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Archive for February, 2014

March goals (debt and fitness)

February 28th, 2014 at 06:29 pm

As I mentioned a few times before, our near financial futures are a bit uncertain at the moment. So I'm going to try very hard to restrain myself and not pay extra on the debt.

The minimum payments should take us to at least $900 down.

As I also mentioned, I'm setting myself a fitness challenge. 20 workouts in the exercise room in March. That's about 5 per week. Hopefully I can do it! I have promised myself a new pair of running shoes (out of my own spending money) if I make it.

Feel free to chime in with a fitness challenge of your own if you like! Misery loves company. Wink

Credit card spending update

February 27th, 2014 at 07:04 pm

We're on the home stretch of this crazy batch of credit card bonuses!

CJ Capital One: reward received, canceled
NT Capital One: reward received, need to cancel
CJ BankAmericard: reward received, need to cancel
AS Chase Freedom: reward received, need to cancel
NT BankAmericard: waiting for reward points to post
CJ Citi Dividend: waiting for reward points to post
CJ Discover: waiting for rewards points to post
AS BankAmericard: waiting for rewards points to post
AS Citi Dividend: need to spend 132.29 more
NT Citi Dividend: need to spend 500
CJ Chase Southwest Visa: need to spend 184.16 more

So close! I was able to finish up 3 cards today; one needed about 7.75 more of spending and the other about 75. I realized that Comcast lets me pay a portion of my bill at a time, and we owe 83.07 in early March. So I put $8.07 on one card and $75 on the other. Handy! AS bought NT a bday present and it finished out the spending on one of hers.

Now we have $816.45 left to spend. $500 will go to my party, and we actually have a rare week with several social things planned: me, lunch w/co-worker tomorrow (expensed); AS, drinks with a friend tomorrow; and all three of us are going out for dinner with friends who are watching AA and SL while we go to a home & garden expo Saturday. Oh, and I'm going shopping for a dress and MAYBE a makeup lesson on Monday. We may be done with this batch by March 8 or 9!

I need to do a big round of cancellations soon. I also have the Barclay cards I was hanging onto until after our Puerto Rico trip. One of them I may have earned enough points to redeem a small reward, so I'm going to wait until the points from the trip spending posts. I may come up a little short but it's worth seeing before I cancel. I really love the cards that don't make you come up with a minimum amount before you redeem! I notice that CapOne and USBank don't make you wait, and maybe BankAmericard. Too bad Barclay isn't the same.

Met February debt goal; happy accident

February 26th, 2014 at 08:20 pm

Since I paid extra on AS's student loan for the first time last month, I was keeping a close eye to see if it set up an automatic monthly payment. Usually even before the payment, it says what's due that month, but that number stayed at zero. So on Monday my impatience got the best of me and I set up a payment for the same amount. I got a warning that a regular scheduled payment would still go through, but I ignored it, figuring that was just a boilerplate message that didn't mean anything.

But today, two payments posted. Whoops! I had to pull money out of what I'm saving up for my bday party. That's OK, I've got plenty of time to come up with the money for that.

I'm kind of happy this happened, because I REALLY want to finish paying off our non-mortgage debt, but I've been telling myself that it's not a good time what with the future job insecurities, tax bill, etc. I know I might have to stick to the minimum payments for the foreseeable future. So this is one extra debt payment I get to enjoy before I crack down and start stashing money instead of sending it straight to the student loan companies.

Between the two payments, $299 went to principal. That takes us to $1576 paid for the month, surpassing the $1400 goal. Yay! I may not be able to knock out all our student loan debt this year, but that feels good.

And, I just realized this extra payment means that we will definitely get the total under $10K by the end of the year, even if we don't pay any extra. Double yay!

Workout challenge for March?

February 26th, 2014 at 07:37 pm

I've been noticing (and envious of) several SAers who are ramping up their exercise. I need to start working out more often so I'll be in good shape for my first 5K in April.

Would anyone like to join me in a March fitness challenge? We could all set our own goals if we were at different levels, or do the same as someone else if inspired.

I think I'm going to shoot for 20 days of exercise in the exercise room. Hopefully many of them will be jogging, but if I don't feel like jogging, I'll let myself do walking or the stationery bike or free weights.

Are you in?

The day's stuff

February 25th, 2014 at 10:32 pm

- Checking all my credit card accounts to set up payments, I realized I forgot to count the first $50 baggage charge (for the way TO Puerto Rico) in my spending totals. That means we went over by more like $58 rather than $8! But, we'll each put in a bit and it won't be that bad. The good(?) news is that it's more spending on one of the rewards credit cards.

- In the week leading up to vacation and during it, we started to think that work problems would clear themselves up and/or unsatisfied employees (being cagy again, sorry) would find a way to make their job a good fit. Today made it clear that was not the case. There need to be some changes in our family. So the annual budget and goals will be a bit in flux until we see how everything nets out. I still see it as a positive thing.

- But, if we do net out at about the same take-home pay, I recalculated everything we need to do and some potential sources of extra bits of income, and it looks like we could just barely make our goals. That wold be nice (but not necessary).

- Paid the big dental bill and had NT submit for FSA reimbursement right away. Also went out for drinks tonight with AS and put that on a rewards CC (to be paid back with our spending money). One of AS's CCs posted her bonus points and I immediately redeemed as a statement credit. Here's where we stand on spending:
CJ Capital One: reward received, canceled
NT Capital One: reward received, need to cancel
CJ BankAmericard: reward received, need to cancel
AS Chase Freedom: reward received, need to cancel
NT BankAmericard: waiting for reward points to post
CJ Discover: need to spend 7.82 more
AS BankAmericard: need to spend 22.27 more
AS Citi Dividend: need to spend 132.29 more
CJ Citi Dividend: need to spend 74.51 more
NT Citi Dividend: need to spend 500
CJ Chase Southwest Visa: need to spend 215 more

So now we just need 951.89 more. Easy peasy.

- Cold snap is back with a vengeance. With windchills of -25 tomorrow morning and -38 Thursday, will probably have to take cabs again. Unwelcome spending, but safety first. Hopefully it's the last week we'll have to do that (I know I keep saying that)!

- I think that's all! Anyway, I'm too sleepy to remember if I had any other news.

Credit card bonus spending

February 24th, 2014 at 09:00 pm

Time to see where I am with bonus spending. We've been using cards for medical bills, some vacation spending, bday gift buying, and charitable donations. I now have an 11th card because I opened a SW one to pay for my additional dental expenses I didn't think were coming.

CJ Capital One: reward received, canceled
NT Capital One: reward received, need to cancel
CJ BankAmericard: reward received, need to cancel
AS Chase Freedom: waiting for reward points to post
NT BankAmericard: waiting for reward points to post
CJ Discover: need to spend 7.82 more
AS BankAmericard: need to spend 54.27 more
AS Citi Dividend: need to spend 132.29 more
CJ Citi Dividend: need to spend 134.37 more
NT Citi Dividend: need to spend 500
CJ Chase Southwest Visa: need to spend 2000

So all told, we need to spend $2828.75 more. We'll put my bday party on NT's Citi card, which will be well over the $500 needed. I'll put my new dental bill (1785) on the new SW Visa. That will leave just $543.75. I'm taking my co-worker to lunch (expensing it) this Friday, which will be about $40. We're planning to go to dinner this Saturday ($75-$90?), and I'll probably shop for a new dress on Monday ($50-$75?). AS and I still have about $140 left to spend on NT's bday and they have about $45 left to spend on mine. And I can pay the cable bill in early March ($83.07). At the low end of those estimates, we'd then need to spend $110.68. Worst comes to worst, we buy little gift cards for places we already spend at already (Amazon, Target) to push us over the edge. I doubt it will come to that, since we tend to use our spending money for little purchases here and there that can add up.

The first 10 cards need to be spent up by the end of March, but we have longer on the SW card. Of course I want to get it spent up and canceled ASAP so I have a better chance of getting the annual fee refunded! I don't think it'll be a problem.

It's been a lot of work keeping these all straight, but it's definitely taken the sting out of some unexpected as well as predicted expenses. Counting the gift card value we'll get from SW (minus the annual fee in case we can't get it canceled), we'll clear $1560. I can deal with some math headaches for that kind of haul!

Puerto Rico pics!

February 22nd, 2014 at 04:17 pm

Per Buendia's request. Smile

SL (with AS) at the beach near our resort:


(It was a nice sandy beach and beautiful ocean, but I didn't get any good shots of that.)

AA at the pool:


Random shot of the pool:


Pics from NT's day trip to Old San Juan:



Back from vacation; menu planning

February 22nd, 2014 at 03:07 pm

We're back! Overall we had a wonderful time. Puerto Rico is really nice. I tried to track expenses the whole time so we knew when to pull back on spending. It worked -- looks like we only went over budget by $8! I'll pay that in with my spending money, no problem.

The one thing that wasn't great is that it's not a very vegetarian-friendly culture. They tend to put a bit of pork in everything, even the plantains, beans and rice. We did find one vegetarian-friendly restaurant, a nice smoothie cafe and a few other places to eat. But I think if we go back, we'll try to rent a condo or some kind of accommodation that includes a kitchen. I would've liked to make my own vegan spin on the yummy Puerto Rican dishes I couldn't try! (You'll notice we're attempting a vegan PR feast this week.)

Needless to say, I'm glad to get back to home-cooked meals. We would've been a bit over budget on groceries, but we had money left from last week since we didn't do a full shopping trip before our trip!

Saturday lunch: creamy sun-dried tomato pasta

Saturday dinner: sesame tofu with rice & broc

Sunday lunch: mashed potatoes, carrots, corn, veg burgers/chix nuggets

Sunday dinner: mamposteao, lemon achiote tofu, mofongo

Monday: mushroom lentil bourgignon w/roasted potatoes & carrots

Tuesday: BLATs (veggie BLTs plus avocado) & roasted cauliflower

Wednesday: parsley breadcrumb pasta & salad

Thursday: Southern fried tofu, waffles & broccoli

Friday: franks & beans & salad

February 2014 net worth update

February 22nd, 2014 at 02:47 pm

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 15,544 pounds ($24,870)
#2: 19,653 pounds ($31,445)
#3: 4,452 pounds ($7,123)
NT's 401(k): $28,609
NT's Roth IRA: $6,718
AS's 401(k): $12,187
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $17,183
CJ's 401(k): $67,554
CJ's Roth IRA: $6,718
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): $4,577
---
Total Assets: $592,666

Total Debt: $242,326

Current Estimated Net Worth: $350,340

January 2014 estimate: $346,402

Change in net worth: +$3,938

Summary: A good mix of debt paydown and modest market gains. I'm really glad, because there was a big increase last month and I figured there might have been a correction this month. We reached a milestone -- our cumulative retirement fund value is up over $200K!

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.

My guest post is up!

February 17th, 2014 at 06:58 am

I'm on vacation! Just a quick entry to say that my guest post is up. Here it is if you're interested.

Dental bill more like I predicted, and other news

February 13th, 2014 at 02:33 pm

Surprise, surprise. I got a bill from the dental surgeon, whose office said I was only responsible for $1615, asking me for another $1785. $3400, much closer to what I was expecting to pay. Still expecting to pay $1646 at the other dentist for whatever it is they do to my implant, taking total to $5046. I think I predicted that exact number!

So, really glad I took out the full $5K in flex spending!

Of course, if I'd known this, I wouldn't have distributed cards to AS and NT and had all of us spending them up. I've only got 2 cards with $500 needed. In a fit of pique last night, I signed up for a Southwest Visa, where I pay a $99 annual fee but get $500 in gift cards for spending $2000. (And potentially the annual fee gets waived.) I'll use that to pay the dental bill.

Today I checked which credit cards don't charge foreign transaction fees, and of the reward cards remaining, only NT's CapOne (which needs only $300 more of spending) is fee-free. I did hold onto the Barclay cards just in case for this trip, so AS and I will bring those. But that means we won't be able to do much reward spending on the trip.

That's OK. I've avoided using the reward cards for grocery purchases (since we get 6% on our Amex) or Target or Amazon purchases (since we get 5% off with our specialty cards for those stores), but we can always use the cards for that if we need to top up to get the spending done in time to get the bonus.

My guest blog was accepted! I'll post a link once it's published. There was no talk of pay, which was fine for one post, but this is a professionally run site, so I won't be doing more posts for them if they don't pay anything. Still, it was really fun and exciting to get that attention from my ordinarysavers.com website.

We grownups decided to forgo Valentine's gifts for each other this year. What with our kid-free date last week, the Puerto Rico trip this coming week and birthdays in March, we didn't feel the need. I'll probably pick up a couple cheap treats for the kids tomorrow, though goodness knows they won't need them, what with daycare kids exchanging treats AND my parents sending them each a goodie bag.

There's been lots of scary yet exhilarating talk in our house of potential job changes. AS was rather stressed that if new jobs meant a net lower income, we wouldn't hit our target for moving out of the condo.

Job stress has been a major downer in our household. As much as I want to pay off our debt and move to a bigger home, I realized that a happier home life is more important to me by far.

So I promised AS that if our overall income lowered, I'd actually move debt payoff to the bottom of priorities. If that still didn't allow us to hit our goals, we could look at temporarily cutting out wants such as travel, housekeeping and charitable giving. I swore that renovating and saving up for a move would be the main priority. That made her feel much better.

One of the changes was NT looking for a job. He's updated his resume and identified three or four jobs to apply for. He did speak to a higher-up at his job who's still talking the talk about hiring help and/or giving him a raise, so he hasn't completely counted them out, but since they've been talking for a lo-o-ong time, he's going to still look for jobs just in case they're stringing him along. If he gets an offer, maybe that will spur them to act on their promises.

Either way, whether he gets help and a raise, or a new job that inspires him and isn't 50 hours a week, we'll be much better off soon!

I'm on fire today!

February 11th, 2014 at 01:27 pm

The funny thing is I don't FEEL like I'm on fire; I'm doing everything slowly and reluctantly. I'm at work and having a slowish day, and I just don't have the energy to chase down extra work. So I thought I should try to get some non-work things done. So far I have:
- Canceled a credit card via online.
- Paid the home insurance annual bill by phone.
- Paid a random little bill from my old dentist by phone.
- Tried to call our parking-space renter, whose check is late.
- Called a prospective new babysitter for my bday party, then followed up via email when she wasn't sure if she was free.
- Tried to call a vegetarian chef we're trying to connect with in Puerto Rico (had my Spanish-speaking friend call him first in case he only spoke Spanish; she got in touch with him, but then when I called later, he wasn't there).
- Wrote the first draft of a blog post for a site that contacted me to invite me to be a guest blogger!
- Submitted a daycare receipt for reimbursement.

Phew! For feeling completely unmotivated, I'm not doing too badly.

I attended the first meeting of our condo's new finance committee last night. People had some very interesting thoughts to reduce our operating expenses and eventually (hopefully) our association dues. I hope I can contribute some thoughts too; I was mostly there to listen. It seems to be a grassroots group formed by homeowners frustrated by the yearly increases in our dues (this year it was 7.7%!). I'm glad I'm not the only one! We meet again in March.

We're doing pretty well meeting our spending requirements for the rewards cards. Now we just have left:
NT Cap One need 300.85
AS BOA need 366.93
CJ Citi need 134.37
CJ Discover need 135
AS Citi need 265.29
NT Citi need 500
NT BOA need 500
CJ BOA DONE
CJ Cap One DONE & cancelled
AS Chase DONE

So we just need to spend $2202.44 more. $500 could be for the party, $483 for NT's outstanding ER bill, and the rest could easily be used up with bday and other spending.

I canceled a Chase Sapphire that I got the bonus for (before this latest group of cards), so we're down to 18. Slowly but surely whittling that pile down!

So close to our vacation! Tonight I may go to trivia, tomorrow I have lunch with a friend, Thursday is a normal day and Friday is a half day with a daycare event in the afternoon. Saturday we get our hair cut and prepare for the trip, and EARLY Sunday morning we head to the airport. Can't wait! Today was another miserably cold morning, but it should be the last one for a while. Tomorrow morning should actually be in the positives!

Menu plan

February 10th, 2014 at 11:47 am

Our grocery budget seems to be on track, and with our vacation coming up (when we won't need grocery money because we have spending money already set aside), we should actually be able to have some extra money stashed in the budget for household needs that tend to derail our weekly spending!

This is a bit late, but here goes:
Saturday lunch: leftovers
Saturday dinner: Pasta w/roasted red pepper sauce
Sunday lunch: "full English": eggs/tofu, baked beans, fried potatoes, fried tomatoes, veggie bacon/sausage, toast
Sunday dinner: "cheeseburger quesadillas" (cheese quesadillas w/veggie ground beef), lettuce and tomatoes, applesauce, fries
Monday: penne vodka
Tuesday: Fried rice w/pineapple, carrot, green pepper, shrooms, tofu; Pot stickers
Wednesday: spaghetti & spinach-tomato sauce
Thursday: szechuan "beef" & broccoli, rice
Friday: Tater tot hot dish

Bathroom fund etc.

February 9th, 2014 at 10:10 pm

Looking over my budget I saw that we have several "escrow" line items making it seem like we're cutting it close when we're really not. So I went ahead and transferred the $1000 I was going to put into the renovation fund on payday (Friday). Feels good to have that fund done.

I also saw that we'd earned $5.40 of interest, which I counted toward the general house/moving fund.

This weekend has been some ups and downs, though mostly (if not all) in my head. Stupid faux-pas that will bug me for weeks because that's the way I am, even though it was totally negligible. Discussions of possible future outcomes that could positively or negatively affect our future. Sorry to be vague, not all of it is probably wise to discuss (since blogs are never guaranteed private, are they?). Anyway, I'm left unsettled, but mostly hopeful. One thing I feel OK about saying openly is that NT does feel he's getting the runaround for the 10th (or is it 100th?) time at his job, and it's the last straw. He started looking for a new job today. If his job comes through, great. If they don't, he'll already be working on his exit strategy. It's a win-win.

There are two amazingly tempting houses for sale in our neighborhood, well within our eventual price range. Too bad we're in no way equipped to make the down payment now, or even commit to definitely staying in Minneapolis yet. So we'll drool and then move on. It makes me hopeful that even if prices continue to rise, we'll still be able to find what we want at least at the top of our price range.

It looks like Monday will be bearable enough to not take cabs, so that's good.

I'm chalking most of this amorphous unease to low-level winter blues. I hope Puerto Rico next week helps to wash that away!

Extra debt payment etc. (many other rambles)

February 5th, 2014 at 10:11 pm

I was so impatient to make extra debt progress (I haven't sent any extra payments since December), I rejiggered the budget slightly so I could send my $500 extra payment to AS's loan now instead of waiting for the 2/14 paycheck.

It hit today, with $493 going to principal. This is the first extra payment to this particular loan. With a 3.25% fixed interest rate, there were always loans that needed paying off before it. But now, with NT's 3.4% loan not accruing interest (federally subsidized), this is the next debt in my sights. Smile

That takes February progress to $1277 down, $123 to go. I can't tell if this payment wiped out the regular payment at the end of the month, but I'll make sure we pay the amount we normally would so we can meet the goal.

Yay!

On the down side of finances, temperatures are dropping again; 8 am will be -13, feels like -30. That's weather I don't feel comfortable walking a mile to daycare in, so we'll be taking a cab again unless the forecast is wildly off. This is I think the 6th time this year; we didn't take any cabs the two winters before! I'm getting sick of shelling out $10-$30 per day (depending on whether we need 2 cabs and where the parent is going after daycare). Trying to focus on how little we pay for transportation costs overall. But still, knowing I'm in danger of not hitting our annual goals, it does gall me.

NT ordered his smartphone from Ting last night. His prepaid minutes are almost used up on his old phone, so soon he'll transition to Ting. I'm interested to see how it works out! I'm so used to T-Mobile coverage, I hope Sprint isn't significantly worse. But, we'll keep our T-Mobile phones and could always go back to that if necessary.

Yesterday was a crappy day, both in my personal life (FB spat with a friend) and at work (corporate BS and feeling underappreciated). AS gave me lots of pep talks, and today I took action on every single thing that was bothering me. Even if my first steps to resolution don't turn into anything, I'm at least proud of myself for pulling out of my defeatist attitude and trying to change things.

Later today, however, I started feeling achy. I went home a half hour early and slept for 3 hours. I really hope this doesn't turn out to be anything, because our daycare lady is keeping our kids for a sleepover this Friday, and we have a fun date night planned! Also, we have our vacation coming up in less than 2 weeks. C'mon body, hang in there!

I've been very careful with my personal spending money so I could pay for comedy tickets I bought in December and my web hosting fee this month. If I don't spend any personal money tomorrow, I'll have made up the last amount and be back to getting my regular amount every week! I think that should be pretty easy; we have plenty of cereal and bread for breakfasts and plenty of leftovers for lunches.

Also, if we manage to not buy any more groceries between now and Saturday, we'll be on budget. We had about $5 left in this week's budget, and today I bought some cold medicine just in case, which wiped it out. I don't think we have any needs that can't wait until Saturday.

I'm thinking about attending my condo's finance committee meeting Monday. Apparently you can go and sign up to try and get on the committee. I'm very interested in finding ways to cut down on expenses so maybe our fees won't go up as much. And just learning what it's like to take part in the condo; I've never even attended a meeting and we've lived here over 10 years.

I can't remember if I mentioned it, but I canceled another credit card. We're down to 19! I'm still waiting for one of NT's cards to confirm cancellation, and I've got the rewards check for another, so as soon as I deposit the check I'll cancel that card too.

Here's what we have left to spend:
NT Cap One 300.85
AS Citi 500
NT BOA 500
AS BOA 366.93
NT Citi 500
CJ Citi 221.13
CJ Discover 135
AS Chase 168.87
CJ BOA done
CJ Cap One done

In total, 2692.78 more spending needed. I've got home insurance premium coming up ($234), and bday restaurant expense ($500+). Also NT's hospital bill if we can get that paid ($483). That will only leave $1475 we need to spend. We could use some for bday gifts, and/or take a couple of the cards on our vacation as long as there won't be foreign transaction fees.

I know I said this would be our last round of CC rewards cards for a while, but if the Citi ThankYou reward is still there when we're done with these, I'd be tempted. Amazon gift cards will always come in handy! And we've got the bathroom reno coming up which will mean thousands of dollars in charges. We'll see.

More debt repayment & other progress

February 2nd, 2014 at 10:13 pm

The UK mortgage payments hit:
#1: $217 to principal
#2: $47
#3: $47

Total of $311 of debt repayment, so that makes it $784 down, $616 to go on the February debt goal.

I was also able to register a few hundred pounds toward saving up for the UK renovations.

Progress on my bday party front: I confirmed with the karaoke DJ that he's able to do it. Reasonable pricing gives me about $50 left over in my bday budget, which I'll probably use toward babysitting fees. I set up my invitation and am getting very excited for this party!

Oh, and I got an insurance statement for my dental surgery. I find the statements almost impossible to read, but it looks like they think I'm on the hook for $3200 after their coverage. The dentist office said I was only responsible for $1615. If insurance is right and not the dentist office, I'll be vindicated in my move to take out the full $5K in flex spending. Either way, really glad I don't have to worry!

February debt progress

February 1st, 2014 at 10:53 am

The U.S. mortgage hit, with $473 going to principal. $927 to go on the February debt goal.

I checked Zillow last night to see if any homes had sold in our complex recently, and one sold early this month. Comparable size and number of bedrooms/bathrooms, not quite as high up: $145,000. That's what I currently have our home valued at in our net worth calculations, so that's good. We owe $154,3339, so still quite a bit underwater. Stilll, we should get the principal down to $145 in about a year and a half, and hopefully values will have crept up in that time, so I'm optimistic we'll be able to break even when we sell.