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Archive for December, 2006

2007 Goals

December 31st, 2006 at 01:55 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4-week report

December 31st, 2006 at 12:15 pm

Boring, I know, but reporting here keeps me honest! For four weeks ending 12/16:

Everyday Expenses are staying pretty stable, despite the craziness of the holidays. It came to $554.76, only about $10 over where I like it to be. And, of course it was due to an organizational problem, sigh... I was watching the budget as I shopped through the month, but I'd forgotten to record a trip to Pathmark in Quicken so it looked like I'd spent less than I had. Oh well, not a disaster.

I had the credit card completely paid off, then I paid for the gym membership with the Discover card on 12/16. But it's paid for now, plus I have a weird $1 credit balance because of a mysterious trial offer refund. Smile

Savings for emergencies stood at $458 in the Emergency Fund, and $570 in the Health Savings Account.

I'm going to keep reporting every 4 weeks, even though the debt is paid off now--I can use it to track savings goals.

A tip for heavy debit/credit card users

December 30th, 2006 at 05:53 am

Take a look at the backs of your cards--are they getting worn? Can you still see the 3-digit security code on the back, that follows your account numbers? If so, write it down somewhere, and if not, call and request a replacement card soon. You don't want to be stuck like I was this week.

I've been using one debit card so much, the numbers are completely rubbed off. I didn't even notice til I tried to use it to buy phone minutes this week, and they needed those security numbers. I only need them once in a blue moon, so I don't have them memorized. I called my bank to ask what they were, and they couldn't tell me--for security reasons. All they could do was send me a new card, which will take about a week to arrive. Grrr!

I suppose at least it's a good sign that the card getting the heavy workout is a debit, and not a credit card. Wink

Christmas is beyond my organizational skills

December 28th, 2006 at 05:24 am

I finally found a missing restaurant gift certificate we received, in a pile of books and mail. I finally remembered where a missing $30 went--our holiday drinks supplies. But I still can't locate the Petsmart gift card with $29 still left on it, or the Target card with about $6. And the house is a mess. I don't like being this out of control!

I've been thinking about how setting up automatic things has really helped me get on top of our finances (direct deposit, automatic transfers and bill payment). Things go better if I don't have to re-decide or remember to do things over and over again. It's turned out to be mainly an organizational battle, rather than some big psychological hangup that made me overspend in the past.

So I've been looking for free or cheap "automatic" ways to solve my housekeeping and weight problems. I finally remembered about Flylady--completely free, she does the remembering and the emails just come. I don't have to think, just DO.

Now if I could just find a free way to mimic Jenny Craig or Nutrisystem!

Joined a gym, and no buyer's remorse

December 16th, 2006 at 12:57 pm

I'm really zipping along on revamping my life for 2007. Today I joined a nice gym and paid for the next year in one lump sum. It comes out to $20 a month, plus they gave me a certificate for a free massage. Smile

I discovered them through a discount program offered by Blue Cross. But it ended up being cheaper to directly pay for a year in advance, at the gym, rather than through the Blue Cross program. The basic program is fine-I don't need childcare and tanning anyway.

All through paying off the debt, I figured on rejoining the gym I'd been a member of before. It was to be my reward at the end. But when I called them I couldn't get any information over the phone; I was supposed to wait for a "consultant" (salesperson) to call me back, which they never did. As I remember, if I finally did get in to see them, they'd drag it out into a 45 minute meeting ending with a complicated set of membership levels to choose from. And there'd be pressure to choose right then, or else I'd lose some of the options the minute I left to think about it.

The one I just joined, I was able to talk to the owner on the phone on my first call. They had the prices posted inside and on sheets you could easily pick up. It was just a totally different experience. I feel like I got a bargain rather than feeling like I'd been taken. A much nicer way to start!

Closed 4 accounts this past week :)

December 14th, 2006 at 11:35 am

One Sharebuilder account is closed, plus HSBC, the Chase Sonycard, and Kohl's. Despite all the reasons for keeping multiple credit card accounts open a few blog entries back, I just don't want the hassle--or the temptation of too many open accounts.

I've been reading Dave Ramsey lately, who says no credit cards, ever. However, I tried that before, and was burned*. So I'm opting for "moderation in all things" and at least reducing the number of accounts I have open. It feels good! Smile

(*There was some kind of business I needed to do, and they wouldn't take a debit card. I had to quick apply online for any old card I could find, that would give me an account number to use right away. Not the best way to choose a card.)

Chomping at the bit

December 6th, 2006 at 09:03 am

I seem to be obsessed lately with reorganizing my system for the new year. I can't seem to concentrate on much else til I make some decisions.

Today's decision, Netbank must go. It was nice to get the $165 in bonuses, but as an ongoing thing it just isn't working. This morning I researched some local banks to see where I might want to move my Discretionary Spending checking account. I think I can get the account opened and direct deposit from my paycheck set up by the end of the week.

FYI - My objections to Netbank.

First, to get paper statements in the mail, they charge you a fee. I really need automatically-mailed paper statements so DH can see what's going on if something happens to me. But I'm darned if I'm gong to pay extra for them.

Second, it's not easy getting money into the account. There are no local branches. And, they don't set up links to other institutions like they do at ING, Paypal and Schwab. You have to give them the sign-on and password to your other accounts' online banking systems. Nobody else asks for that, I'm not comfortable with it, and I'm just not doing it.

I've thought about and tried a couple of different work-arounds, but I'm tired of the hassle. I'd just rather use a normal bank that sends out statements, and where I feel comfortable enough about staying for the long haul to set up direct deposits from my paycheck.

Making up credit card rules for myself

December 4th, 2006 at 07:47 am

I just looked over the old credit card transactions in Quicken, to see exactly we've been charging since I started here, May of 2005. Unfortunately, I don't have a record of how we built up a balance of $4185 by that point! But it does give me an idea of how much I can cut down on cc usage, and hopefully keep out of trouble better.

Two big reasons for using the cc's have gone away. First, Citi's rewards were cut back. Second, the Dealpass gift card programs seem to be going kaput. Somewhere I read that they only took credit cards, not debit cards, and I never wanted to take the chance.

So the good reasons I have left for using them occasionally are:

Discover pays back 5% on car-related expenses.

If I'm doing trial offers, it helps to have extra cc account numbers to use.

If I'm buying something electronic that might fail, the Sony card doubles the warranty.

Sometimes there's a special discount you can only get if you use a specific card. I've taken advantage of this with Kohl's, Mastercard and Discover.

DMom doesn't like credit or debit cards, and doesn't want one of her own. But she's perfectly happy to have me order things for her online with my cards! If buying something like her computer would leave me strapped until she reimburses me, it seems reasonable to put it on a cc.

If I'm buying something from an unfamiliar place, and think I might have trouble with the order. I've been happy with the way Citi handles chargebacks (have done it twice.)

Then there's always the possibility of a new-account bonus offer that you don't get until after your first purchase.

Virtually everything else (95%) that I've used cc's for lately could have been handled with debit cards or checks, so long as enough money was in our checking accounts. And except for some car repair emergencies, if there wasn't money sitting there I shouldn't have bought the stuff anyway!

Changing focus

December 3rd, 2006 at 07:25 am

Less than two weeks, and the last of the cc debt will be paid off! You might have noticed I changed the title of my blog--not quite true yet, but I had time to fiddle with it today so I did.

I'm getting really apprehensive about staying out of debt for good this time. I've dug out several times before, only to fall back into debt again, and I'm sick of it. Just like I've lost weight before and always gain it back. I'm not good at the maintenance phase!

I'm also sick of thinking about money all the time. But I know if I relax too much about it, bad things will happen. So I'm trying to come up with ideas that will keep me on track and not be a pain in the neck.

#1 - I have debit cards, I just have to remember to use them. It's been an ingrained habit to whip out a cc whenever possible, to earn rewards or because I'm not sure whether there's enough in checking to cover the purchase. Which leads to...

#2 - Get used to keeping more of a balance in our checking accounts, even if they're earning no interest. That way, I can write a check or use the debit card without worry, and then reimburse checking from savings at my leisure. In the past, I'd charge something like a vet visit, wait for the money to move from ING to checking, and then pay off the charge. Only sometimes the money went for other things before the charge got paid.

I'd be interested in any other tips on staying out of debt, once you're out.