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Archive for February, 2012

Comcast raised prices AGAIN!

February 29th, 2012 at 12:30 pm

Ergh! Remember when I downgraded my cable not too long ago because they raised their prices? I swear it was only a few months ... I'm going to check. Anyway, I saved about $25 at the time, I think. But the bill just went up $5! That really burns me. No warning, no explanation, just took an extra $5 out of my checking account.

EDIT: My family will tell you when I'm on a tear, I don't let things go easily! I went through my checking account bill pay and figured out cable prices:

March to December 2010: $85.79
January to March 2011: $82.80 (I believe one of the taxes or other fees went down, but I can't remember)
April to July 2011: $88.11 (random price increase)
August 2011 to January 2012: $70.64 (we downgraded and got rid of all channels above 100, basically)
February 2012: $75.80 (another random price increase)

So basically from January 2011 to February 2012, they raised prices $10.31. We'd be paying $93.11 if we hadn't downgraded. It does seem a lot, doesn't it; to go from $82.80 to $93.11 in a little over a year?

Looking at the itemized bill, it looks like $1 was due to a DVR service increase and the other $4 was an increase of our internet price.

Since we don't have any intention of getting rid of high-speed internet, the only way we could cut down cost now would be to get rid of the DVR ($16.95 per month). Our basic cable is part of our association dues, so there's no way to cut that out. Our internet is $55.95 and taxes are $2.90.

More progress on debt repayment; Feb. results; March goal

February 29th, 2012 at 10:10 am

AS's two student loans hit: $124 & $61 to principal, bringing us to $2886 of debt paid this month. Well above the $2500 goal.

I'm struggling to set my March repayment goal because I've got a couple of different concerns; not knowing how much we owe for taxes, not knowing exactly how much we need to finish preparing for baby, and suddenly seriously considering getting a car later this year. (I've been thinking about it off and on for the past month or two, but I haven't written anything because the reality hadn't really sunk in. Now it's hitting me and I'm not sure how much I should be putting to student loans vs. saving up for these unknowns.)

Since AS got a big freelance gig ($1475) that will probably pay out in March or April, and since we do have until April to pay our taxes, I'm going to still shoot for $1000 more than our minimum debt repayment for March. I really want to get student loan debt under $40,000 this year, and I haven't given up on that goal quite yet. We'll see how I feel when it comes time to set my April goal.

So the March goal is to pay off $1998 of debt.

More on the car dilemma shortly.

Busy days continue!

February 23rd, 2012 at 10:46 am

I feel weird and antsy today. I feel like there's a ton to do, but thanks to my "Getting Things Done" system, everything is either in the calendar or on my task list, or is already handled. I find it strange that I have very little to figure out or do despite such a busy time ahead of me:

- Tonight, dinner party with NT's co-worker and her BF. I did some prep work last night, so cooking tonight shouldn't be very stressful.
- Tomorrow we just need to burn a CD of songs we picked out for a gift for Saturday, and create a CD cover (print out something cute online).
- Saturday, our friends' child's 4th birthday party in the morning, haircuts in the afternoon, and a quick run for beverages in the evening to prep for the next day.
- Sunday, AS's baby shower at another friend's photo studio/office space. We'll have bought drinks the day before, and we're ordering pizzas that I'll pay for from our budget surplus. Once the shower is over we'll need to assess what baby supplies we still have to shop for (Freecycle, then Craigslist, then real stores!)

It seems like we get a small break for a few days, and then in March:
- Friday March 2 is my birthday and we're going out to eat with a group of friends.
- Sunday is AS's birthday, but we'll probably just bring home her favorite Spaghetti Factory dish for her (maybe we'll eat there if she feels like it).
- Monday March 5 is AA's 2nd birthday, so we just need to take (storebought) cupcakes in to her daycare. (Most of her presents are bought or planned; we just need to wrap them.)
- Tuesday is her 2-year checkup. It's in the morning, so I'll take her there before daycare and go in late to work.
- Wednesday is AS's work baby shower. I may or may not be able to attend since it's during the day, so will have to see how my workload looks.
- Saturday March 10 is AA's birthday party. We still need to plan snacks, party favors and/or games for that, but we have a while.

After that, our schedule is mercifully clear. NT's birthday is March 21 but he just wants a mellow dinner with us. And I may have a short business trip in early April. I kind of really hope nothing else comes up, because I'm feeling the need to relax as much as possible, and let AA bask in the glow of only-child-ness for a little longer.

AS's baby is due April 3!

Reunited with wallet!

February 20th, 2012 at 08:17 pm

True to Looking Forward's prediction, someone turned my wallet in to mall security, and they called me today!

It was a painful trip to the mall because the light rail was out in places, and the bus patch wasn't very well communicated so a bunch of us got off too early and had to wait for the next one, and then the next one filled up right before I got on and I had to wait for the NEXT one! Then back onto the lightrail and finally to the mall about 2 hours after I left home. The trip back wasn't as bad because I knew what to expect with the bus patch, but it still took me about twice as long as usual (about an hour and a half). Luckily I had the day off and no particular plans, though there were many many more pleasant things I could've been doing than taking public transportation for four hours.

But ... there was nothing missing from the wallet! Everything was there, including my $120. So the only after-effects were:
- Bought a replacement bus pass for $5 (they were able to load my balance from the old one).
- Bought a new wallet for $6.
- Have to wait for four credit cards to be re-sent in the mail.
- Have to wait for a new security key before I can access NT's UK accounts online.

Not too shabby! Other nonmaterial after-effects:
- I've decided to use my new wallet instead of my old one, because it's smaller and I can't pack as much crap into it as I did with the old one. Easier to visualize what's in there if I do lose it again.
- Also, I'm never carrying four credit cards at once. Maybe three. LOL.
- Also, I'm going to try not to have more than $20 cash in my wallet at any one time.

Lost wallet yesterday

February 19th, 2012 at 05:49 pm

...At the Mall of America, no less. When I realized it was gone I started canceling my credit cards as fast as I could -- we were surrounded by stores so somebody could do some damage FAST!

I'm not TOO stressed, just bummed. That sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize it's gone -- not a nice feeling. What I lost:

- $120 cash
- 1 debit card
- 3 credit cards
- 1 flex-spending Visa card
- Driver's license
- Bus pass
- Security key for NT's bank account
- Health insurance card
- AAA card
- Photos (luckily not the only copies)
- Various receipts, business cards, etc.

Sigh.

So I canceled all the credit cards. We had a carshare for the day, and NT had to do all the driving since I didn't have my driver's license.

The rest is manageable, just annoying. New credit cards are in the mail, and I've got my bus pass number so I can hopefully get it renewed tomorrow. I'm on my dad's AAA, so he can probably get me a new card. I can get my healthcare stuff renewed. Then my driver's license renewed on Tuesday.

The cash ... I was planning to put in the bank to pay for some clothes I put on the credit card. NT and AS insisted I work that into the budget vs. denying myself spending money for a few weeks to make it up. It's lucky this happened before the baby came, because right now we have a fairly big budget surplus. It'll just mean $120 less in extra student loan repayment. In the long run, not a huge step back.

I added the things I need to do to my "Getting Things Done" system. I have tomorrow (mostly) off, so I can get some of it done then.

NT gave me an old wallet of his, some cash, and two tickets for a free bus ride. Hopefully enough to get me by until I replace everything.

February 2012 net worth

February 17th, 2012 at 08:24 am

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 13,753 pounds ($27,506)
#2: 16,005 pounds ($32,010)
#3: 3,709 pounds ($7,418)
NT's 401(k): $15,896
NT's Roth IRA: $4,007
AS's 401(k): $6,770
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $6,226
CJ's 401(k): $42,867
CJ's Roth IRA: $4,007
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $12,923
---
Total Assets: $581,312

Total Debt: $319,170

Current Estimated Net Worth: $262,142

December 2011 estimate: $250,418

Change in net worth (over 2 months): +$11,724

Summary: Another good leap over the past two months! We're trucking along toward our $300K goal. Basically if we can get our assets $20K higher and our debt $20K lower this year, we'll make it!

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

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are very approximate. 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.

Big student loan payment, plus calculated my "All Your Worth" allocations

February 15th, 2012 at 12:44 pm

I sent off a HUGE payment to NT's student loan, and it posted right away in his account! $1889 went to principal, so that means we've paid off $2701 so far this month, surpassing the $2500 goal!

(By the way, a few payments from last year STILL aren't showing up, so the online account doesn't match my records. I show a remaining balance of $18,772; they say he still owes $20,345. I'm keeping careful records and will continue to harass them a couple times a month until those payments post. I don't want $1573 worth of payments to just go down the drain!)

In a previous post, I talked about the personal finance book "All Your Worth." The authors recommend the 50/30/20 approach to budgeting (50% of income to needs, 30% to wants and 20% to savings or extra debt repay). I myself track how my budget breaks down into these categories, and mine is currently at 51.48% needs, 20.69% wants and 27.92% savings/extra debt repay. I think it's a good allocation for me but sometimes it occurs to me that I ought to get my needs under 50%.

I noticed in "All Your Worth" that they have you start with your income minus taxes (but including any pretax deductions such as medical premiums and 401(k), of course). Well, I actually count our tax withholdings in the "needs" category. So out of curiosity, I subtracted the taxes from our gross income and from our "needs" category, and recalculated our budget from there.

According to the "All Your Worth" style of calculation, our ratio actually comes out 42.7 needs/ 24.4 wants/ 32.9 savings/debt! Now that's much better! Later in the year our "needs" are going to eat up a larger portion when the second baby starts daycare, so it's nice to feel like we're well under 50% right now.

I definitely feel like given our large student loan debt, it makes sense to have our debt repayment skew the "savings/debt" category higher. And while we always could find ways to use more "wants" money (we're a family of spenders vs. savers, for sure), I already feel like we're very indulgent in that category, so I don't feel any need to up that amount at this point.

Sometimes it's hard to believe I struggled so hard and did so badly with money my whole adult life, until about 5 years ago. It really is doable to retrain yourself, and this way is SO much happier and less stressful for me!

Random life updates; reading All Your Worth

February 7th, 2012 at 02:48 pm

I feel like it's been a while since I just blogged randomly about stuff. I've actually got a free moment at work (we'll see how long it lasts) so here goes!

February is turning out to be hugely social! Looks like we'll routinely have two or three weeknight things going on plus events on the weekend. This week there's actually something happening every weeknight! Tonight NT is going to a basketball game our friend got an extra ticket for, while AS and I will head out to the DFL caucus with AA in tow. Usually Tuesdays are our one night out to trivia at a local bar, so even if we didn't have this going on we'd have been busy today. Tomorrow is the Birth Center hospital tour, Thursday is a happy hour for AS's work, and Friday I have some fellow college alumni coming to our house for dinner.

When February is over, we have four birthdays (everyone in my household is a March birthday) and then a due date of April 3 for the new little one!

This has also been a very sad month for several friends/acquaintances of mine. One woman lost her father; another dealing with her mother's declining health and dementia; another woman had to have a double mastectomy and will undergo chemo for breast cancer; and a friend of a friend whom I quite like even though I don't see her much lost her boyfriend to suicide! Such a helpless feeling that I can't do anything for them really, but I'm sending flowers to the last two. None of these are people I'm currently close to or see on a regular basis, but all people I'm fond of.

It's reawakened my appreciation of my healthy-so-far family and reminded me to appreciate every moment of my relationships. I definitely have noticed more words of affection being passed around in my household, so I think we've all been similarly affected.

Otherwise on the home front, I've been feeling the positive results of the "Getting Things Done" book; papers don't just hang around on surfaces anymore, at least not for more than a day. We're all on Google Calendar now and I'll soon show NT how to use Google Tasks and Google Docs for the GTD system. My goal is to eventually get even our menu and grocery list electronic, and eliminate those last two pieces of stray paper!

I started reading Elizabeth and Amelia Warren's book All Your Worth (thank you Paulette/Spondulicks for the recommendation!) and loving it. I don't think there will be much that I change about my current system, but only because it adheres pretty closely to her system. I'm only about halfway through, though, so maybe I'll get some new ideas. I do know that so far, I'd recommend it to anyone who wants a simple system for getting their life under control. It's very accessible and friendly in tone.

It even articulated a thought I had recently, a little light-bulb moment. I was thinking about how it could be that so many people today can be so stupid and irresponsible about their money compared with how it seems older generations coped without getting into so much debt.

Then it occurred to me that probably the older generations weren't any smarter or more practical by nature, but just didn't have as many easy-credit traps available to them, so they simply couldn't get into as much debt.

The Warrens confirmed that, but in a much more factual and less hunch-y way. It was all this deregulation that happened I think they said in the 1970s that allowed banks and other lenders to loan money more freely; for a long time they had much stricter standards they had to follow about whether they thought the borrower would be able to pay it back.

Not only did they not need to rise to these standards anymore, but they also quickly discovered that they made much more profit if they DID loan to people who couldn't always pay in full on time; that way they got to charge all sorts of fees and penalties and made much more than they would have just charging interest.

They also pointed out that many more people used to be able to count on a pension in addition to other retirement funds. I think there were a few other things that had changed but I can't recall at the moment.

What they were saying is that we need to be a lot smarter now; instead of financial institutions being forced to look out for people to a certain extent, there's now extreme incentive for those same companies to outsmart, mislead and confuse people instead.

That said, I got a surprise bonus from a big financial company last night: Chase refunded my $69 fee from one of our Southwest cards, which we applied for only to get a big bonus in Amazon gift cards. I didn't ask for the fee back, so I'm surprised! It reminded me to cancel the other two cards since we've recently received our gift cards from those; hopefully they'll refund those fees as well!

I'm putting the $69 into an extra student loan payment this month; should be able to send nearly $2000 extra now! I'm enjoying putting together as big a payment as possible this month because between tax preparation, baby preparation and unpaid parental leave, I won't be paying quite as much extra off for a few months.

Prepaid phone costs update

February 3rd, 2012 at 03:01 pm

Whew, I haven't updated this since about November! Got a few transactions to record:

In December, AS bought another 1000 minutes for her phone, for $107.78. She made her last 1000 minutes last 7 months! Pretty impressive.

NT had to buy minutes in January to keep his phone activated. He has a surplus of minutes, so we try to use his phone instead of mine or AS's when we're all at home.

My poor old cheap phone started losing its battery longevity after 7+ years of good service. I bought another one from T-Mobile and transferred my SIM card to it. As is our practice, I'll count the amount of the cheapest option ($29) here, even though I chose to use $25 of my own money to get a more expensive phone that I liked better.

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
AS's December T-Mobile fillup (1000 minutes): $107.78
NT's Jan Net10 fillup (300 minutes): $33.38
CJ's February phone replacement: $29

FY2011 total: $540.99

We're in the 11th month of our prepaid "fiscal year," so that means our average monthly cost is now $49.18. 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.

Progress on February debt goal

February 2nd, 2012 at 09:04 am

All 4 mortgage payments hit:
US: $437 to principal
UK1: $262
UK2: $55
UK3: $58

All told, $812 down, $1688 to go on the February goal!

January debt goal reached! Goal for February

February 1st, 2012 at 02:18 pm

Whoa, that month flew by! Had a feverish little one Sunday through yesterday, so I've been working from home and all off my game. Luckily AS's student loans are on autopilot and went through:
SM: $125 to principal
FM: $61
For a total of $186. So that makes our January debt repayment $2507, just squeaking past our $2500 goal!

For February, I'm going to aim for $2500. I'm going to use a paid tax preparer again, and we'll probably owe again this year, but we can cashflow all of that with our March and April budget surplus. I don't see a need to sock away the money now. Plus, if I'm aggressive this month, I should be able to bring our total student loan debt (current and estimated future) under $50,000!

I have so many other tracking things to update! I missed doing our net worth at the usual time, so I'll just try to do it the end of this month. I had to buy a cellphone to replace my dying one, so I need to update my prepaid costs average. All of our net pays changed slightly, so I need to get copies of everyone's paychecks and update my "absolute budget breakdown" spreadsheet. I need to update my daily "number crunch" worksheet, and see how we're doing on Citi ThankYou spending toward getting our bonuses.

They will have to wait, and be done sporadically as I get time. Work is crazy busy, and for some reason a lot of social engagements are getting sorted out for this month, so that many normally free nights are going to be spent going out or hosting people. I think it's partly the mild winter making people more willing to leave their homes, plus me semiconsciously wanting to be as social as possible before the new baby comes and knocks us all out for a couple months.

Luckily, all the above stuff I'm not keeping up on is mostly just things I track for fun or for my general knowledge. More important things are getting handled very handily thanks to my "Getting Things Done" system. It's a great system because even if things fall off my to-do list, there are project lists that I need to review once a week, so stuff gets put back on the list and I don't have it worrying me at the back of my mind. I still scribble notes to myself if I'm not at a computer, but I've gotten in the habit of doing frequent sweeps of my purse, wallet and coat when I AM at a computer, and that "stuff" gets entered into the system fairly regularly. I now open mail right away and either discard, file or act on it right away.

I'd better get a bit more done at work before I go home!