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Archive for October, 2013

Overfunded HSA - Open Benefits Surprise

October 29th, 2013 at 04:18 pm

I never see my spouse's paystub: they aren't mailed to him. He does ask me how much per paycheque is to be placed in a HSA. I sum up and estimate two pair prescription glasses, my expensive eye drops, kid's dental exams, annual exams for me and for tot, divide by 26. Apparently my memory is not so good and we put in $4000 a year. Sure, that's great for when my drops run out, or a pair of specs shatter, but what if you never knew how much was in the account? What if you were paying out of pocket for expenses because you were unaware your spouse contributed 3x as much as you thought?

I think now maybe $1500 per year (not per pay period) would be better, especially with a car loan to pay back, because who likes budgeting take-home pay to where under twenty dollars is a surplus? but he's ratcheted the contribution to $113 per pay period.

Dubious milestone arrived

October 28th, 2013 at 07:34 pm

This past weekend we hit the out-of-our-control milestone of $250K equity on our house. The last time that happened was 2007, but it plummeted. House is now valued at $55000 below peak, and we owe $55000 less than we did at that time. I used to believe that for every dollar of mortgage principal paid, the house equity would rise by an amount larger than a dollar. That's how it should work. Is our house overvalued? I don't think so. Everybody's house in our area was overvalued in 2006. The people who purchased between September and November 2006 have just this year achieved positive equity, after an excess of $65000 principal has been paid over seven years. If we'd the average 4% rise in home value over the last twelve months instead of the absurd 20% leap I'd probably be making the $250000 equity crowpost in summer of 2015, with an interest rate of 3.75% and a payoff date of August 2023.

And if no boom or bust cycle happened at all, with logarithmic growth of 4% annually, we'd have the $250000 equity benchmark in March 2014, owing $37000 more than we owe now, assuming 30 year mortgage and 6.625% interest, and a final payment due February 2029.

This tells me our area still hasn't fully recovered. This is why people who've seen boom and bust real estate cycles do not use their primary residences as ATMs.

using up my Chinook book coupons this week

October 28th, 2013 at 12:12 am

The grocery strike threat prompted a re-examination of protein sources and advance plan of meals. I made a weekly plan and in that week we've had take'n'bake once, eaten out once, and had leftovers for three days. Why take'n'bake? We have a coupon book for local, "sustainable, green or organic" businesses and we haven't used all the coupons we want to yet. I bought two pizzas for $10.74. My closet is hurting for warm sweaters, thick socks and knit tops so I'll be hunting consignment stores in the next week.

So we entered a coffee shop, set to work on the Friday NYT crossword, when we heard "we're saved!" from the proprietor. Apparently there was a crossword already in progress, tackled communally. We helped out, discussed tech, mentioned interest in getting a Raspberry Pi, and lo! We were given a 17" flat screen TV with HDMI port for streaming Pi fun! Now for the Pi, SD card, USB keyboard and some cables. Also for our crossword help, we received a good tip on monthly government surplus auctions for PCs with no operating systems. I may save some $50... I want a cheap laptop for Linux work.

Clothes: bought socks for us all; whimsical frivolous socks -- mine have illustrations of a young moppet struggling with a wind-battered umbrella and slashing rain, saying "#*$% this ^!@&" (not really, the four-letter words are on the socks but I'm not typing them out) -- saved $5.40 there. I apologize to My English Castle for the brain-damaged punctuation of the last sentence. I see the use of plain cheap sturdy socks. At Value Village, using a 20% off coupon from the coffee shop, I purchased two sweaters for me, and a rain jacket for the boy. I have a branded pen from the coffee shop, again for free. The coffee shop saved us about $24 that time, five times the cost of our drinks. Saved four dollars at Fred Meyer outfitting boy with dress shirt for orchestra. Somehow I don't mind shelling out $ for the boy's clothes or school or books, but man, am I stingy with most everything else (except food implements).

So, ah, no grocery strike

October 22nd, 2013 at 05:10 pm

Strike averted a few hours before deadline: that may explain why the food co-op I shopped for mass quantities of paprika was not crowded.

Ate out last night, but somewhere cheap and cheerful, as the pot roast for Goulash had not thawed out. I'd thought 18 hours in the refrigerator would work for a 0.8 kg chuck roast. Beans had soaked for all of two hours. Eating down the stores will be a little challenge: I have more footlong hot dogs than I know what to do with, so feel free to suggest recipes; for me, sharing URLs doesn't work in the comments but if you give me a collection of keywords and a site, my browser'll probably find them for me.

I am thankful to my family for being adaptable to my budget-guided cooking repertoire tweaks: they are okay with vegetarian. I made burritos for the first time and they turned out well. I change bean water frequently to reduce the pootin', but when it's cooler, the three seconds of warmth generated are welcome, you know?

Spending now to save later

October 20th, 2013 at 03:54 pm

But not really... the West Coast supermarket strike looms. Supermarket parking lots were full yesterday, but rather than gather provisions with the crowd, we thought to use our remaining independent-grocer and "green product" coupons that expire October 31 and order a 31 lb. bulk-box of meats from one county up. The independent grocery was so quiet and there was no wait for service, so we chatted a little with a checkout person about the impending deluge. The independent grocers have better music, believe it or not. I feel that Kroger/QFC tries to get rid of me with the music it plays.

I did notice that the independent grocery prices were not as low as Safeway's and Fred Meyer's, but I know where the cheap vegetables can be had. I don't know how long the strike is going to go on for, but my food budget will be highly uneven as we bulk-shop and eat down the remains. I feel we can last one three-month-supply of sugar, coffee, quinoa, canned vegetables and toilet paper at Costco, literally run to Target for last-minute incidentals, and head to ethnic markets (Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Mediterranean) for good deals on oils, beans and to Pacific Food Importers for spices.

Rudimentary Food Plan
Sunday: leftovers, maybe with udon.
Monday: That Hungarian Goulash thing
Tuesday: Lentil Soup
Wednesday: Black Bean Soup
Thursday: Spaghetti con Tonno
Friday: Red Bean & Quinoa Chili
Saturday: Wieners & Sauerkraut
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Our favourite video store is struggling, and to be honest, I'd been watching films and TV shows on YouTube and European websites and from our local library; however, these films and TV shows I watch online are not available (yet) on DVD. I feel everyone except corporations is struggling, so we renewed our 10-rental-pack. Maybe I need to budget 3-5% of our takehome income for "saving the struggling" like schools.

This week we learned that my mom's old Hobart KitchenAid food processor is missing two shafts. I've had her 1979 12-cup processor for fourteen years but used it only three times because the set-up seemed arduous and let's not kid, 20 lbs is a heavy weight for a food processor. I scouted the Web to find out what the attachments not shown in the KFP-700 manual were, then learned that Hobart recreated its model and accessories for other companies, so we could still get shafts, although they are pricy. I do want to use all four slicing discs, and I don't want to use the "Whole Body Feed Tube" every time I want to shred carrots or cabbage so maybe I'll treat myself and experiment with the KFP-700 recipes. I kept thinking "hmm, seven minutes to assemble a food processor, or seven minutes to hand-grate or use Cutco knives on vegetables. Which is faster? Which involves less cleanup?"

Food plan, mind-stretching for seeking alpha

October 14th, 2013 at 12:47 am

Even our credit union is changing the terms of our credit card, from fixed to variable. I sense either yet another impending economic collapse in the US, or that credit usage is greatly reduced and less frequently utilized.

I am now understanding that our credit union struggles, first with the reduction of interest in our savings and chequing accounts, then with the shift from fixed to variable rates for our credit card. I thought they shifted to variable in 2009: I haven't been keeping up.

I am disenchanted with my debt group. I am considering a break until I get my mortgage down to a five-digit figure. I feel left out because I am neither on Facebook nor do I have diabetes. All I have to talk about is reduction of interest.

Another gripe I have: it seems every three days I am buying $20-$24 worth of vegetables and fruit. They go fast!

Trying a new approach to what I put in my stomach, after three weeks of Pop-Tarts. Daily morning lemon squeezed into water has given me new energy. Plus, I put a teaspoon of cinnamon in my daily coffee. The first night I woke up feeling my stomach was incinerating its contents. I have yet to establish a baseline for weight loss though: 100% of the time I feel urge to lose weight is when my pants are tighter around the waist and 24-48 hours later my period shows up. Has anyone had success with a plan from Timothy Ferriss' The Four-Hour Body?

Also going for more black beans and lentils, because it is turning to soup weather here, and I love the extra iron from lentils when my period comes. Mostly though, 4-6 ounces of lentil is cheaper ($0.55) than 4-6 ounces of meat ($1.60). I did pick up veal scalloppine at 50% off: my big thrill of October. I still love meat: I am just choosing to have it less often and be more creative about eating down my stores.

So:
Sunday - Marinated Roast Beef (30% off)
Monday - Turkey Breast (Thanksgiving)
Tuesday - Lentil Soup, probably with bacon
Wednesday - Leftovers
Thursday - New York Strip Steak
Friday - Roast Chicken w/Red Peppers and Tomatoes
Saturday - Black Bean Tostados