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52 Week Savings Challenge & Ramblings

July 8th, 2015 at 03:57 pm

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 27 (saved to Week 29)

* The month-end snowflakes hit last week, they're small but they add up!

* I finally used my Chase Freedom rewards for the planned AMC (movie) gift card purchase. I got the cards at Cardpool.com so saved $19.50 (on $100 worth of cards); that extra is going to this challenge. (Just in time, too, as hubs and I went to two movies at the end of June -- a special screening of "Jaws", S's all-time favorite movie and one he'd never seen in the theater, and "Jurassic World", which I thought was almost as good as the first one.)

* Our electric bill budget plan amount decreased quite a bit, so I'm adding the first month savings here.

* I'm a notary for work, we offer it as part of the service we provide our clients, so we don't charge a fee. I had client leave me a "tip", though (he actually snuck it onto my desk after I'd refused it), so that's also going here.


Snowflakes
ING Interest - $2.03
MSD Interest - $6.42
Chase Interest - $0.01
Chase Rounding - $13.18
Electric Bill - $54.00
Movie Cards - $19.50
Notary Tip - $20.00

Total Snowflakes: $115.14
Rounding (to reserve): $0.14

Beginning Balance: $877
Deposit: $115
Ending Balance: $992

Reserve: $0.55 + $0.14 = $0.69

This puts me at just about 72% of the Challenge, and we're about 52% through the year.

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I'm still feeling generally anxious about finances, which I don't expect to ease up for a few months now. I do feel better knowing I have some money in my EF if I really really need it. (I'm trying to avoid that as much as I can, though!) One bit of good news is that our property taxes came in about $800 less than I was thinking they'd be. (I think I was using the entire year's amount for the projected summer bill, because it's not actually too far off from last year; clearly I didn't look back when I did the projection!)

I had mentioned earlier that we have a balloon payment on a HELOC coming due in October. Last week we got a notice from the loan servicing company that in September our loan would switch from an interest-only adjustable-rate HELOC to a fixed-rate, principal and interest payment. Which is great if that's what happens (and the payment and interest rate are reasonable), but our loan agreement doesn't actually have that provision in it. When I'd asked the company about it a month or two ago (this is I think the third company that has serviced this loan, so they're not the original lender), they said whatever the loan documents stated was how it would be handled. So clearly one hand is unaware of what the other hand is doing. I think I'll probably wait until the August bill comes, which I'm hoping will have more details on the new payment structure, and then see where to go from there. It would be so nice not to have to worry about refinancing this!

In anticipation of refinancing, though, and some other things going on, I've been look at my and S's credit scores. My are actually pretty good, averaging around the mid-700s. (Right now I've got 11 different scores from various places, which of course use different scoring models so it's not an entirely accurate picture, but I figure the average is still probably pretty close. I do pay more attention to the scores provided by my credit cards, though, as I think they're closer to what an actual lender would use.) S's are not so great, in the mid-600s, so I'm working on that. His biggest 'ding' is balances too close to the limit. Well, that's because he's had a bunch of 0% balance transfer offers that we've used to pay off higher-interest cards. It's frustrating that credit reports/scores don't look at these things in context! Wink A couple of the 0% offers are due to expire in the next month or two, so I'm looking to pay those off a little early (we have the money set aside), and then I'll probably see about transferring the others to my accounts (that are only in my name) to get them off of his credit. That should boost his score quite a bit, I'd think.

The only other negatives that show up are some inquiries, mostly from when we were looking at refinancing last year, but I know that when they're within a certain time frame lenders lump them together, so instead of 5 inquiries he'd really only have 2. It will be interesting to see just how much of an effect this will have on his score -- and on mine, as I expect a bit of a ding. Still, from what I've read, if we do a refinance, it's better to have two 700 scores than one 650 and one 750, because they use the lowest score to determine the loan terms.

In other news, we finally got our community garden planted, about a month late! We moved to a new spot, which ended up being a mistake because it's in a low area, and we've had a lot of rain. Mud, mud, mud. They couldn't even rototill it until two weeks after the garden opened. So, who knows whether we'll end up with any actual produce this year (although I do think there's a green pepper ready to pick!). It's a bummer because we bought a lot of tomato plants this year, and several heirloom varieties. We've haven't had a lot of heat, though, so no one's tomatoes are doing very well so far. Fingers crossed for a hot, dry July and August!

Random Thoughts and 52-Week Savings Challenge

April 1st, 2015 at 01:58 pm

I mentioned I had my aunt & uncle's memorial last Saturday. It was a nice service, sad of course, but they certainly were loved by many. My aunt is my dad's half-sister; her mother died when she was young, her father remarried and they had my dad. (Aunt is six years older than dad, so my grandmother was pretty well the only mother my aunt knew.) At the luncheon after the service, we sat with my aunt's oldest friend, who spoke about how much my aunt loved my grandmother and never really thought of her as a step-mother. In fact, when my grandmother was diagnosed with dementia, my aunt called her friend and was worrying about whether it was hereditary -- the friend had to remind my aunt that she wasn't biologically related to my grandmother. Smile

My dad, as far as anyone knows, did not show up for the service. (Apparently there is a balcony in the church, so it's possible he came and sat up there.) When my cousin called, his response was "Well, we haven't been in touch for a long time." Of course the gut reaction is "how terrible, that's his sister and brother-in-law, even if you've been out of touch you still go to the funeral" etc. Until it occurred to me that I had no plans to attend his funeral. I haven't spoken to him in 25 years. There's no animosity there, we just decided to part ways when I was 19. He was "born again" and (unbeknownst to me at that time) starting a new family and we really didn't have a lot in common; getting together was an obligation, not something to look forward to.

Still, my reaction to him not showing up at my aunt's funeral made me rethink my position on attending his. Part of it is that you go to a funeral to show your love or respect for the deceased -- I have neither for him -- or to support those who have lost a loved one -- and I don't know anyone in his life. My grandparents are both gone, and now may aunt. My step-mother, whom I had known and liked (they married when I was 7) died years ago. I've never met either of their kids. No doubt the cousins won't attend, especially after this. I wouldn't know a single person at the funeral -- except my sister, of course -- and nor would a single person there know me.

I talked with my sister, though, and we are basically on the same page. We would go to the service, sign the guestbook so that the family would know we were there, sit in the back, and leave without talking to anyone. The reason we would go is because my grandmother would have wanted us to; she was very bothered by the fact that we were out of touch with my dad, and even though we'll never reconcile in his lifetime, for her, we'll go to the funeral.

If, of course, anyone even lets us know about it, which is highly unlikely. My aunt had always told my mom she'd let us know -- because mom will get more Social Security benefits when he dies -- but I doubt the cousins will be any more in the loop than we are. Odds are my sister's ex will be the one to find out; he's just like that.

Not the kind of thinking anyone really wants to do, but at least we've got it figured out before the situation is really staring us in the face.

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I haven't been doing my monthly look back/look ahead this year. Mostly because I have a lot up in the air until around June, when I may be doing a consolidation, and until then things aren't especially progressing. (I'm saving on interest in the long run, but my credit card paydown per month isn't too impressive at the moment.) I may do quarterly reviews, though, just to keep myself on track.

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I also haven't actually been putting my 52-week savings challenge money into my Capital One 360 savings account. I'm keeping track of my total, but since I'll need $2,500 from the CapOne account to pay for the new wall heater we had installed in February (which is due April 11), I figured there was no sense transferring the money for just a couple of months. I might have lost $2 in interest. As of right now I can pay the heater off in full without dipping into the CapOne account, and I'll keep tracking so that if I need some funds in the future, I might have some of that $2,500 available still.

I'm not sure that makes a lot of sense, but on paper, it works!

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I've been basically failing at Lent this week. I did buy lunch out twice a couple of weeks ago -- I was "allowed" one, because I didn't go out on Fat Tuesday, but the second one was not part of the plan. I've bought lunch twice this week already and will need to again today. It's simply a matter of poor planning on my part, I didn't even think this weekend about cooking lunches ahead and we have nothing to 'grab-and-go' in the house. (Although S did bring home leftover subs from his work function Monday and Tuesday, which we ate for dinner. I could 'substitute' the money I spent on lunch as money that would have been spent on dinner, and count the leftover subs as my 'not purchased' lunch. I think that starts to defeat the spirit of Lent, though!) So I'll just extend my Lenten no-buying-lunch rule for as many days as necessary after Easter. It shouldn't be too hard, really, since I'll have Easter leftovers to cover at least a couple days' lunches!

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52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 13 (saved to Week 17)

I cancelled my cable movie channel package last week, so have a credit on my bill for that. I've always justified the expense because if S and I watch two movies a month at home, we've saved money over going to the theater (when you add in snacks). Plus there have been several series that we've watched. For the last several weeks, though, I've barely turned on any of the movie channels; all of the series we watched have either ended or are on break, and even though I check the guide to see what's playing, I've rarely found anything I wanted to watch. So I cancelled it last week -- although, if I'd been paying attention, I would have waited until this week, because I wanted to see the HBO documentary on Scientology which premiered over the weekend. (We did sign up for Amazon Prime, so no doubt it -- and the series we want to keep watching -- will show up there at some point.)

I also had $5 Extra Bucks from CVS (and $5 more to spend in the next couple of weeks -- it's been a good run lately!).


Snowflakes
Cable Refund - $55.25
CVS Savings - $5.30

Total Snowflakes: $60.55
Rounding (to reserve): $0.55

Beginning Balance: $441
Deposit: $60
Ending Balance: $501

Reserve: $0.42 + $0.55 = $0.97

This puts me at just over 36% of the Challenge, and we're 25% through the year.

Hodge Podge

March 28th, 2015 at 02:29 pm

This will be long and rambling and probably pretty boring. Feel free to stop reading now. There's a teeny bit about finances but most of this is off topic.


It's 20 degrees here right now. Happy Spring.

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I have to go to a memorial service for my aunt and uncle today. He died a couple of weeks ago on Thursday -- he'd been battling his second round of cancer, and his health was failing for a while. The following Sunday (three days later), my cousin found my aunt dead at home. My aunt, as far as we knew, was healthy, although in need of a hip replacement. (She was 72-73, he was 75-76. Not all that old, really.)

I know it sometimes happens that way, but I wouldn't have expected it here. Honestly, my aunt was filing for divorce every other week when we were kids, and as far as we could tell nothing had really changed. (It wasn't a grand love story, is my point.) But who knows what really goes on behind the scenes, and maybe near the end their relationship really evolved.

We didn't see too much of them; I'm not exactly sure why, probably because a) my parents divorced when I was 3 (my aunt is my dad's half-sister) and we barely saw my dad after that (and not at all since I was 19), and b) our mutual grandparents moved out of state when I was 6 or 7. So not a lot of 'family get-together' opportunities. Still, we kept vaguely in touch, they came to my wedding, etc., but it has been probably 2-3 years since we've seen either of them, or any of my three cousins.

I really feel bad for my cousins, losing both parents at once. Some people have said maybe it's better that way, you get all the grief over and done with, but I don't know. I'd think it would still be preferable to have one parent for a while.

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I find myself becoming obsessive about my finances lately. I'm constantly checking my bank accounts, tweaking my 'budget', playing with my credit card payoff spreadsheet. I think I might be over-focused on it. Not that I want to ignore it, but I get disappointed when there's nothing I can update from half an hour ago!

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We had "The Reckoning" last weekend, where my mom, my sister, and I get together and figure out my sister's and my loan repayments. (Sometimes the interest rates have changed, sometimes we pay off one thing so start paying more on another, etc.) We also settle up any random things that have come up, like my mom picked up a gallon of milk for my sister or we split the cost of a gift for someone. (My mom is very.. um... precise with her money. My sister and I almost never pay each other back for anything -- we figure it all balances out over time. Mom is down to the penny, here's what you owe me, plus tax.)

Anyway, it actually went much more smoothly than it has in the past. Mostly I think because my sister is only paying on one loan now, and it's only going into two of my mom's bank accounts (instead of four). I'm paying on three loans still, but two will be gone by January 2018. (I'm hoping that we can avoid redoing our roof this year, but if not that may be a fourth loan! We could get other funding for that, really, but "Mom loans" are at 2-3% interest which we haven't been able to beat. Plus she then gets a much larger return on her money than she would if it was sitting in the bank.) Fortunately the income from my rental covers most of my repayment amount.

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I think I mentioned before that I was testing out a few brunch recipes, in preparation for The Reckoning, because for Christmas we gifted my mom with one brunch together per month. I figured it might as well be the same day as The Reckoning, and we had talked about picking something up but then I decided to make it, instead. I'm not sure why.

I made four different "muffin" type dishes: French Toast Muffins, Donut Mini Muffins, Ham & Cheese Muffins in Hash Brown Nests, and Caprese Egg Muffins. They were all quite good, although the hash brown nests stuck horribly, despite a thorough coating of non-stick spray. (I should have used a non-stick pan, but I only had one and I already knew the French Toast Muffins needed it! Lesson learned for next time.) They all turned out well, if a little messy (the nests).

I also made some cake dip, on a whim, after I stumbled across a recipe online. Super-easy, but I wasn't crazy about the taste. This particular recipe included Cadbury Mini Eggs, which I think is what I don't like about it. (Surprisingly, because I love Cadbury chocolate normally, but I've been eating some of the Mini Eggs plain and I'm just not a fan.) I might try it again sometime without the candy.

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I've also been baking a lot of bread lately. (Well, three loaves -- one white, two honey wheat -- and then one mini-loaf and twelve 'muffins', just to experiment with baking bread in a muffin tin. It's a lot for me.) Not in a machine, just the basic, mix and knead and let rise and knead some more and let rise some more and bake, kind. The last time I made bread was in Girl Scouts -- I'm now in my mid-40s, so that tells you how long ago it was!

Last night I made vanilla cupcakes, from scratch. I've never made any kind of cake from scratch in my life. I had a lot of leftover cake dip, though, and my mom suggested using it as frosting, so I wanted to give it a trial run. (Because if it worked, I'd make cupcakes for Easter.) I normally would have bought a box mix, but looked at some recipes and it seemed pretty easy, so I tried it out.

The cupcakes are OK; I'm not a big cake fan regardless. The flavor was good -- I would use more vanilla next time (the recipe calls for vanilla bean, but I didn't have any and wasn't about to pay $15 for two beans for a test batch of cupcakes!). The texture was a little dense, more like a muffin. One of the comments I read said that might be from mixing it too much, but I mixed by hand and stopped as soon as there were no lumps (which is what the recipe said to do). The batter was very thick -- but I've seen some batters on "Cupcake Wars" that look the same. I may have over-cooked them; the recipe called for 20 minutes, but maybe I should have stopped at 15 or 18. The flavor is good, they aren't horrible, I just like my cupcakes a bit lighter in texture.

The cake dip frosting is -- well, I didn't love the dip so it makes sense that I don't love it as a frosting. It kind of works, although if I do it again I'll add some powdered sugar to sweeten it up.

The buttercream I made as a taste-test comparison to the cake dip, on the other hand, is divine! I could eat the entire batch in one sitting.

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Again, I don't know why I've been baking/cooking so much. I've never really been a 'chef' type. If I stumble across a new recipe that sounds really good I'll try it, but I don't typically seek them out. S makes dinner at least half the time, if not more. And I've never really baked, except Christmas cookies. I make chocolate chip cookies from scratch on occasion, and peanut butter cookies even less frequently. S insists on killer turtle brownies for his birthday, but they're partially from a box. Mostly I either buy pre-made cookies or get the break-and-bake kind.

I'm wondering if it might be related to my giving up pop (Pepsi, primarily). I stopped drinking it, mostly, at the end of January. I'm not "not drinking" pop, because a) deprivation just makes me want it more and b) I have had it a few times since then, and will have it again (especially if I ever get to the movies; popcorn and pop are movie must-haves). I'm just not drinking it every day, and especially not all day, every day, like I had been. (Sadly, unlike 99% of the population, giving up pop hasn't resulted in any kind of weight loss for me. Which I knew, because I gave it up totally for two months before and lost four pounds -- and that could have just been my normal fluctuation. Of course it could be compounded by the fact that it's Cadbury Creme Egg time of year.)

Or, it might be my version of a mid-life crisis. In which case, there are worse things I could do. (Cue Stockard Channing...)

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Anyway, those are the thoughts that have been tumbling around in my head lately. First world problems, right?

If you've read this far, thanks! And if you have any thoughts on the cupcakes (or anything else, of course), please share. I still might make them for Easter, if I can get them a little lighter and fluffier.