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.
Viewing the 'Sensible Spending' Category
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.
Usually when I have a purchase to make I take the time to shop around for the best deal. But not always.
On Friday I found out that a neighbor's dog (who we jokingly called the "girlfriend" of our late pooch) was diagnosed with cancer and is going to have an eye removed on Monday. She's a sweet little dog and the owners are fantastic people. To illustrate how kind-hearted they are, when our "boy" died they made a donation to the animal welfare group where I volunteer.
Yesterday I went to a local doggy boutique and bought a stuffed animal and bag of treats, paying full retail price. This morning I wrapped them up and will deliver this afternoon when I take my walk. No time to bargain shop this time.
People and pets first, then money, then things.
We celebrated a "milestone" anniversary last week and celebrated in style!
We went to a nice view restaurant for a great meal. We used a Groupon that I purchased and had been saving for the occasion.
I bought a single serving of Tiramisu at a local bakery, and we got 4 servings out of it (for the 2 of us over the course of 2 evenings). I also bought a single can of Sofia Coppola champagne at the liquor store that we shared.
Everything was such a treat.
Total Expenditure = $47.50 plus driving expense, and worth every single penny!
Bought some nice little "food splurges" from an urban farm in my area today:
Big bunch of golden beets ($3)
Huge bunch of broccoli florets ($5)
Half-dozen free range eggs ($3)
1-lb Longhorn hamburger ($8)
Total spend: $19
The hamburger is from a place less than an hour away. The veggies and eggs are produced on-site.
The prices are on the high side, but the food is delicious! DH had one of the eggs this evening and we both had some of the broccoli, and it is so fresh & much more flavorful than what we get at the supermarket. Tomorrow we will have oven-roasted beets. (The hamburger is in the freezer for later.)
I am NOT a Locavore. The whole "shop local" movement is just not my cup of tea. But I'm happy to support a small farmer once in awhile, and I enjoy learning about what is grown in my area. And of course we enjoy fresh local food products for the YUM factor.
Well, that was my weekend splurge. Do you have any planned?
Bought 3 kinds of fruit today at the neighborhood HEB.
Bananas: 48 cents per lb ... 80 cents for 5 bananas = 16 cents per banana
Grapefruit: "small" (weighing just under 1 lb each!) @ 3 for $1 = 17 cents for half of a heavy, juicy grapefruit
Organic Gala Apples: $2.98 for a "2-lb" bag that actually weighed 2.3 lbs ... 9 apples in the bag = 33 cents per apple
Bananas are a staple in my house. I like to have one each morning. I chose the grapefruit because it's grapefruit season here in Texas (lucky us). And when organic apples go on sale, I usually buy a bag.
Not gourmet or trendy choices for sure. Pretty basic stuff. But "really expensive" or unhealthy? Naw ...
What does a candy bar cost these days?
This is by far the most difficult "Catching Up" update to post.
During the time I was away from SA our beloved dog developed terminal cancer. After consultations with specialists and heartfelt conversation, DH & I decided not to put him through surgeries followed by confinement for a couple weeks and then months of chemo. Instead we have focused on keeping him happy & comfortable for as long as we can. He is doing very well and has stayed with us longer than expected already.
Our decision was based on what we felt was best for the dog. All of you who have been through this know just how badly we wished we could have sat our boy down and had a chat with him to find out what HIS wishes were. But since we couldn't, so the tough decision fell on us.
I am thankful that we had the money to pay for the surgery & followup treatment, had we chosen to go that route. My heart aches for people who have to choose their pets' care based on what they can afford.
Even so, our pet-related expenditures have gone up. He is getting daily medication. We bought a 3rd doggy bed for him, so that he would have a comfy place to lounge in ALL the rooms he hangs out in. I buy cheese just for him when I go to the grocery store ... it's his very favorite. And cleaning costs are up. Bedding (human & dog) is being laundered more often, carpets are being steamed (DIY) more frequently, and I even broke down and bought some Arm & Hammer carpet powder that is supposed to help get your carpets cleaner when you vacuum. Today I took the comforter to the cleaners for a cleaning that it wouldn't have needed if he wasn't sick ($33).
And this spending is perfectly OK! This is one of the reasons why we have saved so hard for so long. To see to his needs and keep him comfortable.
Suze Orman has a mantra that we change up a little bit in our house: "People AND PETS first, then money, then things."
I am loyal to the people (and animals) in my life.
I have zero loyalty to cc companies.
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?
1. Tax-Deferred Retirement Savings: Finally moved from Wellsley Income to a mix of Target Retirement 2005 & Target Retirement 2010 (all Vanguard funds). It means I am now invested a bit more conservatively but more diversified, and expenses are a bit lower. Had been considering a move for months. I tend to chew on "big" decisions for what to some must seem like way too long time (plus I take the time to actually read the prospectuses), but once I make a decision I usually take action right away. I made my decision over the weekend and did my Exchange Order online, so the exchange was done yesterday. DH decided not to make a change for now, so we now have a little bit of a friendly competition going to see whose funds do better!
2. Work: The organization I volunteer with wants to hire me. If all works out, I would work for the non-profit part-time and continue working with my current employer part-time from home. If it doesn't work out it's OK because I'll just keep doing what I'm doing right now.
3. Mattress Cover: When I took our mattress cover off to wash it, the zipper "broke" (the pull tab came all the way off). I am NOT a seamstress. I have an old Singer, and I can sew more or less a straight line when I need to, but I rarely sew. I'm also not clever at all when it comes to mechanical things. But other than the zipper the mattress cover is in perfectly good shape, so I knew I had to try to figure out how to fix it. It took over an hour, it was not easy for me, and at one point I had to recruit DH for an extra pair of hands, but I did it! It's now fixed! It looks a little funny because I had to do something to make sure the zipper pull wouldn't come off again, so once I got the zipper teeth put back together and the tab back on, I pinned teeny safety pins at the ends, one on each side. It may not be pretty, but it works! Didn't have to buy a new one ... didn't have to take it to a repair shop ... Don't have to leave it unzipped (losing the anti-allergen effectiveness). It's ridiculous how proud I felt for being able to fix that zipper. DH was really happy too and gave me a big high-five. (He never would have been able to figure out how to fix it. I don't think he has ever held a needle in his hand.) It may be of interest to my fellow frugalites that the teeny safety pins I used came from sewing kits that I got in hotel rooms back in the day when I used to travel for business.
4. Groupon: I signed up for Groupon months ago (last summer I think) but just recently made my first purchase. It was for $14 at the restaurant Which Wich and it cost $7. I redeemed it today for DH & I ... 2 sandwiches & a large shake that came to exactly the face value of $14 (yes, I planned my order so I wouldn't go over the $14). Usually the Groupons are for things we don't buy (spa treatments, expensive restaurants, etc) and while they do offer golf packages regularly they aren't that good of a deal so DH has passed on all of them. While we were happy with today's deal, I'm not sure if it's worth the time of getting a daily Email when there are so few offerings that we would use. Anyone else had better luck with Groupon?
In May I wrote about Shape-Ups shoes and how I thought they were intriguing but couldn't see spending $100 on a pair of sneakers.
At that time, I never saw them on sale. Well, now they are being sold at reduced prices. DH & I hit Dillard's New Year's Day sale and actually saw a couple styles being sold for as low as $40. That is the least expensive I have seen. Dillard's did not have my exact size, and I decided that if I was going to spend that much for a pair of shoes (I think $40 is still on the high side) they had better fit perfectly, so did not buy them.
Now Costco is selling them. $53 for women's & $47 for men's. All sizes and several styles available.
Doesn't that always seem to be the case? When something first comes on the market that you think is neat, if you just wait, the price almost always comes down (sometimes by quite a bit).
One of DH's customers came to stay with us for a few days. He also brought along one of his friends. We did as we always do when we have house guests, spiffying up the guest bath & 2 guest rooms (we have one formal guest room but also have a "flex room" that can be made in to a guest room when we need it), purchasing refreshments, booking tee times, washing the car, etc.
In DH's culture it is customary for house guests to give their hosts very nice gifts. Especially business associates, because they know that by staying at someone's house they are saving on the cost of a hotel, not to mention bar tabs & restaurants. We have received some very nice gifts over the years ... unfortunately, some are expensive but useless ones that we have ended up regifting or selling. Well, this particular customer of DH's is a doll who believes in giving his hosts something they really want, so he brought just a token gift (some food from DH's host country) and then kept his eye out to see what we really wanted.
Our house guests wanted to go shopping at Costco ... As you may be able to guess by now, "Mr. S" saw DH & I eyeing the Shape Ups and discussing them (we were both seriously considering buying them but weren't 100% sure since the price is still very high compared to what we usually pay), and announced that he wanted his gift to us to be one pair for each of us for our hospitality! Yipee! I now have the pair of Shape-Ups I wanted, plus DH has a pair, and we didn't spend a dime.
The 2 guests also each bought a pair for themselves, and Mr. S bought a pair as a gift for his wife.
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:
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.
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!
Yesterday DH & I went out to lunch and then to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular (featuring the Rockettes). It was really a fun show! We both had a great time. Even tho DH & I don't usually exchange Christmas gifts, we agreed the big day out would be our gift to each other. We spent $79 total (lunch, parking, and 2 tickets) and it was worth every penny!
Hope you all are enjoying your Christmas.
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.
My clothes washer is washing our sheets right now. DH's pillowcase had a small blood stain on it. Before starting the wash I treated the stain as I have for 99.9% of my adult life: I measured my regular laundry detergent in to the cup, got the stained area wet (use COLD water for blood), poured a little bit of detergent on the stain, rubbed the fabric together with my hands, did a quick rinse (again use COLD water), repeated these steps one more time, and the stain was gone.
I have owned one bottle of special stain treatment stuff in my life. I bought it during an especially busy time in my life, thinking it would make doing laundry a bit easier. It didn't. In fact the case could be made that using my tried-and-true method is faster since I don't have to take a special bottle down from the cupboard, open it, close it, and put it back (and remember to buy it when it runs low).
And while I haven't done an ounce-for-ounce comparison, I KNOW that using plan old laundry detergent is cheaper than using a specialized product.
This post is not just about treating laundry stains. It's about questioning whether you really need a specialized product that a manufacturer has done a great job selling you on, or whether an everyday (less expensive) product would work just as well. For the newly-frugal, as you go about your daily routine today, why not ask yourself: "Do I really need this product? Does it really make my life easier and save me enough time to make it worth the extra cost? Or is there another less-expensive product that I already own that could work just as easily and well?"
Saturday I spent all day at a volunteer event ... hard work but also social & rewarding & fun.
Sunday DH & I went to Asia Cafe where we spent $17 total (including tax) on a great Szechuan Chinese lunch. It's counter service so there is no tipping. The food is great; best Chinese we've had here in Austin. I highly recommend it to any Austinites who might stumble upon this blog.
After that we went to the Pioneer Farm Museum. Austin was having a 1-day event where admission at many museums around town was free. (Regular admission at that museum is $8.) The museum itself was really interesting, but what I enjoyed the most was how it prompted DH to start reminiscing about summers he spent as a child on his grandmother's farm ... using the outhouse, traveling down an unpaved road, feeding chickens & hogs, etc. It's not something he has talked much about, and I enjoyed hearing those memories. His grandmother was a tough & wonderful woman that he loved dearly.
In the evening I crashed & watched High Fidelity on DVD from the library.
There was a fair amount of driving around, and of course the cost of the lunch, but all in all it was a fairly frugal weekend for a whole lot of fun.
As mentioned in my last post, on Thursday we met with an estate planning attorney. DH & I talked about it a bit on Friday, mostly me asking if he wanted to proceed and him saying "maybe later ...I want to think about it a bit more." On Saturday I came to the conclusion that DH was never going to go for the high lawyer fee, that he was going to keep saying "later" indefinitely, and that could mean our documents not getting redone. As much as I really want to get some professional, proper documents in place, I also know that if I push DH all I'm going to get is push-back. (Same thing would happen if he tried to push me in to a major financial decision against my will ... we are both pretty strong and kind of stubborn that way ... it really bugs me when I hear people say things like "my way or the highway" when it comes to financial decision-making in a marriage ... but, I digress.)
So, I came up with a major compromise that I'm not thrilled about but that I know will at least mean getting new documents in place.
I asked DH if he would agree to let a top-notch estate planning attorney of my choice do our estate documents, regardless of the price, when we turn 50, if I do the documents myself now using Legal Zoom or DIY software. His eyes lit up like Christmas morning and he readily agreed. I think I'm going to have him put it in writing ... He has been known to conveniently "forget" promises made years prior.
Now I need to decide which program to use, and more importantly I need to decide if I want to do a DIY revocable living trust (the thought is intimidating, but maybe I just need more knowledge) or if I want to stick with a simple will for the time being.
Back in May I posted about how we were switching to OTA (over the airwaves) TV:
Wanted to do a quick update for anyone interested in doing the same.
While the process of installing the antennae was harder than expected (ended up hiring an installer), we are VERY happy with the switch.
We get 14 channels. 2 are Spanish language channels, 1 is geared towards people in the military (Pentagon channel or something like that), and 1 is just a weather map with recorded weather updates, so really 10 channels that we actually will watch.
Picture quality is crystal-clear. We are extremely happy with the reception. I'm sure the recent conversion to digital helps.
This is what we spent:
$68 for the antenna
$215 for professional antenna installation
$11 for the digital converter box ($50 - $40 government coupon + tax) ... the purchase of a big flat screen that is digital ready is still in the works, but on hold for a bit, so we went ahead and got a converter box.
In addition, the digital converter box has to be plugged in to an electrical outlet, so we are using a bit more electricity that we would be with cable ... I think ... unless cable jacks also use electricity ... I don't know if they do.
If anyone's interested and wants more info, feel free to ask.
No more monthly cable bills ... Yippee!
OTA = Over The Airwaves
This is the "free" TV that is available to anyone with an antenna. This is the type of TV anyone my age or older grew up watching.
A move is such a great way to re-evaluate lots of things in your life. In addition to evaluating what things we really want to keep (as in, "Do I really want to lug this ratty object to the new place, or is it time to ditch it?"), you also start evaluating services and weighing the costs vs. benefits.
When it came time to order utility hookups at our new house, I really started evaluating our "need" for cable TV. In our apartment, cable is included, so we have not been paying seperately for it for 1-1/2 years. When we lived in the Seattle area, we used to have a semi-expensive cable package, because that was the only way for DH to add channels from his native country. Since his country's channels are not available where we live now, he started looking for other ways to watch TV, and now subscribes to a service where he watches TV from his homeland over the internet.
Other than a bit of CNN & CNBC (with a smattering of Animal Planet), the only TV I watch is major networks. So I started thinking that cable was not really necessary. I did some research, and the more I learned the more I liked the idea of living without cable.
In addition to loving the idea of not having to pay a monthly cable bill on top of the $25 we're paying for DH's internet viewing, I really like the idea of better reception. I learned that picture quality is better if you DON'T have cable, and this will especially be true once the switch is made to digital TV (June 12).
DH has been patiently waiting to buy a big screen flat panel TV. I asked him to wait until we had our new house and prices have come down. Once we're in our place, I'll give him the green light to go ahead and buy his big toy. I'll have him get an integrated HDTV one; that means it will already have an HDTV tuner built in, so we won't have to buy a seperate tuner. All we need is an antenna.
I ordered this antenna today: http://www.crutchfield.com/p_209TV55/Terk-TV55.html?o=v&sear...
With shipping, it came to $68.
DH will be installing it in our attic. According to on-line reviews I read, it is fairly easy to install. (It's an indoor/outdoor antenna. I knew an outdoor antenna would not go over well with the neighbors.) I don't know if we will have to buy any hardware for mounting, or if we have all of the tools we need, but even if we do have to run to Home Depot and buy something small, I figure we'll come in at $75 or less total. With cable at $49+tax, we will have recouped the antenna cost in 1-1/2 months or less!
If anyone else is interested in making the switch to OTA TV (and with the digital conversion coming up, can you think of a better time?), these were the sites I found most helpful in researching:
Once we're settled in to our new place, I'll let you know how we like our "new" (actually retro) way of watching TV.
Has anyone else noticed grocery prices coming down a wee bit?
While the "HEB Banana Price Index" is holding steady at 49-cents per lb, I have noticed actual price CUTS on some items.
While everyone would agree that food is a "need," I am one of those people who mentally separates grocery items as to whether they are "more on the need side" vs. "more on the want side." That way, when I buy grocery items that are "more on the want side" of the equation, I know I'm making a little splurge and I realize that I'm treating myself, even if I'm not running to Starbucks or the manicurist. It's a way to get genuine pleasure from a relatively simple thing.
This past week, I've been able to treat DH & myself at the grocery store with the following purchases that are very much wants and not needs, and in some cases are things that we have not bought for quite a long time:
- A box of Bagelfuls (DH loves them) for $2 --- I used to wait until they were on sale for $2 or less. HEB has cut their price and this is now the regular price. You should have seen DH's eyes light up when I came home and told him.
- A carton of Tropicana for $1.99 (w/ Target coupon) ... And I see that Randall's has it on sale this week for $1.97 with coupon, so I'll probably be buying a 2nd carton. Wow! As much as we appreciate our usual OJ from concentrate (it has nutritional value, tastes good, and the price is right), honestly we do love Tropicana. What a nice splurge!
- 5 Lean Cuisine entrees (Spa Selections Butternut Squash Ravioli w/ Veggies ... my favorite) + Carton of Skinny Cow Ice Cream Sandwiches for $10 (This was one of HEB's Combo Deals). The frozen entrees will be a very nice treat for lunch at work, instead of my usual almond butter sandwich. And the ice cream sandwiches are a treat any way you look at them!
Hope everyone has a nice weekend, and I hope everyone is able to enjoy some frugal treats in the week ahead!
It sure is nice sometimes to just eat whatever I want for dinner! As long as it doesn't break the grocery budget and offers nutritional value, who cares if it only takes 3 minutes to prepare and 30 seconds to do the wash-up?
Tonight's menu? A green salad, egg whites nuked in the microwave (seasoned w/ Costco's store brand equivalent of "Mrs. Dash" and Kraft Parmesan Cheese), and Kashi frozen waffles topped with organic wild blueberries!
Martha Stewart I definitely ain't. But I am happy, full, don't have to deal with dishes this evening (I'm off to watch Lost guilt-free), and have managed to whip the grocery budget back in to shape during DH's absence.
1. Year End Net Worth Calculation: We ended up a leeeetle bit for the year. And when I say "leeeetle" I really mean it! 2%. Considering that ROR on mutual fund investments was -25.2% for the year, we can live with that. It means we retained enough of our earnings to ever-so-slightly more than offset our losses. Just like so many of you guys, living below our means was what saved us from being down for the year.
2. DH's Business (2008 results & 2009 outlook): DH's business for the year was down slightly (compared to his annual average). He had started the year off with a bang and we expected it to be an up year, but it didn't end up that way. In 2009, we expect business to be down more. There are a couple big factors working against us (one of them of course is the overall state of the economy), and a couple working in our favor. We will be satisfied with a year that is "just moderately bad to okay." And we know we will be fine even if it is really bad.
3. New Year's Resolutions: I don't make formal resolutions. My goals are created as the need arises, or as I am inspired by something, or learn something new that makes me realize there is something I should be working on. The ones I am working on right now are continuations of things I was already working on Dec. 31st.
While it's not a resolution, I did buy a special book for the new year ... "The Intellectual Devotional" ... I will be reading my way through that this year. Since it is formatted to be read starting on a Monday, I started it on Dec. 29th.
Again, while not a resolution, the one thing I was becoming dissatisfied with towards the end of 2008 was not using my time effectively. So, since the "devotional" (it is not a religious book BTW) is meant to be read one page each day, and since I am reading it in the evening, I stuck a post-it note to myself on the inside cover asking myself: "Am I satisfied with what I have to show for how I spent my time today?" So far, that has been a help. I hope it will continue to be.
4. In-Laws & Plans for the New Year: My FIL finally did it ... after much dragging-out, he got things wrapped up with his business and is now officially retired! I have mentioned before that DH & I want to give them something special such as a trip to commemorate their retirements (my MIL worked part-time at my FIL's business, so both of them retired). The gift is now in the planning stage! When we called to wish them happy holiday, we asked him where he would like to travel. He said he wants to come to the USA. And then he started listing the places he wants to visit. You'd think it would be something like "San Francisco, LA, and San Diego" or "Philadelphia, NYC, and Washington DC" right? But no! He said, "I want to go to Denver ... and Atlanta ... and Boston" ... LOL! That's so cute. (Places can seem so close to each other when you are looking on a map.) They want to come for 3-4 weeks, so I think we could actually make that itinerary work. We know this will be his last trip here, if indeed he is even able to make it this time. He has had some serious medical issues over the past few years, including a couple times he was rushed to the hospital for life-saving procedures ... Not the sort of thing that could be dealt with easily on a 13-hour plane ride. First he has to talk things over with his doctor, figure out what the risks are, and then decide if he wants to take them. DH & I have talked about it, and if the trip is a no-go, we are going to give them a cash gift and tell them to use it on anything that would make them happy. I mentioned that it might seem impersonal to give cash, but DH reminded me that in his culture it is perfectly acceptable, so that is what we will do.
5. Party: We got our first formal party invite since moving here to Austin. It's a "wrap up the holiday season" party. Isn't that a nice idea for a party, having it the weekend after New Year's? We did not have to worry about being out with the drunk drivers, we were able to stay home and calm our dog when the fireworks went off, and (most important for us old folks) no need to worry about staying up until midnight. Should be fun, and should be especially nice for DH, since part of the problem he has been having with Austin is feeling "out of the loop" socially.
I'm in the market for a digital camera (have been looking for a couple months). I checked the Black Friday specials, but the situation was exactly the same as last year when I was looking for a GPS: Yes, there were some fairly decent discounted prices, but the models that were being offered all left something to be desired. The top-rated models that Consumer Reports or other consumers deem to be "best buy" just aren't the ones offered up at steep discount. Once again, I skipped the Black Friday sales. (The digital camera was the only thing I was shopping for.) Call me crazy, but I'd rather spend an extra 30 or 40 bucks and end up with a camer I'll be happy with and get maximum use of ... After all, this is going to be the very first digital camera I have paid for, and I plan on keeping it as long as it functions.
I'm not prepared to write off Black Friday all together ... Next year if I'm in the market for something, I'll check the specials again. But so far my "streak" of finding absolutely nothing worth buying in the Black Friday specials continues.
Positive Number 1 - Electric: Got our most recent electric bill in the mail today. It's back under $100 per month ... yea! (We're 100% electric) And I had hoped to not go over $150 during the hot, high A/C months, and in fact our highest bill was $129.
Positive Number 2 - Food & Bev Budget: Don't expect to have any more food & bev expenditures for October (1 day left in the month and we still have plenty of everything), so I'm prepared to declare the first month of our new food & bev budget a success, with $22 left unspent. DH is completely on-board; even tho he enjoys grocery shopping, we agreed that for the time being I need to be the one to do all of the grocery shopping ... DH has not yet learned to resist the urge to throw some sushi or deli Chinese in to the cart. We have a househunting trip coming up in a bit over a month ... I thought we might have to add a bit to the budget to cover all of our eating out at that time, but now I'm thinking that if we can leave some unspent in November as well, we'll hopefully be able to cover the meals on the trip within our regular budget.
1 Negative - Twisted Metal Mess: Yesterday when I got home from work, DH told me he thought something was wrong with the garbage disposal. I stuck my hand in and found a mess of twisted metal that used to be the removable part of our garlic press! It is beyond repair, and we use quite a bit of fresh garlic, so we will be shelling out a bit of $ to buy a replacement. Not the end of the world, but definitely an unnecessary expense of $15-20. The one we had was about 20 years old ... No doubt there have been some improvements since we bought that one!
I'm thinking about the Zyliss ... Have read good things about it, and it looks nice. Any feedback from my fellow bloggers?
(At least the disposal seems to be running fine.)
1. On "Sensible Spending":
Went grocery shopping today. (For those of you following the HEB Banana Price Index, it is holding steady at 49-cents per lb.)
Midway through my trip I realized how much more comfortable my past couple grocery shopping trips have been. I had my list and coupons and pen, and I kept a running tally on my list of how many dollars worth of merchandise I had in my cart. Sometimes I paused to study the product and prices before deciding which item to buy. At one point I whipped out my little calculator before deciding on making a purchase.
What was comfortable about it? Not once did I get a funny look! I used to get funny looks from other shoppers quite often. Today no one looked at me sideways, and I noticed that I had a lot of compadres ... lots of people clutching lists & coupons. A nice older gentleman & I had a brief exchange over which package of frozen vegetables was a better deal with the in-store coupon. I saw something I rarely see ... people stopping and really looking and thinking before pulling something off the shelves, not just grabbing randomly. I saw one woman looking at the prices of soda with a VERY pained look on her face; I mean, I could almost see the internal struggle she was going through written all over her reddening, screwed-up face ... poor dear. I fought the urge to hug her and whisper "tap water ... it's better for you too" into her ear.
2. On "House Hunting":
We have about 80 houses on our watch list. Last weekend a very interesting thing happened ... On Monday, the status of 4 of them changed from "pending" to "sold." I found out the sales prices, and 2 sold for 97% of list, 1 for 99%, and 1 for 100%. Now, this does not necessarily tell the whole story ... for example, if the seller paid the buyer's closing costs, or threw in some appliances or a car or a vacation or whatever, then the sales price as percentage of list can appear inflated. And, please keep in mind that the houses that are likely to make it to our watch list are those that we consider to already be "bargain priced," so it's possible to percentage on our list that are selling is a bit higher than the percentage for the San Diego market in general. But still, it was interesting to see so many go to sold over one weekend (I had not been keeping track before this, but if my memory's correct there was maybe 1 going to sold every 2-3 weeks) and selling for so close to list.
Whether last weekend was a funny little blip or part of a trend remains to be seen. Very curious to see what will happen THIS weekend.
3. On "Investing & Risk Tolerance":
I've been thinking about this a lot the past few days ... You know those risk tolerance calculators that you can find on all of the mutual fund web sites (and other places)? Did they not work? Do they need to be re-calibrated? Or did people either just not bother to do them or not answer them honestly or without much self-awareness? Why do so many seem to be invested in things they very clearly did not have the risk tolerance for? The tools were right there for the taking, free of charge ... Did not enough individual investors not use them? Or did they not work as they should have? It's so baffling; am I missing something?
4. In Spite of the Craziness in the Stock Market, One Truth Remains: Numbers Don't Lie!
Yesterday my husband started talking about how he was thinking of moving his entire SEP-IRA to bonds - GASP! I knew I had to stay calm, so I just asked him why, and he started moaning about how much money he has "lost" (his word, not mine). I told him "you haven't lost money." And he said "how do you know?" I pulled out the good old-fashioned yellow sheet of lined paper from the front of his SEP-IRA file where I keep track of his annual contributions and I showed him how much he has contributed out-of-pocket and how much his balance is now, and whaddayaknow ... He hasn't lost money ... He has made money. Not a ton, but a bit. Up about 3-1/2% per year since he started contributing to his SEP (formerly a Keogh), tax year 2001, this in spite of the recent downturn. I think I've managed to talk him down from the ledge ... for now. I wonder how many other people have actually done better long-term than they think they have? They should look at the numbers ... they don't lie ... and they aren't emotional either.
Today DH & I went to The Salt Lick BBQ for lunch. It's an Austin classic. Not only was it fun, it was yum-yum-yum. I wish I could describe the pit where they barbeque the meat ... But trust me, it's really cool.
They served very generous plates full of meat (DH had ribs; I had a combo of brisket, rib, and sausage), potato salad, coleslaw, beans (hate to be picky but this was the only item that didn't really taste very good ... too salty), bread, pickles, and onions. I brought half of mine home, so I'm getting 2 meals out of it.
Poor DH was so delighted with the delicious taste that he started gobbling his food too fast and had polished off his whole plate before realizing how full he was getting ... He started complaining on the car ride home about being too full! Funny since initially he wasn't 100% sold on the idea of going ... His reservations disappeared as soon as he took the first bite.
Plates were $9.95 each; with tax & tip we spent $25. Absolutely worth it! It was a great outing. With the exception of the free breakfast at Ikea, this was my first time out to eat in about 6-7 weeks, so I think that added to the pleasure.
On a side note, I am deleting the Bat Flight at Congress Ave Bridge from my list of things to do. Bats are a big part of life here in Austin (they help control the mosquito population), and the bridge bat flight looks really cool. But I found a grove of trees near where I live where several times I was able to watch bats taking flight at sunset (right after birds flew in to roost ... it was like they were trading places), and I saw several bats when I went on the cavern tour. While that's not the same as seeing the big bat flight, I'm satisfied that I've had enough "Austin bat experience" and I can save the expense of driving to and parking downtown without feeling like I'm missing out.
Where have you had most luck buying the best home furnishings? "Best" means the right combination of price and quality ... whatever that may mean to you.
I am starting a list of places to shop for home furnishings (mainly furniture) after our move, and this is what I have so far. What I'm really looking for is alternatives to the "regular" retail stores, tho' I will start there for pricing benchmarks. I am totally receptive to the idea of buying 2nd hand (with some exceptions, such as mattresses).
www.shopgoodwill.com (Goodwill auctions)
What am I missing?
1. Gasoline: Yesterday I finally saw a price below $3 ($2.989/gallon for 87). Wouldn't you know it, I had filled up a few days earlier. Oh well, I guess the laws of dollar cost averaging apply to gas fill-ups as well as mutual fund investments ... Maybe the next time I need to buy the price will be down even more.
2. Groceries: I have decided that the "HEB Banana Price Index" is the best way for me to track grocery price trends ... Granted this method is VERY informal and EXTREMELY unscientific, but it is the one item I buy most frequently, and the change in price of that item does seem to mirror the overall price trend of the types of groceries I buy. Back in May I blogged about how prices had gone from 33 to 44 cents per lb. Shortly thereafter it went to 48 cents and very quickly to 49 cents ... Wish I had bothered to note the date but I'm guessing June? Well ... since then the price has remained steady, so nothing to complain about.
3. Revised Food & Drink Budget: DH is on board, although right now it is in more of a "we'll see how it goes" mode. I would prefer a firmer commitment, but I'll take what I can get.
4. Medical Insurance: We pay for our own, an individual policy. Got notice that as of November it's going up $48 per month. Oh well. I won't go without it. Best to focus on what I can control. Sure glad the new food & drink budget is in place.
On a side note, while I am looking forward to the move to San Diego, I am NOT looking forward to possibly having to look for an individual health care policy again (it's just so mind-numbing and such a heavy responsibility). If I can transfer the policy I have right now to Cali I will do that.
No, the fact that 2 of my banks (WaMu & Wachovia) went buh-bye within a period of 5 days did not cause me to take a long walk off of a short pier. I'm still around. It's just that DH's business and my volunteer activities have really kept me hopping, and I did not want to crank out a hurried blog entry that would end up sounding completely incoherent.
First, on the bank thing. I know you're all sick of hearing about it, but as far as I know I'm the only one around here who has accounts at both of the "W" banks, so you might be curious to know how I feel about the whole business. It's fine. Really. Since WaMu was a bona fide failure, it was more disconcerting. But we had already done what we could (short of panicking and pulling all of our money out) to feel prepared for a failure. And with Wachovia ... well, the irrational side of my brain thought that it would have been nice if I could have had a couple weeks between bank blow-outs to get myself prepared emotionally for it! But then again, maybe it was nice to just get it all over with at once. I'm still keeping my eye on what will happen with my yields. With WaMu, I have an MMA. Don't have very high hopes there. With Wachovia, most of my money is in CDs, so I am hoping that my rates will be in effect until the CDs mature.
I went in to my WaMu branch yesterday (had volunteer-related business that had to be taken care of), and the mood there was quite upbeat ... A big change from Friday.
On a really positive note, I did manage to earn some respect points with my DH for the nagging I did to get him to switch his business account from one that was not FDIC insured to one that is. (Side note: As small business owners, we are fully in support of raising the FDIC insurance limit, and think it is long overdue. This is something they have been talking about for years. For many small businesses, ours included, it is darn near impossible to operate efficiently and keep your balances under $100K at all times.)
Thrift-o-rama asked how we were coping with all of the turmoil in the financial markets, and someone else asked what we are going to change. This is what I've done and what I am going to do (and whether I'm right or wrong, I really don't know, but I'm doing what feels right for us.)
- Over the weekend, spurred by the WaMu failure, I printed out two well-known poems that I like and they are sitting on my table so I can glance at them any time I need to. They help me stay focused. One is "If" by Rudyard Kipling, and the other is "Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann. BTW, I know many people like the line in "If" about keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs, and I like that too, but actually my favorite part is "If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that's in it."
- On Monday I turned on the news as I was getting ready to make lunch. Saw the Dow plummeting. On top of 2 banks going under, it did feel overwhelming, and I'll admit I felt anxiety coursing through my body. I found myself thinking "OMG I hope the Dow doesn't drop below 10,000 ... no, it's not a logical response and 10,000 really is no different from 9,999 ... it's purely a psychological threshold ... but it goes to show that no matter how rational we try to be, sometimes irrational thoughts take over. I realized I still had work that needed to be done and I needed to focus. So ... and I admit this may sound silly ... I decided that instead of just throwing together a sandwich, I was going to make myself a nourishing lunch of brain food. I fixed a salmon patty and steamed spinach. That's right ... the Dow plummets and scfr steams spinach!
- Monday evening, after I had finished the work I needed to get done for DH, I popped a Netflix DVD in the player and watched one episode of the old BBC series "As Time Goes By." I love that series ... It never fails to make me laugh out loud. By that point, I REALLY needed a laugh, and it felt good.
- As far as our investments go, we're not changing a thing. Our portfolio was designed so that we could emotionally handle a serious market downturn. I did write a date on my calendar (in 2015) when I will revisit our asset allocation, and come up with a plan to GRADUALLY, year-by-year start moving out of stocks. At a certain age, I'd like to be 100% out of the stock market. (My thinking at this time is that age 65 would be good ... I do realize this is not necessarily a wise plan for everyone.) I feel for the senior citizens whose portfolios are taking a serious beating. I wonder how many of them still have the same asset allocation that they had when they were 40 or 45 or 50 ... and if it made sense for them back then and they just never changed it?
- As far as cutting back, we decided not to renew our just-expired subscription to the Austin Sunday paper (I get the WSJ Mon-Sat). Because we are moving away, we may have decided to let it go anyway, but the country's financial situation made the decion to save $2.44 a week that much easier. I clip a couple coupons in an average week, but do not save enough from them to justify the cost of the paper. Also, DH & I have been discussing our grocery budget and how we might trim it a bit. I am going to be presenting my plan to him when he returns from his business trip next week.
- I have some scrap gold (broken necklace, etc.) somewhere. I'm going to go ahead and sell it ... If I can find it.
- I'm going to vote. Nothing new here, but I do believe it's one of the most proactive things all of us can do to impact the course our country takes.
- We're moving whole-heartedly ahead with our plans to buy a house.
- And now for the more unconventional, and perhaps controversial, idea: When we open our next bank account (if we decide to bail on Chase or Citi for example), it will likely be with a bank that is owned by a non-USA company. For example, since we are moving to Cali, having an account with Union Bank of California makes sense. They are a member of the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group. If diversifying your stock portfolio internationally makes sense, then why not diversify your bank accounts as well? Y'all can call me crazy if you like, but as I said, we're doing what feels right to us.
Super Target's offering a pretty good deal. 4 Kashi items for $11, and you get a $5 Target gift card at the register. So that translates to $6 for 4 Kashi items, or $1.50 each. You can buy any combination of Kashi item: cereal (hot or cold), granola bars, cookies, crackers, or frozen entrees. I forgot to take note of how long this offer is going on (sorry).
I bought 2 boxes of Vive cereal (full retail $3.99 each) ... would have gone for a granola, but they were already sold out ... and 2 boxes of cookies (full retail $3.09 each) ... yum, yum.
NPR mentioned that today is the anniversary of the late Louis Armstrong's birth, so in his honor I am playing some of his CDs today.
I love jazz. I'm far from being an expert, but I do love the way it makes me feel. I tend to favor the classics ... Miles, Monk, Coltrane, etc.
To the extreme fan or the obsessive collector, my collection of CDs might seem like small potatoes, but I think it is great. I don't know if I've yet to spend $1,000 on CDs, but I'll bet it's close to that. I've been buying jazz CDs for almost 20 years. The pace of my acquisitions has slowed down considerably (the more I've collected, the less I "need"). The last CD I got was "Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall" which is not only a fabulous record but also of historical significance ... it was rediscovered in some files at the Library of Congress and released in 2005. Guess what the only thing I wanted for Christmas in 2005 was?
I buy my CDs new. I look for discounts, but I don't wait for them to hit the clearance bin.
I love to read books, but I get 99% of my books at the library. I like to watch movies, but I own only 7 (3 are the LOTR movies); I rent from Netflix, at the lowest subscription level. I like moderate exercise, and I get that from walking my dog (or once in a blue moon popping in a yoga DVD). I don't indulge all of my hobbies and interests in a way that costs a lot of money. But I have spent a fair amount on jazz CDs, and if another history-making release comes out or I discover a new artist I love, I will continue to buy ... with no apologies.
I can afford them, and they are well worth the cost for the amount of joy they bring me.
Especially for the younger folks (many of whom have joined the boards recently) I would like to stress that a frugal life does NOT equal a joyless life. The key is figuring out what it is that really brings you joy, and spending your money accordingly ... once you have determined that you can afford it, of course.
For each person, the joy will come from different sources. For Ima Saver, it's dinner out many nights with her husband and Corvettes. For disneysteve, it's the annual pilgrimage to Disney World with his family. For Broken Arrow (err...BA Lite) it's a karaoke box and a guitar. For one person it may be designer clothes. For another it may be gourmet foods or higher-end wines. Someone else may love to go to live concerts or plays. And so on and so on ...
What does NOT work in the long term (unless maybe you are in the super-high-income category) is saying to yourself: "Well, they go to Disney every year and drive a Corvette and wear designer clothes and have instruments and lots of CDs and eat gourmet food and drink expensive wine and go to the theater... so I want ALL of that too!" That's just about being driven by jealousy or competitiveness (aka "keeping up with the Jonses"). It will make you broke and it might not even bring you any joy.
I hope everyone reading this will be filled with joy AND have a secure financial future! I'm off to listen to some more Louis. Peace.
What Would Amber Do?
That was what I asked myself when I was driving home, tired and hungry after running errands. DH is on a long business trip so it's just me, and I wasn't in the mood to cook because I was hungry and just wanted food. I started hearing the siren song of the Whataburger drive-thru calling to me.
Then I started thinking about our friend Amber, and how she has done such a great job over-coming the eating out habit ... She's a real inspiration ... Hence the question I asked myself:
What would Amber do?
I don't actually know what Amber would have done, but thinking about her inspired me to go home and zap a Smart Ones frozen dinner (that I had bought on clearance at Super Target for $1.18) in the microwave. Saved myself a few dollars, and probably did my health some good as well.
Thank you Amber!
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