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52 Week Savings Challenge & Ramblings

July 8th, 2015 at 03:57 pm

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Reserve: $0.55 + $0.14 = $0.69

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

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

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!

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

February 27th, 2015 at 09:53 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!

Catching Up

February 14th, 2015 at 04:35 pm

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.

December Look Back / January Look Ahead

January 5th, 2015 at 04:23 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.

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.

November Look Back / December Look Ahead

December 6th, 2014 at 12:14 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.

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!

October Look Back / November Look Ahead

November 3rd, 2014 at 04:52 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.

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!

Medical Billing Tomfoolery

October 22nd, 2014 at 07:57 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?