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Archive for July, 2007

Pick Yourself Up ...

July 30th, 2007 at 06:17 pm

Anyone else remember that childhood jingle?

Pick yourself up
Dust yourself off
Start all over again
Woot woot!

Well, that's what I decided to do.
After my budget-busting trip to the grocery store yesterday (I bought a frozen pizza and a pack of Fig Newmans, neither of which was on my list nor on sale), I came up with a challenge for myself to get myself back on track.

DH is out of town on business for the next 9 days, and during that time I am not going to buy any more groceries (nor get any takeout nor go out to eat, of course). I will eat all my meals using what I already have on hand (plus from my garden). I was inspired to do this by seeing several other SA members do the same thing at times. Also, with the move only 2 months away, it is time to start seriously reducing the amount of food in the pantry and freezer. [I will be thrilled if we move NO food at all except for perhaps some spices, and maybe any leftovers staples like rice & beans.]

I think this is going to be fun! I like a challenge, and I'll enjoy coming up with some creative dishes. It's not like I'm going to be deprived at all, because when the fresh things run out I have plenty of frozen or shelf things to fall back on, plus the first batch of microgreens from my garden will be ready for picking very soon (I did some thinning yesterday evening and enjoyed a nice little salad from that).

I Know Better!

July 29th, 2007 at 09:55 pm

I know you should never go to the grocery store on an empty stomach! It's such a basic rule and I've adhered to it for a long long long time ... until today. In the interest of saving time and not having to make an extra trip, I stopped at the store on my way home from a client's house even though my stomach was crying out to be fed.

You guessed it ... I came away with 2 items not on my list, and they were totally unnecessary: Fig Newman's and an Amy's Mushroom & Olive pizza (not a big surprise that it would be pizza with me)! And ... neither one was on sale ... GASP!

Now I have a full belly and a lighter wallet. Sigh ... It is so hard to be human, isn't it?

Dog Expen$e$

July 20th, 2007 at 01:06 am

The pooch's 4+ year old harnass busted when he lunged at a bicyclist (tsk, tsk) so my DH went to Petsmart and bought one of the "Gentle Leader" ones for $25 plus tax. It makes me cringe paying full retail, but this is one of those times when I want to get a replacement immediately, instead of waiting for something I find cheaper on-line to show up.

Tomorrow same poochie is getting his teeth cleaned (estimated cost $145 + any follow-up medications needed) at the vet's, and as long as he is knocked out, I am going to have them trim his nails as well. [He is one of those dogs who is an absolute terror about getting his nails clipped. I can't use cutters on him. I use a Dremel tool to grind them down but it takes forever and is a big battle of wills. In my mind, this will definitely be an extra $10 very well spent.]

At his annual exam, I found out that he has a broken molar. I would prefer not to have it extracted, and I don't want to just "let it go and see what happens," so I looked in to alternatives and found out that a root canal might be an option. I got an estimate of around $1,500 ... gasp! Since we are moving to Austin in the fall and Texas A&M has a Veterinary School where they teach veterinary dentistry, I am going to have my vet call the dental professor and see if they could perform the root canal and give me a ballpark estimate.

Oh, our 4-legged children can be expensive, can't they? Of course, they are worth every penny!

Cool Quote

July 18th, 2007 at 03:52 am

When I heard this quote, I had to pause the DVD player and go write it down:

"Destiny might lead us to the path, but the rest is up to us."

(from the movie "Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont")

Buying a TIPS from Treasury Direct - Part 3

July 17th, 2007 at 03:46 pm

Yesterday, funds were automatically withdrawn from my checking account for my TIPS purchase. It was recorded by my bank overnight, so I could see the amount withdrawn this morning.

The amount withdrawn was $2,968.47 for my $3,000 TIPS, based on a purchase price of $98.922415 per $100. I paid 20-cents more than what I had calculated based on the published auction results, and I don't exactly know why.

Coincidentally, I also received interest payments yesterday from the US Treasury for TIPS I had purchased in the past. I get interest payments automatically deposited to my checking account every 6 months. So, on the same day I had money coming from and going to the US Treasury. [It was pure coincidence, and I don't think that has ever happened before.]

If I were retired or near retirement age, I think I would be putting a much larger percentage of my money in TIPS, as a way to keep my principal secure and make sure my money earned at a rate a bit ahead of inflation. I read somewhere that John Bogle, the founder of Vanguard, has moved a larger percentage of his portfolio to TIPS as he has gotten older.

Regarding short-term US Treasuries (T-Bills), the interest rate from yesterday's auction was the highest in 3 months:
6-month T-Bill (Rate 4.865% / Yield 5.071%)
3 month T-Bill (Rate 4.840% / Yield 4.982%)
They're not quite up there with the best MMAs or short-term CDs yet, but they are getting close. It might be time to start thinking about T-Bills again ...

Speaking of Hair ...

July 16th, 2007 at 09:53 pm

Okay ladies (and maybe some of you men), I need help!

Because I am going to be moving to hotter-than-hot Texas, I want to cut my hair short but have absolutely no idea how to go about choosing a style. The last time I had my hair cut in a "style" was about 15 years ago. Since then I've just let it grow; every couple of years I get a bunched whacked off and send it to Locks of Love (and I get a free hair cut for doing that). I usually just wear it pulled back by a barrette or a scrunchy. (I know, I know, not very stylish, but hey, it suits me fine.)

I know I could go in to a hair stylist and ask for suggestions, but I'm hesitant to do that because:
- I don't care all that much about my hair, and I think that saying to a hair person that you don't care about hair is insulting to their line of work.
- I'm afraid they'd suggest something too trendy for my taste. I want to choose a style and stick with it for a good long time, so I don't have to think aobut it anymore.
- I'm also afraid they would suggest something that would require more frequent trips to get hair cuts than I am willing to do.

So, I am looking for suggestions, either style suggestions or where I could go to get some information on basic styles.

Here's the 411 on me and my hair:
- My hair is medium thickness and wavy. However, it's not an even wave. It's light-wavy in the front and medium-wavy in the back.
- I wash and condition my hair every other day, comb it out, and let it air dry. That's it. No styling brushes, no blow dryer, no curlers, no hair spray or gel, nada. I would like to keep it this simple.
- I'm 43 years old and do not care about the trends; however, I guess I'd prefer not to look like an 80-year-old. Smile
- Hair is not an area of my life where I care to spend a lot of money. So, I'd like a style where I can go to a basic walk-in place (like Great Clips), and I'd like a style that wouldn't need to be cut very often or where my husband could give me a little trim in between cuttings.

So, any suggestions??? TIA!

Buying a TIPS from Treasury Direct - Part Two

July 12th, 2007 at 10:51 pm

The US Treasury's 10-year TIPS Auction was today and these are the results:

Interest Rate = 2.625%
Yield = 2.749%
Price per $100 = $98.942199

So, my $3,000 TIPS should cost me $2,968.27. I will be paid interest every 6 months, and my principal will be adjusted at the rate of inflation, which means I'll be yielding 2.749% PLUS the inflation adjustments. So hypothetically, if inflation were to hold steady at 3%, my yield would be 5.749%, and of course if inflation goes through the roof my principal would grow in line with inflation. I think that's not too shabby. [Actually, I am really happy with the auction results.]

Hopefully this explains why I like TIPS as an alternative to long-term CDs.

I'll report again when the funds for my TIPS purchase are automatically deducted from my checking account.

Gardening DRIPS

July 12th, 2007 at 04:50 pm

Since my $20 garden challenge finally got back in the black, I went out and bought one final packet of seeds with my positive balance. I hope that will help boost my total for the year by a bit in addition to giving us some more yummy homegrown produce (and some sorely needed variety). It is a Salad Greens micro greens mix that is supposed to take only 2-3 weeks to harvest. I planted about 1/3 of the packet, and will do a couple more plantings over the next few weeks to space things out; I'm aiming for a final harvest approximately 1-2 weeks before my September 30th move.

What was really neat about choosing the seeds was how my attitude has changed since I started this challenge. In the past I would gaze longingly at seeds and think: "I could never grow that." When I was starting the challenge I thought: "Okay - These look pretty dummy-proof. I'll give them a try." This time around I found myself thinking: "Oooh ... That looks interesting ... I could try this ... and this ... and this ... If only I had the time and land. Maybe after I get my house in Texas ..." I feel much bolder about trying different things, because I know that even if not everything I try is a success, at least enough of the things I plant will grow to make the overall effort worthwhile (just like investing, eh?)

The Move is Starting to Feel so Real!

July 10th, 2007 at 10:45 pm

Just made our hotel reservations for while we are on the road during our move from Seattle to Austin. We're staying in Motel 6's all the way. After a bit of looking around I realized that Motel 6 consistently has what we want:
- Cheap rates, and even cheaper if you book on-line with their "Click 6" rates (all we want is a place to sleep after a long day of driving)
- Pets Welcome with no extra charge
- Located right along the major freeways
- Parking all around the hotels. Hopefully we can park our moving van right outside our room to keep an eye on it (and within range of the baby monitor I bought used at our community garage sale for $3 for added security, thanks to the great suggestion from debtfreeme).

This big move is really starting to feel real!

Buying a TIPS from Treasury Direct - Part One

July 9th, 2007 at 06:07 pm

This is for anyone who may be interested in purchasing US Treasuries (bills, notes, etc) directly from the US Treasury, but doesn't know how to do it. Specifically, I will explain the process I go through as I purchase a TIPS (Treasury Inflation-Protected Security) at this week's auction.

Buying Treasuries directly is very easy. There is no need to go through a broker or pay any fees. All you have to do is set up an account with Treasury Direct. I have an on-line account with Treasury Direct that is linked to my primary checking account. That means that any time I purchase a Treasury the funds are automatically taken out of my checking account, and any funds I receive (interest payments and proceeds from matured Treasuries) is automatically deposited to my account. I like having the accounts linked because there is no "lag time" while funds are being moved.

In the past I have purchased T-Bills through Treasury Direct, but I haven't done that for awhile because the interest rates have not been competitive with what I can earn on a MMA or short-term CD. However, I do keep my eye on the T-Bill rates, and no doubt I will buy more in the future.

What I am buying this week is a TIPS: Treasury Inflation-Protected Security.
The minimum investment for a TIPS is $1,000. I will be buying a $3,000 TIPS.

TIPS are currently available in 5-, 10-, or 20-year terms. I will be buying a 10-year TIPS.

Unlike T-Bills which are sold as often as weekly, TIPS are sold infrequently. TIPS are sold either Annually (5- and 20-year terms) or Semi-Annually (10-year term). They are also re-opened Annually or Semi-Annually. That means that if you want to buy a 5- or 20-year TIPS, you only get 2 chances a year. And if you want to buy a 1o-year TIPS, you only get 4 chances a year. If they are something you are interested in, you will definitely want to check out the US Treasury auction schedule and note the dates on your calendar.

The 10-year TIPS I am purchasing was announced today (tho' the announcement had been tentatively scheduled long ago), and the actual auction will take place on Thursday. The TIPS I am buying will be issued on July 16th (because the 15th is a Sunday), and will mature on July 15, 2017.

TIPS pay interest every 6 months, and the principal amount is adjusted for inflation (or deflation). The interest you earn is on the inflation-adjusted amount, so as long as there is inflation your interest payments as well as your principal continue to go up.

This is why I like TIPS:
- They are an extremely safe investment, fully backed by the US government.
- They are a good hedge against inflation. I prefer TIPS to long-term CDs because I know that I'll always be getting "inflation + alpha." I do not have to worry about inflation eroding my principal.
- Once you have a Treasury Direct account set up, they are a breeze to buy.

These are the drawbacks to TIPS:
- They are pretty conservative investments. If you are looking for gangbuster returns, they aren't for you.
- They make tax time just a wee bit more complicated because you get a form "1099-OID" in addition to a "1099-INT." The 1099-OID is for the inflation-adjustment you receive on your principal.
- You have to pay taxes on not only your interest but also the inflation-adjustment to your principal in the year it is received. What that means, quite simply, is that you are paying taxes on money you haven't even received yet.
- The government's formula for inflation may or may not accurately reflect the "real rate of inflation" you experience in your life.

These are the steps I went through to purchase the TIPS:

1. I checked the auction schedule and made a note on my calendar that a TIPS auction announcement was scheduled for today.

2. Once the auction announcement was posted at the Treasury Direct web site this morning, I logged on to my Treasury Direct account and entered a buy order for a $3,000 10-year TIPS. That means that I now have a non-competitive bid entered for Thursday's auction.

3. I went to on-line banking and transferred $3K from my MMA to my checking account. I could have waited a few days to do that, but I didn't want to risk forgetting or being unable to do that and being charged an overdraft fee. [Of course, this means I lose a bit of interest income because my checking account pays less than my MMA.]

Easy as pie.

Because my bid is non-competitive, I won't know what the interest rate will be until the auction is completed. Once the auction results are posted, I'll blog again and let you know how it went.

Want to learn more?

Treasury Direct web site:

To learn more about TIPS in general, start here:

Upcoming auctions are announced here:

Blogging is Better than Pulling out your Hair

July 7th, 2007 at 11:36 pm

Arrrgh! Been trying to figure out how to reconfigure our mutual fund investments and I feel like pulling out my hair! DH insisted we make some changes, and I agreed.

At the end of every month when we look at our assets and net worth, if one fund is down even just a little bit DH always says something along the lines of "Oh that's not good --- We should sell that fund." [He just can't stand to see anything go down. He's even more risk-averse than I am when it comes to investing, which is interesting considering what a risk-taker he is with his business.] We have the same old discussion over and over again about asset allocation, how the overall performance of the portfolio is more important than looking at individual funds, etc, etc, and then he agrees to keep things as they are. But the same thing comes up every month and it's just like a tired old broken record. End of June ... same discussion ... but he was more insistent. And I frankly have been thinking that it's time to rebalance because of how well our International Stock Fund has been doing.

So I decided, what the heck, let's just reconfigure the whole portfolio, not only for rebalancing but also to give DH more peace of mind. But it can be such a difficult decision to make, because you never know if you are making the right decision.

[DH is very much involved in the decision-making process, but I do most of the researching, reading of prospectuses, running Morningstar X-Rays, etc. He's more of a big picture guy and I am more detail-oriented, which makes us a good team, but it does mean I end up doing the time-consuming stuff. Also, DH speaks English as a second language so it makes sense that I do the heavy reading.]

Well, I don't know if this is the right decision or not, and it may just be lazy or cowardly, but I decided (and DH agreed) that we are going to move all of our Tax-Deferred Savings (Keoghs & various types of IRAs) to a "fund of funds," the Vanguard STAR Fund. It's a mix of 8 stock funds (domestic & international), 2 bond funds, and 1 short-term investment fund. Hopefully it will be up EVERY month from now on, even if just a wee bit. Smile

As far as the money that is in our non-tax-deferred mutual fund account, I wanted to split that between the STAR Fund and a Money Market Fund, but DH insisted that it all go to a Money Market Fund. He actually quoted CNN Money ... He said "The expert there says when you are getting ready to buy a house your money should be in completely safe investments!" Which I reminded him is completely irrelevant. What the CNN Money expert is talking about is the money you are planning to use to buy the house!!! We are talking about money that I consider to be part of our retirement savings. [The money that is supposedly to buy the house is tucked away in FDIC-insured deposit accounts.] Finally we agreed to do what DH wanted, put it in the MMF (sigh), and then revisit the whole thing again after we have bought a house.

Why, oh why, am I getting a sneaking suspicion that DH is starting to think about buying a more expensive house than what we had originally agreed on ... ??? Oh well, that will be something to blog about in the future, after we have moved to Texas.

But in closing I'll just say "Bless my DH" because he did put everything in to perspective when he reminded me that not everyone has the "problem" of trying to decide (and come to agreement as a couple) where to put their money because they have no money to put anywhere. As usual, he's right.


July 6th, 2007 at 08:28 pm

This entry has been percolating inside my head for awhile ...

There were a couple of comments made recently about ungracious houseguests (one was made by me). The one that really stuck with me was the poster who said that a guest was invited to use poster's summer place, then complained because they did not have Starbucks coffee. My heart ached for that person, having their hospitality disrespected like that.

It got me thinking about what hospitality means, and naturally that started me thinking about "Mrs. C."
Ever since I met her, Mrs. C has been my role model for a gracious hostess. Mrs. C is a 70-something California farm wife who I think of as a second mother. It makes me sad that I haven't been able to go see her for several years, but I hope to go again soon.

When I go to Mrs. C's house, I am always greeted with wide open arms and genuine interest about what is going on in my life.

As soon as I arrive, Mrs. C offers me a "refreshment." If it's a hot day, she gives me a nice tall glass of ice water with a big fat wedge of lemon from her tree out back. If it's a cold day, I'm offered a cup of coffee made from "who-knows-or-cares" brand of coffee. If it is evening and she and Mr. C are having a glass of wine, they pour one for me. [Once when I was under the weather, she hand-squeezed a great big glass of OJ for me, using oranges from her yard.] Then I'm invited to perch on a stool in her kitchen while we chat and get caught up on each others lives. I know that eventually the pictures of the grandkids will come out!

A typical meal at Mrs. C's house is pasta with pesto sauce that Mrs. C made using her homegrown basil, then froze in ice cube trays so that she can get exactly the amount she needs, depending on how many people she has over. There are usually one or two side dishes of vegetables, often something from her garden. If there's desert, it's probably a bit of fresh fruit. If you are heading out on a long trip, she pulls a loaf of her famous fruit bread out of the freezer (she makes it in bulk before the holidays and freezes enough for a whole year) and gives it to you to take on your journey.

Tho' it felt odd to do it, I decided to mentally calculate how much Mrs. C spends in order to make her guest (me) feel like the most important person in the world. The answer is: Not very much at all; in fact, next to nothing.

And it's not because Mrs. C doesn't have the resources to go out and buy expensive bottled water or brand-name coffee or take people out to fancy restaurants. Mrs. C's husband is a successful farmer and they live a comfortable but quite simple life. I have no idea of their finances (and I don't care), but if you were to tell me that they are millionaires (or even multi-millionaires) I would not be one bit surprised. Mrs. C just does not feel the need to try to impress people with brand-names or expensive stuff. And, Mrs. C knows that spending a lot of money is not what makes one a good hostess.

The important thing is that Mrs. C's hospitality is offered with warmth, caring, and love.

Even if I get the occasional snub from insecure or snobby visitors, I will not let that bother me and I will continue to offer hospitality "Mrs. C-style."
If you ever get the chance to visit me, I'll be happy to give you a nice glass of ice water, or a cup of coffee. And if I have some chocolate or cookies on hand, I may even share those! Smile

Back in (the) Black!

July 5th, 2007 at 04:02 pm

Thanks to a big harvesting of chard this morning, my $20 Garden Challenge is once again back in the black. I'm no longer "charging" myself interest and can start "earning" interest again.I still have to recoup my initial $20 investment, but (knock on wood) I'm quite confident I'll be able to do that.

The chard is growning like gangbusters, as are the herbs. We're eating up the chard as it matures, and we aren't sick of it yet. [I've discovered that eating the same things frequently is easier when they are better-tasting because they are freshly-picked.]

I wasn't sure if my little tomato plants were going to make it, and 2 of 10 did die, but the other 8 are now really starting to grow, probably thanks to the warm weather we've been having. They're still pretty small tho' and I've no idea how much longer until they bear fruit, so it will be interesting to see how much we can actually get harvested before we move.

My husband has started talking about wanting a BIG garden after we move to Texas, so I guess he's been enjoying the results of my little gardening effort.

Braggin' 'Bout my Baby Brother

July 2nd, 2007 at 08:11 pm

Please excuse me while I do a little bragging ...

My "baby" (40) brother had his annual review at work last week; he had an excellent review and was treated by his boss to a nice lunch at the restaurant of his choice. He has worked at the same place for 12 or 13 years (I forget exactly how long).

So ... What is so remarkable about that, you may ask? My brother is developmentally disabled. Except for perhaps a month or 2 in-between jobs, he has always worked (part-time), ever since he graduated from high school.

And speaking of his high school graduation ... Imagine the family's surprise when, sitting in the bleachers bursting with pride just because he was simply graduating, the principal paused at the end of announcing the honors grads and said: "And this year we are giving out a Special Presidential Award for Academic Effort to ... (fill in my brother's name here) ..." We went wild! The little stinker had never told us he was getting anything.

Anyway, back to his job ... In the past he has done janitorial work, has bagged groceries, and has stocked store shelves. His current job is unloading trucks. On the days he works, he gets up at an awfully early hour and rides his bike to work (he cannot drive a car), and always arrives on time for his 6am start. He is punctual, hard-working, careful, and cheerful.

Tho' he lives with our mom, he pays her some rent and no one claims him as a dependent. He helps my mother out a lot around the house, and he does volunteer work in the neighborhood. Several of the neighbors trust him enough to hire him to look after their homes & pets when they are out of town.

He is quite a remarkable man, who does much more than many folks who do not have his limitations.

Why did he turn out to be such a productive member of society? Several reasons. My parents, while not perfect, made accomodations for his disability but did not coddle him. He had some wonderful teachers who patiently taught him. He has a great employer. And, he has 3 sisters (I'm sure he'd refer to us as psuedo-mothers) who have never let him slack off. Smile

I know that not everyone can work, but I do get frustrated when I hear people making lame excuses about why they can't. I think about my brother and what he has accomplished in his life. If he can do it, just about anyone can!

Porcelain Nail File

July 2nd, 2007 at 03:59 am

A couple of recent threads on the forums prompted me to add a new category to my blog: "Sensible Spending." Spending is obviously a big part of personal finance, and spending sensibly is important for achieving my financial goals. Spending sensibly does not necessarily mean choosing the cheapest thing that meets your needs. Like most of you, I strongly believe in looking at "lifecycle costs" when making purchasing decisions. Sometimes it makes sense to spend a bit more now to save down the road...

I recently made what I believe was a sensible purchase, tho' I won't be surprised if some of you say "You spent how much? On what?"

I bought a Porcelain Nail File for $25.

Background: I'm extremely low on the "glamour scale." I don't have my nails done and I don't polish my own nails. I just file 'em short and keep 'em plain. A couple weeks ago my last emery board was literally falling apart, and I knew it was past time to replace it. But I didn't need anything else from the store, so I started thinking "I'll be damned if I'm going to the store just for emery boards, and why can't they make something that lasts forever for filing my nails besides those awful metal things?" So, I got on-line and started looking for alternatives. That was when I found the Tweezerman Porcelain Nail File: $25 from with free shipping. Didn't take me long to decide to buy it, even tho' the cost is many times more than buying a cheapie emery board, when I realized it would probably (hopefully) last me for the rest of my life, which would mean no more emery board purchases, less trips to the store, and less stuff (used emery boards) going to the landfills.

It arrived last week and I have to say I love it. I do expect it to last me for the rest of my life, and it makes me happy knowing I'll never have to buy a gosh-darn emery board for as long as I live! I just wish they had been available back when I was in my 20's!