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Archive for May, 2008

Free Skin Cancer Screenings

May 30th, 2008 at 07:23 pm

Want to get a free skin cancer screening?

"Olay, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) and Marcia Cross have joined together to invite you and your girlfriends to get a free skin cancer screening"

Visit www.SkinCancerTakesFriends.org to see if there is a dermatologist in your area offering free screenings.

Although it says it is for "girlfriends," if you're a man who is intersted it certainly wouldn't hurt to ask if you are eligible.

Saving Advice Splitting into 2 Worlds?

May 29th, 2008 at 04:23 pm

As much as I love SA, I'm finding that I keep taking breaks from the forums more frequently and for longer periods of time.

It may just be my imagination, but the forums seem to be devolving in to a bunch of people fighting over who is right, and they are becoming downright uncivil.

Today was the last straw. I think for the sake of my stress levels, I should take a permanent break from the forums and just stick to the blogs (which of course I still LOVE).

This is what set me off. Someone wrote in a post "This board is retarded." Personally, I find that to be as offensive as any racial slur (and I live in multi-racial family so I've heard it all). Having a brother who is developmentally disabled no doubt makes me more sensitive to this than other people, and I have always been offended by that term even when it came from immature kids, but to hear it coming from an adult in what is supposed to be a civil discussion board ... Ugh!

It really seems like this site has split in to 2 worlds: The great folks who truly want to support each other and exchange ideas on the blogs, and the nasty bickering folks who are just trying to see who can scream louder than the others on the forums.

Am I the only one noticing this?

Taking a Deep Breath ...

May 22nd, 2008 at 03:51 pm

DH thinks that we will need to be 2.12 times "expected net worth" (please see the formula on the left regarding "Balance Sheet Affluent" if you have no idea what I am talking about) by the time he is 50 in order for his dream of trying out for the Champions (formerly known as senior) golf tour to a be realistic possiblity.

We talked about this last weekend, but I stuck my head in the sand for a few days and did not blog about it. The thought of what it will take to reach this goal is a bit overwhelming.

Oh boy. I thought 2.0 times was setting the bar high, and last time I blogged about this I talked about maybe dropping the goal down a bit, perhaps to something like 1.8.

It's a hard number to nail down because there's no way of knowing what the actual out-of-pocket expenses will be if DH does make the tour. I still think that 2.0 is generous, but I guess that it's better to overshoot, and I'm sure DH has a better sense than I do of what is required.

So, 2.12 it is. Sigh. I can console myself a bit by thinking about what we will do with the money if we reach our savings goal, he tries out for the tour, and does not make it. (I'm sure that sounds downright evil, doesn't it?)

The new annual and quarterly goals are posted on the left. The annual goal is to move from 1.40 to 1.53 by 4/30/09. I'm hoping for a big increase the first quarter (due to DH's business), initially overshooting the goal, followed by holding steady in the second quarter, tapering off in the third quarter, and then taking a rather substantial drop in the fourth quarter (because we expect to buy a house and I have my own unique idea about how the value of a home should be calculated when calculating net worth).

At least we are off to a very good start for the current quarter (May - July). DH has been working hard and has expanded his business a bit; as a result his busy season started a bit earlier than usual this year. And I have been working steadily. Income is going to be key to reaching the goal.

'Tis A Gift To Be Simple

May 18th, 2008 at 08:44 am

It really is a gift to require so little to be blissfully happy, don't you think?

Yesterday my favorite guy treated me to brunch at IHOP with a BOGO coupon he found (no beverage purchases required ... just buy one entree, get one free). So glad I decided to teach DH about coupons!

After that, we visited 2 new home centers. At one we received a $10 Target gift card for visiting (we filled out a form and they will be mailing it)...We had seen an ad in the paper and knew we could get the gift card for visiting. At the 2nd place we got free drinks.

In the late afternoon I took my dog for a long walk.

After dinner at home, DH and I watched "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles" with Steve Martin & John Candy on TV. (Our current apartment comes with cable included.) We laughed our heads off.

So little spent. Just the cost of one entree + tax & tip at IHOP. The $10 gift card will more than cover the cost of the gas we used.

Such a divine day. Just like a mini-vacation. 'Tis a gift to be simple ...

Costco Gas

May 16th, 2008 at 04:38 pm

If anyone knows how Costco sets their gas prices, please do share with the rest of us!

When we lived in Seattle, our Costco's gas prices were consistently a few cents less other nearby gas stations.

When we moved here to Austin, we initially found the Costco prices to be equal to the lowest-priced "regular" stations. So, I thought there was no difference and that it was a regional thing.

But just recently, since the latest spike in gas prices started, I have found Costco Austin's gas prices to be a bit lower than others.

Yesterday I paid $3.599/gallon at Costco, while other stations were charging $3.639 - $3.699.

The last time I filled up at Costco (about a month ago), the price was about 3-cents less than the stations.

This has me wondering if Costco uses a formula where they have a fixed profit they make, while maybe the "regular" stations are taking advantage and doing a teensy bit of "gouging"?

In any case, Costco is definitely shining right now as far as gas prices go.

What are you all experiencing where you live? Are you noticing a bigger price gap on Costco gas recently, or has the gap stayed the same as usual?

P.S. - As I was getting ready to leave Costco yesterday, a lady just about gave me a heart attack when she ran up right behind my car just as I started backing out and disappeared from view. Of course I hit the brakes ... She stood up and just stood there for a second staring at what I swear was a coin in her hand! For crying out loud, I'm all for picking up coins off the ground, but please don't put your life and my sanity in jeopardy like that! Wanna know my first thought? "That couldn't be baselle, could it? Naw - She doesn't live in Austin!"

Pet Food

May 13th, 2008 at 04:20 pm

When I was fresh out of college, I "inherited" 2 cats. Not knowing any better, I started out feeding them an el-cheapo brand of food from the grocery store. Then one of them developed a bladder stone and had to have surgery. The vet thought the stone developed because of her diet, and so the el-cheapo brand went in the trash, and I started paying much more attention to the kitties diet and making smarter choices. Thankfully, they never again had a diet-related condition. I learned the hard way (through pain & suffering for my poor cat and a big hit to the wallet for me) that when it comes to pets diets, prevention is indeed the best medicine.

Kitties crossed the rainbow bridge many years ago, and shortly thereafter destiny brought a dog into my husband & my life.

Now definitely older and hopefully wiser, when buying food for our dog, I put the emphasis on buying the healthiest possible food, but of course I also try to buy it at the lowest possible price. I shop for "value" rather than "cheap." He eats twice a day ... 12 meals each week are dry food, but twice a week he gets a can of wet food as a treat and as a way to provide variety (and hopefully improved nutrition) to his diet. He gets one treat in the evening (his reward for "doing his business" and then letting me brush his teeth), but even those are the healthy variety. His weight is perfect, and it is my sincere hope that he will never have a medical condition that is because of poor diet (because that would be my fault).

So I'm feeling like a good doggy mommy / minder of the family finances today ... I had a successful shopping trip to the pet supply store.

The Haul:
12 Large Cans of Homestyle
6 Large Cans of Wellness
4-lb bag of dry Science Diet Nature's Best

These were the deals:
Homestyle: case discount (10%) plus $5 off coupon
Wellness: buy 3, get 3 free rebate
Nature's Best: Rebate for full purchase price Smile
Total Order Discounts:
- $10 store certificate received in mail
- 10% store member discount (which was free)

Net Cost (once the rebates come in): $12.50 (plus tax) plus $0.84 to mail in 2 rebate coupons.

For those of you without dogs, the Homestyle and Wellness brands of canned food are premium brands that normally cost a bit over $2 a pop. The Nature's Best dry food retails for $11 a bag ... it's not my dog's usual brand ... I usually buy him Costco's Kirkland Signature brand which is MUCH less expensive but also very good quality IMHO ... but when it's free (well, actually 42-cents for a stamp to mail in the rebate), then why not?

The rebate coupons are in the mail already ... I learned years ago to mail them as soon as I get home from the store (otherwise I forget).

Savings Rates

May 10th, 2008 at 07:11 pm

We had a CD that was maturing tomorrow (Sunday). Since our bank is open on Saturday mornings and their computers were operating as if it was Monday already (since Monday is their next business day), we were able to go in today and get the CD closed without incurring any interest penalty. That was nice and convenient.

What was not so nice was waving buh-bye to the nice 5.3% APY we had on that CD!

I wonder when we will see rates like that again ... Can't happen soon enough as far as I'm concerned!


Oh well, I should count my blessings.

- Our Wachovia MMA has an APY of 4.75% that is locked in for about another 7 weeks.

- DH pushed me to open a 10-yr CD back in Nov ... I was a bit resistant at the time, but now am grateful for the 5.91% APY on that one

- And of course the fact that we have money in the bank at all ... That is certainly a blessing!

All and Sundry

May 6th, 2008 at 02:46 pm

Gonna try to get caught up on a big list of things I have been wanting to blog about. Please pardon the long and varied "everything but the kitchen sink" type post.

1. "Journey to Balance Sheet Affluent" Update: Did my end-April Net Worth Statement while the guys were out golfing on Sunday, and updated my number there to the left. Obviously, I fell short of my first-year goal. Ironically, the main reason was a very good year last year income-wise, so when I plugged in our new average income, the goal (number to reach) jumped up. The reason for the bigger than expected 4th quarter drop was due to taxes owed on said earnings. Quarterly income and non-tax spending were fine. This led me to question whether or not this is still a realistic goal. For the time being, my answer is a qualified yes. I'll be posting my 2nd year (5/1/2008 - 4/30/2009) goals soon, and for the time being I am going to continue to pusue the goal of becoming "Balance Sheet Affluent" by the time my DH is 50; however, I am going to revisit this within the next year, and would not be surprised if I wind up dropping my goal to something like 1.8 instead of 2.0.

And for those of you who like to compare numbers, please let me remind you that I have set the bar extremely high for myself, which is necessary if DH's dream of trying out for the senior golf tour is to have a chance of becoming reality. If not for this dream, I would be happy with any number at 1.0 or higher.

2. Investments = Decided to Stay the Course: Thought I would be switching my STAR Fund to Vanguard Conservative Growth, but after studying that possibility I decided to leave things where they are. If I made the switch, I feel I would be under-invested in international stocks. And besides that, my STAR fund shares are where I give myself permission to be a tiny bit daring.

3. Work: My current work assignment ended today. My next work assignment begins ... day after tomorrow. Perfect. Smile One day off and then back to work. Instead of paying bills & doing laundry tonight, I'll be curling up with a book and putting those chores off until tomorrow.

4. Groceries: YES, YES, YES ... prices ARE up! Here are 2 specific examples on prices of items that are consumed almost daily in our home:
- Bananas: Up from 33 to 44 cents per lb. That's a 33% increase!
- Rice: 20-lb bag up from $14 to $17. That's a 21% increase!

I think what is so "big" about the current price increases is that they are so across the board, rather than commodity specific. We're all used to seeing prices on certain items spike due to crop failures or seasonality. But when that happens, we just make substitutions, right? For example, in the past, if I had seen that bananas were up 11 cents per lb overnight, I would have looked at an alternate fruit. But guess what? Apples are also up, 20 cents per lb, and no other fruits come close to giving me the same bang for my buck. So, I buy bananas at the higher price.

I feel fortunate that even if my vigilance to "shop smart" is not enough to compensate for the increases, I am still able to absorb the price increases, and don't have to take exteme measures (such as giving up buying fresh fruit). I cannot believe that the increases are not affecting those less fortunate, and I am sympathetic.

One thing that I am doing to keep my own grocery bill down is teaching my husband some of my shopping techniques (for example: combine a sale w/ a coupon or skip buying that item this week) so that when he goes to the store the bill will be lower. Just recently, he used coupons for the very first time.

4. Speaking of Good Cheap Food: I recently discovered a great side dish ... Texas Caviar! No, it's nothing like Rocky Mountain Oysters ... It's a spicy black eyed pea salad. Nutritious and Delicious! Fantastic with BBQ or really as a side dish with anything. If it sounds like something you'd like to try, just Google it and you'll find recipes.

5. The Jonses House: Previously I blogged about "The Jonses" house in my old neighborhood that went in to foreclosure. After being foreclosed on, listed by the receivier for well under what was owed on the mortgage, and having a couple price drops, the house finally went under contract. I don't know the sale price, but given the latest list price it is very likely it sold for at or near the "lowball" price DH & I threw out about a year ago. This reinforced 2 things in my mind:
- We should continue to trust ourselves and our sense of where the market is.
- By all means look at buying & selling a house as a business transaction. Regardless of how you feel about it while you are living there, while you are buying and selling you are making an investment! Once the receiver took over, they approached the sale of the Jonses house in a very businesslike manner ... Pricing to market (no ego or emotion involved) and dropping the price as needed.

6. Interesting Retirement Tidbits: Saturday's Wall Street Journal published some very interesting survey results ... Definitely gave me some things to think about when considering retirement. Here are some of the items that gave me the most food for thought:

Q: What percentage of retirees say they left the work force earlier than planned?
A: 51%
My Thoughts: Wow! Sounds like it might be a good idea to chop a few years off of the age you enter as your expected retirement age when you run those calculators. For example, if you plan to retire at 65, plug in 60 or 62 to be safe.

Q: Surveyed adults ages 55 to 74 said they spend the greatest percentage of their leisure time doing which of the following? (choices were Socializing & Communicating, Watching TV, Reading, Relaxing & Thinking, Traveling)
A: Watching TV
My Thoughts: That is sad. Note to self = Make a plan pre-retirement for a life of meaningful activities!

 Q: What percentage of workers in the US say they or their spouses currently are saving for retirement?
A: 64%

Q: What percentage of workers age 55-plus report having $250,000 or more in savings and investments (not including primary residence or defined-benefit plan)?
A: 23%

Q: What percentage of US households are at risk of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement?
A: 44%

My Thoughts on the Above 3: Wake up America!

Relocation Means Visitors!

May 3rd, 2008 at 11:56 am

A very nice benefit of relocating is that, if you move to a nice place people are interested in visiting, you will get visitors!

Last weekend my aunt & uncle stopped by on their way back to the West Coast from doing volunteer work in Mississippi. They were road-tripping and we are not yet in a position to put people up overnight, so they did not stay long, but we did enjoy a lovely, leisurely early dinner together and a couple hours of wonderful chat before they had to head to their next campground. They took backroads and enjoyed seeing lots of wildflowers!

This evening a friend from overseas is flying in for the weekend, stopping by on his way to a convention in Vegas. [He decided to detour to Austin just to see us. Whether he wants to see us or sees this as an opportunity to check out Austin, I do not know. In either case, we're happy he's coming!] That means dinner and more friendly chat for all of us tonight, then a fun day of golf for him and DH tomorrow.

I need to do my end-April net worth statement and update my "Journey to Balance Sheet Affluent" progress, but right I'm just more in the mood to play hostess to my visitors than play with my spreadsheets!

As Suze Orman says: "PEOPLE FIRST, then money, then things."

Have a nice weekend everyone!