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Archive for December, 2018

Last of the 2018 Snowflakes

December 31st, 2018 at 06:42 pm

I have few final snowflakes to report for 2018. A full tally coming soon!

$100 Christmas gift from my parents
$24.81 Ibotta proceeds
$1.89 Starbucks (Amex reward offer)
$5.00 Hulu (Amex reward offer)
$2.91 Verizon (Amex reward offer)

It's been a good year for snowflakes (extra money)...all have been added to our Big Goal. More about that on the sidebar and an update soon.

Happy New Year, Saving Advice bloggers and readers!

2018 Financial Wins and Fails

December 28th, 2018 at 06:58 pm

If you didn't see my previous post, I've invited all bloggers to write a post titled 2018 Financial Wins and Fails. Join in before the end of the year.

I reread all of my 2018 posts here and I have to say while the year was a whirlwind of change, we actually had a lot of financial wins, many I forgot about!

I'm going to start with the fails.

1) Failed to shop for the best prices. We purchased some big ticket items, computer for our daughter, dorm supplies, tires and college textbooks. The reasons are multiple, but it was such a busy year, I found myself just wanting to get the purchases complete, rather than spending lots of time finding the best price. It's not to say I didn't do some price comparisons, but I didn't dig in deep to make it a priority.

2) I failed to think ahead about getting out of the stock market on my youngest daughter's Educational Savings Account. The market was doing well. We redeemed shares in August and definitely sold high. But now the market has corrected, and the share price while still high for some of the shares we bought, it is low for others. I should have moved the shares to cash in August. I haven't sold at a loss yet, so may not end up being a complete fail. Time will tell.

3) Failed to plan ahead. This is related to both of the above, but I wasn't thinking months in advance about things that would need cash, particularly all the dorm room expenses. I should have thought about that at least at the first of the year. I was able to cash flow the costs as we made purchases, but it would have been less stressful if the money was set aside for something I knew was coming.

The wins definitely outweigh the fails.

1) We ended the year once again with zero student loans! So excited we have been able to continue to cash flow, use saved investments or take advantage of my husband's Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits. Oh, and the girls both got fantastic scholarships that helped as well.

2) Despite lots of spending, we saved a lot this year. We maxed out our Roth IRA contributions, and my husband saved 11% of his basic pay for retirement. We saved $2000 in our daughter's ESA (final contribution). We saved $347/mo automatically from my husband's paycheck. We saved all credit card rewards and interest on our savings. (I'll post more specific numbers later.) We also saved the entire military move reimbursement which was nearly $7K.

3) We cash flowed a computer purchase, new tires, shocks and struts for my van, dorm needs, three trips, and several airline flights. Still completely debt free!

The fails help me see where we can improve in 2019, and the wins remind me what we are doing right and can continue with going forward. Do you review your successes and setbacks at the end of the year?

2018 Financial Wins and Fails Collaboration

December 27th, 2018 at 08:23 am

Hello fellow Saving Advice bloggers!

Many of us are pretty good about writing about our year end in some way or another. I'm going to be writing about our financial wins and fails for 2018 before the end of the year. I'd like you to join me and write a specific blog post about your wins and fails for 2018.

While it's important to review for ourselves, sharing our financial wins and fails helps inspire others. Will you join me? Simply title your post 2018 Financial Wins and Fails, post before the end of the year and invite others to join at the end of your post.

And if you are new or a lurker, we would love for you to join in and post your own financial wins and fails! Goal setting and review is helping in making progress and changes for the year ahead.

We Owe The Government

December 17th, 2018 at 09:41 am

I knew this was coming. My daughter received Post 911 GI Bill benefits for her tuition and fees this year. She originally signed up for 18 credit hours, then added one hour, which then she eventually dropped. Actually, that one extra credit hour may not have been the same class, but tuition wise it is the same.

The VA, who provides this benefit, is a little slow to catch up to the changes. They originally paid benefits for 18 credits in August, which was perfect and what we wanted. But then they were notified of the new hour and sent that extra funds in November, to the tune of $400.87. But now they are up to date with the fact that my daughter dropped that last hour and are telling us we owe them money. Perfectly find and expected.

The amount they indicate we owe is $483.37. The breakdown they provide makes no sense and I can't get the math to work. I'll have my husband make a phone call. It is probably correct, but it annoys me I can't follow how they came up with that number.

They state tuition and fees charged:
19 hours $5,846.75
18 hours $5,575.50
This is a difference of $271.25

But they state total overpayment is $487.37
Tuition and fees overpayment $245.30
Yellow Ribbon Program overpayment $238.07

Yellow Ribbon is a program that pays the overage for out of state tuition. GI Bill pays in state, Yellow Ribbon pays out of state portion (or maybe half, and the university may waive the other half).

The payment the University received in November for the extra credit hour showed up on my daughters bill as two credits.
VA Chapter 33 $203.44
VA Yellow Ribbon $197.87
This is $400.87 and the amount we received from the University as a refund.

I knew this was an overpayment by the VA when we received it and I expected they would be asking for it back. But the amount doesn't match! The amount is MORE than what they appear to have paid the University. In the end I'll probably just pay the whole thing knowing they are probably right. Overall we have received very good benefits and if another $82.50 has to go back to them, it's still been worth it. If I had to guess it may have to do with fees associated with the dropped class...but I still can't figure out the math.

The VA is VERY bad at communicating the financials of these benefits. You can find nothing online. And the statements received are so odd and don't add up.

Thanks for listening! Again at most $82.50 we pay back may not be correct. But maybe it is.

The Retirement Accounts

December 16th, 2018 at 08:48 am

I haven't checked our retirement and investment account balances since the beginning of October. I knew the market was down, and had lost most if not all gains. So I was avoiding looking. Today I looked....

the total balance is less than what it was on January 3 of this year. And we've been investing thousands of dollars. It's frustrating to see.

Of course, if I look at the share balance, that has increased because we bought shares. And these are not realized gains or losses until we sell. We don't need the money now and the market will recover at some point.

How are you feeling about the change? I hope you are staying the course when it comes to retirement or making the appropriate adjustments if needed.

Incoming Funds

December 14th, 2018 at 02:01 pm

Today was payday!

I paid off all the credit card balances, which is my usual routine twice per month. I also balanced categories in YNAB back to zero and then added in money to flush those categories out for the rest of the month spending. I'm guessing with our girls home visiting for the next three weeks to a month we will be spending more on groceries, dinner and likely some paid activities, although I'm hoping for free!

I finally received my $3 Pinecone Research payment. I had to send an email and the next day I had my payment. Apparently they were having some issues with their normal process.

I redeemed $7.44 in Chase Freedom rewards. These went into our Big Goal Fund! I will do a wrap up of our progress at year end.

We also received an extra payment for housing for our oldest daughter's Post 911/GI Bill benefits this semester. Apparently, they have been underpaying us all semester. I'm actually glad I didn't know until it was corrected. That amount to cover underpayment since August was $286.17.

I received an email from FNBO Direct where we have one of our money market accounts. That account will now be paying 2.15%. I'll take it but I probably need to move some money in there into a CD with a higher rate. I think Beawealthywarrior posted on one of my blogs that PenFed has some good rates. I will look there soon!

I'm always grateful for the money that flows into our lives, as well as the ability to let money flow out for our needs and wants. All of life is a balance that way.





Reviewed Our Tax Situation

December 13th, 2018 at 05:30 am

It's been a whirlwind of a year! In the last couple weeks, I've been starting to panic, wondering if I actually figured our tax situation out for 2018 in light of the new tax laws. I vaguely remembering need to wait to figure things out. But did I ever go back and review?

Yesterday, I hopped on the IRS Withholding Calculator to see where things stood. Luckily, at least in my mind, we are good. We will owe money but it should not be more than $540. I had increased our withholding which meant $90 more in our pocket each month, or by the time it took effect in February, $990 more for the year.

The calculations only took into account the American Opportunity Tax Credit I plan to take for our oldest daughter (for the final time, as it can only be used for four years). I did not take into account any credits for our youngest daughter. Because she only attended one semester in 2018, I plan to take the Lifetime Earning Credits on her qualified tuition, which should give us at least a credit of $300+ for the semester. That brings the tax owed around $240.

It is possible we will have a little more income added and more tax, but that's not looking too promising at the moment. I expect that anything that occurs is something we can handle. I have always preferred owing a few hundred dollars rather than have the IRS hold our money for many months before getting a refund. I've managed to make this work several years in a row now!

Have you reviewed your tax withholding and how that may affect if you owe the IRS or will get a refund? April 15th is just four months away. It's good to be prepared. The IRS Withholding Calculator is https://www.irs.gov/individuals/irs-withholding-calculator

Save Time Mailing Packages

December 12th, 2018 at 12:05 pm

I just told this to a friend today, who was complaining about the long wait at the post office.

Did you know that the US Postal Service offers pickup of packages*** you are mailing during your regular mail delivery? You do not need to be home and it's free!

The first step is to pack your items and weigh it. As you know I've done eBay selling for over 10 years, so I have a food scale I use to get the weight of my packages up to five pounds. The US Postal Service charges you by the pound, so as long as you know it's weight is between 1-2 pounds, the cost will be the same. Another alternative where you do not need to know the weight is to use the free Flat Rate Priority mail boxes provided by the post office. The cost is the same regardless of the weight.

Log on and make a free account at USPS and follow the directions for Click n Ship. At the end of this process you will have a prepaid mailing label to affix to your package with packing tape. The address you are mailing to and your return address will be printed on the label. You will pay for the cost of postage with a credit (or debit card).

At this point you can simply drop off at the post office. This time of year, you are likely to see an area at the counter filled with packages. You can leave it there, or wait in line to get a receipt and hand it to the postal worker.

The other option is to Schedule a Pickup from your USPS account. You must do this the day or night before pickup. It doesn't work same day. This service is free. It may not be available for all address, but you will be told that when you go to schedule. Once scheduled, set your package out in the morning in the spot you indicated on your delivery instructions. You will get an email once your package has been picked up. I have used this service before and had no issues.

I hope this helpful information may save you time this season. If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I will try to answer as best I can!

***Only for Priority and Express Mail packages.

Christmas Budgets

December 11th, 2018 at 07:42 am

I was at an event this weekend where a lesson on Christmas budgeting was presented. It was short, but excellent. That is what has inspired this post.

Our Christmas budget the last several years has been $600. These are the funds to cover gifts and shipping costs for nine people. I save $50 each month from our paychecks so the money is available when it's time to shop.

The lesson presented asked people to think of ALL the costs they may incur during the holiday season. Not just the gifts, but the wrapping, baking and food, travel, postage, clothing, electricity and fuel for our cars. I know that my budget does not reflect all of these costs. I seem to be able to absorb them into our regular spending, but they are important to pay attention to when planning.

Depending on where you are in your shopping, it isn't too late to step back and make a Christmas budget. Figure what you have already spent, and how much you have available to spend. Try to finish within those parameters, even if it means returning someone's gift and getting something else so you will spend less. There are so many great deals this time of year, that gift can cost less than you think. Of course, the deals can pull you in and convince you to spend more, so be strong and stick to your plan.

Dollar Tree isn't my favorite store, but I find myself there every holiday season to get a good deal and help me stay within budget. It can be great for paper products, and stocking stuffers. Of course, not everything is a good deal there, so it is still important to pay attention to prices!

I think the key to staying within a reasonable budget for Christmas is having the fewest number of people to buy for. At least it helped us. We stopped giving to most of our nieces and nephews and exchanging adult gifts. We still give to our parents, our children, two nieces (recently adopted) and buy a gift for ourselves.

We do not buy new holiday decorations each year. The exception is one ornament for each of the girls, but those are usually less than $10 for both. We give cookies to friends, neighbors and coworkers. I send a limited number (less than five some years) of Christmas cards, that I usually buy on clearance after Christmas. I reuse Christmas gift bags and tissue, and usually only buy a roll or two of Christmas gift wrap every two or three years (again, on clearance). I chose gifts that are somewhat lightweight to save on shipping, although Flat Rate boxes from the post office do help (the items just have to fit). We also do not entertain at our place, not because we are grinches, but because family is not nearby.

At a minimum, we can all start a new plan to budget for the next year. As soon as the spending is over this year, review what was purchased and how much it cost. That total divided by 12 will be a great guideline for how much to save each month in order to be prepared for next year. Save it in an envelope or a seperate checking or savings account, so you will not spend it until it is time. After the holiday is also a good time to discuss with family members about how you might want to change the gift giving parameters for the future.

Tell me about your Christmas Budget. Do you have one? What is included. If you don't have one, tell me about that too.

Undebt It

December 10th, 2018 at 03:03 pm

As you all know we do not have any debt. No mortgage debt either as we move frequently with the military and have found it make sense to rent for the time being.

I came across a site that is free and allows you to track your way out of debt. I'd try it myself and review it for you, but again zero debt to track. I do see it links to YNAB! And it has a 52 Week Savings Option.

If you have goals to pay off debt in 2019, you might want to check out this free tracking option. I'm sure many of us here would love to watch your journey and hear how you like Undebt It.

You can find the online tracking tool https://undebt.it/how-undebt.it-works.php

Life with zero debt is worth the effort!

Interest and Extra Money

December 8th, 2018 at 07:02 am

I like to report the amount of interest we earn each month. This is the quick breakdown for November.
Navy Federal CU $20.97
FNBO Direct $89.18
Total $110.15

I redeemed my 300 points with Pinecone Surveys over a week ago for cash and have yet to receive my Paypal deposit. Usually it is the next business day. Maybe the move and change of address are factors?

We usually get some cash back back from USAA for our insurance. They call it a distribution from our Subscriber's Savings Account. This year the amount we received was $82.83. We will take whatever they want to give back, and yes, it has been added to the Big Goal.

I did get my $10 Amazon gift card from Swagbucks. I expect I have a little more online shopping to do for Christmas, so that will reduce the final amount I spend.

I hit the $20 threshold with Ibotta. I hadn't been using it much this year, but with a little effort was able to apply some rebates for things I had already purchased and meet the minimum. I'm debating redeeming now, or waiting until the end of the year. Anything over $20 can be redeemed, but once you redeem back to zero, it takes awhile to get to redeem the next $20. I guess in the end it's all the same!

Airline Tickets

December 5th, 2018 at 06:42 pm

It's that time of year where I buy airline tickets for my kids to come home for Christmas break! This is the first year I have to accommodate BOTH girls. I actually purchased one way tickets. They are in different cities, but flying home together from one city. On the return to school they will fly separately, primarily because one has three weeks off, and the other has a full month! One daughter will have to take a shuttle from the airport to her campus, cost with a tip one way is $42. I think if it was a roundtrip shuttle it would be about $60. I'm always praying that the weather cooperates so they don't get delayed! Oh, in total I spent about $800 for the girls to come home!

My husband was home today for the National Day of Mourning. We did watch the funeral and were touched by the eulogies given. I think we all wish that in death we are remembered fondly by those we loved and who loved us.

Redeemed MyPoints

December 4th, 2018 at 08:56 am

I redeemed 3950 MyPoints for a $25 Google Play gift card. I was originally going to buy it but happened to notice the balance in my MyPoints account. I had plenty to scoop up the gift my daughter wanted without an additional cash outlay.

I'm close to having 1000 SB that I can redeem for $10 Amazon gift card. I'm not in a big hurry and have not been doing Swagbucks for months. I think I was reminded of it when i received an email from Swagbucks with my Birthday bonus.

Today, I finished sewing the pajama pants for my two nieces. I had them all done except for the elastic. I also made doll sized pajama pants and a plaid poncho for their American Girl dolls (I think they have the knock off versions). I spent nearly $30 at Joann's for fabric and elastic. I did buy nicer quality flannel and probably didn't hit the best sale, although it was 40% off. I did find an Ibotta coupon that will give me $4.50 back on the purchase, so now closer to $25, which is really good for two gifts.

At this point, I just need more stocking stuffers for the girls, buy a gift for my husband and decide what to get my parents. I already sent my mother in law a check to get whatever she wants. She's 82 and seems to like to get a pedicure from us. So it's just easier to mail a check, since I'm nowhere near there to buy a gift certificate.

Today, I'm baking some Mint Chocolate cookies for the holidays. I will eat one or two and freeze the rest until needed. I have a couple other recipes to make, but have plans to do them over the next two weeks.

10% Off Target Gift Cards

December 2nd, 2018 at 12:32 pm

Today only. Sunday, December 3, you can buy Target gift cards for 10% off. You can purchase up to $300 worth for $270.

I bought a $40 one for my daughter who requested Target gift card for Christmas. I also went ahead and picked up another one for $100 for our regular shopping. We don't shop there as much as we once did, so I didn't want to tie up too many funds not knowing if we would use them.

I purchased several other gifts online. My shopping is wrapping up pretty fast! Still thinking about an extra item to include with my nieces pajama pants I'm sewing. I probably don't need anything since I am also sewing matching doll pajama pants. I will need more stocking stuffers for our girls. I also want to figure out what to get my parents. I don't have time or energy for a calendar or other photo gift. I'm tempted to just send a check, since their anniversary is just two days after Christmas. What do you get your older parents, or what would you like if you already had everything? Last year I bought them socks and some edible items.