Somehow I got into the habit of clearing out our files right at the end of the year. It started when I used to be off early on New Year's Eve, and DH was still at work. I wanted something to keep me occupied til he got home.
Except, it looks like I didn't do it last year--and what a lot of junk in there! At least I found a recipe I'd been looking for (in the file for my civil service pension.)
It's kind of interesting to see how things in my life have changed in the past year or two, and it's also helpful for planning financial tasks for next year. I hadn't thought about it for awhile, but I really do need to get some stuff into our safe deposit box, and I keep forgetting to request new credit reports for both of us. Lots of stuff going on my to-do list.
I tossed several year's worth of natural gas bills, but put the info I wanted all onto one piece of ledger paper. Now I can see that it's normal to build up to owing them $500 in February; I'm on budget billing and it all evens out by summer. But if next February it shows we owe $800, I'll know to expect a $300 hit when we're "rebalanced" in September.
This project also points up how the internet keeps changing how I do things. Normally I'd keep the current year's worth of statements from our regular (non-IRA) brokerage account until our 1099's come, in case the numbers don't look right. I learned that from my mother, and it does make sense. But now I have online access to the account, and could look things up online if necessary. So although it feels strange to toss them, I guess there's no reason to keep them anymore.
Will be doing lots of shredding this afternoon--if we were going to a party tonight, we could have taken it for confetti! (We will be home with a bottle of champagne and Dick Clark. )
Archive for December, 2005
Somehow I got into the habit of clearing out our files right at the end of the year. It started when I used to be off early on New Year's Eve, and DH was still at work. I wanted something to keep me occupied til he got home.
HSA/DH -Thanks for the support and book suggestion. I *am* going to call again next Tuesday when that person is back from vacation, and keep trying to get it set up. DH doesn't seem to mind that I'm working on this; I was kind of afraid he'd be angry that I butted in. And the ladies in his office are nice enough. I guess it's more me feeling really uncomfortable about doing it. I can't imagine DH calling my job, asking about my benefits. Or my parents calling each other's jobs. Or spouses of co-workers of mine calling in, either. Unless the employee in question is deathly ill in the hospital or something.
Believe me, I do have quite a few accounts in my name only. And I have gone online to make changes in DH's 401K allocations and do health insurance business. (After I talked to him about it.) I guess I'll be able to do the HSA business on my own, too--after it's set up. But it sounds like filling out forms for his payroll person to set this stuff up is something that has to be on paper, and come from him.
Long distance-We tried to make some long distance calls over the holidays, using Pioneer instead of the phone card. We kept getting a message about not being authorized to make the call. I checked our last phone bill, and it showed Sprint as our regional carrier, and no long distance carrier at all. So I called Pioneer this morning. They said the Sprint part was ok, and said the long distance should be set up within 24-48 hours. I have to call a test number in a few days to make sure it went through. I was joking when I said this project could take weeks--I never imagined months! I started making the switch back on October 26.
BestBuy-Between phone calls, driving to Best Buy and waiting in the return line, It took me about an hour and 15 minutes to get the Virgin Mobile top-up card problem settled. A lot of work to do, just because somebody missed scanning the barcode somewhere along the line. Glad it's finished!
Mazda test drive-It's been less than 2 weeks since I mailed in the offer, and the Supercertificate code came in my email already. I'm impressed! I've ordered a $25 Staples gift card.
HSBC cc application-Yes, two applications did go through. The second one was turned down. The rep said it couldn't be deleted because the decision had already been made. I really don't like the idea of a "declined" on my credit report, but there doesn't seem to be much I can do about it. I'll make an explanatory statement with each credit reporting agency, but from what I understand nobody is apt to read it. Everything seems to be done automatically by computers, which only look at numbers.
The good news is, the rep on the phone put through a balance transfer big enough to pay off the balance on the Sony and Discover cards. He's actually sending the money to our checking account, to save us $50 on balance transfer fees. (Doing one transfer instead of two.) Then I'll just pay off each account out of checking. 0% till March 2007. I just hope the declined application doesn't affect my FICO number, triggering a cancellation of the 0% rate...
Have read 3 books so far, right on schedule. Exercised once last week. Mailed 2 more rebates this week, for a total of 4. The latest ones were Dr. Pepper for $5, and 2 General Mills whole grain rebates for another $5.
Well, the new high-deductible health plan at DH's job with the HSA is supposed to go into effect January 1. We've waited and waited, and he never got a form to fill out about how much he wanted to put in the HSA each paycheck. There was one meeting about it in our part of the state, and DH missed it because he called out sick that day. His supervisor said not to worry, because we'd all be getting something in the mail.
Here it is 12/28 and we haven't gotten anything, so I called up to his Human Resources department to ask if we missed getting something. I figured if there was a 12/31 deadline, there'd still be time to get a form and fax it back. I hate making a call like this to his job, but I know from experience he won't do it. He cares so little about health coverage that when he finally started working full-time after three years of part-time, he declined coverage because he "didn't want them taking anything out of his paycheck." I ended up having to continue COBRA coverage from my former job for about $6000 a year until his next open enrollment date. It actually cost us more than that because I had to take money out of an IRA and pay taxes and penalties.
What I found out was, 1) they are NOT mailing anything out to employees, they have to ask if they are interested. 2) The woman who handles it is on vacation til January 3. 3) When I called to try to reach DH at work, I talked to a woman in the local office who said nobody else at their location was going to sign up for it.
I'm feeling stressed and annoyed and unsure of myself all at the same time. Am I wrong in thinking the HSA would be a good thing for us? If so, why is nobody else taking advantage of it? How can I shake some sense into DH's head about the importance of this stuff? Am I being too pushy calling about it myself? Really, I had to call because I know DH wouldn't do it.
Over and over again, I feel like I have to protect myself financially because DH will not do it, and at times has even taken advantage of me. Someday I'll write about that in further depth. Let's just say I'm unexplainably short of cash again after entering my spending in Quicken, and my first thought was that DH has started to "borrow" money from my purse again lately. It might not be the case at all--I've been doing a lot of rushing and not recording things right away. But it takes a long time to build back trust again, and lately several things have happened to remind me he will take a mile if I give an inch.
I was working on an entry about this, but I'm pretty sure I never posted it. In honor of Flash's brother, I figured I'd post it now.
First, a story from way back. I recently read the biography of a forgotten radio personality, Mary Margaret McBride. ("It's one o'clock, and here's Mary Margaret McBride", by Susan Ware.) Like a lot of other people back in the 1920's, she'd invested in the stock market. Based on the wealth she had "on paper", she'd decided to lease a luxury apartment in NYC, and took out a mortgage to buy her parents a home in Florida.
After the stock market crashed in 1929, any savings and investments she had left went for living expenses, because business had slowed down and she wasn't getting much work. she'd been getting up to $2000 or more for writing magazine features, and after the Depression really set in, she was lucky to get $50 an article. (This was before her radio career.)
She was still stuck with trying to pay the mortgage on her parents' house. Luckily she was able to get out of her expensive apartment lease.
A more recent story (I'm figuring this probably happened around the 1987 crash.) DMom got into a discussion about investing with her auto mechanic, and he told her his sad story. He'd saved for years to start his own repair shop and finally had over $100,000--enough at that time to pay outright for a business property he liked. A friend convinced him it didn't make sense to pay cash for the property--it would be smarter to get a mortgage and invest the money instead. He followed the friend's advice, apparently down to which investments to purchase.
The stocks went down, and he ended up losing practically everything--except of course the mortgage that was still hanging over his head.
On the other hand, I don't ever remember hearing that someone regretted paying off their mortgage early, instead of getting in on a "bull market."
When money is tight for us, and I see how other people are living, I think about how much equity we supposedly have in the house. It would be so easy to access some cash by refinancing or getting a home equity loan. We could remodel the house, get some professional landscaping done, and replace DH's poor old car. Or, we could sell our funny old house, get a new interest-only mortgage and stretch to buy a newer one.
But those stories have reminded me that WHILE A MORTGAGE IS REAL AND HAS TO BE PAID BACK NO MATTER WHAT, ALL THAT 'EQUITY' ISN'T REALLY REAL. It's strictly based on what people might pay for the house in current market conditions. Being mortgaged to the hilt when the real estate bubble bursts could be as disastrous as it was back in 1929 or 1987, if you had margin loans against stocks. Even having to pay a small mortgage payment would be a problem if the economy goes bad and you can't get a job.
Another thought, after the recent hurricanes. I would think you'd be in much better shape if your house was paid off--even if you lost it. If you are lucky enough to have insurance that covers something like this, or even help from FEMA, a lot of the money would go toward paying off the original mortgage, I would think. You wouldn't have all that much to start over with, and have to start paying on a new mortgage all over again. Whereas if the house were paid for, you could start fresh, not owing anything.
In addition, in the case of a hurricane, fire, etc. it would be better to have money in the bank than be counting on helocs or home equity lines of credit for emergencies or spending money. If the house is gone or severely damaged, you probably couldn't access that money anymore.
I sure wish I could figure out a way to start paying ours off faster, but we have other things to handle at the moment. At least I do know that if a really big windfall ever comes our way, paying off the house will be one of my top priorities. No matter what the financial experts say.
Hope everyone had a nice holiday, or day off, or some nice overtime pay if you had to work.
It was our usual quiet holiday--at least as quiet it can be, when DH gets to the point where he can't take visiting much longer and starts getting grumpy.
Since we don't do that much for the holidays, and I'm off work whether I want to be or not, it gives me some extra time to catch up on things, as well as just relax with a pile of movies and books. There are still plenty of things I could do, but I can't help feeling frustrated about not being able to get some businessy things done because, after all, it's the holiday season.
Two frustrating things I haven't been able to get done because of the holidays:
I tried to apply online for an HSBC credit card offer I'd gotten in the mail, 0% for 15 months, a much longer stretch than what I have now. It would let me consolidate and close out at least one other account, and give us some predictability for a good period of time. Something went wrong, though, and I'm afraid now they might think I was trying to put in two applications. I tried to call them today to find out, but that office is closed today.
I tried to top-up DH's Virgin Mobile phone, with a top-up card I'd bought at Best Buy. But the PIN number wouldn't take. The guy at Virgin Mobile said it showed as never being activated for use, so I have to take it back to Best Buy. If you think I'm venturing there the day after Xmas...
I did manage to get my car worked on last Friday, and am accomplishing things around the house. I'm even getting around to things like clearing out old emails. Will I be glad after we get through New Year's and life starts getting back to "normal." (Whatever that is!)
As I showered, getting ready to make the dreaded mall trip, I calmed down and realized that DH probably wouldn't care if his pj's arrived a few days late. If I could just convince DMom of this, I'd just go ahead and order the stuff at Penney's online with standard shipping and be done with it. She wasn't too hard to convince, especially when I described all I was able to find on sale for $53 total. As a matter of fact, my gift from DMom is going to be arriving late from Amazon, as well. (She'd told me to go ahead and order the blender I wanted.)
On Christmas Day, we'll have a nice dinner together, and visit, and we'll give her our gifts. It will be fine.
Now I just have to pick up a few things for DH to give his female co-workers tomorrow (I'm figuring chocolate would be safe), a prescription, and a few more things for DMom if there's time. If not, I can do that tomorrow. So I won't know our Christmas bill total for a little while. I'll also be taking a lunch break today with DMom and my aunt at a little Italian restaurant, and working 5-9. A much easier day than I anticipated. We even chose the restaurant for lunch, based on how far away from mall traffic it was.
Thought I'd try to save myself a trip to the mall, to pick up an Xmas gift for DMom to give my husband. She was talking about going out to shop herself today, at age 88, with my aunt who is not much younger. I told her in no way, shape or form she ought to try that, and that I'd do the shopping.
I went on Penney's website early this morning, and from the Christmas Delivery Schedule they had posted, it looked like if I ordered this morning and used Express Delivery, the order would arrive before Christmas. I spent quite a bit of time finding a robe and pajama top and bottom that would match and were in stock, found a coupon code to help defray the cost of express shipping, and went to check out. First, I had to change my email address since it had changed since my last order there. After I did that, it no longer recognized EITHER email address. So I tried checking out the non-registered way, where you have to enter your address, credit card numbers and so forth.
I got to where I could check out, and tried to choose Express Shipping, but it wouldn't let me. A popup kept coming up saying what the deadline was, which obviously had not passed yet. But it just wouldn't take. I finally found a number to call about website problems. I tried to describe the screen and the drop down menu that wouldn't work, and the woman didn't even seem to believe there was a drop down menu. She tried to tell me it you chose the Express method of checkout, it would automatically be shipped the fast way. It just isn't so--Express Checkout just automatically puts in your preferred shipping address and credit card number.
Anyway, she started to just take my item numbers and put the order in on her end. She came up with an arrival date of December 28, even when she put in Express Shipping. Then she put me on hold for quite a while, and finally came back to say that it wasn't working because UPS doesn't deliver on Saturdays in my area.
Geez, if they would have put a disclaimer or a chart somewhere on their page about delivery schedules, where you could see it wouldn't work in your zipcode, it would have saved me an hour and a half. It wouldn't be that hard--Barnes and Noble does a great job telling you whether their next day shipping will work for you or not.
So, it's out to the mall, I guess, where it will now be even harder to find a parking spot than it would have been an hour or two ago...
Besides spending a few hours yesterday obsessing about what will happen at the end of the 0% periods on our credit cards, mostly what I've been thinking about on the money front is what my next set of goals should be. Here it is 4 days in, and I still haven't decided.
--For sure, I'll aim to keep our grocery expenses to a minimum, and try again to say within the USDA's Thrifty Plan.
--For sure, I'll try to exercise 8x. And to try and leave enough time for that, I'm going to reduce my reading goal to 6 books over the 4 week period. 1-1/2 books a week is still more than I was doing for a long while.
--I thought I'd say I wanted to do one deal a week, whether it be a bank offer, a rebate or whatever. Then I thought back and realized I'm probably doing more than that now. Just this week, I mailed off two rebates already and am ready to do some bank deals.
I guess what I really want is to try and pace myself on doing them. I want and need to do quite a few, but at a steady pace. I don't want to get overwhelmed. Sometimes I do a flurry of them, which ends up taking more time than it should in one particular week. And following up on them... Maybe what I need to do is LIMIT myself to no more than x number, to force myself to concentrate on the most profitable ones. Maybe what I'll do this 4-week period is just track what I'm doing, to get a baseline figure.
1--Mailed Mazda test drive form (for $25 Supercertificate)
2--Mailed in Clairol Root Touch-Up rebate ($4.99)
I also want to try and cut down on so many separate shopping trips, but again, I don't know off the top of my head how many is too many. Maybe I can make a count of separate stops, looking back in Quicken.
Happy Winter Solstice to all--what a relief to know the days will start to get longer now. I've had enough of winter, and it's only starting!
It's the end of a 4-week "month" for me, and time to report back on some totals.
My goal on credit card debt was to get down to $2124 on the Discover card and $1505 on the Sony card, for a total of $3629. The actual totals came out to be $2349 on the Discover and $1667 on the Sony for a total of $4016--a reduction of a whopping (not) $68 from four weeks ago. The main reason, working through our cash flow into the spring, and seeing how paychecks and bills were going to fall. If I'd paid more on the cards now, it would leave me short later, forcing me to use them again. So, goal not met, but a little progress.
I wanted to try and stay within $230 for groceries, to see if we could eat at Food Stamp level. Nope, didn't make it, but it only came to $287. That's the 2nd lowest 4-week total since I've been keeping track. It's also the 2nd lowest period for my whole "everyday expenses" budget, which covers take-out, gas and pet supplies. So again, partial success.
I had a goal to read 2 books a week, for a total of 8. Well, I've finished 7, and am started on the 8th, which I can probably finish tonight if my eyes hold out.
My other goal was to do aerobic exercise 2x a week, for a total of 8 times. Complete and utter failure! I didn't exercise once. Am starting to feel creaky, and my jeans are getting tight. I've got to do better this next month!
I'd heard about this on Fatwallet, and am now in a position to pursue it. It's available through Citibank credit cards--I'm not sure if others have a similar thing. You sign up for the Credit Protector program, which is designed to help you pay your credit card bill if you are disabled, called up for military duty, etc. After the 30 day intro period, they start charging you 85 cents per $100 of your balance.
Not a great deal at all, if you are carrying a balance. BUT--normally they give you a $15 gas purchase rebate for joining. Right now it's a bit better, $20 back on any purchase at a store. Then when you try to cancel, they keep offering you more $15 gas rebate offers. Still not great, if you are carrying a balance. But if you aren't actually using the card, and there's no balance, you are getting $15 back every so often, for no cost whatsoever.
Since I'm not planning on using the card after this billing cycle (and after I get my last rewards check), I can finally take advantage of it.
FYI--The offer showed up for me three different places when I went online to check my Citi account today, at different times. Once along the right side with some other offers. Once on the screen that came up after I logged off. Also through the link that says "today's special offers."
Baselle--Thanks for your comments. I don't think I've been too extravagent, either, glad you reinforced that. Although I don't really feel guilty about this spending, I just feel kind of guilty that I DON'T feel guilty, if you know what I mean.
I guess that's why I haven't been posting--it's kind of embarrassing to have to post about doing so much discretionary spending, when everyone else seems to have their spending under good control.
There's something about this season that makes me spend on things I've been putting off. Something about facing the fact that if I need or want something, I'd better get it for myself because no one else is apt to get it for me. DH isn't much of a shopper, and DMom just can't do much shopping anymore. Also something about the year ending, a new one about to start, and what I'm just not willing to put up with or do without for another year. I think it also has to do with reading All Your Worth. Yes, I want to reduce our Must Haves, but a big reason you are supposed to do this is so you have more money left for Wants. It kind of makes me feel justified in spending a bit.
I'm not giving in to ads and displays for things I never wanted before. It's basically things that will make life easier, or more efficient, or less shabby, that I've come up with on my own. I'm trying to get the best prices I can, and use the gift cards I already have on hand.
Here's some of the stuff I've bought recently:
--Pajamas for both DH and I (to support our goal of keeping the heat at 66 at all times) - about $32
--Commuter mugs for both DH and I (to preserve our clothes and car upholstery, now that it's hot coffee season again) $23.98
--Sheets (The fabric of the bottom sheet in the one set we have has started to split. I'll try to repair it, but I'm only going to count on it as a spare) $24.99 and extra pillowcases $7.34 before I knew I'd need a whole new set of sheets.
--A fax/copier machine (Something that would have come in handy several times in the past. The clincher was that our car insurance agent merged and moved to an office about 45 minutes away. Getting something there in a hurry would now be a big problem, and the closest public fax machine is at a liquor store. Something weird about handing personal info over to a liquor store clerk!) $30 after rebate
--New coupon organizer (I was trying to cram too much into my $1 paper one, and it tore pretty badly. I couldn't find another one for $1. In fact the exact same paper one would have been over $6 shipped on Ebay. So I went for a fancier thing called a Coup-O-Dex for just a little more. More about this in another post.) $8.54
--Dixie cup dispenser for kitchen (Dishes are always a problem around here.) $4.76
--Space heater. $21.17
--Bubble shipping envelopes in bulk. (Got tired of trying to get to Walgreens when they are on sale, finding them out of stock, or having to run to several stores to get enough) $16.85
--Red velvet-looking lint removers (a replacement for one I had before, that was great on dog hair. Saves pulling out the vacuum to get hairs off living room furniture). About $6 at Target for a combo pack of mitt and thing with handle.
I've continued to work on money stuff today, as I think of things that need to be done or I want to keep track of. I've been doing a lot of spending, and I may put up quite a few more entries over the next day or two. I don't expect anybody to read them all--It's just helpful sometimes to be able to go back and read my own entries, and refresh my memory.
Christmas is kind of strange for us, as the only relative near is us my mother. DH's brothers and sister are spread out in Florida, Pennsylvania, and pretty far from us in NJ. My mother-in-law is in Pennsylvania, I'm an only child, and we don't have any kids.
I wouldn't say we're feuding with DH's siblings, but the Christmas situation started to get really weird a couple of years ago. It started the year my father-in-law died, and I think the rest of the family must have decided not to do gifts because of being in mourning. Only nobody mentioned it to us, so we sent gifts as usual. Then the next year we figured they wanted to stop, so we didn't send anything, but they did--again, not saying anything to us. DH is the youngest, and this isn't the first time it seems like he's the forgotten child. One time a party was planned, and my s-i-l made a family slide show. There were virtually no pictures of DH at all--like he didn't exist. How hard would it have been for her to call and ask if we had some of the pictures?
Anyway, after all this, I decided I'd just go ahead and start doing what I'd had in mind for awhile. I'm doing donations in honor of the siblings' families, instead of giving them gifts. I make up little slips on the computer and put it in their cards. They also should get a letter direct from the charity. Last year we did Toys For Tots, this year we are doing an organization that's rebuilding libraries in the Hurricane Katrina areas.
Here's the total so far:
Gift cards for DH's co-workers $60
Cards and stamps $26
Special cookies I can't bake $19.95 (shared with Mom)
Gift card for nephew $20 (he's our godson, and nothing is his fault; so he continues to get a gift)
Beach Boys tickets $94 (DH and my gifts to each other this year; concert isn't til spring)
Phone card for mother in law $19.80
I need to find something else small that can be tucked in a card, for my m-i-l. Then there's my mother, on whom I'll probably spend about $25. Or more--I always feel like whatever I do isn't enough, considering all she gives us. Maybe a little on baking supplies. All in all, I don't expect it to be much over $350. Which is more than I usually figure on--but I'm tired of not doing anything special for just DH and me. Too many years we've spent money on obligatory gifts for other people, and didn't have anything to spend on ourselves. No more. At least I got the tickets at a discount, buying them directly from the county instead of Ticketmaster. (The county government is a sponsor.)
While DH slept in this morning, I got the urge to work on our budget while I was fresh and the house was still quiet.
I usually have our usual income and expenses entered a month or so ahead of time in Quicken, just to make sure we aren't going to run short. It was time to do at least January, but since I was in the mood I just kept going. April is going to be our next really tight month--only 2 paychecks each, no interest income, and property taxes due on May 1. So I plotted everything out through the beginning of May.
The main thing I saw was that I wouldn't be able to put as much against our cc debt as I'd hoped. At the end of April, when I transfer the remaining balance on the Discover card over to the Sony, it's still going to leave us with a balance of about $3000. That's still a big improvement, though, and I'll just have to be satisfied with it.
The way paychecks and bills fall, between now and May 1, our checking account balance will range from about $2.50 to $2027.00. So if I pay ahead too much on the cc's when the checking balance looks healthy, I'll end up having to charge things later on, or go into savings. (I've allocated $977 between now and May 1 to go into savings for emergencies.)
The other thing I decided was, starting in 2006 I'm going to stop using the Citi card for groceries and such, just to earn the rewards. It's been a hassle trying to keep track of how much in checking has to be reserved to pay the Citi bill off each month. And the bill often turns out to be higher than I'd planned. I've kept doing it because it was the only rewards option I had. But now I have the PNC account with Visa debit card rewards. I might as well use it. Starting this week, 2 weeks at a time of grocery/gas/pet food money is getting put into PNC, leaving the Commerce account for bill-paying. I feel like I've worked myself free from a trap.
I've been procrastinating about getting to the dry cleaners, and not because I was worried about spending the money. For years I've been going to a place that charged $1.99 (originally $1.69) per piece for dry cleaning, and did a good job. It's a little out of my way, but it's been worth it because their prices were the best around. Lately there seem to be new owners, though. Time before last, my clothes really reeked of the chemicals. The last time, they shrunk a blouse so I can't wear it anymore--I almost wonder if they laundered it by mistake. I've been mulling around what to do about it--if I go back and complain, and they offer me free dry cleaning to make up for it, do I really want to give them more clothes to ruin?
Somehow I finally remembered there were things you could get to dry clean things in your dryer at home. I picked up a starter package of Dryel at K-Mart with a discounted gift card. Even if I only do 3 items at a time (they say up to 4 items), it still comes out to less than $1 an item to clean. With the refill pack, it will come out to about 50 cents an item. They also had another brand, Dry Cleaner's Secret, which was even a little cheaper.
I just tried it, the stuff looks fine and actually smells nice. So--cheaper, nicer smelling, clothes ready right away instead of in days, cuts down on errands. Why does it take so long for these things to occur to me? =:O
On the cookbook I mentioned--I know interlibrary loan would work, but here's the problem. The two public libraries I use are 1) where I work now, and 2) where I used to work. There is something too embarrassing about requesting a "poor folks" cookbook from people I know. Dumb to have so much false pride, but there it is.