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Taking advantage of training freebie

May 19th, 2012 at 06:32 am

A couple of weeks ago, I found out that librarians in my state were eligible to sign up for free, three-week subscriptions at http://www.lynda.com, a website that offers tutorials on tech and business topics. I jumped on it! At work, I'm responsible for doing our little class on Microsoft Word, now that the person who used to do that class has been cut back to virtually no hours. I'm not that familiar with the old version, let alone the 2010 version we recently put on a few public computers. In addition to doing classes on request, I also need to help people on the computers throughout the day and should really get better acquainted with all of Office.

I have to say that having only three weeks of access to the tutorials has motivated me to use it. I have a list of other free tutorial sites that I've never gotten around to using simply because I didn't have a deadline. I like the Lynda.com tutorials I've used so far, and I like how they keep track of which lesson you're on, let you keep a queue of other ones you're interested in, and suggest appropriate followup tutorials when you finish one. I'm seriously thinking of paying for a membership when my free time is up, however--if I no longer have a deadline to take advantage of it, will I continue using it?

There's a lot more there that would be useful to me beyond the Office training. Although our operating budget at work was cut back drastically, for some reason we got approved for a large capital expenditure on new computers, and I'll mostly likely have to set up and maintain them. They'll probably come with Windows 7, which I've never used. I've been keeping an eye on job openings at other libraries, too, just to be on the safe side. One job description appealed to me but would have been a stretch--they wanted someone who knows several programming languages in addition to having the MLS. My library school master's is 25 years old this month, and while I have experience on my side, I feel as if I don't update my technical skills it will be hard to compete with more recent graduates who have training on all the current things. That is, if I really am laid off, eventually. I'm still having a hard time gauging how likely that is.

Beyond possibly paying to watch these tutorials, is it time to consider buying a new computer at home, with Windows 7 on it? (I can't just buy the software because my PC doesn't meet the requirements.) Over the years, I've found that it's hard getting up to speed on new things if I only have access to them at work--there's never enough time to just sit there and learn, undisturbed.

I'm in a quandary every day about whether to spend money or not, because of a possible layoff. Should I not buy clothes because I might be laid off, or should I buy them because I need decent outfits on hand for possible job interviews and because in the fall I'll be working a lot of 6-day weeks. Should I not spend money on a new computer and tutorials because I might be laid off, or should I spend the money because I might be laid off. Should we go ahead and spend the money on home improvements because DH and I have the time right now to be here and monitor the work, or not? (If DH had to go back to work, and I had to take a job with a longer commute, and neither of us had any vacation time built up yet, it would be nearly impossible to manage.)

Any thoughts?

Back after 2-1/2 years

April 22nd, 2012 at 02:04 pm

A quick test message will have to do for now--just lost a long post about why I'm back, but I don't have time to redo it.

Basically, there have been cutbacks at my job; I'm scared and feel the need to save money like crazy. However, time and energy are always an issue and I don't know how I'm going to manage it.

Gee, I hope this works!

Stockpiling to save time, not necessarily money

March 28th, 2009 at 06:53 pm

All of a sudden, I'm finding myself buying in bulk, in a big way. I'd love to have a year's supply of whatever is practical. Two things spurred me to do this--

1) My mother casually mentioned how her friend buys blueberries in season and freezes a whole year's supply. It reminded me of how I like to buy a big carton of red-skinned sweet potatoes in the fall, and eat them all year. It's nice to know they're there, and that I don't have to run up to the farm market every few weeks. And I don't have to think about them every time I make a shopping list.

2) I had another scare this past week with my mother--nothing serious, but something that's going to take extra time again, taking her to doctors and such. Something is always coming up. I just can't devote that much time to grocery shopping. Many weeks I only have a few hours to myself, and I'll be darned if I'm going to spend them all looking at circulars, sorting coupons and running to sales.

So I'm starting to think big. So far, I've ordered some stuff on Amazon and joined BJ's Warehouse (like Sam's or Costco, but a smaller chain). I'm going ahead and spending like crazy, but at least I'm using my price book. My goals is to get stocked up as much as possible while on a vacation week, and then try to relax and enjoy my spring and summer as much as possible. It's throwing any concept of a weekly grocery budget out the window, but I think it'll be worth it.


Paying myself back rather than the cc

March 16th, 2009 at 08:56 am

I've gotten back into that vicious cycle that Carol Keeffe describes so well in her book*--one month you charge some groceries and toothpaste, the next month when you pay the bill it leaves you short to buy the new month's groceries, and you end up using the credit card again and again each month.

When things were really wild over the past few months, I'd just shop when I could. I didn't always have cash with me, and didn't always know for sure how much was in our checking accounts. I didn't want to overdraw an account, so I used the credit card to be safe. If I was using the credit card, I couldn't go to Aldi, and I didn't have time to shop the sales and use coupons, either. I didn't always take time to record what I spent. Often I had to charge things that were really for my mother, which confused things even more. (She doesn't have a credit card of her own.)

Result--a balance I've been paying off each month, but sometimes painfully so.

This weekend I "borrowed" $140 from our bills account to cover a big food shopping trip. I've got a lot of catching up to do, as we've used up a lot of stockpile items, and a lot had to be throw away because it got spoiled or was way out of date. I'll probably have to "borrow" some more next week. So far this month I've already spent $284 on groceries and we're only half through.

But at least I can pay myself back at my leisure with no interest adding up. And it's enabling me to take advantage of some really good sales and coupons, like a series of $5 off $40 coupons at one of our stores.

* "How to get what you want in life with the money you already have"

One last entry

August 11th, 2008 at 05:45 am

My own mother had full-blown stroke on June 1, and it's basically changed my life. Several times I've had ideas for entries about how caregiving can affect your finances, or my observations on Medicare. But I just haven't had time to write.

In fact, I haven't had the time to read the other blogs, and when I checked in to read new posts in the forums, there were hundreds more than I had time to check out.

DMom is actually doing pretty well, living in one of her two houses and trying to sell the other one. But she's not supposed to drive, so DH and I are doing a lot of running, and we're the ones trying to empty out the for-sale house. I don't see things calming down any time soon--when one project is done, there's another one waiting to be started.

So, it's been fun and fulfilling, but this blog has to go. Best of financial luck to everybody. Smile



Death in the family

February 19th, 2008 at 06:02 am

One day we got a call that my MIL had a stroke, but not to worry because it appeared to be mild. A week later we were hundreds of miles from home, attending her viewing. I can't believe everything happened so fast. She was 90, so it shouldn't have been a surprise, but it was. She was still driving til the end, and had just cooked a big dinner the night before the stroke.

Since this is a financial blog, I'll try to write about things from that perspective.

First of all, when you're in a crisis situation like this, you can't always do things the cheapest way. We took Amtrak, which probably cost a bit more than driving would have been. But we didn't want to drive that far in wintry weather, on roads we weren't familiar with. We could have gotten a AAA discount if we could have made our reservations sooner, but we didn't know the date of the viewing and funeral til after the discount deadline. I also just found out we could have gotten a discount on one return fare with a coupon code, but I didn't have time to search for codes beforehand.

I'm glad that we still had a credit card, and I hadn't closed it out as per Dave Ramsey. It was nice to be able to charge the train fare, reserve the rooms, buy DH some clothes and pay for the local obituary FAST. I had enough to do without running around, getting extra money into the account that has the debit card and waiting for the deposit to clear. OTOH, I'm glad we had some money in the Emergency Fund so we can pay the bill off right away.

It's a good idea to always have suitable clothes on hand for a funeral (or wedding), and sufficient traveling gear. We hadn't traveled in years, and had gotten rid of some crummy old luggage without replacing it. I had to run out and buy a cheap set of suitcases at the last minute. (Nope, I didn't have the time to check where they were made!) Luckily, I'd bought DH some dress shoes on sale awhile back, even though he rarely needs them. He also still had a suit that fit. But he needed a new shirt, and a coat to wear over the suit. His old bomber jacket would have just looked embarrassing. It would have been a lot less stressful if we'd had all of this stuff on hand to begin with.

My oldest BIL is executor, and when we last saw him he was having trouble even finding my MIL's social security number. He hadn't really been involved with her paperwork over the years, and lives at a distance, so he's going to have quite a job finding and making sense of things. I'm more determined than ever to arrange things so DH can manage if something happens to me. He doesn't do computers at all, so this will mean converting back to paper in a lot of ways.

Finally, and most importantly, my MIL's eulogy reminded me to spend less time on finances and more time on enjoying life. The contrast with my own mother is marked. MIL didn't end up with a fortune, but she had a lot of travel and other fun under her belt. She enjoyed trying new things when she had the chance. My own mother has been very careful about money and everything else over the years. Rather than trying new things, she's apt to wonder "why would anyone want to do that?" She's a worrier from way back. So I've been thinking about how I'd rather hear my life summed up, at the end.



Coffee makers - not Made In China

January 30th, 2008 at 08:20 am

A few months back, I read the book "A Year without Made in China." One thing that stuck with me was how impossible it was for the author to find a new coffee maker that wasn't made in China. I wondered if it were really true. Well, our cheapo 18-month-old coffee maker just died so I decided to find out for myself. I'd written about it here: http://stressless.savingadvice.com/2006/05/01/kissing-and-co...

It's not that I'm completely anti-China. I have some clothes that are extremely well-made, that I love. But I'm tired of buying appliances that die after a year or so. It's bad for the environment, and it's a hassle to have to shop again. And since we drink so much coffee, I don't want to use things made from Chinese metal, which I've read often have toxic impurities in them.

The only stand-alone, electric appliance type I could find that were made in America are by Bunn. The info I found was from 2004, so it may no longer be so. They cost $100 and up. But even American-made electronic parts fail eventually, and I'd like to reclaim some counter space.

If you can get used to boiling water on the stove to make your coffee, and don't need to make a potful, there's the Aerobie Aeropress. If you need to make it by the pot, it appears the 6-cup manual Melitta system is made in the USA. I'll know for sure, either when I hear back from customer service, or mine is delivered. I ordered mine directly from Melitta USA's website, and it came to about $15, shipped.

If you're willing to branch out to other countries, there are French press pots made in Germany, stove-top drip systems from Italy, it looks like the 10-cup manual Melitta is made in Canada, and there's the Eva coffee brewer from Denmark.

If you know of other ones, please do leave the info as a comment.

I know from past experience that the glass carafe for the Melitta isn't going to last forever--we always seem to break them eventually. So I'm still looking for a stove-top all-metal system that doesn't require ongoing filter purchases. I saw some intriguing vintage coffee pots on Ebay, and would like to get one eventually. I was excited to see a aluminum stove-top Dripolator at Vermont Country Store, very similar to some vintage ones on Ebay--but then I saw the same thing at Fantes.com, where they said it was... made in China. So I think I'll go for a vintage one to have in reserve.

Next time--kettles!

Of Memory Banks and Banking Memories

December 19th, 2007 at 06:57 am

I've been a Quicken enthusiast for 15 years, but I'm getting very close to giving up on it. Working on this blog entry has been a way to think it through...

128 MB. That's how much memory my computer has--and that was supposed to be the minimum requirement for running Quicken 2008 Deluxe. Well, actually running turned out to be an exaggeration--limping, crawling, or stumbling maybe. (FYI--I started using Quicken on my first computer, back in 1992. That old Quicken version had all the features I needed and worked just fine on 4 MB.)

I decided I was willing to live with the slowness and the quirks because I really wanted to play with the Savings Goal feature. But after installing a security update, it got even worse--now it won't open up and run at all.

I've put in many hours of troubleshooting already, and have another list of things to try from my new email friend, seemingly located in India. Why did I start using it in the first place, what problems did it solve, and do I still need it now? Is it worth putting in even more time trying to get it to work?

Era # 1 - No need for Quicken. Or even a calculator!

In high school and college, my finances were simple. I used a passbook savings account, a Christmas Club, and cash. With passbook savings accounts, you could see exactly what was in your account at any time by looking in the book. With the Christmas Club, you also knew exactly where you stood at all times. You could tell the balance by the number of coupons that were already taken out. And the bank always had a little display out showing what week the Club was on. If it was Week 10 and you were only paid up to Week 8, you knew you had some catching up to do.

Note, the bank provided the only tracking tools I needed.


Era # 2 - Chaos

For roughly 15 years, maybe 1977 to 1992, I could have used something like Quicken if it had existed and if I'd had a computer. I started to keep a checking account, started opening charge accounts and credit cards, and bought some savings bonds. The passbook savings accounts started to disappear, replaced by Statement Savings. The Christmas Club books started to disappear, and now worked like Statement Savings. Note the key here is the word Statement. Without the passbooks and coupon books, I now had to keep track on my own, between statements.

My tracking tools were a paper check register, deposit receipts, a pencil, and a calculator. Eventually I added two more tools--duplicate checks, and teller-provided printouts of recent transactions. They both helped me catch things I forgot to record in the register. My writing is rather large, and I've always had trouble writing in check registers. And even with a calculator I had a terrible time balancing the checkbook when the statement came. I really had no system at all for keeping track of credit card balances.

The first years DH and I were married, we lurched from one financial crisis to the next. It got so bad I was getting cash advances on one credit card to pay the minimum payment on another one. Low income, overspending, and chaotic record keeping all contributed. If payday loans had been invented yet, we might have been sucked into that. My best AND my worst purchase back then might have been that first computer I bought--for $2,000, financed on our Sears card.


Erica # 3 - Golden Age of Quicken

For the next 15 years, 1992 to 2007, I really came to rely on Quicken. It came on that first computer, so I gave it a try. It was intimidating, but the first time I went through the checkbook balancing process with it, I was sold. SO much better than doing it on paper. It seemed like a miracle. I really got into setting up categories and classes and fiddling with the budget feature.

Our financial life got more complicated. Credit union account with several subaccounts, IRAs, stock DRIP plans, more savings bonds. I opened even more credit cards for bonuses and 0% offers. I bought gift cards at a discount and had to track the remaining balances. I started selling books online, and tracked all the business income and expenses in Quicken, too.

But even with all that tracking, we've still had more unpleasant financial surprises than I would have liked--mostly due to counting on Quicken's budget feature. As I've written before, it doesn't take into account the timing of paychecks and bills. It will indicate a surplus for an upcoming month overall, without warning you that you'll go negative for a day because a big bill is due just before a paycheck. It gave me a false sense of security about spending money. So I'm no longer using it for budgeting, and I've spent a lot of time entering expected transactions months in advance, just so I can make sure we won't be going into the red at any point.

And I think our finances got so complicated partly BECAUSE of Quicken. If I'd had to deal with it all on paper, I would have kept things simpler. It seemed so easy to just keep adding accounts and categories in Quicken, til it suddenly became overwhelming.

Lately I've streamlined things. I don't have the bookselling business anymore. We don't own stocks outside of our IRAs. I'm not doing the gift card thing. Practically every transaction in and out of our accounts is predictible, if not automated. Direct deposit of paychecks, automatic transfers to savings, automatic bill payment. We still have two credit cards, but hardly ever use them. I'm trying to use cash instead of the debit card whenever possible.

There just isn't as much to track. And once again, the bank is providing the main tool I need--not in the form of passbooks and coupon books, but through online banking. Maintaining a complete written or Quicken register on my own between monthly statements just isn't as important. The headache of reconciling the account once a month when the statement comes isn't really necessary if I've been keeping up with things online.

The way I'm feeling now is, the computer is a great tool for managing finances. I wouldn't want to go back to pencil and paper. But maybe Quicken was only necessary during that period where banks were pretty much leaving us on our own, without the tools to track thngs between statements. Now with online banking, maybe the Quicken era is ending. I'm pretty sure it is for me.

Full Plate Part 2 - Family Stuff

December 12th, 2007 at 06:28 am

It started about 4 weeks ago.

DMom finally decided to have the bathroom redone in one of her houses, so that one house was completely livable and she could sell the other one. She's been driving between the two houses almost every day for over 20 years. Did I mention she's 90 years old???

DH and I attended meetings with the remodeler with her, moved furniture and breakable stuff so they could get in and work, made phone calls, made sure there was food and coffee in the house, etc. DH also got a shed torn down and some yard work done while it was going on.

For 3 weeks, we took turns being at the house at 8 a.m. to let the remodelers in. DMom couldn't sleep there because there was no bathroom, and she couldn't drive down herself to meet them because she doesn't get that early a start in the mornings. We'd wait til she got there, then tried to get on with our own days.

We thought it was only going to be 2 weeks, so we scheduled our own roofing job for week 3. But as it turned out, I was at DMom's with her remodelers while DH was home dealing with our roofers.

At the end of the job, we discovered the toilet they gave DMom was not nearly powerful enough...you don't want to know! I ended up working a split day, managing a toilet changeover for her during my afternoon off.

It was getting to be very stressful because while sitting at DMom's house, we were holed up in her living room which is crammed with old, crumbling dirty stuff she doesn't want to get rid of. We saw tons of things that need to be thrown out, given away, cleaned, or stored. We could have gotten a lot more done while we were there anyway--but she just kept saying No, No, No. She couldn't deal with that much change all at once. Very frustrating.

Finally at the end of the projects, DH and I sat down after dinner to relax, but it wasn't meant to be.

My BIL, who lives with my MIL (also 90) has had bipolar disorder for many years, which has been pretty well controlled with lithium except during extra stressful periods. Well, it was starting to have medical side effects and they changed his medication.

I won't go into detail, but we've spent many hours on the phone with family, the security guard in my MIL's development, the mental health crisis people. The police and crisis folks were at the house 6+ hours before he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. He'd been holding MIL practically hostage, pulled out the phone lines so she couldn't communicate with the outside world. He was suicidal, and there's a good chance there's still an old gun on the property that he hid somewhere. The police looked for it, and couldn't find it.

We are all very apprehensive about how long the hospital will keep him, how he'll be when he gets out, and how to keep my MIL safe. I called the social worker's office at the hospital but only got an answering machine and no call back yet. I emailed the Red Cross's Lifeline service (the I've fallen and I can't get up thing) but it bounced back as a bad address. More frustrations I really don't need.

We've also got DMom's car at our mechanic because lots of repairs have been adding up and we felt it wasn't safe for her to drive. It looked like she hadn't gotten an oil change for over a year! She's just developed a bladder infection and since her car's in the shop, I'm driving her to doctor appointments and the drugstore this week.

I've been spending money like a drunken sailor--can't even tell you what on. I had to raid the Bills checking account for stuff that should be coming out of the Groceries checking account, but I don't see how it could be helped. I can't see my financial life getting back under control until things start to calm down. I've been lurking on a Debtor's Anonymous email list, and know I would be taken to task for Vagueness (not writing down everything spent, not spending within a budget). My mental reply to the DA folks right now is, "Get Real!"

My plate is full

December 9th, 2007 at 08:43 am

Since DH left his job, all heck has broken loose. Not due to him--on the contrary, if he didn't have the time and energy to help with this stuff, I don't see how I could have managed. As it is, we are both feeling pretty stressed, and at times physically shaky.

In this entry, the financial front.

Just before DH left his job, he decided to get a tooth fixed. Looking back on it, I think he wanted to look better for job interviews, but it didn't occur to me at the time. That cost $1500.

I managed to pick up some extra hours at work, which covers our COBRA insurance almost exactly. My boss knows I'm ready to go full time and get benefits, and she'd like to give it to me, but it's not in the budget right now.

Still, the cheapest COBRA option (keeping the high deductible insurance and the HSA account) is $645 a month and it's kind of painful to pay. It's more than our mortgage! And we still have to find money to put into the HSA.

We had to start paying on life insurance for DH, because the only policy he had was at work. $94 a quarter.

In October, our dog had a swelling on her cheek that we thought might be a tumor. It was relatively good news--an abscessed tooth that needed to be removed. The vet visits, surgery and medicine totalled $605.

One of the little additions on our house had a much older roof than the main part, and it started to leak once in a while. It kept getting worse and in November we decided we'd better get it replaced before snow season started. Even I could see it was beyond repair, unless we just wanted to lay a tarp over it for the winter! $1125.

We rarely have flea problems, but our dog and cat both got them recently. I didn't have the stuff on hand, so I ordered it online for the best price I could find--just under $100.

It was our balance month for natural gas, and we owed $48 extra. We needed a new faucet cartridge, $22. DH worked on hedges at DMom's house, sliced the extension cord. New cord, $25. MIL needed her phone card re-upped due to a family emergency, $25. We've been very involved with DMom and MIL lately, which has made it harder to do things the cheap way. We've been indulging in some fast food and I'm just happy to get out shopping when I can, let alone following sales and using coupons.

Amazingly, we are still afloat financially so far. I had to charge a few things only because the emergency money I had to spend wasn't in the account with the debit card. As soon as I pay that bill, we'll be debt-free again except for the mortgage.

Oh, and all that subprime mortgage news that's been coming out has made me very, very nervous about our ARM, due to adjust in 3 years. So I set up an automatic extra payment to principal for $50 a month--don't know how much it will help in the long run, but it makes me feel better.

Next time, the family crises. (Oh, joy!)





Taking things one day at a time

October 20th, 2007 at 08:29 am

It's been three weeks since DH left his job, and he's starting to get cabin fever. He's ready to start looking, but frankly the way things are right now it's good he's still off.

Monday our dog is having surgery to check out a tumor on her face. The vet thinks it's different from the supposedly harmless lipomas she's had elsewhere on her body. They have to put her under to even do a careful exam and biopsy, because she's not the most laid-back of patients. We can't just let it go because it was getting oozy and ugly-looking.

If this is the beginning of the end, I'm sure DH will feel better being able to give her plenty of quality time while he's still home. She's his baby. Even if all she needs is some after-surgery care, it will still be a big help having him home, as I've been working extra hours.

We've also had things come up like one of us having to be here while a new water meter is installed, car repairs, getting to the bank about a matured CD, navigating through the COBRA insurance maze. It's all been easier to manage because he's been home and carrying some of the load.

I'm starting to have this feeling that maybe things are going just as they should be, even if it's uncomfortable for both of us right now. Except for the vet bills, our income and outgo through December is pretty predictable, so there's no use spending time on obsessing over money right at the moment. All we can really do is get through each new thing as it comes along.

I've bought a freezer

September 18th, 2007 at 10:08 am

I guess it sounds nutty, being that DH will be unemployed in less than two weeks. But I'm glad I did it.

The reasons I had for deciding to get one a month ago have just gotten stronger. My stress level is even higher, and it's even more important to cut down on the time I spend on errands. I know I'm going to have to devote time to the computerized end of DH's job search, and I want to be able to pick up extra hours at work if they're available. We need to have enough easy stuff for dinners at home so I'm not tempted to pick up take-out.

On Sunday at Shop Rite I was behind a woman with three girls, who spent $495 on two piled-full carts of groceries. I was shocked at first--I would have at least used some coupons and not bought full-price pomegranate juice!

But then I looked at how calm they all looked, and how the mother was slim and looked like she took care of herself. I thought, well at least she's done shopping for awhile now and can go live her life, exercising, playing with the kids, whatever.

That's what I want, in addition to keeping the grocery budget under control. I'm tired of having to make a weekly trip to the bread outlet for the whole grain light bread that helps me control WW points. Why weekly--I don't have room to freeze bread for future weeks. And I'm sure not going to pay full price at the supermarket.

I'm tired of having to decide between the bag of burgers and the bag of chicken at Aldi's, just because there won't be room in the freezer for both, and then having to make another trip there a week or two later.

I'm tired of shopping sales all day, not able to really stock up at each store, being so tired I stop at Wendy's for dinner, and then having to do it all again the next week.

I'm also tired of putting things in my mother's freezer temporarily, and not being able to get to them right away.

I've spent hours pursuing possible used freezers on Craig's List, to no avail. I've been watching prices online for the model I really want, and the sale prices at the big box stores aren't any better than our local appliance guy is every day.

So today I did it. With actual cash money out of our home/car repair savings account.



90th birthday dilemma, partly about money

June 30th, 2007 at 06:17 am

Warning - Long!

Got a message from a family friend, asking if we were doing anything special for my mother's 90th birthday.

Back when DMom was 80, we did have a fairly large party--and now that I remember it, it was at the instigation of this same family friend. We dug out old photos and things, and put them on display. It was a nice group of guests, a mix of family and friends, and overall a very nice memory for everyone. But it also cost several hundred dollars at a time when I was using credit cards and spending money like water. This family friend whose idea it was did make a nice memory book, but didn't contribute to the cost of the party. She just made me feel like I ought to do it, if I were any kind of daughter.

So here we are 10 years later. I was planning on keeping things small, for a myriad of reasons.

My MIL turns 90 the same month, and we probably won't even be seeing her. We'll send her a larger gift than usual, and talk to her on the phone, but that will probably be it. It doesn't seem fair to go overboard for my mother if we don't do it for both.

Many of the people who attended the 80th birthday party have died, or have moved away to live with or near their children. Or they're in assisted living. Also, there really aren't many blood relatives of my mother to invite. I'd end up spending hundreds of dollars to feed distant relatives like my cousins' grandchildren on my father's side, so that other older relatives would have a ride to the event.

If I were still spending money like I used to, I might not think twice about it. (And if I weren't already devoting a fair amount of time and mental energy to my mother and her situation, maybe I'd be more willing, too.)

But right now my gut answer is "No, I'm not doing anything special for my mother's 90th birthday. If you'd like to do something yourself, feel free."

It makes me feel kind of guilty and cheap, but I just don't want to be roped into trying to recreate an event that should stay a nice memory. Or spending money because someone else thinks I ought to. (Someone, by the way, who is much better fixed than we are! And who is retired and has a lot more free time.)








Getting back on the wagon

April 14th, 2007 at 05:38 pm

For the first time in a long time, I managed to get through a whole work week without hitting the vending machine, or picking up coffee at Wawa!

I switched our cell phones to 18 cents a minute all the time on Virgin Mobile. Our original plan was 25 cents a minute for so many minutes a day, then the price per minute went down. But our calls are usually very short, so we never got the lower price.

I made the extra trip to Pathmark this week, as they had some things on sale cheaper than Wal-Mart. I made the effort to get rain checks on things they were out of. I also asked at Wal-Mart about their price matching policy.

I've been taking out $100 a week in cash to try and get used to using it for groceries and such. I want to see if it really does cause me to spend less than when I use debit or credit cards.

Why? I want to find some extra money for fun stuff. I can't get psyched to find extra money for savings, but spring clothes and plants seem to be a powerful motivator!

Long distance, again

February 9th, 2007 at 04:38 pm

Has anyone else tried to add minutes to their AT&T prepaid calling card lately?

I just went to do so, and discovered that their rates for in-state calls in NJ are tripling! It's even worse in some other states--up to 8x the cost of out-of-state calls. Be careful out there!

www.consumer.att.com/prepaidcard/fy/terms.html

I've had a system going, with Pioneer Telephone for out-of-state calls, and the AT&T phone card from Sam's for in-state calls as it was a bit cheaper per minute than Pioneer. Now I don't know whether to bother getting a different phone card, or just make all the calls through Pioneer. It's 4.5 cents/minute instate, and 2.9 cents for out of state calls.

Is it worthwhile to sign up with OneSuite to get 2.9 cents in-state, and save a mere $10 to $15 a year? Another account to worry about, another set of user names and passwords. Still debating, but right now I'm thinking not.





Second Successful Sunday

February 4th, 2007 at 05:31 pm

For the 2nd Sunday in a row, I managed to have noplace I needed to go, which means a full day to putter around the house getting ready for the week. Smile

I've done some cooking, which has made me feel a bit warmer, even if it's just psychological. Made beef stew, pumpkin bread, and then Yummy lured me into making some yellow split pea soup. None of this is exactly diet fare, but I'm trying to use up what I have around the house.

Also exercised, did a lot of laundry, and ran the dishwasher twice.

It's really helped to make my shopping list on Friday mornings, based on what we actually need. When Saturday morning comes, I just head out the door and start my errands. If I spent time going through the newest coupons and circulars first, I'd get out much later. And if I tried to take advantage of sales at too many stores, the errands would run over into Sunday. I like it this way much better!

Darned if I do, darned if I don't

February 1st, 2007 at 12:57 pm

Any tax preparers out there?

I'm working a split day today, and since a few more tax statements came in, I decided to start working on the taxes in earnest. I got so far as to go through the "review" feature in TaxAct, where they give you warnings about things you might have left out or done wrong.

"Please note that the IRS has implemented new review procedures for returns reporting more than $400 in other income. The review process may slow the processing of your return." They recommended making sure the income shouldn't fall under business income, and isn't subject to the Self Employment tax.

Naturally, my mind jumps ahead to "more likely to be audited" as well. So I moved my Election Board income onto Schedule C, figuring I could be called an Independent Contractor like DH was when he delivered newspapers some years back. (And doing it this way will be costing us an additional $79 in Self Employment tax.)

But that still leaves about $562 in other income from doing surveys, test drives and trial offers. I don't want to leave it off, because I wouldn't be able to sleep nights worrying that we'd get in trouble over it later. (My fear of the IRS is right up there with public speaking and death!) But if I report it, I'm liable to have trouble anyway because it's over $400. And I honestly don't see where else it could be reported but "other income."

It really reinforces the feeling I have right now, that I want to go to work, get my grocery shopping done with the least fuss, and live my life--instead of looking for deals all the time. The aggravation at tax time is one of the things that make it more trouble than it's worth.

2007 Goals

December 31st, 2006 at 01:55 pm

I've been thinking about this for awhile, and already have some things set up so I won't have to pay much attention to them.

1) Save up enough by the fall to pay our next car insurance bill in full. We're still paying the current installments, plus I have monthly transfers set up to an ING account.

2) Save toward replacing one of the cars. I have a $300 monthly transfer set up for that.

3) Get the maximum match on DH's 401K. We already turned in the form so his contribution will be 7%, plus a 3% match. (They only match 50%, and only up to 6%).

This is where it gets tricky. The Dave Ramseyites over on another site say that his Step 3 Fully Funded Emergency Fund isn't for things like car repairs. Once you get stabilized and debt-free, you are supposed to budget for those things, and only use the Emergency Fund for something really big like extended unemployment.

So, my original (baby) Emergency Fund account is now for car and house repairs, and based on last year, $4000 will be going in and back out of there in 2007.

I want to try and build up 3 to 6 months worth of expenses in paper I-bonds as the Step 3 FFEF. But there's no money left in the budget. So what I'll really have to work at this year is finding the money to fund it.

I also have one big Not To Do for the year: The only way I'm going to get involved in rebates, trial offers, test drives or surveys is if I'm completely caught up on the rest of my life. Since I always seem to be behind on housekeeping, exercising, food prep, paperwork and reading--I kind of think the "deals" just aren't going to be happening this year!

Feel like I just threw away a $50 bill

November 15th, 2006 at 07:31 am

Today was the last day to do a Hyundai test drive for $50. I've just faced the fact it's not going to happen, and put the mailer in my to-be-shredded bin.

I don't really like going to car dealerships, or facing car salesmen, or trying to explain that I'm not really interested in a new car yet. If I'm feeling pretty high-energy and confident, I can do it. But today I'm tired, and I can't stand the current household mess, and I don't feel desperate enough for the money. I'd rather stay home and get my life back in order.

Yes, I've had weeks to do it, but I'm still adjusting to those extra work hours, and I'm still recoving from Election Day last week.

I know I can't take advantage of every opportunity, and have to set priorities. But it still feels like I'm throwing away money!

Recent tweaks

November 11th, 2006 at 10:50 am

Like they say, the only constant is change. First the Citicard cash back rewards being cut back from 5%, now the discounted gas gift cards are being dropped from the Dealpass programs. (I was in Today's Escapes+.)

I guess one big reason I wasn't too upset about the Citi thing was, I was getting more than 2x the discount with the gift card thing than from Citi anyway. And since I've started shopping more at Aldi (where they don't take credit cards) the 5% cash back on groceries wasn't a big loss either.

But now that the gas gift card Deals have Passed Wink I felt like I had to do something. I mean, the cc rewards plus the gift card rebates have come to $400+ a year.

Tweak #1. Dropped Today's Escapes+. There just weren't enough gcs I'd want to buy in a month to justify the monthly fee. (They've also dropped Target and Amazon.)

Tweak #2. Instead of cancelling the Discover card like I'd planned, I called and asked if I could just switch it to their gas card (still 5% cash back). They said yes! It will only come to about $60 a year, but that's something.

Tweak #3. I was going to cancel Credit Protector now that I'd done the $50 in rebates they'd offered me to stay on the first time. But now they offered me (5) $10 Walmart gift cards for staying on, and lowered the rate. So that's an unexpected $50 that will help relieve the pain. Smile

BTW, there is another program at www.leisureplus.com where you can get gas cards at a discount. But you are forced to buy 3 different kinds to maximize your savings, and after you pay the monthly fee it only saves you about $80 a year. Seems like too much hassle to me.

Cost of working more hours, Part One

October 31st, 2006 at 05:46 am

Maybe this has been an especially weird couple of weeks. I've started the additional hours, plus other things have come up like retraining for the elections and having my car worked on three times. Whether it's a temporary situation or my new normal, I've been feeling I just can't keep my wits about me.

Being a sucker for products that will get me organized, solve problems and improve my life, I've ordered a planner for $36. It's a new kind I've never tried before. If it helps, I don't mind the cost. If it doesn't... well, at least this one has a 6-month money-back guarantee if you don't gain back an hour a day by using their system.

www.plannerpads.com

IGA rant--why should I go to locally owned stores when they always mess up?

October 26th, 2006 at 12:52 pm

I haven't been going to the local IGA very often, but since my schedule is tighter now it seemed like a convenient alternative to Pathmark. But it doesn't save time if you frequently have to go back to get things fixed.

Today's fiasco--There was one checker on, the girl with one paralyzed arm. She really can't bag very well, so I bagged myself instead of watching as each thing rang up.

Since I record my spending in Quicken, and divide things by grocery, pet, nonfood and tax, I look at my receipts pretty carefully. As it turned out, she missed taking off some coupons, took another coupon off too many times, and one item rang up higher than the sale price. It wasn't easy to figure out as their receipt is very hard to read. I actually made up a spreadsheet to show the customer service person where the mistakes were.

The checker is one problem, the weird receipt is another, the final one is a store policy. Every other store around here gives you the item free if the price rings up wrong. Not the IGA. As a result, I ended up getting $2 back rather than $4.19. And that, after fooling around for 1/2 an hour trying to figure it out.

I've had problems there several times before, even though I don't go there very often. OTOH, I go to places like Pathmark, Target, Aldi, and Stop and Shop much more often and I can't remember the last time it happened.

I think it's worth my while to continue with Pathmark, even with the drive time. And, it's another example of why I don't feel guilty for shopping at chains rather than local businesses.

"How much money do you want to make next year?"

October 13th, 2006 at 05:42 am

Well, that is in effect the question my boss has asked me. She's working on next year's budget and wonders if I'd want more hours, and if so, how many. I don't want to pass up an opportunity, but having to come up with an answer in 24 hours has me kind of flummoxed.

On the one hand, we could certainly do with more income. On the other hand, I don't want to commit to more hours than I can handle on a permanent basis. If something comes up and I don't want to work the elections anymore, I can just say no. If I've committed to more hours at my regular job, I'm stuck.

Also, I wondered how many more hours I could work before making us ineligible for the Saver's Credit, or pushing us into the next tax bracket. Not to worry, even if I worked 7 more hours a week, we'd still be poor enough. Wink

I think I'm going to say 4.

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.






Still on the simplification kick

August 30th, 2006 at 07:12 am

I just cancelled the Schwab Visa I'd applied for because of a $100 gift card offer. They aren't honoring the offer because they said it had an expired code. Frown I held onto it long enough to use the account number for three trial offers and at least get those free gift cards. (Net gain $57.) Now they are all cancelled and there's no reason to keep the cc.

I still have other trial offers to cancel, and am working on that today.

I'm starting to unsubscribe from a bunch of email newsletters I'd signed up for at some point. Also, as catalogs come in the mail, I'm starting to call in and ask to be taken off the mailing lists.

I finally figured out that Citibank calls their automatic payment thing AutoPay. They sure don't make it obvious on their bill or their website. You have to request a packet to be mailed out, and then mail the application back again. I'm going to set it up to take the minimum payment automatically, just to keep me current if life gets crazy and I forget. I can pay the rest of the balance separately each month, as usual.


More simplification--automatic bill payments

August 27th, 2006 at 05:59 am

For a long while, I've had our two most important bills paid automatically each month--the mortgage and our car insurance. Also, heaven knows, I have lots of automatic savings deposits set up. I've been a little leery of automating any more, but it feels like it's time. I feel more confident that enough money will be in checking to cover the bills as they come due, and I also had that recent scare where I almost forgot to pay a cc bill. So this past week I set up the cable, phone and electric bills and the HSBC cc payment.

I set them all up through the billpay on our checking account, NOT at the payee's end. I don't want some unusually high payment taken out automatically, unbeknownst to me. I set up equal payments to HSBC so it gets paid off in January. The cable bill was easy, as it's always the same. A whopping $10.23. Smile

The phone and electric company weren't so easy, as the amounts vary. But I figured out that the phone bill averages just under $23 a month, so I made it an even $23. I'll be paying a little extra some months to build up a credit for the months when it's a little higher. The electric bill is a few dollars lower in the summer because we're on their "cool customer" program. (They can cycle off our a/c if demand is too high.) But I set it up for the normal amount; I can just wait and reap the benefit of those overpaid summer bills when they reset our budget billing in the spring.

I'm waiting to do the gas company, as they'll be readjusting our budget billing next month.

Still trying to figure out how I might want to automate cc payments for the cards I'm actually using.

I do feel like I want to build up more of a cushion in checking because of this, even though it doesn't earn interest. It would buy some time for DH if something happened to me, and he needed to figure things out. Also, I've got to write up what I've done and make sure he knows where the info is.

If anyone else has experience in fully automating payments and such, I'd appreciate any advice.

Supermarket loyalty cards and gasoline

August 26th, 2006 at 12:36 pm

Usually, the recommended coupon strategy is to get to the point where you're only buying items at their bottom sale price, with coupons. Theoretically, you could do this shopping at just one store because eventually, on some kind of cycle, everything will go on sale. And most of the time in our area, getting that bottom sale price means using a store's loyalty card.

For me, though, there's always something that has thrown me off. A coupon's about to expire and the store is out of that item, so a rain check isn't even going to help. So much is on sale one week that I can't afford to buy everything I'd like to. They have a 3-day sale and I can't get there during the 3-day period. They require you to buy 3 or 4 of some perishable item to get the sale price, when I can only use one. Which means I either have to start trying to catch the sales cycles at store #2, and #3, and #4... or pay inflated "regular" prices at that one store when I need something not on sale.

Now what if you only have one day to do errands, or have to use a taxi, or just can't afford all that driving anymore? If you can't hit all those different stores every week--which ONE store do you pick?

What I've found out is, your best bet for one-store shopping is probably one WITHOUT a loyalty card. I've found quite a few studies comparing shopping trips at stores with loyalty card programs, and without. All the ones I've found have had the same result--the total is virtually always better at a non-loyalty card store. It's almost shocking to read this stuff. Here is a representative sampling:

East Coast, in 2003--www.nbc10.com/consumeralert/1992223/detail.html

Midwest, in 2002--www.nocards.org/savings/regular_price_study.shtml

California, in 2000--web.archive.org/web/20001120044300/http://www.kfmb.com/bob/g...

I hadn't thought about it in those terms, but several of my current favorites are Aldi, Target, Wal-Mart and IGA--all stores without loyalty cards.

I have liked the feeling of going into a store, knowing I'm going to be getting a decent price even if there isn't a special sale going on, and even if I don't have a coupon. I can go at my convenience and buy exactly what I need.

And I feel like these stores respect me more by not making me play games. It's a much less stressful way to shop.

Now that I've read those studies, it kind of confirms that I've been moving in the right direction. So it's going to be the core of my plan to reduce errands and gas usage.

I can't get everything I need at any one of those non-loyalty card stores, but I should be able to get everything I need over time by rotating the trips. Maybe not at the absolute lowest price, but a fair price, and that's good enough for me considering the time and gas savings.

Gas over $100 for first time this month

August 23rd, 2006 at 08:15 pm

My 4-week "August" period ends this Saturday, and I've been peeking at how I've done. To be exact, gas came to $100.92, my highest month ever. That's not including $10 worth that I used attending the wedding reception, and the $10 DH and I used on a drive in the country to visit a used bookstore. I've put that in the Family Stuff and Dates categories.

It's not like gas prices are the highest they've ever been. I've just been driving a lot, mostly shopping. Moneywise, grocery spending came out well this month, but I also paid in gas, stress and time. I always thought I'd keep "cherry picking" bargains until it wasn't worthwhile anymore. I think that time has come.

I've been re-reading some old housekeeping and organizing books where they talk about having ONE errand day, ONE paperwork day, or spending no more than 20 minutes a week on your financial affairs.

Simplifying. Staying home and being happy in my little box, as someone wrote about recently. That is sounding heavenly right now. So my theme for September (starting Aug. 27) is K.I.S.S.





Homeowner's insurance up by $71

August 11th, 2006 at 06:23 am

And last month I found out our property taxes were going up about $75 a quarter, or $300 a year. That makes $371 a year more that needs to be going into our ING account for house expenses, or about another $7 a week.

I'm not prepared to shop around for homeowner's insurance again this year. We are getting a discount on car insurance because we now have both with the same company. And I already raised our homeowner's deductible last year to as high as I'm comfortable with. Also, there's the hassle of having an inspector come out and take pictures of the house for a new policy. So I'll just bite the bullet and pay.

$7 a week x 4.3 weeks in a month is $30, which means that the $60 a month I thought could go into our discretionary spending account has just been cut to $30. So our spending on extras will now be even more dependent on any extra income I can scrounge up. Or, finding other categories to trim. Gotta get psyched!

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.)


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