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52-Week Challenge/Chase Freedom Rewards Updates

July 27th, 2015 at 09:19 am

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 30 (saved to Week 38)

I finally got around to taking the bottles back again, so that was a nice boost to this Challenge! I also had a few returns, as well as the Internet reimbursement from S's work. The Chase Freedom card closed so there's rounding from that, as well.

Snowflakes
Reimbursement - $22.48
Freedom Card Rounding - $35.64
Bottles - $90.70
Returns - $87.25


Total Snowflakes: $236.07
Rounding (to reserve): $0.07

Beginning Balance: $992
Deposit: $236
Ending Balance: $1,228

Reserve: $0.69 + $0.07 = $0.76

This puts me at 89% of the Challenge, and we're almost 60% through the year. Only $150 left to go!


Chase Freedom Rewards

I've projected an average of $50 per month in rewards; July was right there, at $52.65. (The billing cycle closes on the 14th of the month, so "July" is really June 15-July 14.)

I did cash in my movie card fund, so there's a $100 statement credit here. I did get the new movie card at a discount, but I applied that amount ($19.50) toward the 52-Week Challenge.

Starting Balance: $207.77
July Rewards: $52.65
Statement Credit: -$100.00
Ending Balance: $160.42

Movie Card Fund
Goal - $100
Balance - $100.00
Remaining - $0

Anniversary Dinner Fund
Goal - $300
Balance - $300
Remaining - $0

Slush Fund
Goal - $400
Balance - $160.42
Remaining - $239.58


I'm still just letting the slush fund ride until I decide what to do with it. At an average $50/month with five months left, I should be well set to meet the $400 goal.

52 Week Savings Challenge & Ramblings

July 8th, 2015 at 08:57 am

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!

Long Overdue Updates

June 15th, 2015 at 11:39 am

I am so behind on updating, I'm tempted to just skip it but then I might as well be somewhat accountable! I was out of town for most of May (I actually was traveling more days than I was home) so fell quite a bit behind. I have been reading everyone's blogs, just haven't found the motivation to update my own until now.

I've been tracking the Savings Challenge amounts but haven't made any deposits lately. We've had a lot of unexpected things come up -- the dishwasher quit draining, the air conditioner blew a fuse, the clothes washer is about to go -- plus some reno/repair expenses that weren't totally unexpected, but as usual cost more than we'd planned. (We're having a major issue with a floor we had put in, improper installation and a costly fix. We're taking that a piece at a time.) Plus we're still fighting with the insurance about replacing the roof -- our guy says we have 6-7 years left of in, they're saying the shingles are curling and the roof has to be replaced. (Reality is the shingles aren't curling, they just have moss on them, but since the underwriters just stand on the ground and take photos they think it's curling.) We'll be getting the roof cleaned and submitting photos to the home office, but meanwhile we'll be looking for a new insurance company, too.

At any rate, I'm a little down about finances at the moment and will probably get a bit panicky come August/September, when property taxes are due. We also have a balloon payment on the HELOC that comes up in October -- for some reason it's not the kind that automatically converts to a fixed loan, so we'll have to try to refinance that. (We should have enough equity in our home to lump it into the mortgage, but it's always a stressful process.) Meanwhile I'm waiting on a couple of things to shake out that should ease things up considerably, but in the mean time I feel like I'm juggling 15 balls in the air and at any moment they'll all come crashing down around my head. (I have an emergency back-up plan, but it's not something I really want to put into action. It beats bankruptcy, though.)

I think I go through this angst every year at about this time! Probably has something to do with my birthday at the end of May.

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 24 (saved to Week 26)

With all the travel the last few weeks, I haven't had a whole lot of snowflakes coming in. Fortunately I was several weeks ahead on the challenge already, so it didn't set me back any! This update covers several weeks, and includes two month-ends of bank interest/rounding and two Freedom card roundings.

Snowflakes
ING Interest - $3.25
MSD Interest - $5.60
Chase Interest - $0.03
Chase Rounding - $10.95
Reimbursement - $22.48
Target Savings - $2.75
Found - $10.00
Freedom Card Rounding - $47.82
Chase Rounding - $11.11
Chase Interest - $0.03
ING Interest - $2.54
MSD Interest - $5.80
Target Savings - $44.28
Freedom Card Rounding - $40.66

Total Snowflakes: $207.30
Rounding (to reserve): $0.30

Beginning Balance: $670
Deposit: $207
Ending Balance: $877

Reserve: $0.25 + $0.30 = $0.55

This puts me at almost 64% of the Challenge, and we're about 46% through the year.


Chase Freedom Rewards

I've projected an average of $50 per month in rewards; May and June were higher, at $74.03 and $68.66. Again, having restaurants in the 5% rewards category this quarter is a big help -- despite not paying for anything the five days we were in Napa!

I exceeded the $300 goal for our anniversary dinner, just in time! (The rewards are calculated on the 14th of the month; we had our dinner on the 16th.) Although our meal came in well below that number, I used the whole $300 as a statement credit on the card; the excess will offset some of the cost of the gifts.

Starting Balance: $365.08
May Rewards: $74.03
June Rewards: $68.66
Statement Credit: -$300.00
Ending Balance: $207.77

Movie Card Fund
Goal - $100
Balance - $100.00
Remaining - $0

Anniversary Dinner Fund
Goal - $300
Balance - $300
Remaining - $0

Slush Fund
Goal - $400
Balance - $107.77
Remaining - $292.93


At this point I'm just going to let the excess accumulate as a 'slush fund'. I'll probably use it for Christmas, unless something else comes up. I've set a goal of $400 based on an average of $50/month with six months left, plus what I've already got. Next quarter the 5% is gas and I have a few high-mileage weekends that quarter, so I will probably end up a bit over.

52 Week Savings Challenge and Angst

April 21st, 2015 at 08:43 am

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 16 (saved to Week 21)

The Freedom card rounding hit for this week. It was a bit more than I expected, so I got to knock out another of the 'higher' numbers.

Snowflakes
Freedom Card Rounding - $40.89

Total Snowflakes: $40.89
Rounding (from reserve): $0.11

Beginning Balance: $629
Deposit: $41
Ending Balance: $670

Reserve: $0.36 - $0.11 = $0.25

This puts me at almost 48% of the Challenge, and we're just past 30% through the year.

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Meanwhile, I've been spending out of control! It's really mostly planned expenses, getting ready for two back-to-back vacations, but still, there's been a lot of money going out lately! Some of it I was able to put on my PayPal credit, which gives me six months of no interest, and the rest is on the Freedom card (which is paid off monthly) so at least I'll be getting 1% back on that. I may have to dip into my slush fund savings when the bill comes due, but I've never gone this far into the year without dipping into that fund in the past, so I'm not too upset about it!

Part of the problem is that the first trip is to Napa for S's work President's Club. While the trip itself is pretty much all expenses paid for both of us, it's "resort business casual" (whatever that means!) and "suit and tie required" dress, which is not the norm for either of us. S only has one nice suit, and he's worn it to the past several work events, so he wanted something new. He really wanted something tailored, since as a competitive cyclist he's hard to fit (big legs, small waist and hips, broad shoulders). He ended up getting a really good price, for what he got, but it was still twice what I probably would have spent!

Then we hit Kohl's for "resort business casual" wear for me, and a nice dress for the suit-and-tie event, since all I have are very dowdy skirts (it's a passive-aggressive thing since my boss won't let me wear slacks) and capris. Of course due to S's schedule we went when I didn't have any percent-off coupons. It was late and I wasn't in the mood to try anything on, so I did that at home, and of course the fancy dress I bought was just horrible once I put it on. I went by myself another night and got a couple other dresses, and a couple of replacements for some other things that didn't fit. Two days later, of course, was the "lowest prices of the season" sale, and $10 cash back for every $50 spent. Given the boatloads of money we'd just spent, I wasn't about to just let that go!

I did find an online-only coupon for 15% off (there as a big dry spell with Kohl's coupons for a while!), so I spent most of Friday morning re-buying everything we'd purchased and were keeping, plus a couple of other little things I'd forgotten earlier. When all was said and done, I ended up saving an *additional* $250 to what we'd originally spent, *plus* I got $90 in Kohl's cash. So I really made out on the savings, but I still spent quite a lot to get there! (I've returned some of the original purchases already, and the rest will go back once the online orders arrive.)

Hopefully, we should have very minimal spending the end of April/beginning of May. The work trip is basically all expenses paid, except souvenirs and if we want to do anything during the few hours of 'free time' we have. My pilgrimage is the next week and I've had the money set aside for that for a while now. Then we don't have much until the middle of the month, with our anniversary; I'm using the Freedom card rewards for the anniversary dinner, which is the bulk of that expense (the gifts are already paid for). I'll be out of town again at the end of the month, but it should be a low-cost trip. I'm going to try to get us focused on a frugal June, though!

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Funny (non-financial) story. When our grandma died several years ago, my sister and I went down to visit with our grandpa, and stayed at their house (which my aunt and uncle had bought from them as a vacation home, when my grandparents moved into a senior/long-term care facility). We were looking through old photo albums and ran across a picture of my grandpa when he was in the Navy, and both said, "Oooh, dreamy!" (Which I guess is kind of weird to say about your grandpa, but whatever.)

We got together with my cousin a couple of weeks ago, after my aunt & uncle's funeral, before she want back down south. (She's now living in the house down there.) My sister mentioned that if she ran across the photo, we'd love a copy. She laughed and said, "I know exactly which picture you're talking about, I have it on my work desk!" When she got back home she sent my sister the picture and sure enough, it's the same one. Smile

What do you think? He was a dreamboat, wasn't he? Even for a grandpa! Wink

Chase Freedom Rewards

April 16th, 2015 at 11:36 am

I've projected an average of $50 per month in rewards; this month was a little higher, at $62.69. The 5% category this quarter is restaurants, which is always a good time of year for us, with Mother's Day, my birthday, and our anniversary all falling in May. (My annual pilgrimage to our critter national is also in May, and while I try to limit my meal expenses we do go out to a nice dinner at least once.)

Starting Balance: $302.39
Ending Balance: $365.08

Movie Card Fund
Goal - $100
Balance - $100.00
Remaining - $0

Anniversary Dinner Fund
Goal - $300
Balance - $268.08
Remaining - $34.92

I should hit the $300 next month (which, again, will hopefully be more than I actually need for our dinner). I'll need to come up with something else to save for -- probably Christmas again, I guess!

52-Week Savings Challenge

April 13th, 2015 at 07:54 am

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 15 (saved to Week 20)

I had some great CVS savings, which included $26 in ExtraBucks. I'm still getting used to not needing a ton of snowflakes each week (compared to the Mega Challenge I did last year); I have some bottles to return in the next couple of weeks, too; I was going to do them over the weekend but a) I ran out of time and b) I really didn't need them for the challenge. I do these the "Bingo" way and I've already got six of the top ten amounts crossed off. This week will be the Freedom card rounding, which should knock off a mid-range amount.

Snowflakes
CVS Savings - $41.94

Total Snowflakes: $41.94
Rounding (from reserve): $0.55

Beginning Balance: $587
Deposit: $42
Ending Balance: $629

Reserve: $0.42 - $0.06 = $0.36

This puts me at almost 46% of the Challenge, and we're almost 29% through the year.

52-Week Savings Challenge

April 6th, 2015 at 07:01 am

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 14 (saved to Week 19)

S got a bigger-than-usual reimbursement from work, and since the money it was reimbursing is already spent I'm counting it as a snowflake. Smile It was the end of the month, too, which means interest paid and rounding from the checking account.

Snowflakes
Reimbursement - $65.72
Chase Interest - $0.03
ING Interest - $3.36
MSD Interest - $5.78
Checking Rounding - $10.56

Total Snowflakes: $85.45
Rounding (from reserve): $0.55

Beginning Balance: $501
Deposit: $86
Ending Balance: $587

Reserve: $0.97 - $0.55 = $0.42

This puts me at almost 43% of the Challenge, and we're almost 27% through the year.

Random Thoughts and 52-Week Savings Challenge

April 1st, 2015 at 06:58 am

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 07:29 am

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.

-------------

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...)

---------------

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.

52-Week Savings Challenge

March 23rd, 2015 at 08:38 am

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 12 (save to Week 15)

The unexpected $100 snowflake I blogged about last week really bumped me up here, I'm now three weeks ahead on this challenge. (Which might be handy in May, when I'll be out of town for a week and so probably won't have much chance for snowflakes.) I had several good deals and ExtraBucks from CVS last week, stocking up on Easter candy mostly. We also had our "Family Financial Summit" yesterday and I got reimbursed for some stuff, so I'm counting that, too.

Snowflakes
Copyright Fee - $100.00
Reimbursement - $29.23
CVS Savings - $15.08

Total Snowflakes: $144.31
Rounding (to reserve): $0.31

Beginning Balance: $297
Deposit: $144
Ending Balance: $441

Reserve: $0.11 + $0.31 = $0.42

This puts me at almost 32% of the Challenge, and we're just over 23% through the year, so I'm a bit ahead at this point.

Totally Unexpected Snowflake

March 17th, 2015 at 02:40 pm

I have a website for my critters, and on that website I have several articles about various items of interest and/or debate within the breed. I try to be educational, rather than simply opinionated, and without being too immodest I do get a lot of praise for those articles. So it irks me when someone steals them and posts them on their own website -- even if they give credit, it's still copyright theft. (Most people simply think everything on the Internet is free for the taking, but of course that's not remotely true.)

The other day someone linked to an article that, it turns out, lifted quite a bit of text directly from my website (and rephrased quite a bit more). Not only that, but the text was also used as part of an e-book they are selling. Well, that tipped me over the edge -- bad enough to steal, but to steal and then profit from it? Plus it was one of those cookie-cutter sites that's basically the same for every breed, with a few specific items thrown in. So I dashed off an email demanding they either give me credit or remove the text, and also that they compensate me for the use of my work to day or purchase the rights to it for the past and future.

I'm not usually confrontational, unless I get worked up, and of course I immediately felt I'd been a little rash. Of course I also didn't expect any response, or at best a flat-out refusal, and had decided I wasn't going to bother pursuing it regardless. Imagine my surprise to get an email from the site owner apologizing, along with a $100 goodwill payment! I thanked her, told her I'd consider the matter settled, and offered my services on a work-for-hire basis if she ever had a need. Wink

That $100 snowflake will go toward my 52-Week Challenge, knocking out a couple of the larger numbers.

52-Week Savings Challenge and Chase Freedom Rewards

March 14th, 2015 at 08:30 am

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 12

Somehow I got my weeks goofed up on this, I had myself a week behind where I really am. This week I had more than the highest amount, so now I'm a week ahead of schedule. (Fortunately I track this in Excel so everything is straight there, even if I goof it up here!)

Snowflakes
Reimbursement - $22.48
Freedom Card Rounding - $40.05

Total Snowflakes: $62.53
Rounding (from reserve): $0.47

Beginning Balance: $234
Deposit: $63
Ending Balance: $297

Reserve: $0.58 - $0.47 = $0.11

This puts me at almost 21.5% of the Challenge, and we're just over 21% through the year. So right now I'm on pace!

Chase Freedom Rewards
Another good month for rewards; we actually maxed out the 5% bonus category (grocery stores). We still get 1% on any grocery store purchases, of course.

I've projected an average of $50 per month in rewards; this month was still a bit higher, at $78.19! I think for now I'll be allocating the funds to our anniversary dinner; it's the one time a year we go all out, which of course means $$$; it probably averages at about $200. Since our anniversary is in May, I have two more months to count rewards.

I think I'll shoot for $300, which should be covered if I stay at around $50 per month. (I had $124 extra last month so I'm already at $200.) I'll pay for the bill with the Freedom card and then just transfer the cash after the fact, that way if I have extra I'll just leave it for the next goal. (If S decides to tell me where we're going, I might get a $200 gift card if I can find a good discount. I would get a Visa gift card but I've got to imagine those don't come across the discount places very often, since you can use them just about anywhere.)

Starting Balance: $224.20
Ending Balance: $302.39

Movie Card Fund
Goal - $100
Balance - $100.00
Remaining - $0

Anniversary Dinner Fund
Goal - $300
Balance - $202.39
Remaining - $97.61

52-Week Savings Challenge

March 10th, 2015 at 01:36 pm

Week 9

Not a whole lot this week. I expect a somewhat bigger chunk next week with the credit card rounding. I did have quite a few CVS Extra Bucks, and then some money I transferred over from my PayPal account.

Snowflakes
PayPal - $25.01
CVS EB - $8.13

Total Snowflakes: $33.14
Rounding (to reserve): $0.14

Beginning Balance: $201
Deposit: $33
Ending Balance: $234

Reserve: $0.44 - $0.14 = $0.58

This puts me at almost 17% of the Challenge, and we're just over 19% through the year. (That's a little off, since the Challenge is calculated as of last Saturday and the year is as of today.)

52-Week Savings Challenge

March 1st, 2015 at 08:15 pm

Down to just the regular challenge now!

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 8

Interest hit yesterday, of course, and I had rounding from the checking account. I'm including the excess from the Mega challenge. I got a car wash today, since it was finally warm enough (at 23 degrees, sigh). I was out running errands and went to a different place than usual -- which was $3 less than I was planning on spending, so I'm counting that, too!

Snowflakes
Mega reserve - $2.24
Checking rounding - $13.37
ING Interest - $3.03
MSD Interest - $5.22
Chase Interest - $0.03
Car Wash Savings - $3.00

Total Snowflakes: $26.89
Rounding (from reserve): $0.11

Beginning Balance: $174
Deposit: $27
Ending Balance: $201

Reserve: $0.55 - $0.11 = $0.44

This puts me at just over 14.5% of the Challenge. Week-wise we're 17.3% through the year. (I'm not necessarily trying to match that, but it's interesting to me to see how it compares.)

Well, That's A Mighty Big Wrench....

February 27th, 2015 at 01:53 pm

I just got a call from my insurance agent's assistant (homeowners insurance on our primary residence). She wanted to give me a heads up that the home office had sent out an underwriter, who has decided that we need a new roof, and they will be sending us a letter to that effect. Apparently some shingles are curling in one area.

Now, to be honest, we've known the roof would need replacing *someday* and since my grandpa died 14 years ago, the roof is at least that old -- and it may have been last replaced before my grandma died in 1995. So they may not be too off-base, but even the assistant said in most of the pictures she saw the roof looked fine. We have a few homes in our neighborhood that desperately need a new roof, and there's a substantial difference between theirs and ours.

I guess the next step (well, after the snow melts!) is to get a certified roofing inspector to tell us how much life they feel the roof has left, and/or if it can be spot-repaired to get a few more years out of it. Apparently this is not an uncommon thing for insurance companies to do, and often if an inspector says the roof has a few more years in it the insurance will accept that.

If they don't, however, or if the inspector agrees that the roof needs to be replaced immediately, we're looking at about a $15K job. More than I have in the EF by a wide margin! I do have some options in mind already, none of them ideal and all of them involving adding debt somewhere. *sigh*

S is of course livid, and wants to switch insurance companies. Shopping around might not be a bad idea regardless (although they'll give us a 20% discount on our premiums the first year, then 19% the second year, etc.) but now that they've noted it needs replacing, any other insurance company will have the same requirement. I also do really appreciate the fact that the local office called to let me know the letter was on the way, rather than just letting me be blindsided by it. I would have totally lost it. They also are giving us a year to get it replaced -- very generous, as in some discussions I saw people were given 60 days.

I knew I shouldn't have answered that phone call!

52 Week Mega Savings Challenge - Done!

February 26th, 2015 at 06:54 am

Phew! My client paid their bill for my side gig, which finished up the 52-week Mega Savings Challenge -- with a couple of weeks to spare! Woo hoo!

Of course, I'm going to have to pull $2500 out in April for the new wall heater, but at least I have it there to pull! (They installed the heater a couple of weeks ago, but I put it off until after the Freedom card closed in February, so the payment won't actually be due until April.)

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
My Weeks 50, 51 & 52

Snowflakes
Side Gig - $535.17

Total Snowflakes: $535.17
Rounding (to reserve): $0.17

Beginning Balance: $6325
Deposit: $535
[b]Ending Balance: $6890[b]

Reserve: $2.07 + $0.17 = $2.24

The reserve will go over to the regular 52-Week Challenge I'm doing this year.

I must say, this was a pretty tough challenge! I wasn't always able to save something weekly, especially once all of the smaller amounts were used up, but fortunately some bigger things came through that covered multiple weeks. I might do it again in the future, but I think I'll stick with the regular challenge for a while! (At least until my credit cards are paid off; it made sense to me to rapidly get to $5K in the EF even though I still have cc debt, and the OCD in me wouldn't abide with stopping in the middle of the challenge, but that's also $5K that could have gone to credit cards.)

So relieved to have this done! The regular challenge should seem like a piece of cake now. Smile

Challenges

February 25th, 2015 at 09:47 am

February was a month full of challenges, and March looks to be the same. This is my busy time at work, when I switch from four days and 30 hours a week to six days and 58 hours a week. I've been doing double-duty on the savings challenges, trying to finish up the mega challenge that I started late in 2014 while working on the regular challenge for 2015. I decided to give up buying lunches for Lent, which means I've had to challenge myself to be prepared every day and have something ready to take from home. In March I'll be increasing our 401(k) contributions and decreasing our withholdings, which will challenge our budget a little bit. I am trying to lose some weight for our upcoming trip to Napa at the end of April - S won the President's Club award at work and so we get a most-expenses-paid trip. (Actually the one couple who went last year said they didn't spend a dime of their own money, but I expect we'll have a few out-of-pocket expenses.)

Lent
It's only been a week, but so far, so good. I had leftovers from dinner all of last week. On Sunday I made a batch of egg muffins (basically scrambled eggs with ham, tomato, cheese, and mushrooms baked in a muffin tin; some recipes have you put hash browns on the bottom as a 'crust' but I didn't have any handy) and then cooked up a pot of rice, a couple of lean chuck steaks, and some peppers and mushrooms, so I've had stir-fry over rice all this week. (It ended up covering four lunches, but I'll have leftovers for the other two.)

The breakfast wasn't really part of the Lent challenge, but I often pop into the grocery store on the way to work to pick up breakfast and lunch, and figured there's no sense going just for breakfast. Cheaper and healthier to make it at home, anyway! I found a recipe for peanut butter pancake muffins with strawberry-cream cheese 'frosting' I want to try for next week. (I'm also testing these recipes; my sister and I decided instead of a present she didn't need, we were going to treat my mom to brunch once a month. We're having our "Family Financial Summit" in March so I figured we could do an in-house brunch on the same day. Muffins/cupcakes would be easy-peasy and they look cute, too!)

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
My Weeks 48 & 49

Still waiting on my side gig payment, which will cover the last three weeks of the challenge. S's work revamped the way they figure insurance premiums for 2015 (they had four tiers and are now just using one), which means our premiums went up more than usual. Since we participate in the "extra-curricular wellness" activities, they gave us a 'benefit offset' payment to I guess ease the pinch a bit. (We'll get half of the amount next year, too.) It will hit on Friday, so I'm using a portion of it to round off this challenge. (The rest is 'holding' right now, I might need it if this side gig payment doesn't come through!) I also got a payment for a portion of the December rent that I thought was offset by some work they did on the house, but apparently not.

Snowflakes
Benefit Offset - $119
Rent - $246

Total Snowflakes: $365.00
Rounding (to reserve): $0.00

Beginning Balance: $5960
Deposit: $365
Ending Balance: $6325

Reserve: $2.07 + $0.00 = $2.07

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 8

Smaller snowflakes here, which are much easier to come by! I save $2.99 at CVS the other day, and was paid $34.50 for some writing.

Snowflakes
CVS - $2.99
Writing - $34.50

Total Snowflakes: $37.49
Rounding (to reserve): $0.49

Beginning Balance: $137
Deposit: $37
Ending Balance: $174

Reserve: $0.06 + $0.49 = $0.55

This puts me at almost 92% of the Mega Challenge and just under 12.5% of the regular Challenge.

Muffinhead Moment and Lent

February 17th, 2015 at 01:48 pm

I mentioned the other day that I was changing our withholding and 401(k) contributions, and that it was going to be a big bite out of our monthly budget. I also mentioned that I got a raise and S will undoubtedly get a small one, too, which will help offset the changes. Still, I was looking at a decrease of about $525 per month and for the last couple of weeks it has been really kind of freaking me out.

Then all of a sudden yesterday the light bulb went on. I wasn't looking at the difference in income from our current situation to the new one -- I was looking at the difference of our income with the raises without making any other changes, compared to the income with the raises and changing the other things. The reality is that the raises really do offset quite a lot of the changes. We'll only be taking home $118 less per month, which is very manageable!

They installed the new wall heater yesterday. My only regret is that we didn't just do it a couple of months ago. It's a much bigger unit (well, it's distributed differently; the old one was mostly outside, this one is mostly inside) but still pretty unobtrusive, and it is whisper-quiet. Even on its best day, the old unit was loud enough to hear in the next room. This one you have to be practically standing next to it before you can hear it.

Today is Fat Tuesday -- also known as Paczki Day here. (I'm not actually a paczki fan, but I like to say "Happy Paczki Day". Wink ) Tomorrow Lent begins, and again this year, although we don't actually 'do' Lent in my religion, I've decided to give up something that will make a financial difference. Last year it was CVS, and half of those savings (based on the average from the previous two or three months) went to the 52-Week Mega Challenge.

This year I've decided to give up buying lunches, except of course during my regular grocery shopping. Which means I'll need to plan ahead a little bit better, since I often either run out for lunch, grab a can of soup at CVS, or stop by the store on the way to work and pick up something. I've wanted to work on this anyway, and have been doing a little better already, but Lent is a good solid jump start. It's a hard number to pin down, because some days I do bring lunch and some days I have a $1 can of soup, but even figuring an average of $7.50 per lunch three days a week, that's saving $90 a month -- almost the entire shortfall from above. I'm not drinking pop as much, either (as in, almost never but I refuse to completely eliminate the possibility), which probably saves at least $30 a month, and makes up the rest of the shortfall.

I am reserving the right to one lunch out during Lent, though, because I was too busy today to do a Fat Tuesday celebratory lunch!

Catching Up

February 14th, 2015 at 08:35 am

I've started several 2014 wrap-up/2015 goals posts, and never get around to publishing them, because a) I start yammering on and b) it gets too depressing!

Some days I feel great about where I am -- I've paid off a lot of credit card debt and have a good start on an emergency fund -- but then I do my yearly budget projections and end up $10-15K in the hole by the end of the year. (I overestimate spending and underestimate income, but still....)

Then I did our taxes and we really need to change our withholding! We had claimed a high number of exemptions for a while, because with the rental we had a fairly decent loss to write off, but we don't get the full amount anymore and it's really affecting our bottom line. We owed around $2,800 last year; we have a small refund this year but only because we had a lot of stuff donated to charity, from his parents and my grandparents (finally cleaning out the basement, garage, and attic!). We won't have that next year, and without it we'd owe about $5,000 so it's time to make a change!

I'm also having us increase our retirement contributions; we're both putting in just the minimum to get the match right now. We aren't able to contribute directly to an IRA or Roth; a backdoor Roth won't work for S because has an existing IRA. I could do one -- I have a teeny tiny IRA and the tax on a conversion would be negligible -- but at this point, having it come directly out of my paycheck, and reducing my taxable income, is preferable. (Plus I actually think we'll be in a lower tax bracket when we retire, so tax-deferred is our better option at this point.)

Of course none of this helps our monthly bottom line any, but it's a necessary evil. We do have lots of areas where we can cut back, and I've already identified about $5,000 I won't be spending on a particular hobby this year. I also haven't included any side gigs I can pick up. Still, my focus has changed a bit for 2015, and rather than working quite so heavily on eliminating debt, I'm going to work more on not incurring additional debt.

I have a refinance to do mid-year, and potentially another one in the fourth quarter. The first will definitely ease up cash flow, and significantly lower our highest interest rate. (The second will probably end up being neutral overall.) I also have a small 0% balance transfer offer through August 2016. That combined with the refi will put my highest credit card interest rate at 3.99%, so I'm a little more comfortable about scaling back on repayments than I would be with the 24.99% I had a couple of years ago! (I will still pay some extra to the cards; paying just the minimums means I'm in debt until 2030! As of now this change will extend my payoff by one year.)

Unfortunately, we have decided that we really do have to replace the wall furnace that died on us back in November. We've been limping along with an electric space heater, but it doesn't do much on these sub-zero nights, and it's expensive to run! So that's $2,500 out of the EF -- the only good aspect being that at least I had the funds set aside!

My 2015 goal, then, will be to replace the $2,500 and get the EF back up to $5,000. Since I'm still finishing up the 52 Week Mega Challenge ($1,890) and doing the regular 52 Week Challenge ($1,378), I'll easily meet and exceed that goal. My original goal of $7,500 in the EF is a little ambitious now (given I still need to save up $3,700 for property taxes in September), but I think I'll stretch the EF goal to $6,000. That's only another $232 I need to come up with, which seems do-able.

(Actually my EF goal hasn't changed -- save up $2,500 this year -- it's just the final account balance that's changed because of the heater.)

Anyway, my other goal of paying off $17,500 in credit card debt is adjusted down to paying off $12,000. That includes a few 0% balance transfers that will come due this year. It doesn't include the one card I'll pay off with the refinance, since I'll still owe that money, just not on a credit card.

To end on a happier note, I did negotiate a 7% pay raise (which is a lot less than it sounds like!), which will help offset my increased 401(k) and withholding. S should get his standard 2% increase, which will help a bit, too.

Chase Freedom Rewards

January 14th, 2015 at 09:08 pm

The first Chase Freedom Rewards points for 2015 hit. I'm staying with my estimate of about $50 per month in rewards, and this month was slightly over at $53.19.

Since we went on a bit of a movie binge over the holidays (and I have two more tentatively planned), I'm going to set aside another $100 from the rewards for a movie gift card. I haven't decided on the remainder yet!

Starting Balance: $0.00
Ending Balance: $53.19

Movie Card Fund
Goal - $100
Balance - $53.19
Remaining - $46.81

52-Week Savings Challenges

January 13th, 2015 at 12:40 pm

(Still need to get to my 2014 / 2015 wrap-up and goals posts!)

I didn't have any specific bank snowflakes this week, so I just pulled out a snowflake from the Mega challenge that made the most sense for crossing out amounts on both. I'm focusing primarily on the Mega challenge since I only have a few more weeks to do that and most of the amounts are on the larger side of things, $100 or more. I had $5 in CVS Extra Bucks and a 50-cent coupon, and I realized that while I've used the rewards/savings amounts I haven't used the sales tax savings (i.e., something that would have cost me $10.60 regular price would have been only $5.30 with the EB, so I really saved $5.30 and not just $5.) I'm not going to go back and make adjustments, but I'll be counting tax at least through the Mega Challenge to bump up my snowflakes a bit!

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
My Week 45

Snowflakes
Postage Reimbursements - $66.00
Found Money* - $20.00
CVS Savings - $5.83
Fishing Show Coupons - $4.00

Total Snowflakes: $95.83
Rounding (to reserve): $0.83

Beginning Balance: $5545
Deposit: $95
Ending Balance: $5640

Reserve: $1.05 + $0.83 = $1.88

*Not as exciting as it sounds -- it was my own money, I'd just stuffed it somewhere and ran across it the other day.

52-Week Savings Challenge
Week 2

Snowflakes
Internet Reimbursement - $22.48

Total Snowflakes: $22.48
Rounding (from reserve): $0.52

Beginning Balance: $26
Deposit: $23
Ending Balance: $49

Reserve: $0.53 - $0.52 = $0.01

This puts me at almost 82% of the Mega Challenge and just over 3.5% of the regular Challenge.

December Look Back / January Look Ahead

January 4th, 2015 at 08:23 pm

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.

December
I ended up opening a savings account at My Savings Direct for 1.05% interest. (I had some other reno funds set aside that I figured I might as well get into something paying more than 0.01%.) I tried to open a GE Capital account, which is paying the same rate as MSD, but for some reason they wouldn't let me (the letter they sent explaining why they wouldn't really didn't explain anything!). Now I've got to decide whether I want to transfer the emergency fund and the reno fund over to MSD; interest-wise I should but for some reason I'm reluctant to close my Capital One 360 account. I guess because I've had it since it was ING and they were paying the best interest rates around -- part sentimental and part hoping they'll step up their game, I guess. The smart thing is probably to leave a small amount in there and move the rest over, and if the interest rate becomes more favorable I'll just move it back.

I had decided to set aside $500 of my Chase Rewards for Christmas and birthdays this year. We ended up scaling back on gifts in my family -- not really for any financial reason, but we all have so much stuff, and nothing really that we want or need that we wouldn't just buy ourselves. (I'd like a fitness tracker, for example, but I need to do some research and decide which will best suit my needs, and then decide which 'fits' best. My mom did give me some cash that will cover most of the expense and I'll wait for a good sale.) At any rate, when all is said and done I'll end up at about $380 on gifts. I think I'll put the extra $120 toward the Mega Savings Challenge.

I ended up paying $2,384 in total debt in December, $1,013 in interest and nothing to my avalanche. The debt consolidation we did a couple of months ago was via a peer to peer loan, which has a fixed term rather than revolving like the credit cards we consolidated. As a result, our total minimum payments across all of our debts has increased by about $200 per month (with a faster payoff date). Which means technically I won't be paying extra on my avalanche for a few months, and then it will be small amounts for a few months. (I was paying around $150-200 extra.) I have a few 0% rates expiring in the spring/summer that I'll pay off, so those minimums will then become extra for the avalanche.

January
January should be a fairly low-key month, recovering from the holidays and gearing up for our busy seasons at work. We're going to have to do something about the wall furnace in our Florida room; it quit working about a month ago. We've been using an electric space heater, but temps are dropping and I'm not sure that's going to be adequate for the entire winter. I'm looking at some non-venting heaters that hook up to the gas line; the reviews are great and people are using them to heat 1,000 square foot bungalows, but they cost about $200-300. The quote we got to replace the (natural gas) wall furnace was I think $2,500. I'm a little skeptical that something that's 1/10 the cost will work just as well (or better, actually, since the wall furnace was a bit of a lemon!). We'll be doing some more research, and ensuring it's returnable if we do end up getting it. Hopefully those will be all of our major expenses for the month, except for some belated Christmas gifts to ourselves for which we'd already set aside funds.

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge Update - 2014 Goal Met!

January 2nd, 2015 at 10:08 am

I started the 52-Week Mega Savings Challenge in March 2014, 10 weeks into the year. So I set a goal for 2014 to save $5,000 and finish up the Challenge in 2015. I am happy to say that as of year-end I met and exceeded my $5,000 goal!

The biggest factor was the excess I had in Chase Rewards; I planned on $600 and ended up with just over $800, so I put that extra toward the Challenge. I also had a refund on an entry fee, some side gig income, and spent enough on movies/concessions (all on gift cards)to earn a $10 bonus on my AMC Stubs card.

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

Snowflakes
Freedom Card Rounding - $29.37
Refund - $29.00
Movie Rewards - $10.00
Chase Rewards - $206.19
Side Gig - $85.17

Total Snowflakes: $359.73
Rounding (from reserve): $0.27

Beginning Balance: $4915
Deposit: $360
Ending Balance: $5275

Reserve: $1.86 - $0.27 = $1.59

This puts me at not quite 77% of the Mega challenge, with $1,615 left to finish it. That's a rather aggressive average of $161.50 per week, but I do have a decent sized invoice out for one my side gigs, and am coming up on S's year-end commission (which is paid at the end of January or mid-February) and my overtime season. While I don't technically consider those snowflakes, I'll use them if I need to! (I also got a $500 bonus that I've set aside for some personal 'wants', but if I don't use all of it I'll allocate what's left to the Challenge.)

Chase Freedom Rewards

December 16th, 2014 at 09:29 am

The final Chase Freedom Rewards points for 2014 hit. I've estimated about $50 per month in rewards, and this month was just a bit short at $40.38.

The total rewards ended up at $826. The December 2013 statement had $202 in rewards, and we had redeemed $200 by the January statement. So I guess that basically evens out, which means an average of almost $69 per month -- a bit higher than my estimate. We did have some large purchases in early 2014, so I think I'll stick with an estimate of $50 per month for 2015 and then see how it shakes out.

Starting Balance: $785.81
Ending Balance: $826.19

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

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

Excess
Beginning Balance: $185.81
Current Rewards: $40.38
Ending Balance: $226.19

From the looks of things I won't even need $500 for Christmas gifts, so I think I'll use the $226.19 for my Mega savings challenge. I might throw whatever is leftover from the gift money there, too, but that will be next month.

I need to think about uses for the 2015 rewards, but I'll address that in my "goals post". Wink

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge Update

December 14th, 2014 at 08:14 am

It's been a long time since I updated the savings challenge -- slow month in November! I am about a week behind but one of those 'slots' is for $5 for I can make it up pretty easily. Smile (I do have to keep reminding myself that I didn't start until week 10 of 2014, so I really am not supposed to be done until the end of week 9 of 2015!)

At any rate, I had several little things come in, most of them in the last couple of weeks -- Kohl's cash, $10-15 off purchases at Bath & Body works (plus free product), interest, and rounding on the checking account. I also took back bottles and had some Extra Bucks from CVS, had a return at the Apple store, and had the monthly Internet reimbursement from S' work.

52-Week Mega Savings Challenge
Week 49 (started late, now on my week 39)

Snowflakes
Checking Account Rounding - $15.41
Reimbursement - $22.48
Kohl's Cash - $40.00
Bath & Body Free - $41.87
ING Interest - $2.73
Chase Interest - $0.73
Bottles - $58.20
Apple Return - $10.60
CVS Extra Bucks - $11.50

Total Snowflakes: $203.52
Rounding (from reserve): $1.48

Beginning Balance: $4710
Deposit: $205
Ending Balance: $4915

Reserve: $3.34 - $1.48 = $1.86

This puts me at just over 71% of the Mega challenge, and at 98% of my 2014 goal of $5,000. It will probably be slow for the rest of the year, though I'm sure I'll get the $85 I need to make it to $5,000. One of my side gigs really picks up in late December/early January, so as long as they pay me in a timely fashion that will cover a big chunk of the remainder of the Mega challenge.

November Look Back / December Look Ahead

December 5th, 2014 at 04:14 pm

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.

November
I mentioned last month that we did a debt consolidation, so it's been nice to see all those zeroes on the cards we paid off with the new loan. Plus, since the new loan is in S's name only and most of the cards we paid off were either mine alone or joint, my credit score has skyrocketed -- up around 40 points, according to the score from Barclay. (Discover's update should show up later this month.) S's score hasn't taken too much of a hit, either, because he doesn't have a lot of debt other than the mortgage.

Meanwhile I'd set some money aside for some home repairs; we got the materials needed on a decent sale and ended up with 0% financing until January 2016. I shuffled the full amount over to my ING savings account, although we do have minimum payments to make so by the time the promotional rate expires, we'll only owe half the balance. I didn't think about that until after I did the transfer, but then I figured we can probably cash flow the payment amount anyway and if not, I've given myself permission to take that amount out of ING if I need it. Now I'm trying to decide if I should leave it at ING at 0.75% interest, or open an account at Synchrony for 1% interest. The difference in a year is really going to be minimal, but since ideally I'll only use half the money, the other half may stay in the account for a much longer time period. Just not sure it's worth the effort for a quarter of a percent on really a rather small amount. (Moving it from my regular bank was an easier decision, 0.1% at Chase vs 0.75% at ING.)

Anyway, I ended up paying $3,039 in total debt in November, $768 in interest and paid $141 extra to my avalanche. The avalanche amounts are going to be quite a bit smaller now with the new loan, but again it doesn't affect my final payoff date.

December
Gift giving this month, of course. I have the $500 I set aside from our Chase rewards to hopefully cover our costs. I also have a handful of membership renewals and trophy pledges due this month, but of course those are known and planned.

It does look like we're going to have to do something about the wall furnace in our Florida room -- it's on a separate system from the rest of the house, but the room is right next to the room we spend much of our time in so the cold seeps in if it's not heated. It started making a horrendous noise the other night. Turns out some part needs to be replaced; they had some doubt about whether they could find it but finally did a few states away. Cost to replace is about $1000; cost for a new furnace is about $2500. This is the third or fourth time we've had a major problem with this furnace since it was installed (which I think was in 2009) -- they completely replaced it once, but even the new one has had some big issues. I'm really not sure about spending another $1000 on it. I think we're going to have a couple of other companies come out and give some advice on what they recommend -- it may be that a wall furnace isn't even our best option at this point. Whatever we do, it seems we're looking at a minimum of $1000 and probably at least $1800 for anything other than repairing what's there. *sigh* Oh well -- that's what the emergency fund is for, right? (And I might use the reno money instead, pay it back every month to be sure I have what I need when it comes due, and keep the e-fund intact.)

Other than that, hopefully things will be on a more even keel this month. I'm just getting my new Excel worksheet set up for 2015 bill tracking, which is actually a bit therapeutic, especially since I can delete so many payments from last year (for the couple of cards we totally paid off and the others we consolidated).

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday season!

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!


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