Tuesday, June 22, 2010

True Trick to Save Money on Appliances

And the trick is...CLEAN THEM.  Yeah, I was shocked too, lol.

After reading this post on Yahoo, I realized that we are way behind on appliance maintenance.  Here's their list of appliances and how they need to be cleaned occasionally:

Dishwasher: Take out the racks. Check the corners and the rubber lining around the door for cracks and food residue. Clean out both with a sponge and plastic-bristled brush (don’t use metal as it can damage the machine). Consult the owner’s manual and remove the spray arms and wash them with soap and water. If you’ve got a filter basket at the base of your dishwasher, carefully remove the filter itself and give it a rinse as well. Slide your hand in the filter hole and check for debris. Put the pieces back together and run the machine empty with a bit of detergent.

Refrigerator: The coils underneath the machine tend to get clogged with dust, which can make it hard for the compressor fan to circulate fresh air. To make sure they’re all clear, unplug the machine, get down on the floor, and pull out the vent plate that covers the coils. Then use a vacuum hose to clean the coils. It’s also good to wipe down the door gasket as with a warm damp cloth to make sure there’s no sticky build-up there, which can cause the gasket to tear (and inhibit your fridge’s ability to refrigerate).

Air conditioner: Similar to refrigerators, air conditioner coils need to be cleaned every once in a while—now, a.ka. the beginning of the season, is a particularly good time to do this. Remove the filter cover and run a vacuum brush over the coils. While you’re at it, pull out the filter and clean or replace it, depending on what kind of model you have.

Vacuum: This is one of the most oft-neglected household gadgets. Filters and bags need to be swapped out at least annually. If you have a bagless model, wipe out the canister with a sponge. Test it’s suction power: try to vacuum up a bit of sand, and see if your vac sucks up the majority of it (if so, it’s in good shape—if not, take it to a local repair shop to see if it’s just a question of changing out a part. If you’ve got motor issues, it’s probably more cost effective to buy a new vacuum).

Ceiling fan: If you notice the blades on yours are wobbling, you’re in for trouble—this wears out the motor a lot faster. Dust off the tops of the blades and tighten the screws to make sure everything is locked into place.

Stove and oven: Gas stoves in particular need to be kept clean to ensure burners and igniters will keep on for years. A warm cloth and a bit of dish soap is all you need to get them spic and span. Mr. Fleshman from Fleshman Appliance Repair tells The New York Times that the self-cleaning feature should be avoided, since the super-high-temperature can be hard on your oven’s wiring and electrical components. Instead, after you’ve used your oven, wait until it’s cool enough to touch but still warm, and wipe it down with a moist cloth. Fleshman also says not to worry about stains, “always tell my customers, if people are looking in your oven and complaining about it being dirty, you shouldn’t have those people in your home.”

Here's how we stack up after living in our house for 3 years:

Dishwasher:  I've never done anything with it except add soap and Jet Dry (which seems to be useless).

Refrigerator:  I've been meaning to do this since last year.  We have two dogs and the sheddy Pug stays in the kitchen at night (he snores too loud to come upstairs)...I'm surprised our fridge hasn't died yet.

Air conditioner:  My husband's grandfather occasionally checks our A/C since he used to work in that field.  I should pay attention to what he's checking...

Vacuum:  We change the bags pretty often but I hadn't thought of the filter for a while.  I know we changed it about two years ago, but since we got wood laminate floors downstairs, we barely use the thing.  Yes, I know I only said "downstairs", but just don't go upstairs, okay?

Ceiling fan:  I only dust the blades every year or so, but none of our fans are wobbly.

Stove and oven:  We have an electric oven/stove combo and our housekeeper cleans the outside every two weeks.  I don't see any problems on the inside...

How do you add up?  Anybody have any ideas on motivating me to take care of the things on the list that I obviously need to get to?  I hope that by the time this post pops up in 3 weeks that I have some better news about the refrigerator at least...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cost of the First Year of Home Ownership

Amanda at Frugal Confessions mentioned her costs of the first year of home ownership in this post and my reply made me realize how lucky my husband and I really got.

Apparently, the average first year spending on a house built after 2004 is $12,332.  I could totally see that based on what our house contained in that first year, but most of what we had were hand-me-downs, gifts, or things we brought from our apartment.
Thanks to all of that and patience (it's still patience, even if it because you feel broke...), we only spent a total of $735 on our house in that first year.
We bought:
  • Garage Door Opener and Installation - $225
  • Lightbulbs - $50
  • Ceiling Fans - $175
  • New locks - $60
  • Miscellaneous little stuff like handles for the cabinets and whatnot - $125
  • A/C compressor that busted - $100
We were gifted or given:
  • All appliances were house-warming gifts from my parents (and cost $2300...I was there).
  • Sealy Posturpedic bed for our wedding was a gift from my parents ($700...I was there too).
  • Leather couches are/were hand-me-downs from my parents.
  • Our two recliners are/were hand-me-downs from my husband's grandparents.
  • Kitchen supplies are/were wedding gifts from almost everybody...I love my 4 slice toaster and our primo stainless steal pots set and Chicago Cutlery knives!
  • Patio furniture was a hand-me-down from his grandparents too.
  • Office desk is/was a wedding gift from my aunt, uncle, and cousins.
  • Office chair is/was a hand-me-down from his parents.
  • Office couch is/was a hand-me-down from his grandparents as well.
  • Guest bedroom bed was my husband's college bed that his parents bought from Ikea.
  • Throw rugs were the same ones we had in our apartment.
  • Kitchen table was a hand-me-down from his aunt and uncle.
  • Blinds were a housewarming gift from the in-laws.
We had everything else that we needed and waited a year or two before we added wood laminate flooring ($2200 a year later), paint and new fixtures ($430 a year later), lawn scaping ($150 a year and a half later), and a new Tempurpedic bed and wooden bedroom set ($6000 last year).
Wow...put like this, I really need to thank our family some more!  All of that would have easily have cost us at least an extra $6000 and that is only if I found great deals on the used stuff from Craigslist.  Thanks again to our generous family and friends!

Do you remember how much you spent the first year you owned your home?  Do you know how much you spend each year now?  Do you have any suggestions on how to keep costs down for the current and future-homeowners in our group? 

If I get enough tips together, I'll make it into another post and link to you too...bribery works, right?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Happy Father's Day!

Hope everyone has a terrific day!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Crappy Fedex Experience

I mentioned a while back that Fedex was on my Crappy Company list and that I'd explain why later.  Now that the whole situation is resolved and I'm not as angry as I was before, I thought it would be fun to fill you in.

In early April my in-laws asked if I could find a specific porcelain statue for them on Ebay.  They do not have their own Ebay account and I had done this for them before a few times, so I found the statue they requested and made our bid.  We won the statue and I paid $848 on April 13.

On April 20, we received a Fedex door tag that said that we weren't home and they would try again tomorrow.  I called to explain that we work until 5pm.  The rep said that since it was Fedex Ground, we couldn't schedule a delivery time but we could have the package re-routed.  I agreed and gave them my work address.  After typing all of that into the ticket, the rep paused and then simply said that my address wouldn't work since my name wasn't the one on the package - my husband was the listed recipient.  I asked if I could provide my driver's license to verify the same address, but she said no.  I had to call back with my husband's work address. 

The next day, April 21, we had another door tag on our house.  I called and asked why the package wasn't re-routed to my husband and they said that a signature-required package couldn't be re-routed at all.  I asked why I had spent 45 minutes on the phone the day before if it wasn't possible.  I was then placed on hold.  When the guy finally came back, he apologized that I was misinformed and said they'd stick to their word and re-route the package to my husband.

My husband received the statue the next day, April 22, and dropped it off at his parent's house on his way home.  When his parents opened it, the statue was missing part of its head and hand...they were shattered.  I emailed the Ebay seller and he responded that he'd get the claim number from Fedex since it was insured and I'd need that number to have it shipped back.

I finally received that claim number on April 26 and called Fedex to have the package picked up.  The guy on the other end of the phone walked me through all the info they needed including my in-laws address and then asked me how we were going to pay for the pickup!  I asked why we'd need to pay since the package was insured and they told the seller that they'd pick it up.  He responded that all pickups required payment.  I asked what our free option would be and he gave me an address close to my in-laws home.

On April 27 my in-laws took the package to the address we were given and were told that the Fedex Express office could not take a Fedex Ground package.  My mother in-law asked why the rep gave us this address and she responded that she didn't know.  She then pointed to a phone on the wall and told my MIL to call and ask.  After talking to another guy, my MIL was told that the package would have been picked up for free and asked why we didn't do that!!!  She told them what I was told and they apologized and arranged a pick up time.

The package was finally picked up on April 28 and Fedex still had not refunded the seller's money when I inquired about it on April 29, May 3, and May 4.  Ebay refunded my $848 on May 18 after the seller refused for several weeks - he wanted to wait for his reimbursement even though he still had my cash in his Paypal account.

To summarize, I ordered this stupid statue on April 13 and didn't receive my refund until May 18.  I spent at least 2 hours on the phone with Fedex and another hour on the phone with Ebay.  All of this could have been avoided if Fedex had paid attention to the box that said "This Side Up" or even if they had given a refund faster.  They "misinformed" me about package re-routing policy, the package pickup policy, and even the address for the location they wanted us to go to instead!  I'll never use that Ebay seller again since he took my money hostage, but I also won't be using Fedex voluntarily after all this.  Argh!!!

Have you had any super fun dealings with Fedex?  Would you like to vent too?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Unemployment is Closing the Bank of Mom and Dad

This article, Bank of Mom and Dad Shuts Amid White-Collar Struggle, explains that unemployment is affecting the upper-middle class as well:

Indeed, the bank of Mom and Dad is closing at a time when young people are having trouble borrowing from traditional lenders. Some 22% of young people between the ages of 18 and 34 said they've been turned down for a mortgage, loan or credit card in the past year, according to a February survey from FindLaw.com, a legal marketing and information site. That's double the percentage of any other age group in its survey.

As a result, many young people are now moving home to save on rent. About 21% of young adults say they've either moved in with a friend or relative, or had a friend or relative move in with them because of the economy, according to a study from the Pew Research Center.

...Many parents who were set to retire are now delaying it to compensate for battered retirement accounts, leaving even fewer openings for younger workers to fill. There are an additional 500,000 workers over the age of 65 in the work force now compared with 2007.

In short, unemployment is forcing parents to cut their kids off and push back their own retirement.  Those kids are having to cut expenses to get by without parental financial support.  Although this seems like an obvious result, it is worth repeating as a reminder. 

As I've said before, if you are planning to help your kids, please make sure to cover your own bases first.  I feel much sorrier for the parents that are pushing back their retirement than the young adults being turned down for mortgages and credit cards.

What do you think?  Should retirement be a higher priority than aiding your kids in college?  Are you having similar problems right now...am I misjudging the situation?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Practice Makes Permanent

For the last three months, I haven't been keeping up with our budget every day like usual.  I got enamoured with this blog and started blowing off all the little, detail-oriented tasks I used to do like updating out budget every day or two.  In fact, I've simply been entering all of our numbers at the end of our monthly budgeting cycle and looking at the results.  So far, so good. 

It seems that practice makes permanent.

We used to look at our food budget at least once a week so we'd know if we needed to cut back the following week.  Now it seems we have found our happy spot without needing to keep an eye on it all the time.  We have successfully stayed within our food budget three months in a row without having a "come to Jesus" moment halfway through.  I am so proud.

Even though large, unexpected expenses like vet bills, car problems, and dental work keep popping up, we are doing fine.  Our many excess accounts are taking the slack as expected and we're still staying on track.  I'm hoping that a few unexciting months will help us build up more padding again, but all in all, we're feeling pretty good about our situation.

I think this may be a permanent change to our budgeting habits.  I'll still enter all the numbers once a month.  I'll still make sure we're not going hog wild in any specific area.  I'll also make sure we keep hitting our savings goals without fail.  BUT, we seem to have reached the point that we no longer need constant monitoring in order to pull all of that off.  WOOT!

How are your budgeting situations working out?  Do you have a written budget?  If so, is it updated weekly, monthly, or annually?  If not, what works for you?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Three Levels of Budgeting

These last couple of months have been filled with all sorts of unexpected monetary hurdles, so I thought this would be a good time to bring up the three levels of budgeting we use to keep ourselves on track.  Our monthly, annual, and random expenses are all taken into account on our monthly budget.

Our Monthly Budget

I use three columns of an Excel spreadsheet to list all our budgeted categories, the target amount for each category, and how much we actually spent.  This makes it easy to do spot checks.  It also has helped me to have detailed records of our expenses. 

It's amazing how often I want to know how much we spent on food, vacations, or grad school in any given month.  I used to simply be curious and anal, now I have a blog to think about.  Having those records makes blogging so much more fun for me since I don't have to estimate my numbers.  It's hard to have full disclosure without having the actual data, right?

For non-bloggers, long-term budgeting data is useful in order to see how you are looking overall.  It also can be used to track spending differentiations that may lead to budget changes in the future.

Annual Expenses

Like everyone, we have several annual expenses.  We used to pay for these out of our emergency fund, but it always hurt to watch that fund get hit for easily remembered events like homeowners insurance.  Now we have a spot on our monthly budget for these annual charges. 

It's much less stressful to pay that $800 insurance bill when I can see we have the money waiting in our "Insurance and Tax Account" at ING.  Contributing $67 a month to that account is also much easier than watching our emergency fund take an $800 whack in the face.

Random Expenses

Some things just can't be budgeted for very easily.  You expect to buy new tires every two or three years, but you don't know exactly when.  You know your dog may require money for a big vet bill someday, but how do you know when it will get sick? 

We budget for these items by putting a set amount into extra ING accounts every month.  Spending $500 at Discount Tire can really hurt, but it stings a lot less if you know your "Home and Auto Account" will be able to cover it.

Does your budget take into account all your expenses?  If not, how do you cover annual and random bills?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Do You Hate Performance Reviews?

This article at Yahoo Finance provided by The Wall Street Journal, Yes, Everyone Really Does Hate Performance Reviews, seemed pretty one-sided to me.

The author argues that performance reviews are scheduled one-sided ways to place blame on employees and ignore their input.  That kind of performance review does indeed sound useless and mean.  What about performance reviews that actually review performance and open a line of communication?

Well, the author doesn't think that those kind of reviews exist, so I'm going to have to leave the article behind. 

I personally work for a company that pays way below average and doesn't care about their "human resources" at all.  BUT, they do give annual performance reviews.  Depending on which supervisor an employee has, these are actual reviews that allow us to ask questions and give opinions.

My two direct supervisors are great.  I seem to work in the only department within the company that treats their employees as people.  My annual performance reviews are thorough and allow me to make suggestions and ask questions that I would otherwise put aside.  It's also nice to get a pat on the back from the bosses even though their normal operating procedure is that you are doing well unless told otherwise.  I am the only woman in the department and I also seem to be the only one that thrives on praise.

Plus, our raises are given during performance reviews.  Before this two year salary freeze, I could always depend on a little extra.  Stupid economy...it is an employer's market and they know it.

In short, I am a fan of performance reviews.  Do you like your review at all?  Or do you agree with the original article's author?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

My Personal Goals Update

Jaime at Eventual Millionaire posted her update on the goals she made for 2010 in this post.  That reminded me of the goals I made at the beginning of the year.

2010 Goals

1. Eat out no more than 3 times a week.

As I mentioned in our food budget, in 2009, I was eating off of value menus every day for lunch and my husband and I ate fast food or at restaurants 3-5 evenings of the week. Since January 1, 2010, I have successfully started bringing my own lunch (have only eaten out 3 lunches all year) and we eat out about 2 times a week. It’s shaved our food budget from $600 a month to less than $400 a month.

2. Visit my remaining high school friends as I promised.

My two remaining friends from high school live 3 hours and 4 hours away from my home and I had been procrastinating on actually visiting (I dislike driving). My husband and I took off on Easter weekend Friday and visited one of my friends until Saturday and the other all day Sunday. It was great!

3. Lose 20 pounds by our annual vacation.

I am totally failing at this. Our vacation is in about a month and I’m still 30 pounds overweight. I know that I’ve lost a little weight since my pants fit better, but our scale broke, I’ve never replaced it, and I completely blew off any regular exercise routine. I lost interest in that goal and started a blog instead (which I wasn’t even thinking about in January, lol).  I like my choice but hope to add weight loss into my regular routine.

4. Learn a song well enough for karaoke.

I was going to make sure to get one song down well enough that I’d be good at it if I grew a pair and got up to sing on the cruise. I haven’t, although I’m getting to know some Pink songs pretty well. I have another month, so I’ll look into this again tonight…I should be able to learn one great song in a month and half…

5. Max-out two Roth IRA’s instead of just one.

That may not happen since we replaced that goal with “pay off car by the end of the year”. If we really avoid splurging and no big emergencies pop up, we may still be able to fund a 2nd Roth IRA for 2010, but it will probably be between January-April of 2011.

Long-Term Goals

1. Start taking two vacations a year or more to make some extra fun memories as soon as I get 15 days of vacation (2011).

2. Make long-lasting close friends (other than hubby). That sounds silly, but close friends are hard to come by…finding a great friend fit seems way harder than meeting and marrying my husband!

3. Retire by age 52. So far, so good.

What are your goals?  How are they coming?

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Free Renovations Can Go Too Far

How would you like to have your house remodeled for free?  Whoo-hoo, right?  Not so fast...

According to this article, Extreme Makeover renovations were so intense that the homeowner's were left with way larger utility bills and property taxes than they had before.  In one case, it was more than the owner's could handle.  The first "Extreme Foreclosure" of a previously renovated home has prompted the show to scale back.

How do you scale back when you're whole show is based on amazing your viewers?  They have begun renovating "smaller" homes (3000 square feet instead of 5000 plus square feet), installing low flow toilets, leaving out swimming pools some of the time, and landscaping to the home's specific environment.

I think it's awesome that an American TV show all about extravagance has decided that downsizing is "in".  The best part to me is that the show apparently started as an idea of helping "regular" people while entertaining an audience.  It took time and a housing boom to push the renovations into the OMG category. 

Maybe getting back to basics can help the owners of these renovated homes and the TV show too.

Do you watch Extreme Makeover?  Have you noticed a difference?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Letter to Myself 10 Years Down the Road

In March, Ninja at Punch Debt in the Face wrote a letter to himself 10 years later and challenged others to do the same.  I came across one of those letters in late March at Fiscal Geek and another mid-April at 151 Days Off.  The letters were amazing and made me want to participate.  Here's what I'd write to my 37 year old self:

Dear Red,

You've been with hubby for 19 years now...are we happily celebrating our 15th anniversary?  Do you still snuggle in the mornings before work or give each other head massages when you're stressed?  Do you still make each other laugh?  Does he still refuse to let you cook the main meals because he "fears death", oh, and does he still over-compliment your sandwiches in an attempt to get you to make them instead?  Most importantly, are you two still in love? 

If you answered no to any of these, you should work on that.  Laugh more.  Loosen up.  Unless of course he did something supremely crappy.  Then you should...never mind...leave no proof.  :-)

So, did we change our minds on the kid front?  If we didn't, do we have more dogs?  If we did, I hope he or she is healthy and not a pain-in-the-butt like you were.  I would hate for Mom to have been right.  You know any kid you have are going to be a smart-a$$, right?  I wouldn't have it any other way.  Is hubby a great dad?  I bet he surprised himself.

How is our money looking?  Did BFS take off?  Is the house paid off as planned?  Did hubby talk you into trading up yet?  I hope not.  Stick to your guns and keep his mind off it.  You know how...buy him some board games or something.  (Haha, you didn't think that was what I was going to say).

Anyway, are we still on track to retire in 15 more years?  If not, why?  I don't want to work into our 60's, do you?

Are you still a nice person?  Have you made someone random smile today?  I hope we still have a good sense of humor.  I also hope we still help others.  If you haven't volunteered for a while, schedule that for this weekend.  You know you want to and there are a ton of places that appreciate our time.

Okay, please make sure that you make the rest of our life fun.  Love hubby some more, you know he's crazy about you.  Make a silly joke or use that kid voice we always fall into.  If you haven't been silly lately, man up and try it out.  You know we love to laugh.

Red at 27...the one who hopes we had a great 10 years...

That was fun.  Do any of you have any comments or questions for your future selves?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

One Big Glitch

To all of my readers,

As you can see, BFS is now a proud Wordpress site!  There may be a few small bugs to work out, but the only one I know of right now is a biggie.  Due to a recent Blogger bug, only 45 comments made it through the migration.  That means that I can see all of your awesome comments at the old Blogger page, but they all did not make it to the new Wordpress site.  I am so sorry and am also upset since I loved seeing all the comments that peppered my posts!

But, feel free to graze over your favorite posts and leave your musings.  If a fix to the bug comes along in the future, I'll be all over it and rescue all our comments from the Blogger abyss.  I'm also looking into cutting and pasting the comments over one by one, but that may take a while.  Until then, I'll just keep churning out interesting posts and we can build a new history together.

Thanks so much for being a part of my online community!


PS  If you have any other problems, please shoot me an email at budgetingfunstuff *at* gmail *dot* com.  I am striving to make this blog as user friendly as possible.  Thanks!

Yakezie Alexa Ranking Update - 158,000

BFS is a member of the Yakezie Alexa Ranking Challenge!  My ranking last week was 169,795.  Now it is 158,000!  Not bad!

The ultimate goal was to be in the top 200,000 by July 4, 2010 and you helped me blow that out of the water!  Now we're shooting for 100,000 by July 4th instead.  Yep, we're aiming high!

I would like to sincerely thank all of my readers and the members of the Yakezie Challenge.  Obviously, this would be impossible without all of you.  I'll just come out and say it...you all kick butt!!!

In case you didn't know, Alexa traffic rankings are determined by the numbers of hits a site gets by people with the Alexa toolbar.  If you want to be part of this ranking community, you can download the Alexa toolbar here.  I'd truly appreciate it if you haven't already since I'd like all my readers to be taken into account.  :-)

If you are a Yakezie member and don't see yourself on my member list, please send me an email or leave a comment here to be added.  I copied the list originally and forget to update it regularly.  Please help a girl out.  Thanks!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Weekly Favorites and Gratitude!

My Favorite Posts this Week
Blog Carnivals that Included BFS
Thanks! I appreciate all the time you spent on this process.  It's a great feeling to be chosen!

Carnival hosts, if BFS is in a blog carnival that you are running, please email me the link so it can be added to this weekly list. Thanks!

Guest Posts on BFS
Thanks for the great post and for giving me a day off!

If you would like to submit a guest post to BFS, please shoot me an idea or the actual post.  I'd also appreciate a one or two sentence introduction for the piece.  I'll get back to you quickly and will give you as much advance notice as possible on its posting date.

Other Info

Feel free to email me if you have any suggestions.  I'd love to add a few more blogs to my regular reading list or at least give a shout-out for great posts or contests.

As always, thanks to all the bloggers that teach me something new every day.  Thanks to all my commenters for making this blog the community I want it to be.  Thanks to all my lurkers too.  I hope everybody is enjoying this as much as I am!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Fit in a Fun Friday - Volunteering

Volunteering is a lot of fun usually.  What other job can you think of that lets you pick exactly what you want to do and appreciates the simple fact that you showed up and helped out?  This is why I plan to spend a large part of my retirement on volunteering with animals and the elderly.  The animals are really cute and I could not think of a worse fate than being lonely in my golden years. 

Here's my volunteering history up to this point:

I started volunteering in 5th grade on a regular basis.  Back then I cleaned up Galveston beaches and the roads near my neighborhood.  In 6th grade I volunteered at the city library and had a great time.  In 7th grade I played card games and dominoes with the residents of the local senior citizen's home and should have stayed longer.  In 8th grade I stupidly picked to help out with the county's historical museum (can anybody say "use that kid for filing"...sheesh).  I really enjoyed helping out, but then we moved to Holland in 9th grade and I shut down.

Depression is a weird thing.  I knew I didn't feel right, but I didn't really want to feel better either.  I just wanted to sleep and listen to music and ignore everything around me.  It took me a couple of months to peek out from my room and try to enjoy Europe while we were there.  Within 7 months we were packing again and moved to Argentina for 2 1/2 years.

After a year or so, I befriended my little sister's English teacher who ran her own English learning center.  I started volunteering as an English instructor for 6 and 7 year-olds until we moved back home.  You never respect teachers more than when you decide to teach a second language to kids that barely just learned their first one!  I also realized that I was a lot less moody when I was involved with others.

After we got back to Texas, I once again fell off the volunteering wagon and went to college for 4 years.  I had 2 or 3 part-time jobs the whole time so I just couldn't bring myself to find enough time to fit in helping others long-term.  I volunteered for a few clean ups and that was about it. 

Then I was a graduate and started my first full-time job.  All of the sudden, I had extra time again.  I discovered the Houston SPCA and started volunteering in the big dog section...they seemed the most lonely since puppies get all the attention.  I never told my husband, but we came very close to owning about 20 dogs that first month...including a 120 pound Mastiff "puppy" that just might have fit in our 550 square foot apartment...

We lived close so I could work 20-25 hours a week pretty easily for that 6 months, but then we moved 45 minutes away to our new house.  Now I only help answer phones for their telethons. 

Since I still wanted to help and we were looking for a second dog, I became a foster parent for Pughearts: Houston Pug Rescue.  For another 6 months I fostered and helped find a home for 10 Pugs and adopted our own Pug early on.  When my husband started graduate school, we took a fostering break, but I hope to restart this fall.  It helps that my allergy-ridden Pug feels better and probably wouldn't mind some company at this point since our Dachshund-mutt actively ignores him whenever possible.  :-)

In short, volunteering is a necessary part of my life.  I feel blah whenever too much time passes...it's like a mild addiction.  My plans for the future are to get involved with Meals on Wheels since I do miss spending time with the elderly.  Those guys have the best stories and sincerely appreciate a good conversation.  I never made anybody happier than when I gave a 95 year old woman the first manicure she had been given in almost 25 years.

Do you have any volunteer stories to share?  What organizations tug at your heart strings?  If you haven't volunteered, I'd suggest trying it at least once...the people or animals or whatever that you help are not the only ones that feel better.  :-)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Bankruptcy When It's Your Own Fault

Yep, today I'm probably going to tick some people off, but this topic keeps coming up and you should know where I stand. I am truly against filing bankruptcy for debts that somebody accumulated by living beyond their means.

If I create a debt, I feel obligated to pay it back. It might sound cliche, but my husband and I see it as a matter of “honor”…we created the debt, so we need to pay it back.  Coming to a payoff agreement is a mutual decision between the creditor and the buyer, so I’m cool with that. Simply declaring bankruptcy and never paying back what you owe seems wrong. Yeah, you get years of bad credit, but that’s not payment…that’s a consequence of not keeping your word.

I cringe at tv ads and online suggestions that explain to people how to get out of their financial obligations. I know people that work their debts off and wish others would do the same.

When I post about debt, it’s about how to save to get rid of it, not how to declare bankruptcy to make it go away.  I understand life can serve up crappy scenarios like medical problems, job loss, death, etc, but I also know that you should have emergency funds and enough insurance coverage to be able to handle financial emergencies that may pop up along the way. Being prepared for bumps in the road is just as necessary as paying your monthly bills.

So, there you go.  That's my spiel.

Where do you stand?  Does bankruptcy seem like a justified way out?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Happiness - The Last Week of the BFS Way to Diagnose Your Financial Health Series

I've been using Wednesdays to go further in depth on each point of diagnosing your financial health since I truly believe that solid finances leads to less stress and happier lives.  Today is the last post of this series.

I have already covered the first seven points - Spend Less Than You Earn, start an Emergency Fund, review Retirement Savings, evaluate Debt, Diversify your investments, have enough Insurance, and creating an Estate Plan.  The last point is to ask yourself if you are happy.

Honestly, all the financial health in the world wouldn't be worth anything if you aren't happy.

If you aren't happy, I'd highly suggest actually figuring out why.  If there are actual reasons that can be worked on, hop on it.  It might be hard, but trust me, it will be worth it.  My husband is currently busting his hump to secure a happier career.  This means that he is teaching 8th grade science, taking 9 hours of grad school, and looking for a new job all at the same time.  Being happy sometimes takes that kind of work.

If you can't pinpoint the problems by yourself, open up your wallet enough to afford some professional help.  I have several friends and family members that were actually putting off therapy due to cost.  They feel different about it now since money is pretty useless if you can't be content.  Therapy does work.  All four of the people I know feel better now than they have in years.  Mostly, I think talking helps and some people need a stranger in order to open up.  It also helps when that stranger has the experience to help.

If you are interested in reviewing all the areas of your financial health, please check out the BFS Way to Diagnose Your Financial Health where you can find links to each point covered in detail.

Once again I ask, are you happy?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

BFS is Being Renovated This Weekend!

Hey everybody, I've got exciting news!  Budgeting in the Fun Stuff is migrating from Blogger to Wordpress this Saturday, June 5!!!

Don't worry, http://www.budgetinginthefunstuff.com/ will still be the URL and it's still all me, lol.  But, it will look really different and should be much more user friendly.  Wordpress makes commenting easier and is less glitchy in general.  I really hope this change makes it easier for you to enjoy BFS!

I have tried to work out any issues I can find using a dummy site, but if you have any comments, suggestions, questions, or complaints about the new site (or anything else), please email me at budgetingfunstuff *at* gmail *dot* com anytime. 

I truly appreciate all of you and hope you really enjoy the new and improved BFS starting this Saturday!

May 2010 Net Worth

For anyone new to BFS, I post a net worth update at the beginning of every month in order to keep myself motivated and to involve BFS readers.  Please feel free to ask questions, make suggestions, or even post your net worths too.  I am a particpant-motivated blogger, so please jump on in.

I calculate our net worth as listed below.  I don't include the value of our possessions, I round down to the nearest hundred for assets, and I round up to the nearest hundred for liabilities.  I also don't include my husband's pension account since I'm too lazy to keep up with it and it shouldn't actually matter until he retires.

1. Cash - $20,800 (we had vet bills, bought $5000 of stock, and paid for most of a cruise for next month)
2. Stocks - $16,200
3. Retirement - $33,600 ($2400 loss, ouch)
4. Home - $130,000
5. Cars - $16,000

1. Home - $72,200
2. Car - $8,900  (We made an extra $650 principal payment in mid-May and are waiting for our regular payment to clear)

Total Net Worth = $135,500
Increase/Decrease = Down $1700 from last month  :-(

It sucks to go down, but that's not as bad as it could have been.  We lost $2400 in the retirement accounts alone not to mention the money we had put in this month, paid $300-$400 in vet bills, and paid $1550 towards our upcoming cruise.  We cut back on our food expenses and other fun expenses a bit so that our net worth wouldn't completely crash.  I'm also going to warn you that next month's "Cash" is going to plummet...we have upcoming dental expenses and we're probably going to conglomerate a few accounts to pay off our car.

I base the value of our home on two things: comparables selling in our neighborhood and the estimated appraisal by Chase Home Value Estimator.  I will always estimate low.

I base the value of our cars on Kelley Blue Book's Private Party Value of our vehicles in "Good" condition truncated down to the nearest $1000.  For example, if my car is valued at $4600, I'd calculate that as $4000.

Please feel free to visit the archive to see our past net worths.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Top Tips For Reducing Your Credit Card Debt

The following is a guest post by John, who works in financial management specializing in credit cards for bad credit.  He’s a keen blogger and has written several pieces on how to improve credit rating.

Millions of people in the UK use one or more credit cards and they’re an extremely popular form of payment throughout the rest of the World.

It’s easy to see why too; credit cards are an extremely convenient and easy method of payment. They can be used to purchase good or services either in stores or over the Internet, withdraw cash from bank machines, and can even be used as an easy form of identification. With added competition for credit cards, a myriad of incentives, loyalty schemes, and reward schemes are available with most credit cards, with the majority of them also offering insurance covering your purchases.

But whilst credit cards are handled well by some (usually using them in emergencies or utilizing the tips outlined below), they represent a dangerous way into financial difficulties as a worrying amount of people slip into unmanageable credit card debt.

This article is a guide looking at some of the steps you can take to manage and reduce your credit card debt, whilst improving your credit ratings at the same time. You will need patience and a lot of organization but it is more than possible for anyone to control their credit card debts.

Keep Up With Your Payments

The first point I want to make it that you should always try keep up your scheduled credit card repayments. If you can keep up your repayments on a regular basis you’ll be taking a huge step to improving your credit rating.

Make sure you’re aware of how long your payment will take to clear; cheque payments and some bank transfers will take a few days to clear, you need to take this into account in order to have your payments considered ‘on time’ by the credit card companies.

Should you miss your repayment date, you’ll be charged a penalty fee (which varies depending on the company), which will simultaneously make your financial management more difficult and lower your credit rating.

Pay More Than the Minimum

Secondly, do your best to pay more than the minimum amount required each month. You don’t need to be drastic, but making sure your payment exceeds the minimum required will mean you pay less in the long term (due to interest), get into a good financial management habit and improve your credit score.

Don't Exceed Your Limit

The next point is probably the most important for effectively managing your credit card debts; don’t EVER exceed the fixed credit limit dictated by the credit card company. It will create a bad financial habit and will add to a mounting debt that has the potential to spiral into serious financial difficulties.

Should you exceed your credit limit, you’ll be charged a penalty fee that will increase both your minimum repayment for the next month and the amount you have to pay in interest. Consistently going over your credit limit will result in a lowered credit rating, which can often be hard to recover from.

It might be a wise step to figure out what would be a sensible credit limit for you, then contacting the credit card company and requesting that they lower your credit limit. This is particularly advisable if they suddenly increase your credit limit, as this creates a heavy temptation to overspend.


The last tip is an important, albeit fairly general one. You need to get used to properly managing your monthly budget. Keep a proper track of what you spend, noting down exactly what you spent it on. You might well be surprised at what you’re spending your money on every month and if you can get a strong idea of your spending habits, you’ll have a far better chance of cutting down your monthly outgoings.

I’ll give you a fairly simple example, last month I saw I was buying a bottle of water every day on the way to work at 69p per bottle. This worked out to an average of £13.80 for 20 bottles. A quick trip to a local supermarket and I found 8 bottles of Evian mineral water on a ‘buy one get one free’ offer, priced at £1.91. I bought two 8 packs which gave me 32 bottles of water (enough for one every day of the month, plus a couple left over), for £3.82, giving me an overall monthly saving of £9.98.

As I said, it’s a fairly simple example but it shows you how you can cut down your monthly spend with a little forethought and organization, and those savings really add up in the long run.

Happy Memorial Day!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Yakezie Alexa Ranking Update - 169,795

BFS is a member of the Yakezie Alexa Ranking Challenge!  My ranking last week was 206,145.  Now it is 169,795!  WOOT!!!  WHOO-HOO!!!  We did it!

The ultimate goal was to be in the top 200,000 by July 4, 2010.  YIPPEE!!!  BYE-BYE 200,000!!!

Now that we've blown that goal out of the water, I'm going to set the bar higher.  Could you all help me reach 100,000 by July 4?  It will truly be amazing if that happened since I seem to be finding my happy area now, but as most of you would say, you might as well aim high!

I would like to sincerely thank all of my readers and the members of the Yakezie Challenge.  Obviously, this would be impossible without all of you.  I'll just come out and say it...you all kick butt!!!

In case you didn't know, Alexa traffic rankings are determined by the numbers of hits a site gets by people with the Alexa toolbar.  If you want to be part of this ranking community, you can download the Alexa toolbar here.  I'd truly appreciate it if you haven't already since I'd like all my readers to be taken into account.  :-)

If you are a Yakezie member and don't see yourself on my member list, please send me an email or leave a comment here to be added.  I copied the list originally and forget to update it regularly.  Please help a girl out.  Thanks!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Weekly Favorites and Gratitude!

My Weekly Favorites
Blog Carnivals that Featured BFS
Carnival hosts, thank you so much for the time you took to host!  Being chosen feels great!

If BFS is in a blog carnival that you are running, please email me the link so it can be added to this weekly list.  Thanks!

Other Info
  • Brad at Enemy of Debt is hosting a fund-raiser for Big Brothers Big Sisters.  He's selling the "I'm Debt Free" game and giving 100% of his commission until August 7th to Big Brothers Big Sisters!
  • Sweating the Big Stuff is having a Giveaway of three pf books based on his NEW Facebook Page.
Guest Posts on BFS

No guest posts this week, but if you would like to submit a guest post to BFS, please shoot me an idea or the actual post. I'd also appreciate a one or two sentence introduction for the piece. I'll get back to you quickly and will give you as much advance notice as possible on its posting date.

Feel free to email me if you have any suggestions.  I'd love to add a few more blogs to my regular reading list or at least give a shout-out for great posts or contests.

As always, thanks to all the bloggers that teach me something new every day.  Thanks to all my commenters for making this blog the community I want it to be.  Thanks to all my lurkers too.  I hope everybody is enjoying this as much as I am!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fit in a Fun Friday - Bowling

My company just had its annual bowling tournament a few weeks ago.  My husband and I lost as usual, but we do have fun.  Bowling is just a mellow game.  How can you not enjoy good burgers and taking your frustrations out on a bunch of pins?

Until the non-smoking laws were passed a couple of years ago, my asthma caused us to avoid bowling alleys most of the time except for non-smoking bowling leagues.  Hubby even bought me a personalized cherry-scented bowling ball for a Valentine's Day a few years ago.  It's red and black, has my name on it, and still has a scent.  :-)

Now we can go bowling whenever and even take advantage of Friday and Saturday night specials.  We don't actually bowl very often due to our other hobbies like Curling and blogging, but we are hoping to join a league again next year.

As far as affordability, bowling seems to be about the same price as a dinner-and-a-movie night.  If you take advantage of specials in your area and skip the snack bar, it can be pretty inexpensive.  Sadly, hubby and I are addicted to bowling alley burgers.  We do shell out between $10-$15 a night at the snack bar alone. 

When we are in a league, it's usually $10 or $15 a person and we are able to earn back some of that ($20-$50 a person) through our team's overall scores.  Not too shabby.  :-)

How long has it been since you've been bowling?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

7 Rules to Succeed in Your Career

An article at Yahoo Finance, 7 New Rules For Getting Ahead, listed the following rules to keep in mind to stay ahead of the game in today's world:

Rule 1. You don't deserve a job.
Rule 2. You don't know enough.
Rule 3. Less stuff equals more freedom.
Rule 4. Prepare for many turns.
Rule 5. Entrepreneurs have an advantage.
Rule 6. Don't get addicted to your paycheck.
Rule 7. Loving what you do pays off.

Here my take on these:

Rule 1 - This hasn't seemed to change.  The best and brightest overachievers always get hired first...who would want to hire the underachievers first?

Rule 2 - Keeping yourself educated is so important since technology is changing things every day.

Rule 3 - The more stuff you own, the more maintenance requirements you take on.  Although I'm not an avid minimalist, it is just common sense that you will bogged down less if you own less stuff.

Rule 4 - Hardly anyone stays in the same job for their whole working life anymore.  Sometimes that is by choice and sometimes it's not.  Being prepared and staying qualified is essential for career survival.

Rule 5 - The article stated that entrepreneurs not only have the classic advantages of being their own boss, but even have the creative advantage of the entrepreneurial mindset when working for someone else.  I think this boils down to saying that creative thinking is appreciated no matter what your situation.

Rule 6 - This is the rule that trips me up.  It's hard not to "settle" for a paycheck.  As the article suggests, living below your means will give you the flexibility to take chances to better your working life.

Rule 7 - Obviously, finding a job you enjoy can be the difference between night and day.  As I've heard a hundred times before, it's not work if you enjoy it.  This is another rule that I break since I have settled into a position that isn't my passion.  Based on the millions of job reviews you can find online, it seems that this rule is the hardest to follow for quite a few people like me.

What rules above do you follow?  Which ones do you disagree with?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Estate Planning

I covered the main ways of diagnosing your financial health in this past post.  I've been using Wednesdays to go further in depth on each point since I truly believe that financial health leads to less stress and happier lives.

I have already covered the first six points - Spend Less Than You Earn, start an Emergency Fund, review Retirement Savings, evaluate Debt, Diversify your investments, and have enough Insurance.  The seventh point is to make sure you have an estate plan in place.

When you are looking to start an estate plan, you first need to answer these questions:

1.  What assets do I have and what are they worth?
2.  Who should receive those assets?
3.  Who should manage those assets if I can't?
4.  Who can take care of the kids?
5.  Who should make decisions on my behalf if I can't?
6.  How do I want my remains handled?

When you know the answers to those questions, you can successfully make a will, a power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney.  Most people seem to recommend consulting an estate lawyer to get the documentation completed and notarized.

During this process, I'd also get together all the official papers in one place.  Your remaining family will appreciate being able to easily find account numbers, insurance policies, and other emergency information.

In my marriage, I handle most of the day-to-day finances.  I know the account numbers and where the life insurance policies are.  I know the passwords and which bills need to be paid and when.  I also know where all the money is and how we like to move it around.  My husband and I have not had the official paperwork done yet, but I do have an "Emergency Pack" together that will hopefully never be needed.  But, if I die first, my husband will at least have access to all our accounts.

Do you have an estate plan in place already?  How about an emergency pack?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We Have Updated Our Monthly Budget

Since hubby's last grad school payment is ready to go and I severely overestimated our property taxes for 2009, we needed to revamp our monthly budget.  We want to pay off our car loan ASAP, so this is our new budget until December 2010:
  • Mortgage - $900.00
  • Car Debt - $650.00
  • Roth IRA - $300.00
  • Opportunity Fund - $120.00
  • Car Payment - $330.00
  • Car Insurance - $115.00
  • Gasoline - $200.00
  • Electricity - $200.00
  • Water - $30.00
  • AT&T U-Verse & DSL- $100.00
  • Sprint - $85.00
  • Groceries - $300.00
  • Fast Food / Restaurants - $200.00
  • Medical - $100.00
  • Misc. Bills - $100.00
  • Joint Entertainment - $100.00
  • Hubby's Fun Money - $125.00
  • My Fun Money - $125.00
  • Housekeeper - $100.00
  • Lawn Services - $50.00
  • Netflix - $20.00
  • Pet Account - $100.00
  • Car and Home Account - $200.00
  • Vacation Accountt - $250.00
  • Property Tax & Insurance Account - $0.00
  • Emergency Fund (currently has $10,000) - $0.00
  • Cash - $200.00
  • Total = $5000
That comes to $60,000 a year and we make $78,000 jointly.  Taxes, the pension, the 401k, and our benefits account for the other $18,000.

Unplanned expenses are taken from the appropriate target accounts.  Extra money from our hobby jobs is either put towards debt or split between the Emergency Fund (50%), the Vacation Account (25%), and our two individual Fun Money Accounts (12.5% each). 

As always, I am still donating my time and both of us donate our own fun money to the charities we love to support.

That's it - our new budget for quick car loan annihilation!

What do you think?  How has your budget been faring?

Monday, May 24, 2010

Financial Confession

I’ve been keeping something from you. I was either not going to tell you at all or wait until it is a non-issue, but why have a personal finance blog and not be completely honest about personal finance, right?

We spent $6000 in April 2009 on a really nice bedroom set of furniture and a Tempurpedic mattress. I’ve mentioned this before, but I did not mention that we financed the whole thing for 15 months at 0% interest.

Normally, that would not matter to me since we would already have had the cash, put it aside, and made interest off of it for 14 months before paying the bill in full. BUT we didn’t have the cash except for in our emergency fund, so we’ve been putting $350 a month aside while paying $50 a month to the bill. The bill is due in August and the money is ready to go for July, but it’s been slightly nerve-wracking knowing I owe big money for something I’ve been sleeping on for more than a year.

I knew we would never have to pay any interest since our emergency fund would have had us covered, but I still feel a bit sheepish about the whole thing. If I had lost my job or if hubby had become disabled, we would have been in trouble. We wouldn’t have needed to do anything drastic, but it would have been severely uncomfortable.

The upside to this confession is that I can now tell you that as of next month, that $350 a month is open to play with. Our tax account for the year is also polished off since I highly overestimated our property taxes last year, so that’s an extra $400 a month till the end of the year as well. Hubby’s final $2000 grad school payment is also ready to go, so we no longer need to funnel that $625 a month into a grad school account.

In short, an extra $1375 a month has opened itself up from now until December, so it looks like our $9500 car loan will definitely be paid off by the end of this year. We will also be able to open a second 2010 Roth IRA, but it will be funded from November 2010 to March 2011. After that, we are discussing what to do with the extra. We will continue to fund a second Roth IRA, but that will still leave us about $1000 extra a month to put towards the house or the emergency fund or whatever.

Let’s just say that I’m pretty happy and you may want to be in the room towards the end of November when we make that final Prius payment. :-)

What do you think? Were we nuts for taking on such a huge payment plan for bedroom furniture and a mattress? Should we be doing something different with the excess cash we have now?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Yakezie Alexa Ranking Update - 206,145

BFS is a member of the Yakezie Alexa Ranking Challenge!  My ranking last week was 245,385.  Now it is 206,145!  We are so close!

The ultimate goal is to be in the top 200,000 by July 4, 2010.  I'm giving weekly rank updates in order to track our progress.  Not too shabby for a blog that started at 8,531,858 when it joined the challenge in March 2010!

I would like to sincerely thank all of my readers and the members of the Yakezie Challenge.  Obviously, this would be impossible without all of you.

In case you didn't know, Alexa traffic rankings are determined by the numbers of hits a site gets by people with the Alexa toolbar.  If you want to be part of this ranking community, you can download the Alexa toolbar here.

If you are a Yakezie member and don't see yourself on my member list, please send me an email or leave a comment here to be added, thanks!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Weekly Favorites and Gratitude!

My Weekly Favorites
Guest Posts on BFS

Guest posts introduce different points of view, bring in additonal readers, and allow me to take a day off.  Thank you!

If you would like to submit a guest post to BFS, please shoot me an idea or the actual post.  I'd also appreciate a one or two sentence introduction for the piece.  I'll get back to you quickly and will give you as much advance notice as possible on its posting date.

Blog Carnivals that Featured BFS
Carnival hosts, thank you so much for the time you took to host!  Being chosen feels great!

If BFS is in a blog carnival that you are running, please email me the link so it can be added to this weekly list.  Thanks!

Other Info

Feel free to email me if you have any suggestions.  I'd love to add a few more blogs to my regular reading list or at least give a shout-out for great posts or contests.

As always, thanks to all the bloggers that teach me something new every day.  Thanks to all my commenters for making this blog the community I want it to be.  Thanks to all my lurkers too.  I hope everybody is enjoying this as much as I am!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fit in a Fun Friday - Gardening

Okay, I'll admit it right now, I have a black thumb.  I am a plant killer.  Yet, even I have been drawn in by the lure of color.

Gardening may or may not be your cup of tea, but the results are usually worth it.  When we bought our home, it had grass in the front yard and a grass/weed mixture in the back.  I thought this would be fine to me since I don't spend much time outside of my own home, but two years ago, HGTV did me in. 

Just a few episodes of Designed to Sell convinced me that I needed some color and I needed it NOW!  In my tv show fervor, I seemed to forget that September in Houston is usually the end of planting season and that I can't keep plants alive even if my life (or wallet) depended on it.  That started the saga of digging up areas for flower beds and hunting down plants that could survive an owner like me.

After several failed attempts that month, I was finally able to get a surviving group of plants out front.  One Double Knock-Out rose bush got an area to itself.  Miniature Monkey Grass and Sun Proof Lily-Turf shared the walkway bed with two Caladiums.  A green shrub of some sort finally got the area next to the garage to itself since no other plants seemed to be able to survive.  I also bought a Red Dynamite Crepe Myrtle for the center of the yard to add the biggest splash of red possible.

The joke was on me.  That Crepe Myrtle hasn't bloomed since it was planted 2 years ago.  It gets taller and it gets greener, but I swear it's laughing at me.  So is the green anonymous shrub...it is almost exactly the same size as 2 years ago - it looks healthy but it refuses to grow.  The Monkey Grass and Sun Proof Lily-Turf also look exactly the same but have killed one of the Caladiums, so the walkway no longer seems symmetrical to me.

In fact, only my rose bush seems to love me...she's the prettiest rose bush ever and blooms 9-10 months of the year.  She grew triple her starting size in one year alone.  I think all the other darn plants know that she's my favorite and are sticking it to me...

Anyway, as you can tell from the before and after pics below, my front yard is at least more interesting than before.  All the plants I have now seem healthy, and I refuse to replace anything that survives through a year with me (just ask my hubby, lol).

Do you have a garden?  If so, are you more into flowers or vegetables or herbs?  Do any of your plants hate you too?



Anonymous Shrub and Accidentally Planted Mother's Day Roses

Monkey Grass and Sun Proof Lily-Turf with Remaining Caladium

Rosie the Rose Bush in Bloom Last Year
(She Was Just Pruned in the Overall Pic Above)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

8 Money-Saving Credit Card Hacks

The following guest post was written by Alban, who is a regular writer at Credit Card Finder.

Oftentimes the best credit card hacks are hidden to us because we didn't even know they existed. While some of these perks are clearly stated in the small print of your credit card agreement, a lot of these are only available to those who dare to ask.

1. Can't pay your bill this month? Delay it:
If you have a good existing credit rating with your lender and suddenly find yourself in a situation that won't allow you to pay off your credit card this month, call your lender at once and explain the situation. Then ask for an extension of another 30 days to pay the bill. Chances are that if you have a good standing with your lender, they will agree and give you some slack.

2. Need more credit? Increase your limit:
If you have an upcoming holiday where money and plenty of funds are essential, then why not ask for a credit limit increase. A great sneaky tactic to get your increase approved fast is if you plan on making a larger purchase like buying a TV or renovating your home.

3. Bargain for a lower interest rate:
The easiest way to do this is by telling your lender you're considering a better offer from the competition. Be friendly and not accusing while bargaining. It will get you much further.

4. Paid late? Waive the fee:
Sometimes circumstances are out of your hands. You might lose Internet connection while paying your bill online and suddenly find yourself in a situation where you get charged a late fee because the bill wasn't paid on time. In those moments, you might be able to request a fee being removed from your account because it wasn't your fault.

5. Merchant surcharges removal:
This is more interesting for US consumers as some states prohibit the addition of credit card surcharges. In Australia, this is perfectly legal if the merchant is within reason, e.g. to cover excess costs.

6. Warranty matters:
When you pay for large purchases with your credit card, the lender might match your warranty. This saves you from having to pay for extended warranty periods. Check with your lender to be sure.

7. Consider renting a car?
You might be eligible for free rental car insurance: It is worth checking this with your card provider because you can easily save a few hundred dollars in the process of hiring a car for a longer holiday.

8. Are you missing out on freebies?
You might qualify for free hotel accommodation, free upgrades and the likes with your credit card's rewards program. It pays to check because some of these freebies are worth hundreds of dollars. Join Perkler to search for your loyalty program and find out all the perks and discounts you are eligible for.

Crystal's Note:  I like the fact that my Discover has the optional perk of paying $69.95 for any road side assistance.  I haven't used it, but I like to know I have a backup option.

Do you know of any other credit card hacks? 

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Insurance Coverage

I covered the main ways of diagnosing your financial health in this past post.  I've been using Wednesdays to go further in depth on each point since I truly believe that financial health leads to less stress and happier lives.

I have already covered the first five points - Spend Less Than You Earn, start an Emergency Fund, review Retirement Savings, evaluate Debt, and Diversify your investments.  The sixth point is to make sure you are insured correctly.  This means having the right amount of health insurance, car insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, and homeowner's insurance.

Health Insurance

Health insurance is vital for good financial health since health problems can cost so much.  I'd suggest having a policy that at least covers the basic doctor visits and emergency situations.  I'd also pick a deductible that wouldn't eat my whole emergency fund.

I have the standard plan offered by my company for free.  My copay is $25 a visit.  I pay $10 for generic prescriptions and $30 for preferred medicines.  If I need more than 3 months, I have to order it from Medco in 3 month supplies for 2 1/2 times the regular charge.  Wellness visits like annual women's exams are 100% covered.  My annual deductible is $600 in-network and $1500 out-of-network.  I haven't needed major medical attention yet, so all I've dealt with is doctor's visits and Medco.

I also get free vision and dental insurance.  My annual eye doctor visits cost $20, I can get basic new lenses for free every year, and I get $150 or less frames for free every 2 years.  That's all I've taken advantage of.  Contacts would be covered too, but I can't imagine putting those in every day. 

My bi-annual preventative dental visits are free.  If I need any work, I pay 20% for basics and 50% for any major work.  So far, I've only used the free preventative visits although I keep getting "suggestions" to get braces.  Yes, I have a little front-teeth overlap.  No, it's not medically relevant.  I don't look freakish, so I don't care.  Braces hurt.  I'm a weenie.  No braces for me.  Can't he just be happy that I don't have cavities and move on?

Car Insurance

Please don't make me explain the importance of car insurance.  In Texas, it's illegal to drive without it.  Collision and comprehensive coverage is optional if you own your car outright and will cover your car in accidents.  Liability covers the people and cars you hurt.  If you don't have any sort of car insurance, please get some.

My husband and I have a joint policy with Geico and pay $110 a month for full coverage on his Prius and liability only for my Aveo.  We have a $500 deductible.  I chose to stop paying for comprehensive and collision coverage for my car since it's only worth about $4000.  If it's wrecked, I'll buy another car using our emergency fund.

That $110 a month amount includes free towing to the closest manufacturer's dealer, which did come in handy for me.  One tow made up for years of the $7 I was paying every 6 months.  It also kept me from stressing out when my car overheated, so I'm a happy customer.

Life Insurance

Life insurance covers your family in situations I rather not think about.  I've heard recommendations ranging from none at all to a few million.  It's a personal choice.  I personally recommend having enough to leave your family with emotional trauma only.  If you have a giant emergency fund, you might not need as much insurance.  If you have a giant mortgage or kids, I'd suggest taking that into account.

We don't have kids and can live on one of our salaries if necessary, so we only have $100,000 life insurance policies right now.  My company gives me a free $37,000 policy and I pay $1.11 every 2 weeks for an additional $60,000 of coverage.

That $100,000 would cover the rest of the mortgage (about $70,000), the car (about $9,000), the cremation and viewing expenses (about $6,000 in our area), and leave $15,000 (6 months of living expenses without a mortgage) to be combined with our emergency fund for whatever time off we'd need to take.

Disability Insurance

Disability insurance covers a part of your salary if you are unable to work.  Mine covers 65% of my salary, but it would be tax free since I pay for it with after-tax money.  Short-term disability will usually cover you in circumstances that last 2 weeks to 6 months.  Long-term disability covers from 6 months until the policy says it ends.  Mine says it will cover me until my "normal retirement age".  I pay about $10.00 every two weeks for both types.

I'd highly suggest disability insurance since I can't think of a worse situation that being disabled and not able to contribute to our joint dreams anymore.  Honestly, if I die, I'll be dead and hope my husband will be okay.  If I'm disabled, I'd wallow and that would only get worse if I was unemployed and broke.

Homeowner's Insurance

Unless you own your home outright, homeowner's insurance is required.  Even when we pay off our home, I'd continue our policy since it helps when really awful things happen to your house.  The trick to picking out the right homeowner's policy seems to be to go with as high of a deductible as you are willing to stomach and enough coverage for major problems.

Our policy is $765 a year in Spring, TX and covers our house up to it's "rebuild" price of $165,000.  We chose a 1% deductible for everything but tropical storm damage, which is at 2%.  It also includes $80,000 of coverage for the items in our home, which is more than enough for us.  We spend another $320 a year on flood insurance from the state since policies in our area never include flood insurance already.

Do you agree with my take above?  Did I leave something out?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

BFS Site Problems - Are You Having Trouble Leaving Comments?

Hi everybody!

I was replying to comments last week and multiple browser windows started opening and wouldn't stop until I shut down my laptop and restarted. This happened two times in 5 days and I just thought it was my old laptop.

Yesterday I received this email from a reader:

"Hey, I just wanted to check if you know whether anyone else is experiencing this when they comment on your blog. The last couple times I've commented on your blog in IE, it goes crazy afterward opening up tabs and I have to do an end task on IE 7 to get it to stop. If I try to comment on my phone instead, sometimes it doesn't work at all."

I left this problem in the Blogger forum and have posted with the Yakezie bloggers as well.  I apologize if this has caused you any problems.

Have you had this problem when commenting on BFS?  Do you happen to be way techier than me and know what's going on?

Too Much Sugar in Our Food

Funny about Money brought up a good point in Gimme That Ole-time Real Food…, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sugar seem to be added to everything to make it more addictive.  I didn't even know that Hellmann's sixth ingredient is sugar.

As a true carb addict, I never thought I'd write these words, but maybe there is too much sugar in our food.  There really is no reason that HFCS needs to be in as many things as it is.  I even found it as an ingredient in a canned spaghetti sauce we have.  Sugar was listed in our Prego and the Kroger brand, but HFCS was the third ingredient in the canned no-name brand.  Weird.

I'm going to start paying closer attention since there's no reason to make weight loss even harder on myself.  If I can successfully cut out just a quarter to a half of the HFCS I usually consume every day, it would be healthier and will probably make losing weight a little easier.  I'm going to cut myself down to no more than 3 sodas a week and try to pick foods that have short ingredient lists that don't start out with a kind of sugar.

I'm not going to make any promises, but I'll make a valid attempt.  It may take me a while to give up my sugar-addict ways.

Do you already pay attention to the sugar in your food?  If sugar isn't your poison, what is?

Monday, May 17, 2010

Suggested Questions for the Always Broke

Yahoo Finance had the article, 8 Questions for the Constantly Broke, and I thought they were worth rehashing.  Here's their questions and my take on them:

1.  Do I know where my money is going? 

I do believe that the first step of getting finances under control is to keep up with what you are spending your money on.  If you don't know what you are spending on, how can you cut the fat?

2.  Am I focusing too much on the month, instead of the year? 

The point of this question in the article was to suggest keeping up with one-time annual expenses as well as normal monthly ones.  That's a great idea.  We started our car and home maintenance fund after being "surprised" by our homeowner's insurance the year after we bought our house.  We haven't ignored annual expenses since then.

3.  Do I do something everyday that wastes money? 

Daily habits like soda, lunches out, beer, smoking, etc can all kill a budget.  My hubby cut back on soda when he realized how much money and calories were being wasted.  I started saving a ton of money for us by starting to bring my lunch to work this year.  I'm so proud that I've only eaten out three times for lunch in 2010.

4.  Do I know my own weakness? 

For us, this falls into the same category as daily habits.  My weakness was eating out and I still have a slight addiction to Shirt Woot.  My husband's weakness is hobbies...we started fun money accounts so we could see exactly how much hobby spending was costing.  Now he balances his hobbies with a set amount of money so our monthly budget isn't messed up.

5.  Am I saving too much? 

The point of the article was that if you have high interest debt, you shouldn't be saving more than makes sense - receive the maximum company matching on your 401k, but funnel the rest towards the debt.  I completely agree since high interest debt sucks money out of your wallet faster than a vacuum cleaner.

6.  Is my relationship hurting my bank account? 

I know that love isn't controllable, but I do think you can choose some habits to be attracted to.  My husband and I both agree that part of our attraction was the fact we had similar values...one of those is fiscal responsibility.  We just wouldn't be as close if we didn't hold the same goal to save and have a comfortable early retirement.

7.  Are the big items dragging me down? 

The big expenses really do hurt the most.  Even if you cut as many small expenses as possible, that probably wouldn't come close to how much you spend on a mortgage, car, health, debt, and grocery payments.  Our largest budget cut was our food bill this year.  Eating at home more often is actually saving us more than $2400 this year alone since we successfully cut $200 off our monthly food budget.

8.  Am I wasting money by carrying debt? 

As I mentioned above, debt eats money.  The less debt you have, the more money you'll have for things you choose in life.

In short, this article seemed spot on to me.  What do you think?  Would you add anything to this list of questions?