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Archive for December, 2013

Wow! Retirement in 2013

December 31st, 2013 at 08:23 pm

Did you know the S&P 500 Index was up 29.6% this year? That is not normal, but it is good! We've been investing for over 20 years. It actually seems we should have more, but only in recent years have we been able to contribute the maximum amount to our Roth IRAs AND contribute to a work retirement plan.

This year we each invested the full $5,500 to our Roth IRAs. My husband also contributed 7% to his TSP. Our total retirement contribution was $16,241.60. This is 17.3% of our gross income.

Our retirement balance at the end of December 2012 was $188,290.18. This year with our $16K+ in contributions and the growth of nearly 30% in the market we end the year with $265,208.05!! I'm humbled. Truly humbled. That is an increase of $76,917.87. Over $50,000 in growth.

I have records of our balances all the way back to May of 2003. At the end of that year we only had $33K invested for retirement. I disclose this so you can see how continually investing can change in a relatively short period of time. There have been ups like this year, and some really bad years. In fact, I did check once in 2009 and our balance had dropped to $67,000. Yep, there wasn't even a 1 in front of that number back in 2009. Stocks are volatile, but retirement is a long term goal. In my short experience, it seems better to be IN the market than out.

Were you invested in the market for retirement? Did you just start investing? Will you invest next year? I know we will!! Smile

December and Year End Snowflake Totals

December 31st, 2013 at 08:31 am

December was a very good month for snowflake earnings. It seems there were lots of sources this month, too. All $311.99 went to pay down our mortgage balance as planned.

Here's where the funds came from:

I simply keep a running tally all year long in a spreadsheet. I will add a new sheet to track 2014, so I can compare this year to next year.

Oh and this year final total was over $3K, when I include the snowflakes I saved for Christmas and the snowflakes we sent to the mortgage. Grand total for 2013 is $3287.73. And the bulk of that did arrive in the second half of 2013, so I really think my $4,000 goal for 2014 is very possible.

What was your 2013 snowflake total? Share. Any amount is a great thing! Maybe next year you can exceed this years goal.

Snowflake Pending

December 31st, 2013 at 07:51 am

Thanks to an SA reader here, I earned a $5 referral because they signed up for Ebates using my link on the sidebar. Thank you!!

That money won't actually be in my hands until February since Ebates only pays out four times per year. I'll take it when it comes though. In addition to the referral money I have another $24.35 pending in rebates for some recent shopping I did during the holidays. That extra step of going through the Ebates site does pay off.

Click the [url=http://www.ebates.com/rf.do?referrerid=bHQ0spe1bnAb2grgz1lhXA%3D%3D]link on my sidebar[/url], if you find yourself doing any online shopping today. I actually get a bigger bonus if one more person signs up today!! So I have my fingers crossed here, that someone has some shopping to do and wants cash back for doing so. Smile

Tip: Self Insure

December 30th, 2013 at 07:30 am

This tip is not about health insurance. It's a little tale about a conversation we had with my husband's sister and husband on Christmas about cell phones.

They have a family plan with Verizon that includes themselves, two daughters with smartphones, a son with a dumb phone, my mother in law, and my brother in law's parents. I'm not sure what types of phones all the adults have. They have a contract plan and are paying $5/month...per phone for insurance!!

If you do the math on that, they are paying $40 ($5x8phones) per month just for insurance. They likely will pay that for the 24 month contract, which ends up being $960! Yikes. I did tell them about my sister's husband who needed a new phone while still on contract. He purchased a phone on Ebay that he could use with his cell phone provider. I think he paid about $100. Even if my sister in law need to buy a new phone for everyone on their plan at that price they would be better off then they are with paying the $5 insurance for everyone's phone.

Businesses make big money buy selling insurance for replacement products. The odds are usually low you will need it. I think it is better to simply rely on your savings if something happens to your device.

This is a bit unrelated, but an example of thinking outside the box when something breaks. My husband's laptop screen broke a couple days ago. He left his ear buds in between the keyboard and screen with the screen propped up. One of our daughters bumped into it and the lid closed with a pop. Oops. The computer works great even thought it is a couple years old. We went browsing online to see about screen replacement. Yep, sure enough, it is an option. It is pretty easy to replace a screen. There was a video on the site we purchased from explaining how to do it. We did pay just under $70 with shipping for a replacement screen, but that is far less than buying a new computer!

Do you self insure with electronics, or pay a fee for insurance? Have you replaced a computer screen, or other part to save from buying new?

The 2014 Mortgage Goal

December 29th, 2013 at 08:53 am

Our mortgage is our only debt. My goal is to pay down more principal than if we just made regular payments. I've already mentioned that all my snowflake earnings for 2014 will go to pay down the mortgage principal. I hope to get $4,000 from that source alone.

Our housing allowance from the government is increasing by $102 tax free dollars. I will apply this money to the mortgage pay down goal, which is $1,224.00 for the year.

As of today, the mortgage balance is $X28,992.99. My goal is to get that balance to $X15,000. This means I need a total of $13,992.99 in principal payments to meet the goal by this time next year. If we just made regular payments we would pay off $5455 in debt.

Even with the sources of pay down mentioned above, we are still $3,324 short of meeting the goal. I either need to find plenty of other snowflakes or simply find room in the budget to pay off more debt. I think there is definitely room in the budget. I will work on this in the coming days to see how it might be best to go about this. Part of me wants to just wait until DH gets his raise, and then it is no problem, but I think that is me being lazy!

Another big goal, right? If I don't make a specific plan, I'm pretty sure the whole idea will be put to the wayside and forgotten. And that is not what I want. I want to make a big impact in our financial picture this year!!

Is paying down your mortgage a goal this year? Are you specific in how you will accomplish this? Maybe you have another debt you looking to reduce, do you have a clear plan for getting there?

The 2014 Snowflake Goal...It's BIG

December 28th, 2013 at 07:55 am

I already know what my snowflake goal is for 2014. It is big! Last year, my initial plan for snowflakes, or money from non income sources, was just $750. I actually exceeded that goal by 4.5 times!! I just wanted that $750 saved for Christmas. I hit that amount in early June. It seems flakes snowballed from there. Smile I would say primarily from credit card bonus rewards. Who knew I would jump on that?!

So the big 2014 snowflake goal is $4000.00. No that isn't a typo! This will be about a 17% increase in my 2013 total, which I will disclose and update at year end. It does feel like a big goal. A stretch for sure, but I really do believe that big goals can be reached, and so often exceeded!

This year, I will be putting all snowflakes towards paying down our mortgage balance. I will still save for Christmas, but that money will come from our regular income. I didn't need $750 this year. Next year, I'm looking to save $600 for Christmas. I will just set aside $50 per month. Easy. Simple. Done!

I know some of you are going to start tracking snowflakes in the new year. Does anyone have a goal for the amount they want to accumulate? What will your snowflakes be used for?

Snowflake Update

December 27th, 2013 at 07:10 am

I received $25 from Swagbucks and $25 in USAA rewards this week in our checking account. I used the $10 Target gift card towards groceries this week. And we spent $2.99 in Amazon.com credits to watch a movie online last night.

All the funds above total $62.99. I sent that amount to pay down the mortgage principal. That might be the last one for the year, but I'm open to a few more snowflakes if they fall before the end of the year.

With this last payment it has pushed our mortgage balance under another $1K milestone. So the balance is now like this $XX8,992.99. I think we will be able to get at least that $8K plus change paid off this year....and probably a little bit more. I'll update the goal and plan on that soon.

We are still working on getting our recent repair on our van covered and paid by Honda Care. My husband is going to walk into the dealership today to get it taken care of. Fingers crossed. We don't have any reason to think it won't be covered. They didn't have our Honda Care information, and just seemed to be too busy to handle it when we called last Saturday.

Any one new going to track snowflake money next year? Will you use it to pay down debt, save for a goal or both?

Good Money News

December 22nd, 2013 at 08:11 pm

I sent $12.99 in snowflakes to the mortgage today. Nine dollars was from three recent Pinecone surveys. And $3.99 matches the money we used from an Amazon gift card from Swagbucks to rent a movie a couple nights ago.

I redeemed reward points on USAA for $25 cash. I expect it to be in our checking account in a couple of days, and then I will send it to the mortgage.

We had an interesting experience at Target yesterday. We were purchasing groceries. The cashier took a coupon, and scanned my cartwheel barcode. However, she forgot to give me the extra 10% off the store was offering or my bag discounts. I think when she tried to give those, after the cartwheel, it locked up her entire computer! We ended up at Guest Services with our cashier scanning our groceries again. We did get all of our discounts: Cartwheel, bag discount, coupon, additional 10%, and 5% for using our Red Card. We also received a $10 Target gift card for the inconvenience. We ended up paying about $108, with an original total of over $135. It was a very good experience overall in customer service.

I also went out spending a Kohl's last night. I was in need of a down alternative comforter for our guest bed in our basement. It gets cold done there! The original price was $89. We had a $10 Kohl's coupon, plus 30% off. I convinced my cashier to let me use my American Express card to pay for the purchase, even though I should have only been able to use my Kohl's card. An offer on AE, will provide me $10 since I made a purchase of over $50 at Kohl's. In the end I paid $59.91 with tax, and will get the $10 credit from American Express. I also received $10 Kohl's cash to use after Christmas. Not too bad!

I don't expect to be on the blogs for several days because of holiday gatherings. Happy merry making!

Automate

December 21st, 2013 at 08:57 am

I set my modified 52 Week Savings challenge to fund itself automatically. I wrote about that and the benefits of automatically saving for a goal on [url=http://ourmoneyblog.blogspot.com/2013/12/save-automatically.html]Our Money Blog[/url], if you are interested in reading about that today head on over there.

Today I wish I could automate my grocery shopping! We are hours away from getting a pretty big snow storm of up to 9 inches of snow. And this follows the ice storm we had yesterday. I need to get out to get a few days of groceries, plus the items I promised to bring to our holiday gatherings.

We attempted to call the Honda dealership about the repair of the oxygen sensor earlier this week. Honda Care indicated it should be covered, and that it is best to get the benefit through the dealership rather than be reimbursed. The dealership didn't seem to want to deal with it on a Saturday and simply took the information and said they would get back to us on Monday. This might end up being a bigger hassle then expected, but we are pretty sure it will get worked out in our favor. Our Honda Care warranty was purchased through another dealer in our old town, thus this dealership doesn't have our Honda Care information on file. The warranty is good through October or November of next year, unless we break 100K miles before that. We are only at 73K now, so I don't expect that to happen.

We rented a movie on Amazon.com last night. I have a gift card on my account. I will match the money spent with a payment to the mortgage principal, since that gift card was earned from Swagbucks.

I love that so many of us are planning our 2014 goals. I will be posting ours in more detail soon after Christmas. Maybe some of you lurkers will want to start a blog in the new year to keep track of your goals. I know we would love to cheer you on!

2013 Goals Completed!!

December 20th, 2013 at 07:10 am

All of the goals below have been completed for 2013. I didn't realize we paid off the truck this year. I thought it was the year before! Funny how time distracts from the details.

1) Make maximum contribution to both of our Roth IRA's. And contribute 7% to husband's TSP.
2) Pay off truck loan.
3) Snowflake a Free Christmas with $750.
4) Save $4,000 ($2000 each daughter) for college.
5) Pay for new intermediate flute with cash.
6) Pay for vacation with saved cash.
7) Pay for furniture and landscaping with cash.
8) Increase equity in home by paying down debt and saving for the next down payment.

We do not have any debt for the furniture purchase, which was a new kitchen table and chairs, the vacation, flute or landscaping. We still have $300 on the American Express for my daughter's Washington DC trip in April. I just thought it easy to pay on it monthly since it was at zero percent and I knew I could pay it in full at any time. I'm actually waiting for a reward on the card to apply to the balance, so one reason I'm not paying it off too quickly.

I will do another post about our mortgage progress for the year before year end. Those snowflakes do make a difference!

I wrote a new post over on [url=http://ourmoneyblog.blogspot.com/2013/12/52-weeks-of-saving.html]Our Money Blog[/url]...if you want to check it out. I really want to devote more time to that one, I might need to rebrand it and do different topics than I do over here. If anyone has ideas, or thoughts on it, I'd love to hear about them.

Reminder: Check TransUnion Credit Report

December 19th, 2013 at 02:51 pm

In case anyone is following along when I check our credit reports, it is now time to check TransUnion. I had a reminder at the beginning of the month from my email service. I still haven't done it, but I will. In four months I will remind you to check another report from annualcreditreport.com. That is the free service where you can check your report from each of the credit reporting agencies once per year. I check ours every four months, so that I'm effectively checking each agency once per year.

I noticed my ticker from tracking my Christmas Snowflakes has disappeared again. It seems if you don't update them they delete them. Boo. At least I tracked that information elsewhere, too!

I might have mentioned this in a post awhile back, but we had a van repair this week. The check engine light was on. It was an oxygen sensor. We had our oil changed and tires rotated. The total bill was about $377. We charged it to the Chase Sapphire card we are working towards a bonus on.

My husband has had some recent travel. He was reimbursed $178.50 for one. Not sure what his actual expenses were, but I'm pretty sure less than that. The other travel reimbursement came in the form of mileage and was nearly $340. That was way more than he spent in gas for three 150 mile round trips. Right now the money is just sitting in our checking account. I would count it as snowflake money if I knew his actual expenses, but he is spend happy when he travels and I don't have the patience to figure out the profit. I guess I should make a better effort to figure all that out.

We are going to be getting an ice storm tonight and a bigger snow storm over the weekend. I think we'll just stay inside as much as possible!

Quick Updates

December 18th, 2013 at 09:38 am

I have enough Swagbucks to cash out for $25 in PayPal cash. I hope I receive it before year end so I can count it for 2013 snowflakes.

I received a Pinecone survey payment of $3 yesterday. I also completed TWO more surveys yesterday, so I should be receiving another $6 soon.

I found out our housing allowance is going up beginning in January by $102 tax free dollars!! I think I'll make sure to save this money to the mortgage each month since it is a housing benefit.

My Christmas shopping is pretty much complete. I may find one more thing for my brother in law's stocking, but it won't amount to more than $3-4. I need to make one final payment to my Target Red Card from the Christmas fund to cover one last gift and stocking stuffers purchased. I have wrapped everything and didn't need to buy one bow, bag, roll of paper, gift tag or tape! I did use about four small gift bags I bought on clearance at Target last year. I might look for a few of those when they start to clearance things. I think I paid $0.10 each!

I am going grocery shopping today for odds and ends and the ingredients for taco dip that my husband will take to work for their Christmas party. They are having a white elephant exchange. I think we have a DVD of something that we can give up for that. I will still have one final trip to make before the holiday for food and drinks we are taking to our gatherings.

I'm also picking up 1/2 yard of fabric to make a little bag for my daughter's friend. She wants to give a gift and suggested the idea, but specifying a zebra print! I don't have that, but the cost is small compared to what I might buy if we went shopping! I WILL get that done today.

I purchased a photo book for my parent's anniversary, which is December 27. It is a compilation of photos we took of all of our family members on their land the last time we were there before they moved. There are some house and land pictures as well. I'm expecting tears. The awesome thing is I got the book free and only had to pay sales tax shipping and, which I did upgrade to 2 day for an $1 more. Total out of pocket was $9.56! It was a deal that came with the school photos I bought of my girls. They will be thrilled with it.

Okay...lots of little updates. I've been wanting to write more about goal setting and tax planning, but I'm just busy! I will get those posts together when things settle down. Smile