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Archive for September, 2006

A $2 increase, I can live with! :)

September 27th, 2006 at 09:26 am

As usual, I quickly got hot under the collar and prepared for a catastrophe when there was a logical explanation and an easy fix.

The CSR at the natural gas company said the computer's automatic adjustment of our equal payment plan was faulty due to an estimated bill last winter. The estimate was way higher than our actual use, and although it was later manually fixed, the high figure was used to figure the new monthly payments.

So our new equal payment plan is $160, $2 a month higher than it was. Crisis averted!

Decisions regarding natural gas--what do you think?

September 26th, 2006 at 08:20 am

I ended up with a $20 credit at the end of my budget-billing year for natural gas. And there are articles out there like this, which say natural gas prices are trending downward. www.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/2006-09-12-gas-pric...

Yet, our natural gas company wants to increase our budget billing by $53 a month!

I'm definitely going to call and try to bring that figure down. But there's a second issue.

They have a 3rd party supplier who will give you a locked in price through October 2007. The price is about 7% higher than what's on our latest bill. If the prices actually go down, I will have been a fool for locking in.

OTOH, I can look back and see that on our worst (highest use) month ever, their higher lock-in price would only cost us $24 more than it would be at the current rate. Which makes it really obvious how ridiculous it is having to pay $53 more a month all year round.

So, I could just dispute the budget billing increase. I could lock in the higher rate, and feel more confident about disputing the budget billing increase. I could take my chances that prices will actually be lower this winter, and pay as I go instead of using the even-payment thing. That way I wouldn't be lending them money interest-free. OTOH, if prices go up and it's a cold winter, we could be hit with some really high bills.

Any thoughts?

Something to save up for--Yikes!

September 21st, 2006 at 08:53 am

The plumber was here today, and I asked him to show me where to turn off the water to the house in case of emergency.

I knew it had to be done out at the street, where the meter is. Long story short--if I were here alone, I could never do it myself. We'd have to buy this long-handled "key" tool and even if DH were here, the job would involve one of us crawling on the ground looking into a scary, gaping hole and the other one holding a flashlight.

So I asked him to look in the basement to see where a shut-off could be added. This is where the Yikes! comes in.

Our pipes are ancient iron ones, and very corroded. In fact there are old shut-off valves there, but they are so corroded they would break if you tried to move them. Basically, all the piping from the street to the house should be replaced. Much of the work would have to be done by hand instead of machine because of the convoluted way the pipes go into the house. The way it was done was "weird." (Why am I not surprised?) They are also all behind the hot-air furnace ductwork, which was added later.

I asked him for a ballpark figure. $1000? $5000? $10,000? He figured $5000 would be closest.

Boy, I can think of far more interesting ways to spend $5000. But I guess it will have to be done someday. In the meantime, the plumber suggested keeping a trash can over the man-hole thingy out front in the wintertime. That way, we wouldn't be searching around for it under the snow.

I'm starting a new blog category for House.

Ladies only!!! A freebie side effect you don't want

September 19th, 2006 at 07:40 pm

I warned ya...

Over the past few months I've had a problem Down There that I never had happen before in my life. The irritation comes and goes without any treatment beyond switching to Dove soap and being patient. It's not really serious enough to run to the doctor with, but darned uncomfortable--so I started researching online. To my surprise, the probable culprit is Always brand feminine hygiene pads!

http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=14...
and
http://www.drexelmed.edu/FindaPhysician/MedicalPractices/Vag...

Note that the journal article came out in the 90's, but the advice to avoid the Always brand is still being given today.

I don't know about you, but I only started using this brand recently, after a series of offers at different stores, a Catalina and a sample that came with a coupon. Let me tell you, if you're sensitive to whatever's in them.... well, they couldn't PAY me to use them again.

I'm emptying my stockpile into the trash even if I have to pay full price for another brand. No use donating them and causing someone else discomfort.

Sexist spending

September 18th, 2006 at 06:58 am

First, thanks for the comments the past couple of entries. It really does help to know other people are in the same boat--whether it's in a positive way (learning to live with high tech) or negative (being behind on house maintenance).

I spent some time this morning trying to find the best paving company prospect for getting our driveway coated. I already knew there weren't any local companies listed on Angie's List so I thought I'd check on the Better Business Bureau website.

There were several that looked promising, but one jumped out at me. In business over 35 years, a BBB member with no complaints filed, and... the president is a woman.
I called to arrange an estimate.

If the price is remotely reasonable, and if they can do it before the fall festival, I'll go ahead and not even call another company. I have to say I like the idea of giving my business to another woman.

I feel funny about it, though. It feels like preferential treatment, or discrimination or something. But I guess it's kind of natural to want to help out one of your own--especially when you know they're a rare bird in their industry.


Prioritizing home maintenance

September 17th, 2006 at 06:03 am

Like Dollars for Doughnuts just wrote, too many wants chasing too few dollars...

A few weeks back I decided the top priority was getting the lights installed on the back of the house. It's getting dark earlier all the time, and it had to be done before we switch to Standard Time. No brainer.

I kind of decided I should get the plumber next. There are three jobs that need to be done, one of which I'm kind of worried about putting off. There's a problem with our upstairs toilet, and even though we've turned off the water at the shut-off valve I can still hear the sound of water running. It just doesn't seem right, and I don't want to wake up to a geyser one morning!

Yesterday we got a flyer about the fall festival going on in two weeks. They are starting up the lawn decoration contest again, and probably coming down our street with a hayride. Our property looks horrible because of the driveway, and I'd love to get it coated before then.

We still need a new back step, a cabinet put up, and wallpaper removal finished. Also, I need about $300 worth of work done on my car, even at our neighbor's prices.

However, our official EF is pretty low right now. I have an extra $400 in checking now as padding because of the automatic payments I set up. $500 is sitting in the Netbank money market, the minimum balance for not getting hit with a monthly fee. I can't close the account yet or I'll forfeit the $75 bonus.

I could pay off the HSBC cc more slowly to free up funds. It's 0% into the spring. Or I could raid the "new car" account again.

On the one hand, I'm nervous about spending too much money, too soon. On the other hand, the house stuff is weighing on my mind. Anyway, our water bill was way up last time, probably because of the plumbing issues. Getting them fixed should save money in the long run. And our plumber bills us, so the cash doesn't have to be in hand this week anyway.

I think I'll go ahead and make calls tomorrow.

p.s. - Still glad I spent the money on the scanner. Have already got rid of lots of paper. There's actually some wiggle room in the file cabinet now. Smile

Spending money on techy stuff

September 15th, 2006 at 07:51 pm

I kind of feel like I need to write a confessional. OTOH, I've decided that's silly.

OK, I've just spent $48 on a scanner, I've signed up for Verizon's voicemail again for an extra $6 a month, and I've decided to pay the $30 for Budget by Snowmint (virtual envelope budget software) after the trial period.

I could have spent money on making copies, buying more file folders, and so forth. I could have decided to keep wasting time leafing through papers, trying to stay offline when important calls are due, and playing around with free but cumbersome budget systems. Instead, I'm spending money on tools that actually do the jobs I need done.

Every time I spend money on techy stuff, part of me feels like it's a luxury, like I'm just trying out some new toy. I guess it's because I'm almost 50, and the highest tech thing I had as a kid was a transistor radio!

I'm seeing libraries get rid of stuff I never thought I'd see, because the information is now available online. I just bought a car part on Ebay for my mother. Even some homeless people have email addresses, laptops and blogs.
thehomelessguy.blogspot.com/

It's a new, digital world. So why should buying a digital tool feel less legitimate than buying, say, a hammer? I have the discretionary money on hand to pay for these things, and they serve my streamlining goal, so why not? But it still feels weird in a Future Shock sort of way.






Auto mechanic rant

September 14th, 2006 at 08:08 am

We've started taking our cars to our next door neighbor, since he seems to do good work and his prices are very reasonable.

However...

I called him earlier in the week and asked if he could work on DH's car on Wednesday, which would have been convenient for me. He said no, Thursday would be better. Not so good for me, but I said ok.

Thursday morning has come. DH and I got up early to move work stuff from his car into mine, so he could use my car. I went to take the keys to DH's car to the neighbor, and he told me he had to do something about a horse trailer and would be back for the car in about an hour.

It's been 3 hours, and no sign of him. I'd hoped the work would be almost done by now!

Geez. He could have called to cancel, or stopped by to tell me there would be a delay. Or that he couldn't do it today after all. I have errands of my own to do, and things to meet my mother about. I also have to be at work by 5 p.m. If I'd known he wasn't going to work on it this morning, I could have planned to do errands early. Instead I'm sitting here feeling trapped waiting for him, and stewing!

I like paying less for car repairs, but is it worthwhile if it wastes so much of my time?

$6.78 well spent, I think

September 9th, 2006 at 08:10 am

I stumbled across an interesting online book on simplifying, here: www.december.com/simple/live/ which listed those opt-out services for cutting down on junk mail and credit card offers. Since it fits right in with my simplification kick, I decided to take care of all this stuff this morning. Strike while the iron is hot, and all that.

FYI, the fees seem to have changed from what some folks here posted earlier in the year. The Direct Marketing Assn. people are now charging $1 per name for getting off mailing lists whether you do it online or by mail. Also, there is a $1 charge to register a Deceased-Do Not Contact name. I'm doing DH and myself, my mother (at two addresses), my dad (who died in 1986) and my uncle (who died in 1989).

The page for the deceased name registration is secure, so I had no qualms about entering my cc number to pay. But FYI, the page for the regular one wants you to enter the cc on an unencrypted page. I just won't do it; I'd rather pay for the stamps and live with the delay in processing.

I also did that phone number for opting out of pre-approved cc offers, for DH and myself. (Free, and it's supposed to stay in effect for five years.)


4-Week Report

September 2nd, 2006 at 11:34 am

I'm reporting a week late. This is actually for the 4 weeks ending August 26.

Everyday expenses came to $547, after coupons and including sales tax. Just about the same as last month.

As noted before, part of that total was $100.92 in gas, a record high.

Food expenses, including groceries and take-out, totalled $364. That's $91 a week. The latest chart from USDA showing the Low Cost plan for two people our age allows $89.80. That's one step up from the food-stamp-level Thrifty Plan. So I feel like I did pretty well; I just wish I could stay at around $85 a week and also not use so much gas.

Emergency Fund at $680, up $115 from the previous month.

CC Debt at $1256, down $738 from the previous month. $1149 is the HSBC 0% balance, the rest current purchases not yet billed.

Saved by a glitch in Amazon's checkout system

September 2nd, 2006 at 07:50 am

The last eight days have been wild, and upsetting at times. DH is having trouble with his knee and back, and having emotional ups and downs because of the pain. He ended up bursting into tears while we were having ice cream and cake for his birthday. We found out my aunt has a form of leukemia. An episode happened at work where I had to call the police, and I'm still kind of shaken up about it. Many computer problems at work. My mother had to ask me what the rest of her social security number was; not a good sign.

By yesterday morning I started feeling desperate and wondering how I was going to continue dealing with this kind of stuff with the darkness of winter coming on. I've always thought about trying those light boxes people use for Seasonal Affective Disorder, and found a good deal on Amazon.

I guess it wasn't meant to be, because although I tried several times, the order wouldn't go through. It kept getting stuck when I tried to choose free shipping.

I felt better by later in the day, keeping busy at work, and boy was I glad the order hadn't gone through! As I told DH last night--I can buy a lot of chocolate, take-out meals and movie tickets with the $179 I almost spent, and I KNOW they make me feel better. Smile