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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.

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.

Some Money Stuff...

February 5th, 2019 at 04:15 pm

Here's some random money related tidbits:

I redeemed 2500 Swagbucks for $25, which has been deposited in my PayPal account. I also did a Pinecone survey, so I expect $3 will be added to PayPal tomorrow. All money will go to the Big Goal.

We have confirmed that an access code my daughter purchased and realized she didn't need will be credited to her bill by February 15. This is after the bill to the University is due, but we were told to just pay the balance minus the expected credit. The cost of that code was $174.21, so not a credit I wanted missed.

I contacted the VA representative at the University to find out why the final 15 days of Post 911 GI Bill benefits had not yet posted to our oldest daughter's account. The response was apparently some missed paperwork. They did a credit to the account with the expected amount, and will adjust when actual payments are received. For now, since the numbers are not firm, I am going to float the payment with funds in our checking account before I take money out of her Educational Savings Account. It seems we may not need to withdraw as much as expected!

I've been working on taxes. My biggest issue is the figuring the actual costs we have had out of pocket for each of our daughter's and which tax credit to take. The software (HR Block) wants me to use the American Opportunity Tax Credit for our oldest daughter, which I was hoping to skip and use next year, yet I'm not sure we'll have much out of pocket costs, so it's probably right to take it now. The software gives me an option on which tax credit to use for our youngest daughter and I was leaning toward the Lifetime Learning credit. You can only claim four years of AOTC, which has to be used before they graduate with their degree. Our oldest daughter is on the five year plan because of her double major. I'll get it all cleared up...I still have more than three months until taxes are due.

Oh, another thing with taxes. The 1098T which colleges use to report qualified expenses and scholarships and grants, is not consistent between the colleges. One daughter's college counts activity fees and the other does not. One includes books, the other does not. Just when I think I have things figured out they change!

We had a part replaced on our truck today. $174.45 after a military discount. I do have money in our car maintenance fund.

We are getting ready to travel to visit the girls in the future, so now I'm researching airline tickets, car rental, and boarding costs.

Lots of money going out, but we have the cash. I am grateful we always seem to make it all work, even when it seems overwhelming.

Bought A Battery and Faucet Filter

February 3rd, 2019 at 01:05 pm

Geez! Apparently we had some pent up need to spend! A lot of outflow since Friday, but no regrets.

On Friday we purchased a battery for our truck. Our last visit to the dealer indicated it was going to be replaced very soon. This is something my husband knows how to do. In the we had help from the NAPA shop owner who offered to help swap it out. No extra charge and it saved us a trip back to drop off the old battery. The battery cost $99.81 and has a $10 rebate, which I submitted online today.

We went out to dinner last night and spent $37.87, including a tip. This was a planned outing.

We both filled up our vehicles in fuel, after nearly a month! Total spent for both vehicles $61.48.

My husband got a haircut this morning for $9.50, plus a $5 tip. Yes, he's a very generous tipper sometimes. He tipped $6 on last night's meal, so I think he really doesn't think through percentages! I've had this conversation with him before, but in the end, it's not breaking us and we do want to tip well for good service.

We bought groceries, cat food, litter and one cleaning product at the commissary today. I found $4 in coupons on things we were already going to purchase. Total spent was $160.61. We are buying some quality food right now.

Today we bought and installed a kitchen faucet filter. I can't stand the water here, and had been buying bottled water at $0.81 a gallon, which adds up! The filter was $18.99 and was very simple to install. Filters are about $10 a piece, every three months. In the long run we'll save a little money this way and our water will be cleaner and more palatable to drink.

So until next weekend let's see if we can keep the spending down! It wasn't too bad, but seemed like a lot in a short time, after a month of trying to stay pretty frugal.

Some Saturday Spending

January 27th, 2019 at 07:48 am

We went out yesterday...and spent some money.

My husband bought a 3 pack of boxers, these were a need. $15
I bought two birthday cards and four Valentine cards. $7.32

I needed a pick me up for the house. So the following were mental health pickup purchases. Not needs, but reasonable investments in things that we will use.

2 large Boston ferns ($5 each) and a smaller plant ($1). Did get a 10% discount, so spent less than $11 after taxes added in.

2 placemats for our kitchen table. $10.90.

We watched The Old Man and The Gun with my Amazon credit on Friday. We enjoyed the movie very much. Last night we just watched random things, but did take time to go on a walk for about 25 minutes. It's brisk outside this time of year even in the south, but we bundled up and enjoyed the fresh air.

Today's goal is meal planning and grocery shopping over at the commissary. I might repeat a few things we had last week that were new because my husband really liked them. One was taco salad. We love tacos but are avoiding the processed carbohydrates right now. The salad version was just as good.

P.S. I'm sorry I'm slow getting to my Top Money Saving tips...will get to that this week!

Stamp Prices Increasing and Other Things

January 25th, 2019 at 02:58 pm

Did you know stamp prices are increasing? As of this Sunday, the price of a first class stamp will cost $0.55, which is a 10% increase. Some other package pricing has also increased. Sometime last week I went over to the local credit union and picked up stamps from their ATM. I purchased two sets of 18 stamps for $18.00. I don't send a lot of mail, and likely won't use all 36 before the year is out, but I would expect yearly increases to be common in the foreseeable future.

I earned a reward through Verizon for our cell phone bill. I picked an $8 Amazon movie credit. We plan to watch Robert Redford's latest (and I think last) movie The Old Man and the Gun, which is based on a true story. The cost of the movie is less than the credit, so we'll have some to put towards a future movie.

Hulu has increased their prices. You may have heard the opposite that the lowered prices to be competitive with Netflix. They did on their lower subscription plans, but on their live tv version they increased it. Instead of $39.99/mo, the new price will be $44.99. Every increase in prices makes me want to evaluate if we need to continue the service, or if we need to adjust. I will need to discuss with my husband. We primarily got it so we could watch our college football teams live. That season is over for now. I think our new location may have better options for over the air reception. I've seen a few people that seem to have those type of antennas in their window. We can always get the live subscription again for football season. I'll try to remember to update you on our decision.

My husband commented last night that he hasn't added fuel to his truck in quite awhile. We last purchased fuel on 12/28 for $35.17 and on 1/4 $25.22. I still have almost half a tank in my van. Not sure what he has, but his commute is 4 minutes from our home on base. We expect that unless we are traveling our fuel costs are going to be significantly less living in our new location. In December for example, our costs for fuel were $117.50. We did travel around the our new city with our girls when they were home, so it's very likely this is still slightly inflated. For reference in December 2017, we spent $295 on fuel, yes higher prices, but much more driving.

I finished the photo book for my Dad earlier this week. I used Snapfish and was able to get $30 off the book. With shipping I spent $23.61 for an 8x11 Hardcover book. It was really fun to put together. It's all pictures of him, many with his daughters (my sister and I with our husbands), my mother, and grandchildren. It is not all inclusive, as I only had a few from our childhood, but quite a few with my girls and some recent vacations. This was a gift I wanted to put together around Memorial Day when he and my mother visited for my youngest daughter's graduation. It was to be a combined birthday and father's day gift. At the time, I was able to compile some printed photos (maybe 15 or so) into a $1 plastic album, but promised I would make a book. With summer, moving our youngest to her college, our move and then the holidays I just wasn't able to keep my focus to get it done until now.

I had planned to do some sewing last week, but the photo project took most of my time. And once I had the book done, I wasn't in the mood for sewing. I have spent time this week going through paper piles. The move caused an accumulation that needed to be reviewed. When I went to go file some of those today, I found a folder with receipts and manuals. I quickly went through it and found about 25 items that could be tossed because we sold the items prior to our move! This paper progress has helped me to get a bit more organized to file taxes this year.

Oh, another positive financially was receiving notification from a company that an item I bought in December wasn't truly organic and not up to their standards. They shipped me a new bottle with organic certification, a $60 value! I hadn't yet decided if I would reorder when the time came, but this give me longer to try the product to make a decision.

Stay warm and frugal this weekend!

Vet Expenses

January 23rd, 2019 at 08:45 am

Cats sure hide pain well. We started noticing our 14 year old cat Liberty pawing oddly at her mouth off and on. It wasn't regular, but it wasn't going away. So we took her to the vet on Monday, who thought she had a cracked tooth. We scheduled it to be removed the following morning.

Yesterday the vet called while Liberty was under anesthesia and said the tooth wasn't cracked and all teeth looked great, but her lower jaw was fractured right between the two canine teeth! We have no idea how that happened.

Liberty is home now and on soft foods for two weeks. She will be checked again in two weeks and in about six weeks will be anesthetized again to have the wire that holds the two sides of her lower jaw together removed.

Costs so far total $524.14. With two more visits, there will be more spent. Grateful for an emergency fund and spending below our means, so that we can pay cash for these expenses when they come up.

Medical Bills

January 12th, 2019 at 08:07 am

We are pretty healthy people, no chronic illnesses. However, both my girls have been to the doctor a couple times in 2018. They are still on our military insurance, but because they live away from home most of the year they are on Tricare Select. The deductible for each of them is $150. Very reasonable.

My oldest daughter maxed hers out in August and then had a procedure where the cost without insurance was billed at $332. She got the bill at her dorm and apparently didn't have the correct information to file a claim. I called Monday and gave them the correct information, although they seemed confused. They submitted it and was covered in full. The provider gets $83.

My youngest twisted her ankle pretty bad in October, her student health center did submit through insurance, but she nor I were ever notified by our insurance. So looking at her tuition bill I see two charges from the health center for $80.04. It took some sleuthing, basically logging into the insurance company site to see the claim. That yes, $135+ was submitted and reduced to $80.04...and we do owe that as we had not met our deductible for her.

It's harder to navigate insurance when your adult children's claims do not go to your address! Youngest said she never received anything at her dorm, which is where they sent it. At least it is all taken care of this round.

It did remind me that a sinking fund for the deductibles wouldn't be a bad idea. Although I can probably manage any charges through basic cash flow.

Uber Frugal Month

January 10th, 2019 at 06:09 am

I'm not yet participating in Uber Frugal Month. It's too hard to start it on January 1 when our college daughter's are home. We want to treat them and get them what they need since we won't see them until March.

We will start Saturday afternoon and try to go through mid February! My plan is to focus primarily on eating all the things, or making meals from the pantry. I literally only have three things in the freezer, so my stockpile is not like many people. But I have quite of few things in the pantry and refrigerator that I want to make use of before they go bad. I was very successful at this last year.

My husband is out of town for work next week. I plan to stay home primarily and do things that don't cost me money. I have sewing projects I can do with fabric on hand. I need to make a photo book for my Dad (promised to him in June). I also have a book to read that needs some of my attention.

I may (still undecided) shop for towels this month. I need to replace a set. I think this can be a good time of year to find towels on sale. Oh, and my sister and mother have birthdays at end of January, early February, so I'm pondering gifts that could be considered thoughtful and frugal. I did just redeem Swagbucks for a $25 Amazon gift card, so at least one of them may receive something I can buy from there! I could also redeem MyPoints and give my sister a gift card. I think even $10 or $15 to Starbucks might be welcome!

Good luck to all who are participating and are finding ways to keep costs low in January!

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?

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.