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Christmas Gift Planning

November 12th, 2017 at 08:22 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back from Vacation

February 2nd, 2017 at 06:42 pm

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

It was worth every penny. Hooray for family time.

Turbo Tax On-Line

January 7th, 2017 at 12:53 pm

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

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

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

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

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

Halloween Spending

October 25th, 2016 at 06:00 pm

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

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

Update - NOT buying a new car (for now)

September 4th, 2016 at 06:30 am

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

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

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

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

2 Year Spending Goals Update Number 2 - New Vehicle

July 11th, 2016 at 03:10 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 10th, 2016 at 08:38 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking Ahead At the Next 2 Years

June 19th, 2016 at 10:56 am

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

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

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

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

4. Replace carpet in main living areas with tile.

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

Random Stuff

August 2nd, 2015 at 08:34 am

Sorry about the random nature of this post.

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Airlines Award CC update

April 9th, 2015 at 03:03 pm

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

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

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

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

American Airlines 50K Miles Bonus CC

March 29th, 2015 at 02:52 pm

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

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

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

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

Republic Wireless Here I Come; Staying Relevant

March 11th, 2015 at 12:36 pm

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

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

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

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

Lazy Lunch for Less Than $1.50

February 14th, 2015 at 12:24 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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