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Happy Blogversary to me!

March 13th, 2013 at 05:28 pm

What is it about March that makes people start their blogs? Taxes maybe? I just looked back at my first entry 8 long years ago. Like many, I started by lurking on the site. I wrote back then that I had checked out many other sites, and felt most comfortable here.

Truer words were never spoken. Over the years I've ebbed and flowed with my posts, but always keep up with everyone else's progress. I've made great friends, some of whom have even transitioned over to my "real" life - facebook and in one case, a real-life meet up! Such a great community...

On to the meat and potatoes...

Still waiting to hear back from the Accountant. Not suprised he's taking so long, I'm just anxious.

52-Week Yahtzee Challenge: $8 last week, bringing my total to $78.

Haven't been on Swagbux for 2 weeks because I've just been buried at work. Perhaps I'll try to go for a few surveys tonight. If not, I'll get back to it over the weekend for sure.

I'm a bit behind in getting stuff done. I have some bills to write, checkbook to balance, phone calls to make. Just stuff. I need to write it down and knock it out.

Thanks for a great 8 years...

Glad the week is over

March 9th, 2013 at 05:37 am

It was a loooong week at work. Tons of meetings with no "real" work getting done. Unfortunately, it means I need to do some this weekend, but at least I'll be in the comfort of my home!

Today we have a basketball game and an indoor soccer game, with an entire house to clean (really clean) in between. Tomorrow we have nothing on the agenda, except the above mentioned work, so I should be caught up by the end of the weekend.

On the financial front, March is shaping up to be a tough month, as expected. We got the taxes off to the accountant last week, and are waiting for the results. In the meantime, groceries and gas are the two areas that I need to try to really hold down so I can end the month where I expect.

I had an amazing bout of willpower last night, that I hope will last. Hubby was supposed to have a business trip when the kids are on spring break, but it was cancelled. He suggested going to our favorite place in Florida for the week, and found round-trip flights for $258/pp (great price).

I was SOOO tempted to jump right on it, especially given the snow and all around crummy weather we've had. But when I really thought about it, that would be close to $1200 airfare, another $1300 for the house rental, $400 or so for the car rental, $200 for car service to the airport (limited and expensive parking for your own car), $300 to board the dog, plus dining out and other expenses when we got down there. Our "hey these are really cheap fares" vacation was turning into a $4,000+ vacation.

I suggested to hubby that we forego. Given the big uncertainty with the tax situation, and the HELOC I'm trying to pay down, I couldn't justify it. I think he was ok with that, but the topic may come up again. I'll have to steel myself for it Smile

Thankful for the kindness of strangers

March 4th, 2013 at 03:43 pm

Today was a Monday in every sense of the word! In attempting to make my train, I tripped and fell on the sidewalk. Unbeknownst to me, my pocketbook opened and my two checkbooks fell out. I had no idea until I was arriving home this evening. An elderly gentleman out for a walk found my checkbooks and called my house. I picked them up on my way home, safe and sound.

I feel SO fortunate that they were found and returned, without the hassle of having to close and switch accounts. I'm also lucky it wasn't snowy or rainy, in which case they would have been ruined.

And the meeting I was rushing to catch the train for was cancelled. :|

Last night we FINALLY pulled together our taxes, and hubby mailed them off to the Accountant today. The results will be dreadful - we're going to owe many thousands of dollars. (That'll teach us to not increase the estimated tax we pay throughout the year when we see things are going well). The accountant gave us a heads up a few months ago, so we've been setting aside money, but it will still be painful to write the check. I'm just glad that the task is done so we can move on.

I also put $9 into the Yahtzee challenge last week, bring my total to $70.

DS has a basketball game tonight, then dinner, then RELAXING for me! Much needed after this day.

Giving DS-12 a money lesson

March 3rd, 2013 at 07:02 am

Had the opportunity yesterday to give DS (12) a money lesson. He's aware of the Amazon gift cards I receive through Swagbux. I snagged another one yesterday, and mentioned that I will now have $60 in the account. Here's our conversation:

Mom: "Hey, I snagged another $5 Amazon GC on Swagbux today. I'm up to $60."
Son: "Cool. I was looking at a new XBOX game, and if you pre-order it on Amazon, you get an extra (blah, blah). The game is $60, which is the same price as GameStop and Best Buy. Can I order it?" (At least he comparison shops)!
Mom: "Do you have the money for it?" (He gets money from grandma and others for Christmas and birthdays).
Son: "Yeah, but you have the gift cards. That way, I don't need to use my money."
Mom: "Dude, gift cards are just like money. If I don't use my gift cards on this game, I can use them for something else down the road. It's exactly the same thing as cash, it's just that I can only use them at Amazon."
Son: "But you got them for free."
Mom: "They weren't "free". I had to spend my time to get them, just like at work I have to spend time to get paid. If you want the game, you need to give me the money for it."
Son: "I'll think about it".

Yes, you think a lot harder about it when it's cash out of your own pocket. In the end, I'm guessing he'll go ahead and fork over the money for it, but I'd say it's a 7.5 on a scale of 1-10, instead of a 12 if I were paying. If he goes ahead, I'll use the gift cards to pay and add the cash to my gift envelope, to give me flexibility to spend it elsewhere in the future.

Does anyone have good suggestions for making the connection to kids that gift cards = cash (almost)?

Month end wrap-up

February 26th, 2013 at 07:32 pm

I made it through February on track. The highlights:

I got a last minute snowflake of $14.01 this afternoon. That brought my monthly snowflake total to $69.65. My goal is an extra $100 each month, so I'm going to add the extra $30.35. Along with the regularly scheduled $500, that will make a total of $600 to the HELOC. So that's on track. I need another $600 for March and April, then should be able to boost it up to $1500/month thereafter. So exciting!

I also forgot to report on last week's 52-week challenge. I added $4 to the envelope, bringing my total to $61.

Finally, I earned enough SB to get 5 x $5 Amazon gift cards, which is my goal each month. That brings my total to $55. Woohoo...

March and April will be tough. We're going to owe quite a bit in taxes, and we have some other big expenses. I'm doing my best to plan for it all and make it work. Two months down and I'm still in good shape, so I'll take it!

Thanks to those of you who are doing so well with your snowflakes. You're inspiring me every day. I love reading about your progress!

Thoughts on Dave Ramsey

February 24th, 2013 at 09:24 am

I finally lost a post. After reading about others who've had the same fate, it finally happened to me. Arghh!

I started listening to Dave Ramsey's podcast. I never followed his plan, but just happen to be somewhere between steps 4-6 (saving for retirement, saving for college, paying down Heloc). I had a question for anyone out there who follows him, and and two "a-ha" moments.

Question: Why does he list saving for college as step 5 and paying off mortgage as step 6? I would think paying off the house would be the same as saving for retirement: your kids can find different ways to get through school, but you're getting older and need to be debt free. I'm saving for both at the same time, I was just curious as to what his rationale is.

A-ha #1: When looking at Dave's suggested budget template, he gives ranges for how much of your net pay you should be spending for each category. I'm in line or below on all the categories except 1: Personal. He recommends 5-10% of net income and I'm at a whopping 17%! Unfortunately, this is where all of the "fun" stuff is: allowance, pet, kids' extracurricular activities, wine (our big hobby), haircuts and mani-pedis, etc. I'm going to focus some attention on how to get this more in-line, without depriving myself, if possible. This is where it's tough to be frugal!

A-ha #2: Dave looks at net income. I also looked at gross income so I could factor how much I pay in taxes into the mix. Here are my top 4 spending categories:
1) Taxes - 27% of gross income
2) Housing - 23%
3) Personal - 13%
4) Savings - 9%

Nothing else is more than 7.25%

I mentioned Personal above, and I'd like to increase savings. The a-ha is a bit of frustration that there is not much I can do about the 2 biggest categories. I just adjusted my withholding, so taxes are what they are. Housing consists of my mortgage, heloc, property taxes (a whopping $13k+) and $300/month for maintenance and other household stuff.

So that leaves me with the little categories to attack, where I don't think there's a lot of bang for my buck.

All in all, I've enjoyed learning more about Dave's approach. How about you? Are you a Dave fan? What do you love/hate about his methods?

Verizon FIOS Savings!

February 23rd, 2013 at 10:05 am

Score! MIL had Verizon phone, cablevision internet, and Direct TV in her house, to the tune of $270/month. She was interested in switching everything over to FIOS, so I gave them a call. She now gets all of that for 3 TVs, plus a DVR box, plus premium movie and on-demand channels for no additional cost, all for $150 after tax. She saved $120/month and has faster internet and more tv channels.

I then asked if they had any referral bonuses. He initially said I would have to sign up on line for a referral code, then have her sign up on line for the service (using that code). He then said "let me see what I can do". Sweeter words were never spokend. He came back and said that he'll put through the order, and we'll both get a $50 statement credit on our May bill.

Woohoo. I know a lot of people hate Verizon but I have to say that my experience with them has been pretty good.

The exterminator came this morning. He is supposed to be here between 8-12, but called at 7:10(!) to see if he could come earlier. That gave me a jump start on my to-do list, which is all done, except for the dog food and the taxes.

A productive day, and it's only 1:00!

So much to do!

February 22nd, 2013 at 09:04 pm

It was a short week that passed really quickly. The downside is that I didn't get much done. At all.

So I'm paying the piper this weekend, with an extra long "to-do" list that I need to crank out. Here's a sampling:

1) Pet store to buy dog food
2) Bank to deposit checks and cash out change
3) Local libraries (2) to return book / cd
4) But first, load cd onto Itunes
5) Renew a book that DD needs for school
6) Staples - pick up a few good sale items
7) Grocery shopping
8) But first, make next week's menu
9) Post Office - mail bus ticket refund
10) Pull tax stuff together (finally got revised W4)
11) Clean the house - never ends...

There's more, but this is the list off of the top of my head. No single thing is that big a deal but together, it adds up to quite a bit of time/effort.

Socially, DD has a basketball game tomorrow, then we have dinner with friends (fortunately, we just need to bring wine). Sunday, DD has an indoor and outdoor soccer game. (I'm praying for rain so the outdoor game gets cancelled)!

Financially, I'm planning on pretty much wrapping up the month. I may be able to see my 2/28 pay stub by Sunday, and can definitely pay or schedule the month's bills. And I found $.02 today.

I'm exhausted already!

Credit Line Reduction

February 19th, 2013 at 06:28 pm

I got a bizarre letter from Citibank today. I have a credit card with them that I don't use often (and in fact I've been using all credit cards less). They reduced my credit line from $9,900 to $9,200, because of my limited use. They stressed that it had nothing to do with my credit report or any factor other than that the amount I charge is so low. I don't mind, and in fact was thinking of cancelling the card and picking up a different card with a sign on bonus. I was just surprised.

Went off the reservation today and ordered pizza for dinner. I had a menu planned but didn't focus on it, and it was oh so easy to say yes when hubby suggested it. Back on track tomorrow!

Unrelated to money (and despite the pizza), I'm down a whopping 6 pounds since January, on track for my goal to lose 24 by year end. It's all the healthy eating!

No other great money news, just waiting for the end of the month.

HELOC Progress and Frustration

February 17th, 2013 at 08:52 pm

First, the progress: DH has finally decided that he's sick of the HELOC and wants it paid off! We opened it a few years back to do some capital improvements on the house. We got a good deal, prime minus 1/2% from BOA, so it currently sits at about 2.74%. Works out to about $100/month, on a balance of just under $45k. All this time, hubby has been fine paying the interest, because there's never been any compelling need to pay the principle. Being the more frugal of the two, it drives me nuts, so I'd throw some snowflakes here and there.

Well this weekend, he was in our bathroom (one of the projects) and was annoyed that we're still paying for it. So he's on board to get it down. I had set the goal of getting it to below $30k, which will be a much easier goal with him on board.

Here's the frustration: I closed my BOA checking account a while back and opened an account at a credit union. I've been meaning to set up auto bill payment so I could pay the HELOC electronically, instead of having to go to the branch. I figured I'd test it out with the $55 in snowflakes I have so far this month. So I set it up, hit the send button, and *duh*, realized that there was no way for me to indicate that it was for principle only, and not my regular payment.

It's not the end of the world; I'll just go to the branch and hand in the payment as I always do, but it's so much less convenient than I'd hoped. It also means I paid the March bill a few weeks early but that's ok too.

I will be *SO* happy when I terminate my relationship with BOA for good!

Frugal Anniversary Date

February 16th, 2013 at 08:00 pm

Well, it's all perspective.

Hubby gets off easily, because tonight is the anniversary of our first date (22 years ago!). As a result, we don't celebrate Valentine's Day, when flowers are inflated and reservations are tough to get. Instead, we celebrate tonight.

Hubby picked up a dozen roses, great steaks from the butcher, and the kids went to grandmas for a sleepover. We had a fabulous night - good food, good wine, fire in the fireplace...absolutely perfect.

While the steaks were pricy (but soooo worth it), it was much cheaper than going out. And I'm in comfy clothes instead of all dressed up...priceless!

I had one more $5 Amazon card hit, and will know tomorrow what my week 4 Yahtzee challenge will be. I've got a three day weekend (no work on Monday!) so all in all, it's shaping up to be a GREAT weekend!

Updates

February 12th, 2013 at 05:49 pm

It's been a quiet few days financially. I've been busy at work, but have still managed to keep an eye on things.

So what's new? Both my Second Spin and Eaglesaver submissions were slightly reduced, due to items that didn't meet their criteria. This happens occasionally, usually for excessive scratches. I transferred $48.11 in payments from Paypal, which I'll put toward the HELOC in the next day or two.

I put $2 toward the Yahtzee challenge for week 3. I had to scrape to get that. DH went on a trip and cleaned me out of $12 in small bills. I kept $2 for the challenge.

SIL just booked the house for our annual summer vacation in NC. It works out to $2,139.43 per family. I need to get her a check for $948.75 for the down payment over the next few days. I've been setting aside money each month, and so will have it to give to her.

I need to pull my tax stuff together this weekend. My company is sending out revised W-2s in March, so I have some time, but don't want to wait until the last minute (as usual)!

So that's it. Not much, but I'm not complaining!

$15 Amazon gift cards

February 7th, 2013 at 09:39 pm

I cleaned out my inbox tonight, and am so glad I did! Last year, I took advantage of a Groupon-type deal...Spend $5 get a $10 Amazon Gift Card. For some reason, I had a total mind blank when I received the email and couldn't figure out for the life of me how to get the code to apply to my account. I decided to leave it and figure it out later. Well, later is tonight. I found the email, saw what I needed to do (which was quite straightforward) and applied it to my account. Even though I paid the $5, it was so long ago and I completely forgot about it, so I added it to my 2013 freebies, because I feel like it's found money.

I also snagged a $5 Amazon gc from Swagbucks tonight. That will bring me up to $45 in AGCs so far this year.

Other than that exciting news, we're hunkering down for the big storm. We're not supposed to get hit like Boston, but should get 12-18 inches. I went to the grocery store tonight (along with everyone else) and picked up food. (I hadn't gone all week and we were pretty low). I also filled up one of the cars...crazy gas lines that reminded me of Storm Sandy...each pump was 3-4 cars deep. I'm going to get the other car filled tomorrow morning. The school already announced an early dismissal for the kids at 1:00.

DD is having a few girls sleep over tomorrow, so I'm praying that we don't lose power!

The other benefit of the storm is that I get to work at home (woohoo!).

For those who are affected, stay safe. For those who aren't, consider yourself lucky and enjoy the great weather!