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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...