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Archive for February, 2007

car insurance renewal time

March 1st, 2007 at 01:50 am

I just got my renewal paperwork for my car insurance and thought it was pretty reasonable, until I looked up last years and saw that it went up $200! Ouch. But before I started the routine of calling around for better rates, I decided to call my agent to find out why...and I'm glad I did.
Turns out that DH's car safety course had expired and we hadn't sent in the new one yet ($81 will be taken off). I am also due to take the course again - I have to sign up for one (another $81 off). My agent referred me to AARP - she says they offer $10 courses. I think the normal cost is around $36-40, but I can take it through my union for $18. Whichever way I take it, it's well worth the cost to have $81 saved over three years! Lastly, I informed her that DH is no longer driving 30+ miles per day, but is now driving 3-10 miles per day. That took off another $20. Now we're talking - back to last year's cost with 5 minutes effort!

oohhh, we went to the mall...

February 28th, 2007 at 02:38 am

And we spent...gasp...money. I don't know what came over us! Actually, I do know. Dh needed sneakers and underwear. So, no, I'm not really that upset about spending the cash for things we needed. At least, not too upset. It just surprised me how fast we spent the money. We dropped $51 at the shoe store for a pair of sneakers (DH) and a pair of dress shoes for work (me - a gift for my birthday several months ago - mom gave me the money to spend on clothes for myself and I honestly have been searching this long to find a pair of shoes that I liked). Then I spent $6 at Sears for two shirts! That's better than the thrift stores prices - second only to the garage sale prices and freecycle! Lastly, DH spent $24 at Penneys for boxers. oh, did I mention this all happened after we went out for dinner and before we went to a movie?
I was very disappointed by dinner. We went to Applebee's, mainly because we had a gift certificate there. Usually I enjoy the food there, but most of my meal was covered in a very salty sauce. We spent $21 out of pocket after a $25 g.c. I can't imagine spending $46 for that meal when I could have had a better meal at a non-chain local restaurant. I hate being disappointed when I am looking forward to something so much!
We, like probably many others, saw our net worth plummet today. I was applauding the fact that we were not only positive, but over $1k net worth...until today. At last glance, we were -$3! Ouch. I hope this is a temporary setback! But I'm also wondering if this is a good time to get that mutual fund I have been researching...hmmm.

More stuff from scratch...

February 24th, 2007 at 11:33 pm

I have two new recipes to replace things that I previously made from mixes - hot mulled cider and hot chocolate. Both are better than their pre-made counterparts.
A recap of the things I can make from scratch (I'm just so dang proud of myself):
granola/granola bars
hot chocolate/cider
spaghetti sauce
soups and stews
All stuff I have bought mixes for in the past...of course, some things I still use mixes for (i.e. cakes), but only when it's a good price. I like knowing that I can do any of this from scratch, so I'm not stuck having to run out for mixes all the time.
Next on the list: whole wheat crackers!

sad day at the sledding party

February 24th, 2007 at 03:38 am

I was looking forward to today for weeks and it went very badly. DH's cousin brought his girlfriend, who was injured on the first slide down the hill. The snow was packed very tightly, and the sled went much faster than any of us anticipated. Anyway, she came to a very sudden stop after her sled hit a fence post (knocking it over) and broke two vertebrae in her back. She was up and walking, but in a lot of pain. She ended up going to the ER, where the x-rays showed the breaks. She is on her way now to a bigger, more specialized hospital for further testing. What rotten luck. Just a very important reminder that even the fun events can be dangerous.
Obviously her health and comfort is the #1 priority, but I also can't help fear that in this litigious society, her parents (she's young) might decide to come after my parents, who own the land. I hate to be even thinking about this at a time like this, but still, the idea haunts me. I hate that I now feel I have put my parents into a vulnerable position. If this causes lasting damage, then who knows what they will want to do. Are we at risk? Who knows. Let's hope cool heads prevail and see this for what it is - an accident. A terrible accident.

a look back

February 23rd, 2007 at 04:20 am

I decided to look back to my first bog entry, way back to October 2005 (has it really been that long?) for a little comparison. Let's see...

"We have a 0% interest credit card...I think we owe about $1200 on that...
Next, DH has a $8000 car loan from a new car he bought last January. Our next goal is to pay that off.
Lastly, we have student loans. And more student loans. We had our original $35000 total cut down to $11000 on mine and $7000 on DHs, but we had to take out new loans for DH - about $4000 a semester times 4 semesters" (we ended up taking $8k more and putting $5k on the 0% cc)
Total debt as of October 2005:
$1200 cc1
$8k car loan
$18k student loans

New debt: $8k student loans
$5k cc2

Paid off: $1200 cc1, $500 on cc2
$8k car
$5300 student loans

Beginning debt: $27,200
Current debt: $24,800
Ok, it's not much, but considering that I spent all of 2006 working part-time and DH did not work at all, I can be happy with it. Of course, I wish we didn't need to incur more debt, for DH had an opportunity to return to school. He will now be able to find a more secure, better paying job with great benefits and a much better schedule. Worth it.

about that clothes dilemma...

February 23rd, 2007 at 03:55 am

I decided not to do anything yet, as I might conceivably need those clothes still with two boys and more kids to follow...(later! Not till DH gets a job!). Still, I wanted to do something to give back to the person who keeps my kids clothed, so I e-mailed her to ask if she itemized on her taxes. She does, so everytime I donate anything to the thrift store, I am going to get the receipt in her name (we do not itemize). Is THIS ethical? I feel it's a nice compromise because we both benefit from it, but technically, I AM lying - but then again, I'm not, because so much of the stuff I donate did come from her originally - I'm just the middleman who uses it for a year or two before passing it on to the thrift store Smile I like this solution, for now anyways. I'm fed up with E-bay's commissions anyways. I was looking with interest at the forum post about no fee auction sites, but I see that no one else really has any experience with them either.
I freecycled everything on my list today. I cannot believe that everything is gone in under a day, but it is. I dropped a few items off to a young woman who met me at work today, then came home to about 10 more e-mails. One man said he would take everything, so I made arrangements for him to come tonight. Half hour later and my office was clean again. I LOVE it! Just to give you an idea, here's what I gave away:
Toys: Sponge Bob backpack
Sponge Bob pillow/doll
Sponge Bob talking/laughing plastic doll
Little Tikes cow flashlight
Melissa and Doug vehicle sound blocks
Lego toy that makes music

Household: three partially burned jar candles
Brass/glass touch lamp
Children’s plastic clothing hangers
33” window blind (needs end fixture)
Two woven potholders
Picture frames: one tri-fold metal frame (5” x 7”), two single 5x7 metal frames, one collage frame, app 16x24 that holds 18 pictures
Five baskets of varying shapes and sizes, two in poor condition, three in fair to good condition (one is a Christmas basket)
Two decorative blankets: one is woven Noah’s Ark, the other is maroon fleece with embroidered flowers and comes with a basket for display – neither have ever been used.
White king size pillowcase with blue clouds/yellow sun design
Children’s hooded bath towel, baseball design
Small bag of word magnets (magnetic poetry)
Playing card salt and pepper shakers

Clothes: Two plastic grocery bags of boys clothing, mostly sizes 3T and 4T, mostly winter clothes but a few summer items. About 3 or 4 of the items have staining, others are in good condition. There are about 8 pairs of socks included as well.
One pair of blue fluffy bear slippers, toddler size 5-6. My dog just chewed the nose off of one as I was sitting here writing, but maybe someone will still want them to keep little feet warm.
One lightweight jacket, red with Lego logo, size 3T – great condition
Woman’s clothing: two wool sweaters (both have one small hole), one suit (size 11-12), dark pink V-neck sweater in good condition, size 8/10.

Miscellaneous: small box of pretty rocks and shells, and a starfish, if you can think of some use for that

And it's all gone - even the starfish! Whoda thunk. I think I even got my mom excited about the idea, as she said she would have more stuff for me to get rid of. Ah, now to enjoy the weekend with Dh's family - they are all coming up for a sledding party tomorrow - and back to work decluttering next week.

cleaner house, clothes dilemma

February 22nd, 2007 at 03:04 am

I did a spin through our "junk room" today and came out with a bunch of stuff to freecycle. I was thinking of dropping it all off at the thrift store just to be done with it, but I really like the idea of it going to someone who can use it for free. I really hope that it can be picked up by Friday, though. DH and I are hosting a sledding party - we'll have about 20 people. Right now I have three big piles of stuff in the office. I would hate to have to find a place for it if it's still here by Friday.
Moral dilemma: A friend of my SIL always gives me her son's clothes, as he is about 2 years older than my ds1. I haven't bought any new clothes for him in over a year now, and I have enough clothes to last through his 5th birthday (he's 3 now) easily, due to her. The thing is, she has also given me a number of new, with tags, brand name clothes (Gap, Osh Kosh, Tommy, etc.). If we can use these, we will...but she has given me so much that I have to get rid of some of the clothes because they take up too much room. I was thinking of selling some of the nicer items on E-Bay, but I feel guilty about it. I mean, she could have done this herself, but she gave them to me instead. My other options are to freecycle the items, or to donate them and see if I can get the donation receipt with her name on it (we do not itemize - if she does, then at least she will get something out of it). What would you do?

ready to invest

February 21st, 2007 at 03:07 am

...we just need the rest of the cash! I am taking the time to do a little research before the tax refund comes in. Right now we have about $1400 in our Roth from an individual stock that we cashed in (I won't tell you how much we originally paid for the stock Frown). Anyway, we will have about $3k more once we get the refunds. Since we have already contributed $2k this year, the extra $4400 will get us very close to the max for 2006 (2 Roths), something I never thought would happen six months ago. Anyway, I have decided to put all of it into mutual funds - maybe one, maybe two. Just to figure out which ones now...
I am jumping off from a list I received last year from a financial advisor through my union (he did not sell them, his fee was paid for by the union, so I am comfortable that he was not pushing one over the other). The list (from Morningstar) shows 30 funds, their Morningstar ratings and categories (i.e. mid-cap, small growth, large blend...more terms that I have to become familiar with). It also shows their returns over the past year, 3 years, 5 years, 10 years, and 15 years. Looking at a combination of ratings and returns, here are a few that look good:
Alger MidCap Gr Instl I
Columbia Acorn USA Z
Davis NY Venture A
Fidelity Diversified Int
ICAP Equity
Vanguard Cap Opp Adm
Vanguard PRIMECAP Adm
WF Adv Sm Cp Val Z

Of course, I still have no idea what a lot of these abbreviations mean Smile I also have to find out what type of category I should be in, since I am looking for long-term (30+ years) growth. But this is a "jumping off" point. I have heard a lot of good things about Vanguard, so I will probably look pretty seriously at one of their funds. I guess I also have to look for the no-load funds, which I don't know at this point which of the above are. Ah, so much to learn!

and the award goes to...

February 16th, 2007 at 07:38 pm

I have two companies to mention here for getting my attention lately in a positive way:
1. shipmycontacts.com - My expensive contacts were nearly half the price here that they are in my opthalmologist's office. I was a little worried due to some negative feedback, but the shipping was super fast and the order was accurate. I will definitely be using this company again!
2. Cashduck.com - Been a member here for a few months, but I wanted to wait until my first pay-out to mention them here. This site pays you for doing those trials (i.e. Great Fun) and surveys. I did four offers and was paid $54. Sometimes you can still get the gift cards as well on top of the payment. I was paid via Paypal (no fees) just when they said I would be. I have one outstanding payment ($21 for trying Netflix, which I was going to get anyway as a gift for my nephew - so I basically got 2 weeks free for the trial, plus money back), which should be paid by the 25th of this month. If anyone is interested, check it out. I would be happy to give a referral too (yes, I won't lie - you do earn something back on each referral too).

Thumbs down to: International Delight creamers. I wrote them a nice e-mail to ask them if they would be coming out with any more sugar-free flavors. I got a generic reply about them not being able to accept any suggestions, products are always in development, yada yada yada. Ok, I can understand that they don't want unsolicited suggestions that might turn into products down the line, but c'mon. All I wanted to know is if there were any other flavors coming out. It left me feeling like I was trying to profit from them! It reminds me of when my brothers, as kids, drew up plans for a new He-Man action figure and sent it in to the maker - they got the same response (yet, a similar character did come out the next year...hmmm)

lagging behind...

February 16th, 2007 at 07:29 pm

Wow, my frequency of posts have really gone down lately! I guess things have just been busier...or I am running out of things to say.
We are somewhat unburied here. School is back in session (and DH is subbing!) after being closed for two days. He should be getting a paycheck today, none of which is slated to go anywhere except into our savings account Smile
I hopsted our second month of Bunko last night. I am really enjoying this and I think it's fair to say that the others are too. I was a little disappointed at a few people who did not show or call or get subs. I will need to reiterate the rules a bit. Anyway, I spent about $20 preparing and won $15 back. Almost a free night. Next month I will only have to pay $10 since I am not hosting and won't have to provide snacks and drinks. I shared my bottle of wine since no one else brought any, so maybe next month I can mooch a little.
Quiet evening at home tonight - DH was supposed to play cards, but the weather is getting bad again, so they cancelled.

snow days declared already

February 14th, 2007 at 03:18 am

DH got a call to substitute teach tomorrow...and we just found out that the school is closed already. For anyone not following the news, we are about to get slammed here in NY. They are talking several feet. Wish us luck. At least we don't have anywhere to go, although we were planning to go out for a VD lunch...
I work M-T-Th and took this Thursday off, plus Monday is a holiday for us, so I also have a week off Smile Now, to determine what to do with all this time we are going to have. I see some cleaning and baking going on here tomorrow!

the curse of bad timing

February 13th, 2007 at 03:17 am

I thought I was so big and smart today when I printed off an online coupon for $10 off at Midas (got DH's brakes done today)....that is, until I came home to find a $20 coupon waiting for me in my mailbox. $&^@&$@*! How did they KNOW?

boring boring boring

February 12th, 2007 at 03:13 am

Not too much to report here...tonight was bowling night, but no money spent as we paid ahead last week. We did some cleaning around the house today. We ate leftovers for lunch and dug some soup out of the freezer for dinner. I just made a batch of granola. I guess we're getting pretty boring Smile
Payday is four days away and we have over $600 left in the checking account, thanks to DH's paycheck for subbing. It has been SO long since we have had this much left over between paychecks....it is absolutely wonderful!
Tomorrow: I am getting Dh's brakes fixed, app. $300. Shouldn't have to spend anything else.

taxes are DONE!

February 9th, 2007 at 11:55 pm

I mailed out my taxes today. I think this is the earliest I have ever done them. I can't wait to receive my refund.
$4k to Roths
$2k to cc
$194 fun money Smile


February 7th, 2007 at 02:47 am

--Received my contacts already from shipmycontacts.com. I was a little worried as they had a few negative reviews, but the right prescription came and it came FAST! I would recommend this company based on this experience, if anyone is looking to buy their contacts online. Cost: $173 - $50 rebate = $123. My cost had I bought through my eye doctor: $280 - $40 rebate = $240. Over $100 saved.
--Finished the taxes tonight. We took a beating on one certain stock that we owned, but sold in December. The upside - about $1200 more back than we were expecting. We'll be getting about $6k (not really a refund as we paid very little in, but qualified for a lot of credits this year). The plan is to put $4k into our 2006 Roths (which we currently only have $2k of a possible $8k contribution for the year) and the other $2k toward the 0% cc. That will leave us with only $2500 to pay off before the 0% rate ends in August.
--Caught up on all our appts: cat to the vet ($37), DH for bloodwork ($17), me to the eye doctor ($68), and ds2 to the pediatrician (well child visit - no co-pay). Phew. We got out of it pretty cheaply too. I feel so fortunate to have good insurance. Even though I have had my share of low-paying jobs, it seems as though my field does take care of its workers with their insurance (I have worked for non-profits, social agencies). I wish everyone had this type of a safety net.
--Showing several houses to two different clients tomorrow!! Both are good buyers. One is a pre-approved coworker who will be buying a house for the first time in about 15 years, but has excellent credit and income. The other is an established investor that I have worked with for years. I would love to get something going after my last deal fell apart after the home inspection Frown

I have to get my behind in gear researching, researching, researching. I don't even know where to start. Basically, I have been unhappy with our current investments. We have the money in our Roths, but invested in individual stock. It has been both really good (we bought Apple early in 2006) and bad (aforementioned big loss). I know we should be more diversified, since the total amount in our investments is only about $20k. We cannot afford to take a big hit on one stock, but I really have no clue where to start. Ideally I would like to set something up to deduct automatically from our paychecks or savings (dollar cost averaging, I believe?) so that we are consistently contributing. I gather from reading on this site that mutual funds are the way to go?? So...I need to hit the books...or web? Or something...

lazy = cheap? sometimes

February 5th, 2007 at 03:25 am

(I'm totalling jumping off from lrjohnson's post here, just to give credit where credit is due).
That post just got me thinking too about where being lazy saves money. I don't like to pay for haircuts, much less take the time to go get them and maintain them - so I don't. I had two haircuts in 2005 and none last year, so I average one a year. Assuming an 8-week typical schedule and a $25 haircut, that saves me about $140 annually.
I would love to have my blonder hair back, but, again, too lazy to maintain a dye job. Ditto on the styling products. I bought a hair dryer several years ago and can still count on one hand how often I have used it. My hair needs to be long enough to be pulled back off my face - other than that, I really don't care.
Make-up? Nope, I don't wear that either. Like I want to get my lazy butt out of bed ten minutes earlier to put on make-up? Not me.
So, there's quite a bit of savings right there. Sure, a lot of what I don't buy could make me look better, but it's just not worth the time or money to me.

Of course, there are plenty of areas where not being lazy saves money. For example - cooking and baking. It's an activity I enjoy, so I will take the extra hour to make a meal from scratch or bake a few loaves of bread. It goes both ways...

January roundup

February 4th, 2007 at 03:33 am

Tonight I sat down and made an Excel speadsheet for my monthly expenses. It seemed like a daunting task, but it was actually incredibly easy. In less than a half hour, I had twelve monthly sheets, each with a spot for me to list income (mine, DH's, interest, and other), along with a column for each monthly expenditure (groceries, gas, cell, etc.). The best part - each column tallies on its own, so no more writing everything down and adding it up by hand!I was going to post it here, but I had to switch computers, so I'm no longer on the computer where it is saved. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow in case it would help anyone.

January budget:
Groceries: 200 -> 190.48
Household/Cell: 113 -> 91.88
Car: 200 for gas -> 185.32
200 for inspection/repair -> 39.35
Medical: 6.83 -> 6.83
Clothes: 0 -> 18.16 (a spontaneous trip to the thrift store with my MIL - totally worth it!)
Loans: 800 -> 796.89 (no more car payments!)
Entertainment: 130 -> 100
Gifts: 15 -> 96.19 (over $30 of this was gifts that were returned to my cc which I reimbursed the giftee for)
Miscellaneous: 150 -> 250.85 ($80 to mom for miscellaneous expenses, ie dry cleaning she took for me)
Real estate: 0 -> 0
School/Day care: 0 -> 0
Investment: 0 -> 0
Cash withdrawals: 100 with no fees -> 166 with no withdrawal fees, but a 17.12 fee for E-bay (forgot to change my payment source and they charged me $15 for trying to get money from a closed acct)
Total income: 1500 -> 1523.04
Total expenses: 1914.83 -> 1768.59
That's pretty darn good, I think. I cannot believe how close I was on most categories. I'm usually farther off Smile I was even under budget on almost every category. We took a few hundred out of our savings this month to cover the last car payment.
A question: How does everyone account for charges on ccs? I used to not note the charge when it was made, but instead would note the payment when it came out of my account. However, when I was tracking expenses, the paymount amount didn't tell me what the original charge was for, so I changed my method to account for the charge in the month it was made instead of the month it was paid off. An example: DH's tuition. When I paid it back in the fall, I listed a $5k charge under school expenses. However, now I have no category to list the $100-300 I am putting toward it every month. I could create a category for cc payments, but then it would look (on paper) like I was paying for the same thing twice. However, if I don't account for the charge when it was made, then I lose track of what that $5k went for. Any suggestions?

February budget:
Groceries: 200
Household/Cell: 60
Car: 190 for gas, 300 for new brakes on DH's car
Medical: 27.00
Clothes: 0
Loans: 100.36
Entertainment: 120
Gifts: 25
Miscellaneous: 100
Real estate: 40 (need a new sign for my car)
School/Day care: 0
Investment: 0
Cash withdrawals: 100 with no fees
Total income: 2400 (I feel so RICH!)
Total expenses: 1162.36
This is the month I have been waiting for. Increased income (DH working somewhat steadily), decreased expenses (no car payment, only one gift-giving occasion, a grocery budget which will remain low as we are STILL cleaning out the pantry). I have already paid off all of our Discover card (over $1000 from December) and made more than the minimum payment on our AmEx ($250), and I will still have several hundred dollars left after accounting for those expenditures. Plus, if we get our taxes done soon (I'm aiming for having them in the mail this week), we will be getting app. $3700. I plan to use that for our 2006 Roth contribution, although I am so very tempted to pay off the AmEx too. We'll see. Now, just to bask in the glory that is extra money for a week or two while I figure out where to attack next!

simplify, simplify, simplify

February 2nd, 2007 at 08:21 pm

That's my current obsession (along with saving money, of course!). I am so tired of the constant paper that's always floating around and of all the time I spend sorting through it, in addition to the time spent wading through the mess of e-mail I get everyday. I got a small start on simplifying life by:
1. Cancelling my paper statements from two credit cards (still have to get rid of my bank statement). It's to the point where I just file them without looking at them, since I check all my accounts online daily. What's the point in getting them? I can always look them up online if I need to.
2. Finally submitting a rebate that's been languishing on the computer desk for two weeks ($3.99 savings).
3. Sent DH's prescription to the mail-order service through my insurance. It will save us time in running around to the pharmacy as well as save us $10 every three months in lower co-pays.
4. Cleaned out my file cabinet. I try to do this once or twice a year to pull out the old papers I no longer need (i.e. old phone bills, medical bills and insurance EOBs, bank and cc statements etc.). I keep things for a year, meaning I pulled out most of 2005 paperwork, aside from the few things I keep indefinitely. I'll keep 2006 until early next year.

Next on my list:
1. Unsubscribe from e-mail lists that I no longer have time to read. I am trying to find out if there is a way to block certain addresses, but I don't think my e-mail allows it. I keep getting repeat junk mail. It's a pain to keep deleting it - I'd rather not even see it!
2. Wrap up my mypoints membership. As soon as I get to the level I want (3750 points), I am cashing out. I think I will leave the membership open, but opt out of the constant e-mails. I just spend too much time clicking for too little reward.
3. Figure out some sort of inbox/outbox system for my real estate information (listings, current clients, phone numbers, etc). Right now I have a standing metal file holder, but no files to put my papers in! They end up all over the computer desk. I need to have them readily accessible, but not in my way.

Gotta run to clean up the house and make dessert - card match tonight!

Why do I feel guilty?

February 2nd, 2007 at 03:20 am

I don't know why I feel guilty about this...but I do. I decided to continue to see my regular ophthalmologist because I have been going to him for so long, but I shopped around for my contacts and found them $117 cheaper (for a year's supply) than buying them at the office. I guess I feel guilty because I have been going there so long and he's a great doctor, but I just cannot justify spending all the extra when I can get them so much cheaper online. I felt a little bit awkward having to tell him not to order me the contacts because I was getting them elsewhere...am I the only one who does this? I have no problem telling mechanics and the like that I am shopping around, but then again, I have no ongoing relationships with any mechanics!
Not much else going on...looking forward to DH's second paycheck tomorrow. I think it might be about $800. I'm really not even sure what we are going to use it for, other than to fix the brakes on his car next week ($300). I will probably put a few hundred in the savings account attached to our checking account, which is where my student loan is directly debited from every month. I have one cc payment of $95, but nothing else that HAS to be paid. Hmmm...it's been so long since we've had money that was unaccounted for!