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Archive for April, 2010

$7K in play

April 30th, 2010 at 05:13 pm

I extrapolated out my new paycheck prediction, and I concluded that we could pay off the credit card this year and have $7000 of budget surplus to use for other purposes.

Of course I need about $1500 to accomplish my other two 2010 goals of paying off the stove and saving $700 for Xmas, so that leaves $5500.

Still, that means we can get some other stuff done this year. I asked NT what he thought we should do, and he said he didn't have any plans because he assumed we wouldn't have any extra money.

Well, now we do! I'll probably look into consulting with lawyers and financial planners, and NT is going to see about getting a new sofa (as AS probably won't have any spare time to finish the reupholstery anytime soon), screening in the balcony, decorating and furnishing AA's nursery, or other home-improvement things that he can think of. The surplus will be coming in gradually throughout the year, so we just need to decide what order we want to do things. I just want to accomplish my three goals above by the end of the year (November-December), so we can do some of the other things first.

I think this surplus should be used to get things in order, legally and around the house, so there hopefully aren't any gaping pressing needs next year. That way 2011 can be spent attacking AS's student loans, increasing retirement, contributing regularly to charities and nonprofits, and saving up for a second baby. At this point we have a pretty big surplus every month, but it's not enough to do everything at once, so we have to be strategic and just tackle a couple things at a time.

My $7K surplus this year is just a guess, but it's an educated and I think fairly conservative estimate. There may be more because of AS's and NT's plans for bringing in extra income through some side hustles.

More debt payments + HR & CC annoyance

April 29th, 2010 at 05:26 pm

My credit card payment ($82 to principal) and one of AS's student loan payments ($59) hit. so $141 more paid to debt. The April total is $4113! Very nice month indeed.

I checked my payroll info for tomorrow's direct deposit paycheck, and it looks like they STILL haven't begun taking out dependent-care flex spending! I wrote to the HR guy; should hear back in a few days (grumble) since everything takes forever with him.

Managed to rejigger my paycheck estimates upward AGAIN based on this check, though it still isn't an accurate check because of flex spending and a couple minor temporary adjustments. So I still don't know what my normal paycheck will look like. I think I have one more chance, if they get my next one right, to see what a normal paycheck amount will be, because after my next check, I start taking some unpaid leave until July, and that's going to make it impossible to know what tax withholding, 401(k) and everything else will be on a regular full check.

So I've been trying out using my Visa card for purchases to build up rewards points, since I'm nearly CC-debt-free, trust myself not to charge up stuff I can't pay off, and only just noticed my card even has a reward program. But I'm already a little frustrated. I've been trying to keep receipts (and collect NT's from him when he uses the Visa), then make a payment every few days to pay off what we've charged so far. But I seem to be about $50 short on my calculation based on the CC account when I logged in to that today. There are pending transactions, and unlike my checking account, there is absolutely no info available as to what the pending charges are. So I'm left to wonder: Did I just lose a receipt? Is there a finance charge of some kind that I'm not aware of on this CC? Is it fraud? I just have to wait until the pending transactions actually show up in the account before I can see where the disconnect is between my calculations and the actual amount. So if this situation doesn't turn out well, not sure I'm going to use the card regularly anymore. We'll see.

In other money news, AS has taken another freelance assignment ($500 or so) and NT is planning on selling some of his LP records and donate the proceeds to the communal good. Oh, and AS's boss confirmed she's getting a raise in July and that it will be quite nice. So it's looking better and better that we'll be able to accomplish all our stated 2010 goals AND maybe dive into the additional goals I laid out a couple weeks ago! That would be exciting indeed. I'd love to meet with a tax lawyer before UK tax season (October). And it would be great if we could screen in our balcony before the summer's over. Heck, depending on how nice my and AS's checks end up looking in the second half of the year, we might knock off ALL our additional goals and start tackling AS's student-loan debt this year instead of next. But I'm getting way ahead of myself. Wink At least contemplating the positive possibilities has lessened my irritation at HR and my credit-card company.

Unexpectedly got credit score

April 28th, 2010 at 09:47 pm

I was checking my Amex account to see if my credit-card payment had posted yet (it hadn't). Then I noticed a link to get a complimentary credit report AND SCORE. I haven't actually seen my score in a while because it costs money, and I realized I hadn't requested my report in awhile.

I proceeded cautiously, reading all the terms and conditions to make sure they weren't signing me up for a monthly subscription that I had to opt out of. Not that I could tell--just a free report and score from Experian. Weird!

Anyway, I found out I have seven open credit accounts. That seemed high, but when I looked at them I realized it was correct.
* I have the Amex one, which I'm keeping open until I pay it off.
* Then I have a Chase Platinum which I use to rent cars (and have recently started using for other things to rack up reward points, paying it off within a week or using) because it has liability coverage for car rental.
* I have another Chase Visa that I don't use anymore, but I've kept because the interest rate stayed decent (my others are crazy high), in case I ever do need to go on credit again (here's hoping not!).
* Then I have a Discover card that I opened to put a trip on 0% interest (paid it off before I was charged a cent of interest); I've kept that open meaning to charge something on it because I can get some money back if I use it a bit more. (I should either go ahead and do that or just close it.)
* I have a Sears card that I use for big appliance purchases, because I can buy them and let the balance sit with no interest and no payments for a year. (I've done that with a dishwasher and a fridge, and right now I've got a stove purchase sitting on the card that I'm planning to pay off by November, before the interest hits.)
* Then I have my bank overdraft line of credit, and
* My mortgage.

Yep, that's seven all right!

How many of these would you continue to keep open? I could see closing the Discover card, the Amex and one of the Chase Visas. I like the convenience of the Sears card and the overdraft LOC, and of course I can't get rid of my mortgage. My other Chase card has a $16K limit, which seems like plenty to have available. But would you keep the others open to keep the credit score high?

Because...the score they gave me was 805! I think that's the highest I've ever been, so I must be doing something right. Which makes me think I should just leave all the accounts open. I'm not a score fanatic though, so would a small ding (if it happened) really matter in the long run?

Student loan payment; starting to book UK trip; etc.

April 27th, 2010 at 04:30 pm

One of AS's student loan payments hit; $117 went to principal. That brings our April debt payment to $3972! We have a credit card payment and a student loan payment scheduled for the 28th, so it looks like we'll pass the $4K mark this month. Yee haw!

I booked our UK flights for October. $3,397.75 for three adults and an infant (in lap). Shudder. The Labor Day flights I wanted were $1000 more total! We still need to book trip insurance and a rental car, but luckily no hotels as there are lots of nice friends and eager grandparents willing to put us up for this trip. And hopefully we'll eat in people's homes most nights; even if it's takeaway it'll save us some dough.

Yesterday I signed up for Freecycle and gave away a nice (but scratched up) Ikea table that AS used as a cutting table in the sewing room. Little AA's room is looking more her own as we gradually move the sewing supplies out and her stuff in. She got a nice dresser and high chair from some friends of ours recently, and packages of cute blankets, books and clothes from my sister and NT's stepmom.

Today I may try to Freecycle an extra Diaper Genie and maybe list some fabrics on Craigslist. But not now because AA is calling!

April 2010 net worth update

April 21st, 2010 at 04:48 pm

First, some fun news. Little Miss AA has a positive net worth of $238! We haven't even begun trying to save anything for her--we need to clean up our own finances much more first--but her UK grandpa gave her $210, and NT's office had a baby-name pool where the winner decided to hand the $28 prize over to the baby!

I don't think I'll be tracking her net worth as part of ours, since of course she'll be making her own way someday. But I thought it was neat that she already has some money to her name. We hope to teach her to be a saver (and a smart spender) early on so she doesn't make as many youthful mistakes as we did.

Anyway, on to our net worth.

Assets:
NT's UK pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
14,721 pounds ($29,442)
NT's 401(k): $8,247
AS's 403(b): $3,237
AS's IRA: $1,682
AS's 401(k): $328
CJ's 401(k): $34,388
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $8,304
---
Total Assets: $520,128

Total Debt: $367,489

Current Estimated Net Worth: $152,639

March 2010 estimate: $147,011

Change in net worth: +$5,628

Summary: We paid off a big chunk of debt and had some nice gains in our retirement accounts. Oh, and I did some research on our home's value and am fairly satisfied that $160K is still a valid number. If we had to offload it in a hurry, we'd probably have trouble getting that amount, but if we had time to fix it up and let it be listed for a while, it would eventually sell at that price, I believe. Since we won't need to sell any time soon, I'm going to leave it at that value.

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 fairly 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.

Huge CC payment and April goal met!

April 20th, 2010 at 03:29 pm

I managed to put $1800 to the principal balance of my credit card, and the payment hit the account today!

That makes $3855 of debt paid in April, far exceeding the $2190 goal. And that last CC balance is down to $5197.

I was able to do this because, even though I didn't get a schedule of paycheck amounts, I did get a calendar of what maternity leave days are paid and which are unpaid. I had calculated my budget as if all days off were unpaid, so that added quite a bit to the budget. I tried to be a bit conservative in my new estimates since they still are educated guesses. Maybe I'll end up having a little more in the budget each pay period!

Progress on debt and other stuff

April 16th, 2010 at 12:42 am

So many of my titles are boring and similar, but I've never been good at short and snappy. :-)

A student loan payment for AS hit, and $85 went to principal. $2055 down, $135 to go on the April goal. That may go up soon, because my paycheck was much higher than calculated. Since I don't know exactly how much each will be, I estimate low. For instance, I calculated this last pay period as if I'd only get paid for the days I worked, even though I had some short-term disability coming, as well as some PTO to use. So I'm moving my budget around a bit and may come up with an extra principal payment to the credit card.

I also put some of it aside for the UK trip. I swear the other day I was able to find a trip for under $3300 with travel insurance, but recently I've only been able to find fares for $3390 without, so more like $3650 with insurance. Yikes! I think before I wasn't calculating AA's fare, and maybe some nice deal got snatched up in the days between searches. Because now the fares have been holding steady for a week. And yes, I've checked from different computers, not logged in to the travel sites, to make sure they aren't jacking up the price because of my browsing history. ;-)

On the upside, the tix I'm finding are ideal times, nonstop flights, and I would only be able to save less than $200 total by losing a day (either by different takeoff date or long layover). There are no redeye nonstop flights so I don't even have to consider that.

On the downside, consider this head-scratcher: A friend told me she got a United Airlines trip to Bulgaria, with layover in London/Heathrow, for $1000 per ticket. Yet when I search on United's Web site, I cannot find any nonstops to London/Heathrow. But I know they go there nonstop, because that's where my friend's layover is!

Anyhoo.

I'm overall tired but extremely happy with life today. Working two days per week has been really good, because it gets me acclimated to leaving AA with someone else. Even though I'm relieved to not be taking care of her alone 5 days a week, the maternal instinct is pretty strong and I'm a bit agitated by the end of the day, rushing home to see her! So good to get used to this before we start sending her to daycare 5 days a week. And knowing she's with NT is a comforting thought. (He's been absolutely loving his two days per week with her!) But he spoke to our daycare lady, and it sounds like she's really excited to have an infant again. So I think AA will be in loving hands when she goes there. We're probably taking her to meet the daycare lady this weekend.

My HR at work is being typically dumb. They've always said they would only use currently accumulated PTO for my parental leave. Then, they send me a calendar that uses up ALL my leave for the year! I have to request them to save me some for my fall trip, and suddenly they can't do that (even though the HR lady called me to ask my preference of using my PTO just days before). But they said I could take the pay now, and an unpaid vacation in the fall. You better believe I'm getting that in writing from the highest level before I book $3650 worth of plane fare!

Also in the same calendar, they had me coming back to work a week earlier, which scared the bejebus out of me because I'd booked our Va. trip for that week. E-mailed them and it was just an error. I'd sent them my calendar and reiterated my dates countless times!

Then, they've always promised me a schedule of paycheck amounts. Now, they say I won't be getting one. Which makes it very hard to calculate my budget for the rest of the year and see if I can afford things like the screened-in balcony or hire a lawyer/financial planner/tax professional, let alone when I can expect to pay off my credit card debt or begin contributing to charity.

In addition, I noticed on my last paycheck they STILL hadn't taken out childcare flex spending, so I checked and it's not showing up on the HR site that I opted for any, even though it was on the same form as enrolling AA in my healthcare--which they have done. I e-mailed a top guy in DC and he said he'd "get right back to me on that"--that was Wednesday morning, and no further word so far, even though I e-mailed him again today.

I'm so sick of having to hold their hands and tell them everything 50 times before it's done right. Yes, I know my situation's a bit more complicated, but they give every indication of understanding me the first time and then just don't double-check their own work, so it's riddled with errors! I guess as a proofreader it bugs me even more.

But, other than that, life is very, very good. AA pretty much sleeps through the night with one feeding halfway through, which isn't too bad really. And, she has begun to smile at us sometimes--real ones, not just in her sleep! It's unbelievably charming. She can also control her head much better and spends more time awake and calm, just looking around. In other good news, NT only has 5 more weeks of class, then he's done until the fall! That will help the level of tiredness and busy-ness in the household immensely. I feel nearly recovered from the surgery--I'm not going to start doing ab exercises or anything, but I can take walks, carry AA for long stretches, sit up in bed, twist sideways and bend over without having a setback. I only take Ibuprofen occasionally, and my last Vicodin was a week ago--and that was after a very active day, and was more of a nice-to-have than a necessity.

With things going so well, we're talking with certainty about AS trying to get pregnant next year! Two is our goal, so if all goes well, our little family should be complete by 2012! Well, unless we get a doggy someday when we move to a real house. ;-)

Random updates & link to op-ed

April 7th, 2010 at 07:26 pm

Oh good grief, lost another entry! Well, let's see if I can remember some of what I wrote...

This is my first day back at work (I'll be working two days a week most weeks until July), and it's really strange being apart from AA. But NT is home with her, so it wasn't as hard as it will be when we send her off to daycare! But I have photos up on my computer and I keep staring at them, missing her more than I thought I would.

Not much happening financially. I already used up my flex spending account, except for a couple bucks, and I have tons of receipts unreimbursed, so I'll send in one of those to get the last few dollars out. I once again underestimated my out-of-pocket expense for the year. I've grossly underestimated every year except one, when I put too much aside and ended up having to buy really expensive prescription sunglasses in order to not lose the money at the end of the year. I wish there was a better system that was less like gambling; like why can't you get your remaining funds back at the end of the year as taxable income, or be able to keep your leftover money for future years as you can with health savings accounts? I wonder if this is yet another stupid thing that only happens in the U.S., like having to pay for incoming cellphone calls...

I recently did a little research because I was wondering if it was really financial beneficial for me to be breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding, since we bought a really good pump for $300 and I needed a prescription ointment that cost $55. Plus, we have to buy storage bags and possibly pads for my bra, although these things aren't very expensive.

I concluded that formula costs approximately $120 per month, so if I breastfeed for at least 4 months, it will work out cheaper. Also, if AS uses the same pump when she has a baby, and if we're able to sell the motor after that, average cost will go down even more.

Oh, and here's that op-ed: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/06/opinion/06herbert.html
We at SavingAdvice likely don't need reminding, since there are so many military families represented here, but I thought it was a really good piece.

Big payment to credit card!

April 2nd, 2010 at 02:28 pm

Yay, my $1225 extra payment to the credit card hit the account! $1970 down, $220 to go on the April debt goal.

That felt good! The credit card balance is now below $7000 and I feel more positive about getting it paid off by the end of the year, although I want to see what my reduced paychecks are going to look like before I completely relax.

Last night, I actually had a dream that I paid it off and was able to eliminate the "credit card/personal" category from my spreadsheet. That's right, I dreamt about my spreadsheet. (Nerd!) Also, in the dream, I believe the category was called "Weird debt." Very apt!

Oh, this stupid site upgrade! April debt progress

April 1st, 2010 at 04:23 pm

Dammit, when will I learn my lesson and copy my entries before trying to post? I'm still having problems with the new site, including getting logged out at random points, but the most annoying is definitely when I write an entry and then lose it.

Oh well, just wanted to post progress on my debt repayment:
US mortgage: $378 went to principal
UK #1: $256
UK #2: $54
UK #3: $57

$745 down, $1445 to go on the April debt goal.