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Archive for July, 2006

Keepin' cool the low-class way

July 30th, 2006 at 11:18 am

I've finally convinced DH to take our mattress down to the living room for the week. We're going into another heatwave, with no chance for thunderstorms to break it until at least Thursday. They are saying this is 10 degrees higher than our normal temps for this time of year.

We have central a/c which hardly gets upstairs at all, so we have a window a/c in the bedroom. Most of the time it works out fine, but in this kind of heat it just can't keep up.

I'm not on top of our kilowatt hours like Ima is, but I'm sure it costs plenty to run on days like this. Why waste the money and energy if it's a lost cause anyway?

I just hope nobody decides to drop in on us while we're camped out downstairs! (Next sofa we get has got to be a sofa-bed.)

Scary power outage, how to categorize the spending?

July 29th, 2006 at 09:41 am

Well, I thought I'd spent all I was going to spend, and then the power went out yesterday. I couldn't cook dinner, and DH wasn't thrilled about the idea of a salad, so we ended up ordering a pizza.

The scary part came in when, after dinner, the power came back on for just a few seconds and then we heard yelling outside. A power line came down two houses up from us and was burning on the ground. Not only was it quite a fire, but the sound was unbelievable. Even inside our house, we could hear it--kind of like the humming of a huge machine of some kind. But no harm done, and the power was back on for good just before dark.

We had an outage back on July 4th, too, and ended up getting our cheeseburgers at Wendy's. There are lots of times we end up getting take-out in the midst of some emergency; medical things, cars breaking down, snowstorms. And I never know whether to count it as regular food spending or to take it out of the Emergency Fund. This time I'll call it an Everyday Expense and count it as part of August.

4-Week Report

July 28th, 2006 at 08:09 am

My July ends tomorrow, but I know I don't need to shop before Sunday, so here it is:

Everyday Expenses were under control this month. They totalled $547, but actually a bit less because of the way I started tracking sales tax. The $547 includes tax paid on purchases like a birthday gift and cell phone service, that really aren't part of the EE category. I'll have to tweak my system.

I didn't work terribly hard at it, yet it's lower than a few months back when I was really trying and ran way over. All I can think is, it's been so hot that we haven't wanted to eat heavy dinners.

Liquid net worth increased to $3033, a gain of $41.

Emergency Fund went back up to $515, an increase of $258, but still not as high as it was before June's car repairs.

Credit card debt totals $1994, a decrease of $255. $1749 left on the 0% HSBC card, and the rest current expenses not yet billed.

Strange motivation for finishing taxes--but at least they're done!

July 27th, 2006 at 10:50 am

I did work on our taxes back in the spring, along with my mother's. In fact, ours were virtually done. But I was so bleary-eyed and confused by April 15 that I just didn't trust what I'd done. So I got extensions for both my mother and us.

All this time, my sewing machine cabinet has been closed up and the tax stuff has been piled on top. But last night I discovered an open seam that's too long to fix by hand, and I want to use the machine.

So today I filed all three of our things electronically--federal, state, and the state property tax rebate.

Funny how $100 in tax refunds wasn't motivating enough for me to do it, but getting to the sewing machine was!

(I got my mother's federal one done last week. This week we took a birthday break; she was 89. Next week hopefully NJ will get finished.)

A little victory--treated self at home

July 26th, 2006 at 06:47 am

Long story short, I wasted two hours this morning with Verizon, between their telephone menu hell, and rushing over to my mother's house to meet a repairman that I later found out wouldn't be coming at all.

On the way home, having had no breakfast yet, I found myself with a severe case of the "I deserve its". My automatic response to the aggravation was to think of treating myself to breakfast at Wawa, McDonalds or Dunkin Donuts.

But I recognized it for what it was--a trap I often fall into that makes me spend unnecessary money. I remembered I had a bagel in the freezer, plenty of cream cheese, and numerous packets of special flavored coffees I could brew at home.

Spending averted. Smile

Refining my budget system (long)

July 25th, 2006 at 07:01 pm

Here's the main thing I've been up to as far as reorganizing. What I've wanted for a long time is an easy way to make sure we're living within our means, and to see how much is available for extras.

What I've done is tweaked our direct deposits and automatic savings deposits so that no extra money is left in our main checking account beyond what's needed for monthly bills. When non-monthly bills come up, I transfer the money back in from savings.

The point of that is, when I see a nice balance in there I will know none of it can be touched because it all has to pay bills.

Here's the new way things are divvied up out of our main account (annual figures):

$3372 into Emergency Fund
$1040 into Health Savings Account
$6240 into House Account (property taxes, homeowner's insurance, quarterly water and sewer bills, and lawn mowing)
$600 into Occasional Expenses Account (AAA, safe deposit box, etc.)
$600 into Christmas/Gift/Routine Vet Visits Account
$204 into New Computer/Appliances Account
$2784 into New Car Account (starts after cc pmts are finished)

Then there's checking account #2, which gets $140 a week to cover groceries, gas, pet supplies and two Sunday newspaper subscriptions (being as I'm really getting them for the coupons).

I'll be able to see how much is available to spend on Everyday Expenses just by looking at the account balance. (No fiddling with Quicken reports.)

That leaves a total of $720 for discretionary spending per year out of our regular income:

$240 for personal expenses like haircuts, haircolor, makeup, moisturizer, etc.

$480 for clothes for the two of us.

Everything else, from coating the driveway, to plants, to dates with DH, has to come out of the kind of extra money a lot of you are using for the $20 challenge. Rebates, working the elections, bank bonuses, lower-than-expected utility bills, etc.

I'm corralling all the extra/discretionary money into checking account #3 at Netbank. Result, I can see exactly how much spending money is available just by looking at the balance.

A little background on how I came up with some figures.

Clothes - Dave Ramsey recommends spending 2-9% of your income on clothing. $480 is less than 1-1/2% of our take-home. Also, I found a government chart on income and expenditures that shows a household with our income spends about $1477 a year on apparel and clothing care services. $480 is is less than 1/3 of that. So while it might seem high to some of you, I'm feeling that it's perfectly reasonable for us.

Car savings - The $2784 is just about what we've been putting against the cc debt over the past year. Also, that same government chart shows that a household with our income spends $2797 on new vehicle aquisition per year. So this seems right in the ballpark.

The All-Ett

July 25th, 2006 at 06:26 pm

www.all-ett.com

I've been starting to feel fed up with all the time and energy I've been spending on money stuff--and I STILL had that close call where I almost missed paying a bill. Something has to give as far as streamlining and organizing.

One thing that's been getting to me is dealing with cards. Credit cards, debit cards, store loyalty cards, gift cards, library cards, insurance cards, etc.

There isn't room for all of them in my wallet, so I've only been keeping the most commonly used ones in it. I have a little drawer where I keep other ones, and more are just in a rubberband in my purse. When I have to use one, I have to look all three places. I can't tell you how many times I've been caught wishing I had a specific card with me, when it was at home in the drawer.

I read about this new kind of wallet on Fatwallet, and decided to order one. In purple. Smile It holds up to 30 cards plus there are two sections for bills.

I hardly ever write a check, so I won't miss a section for that. And I always end up throwing my change in the bottom of my purse anyway. So I think this wallet is going to fit my life better than the traditional kind. And if I don't like it, I can re-sell it Amazon.

I'm not connected with the All-Ett people in any way, just thought someone else might be interested if they're getting as overwhelmed with plastic cards as I am.

Thinking about life after debt

July 15th, 2006 at 12:43 pm

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel as far as credit card debt. Right now I'm on schedule to have it paid off by the end of the year.

For a long while, I'd been thinking that once it was paid off, things would ease up and we'd be able to spend more on discretionary stuff. It seemed like there was no point in actually budgeting for things like household goods, clothes and recreation until things weren't as tight.

Then I realized that when I was finished with the $250 a month on debt, we'd have to start saving that amount toward getting a newer car in 2008. After we get the car, we ought to put that $250 a month on the mortgage so the balance is lower when it readjusts in 2010. (We'll either have less to refinance, or the adjusted payment won't be as bad as it would have been.) After that, we'll need to save that same $250 toward replacing the other car in about 2013.

In other words, that $250 a month is spoken for, for years to come, and can't really be spent on anything else.

So I really need to figure out how we can manage more of the fun, extra stuff on the money we have NOW. Because it's not going to change that much after the cc debt ends. (Hence, why I was googling around about clothing budgets.)






Yikes! At least I don't spend this much!

July 14th, 2006 at 05:35 am

I was googling around, looking up clothing budget suggestions to try and figure out what is reasonable for us. I came across this thread in the forum at Lucky magazine, which admittedly is all about shopping.

boards.luckymag.com/message.jspa?messageID=46206

The amounts discussed are astounding, even to me. Only one person admitted to spending less than $500 a year. One person mentioned $7000! One entry, in particular, blew me away.

"Being a grad student, I think that I have been spending probably $1200-$1500 a year. The reasons for this are due to my budget, lack of closet space, and also because I don't need very many things - I can dress casually most days. However, I anticipate that once I complete my degree and enter the working world, my budget will go up more in the first year because I will be buying better quality clothing for work, plus I'll have the salary to match (hopefully closet size will increase too)."

When I was a grad student, I was working 3 part-time jobs, borrowing money left and right just to survive, and living in a pretty disgusting apartment, complete with raccoons living in the wall! Who ARE these people?

Why I just opened a store charge, and may do so again

July 13th, 2006 at 12:42 pm

Just what I need, another account to keep track of!

But it seems like the sale prices at some stores never get really interesting unless you can also take advantage of the extra discounts they only give to their charge customers. I've noticed this at Kohl's and Boscov's in particular.

I was getting the microwave at Kohl's anyway, and also had to pick up a birthday gift for my MIL to give my mother. And that was bringing it pretty close to th amount you needed to spend on your Kohl's charge in order to get $10 in Kohl's Cash. It seemed like a good time to go for it.

It ended up that the microwave, a summer purse and a bathing suit coverup cost me a total of $47. Without doing the deal, the microwave would have been $38 anyway, so basically the purse and coverup together came to $9. Not necessities, but things I've been looking for a long time, and I'm glad to find them for $9.

Anybody have further suggestions on store charges that are worthwhile to have because of special offers for charge customers?



The mailman bringeth, and the mailman taketh away

July 13th, 2006 at 09:27 am

The $50 Mercury Milan gift card came today, as well as some free shampoo samples from Dove and my free Giant magazine.

However, the property tax bill also came, and it's now $76 more a quarter. There was a note with the bill saying that the new mayor is trying to balance the township budget, which currently is in the red by $4 million.

There is enough in our Property Tax ING account, and it only comes to $25 a month. But still, it makes me nervous.

I just readjusted the amount going into that ING account every week, and thought I'd allowed a generous amount. Now it looks like it will just barely cover the taxes and insurance over the next year.

I wonder how much better fixed I need to be before stuff like this stops throwing me for a loop.

Disorganization strikes again

July 12th, 2006 at 08:25 am

Had a scare this morning--

I've been trying catch up on paperwork today, as it's become a mess again. Because I've been spending so much money lately, I thought I'd better go onto all our banking and cc websites to make sure I'd recorded everything.

To my horror, I noticed I hadn't even scheduled the payment on the Sony card, which is due Friday, the day after tomorrow. If I did it the normal way from my bank website, they wouldn't get it til Monday. Frown Luckily, I could sign up on the Sony card website to initiate the payment from their end. I'll get credited for it today.

I feel very lucky, indeed, because sometimes when you try to set up transfers like this, it takes a few days while they send test amounts. If that had been the case, I couldn't have avoided a late payment.

I've got to get better at keeping up with this stuff, no matter how busy life gets. And no matter how hot it is! (I do paperwork upstairs in a room with no a/c, and some days I just can't face it.)

Microwave on the fritz

July 10th, 2006 at 05:33 am

This has about put me over the edge, as far as shopping. I'M TIRED OF SHOPPING! It's not even that I don't want to spend the money. I'm just tired of the process of doing the shopping.

This weekend, shoes for DH from Shoebuy.com and a tool he needed for work, from Home Depot. Petsmart and two supermarkets. K-Mart for a 2nd new hairdryer like my original one because the first one I bought as a replacement was a pain to use. Shorts for me from the men's department at Target; I was getting desperate after shopping for several weeks. Yes, I guess I'm cross-dressing now. Wink Recently, tires, other clothes, checks. By next weekend, 2 more birthday presents. Still need to get a hair clipper to do DH's hair for awhile; his barber retired.

I found a good deal at Linens and Things for a microwave that would be $20 after a coupon and rebate. But you had to pick it up at a local store, and it was out of stock at mine. Found one for $39.99 at Kohl's, but it was sold out at our Kohl's. Had to ask them to call another store, where I'll pick it up tomorrow. Between checking around online, and making the first trip to Kohl's, I've put at least 2 hours into the project already with nothing to show for it.

When I'm all caught up, I'm going to be very content to stay home doing other things for a good, long time.

Consistently inconsistent (notes on several books)

July 9th, 2006 at 04:54 am

I just read Not Buying It, and enjoyed it. The author has a lively writing style, and I had to laugh out loud several times. The Take Back Your Time expert who was too busy to meet with her was priceless.

However, the inconsistencies in her plan jumped out at me from the beginning.

Fresh frozen coconut milk and $55 haircuts were apparent necessities and ok to buy. However, $1 "green rolls" they liked from a street vendor were a luxury they cut out--even though they didn't cost much, and the vendor could probably use the business. Commercially baked bread was ok, but crackers were out. Free entertainment was ok, and giving money to charity was ok. But paying money for a concert, when the concert benefited a nonprofit group, was not ok.

It would really have bugged me if I hadn't just read two other books.

In Rumspringa, I learned that it's ok for the Amish to power a washing machine with a gas engine, but not a tractor. It's ok for teenagers to run around and experiment with sex, drugs and rock and roll, getting pregnant at 16, but heaven forbid they want to attend school beyond 8th grade and play competitive sports. One family might be shunned for doing something that was perfectly ok for the family next door, because they live in different districts under different bishops.

In Treasure Hunt, I read about how middle-range products are dying out because people are buying mostly bottom and top end products. And not necessarily because the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Many people are apparently scrimping on things at the dollar store so they can afford designer purses and such.

Then there's my little research project on the NJ sales tax. Astringent is not taxable but moisturizer is. Apparently taking care of oily skin is a necessity, but taking care of dry skin is a luxury.

I guess my conclusion is that being inconsistent is just human nature. I'll try to remember that when I'm feeling critical of other people's decisions (and my own).


One PotatOH, two PotatOH...

July 8th, 2006 at 08:27 am

Yesterday a mysterious package arrived on our porch, a UPS 2nd day air box, from Colorado, filled with something heavy. I couldn't imagine what it could be... Here, the Express PotatOH! people had actually sent me 4 of their microwavable baking potatoes to replace the 2 moldy ones I'd complained about.

I feel kind of bad that they went to the expense of sending out a 4 lb package of potatoes. (Maybe someone should tell them about free item coupons?) But I'm glad to essentially get double my money back on them. They look fine, nice and fresh.

Smuckers' response was excellent, too. I'd written them about their sugar-free preserves, which I didn't like the taste of. They sent me two free-product coupons to replace the two jars I couldn't face eating. The really impressive thing was, within 24 hours of my email they actually called me on the phone to ask some questions (such as the product codes on my jars). Within the week, the coupons were here.

It really only takes a few minutes to email a company about a problem (especially with the aid of Flash's contact list), and very satisfying when you get a response.

$713 blind spot--NJ Sales Tax

July 6th, 2006 at 11:43 am

Maybe you've seen NJ's ridiculous budget woes on the news recently. A large portion of state government is shut down because the high mucky-mucks can't agree on how to balance the budget. The main sticking point seems to be whether to raise the state sales tax from 6% to 7%. Only one penny on the dollar, but a 16% increase nonetheless.

It's made me start wondering about how much sales tax we're paying already in our household, and how much this might affect us.

I finally found an article that said a $50,000 a year household was currently paying about $713 a year in sales tax, and the proposed increase would add $122 for a total of $835 a year.

It's kind of a shock to realize that $700 of our money has been going down the drain on sales tax each year, and I've barely been aware of it.

I don't know if there's any way I could actually cut down on it--so much of what's taxable is stuff you have to buy anyway. But I think I'll start tracking it in Quicken, just out of curiosity.


The Tea Solution

July 6th, 2006 at 10:02 am

Thanks for all the comments from those who shared my disbelief over the teakettle that couldn't boil water. It definitely was a kettle, not a teapot--there was a whistle, and everything. This is the dumb thing, here:

www.target.com/gp/detail.html/sr=1-4/qid=1152204615/ref=sr_1...

I notice they haven't posted my bad review yet. Wink I did manage to get my money back without having the box, although I had to dig in my heels a bit.

Kudos to the Lipton tea people, though. They do still make the unsweetened tea! I was googling around and came across their online store. If I couldn't find it locally, I could order it online direct from them.

But even better, they had a "store finder" feature that's better than any I've seen. You can actually search for a store that carries the specific product you are looking for, instead of getting a list of stores who happen to carry the brand.

I found out only one grocery chain in my area carries this specific stuff, Acme. I never go there, hence I never see the product. So I made a special trip today and am drinking some as I type. Smile It's funny how little comforts like this can make your day, even when more important stuff is going on.

Whew, I can stop teakettle shopping, too!

Grrr... Product Rant

July 5th, 2006 at 09:37 am

I didn't really want to buy a tea kettle in the first place, but...

I used to be able to get powdered instant tea by Nestea or Lipton, in a glass jar, with no sweetener or lemon flavor. Just plain, dehydrated tea. You even had a choice of regular or decaf. Now all I can find is sweetened, whether with sugar or artificial sweetener.

OK, so I'll make my own iced tea. But I got tired of spilling water or tea every time I tried to pour it from a regular pan. So when I was at Target, I picked up a tea kettle for $9.99. I didn't really want to spend the money, and I don't really have the storage space for it, but it seems like a necessity at this point.

So I go to wash it out and use it, and find the use and care instructions. In large, bold letters it says you can't use it on high heat!!! On either a gas or electric stove!!! How the heck do you get the water to the boiling point on medium heat? I gave up after half an hour.

I've written a one star review on Target's website, and I'm seriously thinking of writing a letter to Copco. I used to think that was a decent brand, and most of Target's stuff is decent quality. This was a total let-down; a completely useless product. I just hope Target will take it back, being I already discarded the box.

At this point, I still don't have an easy way to make myself some plain iced tea. Grrr.

More on the old books available online

July 4th, 2006 at 06:17 am

Retire@50, I didn't see Six Hundred Dollars a Year on Cornell's Hearth, but I did find it at another site! (They have it as part of a fiction collection, but it appears to be the right one.)

www.letrs.indiana.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=wright2;idno=Wri...

I've started reading it myself and am enjoying it a lot. Thanks for mentioning the title.

BTW, I found it through www.digitalbookindex.com which lets you search across many online ebook collections. It worked where googling didn't.

Cheetahwoman7, the titles I'd been wanting to read again were:

Successful family life on the moderate income, by Mary W. Hinman Abel

The business of the household, by Clarence Taber

Family expense account, by Thirmuthis A. Brookman

Various titles by Christine Frederick

The homemaker and her job, by Lillian Gilbreth. She's the mother of the original Cheaper By The Dozen family. If anyone's interested in the Gilbreths, there's also a neat site about them, here:

gilbrethnetwork.tripod.com/front.html

Well, now that I've veered completely off-topic (except that I'm talking about sources for free reading material), I guess I'd better go.

Hear what Jeffrey sounds like :)

July 2nd, 2006 at 07:42 am

moneybloggerpodcast.blogspot.com/

He's the latest interviewee on the MoneyBlogger Podcast! (Interview #24).

Four-week report

July 2nd, 2006 at 07:31 am

"June" ended on July 1 for me.

Everyday Expenses came to $591, even after I applied an upcoming rebate against last month's spending ($25 gc if you spend $300 at Pathmark by July 6), and recategorized some vacation food spending as recreation. My general target is less than $545.

I've been running over this way the past three months, and I've been kicking myself about not being a better shopper. But now that I look more closely, I can see it's partly because of gas.

January-March totalled $204 for gas. April-June totals $288. That's an average of $28 more per month.

I don't know if it's just gas prices or if I'm driving more. Time to start using the trip meter again, and try to stay under 150 miles a week.

Our liquid net worth went up to $2992, an increase of $983, largely because of a $600 wedding anniversary gift from my mother.

Emergency Fund decreased from $681 to $257 due to two car repairs during the month.

Credit Card Debt decreased from $2805 to $2249. The HSBC account IS down under $2000 now, but there are outstanding balances on other cards because of end-of-the month expenses that haven't yet shown up on a bill. (Car registration, yearly internet fee, etc.)



A freebie 20 years in the making

July 2nd, 2006 at 06:27 am

Back in 1986, in one of my first library jobs, I discovered some interesting old home economics and budgeting books. They were so old and rare that they didn't circulate. So on my lunch hours I'd go back in the "closed stacks" area where they were kept, and read them while I was there.

I made a list of my favorite titles, in case I could ever find them at a used bookstore. But over the years, they were either nowhere to be found or else too expensive.

But, now they are here, for free!

hearth.library.cornell.edu/

Cornell University has put up a ton of home ec stuff that's gone out of copyright. You can read whole books online, or download them. You can also search their whole database for topics you want to research, across all the titles.

It's really interesting to see how things have changed, and how they've stayed the same. I always find some kind of insight from these old books that is still useful today. I'll post some good quotes in future blog entries.


Phone plus $40 in airtime minutes for $39.99

July 2nd, 2006 at 06:11 am

Virgin Mobile is running one of their web-only summer sales:

www.virginmobileusa.com/phones/phoneDetail.do?skuId=VM2125

Shipping is free.

If you're going to get one of them, would you consider using me as a referral? I would get a $20 in airtime "kickback." Let me know and I'll PM my phone number; instructions for activating the referral are here:

www.virginmobileusa.com/promos/kickbacks.do

Thanks!