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Making a little more headway

August 22nd, 2018 at 06:09 pm

I sold another little batch of stuff, this time to an antique dealer.

I got notice that I'm receiving a full refund on the blouse I'd bought for my mom on my credit card. (It didn't fit.) I paid for the return postage out of her funds.

I wrote to the developer of some software I'd bought a few months back, which turned out not to be usable on my computer. He was nice enough to send me a refund.

I cancelled my domain name registration, which was up for renewal. Back when I was trying to maintain a career, it seemed important to have a domain for my real name, and maintain a website. This was supposed to be a good idea to make sure when prospective employers google you, you have better control over what comes up on the search results. Plus, at my age, I felt it was important to show I wasn't technology-averse.

But I'm no longer looking for a job. Last year I let the web hosting lapse, but kept the vanity domain name for another year. This year I'm ready to let that go, too.

I received a $15 gift card for letting our health insurer do auto-billing to a credit card. I set that up so long ago, I'd almost forgotten about the offer. Now they've sent an email saying I can get a $50 gift card for filling out some kind of health assessment questionnaire. I guess I'll at least consider it, if the questions don't seem too intrusive.

With all these little un-budgeted bits of income and reduced expenses, I've been able to shift things around in my envelope budget in GoodBudget to fully fund my upcoming dental appointment and pay a doctor bill that came in the mail. I was almost ready to skip this dental visit and go back in the spring, if money was too tight.

Now I can concentrate on funding the Christmas envelope.

Reimbursements

August 17th, 2018 at 11:11 pm

I have a bad habit of paying for things for my mother, and then forgetting to reimburse myself. She has never used credit cards, so it's not like I can just be an authorized user on an account of hers to purchase things.

She has the funds to pay for her own clothes, but I have to do the shopping. Things get busy, I lose track of receipts and can't reimburse myself right away, and all of a sudden months have gone by and I'm out a significant amount of money.

Sometimes I order things online that need to be returned by mail, and I fall behind on that, too. I won't get the refund until I mail an item back, which just keeps my own credit card bill higher than it needs to be.

We go out for meals once in a while, and I've been paying. It seemed only fair after years of her paying for my meal, and me leaving the tip for both of us. But I've started to feel the pinch.

Tonight I caught up on things related to the clothes shopping. I wrote myself a reimbursement check for over $88, and I have a return packed up to be mailed tomorrow morning. I should be getting a refund on that of over $30.

Tomorrow I'll figure out her share of our last meal out, and reimburse myself from a petty cash envelope I started a few months back. I've started to take a photo of the tab with my phone when we go out, so I have some sort of receipt.

I've got to keep on top of this better for my own sake. I keep up to date with paying all her other expenses, filing billing statements and receipts, etc. If anyone ever asks how I'm spending her money, I don't want there to be any question of mismanagement. But I end up shorting myself sometimes.

Day of little money tasks

August 16th, 2018 at 10:59 pm

I faxed a letter to our new mortgage company this morning, because I now distrust what I might be told over the phone. I've specified that I want a refund of our extra payment for August, rather than having it applied towards principal. The automatic payment did finally kick in, but only after I sent them a money order as instructed on the phone.

I also made a stop at Big Lots. They have a deal where you get a $5 coupon after every three visits, and it doesn't seem to matter how little you purchase each time. So whenever I'm in the area, I run in and at least check out their clearance grocery shelf. No $1 Triscuits or Archway cookies today, so I just picked up a jar of regular price capers for $1.50.

There's a Shoprite nearby so I picked up a few (sale) items my regular store was out of this week.

Mainly, I was in the area to sell a couple of old gold chains to a jewelry store for scrap value. I'm continuing to use GoodBudget (an envelope budgeting system), and it's helping me see how tight things really are. There's a DVD set my husband and I both want to get, but the money's just not there in the Misc. envelope right now. If we're going to get it, I have to find extra money somewhere. I'm not going to spend down our savings for something like that.

I need to declutter anyway. But my method in recent years has been to donate items rather than try to sell them. It's faster, and much less hassle. But right now we could use the money. I'm thinking of creating a separate new email account just to use for Craigs List for privacy reasons.

Noodles

August 12th, 2018 at 09:32 pm

I've been trying Aldi versions and store brands the past month or so, and it's been working well. No really bad experiences yet. I was inspired by the Downshift Challenge at a website in the UK:

Text is https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/shopping/downshift-challenge/ and Link is
https://www.moneysavingexpert.com/shopping/downshift-challen...

We don't use up egg noodles very fast, but when I need to buy them, I get Pennsylvania Dutch wide noodles. It's sort of a brainless habit because we always used that brand at home. But they're going for $2.39 right now, for a 12 ounce package. It seemed a bit steep.

Today I checked at Aldi, and theirs are $1.09 for a full pound! Less than half the price and more noodles. Good grief, the cost of brand loyalty. I can't imagine there's all that much difference in noodles.

Errand planning

August 11th, 2018 at 11:01 pm

It was a rainy, stay-at-home kind of day. In between doing laundry, I spent some time today looking at Google Maps and making a spreadsheet.

I'd like to save some time and gas money by planning out my errands better. I'm terrible at remembering exactly where things are located. I'll head out to one place, and pass another one on the way where I could have gotten some business done. Except I forgot I'd be passing it so I didn't bring along what I needed. It could be mail, a bank deposit, dry cleaning, etc. Then I'll have to make a separate trip later.

If you zoom in on Google Maps, you can get really detailed info, like exactly which stores are in a shopping plaza. So I was able to make pretty comprehensive lists of businesses along certain roads, in order of when I'll be passing them, as well as notes to myself about where the turns are to get to other main roads.

We've been living here for over 20 years, so you'd think I'd know my way around by now! But it's built up a lot over the years, and it's been a long time since I bothered to update myself on everything that's nearby. For example, I found out there's an Asian ice cream place nearby that has bubble tea and rolled ice cream. I'm not going to be dropping a lot of dollars there, but it would be fun to at least try it.

Another non-action

August 7th, 2018 at 03:31 pm

We have a service contract with an HVAC company which covers annual check-up, basic maintenance and priority scheduling should we have a problem.

Today was a/c check-up day, and a $135 deep cleaning was recommended. Thank goodness, my husband came inside to ask me about it before saying yes. I think what I've been saying about money worries has sunk in.

The a/c seems to be working fine, so we decided to say no for now and rethink it next spring. We do want to keep this old system going as long as possible.

Not taking an action

August 6th, 2018 at 02:09 pm

It occurred to me that I might be able to save a little on a couple of ongoing prescriptions if I used a different pharmacy. I was even willing to consider getting them by mail, as long as I could still get emergency prescriptions filled locally.

So I spent some time on the Blue Cross website this morning. Based on today's pricing, the most I would save is $1 per 90-day prescription by going with the mail option. I also wouldn't save money by switching to Walmart, Sam's Club, CVS, Walgreens, or the pharmacies inside supermarkets.

The extra $8 a year I'm paying for the convenience of using the Rite Aid on the corner is worth it to me. Besides the location, I don't have to worry about the prescriptions getting delayed in the mail or being exposed to super hot or cold weather while sitting in our mailbox a long time. So I'm going to sit tight on this.

Taking Action Aug 5

August 6th, 2018 at 12:36 am

I was playing around with budget scenarios again, and things didn't look good. I decided to cash in a CD and bring part of the proceeds into our checking account each month, until my Social Security kicks in. The early withdrawal penalty is small compared to credit card interest if I have to start carrying a balance.

Someone here or on Reddit had mentioned Goodbudget, an envelope budgeting website and app that has a free tier you can use indefinitely. Unlike YNAB, which only has a free trial. So I signed up and I've been working with it for a couple of days.

I'm only going to use it for variable expenses. I already have reminders set up in Quicken to automatically fill in the bills that are the same every month. And I'm handling food spending in the Daily Budget app.

To save some more money, I just suspended my membership with a self-improvement website which costs $29 a month. I still find it useful. But at this point, I can see it would be better to keep that money for things like upcoming doctor visit co-pays.

42 cents under budget on food :)

July 30th, 2018 at 04:34 pm

I've been trying to stay under $600 a month for food for a couple of months now. I failed in June. But as of today, after one last $21.11 trip to Aldi, July looks good.

I know $600 probably sounds like a lot to some people. However the Maptitude map linked below shows average household food expenditure in NJ is $8109, or $675 a month. And the National Standards the IRS puts out (for figuring out how much delinquent taxpayers can afford to pay) says $646 for two people per month. I'll link to that page, too. And it's a lot lower than we have been spending.

Quicken tells me we averaged $718 a month from July 2017 through June 2018. It was probably higher than that because I've missed recording a lot of things during chaotic periods. Right now it says I should have $785 in cash! It's more like $50, and I'm sure a lot of that unknown spending was on food.

I've been using an app called Daily Budget on my phone. It tells me every day how much I can spend without getting too far ahead of myself during the month. It's designed to budget everything, but I'm only using it for food spending right now. It's been a big help. I found it after reading about a similar app someone came up with to help Food Stamp users spread their spending out more evenly over the month.

Text is https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/national-standards-food-clothing-and-other-items and Link is
https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employe...

Text is https://www.caliper.com/featured-maps/maptitude-state-food-expenditures-map.html and Link is
https://www.caliper.com/featured-maps/maptitude-state-food-e...

Stable vs. volatile household income

July 29th, 2018 at 12:32 am

I just came across a definition of volatile vs. stable household income. Apparently if your income increases or decreases more than 25% year over a year, it's considered volatile.

I've known that our income has been all over the place since the partial lay-off at my old job in 2013, but I never really analyzed it.

No wonder I've felt uneasy, and unsure about how we can afford to live. I looked at our tax returns, and our adjusted gross income in 2017 was only about 55% of what it was in 2012. And in-between, it's gone down and up and down again. In two out of five years, the changes in income would qualify for "volatile."

I found a study where 92% of the people surveyed would prefer a more stable financial life over being a little richer. I guess I'm part of the 92%. I look forward to taking my Social Security at 62 even though the payout will be lower than it could be. The alternative is planning to use up savings and investments between now and my full retirement age, not knowing things like how the stock market will do and what emergencies might come up.

Text is http://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/assets/2017/03/incomevolatility_and_financialsecurity.pdf and Link is
http://www.pewtrusts.org/-/media/assets/2017/03/incomevolati...

Text is http://www.usfinancialdiaries.org/book and Link is
http://www.usfinancialdiaries.org/book

Take An Action: July 26

July 26th, 2018 at 07:31 pm

I've entered two contests this week.

Wawa had those slips again where you do a survey about your last visit, and at the end you can give your contact info to enter the survey.

Then when I was at Shoprite, I noticed a big cardboard box where they were collecting entries for some kind of BBQ sweepstakes. So I filled out one of the slips--why not? Years ago, I actually won a good-sized gift card from another supermarket sweepstakes like this. I don't think many people bother to enter, so there's a much greater chance of winning.

Take An Action: July 23

July 23rd, 2018 at 02:20 pm

CB, I like your term "gap year." I'm in the middle of mine. I can't take Social Security until next year, and we're about out of liquid savings that we can withdraw without generating taxable income.

I played around in Quicken this weekend, trying out different scenarios through the end of this year. The state of our projected checking account balances made me very nervous.

After sleeping on it, I decided that the most sensible thing to do is change to monthly payments on our car and homeowners insurance. Otherwise, paying the big lump sums this fall would tap us out, and I'd end up not being able to pay our credit cards off in full each month anymore. The $1 a month service fee on the insurance is a lot less than credit card interest would be.

So, it's done. Once my Social Security kicks in, we can go back to the annual billing.

Another action I took this weekend was using up some dry milk in pancakes, to conserve fresh milk.