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Archive for July, 2010

Problems of Abundance

July 29th, 2010 at 10:38 am

My father, a far wiser person than I, tells me that I have "problems of abundance." Don't know what to do on Saturday because you have too many invites? Problem of abundance. Not sure which leftovers to re-heat? Not sure what to wear? Right - Problems of abundance.

Today, I have some unexpected problems of abundance. My husband's company stock is up -way up. We sold some last week, and now we're wondering if we should sell the rest of it. Partner equalization at the firm meant I got $850 'extra' dollars this week, plus payment for travel expenses, and I'm told I'll be getting an 'extra' $75.00 each month. Earlier in the month I recieved a partner distribution -something we are supposed to get regularly, but haven't been able to count on in the tough economy.

I am taking 1/2 the $850 and putting it away for taxes (I am responsible to pay my own taxes quarterly -no withholding), the remaining money is to be split between savings accounts (emergency fund, vacation and christmas). The $75.00 each month is going to go (for the first time in a long time) into my retirement fund. About half of last week's stock sale is being held for taxes, the rest will pay for our new front stairs. The partner distribution is going to be held for taxes.

I am feeling more confident than usual that at the end of the year we'll have held enough money back for taxes. (Because my stake in the firm changes every year, as well as my compensation, we can only guesstimate what we'll owe each year.) If there is 'extra' left over after we pay the government, we'll then probably hold half that in reserve for next year, and put half into our existing debt.

I hope I'm making the right decisions here - I know it's probably better to put some of our newfound $ to our existing debt, but I'm also aware that I need to add to the emergency fund (which was depleted by a series of car disasters), should be funding some kind of retirement, and putting $ aside for Christmas and a planned vacation in 2012 is intended to prevent us from adding any $ to our existing debt.

Problems of abundance. Thoughts as to whether this plan is unreasonable...?

The Stairs

July 28th, 2010 at 07:09 am

Just a quick post to show off the new stairs! Ok, now you guys owe me photos of your wallpaper!! Smile

Mad Men, Contractors and The Grand Entrance

July 27th, 2010 at 07:18 am

I think we've finally realized that no matter what the budget for the project is, we should add 50%.

Our house is a little over 60 years old, and we are the second owners. The interior looks like the set designers from Mad Med had a bad day - mutant pineapple wallpaper, lots of goldenrod, and a bathroom with 3 shades of peachy pink (that, by the way, cannot be color matched). Primarily for safety reasons, we've had to do some substantial work on the exterior of the house (although the improvements have all had cosmetic value)- and we have a great landscaper who has worked with us for several years doing the various projects piece by piece.

This spring, we realized that the fieldstone front steps were going to need work. (By work, I mean: were dangerous, falling apart, and might not last the summer.) While my husband talked about doing the work ourselves, I determined that 1) my husband would take forever to do it, if it got done at all; 2) he has no idea what he's doing 3) it would look awful and we'd probably be re-doing the stairs again next year; 4) having a contractor do the steps was cheaper than divorce. We got several quotes and called our go-to landscaper. He gave us a reasonable estimate and we scheduled the project.

In June, the steps fell apart -I blame the chipmunk who had made a cozy bachelor pad inside, although I think the 2 year old had also been taking pieces of the steps and throwing them into the "lawn." (And by "lawn," I mean dead grass that sits in front of the house.)

The landscaper arrived last week. Like any project at our house, he quickly realized that it wasn't going well and he was going to have to build new steps from scratch. This is not a surprise - all of our repair experiences with this house have been similar.

The good news is that the work will be finished today and the steps look fantastic. The bad news is that he's $750 over estimate. I agree with the changes to the project, (and that the price is fair) but it's not like I can just go get that $ off the tree in the backyard. It's thrown a bit of a wrench into the budget...

I have said throughout that I want to spend the money to do these improvements right, but it's a lot easier to say that than to write the check.

Living in Stepford

July 26th, 2010 at 11:23 am

Disclaimer: this is mostly not financial in nature, and absolutely peppered with off the cuff sarcasm.

My oldest son starts kindergarden next month, and I'm nervous about starting at a new school with new parents and teachers, and not only because not everyone appreciates my dry humor and generally sarcastic nature.

I'm the only working mom in our neighborhood.

Our town is very...traditional. Stepford, Mad Men, Neil Armstrong on the Moon traditional. We don't have a gym or YMCA - we have a tennis club. We don't have sewers because "that's how the government gets into your house." (Actual quote) We don't have an ice cream shop or dry cleaner because it is "too industrial." Everyone uses last names.

At kindergarten orientation, the PTA co-president (we also have a co-secretary and a co-treasurer..?) told the assembled parents, "I know many of you moms are busy with your other children, sports programs and volunteer activities...(and then in a hushed voice) some of you may even work...!"

All of the school functions and meetings have been scheduled during normal business hours -which has been difficult to manage when both parents work. All the sports activities are scheduled for weekday mornings between 9:30 and 11:30 -impossible for us to manage.

I've already had a difficult time connecting with the other mothers. I know there are parents who have made some pretty interesting assumptions about our lifestyle and values based on what they perceive of our family...and it irks me. I am too tired to deal with this ridiculous "Mommy Wars" mentality.

I want to say to these people, "Look. What's important is that the kids grow up into responsible, caring adults with a love of life and learning. Who cares if you make tollhouse cookies while I'm arguing a motion? Your kids are going to turn into adults with dependancy issues, and my kids are going to be underemployed with multiple piercings and bad taste in music. Let's work together with what we've got!"

Also, I would like to go in to the Principal's office and say, "If you don't stop scheduling every freaking thing for a time between the hours of 9 and 2, I am going to be a giant boil on your backside for as long as my kids go to your school."

(For the record, I am not going to do either of those things.)

I am hopeful that we'll be able to make some new friends this year, and that my son's mohawk grows out before the start of the school year. Because if it doesn't, I have no chance of ever fitting in in Stepford.

Big Night Out vs. My Wallet

July 23rd, 2010 at 07:19 am

So, we had our big night out on Wednesday. Two big budget scores: first, we parked at a meter, saving about $18.00 in parking -all we had to do was walk 4 blocks.

We ended up having to eat dinner out, so we scored again with a little hole in the wall Hungarian restaurant, skipping the way more crowded (and expensive) places that lined the street. We all tried something new, had two desserts and all for under $20.00. (And had great service and left with plenty of time for the show!)

Then, at the show, despite our best efforts, we couldn't find anyone selling souveniers. We did buy the little guy some ice cream and shared a soda. So, all in all, not a bad night out. (And the show was wonderful!)

As we left the arena, the local baseball team had finished their game, and there were some terrific fireworks! Unfortunately, at exactly the same time, the skies opened up and we were drenched in a deluge -and those 3 blocks to the car seemed longer in the rain while carrying a waterlogged 5 year old. But he loved it. (And it was kind of fun getting soaked!)

Big Night Out

July 21st, 2010 at 10:17 am

We have a big night out planned, which I've been looking forward to for a few months. We're taking our oldest son to see Star Wars in Concert -and while I'm super excited about going, I'm also anxious about one thing: the gimmicks they try to sell you when you go to anything these days.

We're having dinner with my husband's parents at home (cost: $0), and the in-laws are watching the little one (cost: $0). I assume we'll have to pay some crazy rate for parking ($20.00?). Enter the gadgets, t-shirts, lightsabers, and jedi watchamahooozle -all overpriced, and all directly in the line of sight of the 5 year old.

I'm going to explain calmly that there are going to be a lot of things for sale there, but that we aren't going to be buying anything tonight. My son is actually pretty good about that kind of thing...but...I'm afraid that the temptation is going to be too much for him, and we're going to have to try and manage a very disapointed little guy.

Kids and Money

July 19th, 2010 at 06:45 am

Our oldest is 5 and a half, and I think it's time to start really teaching him about money: how to earn it, save it, and spend it. I'm just not sure how to go about teaching him in a way that will be meaningful.

He has a piggy bank, and it's pretty full. He knows about the bank, and (we) opened a savings account with his birthday money last year.

The next step, I suppose, is an allowance. Obviously, something small -because he's still little, and is pretty sure that the size of the coin is = to it's value. (He's still working on the fact that a dime is worth more than a nickle.) So, how much?

Then there's the other issue: do we give him an allowance no matter what, or do we ask him to do chores and then give him an allowance? I want to instill that as a member of the family, we all pitch in around the house -and that helping out is not optional (and not dependent on choosing to be paid). I also don't want him to get the impression that people just hand you money and you then go your merry way.

Finally, once we've provided him some sort of income, however small, how do we best teach him how to save money, how to spend money and how to use money to help others? I've heard of people insisting that kids put 1/3 to savings, 1/3 to charity and 1/3 for spending. Has anyone done that? How do you enforce it and has it worked? As a practical matter, do you use an envelope system? Extra piggy banks?

Any ideas out there?

When Trimming the Fat is Cutting Too Much

July 15th, 2010 at 07:17 am

We have cut out a lot of extras at our house in the last couple years (having the second baby was a bit of a financial stretch). However, I can attest that when one spouse is frugal and the other isn't - there are going to be times when you have to give in.

We went back to having the groceries delivered (for a 6.95 fee -often free with coupons and discounts): because it turns out that husband always overspends at the grocery store and when one or both of us goes (with kids) it's a nightmare. I find that we spend less, only buy what we need, and save time and santity by not going ourselves.

I learned not to complain about his occasional trips to the donut shop for coffee before work: because it's important to him to have that perk, especially since I've budgeted out all the other ones.

We treat ourselves to the occassional (4 times a year) expensive video game: because going to the movies is too expensive, and we really like spending time together killing aliens.

Finally, ice cream is very important to my husband -and we're lucky to have great New England ice cream stands. In the summer, I never, ever, suggest that he get a smaller size when we go out. Smile

iCame, iSaw, iPad

July 12th, 2010 at 09:58 am

Last year, my husband resigned his post as a director of a leadership camp and with his resignation went the only perk of the position -the director's laptop.

We decided to purchase a device to replace the laptop and add portability to documents my husband uses in his second job. I also thought that the iPad might have practical uses in running a home and as a lawyer. I started an account at SmartyPig and quietly saved over the last year or so. Last week we brought home the iPad.

As non-Apple people, we're still trying to figure out what is obviously a great tool. It's a little like jumping into pool when you're little, and hanging on to the side of the pool where you feel comfortable...

That said, does anyone out there have suggestions on financial management apps that have been useful to you or ways to use the iPad?

The 10 Month Slide

July 12th, 2010 at 09:39 am

As you can see, I haven't posted in about 10 months. We've been busy.

I wish I had posted, because I can see a corrolation between posting here and my fiscal management. Writing about what we're doing financially was (is) a great way to track our progress, feel accountable, and be able to see what is and isn't working.

On the financial front, we decided to stop the costly repairs on my car and bought a new sedan. I did a signficant amount of research, considered new and used cars, and I'm satisfied that we made the best fiancial decision for us. That said, I'm not overly enthusiastic about the monthly payment or the slight increase in car insurance.

We had some moderately expensive home improvements as well. The first was the replacement of a failed hot water heating system with a GE water heater, the second was taking advantage of the appliance rebates in June to replace our ailing refridgerator, and the third was the replacement of two toilets (circa 1960) with low flow water saving models. We're already seeing savings on the utility bill with the water heater, and I expect that this month's utility bill will showcase the lower water and electricity from our other two improvements.

Finally, for my confession, I'll admit that I had basically completely stopped monitoring our finances. Having Mint on-line is great - except when you never check it. I don't regret my decision to abandon doing all the fiances myself and by hand, but I am going to resolve to actually monitor things. Sadly, my wake up call came this morning when a credit card company called wondering where their payment was (ooops - forgot!) and while I did convince them to remove the fee, I've triggered the default rate. It's not a huge issue, because I don't use the card for purchases, but I'm dissapointed in myself.

We've got a couple changes coming up in the next few months: our oldest starts kindergarden (which means a slight reduction in daycare costs), our youngest gets bumped to a new room (another daycare cost reduction). First on my list is to shore up the emergency fund, and then take aim at debt elimination.

Anyone else expecting changes in September?