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Archive for November, 2011

Where do you keep your will?

November 30th, 2011 at 03:12 pm

Now that we've got our wills finalized, notarized and signed, we have to decide where to keep them. The lawyer said the two main choices were a fireproof safe or a bank safe-deposit box. Those of you who have wills, where do you opt to keep them? Are you happy with your choice?

Reached my November debt goal! Plus December debt goal set

November 29th, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Another of AS's student loans hit, $61 going to principal. That means we paid $2043 of debt this month, exceeding our $2000 goal!

That's the last debt payment that will hit this month, so I can go ahead and set my December debt goal. I'm going for a modest $1960 in December.

I forgot to mention in my last post that I made progress on my goal to organize get-togethers; we had a day-after-Thanksgiving gathering with a few friends. I won't hit this goal since I missed one month, but I'll come darn close!

Also, put $25 into savings recently and earned $0.47 in interest, which brings our 2011 EF progress to $2960.03 and our total EF to $11,471.98. Still vaguely hoping to hit the EF goal if NT's rental-management company ever tells us what the cost of redecorating is so we can put any excess into savings. It's doubtful that we'd get to $7000 even then, but at least we'd be closer than we are now, not even halfway to our goal!

Progress on debt goal (sort of); some annual goals reached

November 28th, 2011 at 08:33 am

Well, my Oct. 10 payment to NT's student loan has still not posted. They've repeatedly assured me that they received it and that in terms of interest, they will apply it as if it hit on Oct. 10. Eventually. So I went ahead and sent out another payment last week. It hasn't hit. Of course.

Still, I'm sure they got it, and someday it will post to NT's account. So as not to miss our November goal, I'm going to guesstimate that $1050 went to principal.

Also, one of AS's student loan payments hit, with $123 going to principal. Thank goodness we paid off her Direct Loan account before this new nonfunctioning website launched, or else I'd be tearing my hair out with two accounts not posting payments.

So, I'm saying $1173 went to principal, making it $1982 down, $18 to go on my November debt goal.

This student loan thing is so frustrating that I lost interest in calculating net worth this month. However, I just checked AS's individual net worth, and she's at a positive number: $28!! It's small, but it's a start. We'll really start building it up now. That's another 2011 goal reached!

Speaking of 2011 goals, we hit our $1800 to charities goal a month early! We decided to use some of this extra money coming in to donate.

The only goals I haven't reached are my EF, the Roth IRA (which we'll reach in December), and the creative/social goals where I was required to do something each month. I think next year if I set those types of goals, I won't have the one-per-month requirement, because you have one busy month and you've ruined the goal for the whole year.

Oh, I did finally finish reading the 1300-page "Count of Monte Cristo," so I've done 8 of 12 months in my creative/reading goal. Smile

Desperate times...

November 16th, 2011 at 09:44 am

I'm super busy at work, but NT shared this article with me and I couldn't resist passing it on.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15752918

What do you think is your cheapest meal that you would actually consider eating?

Prepaid phone plan costs update

November 15th, 2011 at 02:29 pm

NT had to buy minutes to keep his phone activated, since he accidentally only bought enough minutes to keep it active it for one month in October.

FY2011 spending so far:

NT's April Net10 fillup (300 minutes): $32.87
AS's May T-Mobile fillup (1000 minutes): $107.78
NT's June Net10 fillup (300 minutes): $33.38
NT's August Net10 fillup (300 minutes): $33.38
CJ's October T-Mobile fillup (1000 minutes): $107.78
NT's Oct Net10 fillup (200 min.=1 month svc): $22.26
NT's Nov Net10 fillup (300 minutes): $33.38

FY2011 total: $370.83

We're in the eighth month of our prepaid "fiscal year," so that means our average monthly cost is now $46.35. Still slightly below our ideal $50-per-month average, so that's good.

RECAP: I switched to prepaid in late March 2009, so our phone "fiscal year" begins each April. 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 ideal goal is to get my average cost to $50 per month, but any average number below $85 is a savings.

Various updates plus super easy veggie side dish

November 12th, 2011 at 03:59 pm

Cross another goal off our 2011 list! We saw our lawyer Friday and, after some discussion and editing, signed our wills, power-of-attorney statements and health care directives. Paid in full as well! We also discussed the adoption of our children, and the lawyer is very excited to get started on it. He's enjoying the intellectual challenge of using existing laws to cater to our unusual situation.

He said he didn't need a retainer yet for the adoptions, which is kind of nice. I've enjoyed having that big cushion in the checking account; makes me feel very secure! I'll be an adjustment next year when it's not there anymore.

We parceled out our extra money to see what we could afford in terms of gifts to our service providers, gifts for parents, etc. Everything looks very good for the rest of the year. I probably won't put any extra to debt except the standard $1000 per month, but I'll try to put a bit more than that in January and February. Then I have to figure out our budget for parental leave, which might involve lower debt repayment for a couple of months.

We've already made the necessary purchases for earning $1500 of gift cards on our new Southwest cards! I paid for some prescriptions, NT bought a restaurants.com gift certificate that we're going to pay in our spending money for, and AS put a meal out on her card (that one will also be paid for with our spending money). Then AS started spending on her Capital One card; we'll get $100 bonus once she spends $500. We went out Friday night to celebrate finishing our estate planning, and we'll pay that with some of our surplus money.

One of the other things we decided to do with our budget surplus was to donate an extra $50 each ($150 total) to charities of our choice. That means we'll hit our charitable goal in November instead of December!

Anyway, on to my super-easy recipe! I found this online because we had some snowpeas that needed using up. You need about (I didn't measure and mine turned out great):

1/2 lb. snowpeas
1 T butter or margarine
1 T lemon juice
Pinch of Italian seasoning
Pinch of garlic powder
Pinch of salt

Melt butter in small dish in microwave and add lemon juice, seasoning and salt. Microwave the snowpeas with a few tablespoons of water, 1 minute at a time until tender and hot but still crisp. Drain snowpeas and toss them with the butter mixture.

Soo good! I like having a number of simple, tasty veggie side dish options. I've noticed most of my favorites involve butter and/or lemon. Smile

Credit card rewards review, good news on job benefits, other news tidbits

November 8th, 2011 at 08:35 pm

MonkeyMama turned me on to the Chase Southwest credit card, which has a deal where you make ONE purchase and get 2 free flights OR $500 in gift cards. There's a $69 annual fee, so you net $431.

We all have or recently had Chase cards, and NT and AS have even been turned down for smaller rewards. But I thought what the heck, this is too good not to try. I wasn't sure who should apply, so I had each of us apply separately.

I applied first and got an immediate note that I had been approved. AS and NT didn't get that note, so I figured they didn't get approved.

Then bam, last night, they got their cards in the mail! So we've got three cards, and after the fees, we'll get $1293 worth of cards for making three purchases!

Time to add up what I've gotten so far and what we will get soon:
Chase Sapphire $1000 Received
Chase Sapphire $1000 Received
Citi MasterCard $150 Received
American Express $15 Received ($100 minus $75 fee minus $10 late fee on 1st payment)
Citi MasterCard $200 Expected
Capital One $100 Expected
Chase Southwest Visa $431 Expected ($500 minus $69 fee)
Chase Southwest Visa $431 Expected ($500 minus $69 fee)
Chase Southwest Visa $431 Expected ($500 minus $69 fee)

Grand total this year, if we get those last 5 as expected? $3758! And that's not counting the 6% statement credits for grocery purchases we get on the Amex card. We easily spend $600 per month at eligible stores, so that means $432 in rewards. Minus $75 annual fee, we'll still get at least $357 per year.

We also get minor (1% to sometimes 5%) rewards on all other CC purchases, but I don't keep track.

Isn't that crazy? My raise was less than $5000 and the income was taxable, so I'm thinking I netted more on CC rewards, on purchases I would've made anyway, than I did from my raise!

***

More good news on the job front, though! We had our benefits presentation and there was lots of good news. For one thing, no premiums going up except for vision coverage, which I don't opt to get. We're getting a new dental provider with more in-network dentists and 100% free checkups and better rates on other dental care.

They announced an initiative to encourage preventative care. If we do 7 things from a list -- all of which are 100% covered -- we'll get $200 added to our flex spending accounts January 2013. It's basic stuff like annual exams, cancer screenings, flu shots, etc. At least 4 or 5 things I would've done anyway, so it's basically $200 for scheduling 2 or 3 extra doctor appointments over the course of a year.

And, most exciting for me, they didn't promise (but I don't think they would've brought it up if they weren't going to do it) but said if they were going to bring back 401(k) matching, they'd announce it in a few weeks. They haven't even mentioned 401(k) matching as a possibility since they took it away about 4 years ago, so I'm hugely encouraged by this! Could be getting one step closer to meeting our desired retirement contribution levels.

***

Other quickie news flashes:

- This Friday we're all taking off work and getting our first carshare to go see the lawyer and sign our wills. We found some mistakes and potentially big omissions, but I emailed them and the paralegal is going to try and get everything fixed before the meeting. We had our lawyer friend look over it (he gave us a great hourly rate, so we've really lucked out in this process) and he confirmed what we thought about what was good and what needed changing.

- I'm not tracking my eating or exercise anymore since I reached my weight goal, but I still have to weigh in once a week to make sure I don't gain it all back. Last Sunday I weighed in and had lost another pound! Down to 138. I wasn't even trying, but I think my renewed housecleaning efforts are paying off with more than just a tidier house.

- AS had her first real ultrasound, where they did all the measurements, and our baby is doing fantastic. All the important stuff checked out; no cleft palate, no sign of Downs, all fingers and toes there, all organs and bones looking good. AS's blood pressure is OK, so they think chance of pre-eclampsia is very remote. The baby is super active, and the tech had to keep chasing it to get the pictures he needed! It was very cute.

- NT's student loan payment is STILL not posting!! It left my bank account Oct. 17. The rep said when it does post, it'll be retroactive in terms of interest; so they'll fix our interest charges as if our payment had hit Oct. 17. It better! We've accrued $5-$8 more than we would have if the payment had hit on time. I want to send another payment next week, but I'm not going to until this one hits.

What else? Oh, I don't know. The holidays are barreling toward us and it feels like a ton of things need to be done, but I feel so busy with regular stuff every day that I'm just not getting to any of it. It's all fun good stuff, though, so I'm not worried. I rarely let the holidays stress me out too much. Besides, if we get these gift cards from Southwest in time, there's Xmas pretty much taken care of!

Small EF progress, minute debt-repayment progress

November 3rd, 2011 at 01:02 pm

$25 went into U.S. savings for the EF, so that's $2934.56 of 2011 progress, and brings total EF to $11,446.51.

Also, AS's student loan account got fixed (accidental payment from someone else's check removed) and it turns out her regular payment put $1 more toward principal than I had estimated. It counts! So that's $809 down, $1191 to go on the November debt goal.

I'm so frustrated that NT's federal student loan payment hasn't posted yet. But I looked around online and it's not just me; the site was nowhere near ready to go live, it seems, and so there are people worse off than me. NT's loan isn't even in repayment yet, so it doesn't matter when his payment posts. There are people whose loans are in repayment and whose accounts are now showing up as delinquent because their payments haven't gone through. The Dept. of Education really screwed the pooch on this transition.

I'm also chomping at the bit to find out how much NT's flat redecoration is going to cost us. There's now nearly 2000 pounds in his UK checking account, but I can't put a cent of it to savings until I find out. With my $2-1pound ratio I use for personal accounting purposes, that would be $4000 of EF progress and would nearly get us to our 2011 goal! Of course it's not going to be nearly that much and that's why we're not likely to hit our EF goal. But even to be able to post some more progress soon would be psychologically gratifying.

Pondering a switch to a credit union

November 2nd, 2011 at 03:10 pm

The CEO of my bank apparently made some callous remarks about surviving this economy at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. I can't find a transcript so I can't tell exactly what it was or whether it's being spun (positively or negatively) by reporters.

But in trying to find more about this meeting, I did find out that he's nicknamed "the Golden Boy of Wall Street" and that my bank is more involved in predatory lending than I realized. (Since US Bank didn't appear in many stories about the mortgage debacle, I assumed they were a more temperate bank in their financial behavior.)

So, I dunno. I've had good experiences with the bank overall, and I'm very used to the online checking system. But I'm uncomfortable that banks think they can do business the way they do and think that no one will take their business elsewhere.

I'm online looking at credit unions, and I think I found one that's not too inconvenient to us geographically. (There are closer ones but we don't meet the membership eligibility -- having to work for a specific company or industry.)

Seems like their checking accounts, ATMS, checks, etc. are free, which would be important (I typically don't pay a dime to do my banking). And your money is protected up to $250,000 -- we only have about $20,000 in checking and savings.

Anyone have any thoughts on credit unions? I've been with my big bank for so many years -- are there any drawbacks or inconveniences you can think of?

Progress on the November debt goal, etc.

November 1st, 2011 at 02:25 pm

All our mortgage payments hit:
US: $433 to principal
UK1: $262
UK2: $55
UK3: $58

All told, that's $808 down, $1192 to go on the November debt goal.

Approximately $182 will come from regular student loan payments, which means I need to come up with $1010 to NT's loan. Hopefully they fix the issue with his payment soon so I can figure out how much I need to send this month to cover accrued interest plus $1010 to principal!

***

Today at lunch I sent the last $1000 of the $2500 we agreed to give AS's mom. She has paid lip service to repaying us someday, but we are considering this a gift, not a loan.

If by chance she pays it back, we'll hold that money aside and be willing to loan her (in the future) as much as she pays us back. Sort of like having an escrow account for her (that she doesn't know about). If she pays none back, this is the last time we'll be giving her money.

***

We've signed up for the carshare service! Did I mention that we applied? Well, we were approved this week. We're using the car to go to our lawyer meeting next Friday. I think that'll be our first time using it. This first month will run over the $90 I'm allotting per month for this purpose, but we've got a healthy surplus in our budget so it's OK. It's running over mainly because of the application fees but also because we're taking the car for a whole day, so we can maybe have a dinner date after the lawyer meeting to celebrate getting this done!

I can't remember if I have any other news off the top of my head, and some urgent work came in, so I've got to run!