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Archive for August, 2006

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.

Yay! Work getting done on the house

August 29th, 2006 at 07:08 am

I'm trying a new electrician I found through Angie's List. (Got in on a free year's membership awhile back.) He called me back the same day I left a message, he called last night to confirm someone was coming this morning, and when the guys came I found out they planned on going ahead and doing the work instead of just giving an estimate. Smile So far so good--the guy I used to use is almost impossible to get hold of.

They are putting new security lights on the back of our house--the one that was there had literally fallen off! It's not an emergency, but we did want it done before Daylight Savings ends. The money's coming out of our Emergency Fund since it's a must-do.

I had three days in a row with no errands. Saturday we only left the house to go out for dinner (DH's birthday is this week, but he'll be too tired after work to go out.) Sunday stayed home all day, and Monday only went to work.

Glad to hear all the positive comments about automating bill payments. It's a relief not to hear horror stories!

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--

Text is www.nbc10.com/consumeralert/1992223/detail.html and Link is

Midwest, in 2002--
Text is www.nocards.org/savings/regular_price_study.shtml and Link is

California, in 2000--
Text is web.archive.org/web/20001120044300/http://www.kfmb.com/bob/grocery.htm and Link is

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.

The law of unintended consequences

August 20th, 2006 at 06:35 am

Awhile back, I asked DH if we could cut back on his Tastykakes and just get one box a week instead of two. On sale, they are $2.50 a box for 6 servings. Full price, I've seen them as high as $3.69. I figured it would save money to get a package of cheap cookies for desserts at home, and DH could still take his Tastykakes to work in his lunch.

I guess the problem is, I don't eat his Tastykakes, but if cookies are in the house I'll eat them. I've gained way too much weight back, and in an effort to fight the fat, I recently decided not to bring cookies into the house--forgetting their relationship with the Tastykakes budget.

Now while I'm starting to eat less junk, DH is going through his Tastykakes at a 2-box-per week rate again. Not only does it cost more, he is liable to gain more weight while I'm losing it.

If I don't buy his 2nd box OR the cookies, he's liable to spend more on junk at the convenience store, run out of his allowance and bug me for more money. Or he could end up smoking more on his lunch hour, out of frustration at not having the Tastykakes. Bad for his health and his budget, too.

I feel like I'm going around in circles! To get through this week, I'll get the 2nd box of Tastykakes and keep thinking.

Dumb mistake-thank goodness for EF

August 19th, 2006 at 06:06 am

I keep my check register months ahead in Quicken, so I can see what our cash flow will look like. It looked ok to pay the property taxes early, and also pay $600 on the 0% credit card before the 20th, when I usually pay it. I was antsy to get them paid, so I did.

HOWEVER, the reason we looked so flush is that I forgot to deduct for DH's allowance, which comes out this weekend! Luckily, I can get the money out of the emergency fund and put it back on payday.

Glad I don't have to borrow money to get over this hump. But, duh! Still can't believe I messed up this badly.

I want to move near Contrary1 !

August 18th, 2006 at 08:53 am

Finally got the sewing machine opened and set up, and got ready to do what I thought was a simple sewing job. But it turned out that the back dress seam I thought had come apart, was actually fabric that gave way next to the seam.

It's kind of stretched and laddered, and doesn't line up evenly with the fabric on the other side. So I need to reinforce the whole area with seam binding, and at the same time ease that extra fabric in so I don't get puckers. It didn't go right the first time, and I've given up for the day. Next time I'll try to get any puckers high enough that they'll be covered by the jacket that goes over the dress.

If I lived near Contrary1, I could have taken the whole project to her to begin with!!! I'm sure it would come out much better. I haven't machine sewn for at least a year, and was never that good to begin with.

Not a very auspicious start, but I'm determined to start sewing regularly now that it's not so hot up here in the computer/sewing room.

A little extra money :)

August 18th, 2006 at 06:35 am

Yesterday I got a letter from the election board about working a special school bond election in September. It wouldn't pay as much as the regular ones ($70 vs. $200), but it's a much shorter day. I do have qualms about it--I've heard there can be more nastiness and shenanigans at these elections--but I guess I'll put in to do it.
I don't feel like I ought to turn down $70.

This morning I got an email from Amazon about a book that sold--$48 for a textbook DH retrieved from the trash at work! (It's still in very nice condition.)

Homeowner's bill paid--progress over recent years

August 16th, 2006 at 06:27 am

I just paid our homeowner's insurance bill, in full, a month early.

In 2004, I paid in full but just in time. I had to visit the insurance office in person to pay it the day before it was due, so it wouldn't be late.

In 2005, I had to break it up into three installments because I couldn't afford to pay it all at once.

In addition, back in September 2005 our total credit card debt had jumped back up to $4527 due to some car repair bills. Today it is $1400.

Some definite progress.

(BTW, the homeowner's didn't actually go up $71. The total I saw online included installment fees that I won't have to pay now.)

Budget within a budget; link to nice forms

August 15th, 2006 at 06:53 am

So far, I'm liking the three checking accounts for Bills, Everyday Expenses, and Discretionary. But then I realized there is a lot to cover under Discretionary.

It's one thing to see a $200 balance for Discretionary spending. But how much can we spend on a dinner out, and not go into money we'll need next month for the anti-allergen heater filters and a new carton of bubble mailers?

So I made up a budget within a budget, kind of a virtual envelope method for just that account. I have 17 categories and a slush fund, for everything from postage to cosmetics, to clothes, to batteries. When I make a deposit, each category gets a certain percentage. That way if our extra income isn't as high as I'd figured, all areas are hit equally. If more comes in than expected, all areas get a little boost.

It might sound cumbersome, but it's already giving me a better picture of what we can and can't afford.

A $5.99 CD sounds hardly worth worrying about, in relation to an overall monthly budget of $2500. It sounds somewhat less affordable in relation to a Discretionary fund of $200. It's obviously out of the question when the uncategorized Slush Fund has a balance of $3.21. Mailing a package Priority for $5.05 doesn't sound so bad, but Media Mail is obviously the way to go if there's only $2.50 in the Postage category.

Sounds overly detailed, I'm sure! But a penny saved is a penny earned; and tall oaks from tiny acorns grow. Hopefully this will help keep me from overspending and getting back into debt in the future.

I tried to do this in a spread sheet, but it was awkward because it doesn't all fit on one screen. I found these nice budget forms online, and now I'm using a Form 3 for each category.

Text is www.coeinc.org/Materials/BudgetBookForms.htm and Link is

A yacht. An (expletive deleted) yacht!

August 14th, 2006 at 08:59 am

Survived the wedding reception Sunday, but needed two beers and some raucous music to shake the tension after I got home. I am not good with large crowds for long periods of time, and we were there for 5 hours. Then there's the fact that I feel I have nothing in common with these people except a tiny percentage of shared DNA.

I am so tired of being the poor relation/good listener. My one cousin asked me what was new, and I had to reply same old, same old. I made the mistake, perhaps, of asking what was new with him. First item was, he'd spent the previous day on a friend's yacht, watching a regatta. A yacht!
Also, he and his wife just came back from the west coast, and will soon be going to Florida and Europe where they will be buying this and that... etc., etc., etc.

We don't have kids to keep us busy at these events, or to brag about. We haven't traveled in years. We haven't been elected to public office or appointed to boards, like several people there. Our life is going to work, coming home, trying to pay the bills, and increasingly, keeping tabs on my mother.

There just isn't anything we can say (or think to ourselves) that can counteract being made to feel so very small and unsuccessful. Seeing these relatives is as bad as going to a class reunion!

The bride and groom are a gorgeous couple, are very charming, and seem very happy right now despite their debt. I sure hope they can stay afloat. They are involved with buying this house when he works in retail and she isn't currently working at all.

Now that I'm thinking about it, maybe their overspending is partly the result of feeling just like I do amongst the rest of those braggy relatives!

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!

Overcoming Underearning by Barbara Stanny--has anyone read?

August 10th, 2006 at 06:21 am

I caught part of a tv interview with her this morning, and her message really rubbed me the wrong way. I checked out her website as well, and am still shaking my head. The fact that she has a whole little empire going with books, CDs and seminars doesn't make me feel more positive.

She lists warning signs that indicate you are earning less than you should be, including: being fearful, having debt and not knowing how much, not balancing your checkbook, generally living in financial chaos, not being able to pay the rent again this month. She says even people with six-figure incomes could be underearners if they have these warning signs. Uh, couldn't they also indicate overspending and disorganization?

I'm not against making more money, but making more is no solution if you don't learn the principles of handling what you have already.

Has anyone else read her stuff? Maybe I'm giving her a bum rap.

Reluctant gift-giving

August 9th, 2006 at 09:36 am

This is what's so great about blogging. I started to write an entry about something simple and suddenly realized something deeper was going on. If I hadn't been writing about it, the insight wouldn't have happened.

This weekend I need to attend a wedding reception for a distant relative I hardly know. I probably wouldn't have gone, but I need to drive my mother. Since I'll be there, eating their food, I really need to give a gift. I figure on writing a check for $25.

The thing is, besides hardly knowing the guy, I have heard a lot about his financial blunders. He owes his father in the 5-figures, which his father has given up on getting back at this point. He still has student loans. And now he and his new bride are buying a built-to-order house in a new development. I have to say I'm a little miffed at giving him money when they'll probably end up blowing it. And when we could use the $25 ourselves. (Not to mention the $20 in gas for getting there and back.)

Also, recently at DH's job, a tenant came into the office and mentioned he was having trouble affording food. The ladies in the office knew DH visited with the guy pretty often, and wondered if he'd said anything to DH. DH's answer was no, in fact the guy often mentioned good deals he got at Aldi's. (The office ladies said "Aldi's is where the poor people go," and DH told them his wife shops there. Smile ) Also DH pointed out that the guy drives a 2005 car. (DH's is 1992.)

They started to talk about having some kind of a fund-raising drive for this tenant, and DH said no, he would not contribute. And I can't say I blame him!

I suddenly realized this morning that my point of view has turned around radically from last fall. See this entry:

Text is stressless.savingadvice.com/2005/10/11/heartwarming-experience-at-aldis-today_3590/ and Link is

Last year I thought I knew that poorer people were more generous percentage-wise because they better understood need. This year I understand why people with more money might be reluctant to give.

This past year I've come to terms with what we can and can't afford. I'm very aware of what I'm giving up to reach our financial goals. When you can see that someone else isn't willing to do those things, you wonder why you should give them your hard-earned and hard-saved money when they are just going to keep living the same way.

Haven't become a Republican yet, though. Wink

I'm back; Life getting back to normal after heatwave

August 9th, 2006 at 08:06 am

I was going to write about how it's back to normal, but that would mean recalling the misery of the heat itself. And I'd rather not think about it. There are two loose ends, though--the a/c at one of my mother's houses died, and the new one still has to be installed. Also I want to get another fan for us, and we need a new hose, if I can find them on clearance.

Other than that, I'm ready to think about autumn!