Thursday, July 30, 2009

A bit weirded out

I should be doing some work, but I'm over it so I decided to go through some things I'd starred on my blog reader. I came across an article about insurance for DINKs which got me thinking about life insurance. Right now we're both covered through work, but have been talking about getting real insurance for a while now.

When you're considering how much life insurance you need you take into account your debt (check), how much support your spouse will need for how long, and how much your funeral will cost. So I started looking into alternatives to burial.

I'm thinking cremation or donating my body to science* right now. So I'm poking around looking for costs and options and I find this. I'm sure to some the fact that I want to be cremated is weird, but I find the thought of compacting my body to be a bit freaky.

*though do I really want 20 something interns dissecting me...

When to you cut child care?

Living Almost Large has been looking at what to cut when if one/both parents get laid off. Today her question is about when to pull out of child care. This post started as a comment, but makes more sense as a post.

I work with child care providers and our local government. The first thing parents should do is see if they qualify for child care assistance. It's called something different in ever state, but your local human services or child care resource & referral* should have information. Most states offer a subsidy based on sliding scale of income. As a part of the stimulus, $2 billion went to the child care development block grant which includes subsidies for child care for families in these situations.

The next step is to talk to your child care director. Let them know what your situation is and ask if there is flexibility with their enrollment. If you go part time will you be able to go back to full time? Can you go part time for 2 months and then return to your full time slot?** If you pull out is there preference for former families to get back in? In the situation mentioned in LAL's post, where the preschool leads to a spot in a private K-12 school will your family still retain preference? Some centers/child care homes are really down*** while others are really full. Directors understand what's going on with the economy and you probably aren't the first family at the center/child care home that's faced this choice.

If you're at a great center/home that your kids love pulling them out shouldn't be your first or second action. Hopefully the parent who isn't working is applying for jobs, interviewing, etc-all things that are harder to do if your child is at home. I can't tell you the number of calls I've gotten from panicked parents who get a call on Monday for an interview on Tuesday and have no care for their kids. Additionally, parent's getting laid off is also stressful for kids. Mom/dad are stressed and more likely to snap. Their home/regular activities may be changing as parents scale back. Child care can be a place of stability for your kids.

*put your zipcode in on the map to the right.
**giving the director a time span for gonig back to full time may make it easier for them to hold your spot.
***at least 5 of the home providers we work with have called in to say they have no children.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Funk + Celebrate

Personally the past three days have been pretty rough. Some things that aren't really blog appropriate have me in a bit of a funk and very thankful for a job and boss that is flexible. Yesterday at my staff meeting I told my boss "I'm going through some medical stuff and will probably be working from home a bit more than often." She said ok and asked if she could do anything. I let her know I'd email what I'm doing/where I'll be each morning. I could go in, but I work in an office that is just too cheerful for me at the moment. I'm going to make sure and go in one day this week (tomorrow or Friday) and at least 3 days next week.

In the midst of the funk my husband (finally) got a promotion. He applied 2-3 months ago, interviewed 7 weeks ago, was told he got it last week only to be told there were a few glitches. I'm really happy for him. The extra money will be nice but it's a move that he feels he deserves. His attitude right now is to make all of the people who thought he couldn't cut it realize they're wrong with his performance.

For the most part we're going to keep going with our current plan and try to bank my salary and live on his. We're still trying to figure out a few details, like if his phone allowance can go towards our current family plan (or if we want it to) and what that means for the day to day. There's also the car allowance to play with. He'll get a certain amount to cover gas/maintenance each month. After paying for his gas we could put the money into a maintenance fund, use it for insurance, or use it to pay down his car loan. Finally there's setting up a home office. The new position is essentially outside sales so he'll use his work office (27 miles away) as a base some days and a home office as a base other days. Our 4th bedroom is currently set up as an office, but it's also full of his toys. He'd like to work away from the distractions so we'll need to set up an area (or change the current area) and get him supplies, namely a printer. As we get more details we'll figure it all out.

Friday, July 24, 2009

My favorite "I don't want to cook" meal

We all have those days where the last thing you want to do is cook. Sometimes this means takeout. Other days I have cereal for dinner. But then there are the days where you realize you need to eat real food and you've gone out to dinner twice* already.

What you need:
an onion
a can of southwest diced tomatoes (plain diced will work too)
a can of black beans
any Tex-Mex spices you have

  1. Chop the onion then saute it over medium heat in a bit of oil/butter/whatever you have.
  2. While the onions are going open and drain the beans.
  3. Once the onions are soft pour in the diced tomatoes.
  4. Add the black beans.
  5. Sprinkle in spices to taste. I did 1 tsp cumin, a few shakes of garlic powder and 1/2 tsp of salt. If you're using plain diced tomatoes a dash of Cayenne (or your favorite spiciness) is good.
  6. Mix around some and then let it simmer until it achieves your desired sauciness. If you're using it over rice it's better with some wetness. If you're rolling it up in a tortilla it's better to cook most of the liquid off, unless you like drippy burritos.
This is easily a kitchen sink kind of meal. Last night I had some cooked rice and frozen broccoli in the fridge. I added both after the tomatoes and before the beans. In the past I've added corn, zucchini, or mushrooms depending on what's in the fridge. Cilantro is also good. Really it's about whatever is in your fridge that doesn't require too much effort.

Last night I rolled everything up in a tortilla with some cheese. A yummy, easy, and cheap dinner.

*One was planned, one happened after helping a friend who is pretty sick get some things done.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Avoiding Getting Phished

Last night I was checking my email when I saw a notice from one of our banks. It was along the lines of "You have locked yourself out of your account. Click here to reset your password." I clicked and the reset form asked for my user name, password, and answers to all of my security questions.

Generally it's pretty easy for me to spot these emails, but this is an account in my name where my husband manages the credit card. At least twice in the past 8 months he's locked himself out. So I asked him if he had issues logging in that day. He said no.

I went back to the email to look for an easy way to detect phishing emails-the email address. Usually the crooks who are phishing for your information create an address and domain that would make it sound like it's the bank. They may make an email for Wells Fargo or a Chase credit card account Most banks/cards use their full name. If you're not sure look at an old (verified) email from your bank.

My next step is always to call the bank that the email pretends to be from. They can confirm/deny the validity of the email. They can also give you the email address to forward your email, helping their tech people to track down the criminals. Forwarding the phishing emails also alerts the bank/institution to a problem so they can warn their customers.

The quick and dirty version:
  • Don't click through an email and enter account information
  • Check the email address to see if it's actually from your bank
  • Call your bank to double check the email
  • Get the email address to forward phishing email to the tech department at your bank

Friday, July 17, 2009

Giving in to A/C

I am one of those people who loves to sleep. A good night's sleep makes my day and bad sleep usually means I'm going to be really grumpy and unproductive. This may be why I'm writing this post in my pj's instead of working right now.

Our general night routine is open window with a fan and open blinds to let the air in. Until a week ago this worked great. The room was cool enough for him and I can sleep just about anywhere. But now I can't quite sleep through the night. When the sun starts coming up and the neighborhood sprinkler start coming on I wake up half way with lots of random lists running through my head. When he gets up, turns off the fan and closes the blinds I fall into a super deep sleep. The problem is I usually need to get myself up within an hour of him getting up.

Until now the A/C has only been on a few times for a few hours. Overnight it's cool enough to balance out the high day time temps, saving us a lot of money. But I'd pay an extra $200/month if it ensured good sleep, though I don't think our bills will go up that much.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Can we live on one income?

When I started this blog I wanted to get a handle on our finances. I wanted us to be able to do whatever we chose when we had kids. I wanted to not worry about debt.

Since starting the blog I:
  • know how much we spend each month
  • have annualized our irregular bills
  • learned how to cut spending (in certain areas)
  • have started a starter Efund
  • have met some of our savings/debt goals

Along the way I've challenged our financial set up. A few weeks ago I decided it was time for another shake up. Starting in August we're going to use his checks to pay for everything. I should say pay for everything first. At the end of the month I'll track how much of my check was necessary.

This will do a few things. First, knowing how close (or how far short) his salary comes across time will give us a better idea of what we can afford to do when it's time to make changes. I also think seeing how far his salary goes will give my (commission based) husband a boost despite some other work issues. Finally, it's more reassuring to know how close we are, not just thinking it should work out.

So the latest revision of our money plan goes as follows:
  • His take home household money* goes to pay the bills first
  • My take home household money will hang out in our brick and mortar (b/m) savings for the rest of the month
  • Funds will be transferred from savings to checking where his check falls short
  • At the end of the month whatever is left in the b/m savings will head to ING to increase our Efund
  • Anything left in b/m checking will go to another ING account to balance out his low months. (I'm still thinking through the details)
Our debt snowball (my prior car payment + his current car payment) will continue. I've written the extra $325 into our monthly spending. But instead of sending any extra money to the car, it will be headed to our Efund. We've decided that even though we have some debt, we'd feel more secure with a larger Efund. Strictly looking at numbers (getting charged 4.15% vs earning 1.3%) this is not a great choice. Emotionally, it's a different story. So we're going to do what will make us feel secure.

The only other thing we have outstanding is the Lowes card. I paid half of what we owed last month in advance of the July due date. In the next few weeks it will be knocked out, so I didn't work it into the overall plan.

*this is 80% of his take home check

Helping a Parent With Finances

Gamedad lived with us for a few months after a split from his new wife. Without going into too many details she made off with a lot of his modest pension.

During the 8 months he lived with us he paid us a couple hundred dollars in rent each month. This helped with our increased bills, but our main reasoning was for him to stay in the habit of paying bills. My husband worked out a savings plan for him so that he could accrue a bit of an emergency fund. Then he moved out.

We helped him get set up in the new place, shopping for furniture and housewares. My husband sat down with him and talked about his finances. He told him that he could take a couple hundred each month to spend, but after bills he should save the rest. His rent is about 1/3 of his pension and the rest of his bills aren't too much more. At this point he had somewhere between $4,000 to $5,000 in the bank.

Fast forward to last month. My husband finds out that their shared account is overdrawn. We go to his house to talk, which became yelling when my husband found out that he only had a few hundred left. It was a lesson in how not to spend. Lot's of cash withdrawn, infomercial products galore, and more money than anyone needs to spend at a casino. There were a few other charges made us think someone was taking advantage of him.

That night my husband took his cards. He gave him a reasonable amount of cash for the next week. In the time since we've been taking him grocery shopping (the offer had always been on the table) and giving him a bit of spending money each week.

Last week he and I sat down to draw up an official budget. We went over his income (pension), his annual expenses, and what a reasonable amount of spending money would be. I let him know that the infomercial shopping has to stop. We agreed that each month we'd deposit that amount into a new account at the bank across the street for his spending money.

We think there are some other changes that need to be made to his financial system. Currently his pension is deposited in a bank with no local branches. He also needs to get in the habit of regularly reviewing his finances. Eventually we'll also need to get him set up with an online checking account to increase the interest he earns on his savings.

Here's hoping that my financial talk will sink in.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Theaters that Don't Feel Like Igloo's

Last night, for the second Saturday in a row, a good friend and I went to see a movie*. Both times I put on pants, sneakers, and a t-shirt. I also carried a fleece/sweater with me to deal with the inevitable chill. But guess what? I didn't need a layer of warmth to sit through the movie.

To properly understand how crazy this is you need to know that I am ALWAYS cold. I blame my Carribean/African ancestry. I keep a few sweaters in my car, one in his car, and can't remember the last time we went to a party or out to dinner where I didn't need one.

During both movies I felt comfortable. Even a little warm during one, ruining my friends attempt to escape her no AC apartment and cool down a bit. One theater was a big multi-plex that has IMAX screens and the other was a little artsy place that also serves adult beverages. I guess it's just another sign of the weak economy.

*Breaking my annual movie streak.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mystery Shopping's End

I can't remember the last time I did a mystery shop. At first it wasn't a conscious decision. Mystery shops aren't as convenient from the new house. The closest ones I've seen are more than 8 miles away. The new job has (somewhat) set hours. It also keeps me in 2-3 set locations, not running all over town.

All of those factors, along with general new house crazy, caused a severe cutoff in mystery shopping last fall. When I laid out which tax documents we should be looking for I officially decided to cut mystery shopping. Outside of babysitting I decided that if I don't get a 1099 or a W-2 I don't want to deal with it.


Well doing our taxes has been a pain. I fall into the claim all income camp, not the claim my main job but side jobs don't count. By nature I'm a worrier and I'd rather not have to deal with the IRS over something stupid. Last year between the two of us it was something like 3 W-2's, 3 1099's, and 2 self maintained records that were additional Schedule C's. The amount I was making mystery shopping, when balanced with the record keeping and extra rigmarole at the end of the year didn't add up.

Currently I don't have as many earning opportunities. On the flip side I make more per hour with my current opportunities, largely babysitting and working at the museum. The money is almost equaling out and I have time to do the thing I enjoy.

Fiscal year 09 complete

The fiscal year has ended and I spent the two budgets I was closing out down to the penny. Our money guy called my boss, shocked, to let her know I'd spent it all. We weren't sure why he was surprised. I'd given him my spend down plan in advance and as time ticked away sent him many emails outlining things.

I'm taking most of this week to recover from the experience, mainly unpacking the boxes of materials that I purchased and tackling the things my predecessor left in the cabinets. It feels so good to organize and deconstruct the cubicle wall of boxes that has piled up. Though I had thousands to spend I put in extra hours to ensure that each penny was used wisely. At one point my boss told me to relax and just spend*, but I couldn't handle it. When I knew I wasn't getting the best deal I thought of the money taken out of my check and the checks we've had to write the IRS over the years.

I've promised myself that the end of next fiscal year will not be as crazy, at least on the 3.5** budgets I manage. We're meeting with the money guy in the coming weeks to work on the issues he created. I also understand what I need to do to get budget change approvals from the state level. Most of all, I will have a full year to spend according to our plan (vs 9 months) and less money to spend.

My June month end info will be up in the next few days. I ended up putting some of the work stuff on my personal cards. So instead of doing our finances this weekend I spend a bit of time working out reimbursements and getting money to the appropriate accounts.

*she wasn't encouraging being excessive, just not being quite as frugal.
**ARRA funds fit into one of my budgets and require separate tracking.

In the Black

I'm in the black and I've decided this is where I need to stay. Forever.

My net worth has gone from $1,211 to $4,081.

Last month I wondered if the funds we had saved for landscaping was giving the savings line a false bump. The key to this month's success- reigned in spending. Peeling away all of the work charges* showed a rather slim household credit card. The monthly necessities came in 300-400 below normal. My personal card was more than it should have been, but less than the past few months.

We've decided on yet another change to our money plan that I'll write about later this week but I'm confident (barring anything crazy) that I'll be able to stay in the black.

*I also peeled away the reimbursement check I received this week.