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Archive for June, 2008

Dental saga + two big splurges

June 30th, 2008 at 09:47 pm

The first splurge I got last week but only got to try out recently, because I didn't want to distract AS from her grad school final project. It was Rock Band for Wii! $180--yowch. I'd been steadily accumulating leftover spending money in my sock drawer, but this purchase ate about two-thirds of that savings. Well, I was saving it for something fun, and what a game! You get a "drum set," drumsticks, microphone, guitar/bass, and a whole mess of cheezy and classic songs. We've been loving it so far.

OK, so Thursday night as I was eating a DELICIOUS new meal we'd come up with (marinated portobellos, pan-fried and then broiled; lemon-butter broccoli; and wild rice/white rice pilaf with onions, garlic, dried herbs and fresh thyme--let me know if you want any recipes BTW), my upper left back tooth started hurting. It got steadily worse that night and was throbbing like crazy the next morning. I called my dentists but they don't work on Fri-Sat-Sun. I'm scared of other dentists so I decided to wait it out.

We were having a party at our house Friday night, Saturday we were going to go up to the pool, and Sunday was the Twin Cities GLBT Pride parade/festival. Plus one of our friends was coming from out of town for Pride.

The party wasn't too bad; I explained my problem to people as they came in so they wouldn't think I was slurring from early drunkenness. I was able to taste all the delicious foods we made (homemade breadsticks with homemade marinara dip, trifle, stuffed red potato skins) and bought (matchstick potatoes, raspberry-mustard pretzel dip) if I chewed really, really cautiously on the right side of my mouth. My only drinking during the night was a periodic swish of whiskey over my tooth to help dull the pain.

Saturday it was just as bad, if not worse. AS looked on the Internet and found a dentist open on Saturdays and called to see if they could fit me in. She insisted I go, and both she and NT said they'd chip in their spending money for the bill. (Awww!) So I went and was reminded why I don't like most dentists. It's just hard for people to make you feel really comfortable. Plus this guy, when he couldn't figure out what was wrong, offered to file my teeth down in case it was a clenching problem. I politely declined! He did prescribe penicillin in case it was an infection. The charge was $70, but I noticed something that said there was a 5% discount if you paid in cash, so I asked about it. She had forgotten to take that off! $66.50, and she knocked it down to $66 because I didn't have the exact amount and she didn't have change. She said they'd reimburse if my insurance paid part of it, but we'll see if they bother to follow up. Not sure any of it's covered anyway. NT, AS and I split the cost three ways from our spending money. The prescription cost $10, which I took from our medical category in the budget (getting low, but there was enough for that at least).

Then came my other big splurge. I've been wanting a really great blender for years. Basically it seems you can get an OK blender for pretty cheap ($30-$100), but a really great one's gonna cost you. With our raw-foods cleanse coming up, we could really use one, because we're going to want to juice greens and make smoothies, and a Vitamix can apparently do both, really well.

So again, the three of us pooled together our spending money, pulled $100 from our farm-share savings, $18 from home improvement, and came up with the $429 for a refurbished Vitamix direct from the company, with 7-year warranty.

I'm excited, but I'm down to a few bucks of spending money, which hasn't been the case for a long time. I just have to do without little extras til Friday, which usually isn't that hard anyway.

Pride was fun at first; we watched the parade and hung out with friends. I only spent about $5 of my dwindling money on drinks. Then AS twisted her ankle coming downstairs. Probably due to that and my still-throbbing tooth (and grad-school stress, and alcohol), we had a spat and headed home. I'm sad we didn't get to see our out-of-town friend more, but he usually comes to town twice a year or more, so it'll be OK. (Oh yeah, and we made up, so that's OK too. Smile)

Today I managed to get an appointment with my dentists, the ones I'm not scared of. They confirmed there is nothing noticeably wrong with my tooth and decided to numb me and give that tooth a good scraping and cleaning, because chances are a small particle of food caused the swelling and infection. They said the cleaning plus the penicillin should clear it up. I hope so! I don't know how much this will cost me (they estimated $60), but I do have a small ($75) emergency fund that will cover it if I don't have any other extra money when the bill comes.

Not a great weekend overall, but we have the blender to look forward to! Plus, even though we're low on spending money, I am proud to say that none of the above, not the splurges or the medical emergencies, will be going on credit cards. What would have been second nature for us before is now a thing of the past!!!

So here I am on Monday, tender-gummed, chagrined but excited about our two luxury purchases, and looking forward to the next couple days when some bills hit and I can show some progress on my debt paying.

Big-Picture Goal mid-year review

June 24th, 2008 at 04:43 pm

OK, per mighty Merch (there's no "not so" in my opinion Smile), here are my thoughts on my Big-Picture Goal, which as most of you know is to pay off all credit cards and personal loans by 12/31/09.

In a perfect scenario I'd be one-quarter done by now. My starting balance was $70,251, so that means I should have paid off $17,563 by now, and have a balance of $52,688.

Instead, to date I've paid off $16,472, and I'm at $53,779.

That means I'm $1,091 behind schedule.

If all stays stable in my life, that number is not alarming, because a debt snowball has you paying off much less at first and then gradually increasing over time. However, I know for a fact that the second half of 2008 is going to be anything but stable:

- In August, AS will officially graduate from her Master's program, and her two deferred student loans will come due. I believe one of them had a monthly payment of about $200, and the other has only a slightly smaller balance (and I have no idea what the interest rate will be).

- In September, NT will (hopefully) be starting school, to finish his B.A. Now I'm hoping to borrow enough to cover the whole thing (and have already assumed $40K of imaginary debt in preparation), but there's a chance there will be expenses that need to be paid upfront.

- In November, our mortgage payments will go up. Whether we let our ARM adjust or we refinance to a fixed-rate loan before that, it's going up either way. I'm not getting a 5.0% loan with no fees and no points, and that's that. How much it will settle at, I have yet to learn.

Luckily there should be offsets to these bumps in our monthly bills:

- When AS has finished her capstone project (before Aug. 1, hopefully), she will begin her job search in earnest. She already has an application at the one place she wants to work more than anything. We're hoping that with her advanced degree she will command a better salary than she does now.

- NT and I should get cost-of-living raises this year. Mine should hit in September, and I can't remember right now when NT said his would be.

- And, if the above isn't enough, I'm hoping to scrape a few bucks off our phone bill in October by switching two of our phones to prepaid. Our grocery/household category could definitely shrink too, though I hope it doesn't come to that. Probably I wouldn't, because our quality of life is good where it is, and the due date on my goal doesn't have any real significance: I wouldn't die if I were a month or two late on finishing it.

So where does that put me in my Big-Picture Goal? Shakily optimistic, I guess.

June net worth update

June 23rd, 2008 at 08:54 pm

NT's pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
10,725 pounds ($21,450)
NT's 401(k): $1,702
AS's 403(b): $2,078
CJ's 401(k): $25,871
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $182,000
Total Assets: $507,601

Total Debt: $426,154

Current Estimated Net Worth: $81,447

5/28 estimate: $79,330
Change in net worth: +$2,117

Summary: My 401(k) lost $661 in value, so our assets went down a bit despite gains in AS's 403(b) and NT's 401(k). But our debt repayment gave us a bump in net worth anyway. We'll have to go faster than this to hit $100K by the end of the year, but I'm still happy to see progress.

Note on the numbers above: House value estimates are conservative, and retirement totals don't include amounts currently unvested.

OMG missed my blogoversary!

June 23rd, 2008 at 07:46 pm

I started my blog June 21, 2007, according to my sidebar.

Oh well. When I was a car owner, I would usually miss when the odometer rolled over to a number with a lot of zeroes, so I'm not really surprised.

To make up for it, looks like this is going to be a 4-post day, because I'm about to figure my net worth and send out that update.

So, happy belated first blogoversary to me! Smile

Monday money musings

June 23rd, 2008 at 05:57 pm

Why is it that Mondays are when I have a bunch of random things to blog about? Maybe because I don't think too much about my budget over the weekend; I use downtime at work to do most of my planning, balancing and blogging.

Friday we received word that we're going to have to spend about 180 pounds for a bed in order to get a new tenant for our UK flat. (Don't ask me why; we depend on our management company since we don't live there, so I hope this is really necessary.) That's in addition to all the leasing and management fees coming up, so I was looking at having to eat into our August extra debt repay (we've already set aside all our July extra repay money for this expense).

Then NT said he was almost positive that the biggest expense--450 pounds, or about US$900, for a 999-year lease on the land (again, don't ask)--wouldn't be coming until next year, maybe late next year.

That could potentially mean that we've paid all our credit debt off before it even hits, especially if we throw as much as possible at it. So I've reversed part of my executive decision and am going to only set aside the rest of the money, trusting that we can come up with the $900 closer to the date that we need it.

I'm still going to hold off our July payment to save a $50 fee, and send it all in August. But what this means is that if nothing else sucker-punches us, our August payment will be $250 for July and August UK bills, $1100 for the other lease and rental fees, and a nice $2150 for extra debt repayment! August is looking to be very exciting indeed, if I can just get through the rest of boring June and July. (Boring moneywise; I just need to get out and enjoy the summer and forget about debt repayment for the most part!)

We've been hoping to glom onto a friend's garage sale for awhile now, and finally there's one with a fixed date: Aug. 15-16. Hopefully we'll make enough for a couple small home improvements and to put some more in the travel fund. Now that I've committed mentally to getting our family on two trips per year, I'm going to need to scrap for every extra penny I can, because three adults traveling together gets quite expensive fast! I have to remember to list our futon and loveseat on Craigslist and see if I can get a bit of money for those. (I keep putting it off because I'll have to declutter before I photograph them.)

We were sitting on our balcony yesterday reflecting on what we didn't get done there this year and what we'd like to do next summer. We've decided having some bamboo mats to roll out on the (ugly gray-painted concrete) floor is a priority next year, plus some prettier planters and more creative use of space, possibly with hanging planters and/or trellises. We're considering asking other tenants to let us see what they've done, because the wind on the 18th floor can be murder on plants! We keep having to drag our tomato buckets indoors, so I can't imagine delicate blooms surviving out there. Anyway, there's going to be some cost involved there, but we have plenty of time to save up for it.

All of my money goals, both saving for things and paying off debt, are big dollar amounts, so it's hard to focus sometimes on the smaller bits of money that go in and out of our lives. But I've been making a concentrated effort to make sure I know where those bits go, so I can see the difference frugality makes. I got a direct deposit of $6.88 from from a book sale, and I had a 90-cent surplus in my budget, so I transferred $7.78 into my travel savings.

I have started to-the-penny budgeting, meaning that however far out I extrapolate my budget, I allocate every penny. I've decided I'm not comfortable with a final line of $0, so I've set my goal to keep that at $20. That way I have a bit of a cushion for minor fluctuations in the budget. If I use part of the $20, I will adjust the budget until I get it back.

I guess that's enough for one long, rambling blog post. Happy Monday to anyone who's still reading! Smile

Spam is everywhere

June 23rd, 2008 at 04:36 pm

In the past week I've gotten two "comments" on blog entries that ended with links to debt consolidation websites. Grrr...I don't mind deleting the odd one, but I can't help fearing that it will end up like my email, where I end up deleting over 100 spams a day. I suppose if you blog about something like debt reduction, you're touching on one of the three hot topics for spam: sex, money and weight loss.

July goal set

June 17th, 2008 at 03:41 pm

Lamest goal since I started this trek, might I add. Frown I'm just going to make sure I pay the usual minimum, so my goal is to pay off $1450 by July 31. (As I mentioned in an earlier post, I'm saving all the extra money I usually put toward debt for some upcoming leasing and management fees for our UK rental property.)

So, nothing too exciting. I'm just hoping this doesn't somehow sabotage my mental momentum. I'll keep looking toward August, when, if I'm lucky, I may be able to get my credit card debt under $50K and my home debt under $300K. Those will be exciting milestones, so I'll work extra hard to get there!

June goal reached!

June 17th, 2008 at 03:08 pm

Payment posted to my personal loan: $441 to principal. (Warning: gripe follows.) Now, last month I paid the same amount extra, and $480 went to principal. It's a fixed-term loan (meaning if I didn't do anything it would pay off in 5 years, unlike credit cards), so I called them because I don't know how these things work. The CSR let me know that since I'd paid on the 13th last time, less interest had accrued on my balance (interest is added daily, and right now it's at $6 per day). I asked how it was $49 different if only three days had passed, which should be $18. She said she didn't know what the interest per diem had been a month ago, and had know way of checking. How stupid! I'm sure interest didn't go down $10 per day, or else I'll be paying no interest in a month. Maybe I paid even later the month before? I guess they're not allowed to fudge my interest calculations, so I can only assume this is what I signed up for. I'm hoping to get this baby paid off by next August, but now I'm hoping I can do it even sooner, maybe next June!

But I digress...a lot! The good news is that I reached my June goal! Hooray! I wanted to pay off $2800, and I paid $2878.

Also, that means I've got $53,779 to go on my Big-Picture Goal.

Now to set another, even smaller goal for July, and hope that nothing hijacks my planned August comeback!

Unexpected stimulus bonus!

June 16th, 2008 at 06:01 pm

I got a letter from my mom on Saturday, and there was a $300 check in it! In the letter she explained it: She and my dad had gotten a $1200 stimulus check and decided it would help the economy most in the hands of the "younger generation," so they had divided it between their four daughters. (Boy am I glad I got them Mother's Day and Father's Day presents this year. Usually I'm too lazy/disorganized, and I would've felt guilty about taking their gift if I'd fallen through again this year!)

The $300 is going straight into our travel fund, so it will help us on our trip where we're going to try and squeeze in two visits to my parents' house between sightseeing and other activities.

UK credit card payment posted

June 13th, 2008 at 11:04 pm

US$163 went to principal. So that's $2,437 down, $363 to go on my June goal. And $54,220 to go on my Big-Picture Goal.

The final payment for June should hit on Tuesday. July won't be very impressive, but hopefully we'll gain some ground in August.

I think as long as I can get my credit card and personal debt down to $40K by the end of the year, I'll have a good chance of getting rid of it by my goal date.

Difficult money decision

June 12th, 2008 at 09:28 pm

I've been thinking about the various upcoming fees pertaining to our UK rental property. They'll be coming in sporadically over the next few months, but I hate not knowing where I'll find the money to cover them.

So I've made a decision that's a little painful in terms of my Big-Picture Goal of paying off all credit debt by 12/31/09: I'm going to forgo extra debt payment in July. I'll keep that money in the bank and send it over in August when I resume extra debt repayment. At least that'll save me $50 in fees next month and I can roll that into my August repayment.

So that will put me another month or two behind on my debt snowball. But the peace of mind I get from knowing I have that money socked away for those fees will be worth it. I'm so used to having money allotted for every expense these days, and I'd rather jump the gun a little and delay my debt repayment than lose that feeling of being on top of my finances. Hopefully I will get some windfalls to make up for it, but even if I don't, it's only a month or two difference. I can handle that!

Reversal of fortune

June 10th, 2008 at 05:41 pm

A month or so ago I blogged about how we'd gotten to the point where we pre-spent our entire 15-day grocery/household allotment before that 15-day period even started. It was more annoying than anything else; at least we weren't going any further over budget, but we couldn't seem to cut back enough to get on track. Well, we did some cheap-meal menus for a couple weeks before our vacation, and then spent 10 days away from home during which of course we didn't have to buy any groceries or household supplies.

Fast-forward to today. I was looking at my budget and suddenly realized not only is our June 1-15 grocery balance untouched (and it's already June 10!), but we still have $1.95 left in our May 16-31 allotment!!

This is so great! I've been hoping we can keep enough of a surplus to re-enroll with our CSA (vegetable farm share) in the fall just using leftover grocery money. At this rate I'm pretty sure we can!

It's also great because we're planning to do a mostly-raw diet for about two weeks in July, and I'm not sure if that will be more expensive than our regular menu. Now it will be OK either way.

Tight-belted week ahead

June 6th, 2008 at 09:35 pm

I suddenly have very little money in the checking account, thanks to ignorance of an important rule. Just temporary, thank goodness!

NT and I got our stimulus check and I deposited it on Wednesday. I took out our portion for spending money and distributed it. On Thursday the deposit went through, and I found a good deal on plane tickets to Virginia this fall, so I went ahead and bought them with the other portion of stimulus money plus a bit from my fun-money savings.

Today I suddenly had $1200 less in available funds! The deposit was there, and it wasn't pending, but it just wasn't showing up in my available balance! I called around for awhile and then finally went to the bank in person with NT. Turns out (all you married people can laugh at me) that we both needed to sign the check, but I didn't know, so I just signed it.

They're mailing me the check, so I can have NT sign it and we can turn it back in to them. Then they'll release the funds. Grr...

We don't have any big bills coming up, luckily, so we just have to keep an eye on household purchases and make sure they stay under $130. Plus, we all have stimulus money in our sock drawers that we could put back in temporarily. I wasn't sure if we'd be OK while at the bank, so I whined (I admit it) about what if I had to dip into the reserve line and got charged fees? I pointed out that the deposit had gone through so I assumed it was OK to spend. The guy was very patient in the face of my shrillness and gave me his card. Which means I could probably get the fees refunded if something happened and I did overdraw somehow.

So really there's no crisis after all. I'm a bit shamefaced that this guy at the bank probably thinks I'm a regular spendthrift paycheck-to-paycheck American--hey, I'm a recovering spendthrift, and I am living paycheck to paycheck--but only because we put almost $2K per month extra toward debt!

It was just a weird coincidence that I found such a good deal on the plane fare that same day the deposit cleared; I expected to keep looking for a few more weeks before I got under $275 apiece. Then I saw a flight for $230 and had to grab it!

Photos of England (at last!)

June 3rd, 2008 at 08:06 pm

Finally I'm getting around to posting some pics from my vacation! I had so many to choose from, so I'll just show a few. I'm not the best photographer, but the locations speak for themselves. Hope you like them!

First, Windsor Castle, the largest castle used as a residence in (Europe? the world? Now I can't remember which):

And the fancy McDonald's across the street (didn't see the queen eating there, though):

Here are some black swans, a famous attraction in Dawlish:

The ruins of an almshouse in Exeter:

Exeter Cathedral:

Not to be outdone by McDonald's, an even fancier Krispy Kreme in Oxford:

One of those fascinating, ornate details you see everywhere you turn in England, especially Oxford:

The Bridge of Sighs in Oxford (forget why it's called that):

A bit of a really wonderful, ancient pub in Oxford called the Turf Tavern...I couldn't capture how charming it is, but I liked the moss on this part of the roof:

I didn't manage to take a photo that really captured the ancient-yet-modern European feel of the places we went. This one sorta gives you an idea, I hope:

Lots of payments: nearly hit my goal

June 3rd, 2008 at 03:41 pm

Thank goodness it's been slow at work, because I had many accounts to check. Several payments to debt posted:
US mortgage: $296
UK mortgage #1: $128
UK mortgage #2: $28
UK mortgage #3: $28
Sears card: $950 (paid off dishwasher!)
Credit card: $300
Student loan: $63

Total paid off: $1,793. $1,250 went to credit cards! So that's:
$2,274 down, $526 to go on my June goal.
$54,383 to go on my Big-Picture Goal.

Although my Sears card is a payoff, I'm not adding it to the Old Debt Graveyard because I was just leaving the dishwasher on there while I paid toward other, interest-accruing debts. So it's not really part of my old debt that I'm getting rid of. I'm proud to say that I didn't pay a penny of interest on the card, though! I just put my refrigerator on the same card so I could get free delivery, but I've got a payment set up for later this month, so that definitely won't accrue any interest.

I only have two more payments pending this month, and they should cover the rest of my goal. In fact, one of them should have already hit; I'll have NT check tonight when we get home.