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Archive for September, 2009

Falling off the Wagon

September 30th, 2009 at 01:27 pm

I haven't written in a while - as you know, it's tough balancing a full time job, volunteer work, a family and a house.

When we find ourselves digging out, I also tend to discover that the budget has flown out the window. September has been a bad month. I spent more on coffee than I normally would, due in part to a toddler that has developed a sleeping problem. The tight schedule pushed grocery shopping to the end of the priority list, so we ended up getting take-out more often than I would like. I ended up going to the doctor and a specialist, so we got hit with two co-pays, and the co-pay for the trip to the ER with the toddler last month. My husband's lodge dues came up, the B.J.'s membership came up, and our membership to a local museum. Add to this an increase in day care fees, and the discovery that we owe two weeks of back day care (we pay by month, and I forgot that 2 months had 5 weeks instead of 4). To add insult to injury, we paid a babysitter so that we could talk to a kitchen remodel guy to find out what actually remodeling the kitchen would cost so we could start saving.

Oh, and we began refinacing the mortgage. Ultimately that will save us money, but it's added an extra layer of stress to an already dismal financial month. (And a modest and unexpected $400 fee.)

Just to add a little confusion, I stopped using Money to balance the checkbook and started using Mint. I'm still trying to figure out how to make that work for us.

Instead of wallowing in a sense of rising panic, I am determined to start fresh in October. We'll have to adjust the credit card debt reduction plan to reflect some charges to the card (like the refinancing fee), but we remain on track (mostly). The refinance is a good move, we're continuing to save for our goals and my husband put some hours in on his second job, which will certainly help the bottom line.

Hopefully, October will be significantly less exciting at our house.

Birthday Madness

September 14th, 2009 at 01:39 pm

My youngest's birthday is at the end of the month and we're having a party. I'll leave my rambling on about how much I hate hosting kid's birthday parties out, because this is a frugal blog -not a parenting blog!

I had picked out some hand printed invitations on line, which coordinated with personalized thank you notes. Cost: $50.00. I couldn't figure out why a 2 year old would need either of those, so I went to Michaels and got some blank cards and construction paper. My husband spent a couple hours tracing the design I wanted and cutting out the shapes onto the black construction paper. The cost so far: $12.00.

We'll make our own cake this year, and the party favors will be construction hats for each kid: 12 for $6.00. As the party winds down, we're going to have the local construction guy drive his giant digger over to the house so that the kids (and parents!) can have pictures with the digger. Cost? Probably free, but I'm happy to give the guy some $ for his trouble, or at least a piece of cake!

I'm having the party from 2:30 to 4:30, so we'll have appetizers, cake and ice cream -no big meal.

It's a small party, and mostly family, so my hope is that we can unleash the kids outside on the swingset and let them entertain themselves (with supervision, of course!)

Hopefully, this simple approach will turn out not only to be frugal, but will be fun for kids and parents. I am desperately fighting the trend to have over the top parties for kids. We've already been to pizza parties with bouncy houses, cartoon characters, and had fish given to us as party favors. The last party had the ice cream truck come with unlimited ice cream for everyone. Before that, the parents had rented out the entire YMCA for a 4 year old's birthday. I don't want my kids to feel like we don't care about their birthdays -but I definately don't want them growing up thinking that stuff=love, either.

Remember the Monopoly Bank Error Card?

September 8th, 2009 at 07:35 pm

I rembember loving the bank error card in Monopoly. I didn't know what a bank error was, but I knew it gave me an extra $150 dollars in case I later landed on the B&O.

Well, our fine mortgage company didn't pull out the mortgage payment this month. Earlier in the month when I checked in with them, the automated telephone banking system advised me that they were undergoing maintenance and that pending payments would be credited by the 5th. Sure enough, now the telephone banking system tells me that I am current, my payment having posted on the 4th. The only problem? None of the $ was ever taken out of the checking account, and my bank says that no payments are pending.

Unfortunately, this is wreaking havoc on my financial mental wellbeing. I'm just getting used to my decision to stop hand inputting receipts into Money, and now I'm downright edgy about accidentally overdrawing the account -this giant missing transaction isn't making me feel any better.

Until the lender works this issue out - it's "do not pass go" at our house.

Wedded Bliss

September 7th, 2009 at 08:21 pm

The wedding to end all weddings was this weekend, and it seemed to go off without a hitch. The bride and groom are happy as can be, my wallet is significantly lighter (thanks in part to the really expensive wedding bar) and we're all relieved to be done with the whole affair. The biggest hitch was that the hotel accidently reserved us for the wrong night and charged us a no-show fee and would have been happy to charge us again for the (so called) last minute favor they were going to do for us in giving as a room for the night we had actually reserved. We declined and headed to my nearby in-laws, where our kids were staying. Now I have to wage battle with the hotel and the credit card company.

In other news, upon arriving home we found that the kitchen floor has failed. Fortunately, it doesn't appear to be a drastic failure, and it's something we can live with for the time being. Husband wants me to consider making a homeowner's claim, but I'm not so sure. I suspect that the replacement of the floor wouldn't exceed the deductable, so I'm not inclined to make this our second claim this year.

We're starting now to look at our expected winter expenses, everything from winterizing the house and the fuel oil bill, to the outside projects that have to get done before the snow starts flying. Hoepfully, despite the increase in the day care fees, we'll be able to get a few things done over the next few months and then have a quiet winter.

Dishwasher's Revenge

September 3rd, 2009 at 04:13 am

For those of you poor souls that followed me through the entire post about the death of the dishwasher -thanks! The follow up is just as thrilling.

In a recurring theme in our house, things with the dishwasher installation didn't go quite as planned....

I got home this evening to find my husband working to install the new dishwasher. He made one trip to the hardware store, which for us is not too bad. I'm feeling pretty good, when I notice a puddle of water in the entry to our dining room. I grab a towel. "Hey, what's with the water?" I say. Then I step on the kitchen floor and watch water spurt into the dining room. I am now feeling pretty suspicious.

Husband tosses over his shoulder: "Oh, I didn't know it made it all the way over there." And then, he says, as if this happens all the time, "I shut the water off last night when I took the old dishwasher out, but the water shut off leaked all night, soaked through the subfloor and into the basement. So, it looks like its soaked all the kitchen flooring."

Did I mention that this particular kitchen floor was installed by my husband and father in law at start of the summer? Parts of the installation haven't even been finished yet! (But that's another story) Depending on how bad my luck is, it would seem like we're likely to have to pull out the old one and replace the entire floor - but first it's got to dry out, which will take a couple weeks.

The bright spot is that the dishwasher appears to work fine.

Is Balancing the Checkbook Passe?

September 2nd, 2009 at 08:44 pm

I've been balancing the checkbook every month since I was in college. First on paper and then (thank goodness) with Quicken and now Microsoft Money. The process is tedious and since I've never found a bank error - somewhat useless. I have never used most of the features those programs offered, except for an occasional report for taxes or to clarify a particular set of expenses. I found the budgeting tools to be wildly inaccurate for us -either that, or I never managed to put in the information correctly.

Now I find out that the cutting edge in household fiscal management is to use free on-line services to manage your accounts and budgets. Pretty charts and graphs plus paid for advertisers suggest improvements to your existing financial strategy.

I've looked at mint.com and thrive.com. Is anyone using those services? Are they useful/dangerous/or just time wasters? Is there any practical reason to continue hand entering transactions into Money?

Dishwashing Dilemna

September 2nd, 2009 at 04:15 pm

Last Thursday, my husband pointed out that the Kenmore diswahswer light was blinking. Turns out that it had run a half cycle and died. Gritting my teeth, I found a repair place that would send someone to look at it for $50. (Sears wanted $123 to look at it, which included labor, but not parts). The repairman finally figured out that there was a short in the control board, which would cost $250 to replace.

Enter the dilemna. Repair or Replace? We bought the dishwasher in late 2005 after the old one that came with the house actually caught on fire. Consumer Reports had highly rated the Kenmore brand and we bought a highly rated middle of the road model on sale for about $350. Less than 4 years later, the dishwasher is broken, and the repairman helpfully adds that 1)he can't be sure that the shorting out of the control board didn't cause other problems or won't happen again and 2) in his experience, dishwashers only last 3 to 8 years.

So, trying not to think about the financial damage I'm inflicting, I decide to go with a new dishwasher. Besides the fact that it is broken, I have a couple of concerns about the unit that had surfaced in the last year or so (mold in unusual places, soap doesn't always dispense, occassional odd smells that disappear and re-appear with no discernable reason), and I suspect that this repair would have been the first of many. I decide to cut my losses.

Of course, Sears is having a promotion on dishwashers, but I'm not really inclined to buy another Kenmore, and we've had some bad experiences with Sears in the past couple years. I looked at Best Buy, Lowes, Home Depot, and a regional appliance place. I read Consumer Reports and all the consumer comments on every dishwasher model. I drove my husband crazy.

In a last-ditch Hail Mary effort, I called a very local appliance store -a no frills kind of place. They didn't have the model I'd settled on, but they had the next model up. The base price of both models was cheaper than anywhere else I'd looked. The salesman gave me a 5% discount, and the model came with a $50 factory rebate (they are switching to the new model year). The dishwasher is an Energy Saver, so we qualify for a $50 rebate from our town's utility department. We managed to get the old one into the SUV, so no delivery fees, and my husband is going to install the new one.

I ended up spending less on the better model than I had planned for my original choice -although in total about $200 more than the cost to repair the old one. The new model is more energy efficient and uses less water (which is good, since we have been running the dishwasher daily now that both kids are eating grown up food). It is quieter than the old one and has a better repair rating.

I still don't like the hit to the budget. We're in a position to pay for it (although it means a little belt tightening), but it feels like a move backwards for us. I've met my savings goals for three months and replaced the money in savings that we had spent on car repairs -but we're going to have a horrible financial weekend with this wedding (we have to pay for the tux rentals, wedding gift and hotel) and the dishwasher. Sigh.