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Bad Monday (Are there good ones?)

August 3rd, 2010 at 01:33 pm

Monday Morning

6:15. Baby has fever of 102.3

6:30. Husband informs me he is going to a funeral.

7:00. On-line statement reveals negative balance.

7:15. Investigation reveals that we have $3.00 in cash between us.

7:30. I raid son #1's piggy bank to give $ to husband for funeral. (Son #1 is too busy trying to convince Baby to make funny faces to notice he's been robbed.)

8:00. Husband leaves for funeral (with $), son #1 goes to school, baby decides to watch TV on the couch with me. I make mental note to re-pay son #1 when he's not looking.

11:00. Finally get to Dr.'s office. I offer silent prayer thankful that we have health care account credit card for co-pay. Dr. determines Baby has a virus that cannot be treated. We head home for a nap.


Our bank was bought out a couple months back and they have finally finished transitioning our accounts. For the second month in a row, the checking account has overdrawn on the 1st of the month. Because it appears to be their fault, I'm not being assessed any fees, but it is a real PITA. Not to mention it's stressful knowing that we're running that close to the line on the budget. I'd like to change banks, but husband says I'll get over it --and points out that we're running out of banks. (The ones I pick keep getting bought by bigger ones.)

If nothing else, I've learned one thing: we're going to have to keep some extra cash on hand for emergencies.

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...?

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?

Birthday Madness

September 14th, 2009 at 06:39 am

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 12:35 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 01:21 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.

Is Balancing the Checkbook Passe?

September 2nd, 2009 at 01:44 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?

I met the financial planner

August 21st, 2009 at 09:29 am

I took an hour off today to meet with the prospective financial planner. I think it's going to be a good fit for us. He seems reasonable about his investment strategies and able to adjust to our risk levels. I definately liked that he will be able to put together and review the entire portfolio from all our sources and examine the income/growth ratios globally. He has no issue with the fact that we've got investments that I'm not willing to change right now.

I liked that he had different compensation methods (fee and comission based) and we can choose which way works best for us and change at any time. No charge for phone calls, consulations, portfolio reviews and the like.

One of the things I liked best was that he didn't talk over my head, wasn't condesending and didn't make me feel like we'd wasted the last 10 years of our lives. He's also perfectly comfortable with the fact that we'll be investing small sums for a while while we work on our other financial priorities -the credit card debt, for one.

I took all the information he had, and I'll research more over the weekend, but my gut feeling is that this is the right guy for us right now.

Fear of the Financial Planner

August 19th, 2009 at 06:50 am

Yesterday, I made an appointment to speak to a financial advisor. My husband has a fairly robust 401k through his employer. On the other hand, I have not invested in any retirement account in over 5 years. My "portfolio" is sadly lacking.

I have an IRA and mutual fund that have languished for at least 10 years. I have something that was started by my employer before I was a partner, which appears to be invested in a CD. The total value of my retirement portfolo is less than $20,000.

In addition, I need solid advice about managing our tax liability and our current life insurance policies and limits.

I am surprised that I let the whole retirement thing get so bad, but I know that studies show that I am not alone. Women, for a variety of reasons, tend to shun away from traditional finacial planning and to delay planning for their own retirements. Instead of kicking myself about how I got here (when I was the kid that opened an IRA when I was 19!), I'm going to try to focus on the postive - it's not too late to put aside the $ to have a great retirement!

Not surprisingly, when I told my husband I was going to speak with a potential financial advisor, he was indifferent. While he's happy poking at his company stock options now and then on E*trade, he's basically uninterested in managing any of the finances. I suppose I should just be grateful that he's supportive and on board with the plan going foward.

I can't explain why, but I am terrified of this meeting. My inner voice has been telling me it's ok if I want to cancel and I've come up with some great excuses. Whenever that little voice chimes in, I remind myself that I'm not committing to anything just yet, and I take a deep breath.

Anyone have any thoughts about long term financial planning or financial planners?

Friday Recap - My First Frugal Week!

August 14th, 2009 at 11:51 am

What a week! Spending is up slightly at our house -but we're still on track for a good week. Last night was a pizza night. Fortunately, I had figured we'd be eating out one night a week, and the leftovers made a good lunch.

Today I had a latte and bought a fruit cup for my son for us to share while we listened to the music festival during my lunch break. He ate all the cantelope, I got the grapes, strawberry and pineapple. $4.00 for the fruit; music and sunshine: free.

The recap looks good -and I notice that I'm thinking more about the bottom line before I hand over the cash.

This weekend and all next week I'm on my own with the kids. My husband is away managing a week long DeMolay leadership camp. The financial upside is that while my husband is trapped in the woods, he's unlikely to use his debit card. Should be a nearly spend free week.

I don't have much of a weekend plan - besides the flower show at the park on Saturday. I am hoping good weather will let me put the kids in the wading pool, where they will happily wallow for hours.
My goal: spend less than $20.00 for the weekend.

Death and Taxes- mostly the latter.

August 13th, 2009 at 06:16 am

Making partner 2 years ago was very flattering. As a practical matter -it's been a financial headache. I don't make significantly more now than I did as an employee, and as a law firm partner in the U.S., I am considered self-employed. No income tax is taken from my paycheck. I am expected to make estimated quarterly payments to the government. Our firm estimates the amount of money we are likely to take in for the year and guesstimates a weekly paycheck amount. Adjustments are made as the year progresses. Quarterly disbursements to the partners are supposed to make up your quarterly tax payment. I understand that the system generally works great.

Last year, I went for three weeks without pay. (Work was slow and our clients, perhaps because of the economy, stopped paying their bills. There was a lot of hand-wringing at our house.) The quarterly disbursements were not enough to cover the tax liability. I put the money into a savings account and did the best I could with the quarterly tax payments. In a last minute save, the firm was paid by a client, my share of which went to cover our tax liability. Our long-awaited family vacation was cancelled.

To cover ourselves this year, I've been withdrawing an amount from every paycheck to cover my estimated income tax and putting it into our E*Trade savings account. Any disbursements I receive also go into the account. My plan is to have covered all the taxes, plus some, by the end of the year. The money will continue to accrue intrerest until April, when I'll send a check to the government. Whatever is left will either stay in the account as seed money for next year, or we can pull it and use it to pay of debts.

I have no idea if this is a good way to handle our tax issues or not. We're still not meeting the quarterly payment minimum, but last year the interest on the account covered the penalty +, so I'm not too concerned.

If you're self-employed (or even if you aren't), how do you manage paying the tax man (or for other large yearly expenses)? Any hints, tricks or tips?

No Weekend Hangover (of the fiscal kind)

August 10th, 2009 at 08:42 am

My first fiscally responsible weekend was -well, we survived!

Saturday morning the kids and I went to grandma and papa's house, where the best in-laws in the world fed me breakfast and gave lunch to the whole gang. Then it was off to an afternoon birthday party, where we had dinner and I ate my share of cake and ice cream, and also finished off the kids' share of cake and ice cream. Score one for the budget, zero for healthy eating.

Sunday, my oldest played outside while I weeded, and then we all went for a walk in the local state park. We had a nap and I amused myself by rearranging the furniture. We ate all three meals at home, and topped it off with homemade ice cream! (This is also not good for the healthy eating score, but the ice cream is sooo rich, I only ate a tiny portion, which should be worth something)

Lest you all think this was easy, I had to squelch my first instinct of running to the mall for entertainment at hour 2 of the kids demanding the TV and me telling them no, and I was thinking of some rather unhappy endings for the Star Wars droid that couldn't help getting lost in the playground mulch, but we all made it, and we did have some fun!

Total budget outlay: $16.00! (YAY!)
Bonus: We got a reimbursement for $500 worth of materials purchased on our credit card -which I had forgotten we had done, which gives the debt reduction plan a nice boost!

Debt Reduction Without Painful Math!

August 6th, 2009 at 06:10 am

I admit it: I hate math. Too many numbers make me downright edgy.

My fear of extraneous math had prevented me from appling payments to our credit card debt in a way that works for us. Sure, I paid more than the minimum, but I never seemed to be making much progress. I figured it was an evil credit card company scheme to keep us in debt and that there was nothing we could do.

Wrong. Enter dueminder.com. You put in your credit card (or loan) information, it tells you the most effective way to apply your payments. Or snowball or avalanche. Whatever you want! If your circumstances change, update your info for a new plan. It tells me how much to pay on which card when, and I like plans. Easy to follow plans. With charts. And no math!

Dueminder will also remind you to pay your bills, which for me isn't a problem, but I can see the utility. I have taken to scheduling all my bill payments on the first weekend of the month - so they get paid all month, and I put it out of my mind.

With my newfound website, we now have a good plan going forward.

Starting Over

August 5th, 2009 at 06:33 am

It's a new day in our household. For me, that means waking up too early thanks to an overanxious preschooler looking for a Star Wars action figure, having a too short shower, wrestling the boys into clothes, and dragging them to the car. For them, buisness as usual. For me? Well, not so much.

In a repeat realization I have every few months, I found myself staring at a bank balance that isn't what it should be. We save, but oh we spend! And when we pay our bills, we're just not doing it efficiently.

We have amassed about $20,000 in credit card debt, the majority of it having been amassed by my husband pre-marriage. I went to law school. We bought (at different times) 2 cars. We had two amazing boys - who need full time day care. I made partner at the firm, but that screwed up our taxes. We've been paying, and paying, and paying.

I manage the finances, but I'll admit, manage isn't the best term. That would imply some kind of strategy, some thoughtful process. I pay the bills.

This blog is intended for me to track my learning process in eliminating our debt, saving for the things we really want, and making our money work for us (instead of against us).

Wish me luck!