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Archive for June, 2007

Uh-oh.....

June 30th, 2007 at 08:24 am

I just realized I made a boo-boo....

I mailed a couple of bills with old postage stamps, ie, 39 cent stamps, on them!

One was the power bill...one was the water bill...one was the termite bond....none of them I'm particularly worried about....but I also mailed that at&t payment with an old stamp on it.

Yikes!

I didn't realize because the stamps I used said "first class" on them, not 39 cents. When I went looking for more stamps, I found the new stamps, the ones that say "forever" on them, and then realized what I'd done.

I hope they all come back to me ASAP, or else I hope some of the good karma I've got out there in the universe will kick in and the at&t payment will make it.

Bill pay time...

June 29th, 2007 at 04:49 pm

I went ahead & scheduled a bunch of online bills to be paid, since they won't go through until next week.

Dish Network: $32.99
AMEX: $275 (leaves a balance of $11,884)
BP - $175.05 (pays the "statement balance" in full)
Termite bond - $318
Home equity loan - $169.69
Water - $73.44
Mortgage - $1070.21
Car - $410.17

So that leaves about $1400 until the next payday, but I have not paid my VISA bill yet - that comes instantly from our checking account, so I have to wait until tomorrow. Also, our health insurance premium, which is automatically deducted on the 10th, and car insurance, due on the 8th, which is $145.

Geez, it seems like the paycheck is just GONE, like *that*.

How depressing. And I thought that extra $194 was going to make a difference. Imagine if we didn't get that or a percentage check.

I have to remind myself, we're still in catch-up mode....

Payday!

June 29th, 2007 at 12:02 pm

So today DH got his paycheck with adjusted withholding - an extra $194. Plus a percentage check for $950 and an expense check of $237.

We kept out $350 cash - $150 for me to buy groceries with and $200 for him to take camping (he's leaving tomorrow, coming back Wednesday morning, with the boys - one night in a hotel because the campground they want is full, but hopefully will open up on Sunday night).

I have a whole pile of bills to pay, but I can't do anything until the deposit shows up in the bank after midnight.

I looked at my VISA bill and there is no payment due for July. I'm not sure why? Anyway, I'm planning to give them at least $300, for the stuff I charged in the last few weeks plus some toward the balance I already had.

I called today to make a dermatologist appointment, thinking it would be late July, if not August, before I could get in with the physician's assistant that I like. To my surprise they said I could come in Monday morning. I am glad; I have a spot on my left leg that I worry about and I want her to look at it and take it off if she thinks it's at all necessary. Since we have a high-deductible plan, I'll have to pay for the visit, but probably not until August after they've filed the insurance.

AT&T/Cingular continues to call us, even though we mailed their payment already. Yesterday DH said they called to try to get him to reactivate his phone. He told them NO. We've already got his new phone from Working Assets, activated and charged and ready to go. NOW if AT&T would just receive his payment and we can be done with them.

I'll update again after I've paid the bills tomorrow...

Wireless phone issue....

June 27th, 2007 at 07:31 am

..turned out to be a good thing.

DH has had a wireless phone with Cingular for almost two years. He had a Razr phone that has been unable to hold a charge for more than a day, even after replacing the battery. However, when we called a few months ago to try and get a replacement phone, Cingular told him he wasn't eligible for one until this May. That made no sense to me - what if it had been lost? Anyway, at that point we decided that in August, when his contract was up, we'd cancel his Cingular account and add a phone onto my wireless account with Working Assets. That would also save us ten dollars a month, since his service was $39.99 a month and mine is only $29.99 a month.

Well, I didn't realize it, but when Cingular got bought by, or merged with, AT&T, the bills stopped coming via email. It occurred to me the other day that I hadn't seen a bill from them lately, but I forgot about it and didn't check.

This morning the phone rang right as I was getting out of the shower, and when I looked at caller ID, it was an 800 number, which I never answer, and because I was upstairs, I didn't hear the message.

About ten minutes later, the phone rang again and it was the same number, so again I didn't answer. As soon as I listened to the first message that basically said "this is AT&T with an important message about your account", DH called and asked if I talked to them. I said no, I didn't pick up either time, and I had just heard the message. He said "they called me at work, said I owed $136 for the past three months, and if we didn't pay immediately they're cutting off the phone and we have to pay $36 to reconnect. I told the guy to call home and talk to you, and he said that if he didn't reach you he was cutting the phone off."

Since I didn't pick up, the phone was cut off. I told DH to call back, find out where to send payment, and tell them that we do NOT want the phone cut back on.

This got us out of the two remaining months on the contract! I've written out a check for the past due bills we owe, and gone ahead and ordered him a new phone & service with Working Assets that is ten dollars a month cheaper than with Cingular. He barely used his phone anyway, since the battery died so often. Also, the new phone was free, and there was no shipping or activation charge.

So, getting called about a past due bill really stressed me out, but it turned out to be in our favor.

The only drawback is that he will be without a phone when get takes the boys camping next week, but I told him he could take my phone. I'll be staying here alone, and I really won't need it.

Paycheck withholding revisited

June 26th, 2007 at 02:21 pm

Finally, DH got an answer from the accountant about changing the withholding on his paycheck. We took the number to 8 from what the w-4 calculator had told me, which was 16. I feel pretty confident that this should be okay. If not, we'll adjust it again at the beginning of next year.

Changing the withholding gives us an extra $158 per paycheck, plus more of his percentage checks. So, an extra $316 a month, at least!

I'm not sure where to start with that extra money. There are a number of things I need to catch up on first, having gotten sidetracked this month - my BP card, which I have always paid in full, is carrying a balance right now which I'm going to pay off. I've also charged some stuff on my VISA that I normally wouldn't charge, so I want to pay those purchases off. We also used $500 from our equity line at the beginning of the month, which I definitely want to pay off. I have the usual bills, in addition. I also need to order filters for our air conditioner system; car insurance is due again on the 8th; county property taxes are due on August 15 and termite bond is due on the 30th of this month.

It feels good to be getting back on track, though. The trick is not to let our expenses expand to fill that extra income!
Maybe I need to look into automatic weekly transfers from our checking account onto my VISA card.

For once, I resisted.

June 24th, 2007 at 02:30 pm

So I needed to go to Target today. Yesterday my older son's swim mask (which I bought two weeks ago at Big Lots - obviously, that was false economy) broke yesterday, and he hates to swim without one. I also needed a bunch of other stuff - tampons, ibuprofen, sunscreen, stuff like that. As well, when I washed our bathroom curtains yesterday, they came out of the washing machine in shreds. It wasn't that big of a loss - they were old curtain panels that we used to have in our bedroom years ago, hemmed to fit our bathroom windows. They were nothing special, but they did block some of the afternoon sun that comes through. So, I was going to look for some inexpensive curtain panels to replace them.

So at Target I was lured by the siren call of the clothes right inside the front door. I found some cute Mossimo low-rise cropped pants in a washed brown that I really liked. I put them in my cart thinking "I know I don't need these" and....before I checked out, I hung them back.

It's a first. ;-P

I got what I needed at Target, in addition to a cute headwrap/hairband thing on clearance for four bucks. I'm letting my hair grow out, it's very thick and wavy/curly, and I'm at the point where I need to keep it out of my face. Since I'm not spending $46 every three weeks to get it cut like I used to, I felt entirely justified in buying this cute thing.

Because our cash is limited at the moment, I charged my Target purchase, but my receipt is taped to my desk and come payday, I'm going to transfer the amount I charged from my checking onto my credit card account.

They had no curtains, though, so I went to Pier One to look; they didn't have any either.

On my way home I stopped by what used to be my favorite thrift store. I don't know if my standards or theirs have changed, but it seemed like everything was junk. Crappy, worn out clothes, broken household stuff, dirty, grimy looking baby equipment, ratty old shoes...I did, however, score four things: a pair of new with tags Mossimo cargo shorts for my older son; a new-looking, blue plaid Ralph Lauren Polo short-sleeve button down for my DH to wear to work; a pair of brand-new Beth Bath & Beyond light blue king-size jersey pillowcases, and for me, a very cool Hollister poncho/wrap kind of thing; it's semi sheer, a lightweight wool blend, in a camel color; it's the kind of thing I'd wear in the fall over a camisole if I were out at night.

Grand total: $21 (paid cash)

That thrift store has a weekly half-off day on Monday, and I think they pretty much price all their stuff for that day. I used to shop half-off day regularly, but it was just too crazy and it got to not be worth it. So their prices are otherwise a bit high for me, but I'm happy with what I got.

Tomorrow my younger son is in art and music camp, so I think my older son and I are going to go to Ikea and look at curtains. I looked at their website, and they seem to have a good selection that is as cheap as, if not cheaper than, Target.

Nothing new to report...

June 22nd, 2007 at 06:34 pm

I'm kind of hanging out, financially speaking, until next payday when I see if DH's withholding has been adjusted per the w-4 I prepared and emailed to him. He's emailed it to the accountant, but if he's heard back from him, he hasn't told me.

Also, he did tell me that his main client has paid one of their bills, but there are several others up to three months old. I know they will be paid eventually, but it's tiresome to keep having to worry about it. Since one got paid, he'll get a percentage check on Friday, but it may not be for much.

I resisted going to Target this week and buying myself some cute shorts that a friend bought there recently.

Next week my younger son is in half day art camp, so my older son and I are going to see an exhibit at the historic courthouse in our town called "Anne Frank in the World 1929 - 1945": The largest of its kind in the world, this exhibit is a presentation of over 600 photographs and 8,000 words reminding visitors about the Holocaust through Anne Frank’s story. The exhibit chronicles the life of Anne Frank as told through her famous diary as the Nazis rise to power was unfolding around her. Combating bigotry, prejudice and hatred in today’s society are just some of the goals of this truly unique and moving exhibition.

In addition to being an awesome educational exhibit, it's also free.

So in contrast to all that debt...

June 19th, 2007 at 07:11 pm

...what do we do to save?

Well, at the moment, our savings are pretty pitiful.

I have a savings account at ING direct that I've had for several years. When we got our tax refund this year, after we paid a few bills, paid for a few summer camps, and paid CASH for our spring break trip, I put the rest in the ING account. It earned good interest for several months, but then I had to pull almost all of it out for our city taxes ($2500) and a home repair ($420) and some living expenses.

In the past I've had automatic deposits from our checking account scheduled, but when money was tight I cancelled them. If we can ever get this withholding issue settled, I'd like to start them again.

Both of my kids also have accounts with ING each with a hundred or so dollars.

We also have a crappy money market account with our main bank. It pays next to nothing and it also costs $6 a month. The ONLY reason I keep it is because I like to transfer money out of my checking into there, so I kind of forget about it and am not tempted to spend it. If I need it transferred back, the transfer is instantaneous....if I transfer it to ING, it takes two days to make it back into my checking account. I wish there were a better alternative...hell, a mason jar under the bed would be better. I'm certainly not earning anywhere near $6 a month.

Huh. Maybe I WILL put aside cash in a mason jar and close that account. That would be like finding an extra $6 a month...

We also have three retirement accounts, two at T. Rowe Price and one with the American Bar Association. One of them is mine, leftover from a previous job. I haven't checked the balance lately - I think I'll go do that right now.

My retirement account has $9600 in it; DH's T. Rowe Price has $16,400. His is invested solely in a science and technology fund, so the balance goes up and down. At one time, around 1999, it had a balance of over 40K. Of course, most of that disappeared within a year or two of that. His ABA account has $41,599 in it. We have never made deposits into those T. Rowe Price accounts on our own; the money in it is solely from employer contributions and what they've earned. DH was required to make a yearly deposit into his ABA account when he worked at the other firm, but has not since he left. In other words, we are not actively saving for retirement at all. And DH is 51, so we really need to get a move on.

I'm glad I checked them - they're doing better than I thought.

Here's a question I hope someone can answer ...in the past when I've had opportunities to put money into our retirement funds, I've always hesitated, because I think I would feel absolutely sick if I looked at the statement and saw that it had LOST money. Is there some way to minimize this risk - transferring my money to a super-conservative fund? A CD maybe? I am such a dummy when it comes to investing, I have no idea what to do, but while I'm paralyzed with indecision, time is wasting!

Easy come, easy go....

June 19th, 2007 at 02:45 pm

So here are our expenses and income....

Income: $2954 net 2x/month
Percentage: anywhere between $200 and $2000 most months (paid at the end of the month, and I never know if we're getting anything or how much, so I don't usually count on it).

About our income: I have been bugging my DH to get his withholding adjusted since we received our (very large) tax refund in February. There's not a dedicated accounting person in his tiny firm, so one of the paralegals who writes the check was supposed to be working on it. Well, it was the busy season for the firm's accountant, so it didn't happen, and then in late April that paralegal went out on maternity leave. Needless to say, it still hasn't happened. All I wanted them to do was look at the number of allowances he was claiming on his w-4 and then adjust it up a little. Apparently no one can find his w-4 and the accountant wasn't too helpful. So I found the 2007 withholding calculator at irs.gov, used it, then filled out another w-4 (also from irs.gov) and emailed it to him with instructions to get it to the accountant to see what his net would be using it. We shall see. Probably what will happen when I ask him about it is, I'll get some attitude and be treated like I'm a big nag. Whatever!!

Monthly expenses:

Mortgage: $1070 (we don't pay into escrow, so this is just principal & interest).

HELOC: Our balance is 29K and our monthly payment varies - it's usually in the neighborhood of $200. I usually pay the minimum, but I"ve had to dip into it in order to cover expenses.

Home Equity loan: this was originally part of our HELOC; we rolled part of the balance over into a fixed rate loan (the HELOC is variable rate). The interest rate on the fixed loan is five point something; at the time, I though that was outrageously high because the variable rate HELOC was at four point something. OH, if I'd only known...I don't know what the balance is, but our monthly payments are $169.69. I know we have several years left to go.

Car payment: $410 (we have just under two years left on this, a 2004 Honda CRV)

AMEX: Balance is $12,115. The bulk of this was balance transfers from higher interest cards. This is the only credit card my DH carries. When he needs stuff for work, like plane tickets and whatnot, he uses this. He only gets reimbursed at the end of the month for expenses, so though I TRY to pay all the work related charges off, sometimes I wind up using some of the reimbursement money for something else. I have a card on this account also, but rarely use it.

BP: This card is almost always paid in full, except for last month, when I didn't have the funds to do it. Usually the charges are between $20 - $120 a month.

Wachovia: This is my credit card. The balance is $9100. Some of this is from a balance transfer, but some not. It's linked to our bank account, so what I try to do is if I use it online, I immediately log on to my account online and transfer the money from our checking account to the Visa account. Obviously I don't do it enough. The minimum payment is quite low, last month it was $63, but generally I pay at least $200 a month plus any additional post-purchase transfers from my checking account.

Parisian: This is my card. I've had it for about twelve years and what they offered at the time I got it was an "interest free option" where if you paid a certain percentage of the balance each month, there was no interest on your balance. I have never paid interest on that account. I have not always carried a balance on that card, but I'm carrying one now, about $350. Parisian has been sold to Belk, and they are eliminating the interest-free option, as well as closing the store closest to me, so once it's paid off I won't be using it again.

Discover: This card is strictly for a low interest rate balance transfer I did a few months ago. I've never made a purchase with the card. Right now the balance is $4700. The interest rate is something like 2.99 for the life of my balance transfer, so I've only been paying the minimum.

That's our consumer debt.

Other monthly expenses:
Health insurance: $422 automatically deducted monthly. This is a high-deductible plan. We've already switched once from BC/BS to this less costly plan.
Life insurance for both me & DH: $335, also automatically deducted
Dish satellite: $23.99
Working Assets wireless & long distance (mine): $35 (I never use all my minutes and we rarely call long distance)
Cingular wireless (DH): $39.99 (his contract is up in August, then we are kicking Cingular to the curb and switching him to Working Assets)
Georgia Power: budget billing of $160 monthly
Natural gas: about $40 in the summer, $100 in the winter
Internet: $50/month
Water: between $60-$80 every other month
Car insurance for two cars: $545 twice a year, divided into monthly payments of $140 for four months, twice a year. I switched to Geico (you could save fifteen percent or more on your car insurance by switching to Geico!! ;-)) about a year ago from a more expensive company.
Bellsouth local phone line with caller ID: $36
Arrow pest control: $40/month (we live in the deep South...palmetto bugs...'nuff said!!)
Netflix: $19/month. This is automatically billed to the AMEX.

Those are our monthly expenses. Here are others that pop up during the year:

Homeowner's insurance: $700 every April
City taxes: we pay this ourselves, every June & December. It's usually between $2200 - $2500 each time - the June one is higher because it includes the sanitation fee.
County taxes: about $600, divided & paid in July and November
Homeowner's association fees: $400, divided & paid in April and November. This includes use of a pool & tennis courts.
Termite bond: $320 yearly (this is due at the end of this month)
HVAC service contract: $275 (this was due for renewal at the end of April but I haven't paid it yet)
Newspaper subscription: not sure...maybe $115 every four or five months?
Yoga classes - this varies. I buy a bunch of classes at one time to lower the cost per class. Now that my kids are home, it will take me longer to use my classes, but during the school year, I usually go 3 or 4 times a week. I just bought a five class card at one studio for $65; at another studio, I bought a 12 class card last month for $149.

I think that's it. My next entry will be about our other spending (groceries, extracurricular activities, etc.) and entertainment/shopping.

A little background info.

June 19th, 2007 at 09:53 am

I'm 40-year-old mom of two boys, one of whom will start kindy in the fall and the other of whom will start 3rd grade. I have been a stay-at-home-mom for about nine years. I stay busy by volunteering at school - I'll be PTA president for the 2nd year in a row this year - by selling part-time on eBay - though PTA duties have cut into my selling - by running our household, and practicing yoga.

My husband is a lawyer at a two-person firm in our town. As lawyers go, he's not that well paid, but he's not much motivated by money, which is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because he would rather be with us than working, but a curse because it pretty much reflects his overall attitude toward money. He was a partner at a much larger firm at one time, and he was making good money, but he was expected to get out and develop more business, which would have meant more time away from home. He was offered an opportunity to work with someone he knew about a mile from our house. It was about a $20K pay cut, but we decided that we could handle it if he would be happier there. He draws a salary and then gets a certain percentage of billings that are his exclusively.

Some things have been better and others not; he really needs to be more aggressive about work-related money matters (getting paid timely, etc.) but he's not. In a large firm, he got paid reliably because there were enough other people getting paid on time, but in this firm, if his clients don't pay timely, he only draws his salary, not his percentage. The salary pays the bills; the percentage pays for the extras. He hates dealing with anything money related, so he's terrible about calling his clients to remind them to pay up. Then his partner gets on his case about it, which makes him grumpy and resentful.

To his credit, he never, ever says anything about what I spend, he never questions anything about the family finances, never doubts that I am doing the right thing, and is not a shopper; he doesn't care about gadgets, cars, power tools, clothes, or sports...his main vice is buying books (with his credit card, of course).

His in-denial attitude makes me nervous at times, because finances at his firm have been shaky at times in the past year. I feel very vulnerable sometimes because the rest of us are completely dependent upon his salary, and we don't have a lot of savings to fall back on.

I have been putting feelers out about a part-time job, but my volunteer commitments take up a lot of time, and to be honest, things are not to the point where I have to get one. In my former life, I was a paralegal, but my skills are seriously out of date. I wouldn't mind doing something like running an office, but the few times I've seen a part-time office job, it usually requires proficiency in some software I'm not familiar with.

I've had good luck selling on eBay in the past couple of years; I shop thrift stores for clothing to resell. However, the increases in eBay fees and postage have made it not so much worth it anymore. I limit myself to sure-sellers, but again my volunteer commitments have cut into my inventory shopping opportunities. Once my kids go back to school, I plan to sell again, at least a little bit, during September and October, which are usually good months for clothing sales.

We live in an area where the quality of life is excellent, including public schools, but it is also pretty expensive. Our house is not that expensive, but property taxes are quite high.

So, our debt consists of a mortgage, a HELOC (used for some home improvements a few years ago, plus some emergency expenses), one car note, an AMEX with a high balance, a VISA with a high balance, one store credit card with an interest-free option, and one gas credit card paid in full every month.

Additional monthly expenses include health insurance and life insurance premiums (neither is offered by Lee's job), a basic satellite dish subscription, internet, basic cell phone service for each of us, homeowner's assocation fees, utilities, and Netflix.

Of course that doesn't include groceries, other house or car related expensese, extracurricular activies for the boys or entertainment.

We have a few retirement plans to which we have not contributed to since Lee left his other firm two year ago.

I've read a bunch of personal finance books, the most recent of which was Jean Chatzky's "Pay It Down - From Debt to Wealth on $10 a Day", so I feel like I know what I need to know, but I can't seem to make any great strides with savings or debt reduction.

We don't eat out a lot, I'm not the avid shopper that I used to be (though I still have a hard time getting out of Target without finding something that I can't live without) but if I'm honest with myself, I do spend with the mindset of, "we work hard, we have a certain level of lifestyle, I should be able to buy this" whether or not it's really a wise purchase.

In a later entry, I will list all our debt and then detail what I've done lately to reduce expenses. Then I hope to use this blog to brainstorm more ideas for maximizing our money and keep tabs on our spending.

How do I....

June 19th, 2007 at 08:24 am

create the thing on the side where I can list my debt?