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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.

EDIT:
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.

Examples:
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

Ours:
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:
3.25%
$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

OR

3.5%
$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:
3.5%
$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.

Acquiring various things and Craigslist sale

August 11th, 2016 at 06:44 am

It's been a week of getting and selling. First, we sold an old oak door for $50. The lady asked if we'd consider a trade. I said we were looking for track lights, a ceiling fan or a treadmill. She didn't have any of those so she paid the $50. Then she nicely emailed me that she'd spotted a fan in an alley near our house. AS walked over there and lugged it home!

Tuesday AS and I hosted trivia at a bar and she left her work laptop, which was a rinky-dink little stopgap solution bought when we were still broke from all our house-related shenanigans (she's been saying for months she needs something more powerful). That night I'd also made a last-ditch effort to improve the speed of our old laptop. The old one was still slow so I told her to go ahead and order a new one and if her cheapie one turned up, it could become the household one. She bought a much better one for only $480, and then her other one did turn up at the bar! As soon as we save all our pics from the old laptop we can sell it for parts.

Then yesterday someone Freecycled a treadmill! For a $20 truck rental we picked that up!

So let's see, for a net cost of $450, we got rid of a door that was taking up space and acquired a ceiling fan, treadmill and laptop. And if we can sell our old laptop for a few bucks, we'll have paid even less. Not a bad week! We're about $420 in the hole on shared spending now, but those checks for AS from my company should be coming along any day.

Refi ongoing efforts

August 10th, 2016 at 01:49 pm

This is so not my favorite thing to do, but the thought of bringing our mortgage payment down to a reasonable level keeps me going.

The 2nd broker sent me some kind of quote, but it was so confusingly structured all I could tell was that the interest rate was 3.75%. He'd felt hard to communicate with, constantly pushing me to submit an application and schedule an appraisal, so I decided to just ignore him as an option.

I called Quicken but they would charge more than the 1st broker I talked to for a 3.5% interest rate loan.

I had a testy exchange with the first broker because I asked him to consider helping me out on interest rate or closing costs based on what I was seeing online. He asked to see itemization of rates I was seeing online and I sent him what AIM was saying. He kind of went off about how it wasn't a "real" offer (which he hadn't explicitly asked for) and how shady brokers blah blah blah. I wrote a terse email back saying I'd get a "real" offer from the site and get back to him.

I submitted an application with AIM. Near the end I got freaked out that closing costs were $10K instead of $7K and tried to cancel but it wouldn't let me. I spoke to a broker and he said the $10K would include escrow funding. I no longer had the itemization in front of me, but when he calls me later to go over the options I'll make sure of that. Because the monthly property insurance estimated was half of what I actually pay, so it might be more than $10K. Of course that was for a 3.175% loan, so I'll see what their total costs are with an accurate property insurance estimate and at 3.5% so I can properly compare with the 1st broker's quote.

The 2nd broker emailed me back to follow up, so I just said I'm not interested in refinancing for a rate higher than I already had, so I'd be waiting to refi if that was my only option. If he gets back to me with a 3.5% offer, I'll ask for itemization the way broker #1 and AIM have provided so I can do a comparison.

Feeling unsure about any of the choices so far, but I'm reluctant to try any other brokers/sites that haven't been recommended to me by someone who knows more about this. I feel very ignorant in this area and worried that I'll get cheated or waste a lot of time and money on something that's not going to work out.

Refi options

August 8th, 2016 at 08:40 pm

I got in touch with one of the brokers my real estate agent recommended. He sent me three possible refi options. None of them involve a lower interest rate than what we have, and two of them are higher. He said it's really expensive to refi to lower than 3.5% for a 30-year loan right now.

So I'm pondering the one that keeps the interest rate at 3.5. I really don't want to go higher, because the other parts of the mortgage payment could go higher in subsequent years as property taxes and insurance premiums rise. I need to keep that flat part of the payment, the principle and interest, as low as possible, I think.

He doesn't think there's an actual escrow shortage, just that the balance isn't where the current lender would like it. So it's possible there's nothing to pay off there.

The 3.5% one is the most expensive, of course; it would involve $7300 closing costs and putting $1700 into escrow. All of that could be rolled into the principal bringing our loan from $403K to $412K. Again, I'm really reluctant to bring the principal back to where it was a year ago. So I'm thinking if I go for this, I'd bring $2K to closing to at least bring the principal increase a little lower.

The old (new) payment is about $3102. The new new one, if his projections pan out, should be $2622. That's a $480 difference! I could use that savings over the next 4 months to fund the $2K I'd bring to closing, and then we'd start 2017 with a much nicer budget surplus.

The $9K added to principal/closing cash would be offset by saving $264 per month on mortgage insurance. Looks like that would pay for itself in about 3 years. Seeing as how the mortgage insurance is here to stay, that's probably worth it.

So, I'm thinking about trying for it.

Survived the weekend! Kid-related fun stuff

August 7th, 2016 at 10:05 pm

Wow! We let our kids have their first sleepover at our house (they've had them at daycare and with our downstairs neighbors but never hosted one). The guests came Saturday after lunch and left today before lunch, so just about 22 hours.

We made it! We had a 6YO and a 7YO as well as our own 6YO and 4YO girls. (We tried to get a friend closer to the younger kid's age but the schedule just wasn't working out.) There was some exclusionary stuff going on with the older girls but our 4YO has an overall sunny disposition and didn't seem to notice for the most part. And they did play with her willingly, many times, so it wasn't too bad. And NT took her out for a couple hours of "special time" (playground and ice cream parlor) just to make sure the older girls got some time to themselves and SL got some extra attention.

Spending-wise it wasn't too terrible. $47 for pizza delivery and $11.59 for SL and NT's ice cream. Entertainment was hose/sprinkler outside, playing in the kids' rooms, movies on Netflix and DVD, blanket fort under the dining room table, and hide and seek. Food besides the pizza Saturday night was worked into the grocery budget; vegan rice krispie treats, various raw veggies, watermelon, cupcakes, pancakes, raspberries and strawberries.

After the guests left and we ate lunch, our kids had honest-to-god 2-hour-long naps. We actually had to wake them up because we'd planned a playdate with another friend's kid! Luckily it was at a playground about 4 blocks away. Needless to say though, I've had my fill of kid stuff for the time being!

My nerves felt frayed a few times during the sleepover, especially as it got later at night. (I'm sure my tone got sharp a couple times.) But our kids kept saying it was the best sleepover ever and their friends seemed happy. We sent them away with leftover pizza and treats and the girls gave them various little toys from their own belongings, and everyone seemed happy (especially the parents who got a free date night; I was happy to provide that because I know how rare they can be).

In some ways I know these will get easier as the kids get older. But I know in other ways the psychodrama gets more intense the older they get. Either way, I don't see hosting them very often but it was nice to give my kids a memorable night. And in the age of Facebook, I periodically posted photos and updates that the parents could see, because I know I love being able to see stuff about my kids when they're with someone else!

Come to think of it, it's been a spendy weekend kid-wise. I took AA to buy her first-day-of-school outfit at Target, and we ended up spending about $80. Everything was pretty reasonable--we got sneakers, flats, a dress (OK, a princess nightgown; it was what she wanted and I think it can pass for a dress!), a backpack and a hairband, and I think the sneakers were the most expensive at $27 or so. It just kind of adds up!

We've also got her supply list from the school and will have to do that big shopping trip in the next couple weeks. Again, it's nothing big but the little things will add up. I'm hoping AS gets a freelance payment soon so we don't go too far in the negative on our shared spending. My company is overdue on a small payment to her ($146) and she's got some bigger ones from them expected next week ($1100 and $500) that I'm hoping they'll send a bit early once they work out why that other payment is way late. Either way, if we go in the red a bit, we know it won't be for long!

More mortgage/homeowner insurance musings Part 2

August 5th, 2016 at 09:57 pm

Well, my queries about homeowner insurance haven't yielded much. I contacted a broker who was initially shocked at how much we pay, but then looked into it and couldn't find a more attractive option.

My current agent gave me a quote with a lower replacement value and lower sewer coverage, but he also added a new option called "limited matching of undamaged property" for $100 per year to the quote, so the difference was virtually nothing.

However, I wrote to him saying I liked his quote except for that, and the identity insurance $45 per year, which is unchanged. If he took those away, and with the reduced replacement value, It would reduce our payment about $25 per year. Annually it would go from $4274.69 to $4037.59.

I also contacted our real estate agent for refinance broker recommendations and she gave me two glowing reviews with email addresses. I emailed the first one explaining our situation.

I don't think we'd get much of a break from the 3.5% rate. But if we saved $25 on our homeowner insurance, eliminated the $262.89 mortgage insurance, and got rid of the shortage makeup (by paying it off before the refi, $2000 or so), even without an interest rate reduction our payment could go down to $2625.34. That's $476.60 less per month! The savings on the last four months of 2016 could almost make up for having to pay off the shortage in a lump sum.

So that's interesting. We'll see what the mortgage broker says!

More mortgage/homeowner insurance musings

August 4th, 2016 at 03:09 pm

Bear with me; I've been in a very posty mood this past week! Wink

So I haven't heard back from the mortgage company about how much of the increase is temporary and when that part will go away. But I found the breakdown on their not-very-intuitive website, and I think I remember the temporary escrow shortage fee would be 12 months. So I think I've got it figured out.

Here's how our payment breaks down:
Principal $676.86
Interest $1,177.24
Property Insurance $360.38
County Tax: $435.86
Mortgage insurance: $262.89
Shortage makeup: $188.71

Total Payment:$3,101.94

(As a reminder, this is a 30-year loan. First payment was 6/1/2015. Interest rate is 3.5% fixed. Principal balance is $403,000. Zillow home value is $538,000.)

So, the good news is, nearly $200 of the increase is temporary. Next August it will go away.

But besides that, I see a few things I should probably consider.

First is the homeowner insurance. I've already got a call in with a broker who should be getting me a quote any day now.

I did hear back from my current broker and he showed me what it could look like with reduced replacement value but he also tacked on a new expense to his estimate. I know I could turn that down but it was just frustrating that he really didn't get that I was trying to cut this extremely big expense down. Anyway, assuming I did say no to the new item and yes to the new quote otherwise, it would be $4082. Vs. the current $4325. So it would save us about $20 per month. Better than nothing, but I want to wait and see if the broker can find anything better.

Second thing to consider is interest rate. I don't think I could do much better than 3.5% on a 30-year loan, but I'll keep my eye out. I know we could get better rates on a 15-year loan but that it would also mean higher fixed payments, so I'm not sure we'd want to do that.

Third, that mortgage insurance. If the Zillow value is anywhere near accurate, we have about 25% equity in the place. However, our current loan is an FHA, and that mortgage insurance doesn't go away when you reach a certain amount of equity. I think it stays for 11 years or something.

Now I'm wondering if a refi would be worth it if only to eliminate that $260 per month. If we got incremental improvements from a lower interest rate and found a slightly cheaper insurance, the combined benefit could be pretty good.

But with that escrow shortfall, I don't know if that affects it. Would we need to pay it off? Roll it into the new mortgage?

I emailed the real estate agent who sold our condo for us to see if she has a good mortgage broker she can recommend. I really don't want to use our last guy; he very much got on my nerves with all the misinformation about how much we had to pay upfront on our last refinance in early 2015.

Just thinking out loud about all this. And, of course, happy to read any thoughts/advice you all have!

Savings, grocery app, CC offer dilmma, etc.

August 4th, 2016 at 01:44 pm

Today I noticed that I'm a month ahead on AS's healthcare premiums. Meaning I just paid for August but still had a line item for it. I think at some point it changed from the end of a month to the beginning and I probably ate the cost and didn't realize it was already there in the budget.

So anyway, that was $228 out of the blue! I put $28 in our grocery budget because we're badly over budget from stocking up on various things and from forgetting to pick up our CSA veggies one week (grr). $100 I put in our shared spending because we have a growing wish list that we're waiting to get the money to buy. And the other $100 I stuck into savings. I'm going to try and put at least a bit into savings every time we have an influx of unallocated money.

Speaking of groceries, we've used Instacart several times for weeks when we were really tired or our weekends were super booked. I have to say, it shaves hours of chores out of our Saturday! It's not exactly frugal; there's a $6 delivery fee and I definitely feel like I need to tip the person at least 10% since they're not just delivering; they're actually doing the shopping for us.

But the good thing is if the delivery and tip puts us over budget, we can go through the cart and see if there are things we don't need. At the grocery store, we sometimes go over budget because we only estimate costs of things before we get there, or we throw in an impulse item. This way, we can really see what things cost and scale back or eliminate impulse purchases to stay within budget.

Long story short, last time we ordered I saw an offer to sign up for an account, with a 2-week free trial. After that, it's $149 per year, with unlimited free deliveries. At $6 per pop saved, it would take 25 deliveries before it was worth it.

But, that means that if we used it every week, the delivery charge would average out to less than $3 per delivery. And, we've been using it for one store each week and still going in person to the other stores, so the delivery charge wouldn't add up. If we kept this membership we could potentially do almost all our grocery shopping online. For not having a car, it's a huge time-saver for not much extra money. And like I said, with clever adjusting we could probably still stay within our existing grocery budget.

Bonus: They just emailed me today that they're now doing liquor-store deliveries! I'm definitely going to look into that and see what the prices are like, but I saw that our favorite boxed wine is a good price on there.

We got Chase Freedom offers in the mail this past week for spend $500, get $150 back. Also, if you add an authorized user and they make a purchase, you get another $25. My dilemma: I read the fine print and it specifically says people who open credit cards only for the promotional offers are not eligible.

Now I know for a fact that they'll still give it to me, but having actually read that in the fine print, I'm having misgivings about signing us up for it. It's such a good easy deal that I'd definitely sign all three of us up and get $525 for spending $1500! So tempting, but not sure if I'll do it.

We have the kids' first sleepover this weekend-- a 6YO and a 7YO staying Saturday afternoon through Sunday mid-morning. So...wish us luck! I think we'll order pizza for dinner, but if so we're gonna cheap out and not order from one of our two favorite gourmet pizzerias. I was thinking Pizza Hut. I do love their spicy breadsticks.

We haven't planned much in the way of activities but we already know what food and treats we'll be giving them, so that's a start. I'll talk to my kids tonight and see if they have any elaborate ideas that we need to start planning now, or if they just want to hang out and play with the girls.

Speaking of the kids, the older one (AA, 6) wanted some "special time" with me last weekend. I knew exactly what would thrill her; she's brainy and silly, but she's also a super girly girl. So I hired a car and took her to get a manicure, then to a coffee shop for soda. She adored it, as I figured she would. I went in the hole on my spending money for it, so I can't do it all the time! The car was covered by our carshare budget, but the mani cost me $12 and we ended up spending almost $18 at the coffee shop because she wanted to bring back drinks for the rest of the family.

I can tell my kiddo is going to appreciate the finer things in life, so even more reason to make sure I give her a good financial education as part of her upbringing!

Annual budget

August 4th, 2016 at 09:28 am

Yesterday I had some down time at work and tinkered with my 2017 annual budget. I'd actually started it a couple weeks ago by making a duplicate my 2016 Google sheet and changing all the years in it. This time I went through and updated exact dates for when paydays, grocery shops, etc. were going to come out of the budget.

As a refresher, I switched from monthly budget to annual budget starting in 2015. I used to have a single-sheet monthly budget and if there were infrequent expenses like Xmas and the CSA, I would set aside a little each month.

Now I set up big annual expenses to come out of the month they're in and estimate utilities amounts based on real fluctuations from the previous year. We pretty much have a big enough surplus every month to do this, but I did have to divide up bday and Xmas line items over a couple months to make sure we didn't have a deficit any month. That's because those holidays come during the winter, when our estimated utilities are at their highest and our grocery budget is higher not having the CSA box to supplement.

My annual budget consists of 13 sheets: one for each month and a final sheet that adds up income and expenses and divides expenses into Needs, Wants and Savings.

I'm sure there will still be changes to the 2017 budget before it's in effect, but right now it looks like our "Needs" will increase about $3000 next year. This is due to a number of factors:

- Our mortgage payment increase is adding $2200 to the year's expenses. (That might be less if I can figure out when the temporary part of the increase ends in 2017 and by how much.)
- Bus passes for AS and AA is now a regular line item, adding $1000. (We used to just pay for them by moving stuff around, but now that AS is going out more during the day and AA is 6, decided to budget something for it.)
- Increases to my and AS's healthcare premiums total $600.
- Utilities are estimated to be $400 more than what we estimated in 2016.
- Daycare costs are going up $300 (for the whole year, not per month).

That's actually about $4500 more, but it was offset by the exchange rate on the UK mortgage and management expenses being lower.

Do any of you follow the 50/30/20 rule (50% needs, 30% wants, 20% savings)? That's my rough benchmark of ideal, but we're not anywhere close to it. (Keep in mind we don't budget AS's freelance income at all; I add that in quarterly but don't track where it's spent, so the annual income ends up accurate but not how much of her paycheck goes to wants/needs/savings beyond the planned stuff. I do add in how much we pay in taxes for her though.)

So, with just my and NT's income and the rental income from both places, my spreadsheet does calculate percent of budget by needs/wants/savings. Of course, me being me, I get in the weeds about how exactly to calculate that, so I have several different results for "needs":
Needs total including NT and CJ tax withholdings: $108,270.92
Percent of gross income 69.23%
Percent of set budget 71.02%

Needs excluding taxes: $86,668.76
Percent excluding tax 66.24%
Percent of post-tax income excluding tax 64.30%

Even though it seems out of whack, when you add in AS's income, our set needs are a much more reasonable portion of our income. For instance, on the 2016 budget, with 2 quarters of her income being added, percent of post-tax income excluding tax is 58.76%. That percentage will decrease as we add Q3 and Q4 income to it.

So, what are my biggest annual expenses? Well (and again these amounts aren't final, especially the mortgage which may decrease about $1000), right now for 2017 it's looking like:
Duplex mortgage (including tax/insurance escrow): $37,223.28
Daycare (some of which is pretax): $13,545.00
Groceries/household: $9,950.00
CJ medical premium (covers me, NT, AA, SL): $5,136.00

The highest "want" that's a regular budget item (we'll probably use AS's income for other big wants like travel and home improvement): $6,843.00
That includes $40 per week for each adult and an allowance for each kid ($4 and $6 per week, will go up $1 every birthday). This year I restarted their allowances and have been scraping it together from other funds, so for 2017 I'm making it easier and adding it to the weekly spending money line item.

I like the annual budgeting a lot. It gives me extra stuff to fiddle with. Smile And when bills or income increase, I can soon see the impact on an entire calendar year. It's not a perfect spreadsheet; as I said, I don't track what we spend AS's income on besides tax and retirement. But it is a valuable tool. And I can easily paste it gradually by the month into my main budgeting tool, my ledger or future checkbook spreadsheet which I call "Number Crunch."

AS's annual earnings hit $40K!

August 2nd, 2016 at 07:20 am

AS did 4 hours of work for my company yesterday and accepted a $500 job from another place. Those combined pushed her for-sure earnings up over $40K for the year!

Last year she earned just over $57K, so that was the benchmark for 2016. But early in the year she hit a couple hurdles; 2015 had started with some big checks coming in for 2014 work, whereas she didn't have as many delayed paychecks for her end of 2015 work. January 2015 she pulled in over $7,200, vs. $805 in January 2016. She also must have had a bigger start to her year than she did this year; Q1 of 2015 she earned $19,400 vs. $5,600 in Q1 of 2016.

But, despite that staggering $14K handicap in the beginning of the year, she's done really well since then. She thinks she can pull in at least another $8K by the end of the year, which would take her to $48K, just $9K short of last year's earnings. Which would mean she's billing higher in later months than she did in 2015. That's promising! She's starting to be able to be a bit choosy and has quit or turned down clients whose hourly rate doesn't cut it or whose work isn't as satisfying. (She tracks her time carefully so she has an hourly rate calculated even for flat fee jobs -- which the majority of her jobs are.)

I'm very proud that she's managed to make this career for herself -- and with her working at home, the house has never been cleaner! (She worked on-site at my company for the past two weeks and the difference showed in our house.) She also can take care of little organizing/admin things that occur to me or NT during the day, which cuts down on our after-work to-do list.

We may someday look at a workspace-sharing thing for her so she can be out of the house more, but for now, her business runs so cheaply, with virtually no expenses, and we get the benefit of a SAH adult at a time we can't afford a house-cleaner. So for where we are right now, it's perfect.

August 2016 debt payments

August 1st, 2016 at 10:04 pm

All our mortgage payments hit:

US: $677 to principal
UK1: $210
UK2: $45
UK3: $46

All told, that's $978 of debt paid in August.

In four or five months, the U.S. mortgage will be under $400K in principal! That's exciting. Smile

Researching the mortgage bill increase

August 1st, 2016 at 12:50 pm

A couple months ago we got the unwelcome news that our monthly mortgage payment was increasing from $2,789.40 to $3,101.94, effective Aug. 1 (today). That's $312.54 per month! It more than wipes out my and NT's raises this year, which is a big bummer.

We got the notice a few weeks before our Europe vacation and I just couldn't be bothered to look into it at all. I knew from the letter that part of the increase was to make up for an escrow shortage and the rest was to increase our escrow for the future. So the first part of the increase will be temporary (about a year I believe).

So anyway, I'm looking into it now that the higher amount has hit our checking account for the first time.

I looked at our insurance, and it went up from $3,791.88 per year to $4,324.57 per year. It seems this is due to higher valuation of everything. I'm not sure if I can do anything about that; as I recall this was the best deal we could find. Apparently you can save quite a bit if you bundle home with car, but we don't have a car, so that wasn't an option. But I don't know, I may go ahead and sign up for a "Farmer's friendly whatever" to see if there's any way to lower this bill.

Then I checked county property taxes, and they increased from $4,943.56 per year to $5,230.26 per year. Obviously, nothing I can do about that one. They actually value the home way lower than its market value.

Together, these two increases come to about $68.28 per month. Leaving $244.26 of my mortgage payment increase unaccounted for.

I don't have the letter with me at work, so I'm going to check it when I get home to see if that's the temporary increase part of it, or if there's something else contributing to this giant leap.

Other people's money stuff

July 31st, 2016 at 07:56 pm

One interesting thing that a lot of us seem to deal with is unexpected or unwelcome visibility into other people's money lives; their priorities, decisions, mistakes sometimes come through loud and clear.

AS's mom asked for money again a couple months ago (I think I wrote about it here), and as part of the condition of giving it to her, AS asked to get some detailed info so we could see why she was struggling and whether she had a plan that would work.

She sent us a confusing muddle of emails where often the important piece of info would be hidden within rambling that wasn't helpful. Some attachments as well. I was rather shocked to see that she was not bringing in very much; just over $2000 a month, I believe, from disability and military spouse benefits from her ex. Her rent alone is over $1000 per month, plus she has debt payments, medical expenses and just general living expenses. She has no savings and owes about $9000. Several things were delinquent, including electricity and cable. She lives in a moderately HCOL area (DC metro part of Virginia).

It was a pretty bleak picture. We recommended bankruptcy, and I was starting to think we'd need to help with housing somehow. Someone on here (Joan of the Arch?) had mentioned considering buying some relatives a condo, and that seemed like something we could consider. Rather than helping with rent, we could just forgive rent as long as we knew we could afford the payments on our own, and we'd have something to show for it at the end (the condo). Of course we don't have money for a down payment and wouldn't want to risk that hit to our budget at this point, but I started considering it as a down-the-road contingency plan.

Well, we heard back that she has the bankruptcy in beginning stages. She also thinks next year she'll qualify for housing Section 8, as she's been on the waiting list about 5 years and it usually takes 6. It could bring her monthly rent responsibility down to about $200.

With most of her debt discharged and her housing expenses cut by 80%, suddenly her situation wouldn't seem as bleak. So we're in a holding pattern. She might need some bridge loans to get through the next year, but hopefully not. And if she can pull off these two things, we may be off the hook. Fingers crossed!

***

My friend who I helped with her finances seems to be stuck in a holding pattern of her own. She hasn't slipped back into NSF territory, but neither has she decreased her CC debt very much in the past couple years. One thing is that she herself brings in about what AS's mom does, and has a bit more debt than $9K, so there's not a big margin for error. But the other is that she can't seem to say no to any invitation (or mention) of a show, concert, restaurant or anything. If she could tame her social life for a year, she could probably pay down that debt and then have more flexibility to go to the shows and everything. Her debt payments are about 25% of her income, almost as much as her rent!

I hope she does buckle down at some point. She is trying, but she has this disconnect between intention and action. I see the same thing when she tries to avoid gluten, or when she's on a diet. Her hand just goes toward food and it finds its way to her mouth almost like she doesn't realize she's doing it.

I'm happy to help however I can, but it's one of those things people have to decide for themselves. Credit allows so many untenable situations to float along for years, even for most of one's life. Fingers crossed she will sort it out in time for retirement someday.

***

Our downstairs neighbors are pretty much our closest friends as well. I love just about everything about them -- except their bizarre financial behavior. It's bothered me for years, but now that we live together, certain things nag at me.

For one thing, NJ (the main one we talk to due to his husband working all the time) let AS know sometime last year that he hadn't filed his taxes in several years. He left law to become a freelance photographer, and after a while found a very lucrative niche. Basically he's able to book several big shoots and then coast on that income for a few months.

The first return he didn't file was right after leaving law, and typically he would get a huge tax refund. So he thinks that the money the IRS has from that year will cover most of the other years.

Which may be true, but he won't find out until he files all those years. And the more years he doesn't file -- and doesn't send in any estimated tax -- the less likely that is. If he makes about what AS makes, that money from his unclaimed refund may cover one or two years at best.

So he had a bunch of money from a big photo shoot, and he was going to use it to remodel their kitchen. Then he decided instead to work on a subscription website that could pull in a lot of passive income. His business partners flaked, and so he still had this chunk of money sitting there.

Plus, his husband just got a second (part-time) job that pulls in a ton more money.

So this would be a great time to do all his taxes, right? Wrong. First, he gave us another $4K toward buying their share of the house ... which is great, except he hasn't finished the paperwork that would make this official. And I'm not promising anything until I see the paperwork and get it vetted by another lawyer.

Second, he buys a used car for about $7,000. I was kind of pissed because they were carless when we bought together and seemed committed to that lifestyle. We were even thinking of turning the garage into a tiny home for my other friend (from section 2 above) because none of us had any plans to have a car. Then boom, out of the blue, he buys a car. Now we have to accommodate a car that I don't believe they really need. (His main reason was to be able to take his dog to the dog park because there were none nearby. When questioned, he said the nearest one is about a mile away. Wouldn't the dog be able to walk a mile each way? I don't know. My kids walk minimum half a mile each day, and can walk a lot more than that if necessary.)

But the main reason I was pissed is because he STILL hasn't handled his taxes; I feel like both of those big outlays of cash were partly to avoid that further. And I feel like I'm stuck in this place where I'm worried about that, and wanting the documents for the house to be drawn up but wondering if I will need to say I can't go into this agreement with you knowing you might be evading taxes and digging a big hole for yourself. But at the same time, until they start to buy their share of the house, I'm paying $150-$160 per month for water/sewer/gas, and not feeling like I can ask them to pay their share (2 fifths) until/unless they begin to co-own the place.

I feel like I can't talk too much about the home ownership thing until I know he's handled his taxes, but I'm not really in a place where I can make him do his taxes either. I've offered to help, I've given him the name of my tax guy; I don't think I should push it anymore since ultimately he's an adult. But waiting on the home ownership thing is making me feel a bit taken advantage of from the utilities standpoint among other things. I'm keeping track of what we pay into the house and what they pay into the house, so I'm hoping they would want to pay to make up for the utilities paid, since they've always declared their intention (and we've always agreed to it) to purchase a share of the house.

***

Petty, petty, petty. That's how I feel. I just try to deal with it in my own head, but I feel like this is a fairly safe place to air said petty thoughts. This post may self-destruct; I'm not sure.

What constitutes becoming a millionaire?

July 29th, 2016 at 11:51 am

Now that my finances are feeling more under control than they have been since about March, I'm feeling optimistic and forward-looking. I idly wondered, when will I (well, my household) become a millionaire, and how is that technically defined?

I looked around online and the consensus seems to be that you can either be a net-worth millionaire or an actual-money millionaire. Either your net worth is at least a million, or you have at least a million in bank and retirement accounts.

By the first measure, my household could conceivably attain millionaire status in about 4 years, if things go well and we gain about $10K per month in net worth.

By the second measure, I'd think it would be more like 8 years, since the majority of our assets contributing to net worth are our two properties. So getting to a million in cash and retirement funds will take a lot more time, and debt reduction won't help with that one.

Just some idle Friday musings. Smile

Adding to savings--feels good!

July 29th, 2016 at 10:45 am

I checked NT's UK account, calculated how much we need to cover August mortgage payments (plus 25-pound cushion) and transferred the remainder--750--to his UK savings account. It makes barely any interest, but moving the money into savings makes it feel more official that the money is saved. Smile

I've decided to use the UK savings account as our EF because A) it accumulates painlessly without coming out of our normal cashflow, B) the money is harder to get to since it's in the UK and C) we don't have any plans for that money except to use as spending money for our next UK trip, which won't be for over a year, so we should be able to save up a good EF plus a good amount of vacation money before then.

GBP750 translates to $1125, which means we're over 10% of the way to my $10,000 EF goal!

In the U.S., we finally saved up enough to hopefully fund the next phase of AS's dental procedure thanks to her latest freelance payment. We had some money left over for once! NT has been itching to spend, so I got him to articulate what he wants most. A) paint for several rooms in our house and B) new underwear (which we could all use). Big Grin So I set aside $300 for paint and $75 for underwear.

There was still some money left over, so I stashed $250 in our nearly-empty U.S. savings account, bringing it up to $255.74. No specific plans for this money; just a vague idea that we'll probably want to put it toward a larger renovation project at some point, whether it's redoing one of the bathrooms or installing ductless A/C.

Feels good to have money in both savings accounts again! We cleared the US one to help pay our tax bill in April and drained the UK one during our June/July vacation. The last time we had really big balances in both of them was spring 2015, when we emptied our savings over the course of a few months to renovate the UK flat, sell the US condo at a loss, and refinance the US duplex mortgage.

Sometimes I revisit those days on this blog and marvel at it all! Our tax and medical/dental bills this year were a cakewalk by comparison.

Retirement goal progress

July 29th, 2016 at 09:40 am

Updated my goal based on NT's recent raise and downgrading AS's annual income expectation, and added our recent retirement gains to the balance.

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: $279,380

May 2016 balance: $269,301

Progress: $10,079 (over 2 months)

To reach the goal by our birthdays in 2019, that's 31 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $6,468 per month to reach it. We came somewhat closer to that level of progress with about $5K in gains these past two months!

July 2016 net worth update

July 29th, 2016 at 09:32 am

Assets:
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): $44,207
NT's Roth IRA: $10,327
AS's trad. IRA: $15,528
AS's Roth IRA: $29,607
AS's SEP IRA: $9,633
CJ's 401(k): $91,931
CJ's Roth IRA: $13,453
NT's flat: 180,000 pounds ($270,000)
CJ/NT/AS house: $470,000 (value -6%)
---
Total Assets: $1,019,380

Total Debt: $475,634

Current Estimated Net Worth: $543,746

May 2016 estimate: $529,251

Change in net worth: +$14,495

Summary: I was shocked by this huge jump! I went back to make sure it was accurate, and it is. About $9K of it is due to retirement fund growth and contributions (including $2750 to AS's Roth). The other $5K is because I realize that last month, I switched the exchange rate on NT's pensions and home value but not on NT's mortgage debt. So changing the exchange rate from $1.60 to $1.50 gave us another $5K jump. Hard to believe it was that much!

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.

Note to self on pension value

July 18th, 2016 at 04:54 pm

I only get updated on NT's pensions once a year, and the last year they stagnated in value. But this year one of them is up about a grand, to 5523 pounds. I'm noting that here so when I do net worth at the end of the month, I'll have that number.

Vacation wrapup: England and Spain

July 10th, 2016 at 08:28 pm

I can't believe it's getting late already! I basically spent all day lazing around. Well, a lot of it budgeting and other organizational stuff on the computer, but it felt like a lazy day.

We got in yesterday evening from our trip. The flight home and getting through customs is always terrible, but it wasn't any worse than usual.

The trip itself was fabulous. Probably the best we've ever taken as a family. Lots of traveling, but worth it for all the experiences. We flew into Heathrow and had to drive about 4 hours to Exeter to spend a week with NT's family. We had a little outing or two every day, visiting different towns.

Here's a rocky beach at Dawlish Warren:


Babbacombe Model Village (a vast miniature world, this is just one small part):


The pier at Paignton, which had arcade games and other fun stuff:


Exeter itself was lovely:


We also visited a sandy beach, an otter sanctuary and butterfly farm and an archaeological museum. We mostly cooked at home (NT's parents had rented us a lovely 4-bedroom house) and brought picnic things out, but we did eat at a couple places.

After about a week, we left the kids with NT's dad and stepmom and drove about 3 hours to Oxford to our friends' house. That night they had people over so we could see some of the people we know there.

The next morning we left for Barcelona (me, NT, AS, our two best friends and the girlfriend of one of them); we took a bus to Gatwick airport, then a plane to Barcelona, then bought a 4-day pass for the trains and subways and found our way to our AirBNB, a nice 3-bedroom condo.

It was incredible there. For one thing, it was sunny and in the 80s (England had mostly been in the 60s and drizzly). For another, the place was just so beautiful. Everywhere had ornate iron railings:



There were tons of little alleyway-type streets that no car could go down, and tapas bars about every 5 feet, it felt like! The tapas was amazing. There were also a number of vegan restaurants; although none of them blew me away, it was nice to have so many options.

There were living statues in some areas that just blew me away:


We were close to the beach as well:


We got out to Parc Guell, a weird and wonderful park featuring architectural touches by Gaudi:


It was high on a hill so we got great views of the city from there.

And basically we spent hours sitting at various outdoor cafes having chilled wine and snacks. Smile Everything was so amazing. The only drawback of the city really was that it could really stink of sewage in places. But you'd keep walking and the smell would go away in a minute.

Meanwhile back in Exeter, things could not have gone better with the grandparents. We Skyped once but it seemed to simultaneously bore and upset the kids, so we just relied on Facebook photos from family members. It was easy not to worry when we saw shots of the kids having fun all over the Devonshire area:




Our Barcelona jaunt went by in a flash; it was only four days, three nights. We flew back to England and took the bus back to Oxford to spend two more nights with our friends. The one full day we had there, we spent in the city itself (our friends lived on the edge in a more suburban area). One friend showed us where he works, the impressive Oxford University exam schools, full of rooms like this:


Then we walked around Oxford, basically just soaking in the atmosphere. It's such a beautiful city:


That night we ate at a nice Italian restaurant and went drinking at a scruffy but charming pub, one of NT's old haunts.

The next two days were no fun, but we were prepared: We left Oxford around noon and drove 5 hours (traffic was awful) to Exeter, met up with the kids and grandparents for a dinner out (luckily there was a play area because the food took forever and was only so-so), spent the night at NT's mum's house (the kids still had to stay at his dad's because of space issues and that made one of them weepy), got up super early, drove to the car rental place with two emotional kids, dropped the car, lugged our stuff on a shuttle to the airport, waited out a delay, flew to Iceland, got straight on the next plane which was already boarding, flew another 7 hours or so, went through the awful customs line, got a taxi home, and put the by-now hysterical kids straight to bed. That was around 8pm last night, which would have been 2am in England, so they were a wreck (even though they were really good on the plane).

But today was a good recovery day. I almost feel ready to face work tomorrow. Almost. Wink

Paying off 0% credit cards!

July 10th, 2016 at 01:17 pm

One of the ways I was able to pay our tax bill in full was by putting other purchases on some 0% credit cards we had. I probably could have paid them off a month ago, but I wanted to be able to officially say the money had come in to cover the tax (and dental) bills.

Now that the on-paper deficit is wiped out, I feel comfortable paying them off. So I set up the payments today. I have 0% interest rates until early 2017, but I feel more comfortable not carrying debt if I don't have to.

I never counted them in my debt totals because I felt confident I'd pay them off quickly, so this doesn't change the total household debt. But it does feel good!

The total balance we were carrying across four cards was $6,133.07. There are also some new purchases on one of the cards, but I'll pay that in full when the next bill comes, as I typically do with credit card balances.

Another bonus to being done with the tax bill is that we can start maximizing our rewards by using the Target card for Target purchases (5% off each purchase), the Amazon card on Amazon (5% rewards you can redeem toward future purchases), and the Amex for groceries (6% cashback). The cards we were using only had 1%-2% rewards.


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