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Archive for August, 2013

How I'm Using SmartyPig

August 31st, 2013 at 10:37 am

Link to SmartyPig: https://www.smartypig.com/

In spite of the cutesie name, SmartyPig is a bona fide on-line bank. Deposits are held at BBVA Compass and are FDIC insured. The concept behind SmartyPig is that you set a savings goal and make regular contributions until your goal is met. You can share your goal with others (only if you choose to) and can even invite others to contribute to your goal. This is an interesting concept and could be very useful in many cases (saving for a wedding, a down payment on a home, a new car, a vacation, or a child's college education for example). This is all spelled out in detail on the SmartyPig web site, if you want to know more.

Personally I'm not interested in making regular contributions towards a goal in a SmartyPig account or sharing my goals with anyone else. What I'm going to write about is how SmartyPig can be beneficial even if you DON'T want to do any of the above. I'll also tell you about the little "hitch" I ran in to so you can avoid and deal with it, and will even share a little "secret bonus."

I opened my account with SmartyPig about 1-1/2 months ago, for 2 reasons:
1. Their current APY on savings accounts is 1.00% which is decent given the current low-interest-rate environment.
2. With your savings, you can get gift cards that give you a cash boost of up to 11%. You can see a list of participating retailers here: https://www.smartypig.com/how-it-works/retailer-offers/reta... I shop regularly at Amazon.com (just 2 days ago a box arrived for me from Amazon - vacuum cleaner bags - pretty exciting huh?), and occasionally at Macy's and Dillard's. So I knew I would use this feature. The boosts for those 3 retailers are: 11% at Macy's / 5% at Dillard's / 3% at Amazon.com.**

Here is an overview of the process:
- Register with Smarty Pig
- Set up your savings goals: Assign goal names, amounts, and target dates. Regarding the target date, if you just want to deposit your money once and start earning your 1% interest like I did, set a target date of at least a week out the first time. That will give you time to get everything verified and funds transferred. I allowed 10 days to be safe but it was probably longer than I actually needed. (Once you are up and running, you can set target dates of just a couple business days in the future, just enough time for funds to be transferred.) SUGGESTION: Create many smaller goals rather than one or two large goals (more on that later, it has to do with the hitch I ran in to).
- Link your SmartyPig account to an existing checking account. You will need to verify your account, in the way that is pretty standard for on-line banks. SmartyPig will make 2 small deposits in to your checking account (which they immediately withdraw - sorry creditcardfree, no mini snowflakes here) and you enter the amounts of the deposits on the SmartyPig web site. Once that is done, Smarty Pig can transfer funds from your checking account and you are up and running.
- When you want to withdraw funds, you close a savings goal.*

*AS PROMISED - THE HITCH (and suggestion to deal with it): When you close a savings goal, you really close it. You get 100% of the amount in that savings goal (your initial deposit plus interest earned) back, either in gift cards or a transfer back to your linked checking account. So don't think that you can create one savings goal and make incremental withdrawals; you can't. I learned this the hard way. I thought I'd put low-4-figures in to a "Shopping" savings goal and request gift cards from time to time over the course of several years. WRONG! I had to take it all at once. Fortunately, I didn't have to take it all in gift cards. I just ordered what I wanted in gift cards, and the balance was transferred to my checking account. Having learned my lesson, I then set up a couple different "Shopping" goals each with low-3-figures. Unless you know exactly when you will want to withdraw your savings and how much, I recommend that you break your savings down into multiple smaller goals. I now have 7 goals, 2 for "Shopping" (earmarked for future gift card orders) and 5 more general ones. You can name your goals whatever you like and no one is going to follow up to make sure that is how you really use them. I chose names that were relevant to why I save (EF, Retirement, DH's Dream, Travel, and Car) but for all anyone cares you could call them One, Two, Three, etc. This may sound complicated, but it's really not. Yes, you will have to take a couple extra minutes setting up the goals, but it's really not that hard. And you'll be glad you did when it comes time to make a withdrawal.

**Also as promised, the Secret Bonus for all you SA numbers geeks: The cash boost is actually higher than what it states on the web site. They shave the boost off the top of the face value. For example, I got $150 in gift cards from Macy's. 11% ($16.50) was shaved off the top so I paid $133.50 for the gift cards. That means I actually got a 12.36% cash boost ($133.50 x 1.1236 = $150).

Overview - My Opinion: So far, so good. I'm satisfied with the security & navigation of the site, fund transfers have happened quickly & smoothly, and I have ordered gift cards from both Amazon (electronic card) and Macy's (physical card) and have used both without any problems. I'm happy with the 1% I'm earning because it's the highest of any of my savings accounts. And the cash boost on gift cards is great.

Hope this is useful information. If you have any questions, let me know.

Making Do

August 30th, 2013 at 11:44 am

For my upcoming trip, I started thinking that I may need to buy a lightweight bathrobe for extra covering up when I'm staying at the overseas relatives homes. I have a robe but it's too bulky & heavy to bring. I was also thinking about bringing a lightweight rain coat with me, just in case. And I always bring a shawl with me for extra warmth on the plane and for evenings if it's cool. But then I remembered that I have a really lightweight "thingy" (it's kind of a cross between a poncho and a shawl, 50/50 wool/silk) that can do double duty as modesty coverup at the in-laws and warmth provider, and I have a disposable plastic poncho that I got at the dollar store (2/$1) and that I could either wear alone or over the "thingy," so I already have what I need. Sexy & stylish? No. And they wouldn't work for an outdoor adventure vacation where really rugged gear is required, but they will work just fine on my trip. And ... they only weigh 5 ounces combined (when traveling overseas you think about the weight of everything).

One of my personal principles of frugality is not to do without, but to first see if I already have something that will serve the need or want I'm looking to fill before buying.

The other day at Costco I saw a clothes drying rack that looked neat. For the briefest of instants the thought of buying it flitted across my mind, but then I remembered that my current system for drying things that I don't want to put in the dryer works just fine. Things that won't get stretched out go on a wood hanger across a clothes rod, exactly the same way I hang up things in my closet. Other things get hung over the shower door or towel bar in the guest bathroom. And for things that must be laid flat to dry, I open up the luggage rack in the guest room, lay a towel on it, and lay the clothing on the towel. If I line dried all of my clothes and lived someplace where outside drying couldn't be counted on (for example in the rainy Pacific Northwest) buying that clothes drying rack may make perfect sense. But not for me, because I can make do with what I already have.

P.S. - Is anyone interested in learning about Smarty Pig savings accounts? I was writing a very long entry about my experiences with them when it vanished (ARRGH) and I don't want to retype unless I know it will actually be helpful to someone.

P.P.S. - I'm having trouble posting this entry too, but fortunately I remembered to copy & paste so it didn't vanish.

Blast from the Past

August 28th, 2013 at 07:12 pm

Today I purged our 2005 & 2006 tax return folders (keeping the actual returns and documentation related to home sale, stocks, retirement accounts, and P/L statement for DH's business but shredding all other supporting documents). Among the items hitting the shredder were 1099's from Indymac & WaMu.

The old timers around here will remember a time when the banks where I had accounts seemed to be failing left & right. Indymac ... WaMu ... Wachovia.

Yea - Not feeling sentimental about any of that. Big Grin


EBay Sales Tied to Paydays???

August 11th, 2013 at 10:04 am

Just as I did last Sunday, I woke up to 2 eBay payments received. One was for an auction that ended yesterday and got a bid on Friday, and one was for an overnight "Buy It Now" purchase.

I know that 2 weeks do not a trend make, but I am starting to wonder if there is some connection to payday Fridays and eBay sales?

I had DH look through my stash of things to sell on eBay; we set aside a few things that might make good gifts for our overseas trip. I've not cancelled the current listings, but if they don't sell I won't re-list.

I'm still keeping my eyes peeled for foodie gifts that won't melt or get smashed. If I don't come up with anything better, I'll go with small bags of Jelly Belly beans and 3-pack sleeves of Starbucks Via coffee. "Texasy" gifts would be nice but they tend to be either too bulky or too spendy. Jelly Belly and Starbucks are both well-known American brands.

My new project at work is off to a good start. Very different, interesting, and mentally challenging. As is my custom, during my drives home I'm enjoying an audiobook that I checked out from my local library (I usually listen to NPR on my way in). I must update my side bar ....

Today's Financial Doings

August 6th, 2013 at 05:56 pm

Purchased some EE Savings Bonds from Treasury Direct after checking WHO Life Expectancy Tables and assuring DH that the statistical odds are that we BOTH will still be here in 20 years. Big Grin (EE Savings Bonds are currently paying interest at the paltry rate of 0.20% but they are guaranteed to double if you hold for 20 years. That doubling translates to 3.50%. Doesn't make much sense to buy if you won't be around in 20 years.)

DH suggested that we go out to lunch which was a nice surprise. We eat out from time to time, but it's infrequent enough that it's a treat. When we do eat out, it's for brunch, lunch, an early bird special, or with some sort of coupon type deal.

We followed lunch with a shopping excursion looking for bargain-priced gifts to bring on our overseas trip next month ... the number of DH's relatives who plan to join the family gatherings when we go to his native country is growing by leaps and bounds, and because gift-giving is a critical part of the culture, we need to buy lots and lots and LOTS of gifts. It was a pretty successful excursion; there are still many more gifts to buy, but we got a really good start.

Good morning

August 4th, 2013 at 09:59 am

I woke up to 2 eBay payments received overnight ... one for an item that had sold yesterday and one that sold with a Buy It Now. This is on top of 1 payment I received yesterday, so I will have at least 3 packages to ship tomorrow. I will mail the packages tomorrow at the same time I run a deposit to my husband's business account. (The post office and bank are 1-1/2 blocks apart.)

I have 3 days off of work (my work is project-based and my next project starts on Thursday). I still have a few items yet to list on eBay so I WILL do that during my time off.

Minor Updates

August 1st, 2013 at 05:42 pm

Balance Sheet Affluent: After completing our end-July Net Worth Statement, my sidebar has been updated. Our household net worth is now 1.99 times our "expected net worth" ... getting very close to "Balance Sheet Affluent." This is a goal I started tracking 7 years ago, and have blogged about for not quite that long but a pretty long time. So close and yet so far. The last little bit will be tough. Earned income will be way down because the busy season for DH's business is over for the year, as is the busy season at my employer's company. In September we'll have an estimated tax payment to make and an overseas trip to pay for.

Speaking of DH's Business: As mentioned, his busy season has wrapped up for the year. Final payment from his largest customer hit the bank on Monday. I don't bite my nails waiting for that final payment each year (his business dealings are a calculated risk we agreed to take), but it's always nice to get it tucked away.

Smarty Pig: I opened an account at Smarty Pig. Their APY is 1% and you can exchange some of your savings for gift cards with "cash boosts." I ordered an Amazon gift card (3% cash boost) and a Macy's gift card (11% cash boost).

eBay Sales: They have been slow. I've only sold 7 items. One more has bids and will sell. The item with the highest sale price so far is a freebie that DH brought back from his last business trip. Smile