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Archive for December, 2013

2014 Resolutions - Financial and Some Others

December 31st, 2013 at 05:47 pm

The easiest resolutions were the personal ones:
- Stretch more - carried over from last year - stretch EVEN more! I did pretty well last year, but I have to remind myself that I sleep better when I stretch before bed and have a better morning when I stretch after I get up, even for just a few minutes.

- Digitize stuff - I need to digitize old family photos and also the penny postcards that my grandmother received during WWII from families of POWs (she sent them messages from the POWs, and they wrote back the most beautiful thank you messages). Also need to digitize the notes for teaching my weightlifting class and my spinning class.

- Use Chrome and Apple Mail instead of Firefox (which my husband calls my Budget Browser) and Thunderbird. I switched over to Chrome last weekend, so I'm ahead of the game!


Now the financial goals:
- Wills - Finally do our wills (I have the template forms and everything! I just need to sit down and DO IT!!)

- Retirement - $800/month to our IRAs (and find an extra $200 to put in there to be at $5000 each)

- Mortgage - $115 per month to mortgage principal

- Tuition - increase amount we pay out of our budget by $10/month so we don't dip into our tuition savings account as much. Also put $50 from the 52-week challenge per month into the tuition account. Move the tuition account to somewhere making some interest.

- Car Savings - continue putting in $150 per month.

- Clothing - based on my analysis of the ideal wardrobe (yes, and excel spreadsheet), I don't need any new clothing except a swimsuit. No clothes buying for me this year (except the swimsuit - just bought massively on sale from Landsend - hope it fits)

Auto Insurance Dividend

December 29th, 2013 at 05:22 pm

One of the best financial gifts my father ever gave me is the ability to have USAA insurance. My dad enlisted as an officer the Navy back in the 50s. He went to college on the GI bill, and he got USAA Insurance.

When I started to drive, I got USAA, too. And F has a savings account there, so she's a member, too. They've always been so helpful, and the prices are the best I've found. When I had a claim, they were amazing.

Anyway, today I got my yearly dividend, a little over $70, which reduces our auto insurance payment this month down to just $31.84. USAA provides dividends at the end of the year if the amount of claims is lower than expected; what a great company!

Free Groceries!

December 29th, 2013 at 04:07 pm

I usually shop at two stores for our groceries. I was shopping in the second store, Sprouts, and pretty much done with my shopping and about to pay, when there was a huge pop and all of the lights and cash registers went off. The store was dark, but not too dark to see, and I said to the stockperson who was on my aisle "Can we pay if there's no power to the registers?"

But just then we heard the manager shouting from the front of the store to come to the registers with everything we had in our baskets. I figured maybe they had some alternate system.

There were probably a total of 20 shoppers in the store at the time, and we all headed to the registers. Two Sprouts employees who had been outside collecting carts said that the transformer had "blown up." They said it sounded like a huge pop, and the female employee hit the ground she was so scared, then the transformer started smoking.

Anyway, I got to the front, the guy at the register bagged all my groceries (without scanning them obviously) and then smiled and said "Merry Christmas! Our manager said everything is free!"

Free groceries! I felt bad for the store... but it was a really good PR move (let's say 20 people time maybe $40 each average is not actually that much for the store - they'll probably lose more from spoiled inventory, and maybe their insurance will cover it?).

When I went to my car, I saw the exploded transformer - it was all black. Glad that no one was hurt. And the traffic lights were out up to the next major street.

But, let's return to that very welcome Christmas present - free groceries!

I can't tell you exactly how much the groceries would have cost (about $30) but I will definitely have extra money in our grocery budget left over this month that I can use to pay down the mortgage.

Master Clothing List and Shopping the Sales

December 26th, 2013 at 09:51 pm

I have adopted a new approach to clothing. I am sort of afraid to tell my friends who think that I'm way too obsessive-compulsive and that I rely too much on excel and spreadsheets and stuff. But I'm not afraid to tell you!

Step 1 - I've inventoried my clothes (and F's) including socks and underwear and pajamas (and shoes). Yes, of course this goes into a spreadsheet.

Step 2 - I've figured out the ideal number of each item (short sleeved shirt, long sleeved shirt, trousers)

Step 3 - Replace only as necessary. I've determined that I have PLENTY of clothes. I don't need anything new until something gets super stained or threadbare. But F is still growing, and she needs to have bigger sizes as she gets bigger.

Step 4 - Make a list of what will be needed a year in advance (so if it's winter now, what will likely still fit and be ok next winter, and what will be needed next winter).

Step 5 - Shop the sales! (Everything winter is now on sale or about to be on sale). I just bought F some long sleeved shirts and a sweatshirt half off at Old Navy and got $10 off my next purchase. She will likely be a size 8 for another year, but I bought a few things in the next size up.

And... it's good to know that I don't need anything. So nothing for me until my current clothes shred and fall off! (Actually my standard practice is that clothes that are stained become workout clothes, and clothes that have holes become pajamas - then they shred and fall off and become rags).

Merry Christmas from New Mexico

December 24th, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Merry Christmas from New Mexico! It finally feels like Christmas - I've made the biscochitos (see my Grandmother's rolling pin? I always feel close to her when I use it) and red chile chicken tamales (that's what we eat on Christmas Eve). I brought the presents home from the office, and we'll be heading out after tamales to see the farolitos and stop by a few friends' houses for posole.



Then we'll leave both a mince pie (English tradition) and biscochito (New Mexican tradition) for Father Chrismtas/Santa. And a carrot for the reindeer. And D and I will dutifully eat most of each to make it look real. And F will not fall asleep until 11, but after that I'll come down the chimney (figuratively) and put out all the gifts. And we'll all follow F's lead and get up at 6 am!

Saving Advice has turned out to be a really great outlet for me, a good place to keep my thoughts and stay sane. Everyone on here is so supportive and nice! I wish for you all to meet your goals (financial or otherwise) in 2014, and have a wonderful holiday and a stupendous new year!

Warmest wishes!

Husband has Vertigo, Ugh for both of us

December 24th, 2013 at 04:56 pm

So I haven't posted anything about my husband's vertigo, partly because I thought it'd go away quickly after he went to (two!) doctors. (One thought it was some crystal thing in his ears and one thinks it's a sinus infection - so he's on antibiotics).

Well, it's been two weeks - he's mostly functional (he can go to work, make himself tea, sit in bed and watch shows on his computer) but he doesn't feel well enough to really last an entire day (he goes to sleep when F does). He can't exercise, he can't bend over even a little bit. He's back in bed right now and it's about 10 am.

I feel really bad for him! I'm doing everything I can to make things easier for him.

It means that I've been doing almost all of the household chores. I am heading out in a sec to brave Target (yikes!) to pick up some sudafed for him. (Just goes to show that it doesn't matter how well you plan - all of my shopping has been done for ages and the food was bought on Saturday - you still may have to brave the stores on Christmas Eve!).

My friend B, who is very sweet, but has a lot more money than we do, suggested I get someone in to clean the house and buy takeout. We really can't afford to pump up the dining out budget and we can't afford a cleaner. And I can get all these chores done myself, I just want to whine about it.

Which is part of the problem - I feel really guilty because my husband feels awful, and I'm internally (and to my close friends and to YOU) whining about how hard this is on me! I'm a terrible person!

OK, enough venting. I'm going to Target (and then to the library which is only open until 1 today, to pick up a book). And then to the office where the Christmas presents are hiding.

Then I will come home and make lunch for F and her friend L who is over for a playdate today. And then I will make tamales and biscochitos because even if I'm whiny and D is feeling poorly - it's Christmas Eve! And I love Christmas Eve!!

New Dress

December 23rd, 2013 at 11:17 pm

I've had this green fabric forever (can't even remember when I bought it). I'm pretty excited that not only is it now a dress, but there was enough left over for a tunic for F.

I also made a box out of some cardboard I had in the office for the hedgehog I made for F for Christmas.



Everything is bought and wrapped, and I was wondering how much I spent this year...

Here is the grand total (this includes gifts for F, D, the photo prints we got for each other and the teacher gifts): 365.70 (I am not sure how much D spent from our Dublin account to buy gifts for our two nephews, one niece and his mum and dad - they were all purchased on amazon.co.uk - probably about $20 each - so probably about $100). We don't buy gifts to my parents - F makes something for them.

Free Stuff - Books and Birds

December 22nd, 2013 at 12:44 am

Last night we were out at a restaurant that has a book exchange. And we saw a book we used to have, but that a borrower (who shall remain nameless) never returned - grrr! Anyway, we have the other 3 in the set, and it's one of our favorite series - the Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde. And there it was, free for the taking! (We are going to pop in and replace it with five books we are decluttering out of our house).

And then today, F had a playdate with her friend S who is moving across the country (we are all very sad). Her parents said they still had to bring the birds to a pet store since they can't bring them along (they leave in 6 days). Long story short: we now have two super cute budgies. And a very expensive birdcage, and toys and food and a travel carry case. I hope they're happy here!

Business Tax Prep on a Mac

December 21st, 2013 at 03:27 am

It's about that time again... before I can do our personal taxes, I need to do my business taxes. (My business is an S-corp - any profit or loss is reported on our personal taxes).

We need to do this sooner rather than later in order to apply for tuition assistance from F's school.

This year, like last year and the year before, I have to do my business taxes on a PC (I use Parallels on my Mac) because none of the business tax programs are native to Macs. (Someone is going to say that Turbo Tax makes Home and Business - this is not for S-corps, but rather for people who report their income on schedule C, so it won't work for my corporate tax return).

Anyway, I'm even more frustrated this year, because my old version of Parallels doesn't work with my upgraded operating system. And I can't upgrade Parallels because it's too old - I have to buy a new version! Grrrr!

I wish there was an alternative program. I've been googling business taxes on the Mac for an hour, and all that comes up is Turbo Tax Home and Business.

OK - next thought was to do the taxes myself by hand. I think this is probably the way I am going to go. Corporation taxes aren't that complicated, I do them myself anyway, Turbo Tax always had this bug which meant every year I had to do a lot of it by hand, and I'm too cheap to spend $80 to get the new Parallels which I don't use for anything else.

The Big Teacher Gift Dilemma

December 18th, 2013 at 11:33 pm

F's school has one class per grade, starting with pre-school through 6th grade. So: nine classes total. Some have two teachers (up through second grade), the 3rd and 4th grade share their second teacher. The 5th and 6th share three teachers. And there are ten specials teachers (a few are part-time). I'm calculating 26 teachers.

Currently each class room parent collects money for the teacher gift (anonymously in an envelope for each grade at the front desk), puts about $40 or $50 of that into the special teachers fund, and then buys visa gift cards for the two teachers.

The problem is that the amount of money that is collected varies widely (I asked for $20 per student, but another class asked for $40). The specials teacher amounts are divided evenly, but the amounts the lead teachers get can vary widely! Our school is small, and the makeup of each grade seems to have a "personality." Some classes are super-wealthy. Ours isn't. Even in the "wealthy" classes, there are kids on tuition assistance, and I think $40 is a burden.

I'm parent association president next year, and I was talking to the secretary today about how this could be easier and more equitable. I'd like to have a suggested amount to contribute for a gift (or more if you can afford it, or less if you can't). Then we just divide it evenly between all teachers (maybe less if you're half time?).

Then just one person has to buy the gift cards (I guess next year that's me) and there isn't a huge inequity in how much teachers receive. And each class could have their class cards in an envelope at the front desk so that the class could give the teacher the hand-signed cards.

I know the world isn't always fair... but I'd like it to be more fair.

(And I've already talked to the 4th grade room parent; we are dividing our gift money 2/3 and 1/3 so that the teacher that is half time each in 3rd and 4th doesn't get double the money of the full time teacher).

I'm sure people are going to have thoughts on this - I welcome all ideas! And I won't take it personally if you disagree with me!

A Little Bit of British Christmas in the US

December 18th, 2013 at 02:20 am

I went to Cost Plus today for Christmas crackers (for my English/Irish husband) and thought that there must be a cheaper source. The only thing I can think of is to visit again after Christmas and see if they're on sale for next year. We have Amazon prime, but they were the same price on Amazon and out of stock.

I know some of you are English living in the US or have English spouses - any ideas?

While I was there I picked up an overpriced Quality Street tin. They didn't have the Cadbury, which we all prefer, but I felt like it'd be a nice surprise for him.

When he got home from work he said "It doesn't feel like Christmas somehow..." I guess at work they haven't put up decorations or anything (I share an office with just one other person and I put up window clings from Target and the silly silver tinsel tree I use year after year)! So I got out the Quality Street tin, and he was really happy!

Tomorrow I'm making the mincemeat for our mince pies; I make them by hand (and no, I don't use suet - I use vegetarian shortening).

At Cost Plus I also got a couple of Aero bars (the mint kind - yum!) to put under the tree as an extra surprise.

Spent more than I wanted, but I figure it was a tradeoff since we aren't having an expensive Christmas dinner. And since we don't go back to the UK for Christmas anymore (not since the Great Christmas Fight of 2005 between D and his sister - don't ask!), I figure he needs a little bit of home this time of year.

I miss Christmas there, too, but we are going back in Summer. I wish we were visiting Ireland, too to see the rest of the family (the relatives that no one fights with!), but not this holiday unfortunately.

Nollaig Shona!

Picking up another hour at the gym?

December 17th, 2013 at 05:50 pm

Got paid for teaching at the gym today. So... a $40 snowflake, going to mortgage principal.

Now that I've redone the budget for 2014, I have $115/month earmarked for mortgage principal. This is in addition to the snowflakes.

And, I just got an offer at the gym yesterday - they want me and my friend L to co-teach a noon weightlifting class on Wednesdays. I was thinking it could be fun, another chance to work out and I'd get paid more. And L and I would alternate weeks, so it's not that often.

Frames

December 15th, 2013 at 04:24 pm

We just bought our Christmas-Present-to-Ourselves... some photos from the awesome photographer Mike Stimpson.

http://www.mikestimpson.com/photography/

Not everyone's cup of tea maybe, but we love him! (And, yes, I bought the one of the stormtrooper knitting!).

The photos themselves were not expensive - only about $6 each for approx 8x10's.

But now we have to think about framing them. We don't live anywhere near an Ikea (closest one is about 7 hours away). My husband says that American Frame is the least expensive option (over the internet).

Do you know of any other options?

Three Dinners Out

December 14th, 2013 at 07:27 pm

Thursday night was F's winter concert at school - it was beautiful! The 5th and 6th graders did a S. African song as a tribute to Nelson Mandela. At the end, they sang Light a Little Candle, Say a Prayer for Peace in the World, and they all had these battery-operated candles, the lights were out - it was beautiful!

Afterward, we collected the kids from their classrooms. Then we went into the class below, where F's closest friend is, and asked her parents, who are our closest friends, if they wanted to go out for dinner. When we got to the restaurant (where you pay up at the counter, and then sit down) there were four other families there from school, so we all sat together and the kids had a table of their own.

So, that was our dining budget for the week.

But... we went over to friends' last night for dinner. F and their son are in the same class; he's her closest boy friend (not boyfriend!). We brought some sparkling waters (grocery budget).

And... tonight other friends are taking us out for dinner as a thank you to D who took photos of the house they're selling.

Three dinners out in three nights, and we only paid for one!

This is actually very welcome right now. D has had pretty bad vertigo, so I've been doing everything around the house. This means I don't have to cook dinner and fewer dishes.

Balanced Budget Formula

December 12th, 2013 at 04:17 pm

A while ago I read this great article on the Get Rich Slowly website:
http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2008/10/27/the-balanced-money-formula/

It's about the balanced money formula from a book by Elizabeth Warren and her daughter. It advocates allocating some money to things that are not needs or must-haves, but wants. Some money allocated for fun.

I like a balanced approach and a balanced life. I want to note, though, that there are income levels where there is only enough for Needs, and nothing leftover. And I think if you have debt, you'd want to get rid of that first, so maybe you allocate less for fun while you attack the debt.

They advocate allocating your budget this way:
- 50% needs/must-haves
- 30% wants
- 20% savings

I just did our 2014 budget and managed to make our budget exactly match this formula. If we are below budget in any category, that money will go toward savings (which will increase savings from 20% - that would be great!).

What gets categorized as wants v. needs/must-haves is a personal thing. Here's how I did it:

Needs/Must-Haves: mortgage, utilities, life insurance, house repairs, food, auto, medical, dental, household supplies.

Wants: Cash, personal items, haircuts, clothes, pets, entertainment, pool, toys, birthday parties, supplies for F, camp, F's classes (piano, soccer), furniture, appliances, gifts (within the family and birthday and Christmas), vacations (including pet boarding, travel insurance, airport parking and everything else). And F's private school tuition.

That is kind of the key to Wants. You have to prioritize and budget. F's school tuition is $650/month. That for us is a Want, but it's important to us. The money leftover after that is for the other Wants that aren't as important. Clothes aren't that important to me. Neither are haircuts. I don't do a huge, expensive birthday party for F (we usually have it at home). But we have money for the Big Want: that private school tuition.

Savings: Emergency fund, paying down principal on our mortgage, retirement savings.

Another Frugal Christmas Gift and the School Giving Tree

December 10th, 2013 at 07:40 pm

I always knit something for F for Christmas. I finished this little guy last night. He's made of leftover yarn (one thin, one thick - both are alpaca).



In other news, all of the ornaments on the school Giving Tree (arranged by the Fire Dept.) have been taken! I am so happy - so many more kids needed gifts on Friday that I sent out an email to all of the parents in F's class (I am room mother) and at the end of the day every ornament was taken! (The ornaments are put on the gifts as gift tags so they get matched up with the child).

The Christmas Calendar

December 9th, 2013 at 06:20 pm

So, all of the shopping is done, knitting is almost done, the tree is up. It's time to do the Christmas Calendar. The Christmas Calendar is a list of all of the things that are already planned plus the things we want to do this month. Our little city has a lot going on during the holidays.

Here is what is planned:

9 -
10 -
11 - F's piano recital
12 - F's school holiday show
13 - Christmas at the Palace (a city event)
14 - maybe the ice skating show (with Olympic skaters!)
15 - Las Posadas (re-enactment of Joseph and Mary trying to find a room at an inn, posada in Spanish - this is sung entirely in Spanish and is led by the priest of our cathedral)
16 -
17 -
18 -
19 - F has indoor soccer skills
20 - early dismissal - maybe out to lunch?
21 - going away party for F's friend who is moving to Cleveland
22 - The Nutcracker!
23 - make tamales and biscochitos for Christmas Eve
24 - Christmas Eve - Farolito walk (do you know what a farolito is?)
25 - Christmas Day - dinner just the four of us
26 - Boxing Day - F has a friend coming over
27 -
28 -
29 -
30 -
31 - New Year's Eve
1 - New Year's Day
2 -
3 -
4 -
5 -

Other things we want to do:
Christmas in Madrid - a tiny artist's town; they light everything!
Cross-country skiing - F and I have the gear - we just need to head out and ski
Friends over - there are lots we'd like to see this month!
Playdates for F - several friends she'd like to see outside of school
Bring F's giving jar to the animal shelter
Hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows
Write thank you letters for the teachers

Shutterfly Photo Books

December 7th, 2013 at 03:49 pm

Over the past few years, I've been trying to catch up on our photo printing. We do a photo book each year (I complete it in early January and wait for a promo to have it printed).

If I see a promo earlier in the year, I print one of the past years I haven't printed yet. I was missing 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Anyway, I received a $10 off coupon in the mail, so I decided to work on 2008. I guess it was a good year for photos (D is a children's photographer), because I ended up with 64 pages! Eeek!

But... they were having a 50% off promo for photo books. And I found a 20% off the entire order coupon. And there was a free shipping code.

In the end, we got the photo book plus our holiday cards (I would probably not send these, but D is insistent - we have a lot of overseas family who we don't see very often) for $54. I think it was about a $70 savings.

I should mention that I have a line item in our budget for this (I put in $10 a month - so $120/year) which will go down once I finish the previous years (now just 2006 and 2010 - yay!!).

There are obviously other companies that do this, but I'm really familiar with shutterfly now.

Do you make photo books? Or print photos and put them in an album? Or print photos and put them in a box? Or just keep them on your computer? Or something else entirely?

The Lumberjack and New PJ Pants

December 6th, 2013 at 10:46 pm

So here is the photo of the lumberjack I promised; I think the Vietnamese place I go to used to be a hardware store or lumber yard or something? Anyway, it's pretty reasonable. My lunch was $7.50. I don't eat out a lot, and I really love Vietnames food.



More lunch-related news: I went home for lunch today. It's so cold here, I felt like eating something warm. Had two fried eggs, and spent the rest of lunch making this pair of pajama bottoms for F. If you look closely the pattern is cute little pigs! F LOVES pigs. So this is one of her xmas gifts!

Computer Trouble, Snowflake, Random Thoughts

December 4th, 2013 at 02:34 am

My computer is going "click" intermittently. It's a very soft click, and it's not super-often. But it's upsetting. And I have applecare. So I'm taking a trip to the genius bar at the Apple Store in Albuquerque.

The Apple Store is in an upscale mall (all sorts of stores I never shop in, nowhere near my beloved Old Navy). I checked out what other shops are there, and seriously, I'm going to go to the Apple Store and then leaving for my favorite Vietnamese restaurant which is totally awesome, reasonably priced and has a giant lumberjack out front. I'm not kidding; I'll take a photo for you!

Tonight I sold an old toy of F's for $30 - yay!!! I am over budget in my xmas shopping for her so this will help bring things back under control.

I have to think carefully about what xmas dinner will be this year (I want to stay in budget). D is always confused about American Thanksgiving being so close to Christmas. He says you basically end up eating the same thing. We normally do a very British Christmas, even have friends over for Boxing Day.

Other random thoughts:
- having a super clean house makes me spend less (do you feel that way, too?)
- I just lied to F when she asked what the giant box was (it's a gift for her) - I said it was a box for the office, a new printer. I hate lying, but in this case, it's an ok lie (we can't reveal that I buy the gifts and not Santa, not yet, anyway). And I AM going to take it to the office to wrap and hide.
- Dinner tonight is homemade sushi.
- D bought some clothes and has asked me to wrap them up and give them to him for Christmas; is that weird?

November Statistics

December 3rd, 2013 at 11:22 pm

I have to say, the November statistics are sort of blown to shreds since we purchased our plane tickets to the UK.

I did realize one nice thing - about 32% of the cost of the tickets was covered by rewards statement credits.

Gain in income = 145% (that is because D didn't make any money last November)

Increase in spending = 85% (that's the plane ticket)

Increase in savings = 714% (we are now putting $400/month each toward our IRAs; this also includes paying down our mortgage and funding savings - total saved this month $1221)

Leftovers and this Week's Meal Plan

December 2nd, 2013 at 02:29 am

We've been eating leftovers for the past few days (I'm sure a lot of people have!).

This is my favorite recipe for leftover turkey: Rachael Ray's Quick Turkey Croquettes.
http://www.rachaelray.com/recipe.php?recipe_id=168&r=534,170,537,78,804,168,166,162,161,163,164

Except more carrots and celery. And I don't like nutmeg, so I put in a little thyme.

I already had leftover celery and carrots. I had to buy green onions and some potatoes (less than $2 total).

That's what we had tonight (after watching the old stop-animation Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer).

This week's meal plan:
- chickeny/turkeyish: croquettes
- eggy - mexican eggs with salad and toast
- bready/cheesy - toasted cheese sandwiches and asparagus
- pasta-ish - spaghetti and turkey balls
- fishy - sushi (with cucumber, avocado and shrimp)
- something from the freezer with salad