Home > Archive: August, 2005

Archive for August, 2005

Getting ready for September

September 1st, 2005 at 03:03 am

Fall is my favorite time of the year. Great weather, great holidays, including my birthday, DS and DD's birthday, Halloween, Tgiving, all the preparation for Christmas, which gets me in the spirit. What's not to like? Other than the days getting shorter, not much for me!

I'm also happy to put July and August behind me. Between my car troubles and hot water heater breaking, my budget (which was already stretched) was turned upside down. Luckily we were able to pay everything without dipping into savings (due primarily to the fact that I didn't have to pay DS's huge preschool bill and, unfortunately, I didn't put anything toward the home equity line). But now I'm ready to get back on track.

My big goal for September is to be able to pay at least $1000 to the home equity line. I've gone 2 months without paying down the principle, and it's really weighing on me. I have $500 budgeted from our regular checking account, and I'm hoping for the $600+ rebates from our Citibank Drivers Edge card to be sent to us. I already filled out the paperwork, but I'm not sure how fast they'll process it. I'm not sure of the timing, but we're also supposed to get a property tax relief check (~$350, I think) in September or October. That's a drop in the bucket relative to what we pay, but I'll take it. So $1000 definitely seems doable.

I'm also one of those really early preparers for Christmas. My goal is to be 90% done by the Sunday after Thanksgiving, so I can totally enjoy the month of December, including getting together with friends, listening to the music, looking at the lights, etc. without the stress of Christmas cards, shopping, etc. I usually start the prep in October, so one of my goals for September is to look at my holiday spending and figure out painless ways to cut corners. Two areas I definitely plan to target are pictures/cards and gifts. We love to get the kids' pictures taken for the holiday (and since both of their birthdays are close, I only have to do it once per year). But even when I go to Sears or JC Penney and use their portrait studio coupons, I still end up spending ~$125, which is crazy. We always get sheets of wallet sizes to send out with the cards, which I've decided is an area I can cut, because when I get other kids' pictures, I usually keep them through the holiday, then throw them out with the cards. (Not close relatives or friends of course, but kids of cousins and second cousins, etc.). So one plan may be to get the larger pictures done for us, mil, etc. (and use my discounted JCPenney gift cards), and take a picture of the kids with the digital camera to copy and send out with the other cards. (Also, I can substantially cut down the card list. I personally prefer the cards to the Christmas letter that has become popular over the last few years, but I can cut the number of people on the list). As for gifts, I think the use of the gift cards, either as gifts themselves, or to purchase gifts for others, is a good way to go. I can't do much about the list itself, but I can be a bit more creative about the gifts themselves. Glad I have a month to think about it...

I'm off to bed...I get to bed way to late at night because I'm too busy surfing this site...


August 31st, 2005 at 02:23 am

Thoughts from the last few days:

I am consumed by the coverage of Hurricane Katrina. I just can't fathom the complete and total loss being experienced by these people. It's absolutely tragic. I try to envision if all of a sudden I was told that I had to be out of my house in 12 or 24 hours, possibly never to return again. What would I bring? Not surprisingly, my list includes very few of the material possessions I've acquired over my 11 years of marriage and 10 years of homeownership. Instead, I'd go for important papers (passports and the like), pictures from my wedding, of the kids and my parents, etc., cash and maybe a few special pieces of jewelry.

Even though insurance will undoubtedly pay out to many people (eventually), I understand that the city is relatively poor. How many of these people paid insurance premiums for their few precious assets? Even for those people who had insurance, how long will it take before these people see financial relief? They're talking about it taking a month to get electricity back on; I can't imagine they'll be filing claims anytime soon. Can these people make it for that month, two months, three months or more until they're reimbursed? Note to self: maybe I should boost up my emergency savings after all...

But the thing that makes me so mad is the looting. I understand looting of the grocery stores. People are working on basic survival at this point, so I would probably do the same if I needed food, water, batteries, etc. But the people looting Foot Locker? Come on! I saw video of it on the news tonight and I think that's just inexcusable! I hope when things settle down, the police go back and review the tapes and go after every one!

Phew, that was a lot to get off my chest, but I really needed to do it. Back to my comparably hum-drum life, I actually had a real no-spend day. Not a dime! Regular readers of my posts know how absolutely impossible this is for me. I went to the post office (shipping paid by receiver), the kids' bank to count the coins in their piggy and deposit, and my bank for a deposit. Then I came home, hung out with the kids, and made dinner. That's it. A great way for me to finish up a really expensive month.

Tomorrow evening I'll be able to do my month-end numbers. I get the values of all of our accounts, mutual funds, debts, etc. and calculate our net worth. It had been going up quite a bit thorugh the first six months of the year, but the new car loan put a hit on that! I always feel good about my finances on the first of the month, because I tend not to count 401(k)s, pensions, etc. when I'm thinking of our financial situation because it's sooo far away. Instead I think of monthly inflows and outflows, which is a bit more depressing. Tomorrow should be an equally quiet day, then September 1st!!!

Thanks Retire@50!

August 30th, 2005 at 02:32 am

I think the best part of this site is all the advice tidbits I pick up from other people. A few weeks ago, Retire@50 posted about how she called DirectTv and they knocked $5 off of her bill. Consistent with a thread in the forums about how often you act on tips, I thought "wow, I should try that", then of course I never did. Well today I was surfing at (a great site for deals), and they had a link about people who called directtv and got $5 off Total Choice packages and an additional $10 off for premium packages (we have HBO and Cinemax). So I finally picked up the phone and got both discounts for 6 months (that's $90!!!!). Now, it's Direct Tv, so I'll believe it when I actually see the credit on my bill. (For any of you who don't deal regularly with them, it's very hit or miss, to say the least). But I got the guy's name and time of the call, so I can refer back to it if the credit doesn't show up. One of the fatwallet posters says he calls back every 6 months for a new deal, and if someone tells him no, he calls back a few hours later, because you get a different answer with everyone you speak to! So thanks Retire@50, for helping me to save $90...

Of course that made my night. But I also got a few housekeeping things done. Since I've pretty much exhausted the option, I listed all of the books on both and I've never done the amazon thing, but people here seem to have success with it. We'll see how it goes. I also finally opened the Sharebuilder accounts for the two kids, and confirmed that they're both eligible for the $50 bonus.

Spending today consisted of $1.40 for tolls and $20 for lunch with my sister. Also filled up the gas tank, but I don't remember how much it was (I must have blocked it out because it's so painful). People on the news say that gas prices could go up considerably more as a result of the storm. While that's small potatoes relative to the mass destruction that occurred, it still hurts to hear. I hope we don't have any Saving Advicers close to the damage...

Tomorrow I need to run a few errands, including my bank to deposit a check and rolled coins, the kids bank to deposit change in their piggy banks, and the post office to get my ebookdrop box out (didn't do it today). My other sister said she would come over to hang out by the pool, but I don't know what the weather is supposed to be like. We shall see...

Fun Weekend

August 29th, 2005 at 02:54 am

We had a great time this weekend. Friday, as expected, was spent going to the library to pick up a few videos (10 minutes before closing!) then to the ShopRite to pick up some groceries. The kids were extraordinarily well behaved, probably because they were so excited about the videos!

Saturday, we stopped at grandma's, had lunch, and dropped the kids off for a sleepover. Then hubby and I went to an Octoberfest. What a great time! The weather was perfect, food was great, and beer top notch (real German beer from a tap - yum). We spent much more than I thought we would (about $60 - mostly for food and souvenirs) but we had a great time.

We also got a great deal at Circuit City on Saturday! Hubby has wanted a TIVO for our DirectTv system for a while, so I bought some discounted CC gift cards. When we got there, they were offering a Samsung Tivo recorder for $99.99 with a $100 mail-in rebate, including existing customers! We also got the necessary cables and a new phone, which we also needed, with a $15 coupon and the discounted cards. Good day all around.

On Sunday we slept late (much needed) and headed back to Grandma's. We went to Kohl's to do some back to school shopping for the kids, with a 15% off coupon and my 20% off giftcards. (She also paid for 3 outfits per kid, which really helped). So I walked out spending about $70 total.

I also had the opportunity to go through all but one of her bookshelves, and found some more books for So I went to the website and sold a bunch of books for $59.05. Totally psyched - it will be going out tomorrow.

After we got home, I took care of all of the PTO stuff, and checked the water heater info. Much to my dismay, the energy factor on the heater was only .58, and it needed to be .62 in order to qualify for the rebate. SO we're out $50, but at least I did the legwork and tried.

My other chore this weekend was to take care of the Sharebuilder accounts for the kids. I'll be doing that tomorrow. Also, I was going to look into the bank bonuses but, duh, the banks aren't open after 12:00 Saturday to call with questions, so that, too shall wait....

All in all a good weekend. I'm looking forward to getting to September 1. August was a tough month, and we're going to end it way over budget, but I think we can regroup in September.

Getting organized this weekend...

August 26th, 2005 at 05:25 pm

I need to spend some time this weekend tying up some loose ends...I finally received the form for the water heater rebate. I need to fill it out, which I was all set to do today, except that I need the serial # and model # which of course I don't have. Also, I have a bunch of paperwork from our PTA that needs to be filled out before school begins, so I want to take care of that ASAP so it's not hanging over my head. Third, as part of my $5000 challenge, I want to open up sharebuilder accounts for my 2 kids ($50 bonus each), but I don't have their social security #s committed to memory, so I need to do that when I get home. Also related to the challenge, I printed out a bunch of different "free money from banks" offers. I've already prioritized them. Now I just need to follow up with some calls to get answers to a few questions I have. I have the set of chemistry textbooks to box up for, and some more books at mil's house to check out. This is all in addition to the usual laundry, cleaning, filing, etc. that I always need to do.

We're going to stop at the library on the way home so the kids can borrow some DVDs/tapes. Then I need to get to ShopRite for this week's grocery shopping. Normally, I'd be so psyched that I made it to Friday without needing to go that I would bag it until the following week (and save the money). However, 3 of the kids' absolutely favorite cereals are on sale (and I have coupons). Cereal is so unbelievably expensive and I hate to pay full price for it, so I need to get over there to pick some up. I have a few other things on the list as well, but am hoping to keep it around $50 or so. Given that I'm going so late in the week, I'm hoping that maybe I can avoid going next week! The rest of the night will be dinner at home and just hanging out.

Tomorrow, we're going to MIL's house in the morning. She needs to go grocery shopping, and wants to go pick up some outfits for the kids back-to-school! (Gotta love that! - she spoils them). Then, the kids will stay with her for a sleepover while hubby and I go to an Octoberfest with some friends. Sunday is supposed to be a good-weather day, so we'll try to go bike riding at the park.

I just checked my account with the electric company. I'm on budget billing, and pay $131/month. I currently have a credit of $67 (meaning my actual use has been $67 less than what they've billed me for). This has come down significantly in the last two months due to our overuse of air conditioning. I need to buckle down now so I can build the credit back up before they rebalance the account in November. I would love to get it under $120/month, but that would require a credit balance of $121, and I'm not sure I can get there from here in that short a period of time. You never know, though...

More potential $$

August 25th, 2005 at 02:48 pm

So I'm still on my kick. I have literally looked at every book in my house and plugged in the ISBNs to see how much (if anything) I could get. Aside from the $40+ package I sent out last week, I only have a few more books, each for $1+ that I could get rid of. So then I moved on to MIL's house. My husband has kept every single chemistry textbook from his college days (15 years ago) and literally has not touched them since. (My inlaws and husband are both pack-rats supreme - I think they were squirrels in another life!). So when I dropped off the kids this morning on my way to work, I wrote down all of the ISBNs for 1 shelf of textbooks and plugged them in when I got to work. Of the 14 I entered, I can sell 5 for a total of $40.38, including one for $17 and one for $7.04. Given that these things have been sitting around collecting dust for more than a decade, this seems like a pretty good idea to me. I ran it by hubby a few minutes ago and he's all for it. I'm encouraged...he has another 5 bookshelves of stuff there that I can go through!

Other than the usual tolls, parking, lunch, I had a no-spend day. I picked up the kids after work and we hung out in the pool. It's been great weather here - really autumn-like. I'd take 365 of them if I could. So no need for AC! Today will also be a no-spend day aside from commuting and lunch. I need to make a deposit in the bank, and I need to convert currency back to $$ (hubby was supposed to take a trip earlier this month, and it was cancelled so I need to get my $ back). Grocery shopping will wait until tomorrow!

Double Car Payment

August 24th, 2005 at 02:31 pm

Ouch. I had to send in the first car payment for the new car I bought last month. It was due on the 26th, so I sent it in on the 18th or so. At the same time, I also filled out the form to get the amount automatically withdrawn from my checking account. Usually it takes some time for them to get everything set up, but not this time! I went on my bank's website today and saw that the automatic debit took place yesterday. Meanwhile, my check is still out there, about to be cashed, meaning I will have paid twice this month. I don't want to put a stop payment on the check because that costs $20-25. I'm not in danger of bouncing it, so I figure I might as well leave it and look at the bright side - at least my loan will be paid off one month sooner! Still a shock when a few hundred dollars comes out unexpectedly.

Edited to add: Called the company to see if there was anything I could do about the double payment. They explained that the ACH debit was them processing my check, so there was only one payment coming out after all. Phew. She also confirmed that auto-withdrawal is set up to start on 9/26. That's a relief!

I've had a few quiet spend days. We went out for ice cream Monday after soccer, and again yesterday with some friends after a few hours at the park. Monday was about $10, Tuesday was about $5. I needed to stop into work last night to pick up something, and treated hubby to Starbucks on the way home. That's been about it. I need to go to the grocery store, but want to wait until later in the week. I also need to drop off some clothes at the dry cleaners...

Decided to (re)start my diet again today. Three things are pushing me: First, none of my clothes fit right, and I don't want to buy anything new right now. Second, I read an article in our local paper about how much money being overweight costs, specifically in terms of copays, rx, medical bills, etc. Finally, I need to go to my doctor for a yearly checkup, but don't want to go until I drop 10 pounds or so. (He's been telling me for 4 years straight to exercise more and drop some weight, and for four years I've been the exact same weight everytime I see him. Can't make it 5 in a row)! When I first talked to him about "dieting" (a term he hates) he recommended I shoot for 1600 calories / day while trying to lose, then 1800 when I'm ready to maintain. So today it starts. Had oatmeal and one cup of coffee (200 calories total for breakfast). Usually, if I get through breakfast, lunch, and snack using 800 calories, then I'm good to go with a normal dinner.

I have about as much luck with dieting as I do with saving money, so it will definitely be a challenge...

I love my Sonic the Hedgehog avatar...

August 22nd, 2005 at 04:58 pm

I'm technically challenged...I've been on this site for months, and only today figured out how to get an Avatar next to my name. Thanks to Max'sMommy, I had to find Sonic the Hedgehog. My kids are huge fans (I spent many a $$ at the Boardwalk games on vacation, trying to get them a stuffed Sonic and a stuffed Tails). As I was scrolling through, I also found a picture of Alfred E Newman from Mad Magazine. What, me worry? Tough choice, but he ended up in second place. Maybe when I'm tired of Sonic I'll swap him in...

Expensive birthday party!

August 22nd, 2005 at 01:56 pm

We went to the most expensive kids' birthday party I have ever been to on Saturday. A classmate of DS's from last year just turned 4. She had a really fun magic party at a brand new place. They saw a magic show for about an hour, then had pizza and ice cream cake. At that point, the party was officially over, but the kids were allowed to stay and play on the indoor gym equipment. My son had such a good time, I picked up a brochure thinking we would have his party there. Not thinking that anymore! The price: $395 for up to 15 kids, each additional kid $16.95, birthday child free. She only had 13 kids at the party (not including the BDay girl) so that works out to over $30/kid, not including tip and goody bags! FOR A 4 YEAR OLD!!! Given that this is the new place in town, I'm sure there will be a bunch more there this year...I'm guessing at least 3 or 4. Can't justify that at all...

Anyway, after this really fun party, we went to the museum. Parking was $21, and tolls to get over the George Washington Bridge were a whopping $6, but everything else was free. The Magic School Bus was cool...they took all the seats out of the bus and filled it with little interactive science experiments, etc. We also looked at the regular dinosaur exhibit and the planet stuff. They had a special dinosaur exhibit that's in town for a few months. It was really interesting, highly recommended for anyone in the NYC area, but the kids were a bit tired by that time, so they didn't get as much out of it. I decided I will definitely renew my membership. It expires in September, and costs $100 (tax deductible) for a family, but tickets to all these special exhibits are free. In the case of the dinosaur exhibits, it would have cost about $50 if we had to purchase them, and we definitely visit a few times a year, so it pays for itself. (Not to mention being educational and a good cause). It's always a fun day.

Sunday we had the barbeque. That was fun, though steamy, and as expected we have a ton of food leftover. I froze enough meat to last for 7 meals for DH and me, not including what I left in the fridge for tonight. Good deal...

So now I'm back at work for the beginning of another quiet week. DD has soccer tonight, and that's about it for the week. I also decided to stop the daily tracking. After religiously doing it for over two weeks, it's obvious to me that I spend a lot of money on tolls and gas, and unnecessary money on food when I'm at work or on the go. So now it's time to figure out how I'm going to get motivated to change that...

Energy Rebate

August 19th, 2005 at 05:18 pm

Always trying to make lemonade out of lemons...

I was surfing around my gas / electric company websites and I found a rebate offer of $50 if you install an energy efficient hot water heater. Wahoo. I'll double check when I get home, but I'm sure the one we just installed a few weeks ago meets the criteria. The gas company is sending out the forms as we speak. Sometimes it pays to surf...


August 19th, 2005 at 03:00 pm

So happy it's favorite day of the week!

Yesterday was my long day at work. I was out of the house by 8:30, and didn't get back until about 8:00 at night. The good thing is that I can't go anywhere and spend money, so other than gas, it was a pretty inexpensive day:

Thursday spending:
Tolls $1.40
Parking $20
Lunch $5
Gas $34

I'm going to BJs after work today, where I need to pick up a few things for Sunday's BBQ. Then, I'm taking MIL to ShopRite. She offered to pick up all of the meat for Sunday, which will save me beaucoup bucks. Then I need to go home tonight and clean, clean, clean. I also have to run out to Toys R Us to pick up a present for a birthday party DS is going to tomorrow. Fortunately I have a stash of discounted gift cards, so there will be no cash out of pocket.

Tomorrow should be great. In addition to the party, we're heading to the Museum of Natural History in the afternoon. In addition to a new dinosaur exhibit, they're having Ms. Frizzle and the Magic School Bus out front. (For anyone whose heard of this, we think the Magic School Bus is great!). We're museum members, so the museum itself will be free, though we'll have to pay parking, tolls, and gas, which adds up. Still easily justified. Then MIL is taking the kids for a sleepover, and we're going to a friend's house for cocktails/appetizers. Knowing my friend she'll have enough food for an army, as she's making a lot, and everyone's bringing something, so we won't need to have a big dinner at home.

Then Sunday's the BBQ. Hope the weather holds up...

Concerned about future costs

August 18th, 2005 at 03:10 pm

Ooh, this has been a pretty tough week, especially where future finances are concerned. I forgot to mention on Tuesday that the friendly neighborhood Real Estate Appraiser dropped by. Our town (as well as our whole county) is in the middle of a real estate revaluation. Hasn't happened in over 10 years, so now it's time. He measured the outside of the house and looked around the inside at the # of rooms, baths, etc. and said I'll get a letter announcing the damage in a few months. A friend of mine in town who was one of the first ones to be reassessed will be paying - are you ready for this - $15,000/year in taxes! Obscene! She lives in a bigger, newer house than mine (4000 sf vs. 3000 sf, approx), but she is on a small plot of land (1/4 acre? McMansion), while I'm on an acre. I currently pay $8300 in taxes and am really sweating this out! Countywide, rates have increased about 40% during this revaluation. My only hope is that they're taking so long to get through the town that the rates won't be ready for 2006. The upside, of course, is that property values have also shot through the roof, but that's of little comfort when it's just a paper gain...we have no intention of selling anytime in the near future.

On a lesser, but more immediate scale, I read in the paper today that the gas company received approval for a 10% rate hike. Not unexpected, I guess...their costs are going up too. I'm on budget billing, and my monthly gas bill is $175. I'm also way over so far, so when they rebalance in November, I'm expecting that it will go up ~$40, not including this hike. At least I don't have oil heat anymore. We converted in 1998. At the time, I think we were paying $.89/gallon, not it's up to $2.41!!! I wish I could stop time for a while...

On a positive note, I finally mailed out the books to, for $43.85. I have a few more books lying around that I know they'll take, and about two dozen more that I need to enter and see.

Spending for Wednesday:

Gas $48.02 (SUV - close to empty)
Tolls $1.40
Breakfast $1.22
Lunch $2.95

No great shakes here...just the usual.

My cup of tea...

August 17th, 2005 at 01:12 am

I just sat down to the computer after getting the kids to sleep, and my tea bag broke. I have a bazillion bits of tea floating around the cup. No big deal, relaxation postponed for another two minutes...

I'm back. The last two days have been relatively uneventful. Yesterday was payday for hubby and me, so I paid the bills and updated the budget. August marks the end of my biggest financial break: Two months of no preschool/afterschool/childcare costs for the kids ($942/month total). Bills will be sent in later this month Frown Normally I look forward to the extra cushion in the budget during the summer, but unfortunately this year they were sucked up by car trouble. Only 10 more preschool payments to go!!!

I've mentioned in a couple of places over the last few days. I finally sold the 10 books yesterday for $43.85! Now my only problem is finding a box to put them in and getting them to the Post Office. One of the books was a 15-year old chemistry textbook from DH's college days. We got $17 for it. Unbelievable. So I started going through the house today to dig up all similar items. (We've been in our house for 10 years, and they're in the same box in the same place today that they were when we moved in!). I found a calculus book that they would buy for $1.80. Not much (considering it probably cost me $60 back in school!) but what the heck! I'll shoot to sell some more books there next week.

We're having hubby's family over for a barbeque this Sunday. Should be 12 adults and 3 kids total. I've been doing a GREAT job with my grocery bill so far this month (only $142+ so far and the month is half over). I refuse to blow it for this get together. Fortunately, my mil will make a few things, others will bring dessert, which just leaves the main food and beer, and the food shouldn't break the bank (it's not filet mignon, afterall), and we should have leftovers for the early part of the week. You have no idea how excited I will be if our grocery bill is under $300 for the month! And while I'm at it, gas is currently on target to come in under $300. A few months ago, this would have really bothered me, but with the price of gas now, I'll be downright giddy if I can keep it under $300. (Though how pathetic that those 2 items alone are $600/month! What's wrong with this picture?)

Spending totals for the last two days:

Tolls: $2.80
Parking/Ferry: $22.00
Breakfast at work: $1.00
Lunch at work: $2.99
Child Care: $50
Housecleaner: $90
Lunch (T): $11.63 (Fast food with the kids)
Gas: $36.00

Total: $216.42 for 2 days

Thoughts on the above: Hubby and I both agree that the cleaning lady is the last luxury standing as we cut back on discretionary spending. She was coming every week (total luxury!) now we're down to every other. I know if I ever quit working I'll have to let her go, but it will be tough...Gas is still through the roof! And I can't leave my house without paying at least $1.40 in tolls on the Garden State Parkway!