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Archive for March, 2010

Goals without target dates + question about charitable donations

March 31st, 2010 at 04:39 pm

There are a number of financial goals, or other goals that require money to accomplish, that are sort of stacking up, but our 2010 goals are already pretty aggressive considering the uncertain nature of our income and expenses this year. So they're sort of floating around in our minds and we bring them up once in awhile, but we don't know when we'll be able to fit them into our budget. Maybe later this year if our other goals go really well; if not, they'll become priorities for 2011.

I thought I'd list them so they're all in one place and it'll be easier to prioritize them if we do get to a place where we can address one or more of them. No particular order at present...and most money estimates are really rough.

* Consult financial planner about retirement, college savings ($200?)
* Consult CPA about UK & US taxes ($200?)
* Consult lawyer about how to secure AS's parental rights ($200?)
* Consult lawyer to set up wills, living wills, etc. ($200?)
* Begin contributing to charities (goal $150 per month)
* Get balcony screened in (approx. $1200)
* Get floor cleaned (approx. $85)
* Get floor "renewed" (approx. $1000)
* Look into FHA loan modification for mortgage (approx. $15K underwater)
* Paint & finish decorating/setting up AA's bedroom ($300?)

I may come back to this entry and add things as they occur to us...or maybe I'll start a separate blog page. I don't really want to overload my sidebar any more than it already is!

Oh yeah, and my question: Those of you who categorize your budget in order to make sure the ratios are acceptable to you, how do you categorize charitable contributions? For my working budget, my categories are: Mortgage/Utilities/Telecom, Debt Repayment/Savings, Spending/Entertainment/Travel, and Household/Groceries/Healthcare. I also recently looked at my total budget (including stuff that's taken out of our paychecks pretax) and broke everything down into three categories: needs, wants, and long-term savings/extra debt repay. Where would charitable donations fall in either of those scenarios? I mean, it's not a need, in that I don't need to contribute to survive, but in a cosmic sense, it is really a need that we try to make the world a better place for AA to live in.

Reached March goal! Debt goal for April

March 31st, 2010 at 03:22 pm

My credit card payment hit and $140 went to principal. That means we passed the March goal of paying off $1130, with a total of $1221 paid toward debt.

I also booked our plane tickets for the Virginia trip in late June. $1059.66 including trip insurance for three nonstop tickets, leaving and returning at reasonable hours (didn't think we could handle a red-eye on our first trip with baby AA). I'm OK with that amount. I checked out UK fares for August but couldn't find an acceptable flight for under $1400 per person! Soo, think I'll hold off and desperately hope that rate goes down. Especially since we'll probably also purchase an infant fare so we don't have to hold AA on our laps for 8+ hours...

I decided what to do with the extra money AS brought in plus the flex spending and unplanned-for paid parental leave that NT informed me about. I'm putting aside some for vacations, so I now have $1000 spending money for Virginia and $3300 for buying UK tickets (really hope that'll be enough). We're accumulating funds in the UK checking account to buy rental car, hotel room or whatever else we decide on the make the UK trip more pleasant. So as long as we find affordable airfare, I consider our trips to be fully funded.

I also put some of the extra money into our dwindling medical and baby expense fund. Well, the part that sits in our checking account was dwindling; we still have a large chunk in savings, but I don't want to touch that as long as we can cashflow our expenses. So I made sure we now have $1000 sitting in checking for those expenses.

I had $1225 left over that's immediately available (some money will come later, as it came from adjusting NT's predicted future paychecks), so I'm sending that off to the credit card. Which makes our April debt payment target much more exciting than it was going to be:

Our April goal is to pay off at least $2190 of debt.

Beginning balances:
Credit card/personal: $8,222
Home/mortgage: $287,730
Education: $75,392
TOTAL HOUSEHOLD DEBT: $371,344

More progress on debt and more good money news

March 30th, 2010 at 05:54 pm

Another of AS's student loan payments hit the account, with $59 going toward principal. $1081 down and $49 to go on the March goal. My credit card payment should hit tomorrow and finish off the goal.

In addition to AS's $1325 freelance check she received yesterday, NT got $130 in flex spending reimbursement. He also e-mailed me about how many of his parental-leave days off will be paid via vacation or sick pay. I'd calculated that all his days would be unpaid for the purposes of budget planning, so this gave us about $1200 more than planned over the next few months. So this gives us about $2650 to put toward either vacation spending, debt repay or medical expenses. Pretty exciting! I'm tempted to put the lion's share on the stupid credit card, which I haven't been able to deal a really ugly blow to in a while.

Some of my paychecks will also be more than calculated since some of my maternity leave will be funded with vacation and sick pay; since I don't know how many days I've accrued, I calculated all the days as unpaid to be safe. Once I get a schedule of estimated paychecks from work, I should have more money in the budget than I do now.

I got my official doctor approval to return to work two days a week starting next week! My main restriction is on heavy lifting, and there will actually be less of that at work than at home, so I'm not worried. NT will be home with AA those two days; he's been really busy with work and school, so he's looking forward to getting to spend more time with her.

AS is going on a business trip for four nights next week. It's going to be so weird; we just never spend any time apart! This will probably be the longest chunk of time apart in over 10 years. But I'm excited for her to get some decent sleep and hopefully come home refreshed. And it should be an interesting trip, going to a writers and publishers conference.

Now that my return to work is approved, I know our schedule for sure these next few months, so we can go ahead and start planning our two trips for the year, Virginia in June/July and England in August/September. I'm a little worried that traveling will be hard but excited for our families to meet AA.

That reminds me, I need to get photo albums together for my and AS's moms. We're sending that as belated b-day presents (both our moms have late-March birthdays). That will be one of my projects this week.

Progress on debt repay

March 29th, 2010 at 04:22 pm

Crap, lost a big long entry. Oh well, it was mostly whining about my slow recovery, which no one needs to hear. All I really meant to write about was progress on my debt payment: $121 went to one of AS's student loans, making it $1022 down, $108 to go on the March debt repayment goal.

Also deciding what to do with a $1325 freelance check AS got in the mail...I probably will put part toward the Va. trip, part to baby and health expenses, and some to the last credit card. But I haven't decided how much money to apply to each yet.

Update: recent photo of AA...

Loong post: OT rant and comparing our finances to the US median

March 25th, 2010 at 08:09 pm

Is this really going on in my own country?

Ugh, I'm watching news about all the death threats and racist/antigay epithets directed at members of Congress and their children and spouses. Horrifying. And worse that Republican politicians will not stop the incendiary speeches long enough to strongly condemn these actions. I feel an assassination attempt coming. I mean, if your politicians are telling you that the Democratic tactics are illegal, and you've got violence-prone people posting politicians' addresses online, how long is it going to be? As illegal as I felt Bush's administration's actions to be sometimes, there was nowhere near this level of hostile and threatening rhetoric against him. (People were talking about impeaching him, not killing him.) I wish conservative leaders would show some public solidarity with their opponents -- if there was ever a time to put aside bipartisanship, it's when people's lives are in danger.

Anyway, hoping against hope that I'm blowing this out of proportion in my mind. To take my mind off it, I decided to follow Thriftorama's example and compare my finances to the median numbers in today's Yahoo article. I've quoted the article in each section.

Income

"For the 50 percent of families in the middle of the scale, household income ranges from $51,000 to $123,000 for a typical four-person, two-parent family. The median is about $81,000. Those numbers are from 2008, and have probably fallen 5 to 7 percent since then, on account of the recession. Median income for a single-parent, two-child family is about $25,000."

With three incomes and as a three-parent, one-child family, we're not typical. But just counting our gross paychecks, our income falls on the high side of the scale, well within the range of the four-person family. Delete any one of our incomes and we'd still fall within the range, closer to the middle.

Housing Costs

"For two-parent families, the typical home is worth about $231,000, accounting for $17,600 in mortgage payments and other costs per year. Housing costs have risen by more than twice as much as income since 1990, a trend that may finally be reversing thanks to the housing bust."

The home we live in is probably now worth between $145,000 and $160,000, so way below average. Our housing costs including utilities run about $21,650 per year, so much higher than the median. Just our mortgage and property tax costs us $15,075 per year, a little below the average. Not sure what we're supposed to count here, since utilities are mentioned below. Ours are rolled into condo association dues so are fixed expenses and not reduceable or optional.

We do own another home in the UK worth up to $260,000, and its housing costs are covered by the rental, so you could say that our home worth is way above average.

Home Size

"The housing bubble was one factor that boosted housing costs, but the typical family also lives in a much bigger home. The median size of a new, single-family home jumped by 40 percent between 1979 and 2007, to about 2,300 square feet. That may now be declining, as families downsize and some get booted from homes they can't afford."

The home we live in is about 950 square feet, so well below average. If you threw in the square footage of the UK home just for the heck of it, probably about 600 square feet, we'd still be well below average.

Medical Expenses

"You've probably heard — healthcare costs are going through the roof. A study by the middle-class task force headed by Vice President Joe Biden says the median two-parent family spends $5,100 per year on health insurance and non-covered expenses—assuming an employer provides health insurance. Healthcare costs have risen far more than any other aspect of the family budget since 1990, with no end in sight."

This is pretty accurate for us, although we're a little below the median; fixed health care expenses for us run about $4,100, and could go higher than that, but probably will stay below $5,100.

Cars

"They provide mobility and represent freedom, one reason the typical family spends about $12,400 per year on two medium-sized sedans or the equivalent, with a new-car value of $45,000. The recession may have dampened our love of the road, however: Americans are driving less and car sales are off about 40 percent."

With no car, we're way below average on both the cost of transportation (about $1200 annually for bus passes) and asset value ($0). In addition, not having a car enables us to rent our parking space for $75 per month, which defrays much of our bus-pass costs. While we rent cars from time to time, we allocate that from travel or other discretionary spending; it's not a necessary cost.

College Savings

"The typical family puts aside $4,100 for college expenses for two kids, estimated to cover about 75 percent of expenses at a state university. Financial aid helps with the rest. But if possible, toss more into the college fund: As states face budget crunches, tuition and fees are going up."

Way below this, as we have not started a college fund. We probably won't put a significant amount aside for college unless we quickly catch up on debt and retirement; I consider those to be much higher priority. Note that the Yahoo article advises people to "toss more" into college savings. I'll tell you why I think this is significant in a little bit...

Vacations

"One week at the beach or another destination is standard, at a cost of $3,000 or so for four. More affluent families can afford two weeks, at a typical cost of $6,100."

We take 2 vacations per year, and we tend to spend considerably more than $3,000 per trip, up to $6,000. We've probably averaged $4,000-$5,000 per vacation over the past several years, so we're way above the national median. This is one of our big splurge areas.

Retirement Savings

"A median-income family that saved 3.2 percent of its income—roughly equivalent to the national saving rate—would sock away nearly $2,600 per year for retirement. Of course many families don't hit even that modest goal, and stock-market losses over the last several years have further shrunk the national nest egg."

Currently we save about 5% of our gross income for retirement, but I hope to up this once our year of reduced income is over. Over time I want to increase retirement savings a LOT, though we need to concentrate on debt repayment for another year or two at least.

This section is the reason I highlighted the article's urging to increase college savings: Why on earth wouldn't they strongly admonish people to save way more than $2,600 per year?? I mean, ideally I want to put nearly $3,000 per MONTH aside for retirement. If I can also help our kids pay for college, great, but if I can't, there are other ways to get through college--there's no other way to have a comfortable retirement except to save for it! It's unfathomable to me that this article would especially call out the college savings as not being adequate without saying anything about this really shockingly poor savings rate.

Everyday Spending

"Clothes, food, utilities, entertainment and other living expenses amount to $14,200 a year for a median-income family. Not surprisingly, this is one set expenses many families are trying to reduce, by buying more discount brands, using less or doing without."

Hmm...well, for us, food, entertainment and other discretionary spending (minus travel and condo association fees) is nearly $29,000 per year, so double the median. I guess we really indulge ourselves in this area!

Number of Earners

"In 76 percent of two-parent families, both parents work. The higher the household income, the more likely it is that both parents are contributing."

All three of us have full-time jobs. This gives us more financial leeway, which we wouldn't have otherwise since none of us is in a high-income-potential profession.

Hours Worked

"Few parents will be surprised to hear that Moms and Dads are working more than they used to. The total number of hours worked in a two-parent family is 3,747 per year, up 5 percent since 1990. The increased hours add up to more than four 40-hour weeks of additional work per family."

If I calculate about four weeks off per person per year (counting holidays, vacation and sick leave), we work 5,760 hours per year, or 1,920 per person. If I count only two of us, the figure is 3,840, so a bit more than the median.

Education

"The typical household head has a high school degree plus about two years of college education, up by more than a full year of college since 1990. Good thing—education is a key factor in lifetime earnings, and high school dropouts face a dim future by nearly every measure."

We're above average in this area, since all three of us have high school degrees, I have a BA, AS has a BA and a master's, and NT is in his second year of a BA.

Free Time

"What's your top priority? In a 2008 poll by the Pew Research Center, it wasn't healthy kids, a strong marriage or a great career; 68 percent of respondents said it was free time. (And just 12 percent said it was being wealthy.)"

Free time sure is important, but we have other priorities that are higher (NT's education, additional income-generating activities, childrearing, home cooking). I don't know what the list looks like, but unless it was worded as "what do you want to improve on," I can't imagine putting free time before "strong marriage" or "healthy kids"!

Household Net Worth

"The typical household has a net worth of about $84,000, according to the Federal Reserve. That's down 30 percent since 2007, thanks to losses in stock portfolios and home values."

I'm happy to say that our net worth is much higher than average, thanks to NT's early home purchase and retirement contributions, coupled with our really aggressive debt repay of the past couple years.

Debt

"About 18 percent of disposable income, on average, goes toward mortgage payments, auto loans, credit cards and other forms of household debt. That's a bit higher than it was in the '70s and '80s. But since debt payments peaked at the beginning of 2008, at 18.9 percent of income, they've been steadily falling."

Strange figure to calculate, but here goes. I guess "disposable" means "net" income? OK, our minimum debt payments (including US mortgage but not UK) are $22,500 per year, and our net income (just paychecks, not rental or random freelance income) is $47,400. So our debt payments are 47% of our income. Yikes, that's much higher!

So interesting experiment. We differ from the median in nearly every category, higher in some, lower than others. Not sure it really tells me anything, but it was a fun activity anyway. Smile

March 2010 net worth update

March 24th, 2010 at 05:09 pm

Assets:
NT's UK pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
14,721 pounds ($29,442)
NT's 401(k): $7,895
AS's 403(b): $3,237
AS's IRA: $1,681
AS's 401(k): $217
CJ's 401(k): $33,426
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $8,277
---
Total Assets: $518,675

Total Debt: $371,664

Current Estimated Net Worth: $147,011

February 2010 estimate: $143,201

Change in net worth: +$3,810

Summary: Despite not paying off very much debt, we got a nice bump because our retirement accounts performed well this month. So far we've managed to cashflow all the baby-related expenses, so we haven't dipped into the baby/EF even a little bit! I haven't had a chance to look at sale prices for condos in my building, so I don't know whether I need to lower my estimated value of our place. So I left it as is for this month.

I will update my "Individual Net Worth" page shortly so you can see how it breaks out.

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are conservative. I don't have a way to check NT's UK pensions or flat value, so their values stay static for the purpose of this update (unless I happen to get some info by chance). UK asset values and debt amounts are calculated figuring $2 for every British pound, which was the exchange rate when I started keeping track. I maintain that ratio for the purpose of tracking progress, even though the exchange rate is now closer to $1.60 per British pound.

Prepaid plan costs: first month of second year

March 23rd, 2010 at 10:27 pm

So late March marks the beginning of our second year on three prepaid phones instead of a family plan. We bought some minutes recently:

CJ 1000 minutes T-Mobile fillup: $107.78
NT 300 minutes Net10 fillup: $32.82
Total cost for the year: $140.60

So our average monthly cost for this year is $140.60, since we're in the first month. Obviously, I expect that average to drop considerably over the next few months.

RECAP: I switched to prepaid in late March 2009. We have 2 phones on T-Mobile prepaid and 1 on Net10 prepaid. AS and I refill in 1000-minute increments and only need to refill when we run out or when it's been a year since our last fillup to stay active. NT needs to buy 300 more minutes every 60 days to keep his phone activated.

(Our cellphone bill, for three phones on a family plan, used to range from $80-$95, depending on texts, calls to 411, etc. Usually it was close to $85. My goal for next year is to get my average cost to $50 per month, but any average number below $85 will be a savings.)

Some financial updates

March 16th, 2010 at 04:59 pm

Well, I've managed to keep up with my bills and my budget spreadsheets, but forget having the time to write anything! I already had to take a 10-minute break in this first paragraph to walk around with little Miss AA. We'll see how long she stays asleep now. Smile

OK, financial stuff:
AA had the good grace to be born at the beginning of a slow period in my finances; not much happens between the 2nd of the month and the 15th, so it was easy to keep up on things. Smile

One of AS's student loan payments went through, with $87 going to principal. That makes $901 down, $229 to go on the March debt goal.

I put $25 into the travel fund last week, as well as $1 in interest into the EF. We now have $1265 saved for the Va. trip and $3584 for the UK one. I'm waiting to make sure my doctor will authorize me to go back to work when I planned (hoping the C-section doesn't change that), and once that's confirmed I'll start to look for good deals on tickets.

I've had this small financial problem so boring I haven't even bothered to write about it, but it continues to annoy us. In a nutshell: NT and I opened another account at US Bank to take advantage of a deal where if you put $1000 into savings you got a $50 Visa card, and if you kept at least $1000 in savings for a year you get another one. We transferred the $1000 over right away, and received the first Visa card--for $36 instead of $50.

After weeks of inquiries we finally learned that NT was supposed to have given them a new tax form, which he'll have to do every couple years since he's a noncitizen permanent resident. Since he hadn't, federal withholding was going to be taken out of any interest income (which is what this Visa card counts as). We'd gotten the notice about the form ages ago, but when we went into the bank, whoever helped us thought it was sufficient to enter some data into the computer, and they never had us fill out that form.

Anyway, we filled out the form and got the $14 that had been withheld deposited into our account. Then the monthly interest hit our savings account that we've had for years--only this time, federal withholding was deducted from it. Sigh. Somehow this deal we signed up for has triggered a bigger problem having to do with NT's missing (but now provided) tax form. So now we're going to try filling out the form but with both of us signing it, and see if that fixes the problem. At least we've got an excellent banker working on the problem who's as annoyed with it as we are, so he's good at following up and keeping us informed.

My first paycheck at 60% disability pay hit my account, and it was about twice as much as I expected. I checked my paystub and realized they aren't withholding taxes. I thought about correcting that, but I'm only going to have one more paycheck of disability pay, and I think I've been cautious with my withholding on my regular paychecks, so I'm just going to leave it. Anyway, we could use the money now, and we'll be better able to pay any tax shortfall next year, when we're back on full pay.

I'm amazed AA let me write for this long! I should go ahead and post it rather than pushing my luck. Smile

Quick hello and thank you

March 9th, 2010 at 02:55 am

Hey, it's CJ again. Smile

Just wanted to hop on and say we're back home finally. I've been reading everyone's comments but didn't feel focused enough to write anything while at the hospital. I'm slowly getting back into the groove (including finances) and will be posting soon.

Thank you so much for your comments; they were really great to read while recovering. Smile

More baby pics

March 6th, 2010 at 09:02 pm

This is AS again. Thought I'd post more pictures while Ceejay's taking a nap (she's been really touched by all your comments, by the way!)



May we present . . .

March 6th, 2010 at 04:20 am

Miss AA. 6 lb 9 oz, 19 1/4". Both she and Ceejay are doing great. Smile

Update on Ceejay from AS

March 6th, 2010 at 02:19 am

Hi SavingsAdvicers, this is AS filling in for Ceejay because . . . she's in labor! We're at the hospital right now. We woke up at 4:00am, got to the hospital at 8:00am, and after several hours of contractions and pushing, the doctor's decided to perform a c-section, which we're totally fine with (she's in fact quite relieved. Smile

I or NT will update you with more facts as we have them!

Busy Thursday

March 4th, 2010 at 08:15 pm

Not much to report, moneywise, but I thought I'd post just to say baby's still inside me. Smile Doctor's appointment was routine; my blood pressure and baby's heart rate are good, so we're just still in a holding pattern. Monday is the due date, so we'll see if baby feels like playing ball by then.

I did spot a quarter on the bus this morning, a few rows up. I pointed it out to AS and she scooped it up as we were leaving. Woo hoo!

It's been super busy at work, and I was in late because of the appointment, so I haven't had much time to think about something to post. Tomorrow is my last day of work (unless today is!), so after that I'll have plenty of time to surf the Web. Tonight I'm going to call my insurance company and precertify my hospital stay, and call the hospital and make sure my registration is in the system. And that's the last thing on my to-do list before labor starts.

OK, back to work!

Calculating needs/wants/savings percentages

March 3rd, 2010 at 06:01 pm

I'm still here! I'll try to post something every day until the birth so you'll know whether or not it has happened. Smile

One rule of thumb that gets tossed around a lot on the SavingAdvice forums fascinates me: that generally, a good way to break down where your income should go is 50% to needs, 30% to wants and 20% to long-term savings.

I've also seen it said that extra debt repay beyond the minimums can count toward the savings 20% because it's helping your future.

That's not how I break down my expenses; my categories are Mortgage/Utilities/Telecom, Debt Repayment/Savings, Spending/Entertainment/Travel, and Household/Groceries/Healthcare/Transportation. I like the idea of the simpler needs/wants/savings one even though it breaks things out differently (some of my categories combine wants and needs, such as mortgage payment and Internet access). But I've never gotten around to seeing how this plays out, mainly because my everyday budget calculations are based on take-home U.S. income, not gross of all income. I think you'd need to start with the gross to accurately calculate needs and savings, since some things are taken automatically out of our income and don't show up in the take-home pay.

I've had a slow morning at work (which portends a horrible busy afternoon, unfortunately), so I finally sat down with our paychecks and worked it out. I was worried that needs and wants would be too big and savings/extra debt repay too small.

I was partially right, partially pleasantly surprised. Here's how our budget breaks out:
Needs: 53.37% of gross income
Wants: 22.30% of gross income
Saving/extra debt payment: 24.34% of gross income

So our "needs" category runs a little higher than the ideal, but our "wants" category is much lower and our savings and debt repay is a little higher. So overall, we're doing well.

Of course, our "needs" category is going to get bigger once we start paying for daycare and baby's health insurance. But it will also get smaller as I continue to slowly eliminate debt payments. So in a year or two, I'm hoping the category will get back to this level. The "wants" category I'm comfortable with; I don't feel like we need any more discretionary spending, and I now feel that we're not spending too much in that category when you consider our total income.

Also, if or when we get raises, if we could apply most of it to savings and extra debt repay, that would help our percentages.

In an ideal world, I would like to see the "wants" stay about the same while the "needs" shrink and the "savings" grow. Since we're still in a lot of debt and behind on retirement, I feel we need to keep that category higher than the rule of thumb suggests, at least until I feel we're more caught up.

The next four months are going to look kind of bad as far as the rule of thumb goes: Our reduced income will be taken out of wants and savings, while more will be put into the needs category. I reckon "needs" will grow to about 75% during this period, but I'm not going to make drastic lifestyle changes since I know it's temporary. There's not much we can cut out of "needs" anyway, at least not quickly enough to even out our categories for those four months.

So all in all, that was a fun and fairly encouraging exercise!

Nice progress on my birthday

March 2nd, 2010 at 04:47 pm

I actually forgot it was my birthday when I woke up this morning! But I soon felt special and birthday-girlish, because NT and AS had all my presents lined up on the kitchen island, and the first one was a 45 single of a song that my family would play at everyone's birthday, which was all set up on NT's turntable ready to play. Smile

Anyway, last night I deposited a freelance check from AS and was able to put it all toward travel, so we've got our minimum goal amounts plus a bit more set aside. And two more freelance checks on the way. She got an offer for one more freelance job, and it was a very small one so she accepted (we've agreed she won't take any more full book edits until we're settled into our new routine a bit).

Also, the U.S. mortgage and one of AS's student loan payments hit the accounts, with $376 and $59 going to principal, respectively. So $814 down, $316 to go on our March repayment goal. (The next payment won't hit for two weeks; most of the action happens in the first day or two of the month.)

Debt repayment, savings, etc.

March 1st, 2010 at 04:37 pm

What a weird-feeling day. One week from my due date. One day from my 36th birthday. I have the day off and just feel like sitting around, but I set myself a number of tasks so I'm going to have to get going here soon.

But, one of the things I wanted to do was update my financial info, so this counts toward the day even though I'm still in my bathrobe. Wink

The UK mortgages hit, with $379 total going to principal. $751 to go on the March repayment goal.

There was about 300 pounds left in the UK checking account, so I decided to leave most of it there in checking to put toward our UK trip. (I won't note it in my sidebar, because the $3000 I'm trying to raise is for plane tickets which I'm going to pay for with US funds.) It will be used to rent a car when we visit England. I'll probably keep more out of savings so we can also have a couple of dinners out while we're over there, and buy our own groceries (we'll be staying with various nonvegetarian friends and relatives).

I only have three things to do outdoors today: mail some thank-you cards for the shower and a care package for a sick friend (waiting to get some addresses before I go), pick up a gift certificate for another friend, and get my license renewed. Sucky timing: It expires tomorrow, and I was just going to leave it until after the birth, until I thought that maybe I'll need current ID for hospital, pediatric clinic, etc.? Sigh. So I'm going today and I'll at least have the paperwork that I've applied for a new one. And I'll have a round pregnant face on my driver's license for the next five years. Ah well.

The (controlled) spending continues: We had our birthday meals out, bought a bunch more groceries, and ordered the sewing cabinet this weekend. (AS is moving her sewing operations out into the dining area, and since we have an open kitchen/dining/living room area, we needed something that closed up and looked very neat and tidy when it wasn't in use. About $670, but it came from her business account, so it won't affect us. She had $900 to spend so she did pretty well. She can buy some other minor things if needed to complete the transition out of the nursery into the dining area.

We also started checking for price quotes on a good thorough floor cleaning and/or polish. The floor is just kind of grimy and dull; we haven't done a deep clean on it in years. Plus there are some spots with minor damage from furniture, sun, and in one spot an old stain from a spill of a very sticky substance that got into the veneer before it was detected. No real hurry on this, but we kind of want it at least clean before baby starts crawling around. I got an $85 quote for just a floor washing, $1250 for a "renewal" including polish, but we'll keep looking and see if we get wildly differing quotes from the ones we've got so far. If not, I think just a cleaning; after all, the floor is just going to get worn out again, so I'm inclined not to get it completely fixed and polished until we're ready to move out (years from now). I'd much rather focus on getting the stove paid for and the balcony screened in for next spring (probably can't raise the money in time for this spring).

On the income side, AS got another freelance check. She checked her records and saw that including the one she just got, she's expecting over $2000 in checks in the next week or so. That will all go to the travel fund; rounding out the UK airfare and giving us some spending money for Va. (for food, possibly rental car, maybe a night in a hotel to ourselves). Oh yeah, I should deposit that check today; another thing to do while out!

Another bit of good financial news: We found out that NT's job automatically enrolled him in flex spending last year and this year! We thought you had to opt in, and since he tends not to have any medical expenses we stopped enrolling after 2008, but they kept him on it anyway. $150 for 2009 and $150 for 2010. Why is this good news? We found out just in time to scrape some receipts together and claim the $150 from last year, and now we know to keep receipts for random over-the-counter stuff this year and we'll easily get the $150 back. So we won't lose any money and in fact I can replenish the medical expenses fund for almost all of the cost of the diaper service. Neat!