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Archive for February, 2012

I missed America Saves Week

February 29th, 2012 at 06:12 pm

Oh well. I didn't read much mention of it here.

$20 Challenge: Saved $230 (yes!) on Microsoft Office 2010 Professional. I am acquiring this program through legal means and will have an official license, if you must know. I get it on Tuesday. I sent my payment on Monday.

$20 Challenge 2: Saved $6 at the cinema yesterday. If a friend went with me she would have saved eight dollars. I got a free popcorn and with presentation of my membership card I got $3 off my admission. The film: Alfred Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes."

My mortgage cheque still has not been processed. I mailed it eight days ago and it is processed in six most times. I'll wait until March 2, and if it hasn't been processed I will put in an electronic payment.

Debt stats: Average credit card debt per household with credit card debt: $15,956, up slightly from two years ago. The majority of US households do not have credit card debt.

Total U.S. revolving debt (98 percent of which is made up of credit card debt): $801 billion, as of December 2011. This is down significantly from $866 billion, two years ago.

Eighty percent of lower income assets is in home equity. The easiest way for low income people to build assets is to pay off their mortgages. If they live where I do, they can expect a further decline of 6.9% in house value this year. I find the times where no investment yields a positive return frustrating.

Gold dove: might pick up a half-ounce today.
Bought $55 of General Electric. Considering Du Pont and Du Nemours, PepsiCo, more GoldCorp, General Electric and Procter & Gamble. What I do is triangulate among my present holdings, Jubak's Picks, and Value Line for Appreciation Potential.

Lent!

February 22nd, 2012 at 11:48 pm

According to data from the Federal Reserve Board, the ratio of homeowners’ equity to value at the end of the first quarter of 2011 was just 38.0 percent, the lowest on record. If this includes the 100% equity of paid off houses, I request permission to gulp audibly.

Slept through Ash Wednesday morning Mass. I did get replacement tabs and registration for the car -- well timed, as today they expire, so there is my penance. I also renewed our Scarecrow Video 10-punch account, taking out a Pokemon DVD for tot, and a Guy Maddin film for me (it was two-for-one Wednesday today, so one film would be for free).

No giving up disordered attachments of the flesh, other than the resistance to exercise. I do have some abundance--flesh, books and clutter, but scarcity in other areas. Disordered attachments of the mind and wallet will be surrendered, once I figure out what the disordered attachments of the wallet are. Library fines? Wasted food? Five-minute hot showers in February? Acrylamide-laden potato chips? Extra payments toward principal of extremely cheap loan? Sending heavy pricy coffee table hardcover books to eastern Canada while people starve on the streets? Disordered attachment of the mind is thinking how lowly and lonely I am. Certainly there are others who feel more lowly and lonely but I need to know how to find them to care for them. Thinking I need all the books and back magazines I have is disordered attachment.

Chequing account is now under $100 from now until payday.

Lenten practice possibilities:
sell books on shelves. divide proceeds between donating and debt.
empty a junk drawer.
Push-ups and sit-ups. If a starving, freezing Jew can do them in The Book Thief, I could do them.
clean one floor of pieces of paper.
Fast. Sleep on the floor.
Donations for every Vancouver Canucks win (22 games played between now and Easter).
Donation for every Dead Pool win I get between now and Easter (this should be easy -- I may have hit my limit).

Costco Spree and other delights

February 20th, 2012 at 08:58 pm

My little one griped through his cart commander duty, having to veer and make sharp turns past the pod people on their phones. I tried to find clear aisles whenever possible. Coffee went back down under $6/lb! Manufacturer's rebate on diced tomatoes! Chicken thighs @ 99 cents a pound!

Costco Damage: $184.18 for thirteen items, most of them pantry things - peanut butter, cereal, canned tomato sauce, above-paragraph items, pens, quinoa, apple juice, sugar, pasta x 2. And Q-Tips.

Don't believe we yet made the $55/membership fee back in savings. I do imagine we saved at least $26. I don't feel we save heaps at Costco, because we spend heaps, but thanks to the price book and our fortitude in waiting until we have at least one dozen items to buy, we do save.

Then I misgauged the size of our Dr. Bronner Baby Mild empty bottle, went to refill it at $5.29/lb. $11.44 for over-filling the 32-ounce bottle. As Holden Caulfield would say, "Hee, I'm a madman."
Treated boy and myself to "Galaxy Blackout" chocolate cake thingies. $1.43 left in my purse.

After this we'll have $150 to get us through four days. Yesterday was a no-spend day for me and boy, but DH had a haircut "The Spaulding Special" (think tennis ball) for $15 + tip. I want to buy a book for a long-distance friend who's losing her geriatric cat to kidney disease (I lost a 19.5 year-old Burmese to kidney failure so my heart is aching for her and for me still) -- she lives, well, she really lives closer to London, England than she does to me, and we're on the same continent. How's that for remote? She can't afford treatment for her cat because she's on a credit/debt repayment plan and can't use her cards. Despite the looming tax bill I can show her a little love -- a coffee table picture book of Jean Harlow's Hollywood days, perfect for the woman I first met at Highland & Hollywood, where the "Intolerance" ancient Babylonia set re-creation is.

Poverty Chow Week:
bean casserole plus leftover chicken curry, roast beef, chicken w/capers.
Tuesday: pancakes.
Wednesday: fish (oysters? mussels?)
Thursday: chicken paprikash

jolted into conscious spending/saving

February 17th, 2012 at 10:02 pm

Walked to and from Target today, in the rain. I made a list of six items I could carry home in a six block walk. I didn't save much money other than the 5% discount from RedCard and some sales on non-list items like AAA batteries and Starbucks ground coffee (total $4.23), but I did get some aerobic activity. When we empty the bag we can bring it to a Starbucks store for a free 12 oz drip for even more savings. I was going to go to Costco but was stopped by a back-of-the-envelope estimate of the cost of my desired purchases, the sum of which I mentally added to our heating bill ($118). I probably saved $1.50 by not going to Costco (gas).
Lentils ($1.49/lb), organic sugar ($3.00/lb) and quinoa ($7.99/30 oz) are not good deals at Target but they are at Costco.

Oh! And do we want to discuss deals? I shopped at Trader Joe's for produce, and came home with two humdinger deals, said the man who checked out my groceries. One was in the produce department -- I will let the regular TJ shoppers guess--answers in the comments please, and the other is the wine. I picked up a barbaresco nebbiolo for under $15 and saw a Barolo for under $20. I and the woman behind me at checkout were treated to a mini-seminar on how Trader Joe's manages to sell wine that cheap: it pays in cash and on time (at the time of sale/pickup, I guess). I silently edged toward the end of the checkout aisle, conscious of the woman behind me with her shopping cart, but she was as appreciative as I was to learn more about how Trader Joe's gives us its budget-price value wonders.

My rules now:
any home brewed cup of coffee that is less than 30 cents for 6 ounces is okay. I am also using up green tea and will work on the yerba mate when Lent starts (February 22).

Make at least one meal a week that includes any of the lingering red lentils, polenta, kasha, barley, quinoa in our pantry.

I posted a chart of our tax liability on the fridge. I am recruiting the boy to do weekly inventories of our pantries, fridge and freezer. Our reward for getting at least halfway to our tax liability in savings will be a 2-day stay in Vancouver (the uppercase one, in case the NW peeps were wondering) right after the tax payment is in the mail.

Gary Carter was on my list in the dead pool baselle is administrating. RIP Mr. Carter - Montreal was lucky to have you.

ides of february

February 15th, 2012 at 05:52 pm

hate long posts getting timed out. Why do I not habitually write in a barebones editor then paste in here?

1. Doing taxes today! Two months to come up with the surprise the IRS demands from me is reasonable.

2. Learned I was overly aggressive thinking I could pay back $7400 to my accounts in one year! That's $20/day, practically. I'm $4600 of the way there with 113 days to go. Jean Chatzky's $10/day paydown seems doable and reasonable.

3. HELOC interest greater this month than last, because I repaid $440 from Dec to Jan, and $280 from Jan to Feb.

4. Valentine Feast kinda frugal: in-house veal in lemon, with steamed carrots and asparagus, and to drink grenadine sodas. Truffles for treats.

5. The Boy, who last week was hot-to-trot to earn a whopping 0.1% on his account, mislaid his money this week and didn't open an account after all. Oh the special developmental challenges of tweens.

6. I calculated I am earning 25% the amount of the interest I am paying on the mortgage and home equity line of credit, on my accounts outside of stocks, bonds and precious metals. Long-term loans of 3%-3.75% doesn't look bad, except it's 7.5-9.2x what I'm earning.

Update: Looks like I owe about $1787 this year. I am displeased. I know, I know: "at least you have the money to pay it!"

Fun Day with Recipe

February 15th, 2012 at 01:53 am

We went to Budapest Bistro up in way north Lynnwood, as I had been craving Hungarian food since Zsa Zsa's birthday. The menu was very small: all on a whiteboard. We picked the one dish I had not made at home: a rice dish with peppers and paprika called lecho (Recipe to follow!). I had hot spiced red wine, and a cream puff for dessert. We were the only customers in. I sat next to a map of Hungary, and saw my ancestors' village just at the northern border of Hungary, touching Slovenia. Then everything about my grandmother's cooking washed over my memory cells: the spaetzle, cabbage rolls, sauerkraut, perogies.

I made Valentines for my son to hand out in class. This style went over well with the male fourth-graders:

with a nice bitter epithet from H L Mencken!

The one for his music teacher was even better. It had Twelfth Night's Duke of Orsino's "if music be the food of love, play on" quote, and "'Enough; no more: 'Tis not so sweet now as it was before." seeming to come from a dowager.


My lunch date thought it was nice. I thought it was wonderful: romance for me is not necessarily hearts, flowers and chocolates -- a few hours' burp-ups of peppered rice and cinnamon-infused Cabernet is as good as a rubdown as far as this girl is concerned.

Lecho
1 pkg. Hungarian (or Polish) sausage
4 sweet peppers (yellow, green and red in mine)
5-6 potatoes
1 c. uncooked rice
1 lg. onion
Salt & pepper
Paprika
Water
Saute onions and green peppers. Slice sausage and saute with peppers and onions. Salt and pepper to taste. Add enough water to cover meat. Add diced potatoes. Sprinkle with paprika. Let cook about 15 minutes on medium-high. Add rice. Cook until potatoes and rice are done (about 35-40 minutes).

Stats I've read about Credit

February 13th, 2012 at 04:45 pm

from endoftheamericandream.com
#1 Today, 46% of all Americans carry a credit card balance from month to month.

#2 Overall, Americans are carrying a grand total of $798 billion in credit card debt.

#3 If you were alive when Jesus was born and you spent a million dollars every single day since then, you still would not have spent $798 billion by now.

#4 Right now, there are more than 600 million active credit cards in the United States.

#5 Exclusively among households that have credit card debt, the average amount of credit card debt is an astounding $15,799. That means households without debt were not included in this demographic sample.]

#6 If you can believe it, one out of every seven Americans has at least 10 credit cards. I can't. I have three credit cards, and one charge card. I use one 99% of the time, another only when I travel, and I keep the unused one because I am afraid of the hit to my credit score if I close it.

#7 The average interest rate on a credit card that is carrying a balance is now up to 13.10 percent.

#8 According to the credit card calculator on the Federal Reserve website, if you have a $10,000 credit card balance and you are being charged a rate of 13.10 percent and you only make the minimum payment each time, it will take you 27 years to pay it off and you will end up paying back a total of $21,271.

#9 The length of auto loans in America just keeps getting longer and longer. If you can believe it, 45 percent of all new car loans being made today are for 6 years or more. I cannot believe this. Eight years ago, a typical car loan was for four years. My first and only car loan was paid off in two years.

#10 Approximately 70 percent of all car purchases in the United States involve an auto loan. Only 70%?

#11 Total home mortgage debt in the United States is now about 5 times larger than it was just 20 years ago

#12 Mortgage debt as a percentage of GDP has more than tripled since 1955.

#13 According to the Mortgage Bankers Association, approximately 8 million Americans are at least one month behind on their mortgage payments.

#14 Historically, the percentage of residential mortgages in foreclosure in the United States has tended to hover between 1 and 1.5 percent. Today, it is up around 4.5 percent.

#15 Overall, nearly 29 percent of all homes with a mortgage in the United States are underwater. ACK!

#16 If you can believe it, the mortgage lenders now have more equity in U.S. homes than the American people do. I can believe it. I've cashed out no more than $2200 each of my two refinances, and I'm struggling to keep my equity above 55%. I have more mortgage yesterdays than I have mortgage tomorrows, too.

#17 Medical debt is a major problem for a growing number of Americans. One study discovered that approximately 41 percent of all working age Americans either have medical bill problems or are currently paying off medical debt.

#18 Sadly, the number of Americans that are protected by health insurance continues to decline. An all-time record 49.9 million Americans do not have any health insurance at all right now, and the percentage of Americans covered by employer-based health plans has fallen for 11 years in a row.

No help for it, I must make myself employable

February 12th, 2012 at 06:14 pm

Had a shock when I went to renew my prescription: $319 price tag. I did not have the money in my account, as it was the day before payday, had not activated the Flexible Savings Account debit card. It was a RENEWAL, and it was $175 more than what I paid in October. What petroleum or gold dust is in the prescription? Does a Health Savings Account mean the health insurer doesn't subsidize ANY of the prescription?

The prescription would be for 15 weeks. But still, when I've cut clothing, food, gas, entertainment, charity, telecommunications what do I do? Mortgage down $120 from last year, $42 now gone from the phone bill.

Thinking of selling what I can on Craigslist and eBay,
asking the spouse to take out only once a week money he'll need for the week, or half the money for lunch that he takes out each week.

Also considering going back to school to take bookkeeping and minor-level accounting or data processing analysis so I can take my skills north or to a rare small company employer that can offer health benefits.
-------
I am FreeCycling at any rate. This week is different from most: I awarded first dibs to people with transportation and mobility issues. Not intentionally, but just how the first responses looked. If you can't afford a car, or get outside your housebox, you have a greater need for the kindness of strangers.

payday yayday

February 11th, 2012 at 05:04 am

Each payday I feel like Peanuts' Lucy shaking her Psychiatric Help stand can with a nickel inside.


Spent $$$ today: oldest friend came by with his family. He, she and I had a great time: his daughters were somewhat bored/restless, understandable: all were under 12, the cats fled immediately, and soon my son did as well, as he too is under 12. He didn't emerge until his father came home. We went to an izakaya (Japanese pub). I love my friend because we can be immediately real and honest with each other in ways that might be awkward with other people. My phone service provider told me I needed to add money if I was going to do crazy things like call Canada phone numbers: I paid the extortion fee they call "Top Up." It was worth it though. I also ran to the corner store to get multigrain and cheddar crackers, Pepperidge Farm cookies and juice. I also cut up vegetables and pears and made a vegetable dip.

What did I learn from this? Chance favours the prepared mind. And I am not an awful person.

I think I lost already the 2012 dead pool: Robin Gibb is recovering from his liver cancer, so the news reads.

a Gitterdun Day

February 10th, 2012 at 01:18 am

Finally filed paperwork for: official complaint against a neighbour's noise abuse; e*Trade account transfer to TD Ameritrade. Bought a Valentine's Day present for hubby and two Valentine Cards. Also a prescription.
Mailed a birthday card: am still two days behind on my mail challenge. Paid young boy's dues -- took them out of his account.

I am freaked out about the price the pharmacy gave for the one prescription I didn't take home: $319. America must hate me: if that's so, then at least I am not alone. Maybe I'll just fly to Lourdes and have my ailment cured, or douse my eyeballs in holy water. Or I could try the new Flexible Savings Card and run our new prescription cards. I did pay for the $53 prescription.

We received books from the mother-in-law: Jasper Fforde (a welcome surprise!!), Kurt Vonnegut (ditto), lots of Harlan Ellison, a John Connelly book (who he?) and five Ha Jin.

Son is still keen on the Umpqua Bank "Learn to Earn" account registration. He came into my bedroom when I was not yet awake asking for an account application signature: he SELDOM enters my bedroom while I am still in the Twilight Zone between dream and reality. He was in the School Savings program with Washington Mutual in kindergarten: he would dress like a banker on Casual Friday and make jokes about bankers drinking. I volunteered then. That's probably what's getting him fired up about this low-interest plan. I do think it funny that he went to me instead of his father, as his father signed the Guardian part of the application.

Reread my HELOC documentation in the Records Office: apparently my HELOC is for twenty-five years, not ten.
This changes my savings and debt payoff strategy.

I'm putting a glorybe tag on this for what I read yesterday that has changed my life: my "eschatological purpose is to make/perceive every moment one full of love and pregnant with possibility and then act on it." I thought of this a few times a day and I think it slightly hued my interactions and thought processes.

Umpqua Bank visits my son's school

February 8th, 2012 at 11:35 pm

My son is excited about the new School Savings plan Umpqua Bank is offering. I am not. My son earns 6% interest on his credit union account, Umpqua Bank offers 0.1%. I tell him this is 1/60th of his credit union rate.

I thought my kid was good at math. What happened to the good ol' days of rocketing returns from shorting the banks, boy?
[heavy sigh]
Washington Mutual, the "we faw down and go boom" bank, was offering .25% way back when.

The only advantages I see is that my boy does his banking in person, he gets a piece o'swag for a deposit reward, and I have an excuse to visit an Umpqua Bank to cash in my "free coffee!" Chinook Book coupon without looking like someone on the take.

Boldog születésnapot Zsa Zsa, Happy Birthday Chuckie D.

February 8th, 2012 at 12:57 am

Even though I'm losing a potential point from a Dead Pool, happy birthday to Zsa Zsa Gabor. I'll cook a Hungarian dish in honour of 95th bd.

And happy birthday to birthday boy Charles Dickens.
I already read Pickwick Papers, that's worth a year of Dickens right there. Can you imagine a one-semester course on Dickens? "Here, read Pickwick Papers, Barnaby Rudge, Bleak House, Our Mutual Friend, Dombey and Son. I'll have more reading for you next week."

Received money back from CenturyLink. Spouse and I went to a diner in Ballard with the proceeds. I like going to diners with my spouse because we're in the straddle between hipsters and old farts, and both camps like diners.

Which would be heavier reading: Dickens novels or divorce documents concerning Zsa Zsa Gabor?

a good day to spend/save money

February 6th, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Went shopping for vegetables for the week, plus cereal and walnuts and honey: $34.57. Spouse and I dined on $4 Chinese Food specials in the cafe inside the supermarket.
Plus, boy needed valve oil for his trumpet so I bought a replacement bottle for 54 cents, thanks to a $5 off coupon.
Today's savings: $13.37
Today's expenditures: $45
I can't find the TD Ameritrade/Intuit sweepstakes where one wins $15000. No mention on either the TD Ameritrade or the Intuit website. I know I saw it last week, because I printed out the instructions on how to enter if you don't have a Facebook account.

It is 10 degrees Celsius out and beautiful. I have $740 until Friday. Plus, I am participating in some month-long challenge for February to mail something every day. I mailed five things on Sunday to catch up -- one was a Target bill plus two donations. If someone wants something like a postcard from me, Private Message me through the forums.

Mother-in-law is sending us Ha Jin and Harlan Ellison books. Yay!

My My My It's a Beautiful Day

February 5th, 2012 at 04:09 am

Bought my first bulk pack of meat for the year, picked up lots of packing materials. $125.87 for what I expect to be nine weeks of good eating. Then $19.03 at Grocery Outlet, where we were told we saved $19.04. Saw a neighbour at Grocery Outlet. It makes me strangely happy to see neighbours, the ones with paid off homes, shopping cheaply. Like I'm not a complete weirdo, or I am weird in a way that is healthy.

Friday night I was half-crazed from noise abuse. I was going to go off on my lonesome for a dessert and a drink once my husband came home, but my dumb move was telling my son I was going to do this. So the family went with me, we did a puerile sci-fi MadLib that I wrote after quaffing a pear vodka/champagne combo, and spent three times what I'd have spent if I just skulked off alone.

Today I had my first full sleep in three days. Waking up without my eyes fried and tender was delicious. I will for sure read my African American novel.

Feeling more Girl Guide/Girl Scout today. I took out I (Heart) Trader Joe's Cookbook from the library, the Urban Homesteader and the BUST DIY Guide to Life. Bought triple superphosphate to scatter by the lilac tree and my sad rose bushes.

I wish I could open up here about what ails me.

Dead Pool Joke: Y'KNOW I'M NOT A BIG MOVIE GUY OR ANYTHINK LIKE THAT BUT I THOUGHT DON CORNELIUS DIED PLAYIN' IN THE GARDEN WITH HIS GRANDSON!

Test Drive Result: no Prius this time

February 3rd, 2012 at 10:34 pm

Reasons: [for Jerry! hi!]

1. I asked to see the title. Instead of offering or showing me a copy, the seller said it was in a safe deposit box and would be presented to me at the time of signing.

2. I hoped for a half-way point between his place and mine for a title transfer place, like maybe downtown at a County office, but he said it would have to be in his neighbourhood.

3. I slept, but not very well. My precious metals went down, beside. I'd been told that when God is with me, I feel deep peace inside. I did not feel deep peace until I had read responses from a handful of message boards in which I posed my question about requesting a copy of a title. I had read on automotive consumer websites editorials and articles recommending asking to see a title. The responses from the message boards said my request was reasonable and thus I declined the seller.

4. I insist on doing due diligence. That means taking a checklist, having the right questions to ask, and perusing the correct documents. Why a seller wouldn't do the same, especially when I am not the first person to come look at and test drive the vehicle, is not for me to know, I guess.

5. I am not financially ready to make this purchase. If I am okay with the price of the car, but balk at paying 9.5% of the car price for county tax, and the car is priced at $14700 when Kelley Blue Book and Edmunds suggest $12434 - $13470 for a Prius for sale in my city in "very good" condition with the options this auto had, and I'm freaking out because I don't know why my spouse takes out $40/day from our account, then purchasing the car in full is going to drive me bonkers. Okay, more bonkers. Lifetime residency in the Bonkers Penthouse Suite.

I would like a Prius, I would like to pay for it in full with cash, I would like to read more about how a buyer prepares to venture into private party vehicle sales. I have cash, but they are in scattered liquid assets, which I would pay back into the HELOC within a year.

test drove a car today

February 3rd, 2012 at 02:38 am

I like the 2007 Toyota Prius, but for all my bleating about paying for a car in cash, I learned that I have to pay County Tax (9.5%), and the insurance is nearly double what I pay on my POS car. So not 100% "I'm paying in cash!" but closer to 85% "I'm paying in cash!" and 15% financing.

DH and I are haggling -- he wants to use the home equity line of credit for the financing at 3.0%, and I want to use the personal line of credit at 8.9%, because I don't want to lose the tax deduction of interest on a home improvement, which is all I use the HELOC for. This expenditure is going to hurt a lot at first, but if we have it for 14 years like we've had the POS, we stand a better chance of withstanding the eventual $10/gallon fuel.

Maintenance and fuel for the vehicle will put me ahead by $90, and if I don't factor the insurance into it I would pay $540 less than what I do for the POS car.

Someone else has come by to look at it and drive it, and is taking a second look on Saturday. I am going to sleep on it, and offer $14520. My spouse is okay with the car. The Prius is much more technologically sophisticated than our car, and has more than we need for getting from point A to point B. But finding one at Kelley Blue Book value or under with under 45000 miles in Seattle is like finding a unicorn.

Off to run a CARFAX report.

Two budget bolts from the blue

February 2nd, 2012 at 04:26 am

1. My brother e-mailed to say he's having knee surgery this summer, but that won't stop his plans to fly literally halfway around the world to visit our Cascadia. He plans to show up much earlier, like maybe next month or the next few weeks.

2. Someone local is selling his 2007 Toyota Prius for $14700, extended warranty, and the Prius has under 50000 miles. The warranty means I wouldn't have to take it to a mechanic, but I probably will anyway. I've been in contact with the seller and tomorrow I hope we will have a test drive. I have enough in cash to pay for the car!

Oohhhh!
If #2 happens, then #1 is going to be a stretch. My brother's not keen on visiting the Rockies, but will stick to islands around the Salish Sea and some cities on the coast, including ours (Vancouver/sibling-ours or Seattle/couple-ours). This suits my budget fine. Canucks tickets, well, that might require a third mortgage...