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Cash In, Cash Out

March 17th, 2019 at 06:36 am

The tax refund did arrive as expected. It is currently in our savings account marked as Big Goal money!! I decided to act like it didn't exist in some ways. We were never expecting a refund, so spending it didn't exactly seem right. If we need an additional $1900 we can take it from our other savings or cash flow it.

I earned enough Swagbucks to redeem for a $25 Amazon gift card. I used it to buy cabin and engine filters for our two vehicles. Those arrived yesterday.

We learned this past week that the University our older daughter goes to overestimated her VA benefits for the semester. Once they received actual payment, they notified us we owe $595 by April 12. Our plan is to use her ESA to pay this. Her benefits were lower this semester, so this was the plan all along, we just know the amount we need to take out now.

Our girls arrive here today to spend their spring break with us. My husband took the week off, so we can do some more exploring of our new town with them. This likely means some meals out and money spent on entertainment.

I learned recently that American Express waives their annual fees for active duty military. I haven't taken action on that as I think we only have one card of theirs with an annual fee. This may give us an opportunity to use some of their other cards with higher annual fees and better benefits. I have more looking to do on this. Anyone have experience with this? If so which card do you use? Yes, we use credit cards, but do not carry a balance, nor pay any interest. Credit cards a financial tool that can be beneficial if used wisely.

Tax Refund Arrives Tomorrow

March 5th, 2019 at 07:58 am

Tax refund is pending in our second checking account right now. Somewhere I saw that it would arrive March 12. It's arrival is about a week sooner than I expected.

I really, really want to add this to the Big Goal. And I probably can, but then just back it out later if needed.

Another part of me thinks I should put it towards college tuition expenses since the refund can be directly attributed to taking the American Opportunity Tax credit.

I also know that I could send it various places too.

I think I'm conflicted about where to allocate it because of some bigger outflows happening right now. Spent over $800 on plane tickets for our daughters to come home for spring break. We need to pay the VA for the overpayment they sent the University (and University sent to us). I think there is something else too.

Once I work through my emotions and review our budget in YNAB a bit more, I think I can eventually make a decision. It's been several years since we had a refund and I wasn't expecting one...so I wasn't making plans on what to do with it!

I'll be back to let you know once I decide for sure!

February Big Goal Progress

March 2nd, 2019 at 06:23 am

In January, I wrote that I would try to update our Big Goal progress each month. I nearly forgot until I went looking for our interest earned in January because I needed it for my previous post. We'll see if I can remember all year long!

$350.00 ($175 from each paycheck, two per month)
_$66.71 American Express CC Rewards
_$48.94 Discover Cash Back
_$51.06 FNBO Interest Earned
$113.87 NFCU Interest Earned
__$0.01 USAA Interest
__$5.00 Class Action Rebate
_$25.00 Swagbucks
__$6.00 Pinecone Surveys
$200.00 Fuel Savings*

_$866.59 February Big Goal Total
$1,576.04 2019 YTD

$62,311.59 Previous Big Goal Balance
$63,178.18 New Big Goal Balance

31.59% of $200,000 Goal

*I'm calling this fuel savings as we are not using nearly as much fuel in our vehicles while living on base. In our last place we could easily have spent $200 more per month.

February Interest Earned

March 2nd, 2019 at 05:56 am

February was the first full month that our 3.25% CD was in effect. The interest earned is reflected in the total.

FNBO $51.06
NFCU $113.87
Total $164.93

To compare, in January we earned $147.20. Higher interest rates do make a difference!

All interest earned is added to our Big Goal.

February Credit Card Rewards

February 28th, 2019 at 10:30 am

We primarily used our American Express and Discover credit cards in the month of February, and I think January as well. Just today I redeemed the most current rewards earned.

$66.71 American Express
$38.94 Discover
$105.65 Total Cash Back Rewards

The above cash back is being saved towards our Big Goal.

We use our Southwest Airlines Visa card to pay rent and a few other much smaller bills. We are earning a couple thousand points each month now. Specifically for February we earned 3,372 points. My account has over 35K points! We will definitely use most of those sometime this year.

We do not pay interest on our credit cards. We pay our balances in full each month. Credit card rewards do not pay off if you run a balance and are charged interest on your debt.

Tax Return Filed

February 25th, 2019 at 11:55 am

I could have filed much earlier this month, but honestly it was wearing me out each time I attempted it.

Each of the two colleges we are working with fill out their 1098-T forms slightly different. One school includes the books, the other does not. One school includes the required activity fee and the other does not. I was a bit surprised by this, but found a resource that schools should be using as guidance for filling out these forms and used that as my guideline. We also had money paid on our behalf by the VA, but have to pay back, that was not reflected, nor did H&R block have a way to ask or handle this situation. This probably makes no sense to most of you, but just know that different institutions fill out their 1098-Ts differently based on their interpretation of the law. I think some parents/students at one institution are probably losing out on some qualified expenses if they only rely on the 1098-T.

I feel 99% confident I did it correctly. We claimed the American Opportunity Credit for both girls this year. Neither one them had expenses that qualified for the full amount offered, but we ended up with a refund of $1,968.

It's been a few years since we had a refund as I've been able estimate our future tax and withholding pretty well. This year I forgot about the Dependent Tax Credit ($500) for a dependent that qualifies over 18. This was $1000 in our favor. I also decided to claim the AOTC for our younger daughter, although originally wasn't going to.

I'm pretty sure this money will go towards future college expenses rather than the Big Goal.

Have you completed your taxes?

Edited to add: We do file state income tax, but our home state does not tax active duty military wages, so no refund or payment ever required unless I start working or we earn a LOT of interest.

A Higher Interest Rate

February 24th, 2019 at 07:03 am

When you are a saver you cheer when your interest rate goes up! Some of our savings was earning 2.10% and is now going up to 2.25%. It seems like a small difference, but I have enjoyed seeing the rates rise a little at a time after years of very low interest.

I was also notified of a CD maturing in March. This money will go to savings initially, but I think we will end up adding it to another certificate currently earning 3.25% until June of 2020.

Have you noticed the market has bounced back quite a bit since the drop in December? The S&P 500 is up over 11% for the year so far.

What is the highest interest you are earning on your savings?

5% Cash Back TV, Internet & Streaming Services US Bank

February 23rd, 2019 at 05:12 am

We have the US Bank Cash + card and use it regularly for 5% cash back on our cell phone bill. We had been using it for 5% cash back on utilities prior to our move to base (no utility bill here).

The good news is they have a new category that we can benefit from! 5% cash back on TV, Internet, and Streaming services. We use AT&T for internet, Netflix and Hulu streaming services that should all qualify. I was just explaining to my husband how much we pay on these things. And honestly we should cut something, but yet four of us actually do use these. So 5% cash back will help cut the sting of the costs.

This new category is effective April 1. I'm making a note on my computer, specifically in YNAB, to switch the billing to the US Bank Card near the end of March.

As you might imagine, I will save the cash back received towards our Big Goal!

Anyone else us US Bank Cash + card?

The Government Billed Us

February 22nd, 2019 at 12:21 pm

We finally received a bill from the government. Not many people say that! We were aware of and notified of VA overpayment of tuition benefits in early December because our daughter added then dropped a one hour class last semester. The school was overpaid, and they refunded us some money in October or November. So now the government is asking us for the cash to the tune of $487.

We are going to pay it at the beginning of March. I do have a little problem with the amount. My guess is it is right, but I am just not clear on how they figured the amount of the overpayment. It is not equal to what the school refunded us, which was around $400. I'll probably send an email to the school to see if they can explain. I think getting an answer from them would be faster!

I earned $3 for doing a Pinecone Survey. I found a penny on the ground when I went to the store. I've actually found quite a few coins on my walks here!

I've arranged for our cat to be boarded while we are on a three night trip in March. She will spend five nights at the kennel for a total of $75. They provide food and litter. I wish I didn't have to do board here, but our housing won't let us leave a pet overnight even if someone is watching her. She sleeps a lot anyway, so she will be fine!

It's about time to make flight reservations for our daughter's to come here for their spring breaks. More money out, but we will look forward to seeing them and doing some more exploring of our new town.

I've been watching Living on A Dime on YouTube. I've watched some of their videos before, but it had been awhile. Jill, the mother, has a series on the channel called Penny Pinching Mama, that explains her life when she was first diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and how she lived on $500 a month with two kids in late 1980s. She still only lives on $750 for social security. They are fantastic example of how people really can make it on low income. They don't deny that it's hard, but that it can be done! The are very conservative with what they use. Anyone else seen these ladies on YouTube?

Dreaming Big

February 14th, 2019 at 09:40 am

I've mentioned before that we are living on a military installation for the first time ever. One of the pros this time around was how much we would save on fuel for our vehicles with his commute being 4 minutes rather than 40 minutes. I'm trying to convince him to ride his bike to work, but so far a no go! He would rather buy a motorcycle if he was going to do that. Ha, ha,

We expect to save at least $200 a month. I'm still testing it. I'm purposely not budgeting $200 each pay period to see if that money is really extra due to the fuel savings. So far things seem promising, but this time of year tends to be low in all costs for us, so it's not entirely clear. And yes, $200 per pay period is $400 a month, which would be the higher end of fuel costs.

I guess I find it a bit of a game by holding that money out of the budget, not categorizing it in YNAB. Not sure it make sense to anyone but me.

I received a $5 settlement from some class action lawsuit, Olive oil I think. I like getting those in the mail. Always a surprise when they come to fruition! I've funneled that to our Big Goal, since small amounts add up.

"Believe in love. Believe in magic. Hell, believe in Santa Clause. Believe in others. Believe in yourself. Believe in your dreams. If you don't, who will?" - Jon Bon Jovi

Yes, I'm a big fan of Bon Jovi...probably tells you when I grew up. Fault me, I'm living on a prayer!

Tuition Paid, No Loans Again

February 9th, 2019 at 07:54 am

I've now paid both of our girls tution and housing bills for Spring 2019. We still have no loans!! Eight semesters for one done and two for the other. I will say housing and meal plans are the most expensive part of sending your children away to college. It is a choice we made, so no complaints, just observation.

I looked up the cost for graduate school yesterday. My oldest daughter is thinking about it. But that cost will be on her. For some reason, I thought graduate tuition was a flat rate, not base on in state or out of state residency. Not sure where I got that idea. I checked only a couple schools, so maybe somewhere this is true. Maybe this fact will convince her to go back to our home state. It's going to be expensive and she really needs to figure out if the ends justify the means. I'm not entirely convinced...but we will keep discussing it.

“We all have a story. The difference is: do you use the story to empower yourself? Or do you use your story to keep yourself a victim? The question itself empowers you to change your life.” ― Sunny Dawn Johnston