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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).

Transitions

December 23rd, 2016 at 06:07 pm

DH's father passed away 2 weeks ago. DH has been overseas helping his mom, but will return just in time for Christmas. (We don't do much but it will be nice to have him home all the same.) He's been a really big help to his mom (getting death certificates, contacting government agencies and probate court, taking her out to eat, etc., etc.), and I feel so proud of him.

There will be more changes to come. His mom will probably move back to where she used to live, to be closer to friends, family, and her religious group.

DH & I will probably have another discussion about whether a move to be closer to MIL is feasible, necessary, and/or desirable. If we are going to move, I'd rather do it sooner rather than later . . . for many reasons, the main one having to do with work and my age.

If we do decide to move, I'll have to start a new blog section: "relocating to a high cost part of the USA" - ha

This and That

November 27th, 2016 at 10:52 am

1. Mom: Following a collapse-type fall (meaning no broken bones) from which she could not get up, caused by weakness from an infection, my mom was hospitalized for several days and is now housebound. So DH & I are now fully in the "helping care for elderly parents" stage of our life. Unlike my FIL who has not yet been able to move from his hospital to hospice due to his fragile state, my mom is expected to regain most of her functioning. But I know from experience with my own grandparents, and hearing from others like Patient Saver, it's not like she is going to get all better and go on with her life. Mom needing help is going to be a recurring thing.
Right now she is getting PT, OT, and bathing assistance at home. She has church friends who have delivered some meals. My brother lives with her and is able to provide some physical assistance. I've been pleasantly surprised with what I've been able to help her with from over 2,000 miles away, thanks to the internet and telephone. I've ordered delivery of groceries (signed up for a trial membership in Amazon Prime since Mom lives in a Prime Now delivery area), ordered fireplace logs, sent flowers, researched personal emergency response devices, notified family members, reminded Mom of the deadline for open-enrollment Medicare selection, discussed mail delivery of prescriptions, and just been a sounding board to help her problem-solve and provide emotional support. Thank goodness for modern technology.

2. Taxes and Investment Planning: DH and I talked on the phone with Vanguard CFPs regarding our investments and taxes. Regarding taxes, the "good news" is that other than investing in munis or deferred annuities (no thanks), we will be doing all we can do legally to reduce our taxes once DH has established a solo 401K. And the "bad news" is that other than investing in munis or deferred annuities (no thanks), we are doing all we can do legally to reduce our taxes. ha...ha...ha - that's meant to represent a "funny but not really funny" laughing sound. Regarding investments, we did not dig deep in to the discussion. It felt like the person we spoke to was mostly interested in selling Vanguard's newish Personal-Advisor-For-A-Fee service or throwing out cookie-cutter statements like "at your age and years from retirement we recommend a higher percentage in equities" and I did not get the sense that we would get far by getting in to a deep discussion about how the "stock" in DH's business factors in to the equation, or how our percentage of publicly traded equities compares to other entrepreneurial types (we are pretty typical when you look at that smaller subset of the investing population). These discussions did result in a couple very helpful answers to specific questions regarding solo 401Ks, and one helpful suggestion for a fund that we will likely choose for DH's solo 401K that we did not choose for his SEP IRA. So the conversations were worth our time. They also reinforced our belief that it is helpful to get advice from experts, but that we are still the ones best equipped to make our own investing decisions.

3. The Endless Bank Shuffle: This morning I moved funds around to maximize interest earnings on savings. I won't bore you with all the details. I'll just say that this has become a repetitive exercise and I WILL continue to fight the good fight. It's part of my job as household CFO.

4. Holidays: I'm done with my shopping (it's not much), and mailed off the few gifts that needed to be mailed on Friday. I was just feeling the need to be ahead of schedule where I could, to leave room for unexpected demands on my time. I've completed my regular, big holiday-season volunteer project and have started a second, new one (one that is smaller, more flexible, and a balm for my soul).

Life goes on . . . sometimes with the same challenges over and over, and sometimes with new ones. I think I'm ready.


Oh, Mirror in the Sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
(from "Landslide" by Stevie Nicks)


FIL Update

November 4th, 2016 at 01:15 pm

FIL has finally agreed to move to hospice and has stopped insisting to go back home. He will have a private room for 2-3 months. He would like to have an electric wheelchair for some degree of independence so DH & I are planning to rent one for him.

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.

Hanjin Bankruptcy

September 2nd, 2016 at 06:48 pm

Well this was a news story that certainly got my attention.

[url]http://www.usnews.com/news/business/articles/2016-09-02...

I'm sure this is causing headaches for manufacturers, retailers, and transportation-related companies. What will the ripple effects be throughout the holiday season and beyond?

Korean Airlines is part of the Hanjin conglomerate. I wonder if the airline will be affected? (Anyone holding Korean Airlines miles? Are you more likely to try to use them up quick?)

Container Gardening Successes and Failures

August 25th, 2016 at 01:02 pm

It's no secret that I am NOT a gardening whiz.
It's also no secret that I believe in focusing on both the big AND small things when it comes to my personal finances. Here's an update on a small thing - my attempts at container gardening.

The soil in my yard will NOT grow veggies. To amend the soil or build raised garden beds is, for me with my brown thumb and gardening laziness, an absurd thought.

In the spring I planted 4 items in containers. 2 were dismal failures. The containers were not nearly big enough to grow daikon (what was I thinking?) and the cherry tomato plants yielded only a handful of fruit.
But, the sweet basil starter plants have been a success (still yielding). My biggest success by far was green onions grown from seed. DH & I have been enjoying piles of fresh green onions, and I only planted half of the packet. Since we live in a hot climate (Texas), I will plant the second half of the packet in a week or two for fall / early winter harvesting.

Next spring I'll plant green onions again (they are so expensive at the grocery store and have proven so easy to grow - definitely worth it), and will try basil from seed instead of from starter plants so that I can (hopefully) get a lot more. I'll probably experiment and try one other item as well.I'm going to look through my "Healthy Mind Cookbook" to come up with some ideas. I want it to be something easy to grow in containers, expensive to buy in stores, and beneficial. Something that I can get 2 plantings out of would be nice too. Hey! Maybe I'll even try something new this fall. Why not?

I'm open to suggestions if anyone reading this has any.

Update - NOT buying a condo for in-laws

August 24th, 2016 at 09:07 am

FIL's health is in rapid decline. His doctor says that he may live another year, or he could die before 2016 year-end. The doctor has given approval for FIL to move in to a hospital to live out the rest of his life, but FIL will not go . . . at least not yet. DH's opinion is "He has no choice. He has to go." and will try to convince him thus when he visits next month. DH sees it as necessary to save MIL's health and sanity. We'll see.

A move (other than to a hospital) is out of the question right now.

Also, DH has been consulting with his BFF who is knowledgeable about the local real estate market and has concluded that buying a condo is not a good idea, because they think the RE market in DH's home country is in for a lengthy decline with no bottom in sight. It would make more sense to just provide some sort of monetary subsidy.

For the time being, MIL & FIL will stay where they are. After FIL passes, MIL's options will be wide open. She will probably move back to her old neighborhood (where we had planned to purchase the condo and which is near family), but there is also a slight chance she may move in with her sister in another city, or try something different. When the time comes, and she's ready to make the decision, I know she'll talk things over with DH. She always does.

FrugalTexan had asked if it was an option for them to move to the USA near us. At this time it is not. When we relocated to Austin, FIL & MIL applied for a visa so that they could move near us but were denied. US citizens aren't allowed to sponsor in-laws, so I can't. DH would only be able to sponsor MIL if he got US citizenship. He has looked in to citizenship, but so far has decided against it because dual citizenship isn't an option. He's willing to be a US citizen, but not yet ready to give up the citizenship he has had all of his life. I understand that.

SecretarySaving asked about home delivery of groceries, which is a great idea. I mentioned that to DH and he likes the idea. MIL does not have a computer or use the internet, so DH is going to look into it when he visits next month. Perhaps they could set up some sort of regular delivery, or he could order for her from here in the US? He'll check to see if that's feasible.

(Now that I think about it, while writing this out it dawns on me that giving some money to DH's BFF and asking him to place the orders might also work. The guy is a peach. He's 100% responsible and trustworthy, and has been DH's friend through thick and thin since elementary school. I'll throw that out to DH as an option.)

On a positive note, FIL has started going to adult day care one or two days a week. He tried it in the past and didn't like it so stopped going. Now he is willing because he is getting some essential care (specifically bathing) when he is at day care, so that takes some of the load off of MIL.

I'm going to put together a deluxe assortment of chocolates for DH to bring to FIL when he visits next month. FIL loves chocolates, and we always send some, but this time it will be an extra special lot. I will also send a bit of cash for MIL to use as she sees fit.

As far as what sort of assistance we will provide down the road, that remains to be seen. At the very least, there will be more overseas trips in DH's future and some form of financial assistance to MIL. I won't be surprised to see years of flat household net worth, and that will be just fine.

"People first, then money, then things." - Suze Orman

2 Year Spending Goals Update Number 3 - Condo For In-Laws

August 2nd, 2016 at 11:10 am

I've struggled with how much I want to share about this. My decision is to share only some of the background info. DH's parents (who live in another country) are going through a tough time. FIL just turned 80 and has serious health issues. MIL is healthy but worn out from caring for him. Due to a major financial setback that occurred shortly before retirement, after they retired they moved to an inexpensive rental in a semi-rural area which was initially very charming but has become increasingly undesirable (far from family, limited medical resources, and a burden on MIL when running errands because she does not drive). FIL is rather stubborn about accepting assistance from non-family. Yes, this exacerbates the problem (especially for poor MIL), but at 80 years of age he is not going to change his ways.

DH and I want to help - because they are family, and because their negative financial situation is largely due to bad luck. No, they haven't managed their finances perfectly. (Who has?) But they haven't been grossly irresponsible either. And more than anything we know that MIL needs relief!

Because we live so far away, there are limits to the amount of hands-on assistance we can provide. DH visits twice a year and chauffers MIL around so that she can get things done and takes her out to eat.

In the spring we gave them a small cash gift. But we knew we needed to do more. After talking and thinking about it, almost simultaneously DH and I came up with the idea of perhaps purchasing a condo for them - someplace near family, with better medical resources, and with easy access to public transportation.

Before I go any further, I should say that this is NOT a "done deal." DH is going to fly overseas and go condo shopping in the fall to see what the options and prices really are in the two specific areas he has in mind. And we need to research a few legal questions regarding a foreigner (in this case, that would be me) owning and/or inheriting property in DH's home country. Only after we have decided that this is a feasible option for us, then DH will approach the in-laws with our proposal.

This is how we see the "deal" being structured:
- DH & I would buy the condo
- DH & I would pay the property taxes
- FIL & MIL would pay the HOA dues
- FIL & MIL would pay the utilities

The idea is to find a place where the HOA dues plus the utilities are less than their current rent. It would also need to be a place that MIL could afford on her own after FIL passes (her retirement benefits will decrease). MIL would be welcome to live there for as long as she is able; we estimate she'll be there 20-25 years. DH would stay with them when he travels to that part of the country on business, saving him a little bit on hotel expenses.

After MIL passes, we would sell the condo and use the proceeds in our later years.

Financially speaking, this will not make life easier for DH & I. We'll have the added expense of the property tax on the condo (I've been told much lower than here in the US), we'll be exposed to currency risk (by purchasing an asset in foreign currency), and we'll have more of our net worth tied up in non-financial assets. But it won't be an unbearable burden either. Financially speaking, we feel it is a better option than just giving the in-laws cash on a regular basis. And for MIL and FIL, we think that it would make their lives much, much easier (especially MIL) and we hope this form of assistance will be easy to accept.

This is a pretty big goal. And not one that we had ever imagined until just a few months ago. When you are young you cannot imagine how your financial goals may change over time and when you might need those "extra" savings.