I was feeling pretty great about our grocery spending last Saturday. We went about $30 into February, not bad at all.
Then I realized that I somehow (still wondering how) forgot to record a $60 purchase from the previous week! Ouch.
That was offset somewhat by the Amex card giving us $25 of rewards. So I still felt decent.
Then, we needed to replace toothbrush heads on our electric toothbrush. Over $40! Yikes. I know it's better for our teeth, but yowch.
A couple random bits of money out here and there, and we're starting February with $240 in the grocery budget, instead of the $375 we'd have if we were staying within budget. Sigh. Guess we'll be scrimping and scraping for Feb. 1-15. Hopefully Feb. 16-28 will be better. (I'm always saying that, but one of these days it'll be true!)
Archive for January, 2013
I was feeling pretty great about our grocery spending last Saturday. We went about $30 into February, not bad at all.
I set my February debt goal; I'm aiming to pay off at least $1960 of debt. Most of the progress will happen this week, with one last payment at the end of February pushing us over the top.
Thanks to everyone's advice on the past post, I decided that I will throw every bit of debt & savings money at that one student loan (DL) that bugs me so much. I forgot that February will be a bit lighter than usual, but I combined what I have in the Feb. budget and set up a payment of just over $1100 to hit Feb. 1. HOPEfully, since I've sent $145 in the past month and only apparently lowered the balance by $22, this will almost entirely go toward lowering the balance. (Did I mention that the later payment showed up with a date stamp of the day BEFORE the earlier payment that I sent two weeks before? Ugh, whatever.)
I also decided to start up the credit card churn again. In 2011 I earned $3927 in bonuses alone (not counting regular purchase rewards) and in 2012 I got $4000 in bonuses! I don't think I'll come anywhere near those amounts this year, but I'll see what I can do.
First off, I applied all three of us for the Barclays NFL card, and all three of us were approved! This one is a 10K bonus (worth $100 statement credit) after the first purchase. I imagine we'll each need to make one purchase, pay off the card to avoid interest while waiting for the statement credit, and then spend at least $100 more on the card to take advantage of said credit. So maybe 2 purchases each, and we get $300! That should cover a lawyer consultation fee and leave $50 to put toward debt repayment.
Once we finish that, I think we'll apply for the USBank Visa for me and AS (would be our first time) to get $150 for spending $500, and sign NT up for the Bank of America deal where you get $100 for spending $500. That will net us $400 total for the three offers.
Then, I think we'll each try to double-dip the Chase Sapphire deal of spend $3000 get $400. We'll do those one at a time, because depending on whether any unusual expenses come up, it's sometimes a struggle to spend that much in 3 months, especially since we like to keep using our Amex card for groceries for that 6% reward (and now Target RedCard for the 5% discount).
If we do manage to double-dip that one 3 times, we'll net $1200 (plus at least $30 each for regular purchase rewards, so actually $1290).
Not looking forward to the hassle of recordkeeping and bill-paying, but it's a relatively easy way to snowflake that debt, so I'm willing to do it!
Omigod, worst title ever. Sorry, I'll be writing this in dribs and drabs between bits of work, so it'll probably be scattered too. You have been warned.
I'm in email contact with a lawyer about our immigration/tax-filing question; if he consults with us it'll be $250. I'd really like to pay that upfront without disrupting the momentum of our goals, so I started looking around at credit card deals.
There's a Barclays NFL card where you get 10K points, good for a $100 statement credit, after your first purchase! If we each got approved for this, we could easily cover the lawyer fee. I'm going to cancel some errant card accounts and then try for this.
creditcardfree's contemplation of paying off the car loan really got me thinking about the loan that bugs me the most: NT's student loan with Direct Loan, the federal loan place. Not only is it our highest interest rate (6.175%), but their site is terrible and frequently posts inaccurate, delayed or confusing information regarding the balance and how payments are applied. I don't want to empty our savings accounts to pay it off, which is what it would take, but I would LOVE to see this one gone.
So I started thinking what it would take to get rid of it by the end of the year. First, I'd need to virtually ignore adding to the medical fund for the rest of the year. I'm kind of OK with that. We have enough in there for now, and could always rearrange the budget and slow down student loan payment if we had an emergency that took more than what we have saved.
And, I'd probably have to pretty much ignore the house/moving fund, except the UK money that goes toward it (that wouldn't be worth transferring over here to pay down debt, so I'd just let that accumulate toward the moving fund.
Also, to avoid taking out any more money with Direct Loan, I'd have to cashflow NT's fall tuition, which would run us about $4K.
OK, so if I did all that, how close could I get? I'd need $18K to finish off the student loan plus $4K to avoid taking any further loans from Direct Loan, so $22K total.
I currently have $1062 extra to put to education per month, plus about $50 that goes to principal on this DL loan when I make a $100 payment to cover interest. That would knock $12,232 off, leaving $9768.
I believe AS has $1850 of freelance income due to her in the next couple months, so if we put all of that toward this, that would leave $7918.
If we put the $101 per month I have earmarked for the house moving fund, that would be another $1111, leaving $6807.
If I really scraped the barrel and put the $75 I earmark for the medical fund monthly, that would be another $825, leaving $5982.
Starting in July or so, I could start siphoning money from our travel budget, say $350 per month for those 6 months. That would be $2100, leaving $3882.
We could potentially each double-dip the Chase Sapphire reward, the last big-money credit card reward, if we staggered it throughout the year. We should be able to clear at least $1290 that way, leaving $2592.
Hmm...that's still a $236 average monthly shortfall if we wanted it paid off by the end of the year. It also assumes no budget hiccups where money would need to be diverted toward an unexpected expense.
Oh! And if NT took a summer class, that's something else we'd have to cashflow. Probably a couple grand.
So I guess it's not looking very likely that we'd be able to completely rid ourselves of this annoying loan. The question is, should I go ahead and do all of the above and try to get as close as possible? Or should I continue to contribute something to the medical and moving funds every month?
AS's student loan hit, with $128 going to principal.
For the January debt goal, that's $2145 down. Since it's the last debt payment of the month, that means we're $40 short of the $2185 goal. (As reported earlier, I tried sending an extra payment to another student loan, but much less went to principal than I thought should have.)
At least I've met the January leg of our 4-year big-picture goals. This takes us to $2242.61 of big-picture progress, $13.61 more than the $2229 I aimed for.
I'm going to structure the big-picture goal progress slightly differently than my monthly debt goals. With those, I just note how much I was under or over, then create a new goal based on my expected budget.
For the big picture, each new month I'm going to aim for a cumulative amount, $2229 more than the previous month.
So for February, the goal is to get to $4458 of big-picture progress, and the starting point is $2242.61.
Not sure if it makes sense outside my own head, but that's the only place it really needs to, I guess!
I just realized I forgot to record $25 that went into savings automatically, as well as $0.26 of interest from this month. I'm putting them both toward the medical fund, which counts toward our big picture.
So that takes our medical fund to $1348.68 ($3,651.32 to go).
And it means our big-picture progress for January is $2,114.61 down, $114.39 to go.
I had some credit card reward money and wanted to make an extra student loan payment to try and hit my January goal. This is the Direct Loan where they switched over their site last year and it has seemed messed-up ever since. For instance, I estimate the monthly interest to be about $50 per month; it's difficult to tell because the loan is in deferment and so when I make a payment, sometimes it comes out of interest and sometimes principal. I just combine the two totals to come up with what we owe, because we will have to pay the interest eventually.
I sent a $70 payment earlier this month, but it didn't change the interest+principal amount at all, so I figured maybe somehow $70 of interest had been added since the last time I checked and I just broke even.
But then earlier this week -- and just a few days after that other payment -- I sent a $75 payment to them. Now I'm showing interest+principal to be $22 less than after I sent my $70 payment. I refuse to believe over $50 of interest built up in just a week, since that's usually what we average per month. We did borrow some more recently, but just a fraction of the total principal. So what's going on? Who knows. They're really hard to get in touch with and supremely unhelpful when you do get them to respond. None of my payments from September through December 2012 even show up in the "past payments" section, though a phone rep has assured me they show up on their end. I'm just going to log $22 of progress. So $2017 down, $168 to go on the January debt goal and $2089.35, $139.65 to go on the big-picture goals for January.
I don't think I'm going to borrow any more from them, even if the interest rate is preferable when next year's financial aid package arrives. I just want this crap paid off and forgotten about. Nothing makes me feel more unmotivated than not having a grasp on actual financials.
In other news, in reference to my last blog entry, my lawyer got back to me with a referral to an immigration lawyer, and I shot that guy an email asking for a consultation. I'm thinking it'll be $250 or $300 to talk to him for an hour, but we'll see; I asked him for a price quote. Hopefully I can get in with someone before too long so I can figure out what to do about our tax filings. It'll hurt a bit because that's $250 or $300 we'll have to divert from our big-picture goals, but I think it'll be well worth it in the long run to gain some clarity at this early stage.
Ugh, I realized one of the reasons I've been putting off gathering our tax docs this year is that I just don't know who should claim SL on their taxes.
Of course most of you who follow my blog know the whole story, but bear with me while I explain it, just so this entry makes sense. (note to newbies, I have a very "alternative" family, so if that sort of thing tends to bother or offend you, best to skip this post. )
So we have a three-adult relationship. NT and I are legally married and he is a UK citizen, permanent resident of the U.S. through a marriage visa.
AS is an equal partner in the relationship (in fact she and I were together long before NT came into it), but not in legal terms. (Although she is well-protected in terms of estate planning and healthcare directives, there's not much we can do to legally establish our relationship in the eyes of the government.)
NT and I had a child, AA, and NT and AS had a child, SL. (My child has my last name and their child has NT's last name, if anyone's interested.) We were able to do a third-parent adoption, so in Minnesota state, at least, we are all three the legal parents of both kids. (I'm not sure that ruling would have any bearing outside of our state and especially outside our country.)
When it comes to filing taxes, NT and I file jointly, of course, and AS files as a single person. Last year we added AA to the mix, and it was an easy decision to put her on NT and my return, since she is biologically ours, the adoption had not taken effect, and we provide the majority of support.
So now we come to SL. We still provide the majority of support for her as well (having two incomes on our return, and both making more than AS), so should we claim her on our return?
I believe the answer is yes; if I recall from my tax course many years ago, the household that provides more than 50% of support claims the child.
But at the back of my mind I'm thinking about the eventual immigration process to the UK, and what would be best for that. If we move, it will be because AS has found a way to establish residency on her own, probably through employment or starting her own business.
NT and I would then apply for entry as a UK citizen and his spouse. Again, it's a no-brainer that AA would be part of our application. But what about little SL?
In providing records for immigration, the birth certificates are going to be produced, no doubt. Which will raise fewer red flags; AS applying with her child who has a British citizen's name on the birth certificate although he's not her spouse? Or NT and I applying with a child whose mother isn't legally related to us?
And, since tax documents may also be a key part of the application (proving me and NT were a legitimate married couple), where should SL be on our tax docs? Are we even allowed to include her on AS's return if that seems like the smartest move for immigration, since she only provides 1/4 to 1/3 of the financial support?
It concerns me a lot. We're not attempting to circumvent any rules, and haven't broken any laws. SL would be legally entitled to move to UK with either NT or AS, since she is biological child to both of them. She also is going to have essentially dual citizenship once we get her a British passport. But I feel like our situation is going to come to light in the immigration process and will raise the risk of some kind of red flag/ban on one of us moving between countries.
When NT came over here, we didn't have children so AS's name never even had to enter the picture. We basically avoided talking about our situation. I just don't think we'll be able to do that this time around, and I'm not sure how best to handle it.
I'm still leaning toward putting SL on my and NT's tax form. She has his last name, she's his biological child, and we provide the most support. Maybe on immigrating a simple consent form from AS allowing NT to bring SL to England, without further comment about her own plans, would suffice? Maybe I'm making too much of this and it wouldn't be a problem. People have affairs and children out of wedlock all the time, so in legal terms that's what I should be looking at, I suppose. That's the closest model to what we have, even though it's NOTHING like what we have.
I may ask my tax attorney for his input, but he'll only be able to advise on the tax side, not in terms of possible future immigration.
Quiet night home tonight. It was my turn to go to trivia, but I'm fighting off a cold and pretty much out of spending money, so I gave up my spot.
Today I left my wallet at home, which I hardly ever do. I only needed it for my bus pass, but I was stumped for a second because I didn't have any cash. Then I remembered my envelope of $1 bills I took from my charity budget to give out on the street between Xmas and Thanksgiving. I never even gave away half of it; I'm not on the street much, and people are less apt to be out in our winter than in the nice weather! I gave $20 to a friend who was doing 31 nice things for her 31st birthday, but I still had some ones left over. I've given them out sporadically but honestly not that many people have asked me for money.
So I used $3 to get to work and $3 to get back. It's still a good use of charitable money; I'm very much in favor of Metro Transit, and it fits my values of sustainability and helping poor people survive.
I just redeemed $34.57 of Chase Freedom rewards. I decided to pull $35.43 from next month's extra debt repayment and send a $70 extra payment to NT's student loan, in hope of meeting or at least getting close to our January debt repayment goal. It'll hit the loan on the 24th or 25th, so we'll see how much goes to principal.
Remember my goal last year of getting and staying under 130 lbs.? Well, I managed to stay under 130 from about mid-November to last Sunday, when I ticked up to 132! I told myself if I went over, I'd go back to calorie counting until I got back down again. It's been an adjustment getting back into the calorie counting groove, but hopefully I'll get down under 130 again soon and can stop doing it again. I imagine it's something I'll have to do from time to time to stay on track, and I think that's OK. It's easy to slowly increase your calories without really realizing you're doing it.
We've been talking about what to do for our cat when we're in England for 2 weeks in May. Someone here mentioned that Jeffrey (SA site owner) does housesitting, so I actually contacted him! He'd do it but would need airfare, which ended up being prohibitive. But that got us on the idea of getting a housesitter who would pay their own transportation and would do it just for the free housing. We found a site where many of the users have background checks and references, and advertised last night. Really, when you think about it, a high-rise condo near downtown Minneapolis in the late spring is pretty attractive as a vacation spot. We've already got two responses, so we'll probably wait a bit longer, pick a couple of finalists and NT said we should try to Skype chat with them to get a feel for them. Turns out there are a lot of retired and/or telecommuting people who like to travel around and see new places by housesitting. Who knew?
We were talking about our big-picture goal of saving for a big move the other night. The $56K goal includes money for sprucing up our current condo to try and get a better price for it. NT asked if we could do some of the upgrades sooner than right before we try to sell, so we could enjoy them for a bit before we go. Someone else here (snafu maybe?) mentioned that a while back. We agreed it would be nice to update our super-dated bathroom with something a bit more modern once we get some of our big-picture money saved.
We've only got $5,000 budgeted for the bathroom (and we don't even have that saved up yet). So we'll have to be very careful about what we choose to do; I know renovations can quickly go over budget, and I really don't want to do that, because we'd either have to save more or cut back somewhere else.
But, it would be nice to have a bathroom we could really enjoy for a while. And I know NT would love all the planning and work (I'm no good at that side of things, but he loves home improvement and is always itching for a new project).
So we agreed we'll wait until we have at least $10K saved, and then we can talk about redoing the bathroom with $5K of it. We've only got $3K saved, so it'll be a while.
I'm still waiting on some tax docs, mostly for AS. I can probably send my and NT's off to our tax preparer soon. I'm just procrastinating mostly. I used to love doing taxes, but now they're so complicated, and I have them so we don't give the IRS an interest-free loan, so we don't have the anticipation of a big refund. I'm glad we have the money each month instead, but it does remove that big motivation to get the things done!
I've got 7 yesses and 1 maybe coming to my "League of Ordinary Savers" budgeting discussion group in February! I only invited 6 people, actually, but one said she's bringing her husband and another said a friend of hers saw the Facebook event and asked if she can join. I'm a teensy bit nervous now that there are a couple people I don't know coming, but at the same time excited!
I wrote one post and some "About" info on the companion blog. I haven't started a matching Facebook group yet; I'm going to wait until closer to the Feb. 10 meeting to start that.
I've been playing around with Mint.com so I can talk about more than just my one budgeting method. It wouldn't really work for me in real life, I don't think; for one thing I can't figure out how to link NT's UK accounts, so it doesn't really give a full picture. Also when I was last on it, my main checking account balance was showing as $0. I hope it was just taking a while to sync up; I have to go check again.
I also tried to set up a Payoff.com account, but I wasn't able to link my Barclays account properly. I think I was answering one of the security answers wrong, but if so I'm not sure what I would have said instead for that answer!
I'm mostly going to talk about the DIY methods such as Google Drive and physical envelopes. I like the hands-on approach vs. everything being automated; I feel like my Google system keeps me honest because if I don't keep tinkering with it, it will fall to pieces. So I know I have to stay involved with it, and that keeps me focused on our goals.
I've got some time to plan for the meeting, so if there are any important methods or tips you want to make sure I don't forget, let me know!
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 13,884 pounds ($22,214)
#2: 17,268 pounds ($27,629)
#3: 3,709 pounds ($5,934)
NT's 401(k): $21,506
NT's Roth IRA: $5,000
AS's 401(k): $8,689
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $10,174
CJ's 401(k): $50,791
CJ's Roth IRA: $5,000
NT's flat: 125,000 pounds ($200,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $145,000
Emergency fund (shared asset): $15,000
House down payment/moving fund: $2,958
Total Assets: $521,577
Total Debt: $277,633
Current Estimated Net Worth: $243,944
August 2012 estimate: $308,187
Change in net worth: -$64,243
Summary: It looks terrible, but actually we did very well in retirement fund performance, debt payoff and savings.
What happened is I "trued up" our accounts using the current pounds-to-dollars exchange rate, reassessed our home values, and moved some money out of the EF into our medical fund (which I don't count among our assets).
Now we can start building toward a TRUE net worth of $300K.
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.