I'd like to join in the 5-5-5 fitness thing. DH and I will be taking a walk right after I finish here. My fives are:
3) Stretching (Angela Lansbury tape)
4) Leslie Sansone DVDs
5) Cleaning (I'm so out of shape that cleaning the bathroom feels like exercise!)
Some nice little money treats yesterday and today. Our latest natural gas bill is only $10 for some reason. Our normal balancing month for the equal payment plan is September, but I guess we used less over the winter than they expected, and/or natural gas prices must have come down. I also got the chance to do surveys on my latest receipts from Dunkin Donuts and Chick Fil A. We're now entitled to a free donut and a free chicken sandwich.
Viewing the 'Organizing' Category
I'd like to join in the 5-5-5 fitness thing. DH and I will be taking a walk right after I finish here. My fives are:
Over the past couple of days, I've pulled prices from some grocery receipts and started a new price book using Excel.
Most recently, I was using Splash Shopper on my old Palm PDA, and liked it. I'd refer to the database on the Palm, and use the desktop version to input the prices. But I've switched to an ipod Touch as my PDA, and I wasn't impressed by the reviews I've read for their app. I've tried some other apps, but it's tedious trying to enter much information on the ipod. Plus, I want to be able to choose what information I record.
For example, I want to record both price per pound and per item for some things. When I go to Shoprite they price bell peppers by the pound, and when I go to Walmart they are priced by the piece. At Aldi, right now they're in 3-packs. In Excel, I can add as many columns as I want for different types of unit prices, rather than having to choose just one.
I'll email it to myself when I feel it's done, so it's accessible on the ipod. But I still might print it out and carry it in my purse. I don't like whipping out the ipod inside stores if I don't have to.
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.
Monday was an NSD. I spent some time before my afternoon shift doing some produce prep and planning out food for the week.
Tuesday I spent more than necessary because my organizational skills fell short. I forgot to take my mug in to work, so I bought coffee in order to have the use of a cup throughout the day. I'd planned to pick up salads for dinner but didn't take the time to dig out a coupon before I left home for the day. I also forgot to take my empty iced tea pitcher home to refill; luckily I had another container at home to use this morning.
Wednesday I needed to order a shower gift for a coworker's daughter before all the less expensive items in her wishlist are purchased--otherwise a NSD.
I've been trying to use up some food items before they get so old I'm afraid to eat them. So far: the end of a cucumber, a bit of leftover pasta salad, a jar of cheese that had a use-by date of March, one last Wasa cracker, a Dinty Moore beef stew that had a use-by date earlier in April. Today I'll be making some Jello that's dated February, and using up some cooked corn by adding it to a can of vegetable soup. I'm taking some dry creamer into work to help use up some instant coffee I keep there. It isn't drinkable otherwise and I end up either buying coffee or using my own K-cups which aren't that cheap, either.
Today can't be an NSD because we're paying the property taxes, but there's hope for tomorrow.
I've been a Quicken enthusiast for 15 years, but I'm getting very close to giving up on it. Working on this blog entry has been a way to think it through...
128 MB. That's how much memory my computer has--and that was supposed to be the minimum requirement for running Quicken 2008 Deluxe. Well, actually running turned out to be an exaggeration--limping, crawling, or stumbling maybe. (FYI--I started using Quicken on my first computer, back in 1992. That old Quicken version had all the features I needed and worked just fine on 4 MB.)
I decided I was willing to live with the slowness and the quirks because I really wanted to play with the Savings Goal feature. But after installing a security update, it got even worse--now it won't open up and run at all.
I've put in many hours of troubleshooting already, and have another list of things to try from my new email friend, seemingly located in India. Why did I start using it in the first place, what problems did it solve, and do I still need it now? Is it worth putting in even more time trying to get it to work?
Era # 1 - No need for Quicken. Or even a calculator!
In high school and college, my finances were simple. I used a passbook savings account, a Christmas Club, and cash. With passbook savings accounts, you could see exactly what was in your account at any time by looking in the book. With the Christmas Club, you also knew exactly where you stood at all times. You could tell the balance by the number of coupons that were already taken out. And the bank always had a little display out showing what week the Club was on. If it was Week 10 and you were only paid up to Week 8, you knew you had some catching up to do.
Note, the bank provided the only tracking tools I needed.
Era # 2 - Chaos
For roughly 15 years, maybe 1977 to 1992, I could have used something like Quicken if it had existed and if I'd had a computer. I started to keep a checking account, started opening charge accounts and credit cards, and bought some savings bonds. The passbook savings accounts started to disappear, replaced by Statement Savings. The Christmas Club books started to disappear, and now worked like Statement Savings. Note the key here is the word Statement. Without the passbooks and coupon books, I now had to keep track on my own, between statements.
My tracking tools were a paper check register, deposit receipts, a pencil, and a calculator. Eventually I added two more tools--duplicate checks, and teller-provided printouts of recent transactions. They both helped me catch things I forgot to record in the register. My writing is rather large, and I've always had trouble writing in check registers. And even with a calculator I had a terrible time balancing the checkbook when the statement came. I really had no system at all for keeping track of credit card balances.
The first years DH and I were married, we lurched from one financial crisis to the next. It got so bad I was getting cash advances on one credit card to pay the minimum payment on another one. Low income, overspending, and chaotic record keeping all contributed. If payday loans had been invented yet, we might have been sucked into that. My best AND my worst purchase back then might have been that first computer I bought--for $2,000, financed on our Sears card.
Erica # 3 - Golden Age of Quicken
For the next 15 years, 1992 to 2007, I really came to rely on Quicken. It came on that first computer, so I gave it a try. It was intimidating, but the first time I went through the checkbook balancing process with it, I was sold. SO much better than doing it on paper. It seemed like a miracle. I really got into setting up categories and classes and fiddling with the budget feature.
Our financial life got more complicated. Credit union account with several subaccounts, IRAs, stock DRIP plans, more savings bonds. I opened even more credit cards for bonuses and 0% offers. I bought gift cards at a discount and had to track the remaining balances. I started selling books online, and tracked all the business income and expenses in Quicken, too.
But even with all that tracking, we've still had more unpleasant financial surprises than I would have liked--mostly due to counting on Quicken's budget feature. As I've written before, it doesn't take into account the timing of paychecks and bills. It will indicate a surplus for an upcoming month overall, without warning you that you'll go negative for a day because a big bill is due just before a paycheck. It gave me a false sense of security about spending money. So I'm no longer using it for budgeting, and I've spent a lot of time entering expected transactions months in advance, just so I can make sure we won't be going into the red at any point.
And I think our finances got so complicated partly BECAUSE of Quicken. If I'd had to deal with it all on paper, I would have kept things simpler. It seemed so easy to just keep adding accounts and categories in Quicken, til it suddenly became overwhelming.
Lately I've streamlined things. I don't have the bookselling business anymore. We don't own stocks outside of our IRAs. I'm not doing the gift card thing. Practically every transaction in and out of our accounts is predictible, if not automated. Direct deposit of paychecks, automatic transfers to savings, automatic bill payment. We still have two credit cards, but hardly ever use them. I'm trying to use cash instead of the debit card whenever possible.
There just isn't as much to track. And once again, the bank is providing the main tool I need--not in the form of passbooks and coupon books, but through online banking. Maintaining a complete written or Quicken register on my own between monthly statements just isn't as important. The headache of reconciling the account once a month when the statement comes isn't really necessary if I've been keeping up with things online.
The way I'm feeling now is, the computer is a great tool for managing finances. I wouldn't want to go back to pencil and paper. But maybe Quicken was only necessary during that period where banks were pretty much leaving us on our own, without the tools to track thngs between statements. Now with online banking, maybe the Quicken era is ending. I'm pretty sure it is for me.
I started a new file in my shopping list program for keeping cost per portion info. (Such as, one Italian sausage is 50 cents and saltines cost less than a half a cent each.)
I figure I've been counting calories for almost 40 years, and it hasn't done me a whole lot of good. I'll try something new and see how much I've eaten in dollars and cents each day.
I thought of just continuing to track what I spent on groceries overall, but it would be hard to take into account how much DH and I each ate. Also, it wouldn't give me such a close look at which items are the best buy, like a banana vs. an individual applesauce cup.
Made a trip to Aldi's last night, at what I hoped would be a slow time. I was able to take my time in the aisles, looking for things I couldn't find previously, and writing down prices.
Nonstick cooking spray (canola-based) $1.29
Turkey bacon $1.89
Splenda, in addition to their own brand of aspartame
Plain, nonfat yogurt
Sugar free "jello" and fat free pudding, in the refrigerated section $1.79 for 6 cups
Fat free "cool whip" 75 cents
Baked nacho tortilla chips $1.49
Mixaid (like Crystal Lite) $1.75
Lite mayo $1.49
Corn tortillas in the bread section, that I turn into baked chips myself, by slicing and baking, 89 cents
Sunflower seeds 39 cents
Tomato juice, large can 89 cents
No 1% milk; there's skim but I'm not wild about it
No reduced fat sour cream
No reduced fat sliced cheese
No vinegar besides white distilled (cookbooks say too harsh to be used in salad dressings)
Not much selection in bottled diet salad dressings
No flavored lite cream cheese, only plain
Diet frozen meals limited to "Lean Pocket" type wraps
Still and all, I think I'll find plenty to eat and lose weight. I'll try their diet dressings, and I'll try making some homemade ones calling for lemon juice rather than fancy vinegars.
Sorry about the new colors--I was going for Springy, but it's hard to tell what a color will look like from those little squares!
Last night and again this morning, I took the time to sign up for some freebies, and signed up for some good ones. Purina One (again!), Good Life Recipe pet food, a free book on Windows Vista, and a CD-ROM of computer games from AARP.
I've been trying to do advance food prep more often, like hard-boiling eggs and cutting up veggies. Hopefully it will help with eating healthier as well as cutting down on food waste. So far so good--I've put it into some task scheduling software I got recently, and it does seem to be helping.
Another task I put in was checking my Yahoo mail. It's where I get all my paid emails from MyPoints and Inbox Dollars. When I get busy with other things, I can go a whole month without dealing with those emails, and then the offers expire. I don't want to be checking all the time, but I do hate missing out on those points.
Finally programmed the One Suite access number into speed dial. Our old AT&T phone card raised their rates, so I switched. But since I didn't have the One Suite number memorized, I was making in-state toll calls on our regular long distance carrier and generating a bill of about $2.50 a month. While the $15 I'd already paid to One Suite sat there unused.
Bought more minutes for my mother's MCI phone card, using my Discover card. She doesn't have credit or debit cards, so I use mine and she pays me back.
I also ordered a Virgin Mobile phone for her, as she finally decided a cell would be a good idea for emergencies. When it arrives, I'll be activating it online and setting up automatic billing through of of our cards, too.
I'd really like to stop using credit cards altogether, but I don't feel like I can front all of my mother's purchases out of cash yet. Hopefully sometime soon I'll have enough extra sitting in checking accounts so I can use debit cards for her stuff instead.
Even with earning 5% cash back on gas--I just want to get out of the habit. Every week when I get gas, it just reinforces the habit of using the card. All of a sudden, I just want out!
At least today I did switch billing for our long-distance from Discover to one of our debit cards.
For my "13th month", the 4 weeks ending January 13, I went over budget on Everyday Expenses by about $50. It came to $595.42.
For the first full 4 week period in 2007, ending February 10, I went over by about $36. I thought I was going to come in under budget, and even things out. But it didn't happen, and here's the main reason why.
My mother paid me back for something in cash, rather than by check. I didn't get to the bank with it right away, and started to spend it rather than using my debit cards. I did remember to record some things, and may have more receipts somewhere. But the fact is, right now I have no idea where $63.95 went, and no way to reconstruct it. If the purchases had been with a debit or credit card, they'd turn up on my statement and I'd know.
Since I have a category "cash unaccounted for" in my Everyday Expenses reports, it now all gets counted against Everyday Expenses no matter what it was for. Gosh darn, but I hate using cash!
On the plus side, our savings is starting to grow. I'll be keeping updated totals under Author Info at the top right of the blog.