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Archive for January, 2013

Plane ticket blues

January 23rd, 2013 at 03:03 pm

My hubby's parents and aunts and uncles are having "late-life" crises, so to speak. We used to have a family reunion every 5 years, which was no problem.

Hubby's aunt just announced before Christmas that we all needed to stop everything and have another reunion, and that we all needed to fly across the country to their house for it. (usually it's closer to where everyone lives, within driving distance for most)

It's only been two years since the last reunion. There's been a lot of speculation about why, but my guess if they are approaching 70, and they all have this intense and sometimes awkward motivation to "make memories". Without sugar coating, I think they're worried they're going to die any minute so everything has become more amplified, ergo we have to now have reunions every other year even if it's financially difficult for all of their children, who are struggling with preschool bills and work.

So yeah. I'm a little peaved about all of this because I just had to spend $1400 on four plane tickets to the reunion.

And that was the cheapest option. The kids are 3 and 4, so they can't get lap fares anymore. And the aunt scheduled the reunion to coincide with the busiest two-weeks for tourism in their city.

I wish she'd waited two weeks so I could have paid less for airfare! And worse, we're paying all that money but we'll only be able to go for four days. If it were longer and we could see some sights, I'd feel better, but no.

Once again, they set the dates without consulting anyone, and my son has to be back home so he can go to his kindergarten screening days (we can't miss them).

So yeah. I'm bummed about the money. I wish it were under $1000!! It will be nice to see hubby's cousins. We always have fun, but it's going to become a real financial problem if we have to do this every two years or every year instead of every five.

It wasn't as hard before kids, but now we have reduced income, greater expenses, and have to pay for FOUR airfares!!!

Thanks for letting me rant.

Trying to give more

January 21st, 2013 at 05:24 pm

Hubby and I are making an effort to give more this year, as far as charity and philanthropy. We really want to make our money go as far as it can, and have been thinking a lot about maximizing the impact of our donations.

Do you guys have any suggestions?

Right now, volunteering is out, just because we are so stretched between caring for a 3 and 4 year old, and work.

On the money front, we have set up automatic monthly donations to some organizations and causes we feel strongly about. It isn't much, usually $10 a month, but we thought it was better than nothing and much easier and more painless than trying to send a big check every once in a while.

We're sending $10 a month to

-a nonprofit oceans research and preservation group
-the local food bank
-the local homeless family shelter and preschool

We also heard a spot on NPR about a group called http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/
and we liked their philosophy of choosing causes and organizations that can save the most lives or quality life-hours for each dollar. Mostly deworming and mosquito net programs in Africa. But, we haven't done anything on that front yet.

*

We also donate toys every year to the county foster care toy drive, usually fulfilling two children's wish list and donating an assortment of toys. Well, as you know, toys aren't cheap before Christmas. And we've been limited as to how much we can do as a result.

So, I've decided to start stockpiling quality toys throughout the year for this organization, nabbing them when I see them at a really good clearance or sale price. So far, I've gotten 6 nice barbies and disney princess dolls for $3 to $4 each, an $8 less-than-half-price hotwheels car and track set, and two bins of new legos for about 60 percent off. (and an assortment of small monster trucks and construction vehicles). My hope is to have an overflowing box of awesome stuff to donate to the toy drive next year.

I've been picking up one or two 'deal' toys once a week when I go shopping. It adds to the bill, but not so much that we'll be out of money.

That's got me thinking about some other things we could maybe do throughout the year so we can give more without breaking the bank.

*
Our son's school also supports a Christmas church 'store' in a nearby impoverished county. The church accepts used toys, coats, and blankets, cleans and repackages them, and the parents come and 'shop' for the kids. It's a great program.

I'm thinking of setting aside some of our boys' outgrown toys for that next year, and I'm thinking of buying up some coats of various sizes at yard sales this year to donate to them, as well as to the local coat drive for the homeless family shelter.

The only problem with stockpiling like this is space. Where can I keep all the coats and toys until it's time to donate them?

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I'd also like to donate some of our outgrown children's items such as books, etc. to a group that would really benefit. We usually drop off at goodwill, but I wonder if there are any preschools or family shelters that would be interested in our library of baby books, and (soon) toddler books, etc. I would really like it if the things we donate could really e utilized to their maximum potential, but I have no idea where to even start?

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Finally, I did stumble upon DonorsChoose.org where teachers post projects they need funding for and you can donate. We donated $40 to various schools in high poverty areas wanting to plant big food gardens to teach the kids science and to supplement their lack of fresh food at home. Those are completely in line with our values.

I like that site a lot because you can choose by city, by project, by high poverty etc. and there is always a project that matches your interests.
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big chunks DO feel better...

January 16th, 2013 at 03:21 pm

I'm trying out the strategy some of you had suggested: sending BIG chunks to the goals all at once rather than breaking up every extra bit of money into tiny pieces to send to all of the goals. It is MUCH more satisfying.

I'm also trying to keep a tight lid on our spending. It hasn't gone perfectly, but it has gone well enough that zero dollars of my freelance check have been used to cover everyday expenses. Which means...ALL of the checks went to goals. Now that feels good.

So far this month, my freelance checks meant
-$800 to my IRA
-$600 in extra to the mortgage balance

and we put away $400 in college savings, and $270 to the emergency fund (soon to be $540, because Friday is payday).

So all in all I'm pretty amped about January progress. I just hope we can keep it up.

Clinical Research professionals of BC?? Why is my blog link taking me there??

January 15th, 2013 at 02:26 pm

This is frustrating, and not inspiring confidence that my information is secure.

unexpected bargain, and kindergarten...already!

January 14th, 2013 at 03:36 pm

I spent $90 on an unexpected score!

We have been slowly finishing our basement. We moved in almost 2 years ago and have since finished the main portion as well as my office with walls, flooring, etc. Nice and spendy finishing.

We have another area by the washer and dryer. it's 10 ft by 18 ft, and we thought it would make a cool game room for us and for when the boys are older. (Think ping pong or poker nights. That sort of thing.)

Anyway, I wanted to 'finish' it off with paint, and a rug to make it cozier, but keep it cheap and simple, unlike the other two areas which are much more deluxe and required framing and carpet, etc. Like under $200. Well, most of you know a 10 by 18 foot rug costs a WHOLE lot more than that. I was starting to think it wasn't possible.

My 4 year old and I went to the new Habitat for Humanity ReStore (a thrift store for building supplies) looking for items for our spring garden expansion, and stumbled upon thousands of BRAND NEW overstock and close out 24x24 carpet tiles for $2 each. A little quick math and I realized I could carpet the game room for $90. Sold!!!

We did have to sort through about 20 heavy stacks to find good colors. We eventually found 45 tiles in purples, lime greens, blues, etc. that we made into a random pattern that looks pretty cool. Now we just need paint. So it looks like the game room will be done ahead of schedule and on my paltry $200 budget.

I wasn't planning to spend the money, but when opportunity knocks, you have to answer. The boys and I spent an hour clearing out the game room and arranging the tiles.

Okay-- so the carpet did technically cost me $90 plus a 25 cent gumball to reward my little man for being such a good helper. Small price to pay right?

**
In other news, we just got the papers to register our little man for kindergarten. I've waited so long for this, and yet I still can't believe the time has already come! FREE SCHOOL!!!!! We have two open houses to go to in Feb., then we turn in the forms in March.

We also registered his little brother for preschool next year, and have decided he is going half days five days a week, rather than the three days a week we have now. We'll pay about $550 a month for that.

We now pay $785 for both of them to go three half days. I'm looking forward to the extra time to work every day AND the extra money. Fingers crossed little man likes school, since all of his preschool friends are assigned to other elementary schools in the district. ( : ( )

***
A good friend of ours also came over last night. We watched the Arsenal soccer game. She also wanted financial advice, which strangely, I have become the go-to person for that in my social group. She is a newlywed, but the couple has been together for more than the 7 years I've known them.

They're in bad shape. Not on the same page, just kind of waffling, and not dealing with debt, etc. The wife wants to try to pay off debt and finally start saving money for things like travel and buying a house (They're in their mid-30s), etc. The hubby is working part time at a restaurant and isn't too interested in getting more hours. He'd worked as a manager at a different restaurant but was overworked and on salary, so I think he's taking it easy for a while due to burn out. Anyway, with his reduced pay and hours the debt repayment money instead is going to rent, and bills.

After a while, I also started to think their financial lives are too complicated-- they each have two or three checking accounts, plus a shared account, and I can't figure out why. They still live like roommates or single people. A lot of couples I know who lived together before marriage have separate accounts, and I can see how that is useful, but I can also see how if you so the here's mine, here's yours approach, it can be hard to work toward common goals as a couple.

So, yeah. She wanted my advice on paying off the debt, and getting on the same page. I didn't know what to say. Do you guys have any thoughts on that?

Feeling good, overall...

January 10th, 2013 at 09:47 pm

I think some of my holiday and new year stress has gone away. Sure, I'm still trying to catch up from work

(it crazy in media around the holidays, as deadlines still have to be met, but you have to do tons of work before everyone is on holiday break to make them)..

But I feel like I'll be caught up by tomorrow afternoon.

In the past week, I was paid for two freelance jobs, so I put 100 percent of the money-- $800 into the 2013 IRA. It's been a long time since I managed to put all of a freelance check to a goal. Usually, part of it goes to cover regular monthly bills. We socked 270 of hubby's check into savings.

I'm trying whole-heartedly to keep a lid on our spending to free up those precious freelance checks for the goals list.

So far, it's going fairly well. I did, however, blow past this week's $250 spending goal. Between date night Saturday (sushi, and The Hobbit), groceries, and just everyday stuff I wasn't planning on, I'm probably at $350 for the week, and despite my best attempts, zero no spend days. The clock resets tomorrow. Another chance.

I've been putting some thought into free and cheaper things the kids and I can do, searching through to make sure we're making the most of all of our memberships, etc.

I'm going to try to make more use of the free kids play area at the YMCA, and maybe see if I can squeeze in more work-out time during the day, while giving the kids something 'fun' to do.

We did a free nature hike and education program at the metro park today. The kids had fun. They found coyote poop and tracks, and that was a big deal for the group, so that was good. (and funny)

**

Also, I'm doing better about cooking at home. I still find menu planning very difficult, and I don't like to cook, but I've been getting ideas from 100 days of real food, and other web sites, and have been cruising the ALDI and grocery store sales flyers to plan the bulk of it.

I'm also diligently working on the ambitious new food garden expansion for the backyard. We start digging in march! I'm trying to figure out what plants and seeds I need and the best places to get them, and where they'll be planted come spring. It's real work!

**
I'm still mulling the refinance options. It just depends on how complicated I want to get, and what kinds of risks I'm willing to take, it any, to save some dollars until the house is paid off.

Hubby says we should just put the $2200 we would have paid in closing costs toward the balance and be done with it. Not a terrible idea. We'll see. Still mulling. It's not just the money, it's do I want to deal with the paperwork and hassle? Mortgages these days are a ton of work. TON. Not sure I have it in me.

The Jury is still out though. It IS money saved, after all, and you guys know how I love that!

Refi looks like a no-go?? Advice

January 8th, 2013 at 10:16 pm

I talked to my mortgage guy ( a couple of mortgage guys). We qualify for a 2.75 percent 10 year loan if we refinance. closing costs are about 2200, although they won't know until we are into the underwriting process if we'd need to pay for an appraisal. Our current rate is 4.875 percent.

I spent a lot of times on mortgage calculators trying to figure out how much we'd actually save in interest with a refinance. I think we are still on track to have this loan paid off in about 4 years. (Most of the calculators don't account for that). I did find one calculator that let me do a straight amortization table on our current balance, with 4 and 5 year estimated pay off times, at the two different interest rates. And, the interest savings from a refinance weren't as great as they appeared at first.

Seems like we'd save about 4,000 in interest, minus the 2200 closing costs, so less than 2000 to go through the hassle of refinancing. Yes, that is real money, but I'm not sure it's worth going through the process if that is the result. What do you guys think?

Or, have you seen any other calculators out there that will help me work out the actual savings?

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In other news, I managed to sock away my first savings of the new year. (hazzah!)

$200 to kid 1's 529 and $300 into my IRA. I anticipate sending a bit more next week, but I'm shuffling some bills through the checking account, as well as transferring the savings from the ef to the new online bank, and need to see what it looks like when the dust settles.

okay. It wasn't so terrible

January 4th, 2013 at 02:58 pm

Today was the first payday with all of the unknowns as far as taxes, 401k contributions, etc., and it wasn't as bad as I thought. So, that is good news. The bad news is no progress on the goals at this point because we had a lot to pay off-- the last of the holiday bills, plus preschool tuition and car insurance coming soon. Ugh. Bills bills bills!

It's frustrating to be "rearin'" to go so to speak and not be able to knock any goals off the list!

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In other, related news, this is day one of adhering to the strict budget. I'm switching most of my grocery shopping to Aldi (except for cherry-picking freebies and deals) which requires cash and overall is sooooo much cheaper. And easier, actually, because it's small and efficient.

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I'm waiting for some freelance checks from last year that are late, to the tune of about $800 as well. Hopefully they will come someday!

Two days in to 2013, plus two days until payday...

January 3rd, 2013 at 12:18 am

Boy, this whole fiscal cliff thing. Don't get me started. Let's just say I really started to hand-wring two days ago when I sat down to figure out what hub's paychecks were going to be, then budget out all of our expenses and savings goals.

I realized I had no idea how much we would be getting per check considering payroll tax, medicare tax, uncertain income tax withholding, plus the new higher 401k max (we max out each year). So yeah. It all hit me at once.

That, and we have a lot of goals and a lot of big expenses, and I've been running the checking account down to razor thin-- which seems to always happen this time of year, with the holidays and my desire not to dip into savings or go into debt.

We'll be fine, as long as I know what I'm dealing with. I'm still waiting to see, I guess. Although, I'm not really looking forward to payday as much because I have to pay off the last of the holiday bills, plus 6 months of car insurance, the kids' tuition, plus tuition for an extra program in February that we paid for in advance= lots and lots of bills, which = not a lot left in the account--again. Ugh.

At the moment, it's hard to think we'll come close to meeting any of our goals, but as always, it's just a question of plugging away. And plugging away. And then plugging away some more. I guess it's hard to look at all those zeros under the goal line in the sidebar!!

And so many big things to pay for. I think I'm psyching myself out and the marathon has just begun!

On a more positive note, Now that the holidays are behind us, I've put away decorations, and managed to clear out my office/craft space and clean up around our basement food and stuff stockpile. It got very messy, trying to make, wrap, and or hide gifts from the eyes of preschoolers, but now it's getting back to normal. I also organized three closets and installed new hooks for backpacks, etc. So, a little bit more organized in the new year!