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Archive for December, 2013

First chunk saved for the bathroom renovation; dental bill planning

December 31st, 2013 at 09:03 am

Well, despite all the holiday overspending, I worked some math magic and managed to keep $1000 of surplus money for December. Today I transferred it over into savings to make sure I won't be tempted to spend it on anything except our renovation!

I realized recently that my tooth implant is coming up next week! I need to start applying for credit cards so I can charge my bills to them and recoup some of the costs.

There don't seem to be any big offers out there (besides the Chase Sapphire spend $3K get $400 -- and actually it's a bit sweeter because there's a 5K point bonus if you add someone to the card -- so could be $450), but there are still several "spend $500 get X" offers out there. I just need to decide whether I'm really going to commit to opening 10 cards, spending $500 on each and getting whatever back for each. With three adults, I could do it pretty easily if I divided it between Chase Freedom, Capital One, BankAmericard, NFL (Barclaycard), and Citi Dividend. Chase Freedom offers $200 for $500 of spending; the others offer $100 for $500.

I've never opened that many in quick succession, but I don't suppose there's any issue with it. I have 12 active cards between the three of us; I should probably close a few first, but for various reasons I need to keep them all open except two. (Five of them are permanent cards; three I want open until we go on our vacation in case there's any problem; two I'm waiting on the bonus points to hit the account.)

If I successfully opened 10 cards this month, we'd have 22 between three people. That's a crazy number, though I suppose as long as it was temporary it wouldn't be a big deal. I could close two of them today, another one in about a week probably, and another one near the end of the month. Three more can be closed in late February. That would take it down to 15, and then I could close the 10 new ones as soon as I received the bonuses (within a month or two) and that would bring it down to 5 cards.

It sounds like such a pain, and a potential hit to my credit score. But it would give us $1100 back for paying $5000 in dental bills, if we were approved for all 10 cards. And we're not going to need our credit score for a couple more years at least.

What to do, what to do?

2014 goals, more realistic

December 30th, 2013 at 03:12 pm

The last time I had a slow period at work, I tried to line up my financial goals for next year, and this is what I came up with:

- pay off student loans ($12,200)
- cashflow NT's remaining tuition ($6,470)
- renovate US condo bathroom ($5,000)
- renovate UK condo (cashflowing $5400)
- add to medical EF (at least $900)
- slowly build moving fund (maybe only $50)
- start to rebuild EF after I use it for rest of UK renos (hopefully $6000 of it will be restored over the next year)
So in total, $36,020 of progress in 2014.

Today I had another slow period, so I took a more detailed look at my 2014 outlook (which is easier to do now that I have an annual budget worksheet!) and tried to see if that was realistic.

Most of them look doable. In an ideal world, if I didn't have to dip into our surplus at all, I could *almost* take care of adding $900 to the medical EF, cashflowing tuition, renovating the US bathroom and paying off student loans. Basically I'm $493 short for the year.

That's nothing; a couple of credit card rewards could make up the difference. We may still be getting a couple grand in tax refunds; that hasn't been figured in. But of course, there are unplanned expenses that eat at the surplus, such as household needs that can't be covered by the grocery budget, and swim lessons/other extracurricular activities for the girls.

Still, there are other possible windfalls, such as if any of us gets a raise, or if I overcalculated the effect of flex spending withholding on our net pay. So I think we could achieve those goals if nothing too drastic comes along to hijack our surplus.

The $50 for the moving fund will come from savings interest, so that should be no problem.

I believe we'll be able to cashflow $5400 of the UK renovations, but only if we save up until May. Add in another lost month of rental income for biannual management fees, and we'll only have 6 months of rental income to rebuild the EF. At $579 per month, we'll only get to $3475, not $6000, by the end of the year.

I could put the $900 of savings that would have gone into the medical EF into our more general EF instead, and scratch that goal off the list.

So if I achieve everything else on the list, building the EF and medical EF will be my next priority. But for now I'm going to downsize those goals:

- pay off student loans ($12,196)
- cashflow NT's remaining tuition ($6,470)
- renovate US condo bathroom ($5,000)
- renovate UK condo (cashflowing $5400)
- slowly build moving fund (maybe only $50)
- start to rebuild EF after I use it for rest of UK renos (hopefully $4375 [$3475 UK rental + $900 US savings]) and medical EF (probably nothing in 2014)

Total goal: $33,491 of progress in 2014.

First debt goal of 2014

December 29th, 2013 at 01:12 pm

For January I'm just aiming to pay the minimum on debt, so about $900.

My main financial focus will be saving up money for the bathroom renovation. If all goes well and we don't need to dip into the surplus, I should be able to have $4000 of the $5000 we need set aside by the end of the month.

One last bit of debt progress in 2013, plus other financial reckonings

December 27th, 2013 at 10:05 am

AS's student loan payment hit today, with $133 going to principal. That takes us to $3236 of progress for December, exceeding the $3200 goal.

Our total payoff this year is $35,113. SO close to breaking the record we set in 2008, but not quite! Still, a really good year.

That takes our total debt payment since the journey began to at least $194,649 and possibly $196,319 (the records are a bit patchy from back then). We'll be hitting the $200K mark soon!

I've spent all morning on the computer, tidying up various financial things:
- Checked all our credit cards to plan future payments and also make sure the Target breach didn't cause any suspicious charges.
- Tried to cover our holiday overspending with current and upcoming credit card rewards. Got within $80, which we can hopefully cover by having a light grocery week.
- Put holiday money from the grandparents ($130 total) into the girls' mutual funds.
- Redeemed Barclay travel rewards ($1275 across 3 cards) to partially pay for our Feb. vacation (airfare and hotel for Puerto Rico!). That was a really great deal; spent about $1000 each to earn $425 each in travel rewards. They're super easy to redeem too. I recommend that card if you're planning a trip in the future.
- Figured out some Paypal stuff, including redeeming for my Dietbet and some Pinecone rewards.

Shudder -- Dietbet. I'm glad I'm not in it anymore; it's been a very indulgent week. I'm afraid there's going to be quite a bit of food wasted/thrown out, because I stuff myself on something, have leftovers once and then never want to look at it again. Oh well; we hardly ever throw out food, so it won't be the end of the world.

We might also need to throw out some veggies; we bought food to feed AS's mom, but it's hard to plan around when she's coming over, and she hasn't been coming over for lunch, just dinner, so we have way more than we needed. There are things like bean sprouts that you can't freeze or cook; if you don't use them in time they just go bad.

Well, we'll have a reckoning on Sunday after she's gone, clear out what isn't going to be eaten, see what ingredients are still salvageable, and try to create a menu out of those with minimal grocery shopping required.

It's been fun to break from all our normal routines of frugality, sensible eating and strict schedules. But part of me can't wait to get back onto them. Our routines may seem constricting but they really work for us!

Merry Christmas from Minnesota!

December 25th, 2013 at 06:52 pm

Just chiming in because I liked seeing all the Christmas wishes from other states! Smile Having a fabulous Christmas; the day went so fast, what with the girls' infectious excitement. I'm glad we donated a big box of toys last week, because with all the grandparent presents they got quite a big haul.

Brain dump

December 19th, 2013 at 12:50 pm

It's slowish at work right now and I'm too burnt out to work on my self-assessment like I should, so I thought I'd just spew random thoughts on here instead. Smile

The first year of our big, ambitious, 3- to 4-year plan to get ready for a move (whether to UK or a bigger home in Mpls) is coming to a close. We've had incredible success even with some setbacks (mainly my dental work, but also NT's ER visit and some little bill increases here and there). Although I'm not keeping a formal tally of progress (only what we still need to accomplish), I know we needed about $100K of progress to happen over the 3-4 years, and I see we have just under $60K to go. That means we accomplished about 40% of our goals, when we only needed to hit 25% for a 4-year plan, or 33% for a 3-year plan!

Next year, if we can stay the course, we should be able to tackle the remaining student loan debt, pay for the rest of NT's college education, and get $5K of the US condo renovations and ALL of the UK renos done. The UK ones will require dipping into the emergency fund (about US$9925, in other words two-thirds of our EF) so rebuilding the EF will become a new goal. Still, about $5400 of the renos won't come out of the EF, so that will be progress. There will also be incremental progress on the medical EF and saving for the move.

So what I'm hoping to achieve next year:
- pay off student loans ($12,200)
- cashflow NT's remaining tuition ($6,470)
- renovate US condo bathroom ($5,000)
- renovate UK condo (cashflowing $5400)
- add to medical EF (at least $900)
- slowly build moving fund (maybe only $50)
- start to rebuild EF after I use it for rest of UK renos (hopefully $6000 of it will be restored over the next year)
So in total, I would like to get $36,020 more in progress in 2014.

Sounds kind of insane, but it makes sense; we essentially got to $40K in progress last year, and this year our take-home pay will be about $4K less because of upping our flex spending to cover my dental expenses.

If we did all that, all we'd need to do the following year(s) would be:
- finish building medical EF ($804)
- finish building the moving fund ($11,381)
- finish rebuilding the EF ($3,925)
- finish renovating the US condo ($8,500)
So, in 2015 we'd only have to scrape up about $24,610 to complete our big-picture goal! We could probably do that in about 8 months if we kept up the pace.

And if we did that, we could start saving toward my "pie in the sky" goal, which I haven't talked about much: saving an extra $68,000 so we could potentially achieve a home purchase and move without selling the UK flat. I've gotten used to the income it generates and love the idea of someday having a fully paid-for property that we can either continue to rent out or sell.

But. But. BUT.

Before I make all these ambitious predictions based on our current incomes, pace and lifestyle, I feel like some more soul-searching is required.

NT's October ER visit was (in the end) an important wake-up call about how hard we're all pushing ourselves. We've tried to make some changes, but I see that we're all still pushing ourselves to the brink of exhaustion with everything we've taken on. I have the easiest lot in life of the three of us and I feel I'm at 99% capacity, so it makes me wonder how the other two keep going at this pace.

Last night I had a bit of a heart-to-heart with AS and expressed some of my fears that we were not succeeding in being happy.

Her job is stressful on so many levels: WAY too much work, not enough pay, difficult co-workers, lots of take-home late-night work, lots of pressure to do after-work and weekend events, etc., etc. BUT it's giving her the international presence that may eventually lead to a move for us, and she does get to help produce great works of art.

NT's job has slowly sucked away his lunch hours, added on (unpaid) overtime that they no longer seem to give him comp time for, added the occasional Saturday shift, taken away the vibrant social life they used to share as co-workers, and now is making him go to Canada next year for off-site work. He is basically a dead-eyed zombie by the time he gets home, and then it's usually off to study or write papers. He is an incredible person to be handling full-time work, half-time college and two spouses and two kids. He just got a big bonus at work so you know he's doing well there, and he routinely gets As in almost all his classes. Something's gotta give, and it's definitely family; time with us and the kids is in short supply and of lower quality than it should be.

And me? I'm doing all right by comparison, but definitely suffering empathetically for both of them, as well as selfishly wishing I had more/better time with them. My work's not my dream job, but it's interesting, fairly well-paid and challenging and doesn't take over my life too much.

AS did assure me that her job is cyclical and that it's at a peak right now that will dwindle away by the end of January. Overall it's not ideal, but me assessing it right now isn't really accurate because it does get less crazy.

And NT's school commitment should be a lot less all-consuming next year. The spring semester will be just for his final project, with no classes and only a few in-person consultations with his adviser. The summer and fall semesters he just needs to top up his number of credits with any elective classes he wants, so hopefully those will be EASY and not require as much studying and writing.

So I think I should hang on until I see what next year looks like. And if it looks bearable, I'll also know that the following year could be even better, with NT out of college. Of course I know there's the possibility of big-expense shocks, like further injuries/tooth problems or even deaths in the extended family. But all you can work with is the data you have in front of you. I plan to plan as if it'll be a predictable couple of years.

But as AS said, you should consider all options. So part of my soul-searching as the new year approaches, and possibly into 2014, will be about the other possibilities besides the current path we're on:
- Cutting more pleasure spending (travel, spending money) and trying to supercharge our saving
- Cutting pleasure spending so that one (or all) of us could quit or scale back our jobs
- AS (and possibly me) taking on freelance work to supercharge saving -- temporarily adding even more stress, but with the end goal of getting to a more relaxed state sooner

Some small progress on the big-picture goals

December 17th, 2013 at 09:39 am

Checked savings accounts and recorded interest and automatic deposits:

$75.30 of deposits and interest went into the medical EF savings account, bringing the medical EF to $3,296.31 ($1703.69 to go).

$6.83 in interest to the house/moving fund. That takes us to $4,568.54 ($11,431.46 to go).

I can't believe this year is almost over! It was very busy and productive and fun. Even with the constricted budget due to my upcoming dental expenses, I'm hoping to accomplish a lot financially in 2014. I suppose I should think and write about that in a more organized way soon!

December 2013 net worth update

December 16th, 2013 at 01:02 pm

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): $26,901
NT's Roth IRA: $6,367
AS's 401(k): $11,346
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $15,850
CJ's 401(k): $63,500
CJ's Roth IRA: $6,367
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): $4,562
Total Assets: $584,013

Total Debt: $244,649

Current Estimated Net Worth: $339,364

November 2013 estimate: $336,428

Change in net worth: +$2,936

Summary: Our retirement accounts dipped in value overall (only by about $300 total), so all the net worth gain is due to paying down debt.

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.

Some big picture progress

December 14th, 2013 at 02:31 pm

I thought to see if NT's spring semester had posted yet, and it had. $1953, which I set up payment for right away. After a couple months of inactivity, it feels good to get truckin' on our goals again!

My estimate is that we have about $6470 left to pay on NT's tuition, which will be divided between his summer semester and final fall one. Could be a bit more or less than my estimate, but I think that's close. Then he graduates! So excited to be done with both student loan debt and tuition around the same time, so we can put our money to other uses.

Student loan paid off!

December 13th, 2013 at 04:21 pm

NT surprised me with a check stub for his bonus! It was only $4k, not $5k, but we cleared $2800, which was enough to pay off one more student loan with enough left over to cover holiday tips.

$2318 paid, taking us to $3103 down, $97 to go on our December goal.

It also takes our total student loan debt to $12,329! Big Grin If we can manage about $1000 per month next year, it should be done for by the end of 2014.


Partially kid-free weekend! and other random thoughts

December 13th, 2013 at 02:33 pm

Today the kids stay at daycare for a sleepover! Meanwhile us grownups are having our anniversary dinner a bit late at a fancy restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. AS and I went there last year around this time and remembered the view of the snow and holiday lights through the big glass windows was just gorgeous, plus the food and service were outstanding. This will be paid for by NT's first, smaller bonus.

Still waiting for the bigger bonus, from which I'll hopefully be able to pay off one of his student loans and also fund all our holiday tips! Word is it'll be distributed sometime next week. They let him contribute 4% of the bonus to his 401(k) with the 2% company match, which will give us another $100 if it's a $5K bonus like we think it is. Sweet!

Tomorrow I'm going to have my oldest daughter go through their toys and help me pick what we can donate to make room for the upcoming Xmas gifts. I've been prepping her for this and she seems very open to the idea. The challenge may be stopping her from donating things she may regret later. Maybe we'll sock them away somewhere to make sure she doesn't have a change of heart; however there's barely anywhere left to hide things with all the Xmas gifts stashed everywhere, so maybe we'll just take a leap of faith and donate. The church across the street has a van parked outside every Sunday for donations to their charity shop, so it's very handy.

I had a business trip this week, and I charged about $400 of expenses (including the hotel room) to my Chase Sapphire card. It'll help get to my rewards bonus, but I'll be reimbursed for it. That felt good!

Sunday is the bday party of one of AA's first friends from her first daycare, and it's also my college's local alumni party, which always takes place in a massive mansion of an eccentric rich alumna. Will be fun! Babysitting for the second event will also be paid for from the smaller of NT's bonuses. (And maybe there'll be enough left to pay for the little girl's bday present.)

We decided to plan a warm-weather vacay instead of a trip to Boston in 2014; we figure the girls will like it a lot better, and we'll appreciate a break from the MN winter. We're thinking mid-February. The budget is still the same, and $1200 of it will be funded with Barclay travel rewards from the three cards we got.

I recently got notice that our condo fees were going up 7.77% next year, and then aNOTHER notice that they'd been mistaken, they're actually going up over 8%! It was going to be $50 more per month, will be more than that now. It's not that we can't handle it, but it does make me afraid that it'll be harder to sell our unit eventually, when there are so many newer condo buildings with much smaller dues.

It does feel like we've been hemorrhaging money lately, though I know the bigger chunks have been planned (like Xmas spending) or unavoidable (like big medical costs). I've asked that we have as low-key a January as possible, partly to try and tone down the spending but also because our social and work calendars are filling up rapidly in all the other upcoming months. Our December calendar looks nuts, and February will be our vacation trip, and March is our 5-birthday month plus two business trips (one for NT and one for AS), and April may be another business trip for AS, and in May our UK friends will be visiting. Yikes!

One good thing is that I rolled over vacation days this year, so I'll have some extras to use just for me next year. Now to find time to use them!

Another good thing: Almost all Xmas gifts have been bought (mostly ordered online). We have a few more for AS's mom since she's coming to visit, and I need to ship my parents' once I receive my mom's, but that's about it. Then wrapping before Xmas, but that's always kind of fun. I just scored some free wrapping paper from my job, so that won't cost any more.

Next week should be semi-relaxing; not too much to do. I'm going to take AA on her first Xmas shopping trip to get gifts for all of us. She has a budget of $50 (not that she knows what that means, so I'll have to steer her toward cheap little trinkets. Smile) Then AS's mom arrives for a week's visit. She'll be staying at a hotel so it won't get too overwhelming, I don't think. Plus, maybe some free grandma babysitting for us. Smile

December debt progress and other money news

December 3rd, 2013 at 10:15 am

All our mortgage payments hit today.
US: $470 to principal
UK1: $218
UK2: $47
UK3: $50

All told, $785 down, $2415 to go on the December debt goal.

Lots of financial doings yesterday:

We got another bill from NT's hospital visit. It seemed higher than what his insurance site had led us to believe. I took a closer look and realized they'd tacked on a $398 charge from 2011. NT reckons that's from a finger injury that he ended up getting worker's comp to pay for. He's going to call the hospital and see why it's showing up on a bill now.

Money in the mail: Got $20 from my mom for our anniversary, and a $3 check for a wine rebate. They will both go into surplus to hopefully help pay down debt.

Paid our second holiday tip, $30 to our condo association's holiday fund for the employees.

I raised the possibility of starting our oldest on an allowance next year when she turns 4. I think about it every year but we've always decided she's too young. I think she's much more able to grasp concepts now, so it'll be a good time to start. Thinking about doing the thing where we make her save 1/3 and donate 1/3, and then 1/3 is for spending.

We decided to use an offer that came in an issue of Kiplinger's to get 15 bottles of wine for $90 (that comes to $6 per bottle). All we have to do is cancel the membership it signs us up for after that. That'll be good for the holidays.

Speaking of Kiplinger's, I think the most recent issue finally tipped the scales for me on doing something with my cash besides stashing it in savings. snafu, you'll be so happy! Smile I'm making it a New Year's goal to figure out how to divvy it up and put it in places where it will earn at least a little bit of money. I'm thinking my EF will go in online savings and the house down payment money (when we get some) into a Vanguard fund of some kind. Kiplinger's recommended a bond fund from them.

And, some non-financial but fun news tidbits:

I won NaNoWriMo! I completed a 50,000-word novel in less than 30 days. The writing is terrible, the plot kind of half-baked, but I got to stretch my creative muscles and my self-discipline.

I've lost all the weight I needed to in order to win the DietBet I'm in. As long as I don't *gain* any for the next week, I should at least get my $35 back and maybe win a bit extra!

AS heard that she might get to attend the London Book Fair in April next year! This would be great both for boosting her presence in England for potential future career prospects AND to get to see our friends for a bit. Our best UK friends are visiting us in May, so she'd get to see them two months in a row. Smile

December debt goal & service provider tips: c'mon, bonus!

December 2nd, 2013 at 12:45 pm

I still don't feel confident that NT is going to get the full bonus we're hoping for, but he's feeling confident so I'm going to plan December accordingly. I'm planning to use it to pay off one of NT's loans, which has $2318 left on it. Combined with the approximately $900 we pay just in minimum debt payments, I'm going to say the December goal is to pay off $3200 of debt.

Now that I've said it, I'll try to make it happen even if we don't get the bonus! Though it'll be nearly impossible without it.

I'm also depending on the bonus to fund our holiday tips to service providers. The first of them had to be paid today; our house cleaner won't come again until after Xmas. So I left him an $80 tip and hope to be able to fund that from NT's bonus when it comes!

We're giving our providers a slight raise this year (more than a slight one to daycare since they've given us so much extra this year):
$80 for house cleaner
$30 to bldg mgmt
$60 to diaper service
$300 to daycare
Card to our lawyer
Total: $470