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Time-consuming odds and ends

January 27th, 2006 at 08:05 am

Well, here goes with the new system!

JC Penney never put through a credit they were supposed to, when they ran short of an item I ordered at Christmas, even though it showed as in stock. Called about it this morning; will have to watch for it for 1-2 more billing cycles.

Gas company sent two bills, the second one saying I owed twice the amount as usual. It was because I called in the meter reading, and then the meter reader put in the reading also. Another phone call this morning, to get the 2nd bill cancelled out.

DH's paycheck was even lower than the last one, so I had to gather and copy all the pertinent paperwork at 7:15 this morning, so he could show his immediate supervisor what his new health deduction was supposed to be. It turned out last paycheck was short because he took a day off at the end of the year, when he was actually out of vacation time. But this time it was the insurance that was the problem. They took out the old amount PLUS the new amount, and will have to refund $123 in his next check. Thank goodness we have enough cash on hand to carry us through til then.

Yesterday got a call from the stockbroker who handles my account with some income-generating investments. A bond was called in, and he wanted the ok to reinvest the money in something else. I felt like I had to research it a little to make sure the new company was ok. I'd rather take a little less interest than get a higher rate on a junk bond.

Wednesday, my weekly paperwork day, I wasn't really in the mood for it and tried to make a game out of it by counting how many piece of paper I handled. I lost track at 100. It took several hours, and there are still more things I ought to do.

I feel very lucky to be working part-time, and have the time to take care of this stuff!

Annual file cleanout

December 31st, 2005 at 11:37 am

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. Wink )

Making use of time off

December 26th, 2005 at 06:47 am

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. Wink

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!)

Spending like crazy

December 12th, 2005 at 07:26 am

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.

Gotta go....

2006 Cash Flow Planning

December 4th, 2005 at 08:10 am

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. Smile

Some efforts paying off

November 4th, 2005 at 07:20 am

Good things in the mail this week--

* Got a letter saying my long distance was switched to Pioneer.
* The checks for my new personal checking account arrived.
* Got a package from Sanford, the people who make Sharpie markers, with several nice things in it. I'd mailed in two white-out pens I could never get to work, which turned out to be discontinued. For good reason, I think! They sent two new ones, a red Sharpie and a click-type ballpoint pen, plus stamps for what it cost me to mail in the bad ones.
* Free magazines, which continue to amaze me. Right now we are getting US News, Family Circle, Psychology Today, Antiques, and Budget Living.
*More gift cards I ordered from Passport To Fun. Got quite a few for Amazon, because I'm planning ahead for Virgin Mobile. I finally figured out that I could add minutes at a discount if I bought top-up cards with a discounted gift card instead of doing it with a credit card. I did get one with a gc at Target, but noticed they charged sales tax. Someone over on Fatwallet mentioned getting them on Amazon, where hopefully I won't be charged tax. So now the money is already sitting in my Amazon account, when it's time to get them.

I also got what looks to be my first chance for a test drive offer. I don't even remember how long ago I signed up for it, but I finally got the chance to do a Mazda one for a $25 SuperCertificate. Hope I have the guts to go and do it! I have til December 18 to build up my courage.

On the down side, I discovered yesterday that I'd paid $75 to Citibank twice. Good for our debt levels, not so good for our checking account balance.

Disorganization taking its toll here too

November 2nd, 2005 at 08:36 am

Philoscript, I know how you feel.

It's been about 2 weeks I've really fallen behind on the paperwork/recordkeeping front. I thought it was just last week, with the car repair, long distance switching, extra/different hours at work, and so forth. (The latest repair turned out to be a wiper motor for another $450, by the way.) But now that I went back and tried to reconstruct things, I can see it was about 2 weeks ago I stopped entering my spending in Quicken. After going through all the receipts I could find, I still can't account for $46.55 in cash spending. How can you spend that much in 2 weeks and not know where it went?

I also hadn't reconciled the checking account, although I'd gotten a statement 2 weeks ago. Usually I do it as soon as the statement period ends. Sometimes I can't wait to get the statement in the mail, and print it out from the website. So this really isn't like me. My current balance in Quicken wasn't accurate, and I'm very lucky there was a good cushion in there or I might have bounced a check.

I remembered various bills coming in recently, but had to dig around in my paper piles to find them. Luckily, nothing was due yet. I got them all scheduled online this morning.

I'm trying to do a thing all this week where I take care of 10 pieces of paper a day. It could just be tossing a piece of junk mail, or paying bill, or filing something. Just basically moving it on to it's next place. 10 pieces is the minimum; usually when I get started I get a lot more done than that. At least now I can see the top of my desk. And it's only Wednesday. Wink

Keeping my fingers crossed that I don't find anything so old and neglected that it's going to cost us money. So far, so good.

Allowance refinements

November 1st, 2005 at 04:02 pm

I started out this morning thinking it would be nice to have a special bright-colored checkbook cover for the separate checking account, so it would be obvious which account it was for, and easy to find in my purse. I figured the debit card for the account could be tucked inside too.

I surfed around on Ebay for awhile, and as often happens, ideas start occuring to me. Kind of like when you're very relaxed in the shower, or driving smoothly along a highway. Smile Ideas like, I also need to have part of my allowance in cash, which means two different types of items, bills and coins. Then there are gift cards that are specifically for me, like for Dress Barn. I started wondering whether I wanted a whole separate wallet for "me" things, but two wallets in my purse would be awfully thick and bulky.

I finally settled on getting an oblong cosmetics type bag, not too thick, long enough for the checkbook, with a zipper on top. It finally occured to me that I already had an old one I could try out. It's a little worn and I'm no longer wild about the color, but it will do the job til I can find something cute for a reasonable price. I used it today, and found it's also a good place for corralling receipts. I think this just might work!

I've also decided on $100 a month, $25 in cash and $75 to the new account. I don't know whether that sounds like a lot, or not much. I can say it's 6.5% of my take-home pay, and much less than what DH gets to play with per month.

So far, what I've spent on me:

$1.25 for paperbacks off the booksale rack at work, that I can trade for ones I want through frugalreader.com and paperbackswap.com
$.20 for some photocopies
$4.13 mailing books out for swaps, also a CD that sold on Amazon
$9.90 checks for the new account

I've got to get things switched at Amazon so sale proceeds will go into the new account. It didn't work when I tried, they couldn't confirm the account number or something. So I have to fax some info to a toll-free number. Have to remember to do it before my next payment is due to come through.

For the first time in months, I drove by a Joann's store today and felt like I'd be able to go in and actually buy something there soon. It was a nice feeling.

Getting ready for a new week

October 30th, 2005 at 04:21 pm

Even beyond the latest car problem, last week was a rough one. By the time the weekend rolled around, I knew I had to keep things simple and just try to catch up with myself. I did one big shopping trip at Pathmark, didn't use one coupon, and spent $76. Usually I match coupons to sales and go to 2 or 3 stores. But I just didn't want to spend the time or energy.

DH and I both have gas in our cars, and some cash. There's enough food in the house. The laundry is caught up. Tonight I'm dealing with those stacks of paper that build up so fast, and doing a little actual cleaning. We got some extra sleep, and got out on walks. We have movies to watch and books to read.

I don't even know how much money I spent over the past week--I probably overspent, what with the Pathmark shopping and $15 for Chinese food. But I think I'll be able to start the work week feeling caught up, and calmer. And that's the most important thing to me right at this moment.

Little bits and pieces

October 18th, 2005 at 05:21 am

Yesterday went well, especially considering it was a Monday. It's my longest day out of the house, and the morning is usually spent trying to catch up on the weekend mess. Usually I run out of the house late, having left things undone and feeling behind. This week I actually got to work early, and had lots of stuff ready to take to the post office on my dinner hour. I got a lot done at work, too. So I treated myself to a caramel-flavored coffee for $1.05 on the way back from dinner--positive reinforcement. Smile

What I got into the mail were: 2 rebate offers, 1 prescription reimbursement form, 1 package of awful correction pens (they're supposed to send me a new, better product), and a book that sold on Amazon. All little bits and pieces that will help us keep in the black.

I wonder if anyone else has had this experience--on the prescription reimbursement form, they asked for the prescribing doctor's DEA number. All the other info they wanted was on my receipt, except this. I called my doctor's office and they wouldn't give it to me--they put me on hold a long time, and passed me from person to person. What it came down to was, they said don't give that information out to patients because it could be used fraudulently. They kind of made me feel like a drug-addicted criminal, just for asking! And I'm sure the number is on the prescription forms they hand out every day, anyway. All this hassle just to get $7 back from Blue Cross for blood pressure medicine. What I ended up doing was putting on the form, doctor's office will not provide, please call them at xxx-xxx-xxxx. We'll see what happens.

There were booksales at two libraries this past weekend, but DH and I each had our own reasons for skipping them. DH ran short of cash last week, when he overdid it at the last booksale we went to. I felt very behind after spending so much time on the car repairs last week, and just wanted to stay home and catch up. I'm sure we won't have long to wait for another sale to go to, though. Like they stay about streetcars and men, another one is always just around the corner. Wink

I was supposed to be cutting back on groceries and such this month and next, to catch up on overspending in September. But now it's turkey time at all the supermarkets, where if you spend a certain amount you get the free turkey or ham or a % off your next shopping trip. And, there are a lot of sales going on at Pathmark for things we'll need over the next few months anyway. So I'm continuing to spend, and stocking up. Beyond getting a deal, it just feels good to see a full pantry and know that in the next snowstorm all I'll need to do is walk up to Eckerd's on the corner for milk. One thing I'm trying to do is make one rebate purchase a week at Pathmark. The purchase goes toward the free whatever, but it's not actually money spent because of the rebate.

Am almost caught up on watching all the Monarch of the Glen episodes that are on DVD. They play it on public tv around here, but I'd missed some episodes so I've been borrowing it from the library. There is something very satisfying about watching upper-crusty people, living in a castle, having to learn to cut down and pinch pennies...

Free PIM software--a nice surprise

October 4th, 2005 at 06:17 am

I checked back to when I last felt overwhelmed with loose ends and unfinished stuff--it's been a little over a month. It got me thinking to how I should just schedule a catch-up day once a month, and keep a running list of things I'll handle then. It's just a matter of what method to use to schedule it and keep the running list. It's hard to find a system I can stick with and won't forget to keep up with.

The most organized I've been was when I was using some software called Time and Chaos. I've had two different versions of it on two computers--as far back as when they sent you diskettes in the mail! After my last computer died, I got very leery of depending on a computer to run my life. Even with files backed up, it was a hassle to get things going again. So I never got a new version of T&C for this computer.

Yesterday, though, I got to feeling so desperate I checked their website to see how much it costs now. Their newest version is $45, and from past experience it would be worth every penny--even though I don't want to spend it right now. But the great news is, the previous version is now available completely free!!! And although it's an older version, it still works for Windows XP.

I can highly recommend it, if you need something for appointments, a to-do list, telephone book, etc. It's great for setting up repeating tasks like "clean out the fridge" once a month, in addition to dr. appointments and such. Here's a link. Scroll down the page to the Legacy section to get to the free version 5 download.


Good news--I've been sick

September 26th, 2005 at 07:07 am

I had the beginnings of a cold or allergies last week, and Friday it finally hit me hard. The cold symptoms weren't so bad, but the tiredness has been overwhelming. I didn't even sit at the computer for almost 3 full days. Basically, I watched TV or listened to the radio, either in bed or in a living room chair with my feet up. 3 no-spend days, no trouble at all. Wink Also, I've lost 4 pounds. It's just a good thing I was so tired, otherwise I might have given in and ordered one of those Magic Bullet blenders (after seeing parts of the infomercial at least a dozen times).

I was glad to have a stockpile of easy frozen dinners so I could get something on the table without ordering take-out. But we had practically no cold medicine in the house, and no chicken soup. DH wasn't anxious to go out and get anything for me, and I was to tired to really bug him about it. So I think maybe it would be worthwhile to have a "sick shelf" ready at all times, not just containing medicine but other supplies you might not want to run out for when you don't feel well. A project for later in the week, when I'm caught up on other things.

Balancing life a little better

September 21st, 2005 at 06:17 pm

I've been focusing on money now for almost 5 months straight. I wouldn't change what I've been doing--it had to be done. But on top of not building enough fun into my life, I haven't been exercising like I'm supposed to, and the house isn't looking very good. It takes a lot of time to play with the budget, make changes to things like cable service, and track rebates and bonus offers from banks, so other things just haven't gotten done.

There aren't a whole lot of big decisions or projects I can do right now; I'm kind of moving into maintenance mode for awhile. I don't have the extra cash to invest in more than the rebates I've already started, or more discounted gift cards, or new bank accounts. It seems like a good time to try and juggle life generally a little better, until some bills get paid off and I have more financial options.

So. This week I've exercised twice so far. I'm starting to go around the house, decluttering and reorganizing. I need to do some plain old cleaning, which frankly I hate. I like the results, but doing it--yuck!

On an email list I subscribe to, about working on goals, they suggest thinking of something to reward ourselves with as we accomplish various things. I know it might help me slog through the cleaning if I had a reward waiting at the end, but it's hard to think of rewards that are 1) free or cheap and 2) low in calories. Maybe looking for freebies and coupons online should be my reward--no internet on cleaning day until I'm done. Wink