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Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Elitism

November 30th, 2014 at 02:06 am

I had a long post written, spurred by an incredibly elitist comment on a blog here (though honestly I don't know why it surprised me), but of course I took too long for the software to deal with it and for whatever reason my Lazarus add-on for Firefox got uninstalled, so I can't recover it. Probably for the best, it was fairly pointless and rambling. Wink

We postponed Thanksgiving due to illness -- my sister and my husband. Since our celebration is only five people (one of whom is sis's 5-year-old daughter) we figured it was better to reschedule than have a big meal for two people. (We live within 15 minutes of each other so it's not difficult to get together.) We'll have our dinner next Sunday instead. Thankfully we figured it all out before anyone did major prep work for Thursday's meal!

I broke my self-imposed rule and left the house on Black Friday. Since the news was reporting expected and actual smaller-than-usual crowds, I figured I'd check out the parking lot and see how things looked. Honestly it was no busier than a normal weekend. I went to Kohl's, since I needed jeans and winter boots and I had a $10 coupon plus 15% discount. I got the jeans on sale, a few tops on either a 55-60% off sale or clearance, and found some boots for $25, marked down from $80. (I only really walk from my car to the office and back, so I don't need heavy-duty winter boots, just something other than heels.) I also got a new set of microfiber sheets; we bought some last year and they're like sleeping on a cloud. They haven't pilled up too badly, either. I usually like to have two sets of any 'type' of sheets, so that I can put one on the bed while the other is on the laundry, but these are $120 regularly and I won't pay half that for sheets. They were on sale Friday for $30 -- major score. Overall I spent $110 -- so got $30 Kohl's cash back -- and saved $290. (My typical Kohl's goal is to save at least twice what I spend, so I'm happy.) S needs some new business-dress pants (he ended up heading down to see family early Friday morning, as he was feeling better) so we'll use the $30 for that next week.

(Still a little pointless and rambling, but far less so! Wink )

52 Week Mega Savings Challenge Update

November 17th, 2014 at 08:28 am

Snowflakes are still coming a little more slowly than I'd like, but I suppose that's not too unexpected with the holidays coming up and my free time becoming more limited. I had one side gig done, rounding on the Chase Freedom card, and the reimbursement from S's work for our Internet service. I also got a very small check from the HELOC I refinanced quite some time ago -- I either never got or forgot to deposit the first one, so they re-sent it.


52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 46 (started late, now on my week 38)

Snowflakes
Freedom Card Rounding - $29.84
Reimbursement - $22.48
HELOC - $2.61
Side Gig - $155.00

Total Snowflakes: $209.93
Rounding (from reserve): $0.07

Beginning Balance: $4500
Deposit: $210
Ending Balance: $4710

Reserve: $3.41 - $0.07 = $3.34

This puts me at 68% of the Mega challenge, and at 94% of my 2014 goal of $5,000. (Last time I mistakenly said I was at 95% of that goal; I meant 90%!)

Chase Freedom Rewards

November 15th, 2014 at 09:18 am

Another round of Chase Freedom Rewards points. I've estimated about $50 per month in rewards, and this month was fairly short at $29.05. This is the first time it's been that far off, so I think my average is still OK. I also had a $500 credit so lost $5 from that. This quarter's 5% categories aren't places where I generally shop, so I haven't been able to take advantage of those.

Starting Balance: $756.76
Ending Balance: $785.81

Gift Fund
Goal - $500
Balance - $500.00
Remaining - $0.00

Movie Card Fund
Goal - $100
Balance - $100.00
Remaining - $0.00

Excess
Beginning Balance: $156.76
Current Rewards: $29.05
Ending Balance: $185.81

At this point I'm just going to let the excess build up, and then see where/if I need it at the end of the year (gifts, 52 Week Challenge, etc.)

October Look Back / November Look Ahead

November 3rd, 2014 at 08:52 am

The look back/look ahead is just my way to try to keep myself on track with my saving and spending. I have an Excel spreadsheet I love for tracking my debt paydown but it doesn't translate well to saving and spending; I find I'm more about words than numbers for those areas.

October
October ended up being a big "financial" month, mostly because I spent the vast majority of the month looking at our finances and budget and debt and all that fun stuff. I don't keep to a "budget", per se. I know how much is going to come in each month (aside from snowflakes) and how much has to go out, and I keep up with that every few days (kind of like balancing a checkbook, but I do it in Excel). Most of our daily expenses go on the Freedom card, which we pay off before interest hits, and there's a lot of flex there. Our October Freedom spending was way out of control, though, about $2K more than usual. (Some of that was the $586 medical bill I ranted about a while back, and another $500 ended up being refunded, but still, we spent a lot more than I expected.)

So I got it into my head to go back through the last year and total up all of our transactions, in broad categories, and see just how were were doing in general. I had myself quite freaked out for a while, too, because any way I looked at it (last three months, last six months, last 12 months) it averaged out that we were spending $3,500 more per month than we brought in. (Which on the one hand wouldn't surprise me, sometimes, but I just couldn't imagine how that could be possible when we still had money leftover almost every paycheck. It's just not sustainable, right?) It was, of course, a bonehead error on my part; we've done some debt consolidation and 0% balance transfer checks over the last year, and I deleted the loan/check deposits from our income -- but I'd forgotten to delete the corresponding card payoffs from the expenses. Oops!

Once I fixed that things look a lot better, although still tighter than I would have thought. (I suspect that's because of the averaging, though; we had some big expenses at the beginning of the year, but some big paychecks to cover them.) There's a lot we can trim, though -- we spend an obscene amount on eating out, I found, and most of it is lunches. S is on the road a lot for work so there's not much to do there, but I almost never bring a lunch to work. That would probably save $100/month, easily, so that will be my focus for November. (We rarely have leftovers from dinner, but I may start tweaking recipes when it's possible so that we do. My biggest problem is I'm always running late in the mornings, so packing a lunch is usually not on the agenda. Leftovers I can pack up the night before and just grab and go.)

Debt-wise, I paid off $2,373 in debt in October, paid out $935 in interest, and put $230 extra to my current avalanche debt.

November
We ended up doing another debt consolidation, the loan closed on October 31 so this weekend I made all the payoff payments. (I told S to check out the account online after the loan principal hit, because our balance probably won't be that high again for at least a decade! Kind of scary, though, to see the balance drop by several thousands of dollars overnight, even though I was expecting it.) This doesn't really affect my payoff time, which is about two years out, but will save about $3,800 in interest. I also took the $500 refund we got and paid off one of my lower-interest cards. It was due to be paid off in February, so I really didn't save much in interest, but the monthly payment was $133 so now I have that much more to put toward the other debt.

We finally gave in and turned on the heat Saturday night. I usually struggle to make it to October 1 before I get too cold, but we had so many 70-degree days in October this year I just couldn't justify turning it on for the 2-3 50-degree days in between. (Plus we have very warm snuggly bedding, and if I'm sitting on the couch I have a triple-layer fleece blanket plus any number of warm and toasty critters on my lap.) We had snow on Halloween night, though, and driving home from dinner at my mom's on Saturday is was I think 29 degrees, so we figured it was time!

Not much else going on for November. My niece turns 5 at the end of the month; my sister has asked that some of her "presents" be money, since they are going to start her on a "budget" plan (allocating for spending, saving, giving, etc.). She's having a party for the first time this year (she started kindergarten so it's with the kids in her class); I'll be helping out with that and since I'm not really a big fan of kids, I'll consider that part of my present, too! Wink We don't spend a lot on birthdays so that will be an easy cash flow. Thanksgiving is at my sister's and we share expenses (my mom, sis, and us) so it's another easy cash flow. Then it's just gearing up for Christmas and year-end stuff, and starting all over again in 2015!

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge Update

November 2nd, 2014 at 11:38 am

Slow couple of weeks on the snowflake front. I do have a couple of side gigs that should be picking up, one next week and another in the next month or so, so those should help. I had some CVS savings, of course, the month-end rounding on my checking account, and interest on the ING savings account. S got a $10 gas card for a study he's in and since he has a company car he gave that to me. I also withdrew some money from PayPal, which technically has already been counted here because it's come from various snowflakes, but since I was able to save the amounts without withdrawing from PayPal until now, I'm just going to count it again!


52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 43 (started late, now on my week 37)

Snowflakes
Checking Account Rounding - $13.52
Gift Card - $10.00
CVS Savings - $6.58
ING Interest - $2.17
PayPal - $187.53

Total Snowflakes: $219.80
Rounding (from reserve): $0.20

Beginning Balance: $4280
Deposit: $220
Ending Balance: $4500

Reserve: $3.61 + $0.20 = $3.81

This puts me at 65% of the Mega challenge, and at 95% of my 2014 goal of $5,000.

New Citi Double Cash Back Card

October 31st, 2014 at 06:55 am

I saw a commercial last night for Citi's newest rewards card, called "Double Cash Back". You get 1% cash back with every purchase, unlimited. You also get 1% cash back for every payment you make to the card, again unlimited. (So essentially an unlimited 2% cash back card, if you pay it off every month.)

I'm not in a position to open another credit card at the moment, but thought some of you might be interested. Smile

http://tinyurl.com/k7y52z5


Medical Billing Tomfoolery

October 22nd, 2014 at 12:57 pm

S had some medical issues earlier in the year, and the bills from one place are still coming through. Frustratingly, they age the bills by the service date rather than the date they sent us the bill, which means that even though it takes them three months to submit to our insurance and get paid and then figure out what we owe, the first time they send us the bill it shows as 90 days past due. Then they weren't crediting some of our payments, or some of the insurance company's payments, and so of course soon we got the "we're going to send you to collections if you don't pay right away" bill.

I really didn't want to stretch to pay the full bill at once, so I called and worked out a payment plan of $255 per month. The first payment came due, I (and I know this was my big mistake) filled out the billing slip with my credit card info (it's the Freedom card we pay off every month), wrote $255.00 in the "Amount Paid" box (and even wrote "as agreed" next to the box), signed and mailed it in.

They charged my card $586.16.

I sent an online communication to them noting the discrepancy and requesting a refund of $331.16 within 10 days. It has now been 15 days and no refund.

I'm trying to decide if it's worth it to dispute the charge with Chase, or if I should just let it go. I can afford the payment (the total bill was higher, the $586 must have been one of their weird aging things), really. It's a legitimate medical bill so I'll have to pay it at some point regardless. I'm just irked because I only authorized $255 -- it's the principle of the thing. I don't know if charging more is illegal, but it does appear to be a violation of their agreement with Visa.

What do you think? Let it go as a lesson learned never to give credit card info to a medical biller, or dispute it and make them abide by the terms of their agreements, with me and the Visa people?

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge Update

October 15th, 2014 at 06:55 pm

The writing gig paid fairly well this week, but I'm not sure that will carry on. It was good while it lasted! The Freedom card statement period closed, so I rounded those amounts. I also bought my next $100 movie gift card -- I've got $30-something left on the current one, but I always go to a movie on Halloween which will use up a good portion of that (and I might treat my mom this year, since S will be out of town). S has been wanting to go see something, so we might do that one of the next few weekends. I've had the card since at least November last year, if not earlier. Anyway, thanks to the suggestions here I went to giftcardgranny.com and got the $100 card for $80.50. Since I'd earmarked $100 from the Chase Freedom rewards for the gift card, I'm taking the whole amount and allocating the savings to the Challenge. I also used $5.50 in CVS Extra Bucks and had $5.04 in savings there.

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 41 (started late, now on my week 36)

Snowflakes
Pact - $4.48
Writing Side Gig - $82.50
Freedom Card Rounding - $46.37
Gift Card Savings - $19.50
CVS Savings - $10.54

Total Snowflakes: $162.39
Rounding (to reserve): $2.39

Beginning Balance: $4120
Deposit: $160
Ending Balance: $4280

Reserve: $1.22 + $1.39 = $3.61

This puts me at 62% of the Mega challenge, and over 85% of my 2014 goal of $5,000.

Chase Freedom Rewards

October 14th, 2014 at 07:50 pm

Chase Freedom Rewards points came in today. I've estimated about $50 per month in rewards, and this month was a little over at $63.98. The 5% category through September was gas, and I had another 450-miles-in-three-days weekend at the end of the month, which boosted up gas spending.

Starting Balance: $692.78
Ending Balance: $756.76

Gift Fund
Goal - $500
Balance - $500.00
Remaining - $0.00

Movie Card Fund
Goal - $100
Balance - $100.00
Remaining - $0.00

Excess
Beginning Balance: $92.78
Current Rewards: $63.98
Ending Balance: $156.76

At this point I'm just going to let the excess build up, and then see where/if I need it at the end of the year (gifts, 52 Week Challenge, etc.)

52 Week Mega Savings Challenge Update

October 6th, 2014 at 11:17 am

One of my writing gigs has picked up on assignments again, so I'm getting some good snowflakes there. I also had an order for some items I make, and I did the monthly rounding on the checking account.

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 40 (started late, now on my week 35)

Snowflakes
Pact - $1.38
Work Reimbursement - $22.48
Writing Side Gig - $84.50
Other Side Gig - $154.70
Review Side Gig - $26.62
Checking Account Rounding - $10.89
ING Interest - $1.89

Total Snowflakes: $302.46
Rounding (from reserve): $2.54

Beginning Balance: $3815
Deposit: $305
Ending Balance: $4120

Reserve: $3.76 - $2.54 = $1.22

This puts me at 60% of the Mega challenge, and over 80% of my 2014 goal of $5,000.

September Look Back / October Look Ahead

October 1st, 2014 at 01:02 pm

The look back/look head is just my way to try to keep myself on track with my saving and spending. I have an Excel spreadsheet I love for tracking my debt paydown but it doesn't translate well to saving and spending; I find I'm more about words than numbers for those areas.

I can't believe it's October already! Where has the time gone?

September
Pretty quiet month, financially. The rental taxes were paid, and the normal bills, etc. I procrastinated calling about the landscaping; I may see about it this month but at this point it might be easier to just wait until spring.

We cleaned out the garden last weekend, so now I've got to figure out how to store or freeze what we harvested. (It's mostly onions and potatoes, which are fairly easy, a few carrots, and one big stalk of Brussels sprouts.)

Debt-wise, I paid off $2,456 in debt in August, paid out $853 in interest, and put $282 extra to my current avalanche debt.

October
I don't have much planned for October, either. S and I usually go to dinner and a movie on Halloween (we're not into kids), but he's going to be out of town this year. I may still go to the movies myself if there's something decent to see (beats sitting at home in the dark hiding from the trick-or-treaters Wink ), and since I have a gift card for the movies and I'll have popcorn for dinner, it won't cost anything and we'll save the $50 or so we would have spent at a restaurant.

S will also get a decent-sized commission payment at the end of October. He's been wanting some new gear for his hobby, so some of it may go toward that (or he might use some of his end-of-year bonus instead, depending on the timing; six of one, half-dozen of the other, really). I'll set aside our winter taxes, they're not due until February 2015 and it's the 'small' tax, which actually I can often cash flow, but I might as well just set it aside if I have it. The rest will probably go into a 'slush fund' for various things that no doubt will crop up around the house, the landscaping if I decide to do it now, etc.

52 Week Mega Savings Challenge Update

September 29th, 2014 at 09:09 am

I skipped a week of updating again, but it seems to work out better this way anyway, I can get some of the bigger amounts checked off if I look at it two weeks at a time.

I had forgotten that S's work reimburses us for his Internet (he's based at home), so I'm counting nine months of that here; I returned some items to CVS (and just happened to hit a round dollar amount for the refund); I had two good trips to Kohl's with 30% off and two $10 free coupons (gotta love it when you save more than 2x what you've spent!), and then miscellaneous Pact and side gig income. Plus, inspired by Banker Gurl Wink, I had $6 in Extra Bucks at CVS, they had a battery sale going on buy one get on 50% off, and a coupon for $2 off an $8 battery purchase. Of course, they didn't have anything that worked out exact, but I found two packs of AA batteries that were $9 with the sale, less the $2 coupon, less $6 in ExtraBucks, so $1 total cost. Not too shabby. Smile

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
[/i]Week 39 (started late, now on my week 33)[/i]

Snowflakes
Pact - $3.86
Work Reimbursement - $202.32
Side Gigs - $11.70
Kohl's Savings - $174.83
CVS Refund - $9.00
CVS Savings - $11.00

Total Snowflakes: $412.71
Rounding (to reserve): $2.71

Beginning Balance: $3405
Deposit: $410
Ending Balance: $3815

Reserve: $1.05 + $2.71 = $3.76

This puts me at 55% of the Mega challenge, and over 75% of my 2014 goal of $5,000.

Success!

September 23rd, 2014 at 08:26 pm

A few months ago I signed S up for Credit Karma, and was unpleasantly surprised when a paid collection showed up on his credit report. (I don't know why I was surprised, it's been on there since 2011, but apparently I'd forgotten all about it!) We did a HARP refinance in 2013, too, and it was never even mentioned during that process. It was a medical collection, so maybe that's why. (The kicker is that is was for one of *my* medical bills, that we were going back and forth with the insurance about. Our insurance is through his work and our cards both have his SSN on them, which I guess is why it showed up on his credit report.)

I've never been too concerned about our credit reports in the past, other than to be sure there were no major inaccuracies. We've never had too many negatives, just lots of debt, so credit repair was never a focus. For various reasons this time, that paid collection bothered me, so I set about to see if I could get it taken off. I started by disputing the debt with TransUnion; they verified it, but did add a note that we disputed it. Then I did some searching and found out that if you stretch things Wink you can sometimes use HIPAA privacy laws to remove medical collections. I found a sample letter, tweaked it to fit our situation, and sent it over -- and it worked!

We got a letter back from the collection agency saying they were writing to the credit bureaus to remove the information from his credit report. That was early August; I had to wait until mid-September to get his free annual credit reports again, but meanwhile was watching the TU report in Credit Karma, which continued to have the collection listed. Last week I checked and the Equifax and Experian reports had dropped it, but TU still had it.

Yesterday, I disputed the item again with TU (they have an online dispute function) and included the letter from the collection agency. The first dispute took 30 days to get an answer -- this one they answered right away, and they deleted the collection. Woot! Smile

Coincidentally, a collection on my own credit report was deleted within the same timeframe -- different collection agency, different bill (though same health issue). Both were scheduled to drop off in 2017, so we gained two years there.

I also sent goodwill letters to two creditors to ask them to remove a couple of 30-day lates (one each) but that didn't get me anywhere. Frown They're from 12/2008 and 12/2010, so I'm guessing they're not going to have a whole lot of weight overall. (One wasn't even our fault, they suddenly stopped withdrawing the automatic payment from our bank without telling us they were going to stop. They never actually responded to my letter at all, but we paid the account in full a couple of years ago, so maybe they don't really care anymore.)

I'll be interested to see if this makes much of a difference in S's 'FAKO' credit score that Credit Karma provides. (He has a Discover card but hasn't used it in years, and you have to have an account statement to get your free credit score from them. He shreds the cards as soon as he gets them in the mail, so we'll have to wait until the new one comes, whenever that might be, and then have him use it once a month for some small thing we pay off right away!)

In the grand scheme of things this is a small thing, but given the difficulties so many people have with the credit bureaus, I feel like it's a huge victory!

52 Week Mega Savings Challenge Update

September 16th, 2014 at 12:27 pm

Slow-ish week, but I've had worse! I had $65.60 from a side gig and $21.19 reimbursement from a mouse I bought for my work PC that I completely forgot I paid for until now. The Chase Freedom card statement closed last week so I did the rounding for $37.82, and then some miscellaneous Pact earnings and CVS savings.

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 37 (started late, now on my week 31)

Snowflakes
Pact - $2.04
Chase Rounding - $37.82
Side Gig - $65.60
Mouse Reimbursement - $21.19
CVS - $2.68

Total Snowflakes: $129.33
Rounding (from reserve): $0.67

Beginning Balance: $3275
Deposit: $130
Ending Balance: $3405

Reserve: $1.72 - $0.67 = $1.05

This puts me at 49% of the Mega challenge, and over 2/3 of my 2014 goal of $5,000. One of my writing gigs finally has assignments available again, so hopefully I'll be able to pick up some good snowflakes from that over the next few weeks!

Chase Freedom Rewards

September 15th, 2014 at 06:58 am

Chase Freedom Rewards points came in today. I've estimated about $50 per month in rewards, and this month was just a tiny bit shy at $47.59. The 5% category this quarter is gas, but that only got me about $8 this time, as I don't drive much in August. (S has a company car so they pay for his gas.) I have another 450-miles-in-three-days weekend at the end of the month, which will boost up gas spending.

Starting Balance: $645.19
Ending Balance: $692.78

Gift Fund
Goal - $500
Balance - $500.00
Remaining - $0.00

Movie Card Fund
Goal - $100
Balance - $100.00
Remaining - $0.00

Excess
Beginning Balance: $45.19
Current Rewards: $47.59
Ending Balance: $92.78

At this point I'm just going to let the excess build up, and then see where/if I need it at the end of the year (gifts, 52 Week Challenge, etc.)

Impatient!

September 11th, 2014 at 10:06 am

I have recently begun to completely understand the value of "snowballing" debt payoff vs. "avalanching" it. While I know the avalanche makes more financial sense and that's the plan I have set up, I'm smack in the middle of a five-year plan and am just itching for those payoffs to start!

I did pay off one card in July, a few months early, but it was a low-interest, low-balance, low payment card, so while paying it off felt good, it didn't really pack much punch. A smiley face, rather than a gold star, I guess.

Looking at my payoff schedule, though, I have my first avalanched balance due to be paid off in February 2015. (And that balance should only be around $90 so I will probably just pay the whole thing off in January.) I also have one of my hardship repayments that will be paid off in February, just by doing the minimums. Then I have cards getting paid off in March, April, June, August, and October.

(I may even do some debt consolidation to a lower interest rate, so some of those may be technically paid off even sooner, but I want to make sure I'm doing the logical thing and not the emotional thing, there.)

From there I have a couple more cards and a P2P loan, which will all be done by June 2016. (And then of course I have 401(k) loans and personal loans and real estate loans....)

So I'm far from being anywhere near debt-free, but I am so, so ready to be credit card debt free!!
I can't even explain -- and probably don't need to, really, for most people here -- how exciting it is to see the end of credit card debt in sight, after having it hanging over my head for the last 20 years. I find myself obsessively checking my bank account and Mint to be sure I've credited every penny correctly and the payments are on the right schedule, etc. I'm sure subconsciously I'm hoping I'll check and the balance will miraculously be zero!

Off to sing myself a little Carly Simon song and maybe have a little ketchup.... Wink

52 Week Mega Savings Challenge Update

September 8th, 2014 at 08:02 am

I missed last week on this, but it was worth the wait! Several good snowflakes came through the last couple of weeks. I got a $50 rebate from my contact lenses; S got a $50 check for his birthday; I found $8 I'd forgotten about at the bottom of my purse; I took back bottles for $56.90. S is working on a project with the help of his cousin, who is retired military; they went to Lowe's to buy some supplies and cousin got us a 10% discount. We also had a return, rounding from the checking account in August, and I decided to count the $150 I'm saving on my hair by switching to a stylist that works out of her home rather than a salon. Plus my DietBet ended and the final round paid out $171.68 - woot! (That ended up with a total payout of $328.96, less the initial bet of $125, for a net gain of $203.96.) Then some various Pact earnings (plus I'm penalizing myself the $10 they took when I simply forgot to log two vegetables. Duh!), a small side gig and CVS savings.

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 36 (started late, now on my week 30)

Snowflakes
Found cash - $8
Pact - $13.73
Lowe's Discount - $21.80
Book Review - $3.01
Birthday - $50.00
Bottle Return - $56.90
Rounding - $12.28
ING Interest - $1.52
Refund - $19.22
Contact Rebate - $50.00
CVS - $2.18
Hair - $150.00
DietBet - $171.68

Total Snowflakes: $560.32
Rounding (to reserve): $0.32

Beginning Balance: $2715
Deposit: $560
Ending Balance: $3275

Reserve: $1.40 + $0.32 = $1.72

This puts me at 48% of the Mega challenge, and almost 2/3 of my 2014 goal of $5,000. It also helped clear off a couple of the big amounts, although there are still plenty to cross off!

August Look Back / September Look Ahead

September 7th, 2014 at 11:51 am

Slightly behind on this, what else is new?

The look back/look head is just my way to try to keep myself on track with my saving and spending. I have an Excel spreadsheet I love for tracking my debt paydown but it doesn't translate well to saving and spending; I find I'm more about words than numbers for those areas.

August
August is property tax month for our home, which means the bank account takes a pretty big hit. It's a known and planned-for expense, but it still twinges a little bit not to see that nice big savings balance!

The garden is limping along -- other people have said this year is even worse than last year for gardening (and last year they said it was the worst ever), so I guess we're not doing too badly. The tomatoes are finally starting to take off, and we're actually looking like we may have more than we can consume before they go bad -- something we didn't at all have to worry about last year! None of us is really interested in canning, so we're going to look into possible ways to freeze them.

I passed my second licensing exam at the end of the month, so I guess in about 30 days I'll be officially licensed. At some point that's supposed to translate to a financial benefit, but I'm not sure exactly when that will happen.

On the debt front, I paid off $2,532 in debt in August, paid out $777 in interest, and put $291 extra to my current avalanche debt.

September
Rental property taxes are due at the end of September; that's another bite out of the savings account, but only about half as much as our home taxes. There's really not much going else on for September, as far as I can foresee. I may spend a chunk more than planned on yard maintenance.

We have a 'landscape' area behind our fenced yard that has run wild the last several years; we cleared it out last year but of course it all came back again. At this point it's beyond what we could do in a weekend, so I'm going to get a few quotes to have it a) cleared out and b) weed-blocked and either mulched or (better) filled in with rock, and the one area that's visible to the neighborhood given some design other than 'big pine tree and whatever weeds grow around it'. (The big pine tree needs to come down, actually.) I doubt I'll be willing to pay for it all, but I might at least shell out to have it cleared. (I have some money leftover from the rental a/c that didn't end up needing replacement, and a plan to save back up for replacing it in 2015.) The backup plan is to let the bulk of it die off over the winter, and do the cleanup/fill in the spring.

Good Credit Card Day

August 28th, 2014 at 09:10 am

Well, I know credit card debt can never really be "good", but I logged into my bank today and found that the balances on my two in-repayment credit cards with them are both below $1000. Yay! (These two are actually on the bottom of my avalanche plan, because they're at a low "hardship" rate, and will actually be paid off in the next six months just with the minimum payments. Still, it's nice to get down to three digits!)

And, they raised the limit on my paid-off-each-month card (by a few thousand dollars) -- which I know in the grand scheme of things just means I have more available credit, but it also lowers my utilization ratio. (We generally have a balance on it that at times gets somewhat near the limit; the new limit means our typical balance will be at around 50% utilization, still a little higher than ideal but much better than 90%.)

I'm also seeing it as meaning they have faith in me, that since I've been good at paying my card they're rewarding me with more credit. Smile (I know the reality is that they're hoping I'll use the additional credit and then be unable to pay it back in full, thus having to pay interest, so that they'll make money -- but I choose to believe otherwise!)

Based on my past habits, of course, that's exactly what would have happened -- I wouldn't be as strict about paying on the card every week, I'd let the balance creep up, and then "suddenly" I'd be unable to pay off the statement balance each month. Which means I need to be extra-vigilant for the next several months -- but recognizing the danger is half way toward avoiding it, right?

52 Week Double Savings Challenge - Met!

August 15th, 2014 at 05:05 pm

I'm early on this but am too excited to wait. Smile I went back through and rounded the Freedom card transactions for January through June and for August (the statement closed yesterday). Doing so got me to (and past) the total for the Double Savings Challenge -- woot!

CVS was $5 Extra Bucks plus Extra Care savings. I bought four chairs for our family garden (it's a decent-sized plot so we have a little sitting area if we want to sit and chat, or sit and reflect if one of us goes on our own), I had planned to pay $9.99 each for them as that was the lowest price I'd found, but then it turned out they were on sale for $6.99 each. Score!


52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 34 (started late, now on my week 27)

Snowflakes
Kroger Savings - $5.49
Pact - $2.15 Pact
Freedom January - $38.39
Freedom February - $36.53
Freedom March - $40.68
Freedom April - $38.79
Freedom May - $40.33
Freedom June - $42.09
Freedom August - $57.30
Book Review - $25.00
CVS - $6.42
Chairs - $12.00

Total Snowflakes: $345.17
Rounding (to reserve): $0.17

Beginning Balance: $2370
Deposit: $345
Ending Balance: $2715

Reserve: $1.12 + $0.17 = $1.40

This gets me to almost 40% of the Mega challenge, and almost 55% of my 2014 goal of $5,000. If I'm doing my math right (and I may not be) I'm about 57% of the way through the challenge (considering my late start date), so I guess I'm not too far behind. It's all the 'big' numbers to cross off now, though!

Chase Freedom Rewards

August 15th, 2014 at 05:49 am

The Chase Freedom Rewards points came through today. I've estimated that we'll get about $50 per month in rewards; this month was a little higher at $75.91. The 5% category this quarter is gas, and I've had a few 320-mile round-trips this month, so it adds up fast.

Starting Balance: $569.28
Ending Balance: $645.19

Gift Fund
Goal - $500
Balance - $500.00
Remaining - $0.00

Movie Card Fund
Goal - $100
Balance - $100.00
Remaining - $0.00

Both goals met, yay! Now I need to add a new line item:

Excess - $45.19

I'm still in theory going to allocate 50% of the rewards to bulk up the gift fund, and 50% toward the Mega Savings Challenge, but I think I may just let it build up until the end of the year and then see where I could use it most. Ideally I won't need it at all and it can roll over to next year's goals. Smile

52 Week Mega Savings Challenge Update

August 13th, 2014 at 10:20 am

I decided to start rounding the Chase Freedom card transactions, since we use that card for everyday purchases (yes, and pay it off monthly); I was rounding the checking account (and will continue to do so) but it gets far less traffic than the Freedom card. The Freedom card statement end date is the 14th, so I'll use that as the "monthly" amount, and do the checking account rounding for the calendar month. I just used June 14-July 14 here; I might go back and add up the previous months, since I do still need a boost to my snowflakes, but I haven't had a chance to do that yet.

S and I went to the movies this weekend, finally. I have a gift card from previous Freedom card rewards, so no cash out of pocket. (Total includes the movie tickets and concessions, plus the upgrade savings I got from the Stubs membership.) CVS savings includes some ExtraBucks and savings via the ExtraCare Card.


52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 33 (started late, now on my week 25)

Snowflakes
Pact: $2.11
DietBet: $34.93
Freedom Rounding: $56.15
Movies: $26.75
CVS Savings: $4.68
Total Snowflakes: $124.62
Rounding (from reserve): $0.38

Beginning Balance: $2245
Deposit: $125
Ending Balance: $2370

Reserve: $1.61 - $0.38 = $1.23

This puts me within $350 of the "double challenge" and just over 1/3 of the Mega challenge. I'm still a little worried about making the full Mega challenge by the end of the year, but then I was looking over my goals and realized I only intended to get to $5,000 savings in 2014, since I started 10 weeks into the year, so that's a little more doable!

Catching Up

August 1st, 2014 at 03:53 pm

The month of July really got away from me. I spent the first half studying for my licensing exam, and the second half recovering from the studying! I'm feeling a little bit back on my feet, finally.

July Look Back / August Look Ahead

The look back/look head is just my way to try to keep myself on track with my saving and spending. I have an Excel spreadsheet I love for tracking my debt paydown but it doesn't translate well to saving and spending; I find I'm more about words than numbers for those areas.

July
July was a good month overall, our family garden is growing (slowly, but much better than last year), and I passed my exam (phew!) - on the first try.

I did end up having the faucet/knobs (controls? handles?) in my shower replaced, as well as many of the pipes, due to major leaking, to the tune of $850 (ouch!). There are some 'good' things about it, though; first, I found the access panel in the linen closet, which at first they didn't think was there, so it cost about $2,000 less than they originally anticipated. (They had quoted the job about a year ago, when we had them do a temporary fix to some minor leaking, knowing it would have to be replaced in the not-so-distant future.) Also, we've been setting aside money for general household updates (rental and personal), some of which are optional, so I was able to cash-flow the expense and will replace the funds over the next few months. Finally, without the leaking (it was leaking into the tub for a long time, until it finally started leaking out of the tub and into the basement) we'll be saving water -- how much remains to be seen, but I've definitely noticed a difference in both water pressure and how long the hot water lasts.

On the debt front, I paid off $2,548 in debt in July, paid out $760 in interest (nice to see that number drop below $800!), and put $160 extra to my current avalanche debt.

August
I have a second licensing exam at the end of this month, and if I pass that I'll be able to complete my license. It's not supposed to be as difficult as the exam I took in July (though still a challenge); the bonus there is that a few areas I studied for the July exam are topics that will be on the August exam.

It's S's birthday this month and while he claims he doesn't like birthdays, I was already instructed to get tickets to a play for that night. (His birthday is on a Saturday, conveniently.) There's a restaurant we've been wanting to try not too far from the theater, so we'll go there for dinner - expensive, but S got a good bonus this month so we'll use part of that.

Property taxes on our home are due at the end of the month -- that will be a big chunk out of the savings account balance, but of course the reason we have so much in the savings account is because we set it aside for the taxes. (Taxes on the rental are due at the end of September; another chunk out of savings, but half as much as the August bill. It's nice to actually have the money in the bank, though -- too many years we didn't plan ahead and had to borrow or use credit cards (or one year just not pay them for a few months until a big bonus came through).

Other than that, I don't see much going on in August. My niece starts kindergarten at the end of the month (or maybe the beginning of September, they recently changed the laws about the first day of school and I don't remember on which side of Labor Day it landed.) I picked up a cute little "Frozen" nail polish set with a tin to keep them in (she's all about both "Frozen" and nail polish these days) at the Five Below (it was $5). I'll probably tell my sister to give it to her if she's a good girl on the first day of school. (Or, on whatever day she gets a good report if the first day is a bust! She's usually pretty good, honestly, but it's a new school so who knows how that will affect her.)



52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 30 [started late, now on my week 24]

Obviously these cover several weeks, but I'm just lumping them all together rather than doing multiple updates. The refund was for some concert tickets S bought, he ended up getting a different package so they refunded the original. The gift card was for Barnes & Noble -- I got two books, "S" by J.J. Abrams, and then I spent $3.99 on a biography of Warren Buffett to get free shipping (which would otherwise have been $3.99). The refund for my physical therapy co-pay, that I paid and then the insurance ended up paying the whole thing, finally came through. I had $10.29 in "keep the change" rounding on the checking account. (Next month I might try it on the Freedom card activity -- we use that a heck of a lot more!) The dinner refund is money my mom gave me for her birthday dinner (I cooked for her); I had intended to pay the whole thing but my sister and I took her out for lunch twice during her birthday week, so she insisted on paying for the dinner. Interest is in the ING/Capital One account, which is where the 52-Week Challenge money goes.

Snowflakes
Pact: $2.18
Pact: $1.95
Refund: $52.00
Book Review: $15.01
Book Review: $25.00
Gift Card: $25.00
Rounding: $10.29
Pact: $1.40
Pact: $1.88
Insurance Refund: $203.00
Dinner Refund: $50.00
Interest: $1.06
Total Snowflakes: $388.76
Rounding (from reserve): $1.24

Beginning Balance: $1855
Deposit: $390
Ending Balance: $2245

Reserve: $2.85 - $1.24 = $1.61

This puts me within $500 of the "double challenge" (I finished the single challenge a while ago), and almost at 1/3 of the Mega challenge.

Chase Freedom Rewards

July 15th, 2014 at 07:52 am

The Chase Freedom Rewards points came through today. My estimated is that we'll get about $50 per month in rewards, and this month was pretty close at $55.17. The 5% category this quarter is gas, which hits at a good time because there are two weekends in the quarter where I drive about 450 miles in three days. (Normally I drive 25 miles round-trip for work each week, and maybe 10 additional miles the rest of the week, so 450 miles is a lot for me! S has a company car so they pay for his gas, so it's only me and the lawnmower that use the Chase card for gas.)

Starting Balance: $514.11
Ending Balance: $569.28

Gift Fund
Goal - $500
Balance - $500.00
Remaining - $0.00

Movie Card Fund
Goal - $100
Balance - $69.28
Remaining - $30.72

The movie card should be finished next month. I was considering using 50% of the rewards to bulk up the gift fund, and 50% toward the Mega Savings Challenge, but the way my snowflakes have been going, I might just add it all to the Challenge! I think I'll just play it by ear, and use the rewards to round out the Challenge if they're needed.

52 Week Mega Savings Challenge Update

July 8th, 2014 at 08:33 pm

It was a slow week for snowflakes last week, and will probably be even slower this week! I did join Pact so made $2.12 for the various pacts last week, and I won $39.98 in my DietBet. I got a $5 account credit at my bank for enrolling in paperless statements, $0.60 interest in my ING account, and "keep the change" rounding in the checking account for the month of June totalled $13.10.


52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 27 [started late, now on my week 22]

Snowflakes
ING Interest: $0.60
Pact: $2.12
Paperless: $5.00
Rounding: $13.10
DietBet: $39.98
Total Snowflakes: $60.80
Rounding (to reserve): $0.80

Beginning Balance: $1795
Deposit: $60
Ending Balance: $1855

Reserve: $2.05 + $0.80 = $2.85

I sometimes feel a little bad that these weekly amounts are so small -- I see the Mega challenge weekly goals in the $150-250 range and get a bit discouraged -- but then I realize that I've made it to $1800 savings almost entirely from passive snowflakes, and that's no small accomplishment! Of course something always comes up to keep me busier than I expect to be, but I should get at least a little bit of relatively quiet time soon, and I'm hoping to find some more active means of snowflaking when I do, to hit those 'big ticket' weekly goals and get closer to the challenge goals.

June Look Back / July Look Ahead

July 7th, 2014 at 04:55 pm

The look back/look head is just my way to try to keep myself on track with my saving and spending. I have an Excel spreadsheet I love for tracking my debt paydown but it doesn't translate well to saving and spending; I find I'm more about words than numbers for those areas.

June
The good news for June was that my $625 client bill finally got paid! (I posted about it in my last 52 Week Mega Savings Challenge update.) I still haven't received the $200 refund from the physical therapy place, so I'll need to give them a call.

Our vacation went well, I made turtle brownies for the reunion that were a big hit so now I'm "in" with the family (this was the first time I'd met most of them, and only the second or third time for the rest). The critters didn't give anyone too hard of a time, which means they'll probably be allowed back if we try to get away together again.

The air conditioner at the rental is working perfectly (knock wood!) so hopefully it won't need replacement this year. I've started diverting the money I had saved for that to the other repairs that are needed. I had a good talk with the tenant, too, and we're on the same page about what needs to be done and spacing it out a bit so that it's not too much of a financial burden in any one month.

Our garden is in and already doing better than last year, which is promising. Still not as well as some of the more experienced gardeners', but we're still learning. (We're also trying to be less chemically inclined, so for example while lots of people use Sevin dust, we're using diatomaceous earth.) My biggest thrill is that a few of the tomatoes I started from seeds seem to be coming along. Of course the day we were planting the seed pods got all mixed up, so I have no idea what variety they are! Most of the seeds I started were heirloom, so if we end up with tomatoes I should be able to figure out what kind they are from their appearance.

On the financial front, I paid off $2,398 in debt, paid $810 in interest, and diverted my extra $149 from my avalanche card to the small balance I posted about a while back, so that card is now Paid In Full! Yippee! Smile One less payment to make, and an additional $23 a month to avalanche!

Oh -- Social Security apparently paid attention to the letter I sent in May, and at the end of June finally requested back all of the deposits they'd made to my MIL's account. (It looks like the money hasn't actually left the account yet, but I do see the request.) Government efficiency at its finest!

July
The first half of this month is focused on my career, for a change. My boss wants me to take a licensing exam, so this week I'm in review classes and then take the test next week. It's apparently a very intense test, and a significant number of people don't pass it the first time, so I'm nervous about it but also open to the fact that I might need to retake it. (I'm not sure if that's going to be more or less helpful to my studying, but it is what it is at this point!)

Once I pass this exam, there's another that's a bit lower-key, and then I've been told I'll get a bonus and an increase in pay. (We'll see how that shakes out, of course!) The long outlook is that once I'm licensed, I'll be able to take over (buy out) the business when my boss retires/dies/becomes disabled, which is a win-win all the way around. Not that I'm hoping for anything to happen to him, but he's 82 years old (but in excellent health) so it's definitely something he's thought about.

At any rate, the rest of July should be pretty laid back; it's a slow time at work and nothing much going on socially or with the family except my mom's birthday at the end of the month. I'm looking forward to having some time to relax again!

Irritated

July 2nd, 2014 at 11:11 am

S has a very small rollover IRA at Fidelity. ($2300) We just recently rolled an old 401(k) into it, so now we're ready to invest in something other than a money market mutual fund. I figured Vanguard's Total Stock Market Index would be the way to go, but unfortunately Vanguard raised their minimum investment to $3000, even for IRAs. So, after some searching and finding almost *no* funds that have less than a $2500 minimum, I figured I'd invest in the Vanguard STAR fund and then, once it hit $3K or greater, exchange into the VTSMX.

Except when I tried to do the trade, I kept getting an error that the fund has a $2500 minimum. So, more research, and I combed through the 10,000+ funds that Fidelity offers as open to new investors, and couldn't find any with a minimum of less than $2500. Fishy. I checked the IRA account agreement, and it says nothing about minimum investments, except that you must meet the fund's minimum requirement. I contacted Fidelity and sure enough, the only mutual funds you can invest less than $2500 in through their accounts are money market mutual funds.

I'm not entirely irritated with their policy, but I'm irritated that a) it's not mentioned in the account agreement anywhere, and b) both the account agreement and the trading platform give the impression that it's the fund's minimum investment requirement that matters, and not Fidelity's. (In fact the trading platform specifically states, "The selected mutual fund has a minimum investment requirement of $2,500.")

So I have a few options: 1) I can leave the money in the money market mutual fund; 2) I can contribute an additional $200-700 to bring the account up to $2500-3000 and invest in one of the Vanguard funds; 3) I can invest in an ETF or stock; or 4) I can transfer the IRA to a new Vanguard IRA and follow the STAR-to-VTSMX plan.

Number 1 is least desirable, because the money is earning almost no interest and since this is long-term retirement savings, I'd rather maximize earnings as much as possible. Number 2 is not much better, since we don't qualify for a deductible IRA and I'd rather use the $200-700 to pay off debt at this point (plus honestly I chafe at feeling compelled to contribute to an IRA simply so that I can invest in a product that might actually make money!). Number 3 is doable, Vanguard has a Total Stock Market ETF with essentially identical performance as the mutual fund. Number 4 is attractive primarily because of my pique at Fidelity.

Actually number 3 is probably the best choice, now that I've listed them all out, because it will get me invested in the better-performing fund from the start. (The STAR fund has been significantly underperforming the Total Stock Market Index for the last couple of years.) In my still-irritated state, though, it would be satisfying to tell Fidelity to stuff it. (Although a) they probably would never know or care why I transferred the account and b) S's current 401(k) is at Fidelity and is a much larger account, and of course we can't move that one.)

So I guess I'll stay at Fidelity and buy the Vanguard ETF -- but I might wait a day or two until I'm less irritated about the whole thing!

52 WMSC - Finally Paid

June 28th, 2014 at 08:59 pm

I finally got paid by my one client -- $625 -- woot! I was also paid $25 for another book review and got a $10 gift card for the new monitor I had to purchase for work. I also finally went to see the movie I was supposed to see at the end of May, but at a different theater so my AMC gift card balance hasn't changed. We thought we had a coupon for free tickets, but it was actually for discounted ticket prices (well, I thought that's what it was to begin with, but everyone argued me into thinking it was for free tickets!). Luckily I remembered a gift card for that theater that I got about four years ago and never used, so it was still no money out of pocket. There was also a coupon for a free small popcorn, which we upgraded to a medium. Total for two of was $18 on the gift card (I got a drink, too).

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 26 [started late, now on my week 20]

Snowflakes
Client payment: $625.17
Book Review: $25.00
Gift Card: $10.00
Movie Card: $18.00
Total Snowflakes: $678.17
Rounding (from reserve): $1.83

Beginning Balance: $1115
Deposit: $680
Ending Balance: $1795

Reserve: $3.88 - $1.83 = $2.05

This puts me at 100%+ of the regular challenge, over 65% of the double challenge, and over 25% of the mega challenge. Still need to get working harder on the mega challenge, but I'm excited about having finished the regular challenge!!

52 WMSC & Rewards Updates

June 21st, 2014 at 01:01 pm

I've been "down country" and had limited wifi access, so I'm behind on updating. Rather than do separate updates for each week I missed (I think I missed three), I'm just going to skip ahead and count them all together. There are probably some snowflakes I'm forgetting, too!

I had a $5.29 return at CVS and I used $5 in Extra Bucks. I'd forgotten an item on my expense report for my critter club, and since the money ($119.76) was long gone in my mind I figure I'll use the reimbursement as a snowflake. I also got $50 for my birthday a few weeks ago.

Still expecting some big snowflakes in the next few weeks, $625 from a side gig (I need to start getting tough on that one, it's been 3-4 months since I sent the first invoice) and $203 from an insurance reimbursement. I also just got a quick review that will bring in $25, probably next week. Those aren't counted here, of course, but it's nice to know there are some things to look forward to!

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 25 [started late, now on my week 16]

Snowflakes
CVS Return: $5.29
CVS Extra Bucks: $5.00
Club Reimbursement: $119.76
Birthday: $50.00
Total Snowflakes: $180.05
Rounding (to reserve): $0.05

Beginning Balance: $935
Deposit: $180
Ending Balance: $1115

Reserve: $3.83 + $0.05 = $3.85

(Somehow my reserve amount was off; this amount coincides with what the bank has.)

That puts me at 80% of the regular challenge, 41% of the double challenge, and 16% of the mega challenge. I need to step things up if I want to hit the mega challenge -- even the $853 I have coming only puts me 1/4 toward that goal, and we're just about halfway through the year!


Chase Freedom Rewards
Still beating the estimate of $50 per month, again most likely due to the 5% restaurant category and eating out quite a lot, between our anniversary and our vacation. Some of the vacation awards will carry over to next month, as well. We ended at $76.35, which finishes up the gift fund. Woo hoo!

Gift Fund
Goal - $500
Balance - $500
Remaining - $0

Movie Card Fund
Goal - $100.00
Balance - $14.11
Remaining - $85.89

52 Week Mega Savings Challenge Update

June 3rd, 2014 at 09:23 am

Fairly decent week for snowflakes, considering I haven't done much of anything to try to get them, although most of them did involve spending money. I used $7 in coupons at CVS (for drug store items that I actually needed Wink ) and then saved another $4.79 on things I picked up while I was there. I got $20 in Kohl's cash (which of course means I spent $100, but considering the full price total was $500, I think I came out ahead!). The 'save the change' rounding total for May was $14.78. I also had interest on the ING account, I'd forgotten about it in April so I've got April ($0.26) and May ($0.47) here.

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 22 [started late, now on my week 16]

Snowflakes
CVS Coupons: $7.00
CVS Savings: $4.79
Kohl's Cash: $20
Rounding: $14.78
Interest - April: $0.26
Interest - May: $0.47
Total Snowflakes: $47.30
Rounding (to reserve): $2.30

Beginning Balance: $890
Deposit: $45
Ending Balance: $935

Reserve: $0.80 + $2.30 = $3.10


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