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Archive for April, 2014: Ceejay74's Personal Finance Blog
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Archive for April, 2014

May debt repayment goal + added to savings

April 30th, 2014 at 04:58 pm

Paychecks hit today, so I was able to send $247.81 to savings. We're at $36,815 with $31,135 still needed.

For May, same ol' boring goal: at least $900 to debt. Even though we won't be sending any extra to debt for a while, I'm still going to track it in terms of monthly goals, just for continuity. I've been doing it since this blog started and couldn't imagine not doing so!

Reached April debt goal

April 29th, 2014 at 04:45 am

It's been such a mentally draining couple of weeks that I didn't remember to check AS's student loan until I realized the payment had posted! $133 went to principal, taking April debt repayment to $921. That surpasses the $900 goal.

It also takes our student loan debt (when we round off the cents) to $11,000 even!

Now that we've decided to put a laser focus on saving for a home, I've had to put my extra debt repayment on hold. So $133 per month is all we're going to see the student loans go down for a while. My spreadsheet says it would take 6.89 years to pay it off at that rate, so let's hope I'm able to start putting extra money to it again before that!

On that front, I decided to close a checking account and savings account that were earning little to no interest. Their only purpose was to keep EF funds separate from house savings, but I can do that on a spreadsheet and have everything in one account at least earning .9%. Plus, if we have to temporarily deplete the EF and medical fund, I'm willing to do that to get to our goal faster. So for the time being, I'm thinking of all our cash savings as one lump sum. Kind of exciting to see it all together: $21,022.75! And that's not counting our UK savings (which will definitely be temporarily depleted to pay for renovations over there).

We also agreed to halt travel and charitable spending for the next 10 months or so in order to save up enough for a down payment. We think that, supposing the windfall doesn't come, we'll have enough for renovations plus down payment by March of next year. That's assuming (as always) no unexpected windfalls OR curveballs. So could be sooner or later than that.

The declutter challenge has gone pffft! As sometimes happens with these things, I plan a challenge and then get hit by some unexpected things that take my attention away from it. That's OK; challenges are good for motivating me when there's nothing going on, but if something more urgent or important comes along, I'll focus on that instead. The things that have come up:
- Lots of extra work that sometimes leads to OT at home
- Our decision to stay in the US
- Seeming movement on the land deal (which still hasn't led to anything, but did cause a flurry of house-hunting when it looked like it was going through)
- A round of spring colds that have kept our household energy at half-mast

Anyway, time to revamp the sidebar goals once again!

Firmed up the house plan a bit

April 24th, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Wow. Work has just been insane lately. If this writing project goes well, it could mean big things for me. Right now, all it means is trying to cram another nearly full-time job into my already nearly full-time job. Needless to say, not much time for blogging! But I'm planning on working a bit some night or this weekend in return for taking this mental break, because my brain is overtired and not working at its peak capacity. Will be better if I take a break from work thinking.

We've barely had any concentrated grownup time in my house this week, at least when all of us were present, with no kids around, not doing other stuff. But we had about a 10-minute hurried discussion yesterday about the house-buying plan, and came to a fairly straightforward conclusion: If we don't get the land deal money, we'll probably start looking for a new house in about a year. Meanwhile, we'll work on renovating both the US condo and UK flat with the money we've got now. We just decided we can't put all our money into a down payment right now, because then we'd be carrying two mortgages, we'd have no cushion to speak of, and we wouldn't be able to complete the US reno anytime soon because much of our surplus budget would be just going to carry the two mortgages, and if we couldn't do the reno, odds are we wouldn't be able to sell (at least not at the price we need to break even on our mortgage).

If we do get that big windfall, should pretty much be able to start all three things simultaneously: flat reno, condo reno and house-hunting.

So that makes it pretty easy. I do need to look at the annual budget to see if we'll have to make any cuts to get to the savings we need within a year without the land deal, but other than that it's pretty cut-and-dried. We have a contractor coming tonight to check out our bathroom and we'll see if we can get any help within our tight budget ($5K for everything). Doesn't hurt to ask someone!

I still can't tell if the land deal will go through. My dad emailed us (first time he's weighed in, I think he's trying to stay out of it but some parts of it only he can handle since he owns the land) to say he'd sent back some notarized docs to the gas company and would mail each of us kids a copy. I couldn't resist and emailed back to see if he knew whether it was a done deal or just an option that the gas co. might or might not follow through on, but I haven't heard back from him.

Meanwhile, I've been chatting and texting and Facebooking with one of my two friends who would consider moving in with us if we got a multifamily. They're perfectly serious about it as long as the second space meets some basic needs and is in a neighborhood they like. He also said they're fine in their current rental and willing to wait a year to see if anything pans out. He's going to keep an eye on multifamilies for sale to see how quickly they go and what they actually sell for.

Meanwhile, I'm going to bone up on mortgage brokers, credit unions, real estate agents, online mortgage lenders, and all the other great ideas and tips you guys gave me on my last post. Thank you!!

I think it would be great, kind of like having extended family nearby. Also wouldn't hurt to have help with the mortgage! But I'll only do it if we can find a multifamily where our part of it satisfies our needs and makes us excited to move in.

Not too much other news. In the declutter arena, I've gotten the oldest kid to set aside a few more toys for donate/garage sale. I also cleared out a hundred or so emails from my work inbox but still don't have it down where I want it to be.

I was able to view the claims for SL's ER visit and talked to the insurance company for help interpreting it. I was excited to learn we'll owe less than $300 for the whole shebang! There have been 4 claims so I think that should be all.

NT's job is actually looking good right now! His co-worker leaving seems to have woken them up, and they hired not only someone to replace him, but also someone for a new position that's been needed for years. So it looks like NT might be happier there and be able to stay longer and look for other jobs at his leisure.

AS's job will be winding down over the next several months or so. We brainstormed possible new professions for her a bit this morning, but it's still really preliminary. Her job needs her really badly until they fill other positions and train people up.

That's about all the news I can think of right now!

Need a crash course in home buying!

April 22nd, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Jeez, with serious talk of buying suddenly afoot, I'm realizing how little I know about the process.

- What's the best way to shop for a mortgage, and how do you tell which is best for you?
- Do you get preapproved only after you choose a lender? Is there any obligation to preapproval?
- How hard is it to shop around and make offers without a real estate agent?
- My credit score is high, but are all the opened/closed credit cards going to raise red flags and/or eyebrows when lenders check my credit history?

I'm remembering the first and only time I shopped for a home. Went into it blind, with money borrowed from my dad and my real estate agent basically just telling me what to do. A few times, unexpected expenses cropped up, like earnest money and closing costs. Also didn't know about property tax escrow beforehand. I didn't choose my lender; my real estate agent just shuttled me to someone who got me my mortgage and my home equity loan (which I took out immediately upon buying, with the intention of paying my dad off, even though I didn't finish paying him off until years later).

I did an online prequalify with my main bank today, just to see what that said. But it was instantaneous so I doubt it took into account my credit history. And it didn't ask how much cash I have for a down payment, which I assume would affect how much I could borrow.

At least this time I know a few things, and I know of the existence of things even if I don't know much about them. But it's clear I need to educate myself a lot more, fast!

Sorry for the scattered entry; basically just thinking aloud. Now you know how scattered and messy it is inside my brain. Wink

Declutter challenge? What was that again?

April 21st, 2014 at 10:20 pm

This weekend I didn't get much decluttering done. Tried without success to get the old carseat picked up by a Freecycler (hopefully my backup person will come today, but she sounds like a bit of a flake too). Got rid of an old box and some other recycling. That's about it. Most of the time I forgot about the challenge entirely, with everything else I've got going on!

First off, we ran our 5k on Saturday! I didn't exactly set the world on fire with my time, but I'm just proud of myself because I didn't take a walking break the whole way! (NT and AS did MUCH better on time.) We all had a good time and agreed we'd like to do more of them in the future.

Sunday of course was Easter, so we hid eggs and put out baskets of treats for the girls to find. What with grandparents and daycare, we had so much stuff that the only things I bought were two $1.99 baskets at CVS. They had a great time, and we had our friends (the girls' godfathers) over in the afternoon just to hang out and catch up.

The past week or so, we've been getting more and more amped to start shopping for a new home. At first we were thinking we'd definitely fix up the condo and sell it before we moved, but now we're starting to seriously consider buying and moving before we sell. So everything is up in the air right now. Many things to consider:

- Deciding if it's a good idea to move before we sell. I spoke to a friend Friday who did it, and he said he and his wife just couldn't contemplate trying to stage the home and keep it neat (they have 3 young kids ranging from newborn to kindergartner). He said it wasn't that hard to do, and that you don't need that much of a down payment (they did about 7%) despite rumors that you need 20%-30% these days. He said the biggest consideration was you have to prove you have enough money in the bank to cover both mortgages.

- Making sure we have enough money in the budget to pay two mortgages for a while. We would, if we cut back on a few things, but it would mean our salaries need to stay stable for a while. That would mean NT can't take a lower-paying job unless AS gets a higher-paying job. (Oh! That's the other thing I haven't talked about. AS gave a preliminary sort of notice to her job; she's not leaving anytime soon, but she told them she needs to start transitioning out of her current role over the next few months or so.)

- Do we pull the trigger sooner even if we don't get the land-deal windfall? At first we thought no, but it is actually possible. I don't think of us having any money in savings, really, because all our money is earmarked and bucketed out for various uses. But when I added up everything we have in US checking and savings, we actually have over $21,000! It's all earmarked (EF, vacation fund, medical fund, extra student loan payments, etc.) but none of it is specifically needed at this time. And more is coming in May. So that's kind of interesting.

- We've mostly been thinking we want a single-family home, though I've had this vague dream for a while that if we got a duplex, one of our friends might move into the other unit and help us out with the mortgage. She's a really good friend and has a small apartment; would love something bigger but wants to keep her costs down and not commit to a mortgage.

She has a small dog and we have a cat and two kids; the potential for helping each other out with pet and child care, plus keeping each other's living expenses down, is really enticing! So when our other friends (a married [soon-to-be-legally] male couple), were over Sunday, I told them of this dream of mine. They immediately jumped on it, saying THEY would actually be open to an arrangement like that! They also have a dog, and as I mentioned are the kids' godfathers, and don't want to have a mortgage again (walked away from their home during the housing crisis), so the same arrangement could work with them!

We're really excited at the prospect. I'm even going to an open house tomorrow with one of them to check out a tempting prospect in our neighborhood; it is single-family but really big, so I want to see if it has potential to turn multi-family.

This concept of putting all my other money goals on hold in order to pursue house-ownership early feels very daring and strange to me. I'm still thinking about it. I wouldn't do it unless I felt confident we could pull it off financially without sacrificing too many of our other short-term (and NONE of our long-term) goals. So we'll see. I'll be crunching lots of numbers over the next few days/weeks/months, trying to see what this new scenario might look like.

April 2014 net worth update

April 17th, 2014 at 03:55 pm

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 17,105 pounds ($27,368)
#2: 19,653 pounds ($31,445)
#3: 4,452 pounds ($7,123)
NT's 401(k): $29,319
NT's Roth IRA: $6,891
AS's 401(k): $12,404
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $18,075
CJ's 401(k): $68,422
CJ's Roth IRA: $6,891
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): $4,584
---
Total Assets: $598,204

Total Debt: $240,309

Current Estimated Net Worth: $357,895

March 2014 estimate: $352,102

Change in net worth: +$5,793

Summary: Nice, healthy net worth growth this month. We're so close to $600K in assets! Almost half of the increase was due to getting an annual statement on one of NT's UK pensions.

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.

Days 15-16 declutter results etc.

April 17th, 2014 at 02:37 am

I haven't done much these past two days. Last night I took two small bags of clothes to a donation box, and today I listed our carseat on Freecycle. I thought it expired in early 2015, but it actually expires January 2016, so that's nice; if someone wants it they'll get a lot of use out of it before they have to get rid of it.

I'm feeling pretty sleepy tonight so probably won't get anything else done.

Work has been crazy, and my email inbox is already back up to 150 after I cleared it down to less than five a couple weeks ago. But my writing assignment seems to be going well, so I'm excited about that. I got my raise in my 4/15 paycheck; $30 per paycheck or $60 per month. Not too bad! If I get into writing full-time at work I can hopefully see a more substantial raise than that, though. Not that it will probably happen for a long time, if it happens at all.

Last night AS and I talked to some new acquaintances about my dedication to personal finance. As always I offered to share any tips I'd picked up along the way and invited them to my Ordinary Savers group and blog (which I haven't updated in several months -- gulp!). The woman of the couple mentioned that she had a lot of student loan debt and would like to talk about it sometime. She did say she was paying off $1000 per month, so that's promising!

NT mailed off our taxes yesterday as well as the W-9 for the land deal. I emailed the guy whose business card was clipped to the W-9 asking him what amount I was getting and when I could expect it, but I didn't hear anything. I don't think he cares now that he's got the right of way. I'm just one of four people in a very small (for the energy company) piece of a huge deal.

I've learned some of what's going on in WVa. right now by doing a bit of internet research. There's a big area called Marcellus Shale that's located under several states including NY and PA. The state with the most shale area is WVa; it looks to be under about 75%-90% of the state. Frown And also, WVa is an energy state. They are practically owned by the companies. Frown It's looking really bad for that formerly beautiful state, and I'm more determined than ever to donate a large sum of money to an activist group in the area. That's not to say I'm not still terribly grateful to my dad and excited to receive a large sum of money and possibly speed up our long-term goals, but I wish it weren't from this type of business.

Day 14 declutter/organize results! etc.

April 15th, 2014 at 04:40 am

I can put "results!" back in my title. Smile I filed away that lingering pile of stuff. No photo because there's nothing to see!

Actually I noticed some bits of paper that had started littering various spaces already. But, much more manageable now that the main pile is done.

I was so busy at work today that I didn't get chance to go mail my taxes or the W-9 for the land deal. But I did make tax copies for my records right before I left work, and gave all the mailing for NT to do at his work tomorrow.

The reason I was so busy at work is I suddenly have a rather challenging, rather high-profile writing assignment. It's a bit stressful because my supervisor and others are kind of giving off signals that if this goes well, I could be on my way to a full-time writer job (which I believe is quite a bit better-paying than my current position). So of course I want to get it just right, but I'm also paying attention to how it makes me feel to make sure it's the kind of job I would want. So far I kind of like it; I think I'd like it more once I gained more confidence in my professional writing skills. We shall see.

NT is undergoing some interesting times at his job. They kept making and breaking promises to hire one more person to make work manageable. So he's been looking for a new job. Then his supervisor and friend found a job and is leaving at the end of this month. His upper management is freaking out and I know they want to keep NT. I also know they're stuck on this idea of not hiring an extra person. I think they'd give him a promotion and raise but try to hire only one person, instead of one to replace his supervisor and one to fill the gap they've had for a couple of years. And that is just not going to fly long-term. So I really hope they come to their senses and hire two people, OR I hope he finds another job, even if it's lower-paying. Things have slowed down to a normal pace for a little while, but when it ramps up at his work, there is no relief and it starts to affect our home life. I don't want to go through that again with no end in sight.

AS is also assessing her long-term career prospects now that we're not planning to move to the UK. So we'll see where all of this leads!

Days 12-13 declutter update

April 14th, 2014 at 06:12 am

I can't really say "progress"; I didn't do much. But when you consider the weekend I had! Saturday morning I find out we're staying in the U.S. for sure. Today I receive the W-9 for what could be a $70K+ windfall. I've been very distracted!

The few things I did do this weekend:
- Moved some outgrown kid sneakers to the garage sale section of the closet.
- Got AS to sign her state tax form so I can take all our returns to work, make payments and mail them off.
- Shredded some duplicate/unnecessary tax paperwork.
- Uhh...

I think that may be it! Although, I think my decluttering of the past few days inspired NT, who organized some stuff in the kitchen, and added some things to the garage sale pile. And, even though AS is back now (woo hoo!), I still continued my new practice of laying out my clothing and packing my breakfast & lunch for work.

Ah well. It's been a great weekend of decisions and action. I did another practice 5k and feel OK about this Saturday's real 5k. We've been staying on the grocery budget and menu plan. I stayed steady on my weight. Did a TON of drooling over homes for sale online (OK, that wasn't exactly productive).

Some interesting job stuff is coming up for me and for NT, but it's getting late and I can't really organize my thoughts. I'm sure I'll get to talking about it eventually. Nothing concrete at this point anyway.

Here we go! (I think?)

April 14th, 2014 at 02:01 am

So I hadn't heard anything more about the land deal for about three weeks, and kind of figured they just wanted my dad's sign-off in case they were going to do the pipeline, but maybe hadn't gotten anywhere near that point yet. However, tonight I went to get a package that had been in the front office of my condo since about Thursday or Friday, and it was a W-9 form from the company, with a request to fill it out and a return envelope. No other info, just that.

Here we go? I don't have any knowledge of how these things work, but if they're having me fill one of these out, I would think a payment is imminent.

I'd kind of calmed down and accepted that the deal might not happen after all, so now my heart is pounding and mind racing all over again.

But even though it's terribly exciting (and nerve-wracking), it's still not cash in hand. So we'll see.

Wow! Suddenly, some clarity

April 12th, 2014 at 07:28 pm

Today, we have a very different perspective for the foreseeable future.

The WV land deal is still uncertain.
Prospective career/income changes are still just pipe dreams.

BUT ...

An uncertainty much bigger than either of those has been settled: We're staying in the U.S.

AS's trip to London was first and foremost to represent her publishing house at a book fair. But we all acknowledged that it was also for her to network, suss out the British publishing industry, and think about the possibility of getting a job in it.

She came home with a very definite sense that a long-term future in the UK publishing world would not be good for her -- or us. It was mainly a lifestyle thing; most of the people she talked to had chosen publishing over having children. Or having a social life outside of publishing. Or (if they worked for a small press) having a decent income.

It also bothered her that the culture itself seemed to be everyone's obsession. She got into publishing because she loves books, loves editing, loves experimental fiction writing. All that seemed secondary to gossip, careers and faux glamour, with most of the people she met.

She doesn't want to pursue that path, and that was the only clear path we saw into the UK. We didn't have to discuss much after that -- NT had already prepared himself for that eventuality and is just ready to head in a concrete direction, and so am I. So we now have one path -- fixing up our condo for sale and saving up for a down payment on a house in Minneapolis.

There's a wistful feeling giving up the UK dream -- at least for the next 5-10 years. But there's a great deal of excitement having something definite to work toward.

I of course immediately rejiggered the numbers to focus just on moving within Minneapolis. And I'm figuring them with a 10% down payment, because we want to move as soon as possible but without having to sell the UK flat to raise funds.

These are my very rough estimates, which we'll use as our benchmarks unless or until we have more concrete numbers:

Upgrade US condo for sale: ($13,500 total)
- Kitchen $5,000
- Bathroom $5,000
- Floors $2,500
- Misc. (painting etc.) $1,000
Total UK flat reno $19,200
Down payment (10% on $425K home) $42,500
Closing costs $4,500
Moving $1,000
So that would mean we'd need $80,700. If we count every liquid asset (including the emergency fund), we have $32,874. That leaves $47,826 we'd need to raise. (Would probably take us over a year to raise that, depending on whether career and income changes happen, and which direction they took our take-home pay.)

Interestingly, my estimate of what we'd clear if the WV land deal goes through is $48,000. Which means if that went through tomorrow, we'd have enough money to start the ball rolling immediately!

Of course this assumes we wouldn't lose any money on the sale of the condo, but that's more likely if we wait a year. So even if we were to get that windfall sooner, we'd probably wait longer anyway. And, it would be nice to pull this off without draining every bit of our medical and emergency funds, so that's another incentive to wait and save up money.

Very exciting stuff to contemplate.