Sunday, January 31, 2016

My 2016 Frugal and Financial Goals: January Update

Insanity Doing The Same Thing Over And Over Again And Expecting Different Results |

Here is the end of January, so I thought I would write an update on my progress as far as my frugal and financial goals for 2016.  I made some progress on several fronts, although not as much as I should have.  Still, progress!

1 - Emergency Fund: I calculated that our barebones expensed would be $2,600 per month if we had to cut back in case of a job loss ($1,225 of it being our mortgage payment.)  We have well over 6 months of living expenses saved up.  I think it's time for us to start looking in putting the extra money in a CD that would earn more than what it's earning sitting in our savings account (i.e. almost nothing!).

2 - Investments:
    1. I got a snapshot of our current investments and their performance by looking at our statement accounts and reporting the information into a Financial Report spreadsheet.
    2. I have started reading "The Bogleheads' Guide to Investing".
    3. I have been reading issues of Kiplinger's magazine and printing articles that help me understand investing better.
    4. I have identified a financial consulting firm that I would like us to interview as potential financial planners for us.  Greg has agreed to meet with them. I need to go over the Financial Report that I completed with him first, though, so we're both on the same page when we meet with them.
    5. I have printed a couple of articles and a brochure from the SEC about the questions to ask when interviewing a financial planner.

3 - Retirement:
  1. Greg's new Roth 401(k) deductions started but I was too late in submitting the new savings rate to the company for it to hit the 1st check and then I had miscalculated the whole thing. We're still on track to save the $18K that we are allowed, but instead of being spread equally across all pay periods, we'll pay a little more per paycheck and will be done one paycheck period early. So the last paycheck of the year will be larger because of that.
  2. Old 401(k): I haven't investigated rolling it over.  However, it is now administered by Vanguard so I think the fees are lower than they were before. I need to see if it's feasible to change the investment elections for it.
  3. IRAs: I haven't done anything about it. I need to complete our tax return first to see if we will qualify for Roth IRAs in 2015 and, if so, get Greg to put the balance of the money still owed to my Spousal Roth IRA to bring it to $5,500 for 2015. If not, Greg needs to move the money back into regular IRAs, and then I need to complete the tax return for the final time.
  4. My old IRAs: I printed an article that suggests doing... something with them and right now I can't remember what it was!  But I haven't done anything about it.  I'm waiting for a financial planner to advise me, if indeed we get one.
  5. Disney Pension: I had already pretty much decided NOT to take the lump sum and I printed an article from Kiplinger this week that had a chart to help me decide and confirmed my decision.  So I will be keeping it as is, but I do need to understand the paperwork that Disney sent me because I'm not sure if I need to make an election or just let it sit as is.

4 - Taxes:
  1. I haven't looked up when stock options will vest in 2016 yet. I need to do that and add the dates to my Google Calendar.
  2. I have been tracking Greg's paychecks in an Excel spreadsheet to make sure that I understand what is happening with all the deductions and also the income reported.
  3. Health FSA: one of our claims for dental work done in December but charged to our FSA Debit Card in January was denied by the FSA Administrator so I had to call them and the rep said he would resubmit it and that close to 100% of all resubmissions were approved. I haven't heard from them.  We haven't had any health expenses in January yet.  I need to stop by the dermatologist's office to ask for a prescription for the CeraVe sunscreen that they recommended and that I bought so I can try to submit the CVS receipts for them for reimbursement.
  4. I haven't looked for an accountant, but some of the financial planners at the firm that I'm interested in are CPAs, so I'm hoping that they would be able to help with that too if we hired them.
  5. I haven't done any additional research into tax credits for our new windows installed in 2015. I had researched them back in early 2015 and hadn't found any, but I should check again.  I'm thinking that the software that I will use to do our taxes will probably prompt me for this anyway.  The $400 Duke Energy rebate would necessitate them coming to do a Home Energy Check, apparently. I need to call them to see if we would still qualify if the windows were already installed (and if the windows we got do qualify, which I think they do).
  6. We have started receiving tax documents. I need to make a chart of what I have gotten and what I still need and then start working on figuring out our tax return.
  7. I need to read the article that I printed from Kiplinger about opening a Health Savings Account on our own since Greg's employer doesn't offer that option.  This is a way to defer taxes on part of your income, apparently.  I don't know anything about it so I need to research this.

5 - Expenses
  1. Large Expenses:
    1. Mortgage: We are continuing to send an extra $925 a month towards our principal and hope to be able to continue so as to pay off our mortgage  in 50 months or so.  We received our escrow analysis and due to it being slightly overfunded, our regular mortgage payment will be reduced by $34.30 starting on 3/1 so I will start sending an additional $35 towards the principal at that time. I put a reminder to set it up on my calendar for next week. I also printed an article from Kiplinger's that explains exactly what to do when you get ready to pay off your mortgage.  We also received our mortgage tax statement that shows our pay-off balance, and it's over $2K more than the balance shown on our monthly statements so if this is maintained over the next 4 years, we would pay off our mortgage in 51 months instead of 50.
    2. Car maintenance:
      1. This month we replaced the tires both on my SUV and on Greg's truck, at great expense (close to $2K! That's insane!) 
      2. I'm tracking the mileage on the family car so I'll know when we reach 60K miles so I can schedule the maintenance.
    3. House maintenance and repairs:
      1. We discovered that when the wind makes the rain fall sideways, water infiltrates the vents above a couple of the windows and causes water leaks into our entry room.  One of the new ceiling tiles now has water stains!  Grr. Greg is planning on building baffles for the vents.  He took the measurements but hasn't started building them yet.
      2. The downstairs toilet flushing mechanism needs to be adjusted or replaced as sometimes the water keeps on running. Just a little but it's a waste of water and money anyway.
      3. I researched several models of refrigerators, both Energy Star and not, in a price range that I would be willing to pay.  Our current refrigerator is a Whirlpool Estate 21.9 cubic foot side by side refrigerator that we got at ApplianceDirect 14 years ago for about $650.  It uses 671 KWh/year.  It has fully adjustable glass shelves.  The ice maker is no longer working. It's not a big deal.  The cheapest Energy Star models that I looked at were double the price and didn't seem to be consuming much less energy. At least, not enough to recoup the price difference in 10 years.   Also, the shelves weren't fully adjustable.  I found a conventional Frigidaire that looks exactly like our current fridge and is priced through 2/2 at $749, although we would have to go pick it up from South Clermont ourselves.  It's a 26 cubit foot model and used about 25 more KWh/year than our current one.  Since ours is working fine (aside from the ice maker), I've decided to not replace it at this time.   I'm very disappointed that Energy Star fridges don't save much more energy than my current model!
  2. Every Day Expenses:
    1. I did buy new scented candles that I didn't strictly need and a raclette set that I had been meaning to purchase before Christmas.  I also bought shirts for Greg, our son, and my daughter.
    2. I bought several items second hand from thrift stores this month: furniture for my middle son, glasses, exercise shorts, and an above-the-range microwave for us.
    3. I updated my credit card chart to track which ones we should use at each type of store, and made wallet-size cheat-sheets for Greg and myself.
    4. I have been keeping track of every single expense that we had both in our checkbook/budget and also in separate spreadsheets where I can track everything by category without the hassle of YNAB.
    5. Utilities:
      1. Water:  I haven't been gardening so no watering has been taking place.  Indoors, I have been reusing the water from boiling eggs, the dehumidifier, and the shower to water plants and flush the toilet. I have also made sure to run the dishwasher when it is completely full, as well as the washing machine.  However, we have several leaks that need to be addressed.
      2. Electricity:  I purchased 40 LED bulbs and 4 LED night lights. Now all our bulbs (except for appliance bulbs) are LED or CFL since I replaced incandescent bulbs (in closets, mainly) with CFLs that I had replaced with LEDs :)  We haven't had to turn the heat on in a couple of days, but we did have the heat on for several days mid-month since it got pretty cold. However, I turned off the heat when the kids were at school and Greg at work.  I used the crockpot and microwave a lot and since I went on a diet I haven't used the oven as much. Also,  I have remembered to bake several pie/loaves at once in order to make better use of the electricity.  I did use the dryer more than in previous months.
    6. Gas for the vehicles: (UPDATED) as of 1/31, we spent $319 for 3 vehicles.  We had only 2 No Drive Days this month  (when none of the cars were used at all) but since my goal is 7 days for the whole year, I think that was pretty good. Greg worked from home a couple of days. I picked up a copy of the bus schedule but since the only time I go into Clermont is when I have the cats to take to the vet's or when I go grocery shopping, taking the bus would be very inconvenient.
    7. Food expenses: I spent about $238 in groceries and my savings rate was a little above 67% , including the gift cards that I used and all rebates.  We did much better, as far as eating out, than last month.  We each took our kids out to lunch to celebrate birthdays and a move, we paid for my daughter to have dinner out with friends one night and Greg bought lunch once because he didn't want to pack a sandwich. So we ordered in on Saturday when Greg wasn't feeling good and I didn't feel like cooking.  We spent about $136.  I put $10 in each of the kids' school lunch accounts, so $20.  So our total food expenses for the month was $393 but my budget was $500.  I earned $75 in Swagbucks gift cards and $100 in American Express Rewards that I redeemed for Walmart, Target and CVS gift cards to purchase groceries.
    8. Entertainment:  I read that Netflix was going to raise their price by $2 to $4 a month starting in March so I figured that I would cancel Netflix and keep Amazon Prime instead.  However, there are a couple of Netflix-exclusive shows that I really like so now I'm rethinking this and might keep both, after all.  I do watch Netflix more than Amazon Instant Video.  Got to be thinking about this some more...  I haven't called Brighthouse to investigate a lower rate for our cable internet access.
    9. Cell phones: I had to add a 1-month international plan for Greg's phone since he's going to spend several days in Canada. Otherwise, there hasn't been any changes.  I don't like paying as much as we're paying but we do have 4 lines on our plan, including 3 smart phones.
    10. Car insurance: I haven't done anything about it yet.  We had to use the Roadside assistance coverage twice this month (once for my flat tire and when my daughter locked the keys in her car).
    11. Education: my daughter and I met with the foundation director and clarified everything about her college scholarship.  She signed up for 2 SAT tests and an ACT test.  She scheduled 2 college visits (I will be taking her to one and her dad to the other). (UPDATED) She will also be competing in this year's Optimists' Club Speech and Essay contests to try and win some scholarships.  As for my youngest son, he and I had a discussion about his future education past high school and are exploring interests and careers at the moment.  Enrollment in the Florida Prepaid plan ends on 2/28 so I need to get my butt in gear if we're going to try to do this. Getting Greg to agree will be the most difficult part.  My middle son is now waiting for me to figure out our tax return so he can fill the FAFSA form and see if he will qualify for student loans.
    12. Pets: I took all 3 cats to the vet's this month (spaying and suture removals and also vaccines for new kitty and weigh-in for the 2 other cats, along with an eye exam for our male cat).  The cost was pretty astronomical!  I contacted the low-cost clinic and found out that they do sell prescription food that is very similar to the brand my cats eat so I will be taking them to that clinic come August when the next check-ups are due.
6 - Health
  1. I started exercising most days on 1/11 and I have lost about 4 lbs.  I haven't been counting calories, though.  My plan in the coming month is to start using MyFitnessPal again.
7 - Found Money Update: In January I "found" the following money:
  1. I ordered $75 in Swagbucks gift cards ($50 at Walmart, $25 at Target)
  2. I ordered $10 in Bing Rewards gift cards (Amazon)
  3. I ordered a $100 CVS gift card from American Express Rewards
  4. I received $14.98 in Discover Rewards on my card and Greg received $8.57 on his.  We will use those on Amazon.
  5. I received $4.00 in Amazon Visa Rewards
  6. We accumulated $4.29 in Mastercard Gas Rewards (which will be issued in March or April)
  7. I received $5.00 in Kohl's Yes2You Rewards
  8. I earned $26.75 in CVS ExtraCare Bucks
  9. I earned $0.99 in Walgreens Register Rewards
  10. I redeemed a Dunkin' Donuts Perk freebie coupon for an extra large coffee
  11. I redeemed RaceTrac survey reward codes for 1 hot dog, 10 Monterey Chicken rolls and a bag of TasteWorks chips
  12. I redeemed a Dunkin' Donuts survey reward code for a free donut
  13. I earned $1.00 in Amazon Digital Credits
  14. I found $21.41 in cash ($9.07 in my purse, $11.62 from the 2015 Change Jar and $0.72 in change that I found in parking lots and our guest room)
  15. I cashed in $137.41 that I had in my Upromise account. My plan is to invest it to try to grow it.


  1. Your money organising is amazing Nathalie. I wish I was as good as you. I can't believe how expensive your tires are, my goodness I'd need a loan to get some tires.

    Well done for having such a large emergency fund. We don't have one at all and its something I would love to have. I stress so much about money. Xx

    1. Thanks Tara. The tires were so expensive because I have a large (very large!) SUV that needs truck tires and those are expensive. I got the 2nd cheapest option although I forgot to shop around. Greg has a large truck and his are even more expensive because, as you might have read, his original tires lasted him 120K miles so he wanted to have the exact same ones and they're pricey. He does a lot of driving throughout the US and with his daughter moving to another state and expecting a baby and an ailing father even further away, he's going to be driving even more in the future. So it's a large investment, one that makes me realize that I was a fool to ever want a large SUV although I won't lie that it hasn't been extremely useful with 6 kids at home, activities, camping, just even lugging things to the dump or furniture from the thrift stores. We never need to rent a truck, lol. But my next vehicle will be much smaller.

      As for the emergency fund, don't forget that we don't have pensions or a social net to speak of over here. Before the recession started, we still had all children at home and Greg's income was smaller. When we saw how poorly the stock market was doing, we stopped saving for retirement at all and just kept all the extra money into savings because at least we weren't LOSING money there (aside from the employer contribution in the 401(k), we should have been smart enough to contribute just enough to get that!). Greg was lucky enough to get some very good bonuses these past couple of years so that increased our savings. I was all set to move everything above the 6 month worth of household expenses back into the stock market but it's doing so so bad right now that I'm thinking we won't do that. It very disheartening to see your accounts lose thousands of dollars. On one account we lost $6,000 in one day a couple of days ago! I haven't even checked back to see if it got better or worse. But yes, I'm glad that we have that emergency fund set aside especially when it would be so hard for Greg to find another job if he lost his, I think. He's a the top of his range and Orlando just isn't a large market for what he does so there are few opportunities. If you add to that that he's an old man in a young man's type of job (computer-related), well, I worry a lot too. The truth is that a few years ago he had recruiters beating on his door but nowadays they're far and few between...

      I'm sorry you worry about money. It's so much harder when you have little kids at home. I'm worried about money too but I have to admit that it's such a relief that we have 4 kids out of the house already. I worry about my 2 older sons making a living and paying their bills but now that they're adults, they're THEIR bills, not mine so the type of worry isn't the same.


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