Downloaded songs from Freegal.
Downloaded the Amazon Local app, but then couldn't do Audible.com $10 deal I'd read about because it's only for new customers.
Loaded new Shoprite ecoupons onto my Price Plus card.
Printed out coupons from All You magazine's website, Kimberly-Clark (at pickupthevalues.com), and pillsbury.com.
Printed out a hair salon coupon from the Citi Easy Deals credit card reward program, and also bought a Restaurant.com gift card at 90% off there.
Made a big pot of mashed potatoes to use up some potatoes. Some are in the fridge for tomorrow, some are frozen for later.
Used up some eggs by hard-boiling a couple, and using one in corn muffins, which I froze.
We are using up a slightly-outdated can of La Choy chow mein for tonight's dinner. I always keep one on hand for emergencies, and then forget about it. I only thought of it today because of this recent news story:
Viewing the 'News' Category
Downloaded songs from Freegal.
After several layoff scares over a period of three years, my full-time job at the library finally ended, in July. I was able to stay on part-time, but of course I'm losing my health benefits. DH left an awful job in 2007 and hasn't had a job since then; we've been able to afford his being a househusband until now. Luckily, here in NJ you are eligible for partial unemployment when your hours are reduced, so that's a help. I've gotten one payment so far.
Well, that's all I'll say for now. Anyone who's been looking for a job lately knows how frustrated I'm feeling right now. I think I'll look back in my blog to see how we managed during previous lean times, and then go downstairs to make dinner. We are having cheesesteaks, but home-made ones using Old Neighborhood shaved beef and a loaf of Italian bread. I hope they turn out well, because it should cost about 1/2 the price we used to pay for take-out ones.
Here in the U.S., today you can turn in old or unneeded prescription drugs to many local police departments, no questions asked. I'm interested in it as an easy, environmentally-safe way to dispose of some clutter, but I suppose law enforcement wants to make sure certain drugs stay out of the hands of people who might abuse them. DMom has quite a few old bottles we can empty out, and this only runs from 10 to 2, so I want to get out early and not miss it.
WORK--I'm still working full-time, although for how long I don't know. Of the people left at my job, I'm now the one with the least seniority, so I am the most vulnerable if and when more budget cuts happen. In July, my take-home pay will go down a bit because we'll be paying more toward our health insurance. My schedule won't be as predictable now, because we full-timers will have to cover holes in the schedule that the part-timers used to cover. We'll also have to work more Saturdays, at least two a month, because there are fewer people in the rotation. This means at least two weeks a month where I'll have to commute six days a week instead of five. (We're only open a few hours on Saturday, so you don't get another full day off for working it.) That means more money spent on gas, and losing more time on driving. We've been warned that we may end up with unpaid furlough days later in the year if the money runs out.
FAMILY--My mother is almost 95 now, and still living by herself. There's some dementia creeping in, and I'd feel better if she were in Assisted Living. DH hasn't had a paying job since he left an awful one in 2007, which has been fine with me. He does a lot of the running with my mother, taking her to the foot doctor, physical therapy, the bank, etc. As it is, I've been using up most of my vacation days on Mom issues; I don't know how we would have managed if he were working and we were constantly stressed about which one of us could get time off for something or other. There's always some little crisis coming up.
DH's INHERITANCE--DH's mom's estate still isn't settled; she died over four years ago now. It turned out that the brother who was designated executor wasn't coping with things because of dementia. A lot of time had gone by before this came to light. DH and his sister were named as co-executors and when they got to work on the project discovered quite a bit of cleanup and repair work that hadn't been done on her house. It's a pain getting there to do anything because it's several hours away from everyone, plus it's a gated community and there's always a hassle getting in, or getting repair people in. They started out asking over $130,000 for the house; since then, thousands have been spent on repairs, the price has been lowered below $70,000, and it still hasn't sold. There has been only one offer, which was withdrawn at the last minute.
OUR HOUSE--We were counting on a chunk of inheritance money to get repairs done on our own house, but at this point we don't feel it can wait anymore. Despite my job situation being shaky, we're getting estimates on having repairs done on the front of our house. A few weeks ago, before I knew whether or now I'd be laid off, I applied for a loan against my pension. If I had been laid off, I wouldn't have started getting billed for it for six months, giving us a little extra financial cushion to work with. It would be a way to stay in the pension system and still be able to get a pension at age 60, while getting use out of some of the money in the meantime. Now that I haven't been laid off (yet) we're planning on using the pension loan proceeds for the house repairs.
DH is now battling diabetes, so I've been concentrating on buying healthy foods rather than cheap ones. Both of our pets have died (they were both 16), so there were some final expenses but we no longer have to buy pet food and supplies. We miss them, but don't plan to get new pets any time soon.
I've experienced some weird things with banks, but this takes the cake. It's not even so much what is happening, but how their public relations people are (not) handling it.
First, I heard at work that any direct deposits going into TD Bank accounts weren't showing up. It wasn't a problem in our payroll department, it had to do with TD's computer system. The first employees to call about it were offered $25 for their trouble.
Later in the day, you had an extremely long wait to get through on their customer service line, and when you did get through, no more offers of $25. Latest reports are that the customer service number is no longer working at all.
First, the problem was going to be solved by 4 p.m. yesterday. Then by 6 a.m. today, then by 8 a.m. today. This morning TD put out a statement saying they were caught up with Wednesday deposits, so my paycheck should have shown up, but it hadn't. So I went over to the branch, where I was told the statement wasn't accurate and that things should be caught up by 4 p.m. today.
In the meantime, some people are being given the option to have their direct deposits manually put into the system, some are not. Some people report being limited to $250 withdrawals, some report $50. Deposits are not showing up, but apparently withdrawals are--so people are racking up overdraft fees. TD is refunding them, but it's still a hassle for folks to deal with it. Some people are reporting odd, random withdrawals being taken from their accounts.
Personally, here's what I did: 1) Canceled some automatic bill payments and scheduled them to be paid from a checking account at another bank; and 2) Changed my direct deposit instructions so nothing goes to directly to TD anymore, so this won't happen again next week. I think we'll be closing our TD account within the next month. If they can't even handle processing deposits, what does that say for their ability to maintain a secure system, where account and social security numbers are even safe?
As my mother always says, "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool my twice, shame on me."
This news story is especially good because there are a lot of comments from TD customers at the bottom, and a link to Twitter postings.
Just saw a headline about November having the worst monthly jobless figures since 1974. Yikes, in some ways this headline bothered me more than recent talk of another Great Depression. I lived 1974. If that's where we are now and it's going to get worse before it gets better, uh oh.
For instance, in 1974 we still had these fashions to look forward to!
But seriously, my 1974 involved--
Seeing adults in my family unemployed, in federally-subsidized CETA jobs, or getting on social security earlier than planned because they couldn't find work.
Going to school in the dark in winter because of the energy crisis (daylight savings all year). Being cold in school all the time because they turned the thermostat down. Having our senior trip to Washington instead of Disney World because it was cheaper.
Knowing that going away to college for one year would have been a waste, if there wasn't money to continue. Attending community college instead, to learn a marketable skill, and dealing with the odd/even gas rationing system as a commuter student.
We were still going through Watergate, and Vietnam was still on people's minds. I just checked, and the term stagflation was coined in 1974. It just wasn't a very happy or optimistic time.
I've been there, done that, and I really don't want to be there again! I mean, you adjust, you shop at K-Mart instead of the mall, your world gets a little smaller. You tell yourself a lot of other people are going through the same thing, but it still isn't fun. Enough already, I've already been economizing for the last 3 years!!!
Hi, and hugs to everyone who left a comment for me last week.
SCFR mentioned how some older folks may be in trouble because they never changed their asset allocation as their situation changed:
I think that hits the nail on the head for me, also. When we had two incomes, a higher total income, and cheaper health insurance, it wouldn't have been so painful to see the balance in my IRA drop over $800 in one day. I could have just saved harder for a couple of months and made up the loss. But the way things are right now, it could take me a year or more of scrimping to make it up, if it's possible to do at all.
Maybe it isn't just fear that makes me want to lessen my exposure to stocks, but good common sense. I've heard you shouldn't invest what you can't afford to lose--and right now I don't feel like we can afford to lose ANY of it.
Here's our asset allocation right now,
Only $6487 is easily accessible, i.e., cash and not in IRAs. Most of the bonds are non-IRA, but it's not like I can count on the values holding up if I needed to sell them. I have a GMAC thing that's lost 2/3 of its original value, although it's still paying me interest.
Honestly, I think I could sleep a lot better at night if I cashed it all in and just paid off our house!
Even if I sold the rest of the stock, it still wouldn't be accessible because it's all in my IRA. But at least I'd know for sure how much I had. I did sell my S&P 500 index fund last week, and I don't regret it. It only went down from where I sold it, and then I read that more S&P 500 companies cut their dividends in Sept. than ever before. That doesn't bode well.
I feel like I need to huddle around the virtual campfire at Saving Advice again, safe from the cold, cruel world with some people who have their heads on straight.
I'm trying not to be a Nervous Nellie, but all this upheaval in the economy is starting to get to me. It's not just what I'm hearing on the news--it's real life.
WAMU-we have our one credit card with them. Things should be business as usual, but it feels strange to have a 2nd credit card provider go belly up on me. (I had a NextBank card years ago.)
Wachovia-I have a brokerage account with them, DMom has two brokerage accounts plus she owns a pretty significant chunk of Wachovia stock which is already showing a loss. I'm hoping they don't do a WAMU and that she doesn't lose it all.
The housing market-My mother, at 91, has finally put her "extra" house up for sale, seemingly at the worst possible time in recent memory. There have only been two showings in about 3 weeks. If it goes on too many months, we may need to help her get it ready to rent out.
It's been a year, and DH still isn't working. In a lot of ways it's been a help, but we could sure use some extra money.
Especially since we are still paying $660 a month for his COBRA health insurance, which runs out in March. The prospects for me getting full-time at my present job don't look good, and the cost of an individual (non-COBRA) policy will be even higher.
Our emergency fund is below the $1000 minimum that I feel comfortable with, and I'm going to have to work hard to get it built up again. I'm unavoidably spending $200 a month on gas now (because of driving my mother), and our car insurance just went up $35 a month.
Somehow I'm going to have to get back to frugal ways, but I don't have time to fiddle around with Quicken like I used to.
Hope things are going a little more smoothly with everyone else.
"It's bad enough trying to keep up with the Jones; when you have trouble keeping up with the guy living on the wrong side of the tracks, it's a source of constant aggravation." -- from an old blog entry by a fellow named Philip Brewer
There have been a lot of sob stories in the media lately, revolving around high gas and food prices and the mortgage mess. The one people are discussing in the forums happens to be about food stamp recipients. When you're feeling stressed about your own finances, it can be really irritating when you're asked to feel sorry for someone else who's made dumb choices yet still enjoys luxuries you don't have, or has walked out on the kind of responsibility you are fulfilling, or is getting help you aren't getting. I know I've gotten riled up at times.
But Mr. Brewer says something I hope I can remember:
"When people around you make unwise choices the appropriate emotion to feel is compassion, not ire. When you find yourself wishing for better crap the appropriate emotion to feel is gratitude for the crap you've got, not envy for someone else's."
He says it's the Buddhist perspective. All I know is, I'd rather learn to think that way than have my blood pressure spike up!
He also has a good piece on how voluntary frugality and poverty are two different things--even if the poor person and the frugal person are living on the same budget.
Found an study from the Federal Reserve about payment preferences, and it was really surprising to me. Scroll down to Table 7, and check it out.
It looks like the highest users of credit cards are senior citizens, age 65+.
The highest users of cash are 18-24 year olds.
So if you want to be trendy and youthful, use cash. Don't mind being in the company of old farts? Then go ahead and use credit! (I say this as an old fart who'd rather be youthful and trendy!)
This is the same goofy bank where someone else's credit card payment was taken out of my checking account. The same goofy bank that charges 20 cents if you use your debit card with a PIN instead of putting it through as a credit card. The same goofy bank that makes you jump through hoops by forcing you to change your password constantly, as if they're super security-conscious.
I deliberately changed my log-in ID from the default ss# to another word, but I've been told that didn't protect me at all. No matter what log-in ID you choose, they still used the ss# internally. So basically, there is absolutely nothing I could have done to protect my data better, other than avoiding this bank to begin with.
I've never had these kinds of problems with any other bank--tell me, do you think it's time to go?
In case you hadn't come across this, Netbank is being taken over by Everbank, and the changeover may be finished by the end of June.
I've read good things about Everbank, but their money market account is too rich for my blood right now. I'm using our Netbank MM to try and build up a Fully Funded Emergency Fund. Netbank wants to you keep a minimum of $500 in the account, so although we have $955 in there, only $455 is really available for emergencies. I found that frustrating enough. But Everbank wants even more--a minimum of $1500 to avoid a monthly fee of $4.50.
So I'm looking for alternatives. Right now it looks like Capital One Bank is our best bet. $1 to open their MM, no minimum balances to maintain, no fees. Plus they apparently send out paper statements!
If anyone has experience with Capital One as a bank, I'd like to hear it. I only had a credit card with them years and years ago.
Did you know you can freeze orange juice in the carton, and that maybe you should freeze some this week?
DMom and I were in the Acme yesterday, where her shopper's card entitled her to 6 cartons of Tropicana at $2 each. She bought one, but when we checked out the cashier suggested we get the limit.
They've started seeing the higher fruit and veg prices resulting from the California weather problems--a crate of oranges is now costing the store $48 where it used to be about $6 or $8. She said the price of orange juice will be jumping to about $8 a 1/2 gallon carton next week.
She also mentioned that she's always frozen orange juice in the carton when it's on sale, and never had a problem with the carton bursting. She does freeze it inside a plastic bag, just to be safe.
(Yes, we did turn around and bought all we could. I'm thinking of stocking up on the frozen cans from Aldi's, too.)
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.
He's the latest interviewee on the MoneyBlogger Podcast! (Interview #24).
Neat! This guy interviews bloggers who write on financial topics. It's really interesting to hear why other people started blogging, how they approach it, and the responses they've gotten. It's especially interesting to hear the voice that goes with a blog you've been reading. OTOH, in several cases hearing the interview has sent me off to explore a blog I never heard of before.
Maybe someday one of us will be interviewed!
One question he seems to ask of each blogger is, why do you think so many people have such big debt problems? The usual answers are easy credit and so much advertising. However, the answer I keep coming back to, for myself, is not really knowing what we can afford. Still. After blogging here for a year, using Quicken for years before that, and trying other budget methods in between.
The only solution I can see is, get as much out of our main checking account as possible, and into accounts for specific purposes. Then I'd know whatever was left in checking after paying the bills was ok to spend. I've done this to some extent, but I'd like to go further. Will be crunching some numbers this weekend.
I was just looking at the gift certificate section on Ebay, and this one jumped out at me.
Someone has a $100 Whole Foods Market gift card that ends in 17 hours, and right now it's only bid up to $32 including shipping. The item number is 9521702264 if you want to check it out.
FYI - Just heard about this on one of the podcasts I downloaded, otherwise I would have totally missed it. If anyone has been doing financial planning based on the current Medicaid rules, it's all about to change. The amount of home equity allowed is changing. And any gifts given to reduce assets will be looked at five years back instead of three.
Here's a good article; wish I could get that vB Code to work for links. (Any tips appreciated.)
It may not seem like it from my past few entries, but I have been following Hurricane Katrina's aftermath like everyone else, probably too much. Even without having the cable channels we used to have, I've gotten plenty of news through the regular channels, CSPAN, and radio. The past few days I haven't gotten much else done. It's been so frustrating watching those poor people just waiting for help. And so maddening to hear things like the Red Cross being there early on, but being turned away by FEMA because they wanted to force people to leave, not give them a haven. Ham radio operators, who could have helped with the communication problems, were apparently also turned away. But I digress.
I was the most upset at the point where I felt equally pulled by wanting to help and being afraid for our own financial security. How far are gas and other prices going to go up? How much can I donate so I don't feel cheap and ashamed, and still make sure we'll be able to handle what might be coming up in our own lives.
It made me realize how the traditional advice to save 10% and give 10% makes good sense. It must be a very freeing feeling. You are saving a good amount against disasters in your own life, but you also know you're doing your part to help others. Then if disaster strikes you, you don't need to blame yourself for bad planning or feel guilty accepting help.
10% for saving OR giving is out of the question for us right now, but I did finally decide to donate $25 now and more later, probably once a month for awhile. I know it won't make much of a difference, but it sure makes me feel a whole lot better.
I got stuck on C-SPAN and C-SPAN2 this morning, lots of interesting stuff about the economy and especially energy costs. One show that was especially interesting was a news conference by the Consumers Federation of America about how energy prices are affecting consumers; another one featured guys from the Petroleum Institute.
I guess I'd been aware that energy costs had been creeping up over the past few years, but I didn't think about it too much. Just adjust the budget, and go on with life. I didn't bother to look at how much of a jump it's been, from 2000 to now. I didn't realize that our refineries were already working at 95% capacity, so there wasn't any wiggle room built in for disasters like hurricanes. I didn't realize the industry was still recovering from Hurricane Ivan.
In other words, there's been an energy crisis going on from way before Hurricane Katrina, and I seem to have totally missed it.
If you want to see the figures, here's a link to a report from one of the guys who was on from the Consumers Federation: http://www.consumersunion.org/pub/0929%20price%20report.pdf
The graphs really show what's been going on, as far as the % of income people have been paying for energy, and how much it's gone up over the past few years.
The scary thing is, the Consumers Federation people this morning said because of the additional strain of the hurricane, households will have to pay about $600 more over the coming year, in gasoline costs. But gasoline represents only about 1/3 of the products we get out of petroleum. So if you also count increased costs for home heating, airplane fuel, plastics, etc. it will be costing each household about $1800 (3 x $600). Scary stuff, especially for low-income people (who according to those charts are already paying over 20% of their incomes on energy costs.)
Back in the spring, our next-door neighbor died and her children put it up for sale. It finally sold last month for $170,000. (I checked the sale price on http://www.domania.com ) Then there was a flurry of activity for several weeks. Old heater out, new heater and central a/c in. Carpeting out, wood floors refinished. New windows. Paint slapped on a nice natural stone front, I assume because it was the cheapest way to spruce it up. A one-day whirlwind of landscaping, much of which will have to be torn out by the new owner anyway. A tree planted one foot from the house isn't going to be able to stay there long.
They had an open house today, so DH and I walked over. The asking price is now $239,900. I've been involved with some home renovations here and at DMom's house, so I do have a vague idea of how much all those projects probably cost. I can't see it being over $15,000, assuming the "investor" did some of the work himself. DH says maybe more like $30,000. Even at that rate, they are trying to make nearly $40,000 in profit in about 6 weeks. I don't know, it sounds a bit outrageous to me!
I noticed something on Domania.com that made me do some further research. The sale prices on houses in my neighborhood are now about double what the assessed values are for property taxes. Our property valuations were last done in 1993, and are now completely out of whack. What I found out was, here in NJ the valuations can only change when you do something like build an addition, or when all the houses in a town are reassessed. And if the assessed *value* doubles, your town's tax *rate* is supposed to go down, so you still end up paying about the same.
Now I can add one more thing to my (short) list of good things about living in New Jersey. There's the shore, and the fact that we don't have to pump our own gas. Now it looks like even though taxes feel high, the property tax system isn't as horrible as it is in some states. Apparently in other states, when your assessed value doubles, your taxes actually do double, too. I also found out that in some places, a house is revalued whenever it's sold. So when house prices rise, you may end up trapped in your house--when you try to buy another house, you find the taxes will be 2x to 3x what your current taxes are, making a move unaffordable.
The experts keep talking about how more people will end up in foreclosure if they have ARMs and can't handle the payments if rates go up. I can't help but wonder now how many will lose houses because of property taxes zooming up.
As I went to sleep last night, I heard on the radio that Peter Jennings (TV news anchor in the US) had died of lung cancer. It was only in April he announced the diagnosis, and he's already gone. He always looked rather youthful and healthy to me, and he'd supposedly stopped smoking 20 years ago, only to take it up again in the last few years. Even with all those non-smoking years, it still killed him. The only silver lining I can see about lung cancer is that it usually seems to kill quickly, rather than making you suffer for years on end.
The other day as I was flipping TV channels, and saw a repeat Oprah segment about what happens to your organs if you have unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking too much, or letting yourself get fat. They showed a pink, healthy looking lung of a non-smoker (who was, admittedly, dead from something else). Next to it they showed a gray, black-flecked, dead looking lung of a lifelong smoker.
I grew up around smokers, and although I had one uncle who had lung cancer, it's not what eventually killed him. I keep forgetting that smoking does actually KILL people; you are actually kind of lucky if something else happens to get you first.
My husband smokes. And I'm feeling really guilty that I've promoted his habit by signing him up for Kool coupons that come in the mail. Actually, I'd signed up under both our names. I figured he was going to smoke anyway, I might as well help him save a little money on it.
We both agreed it would be a bad idea to use the coupons for cartons, because we knew it would just encourage him to go through them faster. But it seems to me even the $1 off a pack coupons have upped his consumption. The fault is not completely mine--Kool has been having a lot of Buy One Get One Free packages recently, which just provides even more encouragement to buy and consume more.
I know too well the lure of coupons and other marketing gimmicks, and how it can make you buy more than you intended. If it just just affects your financial life, that's one thing. But this is something that can kill you. They banned TV ads for cigarettes for a good reason, but these coupons and BOGO offers seem to be even more powerful. And it makes me mad, at myself for participating in the marketing scheme, and at the powers that be that allow this kind of marketing to be used for cigarettes in the first place.
I came across this chart http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/Common/Flash/P120764.asp?special=IA
It shows which states have the highest consumer debt loads, not counting mortgages. If you click on a state, it shows you how much debt people are carrying, by age group. Here in NJ, for people 40-49 years old, the average is $22,853. Our debt is "only" about $3500--only 15% of the average. I still want to be rid of it, but hey, it could be much, much worse!