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Healthcare rate hike, spot bonus

October 19th, 2016 at 09:49 pm

AS found out her current healthcare is going up from $228 to $351.86 per month, effective January 2017. Yeeowch! That's a 54% increase and $1486 more for 2017.

NT and I haven't found out what our workplace plans will be doing, but mine almost always goes up. NT's has always remained without premium (though if the kids or I went on his plan it would be more expensive per person than me having the kids on my plan, oddly enough).

The only 2017 months where we couldn't pay for AS's increase on my and NT's checks were January and March. I moved some birthday money to February and April so all months were in the positive.

Oh well. It's a painful increase but not devastating.

On the bright side, NT was handed a bonus at work because they had a record month in September. $250 cash! I put half toward our shared spending deficit, half into renovation savings. We also got our electric bill and it was $29 less than budgeted, so I used that to offset more of the deficit.

Home value estimates ... October update

October 18th, 2016 at 01:33 pm

Today's estimates of my home's value:
Eppraisal: $462,930
Zillow: $607,769

These are even more wildly divergent than the September estimates:
Eppraisal.com $474,269
Zillow $586,363

If we paid all closing costs including escrow, we'd still need to be valued at $501,988 to qualify for a private loan with no mortgage insurance. So, I'm still not ready to pull the trigger on an appraisal.

Dreary day doings

October 17th, 2016 at 08:47 pm

I'm feeling for you, SA friends -- seems like nearly everyone's going through the doldrums (or worse) this week.

It's a rainy gray day here. Bit concerned about AS, who has a lot on her plate workwise, is just getting over a cold and has her mom on her mind. My life has had some ups and downs -- took a sick day Friday because I was feeling run down, have had some frank discussions with NT about spending more time with family and less on his activist group obligations, and more of my projects at work feel stalled than are going anywhere. "Losing" $45K of net worth because of Brexit wasn't fun, but it was only on paper (see previous post). All minor stuff though.

We decided to buy 2 pepper sprays and a money clip that fastens to a bra strap on Amazon, and had them sent directly to AS's mom. I don't know if it'll afford her any peace of mind but hopefully it might cheer her up a bit to know we're concerned for her safety; I don't know.

That put us another $34 in the hole on shared spending. I also spent $25 at the thrift store on about 6 pairs of trousers for AA; we usually have plenty of hand-me-downs but for some reason not many pants in her current size, so I finally broke down and bought some.

We're only about $230 in the hole, not too bad. We won't likely get any significant influx of money until the end of the month, but not really worried.

On the upside: I've managed to keep my weight in the 130s for a month now (just barely, hovering between 138.5 and 139.5, but I'll take it since the last time I dipped below the 140 mark was early May). I've more or less kept to my routine of morning strength training, skipping breakfast, moderate lunch, hearty dinner, no snacks, and walking every day. I think without some social events tripping me up, I'd actually be a few pounds lighter. So hopefully I'll lose weight on uneventful weeks and hold steady/gain a bit during high-social type weeks.

I'm also excited for NaNoWriMo to start in November; I've been slipping on my monthly goals but this feels more "official" so I think I'll be OK. Plus I've finished NaNoWriMo for the past three years, so at this point I understand what it takes to do it. I still need to flesh out my story idea but I've got the kernel of it.

Other things to look forward to the rest of this year:
- getting a quote on (and maybe starting on) renovating the upstairs bathroom
- new season of The Walking Dead starting soon
- a night of dancing with friends next Friday
- Halloween
- my sister visiting the first weekend in November (and me taking a day off to hang out with her and my first-grader)
- a potluck with friends the week after that
- a daycare sleepover the week after THAT
- Thanksgiving
- my favorite (living) musicians in concert the Saturday after Thanksgiving
- NT's holiday party (with Prince tribute band!) on our 10-year wedding anniversary
- going out for our anniversary dinner the next night
- Christmas
- New Year's

There we go, I feel a bit better! Smile

Changing exchange rate in my calculations

October 17th, 2016 at 09:09 am

Last post I alluded to downgrading the value of the UK pound in my personal finance records. Well, I decided to just take the leap. Brexit will not sort itself out anytime soon.

I was using a ratio of $1.50 for every British pound in my calculations, so I'm changing that to $1.25 per pound.

What this affects:

- UK mortgage debt decreases from $62,088 to $51,740

- EF is in UK money, and that money decreases in value, but since I also added more money to it today, it doesn't feel too bad. It would've decreased from $2,025 to $1,688. However I also added 450 pounds to savings today, so the EF is at $2,250.

- UK pension value goes from $64,694 to $53,911

- UK flat value goes from $270,000 to $225,000

All in, the effect on net worth is to decrease it about $45,210. It also will set back our retirement goal. But I do feel like the pound is going to struggle for a long time, so this is a more realistic view of our finances. Even if it takes longer to become millionaires-on-paper and we miss our retirement milestone, it's better to know the truth.

Various bits of money doings and sad/scary news

October 15th, 2016 at 01:11 pm

AS's mom called yesterday to tell her she'd been mugged a few weeks ago, so it's thrown AS into emotional turmoil. I won't go over everything, but though she wasn't seriously hurt, she lost $400 and her peace of mind. AS's mom lives alone and has no family in the area, and she doesn't have a car and uses the bus, so being afraid to go out alone is especially not good.

She asked for $250 to cover expenses until her next check, so we sent that via Paypal last night. AS is feeling really terrible and wants to do something else to help, but there's no easy answers. So we'll see if she comes to some decisions in the next few days. We want to help her mom as much as we can within reason, but the real thing that was lost is intangible, so how to help is ambiguous.

The funds came out of shared spending and put us behind about $230. I had $25 in CC rewards to redeem, plus our gas bill was $25 under budget, plus we sold the wood from our living room reno for $50 today. I sent $50 to savings and the other $50 goes to making up the shared spending deficit, so now we're only $171 in the hole.

We have swim class tuition coming up soon and some babysitting, so we may go more in the hole before we make it up, but we know we have $1500 for AS's teaching coming at the end of the month, $500 of which will go to making up the deficit. Probably there won't be any other freelance checks this month; it's going to be a very low income month.

We do have a few things in November -- my sister and brother-in-law visiting for a weekend (we'll eat out a lot but they usually pay for some meals), a "parents' night out" daycare sleepover that we want to do something special for (probably order food in and get cocktail fixins, so not a huge amount of money). If we take it easy on spending otherwise in November, we might not go too far in the hole. Depending on which freelance checks come in, maybe we'll actually end November ahead. It will also depend on what we decide to do about AS's mom.

December is NT's work party and our 10-year wedding anniversary, so we're going to need babysitting 2 nights and money for a fancy dinner out. We haven't discussed gifts but we might budget a bit to buy one another things since it's a milestone anniversary. I'd like to do something homemade, but even that would probably call for some money for supplies (depending on what I made).

Since we have nearly $5000 saved up for our next big want, I texted our contractor to start talking estimate for the upstairs bathroom reno. I think it's going to cost much more than $5000, of course, but at some point we need to figure out how much we're trying to save so we know when we can start the project.

NT's UK rent has been pending in his account for a couple days. I can't wait for it to go through, because I'll be able to put 450 pounds into our EF (amount in US dollars is dubious; I've got my exchange rate at $1.50 per pound in the hopes the pound will rebound, but if it hasn't in a few months, our EF's value is going to go down as I adjust the exchange rate). Right now it's at $1.22. Should I just make my adjustment now? Probably. I don't see the UK fixing its problems anytime soon.

October 2016 debt payments and other news

October 4th, 2016 at 02:15 pm

All our mortgage payments hit:

US: $680 to principal
UK1: $217
UK2: $45
UK3: $49

All told, that's $991 of debt paid for October.

This week I also maxed out AS's Roth for the first time! I noticed that we have enough float in the budget to actually max mine out as well, rather than waiting until November, so I went ahead and did it! NT just needs one more contribution of $1375 and his too will be maxed out for the year. That's scheduled for Dec. 1 but we'll see if I feel comfortable doing it earlier.

It's going to make our retirement progress boring by comparison now that we're not making big Roth contributions every month! Oh well, it was fun (but also hard on the budget). Next year we'll settle into a sedate $1375-per-month pace; this year we had to skip many months at the beginning when we were paying the tax bill, so we've been playing catchup since July or so.

AS wrapped up her biggest month of income, taking in over $10K in September! October will be quite a come-down from that, but November should be good (though not quite $10K good).

September 2016 retirement goal progress

September 30th, 2016 at 03:28 pm

Goal: $479,875 by 2019

(As a reminder, this is just an incremental goal along the way to 8x income by retirement. This mini-goal aims to get us to a milestone by the time I turn 45 and AS turns 40.

The milestone is to get me to 3x my current salary, which is now $66,625, so $199,875; NT to 3x his, which is now $60,000, so $180,000; and AS to 2x hers, which this year is projected to be $50,000, so $100,000)

Current balance: $290,052

May 2016 balance: $285,018

Progress: $5,034

To reach the goal by our birthdays in 2019, that's 29 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $6,546 per month to reach it. We had virtually no help from the markets, but we managed to put quite a lot away for retirement this month!

September 2016 net worth update

September 30th, 2016 at 03:25 pm

NT's UK pensions:
#1: 17,105 pounds ($25,658)
#2: 20,501 pounds ($30,752)
#3: 5,523 pounds ($8,284)
NT's 401(k): $45,820
NT's Roth IRA: $13,236
AS's trad. IRA: $15,662
AS's Roth IRA: $29,882
AS's SEP IRA: $10,964
CJ's 401(k): $93,365
CJ's Roth IRA: $16,429
NT's flat: 180,000 pounds ($270,000)
CJ/NT/AS house: $470,000 (value -6%)
Total Assets: $1,030,052

US Mortgage (duplex) $402,270
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1: $43,551
UK Mortgage 2: $9,180
UK Mortgage 3: $9,668
Total Debt: $473,669

Current Estimated Net Worth: $556,383

August 2016 estimate: $550,362

Change in net worth: +$6,021

Summary: The market remained mostly flat, but we contributed a bunch to retirement and paid off nearly $1K of debt, so we saw a nice bump.

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are approximate. UK pension values updated about once a year. UK asset values and debt amounts are calculated figuring $1.50 for every British pound.

Current wants list covered! and other notes

September 26th, 2016 at 02:49 pm

AS got a big check from my job with most of the outstanding invoices paid (only one is a holdout and it's a small one from May -- $146.25).

One project that we had listed as $350 actually paid $500, so it's almost like we got that May invoice as well!

She got $2602.50 total and netted $1,691.62 after taxes and retirement. I sent $825 to savings, bringing our U.S. savings to $4,150. (This is after just two months of saving so I'm really happy with that total!) Of course this money is slated for spending eventually, but it feels really good to have it there as a de facto emergency fund until our EF is built up more.

AS is due to get her first teaching payment on Sept. 30, and if so, this will be her top income month since she went freelance in late 2014! Of course if my job had paid on time, the money would have been spread out more over months, but it's still exciting (and the money is greatly appreciated).

I went through and subtracted approximate amounts for everything on our wish list, and we have just enough shared spending money to cover everything on there. Of course more wants and needs will come up as soon as we check these off! But for now, everything is in balance.

One other interesting note: NT came up with a creative way to decorate a baseball cap, and he made a few different color combinations and started shopping around to friends and acquaintances. Well, there's been a good bit of interest and he's already sold a few for $15-$20 each! At this point he's just trying to make back what he spent on supplies and equipment, which was about $300, but he's about halfway there with the 7 or so he sold and he's got lots more made and ready to sell. He set up an Etsy store and also talked to a local hip-hop clothing boutique.

So that's kind of cool! Hopefully he makes back his capital expenditures and turns a little profit.

Spendy weekend, more spending to come

September 25th, 2016 at 04:25 pm

It's funny how whenever we have a shared spending surplus vs. deficit, things keep seeming to come up. Smile Obviously it's because we're more likely to find a workaround or refrain from temptation when the money isn't there.

During the week, little things came up like:
I worked late Wed. and had to pick up our CSA box, and AS was teaching a night class, so I suggested food delivery instead of cooking -- something I hardly ever do. $65

We went over budget on the carshare. One item was unavoidable -- $35 for a car to a client meeting for me. NT gets those reimbursed but I don't (I'm pretty sure being able to get to client meetings is in the job requirements; usually I can hitch a ride with someone else so it hardly ever comes up). $45 total overbudget

We let the kids spend some of their spending money. At this point we don't actually save all of the money -- we just record how much they have via a website that automatically pays their allowance, then if they want to spend it, it comes from somewhere else. Next year this is going to be a regular budget item. We did have some of the money but needed $20 from shared spending.

I needed socks and tights -- $23

NT's activist group had a stall at a street festival, so we went to listen to live music and hang out with him. A nearby vendor was selling ice cream and funnel cake, so bye-bye $21

We went to various stores today and checked off a lot of wants and needs:
3 adult winter coats
2 kids' Halloween costumes
4 Halloween decorations
1 prescription and 2 other medicines
bowls, plates and butter knives

All told, we spent about $200 today, which isn't bad considering how much we got! The winter coats were steals at the thrift store, nearly new and ranging from $12 to $25 each. Including a Columbia one and a DKNY too!

Our shared spending surplus is down to about $170, but AS expects some more freelance payments next week. We added some new things to the wants/needs list, but considering we did an assessment of winter needs, not too bad. We basically have doubles of everything the kids need, except gloves and scarves. That means no coats, snowsuits, boots or hats are needed! Those years always make me happy. Big Grin

new athletic shoes for AS (+inserts), CJ ($200?)
Syl 2 gloves, scarf; Astrid 1 gloves, scarf ($40)
Anitra dread maintenance ($100?)
toilet seat ($30?)
food processor bowl, Roomba part, fridge filter ($75?)
handheld steamer ($35?)
door handles ($50?)
NT jeans, work shoes, trousers, underwear, tank tops ($150?)
babysitter for party ($60)
plumbing stuff (leaky shower, running toilets) (?? $50?)
AA & SL's mutual funds ($100)
AA & SL giving ($70)

What is that, $960? Wow, really adds up! But I may have overestimated on some of those. AS is expecting over $4K of freelance jobs yet this month, and about $1400 should be able to go toward these wants, so we should be OK, with $600 to spare for any other wants that come up.

Shared spending back in the positive! Plus added to both savings

September 19th, 2016 at 01:41 pm

AS got some more money from my company today! Not everything they owe her, and not the most overdue payments, but at least it was a good chunk of what she's got coming. She got $1805, and I was able to put $550 to savings and still get rid of the deficit in our shared spending category. We now have just over $160 (and a big list of things we need and want, so that won't last long).

AS is expecting a few grand more this month, so hopefully it'll come in and we can keep ticking things off our list without going in the hole.

And of course, keep adding to savings! With today's transfer our U.S. savings is up to $2900. I checked the UK account and our rental income had come in. It's a light month probably due to management fees, but I still managed to transfer 125 pounds to savings, bringing our UK account (which is also our emergency fund) up to 1350 pounds ($2025). That's just over 20% of the way to our EF goal of $10K!

It's exciting to be saving again. I forgot how good it feels to be saving up for things vs. playing catchup on unforeseen expenses or overspending. After our U.S. account has had time to accumulate some serious funds, we can start talking and deciding what our next big project or purchase will be.

Freelance money trickling in

September 16th, 2016 at 01:07 pm

AS has gotten three freelance checks this week, to the tune of $2290. One of them was from my job, but they still owe her a ton, including for two jobs that were invoiced BEFORE the one she got a check for. Weird and annoying, but at least they sent her something.

We would have made up the deficit of our other purchases except it was time for me and AS to put together our fall capsule wardrobes. We both chose some new colors and both temporarily retired black, so we had quite a bit to get. We spent about $500 between us and the average price per item was about $15.

With the freelance checks received so far, we have a shared spending deficit of $403.84. That's with sending nearly 50% of the net payment to savings every time (I round down to the nearest $50). Our U.S. savings is now at $2350!

Hopefully some more of the late checks come through soon so we can clear our deficit. There are winter gear purchases and Halloween costume stuff that will be purchased when we need them regardless of whether the checks have come, but it would feel much nicer if shared spending were in the positive again! And I might break down and buy some of the little household things we want soon.

Oh well, we know the money IS coming, and we have plenty of float in the checking account, so it'll all come out fine.

My list

September 15th, 2016 at 11:00 pm

Thanks to Gramma Ray for starting this! Sorry I'm so verbose and can't keep it brief. Smile

Here is my list:
1. I am married, officially to one spouse, unofficially to another, for coming up on 10 years. Technically we're "polyamorous" though I'm not crazy about that term because it covers a huge range of different lifestyles.
2. Dating wise, I've been with my now-wife 19 years and we've been with our husband 11 years.
3. I have 2 daughters, age 6 and 4. One is mine and my husband's biologically, the other is my partner and my husband's biologically. But we each legally adopted the kid that wasn't ours biologically, so in MN they have 3 legal parents.
4. I work full time at a job I have been at over 10 years.
5. I have blogged here for 9 years.
6. I believe I have prosopagnosia (face blindness), which makes it very difficult to remember people out of context. I also have fairly severe fear of death (thanatophobia).
7. I have two FIV+ rescue cats.
8. I'm one of the biggest Simpsons fans ever. The old stuff was better, but I'm a faithful viewer still!
9. I've been a mostly-vegan for about 23 years, since my sophomore year in college. I love to cook.
10. Shortly after college in 1996 I was in a life-threatening car accident and spent 6 months in a wheelchair. I still have a surgery scar that runs down the length of my midsection.
11. I have only traveled to the US (including Puerto Rico), Mexico, Canada, England, Netherlands and recently Spain. I hope to gradually expand that list. My bucket list destinations include Italy, Greece and some more tropical places like the Caymans.
12. I was raised without a TV and have a hard time not bingeing on TV just because I can! Instead I listened to old-time radio shows on NPR growing up. I only know Gunsmoke the radio show, not the TV version! I also love old movies the best, partly from my parents and partly from film history class in college.
13. I am a huge fan of old-time country music and rock 'n' roll. My idols are Jimmie Rogers, Hank Williams Sr., Johnny Cash and Elvis. I like other types of music but this is what's at the core of me.
14. My No. 1 cause is alleviating racial inequality (economic and other) in this country. No. 2 is helping people figure out personal finance.
15. I still don't see a clear path to retirement, but I'm working on it more and more!
16. I love to throw parties -- big blowouts or small dinner parties or anything in between. I was an introvert but have become something of an omnivert over the years.
17. My mom was nearly 40 when she had me and my next-youngest sister is 10 years older than me. All my kids' 11 cousins are young adults. My brother is 20 years older than me and I feel like I barely know him.
18. I have lived in 6 houses, 4 dorms, 3 apartments and 1 condo during my life, and have owned 3 cars. I currently own a duplex and no car.
19. I've written fiction on and off in my life but never been published outside of school literary magazines. I'm a copywriter so have produced lots of marketing copy on web and in print, though not under my name.
20. I have met 1 fellow SA blogger. I hope to meet more!

Home value estimates ...

September 14th, 2016 at 12:38 pm

... are crazily different! I still feel unsure we have enough equity to refinance -- which is a real bummer because mortgage rates are climbing now.

Eppraisal.com has stayed steady at $474,269.

Zillow's estimate continues to rise and is now at $586,363! They're now over $100K apart.

If we paid all closing costs including escrow, we'd still need to be valued at $502,838 to qualify for a private loan with no mortgage insurance.

Credit scores

September 8th, 2016 at 07:50 am

It seems like credit card companies just give away credit scores like crazy now! I remember when they were hard to come by without paying. NT's is always available on our Amex card, mine is now available on my Capital One, and I checked AS's old Capital One just now to make sure it got canceled -- although the card is canceled and account closed, they offered me access to her credit score anyway!

I don't know how "official" these scores are (whether they're estimates or the actual credit bureau's score), but I assume they wouldn't bother too much with inaccurate quotes.

So we're in pretty decent shape:
AS: 784
Me: 784
NT: 781

I think (ironically) all the credit checks during the refi consideration process may have caused us to dip. Also we've gone through a lot of new credit cards this past year reaping rewards and then closing them out. But these are good scores.

September 2016 debt payments

September 2nd, 2016 at 07:16 am

All our mortgage payments have hit.

US: $679 to principal
UK1: $215
UK2: $45
UK3: $48

That's $987 of debt paid.

I also contributed $1245 to AS's SEP and $2750 to NT's Roth, and probably my and NT's regular 401(k) contributions hit today, so I'd say our net worth jumped about $5K today. Big Grin But I don't calculate until the end of the month, so a market dive could change that by Sept. 30.

August 2016 retirement goal progress

August 31st, 2016 at 12:26 pm

Goal: $479,875 by 2019
(As a reminder, this is to get me to 3x my current salary, which is now $66,625, so $199,875; NT to 3x his, which is now $60,000, so $180,000; and AS to 2x hers, which this year is projected to be $50,000, so $100,000)

Current balance: $285,018

May 2016 balance: $279,380

Progress: $5,638

To reach the goal by our birthdays in 2019, that's 30 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $6,495 per month to reach it. We came somewhat closer to that level of progress this month!

August 2016 net worth update

August 31st, 2016 at 12:23 pm

NT's UK pensions:
#1: 17,105 pounds ($25,658)
#2: 20,501 pounds ($30,752)
#3: 5,523 pounds ($8,284)
NT's 401(k): $44,856
NT's Roth IRA: $10,436
AS's trad. IRA: $15,685
AS's Roth IRA: $29,931
AS's SEP IRA: $9,735
CJ's 401(k): $93,312
CJ's Roth IRA: $16,369
NT's flat: 180,000 pounds ($270,000)
CJ/NT/AS house: $470,000 (value -6%)
Total Assets: $1,025,018

US Mortgage (duplex) $402,949
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1: $43,766
UK Mortgage 2: $9,225
UK Mortgage 3: $9,716
Total Debt: $474,656

Current Estimated Net Worth: $550,362

July 2016 estimate: $543,746

Change in net worth: +$6,616

Summary: No huge gains anywhere but we contributed over $3K to retirement and paid off nearly $1K of debt, so we saw a nice bump.

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are approximate. UK pension values updated about once a year. UK asset values and debt amounts are calculated figuring $1.50 for every British pound.

First day of first grade!

August 29th, 2016 at 07:52 am

AA started school today! She finally got to wear the sparkly outfit she bought a month or so ago. It's a nightgown; none of the real dresses at Target were fancy enough for her taste. Wink

Overall it went well, though she was nervous and out of sorts at first. SL is champing at the bit to start school, so it was hard for her to watch AA get to have another special first day. Next year she'll have her turn.

I'm feeling tired and distracted after the excitement and noise of dropping her off. Wish I could take the day off, but alas, I can't. I do have a work-from-home day planned for Wednesday, and we have Friday off, so I really can't complain about being at work today.

Dug the hole a little deeper, filled part of it in

August 27th, 2016 at 06:18 pm

Well, two days of the State Fair was super fun, but it was a frenzy of spending and we dropped a small fortune on it. Also, utilities bill was higher than usual (possibly due to letting the kids play with the hose and sprinkler more often). So the deficit in our shared spending got about $100 bigger.

But, AS's client who was supposed to pay at the end of the month paid a few days early! $1975, and we netted $1226.

Even though the hole is a little deeper, I decided to go even further than planned and add $650 to savings instead of $500. There are a few more payments from my company expected soon, so I'm hoping they get their act together and pay a bunch of them in one big check. It'll all work out in the end. And now we have $1500 in our U.S. savings!

The shared spending deficit is now $484.79. Hoping my company pays up on Monday, before our next few expenses (swim classes and alumni event refreshments) increase the deficit.

I also really want to get new running shoes so I can use our new (to us) Freecycle treadmill. And I want to start putting together my fall capsule wardrobe, which is going to need some new pieces. And there are a bunch of little household items, not needed but wanted, that we'd like to get. But those things can wait a bit longer. I like adding to savings knowing it'll enable us to satisfy some big want(s) in the future.

Going in the hole a bit, temporarily

August 25th, 2016 at 09:22 am

Well, my company is lagging in promised payments to AS for her freelance work, whereas planned expenses are happening right on schedule. Wink Therefore our shared spending looks pretty bad right now: $954.47 in the hole.

The extra bathroom-contractor charge was about $850, so we actually wouldn't be doing too badly if not for that. And, we have $850 in savings that I could pull if needed, but I'm going to hold off on that and see if we can just clear it up with incoming money.

If my company gets its act together, they should soon be sending AS $1748.75. If we net $1136 from that and send $500 of that to savings, it's $636 toward our deficit.

However, we do have two more expenses coming up shortly: kids' swim classes ($180) and refreshments for an alumni event I'm hosting (unknown how much we'll spend, possibly a couple hundred). If both came to $400, that would take us to about $718 in the hole.

AS is expecting another $1975 at the end of the month. She'll net $1226 and if I send $500 to savings, that gives us $726.

So if no other unexpected expenses came up, we should just barely be able to cover the shared spending deficit by the end of the month and still add some money to savings. Fingers crossed it works out this way!

Transportation budget (and lifestyle) considerations

August 22nd, 2016 at 07:44 am

Every once in a while I check in mentally on how much we're spending on transportation to make sure it makes sense for us to continue as is. Our expenses for this category are fragmented as we use a combination of transportation methods and payment types.

- NT's bus pass is fully reimbursed by his job, up to $90 per month. During summer months he sometimes uses it less and AS or AA can use those funds while he bikes to work. During the winter he gets the $85 unlimited rides monthly pass.

- Bike maintenance is very cheap, a couple hundred bucks per year at most. He's probably looking to get a new bike next year but we'll partly fund it with the birthday gift budget. (AS and I also have bikes; we hardly ever use them but they're there if we need them or want to use them.)

- My bus pass is paid for with pretax money, so it comes directly out of my pay. I get the unlimited rides pass at $85 per month, but with the tax benefit the net impact is a bit less than that. (I should note the bus pass also covers traveling on the light rail, which goes to St. Paul, the Mall of America and the airport.)

- AS doesn't use the bus daily now that she works at home most days, so she gets stored value and pays per trip. Sometimes in summer this is covered by NT's work stipend. Otherwise it's out of pocket, probably about $45 per month. It's so irregular that I don't have a budget line item for it.

- AA is 6, which is when people are supposed to start paying for their bus rides. She would use hers about as much as I do, so I have $85 per month budgeted. But most bus drivers don't think little kids should pay, and AA forgets her purse a lot anyway, so it ends up being a lot less right now. Maybe $30 per month, though at some point I'm sure she'll get into the habit and she'll look old enough that drivers will expect her to pay.

- For times when the bus is too slow or doesn't go where we're going, and walking or biking won't cut it, we use a combination of two carshares (one works for longer round trips and rides the whole family needs to go on; the other one is better for short one-way trips for one or two people). And we occasionally use Lyft, though it must be getting more popular; more often than not it seems there's a 50%-75% upcharge for high-demand times, and it can get REALLY pricy (don't ask me about a trip to the airport we took at those rates). So what seemed like it would be a regular part of our arsenal is now only for emergencies or special occasions. We budget $90 per month for carshare services and it seems to work out most months; occasionally we're over or under a bit. For staycations we take car expenses out of our shared spending, not this category. If one of us wants to use these services and the budget has already been spent, it comes out of our personal spending.

So, a rough estimate of monthly transportation costs:
NT bus pass $0
Bike maintenance $15
My bus pass $85
AS bus pass $45
AA bus pass $30
Carshare $90

So about $265 per month for a family of five.

If we bought a car there would be a big outlay of cash plus insurance, gas and maintenance, so it would be a lot more than this at least initially. Plus, our current system allows all members of the family to travel independently, whereas a car would have to be agreed upon who got to use it when. NT and I go into downtown at different times, so one of us would need a bus pass anyway, and AS doesn't drive, so she'd need a bus pass or else be dependent on us to drive her places. Monthly parking in downtown costs more than a monthly bus pass.

Being carless requires patience and planning, but having a car comes with a whole other set of responsibilities too. So for us, it continues to be a good decision not to have one.

More checks in, more to savings

August 20th, 2016 at 02:53 pm

Our homeowner insurance sent us a refund check for $233 due to the reduction I worked out recently. I'd forgotten or hadn't realized they'd be giving us a refund for the premium we already paid, so that was a nice surprise.

I decided to send $94.23 to the savings account to bring it to an even $750.

Then AS got a small freelance payment -- $260.15. We netted $169.10 after tax and retirement, and I sent $50 of that to savings.

We did get AA's school supplies; I'd guessed it would be $50 and it came to $54.94. I got a 4-pack of kleenex boxes and we only have to give the school two, plus I got AA a candy treat, so in actuality it was pretty much $50.

Anyway, the part of the checks that didn't go to tax, retirement or savings went to reducing the shared-spending deficit caused by the larger contractor bill. But the school supplies bumped the deficit up a bit again. Now we're $615.77 behind.

Still expecting some slightly larger checks from my company; they didn't come this week so I'm hoping they come next week. They should just about get rid of the deficit (as well as let us add more to savings). Some of the wants on our list are coming up though, so that's going to affect it too. Overall I'm hoping for a lower deficit a week from now, but we'll see.

Added to savings (US & UK)

August 18th, 2016 at 07:12 am

When I found out about our $40 U.S. mortgage payment savings, I put $100 of the $180 projected surplus into our U.S. savings account. Even though we now have a shared spending deficit, I want to keep adding at least a little bit of every windfall or freelance check to savings for future big wants such as renovations. (It can of course be used for emergencies too if need be, but I'll try to avoid that.) Just over the past month, I've gotten the balance from about $5 to $655.77.

NT's rental income hit his account and I was able to transfer 475 pounds ($712) over to his UK savings that we're considering to be our emergency fund. The EF is now at US$1,837.55, almost 20% of our goal in just over a month!

I'm not expecting to always add this much to savings in a month, but then again maybe some months we'll be able to add even more. Either way, it's nice to see that our savings has grown from practically $0 to nearly $2500.

A few things trumped the wants list

August 17th, 2016 at 02:16 pm

While balancing the budget this morning I noticed an $82.80 charge on a credit card for NT's dentist. At first I thought he'd double-paid for a procedure but found out he had the same done to the other side of his mouth. Instead of waiting for it to go through insurance I guess they billed him upfront. That was about as much money as we had in shared spending; now it's gone.

For the past month or so we've been trying to get in touch with our contractor who has handled all our home-improvement projects so far. First, because we still owed him some money for the basement bathroom work and second, we wanted to ask him about fixing some track lighting and installing a dishwasher we got from Freecycle.

Today he was finally able to stop by. He showed AS how to get the track lighting on and off free of charge, and was skeptical of the dishwasher's condition. Our current one hasn't been acting up recently so we can probably just pass along that dishwasher and replace ours with a new one whenever it does break down (or when we save up enough to remodel the kitchen).

But the bill for the end of the bathroom project was $2025, more than the $1125 I'd planned for. (I'm not surprised or upset; there were several unpredictable bumps in the road during the renovation.) We've been splitting the cost with our neighbors paying two-fifths, so I had $675 set aside for our share. Our share is at least $540 more; our neighbors paid for tiling supplies for the DIY portion of the bathroom so I asked if they want to calculate that into their two-fifths, which will make our share bigger (not sure by how much). (EDIT: The neighbor said tiles and supplies were about $400, so our share is $1455, or $780 more than I had set aside.)

So looks like the next few freelance checks that come in will go to making up that deficit. I'm looking forward to our wants list but it can wait.

By the time we pay off this deficit, some more items on the list will probably need to move in front of the new running shoes AS and I hope to get. School supplies for AA, fall swim lessons for the kids, and spending money for the State Fair may all end up moving ahead. It depends how many freelance checks AS gets this month. She's done a lot of different jobs lately, so there's a chance she'll get a lot of checks in August, but it's so hard to predict.

Bit of good news on the mortgage payment(s)

August 16th, 2016 at 08:07 am

AS and I have taken walks the past few days past recently sold homes to try and determine why the sale prices were what they were and see how the homes compared to ours (at least from the outside).

Based on what we saw, we feel pretty comfortable that our home is worth at least $490K. But not quite confident we'd reach $503K, so I don't think we'll try for a refinance right now. I'll keep an eye on home sales and our debt amount and hopefully will feel more sure of our equity in a few months or a year.

But, all my work getting insurance quotes paid off to some extent. I got the results of our escrow analysis, and our payment is actually going down $41.63, not $24 like I thought! It's because the escrow shortage payment went down as well as the regular insurance escrow. Every little bit helps, so I'm happy! And since I already worked up our 2017 budget as well as having the rest of 2016 worked out, there's a nice ripple effect on our finances.

EDIT: Oh! And I just saw some new messages in our UK mortgage account. Turns out the interest rate on all of those is decreasing from 1.49% to 1.24%. Our total payments are going down about $8. Again, I'll take any little bit! Big Grin

Working through the wants list

August 15th, 2016 at 01:29 pm

Our many expenses in the first half of this year (shoulder surgery, trip to Europe, tax bill, dental procedures) meant that we pushed off a lot of nice-to-have or will-need-eventually things. Now we're gradually taking care of things as AS's freelance checks come in and no longer need to be applied to a budget deficit.

First on the list, I set aside $300 for painting the interior of our house, though NT might not buy the paint until the weather cools. Then he and I got new underwear to replace worn-out stuff, and I replaced a broken umbrella. (About $30 for all that.)

Then it was new sneakers for the kids. They wear them out so fast! About $50.

Back-to-school outfit and backpack for AA: about $60.

Work trousers for NT: $30

New laptop for AS: $480

Among all of this I've also managed to send $750 to savings. What we're saving for is up in the air; I just wanted to start trying to accumulate a bigger amount for some of our bigger needs and wants.

Now we're waiting on more freelance checks so we can cross some more wants off our list. I've got a list going on our shared spending tracker roughly organized by urgency of want:

Athletic shoes for me and AS
School supplies for AA (the school sent us a list)
Refreshments for an alumni event I'm hosting
Door handles
Replacement bowl for food processor
Roomba part
Handheld steamer (recommended by snafu & Thriftorama!)
Fridge water/ice filter
Fall swim classes for kids
Work shirt for NT
Add to AA & SLs's mutual funds

We can always move things around, add or take things off, but this helps so when money comes in, everyone understands where it's going. I also hope to put half of net freelance income into savings, but sometimes it'll be less than that. But I'll always put at least a little bit of each check away.

A plethora of paper bags

August 13th, 2016 at 07:58 am

We bit the bullet and paid the year's membership to Instacart. It just adds so much to our weekend to have someone else do the grocery shopping.

But there's one small problem: They don't use reusable bags, and they double-bag (which I can understand because they don't want the strap breaking while delivering). But now we're accumulating a massive pile of paper bags.

What can be done with them? They're perfectly good, but we have no use for them.

End of this chapter on refi musings (I think)

August 12th, 2016 at 01:04 pm

Just about to lock in a rate with the online lender AIMloan, I raised a concern about appraising high enough to roll costs in. The broker checked another home value site, Eppraisal.com, and instead of $550K like Zillow now estimates, they valued our place at $474K. Well, even if we paid all closing costs, we'd need it to appraise for at least $503,750 to get rid of mortgage insurance.

The guy then checked what mortgage insurance rates were, to see if I could get a better deal (and one that wouldn't last the life of the loan), but quickly realized that since I have a 2-unit property, private mortgage insurance isn't an option. No, I can only refi to a private lender if I have the 20% equity.

He suggested I check with a realtor, so I did. Our real estate agent who sold our condo for us got back to me with comp sales in our area. Nothing is exactly comparable and there aren't many sales of places even sort of similar to ours in our area. But the ones she found ranged from $440K to $600K.

I'm still waiting for her to email the comps, but from what I remember, removing those two outliers, most places sold for low $500s. But that low outlier is out there, and it's a more recent sale. So she didn't know what to advise. She said it looked like the $600K place was really updated. Our place has some updated appliances and such but it's far from done; there are lots of shabby worn-out things like the main-level floors, clawfoot tub on main floor, plastic-based patched-up shower tray upstairs, partly finished basement bathroom.

Meanwhile, the ranty broker checked in with me via email, and I gave him the estimates I'd gotten from AIMloan but told him about the appraisal fears. He wrote back, much more conciliatory in tone, that he agreed I should be more sure of value before I try, and that the AIM estimates were now close enough to his prices that he'd like a chance to beat them if we did decide to refi down the road. I'll definitely give him a chance now that he seems interested in competing, although I also like AIMloan so far too.

So, it is what it is. After all this work, I've only managed to lower our property insurance by about $24 per month. I called our lender and they're going to do an escrow analysis so hopefully our monthly mortgage payment will be a bit less soon.

I noticed when I was doing this research something about a prepayment penalty on our current mortgage. I asked the lender about that while I was on the phone with them, and they said it was only if I paid off the mortgage within three years without requesting a payoff amount or something. So small extra principal payments should be fine.

I wanted to check on that in case I want to start paying down the principal to get closer to feeling comfortable about the equity we need. It's just a thought that occurred to me; I haven't really considered the idea in depth and we don't have a ton of extra money floating around in the budget this year.

Got the comps from the realtor. Clearly can't trust Zillow or eppraisal's estimates, and the few sort-of-like-ours homes aren't selling for anywhere near $550K.

3,710 square feet, 6 bed 2 bath, built 1927
Eppraisal $489,024
Zillow $509818
Sold $480,000 in January 2016

4,222 square feet, 7 bed 4 bath, built 1900
Eppraisal $568,276
Zillow $526,357
Sold $475,000 in May 2016

4,068 square feet, 7 bed 4 bath, built 1913
Eppraisal $474,269
Zillow $550,501

So yeah, definitely prudent to wait!

I guess I'm actually considering an online refi

August 11th, 2016 at 01:41 pm

First of all, I'm so grateful for all the concerned SAers who have been offering advice and opinions on my refi musings.

I got AIMloan's estimate and used the ranty email from the local broker to send a bunch of questions to AIMloan. I also went on the Bogleheads forum and couldn't find very many negative comments about AIMloan. (One was about their servicing, not the closing, but apparently they sell most loans, so they might not end up servicing.)

I'm still feeling a bit queasy about it, like I hope this isn't a Nigerian email scam type thing where I'm chasing an elusive profit and keep putting more into it.

After I asked questions and gave more details about the refi (including that it was a duplex), the so-far very patient guy at AIMloan sent me one more estimate. It's not nearly as good a deal as the original rough estimate, but still substantially better than the local guy.

I'm leaning toward locking in a rate, getting a formal quote, and then taking it to the ranty guy to see if he can do better.

I'm circling two main options:
$8537.55 closing costs plus $2098.66 escrow prepay= $10,636.21
Bring $2636.21 to closing and roll $8000 into mortgage
P&I payment $1793.05, total payment w/escrow $2564.91


$4200 closing costs plus $2098.66 escrow prepay= $6306.09
Bring $2300 to closing and roll $4000 into mortgage
P&I payment $1850.06, total payment w/escrow $2621.92

The local guy's offer was:
$7325 closing costs plus $1710 escrow prepay= $9035
Bring $2035 to closing and roll $7000 into mortgage
P&I payment $1850, total payment w/escrow $2621.83

All of these are improvements on my current loan payment, which is $3102.

I feel like I should do something, but I'm very nervous about making a decision. I suppose if I got shafted by AIM and had to back out or it fell through, it would be a $495 mistake (for the appraisal) and not ruinous. It just feels scary to play with this much debt.

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