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Archive for January, 2016

Gratitude photos #30-31

January 31st, 2016 at 07:47 pm

Both food pics; not much else went on this weekend. (Which was kind of nice, because it meant I got a lot of editing time on my NaNoWriMo.)

Saturday I was grateful for ... (veganized) tater tot hot dish! I never heard of this casserole before I moved to MN, and I was already vegan. So I've never had the real deal, but I love my vegan version.



Tonight I was grateful for SavingAdvice, and all the support and additional info we share. I veganized a chicken paprikash dish posted by PJMama, and it was awesome! Again, I've never had the real thing, but I loved how this tasted.

January 2016 net worth update

January 31st, 2016 at 07:22 pm

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 17,105 pounds ($27,368)
#2: 20,501 pounds ($32,801)
#3: 4,452 pounds ($7,123)
NT's 401(k): $38,321
NT's Roth IRA: $9,264
AS's trad. IRA: $13,981
AS's Roth IRA: $24,025
AS's SEP IRA: $7,162
CJ's 401(k): $77,738
CJ's Roth IRA: $12,068
NT's flat: 180,000 pounds ($288,000)
CJ/NT/AS house: $440,000
---
Total Assets: $977,851

Total Debt: $481,787

Current Estimated Net Worth: $496,064

December 2015 estimate: $503,350

Change in net worth: +$7,286

Summary: Aaaand, just like that, our net worth dips back below half a million. Sigh. Seems like we'll never get to a point where we stay at that level.

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.

My first full month of Mint tracking

January 31st, 2016 at 09:14 am

What a weird month to start with!

According to Mint, we made $11,388 of income, including rental money from the UK flat and the US duplex. The total is distorted by the fact that I cashed out AA's CD and reinvested the money in her mutual fund. It also includes some work reimbursements and a couple of refunds. But it was a lean month for AS in terms of receiving freelance checks (even though she booked a ton of work).

Our spending for the month, per the tool, was $20,564! A crazy number, but it includes:
$1129 of AA's CD, deposited into Pax
$5284 for our UK plane tickets (which we saved up for and are paying off the CC for next week)
$2960 of retirement contributions (including quarterly SEP contribution for AS's freelance business)
$2300 in estimated tax payments for AS's freelance work
Total of the above: $11,673

So when you take out all of those unusual transactions, our spending was $8891. Still a lot, but at least less than we brought in.

I take the no-spend days with a grain of salt, since transactions don't always post the day I make them. (For instance, I bought the plane tickets and made several of the retirement contributions Dec. 31, but they're showing up in January). But it says we had two no-spend days, Jan 10 & 16.

The highest-spend day was Jan 5, at $9617 (wow!). That included the airfare, our US mortgage, and a Roth contribution. Other than that, it was $30 on shopping and $33 on groceries that day.

I think Mint values the duplex much higher than I do, and also counts the money in checking (which I dont' because it's allocated for bills) and savings (which is set aside for taxes so I don't count it), because it has our net worth at $590,489. I'll do our net worth shortly, but last month I had it just a bit over $500K.

So, it's a very interesting tool! It'll be good for getting an idea of how much we spend in different categories, even though I won't use it to manage my budget day-to-day. I like how it's mostly automatic (I just need to go in occasionally and make sure purchases are correctly categorized).

Gratitude photo #29

January 29th, 2016 at 06:27 pm

Day 29: Grateful for quality time doing puzzles with my little one, SL, before dinner. Nice way to start the weekend.

Gratitude photos #26-28

January 29th, 2016 at 07:29 am

I was thinking about ending my gratitude photos at the end of January since it seems to have petered out, but then NT latched onto the idea and started posting his own on Facebook. So I may continue a bit longer; we'll see.

Day 26: I went to a politician's rally for the first time since, oh, about 1999. I'm very skeptical he can win, but I'm grateful for a presidential candidate whose heart and lifelong record are in the right place! (He's the tiny dot behind the podium in the distance on the far left. Big Grin)



Day 27: I didn't take any photos, but AA had a new story (with props!) she'd learned at school, so I took a video of it to share with faraway family.

Day 28: I had about an hour of downtime at work, so I used it to finalize our menu and grocery list for the week. I'm so glad we came up with this shared Google spreadsheet, because it enables us to keep everything in one place and edit from anywhere. We categorize by what store has the best deals on what and add price estimates so we can make sure we're close to our budget. We can even access our grocery list on our phones at the store if we forget to bring the printout!

Finding a way to finance our front-loaded expenses

January 26th, 2016 at 09:41 am

As I alluded to in past posts, most of our big-ticket wants and needs this year all need to be paid for in the first six months. Last night I figured out how we might actually be able to do that.

It started when I called the AC people to see if we could do the installation in pieces, and whether that would cost the same in the end as getting all 4 zones installed at once. The lady I talked to said she'd try to negotiate a 15% discount for us if we agreed to get all 4 done at once. That would be a $2K savings off that price!

So I told her I'd consider it, but that we weren't interested in a payment plan so would need at least until May to get the money saved up for it. She's supposed to call today to confirm whether the discount was approved.

Meanwhile, I sat down with our budget projections to see how feasible it would be to get the AC done in May, plus fund our June and July trips, plus pay for NT's shoulder, plus finish the basement bathroom and allot $100 each for our five March birthday celebrations.

This is what I came up with:

2 AC zones would cost $8,400, so 4 zones at $12,000 (the proposed discounted price) is a good deal. Basically, 2 zones would be $4200 each, but 4 zones would be $3000 each.

The needs and wants that would need to be paid for in the first half of the year total about $21,000 (if we count 4-zone AC):
NT's shoulder $3,435
Barcelona airfare ($600) and hotel ($1000) $1,600
College reunion airfare, lodging, spending $1,500
College donation $500
Basement bathroom $1,300
Birthday parties ($100 each) $500
AC $12,013

Last year, AS netted about $40K over the course of the year, so there’s a chance she could net $20K in these first six months.

If I defer 5 Roth contributions (Feb-June) and double up contributions in July-Nov instead, that frees up $6875 in the first 6 months.

Our estimated budget surplus Feb-June is $3975.

That means we potentially would have just under $31K to cover all these expenses (plus whatever else comes up—I can think of a few minor things such as tax prep, kids' dance/swim classes and Valentine’s Day dinner). We might encounter more expenses, but we might also get more windfalls—I haven’t factored in the credit card bonuses for our recent offers, for example.

When I spoke to the AC lady yesterday, it sounded like we could aim for May without making a strict commitment. So if our budget went awry, we could cancel AC installation, or go for just 1 or 2 zones. I would for sure confirm with her that we’d have no obligation if we needed to back out.

Looking at all of that, it seems safe to at least say we’re going to try for the 4-zone AC, and see how the next 5 months pan out.

Gratitude photo #25

January 25th, 2016 at 06:51 pm

See that?



That gray, gloomy sky may not look like much, but even overcast, it's so much lighter than just a few weeks ago. Hooray for days getting longer!

Gratitude photo #24

January 24th, 2016 at 07:05 pm

Day 24: Lasagna! AS mostly does baking and dessert-type cooking, but she has a few dinner specialties, and this is one of them. I get a vegan version with a nutritional-yeast sauce that I make. Yum.

Gratitude photo #23

January 24th, 2016 at 10:11 am

It's hard to cook with even one of the kids, let alone both of them, but they love it. So I was grateful that NT got the idea to make blueberry muffins with the kids yesterday, and actually managed to keep them focused the whole time! Oh, and we had the muffins this morning -- delicious.

Gratitude photos #21-22

January 22nd, 2016 at 04:54 pm

Yesterday I was wishy-washy about what I would photograph, and it got pretty late. I was watching "Murder, She Wrote" with AS, and I realized I'm grateful for our ritual of putting on detective shows (which we've seen countless times) late at night until we get sleepy. I don't know why I find them so soothing but I do. I even had "Columbo" on near-constant loop in the hospital when I was in labor and recovering from giving birth!



Today, I'm grateful for the concept of capsule wardrobes. I realized that as I was photographing a few new items that I'm swapping for some of my fall items. It really has changed my outlook on clothing and increased my confidence!

Gratitude photos #20

January 21st, 2016 at 08:44 am

I forgot to take any pictures yesterday, but I remember two specific instances of gratitude, so I'll bend my rules a bit...

First, reading LivingAlmostLarge's post about being rear-ended reminded me of the serious car accident I had soon after college. Although it was a traumatic event, it makes me feel grateful A: to be alive all these years later (nearly 20 now!), and B: for the different path my life took after it. If I hadn't had to move back to my parents' home to recover, I might never have met AS, moved to Minneapolis, or met the friends who eventually introduced us to NT. These are some photos my dad took at the accident scene for insurance purposes. Still unbelievable for me to look at them and know that I survived! (It does look worse than the actual wreck damage because they had to take the roof off and use the jaws of life to get me out of there.)





The other thing I felt grateful for: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the fact that history regards him as a hero (meaning he changed hearts and minds, because there were many many people who just thought he was a troublemaker or worse at the time). AA came home from school asking to learn more about "that man that got shot who brought black people and white people together." So we watched a few things on YouTube, and discussed his life and impact, and related it to the struggles we're having now in America and how we're helping continue Dr. King's work. I'm so glad she has this connection, and that it's something they teach at schools.

Various financial things, starting up credit card churn again

January 20th, 2016 at 09:31 am

As I mentioned in a recent post, we seem to have many things competing for our money this year. So a few weeks ago, NT, AS and I sat down and made a list of rough estimates of everything, as well as rough estimates of our budget surplus. Not surprisingly, our wants/needs list was several thousand more than we expect to come in this year.

So we made some compromises and downgraded some ideas, and got it to work out. For retirement, I gave up trying to max out the 2015 Roths and getting NT to 10% on his 401(k), but I kept my commitment to max out the 2016 Roths, and upped my 401(k) percentage to 9.5% (as close to 10% as I could get without going over).

We found out that NT's medical bills are nearly $3700, so we thought maybe AS could get her tooth replaced next year, or start the process this year and finish up next year, to split the cost over two years.

We got an estimate for AC and because we don't have any ducts, we'll need a ductless system. It was much more than we anticipated--over $14K if we do the whole home. We'd been thinking we'd redo one of the bathrooms and had estimated $15K for that, so we decided to just do some smaller improvements to that and focus on the AC. NT and AS already repainted the discolored old clawfoot tub in the main floor bathroom, and that makes a huge difference. There are a few other cheaper things we can do to make that bathroom more pleasant until we can afford to redo it completely.

I hadn't really thought about credit card bonus offers because NT and I had been turned down for a couple back when we were in the aftermath of home buying and refinancing. But AS showed me two offers in the mail (one for me and one for her) for a Capital One "spend $500, get $100 cash back" offer. It made me think we should really see if we can start getting approved for CCs again and do the churn thing to help offset some of these bigger expenses.

So I applied for those two cards and was instantly approved. I went to creditcards.com and saw Chase Sapphire was still a top offer, so I applied for one for NT and was instantly approved. It's a "spend $4K and have an authorized user make one purchase, get 55,000 points" offer. We can charge NT's medical bills plus a couple more things and easily make this one. We'll either get $550 cash or even more in travel rewards--AS suggested we could use it to purchase the airfare for my college reunion in June.

Then I saw that Chase Freedom had a "spend $500 and have an authorized user make one purchase, get $175" offer. I went ahead and applied AS for that since I don't know if she's done a Chase Freedom before. I only got a "we need more time to review" message on that one, so not sure if she'll be approved for it. If not, I can try NT or myself on it, or move on to other offers.

The main problem I'm seeing with our list of things we want/need to do with our surplus this year is that most of the expenses are coming up in the first half of the year. So we'll have enough money to pay for them by the end of the year, but will need to make the purchases before that. I'm hoping we'll have more money coming in than anticipated, but if not, I may have to find ways to "float" the purchases until we have the cash flow for them. Since we usually have several thousand in checking thanks to being ahead on bills and saving up for AS's quarterly estimated tax payments, it maybe be doable, but I'll need to plan it carefully.

Expenses coming up in the first half of the year:
NT's medical bills $3673
NYC airfare $750? plus lodging (could stay on campus for cheaper if necessary), reunion fee and donation to college
Barcelona airfare $600 or so
AC $14,500 if we decide to do the whole home

Most of the other stuff on the list can wait until later in the year, but these are most of the bigger-ticket items, so it's going to be tough!