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Archive for May, 2012

Various financial doings

May 31st, 2012 at 02:48 pm

Lots of random little things have happened financially recently:

-We took part in a condo garage sale. We made $16 pretty early on and then not another penny. Spent $8 of it for 2 puzzles, a pair of snow boots and maybe something else. Since we'd been using the girls' piggy bank to make change, we just put the $8 or so of profit in with their money.

-Deposited said piggy bank and it was almost $100, so I made up the difference and moved it into savings for SL. She already has some money there. Once she has $1000, I'll open a CD for her.

-We took the clothes and some other stuff that didn't sell at the sale to the church donation van that parks across the street from us every Sunday.

-We took the books that didn't sell to a used bookstore. They took a few of the books and gave us $15, but we had a ton they didn't take. I looked at a few bookselling sites and confirmed that the books have pretty much no resale value. I looked up charities, and we're going to donate some of the books to the Women's Prison Book Project and the rest to the library. Both good causes.

-AS got a tax bill for $101.34 from the IRS; they claimed we'd overstated what she'd paid in estimated taxes. I checked back through my records and they were right! Part of the amount is to cover the balance of tax we owe, and a couple bucks of it is a late fee. Fair enough.

-NT's student loan account that wasn't showing payments finally caught up! ... mostly. The principal balance is suddenly much closer to my calculation of what it should be. They said they'd fix it by adjusting the original loan amounts or something, and I can't figure out what they did. Their balance is about $380 higher than what I estimated it would be. I was going to call and argue, but I have no real basis for my claim, whereas they have fancy computers and stuff. So I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say I messed it up -- after all, I did make the tax mistake recently.

-I immediately sent a $400 payment. I don't want to have to change my spreadsheet to make the debt amount higher, so this will bring the actual principal in line with my version.

-I wasn't sure how I was going to pay for the tax bill and the student loan payment above, BUT I checked our paychecks today and found they were more than I'd bargained for. Turns out I'd underestimated NT's pay during his part-time parental leave, and I forgot that I'd adjusted my withholdings since I'll most likely be claiming SL on my and NT's tax return next year. So when I applied those changes throughout my spreadsheet for June and July, I was able to cover the above unexpected bills plus a little left over. Hooray!

-My tax adjustment is a permanent boost in our income, so I can figure that into the budget. Only about $60 per month, but believe me, I can put it to good use!

May debt goal reached, and another tombstone in the Old Debt Graveyard!

May 30th, 2012 at 12:28 pm

AS's two student loans hit, with $128 and $61 going to principal, so $189 total. That makes it $1151 paid toward debt this month, surpassing the $1100 goal.

Also, the smaller of the two payments was the final payment on that loan! That's right, another loan bites the dust!!

It's funny, because when I logged in, it still showed a 1-cent balance, but next payment due date was N/A. You better believe I called them to make sure that wasn't going to trigger a late fee if I didn't set up a payment! They assured me that the one cent would be forgiven with no payment and no danger of a late fee.

That takes AS down to just one student loan and her half of the mortgage she and I share. Here's how our remaining debt breaks down, with interest rate, if anyone is interested:

US Mortgage: $163,748 (3.25% var.)
UK Mortgage 1: $72,301 (1.49% var.)
UK Mortgage 2: $15,242 (1.49% var.)
UK Mortgage 3: $16,049 (1.49% var.)
AS SM student loan: $11,468 (3.25% fixed)
NT DL student loan: $15,620 (6.175% fixed)
NT FM student loan: $5,510 (3.8% var.)
NT Education (estimated future debt) $10,834 (interest n/a til borrowed)

TOTAL HOUSEHOLD DEBT $310,772

I did it! 5-5-5 challenge complete

May 28th, 2012 at 10:27 am

Today NT took me for a very hard (for me, not him) bike ride, which means ... I'm done! I did all 5 of my challenge activities 5 times:

Walked to or from work (or at least 30 min.)
Exercised to a Gilad (aerobic & weight training) workout
Did free-weight training
Rode my bike
Walked upstairs (18 floors) to my condo

Phew! I'm going to let my legs recover, then go shower and have some lunch.

5-5-5 progress & weight update

May 27th, 2012 at 10:51 pm

It rained almost all day yesterday so I didn't ride my bike as planned. But today I did my 5th Gilad workout.

So I just need to do one more bike ride before June 1 and I'll have reached my fitness goal!

I'm still planning on a new goal for June, but I've decided to not require myself to do it until after AS's mom leaves. She's visiting the first weekend in June and leaves Tuesday morning. It's her first time flying out to see us, so we're probably going to spoil her (and by extension maybe ourselves) in the food and other indulgences (aka laziness) departments. So my June goal will begin the first Tuesday in June!

I weighed in tonight and was down a pound to 142. So, I'm ending the month 2 lbs. higher than I started it, but I'm glad my weight did go down a bit at the end. Gives me an extra boost to keep going in June.

5-5-5 progress; getting close to meeting goal!

May 25th, 2012 at 09:13 pm

Thursday I walked up the stairs to our condo after work. (This time I counted the stairs per flight and they are 14, so it's about 250 stairs total!) That activity is done, thank goodness! But I might still use that as part of my working out in June. Don't think it takes quite 10 minutes so it might not work on its own for my "10 minutes a day" rule for June; I'll have to time it and see.

Today I worked from home since my office was closed for the holiday (but my particular duties depend on our largest client's schedule, not our office schedule). So I was able to do a Gilad workout.

That makes it 23 workouts done, 2 to go for May. I still need to do one Gilad and one bike ride. I'd love to do my bike ride tomorrow and my Gilad on Sunday, but we'll see.

5-5-5 progress and looking ahead to June

May 24th, 2012 at 09:03 am

Last night AS and I did free weights together, so that completes the free-weight portion of my challenge. 21 of the 25 workouts are done. 2 out of my 5 categories are complete; I just need to walk up the stairs once more, ride my bike once more, and do two more Gilad workouts.

I started poking around Sparkpeople and decided that for June, I'll try to count all my calories (or estimate when I can't get exact numbers), eliminate night snacking, and try for at least 10 minutes of *vigorous* exercise every day. (In other words, my walking to daycare or other walking will be a nice addition but won't count toward my goal.)

I'll try to post everything here as well as on Sparkpeople, since I feel more supported on SavingAdvice than I ever could on another site. Wink

5-5-5 progress yesterday, hopefully more today!

May 23rd, 2012 at 01:05 pm

Yesterday after work I walked up the stairs to our condo, so that's 4 out of 5 for that activity and 20 out of 25 for the challenge as a whole! I hope to do some free weights tonight after work.

I need to come up with a new challenge for June to hopefully keep the momentum going. I wish I could say I'll just work out naturally from now on, but I know that's not the case.

I was thinking about getting involved in SparkPeople -- I've joined but never done much with it. They recommend calorie counting, which I find so tedious for cook-from-scratch meals with tons of ingredients that don't have nutrition info labels, but maybe it would help me scale back my eating so that my working out actually had an effect on the scale.

May 2012 net worth update

May 21st, 2012 at 09:37 am

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 13,884 pounds ($27,768)
#2: 16,005 pounds ($32,010)
#3: 3,709 pounds ($7,418)
NT's 401(k): $15,964
NT's Roth IRA: $3,897
AS's 401(k): $6,761
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $6,403
CJ's 401(k): $40,841
CJ's Roth IRA: $3,897
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $13,999
---
Total Assets: $580,640

Total Debt: $310,961

Current Estimated Net Worth: $269,679

April 2012 estimate: $272,065

Change in net worth: -$2,386

Summary: Sigh. Despite paying off a few thousand of debt and making our regular contributions of over a thousand to our retirement accounts, all our retirement accounts lost value more than that. Sometimes I feel like we're getting no returns on our retirement accounts. But, since I don't keep records of what I've contributed, I can't look up the truth to cheer myself up.

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.

5-5-5 progress, but ...

May 21st, 2012 at 07:25 am

This morning I did another Gilad workout, taking me to 19 workouts done, 6 to go for the month.

Unfortunately, I weighed in last night at 1.5 lbs. heavier. So far for the month, I've gained nearly 3 lbs.

Initially I was very discouraged. I mean, I'm still not thrilled. But, I'm trying to reframe this in a way that helps me not give up.

I could just decide this didn't work, stop working out, lose the benefits I've gained from these three weeks, and end my month heavier than I started it with nothing to show for it.

Or, I can finish the workouts for this month, and then craft a new plan for next month that includes diet as well as activity. I don't feel like I'm eating more, but clearly I'm sneaking in some extra calories that negate my workouts. Maybe some calorie-counting or something would help me get on track.

5-5-5 updates

May 20th, 2012 at 01:59 pm

Friday I walked home, which means I've completed the walking portion of my challenge. Yesterday I took a bike ride with NT to the grocery store and back, and I also weight-trained with AS. So I've done 4 out of 5 on both of those activities. I guess that's 18 down, 7 to go on my challenge. What I still need to do:

3 Gilad workouts
1 weight training
1 bike ride
2 trips up the condo stairs

That seems doable, though I need to make sure I leave at least a day between each of the Gilad and weight-training workouts, so my muscles can recover.

Not sure if I'll do anything today; it would have to be either a bike ride or climbing the stairs, and both involve leaving the condo. Wink

More 5-5-5 tonight

May 17th, 2012 at 09:01 pm

As promised, NT went on a bike ride with me this evening. Smile It wasn't very long, but there was an uphill stretch at the beginning that definitely made me feel like I did enough.

That takes me to 15 workouts done and 10 to go. I feel like I'm on the home stretch and hope I don't lose steam now.

I guess that's all. I thought I had more to write, but I'm starting to wind down for the night. Smile

5-5-5 progress plus random number crunching

May 17th, 2012 at 10:39 am

Yesterday I hurried home and did a free-weight workout before I lost my motivation. That takes me to 14 workouts done and 11 to go. I might just make it! NT has said he'll go on a bike ride with me tonight, so hopefully I'll soon be able to report that I'm 3/5 done with my challenge.

I must say I have noticed a small difference in my physical fitness. This morning it looked like it might rain, and I'd forgotten my umbrella. So I was going extra fast with the stroller, and I noticed I didn't get out of breath and that it felt easier to go fast than it did a few weeks ago. I would love to say that this time, I'll be making workouts a permanent part of my life. We'll see -- I've gone through many bursts of activity in my life, sometimes even lasting over a year, but I've always copped out at some point. At least I do start trying again eventually ...

Anyway, feeling very restless with finances. Part of is that our budget (especially extra debt repayment) is scaled back while we're on parental leave, which is through July. It's already dragging and I have 2.5 more months to get through! Another reason is my sister who will definitely visit is dragging her feet deciding on a weekend, and thus I don't know if I'll be able to afford tickets for my other sisters and nieces if she ever does decide. (I want them all to come the same weekend, both because it will be more fun that way, and I'm going to be borrowing a friend's condo for them to stay for free, and don't want to impose on him by asking for TWO weekends of condo use.)

So yesterday I played around with my "absolute budget" spreadsheet, which shows our gross income and breaks everything down, including tax withholding.

I updated it with our probable budget numbers in August ... I couldn't quite get everything to match up, but I'll be able to once I see how our paychecks end up in August, when leave is over and healthcare for SL has been worked out.

Anyway, on this spreadsheet I divide our expenses into "Needs," "Wants" and "Savings/extra debt repay." I pay attention to the 50/30/20 ratio espoused by many, including Elizabeth Warren in her book "All Your Worth." I don't try to adhere strictly to that, but I do like when my numbers are somewhat in line with that ratio.

It looks like our budget come August will look like this:
Needs 55.89%
Wants 20.82%
Savings/extra debt repay 23.23%

Our needs are a little high, but otherwise it looks good. But wait! Then I thought about how Elizabeth Warren has you calculate it AFTER your tax withholdings. (I include tax withholding in our "Needs" category.) So I added a line to my spreadsheet that factored out taxes from the equation, and got these numbers:
Needs 48.01%
Wants 24.54%
Saving/debt 27.38%

Now THAT ratio I really like! Smile I think our third category has to be higher than 20% because we're playing catchup from previous years of irresponsibility and brokeness: paying down excessive debt, building up an EF, accelerating our retirement contributions.

I also wondered how we're doing with our retirement contributions, since we pay into several different buckets and it's hard to tell at a glance. So I added ANOTHER line that calculated the percentage of post-tax income going to retirement: 10.92%. I can live with that! I'm still going to want to increase that ratio at some point in our lives because I feel we're a bit behind where we want to be, but that's pretty good for having two young kids and still paying off lots of debt.

Prepaid phone costs update: 2011 wrap-up, beginning 2012

May 16th, 2012 at 10:53 am

Well, our "fiscal year" for our cellphones ended March 2012. Only NT had one more fillup before then, so our April 2011-March 2012 phone costs look pretty amazing:

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
NT's March Net10 fillup (300 minutes): $33.36

FY2011 total: $574.35

Averaged over the 12 months, that means our spending for 3 cell phones was $47.86 per month! That's gonna be hard to beat this next year, and since we all had to fill up recently, our average is going to look bad at first:

FY2012 Spending:
AS's April T-Mobile fillup (500 minutes): $53.90
NT's May Net10 fillup (300 minutes): $33.36
CJ's May T-Mobile fillup (1000 minutes): $107.78

FY2012 total so far: $195.04

Since we're only in our second month of the "fiscal year," that means our average is $97.52 per month! Of course that will go down quite a bit since we all just filled up, but we also have been using more minutes because of the new baby: more calls to the proud grandparents, and people staying home with the baby = more use of cellphones vs. work phones.

But, hopefully it will still net out to be better than our old contract.

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.

5-5-5 and pathetic progress on EF goal

May 16th, 2012 at 08:45 am

Yesterday I walked up the stairs, so that officially takes me more than halfway to my fitness goal for the month! 13 workouts down, 12 to go.

Our monthly scheduled transfer of $25 into savings happened, so that takes our EF to $13,998.84. We started the year with $14,472.57, so we're still way behind even our starting point, and very far away from the $20K goal. I mainly depend on our UK rental property to add to the EF, and this year it's been one expense after another eating away at profits. Hopefully we've seen the end of it and can at least progress past our starting point of the year, but every time I think that, some new expense seems to crop up. So we'll see.

5-5-5 and check your paychecks, folks!

May 15th, 2012 at 01:56 pm

I took Sunday off from exercising, but yesterday I did a Gilad workout. This takes me to 12 workouts down, 13 to go. Almost halfway there!

Today I'll probably try to walk up the stairs as my workout. It's hard, but it's shorter compared with all the other workouts on my list.

I do have to be careful not to leave all my free-weight and Gilad workouts until right at the end. He does weight training in his workouts, so it would be overdoing it to have to do all of that on consecutive days! I have 6 left to do and 16 days in which to do them, so I should be all right if I do one every other day or so.

AS got her paycheck that was supposed to be minus SL healthcare (we switched her to NT's temporarily, until the adoption goes through and she can be put on mine). The total seemed really off, and it looks like they still charged us for her healthcare, or just got AS's regular premium really wrong.

I've been at a few jobs before my current one and so has AS. But I feel like we both have experienced so many irregularities with our paychecks, and if I hadn't gone on this debt-reduction journey, I wouldn't even have caught them all. You name it, it's been wrong on one of our paychecks: No bus pass deduction. Double the bus pass deduction. Way too much tax deducted. No nonsmoker waiver on healthcare premium. Flex spending not deducted.

I do think our HR situations are unusually flawed, but it makes me wonder if I missed similar mistakes on past employers' paychecks that cost me money. And whether other people do too.

I'm sure most of you on this site would notice an irregularity in a heartbeat, but if you haven't paid attention before, take a good look at your paystub and make sure everything looks right! Especially if you've had any kind of event that affects the deductions or your pay.

More 5-5-5 progress to report

May 12th, 2012 at 11:42 pm

Friday I did get a second workout in, some weight training! Today we ended up walking home from the barbershop, which NT pointed out was the same distance as the walk to/from work for me. So I'm counting it as progress in that category.

So I think that's 11 workouts down, 14 to go. Almost to the halfway point!

Tomorrow we'll be out for a few days to the May Day festival, but hopefully I can get in a Gilad workout or something.

5-5-5 progress this morning

May 11th, 2012 at 01:18 pm

Lil' AA woke up early this morning, so AS got her ready while I got myself ready. As a result, we were out the door about 15 minutes earlier than usual. I decided I had time to walk to work! I wasn't planning on it; in fact I was going to do weight training tonight when I got home. So maybe I'll still do that when I get home.

That would make this my first time completing two of the activities on the same day. We'll see if I've got it in me!

5-5-5, mortgage thoughts, vacation/summer plans

May 9th, 2012 at 09:36 pm

Weather was much better so I walked home today. That's 8 workouts down, 17 to go on my 5-5-5 fitness goal!

***

Spondulicks' post about Zillow got me thinking about our home value. I think in terms of calculating net worth, I've got my head in the sand.

I call it $160,000 of value. I see that similar units in our condo are listed at $154,000-$159,000. But, actual sales seem to be much lower. It's hard to tell how accurate Zillow is because several sales are listed as "$500" which seem impossible. But the ones that aren't obviously wrong are being sold in the low $100Ks. If, like I say, I can trust the numbers, since some of them are suspect.

It got me a bit morose. We still owe more than $160K, and if the value is even lower, then we're going to be underwater indefinitely.

I thought about what it would mean to try and sell the thing at a loss and rent something comparable in our neighborhood. We currently pay $1780 or so per month if you count mortgage and association dues. Well, that's pretty comparable to rents for 2-bedroom places in our area, which seem to range from $1400 to $2100.

So that makes me feel a bit better. If we could go back in time and wait to buy until after the boom, obviously that's what we'd do. But there would be no way to sell this one and buy a new one without incurring a lot of losses and fees, and renting would be about the same as paying our current mortgage and dues. So I'm comfortable staying in our current place. I really hope values climb before we want to sell someday, though.

***

We've been looking around trying to schedule a couple of trips that are A) pretty cheap and B) can be done in a regular weekend. Because we don't have any vacation time after our parental leave, and we'll be taking reduced salaries for most of the summer due to said leave.

We have $3000 in vacation funds over the next couple of months. I'm setting $2000 aside to try and bring my sisters and nieces out to MN; most of them don't live near a major airport and so fares are very expensive. There IS a chance that some friends would let me borrow their condo for two of the nights my family would stay, which would save a few hundred bucks in hotel costs, but even just the airfare for my 2 sisters and 3 nieces I want to treat looks like it would be $2000 or more for the weekend we want.

Well, I don't know if they'll come if they have to pay part of it. They all have more kids and fewer incomes, and kids close to or in college. So I wouldn't blame them. Plus some of them hardly ever travel, so a plane ride would be a big, huge deal.

But anyway, setting that $2000 aside for now to see if I can get them out here for a visit. That leaves $1000 for us to try and have a bit of traveling fun on our own this year, without taking any days off work.

So one thing I came up with was visiting the farm that does our CSA. It's about 3 hours southeast of us, and one Saturday in June they have a "strawberry social," where you get to visit the farm, meet the workers, see how things are done, and get some strawberries and other treats. We did it the first year we joined the CSA, but it's such a long drive for a day trip that we haven't done it since.

So I looked around for cabins or cottages and found one in Wisconsin, about 2 hours from home and 1 hour from the CSA farm. I called today and they had a cabin available for that weekend for $100 per night, so $200 if we stay Friday and Saturday night and head home Sunday morning. I took it! Also reserved a car share for about $150. That includes gas and insurance, though the mileage is estimated so may end up being higher in the end. But still, looks like we got a weekend trip with fun thing to do for $350-$400!

We've still got another $600, so I've got a call in to a VRBO.com cabin owner to see if she has any availability in July or August. She charges about $165 per night and there may be a housekeeping fee or something, but even if it comes to $200 per night, we could still come close to budget because it would be $400 for 2 nights at the cabin and $150-$200 for the carshare.

For both of these trips, we'd use our own spending money for food and any other incidentals. Since we'll have a kitchen and likely won't be near any interesting restaurants, we'd probably cook most of our meals anyway, or buy cheap stuff like fast food while on the road.

So, this seems like a fun way to still feel like we're traveling this year! We live for vacations, so it would be a weird year if we didn't do anything.

And, Minneapolis is really fun during the warm months, so we'll try to take part in lots of activities to make us not miss traveling. Smile

Plus, we've definitely got AS's mom visiting us in early June (well, she's kind of flaky, so I'll believe it when she actually gets here, though the ticket and hotel room are nonrefundable so I'm not paying for another trip if she doesn't make this one). And we might have some or all of my sisters and nieces out for a weekend. None of NT's family seems equipped to take an international trip this year, so I guess we'll try and save up for a trip to England next year.

So, it should be a pretty fun and busy summer. But I'll sure be glad to get back to having travel funds and vacation time next year!

May debt goal progress

May 9th, 2012 at 08:38 am

A payment to NT's student loan hit, with $78 going to principal. Still no sign of my late-2011 payments yet. Sigh.

Anyway, that makes it $962 down, $138 to go on the May debt goal. AS's two student loan payments at the end of the month will push us over the top. Between now and then it's going to be a very boring month for debt repayment! At least I have my 5-5-5 challenge to distract me.

5-5-5 progress (sorry my titles are so boring lately)

May 8th, 2012 at 07:03 pm

Today I was going to walk home from work. It looked pretty nice at 4:30. By 5 p.m. when I reached the front door, it was pouring rain!

I took the bus instead. BUT, I walked up the stairs when I got home. It was hard so soon after my first Gilad workout after a long time! But I took it slow and got it done. Smile

So here's how I'm doing so far (I put an X for each time I did one thing once):

1. Walk to or from work (X)
2. Exercise to a Gilad program (X)
3. Do free-weight training (X)
4. Ride my bike (XX)
5. Walk up the stairs to my condo (XX)

So I guess that's 7 workouts done, 18 to go. Over one-fourth done with my goal!

More 5-5-5 progress

May 7th, 2012 at 06:37 pm

I managed to workout to a Gilad program today, so now I've done all 5 things at least once!

5-5-5 keeps going!

May 6th, 2012 at 08:20 pm

NT and I biked to and from another grocery store today to pick up a couple more items from the week. 2 down, 3 to go on the biking portion of my challenge! Tomorrow I hope to do a Gilad workout, since that's the only one of my five that I haven't touched yet.

Tonight we weigh in, but I'm so happy with my level of activity, I really don't mind whether or not I lost any weight. I realize early in exercise you can either lose weight fast, or bulk up on muscle and not lose much at all. So either way I'll be happy.

5-5-5 progress today

May 5th, 2012 at 07:24 pm

I took Friday off in terms of working out, but today I biked to and from the grocery store with NT and helped him do the food shopping. (Usually he does this on his own every weekend.) It was hard work after taking many months off from biking, but fun actually. I had an endorphin high for hours afterward! I usually don't really feel that when working out, maybe because I don't do it often enough and usually feel too tired.

So now I've done four of my goal exercises once each. Hope to do something tomorrow and keep the momentum going!

Spend $1500, get $400 cash

May 4th, 2012 at 10:45 pm

So it looks like the big CC rewards are drying up. I've applied for the Chase Sapphire that now has a $400 bonus for spending $3000, but I'm hesitant because I've already gotten the $500 bonus (well, $1000 thanks to that weird offer where you emailed in and they doubled it). So would this be considered the same offer, and would I therefore be ineligible for the bonus? I wonder if I can just call/email and ask a customer service person. The T&Cs of the offer don't mention that rule, but every money blog I see says that rule just exists. What do you think? If I can't get the $400, I'd rather work on some smaller rewards.

Which brings me to my subject line. If you churn a couple of smaller rewards, you can actually get more bang for your buck than with the big ones, and only a bit more hassle of applying, paying and closing more cards. For example, Chase Sapphire has that $400 if you spend $3000 offer. Well, if you applied for the following, you could get the same (cash as well) for spending half that:

- Chase Freedom $200 for spending $500 (you can still find this offer by Googling)
- Capital One MasterCard $100 for spending $500
- Citi Dividend Visa $100 for spending $500

None have annual fees and they're three different companies, so there shouldn't be an issue getting approved for all three.

We've already churned the Chase Freedom in our household and I don't think we could get it again. But only AS has done the CapOne deal, and only I've ever had a Citi Dividend Visa (and that was years ago, and with no bonus). So I'm hoping we could get $200 out of CapOne and $300 out of Citi for spending $2500. And we can stagger these offers a bit so we're not struggling to spend that all in one time period.

I also sent AS an Amex offer from NT's account; it might have an annual fee so might not be worth it, but it's $150 for spending $1000, and NT would get a $75 bonus if she accepts, so really would be $225 for spending $1000. Unless there's an annual fee; then probably wouldn't be worth it. We'll see.

5-5-5 progress & dental frustration

May 4th, 2012 at 08:18 am

Yesterday I walked upstairs to my condo -- which is on the 18th floor -- after work. Wow! It was a brief but intense workout. Even going pretty slow, I was wobbly-legged and out of breath by the time I got to the top.

I got a notice that my next dental checkup is schedule for June -- I get them every 4 months since my problems started in '08 -- and it brought all my aggravation with the dental bills rushing back. I've had two appointments with the new dentist I switched to when my job switched insurance again. One was a regular checkup that cost over $200 -- they eventually refunded me $45 but it was still the priciest checkup I've ever had. The other was a brief exam after I'd had an infection -- about $300 and all they did was look around, file down one of my teeth (I've had that done before and it never cost much), and give me some special mouthwash.

They said the higher price was because I needed periodontal maintenance, not just a regular checkup, because of the problems on one part of my mouth.

I looked back at the receipts from the last dentist I had before I switched, and they were looking at the same mouth but just called my visits "periodic oral evaluation." So I think I need to try and find an in-network dentist who will regard my visits as regular checkups; clearly this wasn't a problem for my last dentist, nor the one before that.

I hate the gambling aspect of flex spending. Last year I had $200+ left over, and ended up getting glasses (which ended up being about $500 and eating into THIS year's; forgot that they'd charge for lenses and exam separate from frames). This year I'd reduced my flex spending so I wouldn't have so much left over. Well, I've already blown through it and then some. This ALWAYS happens -- either I have hundreds left over at the end of the year, or I use it all up in the first quarter. I wish there was a way you could just make purchases pretax when you need to, rather than trying to predict the unforeseeable.

5-5-5 progress and 5-year planning?

May 3rd, 2012 at 08:12 am

I did strength training (pushups, situps, free weights, lunges, squats, etc.) last night, so one of 5 done on that one, and 2 out of 25 workouts done for the month!

I love that the challenge has morphed into thinking about a 5-year plan as well. I haven't thought that far into the future for a while. Our huge goal is to make a permanent move to England, but we're really at the mercy of the UK immigration system for that, and it's not being very merciful of late. Basically AS would have to charm an employer into filing paperwork saying there was no one in all of the European Union who could perform the job as well as she could. I mean, she's extremely charming, but it's a long shot at best. The only other way to get there that I can see would be for her to start a business, and the requirements are that she make a huge capital investment. So I don't really see us putting all our net worth on the line on a gamble like that, either.

So it feels weird to say it's a goal, when it's not one we can really work on. AS continues to build her reputation in her field, so there is a chance an English company will recruit her someday, but like I say, a long shot.

I would like to make the move before the kids get too old, so the acclimation isn't too traumatic for them. But, we're trying to raise them to be comfortable in new situations and around new people, so hopefully they'd be able to adjust at any age.

So OK, removing our big goal from our 5-year plan because it's just too big and nebulous and hard to work toward, what else would I like to see in 5 years?

* Be out of all debt except mortgages. (I'm actually hoping to eliminate student loan debt within 3 years.)
* If we haven't moved and bought a new house in England, cut our total debt to less than $200,000. I know housing in the areas of England we'd like to live is expensive, so if we have managed to move, I won't mind having a bigger mortgage for that.
* Get our combined net worth to half a million dollars.

That's all financial, of course. Personally and professionally, it's so hard to see where I want to go.

I'm not crazy about my job, but I feel like it might be the best I can do salary-wise with my qualifications. Also I'm extremely shy and nervous in new situations, so that makes it hard to impress at interviews. I do keep my eyes open for new opportunities, but I'm not taking any giant leaps of faith in the near future. At least not that I can foresee right now.

I'm basically content with my personal life but would like to be doing more in the creative/artistic/craftsy area (as you'll hear me say time and again).

Also I'd like to find a volunteer activity that suits my temperament and schedule.

I wouldn't mind feeling better about my appearance: being thinner, more in shape, having a more fashionable wardrobe.

But, you know, if I just manage to stay basically where I am, that's OK too. I feel like I put a lot of effort into keeping a happy, healthy, fun, organized home life. Especially with two young kids, that's my main priority. So I don't like to stress myself out thinking I should be doing a bunch more stuff.

5-5-5 progress

May 2nd, 2012 at 07:39 am

Yesterday I managed to get out of work a bit early, so I walked home. One down on my 5-5-5 challenge!

Tonight I would like to either do weight training or a Gilad video. Both of those involve weights, so I need to space them apart and make sure I don't leave them all until the end of the month!

Gilads are the hardest to do because I take up the living room, and AA is fascinated so she gets in the way (or tries to imitate me -- which is very cute, but still gets in the way). Weight training I could probably do in the locked bedroom so she didn't get in the way and get brained accidentally. Maybe I'll save the Gilads for Mondays when I'm home with SL, and AA is at daycare ... hmm ... and weekends when she's taking her nap. That sounds good.

Progress on May debt goal, etc.

May 1st, 2012 at 12:41 pm

AS's student loan payment that was supposed to happen in April finally hit, with $62 going to principal. Just one more payment on that one and we're done!

All mortgage payments also hit:
US: $441 to principal
UK1: $266
UK2: $56
UK3: $59

All told, $884 down, $216 to go on the May debt goal.

For the 5-5-5 goal, I hope to leave a bit early today and walk home from work. If it's rainy or if I can't get out early, I'll try to walk up the stairs to my condo.

I can't remember if I mentioned it, but I decided to try and double-dip the Chase Sapphire card. The 50,000-point offer is finally gone, but I signed up for one with 40,000 points ($400) if you spend $3000.

Then I thought to look around online. I saw lots of sites saying you can't get the same bonus offer twice, even if you're approved for the same card twice.

Now I'm wondering, does this count as the same offer? It is the same type of card, but a different number of points.

Well, it's a free experiment to try and see if I get the 40,000.

I thought about having one of us try to double-dip the Chase Southwest Visa offer; that one you get your points after one purchase, so it would be quickly evident whether or not it worked. However, that one comes with an annual fee, and since it's no guarantee you could get that refunded, it's too risky.

I wish I did know for sure, because if I knew that the Chase Sapphire deal wouldn't work, I'd just cancel that card and get working on something else. There are a couple offers that not all three of us have tried, so we could effectively double dip but use someone else's name on the card.

Speaking of canceling and opening cards, I got my free credit score through Amex (they give it to me once a year). Last time I checked, I was in the 780s. This time? 805, my highest credit score yet. So I guess that proves the credit card shuffle doesn't hurt you as long as you keep current on everything.