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Archive for June, 2007

Final Roth contributions for 2007 made!

June 30th, 2007 at 06:55 am

I just wrote the check for the final contribution to my Roth for 2007! I finished funding DW's Roth a few weeks ago. So both now have the full $4,000 for the year. Looking forward to 2008 when the limit goes up to $5,000, meaning between us we get to put away an extra $2,000.

Setting a goal to cut spending $150/month

June 29th, 2007 at 04:36 pm

I posted on the boards yesterday that our escrow statement came and our monthly payment is being increased by $142.

I'm taking that as a new challenge. I want to analyze everything in our financial lives and figure out how we can make up that amount from other places. I'm rounding it off to $150/month that I want to save.

Ideas so far:
Get new auto insurance quotes.
Get new life insurance quotes.
More our brokerage account to ScotTrade (our current broker charges a quarterly account fee).
Work on trimming the grocery bill.
Bake more/buy less desserts.

In addition to saving money, increasing earnings is a tool too. I know we have a couple of small accounts scattered around that I could consolidate to our high-yield money market to boost interest earnings.

I'll update as I find savings in our budget.

Just booked two trips

June 23rd, 2007 at 09:13 am

DW and I are celebrating our 15th anniversary in a few weeks. My mom bought us Broadway show tickets (Avenue Q). Originally, we were only going to go up for the day. Then we decided we'd really prefer to stay over. I started looking around for a good hotel rate. Conveniently, we got a free night certificate from Marriott in the mail the other day. We get one every year on the anniversary of our credit card account. Using that, I booked a night at the Renaissance hotel at the Meadowlands, about 6 miles outside of NYC. It is a much nicer hotel than we would stay in if we were paying. The CC has a $65 annual fee, but it is well worth it for the free certificate alone, besides some other perks. The room would have been $170 plus tax if we paid for it.

Also, I booked our annual Disney World trip. We are renting a timeshare through SkyAuction. We've done that 2 previous years and really like the one resort. This year, we're paying $286 for the week, or less than $41/nite. That's a little higher than last time, but I'm certainly not complaining.

Good day for surveys

June 23rd, 2007 at 09:05 am

Yesterday was a great survey day. I got a check in the mail for a survey I did a couple of weeks ago. The original invite said it was for $40. When I reached the end of the survey, I was asked if I wanted to continue with additional questions for an extra $30. Duh. So yesterday, I got my check for $70.

Last night, while DW and DD watched TV, I checked my mail and had 2 new survey invites. I did them both - one for $75 and one for $150. So $225 earned rather than staring at the TV.

For those who don't follow my posts, these are medical surveys sent to doctors only, sorry.

ETA: I got another check today for $60, so even better.

DD Graduated Today!

June 19th, 2007 at 10:47 am

My daughter graduated elementary school today. She is now officially a middle-schooler. How time flies. We stopped in to see her first grade teacher to get her yearbook signed. Jen is now taller than her. In fact, she's taller than her fifth grade teacher also (and taller than her mother). I know we haven't aged or changed over the years.

After graduation, we went into Philadelphia to Jen's favorite restaurat, a vegetarian Kosher Chinese place in Chinatown. We stuffed ourselves full of steamed vegetable buns, scallion pancakes, moo shu vegetables and more (and brought home plenty of extra for lunch tomorrow).

We're getting together with some family on Saturday to celebrate also.

Early Father's Day gift

June 16th, 2007 at 04:04 pm

My mom came over today to give me my Father's Day present. She gave me an Orka oven mitt, the really nice silicone ones. I've looked at them for years but never splurged to get one.

She also gave me a batch of her homemade pizelles. Yum.

After she left, DW said she had to give me something too. I said she could wait until tomorrow to give me my present but she said I had to have it today. Turns out it was another Orka. One oven mitt isn't enough and I was about to start dinner (eggplant parm) so she knew I'd need two.

Great Father's Day so far.

Ask and you shall receive

June 15th, 2007 at 09:38 am

We are planning to go to Clementon Amusement Park this weekend. It is a fun little park close to our house. We go every year or so.

I know they have discount coupons at some of the fast food restaurants, but since we almost never eat fast food, I didn't know which one.

So I asked. I mentioned at work a couple of days ago that I was looking for coupons and today one of my co-workers came in with them. Subway had them. So we will save $8 on each of our 3 tickets, $24 total. That should be enough for lunch and maybe a snack. Good deal.

Another casino trip report

June 9th, 2007 at 05:19 pm

Our daughter went to Washington, DC with Girl Scouts today so my wife and I headed for Atlantic City. Althought my wife likes going to the casinos, it was something we could never do because of the horrendous smoking situation. Finally, AC passed a smoking ban that went into effect in April. I visited AC in late April for a convention and it was heaven. I could actually spend time in a casino without getting a headache and sore throat. So I told DW that we'd have to go down together.

So today was the day. We got down there around 10:00. We visited The Pier, the new mall at Caesar's. I was there once before but it wasn't finished yet. We also called friends of ours who were down for the weekend and arranged to have lunch with them.

Anyway, we went back to the casino. I took a seat at a blackjack table and DW went to play some slots. I played for about 25 minutes and lost nearly $200. DW lost about $25. So not a great start to the day.

Lunch was excellent. We ate at The Continental in the Pier. Our friends treated us as they had a ton of comps to use.

After lunch, we walked up to Tropicana. We both played a little video blackjack there. I lost $10 and DW won $13. That still had us down about $222.

We headed back to Caesars and played for another hour, me at blackjack and DW at video poker and blackjack. I won back the $200 I had lost earlier plus $25. DW lost $14.

So the tally found us down $11 for the day. Before heading back to the car, I checked our comp account and we had credit for free parking, so that saved us $5, meaning our day in AC ended up costing us a grand total of $6 (plus gas and tolls).

The best part is that DW agreed that with the casinos now mostly smoke-free, it is a fun place to go, so we will definitely be making this a more regular outing.

Wife going back to work... again

June 5th, 2007 at 05:47 pm

You may recall that my wife left her job of 2 years back in February. For 10 years before that, she was a SAHM raising our daughter. Although I hated to see the income go, she was no longer happy at the job and that was far more important than the money.

Anyway, she was not looking for a new job. In fact, she hadn't been looking for that one. A couple of weeks ago, she happened to be speaking to a friend at our synagogue who hadn't realized she wasn't working there anymore. My wife explained that what she really needed was a job that was part-time with hours that were flexible enough to let her be around to get our daughter to and from school, take off when there were important functions she wanted to attend and have as much vacation time as me (4 weeks) so we didn't have a problem planning our travels.

Much to my wife's surprise, the woman said, "I may have a job for you." This woman runs the surgical scheduling office for a local hospital system. She was in need of someone on a per diem basis. The schedule is flexible and could be worked around my wife's specific needs. Basically, they maintain a pool of workers who they call as needed. If you are able to work, great. If not, you can pass and they'll call someone else. Or, you can also have set hours.

My wife had to interview with the HR person, but the final decision was up to our friend. Last week, she was officially offered the job. She has to go for a physical, drug test, etc. which is scheduled for next week.

She will probably get some fixed hours, maybe 2 days/week, 4 hours/day, like 10am-2pm. Then she would also be in the pool for additional shifts, like if someone is out sick or on vacation.

I'm hoping it works out as this would be perfect for her schedule-wise. It wouldn't be much money, maybe $5,000/year, and we'd probably put all of that into a 401K, but every little bit helps.

Increasing our saving percentage

June 5th, 2007 at 05:38 pm

Since Jan. 1, 2006, I have designated 17% of my gross income for savings. Every 2 weeks when I get paid, I calculate 17% of the gross, round it up to the nearest $5.00, and direct that much toward savings (split between taxable mutual funds, our IRAs, DD's 529 and extra home equity loan payments).

As of July 1st, I am increasing to 18%. I've realized in recent months that after the 17%, we still had money left over after paying all the bills and spending whatever we spent on stuff. In reality, I could probably up it to 20% and still be okay. I figure I'll do 18% for the 2nd half of 2007 and see where we end up. If we're still fine in December, I may increase it to 19% starting next January. We'll see how it goes.

Too many places to spend our money

June 3rd, 2007 at 03:36 pm

We spent the day at Jersey Gardens. For those not from the area, Jersey Gardens is the largest outlet mall in New Jersey. We go there about once a year as we do get some good deals, much better than at local stores or malls. The mall occupies a plot of land about the size of Rhode Island, across the road from Newark Airport.

Anyway, I was looking at the directory while DW and DD were in one store and I couldn't help but think about why people overspend so much. There are just way too many choices of where to spend our money. Years ago, we didn't have such choice and variety. Shopping options were quite limited compared with today.

The directory of shops certainly reflects the typical differences between men and women. There are 33 women's apparel stores, 23 for kids and just 10 selling excusively men's apparel. Got feet? There are no fewer than 33 shoe stores at the mall.

For those who would argue that at least clothes and shoes are necessities to a point that we all need from time to time, the list doesn't stop there. Need some bling? Jersey Gardens has 22 jewelry stores. Want to smell better? There are 9 perfume stores with such creatively varied names as Perfume Boutique, Perfume Forever, Perfume Romance, Perfumania and the romantic French-sounding La Perfumerie. Do we really need all that? Perhaps your cell phone is on the fritz. There are 7 cell phone vendors on hand.

The choice and variations of what to buy and where to buy it, I think, just encourages people to spend more and more money on stuff they probably don't really need. And this isn't limited to clothing and accessories. The same thing is true at the grocery store. In 1970, the average grocery store carried about 9,000 items. Today, that number is well over 40,000. On one supermarket trip, I counted over 200 choices in the cereal aisle alone.

Or go to the toiletries department at Target or WalMart and see the variety of deodarants or toothpastes or shaving creams. They come in every imaginable color, style, fragrance, etc. Women, do you really care if your legs smell like mango/kiwi or strawberry/banana after you shave? Does it truly matter if your armpits evoke spring rain or summer breezes?

There was a great book a few years ago called, I think, The Paralysis of Choice, in which the author talked about how many consumers are completely overwhelmed by the options when they go shopping and are often unable to make a decision, lest they pick the wrong thing.

Oh, to return to a simpler time. Stores were smaller and more manageable. People were thinner (the overabundance of food choices is part of the problem behind the obesity epidemic). And shopping was far less stressful. Plus, shopping was done more out of need and less out of entertainment value.