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Archive for November, 2014

Trip Expense or Pet Expense

November 23rd, 2014 at 04:18 pm

It was an expensive trip to Petsmart today... I went there to get a seat belt strap for our dog. Usually we don't strap her in, but we are driving about 1000 miles for Thanksgiving, and she's a big dog. Just in case, I want to make sure she's secure (not just for her but for us).

The strap itself wasn't that much ($14) but I ended up having to get a new harness. Our old harness (which we use with her leash) has a ring in the front, but now harnesses have a ring at the back, which is what we need to attach the strap to the seatbelt.

So, now she has a new harness ($20). It's purple (which I knew F would like). And it will replace the old one. It does seem like it will work a better for regular walks, too.

We are saving a lot of money by driving instead of flying, so part of me wanted to put this as a travel expense, but I put it under pets. The pets category still has $14 in it even with this unexpected expense (and the cost of using the dogwash tubs at our local pet store because Grandma won't like having a dirty dog at her house!).

Do you have any unexpected Thanksgiving expenses?

Thoughts on Energy Usage

November 21st, 2014 at 01:28 pm

Our solar panels are on the roof (but not officially hooked up yet - we need to get the building dept. inspection). A friend of mine, N, is interested in panels for his house, so he asked me how many panels we have and how much of our energy use is covered (answer: 7, 100%).

N thought this was pretty reasonable, and so he asked what our annual electricity usage is, and I told him. He looked up his usage, and it's double! (His house is smaller than ours - 1900 sf v. 2250, his family is the same exactly - husband, wife, one daughter, we both have gas cooktops and gas heating, we both have mostly CF and LED with a few evil halogens, no AC, energy star refrigerators; honestly, I thought our use would be exactly the same).

He borrowed our energy meter and has been testing every plug load in his house. We've just shared our gas bills with each other and his gas usage is exactly the same as ours in the summer but double in the winter (even though his furnace is super high efficiency). So they have a less efficient house than ours (smaller, but takes a lot more energy to heat).

That still doesn't explain the electric bill being double what ours is. (At first I thought it might be the electric used by his furnace, but then the summer electric would be back to our level, and it isn't).

We're both really curious about what is going on. We try to conserve, but we are very similar to N's family in terms of habits.

I am still scratching my head over this, and when N returns my energy meter, I am going to do a spreadsheet of each room and retest everything. My degree is in environmentally responsible architectural design, so I understand the house itself, and occupant choices to a degree, but there is something I'm missing.

Have you analyzed your energy usage?

An Expensive Day

November 19th, 2014 at 03:32 pm

An expensive day. Ah well. These things happen and that is why we have money in the bank.

- Replaced a tree in front of our house; I did get a discount for paying in cash, however. Total = $400
- Found out from the tree guy that I really need to spray our other trees, which I hate doing, but I think we're close to losing some of them, too. Will be = $250 (but he can do it during Thanksgiving week so we don't need to be around the spray, and our dog will be with us).
- I forgot to defrost something from the freezer, and excuse, excuse, excuse - basically I don't feel like cooking. So I started the rice cooker, and there are peas in the freezer, and I've asked D to pick up a rotisserie chicken on his way home. At least lunch tomorrow is taken care of, too. Cost = $6

I have to remember the two financial victories today:
1. I got a Pinecone check and paid it right into our mortgage principal. $18
2. I deposited the money from D's side work - the school photos - into his business account. Some of will go toward taxes, and some pays for the photos themselves, but the total profit is about $3300. We're thrilled! And the plan: as suggested by some smart person on Saving Advice, we're going to put part toward mortgage principal and part in our vacation fund.

Paying for Health Insurance

November 18th, 2014 at 01:43 pm

A lot of you probably get your health insurance from your employer... my husband does. But his plan charges a bajillion dollars for spouses and dependents, and the insurance is just so-so.

F and I get our insurance through an individual plan (I am self-employed, and even though I have an S-Corp I would have to have an employee to qualify for business insurance).

Here's how it works: we personally pay for insurance (I put it on the credit card so that I get the 2% cash back). My business reimburses me, and the reimbursement shows up as income, but it isn't subject to withholding, social security or medicare taxes. On our personal 1040 form, this income is part of Line 7 (Wages, Salaries, Tips) but is deducted on Line 29 (self employed health insurance deduction) so that it's not included in our adjusted gross income.

During this enrollment period, I noticed that our premiums were going up 86%!!! So we've switched to a different insurance company. Our rates are still going up 42% (to $602 for the two of us), but now we're on a gold plan instead of silver and dental is included.

Our choices for payment were to set up an automatic draft from our checking account (no cash back!!!) or to receive a paper bill each month which I can pay with our credit card (cash back!!!). It's a little less convenient, but I want the cash back! We're talking $12 each month!

I'm wondering if maybe they'll set up an automatic credit card payment for me in January. But even if they don't, I have a system for paying my bills, so I'm not concerned.

How are you handling your health insurance? Would you give up some convenience for the cash-back option, too?

Unexpected Clothing Expense

November 17th, 2014 at 07:23 pm

It was pretty chilly this morning, and so F was going to wear jeans (instead of the thinner leggings she usually wears). They were waaaay too small (size 6x and she's 9 years old... but the 10/12's that I had bought: still too big).

So: trip to Target. It was ok, because last night we realized she doesn't have any long-sleeved pajama shirts (just short-sleeved). I tossed all of the pj shirts that didn't fit sometime in early September and didn't realize that there were no long-sleeved shirts left!

In my defense, she was in a 6x bottoms for so long, that I somehow lost track. Her size 8 tops have a lot of room but are above her bellybutton and the sleeves are just below her elbow. But the 10/12 - huge! They don't make size 9. So - it's 10/12 shirts and size 8 bottoms.

Got her three pairs of jeans/jeggings (the soft kind she'll wear, but warm, 1 tshirt and 2 tshirts to wear as pajama tops.

And I had a coupon for $3 off D's shampoo, so I got that, too.

Plus a few misc. food items (including a bag of m&m's and a few other snacks to take on our road trip).

I made it back in time for a conference call with my hotel client (that project probably won't be due for 2-3 weeks, so my workload is pretty light through Thanksgiving - phew!).

And then I sorted our health insurance for next year for me and F. (D is covered through work).





Getting Lots Done Around the House

November 16th, 2014 at 11:26 am

I've been getting a ton done around the house. We're staying in because of the snow.

F has a friend over, and they're dancing around our bedroom.

I have been using my new steam cleaner. It's so great! I've cleaned all of our trash cans, cleaned the windows and screens in our bedroom. Cleaned all the nooks and crannies in the kitchen (ovens, under the fridge). This was what I bought with my birthday money - so happy I did!!!

I've also done my usual chores like vacuuming the house. And I reorganized my pajama drawers. And tidied up the hall closet (we had a lot of visitors this past summer and things were put away haphazardly).

Now I just have to make the girls lunch and I can spend some time doing something I want to do while they play.

Other things I've done to make next week easier and save money:
- got the supplies to make christmas crackers (I've been saving toilet paper tubes and have some scraps of christmas paper, so now I have the snaps and crowns) - enough to make 25 crackers which should last us 4 years.
- printed out license plate checklist and slugbug checklist and paper battleship for our Thanksgiving road trip (free entertainment!)
- made a list so we don't forget anything for Thanksgiving (including my parents' Christmas present which I'll hide in their house because my mom will open it if I give it to her right away - so I'll hide it and then send her on a secret mission to find her present at Christmas time)
- worked out a "meal plan" for the drive to California: sandwiches for dinner, lots of snacks and fruit (bringing our little cooler), hotel breakfast buffet the next morning and more snacks.

And, biggest money saver: D put the snow tires on today (we bought tires and rims which we worked out would save money in the second year because D can put them on himself rather than take the car in to have the tires put on).

Weekend Plans - A Frugal Weekend

November 14th, 2014 at 04:51 pm

It's cold and dark here, and I'm sitting in the nice warm waiting area listening to F's piano lesson. She's actually doing a pretty good job on her recital piece.

Then it's home for dinner; I defrosted some posole from the freezer, and we'll have a salad with it. Posole is pretty filling; have you ever had it?

Tomorrow the Director of Coaching for US Youth soccer is doing a training session for our coaches. The coaches pay to attend, but they needed two teams to be demo teams, so F's team is one of the teams that he'll coach to show our all-volunteer coaching staff some tips and tricks. What a cool opportunity for the girls!

Then F will go to a birthday party; it's an evening party, and the kids will be making dinner (lasagna) and then they'll have a sundae bar. So glad it's not a sleepover!

So I'm trying to decide if D and I should go out to dinner, and if so, where. Maybe better to just pick something up and eat at home. That would still be romantic, right? And I wouldn't be cooking, so that would be special. I could light candles. We wouldn't be spending as much as going out if we get something nice to heat up.

Other things I'm thinking about:
- prepping for the drive out to California for Thanksgiving (what we need to bring, snacks, games for the car)
- what I need to get done next week (I have a big meeting at the County on Thursday, a conference call on Monday, driving on a school field trip on Tuesday, but otherwise not too much going on)
- meal plan for next week

Negative Spend Day!

November 13th, 2014 at 01:24 pm

Yesterday I bought a new cheese grater because our old one fell apart... and today I took it back (negative $17). We tried to use it last night, and it didn't grate or shred, it just chipped the cheese. The holes for a fine grate were huge. I told D, "I'm taking it back tomorrow; we had the last grater for 15 years and I can't deal with this thing for 15!" He thought I was a little crazy, but Target is great about returns. I should note that it's a KitchenAid grater, so a reputable brand. Grrr!

I also paid down our mortgage principal by another $60 (money from teaching at the gym).

Here's the big snowflake (more like a snowball!): D is going to make about $4k on the school pictures! Still trying to figure out what to do with the money. I'd put it all on the mortgage, but D would like to spend some on a vacation.

Mortgage, but Mostly Soccer

November 8th, 2014 at 06:08 pm

I paid down principal on our mortgage yesterday (popcorn day, of course!) and our regular payment went through as well.

So now our mortgage will be paid off in June 2020 even if we don't make any more principal payments. We've paid $3583 extra to principal in 2014.

We now owe $65,926.

Today we went down to a huge soccer tournament. There was terrible, terrible traffic, and we arrived just 3 minutes before the first game started! F was freaking out. But everyone was in the traffic jam. You have to understand - we don't actually have traffic in New Mexico (except in Albuquerque, and then only rarely) so this was a big deal. They were doing roadwork. I've plotted out a different way to get there for tomorrow's games.

F and her team played really well! They lost one (but it was close) and tied one. This was the first time they'd played in the Silver category. One last game tomorrow.

We brought a picnic lunch, and one of the dad's bought the girls pizza afterwards, so that was dinner taken care of.

We did stop and get some drinks on the way home.

We also got the coach gift (a gift certificate to his favorite restaurant) on the way home. Everyone contributed $10. I decided to make the card (and over the past few practices all of the girls signed it). I guess it's an advantage being an architect because I always handmake cards rather than buy them (free! but also much more personal).

OK, and get this, the highlight of the day: D tweeted that he was on his way down with a group of U10 girls to play in a soccer tournament and hoped they'd be channeling F's favorite US women soccer player, and that player favorited D's tweet! F is over the moon!

Side Job - My Husband's

November 4th, 2014 at 07:08 pm

My husband is a children's portrait photographer on the side, and he took the school photos for F's school this year. Orders are due this Friday, and I'm sure we'll get more, but at the moment, he's making over $2,000! (It's a small school, so I didn't expect that much).

Totally great, although he's stressing about it a little bit because he still needs to get the class photos uploaded.

I offered to help by putting all of the orders/amounts into a spreadsheet (which is how I know how much he's making) and then entering the orders into the photo processing website. I also pull the orders out of the envelope at the front desk each day so it doesn't get too full.

Now, technically this is his money, so I just asked him what he wants to do with the money. He said he's putting some into the new computer fund that he keeps in his business, and then keeping 50 quid for himself (he did actually say "quid" because I think that's still how he thinks of money even though he's lived in the US for ten years now) and the rest we can use toward the mortgage.

The best part about the school photos is the overwhelmingly positive reaction from all the parents. They were so unhappy with the photographer we used to have (the photos were cheesy and he was frankly sort of strange - the kids didn't like him). My husband does natural poses, outside, with greenery as the backdrop (there's a perfect tree on the campus). Everyone has been coming up to me saying they love the photos; I've been passing on the comments to him.

October Recap

November 2nd, 2014 at 07:54 am

Income = 6599 (this includes paychecks, snowflakes, gifts - all incoming money)
Expenses = 4422
Savings = 1254

Compared to last year:
Income increase by about 4%
Expenses increased by 8%
Savings increased by 11%

I'm feeling pretty good about this... The increase in expenses is due to the new tires that we had to buy for D's car, so not too worried about that.

Our ratios are exactly 30% wants, 50% needs and 20% savings. I should point out, though, that F's tuition is in the wants category, even though in my mind that's really a need. Her tuition represents 9.76% of our budget, so maybe it's more like 20% wants, 60% needs and 20% savings. This is why it's so crucial for us to get the mortgage paid off (that way we can put tuition into "needs" where it belongs and still be at the 30/50/20 ratio.

Careful Meal Planning (Soccer Tournament!)

November 2nd, 2014 at 07:32 am

When my routine is altered, it's a lot harder to stick to the food budget!

So... F has a soccer tournament next weekend, which not only means traveling about an hour each way on Saturday and Sunday, it also means three practices during the week. They'll be earlier because it's dark earlier, but it still means I need to plan more carefully.

So here's the plan:
- bring snacks in the car on Tue, Wed and Fri (days of the practices) so that there is enough time after school to eat a snack, do homework and get to the fields by 4:30 (before Daylight Savings it was 5:30)
- figure out a plan for food during the tournament and bring a cooler (sandwiches, cheese, nuts, fruit, something sweet)
- make sure that the meal plan has easy meals on Tue, Wed and Fri since we always get home late from practice.

Here's the dinner plan:
S - pasta with zucchini and goat cheese (that's tonight!)
M - tostadas with beans, lettuce, sour cream (I have a couple of ripe avocados, too)
T - posole with salad (posole is a New Mexican dish with green chile, hominy, chicken, oregano, some stewed tomatoes - I make it in the crockpot)
W - asian meatballs (made in the crockpot)
T - v sweet salmon, brown rice, broccoli
F - grilled cheese, tomato soup
S - something from the freezer (made last week in the crockpot!) with peas or salad