getting the car paid off asap and trying to get the insurance down...

Have a great day!

2 sick kids

March 31st, 2005 at 04:34 am

So my kids are sick. The first got a fever on Easter night and it lasted 2 days, and she still has a cough. My son got a fever 2 days later, and seems to be getting over it now, though he still has a cough. Depending on how he does today, a trip to the doctor may be in order.

It's been a pretty good week so far spending-wise. Other than lunch at work on Wednesday and Tylenol for the kids yesterday, I didn't have a lot of out-of-pocket. This weekend will be different, though. Tomorrow we have tickets to a concert. I'm hoping to have dinner home beforehand, but hubby may want to go out. (Free babysitting thanks to my sister). Then on Saturday, hubby wants to go to the Auto Show in NY. We've gone before and it's really neat to see all the concept cars. It helps more that we're not in the market for a new car, because then we can just look without being tempted. Finally on Sunday, we have a 3yo birthday party to go to. (I'm getting the $20 present from the Discovery Store using the gift card I got on Ebay for $13.58. Yea!)

Regarding my budget, the next two line items are water and internet. Can't think of much to do for these. Water costs about $25/month. I can definitely cut back on the amount of laundry and dishes I do. I'll have to be creative about other ways. Surprisingly, it doesn't seem to go up more than a couple of dollars in the summer, when we water the lawn. As for internet, I still use dial-up (stop laughing!). I get AOL for $17.95/month. I know that DSL/Cable would be a heck of a lot faster, but it's a lot more expensive, and this seems fine to me. I guess you don't miss what you never had!

Have a super day!


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