Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thinking about the new year

I've never been one for resolutions. The few time's I've done them I've fallen in with the majority of the population that ends up breaking them by April. This year I'm going to work on goals. Some are financial, some are career related, and some are personal.

Pay off my car by May.

Buy Gameboy a new car before his current car dies.

Work Roth IRA's into our 80/20 plan. Also convince Gameboy that we should both be doing Roths.

Get to know one of my neighbors.

Give more.

Figure out a better work life balance.

Reduce the knitting stash.

Join/serve on a nonprofit board.

Move 10 minutes each day. This can be strength, aerobics, yoga, whatever.

Grow my own food (well some of it) this summer.

I could keep going but that is more than enough to start with. Anything major you're working on in the new year?

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Self Escrow

Between the house and 2 cars we pay a lot in taxes. Usually we can work the payments into our monthly finances, but I don't want to have to worry if we have a bad month. So I think the best thing for us to do is a bit of self escrow.

When we bought the house we had the option of having them escrow our home owners insurance. Instead of us paying once a year the mortgage company would add the total amount due per year divided by 12 to our monthly payment. We decided not to have them escrow because we'd rather have our funds grow (with interest) in our own accounts.

The flaw in our plan? We forgot to start saving. We paid for six months of car insurance this month so it seems like this is as good a time as any to start. I renamed one of our ING accounts insurance and plan to start working our self escrow amount into our January finances. I haven't decided if it will be a monthly or a biweekly thing but the money will be put aside for the three payments we have in 2009. At least mostly. Our payments are due in June, July, & December, so in July we won't have the full home insurance payment, but it will be close enough.

The formula looks like this:
Annual home owners + 6 months car insurance x 2

So each month we're saving money for our appliances, insurance and retirement. After that and bills everything will go towards paying off the car loan.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Wrapping it up

So the presents are bought. I've yet to figure out wrapping, but that's ok because Gameboy believes that wrapping paper is only for children. He tends to use random boxes and or plastic bags that we have around the house. If you ask him he'd say because it's cheap, not green. I say it's because he's lazy, but no matter what the environment & our budget benefits. I tend to be a bit more creative, but still avoiding the paper. One year he got a folded hoodie that had goodies in the pocket, hood, and sleves.

Though I still need to figure out wrapping, I am in the mood to put super cute bows all over whatever I do. All you need are a few brads*, some magazine pages, scissors, and maybe a hole punch. If you have poor cutting skills like I do a pencil and ruler will also help.

The basics:
  1. Cut your paper into 9, 3/4 to 1 inche strips.
  2. Twist paper like you're making a ribbon for your lapel. You want the end of the strip and the middle of the strip on top of each other.
  3. Repeat with the other end.
  4. Hole punch (or carefully poke holes with scissors) through all three layers and slip the brad through.
  5. Repeat until you have used all of the strips.
For a picture tutorial head over to A Heart for Home, where I learned about this fun.

*These are the fasteners you use on paper dolls. Round dot on top with two straight parts that start off together and split once you make the hole.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A bit of coming clean

This is a partial update because I haven't updated my monthly spreadsheet. But I looked at my personal net worth sheet and Networth IQ and realized a bit of a discrepancy. When we bought the house we got a no interest bridge loan from mom at the last minute. The loan program we'd chosen originally had an 8% deposit requirement. We could handle 8% and worked everything out. Due to all of the loan craziness happening in the mortgage industry it moved to 10% 1.5 weeks before we signed papers. So the bank of mom transferred me some money so that we could pay the downpayment and not decimate our savings just beforem moving.

Since then we've tried to repay some of the money with little success. I transfered her some of the money (love joint accounts on ING) and she transfered it back saying to use it on student loans*. She does not want to be paid back until we've paid off my car and figured out what we're going to be doing about Gameboy's car. Really she wants us to prioritize money we owe to folks who are charging interest.

The other part of that is our appliances. There were none when we moved into the house. So we did a bit of shopping. Usually I'm not a big fan of store cards, but since we were spending around $5K we decided to do a 1 year 0% offer. If we needed to we could pay it off today (savings for the card, efund, other savings) but we'd rather have the money working (albeit slooowly) for us than for Lowes. I may get a sidebar going for that in the near future.

I can't remember why I didn't add them to the tally back in July but they're they're now and reflecting a much more accurate picture of my finances.

*She feels like as a parent this is her responsibility and tries to help out when she can.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


Yesterday I wrote about giving for gifts. Today I'm writing about general giving. I should probably start by saying that with the exception of one summer as a temp and a year of high school retail every organization that I've ever worked for has been a .org or a .edu. Federal & state budgets, paired with donations from individuals, foundations, and businesses have paid for 95% of the money I've earned in my lifetime, allowing me to help others while working.

When I got the new job I decided that the difference between my new and old salary would be donated. However due to my procrastination it hasn't happened. This weekend I'm planning on sending the money. Where you ask?

Heifer International- Yesterday I wrote about why I love them.

Reading is Fundamental- In a sentence- free books for children to inspire a love of reading. I have always been a reader. I was the kid hanging out of bed reading by nightlight after lights out. So getting free books from school a few times a year was awesome! As an adult I've gotten to volunteer at RIF distributions and the looks on kids faces are always precious. For any parents reading they also have some great literacy and pre-literacy games for kids on the sight.

United Way- My local chapter is working on School Readiness, Youth Success, and Adult Self Sufficiency. We partner with them for some of my current work and I volunteer with one of their sub organizations, so I get to see the great work they are doing.

That is the love list for the moment. I may throw in a local food bank because of the current economic situations. If you don't have a love list of your own visit Charity Navigator. They give charities start ratings based on their tax info to give you a bit more insight. Also, on this page you can put in the search criteria that matter to you, including looking for programs in your zip code.

In addition to the feel good factor giving back can have financial benefits as well. If you are claiming more than the standard deduction, donating money can save you on taxes. In the past, filing as a single person with no property or anything special going on, I've never passed the standard deduction. This year with the house and student loan stuff I think we'll be crossing that threshold.

Do you have any favorite places to donate?

Sigh of Releif & Help

In my thankful post I mentioned having a job I love 95% of the time. What I didn't say was I love having great coworkers. We are a small group- our director, 2 program managers, and 2 assistants. In our grant driven world this time of year can be challenging, so the unexpected deadline we received 9 days ago was a lot to manage. We hit our goal a few hours to spare yesterday.

Now the help- holiday party with friends. The host is making chili and cornbread. She has also baked a ridiculous amount of cookies. Everyone else is supposed bring something but I have no clue. Usually I would have spent the past few evening looking for recipes, but that work thing got in the way. So does anyone have any great recipes that are not super hard?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Giving to Help Others

This is the time of year for giving and this usually extends to nonprofit organizations. Many nonprofits are feeling the slowdown in the economy. So giving to an organization that someone supports may be a great gift option. As time winds down this holiday season

Donation in someone's name- I'm thinking about getting some chicks through Heifer Int'l for my mom. Families in need around the world (and including parts of the US) receive animals appropriate for their area that can provide nutritional sustenance and/or financial opportunity with the ultimate goal of self reliance. After some time the recipient has to help their neighbors with a gift of animals, usually offspring of the original offspring. My mom's home country is on the list of countries served by this organization (though you can't designate where your money will go) and I think she would prefer this to a scarf.

Gift Cards- A newer option is gift cards for giving. The beauty of this is the recepient get's to choose where their money goes. I really like this idea to get kids interested and involved in giving. Some send actual plastic where others do online cards/emails. Looking around today I found: The Good Card, Tis Best, Charity Gift Certificates and JustGive. I haven't used any of these organizations myself, so you may want to do a quick search for reviews. The other caveat is to check out the fees because each organization charges a fee* of some sort, like most gift cards.

Buy from nonprofits- To increase their ability to bring in funds many nonprofits also produce products. A few things that come to mind are: cards from children's hospitals and Ten Thousand Villages. The other half of my mom's gift is going to be something from The Women's Bean Project. They work on breaking the cycle of poverty and unemployment, by providing jobs coupled with life skills training. In the process they produce soup, bread and cookie mixes that I've heard rave reviews about.

Whichever you choose add a little note about the good the gift can do in your town, state, or the world. I wouldn't give gifts because of this, but an added benefit is a tax deductions for the first two options for the gift giver.

*These pay for the staff, website, and other operational costs to offer the program.

Around the House

On the plus side- our closet is done! Well 90%, but close enough for me. Our house was a foreclosure and the previous owners took all sorts of random stuff, including the rods & shelves in the (custom) master closet, the garage door opener, and the pantry shelves. We've been doing things as we can afford them instead of relying on credit cards. I'm still working on getting my clothing into the closet but am enjoying the thought of not having to pull on sweats so I can walk down the hall to another closet and then get dressed.

On the down side we've just realized a crack in the window in Gamedad's room. It's been too cold for plastic, so we made a ghetto fix with some packing tape and old curtains I got from freecycle a while back. So far it seems to be working and his room is the average upstairs temp- for some reason our house seems to defy science. You know that old addage, heat rises? Not in our house. Our upstairs is between 5-7 degree's colder than downstairs.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I'm finishing up my work for the day. The day started with emails at 7:15 and didn't stop. orward to January when 80% of the crazy will be over. Usually this would be really overwhelming. The thing that's keeping me going were a few words at work.

A bit of back story- I work for a council with a staff of 5. We sit in two different locations b/c neither has room for all of us, but both are free. The council's chair leads the office where I sit. Her deputy is a nice guy who is very focused and whose main interaction with me has revolved around closing the blinds at night. Today he walked up to me and said I've been hearing good things about your work from the council.

It seriously made my day. This was especially great because our entire staff is under deadline (4 to be exact) and frenzied. It gave me the charge to lead my evening, be the queen of spreadsheets, and otherwise keep working tonight.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Work Fun

It looks like it's going to be one of those weeks. Yesterday we got a letter from a one of our main funders. It went something like: Since you didn't meet a crazy deadline (that your director's predecessor created with no basis) 6 weeks ago (while I was on maternity leave) we will start retracting your funding (the basis of my annual salary) if you don't meet crazier deadline in 1 week.

So for the next week it looks like I'll be back to at least 12 hour days for the next week. At minimum. We're pulling one of the assistants off of another project with a deadline 1 week later, so I'll probably be pitching in so the other program manager meet her deadlines.

On the plus side I get to meet 25 or so people my organizations just gave scholarships to later this week. I just have to figure out what I'll be telling them.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Tires, Part II

Yesterday I wrote about discovering (in the snow) that my tires were bald last Friday.

I'd hurt my back later that night and did not feel like driving all over town to figure things out. I also didn't want to just walk into a random place and be at their mercy. So Saturday morning I camped out on the couch, armed with my phone and laptop. Another added bonus looking back is we save a lot of gas not driving around to get info.

This is probably a good time to say neither Gameboy nor I owned a car before 2006. His family never had a car. I drove my mom's car and occasionally took it in for service, but nothing major. As a woman and as a person who doesn't know much about cars I like to arm myself before dealing with mechanics.

First, I visited Single Ma. A while back she wrote about her last tire buying experience. She explained those mystical numbers on the sides of your tire.

Second stop, a list of the car repair shops within a few miles of out house. I thought up a few then called an oil change place for a few more recommendations. I made a list and called each place (4 total) asking what tires they had in stock (time was of the essence) in my size. I typed notes as I went along.

You know what's next-research! I googled the different tire names, checked out consumer reports, and then I found this gem. There were lots of reviews from customers in addition to little quizzes to help you make a decision. Keep in mind that they do sell tires.

With 2-3 favorites I made a second set of calls. I asked 3 important questions:
1- How much does each tire cost
2- What fees are charged (installation, disposal, balancing, etc)
3- Are there any specials/deals going on.

This information let me know how much I would be paying in total (well plus tax). Number 2 is really important because it can vary so much. Of the 4-5 places I called they ranged from $2.50-18.00 per tire.

Information in hand Gameboy and I conferenced about price and time. We chose a place that would be open on Sunday (it was getting late), had decent fees, and a total price that could work with our budget.

The next day we drove over, let them know what we wanted, and handed over the keys. The service guy handed me the estimate and after a quick review handed it right back. The price was $150 more than I had come up with based on the phone conversations. 2 warranties had appeared and the buy 3, get 1 free deal were not there. I let the guy know all of those things would not work for me and asked for a revised quote, based on reason and reality.

Two hours later my car was back to riding well. Good thing too, because our second storm of the season blew in Wednesday.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Wheels

No, I didn't take Monday's mini shopping spree to the nth degree. This weekend I literally got new wheels for my car. It went something like this:

Friday evening, leaving a Thanksgiving party, we find 2-3 inches of snow. I think 'I hope I have my scraper and wow would closed shoes be good now' but otherwise keep going. I clean off the car, jump in and slowly pull off. I turn around and gently apply the brakes. Only my car does not stop. It's deserted so I'm not freaking out but little alarm bells are going off.

I don't have my phone so I decide to wait for Gameboy & dad to finish warming the other car* in case something scary happened. Slowly following behind, with a few car lengths between us, we take the two turns (with stop signs) for the main road. This is where I start to freak out.

The snow was beautiful powder. No ice or slush in sight. But I was slipping and sliding every which way. Each stop was taking about a car length more than it should have. Deep breaths, hugging the wheel granny style, and twenty slow minutes (it's a five min drive) I pulled into my driveway. Then I got stuck.

I made the mistake of stopping to pull in the recycling bin. After shoveling out the wheels I pull it into the garage and begin inspection. The tread on the outside looks great (well ok). Then I slide my hand up under the wheel well. Instead of nice deep grooves all I feel is smoothness. We're talking baby's bum smoothness.

Problem identified. Too bad the dealership failed to notice (or maybe mention) the bald tires during my 2 hr visit last week.

Tomorrow I'll tell you how I solved the problem.

E.C. over at Not Living on Ramen was not so lucky this weekend. She was in two accidents in the same night and is recovering. Send some good thoughts and wishes her way.

*I have a tendency to get sick at the host's house (cats) so I went a few hours later.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Tipping Point

Gameboy-Possible Gift Spoiler Alert

Whenever possible I try to buy local/support local businesses. At times this saves money, but sometimes there can also be an increased cost. The questions is how much more (if anything) are you willing to pay for the local service.

This came about during my gift hunt. I emailed a friend of Gameboy's who owns a gameporium. He knows what Gameboy likes and responded in less than 12 hours to an email asking for suggestions. In a second round of emails he let me know how much the two games are and how many are in stock.

The frugal in me did some googling to see what the going prices are. I can save $13 on one through an Amazon seller and 1 cent locally at the other. That factors in shipping costs, but not tax. Even if both were more I'd get one from him because of the reccomendation and to support a friend.

But if I decide to get both should I get both from him? Or should I save money on the second game online? Each person's answer will probably be a bit different, depending on available resources and what they value most. Another example would be is the local apple worth the extra $1/lb at the farmers market?

Over the next day or so I'll probably puzzle over this and decide which is more important to me at this instance.

December Goals

  • Only buy breakfast 3 times, excluding our coffee shop staff meetings.
  • Earn $150 in extra income
  • Attempt a dry run on our taxes
  • Invest the money I've been saving for my Roth IRA
  • Figure out giving (some holiday, but mainly for the difference between my paycheck at the old/new jobs)
  • Make it to 5 more yoga classes at work
  • Spend no more than $250 on groceries
Updated: I forgot a very important one- Working on finding a work home balance. After working from home and because this job is pretty flexible I find myself goofing off a lot during the day and making up for it at home. I need to work this out.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Why I Avoid Shopping

I'm pretty good on the day to day shopping. I can get in and out of most grocery stores and Target with just the things I planned on buying (or remembered that I need-the problem with lists in your head). Usually I just avoid other shopping, though I have decent restraint.

Yesterday I decided to see if there was anything worth it for cyber-Monday. I looked at TV's. I looked at kitchen tables. I found a great deal on 2 seasons on Gameboy's favorite show. I found another item I wanted to buy him. And then I found this...

In my defense I did not go searching. It's like the evil folks on the other end of things knew that I've been wanting one of these for 2 years. At the old place our kitchen was too small though. And they're expensive. To make the situation a bit weirder the night before I told my mom that I didn't think the mixer was a good wedding present b/c Gameboy wouldn't really use it. The grill (or part of a grill) would be a better present for us as a couple.

Most days I could have walked away. In fact I did, twice. But we're talking $140 below sticker price (after $20 rebate) with free shipping. Then I mentioned (or maybe re-mentioned) it to my enabler husband.

Though we don't NEED it he knows I've wanted one for some time. He mentioned the price being right. I hemmed and hawed, meanwhile thinking about all of the lovely things I could make. Then he said we can easily afford it and told me to click buy.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Cyber Monday

Has anyone besides me had a hard time getting back into the swing of things today?(as evidenced by not 1 but 2 posts this afternoon)
Or spent way too much time looking for cyber Monday deals?
Just wondering if I'm the only slacker.


I never got around to setting November goals. I was putting a lot of time into the Obama campaign and then we had the car issues that took a while to resolve. There were also the blah's (lack of motivation) that I mentioned yesterday.

Somehow despite all of the craziness it was a really good month. Gameboy's industry seems to be doing well* so his commissions really helped. Our spending (ie credit card bill) has been pretty low over the last two months, leaving a lot of room for saving and debt payment.

Most exciting: Emergency fund=100% Eventually we will bring this up. It's 2-3 months of bills or up to a medium catastrophe. Once we get out debts paid down we will work on a 6-8 month fund.

Once the emergency fund was complete we shifted attention to the car. In the past months there was some disagreement over where extra funds should go. In October we made an agreement and I think the shared focus has really helped. We sent 2 principal only checks in this month. October's check was also finally cashed. It all came to $3,360.

My student loan** and the end of PMI (mortgage insurance) percentages continue increase at the speed of molasses in the winter. If anything it's a good indicator of why I never want to just make minimum payments.

Next month won't be nearly so exciting. We'll be paying off some medical stuff from last year that we were waiting to hit their internal collections (on purpose). That craziness is another story for another day. Suffice to say the majority of our extra money will be headed there.

The most important thing is it feels like we're finally getting somewhere.

*knock on wood and fingers crossed
**if you're paying close attention to the sidebars it looks like student loans jumped 4.5%. There was an error in my spreadsheet math that I discovered this weekend.

Personal Coupons

Gameboy- Gift Spoiler Alert

I always love the idea of personal coupons/certificates as gifts. In general I prefer to give experiences than stuff. I also look at it as a way to spread the feeling of the holidays throughout the year. That said-I've never done them. This is mainly because I a)procrastinate and b) I get a bit type A about gifts.

The key is getting something that the person you have in mind would really like. A few generic (but nice) ideas are a nice dinner (in or out), a fully prepared picnic, a massage, and doing their chores. For kids some ideas are a day at the zoo, doing their favorite activity, a day off of chores, or being able to stay up late. I try to think of things that I'm not likely to do on a day to day basis or would make life easier for the other person.

This year I'm planning on pairing coupons with the things I'm buying for Gameboy's Christmas and birthday presents. So far 'stuff' wise I'm planning on DVD's of his favorite show or a few movies he loved this year. He loves playing games of all sorts (hence the name) so I'm also thinking about getting a few board games. Another item on my list is gear for me for his favorite team.*

To go with those gifts I'm thinking about coupons making coupons for the following. I'm still working on better names.
'Watch any movie you would like' (2-3)
'Game day' (a whole weekend day of games)
'Game night' (inviting friends over, I'll do the extra cleaning I'd ususaly make him do and make something yummy)
'Sunday Pass' (gametime treats & watching the whole game with him)
'Sunday Pass 2' (taking in the game at the bar of his choice, I'll pick up the tab)
'Bake-off' (I'll make one of his favorite treats, ususally reserved for specical occasions)

For some these may sound weird but they are things I know he would really enjoy. Most of the things I've come up with won't cost me anything. The things with an associated cost will be stretched over the coming months, also making holiday spending easier.

To make the certificates look nice I'm planning on using:
clip art/logos around the text
colored paper
a hole punch and ribbon/yarn to hold it together

*He's mentioned that he would like me to be able to dress up with him for games.