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Archive for September, 2013

Couple of potential snowflakes

September 29th, 2013 at 04:37 pm

So our condo has a "free table" where residents can dump their unwanted belongings for others to take, first come first serve. We've put tons of things down there over the years, and taken a lot as well. Most memorably, we took a double stroller (same brand as the one that cost us about $800) and sold it for around $450.

This weekend, there was a bag full of a Wii system, several remotes and several videogames, as well as a home theater system complete with speakers. NT reckons we could clear $200 or $300 on Craigslist. Typically we try to make a little money off our unwanted items, so what we put on the free table is stuff that someone might appreciate, but has little to no resale value. Others just want to get rid of their stuff ASAP ... and we reap the benefits!

We'll list these on Craigslist today and hopefully get rid of them soon; we don't really have any extra storage space. Could be great snowflakes toward our goals!

I redeemed some regular credit card rewards, $30 from Chase and $25 from Amex, but I used those to help pay recent medical bills. Barring anything unforeseen, I shouldn't need to use any more snowflakes for medical costs this year.

October 2013 goals

September 28th, 2013 at 10:45 pm

Debt goal:
Pay at least $3000 of debt.
Goal balance: $248,670

October is going to be the month we bring our debt under the quarter-million mark, and I think I've got enough float in the checking account to do it as soon as all our paychecks hit!

Our big-picture benchmark for October is $22,370, but we're already at $27,975.10, so we're past it. Looks like we'll pass $30K this month!

Some bits of big-picture progress

September 28th, 2013 at 10:27 pm

Checked our two savings accounts just so I could record some tiny bit of progress on our medical EF and the house/moving fund:

$.30 of interest goes to the medical EF
$3.47 to the house/moving fund

Together, that takes our big-picture progress to $27,975.10.

Now I can post my October goals!

Checked our Obamacare health costs

September 27th, 2013 at 07:17 am

Someone posted a calculator on Facebook where you could check how much your healthcare could cost next year. We all have employer healthcare, but I thought it would be a good idea to check. Part of my emergency budget is the monthly cost of healthcare should we no longer be covered, which I've always put at $400 per adult and $200 per kid, so $1600 total.

So I filled out the calculator with our current incomes but saying we had no employer healthcare. I was pleasantly surprised by the results!

NT and I are legally married, so I put us and the kids down as a household. Our cost would be $6260 per year, or $522 a month. I put AS down as her own household with just her salary, and her cost would be $1759 a year, or $147 per month.

That means if we had no healthcare coverage and our current incomes in place, we'd pay $669 per month! And it would get cheaper if we were unemployed or on reduced income -- but that seems like a good benchmark for our emergency budget.

That takes our emergency budget down to about $3100! Which would mean we've got nearly 5 months' worth in our emergency fund vs. a little under 4 months.

Here's the calculator if you want to check your projected costs.

Final September debt payment

September 26th, 2013 at 06:16 pm

AS's student loan hit, with $132 going to principal. That takes our debt repayment to $1960 for September!

It also takes our big-picture progress to $27,971.33.

Next month is going to be much more exciting! I'll post my goals soon, probably, since I know I'm not making any more progress this month.

Some more future money news

September 24th, 2013 at 08:04 pm

I have a few more bits of upcoming money news, even though my current finances are just dragging along at the usual pace.

One is, I've pretty much decided that if I do have to get the extra bone graft for my tooth implant next year, I'm going to up my flex spending account to cover it. It will mean that even though I'm the highest earner in my family, I'll have the lowest paycheck! How so? Well, my health insurance is more expensive than either of my partners', plus I'm the only one to get a bus pass paid for directly from my paycheck, plus I take the max daycare withholding ($5K per year). Even now my take-home isn't the highest, but if I withhold an extra $2200 next year it will be the lowest by far. Nothing to worry about, just funny.

I have a scan scheduled for late this year to determine whether I'll need that graft. If it turns out I need to decide my 2014 healthcare allocations before that date, I'll try to move my scan up to just before the deadline. If the dentist says that'll be too early to tell about the graft, then of course I won't withhold the extra $2200 and will just be prepared to pay that out-of-pocket if needed in 2014. But if I do have to take that hit, I'd rather get a lower tax bill as a result. And of course either way, I'll try to pay with a bonus-earning credit card to soften the blow even further!

My other, happier, realization is that if I stretch just a little bit, I can pay off one of NT's student loans in full by Nov. 15! That will leave just over $12K in student loan debt, which means I can just pay $1000 per month next year and have our non-mortgage debt completely wiped out. And that's not factoring in any potential year-end work bonuses or 2013 tax refunds (and I do think we'll get a good-sized one even though I adjusted withholdings, because I was pretty cautious and conservative in my adjustment).

The big temptation will be to put any bonuses or tax refunds toward paying off that student loan debt even faster. But I may try to put it into savings instead, because we want to start renovating our bathroom next year (in preparation for selling, but a couple years early so we can also enjoy it for a bit ourselves!).

Still waiting ...

September 23rd, 2013 at 07:38 pm

My last entry was about how the two weeks before the beginning of October were going to drag, financially. Boy howdy, they are dragging!

Really nothing much has actually happened financially, but I'll scrape the bottom of the barrel for financial news:
- We realized we have two sets of visitors from England promised next year! This means we'll have to conserve our vacation/trip budget as well as our PTO carefully after our spring Boston trip, because we'll want to show them a really good time in Minneapolis. One visit is in May and the other more like August. It'll be lots of fun planning what to do! So that means we won't have another out-of-town trip next year (except maybe renting a cabin or something).
- NT mentioned that his company seems to be doing well and that there's a strong possibility of a bonus! Naturally I'm going to be quietly obsessing over that until it happens or the end of the year comes, I guess. We already roughly know how we'd use it: some to tip our various service providers over the holidays, maybe a bit to assist with family gift giving, the rest toward debt or savings.
- The management company that runs our UK flat answered our query about the plan for the rest of the renovations, saying they'd need 10K to 12K pounds to do everything. Well, they initially said 10K and have already spent 880 pounds, so I'd really like them to stick to their initial plan and finish up for 9K more, not 10 to 12. We'll see.
- Speaking of, I've been idly thinking more and more that if we end up staying in Minneapolis and buying here, there's some chance that we could swing a down payment without selling the UK flat, and keep pulling in rental income and eventually have a paid-off property in addition to our main home. We'd have to save a LOT more than I've planned, but we are ahead of schedule, so I suppose it could happen. Depends on whether we have especially good money luck these next couple years or especially bad luck. If we move to UK, I'm pretty sure we'd have to sell the flat in order to afford a down payment since we'll be paying so much more for so much less, so it's only one possible outcome anyway.
- The grocery budget is still a bit of a struggle, but now that I've worked out how much we can spend weekly, it's much less abstract. As a result, we'll take more drastic steps to stay within the budget. So we're still on track, holding steady so far, even though we're down to the wire each week. The most we've gone into the next week's budget is $5 once.
- My work's been doing a pedometer challenge; we're halfway through a 4-week program. If I complete the number of steps required, I get a $50 gift card. If I'm the top stepper in my department any week, I get an extra $25. So far people have beat me out, but it's a small department so I'm hoping I get the next $25 reward (the other people can't win a second weekly one). In any case, I get to keep the fancy digital pedometer, so that's a pretty good deal! I could keep it or maybe sell on eBay or Craigslist.
- I just got my Barclays travel MasterCard. Spend $1000, get $400 in travel spending. I'll apply NT or AS for another one soon. I'm staggering them a bit to make sure we don't have to stretch to spend the required amounts in the allotted time.

Seriously, I think that's about it. Our finances are running smoothly, boringly along. Nothing exciting is probably going to happen for at least another week. There are good things coming, and challenging things, but right now I'm just playing the waiting game. It's a good thing I have other projects and responsibilities to take my mind off it from time to time!

Anticipation

September 16th, 2013 at 01:22 pm

This is going to be a long couple of weeks for me. Not only is there nothing much going on financially, but I'll just be twiddling my thumbs waiting for October so I can hit a massive milestone: getting our debt under a quarter of a million!

It may be only temporary; depending on what we decide we can afford for our next home, I could see us taking out a bigger mortgage than our current combined debt. But it'll still be really exciting!

There are tons of other exciting things going on to help distract me, though. For one, the feeling of a new season. Except for winter, I love the feeling of change that comes with each season. (Winter has its moments too, but it's so long and cold here that it's hard not to just dread it.) But fall, spring and summer always make me feel re-energized.

Last night I hastily went through clothes, discarding the ones our younger daughter (SL) has outgrown, moving our older daughter's (AA) outgrown clothes into a bag in the closet to await SL growing into them. Then I pulled out bigger clothes for both of them and put them in their dresser. Thanks to enthusiastically accepting hand-me-downs whenever they're offered, we hardly ever have to buy clothes for our girls.

We're going through the outgrown baby ones; our favorites we're giving to a friend who's having a baby soon, and that's going to be our shower gift. All our friends know our commitment to being green and our frugal ways, so I think she'll like the gift. The less favored ones will either go to the church charity van or on Freecycle.

Once again our social calendar has started to fill up a month in advance. I feel so lucky that we haven't grown isolated since we had kids, but sometimes the number of engagements seems overwhelming. But when I look at them, they're all things I really want to do. And at least now it's only the weekends filling up; during the summer there were even lots of midweek things, which I think is what made it a bit tiring. Now it's just one or two things per weekend.

Looking at it makes me realize I need to be careful with my allotted spending money, because I'm going to need a lot of it for what we've got planned (mostly to cover babysitting).

Another possible distraction: One of my friends who attends my "League of Ordinary Savers" meetings occasionally was joking/not joking that she'd like me to manage her spending for her. I'm considering asking if she'd want to try a monthlong experiment where I help her form a budget and track her spending. It would give me something financial to do while my finances are more or less on autopilot, and I'm curious to see if I could actually help someone take control by taking the wheel for a while. She's a pretty good friend, but I have to think about it a bit longer before I bring it up and see if she was serious.

September 2013 net worth update

September 16th, 2013 at 07:26 am

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 15,544 pounds ($24,870)
#2: 17,268 pounds ($27,629)
#3: 4,452 pounds ($7,123)
NT's 401(k): $24,586
NT's Roth IRA: $5,967
AS's 401(k): $10,539
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $14,212
CJ's 401(k): $59,530
CJ's Roth IRA: $5,967
NT's flat: 140,000 pounds ($224,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $145,000
Emergency fund (shared asset): $15,000
House down payment/moving fund (shared): $4,555
---
Total Assets: $570,660

Total Debt: $251,802

Current Estimated Net Worth: $318,858

August 2013 estimate: $310,698

Change in net worth: +$8,160

Summary: Big gain this month! My 401(k) and AS's Roth both showed good progress, plus one of NT's UK pensions sent their annual statement with some decent growth.

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 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 $1.60 for every British pound.

Inspiration to get something started

September 14th, 2013 at 08:01 am

I wrote this post yesterday on my League of Ordinary Savers blog, and AS and a few friends really liked it, so I thought I'd share it here.

The time to start is NOW

As I mention in the post, I've used this philosophy to get back into my morning/evening exercises, and I've also on a whim started telling my weight-loss Facebook group everything I eat each day. I'm feeling motivated by my own post and looking around for other things I can start right away!

Bummer in the bank account, but big-picture progress anyway

September 13th, 2013 at 09:48 am

I've been out of sorts since last night; I think it's just a mild reaction to my flu shot I got yesterday. But today on the way to work, I comforted myself with the thought that I'd be able to see AS's raise in our checking account and find out what the net take-home will be.

Alas, 'twas not to be. Her payroll company screwed up and didn't apply her raise, so her paycheck was the same as before. Her boss is going to have them apply it retroactively on the next paycheck, but that means it'll be a full month before I find out what her exact take-home pay will be. What a bummer after waiting for months for this day!

Luckily we weren't counting on her raise to get by; even though I had a rough estimate factored into our budget, we have a big enough cushion in checking that it's no big deal to wait and get that $100+ next payday instead.

So I was still able to pay the rest of NT's fall tuition. $1061 of big-picture progress! That takes us to $27,839.33 in total progress. Phew! We might be on track to get a third of the way to our goal in just one year, which indicates a potential to reach all our goals in three years instead of three and a half! Of course a lot could happen between now and then, as my tooth drama shows.

Got to do better tracking my credit-card spending

September 11th, 2013 at 01:53 pm

It's been a busy summer, full of more spending than we typically do (mostly because we decided to use our "travel" budget item to have home-based fun this summer). In addition, we're using more than one credit card to maximize rewards (both for bonuses and everyday points).

So it's not altogether shocking that my math hasn't been coming out right every time. Typically what I do is keep a budget line item for paying off each credit card twice a month. When we make a purchase, I add the amount to the line item and subtract it from whatever bucket it's coming out of. Then, twice a month, I double-check the account online to make sure my amount matches, and send off a payment for the balance in full.

Only these past few months, there have been several incidents where the amounts have been different. Not wildly so; I'll be $20 short on my budget than what I owe. And sometimes it's the other way around, and I've got a bigger number in my budget than the actual account balance.

It's never that I see unfamiliar purchases in there; everything looks in order. I just can't seem to get my totals to jibe on a regular basis.

It might even out in the end, but it's frustrating, because I don't always know where to take the extra money from, or allocate the unneeded money to. I might cover a deficit out of my (admittedly large) budget surplus that's usually used for debt or savings. I may decide that I probably double-calculated a carshare rental, and add the money back there. But it bothers me to haphazardly do this, even though it doesn't really affect me significantly. It just makes me feel like I don't actually have a handle on our spending.

Yesterday, between two cards, I was about $60 short. I had $50 coming to me for spending money, so I wiped that out and took the other $10 from our budget surplus. I figure it's my fault the numbers aren't adding up, so I should pay for it this time.

That was a great motivator, even though it's annoying to suddenly have no spending money until Friday. So I started a new practice: On each line item that will eventually become a payment to a credit card, I'm going to list all the purchases that comprise that amount, and keep adding to the description until it's time to pay the bill.

Another thing I'm going to do is not add "pending authorizations" to my line item until they actually come through. With the carshare, the amount they actually take out sometimes adjusts up or down from the pending authorization depending on whether we drove more or fewer miles than the standard estimate. With restaurants, what if I scribble the wrong "with tip" amount on my copy and there's a discrepancy when it comes through? There might be other potentially variable purchases too.

To remind myself that I still need to add pending purchases once they become final, I'll put those with a question mark on the line item. So this is what a typical line item used to look like:

Chase Freedom (need to set up) (75.20)

This is what it looks like now:

Chase Freedom (need to set up) (Hrcr 26.21, SebJoe 12.61, DGD 31.99, Hrcr 4.39, Hrcr? + Copperpot?) (75.20)

That way, I can always know whether I've accounted for a purchase, so I won't double-bill (or not bill) for something, and then be confused later and unable to backtrack.

It's only a bit more work and visual clutter on my budget, and hopefully it'll help me get control of our credit-card spending again.

Well, that was fast!

September 3rd, 2013 at 08:52 pm

I idly checked NT's student loan account, the one I just sent a payment to this morning. Even though the money hasn't officially left our checking account, it's already registered on the loan. $1073 went to principal.

That takes September debt progress to $1828, just over the $1820 goal. Wow, I did not expect to reach our goal three days into the month! The unexpectedly smaller tuition bill helped push us over the edge so soon.

This also takes big-picture progress to $26,778.33!

More debt progress

September 3rd, 2013 at 07:21 am

... and the U.S. mortgage payment hit the account today, with $448 going to principal. That takes us to $755 down, $1065 to go on the debt goal.

I went to see what I need to still pay on NT's tuition, expecting about $1200. I was pleasantly surprised to see we only owe $964! I compared this fall with last fall's charges to see the difference, and the tuition is a couple hundred less this year. Either tuition went down or NT is taking fewer credits (I'm guessing the latter). The point is, $250 more than I expected can go toward student loan debt!

I can afford to do either the student loan payment or the tuition payment now, and the other will have to wait until we get paid on the 15th. Since the student loan charges interest and the tuition payment isn't due yet, I'll do the debt payment first. That will hopefully post in a couple days. I haven't paid extra to this particular loan in a long time, so I can't remember how fast the payments post.

Today is my last day off; daycare was closed from last Wednesday to today. [EDIT: Daycare called; they're open! So I dropped the kids off a bit late and now have an unexpectedly free day.] We had a very fun, full long weekend with a kid-friendly activity every day. Wednesday we went to the wading pool and playground in the nearby park; Thursday the State Fair; Friday AA went to the library with NT while AS and I took SL to the sculpture garden; Saturday was the Renaissance Festival; Sunday we went to another park; and yesterday we went for ice cream and a walk around a lake. Today I'm home alone with the kids, so just taking it as easy as possible. I have a doctor's appointment downtown, so I'll drop the kids off for a visit to NT's office, then maybe take them to visit my office if they're still in a good mood.

The weather is suddenly crisp and cool today; it feels appropriate for back to school season. It is supposed to warm up in a couple days, but it's the first fall-feeling day so far. The summer went so fast! Luckily we have lots to look forward to.

Moneywise, I'm looking forward to AS's raise, which should take effect in her next paycheck, and our lower mortgage payment (which should also come with a higher portion going to principal) that starts on Nov. 1.

Tons of fun social events in September and October, and then we barrel into the winter holidays. Then we'll have a vacation (trip to Boston) sometime in the spring. Also in the spring, if I've saved up enough money, we'll redecorate and update our bathroom. Also, next year should be NT's last year of school, if he manages to keep up the pace!

And, this is looking ahead quite a bit, so things could change, but the following year (2015) should be all about getting close to finishing our big-picture goals, including updating the kitchen near the end of the year or beginning of the next. We discussed this weekend that AS should start seriously looking for UK employment at the beginning of 2016. Hopefully we'll then have a clearer picture of our future: Will we stay in Minnesota or move permanently to England?

I know winter will be so hard (it always is in Minnesota), but there's still something about the fall that's exciting and energizing.

September debt progress

September 2nd, 2013 at 02:25 pm

Our U.S. mortgage payment is delayed because of the holiday, but it's a regular business day in England, so our UK mortgages hit:
UK#1: $214 to principal
UK#2: $45
UK#3: $48

All told, $307 down, $1513 to go on the September debt goal.