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Archive for January, 2009

January recap

February 1st, 2009 at 04:37 am

I updated Quicken and see that I ended the month about $240 in the red. While that's not great and am pleased when I break it down. The overage is in part due to one-time and unexpected expenses and due to the fact that I really didn't monitor my spending until about the beginning of the 3rd week of January. We still spent TOO MUCH on meals out but then again that will change next month. I've already shopped for next week's meals and aside from a few things I forgot to put on my list, I don't expect that I will need anything else. I am determined to not go to the store just because we are out of snacky type items. I'm telling the kids to make their snacks last because they won't be replenished until next Saturday.

I did set-up my and my husband's paychecks in Quicken so that I can monitor my husband's 403b contributions and make sure his W-2 is correct next January. And mine for that matter.

We bought Turbo Tax last night and will work on doing our taxes soon. Hopefully I will be able to get my husband to start them tomorrow before all the festivities of the Superbowl.

All in all I am pleased with the way this month has ended. Even though I didn't start monitoring our spendning until mid-January, I'm sure that had I started on January 1, we would have ended with a surplus.

I'm feeling good about February.

Oops, the boss made a mistake!

January 30th, 2009 at 05:20 pm

I received an email at work from the boss that states that 2007 W-2s need to be amended because the box for gross income included 401k contributions when it should not have. I was not employed here in 2007 so I don't need to worry about it but it got me thinking that I should probably change the way in which I track my and my husband's income in Quicken. As it stands now, I enter the net amount but I think I will set it up so that I enter gross amounts and then show deductions for taxes, 401k etc. That way I will know at year end if there are any discrepancies between the info that I have and our W-2s, and since we've only had 2 paychecks each so far this year it will be easy to go back and correct the ones that have already been entered.

I work at a small firm where the boss does the payroll. I've suggested that he get a payroll service but he ignored my suggestion. Maybe now, he will reconsider.

Spending and the Escaping Dog

January 29th, 2009 at 08:30 pm

This week is looking to end on a good note. I have cooked dinner every night this week and haven't spent much money. What I have spent has been on necessities and nothing else. Some of you might not think the cooking thing is a big deal but for me it is since dining out is our biggest budget buster. I am excited about the money we have saved by eating at home. I've already got next week's meals planned and will grocery shop this weekend.

On a different spending note, I think we are going to need to buy an electric fence to keep our dog from digging and escaping the yard. We've tried putting things where he digs but he is somehow able to move them out of the way. He is using his snout to do this and has rubbed the top of his nose raw. He has been chewing away at the fence posts and boards and I can envision a new fence/gate or vet bills to remove slivers in his mouth or stomach in the near future Frown I've been looking online at different electric fences and am a little overwhelemed at the variety and options. Do any of you have an electric fence? If so can you tell me what you like/dislike about it.

We are waiting for my husband's W-2 so we can get our taxes done. We will probably use Turbo Tax again this year. I had hoped to use TaxAct because the federal is free and state is only $13.95 compared to the approx $60 cost of Turbo Tax, but I read that TaxAct is for people who kinda know what they are doing. We will stick with Turbo Tax. 'Nuff said. I don't anticipate a state refund as we always seem to have to pay, besides CA is giving IOU's now. We generally get a federal refund so our plan is to do the taxes and if we are getting a refund, file those first and depending on how much state taxes are, use the fed refund to pay the state. Oh joy!

HELOC Interest Rate Lock a No-Go

January 28th, 2009 at 03:11 am

I went back to my bank today to inquire about locking in our HELOC interest rate. Turns out I cannot lock in our current interest rate, which is Prime Rate (3.25%). I would have to lock in their fixed rate which would be 9%. Needless to say, I will not be locking in a rate. I will pay the car off using the HELOC and make our normal payments, plus additional in order to have it paid off by early 2010.

I've been working on my Feb budget but Quicken will not let me view it because it is still January Frown That's one of the few things I dislike about Quicken's budgeting features.

I bought charcoal today for tonight's dinner because my husband said we did not have enough; turns out we did so I spent $10 that I didn't need to. I have now spent $82 more than we took in this month. Catch is I didn't start monitoring our spending until 2 weeks into January so all in all I feel pretty good. Next month WILL be better. We will really need to watch our spending in February in order to account for our overspending this month.

Random Thoughts

January 27th, 2009 at 05:30 am

Well I went to the bank today to deposit my paycheck and was going to ask about locking in a rate on our HELOC but the lady I needed to speak with was helping another customer and I couldn't wait any longer as I needed to pick up the kids at school. I did leave my phone number so hopefully she will call tomorrow.

No interest rate reduction by the Fed today. I thought they were meeting but I guess I was wrong. But with the news of ALL the job losses today, I would think another rate reduction is coming. We shall see.

I was giddy today because I had to buy my son some toothpaste and I used a .75 coupon on Colgate that was already on sale and got a $2 Register Reward at Walgreens. I plan on using it to buy a box of valentines and candy for my daughter. I have never been a coupon person but since I am trying to save all I can I was excited for this little savings lol. CVS will be coming to my city soon and I am looking forward to their reward program.

I started this whole budget process (again) about two weeks ago and have been faithfully updating Quicken as I spend money. If I don't spend any more money through the end of this month we will have spent $55 more than we took in. That's pathetic but the good news is that I know EXACTLY what the culprit is and I am working on fixing it. It has to do with going out to dinner too much Frown

Yes, I'm embarassed to admit that we spend more on dining out than we do on groceries but that is no more. I've got a plan in place and I feel good about it. February will allow me to implement this plan and see the results over an entire four weeks instead of just two. I'm excited to actually do this and to see my budget report at month-end.

I am also working on finding ways to cut other expenses. Little things like using Tupperware instead of Ziploc bags, making sure lights are turned out etc. I've always been of the mindset, "well its only a few dollars" but now that I am looking at what we earn in a different light, I feel like "hey I worked hard to earn that dollar and I want to spend it wisely". I've also decided to do the bulk of my grocery shopping on the weekends and only make mid-week trips to the store for fresh produce and milk. We ran out of cream cheese today and my son was disappointed that he wouldn't be able to have a bagel tomorrow morning but he will just have to have cereal or something else. Cream cheese can wait until Saturday or Sunday.

January has turned out to be a productive month financially for us. I got our budget in place, I signed up my husband for his 403b plan, I've got a plan in place to pay off our car more than one year early, I reduced our auto insurance premiums, we've stuck to our cash allowance so far, and I'm look for more ways to reduce expenses.

I hope that this success continues into February and beyond.

Car Loan Payoff Quandry

January 26th, 2009 at 05:30 pm

I am in a quandary right now. One of my goals is to pay our car loan off by summer of 2010, which would be 1 year early. I called Capital One today to make a principal payment and was told that they no longer accept payments toward the principal -- huh? I was told that I had to pay more than our normal monthly payment and the difference would be put towards the principal. Problem is, the payment is automatically deducted from our checking account so there isn't any way I could pay the monthly payment amount and the extra payment together. I was told I could either call Capital One and make a payment over the phone which would cost met $15 every time I did that or mail in a payment. I'm not paying $15 every month in order to pay my car off early and I'm not comfortable mailing in the payment and when I tried last week to make a payment online it would not allow me to pay less than our normal monthly payment. Frustrating! So, I think I will pay the loan off with our HELOC. The interest rate on our HELOC is tied to the prime rate, which currently stands at 3.25%. I think the fed may be cutting interest rates again, possibly today, and if they do prime rate will likely be 3%. I'm going to my bank today to inquire about locking in the rate. Our car loan is at 6% interest, HELOC interest is tax deductible and the car loan interest is not. My quandary is that if I do this we will have an $11,000 second mortgage. I am not worried about job security for my husband or myself, so our ability to make the payments is not an issue, just the thought of having a 2nd mortgage is a little scary. I think I pretty much have my mind made up about paying the loan off with the HELOC, and DH is ok with it too, I'm just nervous.

Budget Tweaking & Goal Completed!

January 26th, 2009 at 05:38 am

I finished my grocery shopping for the week today. I did forgot to get charcoal so I will have to get that tomorrow, but overall, I hope to not spend any more money on groceries this month. I don't believe I will need anything else expect possibly milk. I am at $374 in my $400/mo grocery budget as of today. Hmm, would you consider charcoal a grocery item??? Probably is. Shoot, that puts me closer to $400.

I FINALLY signed my husband up for his 403b plan at work. OMG, it was soooo easy, who knew?!?! I originally filled out the paper work but then went online to check a fund code and saw that you could enroll there. After about 5 minutes, it was complete. He still needs to complete a beneficiary form but the process is complete and beginning with the next paycheck (hopefully) he will now be contributing 10% of his salary. His employer will match 50% up to 6% so I'm looking forward to seeing the balance grow. For the time being, the money will be put in a money market account until the market stabilizes. I'm going to look into opening a Roth IRA for him next.

I think I figured out a way to monitor my budget surplus. I am going to estimate our paychecks and enter them into Quicken, (post dated of course) so they will appear in my budget report. That way I have the numbers for the month and can then deduct expenses and spending and see what is left (budget surplus) throughout the month. I already enter my bills post dated so I thought why not enter our pay that way too and adjust as needed when we are actually paid. In theory it sounds good but we shall see how it works in reality.

Baby Steps

January 25th, 2009 at 05:45 am

Today I made some more progress on my budget. I have to work on it in increments as I get overwhelemed by all that I want to do with it. I think of things periodically throughout the day that I want to do but when I actually sit down to do them I can't remember one of them lol.

I went to Costco and got some groceries. I spent $136 on mostly groceries, some of it was personal care items and snacks and water for my son's youth group, but all in all, I have dinner planned for next week. I just need to get a few produce items tomorrow and then I will be good to go. I really need to learn how to shop the sales. I bought steaks and a spiral ham at Costco. The steaks will provide enough for 2 dinners as will the ham but still, those 2 items alone cost almost $40. I figure its still cheaper than going out, but on the other hand it is still more than I want to spend for dinner at home.

I suppose an outlay of money is required in order to get my freezer stocked. I will watch the ads to and try to plan meals around whatever is on sale. Still, can I do this AND keep my grocery budget at $400 or less per month?

I read a blog the other day where the women fed her family dinner on $5 a day. How crazy is that? I live in California and I don't think that is even remotely possible. Maybe it is and I just don't know how to do it.

Back at this AGAIN

January 24th, 2009 at 06:42 am

So I fell off the personal finance bandwagon for a bit. I've since caught up with my Quicken entries and have also established some goals for the year. I'm trying to not be too ambitious so I don't set myself up for failure.

I am still struggling with a budget. For now, I am budgeting mandatory expenses and what is left over is for discretionary spending. Not the greatest system but I cannot budget for every single line item because inevitably some unplanned, unexpected expense comes up and then I have to juggle budgeted money from one category to another. I find that having "left over" money, after mandatory expenses, is easier to manage as long as I update Quicken as we spend money and monitor my "left over" balance. I don't know how great this system will work since I just implemented it this month so we shall see.

I've automated most of my bills so that all I need to do is schedule the payments in online bill pay at my bank's website. When I open Quicken my scheduled transactions greet me and I enter those that have been paid, online or via snail mail. It's a rather simple process once I got it set-up in Quicken. I started a new Quicken file this year and so I had to start from scratch. That wasn't fun but I'm glad I did it as I think things will be cleaner now.

I have been searching for ways to cut expenses and just this evening saved $86 on our 6-month car insurance premiums. I'm excited about that and will transfer that savings to our emergency fund.

Tomorrow I hope to FINALLY sign my husband up for his 403(b) plan at work. I'm also anticipating a cost of living increase that his employer has given annually; hopefully this year that will continue. If it does, I plan on saving the difference to our emergency fund. I believe the percentage increase is either 3% or 5%, can't remember at the moment.

I have lots swirling in my mind right now and blogging about it helps clear my mind. More to come later.