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Archive for April, 2013

Consolidating

April 30th, 2013 at 09:15 am

I recently realized that I really would like most of our money at Vanguard. You really can't beat their low fees for investing.

Right now, we have money in four different places, between college funds and retirement. I would like to get it down to two. Vanguard and my husband's TSP.

The first one I will be dealing with is Fidelity. We only have Fidelity because that is where my husband's previous 401k was and we simply rolled it into an IRA and even moved most of it to a Roth IRA. Currently, Fidelity holds 15% of our total portfolio. And sadly, about 31% of that amount is in cash (which is 5% of our entire retirement portfolio).

My first step is to determine where at Vanguard I want to move the money. Since this is a small portion and we do not have any international investments, I think I will suggest to my husband we put it into the International Stock Index. Most of that will be in a Roth IRA, but about $5K is in a traditional IRA. The nice thing about moving retirement money around, is there is no tax implications...unless we convert the money from the IRA to the Roth. I don't think that is currently in the cards.

I will end up doing most of the work for this change, hopefully online. I will likely need a signature from my husband. And if he can agree to the change tonight or tomorrow than I can get any paperwork done this week, otherwise, I will need to wait until his annual training is over.

We have about $10K at American Funds. This is a loaded fund, which means you pay the broker/dealer every time you make a purchase into the fund...usually 5.75% of your purchase. The fund has to be doing pretty well to offset those kinds of fees! Luckily, we did not pay the fee on these, since at the time my father in law was the broker and he was able to invest us at NAV (Net Asset Value). We have a UTMA account for each of the girls and a Roth for my husband there. We haven't been adding to these accounts, so I think it is time to get them moved, too. I will work on these once Fidelity is completed. I need to think about any tax implications on the UTMA, each of them has less than $1500 there.

A new goal to work on, I'm excited!! Oh, and right now I'm thinking half of our down payment in a CD paying 1.2% for 15 months, and the other half in Vanguard Dividend Growth Fund (VDIGX). If we put less in the fund, we have less exposure to market risk, but still an opportunity to benefit from the market. If we lose money, it could change our plans for housing, but it isn't a huge deal at this point for us. We will be accumulating more cash in the mean time too!

Do you have your investments in one place? If not, how many different companies do you do your investing with?

Spendy

April 29th, 2013 at 07:41 am

I don't even know really what we have been spending our money on! It just seems like there is no money left at the end of the pay period. Payday is Wednesday and I don't expect to spend much of anything. I have enough gas, not sure about my husband though.

I need to pay the flute teacher $20 if my daughter feels up to going. She came down with a very rough cold this weekend. She will text me after band today to let me know whether she wants to go to the lesson. I'd actually like to save the money.

My husband leaves for his annual training later this week and will be gone a good portion of the month. I hope he won't have time to spend much money there. This could mean some extra savings. I hope!

I will pay bills tomorrow and hope there is some money that can be saved. Of course, I'm very grateful that we are not going into debt. We always have the cash to cover our needs and clearly some wants.

I have one item on Ebay that ends this morning. It will sell, so that is some money flowing in! It's all good, right?

10 Grocery Items

April 28th, 2013 at 05:06 pm

I ran across this article on Yahoo today, where the couple paid off $50,000 of debt in one year by living on less than half their income, living with their parents, and having a grocery list of ten items.

The grocery list of ten items was: eggs, milk, bread, chicken, salmon, broccoli, brussel sprouts, asparagus, berries and oatmeal.

Could you live on just these ten food items for one year? I actually think I could. Just not sure about the rest of the family!

More Down Payment Investment Thoughts

April 25th, 2013 at 09:12 am

I'm still researching and pondering this down payment investment. I briefly mentioned putting the down payment money into a stock fund to my husband. He seemed surprised. I did tell him I wasn't sure yet, so I think he just let it be.

If only we could know the future or expect future results based on prior returns...but we can't. I know that if I lock the money into a CD for 15 months I can get 1.50%. Maybe I should be happy with that given interest rates.

I went to Vanguard again to use a tool they have to suggest recommended investments. Including our risk tolerance, investment time frame the tool suggested 60% in the Bond Index, 28% in Total Stock Market Index, and 12% in International Stock Index.

This is slightly different from another recommendation the site gave me another time. I think that time I put in a longer time before withdrawal. Likely three years rather than 2 year or less that I picked this time.

I tend to like the newer suggestion only because only some of the money is put in stocks to take advantage of market appreciation. The rest stays in bonds were it is likely to be more stable while interest rates are this low.

I really am aware that putting money that we need or may want to use in 2 years in the stock market is generally a big no. I can't ever see myself advising anyone else to do that same investment for such a short period of time, but right now all I am doing is pondering my options.

I'm just so frustrated with low interest rates! And I don't want inflation to erode the purchasing power of this money. I'm sure I'm not the only one who is looking for something better.

I appreciate everyone's interest and input in the topic. Feel free to share more ideas and thoughts. will not be deciding anything this week. In fact, I have company coming and a small trip planned and hope to even get out in the yard and enjoy spring this weekend.

Blue Chip Down Payment

April 24th, 2013 at 12:16 pm

I've been looking into high yield dividend mutual funds as a possibility for investing our down payment money for the next house. This would be an alternative to keeping the money in our money market account paying 0.85%.

Blue Chip stocks are those companies that are generally worth billions, thus established in their field, often a household name, and pay steady or rising dividends each year (paraphrased from Investopedia). The mutual funds I'm looking at invest in these blue chip stocks, like Coca Cola, IBM, UPS, and Exxon.

The returns on these funds the last few years are definitely better than the 0.85% we are getting on our money market. Of course, the money market account is less risky than stocks. Stocks do fluctuate, thus that risk scares me a little bit given this is a short term investment of 2 years...maybe 3.

I do need to convince my husband it is the right thing to do. I think he will trust my judgement. Thus I really need to convince myself!!

Generally, this isn't something I would advise anyone to do because of the risk, but with additional risk, often comes additional reward. Does anyone reading this know of anything that should keep me from taking the risk of investing in a Dividend Growth fund?

I'm looking at VDIGX and VDAIX, which are both held at Vanguard. Both have 5 star ratings from Morningstar. If we had held VDIGX two years ago, our money would have increased by nearly $7K by now. However, if our two year period was April 2007 to today, we would have lost $6,700 from our initial investment.

The dividends that are paid would be reinvested to buy more shares, and would be taxed just like ordinary income, which is no different than if we earned interest. If someone were to hold this fund in a retirement account, those reinvested dividends are tax deferred until retirement.

I feel positive about the over all outlook, so I think it should be a buy. What do you think? Anything else I should look at?

Snowflakes Caught In Spam

April 23rd, 2013 at 07:18 pm

I checked my spam folder tonight, which I rarely do. Turns out I was receiving Pinecone Survey requests in the last couple weeks. I just didn't know it since they were in my spam folder! I was able to complete one survey tonight, but it seems I missed out on a couple others.

I wonder if this explains why I still have not been paid for returning a product to them. Maybe they thought I was inactive. Well, I'm active again as of tonight and will receive my $3 tomorrow in my PayPal account.

All Pinecone Survey money is added to my Snowflakes for Christmas fund. I was able to redeem my Swagbucks today for $25 in my PayPal account. I hope I receive that money by the end of the month, so I can count it towards this months snowflake total!

The only thing I have purchased since Sunday is gas for my van. I must not have filled up my van the last couple of weeks, because gas prices seemed lower to me. It still cost me over $50 to fill up my tank. I need to fill up about every 7-8 days right now.

That's all the news from here for now!

Snowflake Rewards

April 20th, 2013 at 07:19 pm

I noticed that I have some rewards with USAA. One was a $25 credit on our credit card statement for having spent over $250 at a home improvement store. We purchased a storm door, which easily helped us reach the goal for that reward. I will pay off the card and add $25 to our Christmas fund by the end of the month.

We also have accumulated enough reward points with USAA to redeem for $25. I will wait to redeem those until later in the year and hope there are more points to redeem at that time.

I plan to put two to three items up on Ebay tomorrow night. The proceeds will be added to our Christmas fund as well.

I've decided that if I accumulate more than $1000 in snowflakes this year, that I will put the remainder elsewhere. My first instinct is to put the money towards our mortgage, but the second thought is to start using it to fund vacations. Once I get to the $1K mark, I will decide for sure.

I'm also very close to earning that next $25 from Swagbucks that I will redeem for PayPal cash. It will take another three to four days most likely as I'm at 1925 SB's.

Anyone earning any great snowflakes, credit or debit card rewards? Selling on Ebay or craigslist?

Interest Rates: Still Looking

April 19th, 2013 at 12:30 pm

I'm slow. I'm still investigating options for cash we have on hand. Right now the money is in a money market account, earning 0.85%.

I started noticing how many credit unions exist around our area. I'm taking note of the names and locations and researching online. One credit union has a 36 month CD for 1.50% which seems really good. Or I could really lock the money up with a 60 month CD at 2.0%.

However, this money is what we are holding on to for our next down payment. Which we might need in about 2 years at the earliest. So I'd be better looking at a 16 month special CD rate of 1.05%.

The rates just aren't that exciting. I want more interest!! I will do something soon, just still haven't decided.

What is the best interest rate you are getting on your cash? Is it with a credit union, bank or other institution? How long do you have to keep your money invested without a penalty?

Furnace Repair

April 18th, 2013 at 09:45 am

Home repairs that you don't plan are never fun. Turns out our furnace wasn't turning on this morning. It was just 2 degrees lower than where it normally is set. My husband noticed first since he is ultra sensitive to cold...it would have taken me hours to notice it wasn't coming on.

We did try to figure out the problem on our own before calling someone. This furnace is very new since we are the first owners of the home. Our first thought was the breaker because we had so much lightening yesterday. But no go there.

In the end we decided to call someone out. Luckily this is a slow time of year for the repair people. He arrived within 30 minutes of my call. We needed a new pressure switch. The switch wasn't allowing the furnace to come on fully for safety reasons. We did get the warranty rate on the part, but with the service call and labor our total cost to have heat running again was $117.

Not terrible, but not where I would prefer to spend $117. I put it on a credit card for the rewards and will pay it off on May 1.

I'm really looking forward to have the heat turned off completely. I think we usually have ours off by mid May at the latest. The way this spring is going with the colder weather, I don't know if that will happen. When do you typically turn your heat off for the season? Is this year typical for you?

Money Tidbits

April 17th, 2013 at 12:15 pm

While I was at the gym today, I thought if one ever needed to lower their water bill that showering at the gym would help. Of course, that assumes you have access to a gym and that it wouldn't be costing you MORE to shower there.

I completed a Pinecone survey on a item that I got to try at home. I was required to return it by mail. I expect I will get compensated in the next week, after they have received it. That will go to the snowflakes for Christmas.

I got a quote on flood insurance. Coverage for our home was $458 per year. It said we were a medium risk for flooding. This town is actually recovering from a major flood from almost 5 years ago. We are not in a flood plain, but when it rains the water is quick to fill up in low lying areas...including a mini stream through our back yard. Not sure that we need the insurance, but at least I know what it might cost.

We are still waiting to hear about my husband's promotion. It could be another two months before we know, but I sure would like to know sooner than later!

I made a conscious effort to make all my long distance phone calls on my cell phone last month. Didn't even go over the limit. Easy. Except for people calling me, it does make me think that I could go to cell service entirely. At one time, I was interested in fiber optic phone service through Ooma. It is a significant upfront cost of over $150. Of course, this would be recouped with lower bills. We will definitely spend more by keeping our land line. Why it is so hard to cut the cord on a land line?

I plan to list at least two items on Ebay Sunday. One is a DVD set for a tv show. We bought it used on Ebay earlier this year and I expect I can sell it at the same price I bought it at. With the fees, I will recoup only part of that, but most is better than none. This show is now on Netflix if we decide to watch the episodes again.

I had considered taking four hour road trip this weekend, but decided there will be plenty of those trips coming up this summer for a graduation and a birthday. I decided we better stay home and save the cost of fuel and snacks. We do have some things to get done around the house.

I hope to earn another $25 PayPal fund from Swagbucks by the end of the month. I'm at 1336, so just need another 1164 in the next 13 days. That should be no problem.

Oh, the big money news, is that we saved $307 this pay period. We put it in our savings account. I would have liked to have saved more, but the storm door and our anniversary outing did dip into those extra funds we had. I'll take the three hundred and be grateful!

That the money news from here. I'll be back tomorrow...if I don't get washed away in all this rain!



Price Adjustment

April 16th, 2013 at 10:22 am

I went to Menard's today to have our storm door price adjusted. We purchased the door for $299 plus tax. At the time there was an 11% rebate promotion going on, so I did send that in. The day after we purchased the door, it was on sale for $269. Whoa. A 10% mark down.

Menard's is a home improvement store if you aren't familiar with the name. They are interesting in that any rebates they offer come back to you in the form of a merchandise credit check. This can only be used in their stores.

Right now we have about $40 worth of rebates being processed, plus today I had the door price adjusted which resulted in another credit at the store in the amount of about $32!

I'm sure we will be buying more things there as summer arrives, so not a big deal that the money is a credit, but sometimes I really wish they would just give cash back!!

Do you like cash back as store credit or cash? Are you aware of Menard's? Do you like the store, or prefer others?

Poll: Tax Day

April 15th, 2013 at 06:01 am

Today is April 15th. The deadline to file your tax return is today.

So did everyone get their taxes done, or expect them to be done by the end of the day? Or did you have to file an extension? Let us know in the comments where you stand!

A Reason For Cash

April 13th, 2013 at 06:58 am

Thinking about our cash needs lately, I realized that some of the cash needs arise from attending school events. Schools don't take checks or debit cards for admission to athletic events, or at their concession stands.

Today we are taking our daughter to her state music contest, where she will perform her flute solo first, then in a flute sextet about two hours later. We will be there about four hours over the noon hour. We could pack a lunch, but I haven't been to the store. So we will be getting some cash so we can get a little something to eat there.

I will make sure to not just grab $20, but more like $100 since we are now into a new pay period and I know my husband will want some cash. I don't plan to pay the flute teacher in cash the rest of this month. I will pay her by check and see how it goes.

Today, we will tip her accompanist $10 in cash, which is what I had in my wallet. Here is a case where we probably could have written a check, but if I have cash I'd rather not wait for someone to deposit a check.

I could go months without getting cash out in the past, but now it seems I have more reasons to use cash with one of them being high school events.

If you use cash with some frequency, what do you spend your cash on?

Seventeen Years!

April 12th, 2013 at 07:18 am

My husband and I are celebrating seventeen years of marriage today. We were married on a Friday and it did mist and rain, just like it is today.

We have had many anniversaries where we could not be together, so we are taking advantage of this Friday evening to celebrate.

We bought each other a card, and exchanged them this morning. We both wrote that we consider each other a best friend.

We have purchased tickets to see a play, total cost $55. We will go out to eat wherever we want and enjoy the time together. I'm sure many people have more frugal anniversaries and others much more extravagant.

How do you celebrate your anniversary?

Checkbook Errors

April 11th, 2013 at 10:55 am

I may be old fashioned for still balancing my checkbook. The checkbook is a free excel program/spreadsheet I found online. It does all the math for me!

This month there were errors, just not the math type. I input an ATM withdrawal twice. I typed our mortgage amount as $15 more than normal. And I included a transaction that should have been on the credit card. It was a return that I recorded in the checkbook as a deposit.

With those errors, I was showing we had about $34 less in the account than we actually did. This is always better than having more than you think you do!

Do you still track and balance your checking account?

P.S. I'm about to redeem more Swagbucks for $25 in PayPal cash. If you are interested in earning rewards too, click the link on my sidebar to join for free!

Lower Utilities

April 9th, 2013 at 12:27 pm

I've noticed the utility bills going down as the temperatures are warming up. That reminded me that I usually turn off the pilot light to our gas fireplace in April. I went to the basement and flipped the switch to off until late October or November.

I also turned off one of our cable boxes we have in the basement that seems to have the fan running nearly all the time. I'm keeping it off to see if I notice any big change in the electric bill. We rarely use it...so it may need to go OR at least be exchanged for one that isn't constantly running! Smile

I think our water bill may go up though. We have sod that may need to be watered a little extra this summer, with potential new trees and plants. I also am letting my 16 year old do her own laundry, which means smaller loads, but more of them. Not the most frugal, but a good lesson.

What are do you do to keep your utilities low?

Ebay Snowflakes & More

April 8th, 2013 at 08:06 am

The two clothing items I had on Ebay last week netted me $12.93. Not bad for used clothing! This snowflake will get added to the Christmas Fund. Smile

I read our town's newsletter and noticed they are sponsoring a city wide garage sale on Saturday, May 18. I don't really know if I have enough stuff for a sale on my own, but I do have things. We even have furniture I might be willing to put on a sale. I think this is going to be a way to meet some neighbors...I need to join forces with someone with lots of stuff!

I would apply any furniture proceeds to new furniture. We have two couches that are showing extreme wear now that we have had them 17 years! Our kitchen table is still functional, but is just as old, worn, and dated. Something to think about as this sale draws nearer.

Anyone else selling on Ebay, or gearing up for a spring garage sale? Did you find any new snowflakes this week?

Cash Withdrawal Update

April 7th, 2013 at 07:23 am

In the last 30 days we have withdrawn cash 8 times. Considering we did 15 withdrawals last month, this is an improvement. I can tell that we have done better this last paycheck with only one withdrawal!!

The one withdrawal of $140 was $40 for the flute teacher, $50 for my husband, $22 for me, and $28 for the girls allowance. I still have most of my cash, since I don't spend cash very often.

I think I will start paying the flute lesson teacher by check for the remainder of the month. I don't know how quickly she deposits the checks, so I just want to experiment for the next few weeks.

I will have to check with my husband to see how much cash he has left. He may want to withdraw more this week. I think he is likely spending less because we bought a new coffee maker for our house, and he took the old one to work. Now he has plenty of caffeine without running over to the convenience store! This makes me happy.

The only downside of taking $140 out from this particular ATM is that it gave me two $50 bills! Fine for my husband, but I really wanted smaller bills to give to my girls. I felt forced to buy something to break the bills down. It actually worked out okay because my youngest daughter bought a video game with some of her money. I paid cash with the $50, since part was her allowance anyway, and she gave me a $20 bill for her portion of the purchase. I was able to use the change to give my oldest her allowance.

I suppose someone reading might suggest going in to the bank to get cash in the correct denominations. Good idea. However, we bank online with USAA. They do not have any bank branches here in our state. We have used them for at least 6 years and are generally very pleased with our service. This cash situation is just a minor inconvenience really.

How much cash do you withdraw in a months time? What do you use your cash for?

Free With Rewards

April 6th, 2013 at 03:28 pm

The capri pants I purchased for my daughter yesterday at Old Navy were free!! Based on their website, I expected them to be about $20. At the store they were marked at $15. I redeemed my $15 rewards to make them absolutely free. No sales tax was charged. I simply exchange my paper rewards coupon for a piece of clothing!!

I've had an Old Navy Visa card for years. We primarily bought the girls clothes there. Occasionally, I would make purchases outside of the brand during special reward promotions. However, my oldest daughter finds their clothes don't fit her body. The youngest is on the final girls size for pants and no longer likes the shirt offerings in her size. I would say our Old Navy shopping days are over, therefore, I expect to cancel this card by the end of the year. I'd rather use a regular card at this point to get cash rewards I can use anywhere.

Do you have any store cards you keep for the rewards or special offers?

Financial Tidbits

April 5th, 2013 at 08:36 am

Today, I'm going to run some errands since they are all on one side of town. I will return two items to Kohl's that we don't need. I will used a $2 off three cards at Hallmark...I hope to buy the $0.99 cards to make my out of pocket expense around a $1. I will pick up a pair of capri pants for youngest daughter at Old Navy. I seemed to have received another $15 reward from them. They just keep sending them to me...and I only buy stuff when I use their coupon! They should cost me just over $5. I may stop at Barnes & Noble to pick up an item or two. I have gift cards we were given for Christmas that we still have not spent, and I think my July birthday daughter has a few things on her list I could get with those. I also plan to drop books off at the library...it seems I'm always there either getting books or dropping them off. Libraries rock.

We are going to a Show Choir event at school tonight. Tickets were $10 a piece, which all goes back into the music program. It should be entertaining! We want to get good seats, so I plan to prep taco fixings for dinner so we can get out the door fast. The meat was seasoned and cooked yesterday and just needs to be reheated.

This whole week has been pretty frugal. No trips to the ATM. No last minute trips to the store. I have spent much of my downtime cleaning floors, dusting blinds, doing laundry and cleaning bathrooms. I have a big list and I just keep finding something on it I can get done! It feels pretty good.

Next Friday is payday. It seems early, but I think I'll be ready for it anyway. I know there will be some money to save from it and that is always nice.

Did you have a frugal week? Do you see some debt payoff or savings in your future?

Sequestration & Interest

April 4th, 2013 at 07:11 am

We earned $28.34 in interest on the money we have in our money market account. I just save it...no real purpose other than to grow our savings.

My husband mentioned last night that he may get called at a moments notice to go to trainings or meetings. This is due to sequestration. The money for putting reservists on orders to do these additional duties just isn't there. Since he is full time and already being paid, he is likely to get pulled. Ick! I get it, but I don't have to enjoy it right?

Is sequestration effecting you in any way?

Financial Tip: Credit Reports

April 3rd, 2013 at 07:25 am

I spent about 10 minutes last night checking our credit reports online at annualcreditreport.com. That is the free site where you can get a copy of your credit report from each of the three reporting agencies. You can get one free from each of them every 12 months. I actually check just one of them every four months, so that I'm checking with some frequency, but still just getting one from each agency per year.

It had been awhile since I checked. To get back on track, I decided to put reminders on email calendar for April, August and December. I also indicated in the reminder which agency to check with.

All was good with this check at Experian, with a small exception. I noticed that my husband's report showed a previous employer that he never worked for. He did apply there years ago. I asked that it be deleted and as of this morning that report no longer shows that employer. Easy!!

Do you check your credit report on a regular basis? Do you have a system to remember to do this simple task?

Choices: Life & Financial

April 2nd, 2013 at 07:16 am

Found this quote on Facebook today, just seemed to resonate with me. It seems to apply to anything...personal and even financial.



Make today great!

April Snowflakes

April 2nd, 2013 at 07:01 am

I already have some snowflakes for April!

I cashed in Swagbucks for $25 in PayPal cash. I could have picked up Amazon.com gift cards, but decided that I like the cash better. Smile

I have two items on Ebay. One has a bid. The other is being watched. So more April snowflakes on their way. Smile

Do you see snowflakes in your future?

Goals:Quarter One Update

April 1st, 2013 at 05:28 am

Time to update you on our status of our 2013 financial goals since the first quarter of the year is now behind us. The goals are listed below, and I've indicated where we are next to each one.

1) Make maximum contribution to both of our Roth IRA's. And contribute 7% to husband's TSP. This goal is on track. We are contributing $458.33 each month to each of our Roth IRA accounts. The contributions are set up to withdrawal from our checking account automatically. Therefore, we never forget! And of course, the TSP is automatic from my husband's paycheck, too!

2) Pay off truck loan. This was completed March 5. Yippee!

3) Snowflake a Free Christmas, goal again is $750. As of March 31, I have saved $419.02...all from sources outside of our income.

4) Save $4,000 ($2000 each daughter) for college. This goal is on track as well because we automatically invest $167 monthly from our checking account for each daughter.

5) Pay for new intermediate flute with cash, about $1500. The flute was purchased in late January. We put it on a credit card to reap the rewards. I paid the flute off in full at the beginning of March. No interest was charged. We have paid our saving account back $1000. Just another $500 to go.

6) Save $2K for vacation. Not sure where we might go, so that is a pretty vague goal at this point! Eek. No plans and no money right now.

7) Landscaping and furniture purchases. Pay with cash and decide on a limit! No plans here yet. We will purchase when we find what we are looking for and will pay cash. We are not interested any zero interest offers either!

There is where we are. Obviously, we are doing well with retirement and college savings. We also have zero non mortgage debt and it will remain that way! Clearly, I'm working on some other savings goals that are more pay as we go. I do feel a little vague on those. Very hard to meet a goal when the target is not in focus. I'll work on getting those goals nailed down soon.

How are you doing on your 2013 financial goals? Share here or post your own update on your blog.

Psst...I did write a little more on mutual funds on Our Money Blog. Great thoughts for newbies!