<< Back to all Blogs
Login or Create your own free blog
Layout:
Home > Category: Personal Finance
 

Viewing the 'Personal Finance' Category

New part-time job

March 2nd, 2013 at 04:57 pm

It's been over a month since I've blogged on here! Our first 2 months of this year have been good, financially speaking. We've kept to our budget each month and socked away extra money to our mortgage. And two months straight of contributing to our kids' college funds, and 15% to DH's 401k.

The biggest change is that I started doing freelance writing part-time and discovered there is a lot of work out there. I'm not doing anything glamorous, just writing for websites. But I made over $1000 in January and over $600 in February! Of course I have to pay self-employment taxes on those earnings, which are higher than normal...but I'm still thrilled with the extra cash!

Potential Layoffs

January 24th, 2013 at 06:13 am

DH's company had a big meeting yesterday and the company announced that layoffs are coming. It's mostly going to be middle-level managers, which my DH is not. But, we are not panicked. For one thing, DH doesn't think he will be laid off since he's the only one that does his particular job.

But secondly, we feel prepared now for a layoff. We have our emergency fund in place. If DH were to get laid off, he would get about 4 months of severance pay on top of our 6 month emergency fund. Sure, money would be tight and it would suck, but we could probably make it 10 months without having to go into debt.

Two years ago, or even last year, I would have been more worried about potential layoffs. I highly recommend having an emergency fund, for peace of mind!

Keeping it frugal with the kids

January 23rd, 2013 at 07:40 pm

I was tempted to go to a train show this past weekend. Kids 12 and under were free, adults were $8.00. But when we read the flyer, it said there would be lots of booths with Thomas the Train stuff for sale, along with other train things. DH was the voice of reason and said we shouldn't go, because even though admission was only $16, the kids could pressure us into buying them things.

So we went to a park instead. And the kids had a lot of fun and never knew the difference, since I never told them we were thinking about a train show.

I do want my kids to experience things other than just parks...and they do. But really just for special occasions.

In less than 2 weeks we will be on our Disney Cruise...and that's a special occasion! I already pre-paid for our parking at the port and pre-paid our gratuities and a small amount for souvenirs in our onboard account. Our only expenses not yet covered will be gas to and from port, and some food for the drive.

Changes for 2013

January 1st, 2013 at 07:56 pm

Woohoo, it's 2013!

Our emergency fund is in place. We paid all of our house taxes/HOA fees in December. We have paid off our February 2013 vacation. We have a small slush fund, car fund, and a vacation savings for the summer.

Our big goal this year is to pay extra principle on our mortgage. We are trying to pay off our mortgage early so that we can free up some cash to help our kids through college. Our plan is to pay off our mortgage in 8 years. It seems overwhelming and like it will take a long time. We have a goal of paying an extra $8244 in principle this year.

We already paid an extra $1000 from a bonus received in December. We will take $1000 from our tax return later this Spring and put it towards the mortgage. We already pay an extra $150/month with our bi-weekly automatic withdrawals. I will add another $300/month on top of that. Starting in September, I will have another $200/month on top of that because we will go a year without any preschool tuition payments. I'm cancelling our lawn service and I'll be doing it myself. Hopefully those changes will enable us to reach our goal.

Today, DH adjusted his 401k contributions back to 15% (we had lowered it to 7% in the back half of 2012 so that we could get our emergency fund in place).

We are also going to begin contributing to our kids' college funds, $100 each per month.

In December, I started a part-time job doing freelance writing online. I earned $400 in December (before taxes). I hope to earn $500 a month with that this year. Not much, but it's something!

Here's hoping for a great year! Good luck everyone on achieving your financial goals!

I Find It Odd....

November 6th, 2012 at 11:32 am

Ok, I realize that everyone has their own philosophy on personal finance. And different degrees of financial responsibility. And I know that I am not perfect and have certainly made a lot of mistakes with my finances.

But...

I find it odd that when most people want something they can't afford, their first inclination seems to be to either go into debt for it, or ask other people for money. My perception is that those are frequently the first 2 choices, rather than try to earn extra money, or spend less money on something else that isn't a necessity in order to afford the new thing.

Several times a year we receive e-mails from friends/acquaintances for fundraisers for their personal things (adoptions, medical bills, summer camps). As we have 2 adopted kiddos and we know how expensive all the travel can be, we want to be supportive of others. But I find it odd that someone can be fundraising for something at the same time they are posting pictures of themselves on a big vacation, or consistently going out to eat, etc. Or posting on Facebook about the awesome cute outfit they just bought their child for $50 through Smockadot Kids while asking us for $10 to support their fundraiser. It just seems odd to me! (By the way, I'm talking about personal fundraisers for a family expense, not school fundraisers or mission trip fundraisers, etc.)

I feel like as a society we have become accustomed to think that certain things are necessities instead of luxuries, and many people don't even think about cutting back on those things in order to afford something else that might be more important.

I'm talking about things like vacations, smart phones, pre-school or Mom's Day Out programs for kids with a stay-at-home parent, designer clothes, dining out in restaurants, Starbucks runs....while those things might be nice to have, and maybe are a priority to people over something else, they are not necessities.

A friend just confided to me they might lose their house because they are behind on the payments. And just a few weeks ago I was looking through their wonderful vacation photos. Now I love a vacation as much or more than anyone else, but I can tell you that if we were in any danger of losing our house, the first thing we would do is cancel our vacation.

I just find it odd.

October wrap-up and Home Insurance

November 5th, 2012 at 12:02 pm

First the good news: I earned $102.21 on mturk.com during the month of October. That will be used as cash spending money while we are in Cozumel in February (Disney Cruise).

We are on track with our savings to have enough for our property taxes. With the Nov 15th paycheck we should be able to pay our property tax. Our HOA dues are due in January, so we will use some December savings to pay for that.

Now the bad news: We were about $160 over our October spending budget. And it's because my DH went to the dentist for his cleaning and they found a cavity. We have dental insurance, which completely covers cleanings every 6 months, but cavity fillings are not covered nearly as well. I'm looking forward to having our "slush fund" up and running by the end of this year so that it can cover these unexpected expenses.

At the end of December, we should have our emergency fund fully funded and a small slush fund. At that time, we will increase DH's 401k contribution to 15%. And we will start our new budget (which will include putting money aside each month for our property taxes/insurance and $100/month for each kiddo's 529 plan). In January we will also be starting extra principle payments on our house. It will be a tight budget, I hope we can do it!

Switching gears:
Today I called our home insurance company. Our premium has increased by $684 over the past 2 years. When we bought this house, the premium was $1060. Then a year later I switched insurance companies from AllState to Progressive (switched both auto and home policies). The net of the 2 was a savings of about $600 a year. But our auto was substantially lower and our home insurance increased. Then the next year, our home insurance increased a few hundred more dollars. And now it's at $1744.

I've been going through the paperwork and I noticed that our dwelling coverage seemed overstated, so I called Progressive to ask about lowering that. They told me it was an algorithm that could not be changed, but they went through all the facts about our house and lo and behold the dwelling number was high. So that change brought my insurance down for the year by $146. They are going to pro-rate the difference and send us a check for $75 since we are half-way through our policy.

But, I've done some online quotes from other insurance companies and those quotes are still coming in closer to the $1100 a year. I know if we switch our homeowners policy, our auto insurance policy will go up since we a discount for having both together. I guess I need to price out what the net difference would be in switching. I think our home insurance is still about $500 higher than it could be.

It seems like such a pain to keep pricing our insurance...does anyone do this every few years? Or do you stick with the insurance you have?

Visitors stress me out

October 26th, 2012 at 06:07 am

We don't have many overnight visitors, but sometimes when we do it really stresses me out!

My family recently visited us. The thing about my family is that when they come they don't just like to hang out. They always have to be doing multiple touristy things each day. And we don't live in a real touristy city (like Orlando or New York) so it's really hard to please them.

When they are here we end up spending SO much money!

I think the issue is that this year we have been in our own little bubble--our budget bubble. We go out to eat about once a month, we mostly do free activities with the kids (with the exception of some major splurges like our vacation)...our home life is very simple and frugal. But then when we have visitors come and we are forced to conform to their way of living, even for just a few days, it totally throws us off.

We asked my family in advance what they were planning on doing and they told us 2 activities. We looked up the prices and the cost for my family was about $130. Not a big deal, we could plan for that by cutting back earlier in the month.

But the bigger thing is that they always want to go out to eat. Like they insist on it. So we went out to eat for most meals while they were here and spent around $150-$200. I made one meal at home for everyone and would have done more but they don't like hanging out at home.

When we go to these touristy places, their kids raid the gift shops and their parents buy them at least one thing from every gift shop we encounter. And then my kids are like hey, we want something too (when we are by ourselves they don't expect something from every place we go).

I have a friend from college coming to visit me in a few weeks. She is single, no kids, and leads a totally different lifestyle. She travels all the time, is very social, and is just the total opposite of our frugal family lifestyle. She is already making suggestions on stuff we can do while she is here and I'm hoping to reach a compromise. Like instead of all 5 of us going places with her, maybe just I can go. She will be here on a Sunday and Monday (and I already warned her about weekdays not being a good time for me, with 3 kids and school and their activities). So I guess the whole upcoming visit is stressing me out.

I realize as I write this that I probably sound like an old fuddy-duddy set in my ways. I am thankful that we have people that want to visit us, I really am. I just get stressed out about the money part and feeling like I have to keep people entertained.

Anybody else go through the same things with visitors?

Bonus and Borrowing

October 13th, 2012 at 07:22 pm

Ok, it's been almost 2 weeks since I've blogged and it's time to catch up.

The biggest news is...we found out we are getting a bonus (unexpected) in December and it will be about $7500 after taxes. Woohoo!

We've been trying to decide where to put our small windfall and after having changed our minds a bunch of times, I think we've reached a conclusion.

First, we are going to take $5000 and put it into savings as a "slush fund". Our emergency fund balance is where we want it to be for 6 months of living expenses, but on top of that we want a cushion to pay for things like car repairs, car registration, unexpected vet bills or medical bills, etc. So, boring as that sounds, that's where it's going.

Now the next part is a little more exciting...we are taking $1900 and going on a Disney Cruise in February! Can't remember if I mentioned this or not, but last summer we went on our first Disney Cruise. It was probably our favorite vacation, ever. The kids had a blast and DH and I got some alone time. It was hugely expensive, though, and we had to save up a long time for that. We had planned on going on another cruise in 2014.

Well, that was until Disney decided to offer some big discounts on their cruises that sail out of Galveston (about 6 hours from where we live). I saw those sale prices online from our travel agent, and I called DH out of the blue and said, "Hey, don't think I'm crazy....but there are some really good prices on Disney Cruises coming up in early 2013!" I thought he would say I'm crazy, but he was more for the idea than I was! So we booked a cruise. We will have to pull our oldest son out of school for 4 days, but I believe that as long as he's doing well in school and he's young enough, it's no big deal (we did it last year too).

So now, we are no longer going to San Antonio in the Spring, we will do the cruise instead. So my mturk earnings will go towards spending money on the cruise. My goal is to earn $200 before February.

We also got $200 in onboard credit from our travel agent and from using our Disney Visa, so almost all of our tips are paid for. And we're using DH's hotel points to stay closer to Galveston the night before.

We haven't told the kids yet--I think we will surprise them at Christmas. I still can't believe that we are going on another Disney cruise so soon after our last one--but the price is less than half of our cruise last summer!

We will take the rest of the bonus and divvy it up to some charitable causes.

Which sort of leads me to talk about another "charitable" cause we are dealing with...friends who keep asking to borrow money. They are actually the reason I started this anonymous blog, because blogging about us trying to save up for an emergency fund made me uncomfortable with them asking us for money.

These friends are going through a hard time--they've asked us twice to borrow money and they asked us for a 3rd time today. We gave them $100 the first time--I guess it was more like a gift than a loan. I'm sure we will never get it back.

The second time, we said no, but we bought them some things to help out their household. Another $100+ of stuff.

And now they've asked us again for this latest emergency--one of their cars was towed away for nonpayment and they have to pay to get it out of impound plus the amount they are overdue on.

My mother-in-law told us that once you give someone money, they will keep coming back to you and asking you again and again. She was right.

The thing is, this couple has made some horrible financial decisions. They are both college educated and had good jobs (one was laid off). I'm trying to stay out of the situation completely. But part of me would like to tell them some practical things they could do instead of asking everyone around them for money--like sell their iPads and Kindles. Get rid of their smart phones. Do some work on mturk or anywhere to get some extra money. Have a garage sale. But I think suggesting any of those things would just piss them off.

So we've decided we just can't give them any more money. Because there will always be the next "emergency" and although I feel bad for their kids, they have got to learn how to get themselves together.

Anyone have friends like this? Do they ask you to borrow money? How do you respond?

My new mturk.com earnings goal

October 2nd, 2012 at 06:40 pm

So over the past 2 months I've earned approximately $150 from doing survey work on mturk.com. I've used that money to buy birthday gifts for 2 of my kids at Amazon.com.

In order for me to stay motivated to do survey work a few hours a week, I need to set another earnings goal and a target of what I want to spend it on. Since our Christmas fund is doing well, I decided I'd like to earn $300 on mturk.com for tickets to Sea World/Aquatica in San Antonio.

We live about 6 hours away from San Antonio (driving distance) and DH and I have been a few times as a couple before having kids. It's a great city with lots of fun stuff to do. We went to Sea World there (I've also been to the Sea Worlds in Florida and California) and we love it. We've never taken our kids to San Antonio, though. Not on purpose, we've just been to other destinations with them and figured we could do San Antonio/Sea World "any time" since it's such a close destination.

DH has enough Marriott points (earned through work travel) for us to stay in one of the hotels nearby for 3 nights (for free!) So I'd like to earn approximately $300 to buy tickets for us for 2 days at Sea World and the new Aquatica water park. If I can earn money for those tickets through my survey work, and our hotel is free, we pretty much just need to pay for gas and food for the weekend.

I've got approximately 6 months to earn this money. The kids have a 3-day weekend off school in April. I think it will be a good time to go. My youngest will be 2 1/2 years old and there is a new Sesame Street Bay of Play area at Sea World.

Today I earned $6 doing surveys for an hour while my daughter was napping. This will be a slow process. Wish me luck!

September mturk earnings

September 30th, 2012 at 07:15 am

I earned $50.17 this month doing surveys on mturk.com.

In August I started doing some survey work on mturk.com after about an 8 month hiatus. I discovered this site last year and in the months leading up to Christmas 2011 I earned about $150 that I used on Amazon.com to order Christmas presents.

I really hadn't been on the site all year until August. I found that without a goal to shoot for, without a prize pictured in my head, it was very hard for me to stay motivated to log in to the site and find work. The survey work is really quite easy, it's just the hourly wage I earn on there is anywhere from $3-$8 and I can only work about an hour at a time before running out of work. So then I have to come back the next day or in a few days and repeat.

But in August I decided to pick it back up again. Actually I started at the end of July, and by the end of August I had earned over $100! Going in to that month I decided to earmark all of my August earning to buy my daughter a birthday present. I had my eye on this pink Radio Flyer tricycle on Amazon that was around $65 with tax. So originally $65 was my goal. With my total mturk earnings of over $100 (plus $5 from Swagbucks) I was able to get her the tricycle and a helmet, a purse, a Lego set and a DVD. I was ecstatic!

I decided to keep going with mturk and dedicate the entire month of September to earning money for my son's birthday. I was hoping to earn close to the same as August, but it just didn't happen. My husband was traveling for 2 weeks in the month and during those weeks I was not able to get on the site nearly as much. In fact, I went almost a full week without logging on at all. But, still, $50 aint bad. I just ordered him a Dream Lites Pillow Pet and a Wii game for his birthday. I'll pick him up a few more things out of our normal paycheck budget before his big day.

I like mturk because, unlike other survey sites, you know upfront if you will qualify for the survey or not. I've tried other sites but found I spent so much time on the pre-survey part seeing if I qualify and having most of them end up not panning out. There are a lot of surveys from graduate students at universities on here, as well as political surveys. I sort my search results to get things that pay at least 35 cents or more. And I only do surveys on there--not some of the other stuff like writing articles or setting up a dating profile for a new site.

I also like working on the site because it's totally flexible--you can work on there any time of day or night for as long as you want. I only work on the site at night after my kids have gone to bed, or occasionally during the day when 2 of my kids are at school and my 3rd one is napping.

Of course the downside is the hourly wage ends up being very small...so for me I have to pick a dollar goal and a spending purpose for that goal in order to stay motivated to keep up with it.

I have new goal for October...I guess I'll save that for tomorrow's blog post!

Added $225 to our Christmas Fund

September 23rd, 2012 at 12:07 pm

DH just got reimbursed for some mileage from a work trip, so we were able to add $225 more to our Christmas fund. So now we've got $700 in there, our goal is $1000. Yippee!

I'm so glad I won't be stressing in January when we see our credit card bills from November/December, like we've done for so many years in the past.

Our Frugal Saturday

September 22nd, 2012 at 07:01 pm

This morning we took the kids to the Lowe's Build & Grow clinic. Have you been to these before? They have them twice a month, they are free but you have to register in advance. This month they were building little fire trucks.

They also had a fire safety thing going on at the same time, and they had bean bag toss games with prizes, a face painter, and some fireman picture spots. And it was all free!

Tonight we stayed in for another family movie night with our Netflix DVD. We watched We Bought a Zoo. It was too long for the kids but it seemed like a sweet story.

Friday Savings and Spending

September 21st, 2012 at 09:34 am

So...some of you may know from my previous entries that my daughter broke her leg last week. I decided to look on our insurance site to see how the charges are looking.

I'm not sure if all the charges are there yet, I sure hope so, because right now the total is $6039.71. That includes one ER visit, with x-rays, one pediatrician visit, and another doctor's visit at the Children's Hospital with more x-rays and a cast.

Luckily (?) we have already met our $4500 deductible this year, so I think our out-of-pocket cost will be 10% of our total bills, so around $600.

Wow, what do people with no insurance do? It's crazy. I'm very thankful we have health insurance and we can absorb the cost of this with our emergency fund.

Anyways....today is Friday and my 4-year-old doesn't have school and my 1-year-old is also home with me. My husband usually works from home but I suggested he go into the office today so that I don't have to work so hard at keeping the kids quiet while he's working.

I've realized, now that my daughter is in a cast and can't swim or go to parks, how much time I usually spend with my kids doing those 2 activities and how much I miss doing those things! Going to parks, being outside riding bikes, etc. are my go-to activities for cheap entertainment with my kids. Because typically on a Friday with the 2 younger ones we'd be at a park right now.

So instead, our big outing today was going to Petco. I needed to get some pill pockets for my cat (he's 17 1/2 years old, has stomach cancer, but is still holding on!). A trip to Petco with my kids is very entertaining because we stop and look at all the animals. Ferrets, birds, mice/gerbils/rats/hamsters/guinea pigs, frogs, turtles, snakes, lizards...and of course all the fish. It's like a mini-zoo trip. And we can easily stay for 30 minutes checking out all the animals. Does anyone else do this with their kids?

Other somewhat frugal things I'm doing today:

I saw that the Disney Channel has Return to Neverland on this afternoon, so I'm recording it for a future family movie night at home.

I got an e-mail from Groupon this morning for $5 off any deal. And they have a Studio Movie Grill deal for $5 for a movie and a drink. So I bought 3 movie/drink tickets for a total of $10 (that's $3.33 a movie ticket, not bad). I should preface this by saying that we rarely go to the movies. I think my kids have been to a movie theater once so far this year. So my plan is to take my 2 boys to see that Hotel Transylvania movie sometime in the next few weeks. Since this is one of those theatres with tables and real food, I'm going to try to keep it frugal and go at an off-eating time (like a mid-afternoon show) and just order one thing of food to split. Like popcorn, or french fries.

Our spending splurge:

We decided, last minute, to sign up for another Parents' Night Out that is tonight. We usually try to have a date night once a month, and there is a local church that does a Parents' Night Out childcare for a reasonable amount of money. We already had our date night 2 weeks ago, but there is another local church that is now doing this for slightly cheaper (it costs a total of $24 for our 3 kids combined and that includes pizza for them for 3 1/2 hours). So we decided to splurge and have a second date night this month. DH and I are just going to go out to eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

How's your Friday going?