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Home > Archive: March, 2014

Archive for March, 2014

Saving Money By Having a Pro Do Half

March 29th, 2014 at 10:29 am

We have had two large trees that we wanted removed from our yard. One in the front yard and one in the backyard. I previously mentioned that we planned to use some of the tax refund to pay for this project.

My dad is a timber faller. His whole life (nearly) has been spent in the woods. He has primarily worked forest fires falling burned trees and for road building companies clearing road space.

My dad is saving us money by falling the trees. Then he and DH will cut the large stuff into rounds that we'll be able to burn in our fireplace next winter. Big Grin

My dad insisted he'd do the whole thing - he has the equipment to do it. This would involve dad climbing the trees and cutting them down in pieces as they are too large and near houses/fences to cut down whole. But, he is much older now then the last time he climbed into a tree. Not worth it to me for him to take risks like that! I vetoed that plan.

DH and I hired a local tree company to limb and top the trees. Having the company only do part of the job cost much less than having them do the whole job.
A difference between $2600 (estimated by one company for the whole job) verses the $550 we paid!

This will make the part my dad does much easier for him and less stressful for me. We are still saving a huge amount by *only* paying $550 to remove two large trees. And we will have firewood for next winter that will help reduce winter heating costs. Maybe saving $200+ over the course of the winter?

Snowflake to Special Focus

March 29th, 2014 at 09:52 am

Snowflake to "Special Focus":

$15.00 Honorarium for monthly inventory tracking
$ 0.46 Paid from checking

$1197.00 New Balance

Tuition Assistance for Preschool

March 28th, 2014 at 11:16 am

The wonderful preschool DS goes to has a scholarship program. I was a bit on the fence about applying.. Paperwork to fill out, tax returns to copy and a $27 application fee. I had pretty much decided not to apply.

I know it seems silly that here I am blogging on SA and I WASN'T going to apply. It seems silly to me now that I really think on it. The reason is that I don't look at our family as a family in *need* and I don't want to take from a family that truly has *need*.

(Have you ever found yourself stepping aside for others; assuming someone has a greater need than yourself?)

The front office lady, EL, swayed me to going for it when she told me these two things.
First, there is a pool of money and some years it doesn't all get used. (Um.. What?!)
Second, our part as parents is to apply; not decide if we qualify for anything or not. That is the job of the tuition company the application goes to.

When she put it in that perspective I thought "why not?" EL was very encouraging about applying. (I hope that hints at a favorable outcome!)

Last night I filled out the application. The most difficult questions was "How much can you pay toward tuition?". If I put too small of an amount am I trying to get more than I need? If I put too high, then am I shorting the possible assistance payment? I settled on $5k less than full tuition - that would be a huge savings.

This morning I made copies of the W2s and tax returns. I just put the packet in the outgoing mail here at work.

Any help would make a difference to the budget next year.

Snowflake Payment Applied

March 26th, 2014 at 01:30 pm

You may have read that I have choose a *Special Focus* debt to use my cat care cash on.
It is our Discover card. Currently at 0% for a few more months, but then that goes away. Must be paid off before that!

I just made a payment with the cash I made Monday.

$1272.46 Balance
$ 60.00 Snowflake payment

$1212.46 Current

Back on the Horse

March 22nd, 2014 at 04:04 pm

I have decided to dig my heels in and I just applied the $60 cash to the cc I have special focus on.
I let snowflakes "melt" into our checking account way too often.

Feeling much more collected today. Smile
And absolutely confident that I will not have lunch out or a family meal out for the rest of the month. I will need to go to the store for bananas and dinner fixings for next Saturday, but other than that we have a ton of food.

A friend and her family are taking a weeklong trip to visit family. She was going to board their little dog at a local kennel. I told her I would watch her dog at my house for half the cost of the kennel. She was thrilled.

It is a Win/Win/Win. I'll make $150. She'll save $150. Pup will have totally tailored attention.

Speaking of horses.. got notice that our boarding rate is increasing by $10/month to $170/month. Operating costs going up for the ranch owner -especially the cost of hay. I figure the drought is only going to make that worse.

April is also vet visit month for our horse. Likely $100 for that.

End of the Week & I Was Bad

March 21st, 2014 at 09:40 pm

Another payday with short paychecks.
(Next week will be golden as neither DH nor I had short days this week.)
But, yeah, $206 less income this week than what I budget/estimate/plan/project for. Frown

I have $60 of cat care cash that I was planning to put toward a cc.
In fact, this week I decided to make this particular card my main focus and commit any *extra* to its payoff no matter what.

Now, I either need to stick to that plan OR use that $60 cash to help cover the usual expenses. No matter which option I am still going to have to transfer some from savings to cover outgoing bills.

It is feeling very one step forward; two steps back.

& I was bad this week...
I don't know if it was the nice weather making me lazy, or the "special" time of the month, or the feelings of stress over weeks of lower income, or some sadness/reality over unexpected deaths (there was a horrific car crash where a pickup truck crushed a car all the way to the front seats. Killing two women - mother/daughter. Happened on a road I frequently drive.) Sicily, the weird missing plane and some other upsetting (child abuse) news stories..
But I ate lunch out four days and as a family we ate dinner out once and had fast food dinner once.
$30 - lunches out
$46 - dinner out
$21 - family fast food

And I completely feel like I am shooting myself in the foot - while taking those two steps back!


First Day of Spring Pictures

March 20th, 2014 at 05:20 pm

Our peach tree in the backyard.

California Poppies are all over right now. Lots along the roadside.
These are a short walk from the door of my office.

Tree on the street across from the office.

Wisteria at the far end of our shared parking lot at work.

I took DS to the park this afternoon to meet with two other moms and their children. A lovely day.
Thankful to be alive.

Health Insurance Hassle

March 16th, 2014 at 10:17 am

Been meaning to share that my boss decided to end our group plan at work. His family is eligible to get coverage through his wife's work. Her employer will pay 50%, so he figures they will save money going that route.
*Shrug* We'll see. The % her employer pays is dependent on how many units she teaches each semester, so that might make a big difference.

The good thing is the boss wants to continue paying for my insurance. The bad part is *how* he is going to pay since I am now getting an individual plan. He is discussing with his accountant. One option is bonuses with additional funds added to cover the tax I will have to pay.

The other not-so-great part is that he decided he would cover only up to $300/mo. If the plan I chose was more I'd have to pay the difference. SO what he is paying isn't getting me the same level of coverage I've had.

What is good is that I might "make" money. I opted to go with the same plan that I picked for the kids - which is a bit on the lower end of Bronze. The total for us three is $517/month. Because I opted to go with a "cheaper" plan there will be *extra* money and that will offset the additional we've been paying for DD & DS.

$18/mo of that is "mandatory" dental, but we have dental coverage so I need to discuss with our agent (when things quiet down) if we can drop that.

The hassle has been spending a week trying to get a straight answer about how much the boss would be willing/able to pay. (Still no answer about *HOW* the money will come.) Then shopping and comparing plans for me only to come to the conclusion that I should just go cheap. Then making a new application for me and the kids after I just went through all this a few weeks back for the kids. (Now their previous policy will cancel and this one will start up.)

I am a bit nervous that I'll need to depend on my boss to pay me this additional money each month (you all remember money is a big issue for him). Yes, he has been responsible for paying the premiums in the past, but that was when his family was concerned...

It is all just Hassle..

Paycheck Pinch

March 15th, 2014 at 08:14 pm

The last three weeks have been slow at both my and DH's offices. February is typically the slowest month in veterinary offices and then starts picking up. HVAC work slows down when the weather is mild - not cold enough for furnace work; not hot enough for AC work.

When it is quiet we get sent (or choose to go) home early. This past week I lost four hours on Wednesday when the boss told us not to stay for the afternoon. DH was home about 1pm every day this past week, so that is about 12 hours lost there. (The very nice thing is that often his bosses will pay for some of the lost hours.)

It adds up to a lot of lost income. Frown

One week can be absorbed without much pain, but this is the third week and I had to deposit the $60 of cat care cash I had earmarked for the EF to help cover scheduled payments.

If the paycheck pinch continues the first place that gets cut back is extra debt payment. Frown

Someday DH Might Have a Career Change! (& Re-Joining the Gym)

March 12th, 2014 at 09:31 pm

First off if you haven't read me mention before - my DH's *dream job* is to be a firefighter. He went to college and completed the FF academy. He also took several other classes and was certified to teach HazMat procedures to other FFs. Out of college he secured a job with the city department in our hometown (long before we met). He was also the youngest captain in that county at one of the volunteer stations (where he was on his days off).

Then his first wife (high school sweethearts - married *very* young) wanted to move away to a different city. He did move for her and left a very promising career behind. He applied and tested to several departments without success. Then marital struggles.. and breaking up.. back together.. move to another city.. break up.. reconcile.. break up.. divorce.

He mostly fell into the HVAC industry because he needed a steady job, decent paycheck and had friends there.

Almost from the time we were married he has volunteered at where ever the closest volunteer station to home is.

In June 2009 (not a typo!) he applied and tested for San Francisco FD and was put on the eligibility list. "The List" is ranked according to scores on the test and DH ranked pretty high - top 3 to 5%, BUT the list is like 6,000 people long. Only within the past year have they started pulling people off it to place in their training program. Budget issues forced them to wait.

It is *possible* he could get a spot. *Possible*. (Just can't even let myself get too excited about it.. nearly five years of waiting.)
He has to get off his butt and update his profile with his current EMT cert and he has to take/update a special fitness test.

This leads to us discussing a move to rejoin the gym we had been members at previously. DH really needs to lose some pounds. It seems to me he has been getting down about his weight/looks/health. We agreed it would be good for both of us. DD wants to get back to the gym too - for the pool mostly I think.
DH is going to talk to the GM of the gym in the next few days to see what deal she might offer him to get us to come back.

Please cross your fingers and send out the positive vibes for my DH... The next SFFD training academy starts in August.. I don't think I can really explain how WONDERFUL it would be for him to be selected..

Retirement Article

March 9th, 2014 at 05:01 pm

Last fall DD had a school fundraiser that involved selling magazine subscriptions. I chose to buy a subscription to "Money". I have found it interesting to thumb through. This morning I picked up the most current issue to finish looking at.

The feature article/theme was about retirement. While most of the article was moderately interesting the section that made me go "Hmmm.." was titled Protecting Your Critical First Decade.

It describes a newer theory called "sequence risk". Basically the idea is that if you make your allocations too conservative in retirement it could negatively impact your nest egg in the long run.
The idea is that maybe you should own more % stock as you age, but timing is everything.

Obviously we all know timing is everything! And I think we understand that it is difficult to overcome losses.

This graph in the article (I didn't see it online) shows how a loss of value in the early years of retirement are much more damaging than if the same percent of loss happened later.

"The idea is that if you can get through the early years with your portfolio intact, you can still handle owning stocks later."

"In tests of thousands of simulated markets, Kitces and Pfau found that portfolios starting with as little as 20% in stocks and increasing to 60% had a better chance of lasting 30 years than portfolios that began high in stocks and gradually decreased. The portfolios also had less severe shortfalls when they failed."

Unfortunately the online version of this section is a bit condensed vs. the printed version, but I think the main points are still explained.

Text is http://money.cnn.com/2014/02/26/retirement/retirement-stocks.moneymag/index.html?iid=EL and Link is

What I came away with is that shifting allocation should maybe look more like a curved graph where you start with higher risk, gradually moving to lower risk, and then gradually moving back up to higher risk (thus possible reward). Verses the traditional straight line graph of steadily reducing risk. And to be even more protective of our capital than traditionally recommended as we close in and enter the early years of retirement. Additionally it might be very worthwhile to increase investing in stocks into retirement - as long as you are capable of paying attention to what is going on with the market. Lastly, not rely on retirement funds in "auto-pilot", low yield investments to provide for you.

Sure, I feel the ideal position is have enough principle that you only withdraw the interest and/or dividends that the lump sum provides. But I imagine that most folks won't have that luxury and are going to have to slowly dip into the principle.

Makes this newest plan food for thought...

Extra Cash

March 9th, 2014 at 01:27 pm

I have been very bad about tracking the cat care cash here.
I really want to do better. Trying to put half towards debt or EF each week.

Week of
2/ 3 - $80
2/10 - $80
2/17 - $80
2/24 - $80
3/ 3 - $80

Used for
$40 - DD's allowance
$40 - DD'S bus fare
$20 - DD'S field trip
$20 - DD'S school lunch acct.
$38 - lunches out for me
$10 - birthday gift for DD'S friend
$15 - champagne for girl's night
$27 - in wallet
remaining $200 into checking.

Costco Visit

March 6th, 2014 at 08:20 pm

I suppose we are "luckier" than most - a Costco trip is hassle free for us (if easy shopping is "lucky" Wink).
I might have mentioned the store closest to home is right off the highway between the city I work in and the city I live in.
The store is always super clean and has a large parking lot and is rarely crowded during the week.

This afternoon I stopped in for gas and some *stuff*..

Gas was $3.53/gal.

Here are some of the highlights...

$ 9.59 - 3lb bag Frozen Organic Blueberries
$ 8.99 - 6lb bag Frozen California Strawberries
$16.79 - 2.5lb Fancy Unsalted Whole Nuts (I love these! Almonds. Cashews. Pecans. Pistachios. NO cheap-ie peanuts!)
$ 9.99 - 12ct Happy Squeeze Pouches (Tasty fruit & veggie puree - excellent snack for DS.)
$11.99 - 80ct Cascade Dishwasher packs
$19.69 - Jumbo rolls of TP

I also bought rawhide chews for our dog. Canned tuna. Two cases of Izzy juice/sparkling water (special lunch treats for DD). Good clumping cat litter - 35lbs for $8.59. Ice cream sandwiches. Frozen burritos. Crackers.

As you can see I picked up some staples and some favorite treats.
What's your favorite item at Costco?

Spring Things

March 4th, 2014 at 09:51 pm

** Just re-posting what I could remember of my last post before the site crashed over the weekend.**

Good rainy weather here! Yay!
Really has made everything green and blooming.

This is our Tulip Tree in the backyard.

The hens enjoy strolling around on the grass.

DD's bees are more active on the sunny days. You can see the pollen packed on some of their legs when they fly back to the hive.

Spent last weekend visiting with our nephew we haven't seen in years. My SIL's oldest child. We took him to San Francisco for the day. Beautiful, sunny weather. Great for walking around.
Spendy day though.. $95 for dinner, $50 in parking, $23 for ice cream at Ghirardelli...

Enjoying getting back to a low/ no spend weekend.
Raining some more this weekend so I'm just getting cozy with a good book.