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Christmas Gift Planning

November 12th, 2017 at 08:22 am

This year, I am giving Christmas gifts to only 4 family members. I expect to spend a total of $270-275. As always, I'm looking for ways to reasonably stretch my dollars while giving things that will hopefully be useful and appreciated by the recipients.

For Mom, 3 separate orders of fireplace logs will be sent during the time leading up to the holidays. The 1st has already been delivered. Due to age and mobility issues, Mom can't handle bringing home a full case from the store, and appreciates the home delivery. I stagger the deliveries so she doesn't have to deal with more than she can handle at one time. I'm taking advantage of Target's free shipping during the holidays, and getting a 5% discount with my Target Red Card.

For brother, I will give cash for his travel fund. Travel is one of his greatest joys, and he likes to take a trip every couple of years but has a low income. Cash is cash, so there is no way for me to stretch my dollars on this one, but if he's happy then I'm happy.

For my niece, I will contribute to her college fund. Also, so she has something to open on Christmas day, brother and I went in on the Harry Potter items recently launched by Williams-Sonoma. This is the first time I have given her something that I think she will continue to use after she moves out of my sister's place and is on her own (well, other than the college funds of course). I like knowing that it will have some long-term utility. These are already ordered. I registered my Email and got a 15% discount as it was my first order from W-S. I also ordered on a day when they were offering free monogramming on the apron. By helping brother stretch his dollars, that leaves a few extra bucks for his travel fund. Sister will wrap them up for me (in my family no one expects anyone else to pay the ridiculously high prices for wrapping when ordering on-line, thank goodness).

For my nephew, I will contribute to his college fund. For his "open Christmas morning" gift he will get a Barnes & Noble gift card. I am not sure yet how I will purchase that to best stretch my dollars. I will be keeping an eye out for Black Friday specials. If there are none, maybe Gift Card Granny?

DH needs some new underwear and I thought about buying him some and wrapping it up for fun, but I'm not going to commit to buying that before Christmas. I'll just keep an eye out and wait until I find a great bargain, whether it's Black Friday or post-holiday clearance. We stopped exchanging gifts early in our marriage when we realized we'd rather pay off the mortgage, and the tradition has continued even though the mortgage is long gone.

There will be a White Elephant gift exchange at work (my part-time job), and I will "shop my closets" for that. Last year, my first holiday season there, I noticed that several people gave small gifts. I am thinking that I may bake some cookies and put them in cello bags in a basket so that people who want to can indulge. In an effort to keep it unique, I may make a couple recipes from DH's culture (probably different from anything they have tried before and definitely lower in sugar than the typical American Christmas cookie ... most of them are game for trying new things). As soon as I post this, I am going to schedule this on my calendar so it doesn't fall through the cracks.

I am not buying or spending a lot, but it still helps me to have a plan and start early.

Back from Vacation

February 2nd, 2017 at 06:42 pm

I'm just back from spending 4 days with family, helping my brother celebrate his birthday. I had a fantastic time. I spent $236. Used DH's airline miles for the ticket and stayed at my mom's house. I spent on a pro basketball game + meal at the stadium (took my brother), a movie, hostess/host gifts, the airline fee, a souvenir treat to share with my work colleagues, and getting to & from the airport.

It was worth every penny. Hooray for family time.

Turbo Tax On-Line

January 7th, 2017 at 12:53 pm

We can't use the free tax version. We use the Turbo Tax Self-Employed edition, which is the most expensive one.

I just comparison shopped through every place I could think of (financial institutions, AAA, Geico, etc) and found the best price a tie at PenFed credit union and T.Rowe Price. The T.Rowe price web site even says you don't have to be a member, that visitors get the same price.

Today I also finished up the (hopefully) very last piece of business related to moving our HSA.

And I ordered some old-fashioned checks. It has been a long time since I ordered checks! We don't go through them very quickly, and we used to get them for free from our bank (but don't any more).

Next financial tasks?
- Pay bills
- Move funds in advance of upcoming quarterly estimated tax payment day which is soon followed by annual property tax day (we have no mortgage so no escrow)
- Search for a coupon for a discount on annual vehicle inspection (sticker renewal due in Feb).

Halloween Spending

October 25th, 2016 at 06:00 pm

Treats: $21 (There will be no leftovers. I buy what I buy and when I run out I go inside. I have enough for 108 kids.)

Costume accessories: $11-12 (My newish job is at a place where everyone dresses up in costumes with a coordinated theme. I think it will be fun!)

Update - NOT buying a new car (for now)

September 4th, 2016 at 06:30 am

When I posted my 2-year "big spending" goals, I had 5 items on the list. Now we're down to 3.

For the time being, we are not buying a new vehicle for DH. He has decided to keep his 17 year old golden chariot (KBB is $500) a little while longer. Yesterday he spent $141 (after rebates) on new tires. The car needed new tires, so that forced him to make a decision.

Given the low value of the vehicle, if it had a major breakdown we would not pay to repair it, we would just buy a new one. And if a fantastic deal became available on a vehicle we were really interested in came up, we would jump on it. So we still could end up buying in the next 2 years but the plan is to wait longer than that.

Still on the 2-year spending goals list: 1) Continue to maximize 401(k) and IRA contributions. 2) Replace some carpeted areas in the house with tile. 3) 25-year anniversary trip.

2 Year Spending Goals Update Number 2 - New Vehicle

July 11th, 2016 at 03:10 pm

The more we research, the more we lean towards getting an electric vehicle.

Because auto makers are rapidly making technology advancements on electric cars, it makes sense to try to wait another year or more before purchasing. The biggest improvements are in the driving ranges(without a range extender). For example, the Nissan Leaf has an estimated range of 84 miles but the Chevy Bolt coming out in 2017 has an estimated range of over 200 miles. That's a big difference!

So, the current plan is to get new tires for the old car (total cost with tax $226) but let the repair go (it's still drive-able) and coax another year or so out of it. If the car happens to die before we are ready to pull the trigger on an electric car, we'll manage fine with one vehicle for awhile.

As we ponder purchasing an electric vehicle, knowing we'll be using more electricity, we are also compelled to think more seriously about installing a solar power system on our home. Tomorrow evening friends with a solar system are entertaining us at their home so we'll certainly be asking lots of questions!

P.S. - A friend just purchased a new SUV. He offered to sell his old one to us for what he could get from the dealer at trade-in, which was about $4K lower than KBB Private Party sales value. While we were very appreciative of the offer and realized that he was offering us a great deal (we know how he maintains his cars, he treats them like babies, and takes them only to the dealer for every single maintenance and repair), we only considered accepting his offer for about 15 minutes. As soon as I did an internet search and found out that the gas mileage is 12 MPG, we had to say thanks but no thanks!

2 Year Spending Goals Update Number 1 - 25th Anniversary Trip

July 10th, 2016 at 08:38 am

My how things change as time passes. When we were in our 30's we started talking about what we'd do for our 25th anniversary. We quickly decided that we'd take a "big trip." For a very long time we thought we wanted to ride the Blue Train in South Africa. Other itineraries we fantasized about included touring the British Isles, soaking up jazz and mojitos in Cuba, or taking a Crystal Cruise.

And now that the time is approaching all we want is a relaxing, fairly economical little getaway that can include the dog!

Due to the hoopla over the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks System, I've been reading about our National Parks and developed an interest in visiting more of them. Because we want to drive so we can take the dog, the "big deal" parks (Grand Canyon, Acadia, Smokey Mountains) are not practical due to the distance. The nearest National Park that interests us, and the one we are planning to make our 25th anniversary destination, happens to be the smallest one --- Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

Our plan is to take a 3 day / 2 night trip (in about a year and a half). Our budget is $1,000 for 2 adults and 1 dog.

Mileage (IRS Business Rate): $600
Hotel (Pet Fee & Taxes): $75
Admissions & Tickets: $100
Mineral Baths: $75
Food & Drink: $120
Misc (Souvenirs, Photo Development, etc): $30

We plan on using points for "free" hotel stay but will have to pay a pet fee and taxes.

Regarding Mileage: Mileage is 60% of our budget. I practice steely-eyed realism when it comes to budgets. To say that the only driving-related expense is gas would be cheating. So I'm going to use the IRS business rate for mileage. Will our actual driving expenses be less than $600? Oh, probably. I drive a Toyota Prius. But isn't it better to have a higher number in the budget and wind up with "extra" money in the bank than to cheat on the budget and wonder where the money went?

Possible mini-goal: Because the park is centered around the natural hot springs and the bathhouses, "taking the waters" is a big part of the experience. My current budget includes one mineral bath treatment. It might be nice to indulge in an extra spa treatment (massage, pedicure, etc). I am cooking up a little scheme for earning "spa splurge snowflakes." Will post more details later if it materializes.

Looking Ahead At the Next 2 Years

June 19th, 2016 at 10:56 am

It looks like the next 2 years are going to involve some kind of big financial moves, and will involve quite a bit of spending, so I've decided to briefly document my top 5 financial goals from now through the end of June 2018.

1. Continue to maximize tax-deferred contributions to 401Ks and IRAs. This is not new, but must remain the number 1 priority above all others.

2. Purchase condominium for in-laws? I ended the preceding sentence with a question mark because it is something that we are going to look in to but have not yet decided on for sure. For over a year we have known we want and "need"to do something to help out the in-laws (and have already made one small cash contribution), but it's only recently that we hit on this idea as a possible solution.

3. Purchase replacement vehicle for DH. At 17 years old and with a needed repair that would cost more than its value, this one has moved from an "if and when" to a "when and with what" question.

4. Replace carpet in main living areas with tile.

5. 25th Anniversary Trip: Due to items 2 & 4 on this list, plans for this trip may be revised from a cruise or "overseas other than DH's homeland" trip to a nearby weekend getaway while the tile is being installed plus a condo-buying overseas trip for DH.

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.

American Airlines Award CC update

April 9th, 2015 at 03:03 pm

Spending $3K in 3 months is going to be easy. I have already charged the following bills: annual homeowner's insurance, quarterly trash, and monthly propane. We also charged 3 yards of river rock to be delivered for our DIY re-landscaping project. We're now at just a little under $1K charged; over half of that was the homeowner's insurance.

We don't have a mortgage so we pay homeowner's insurance once a year instead of as part of our monthly mortgage payment.

Going for this bonus is showing me how many bills I could have paid by c.c. for rewards instead of using on-line bill pay (or check). Nothing I have charged has a service fee associated with using a c.c.

To borrow a page from creditcardfee's book, I must caution that using credit cards for the bonuses is a good idea only if you have the money to pay the balance in full each month, and if you use the card only to pay for things that you would have been paying for or buying anyway.

American Airlines 50K Miles Bonus CC

March 29th, 2015 at 02:52 pm

I decided to get an American Airlines cc for a 50K miles bonus. I'll have to spend $3K in 3 months which is going to mean pre-paying some expenses in order to hit that number. In a typical month, we don't charge $1K. It will also mean forgoing our cash back bonuses since I'll be charging everything on the AA card.

But it will be worth it. DH travels overseas at least twice a year so I will transfer my bonus miles to him to use.

I'll close the account before I hit one year to avoid the $95 annual fee.

I have a file folder labelled and am ready to start tracking.

Republic Wireless Here I Come; Staying Relevant

March 11th, 2015 at 12:36 pm

After thinking about it for a long time, I'm finally taking the leap to Republic Wireless. The time has come when a smart phone has become pretty close to a need in order to stay relevant on my job (something that I keep pushing myself to do as part of the 50-plus crowd). Since I've decided to get a smart phone, I decided this was the optimal time to switch carriers; to use Republic Wireless you have to buy a phone through them.

I just ordered the Moto e phone, and will order a protective case and SD memory card from Amazon (cheaper than buying from Republic). I'm going to start out with the $10/month plan and see how that goes.

It will be only me; DH will stick with AT&T. He makes international calls on the go, something you can't yet do with Republic. (He uses Skype when calling internationally from home or hotel, but sometimes he needs to use his phone out in the field.) He also wants to see how things work out for me with Republic. A switch may be in his future, especially if they add an international option.

Thanks to Clark Howard and SA's Tabs (aka B-something) for their feedback on Republic Wireless and other low-cost providers.

Lazy Lunch for Less Than $1.50

February 14th, 2015 at 12:24 pm

DH is out of town, which means lots of salads & sandwiches for me. I like them, and I LOVE the fact that they result in little cleanup work.

When he leaves, I buy a 6-pack of romaine hearts and other salad fixings (other veggies, tuna, dressing, etc) so that I know I can always throw together a quick salad even when I come home from work tired and not wanting to cook.

Today's lunch was salad (romaine heart + tomato + yogurt caesar dressing) plus a whole grain bread round with margarine & a nice dollop of Sarabeth's.

No protein (except for the teeny amount in the yogurt dressing) because I had a salmon patty for breakfast, I'll grab a handful of raw almonds for an afternoon snack, and I'll probably have sardines for dinner.

As you can see, I'm not a big meal planner other than to make sure I have things on hand that fit with my lazy home "cook" (or perhaps I should say little or NO cook) mindset.

Eating economical and healthy foods at home can be done without much work and with just a bit of advance planning, even if cooking is not your "thing"!

Home Cooking and Color

January 26th, 2015 at 04:56 pm

Recently there was a post by a newer SA member who is trying to do more home cooking. It included some comments made by her children about the appearance of the food. Some of you suggested that adding fruits or veggies are a great way to brighten up a dish. I decided to post these photos of our dinner tonight as a form of encouragement to her.

There are a lot of gourmet cooks on this site (Lucky Robin, ceejay, Disney Steve, and Brooklyn Girl come immediately to mind.) I am NOT like them!

I have stated many times that I am a "lazy cook." I can do a big blow out fancy meal occasionally when the mood strikes me or I feel obligated, and I do know how to handle a knife and follow a recipe, but really I don't want to spend a ton of time in the kitchen.

But we eat at home all the time. (Thank goodness DH likes to cook.) In the last month, we went out to eat exactly once.

I decided to share some photos to show how a bit of color can perk up a dish prepared by a lazy, non-gourmet home cook like me.

This is one of our favorite winter dishes, called nikujaga. It's braised meat and potatoes with other veggies (in this case onions, carrots, and edamame ... the recipe I use calls for green peas but I had an open bag of edamame in the freezer I wanted to use up).

3 photos:
1. straight out of the pot
2. picked out the carrots & edamame (to show it without color), which messed up the bowl
3. sprinkled the carrots & edamame back on top (bowl is still messed up but it shows what it would look like with even more orange & green, or if the veggies were used as a garnish on top of a bland colored dish).

Doesn't a bit of color make a difference? Not only does it improve the nutrition of the dish, I think it looks so much more appetizing.

So, there you have it. Adding a bit of color to your home cooking, even if you're far from being a master chef, really can make a difference.

Don't give up on your efforts to cook at home!

Coming to my Safe Venting Place

January 15th, 2015 at 07:11 am

Younique 3D mascara ... WHY???
Spend 30 bucks so you can look like you have big hairy insects stuck to your eyelids ... WHY???

And it's apparently so hot that counterfeit product is being peddled. The counterfeits are a big topic on my local community's on-line Facebook garage sale (swap) page.


OK, I feel much better now.

Black Friday

November 28th, 2014 at 07:31 pm

We got our Target gift cards at a 10% discount this morning. Smile

I thought that would be our only Black Friday shopping but DH went to Dick's and purchased a dozen golf balls for $5. Excellent deal on something he buys regularly! These balls aren't one of his preferred brands, but he'll save them for times when the odds of losing a ball to a water hazard is high.

401K Decisions and other Tidbits

November 21st, 2014 at 02:40 pm

I've decided not to make any changes to my 401k contribution percentage next year. The deciding factor is my marginal tax rate. The tax savings make it worthwhile to continue to contribute the maximum my plan allows even though my investment options could be better.

I'm still able to max my IRA contributions. (If I weren't I'd put less in the 401k and prioritize the IRAs.)

I'm also not making any changes to my 401k investment choices. I'm glad that the decisions have been made and I can stop thinking about them.

I went ahead and rebalanced my account; it was unbalanced by only 1% (had already rebalanced once earlier in the year) but since I was already poking around in it and it's as easy as a couple computer clicks, I just went ahead.

In other financial news, I finally found a bank bonus deal worth pursuing (they have been few and far between this year). Found it on the ever-reliable DepositAccounts.com web site.

And we're all set for our final weekend getaway of the year! I've already "warned" DH that I plan to treat myself to a bottle of beer when we go out for dinner ... A treat I have been looking forward to as I plowed through my most recent work assignment. Smile Even with that splurge, I'm pretty sure we will come in under our vacation budget for the year.

I really need to change my sub-category and stop calling it "Intelligent"(???) Investing because there's no reason to apologize for our conservative investing style. It works for us, we are ahead of schedule with our retirement savings, the funds are there to finance DH's dream if he decides to pursue it, and perhaps most important we don't shift course depending on the way the financial winds are blowing. We have a strategy that allows us to "stay on target ... stay on target" (that's for my fellow Star Wars fans).

P.S. - I think I forgot to mention that awhile back DH gave me the go-ahead to purchase an additional bit of Series EE Savings Bonds. A friend approached us about doing a private mortgage for a home he was purchasing; while we decided not to do the mortgage in the course of the conversation I asked DH why he would consider a 30-year mortgage but say that holding a bond for 20 years was "too long." Also, I think that he is feeling much more optimistic about his life expectancy since he had the minor medical procedure. Silly guy.

Halloween Sure is Fun

November 1st, 2014 at 10:44 am

We potlucked out on the sidewalk with neighbors. That has become an annual tradition. It's low-key with good but not fancy food, so no one spends any more than they normally would for dinner, and we really have fun.

I spent $22 on treats. We had about 120 kids come by. There is nothing left over. I ate exactly ONE treat. Big Grin

Current Financial Doings

August 23rd, 2014 at 10:24 am

This is what I'm currently working on in my financial life:

1. Changing Primary Bank: Remember the old Neil Sedaka song (They say that breakin' up is hard to do, now I know I know that it's true ...)? "Conscious uncoupling" with your primary bank is definitely not easy in this age of automatic deposits and payments, and linked accounts. I freely admit to being a rate chaser who changes banks easily, but that has been true only of my secondary banks not my primary (local) bank. I should have broken up with my primary bank about 2 years ago when the interest rate they pay dropped significantly (following a merger). But I held on because: there wasn't a better alternative, and I knew it would be difficult. Now I HAVE found a good alternative, so the process of getting everything switched over to the new bank has begun. The list is pretty long.

2. New Estate Planning Documents: In 2009 when I did our wills DH & I had some "discussions" about whether to use an attorney or DIY. The compromise we agreed on was that I would DIY (DH's preference) if he would agree that we would hire an attorney to prepare documents (my preference) after we turned 50. Our 50th birthdays have come and gone. I got recommendations for attorneys in our area, left a message with one, and am expecting a call back on Monday.

3. Researching Cell Phone Plans: Our AT&T contract is expiring. I'm researching plans. Unless there is a compelling reason for us to use the same provider, I may go with Republic Wireless for me and another provider for DH who makes a lot of international calls. Do any of you who make international calls from your cell phones have recommendations?

2014 Vacation Budget

August 19th, 2014 at 10:51 am

I've decided our vacation budget for the year: $600 plus mileage. We already spent $375 during 3 days & 2 nights in Dallas. We plan to make two more overnight trips: Houston and Corpus Christi (2 days and 1 night each). Those trips will be less expensive than Dallas. We have earned a free hotel stay that we will use in Houston, and we will spend less on food. (The Dallas trip included meals at several nice restaurants that serve DH's native cuisine.)

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.

Valentine's Day Gifts - New York's 529 College Savings Program

February 3rd, 2014 at 09:40 am

Today I'm mailing off Valentine's Day gifts to my niece & nephew. They are getting $1 cards, a second-hand book in very good condition to share, and small contributions to their New York 529 College Savings plans. Every year I send a small token gift for them to open, but the main gift is the college fund contributions. I do the same for Christmas and for their birthdays.

My sister used to have Coverdell accounts for them, but last year switched to NY's 529 plan. I think it was a great decision because the investment options are all with Vanguard (I'm a fan). Also, now instead of sending a check to my sister that she has to deposit and then mail money in to the investment company, I can now make contributions directly to the 529s. I print out a coupon and mail it in with a check to UGift. I can also print out a little gift certificate that I mail to my niece & nephew. I never had any concerns sending to the money to my sister, but for anyone who wants to know that the money will go to the intended recipients for college it's a nice assurance. Also, it makes things easier on my sister who is busy with her job & children.

That is the only spending I'll be doing for Valentine's Day.

My husband usually buys a nice box of chocolate for me after they go on clearance after Valentine's Day.

Ordering from Seafood/Meat/Deli Counter - Wish I'dThought of This Sooner

October 5th, 2013 at 12:05 pm

When I order something by weight from the seafood/meat/deli counter, the server ALWAYS goes over a little and asks if it's OK. While I KNOW that this is a way to increase their sales, most time I just say "OK" (unless it's a really expensive item in which case I ask them to put some back). Surely I'm not the only one who is a bit wimpy this way?

Well, today I decided to take a different approach when ordering some hamburger, because I really didn't want any extra. I asked for "$3 worth." Low & behold, just a tad under at $2.95!!! This will be my approach from now on. I know that for some items like a slice off of a fillet of fish, it is not possible to get it exactly right, but for something like hamburger or shrimp or deli meat, where they can just put a handful or slice back, it's easily doable.

Wish I had thought of this about 20 years sooner! Big Grin

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 ...

Back from Overseas

September 22nd, 2013 at 06:12 pm

We had a wonderful trip; it was all I had hoped it would be and more. It was wonderful to see friends & family not seen for a very long time (20 years in one case), and to do more in-country sightseeing than we have done in the past. We made good use of that "all-you-can-ride" rail pass, let me tell you! Good to be home.

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.

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.

That was a TEENSY bit sneaky, Geico

July 15th, 2013 at 05:39 pm

I get a 10% discount on my auto insurance because I've completed an on-line defensive driver course. Whether or not you can get the discount depends on your state laws. In many states, the discount is only available for seniors. Fortunately, here in Texas it is available for all drivers. A course certification lasts for 3 years. The course currently costs $19.95. (Edit: Looks like it cost $19.95 back in 2007 too! Nice to see that the price of something has held steady.)

DH has completed the same course. Because we have 2 cars, we both have to take the course to qualify for the discount on both cars.

I got an Email on July 9 from Geico that read in part:

It has been almost 3 years since you took the National Safety Council Online Defensive Driving Course for your Geico policy. Your insurance discount may be running out. You can check with Geico to verify your eligibility.

In appreciation for being a loyal Geico and National Safety Council customer, we are offering you a 10% discount when you take the recently updated Online Defensive Driving Course and use the coupon code ...

It's a rainy night so I thought I'd curl up with a cup of tea and complete the course. First I pulled the "Auto Insurance" file out of my trusty Rubbermaid tote that contains all of our important financial documents and looked at the certificate from when I completed my last course. It expires Oct 24!!! I have over 3 months to go. Nice try, Geico. Instead of completing the course today I just entered a reminder to re-take the course the weekend before the expiration date on my Google calendar. I also checked the date DH's certificate expires and entered that too so I can remind him.

Glad I took the 10 seconds to check the expiration date. Saved me some time and a bit of money too.

I *really like* Geico ... We have been insured by them for about 20 years ... But I think their Email was a tad sneaky, if not misleading.

"Trust, but verify."

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