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Archive for July, 2013

Snowflake for medical bills, plus new grocery budget plan

July 31st, 2013 at 06:27 pm

I noticed that we'd accumulated $47.63 worth of rewards on our regular credit card, the Chase Freedom. So I took it as a statement credit and put the extra money toward my medical-bills snowflake fund. That takes it to $515.85. I'll continue to look for ways to scrape up money outside our regular budget.

I'm thinking about calling the dentist and asking if he thinks we could just go ahead with extraction vs. doing exploratory surgery to see how far up the crack in my tooth goes. A) My tooth is still bothering me, albeit much less since getting antibiotics, and I just don't think it'll ever be up to par again. B) It would likely cut down on the number of surgical interventions, since he's pretty sure it will need to be extracted. C) It will likely reduce the number of bills, and since Monday's surgery isn't even factored into the $6000 (min. $3000 after insurance) estimate, I really could use any reduction in bills.

Basically the only point of Monday's operation would be to see if the tooth is salvageable, but even if it's able to be temporarily saved, it'll continue to bother me and will likely cause problems in the future. So I'm comfortable assuming the tooth is cracked all the way up and just going forward with pulling it if my dental surgeon agrees.

Anyway, on to my new grocery plan. I still want to find a way to make our grocery budget work without further dissecting it into food/house/toiletry categories, since we buy a combination of all of those at the various stores we frequent.

So instead, I want to set a weekly budget vs. semi-monthly; I think that'll make it easier to keep an eye on spending.

I figured out that our grocery budget is $9000 per year (it sounds like so much!) without calculating the CSA, which we pay for separately. Figuring the non-CSA weeks need $30 more, I multiplied $30 by the number of non-CSA weeks (31) and got $930, which I subtracted temporarily from the annual total, leaving $8070. Dividing that by 52 weeks I got $155.

That means that CSA weeks we have $155, and when the CSA ends we'll have $185 per week (adding back in the $30 that I took out of calculations). Just to be safe I added all that up and it comes to $8990, so I think I'm on the right track.

I'll divvy the grocery money up on my spreadsheet by week and keep my family updated on what we have left for the week. This should help us make smarter choices about midweek one-off purchases and whether we can afford them.

August goals and grocery grumbles

July 31st, 2013 at 02:33 am

Quick edit to July results; just to post some kind of progress on the medical EF, I checked my savings account and counted the 26 cents interest earned there. Whew! Wink

Well, our August debt-repayment goal is going to be a relatively modest $1750, because while part of NT's tuition payment will wipe out "estimated future debt," that category will then be gone. There's only about $800 left in it, so the rest of the $2500 payment will go toward big-picture progress but won't reduce our debt total. Any tuition we pay after that last $800 is what NT's college will be costing above and beyond the $40K I estimated when he started the journey.

Anyway, once that's gone, our debt total will be our true and actual debt total. And hopefully it'll never go up unless we buy a house that costs more than our current mortgages!

The big-picture benchmark for August is $17,896; we're already at $22,966.25, so well past where we need to be. And the tuition payment should push us past the $25K mark this month!

Now on to groceries ... we actually had money left over at the end of the first July period (1st to 15th), so we had over $375 to get us through the second half of July, plus full boxes of CSA veggies every week. Yet somehow we piddled it all away and now have $12 left. I mean, at least we didn't go over our limit, but these months of summer CSA bounty are meant to be the ones where we spend less and get ahead a little so that winter months (where we have to buy produce out of pocket, out of season) are easier. We're using fewer diapers, we don't buy formula -- I'm not really sure where it went! The only reason we didn't go over is I made a menu for this week that mainly relies on CSA veg and pantry staples, so we only spent about $60. That means the week and a half before, we must have spent over $300! I could go through our credit card statements and figure out where it went, but the main thing is, it's gone, and we need to do better in August.

We do pretty well on the weekend shop, but I think one-off purchases to fill gaps during the week, and purchases of sporadic household maintenance/grooming needs, really kill us. I'm thinking about calculating how much we have for each week and divvying it up that way, so we know what our "absolute" limit is each week. Except, I'd need to figure out how much MORE we'll need in non-CSA months, and that gets kind of confusing. If I divide our annual fee by the number of weeks we actually receive boxes, it's about $31 per week. So maybe I should figure out how to allocate $30 more per week in non-CSA times than during CSA times. This is going to take some calculating!

Debt repayment (also big picture) progress

July 29th, 2013 at 03:10 am

AS's student loan hit, with $131 going to principal. That takes July debt repayment to $2639 and big-picture progress to $22,965.99!

That'll be it for this month, but we did pretty well.

AS brought her $500 check home with her from the trip she was on; she only needs $100 to cover dreadlock maintenance, and the rest I can save for my upcoming dental/medical bills. So far then I have $468 saved up, and another $300 coming from credit card bonuses maybe in a month or two. My informal goal is to get to $4000, but hopefully it'll be less than that (and god forbid it's more!).

Good health news, and other tidbits

July 26th, 2013 at 09:42 pm

Had my mammogram/ultrasound yesterday, and there was still some cause for concern after it. They sent a sample off for testing, and today I got a call that it was nothing! So I don't have to worry about that anymore. My HR confirmed that the mammogram should be covered 100% by insurance and the ultrasound 90%, so hopefully the total bill's not too bad.

AS is on a business trip, so everything seems a bit out of whack. But she has Wi-Fi and took her iPad, so we'll be able to talk via FaceTime every day. She's back Sunday evening.

She found out she gets a $500 honorarium for the trip in addition to transportation, room and board! We haven't discussed what it will be used for, but I'm hoping to put at least part of it toward snowflaking those upcoming dental costs.

NT is helping me save some spending money; I really wanted him to watch Les Miz with me this weekend, but it's not available on Netflix (of course; they never have anything I look for). It's $5 to rent on Amazon Instant Watch, so I figured I'd just buy it since I'll want to have a copy eventually anyway. I bought it at Barnes & Noble for $29; NT looked on Amazon and saw we could get a good used copy for $12. So he figures even if we spend the $5 to rent it, buying for $12 and returning the $29 copy will still save me $12! We'll still get to watch it this weekend, but I'll have a copy of my own too. That's good thinking.

We spoke to friends who went to the ultra-expensive restaurant down the street, and they reiterated how great it is. So we decided we'll go for it! Those same friends are taking our kids for two nights in August, giving us a rare "grownups weekend." So I think we'll splurge on this restaurant that weekend. I'll try to remember to commemorate with photos, since we probably won't be eating there again in the foreseeable future!

That will probably take the bulk of our remaining vacation funds, but we'll hopefully have a few hundred bucks to help offset spending on the rest of the summer fun we've got planned: a day trip to a small-town festival, the State Fair, the Renaissance Festival. It's amazing how easy it's been to spend our vacation money PLUS our regular spending money! At first all the little extras felt super-luxurious, but you do get used to it. However, I'm confident we'll be able to buckle down more starting in September, because we'll be motivated to save up for our next trip (sometime in the spring of next year).

Looking ahead to August financial goals, I'm thinking I won't have a very impressive debt-payment goal, since I'm going to use the bulk of our surplus to make a payment toward NT's tuition. I'll pay the rest of it in September. (September will be even less impressive in that regard.) At least part of the August payment will go toward "estimated future debt," but that category has less than a thousand bucks left, so most of this semester's tuition and all of the remaining tuition, while it'll count toward our big-picture goal, won't count toward debt repayment. That's OK, my accounting method of having "estimated" debt was a bit confusing to explain every time anyway. Smile

AS's raise will hit in mid-September, so that will make everything a bit easier, even if I need to pay my dental bills out of our regular budget vs. through snowflakes.

There's a good chance I will be able to pay off the student loan of NT's that I've been hacking away at by the end of this year. That will leave just one for him and one for AS. I'm pretty sure I can knock those out by the end of 2014. I can't imagine! It just seems so crazy that we'll be debt-free except mortgages in less than two years. AND that NT will be done with school around the same time.

I can't believe I'm even considering it since I hate how AS's and NT's schooling ate into our time together, but I'm idly pondering a return to school myself when he's done -- for a bookkeeping or accounting certificate of some kind. Since I've come to love math so much over the past few years, and I feel like I should have more than one marketable skill, it seems like a good match. But we'll see if I still feel this way in a year and a half!

Never rains but it pours

July 24th, 2013 at 07:40 pm

Thanks for your kind words on my last post about dental woes. Smile Today it's about medical woes. I had my annual exam today, and I was determined NOT to discuss anything extra, because last year I got charged $60 instead of getting a free exam because something "diagnostic" was discussed. Unfortunately, my doctor A) brought up my past bone density issues and discussed how I didn't have to get an exam (I'm pretty sure this same conversation last year was what triggered the fee) and B) found a lump in my breast that wasn't there last year, and scheduled me for an ultrasound/mammogram appointment.

So I'm pretty sure I'm paying for today's appointment, AND for the ultrasound/mammogram (still researching possible cost of that), and depending what it turns up I could be looking at biopsy or worse. For the record, I'm not too worried since I've had harmless lumps before, but of course I can't predict what they'll find.

So I have about $180 left in this year's flex spending account. I'll use it to cover as much of the dental and other medical work as possible, but I don't think it'll go very far. Next calendar year if I am going to need more dental work, I'll up my FSA so I can at least pay for it pretax.

So far I have $68.22 of snowflake money saved, $45 from a Craigslist sale and the rest from a slight overpayment of my credit card (must have counted something twice or not counted a rewards redemption). I also applied for the two credit cards and so far AS's has been approved ($100 for spending $500) but I'm waiting to hear about mine (which will be $200 for spending $500 if I get it). It's a drop in the bucket of the $3000-$4000 I may need just for the procedures I know about so far, but little drops can add up. Smile

The breast testing is tomorrow afternoon and the dental exploratory surgery is Aug. 5, so I should have a clearer picture after each of those (at least a clearer idea of what I need done, if not how much it will cost!)

Tooth woes, and how to pay for them

July 19th, 2013 at 03:54 pm

My tooth where I had surgery five years ago has been bugging me off and on for about three weeks. Yesterday morning I finally decided I should check in with my surgeon, so I made an appointment for early August.

As yesterday wore on, the tooth pain became a constant throbbing and got worse and worse. So I called my regular dentist and got in an hour later.

She said it was either "perio" (which I think means gum infection?) or a vertical fracture in the tooth, but she couldn't see a crack. She wrote out a referral and sent me to my surgeon to see if he could fit me in that day.

He did -- luckily he was in the office doing paperwork on a day off -- and he saw a crack right away. He said if the crack doesn't go all the way up, the tooth can be saved -- he'll just do a bit of gum surgery to reduce the pockets. But if it does, the tooth has to come out.

The only way he can find out is by peeling back my gums and having a look. So that'll happen at the early-August appointment.

Dunno how much that investigative procedure will cost, but they gave me a cost estimate for the extraction and implant of a false tooth -- $6000.

My insurance will cover some of it, but I know they cover a max of $1500 per year, so even if I stretch it over two years, we're looking at $3000 for my share.

Ouch! I guess our goal progress will be delayed a bit if it turns out the extraction is necessary.

I think I'll try to snowflake at least part of the cost vs. taking it out of our regular budget. AS and I both got CC offers in the mail last week from USBank -- mine was spend $500 get $200, and hers was spend $500 get $100. I was already contemplating applying for these cards, but now I definitely will, and that's 10% of my dental cost right there! Any regular CC rewards payments I'll also save toward the procedure. I'll have to think about other ways to squeeze some extra money out of the universe. Smile

July 2013 net worth update

July 17th, 2013 at 07:59 pm

NT's UK pensions:
#1: 13,884 pounds ($22,214)
#2: 17,268 pounds ($27,629)
#3: 4,452 pounds ($7,123)
NT's 401(k): $24,082
NT's Roth IRA: $5,754
AS's 401(k): $10,069
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $13,245
CJ's 401(k): $57,525
CJ's Roth IRA: $5,754
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): $4,548
Total Assets: $563,625

Total Debt: $255,536

Current Estimated Net Worth: $308,089

April 2013 estimate: $301,126

Change in net worth: +$6,963

Summary: A nice month of retirement gains and debt paydown!

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.

Note to self

July 17th, 2013 at 12:58 am

For net worth calculations coming up this week, just got our annual letter in the mail about one of the pension funds.

NT's UK pension #3:
Was 3,709 pounds ($5,934)
Is 4,452 ($7,123)

July debt goal reached! Plus other milestones

July 16th, 2013 at 04:40 am

The second, bigger extra student loan payment hit tonight, with $1153 going to principal! That takes us to $2508 of debt repayment, surpassing the $2400 July goal.

It also ups our big-picture progress, to $22,834.99.

Also, since I've been paying off the higher-interest portions first, the interest rate on that loan is down to 3.4%. That means our U.S. mortgage (3.5% variable) is officially our highest interest rate on any of our loans.

And, finally, it takes my household's total student loan debt to $19,385. That means our non-mortgage debt is under $20,000! We're getting so close!

Progress on goals

July 12th, 2013 at 07:30 pm

I just couldn't wait until next week to send a big payment to NT's student loan, but I didn't want the bank account balance to be dangerously low either, so I just sent a portion of the payment this week. All $600 went to principal, so that's $1355 down, $1045 to go on the July debt goal.

It also takes the big-picture progress to $21,681.99.

Next week's payment will bring total student loan debt under $20K, but I'll wait to celebrate until it's official!

Big-picture progress of a sort, etc.

July 9th, 2013 at 08:01 pm

Well, I can't believe we're so far into summer already! Our calendar is packed to the gills with social activities, and even though that's really fun, it makes the time pass SO quickly!

We spent a cheap (less than $180) four-day weekend at our friends' vacation home. It's massive! 6 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, a three-season porch that wraps around two sides of the house and is about the size of our condo(actually, we found out the square footage of the whole house equals 4.5x that of our condo).

In addition to massive, it's exquisitely decorated from top to bottom. Feels like living in an interior design magazine. We left with great appreciation but even more eagerness to upgrade our own home in a few years.

To that end, the first of the renovations to NT's flat have happened. Since the cost of renovations is included in the $43K goal for moving, I can count that expense as progress toward our big-picture goal.

New fridge freezer (271.98 plus vat) $522.21
Night storage (455 plus vat) $873.60

That's $1,395.81 of progress, bringing our $43K goal to $5,943.88 and our total big-picture progress to $21,081.99. Woo hoo, passed the $20K mark! The total big-picture goal will take $93,957, so that's over 22% of the way complete. If we continue at this rate we'll be done near the beginning of 2015 instead of the middle. Big Grin I'd be happy to exceed our savings benchmark, since there's a good chance I've underestimated something or miscalculated somewhere.

I'm itching to pull the trigger on a big student loan payment, but the checking account would be tight until next Monday, so I'm trying to hold off until then.

In other news, we've stayed on budget this summer (which hasn't been too hard since our budget has been rather extravagant by our own standards). Groceries are actually a bit under budget, spending and fun money seems about on track.

My weight was creeping up over the past couple of months, so I'm back on calorie counting and lost 3 lbs. last week despite the holiday weekend. I've been keeping up my crunch/pushup/squat routine every night and every morning. The few times I haven't done it at night was because I genuinely forgot, not because I didn't feel like it. And each time I forgot, I doubled up on my morning exercises to make up for it. This is a great habit for a lazy staller such as myself because it takes barely any time and I have no excuses not to do it.

I'm sure I had other news, but I can't think of it right now. That's the big stuff anyway!

Opened a 360 account! Here's my referral link

July 2nd, 2013 at 08:28 pm

If you see MonkeyMama's and CCF's blog posts, you'll see that Capital One 360 is running an offer through tomorrow only, to open a savings account & get a $76 bonus or checking account for a $100 bonus. I opened the checking account, and I can get $$ for referring folks; so here's the link to use me as a referral:

Text is and Link is

More July debt progress

July 2nd, 2013 at 02:35 pm

Our US mortgage payment hit, and $445 went to principal. That takes us to $755 down, $1645 to go on the July debt goal.

Excited to update all my spreadsheets with the new lower mortgage payment that takes effect Aug. 1!

I've dug for a bit more information about my client and the displeasure with how the guidelines are being applied, but even our president says she doesn't think it's a specific criticism of me, more the people who are doing the writing. I really hope people are being straight with me, because if so, it sounds like I don't have much to worry about in terms of job security.

And if my job is secure, then we can look forward to a real boost to our take-home pay Sept. 15, when AS's raise will hit her paycheck! Fingers crossed that everything is as solid as it seems.

Nice surprise in the filing pile; tentative vacay plan

July 2nd, 2013 at 03:14 am

AS decided to tackle our growing pile of unfiled paperwork, and came running when she opened a piece of mail from our mortgage company. Turns out they're lowering our payment by $17 starting Aug. 1 (because of lower escrow needs) AND they enclosed a check for $209! Good thing she decided to file!

After some discussion we decided to apply the $209 to our student loan debt. The extra $17 we'll just roll into our general surplus, which we can decide to use for fun or put toward one of our goals.

We've tentatively settled on Boston in the early spring for our next vacation, during NT's spring break (mid- to late March). Did a very quick scan of hotel prices and airfare and decided to shoot for saving $5000 by March, to cover transportation, lodging, food and entertainment. To do that we need to start setting aside money starting in October at the latest (preferably September). We've been using our travel line item to just have summer fun in Minnesota, so we just need to cut that off once the August money is spent.

Shouldn't be a problem. We do still have a lot of fun things planned for this summer, but none of them are very expensive. The one thing I'd love to do that's very indulgent is have dinner at the fine-dining restaurant half a block down from us; they don't post prices (!!) but I did some research online and reckon it would be $450 or $500 for all three of us to go. (I know, crazy, but I'd love to do it just once!) Everything else we want to do is little stuff like the occasional concert or small-town day trip, or free (like attending fireworks and parades).

July debt progress

July 1st, 2013 at 09:04 pm

The UK mortgage payments hit:
UK1: US$216 to principal
UK2: $46 to principal
UK3: $48 to principal

All told that's $310 down, $2090 to go on the July debt goal.

I won't find out what UK repairs so far have cost until later this month when we get our statement. We did get notice that they were taking place, and we didn't receive any rental income this month, so I know it's been at least 600 pounds ($950). I'll start a spreadsheet once I get the totals of the first repairs, so I can count them toward our big-picture goals and also see how close the management company's estimate was.