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Archive for October, 2008

Next step toward goal

October 30th, 2008 at 07:58 am

My credit card payment hit; $233 went to principal. So that's $445 down, $955 to go on the November goal.

I was intrigued by a vague story on CNN about a mortgage rescue plan in Congress right now. They don't know what it might entail, but they mentioned helping people with adjusting ARMs and mortgages that are more than their home's fallen value, both of which apply to me. So I wonder if there will be some legislation that could help me refi or something before the ARM adjusts again next fall. Here's hopin'!

Trying out new accounting technique, etc.

October 28th, 2008 at 10:51 am

I've been playing around with a new way of crunching numbers, courtesy of my friend NJ. He came up with the idea of putting all upcoming income and expenses in strict chronological order (not grouped in semimonthly sets of income and expense as I had been doing) and of showing what the balance would be after each transaction (to see if the account would ever fall short; something that took a little more work with my old method). It's taking some getting used to visually, but I think I like it:

In other news, I'm really busy at work these days since I took on some writing assignments. It's great, but it also means I can't just blog all day. Smile

AS is still waiting for the hammer to officially fall at work, and has been channeling her stress into baking and sewing (lucky me!) She just made me an awesome padded vest, which she also entered in an online contest:



So comfy yet striking. I love it!

We've been planning for our Halloween party, but we can't tell how many people are coming so we're taking it a bit easy on decorations and snacks. It'll still be a great time if only the people who RSVP'ed come, but we're not going to knock ourselves out completely. So we're planning on making buckeyes, cupcakes, spinach dip and rye bread, and corn fritters with store-bought salsa. Then we've got an easy apple-cinnamon punch recipe and a recipe for black vodka martinis that we'll just print out and let people make their own. For decorations, we'll recycle whatever's left from last year plus add some crepe streamers.

For my costume, I wanted to do something kind of mean and ripped from the headlines, like last year. I try to be nice 364 days a year, but Halloween is for channeling my bitchy side! Last year I was zoned-out Britney Spears from the VMAs, and this year I'm going to be Ashley Todd, complete with "Wanted" poster for a gigantic black man! It should be relatively easy to put together this week--I just need a dark wig and some makeup to make the black eye and the carved "B."

I'll probably go shopping for it Friday after work. I just hope it warms up a bit this weekend--this morning it was 27 degrees! Frown

Second step toward November goal!

October 27th, 2008 at 09:35 pm

What do you know--I checked AS student loan #2 on the off chance the payment had hit, and it had! $132 went to principal, so now it's $212 down, $1188 to go on the November goal.

First step toward November goal

October 27th, 2008 at 08:50 pm

UK credit card payment hit; approximately $80 went to principal.

Hmmm...payment was somewhere around $120-$130. I suspect we've lost our super-low interest rate on that card. But at least we're not paying $50 per month to transfer money over there; the UK income covers minimum bills.

Well, anyway, that's $80 down and $1320 to go on the November goal. Oh yeah, and AS is definitely getting a full paycheck next month, so I'll be able to put extra toward debt.

$41,579 to go on the Big-Picture Goal, though I feel obligated to mention that I shifted about $4K of CC debt over by paying it off with excess student loan money. So it won't be quite as exciting when it goes under $40K this month, but I won't be complaining either. Smile

October net worth update

October 22nd, 2008 at 08:15 am

Assets:
NT's pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
10,725 pounds ($21,450)
NT's 401(k): $2,215
AS's 403(b): $2,649
CJ's 401(k): $20,813
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $170,000
---
Total Assets: $491,627

Total Debt: $415,683

Current Estimated Net Worth: $75,944

September 2008 estimate: $88,353

Change in net worth: -$12,409

Summary: We paid off more than $3,000 in debt, but my 401(k) tanked more than that. And I finally decided to bite the bullet and list the U.S. condo at its probable market value, so we lost another $12K there. NT lost about $50 in his U.S. 401(k), but AS's retirement fund miraculously gained a tiny bit in value. It's a well-managed fund--the only thing we'll miss about her job! Smile

Anyway, it's our first loss in net worth since I started tracking, and it looks bad. But I have faith in our condo and my 401(k) to eventually rebound.

Note on the numbers above: House value estimates are conservative, and retirement totals don't include amounts currently unvested. I don't have a way to check NT's UK pensions, so their values stay static for the purpose of this update.

Now I know why...

October 21st, 2008 at 09:47 am

...Ned Flanders on the Simpsons considered insurance "a form of gambling"!

We just got info on our healthcare options at work. It ain't good--they're getting rid of the plan I'm currently on, and I can either get on another high-deductible plan with a Health Savings Account (HSA) instead of a Flex Spending Account (FSA), or I can go to a high-monthly-premium, low-deductible plan that still has an FSA attached.

Well, I hate flex spending--last year I had a bunch left over and ended up getting designer sunglasses; this year my doctor prescribed some lab tests right away, and I blew through my flex money in January and have been paying with post-tax dollars ever since. So you'd think the HSA would be the obvious choice. I can carry over what I don't use, it's tax-free--it's much better than FSA in a lot of ways.

BUT--I'd love to have tax-free savings for whatever comes up, and the max you can contribute is $3000--coincidentally your out-of-pocket maximum for the year. However, that maximum doesn't factor in teeth and eyes--and with the dental stuff I had done this year, I'd love to have enough HSA money to cover worst-case scenario PLUS dental worst-case PLUS vision worst-case. But I can't.

Oh well. If I went with the low-deductible plan and kept my FSA at its current, my paycheck's going down $80 either way. I guess HSA is better.

November goal

October 20th, 2008 at 05:00 pm

Aiming low to be sure I hit it: I want to pay at least $1400 off by 11/30. That's a bit more than the expected minimum. But, as momsents said, depending on when AS's regular paychecks stop, I may be able to do an extra payment and exceed this goal by a lot.

Reached October goal!

October 20th, 2008 at 02:30 pm

My big personal loan payment hit, and $3087 ended up going to principal. Yeehaw! My goal was to pay off $3000, and instead we paid $3393 this month.

Love these big months! My November goal is going to be very conservative because I'm not sure of our future income, but this was a satisfying month.

Spreadsheet (for momsents) & layoff news

October 20th, 2008 at 11:13 am

OK, here's a slice of my budget spreadsheet, hope it shows up...

You can't see the lines of the spreadsheet, but basically I have one column for dates, one for description and one for the amount (plus or minus). Then for each section, if you select the numbers you want added up and then hit "Sum" under formulas and then return, it gives you the subtotal for that set of numbers.

EDIT: Oh, and I cut several lines out so it would be shorter, and I realized I cut the header "MINUS NOVEMBER FIRST TO FIFTEENTH." But you get the idea...

On to the layoffs: AS finally got word that she is being laid off, though she doesn't know what day it will be or anything. It's great news, though it's still rather nervewracking to be laid off even if you've got a plan in place.

I was at urgent care all morning (another stupid UTI), and when I got in to work, there had been layoffs at my company! Luckily I was spared again.

Now I'm just staying at work long enough to be in on a conference call where we're interviewing someone for an article I'm going to write. The manager who informed me of the layoffs said it was great that I was branching into writing, because having more than one bankable skill was a good way to stay secure during tight times. Amen!

Gained more spending money

October 17th, 2008 at 11:04 am

NT recently realized that since he gets free bus passes through work, and could get extremely cheap ones through the university, that he should take advantage of both and give me one set.

I currently get bus passes through my job, and they take the cost out pre-tax, which is a great deal, but not as good as the ones NT can get.

So I've canceled mine (I have enough passes to last me to NT's next semester beginning in January), and NT is going to order a bus pass through the university in early January.

As a consequence, I'm saving about $60 per month immediately, and even when we start buying U passes, that will only be $20 per month.

I know where every dollar goes when we save money; sometimes it goes to extra debt repay, or fun-money savings, or to correct a budget deficiency. But sometimes it must seem like more money never makes a difference to NT and AS, who only see grocery and spending money on a day-to-day basis.

So I decided to give us all a raise in spending money--$20 more per month. We've been at $60 per week per person for awhile, which I realize is very generous compared to most of my frugal buddies, but doesn't go terribly far for us. For awhile, we had extra money that we could "earn" by exercising, but I had to cut that out of the budget, so the straight-up $60 does feel a tad tight.

So the first Friday of each month, we'll get $80 instead of $60. NT and AS are very excited--and I have to admit, so am I!

Photo essay

October 16th, 2008 at 09:49 pm

And now, the pictures that accompany my last post (it was getting so long, I didn't want to add anything to it)...

The vacation hovel in WV (that's me and AS on the porch!):


A shrine to the victims of the mining disaster:


Random beautiful hills in WV:


A view from Skyline Drive, VA:


A fearless deer on Skyline:


Part of the fancy hotel suite in DC (one of the only pics we got in the city, LOL):


Chesapeake Beach, MD (a view of our hotel from the pier):


Random statues at night in Annapolis near a temporary boat show (none of our other pics from Annapolis really came out, so here you go):


Skyline of Baltimore, MD:


View of Fells Point, a picturesque neighborhood of Baltimore, from the water taxi:


A church in Baltimore:


A closer look at Fells Point:


There were so many things I didn't get a picture of, because sometimes when I'm really drinking something in, the last thing I think to do is get out my camera. But this is a pretty good sampling of our trip, I think.

Catching up

October 16th, 2008 at 02:21 pm

I feel like so much has happened in the past two weeks that I would normally blog about as it happened, but what with traveling and being really busy at work, I just haven't had a chance. When I did have spare time I was catching up on reading everyone else's blogs!

I do technically have some work, but nothing that won't wait till tomorrow, so I'm going to indulge myself.

We went on our trip to see family, fall colors and some new places. First we hit Virginia, where we visited my mom, dad, a sister, a nephew and a niece. After that we visited AS's mom, who lives in the same town. Her dad was supposed to show up too (the parents are recently separated), but he didn't and that immediately ratcheted down the tension AS had been feeling. We had a great dinner with her mom and adoptive sister, and AS got tons of high-end material and expensive patterns from her mom, who works in a fabric store and gets deep discounts. We shipped them home to the tune of about $75, but there was seriously at least $1000 worth of patterns and fabric. We could probably sell one piece of cloth on eBay and make up the shipping costs! (Not that AS would let me, but maybe she'll part with some of the patterns...)

Next we went to West Virginia so I could show NT my childhood "vacation home," a ramshackle old house in a valley (or "holler" as it's called in WV), where I whiled away many a lazy summer climbing hills, wading in creeks and making campfires. Another sister lives nearby, so we hung out with her, her husband and kids. They took us to the site of the coal-mine disaster you probably all heard about in early 2006. I was in England at the time, and it made the news there! My brother-in-law works for the same company, so he took us past the mine he works at, and told us a little about how it all works. Then they drove us around for more scenery, my BIL even taking NT and I on the back of a 4-wheeler through woods and hills, where we startled many deer. It was a great time. The scenery in WV is breathtaking.

I got sick the second night we were there. Too much to drink, maybe, or just not used to not having healthy home-cooked meals. But I gradually felt better throughout the day. On the way back to Virginia we took a detour through Skyline Drive, which winds along mountaintops giving you a stunning view of the Shenandoah Valley. We saw many unafraid deer and a bear!

After that we spent a bit more time with my family, then headed up to D.C., where we stayed overnight for the first time ever. I splurged on a very fancy hotel for one night. It was amazing! (I'm still trying to get this pending charge off my checking account from them, but otherwise a truly indulgent experience.) We mostly just hung out in the hotel suite, though we did take short walks to find dinner and then lunch the next day. I almost got sick again after the dinner! I think I ate too fast and the food was a little saltier than we're used to. I can't believe I've got such a delicate stomach now. AS was also having digestive problems throughout the trip, either due to all the eating out or her new heart meds.

Thursday we drove to Chesapeake Beach, a small town in Maryland on the Chesapeake Bay. We stayed at a hotel that had a spa, and I got my first facial! AS got a mud wrap for the first time, and NT got a good old-fashioned massage. A little teenage girl who worked there slightly scratched our rental car and was in hysterics, but I called the rental company and made sure it was covered, then let her off without giving me her info. She'd just gotten her license and car, and I was glad she was able to learn her lesson about careful driving early, cheaply and relatively painlessly!

That night we drove up to Annapolis and had amazing Thai food, and walked around their gorgeous downtown.

Friday we dropped the car off and took a cab to Baltimore to stay two nights. Even though I lived near Baltimore most of my life, I never thought to explore past the aquarium. We were pleasantly surprised at how pretty, friendly and bustling it was. And we had no trouble finding wonderful food for every meal. We took a water taxi, walked around the different neighborhoods and had drinks at a couple bars. We found a vegetarian restaurant that we really wish was here in Minneapolis, Liquid Earth. We heard a meat-eater customer tell the owner that their veggie reuben was better than the real thing!

Too soon, it was time to come home. Still, it was nice to come back to our beautiful condo and be able to cook for ourselves again.

It was a really interesting vacation; full of contrasts from rural to urban, comfortable family time to exploring new places, roughing it to living large. I totally recommend this method, except we got sick of all the packing and unpacking as we never stayed anywhere for more than two nights.

AS (as well as NT and I) was so glad to be places that were more racially diverse. Minneapolis is, but life can get really segregated, where you work with 95% white people if you work in certain professional fields. For AS it can get lonely and for me, coming from VA, NY, GA, it's just very odd. West Virginia, Chesapeake Beach and Annapolis were fairly "white," but D.C., Virginia and Baltimore were full of the diversity AS and I miss so much.

I didn't track spending on this trip, but figured it all out when we got back, and we went about $150 over budget. Only averages out to $5 per person per day, but it really adds up! Still, we had more than enough in our grocery budget, and since most of the overspending was on food, voila! Problem solved. Smile Still, I'm tracking spending next vacay, because the last one we went on we came in way under, and I'm convinced the tracking helped.

We got to talk to people from all walks of life (East Coasters are much more outgoing with strangers than Midwesterners, in my experience) in the midst of a very strange political season. We started our vacation right as the financial crises started to get really crazy. We talked to Dems, Repubs and independents, and I really came away feeling determined to try and purge partisan rancor out of my bloodstream, because most folks, even people whose political beliefs I think are way off, just want the best for themselves, their friends and family, and their country.

Soo, now we're back! We're planning a Halloween party for Nov. 1, still waiting to hear the official word on AS's layoff, getting better at the new household order now that NT (the homemaking guru) is in class all the time, etc., etc., etc.

Small step forward, bigger step back

October 15th, 2008 at 09:06 pm

Wow, it's been a long time since I posted! I was on vacation Oct. 3-12, lazed around the 13th, and have been really busy at work the last couple days. I'll post some vacay photos when I get a chance, but right now I've got financial business.

AS's student loan hit, with $58 going to principal.

However, we got the first statement on one of her deferred student loans, payment due 10/26. Turns out that one had some interest ($577) that capitalized into principal. So overall we've been set back $519.

But it's not that bad; we also got a student loan refund of about $980 from NT dropping one of his classes. I'm going to put it toward my personal loan. So we won't miss our monthly goal or anything, but since that payment won't hit for another couple days, for now it's a step back.

So we're back at $306 down and $2694 to go.

Several payments toward October goal

October 1st, 2008 at 09:58 am

My credit card and all four mortgage payments hit today.
CC: $238 toward principal
US mortgage: $300
UK mortgage #1: $143
UK #2: $30
UK #3: $32

That's $825 down, $2175 to go on my October goal.

And $44,746 left on my Big-Picture Goal.

I'm a little upset because my principal payment on the U.S. has been going up gradually all these years, but I just peeked ahead at next month's, when my payment and interest go up, and it says only $269 will go toward principal, $31 less than this month!

I thought principal would continue to go up steadily, since it's still a 30-year mortgage. What gives?

On the good-news side, it turns out NT will get $100 for his voiceover work! Not bad for half an hour of his time.