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Random Stuff

August 2nd, 2015 at 08:34 am

Sorry about the random nature of this post.

1. Work Situation - Reprieve: I've been asked to work on another project. It's small and short, but it means work through early-September. When I knew it was very much possible that I'd be out of work at the end of July I gathered some information and started mentally coming up with my plan. Although I now have a reprieve, I went ahead and started a fresh notebook titled "Unemployment" and wrote up a 1-page "action plan" on the first page incorporating what I had learned and thought about. The notebook is sitting on the shelving next to my desk at home. When/if I get no more work, I know what my next steps will be.

2. Another TIPS matured: A TIPS that I owned in my Treasury Direct account matured on July 15th. In recent years I've owned fewer and fewer TIPS (the old ones mature and I've not purchased any new ones for several years) but more Savings Bonds. I have been purchasing Treasuries for 18 years and although the types of Treasuries I buy changes, I will probably own some sort of Treasury until the day I die. In fact, I already own a TIPS that won't mature until 2041 and I'll be an old woman then!

3. Short Term Savings: I've pursued every banking bonus that I can & want to, but now that DH's peak business season is over he's starting to go after some. The banking bonuses seem to be getting fewer and farther between, and I've accepted that 1% interest is what I'm going to be getting on my short term savings for the foreseeable future.

4. Relocation to HCOLA: There have been no concrete plans made. It's on the back burner for the time being, but I've done some on-line browsing of properties, reconsidered the "how much of my net worth am I willing to have tied up in my primary residence?" question, and contemplated having to pay a lot more than what I am used to. Moving to a place that is much more expensive seems so counter-intuitive from a financial standpoint, and will require a major mental shift. But moving some place where my husband will feel more at ease and better able to provide assistance to his elderly parents makes the decision much easier.

5. What Things "Go For": On our local FB garage sale page, someone posted some collectibles a few days ago. Someone chimed in that they thought they had priced too low because a similar item was "going for much more money" and then posted a link to an eBay listing. But of course it was an ACTIVE listing, not a sold listing, which means that the collectibles really have NOT gone for that. It just means that the eBay seller is HOPING to get that much. Stuff is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it.

6. Happy Spending: It has been 5 weeks since we adopted our new dog. The benefits are so much greater than the costs associated with having her in our lives (vet visit, monthly preventatives, food & treats, toys, bed, grooming). We love having her in our life, and she seems pretty darn happy with her change of circumstances. Life is good, for all of us.

Updates

June 26th, 2015 at 10:31 am

There have been quite a few big finance-related things going on in my life since I last posted. Here's a quick rundown.

1. 401K Catch Up Contributions: I decided to start making catch up contributions to my 401K. I still don't much like the investment options in my 401K, but I'm doing it for the tax savings plain & simple.

2. My Work Situation Up in the Air: My employer lost the contract that makes up the bulk of my work, effective the end of July. My work situation is even more up in the air than usual.

3. New 4-Legged Family Member Addition Pending: We are very close to finalizing the adoption of a dog. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), I'm thrilled. Pets are a financial responsibility, and worth every penny.

4. End of the Road for DH's Big Dream: DH has decided that he is not going to try out for the Champions (aka senior golf) tour. He has dreamed of going pro since he was in college and has never stopped working toward it. He'll continue to be a passionate and very talented amateur golfer. Being the awesome & responsible guy that he is, he has never allowed his pursuit of the dream to jeopardize our financial stability, and was willing to throw in the towel when he realized it wasn't going to happen. This frees up the "Big Dream Fund" money. Did you know it costs a lot of money to go pro? Paying for Q school is just the tip of the iceberg. Pro golfers have ZERO guaranteed income and must cover some pretty hefty expenses (travel, caddy pay, etc). It's one of the reasons we have lived so far below our means and saved so aggressively for decades, so that the money would be there if DH reached the skill level where he could go for it.

5. Another Move May Be In Our Future: We are seriously thinking about another move, this time to a high cost of living area. We're still just in the thinking stage, not yet planning. Our next door neighbors just listed their house for sale, and since it is comparable to ours we will be keeping a close eye on how long it takes to sell and the sales price.

Many other small things going on, but I just wanted to get the big stuff down.

P.S. LOL - I forgot to mention that our house got hammered by a hail storm awhile back and we have to get a new roof, gutters, window, screens, etc. We haven't replaced anything yet because we're waiting until storm season is over and more contractors are freed up. Funny that I forgot to include this in my original post. Of course we have insurance, but we have to pay the deductible. Thank goodness for the EF.

Still Dancing - 2014 Year-End vs. 2013 Year-End

January 2nd, 2015 at 03:09 pm

I completed our 12/31/14 net worth statement today.
During 2014, our net worth increased 7.8%.
Non-financial assets (house & cars) now make up 15.3% of our total net worth.
For another year we lived below the crossover point.
We are still balance sheet affluent.

This may all sound like a broken record from last year ... but we are still dancing.

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

Dance....I hope you dance.

Just Slightly Over 463 Weeks

December 28th, 2014 at 03:33 pm

That's how long until our target retirement date!
I don't think retirement will mean that we never work again, but it will mean "work optional." I think I'll continue to work, but whether it is volunteer work or part-time paid work or some combination of both is TBD.

Austin ranked #3 on the most recent "top 25 places to retire" list from Forbes and was one of the bigger cities on the list. We like it here. So relocating after retirement may not be something that we even need to think about. We envision some day moving to a condo, and that would be the logical time to think about whether we want to stay in Austin or relocate. Because it is a single-story, our current home should be fine for at least the first several years of retirement and maybe longer.

More Updates - Mostly Financial

September 9th, 2014 at 09:40 am

1. Will: After calling several law offices, I surprised myself by deciding to stick with the DIY Will I prepared several years ago. Our situation is not at all complex (only one marriage for both of us, no children, estate taxes not a concern) and the cost of having an attorney prepare a will was just so high. I reviewed our current Will and it doesn't even need updating. It is our "Letter of Instructions" that really needs to be updated because account info is out of date.

2. Switching Primary Banks: The switch is finished! It was a multi-step process that took quite a bit of time. The final step was waiting (and waiting and waiting) for one last payment to clear our old bank account so I could close it.

3. Dearth of Bank Account Bonuses or Great CD Rates: It has been almost 6 months since I last opened a new account for a bonus or got a new CD. (We aren't eligible for the Navy Federal CU 5% 1-year CD.) Oh, well, I'll keep trolling the DepositAccounts.com blog, watching and waiting for the next appealing promo. Our cash reserves are averaging a tad over 2.5% in interest so I won't complain.

4. Medical: DH is scheduled for a procedure. Including pre-pay of our share of some of the costs and OTC medication purchases we are just under $400 out-of-pocket so far and there will be a few hundred more when all is said and done. I couldn't care less about the money spent on this. This is why we have saved, so we can take expenses like this in stride. At our age, we just expect increased medical expenditures. I'll take a healthy husband over anything else money could be spent on any day! I did print out some coupons at home that resulted in $1.75 savings when I went out to buy the OTC meds. Wink

5. Eventual Automobile Purchase: Our '99 Camry has over 160K miles. We have known for awhile that if it ever needed major (thousands of dollars) repairs we'd just replace it instead of fixing. I talked to DH and suggested that we go ahead and replace it IF we can find a super bargain on a new car. That way, we wouldn't necessarily be in a "must buy" situation. I crunched some numbers and came up with a maximum amount to spend on the next car (DH agreed). We'll pay cash. Who knows when we will actually buy ... it will depend on either finding an awesome deal or having our Camry go kaput, but either way we are ready. I'm leaving it up to DH to do the bargain shopping, since this will be the vehicle he drives and he enjoys car shopping much more than I do. He thinks there may be some deals in December. We'll see. I can't help but wonder if this will be our final "second car" purchase? When we retire we'll go back to having just one car, and even though retirement isn't imminent, we do keep our cars for a pretty long time.

6. CFP Consult: It has been 4 years since we last consulted a CFP. Where does the time go? I guess I should schedule a "checkup." I don't expect it to result in any changes in our investments or level of savings, but it's still couldn't hurt to get a reality check from a professional.

7. 401K Investment Options: I've stated before that I'm not thrilled with the investment options in my company's 401K. They aren't terrible (as far as I know), but they aren't the best either, and the so-called "Stable Value Fund" is completely opaque so I really don't know how good or bad it is. I'm thinking of composing an Email to the VP in charge of benefits stating my opinion and politely suggesting an alternative. Hah! I sure have gotten opinionated an unafraid of speaking up now that I'm in my 50's. But really, what's the worst that could happen? Have any of you ever done anything like that? How was it received?

Green Onion Re-Growing Success

March 3rd, 2014 at 08:55 am

I took another stab at re-growing green onions in a cup with water after reading the information again and figuring out what I had done wrong the first time. My mistake was treating them too delicately,like herbs (cutting off a green stalk here & there).

Instead, what I needed to do was just whack the entire thing off near the top of the white portion, and then place the root end in a cup with a bit of water. Voila - regrowth starts right away.

Where we live green onions are 68-cents a bunch which I think is really expensive for something that yields just a handful of garnish. Yes, they are tasty and have nutritional value, and there are some dishes (like noodle soup) that they really elevate, but you can get much more nutritional bang for your buck buying other veggies so we very rarely bought them. Now they are back on the menu! As you can see, all the space you need is enough for a glass or two. We decided to go with 2 bunches so we'd always have plenty grown out on hand.



P.S. - I've heard that they lose flavor after a couple re-growths, but still this is a way to stretch a bunch 2-3 times over.

27 Day Food & Beverage Budget - Final

February 13th, 2014 at 03:00 pm

Days 1-26 I spent $105.13 on groceries and $23.82 on eating out. During my brother's visit he treated me once and I treated him once. And ... sigh ... I did stop one evening on my way home & buy a sandwich for dinner (tsk, tsk).

DH is coming home tonight so I did my big "stock back up" grocery shopping trip. I had $46.05 remaining in my budget of $175 but only spent $34.89. I have $11.16 left over. I had planned to buy some seafood but did not. I wasn't happy with what the store had (some of the fish looked fine but was very expensive). I'll buy fish the next time I go to Costco. I still have several cans of sardines in the pantry, so we aren't without seafood.

I did manage to get a $4 wine; that was the last thing to go in the cart. Had to make sure I wasn't over budget before buying that little luxury.

I stopped off and picked up 2 free pastries on my way to the grocery store. The restaurant where brother treated me to breakfast had a survey link on the receipt that I could complete to get a code for the free pastries. Now DH & I will have a Valentine's Day morning breakfast treat.

A couple things I learned during the past 27 days:
- My main grocery store does NOT offer case price discounts (because I was more focused on food prices than usual, I thought to call them and ask).
- Re-sprouting green onions in a glass of water did NOT work very well for me. The little half-developed green shoots that were already there when I bought them did grow, but nothing new came out. I don't know if it is because the green onions had been refrigerated, or because my house is cool since it's winter. I may try again in the summer when it's warmer and if I get some never-refrigerated green onions from the farmer's market. Although this was not a success at least I TRIED something new to stretch my food dollars, spurred on by focusing more on food prices than usual.

Who Needs TV When You Have the Mr.&Mrs. scfr Show?

January 9th, 2014 at 02:33 pm

A CD we owned matured in December. (Farewell 5% APY ... you will be missed, sniffle sniffle.) One of my start-of-the-new-year-financial-to-do's was to decide what to do with those funds. The decision has been made, but there were some pretty comedic moments along the way.

In the scfr household, decisions are joint. DH used to be more of a follower since I was the one who took the lead on getting our financial house in order many many years ago, but over the years he has become more informed and involved and opinionated (at my urging I might add ... I used to worry what would happen if I were to die suddenly).

I can't remember the last time we fought. I can remember quite a few fights our first year of marriage while we were getting used to sharing a house and a life, but that was 20 years ago. But just because we don't fight doesn't mean that we don't have differences of opinion and sometimes rather spirited discussions. The difference between now & then, I think, is that we've figured out how to hear the other out and inject some humor in to our discussions so that they never turn ugly.

The most recent "spirited discussion" was over whether or not to put some of the CD proceeds in to Series EE Savings Bonds. I wanted to; DH did not. The thing is that it doesn't make much sense to get Series EE Savings Bonds unless you think you may hold them for 20 years (because the interest rates are pathetic but they are guaranteed to double in value in 20 years). DH thinks it's folly to put money away for so long when you don't even know if you'll be alive then ... for some irrational reason, he thinks he won't. We had a similar discussion last year, and I ended up presenting WHO life expectancy tables and convinced him. This year, apparently because he is older, he dug in his heels. He made some comment along the lines that "those will be for YOU since I won't even be here" at which point I rolled my eyes and threw one hand up in the air and said in a mock-dramatic voice "You act as if I'm wanting to buy a Rolls Royce. I want to buy SAVINGS BONDS for crying out loud!" That stopped him cold and then we both started giggling. Castle & Beckett have nothing on us when it comes to verbal sparring, let me tell you. OK, we may not make for very interesting viewing, but we still have our sense of humor & marriage intact.

The end result of our discussions? HALF of what I wanted to put in to Series EE Bonds is going there ("my" share ... haha)! Much is going to a PenFed 5-yr CD at 3.04%, and some will be held in our savings account in the hopes that interest rates will go up. Funds transfers have been ordered; EE Bonds have been ordered; PenFed membership has been opened; and PenFed CD will be opened as soon as transfers are completed.



2013 Year-End vs. 2012 Year-End

January 5th, 2014 at 05:42 pm

Net worth increased 7.9%.

Non-financial assets (car & home) now represent 15.4% of net worth (last year it was 17.6%) ... 15% by retirement is definitely within sight (as long as we don't lose our minds and go out and buy a luxury car). I know this number does not matter to many people. To me it matters greatly because it means that we are NOT house/car poor.

Nothing new here, but we once again lived below the crossover point.

And ... drumroll please ... Somewhere since the time I last calculated, we officially became "Balance Sheet Affluent"!!! I guess I'll need to add a new category my blog since "Journey to Balance Sheet Affluent" no longer applies. It has been a long and sometimes slightly scary trip.

P.S. - "I hope you never fear the mountains in the distance. Never settle for the path of least resistance. Livin' might mean taking chances but they're worth takin'. Lovin' might me a mistake but it's worth makin'." (From 'I Hope You Dance' by Lee Ann Womack ... a song that I listened to over and over again for inspiration & courage when DH decided that he wanted to quit his salaried job and start his own business.)

Quickie

December 4th, 2013 at 09:32 pm

Just a quick check-in ...

The biggest financial doing in my life is that I now seem to have a small side business (in addition to my regular job) ... that is what my little foray in to eBay sales seems to have morphed in to. I now need to come up with a way to "track" inventory for tax purposes. When I had only a handful of things I could put each item on an Excel spreadsheet, but that isn't cutting it any more.

Also, DH & I took advantage of the Black Friday promo and opened one of the Capital One 360 Checking accounts and we both opened Sharebuilder accounts (we were not eligible for the savings account bonus), so we should end up with $383.30 net bonuses ($425 - $41.70 for the commissions on the stock trades we are required to make), plus or minus our gains or losses on the stocks we purchased. I hesitated on the checking account because I have never used a debit card and do NOT like them (too much of a security risk) and we must use one in order to get the bonus, but we decided to go ahead and open the account, deposit only a very small amount, and close the account as soon as we are assured the bonus. I wonder if banks know that requiring use of debit cards sometimes deters customers like me from opening or keeping an account? They probably don't care. I never pay bank fees, so I'm probably not a very valuable customer in their eyes.

Really Loving the Weekends ...

October 26th, 2013 at 08:42 am

... because they mean eBay sales! I'm glad my Post Office is open on Saturday mornings. I have 5 items to ship.

DH has really started getting in to my eBay activities. He actually ferreted out an item on deep-deep-deep discount at a department store, bought a dozen of them, and it has been selling really well. I think it's a situation where a "preppy" item probably sold out on the coasts but didn't do as well here in Texas. All my shipments on that particular item have been to the East Coast or California.

And I must say thanks to the SA folks. One thing I've observed is that even the most frugal of folks spend quite a bit on their children's activities. So I bought multiples of a child-activity-related item very cheap that I've been able to sell for a small profit and the parents who buy from me are still saving money, so I think everyone is happy.

It All Adds Up

September 26th, 2013 at 09:08 pm

The battery in our lawnmower died after 4-1/2 years of use. DH found a "replacement battery" for $150 on Amazon. (The lawnmower manufacturer no longer sells replacement batteries for our model.) I did a little internet browsing and discovered that what we were calling the "battery" is actually the casing that holds the actual batteries (aka "the guts"). DH took the casing apart and said that he was confident he could change out the batteries easily, so I bought "the guts" on eBay for $94 including shipping. I have Amazon gift cards that I purchased with a 3% cash boost from Smarty Pig, so I didn't save as much as it may seem at first glance. But I did earn a tiny bit in eBay Bucks. All in all, we saved a little over $50 by doing a little research & shopping around. If people like my DH & I who are NOT handy can do it, anyone can.

DH had a broken tooth extracted and got 2 prescriptions. At the pharmacy, they said that our prescription plan denied coverage. I made a call to the insurance company and then went back to the pharmacy to get things straightened out (they had inputted the wrong dentist name). Combined the pharmacy trip with a trip to the post office & grocery store, so I didn't have to do any extra driving. Recouped $5.99.

Mailed an item sold on eBay. One of the first things I did after getting back from overseas was get my eBay listings back up & running, and I've had 2 sales.

It all adds up ...

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.

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

On and On It Goes

June 30th, 2013 at 02:10 pm

cc Rewards: Called Am-Ex to have the rewards balance on our Blue Cash Preferred Card ($275) applied to our statement balance. I can't believe I let the balance get so high before "cashing it in." This is a card that offers 6% cash back on supermarket purchases, which is why I chose it.

Ironing Board Cover: I can't remember when I bought my current ironing board cover but it has to have been over 25 years ago. It's so thin that the diamond pattern on the board transfers to the clothes I'm ironing. The actual cover is still fine but the cheap foam padding is completely shot, and has been for awhile. I was going to buy a nice cotton pad from Amazon for $14, but I found a new cover on clearance at Tuesday Morning for $2. I'm going to put the new cover right on top of the old cover for a bit of increased thickness. I don't know if the new cover will last as long as the old one or if I'll end up having to buy the pad some day, but not now. And hey - If the new one lasts 25 years it may be the last one I ever own!

Speaking of Tuesday Morning: I bought some extra items at their clearance sale that I'm going to sell on eBay later in the summer, when I catch a bit of a break at work. My goal is to net $100 on eBay sales this summer. Not a very ambitious goal, but I'm keeping my focus on my regular job since that is what helps our bottom line the most.

Next Finance-Related Project: Purging the Rubbermaid Bin. I keep all our important financial files in a small rectangular Rubbermaid tote bin. I know it's time to purge when the files won't slide down all the way. It's time!

Legacy Project: Paid for 10 beds for shelter dogs today. Smile

We The People Petition Re IRAs at Treasury Direct

April 10th, 2013 at 11:58 am

Please consider signing my "We The People" White House Petition to allow the establishment of IRA accounts at Treasury Direct. Thank you!

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/allow-purchase-us-...

End March Net Worth Statement

April 1st, 2013 at 07:01 pm

Prepared the statement yesterday. The end-March statement is the most meaningful for us as far as looking back at how we have done over the past year, because the taxes are done. Because my husband is self-employed, his income varies and so do our taxes and the amount(s) we can contribute to tax-deferred retirement funds. By the end of Feb or March we know with certainty how everything has shaken out.

Highlights:
- Compared to a year ago, our net worth is up 9.0%.
- Over the past year, as we have done for several years now, we lived above the crossover point.
- Non-Financial Assets (house & cars) represent 17.4% of net worth. Can say confidently that we are NOT house (or car) poor.
- Updated the "Balance Sheet Affluent" number on the sidebar ... getting closer.

Lowlights:
- We have 2 CDs that are paying 5%+ interest, and doing the net worth statement was a painful reminder that the days of earning that kind of interest are coming to an end. One of the CDs matures in December. Sigh ....
- We are getting so close to the time when DH will be taking the big step towards his lifelong dream. (Yes - I'm intentionally being cryptic. I've shared what it is in the past, but now that we are so close to the time I'm not sure if I want to share with the "anonymous internet world at large.") We are very close but not quite as far along as I had hoped we would be in terms of net worth.

Next Step:
- Purchase some I-Bonds? Thinking about it.

Good Day, Bank Promotions, Etc.

March 9th, 2013 at 02:39 pm

Mailed off the tax return, Certified Mail. The return was completed several weeks ago but we owed a bit so I was in no hurry to actually mail it.

At the same time I mailed off a couple packages for the eBay sales I do to raise funds for a non-profit, through the eBay Giving Works program.

Dragged DH in to the bank to sign off on some documents. While he was away on his most recent business trip I opened up accounts at BBVA Compass due to some very nice promotions. Not only will I be getting a free Kindle Fire HD, we will also be earning some nice cash bonuses after 2 years. I found out about the Kindle promotion at DepositAccounts.com and learned about the cash bonuses after walking in to a branch and talking to a banker.

Got some free (tho not very tasty) coffee while at the bank Smile

I remember the first time I walked in to a bank to ask if they had any promotions going on that they weren't advertising. I was so nervous & a bit embarrassed! Now I do it any time I'm jonesing for a higher interest rate or bonus. Most of the time there is nothing, but occasionally I hit pay dirt. Brand new branches are a good place to go if you want to try this, because they usually eager to get new customers through the doors.

Went to the library and checked out some DVDs and an audiobook.

Now it's time for a walk because there is a break in the much-needed rain. I have PUSHED myself to keep going for a walk every day since my dog died. It was hard at first but is now becoming routine. I carry some of my late pup's treats in my pocket, and if I meet a dog and the owner says it's OK, I exchange a treat for a little puppy lovin'.

So, financially this has been a "plus" day and an enjoyable one as well.

Catching Up: Credit Card Shuffle

January 2nd, 2013 at 09:47 am

I am loyal to the people (and animals) in my life.
I have zero loyalty to cc companies. Smile

I'm not as good at it as some of you (like MonkeyMama), but I do like to milk the cc rewards.

In 2012 I opened a *Marriott cc so that I could stay for free when I attended my HS reunion. I closed it today b/c my 1 year anniversary is coming up and I would have incurred a $85 annual fee that I was not willing to pay. I know that this was a "one time deal" and that *Marriott won't be offering any special promos like that to me again. That's OK with me. I don't travel that much that involves staying in hotels.

I also opened an American Express Blue Cash Preferred card for a $150 bonus and 6% cash back on groceries. I like that I can call in and have my rewards credited to my account, in $25 increments. There is a $75 annual fee but with the 6% cash back on groceries I will probably opt to keep it. (Towards the end of the year, our favorite grocery store HEB offered 12-cents off on gas if you used one of their prepaid grocery cards, so we were able to double up the 6% cash back and 12-cents discount. HEB's gas is competitive even without the discount. This promo, which HEB runs periodically, is always popular. On Dec 31, the last day of the deal, there was a line at the gas stands!)

Opened an Amazon cc in exchange for a $50 Amazon gift card. Used it to order a b-day gift for my brother, with some leftover for a future purchase. DH will also get an Amazon cc. He likes to buy some of his "ethnic" groceries from Amazon.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Opening & closing cc accounts isn't a good strategy if trying to build up your credit score. My credit score is decent, and I don't anticipate ever having to take out any loans, so I don't have to worry about qualifying or paying a higher interest rate.

P.S. - I had to edit my entry to refer to the hotel chain as *Marriott, otherwise a hyperlink to that particular hotel chain automatically appeared. That is something new in the SA blogs, isn't it?

Ahhh January (almost): Writing Some Big Checks & Avoiding Fees

December 30th, 2012 at 06:21 am

I need to prepare to write some BIG checks.

Annual property taxes and the final estimated tax payment for 2012 will be due. Neither of these is a surprise. I knew about the estimated taxes when I filed my tax return in February. And we received our property tax bill in October.

I need to transfer funds from our on-line account to our local account with check-writing privileges. Where we live, property tax payments made any way other than a paper check incur additional fees, so of course we mail in our check. (I assume it is the same for federal income taxes?)

Some of you may remember that I think fees (bank fees, late fees, convenience fees, etc) are a big waste of money and refuse to pay them. Paying fees is like filling your car up with cash and driving down the highway with the windows open. Your money is gone and you have nothing to show for it. I wonder how much money we have saved over the years by not paying fees?

Trying to Get Your Finances Organized in the New Year?

January 1st, 2011 at 05:38 pm

Right now the stores are selling all kinds of organizational gear. But really, you can have perfectly organized finances while spending no money at all (or very very little). You can probably make do with things you already have on hand. The following are what work for me.

1. Filing System:
David Bach's filing system is the very best one IMHO. I've been using it for about 10 years, after trying several others that just didn't work. Bach's system is pure elegance: easy, compact, it really works, and it's a cinch to keep up. You can find his system in some of his books or at:
http://www.oprah.com/money/David-Bachs-File-Folder-System

I use a plastic Rubbermaid tote that was very inexpensive & is 100% portable. If you don't have a tote or small file cabinet, hanging files, and manilla tab folders you'll need to buy them, but they'll be worth the expenditure.

2. Calendar:
A calendar is essential to staying on top of your finances. This is where I record when I need to make payments (especially the irregular ones like estimated taxes and property taxes), when CDs or other long-term financial assets mature, and anything else that affects our finances.

For example, we get a 10% discount on our car insurance because my husband & I have both completed an on-line defensive course (2 cars = both of us have to do the course). The course certificate is good for 3 years. My husband's certificate expires later this month, and the date is on my calendar so that I can remind him to re-take the course. The insurance company won't remind us; we have to keep track of this sort of thing ourselves.

I use a free calendar that one of my husband's business suppliers gives us.

3. Special Box For Important Little Things That I Don't Want to Lose: In this box I put coupons, gift cards, safe deposit box keys, master key for car with keyless system, extra cash, and passport. I keep the box in a spot where I can always get my hands on it. Any little old freebie box will do.

P.S. - Now if I could just figure out a way to organize my photographs as well as I have organized my finances! Smile

Why & How I Calculate My Net Worth

December 29th, 2010 at 08:18 am

Yesterday I did a post about calculating our year-end net worth, and decided to do a followup about why & how I do net worth statements.

As CB in the City said in his/her comment, a net worth statement is a great way to get a big picture look at how you are doing financially. Since I am prone to getting bogged down in details, it's essential for me to take a step back now & then to take a broad view of our finances.

Doing our net worth statement naturally leads to discussions between DH & I about whether or not we want to keep a particular account, re-allocate our investments, etc.

Another reason I like to do a net worth statement that I have never heard financial pundits mention is that for us it is part of our estate plan. When we created our estate documents, I sent a "Letter of Instructions" to my sister/executor that listed all of our major assets. But I made it clear to her that our accounts were always changing (everyone opens & closes accounts, but because DH & I are interest rate chasers, I think we do it more than average people) and told her that if DH & were to die in a simultaneous catastrophe (car accident for example), she should use our net worth statement as a map to locate all of our accounts. I wrote down very specific instructions about where to find the statement, and I always keep it in the same spot.

I used to calculate our net worth monthly, but came to realize that quarterly was plenty. Most useful for us is comparing where we are now to where we were one year ago. We have a spike in income that occurs approximately the same time each year (DH's business has a big seasonal peak), and our biggest expenses occur at the same time each year (paying our quarterly estimated taxes, and paying our annual property tax bill in one shot since we don't have a mortgage). So, comparing to a year ago gives us the most clear-eyed picture of how we are really doing.

As far as what to include in your net worth statement, there are legitimate differences of opinion. My terminology may not be "proper," but I do a 2-part net worth statement. Part 1 is what I call "financial assets": Cash, refundable deposits, bank accounts (including business account), investment accounts (including Treasury Direct), HSA, and tax-deferred retirement accounts. Part 2 is what I call "non-financial assets": For us, this is just our house & vehicles. Other things that some people might include here are: investment properties, art, antiques, collectibles, jewelry. I've decided not to include any of these because what we have is of minimal value and frankly I don't want the hassle of assigning values.

Deciding how to value the "non-financial assets" is a challenge to say the least. Everyone will have to decide for themselves how to do this. I check the KBB Private Party Value of our vehicles occasionally. For our house, I wanted to get as realistic as possible a picture of what we would NET if we were to sell our house, so I started with the purchase price MINUS 8% (to allow for the costs of selling a house, number one cost being real estate commissions) and then I adjust by the CPI-U (because I believe we bought at a non-bubble price and I think it's reasonable to think that over the long run real estate will keep pace with inflation). Remember that we paid cash, so we have 100% equity in our home. If home values in our area were to spike upwards, I would NOT adjust our home value upwards, but if they were to take a big drop, then I would check comparable sales prices and reduce the value of our home accordingly. As I said, my goal in assigning a value to our home is to be realistic, not overly-optimistic. It's not necessarily the "right" way but it's what we are comfortable doing.

When I do my year to year comparison, I'm looking at the TOTAL (Part 1 + Part 2). My DH tends to ignore Part 2 and just look at Part 1 (the financial assets).

Change in Net Worth: end 2009 vs end 2010

December 28th, 2010 at 02:18 pm

I jumped the gun a little bit and went ahead and calculated our year-end net worth. These numbers could change (and our Vanguard account balances almost certainly will), but based on end-of-business yesterday's numbers our net worth increased 12.4% in 2010.

I'm perfectly satisfied with this number.

The value of our tax-deferred retirement accounts increased, the value of our home increased a teeny bit, and we had that tiny capital gain from our almost laughable stock trade. But the lion's share of the increase is from new savings (income exceeding expenses). In my personal experience, there really is no financial advice better than the old adage "spend less than you earn."

The one thing that had a negative impact on our bottom line was buying a new car in January. No regrets at all; I'd buy that car again in a heartbeat, and I know we got the best deal possible on the car. But it did effect our bottom line negatively because the current KBB is less than what we paid, and we lost some passive (interest) income by buying the car.




Our Stock Trading Days are OVER!

December 13th, 2010 at 06:47 pm

Almost 2 years ago we opened a Schwab account. Since then, we've made a grand total of two stock trades (or four, depending on how you count them ... Twice we bought shares in a company, and then sold it).

Today I called & liquidated the account because my poor DH just couldn't stomach it. After we bought the stock, he'd sit there and watch the price constantly, and even after we sold it he would sit there and STILL watch the price, second-guessing the decision to sell.

Poor guy was a nervous wreck. It just wasn't worth it.

Once he practically screamed at me "How can you be so calm about this???" Well, the answer is that even if we had lost every penny we had put in to the stock we still would have been fine. It wasn't like we had bet the farm. And I knew that my getting excited about it wasn't going to change the price of the stock one bit.

When we sold the last stock, I told him that we either had to: 1) choose some dividend-paying stocks to buy & hold, or 2) cease buying individual stocks forever. He chose option 2. As soon as our last sale had settled, I made the phone call to Schwab and a check is on the way. The check will go in to our savings account, and we will continue with our plain-vanilla investments.

P.S. Since inquiring minds will want to know, no, we didn't lose money. (We made a little in fact.) That's not why we liquidated the account. It was purely for my DH's mental health.

Plodding Along to Road to Balance Sheet Affluent

October 12th, 2010 at 03:25 pm

I haven't sat back to see where we were on our journey to Balance Sheet Affluent (formula is there on my sidebar if you're interested) for quite awhile. Today I had a "sit back and look at the big picture" afternoon and decided to do an update. We're at 1.72 times expected net worth, which means we are solidly on track (actually, a bit ahead of schedule right now).

I guess we'll just keep plodding along, doing what we have been doing: working, spending sensibly, saving, and investing conservatively.

In the folder where I track our net worth and our journey to BA, I have a sheet of paper with the following words in big bold letters. These are what Dr. Stanley (author of "The Millionaire Mind") says are common characteristics of those who are Balance Sheet Affluent:
Integrity
Discipline
Social Skills
Supportive Spouse
Hard Work

P.S. - I bought my first Series EE Savings Bond recently! I will blog about that next.

P.P.S. - Way off topic, but has anyone heard from Brooklyn Girl? I wonder & worry how she is doing.

Sneakers On The Ground

May 9th, 2010 at 08:41 am

Tho I've not been around SA much lately, I am still actively involved in my household's personal finances on a daily basis.

I started this blog to chronicle our relocation to a lower cost part of the country (plus join the $20 Challenge), and now that we are firmly established in our adopted home of Austin, I just haven't been blogging as much.

In a nutshell, these are the major PF-related things that have been happening:

1. Wills Re-Done: Finalized (witnessed & notarized, including Affidavits, copy sent to Personal Representative) in early-March. I bought the NOLO book & used their software & created the Wills myself. I would have preferred to use an attorney (DH was not willing to pay the fees to have an attorney prepare our estate documents), but I am happy with NOLO and did the best job I could. The book was clearly written and I got quite a bit of helpful information from it. For me, the way the book was laid-out seemed very organized, and was a great way to think and work through the process. I recommend it for anyone else thinking of doing a DIY Will. I made an effort to keep things simple, in order to minimize the risk of making a mistake. For example, I decided not attempt to create a Trust myself. I also read up on Special Needs Trusts (I have a brother who is developmentally disabled who is a major part of my estate planning), but found out that he does not need one because he does not collect Social Security Disability Insurance.

2. Second Car Purchased: We finally bought a 2nd car. Paid cash. New car. We have owned both new & used, and I believe both are reasonable ways to go (I'm not a believer in "one size fits all" when it comes to PF). Based on how we have owned previous cars and how we feel about cars, I realize that for DH & I, Jonathan Pond's motto of "buy used if you love cars, buy new if you hate cars" is the way to go. In other words, if you are a "car person" and like to change cars frequently, go for used cars. But if you are NOT a car person (like DH & I), keep your cars forever, and do not necessarily like the car-buying process (but put a lot of time & research & mental anguish in to the decision-making), then buy new. Only once did we buy and sell a car within a short period of time, and that was a special scenario. Other than that, we have owned our cars for very long periods of time (our current "first car" is a 1999 model that we bought new, has almost 150K miles and we expect it to last for at least another 50K). We bought a Prius, at the height of the "anti-Prius hysteria." We had looked at the Prius for a couple years, but felt they were overpriced. For a very brief period Toyota offered a $1K Customer Loyalty rebate (if you blinked you missed it), and one dealer in our area offered previously-unheard-of discounts on a couple stock vehicles. On top of that, I was getting ready to restart my full-time seasonal job & we had been sharing one car for several years, so while it definitely wasn't "the best car deal ever" it was enough of a deal and the timing was perfect so we jumped off the fence and wrote a check (plus $5K on the Am-Ex ... for the points ... paid off when the bill came in). Boy that dealership was dead at that time; the salesman said we were his only sale that month.

3. Still Studying the Possibility of Buying a Vacation Rental + Looking at a Self-Directed IRA: At the turn of the new year, I had looked in to buying a 2nd home in our area to use as a vacation rental, then put it on hold because the real estate market in was firming up (didn't think we could get a very good deal). But now that the New Homebuyer's Tax Credit has expired, I think there may be another dip, so we continue to keep a close eye on the market. I am reading "How to Rent Vacation Properties By Owner" by Christine Hrib Karpinski, and that got me thinking about establishing a Self-Directed IRA. I had been wondering if an IRA could own an investment property, and it turns out that a Self-Directed IRA can. Also, I have been perturbed thinking that I could not own individual Treasuries in an IRA (can't see paying a fee to a mutual fund company to buy something I can buy myself through my Treasury Direct, but a Self-Directed IRA may be a way to do just that. These are my current "Big PF projects" ... learning more about vacation properties & self-directed IRAs.

4. Sneakers On the Ground: For some reason, I often ponder "big PF questions" while out walking the dog. On one walk recently, I was thinking about our investment style. While our MF investments are very conservative, we have made bold & risky moves such as DH quitting his job & starting his own business, me starting a small business, relocating to a lower cost part of the country, and now thinking about buying an investment property. I don't think you can categorize us as "risk-takers" or "conservative." I think the military expression about "Boots on the Ground" is fitting ... We like to be very hands-on, looking & observing & participating in what we are investing in; we willing to take risks as long as we have quite a bit of control over those risks and know exactly what is going on.

5. And Speaking of Sneakers: OK, this is not a "major PF thing" by a long stretch, but I did want to point out that everyone, no matter how firmly they have their personal finances under control, struggles with temptation. While it was definitely NOT the case in my younger years, I do feel that my DH & I do a pretty good job overall of managing our finances. But the "consumer bug" still bites from time to time. It's a constant job to keep things in balance. Right now I am hearing the siren song from those "Shapeup" sneakers by Skeechers. Just love the idea of getting extra toning (and maybe some health benefits) while walking just by wearing a certain pair of sneakers! But the rational side of my brain can't see spending $100 for them. So I've decided that if I ever see a pair for $50, I will buy them. I'm hoping they will come out with some awful color scheme that no one wants and they will put them on clearance (I won't care about the color), or maybe it's just a matter of waiting for the market to become more saturated. I will allow myself to indulge in a pair, but only if the price comes down by half.

Hope everyone here has been doing well ... I have stopped by to read folks blogs from time to time, but feel I am out of touch.

Decisions and A Bold Move

September 23rd, 2009 at 07:18 pm

1. Estate Documents: Decided to go for a DIY simple will instead of a trust. I think a trust would be better, but I don't have the confidence to do one on my own. After reading as many reviews as I could find, decided to use NOLO. Ordered their Simple Will book plus CD, and their book on Special Needs Trusts plus CD (because of my brother's situation). I decided against the on-line version since I'll need to do 2 wills (one for each of us), and I know I'll be redoing them in the future, so might as well have the disc I can use over & over again without having to pay over and over. DH has already conveniently forgotten his promise to let me hire an attorney when we turn 50. Sigh. Also, I want to read up (especially on the Special Needs Trust) before I get started.

2. Roth Conversion: We have looked at the idea of converting our IRAs to Roths upside down and sideways and have decided that it's not the right decision for us. We will NOT be converting. Since running the numbers involves making lots of assumptions, I could be wrong, but based on what I know for sure right now and our best guess of what the future will hold, it doesn't make sense for us. Everything we are reading is saying "convert, convert, convert" so I guess we are going against the grain yet again by not converting.

3. Readjusted Tax-Def Retirement Plans: I have mentioned before that we got a bit aggressive with DH's 2008 tax year contribution to his tax-deferred retirement plan, due to the "clearance price" on stocks, putting 100% of it in the Vanguard S&P 500 Index Fund. Last night we moved almost everything in both of our tax-def plans to the Vanguard Wellesley Income Fund. It has a target allocation of 35% stocks (tho currently it's 39%) and 65% bonds. The only portion of our plans that did not go in to Wellesley is a piece that we have to keep separate for tax/recordkeeping reasons that is still in the STAR Fund. DH actually wanted to go to 100% bonds, but I completely disagreed, so we went with Wellesley. This represents a pretty significant shift for us (according to Morningstar X-Ray, we were at 51% stocks before the shift), and I think it marks the beginning of our pre-retirement retreat from stocks. Right or wrong decision? Who knows? Time will tell. But a lot of thought went in to it, and again, as unconventional as it may be, it seems like the right move for us.

Journey to Balance Sheet Affluent Update

August 1st, 2009 at 02:59 pm

For the numbers geeks and competitive types (but mostly for myself) I've updated my numbers there on the sidebar.

I realized tracking the quarterly goals wasn't making a lot of sense, given the odd variation in income we experience over the course of the year, estimated tax payments, etc. I've decided instead to just do an annual goal, but every so often I'll note where I am throughout the year.

Because I have no debt other than what has been charged on my credit card & will be paid off at the end of the month (inconsequential) plus accrued SE taxes owed (not really inconsequential but too much effort to calculate each month), my monthly "Net Worth Statement" is really just a list of my assets. What I count as assets are:
Liquid financial assets
Tax-deferred retirement savings
Car (KBB Private Party Value)
House (Purchase Price - 8% eventual taxes & real estate comm to be paid when the house is sold = adjusted purchase price. I then adjust by CPI-U to account for inflation.)

Are these calculations perfect? Nope. There are legitimate differences of opinion as to whether tax-deferred savings should be included (or should be discounted for the taxes that will eventually be paid), whether or not to include car & house (or collectibles or household furnishings or in the case of my SIL her Hermes collection-haha), how to value those non-financial assets, and whether CPI-U is a legitimate measure of inflation.

The important thing is that this is how I have chosen to do my calculations, and they help me measure progress over time and how I am doing in terms of reaching my eventual goal.

Brooklyngirl did an interesting post on feeling rich and free, and I posted a rather lengthy response about why managing my finances well is so important to me. I'm providing a link in case anyone thinks that this goal of becoming "Balance Sheet Affluent" by the time my husband is 50 is merely some obsessive goal or about being greedy:
http://brooklyngirl.savingadvice.com/2009/07/25/i-feel-rich-...
I was very interested to read Brooklyngirl's post and glad to see responses. So often we write about the steps we are taking and the "numbers" goals we have, but not about the reasons for taking them. Good to be reminded.

Wish Me Luck

February 10th, 2009 at 06:57 pm

okay ... Lots going on:

- House: We are getting extremely close to making an offer on a house. We have 2 in our cross hairs. The one we are most interested in is a bank-owned foreclosure. Might happen this weekend. DH is due to leave on a long business trip, so all the paperwork and details and negotiating will be left to me. Nothing new there. Smile

- New Little Side Business: As of this evening it's officially up but not yet running. Had to spend a little moolah today to get the ball rolling. DH is freaking out ... I must work hard to make sure I can at the very least recoup what I spent. (Don't worry. It's not enough to hurt us even if I fall flat on my face, but you wouldn't know that from the way DH is acting.)

- Stock Trade: We made our first trade. Bought an individual stock that we sold for an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny profit a few days later. Trust me, it was just beginner's luck! Interesting experience. DH got all worked up over the whole business. Been watching a couple stocks since then, but I'm thinking more seriously about becoming a buy & hold stock investor. We're really not "day trader" types and besides I think it would give DH high blood pressure.

- Volunteer Work: It's almost a full-time job right now. I have realized that my unpaid, volunteer work (due to level of responsibility and job title) would look better on my resume than my paid job. Right now is an important turning point for the organization I volunteer with, so everyone is working overtime and the number one gal is doing nothing but eat and sleep and work.

It would be nice if I could have just one or two of these developments going on right now, and save the others for later, but this is life and I am coping as best I can.


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