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Relocation Expense vs Signing Bonus

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In my defense I haven’t sought a new “job” in almost 14 years.  I’ve written before about how off my resume was at the beginning of this one and Faye from LeapofFaye.com jumped in and saved the day.  And really, truly it was saving the day…I think to date I’ve had 8 first interviews for what I thought were ideal jobs.  I count myself blessed with every single call I get from an application or recruiter.

But now I think, rather hope, I am coming to the end of several application processes…multiple interviews done, references checked and reviewed,  interviews with CTOs done…etc. etc.  What I haven’t been prepared for were questions regarding “What do you expect?”

I mean I’m good with my salary requirements question…and throwing in the request for a full benefits package, that’s coming pretty naturally.  The thought of a paid day off, a paid vacation, well, that’s what dreams are made of!

But what other requirements do I have…and thus we come to Relocation Expenses vs Signing Bonus.  I’ve pretty much been clear with companies that if I need to relocate…well, they have to pay for it.  And then I was told this…

  1. Relocation Express – A budget is set at the beginning of the process, but I have to cover the costs upfront and then be reimbursed.
  2. Signing Bonus – Paid up front but taxed upfront, possibly at a high tax bracket?

So my question…what are your thoughts, have any words of wisdom for me on this front?

Relocation Expenses vs Signing Bonus – which would you choose? Pros and cons of each?  Any words of wisdom greatly appreciated!


What to do When You Lose Your Job

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I’ve been attending a Job Transition group since I got the news of my impending lay off.  It’s been great to connect with like minded people (faith based group) who are going or who have gone through similar situations.  This morning the talk to turned to me with questions of healthcare now, unemployment benefits and general “what to do when you lose your job” tasks.

It’s been a LONG time since I was here…2006 to be exact.  Then it was pretty cut and dried.  I applied for unemployment benefits that lasted 4-6 months, paid for COBRA medical coverage for up to 18 months to continue our medical benefits and started a job hunt with weekly reporting to the Employment Commission to continue to receive my unemployment payments.

Now I’m not leaving corporate, I’m leaving contract work so no unemployment as far as I know, no COBRA and I had three weeks notice rather than the single day I had last time.  Very different and not so cut and dried.

So I’m hear asking for your collective wisdom…what do you do now when you lose a job?  Here’s what the Job Transition group advised me this morning….

  1. Apply for unemployment…let them tell me if I’m eligible or not.  At least it might result in some temporary income.
  2. With the new Obamacare, I cannot let my medical insurance lapse or I will face penalty, so I have to do something about that.  And without steady income, well that could be problematic.
  3. There  are lots of alternative resources out there, research them now, apply for help now, just in case, so that I don’t get to the point where I’m panicking and reach the point of no return with certain financial matters…suggestions are United Way (strict guidelines for help that I probably wouldn’t meet at this point,) local churches are not governed by strict regulations, grants for single moms, etc.

So here I am asking for your best advice, what would you do in my shoes?  What steps do I take now?


Knee Deep in It – Tax Season

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I’d been so proud of myself for getting posts done ahead of time and here I am already falling off that wagon!  But I do have a good excuse…

So I haven’t filed 2013 or 2014 taxes yet.  Long story short, it all leads back to discussions early on last year with my dad regarding the house, so I am not going to get into that anymore.  But I was comfortable not filing as I had pre-paid my taxes correctly AND because the twins adoption was finalized and they were a special needs adoption, I had a large tax credit coming that can be carried over for up to 5 years.

With that in mind, I have ALWAYS filed my own taxes.  But with the possibility of needing to finance a home in the coming years and the new tax credit which I don’t have any experience with, I decided I might need to hire someone this year to do it for me and make sure I covered those bases properly.  (Since I am self-employed, banks look at my last two-three years tax returns for financing rather than current year pay.)  So I started calling around trying to find someone who was familiar with the Adoption Tax Credit (<=link to IRS site regarding credit if you are interested.)

Almost no one had any experience with the tax credit, and the cheapest I could find was $350 per year…for a total of $700 just to fill out some forms (which I have already compiled all the numbers for) and get the correct form done for the tax credit.  I spent a couple of weeks rolling that number around in my head.  And then started digging into the tax credit.

And yep, I’m back to doing my taxes myself.  I’ve already done all the compiling everything thanks to my organization kick I’ve been on this year.  I figured at $25 per hour, I could essentially give myself 28 hours of research time to figure out the new tax stuff and not have to pay anyone else the $700.  So that’s where I am this week…knee deep in tax code.  And the scary thing is, that I am actually enjoying it.

I did break down and buy TurboTax’s 2013 version to kind of guide me, but from what I can tell, even they don’t handle the tax credit properly.  So I’m doing this by hand…downloading the proper forms from the IRS.gov website and filling them in.  It’s been tedious, but I’ve learned ALOT.  Hopefully, I will wrap this up this week.  And then…I get to help the twins file their taxes.  What a cake walk next to this!


Finding Free Fun

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This past weekend we took a spur of the moment trip to a Sustainable Living Fair at a university about an hour from us. It was free and open to the public and had some cool things for kids to do per the website.  I had no idea what to expect but with my eye on the prize of land and home, I thought that they might have some really cool stuff. Got the kids up and headed out after seeing it on Facebook that same morning. (I love all the stuff I find on Facebook!)

Anyways, it wasn’t quite as big as I had hoped but we did see some cool stuff and I got more fodder for my plan making. But that led the kids to saying…”Mom, we should do more stuff like this on days we have free.” Now lets be honest, during the school year, “free time” is few and far between. We have Sea Cadet drill once a month, gymnastics meets once a month, FTC Robotics competitions once a month and who knows what else on that odd free weekend we might have.

But after having such a good time together AND getting their feedback, I have decided to plan for some of these fun, free, cool things this summer. Putting them on the calendar as I ferry them out so we have some fun things to do if we are free! I’ve found a local website that lists all the activities for our area…all within an hour of us.  I can’t wait to find festivals we can attend, sites we can see, artists off free viewings/shows.

Last summer we traveled ALOT and the kids went to ALOT of camps.  This summer we are doing none of that.  No, I take that back, the kids will go for one week each to a local camp which my dad helps pay for as their Christmas present.  So having these fun things in sight will help take the monotony out of it, not to mention our apartment complex has a pool which we will make good use of, yeah!

Our local website is HamptonRoads.com and they have an event calendar.  Have you checked out what you can do for fun and free this summer?


Paying Down Principal

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Can I admit something that may make me sound like a real dummy? (It’s okay, I’m secure enough with my own intelligence in other domains that I’m okay with admitting when I’m totally out of my depth in something.) Plus, it’s something that I’m hoping many of the readers here will be able to educate me on and help me with. Here goes…..

You know how I’ve been making larger-than-minimum payments on my car for several months now (since last August to be precise)? Well, I logged in to check on the status of my balance for my last debt update and realized that it said my next due date isn’t until January of 2016!!!

In other words, instead of applying any additional money toward the principal balance, they were simply pre-paying future payments. I had thought (and was wrong), that they only pre-paid for up to 3 payments, and then extra money went straight to principal. So after discovering this error I called customer service and explained the situation, asking for my extra payments to go toward the principal instead of future payments.

I was assured this would be done, but it would take a few days (so my online account hasn’t been updated yet), and I was told that it wouldn’t actually change my balance at all.

I started thinking about it after we hung up and have thoroughly confused myself.

Aren’t most loans (cars, mortgage, etc.) arranged so you pay mostly interest up front? Toward the end of the loan terms you end up paying more principal, but initially almost the entire payment goes to interest, right? So basically I’d just be pre-paying mostly interest. Sooo, if that money gets reallocated toward the principal, then there’s a lower balance for the interest to be compounded on (or capitalized on? I’m so confused!). Right? Soooo, shouldn’t my balance go down then??? No?? Why not? I don’t understand!

Also, I was thinking about it more and trying to figure out what the actual benefit is of paying more toward principal versus simply pre-paying payments (particularly if there’s no difference in the balance). I’ve always heard that if I make extra payments (for car loan or student loans) that I should request for the extra to go toward the principal. But why? I was so off-put by the fact that I don’t know the answer to this that I started googling…..without much luck. When I googled “why should I put extra money toward principal instead of prepaying a loan?” I received a ton of results related to mortgages and student loans. I’m specifically interested in my car loan, but figured the numbers would be the same so I read some of the articles. From what I could gather, it seems like if you pay the principal first, it basically just shortens your loan term (so if you had a 60 month term, like my car, it may end up getting shortened down to a 48 month term). But wouldn’t this also inherently decrease the amount interest being paid? I mean, you’re paying it off sooner, so you have a lower balance for the interest to be compounded/capitalized on (again – no idea the difference between capitalized vs. compound interest), and then eventually you pay it off and it all just goes away. Right? And it’d be the same thing with pre-paying a loan too, right? You pay it off sooner, meaning less interest gets paid in the end because there are fewer months for which to have interest accumulate. Am I totally off on this?

I almost shudder, knowing that so many of you are probably bonking your heads against the computer screen, shouting at my ignorance.

But, yeah. I really don’t know. And I don’t get it, either.

Please enlighten me! I really want and need to understand this difference, particularly with my huge amount of debt!!

And, relatedly, I’m going to start paying extra on my student loans. My plan is still to focus on other debts first, but I need to at least pay the interest on my student loans so the balances don’t keep growing (remember, my minimum payments are so low that they don’t even cover the interest). In reference to this….when I make an extra payment, my intention is really just for it to cover the interest. So I can just make the payment online and leave it alone, right? Or do I need to call and ask that the extra payment be applied to principal? This whole issue with prinicipal balance, interest payment, and loan pre-payment has really thrown me for a loop! Help me sort it out!!!

Seriously, sorry for my ignorance on this matter! Clearly I do not have a background in finance! But to really take charge of my debt I feel like I need to get my mind wrapped around this better. Do you suggest any good personal finance books? Or any good websites or other resources that have been informative for you?


Getting Organized – Finance Style

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When I was married, I managed the books for both of our businesses, did all his payroll, paid all the bills both business and personal, filed all our taxes and was obsessive about keeping my Quickbooks and Quicken files in balance.  I knew where every dime was, when every bill was due, everything.  It was a daily task for me, and by daily, I mean daily.  Fast forward six years almost seven years…

I’ve not maintained a Quicken/Quickbooks file at all.  Yes, on a couple of occasions, I would get it set up, do all the set up to synch my accounts and then promptly and completely forget about it or just plain ignore it.  I have lived by the seat of my pants since then.  Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul, forgetting that I paid Paul and then having to borrow from Jane…and so forth.  I’ve been the queen of knowing exactly how long payments took to come out of my account and then rolling the dice on whether a pay check would come in before then, or using my card and banking on it not hitting the bank until a few days later to buy just that much more time.  It got so bad that I have refused to use paper checks at all, since I couldn’t predict when they would get cashed and frankly, wasn’t really monitoring my accounts that closely.  It was bad, super bad.

I would guesstimate that in my worst years I spent several hundred dollars are year on overdraft fees.  I knew it was wrong, I knew it was dumb, but between the marriage fail, the housing debacle (this is not the recent one, but the two rental homes I have written about previously,) being the sole provider for then two children, well I was a mess.

Now, in the last maybe, year and a half, I have started to get myself in order.  Keeping lists of bills and due dates, monitoring my bank accounts more closely and trying my best to avoid that stupid bank fees.  But I’ve still not returned to my obsessive nature that was we marriage fail.  And now it’s time…

Okay, not necessarily for the obsessive, daily financial craziness, but for a more organized, traditional book-keeping methodology.  So as of this month, I have updated my version (previous 2012) of Quicken Home & Business, begun the set up with my existing budget and categories, etc.  And I am determined to get back into at least a weekly habit of checks and balances as far as budget, planning and business review.

These last seven years have been a long, hard road.  I would like to say that I never signed up to be a single parent, but the fact of the matter is that I would have become a foster parent whether I got married/had biological kids or not.  So I can’t say I didn’t sign up for that part.  I certainly didn’t sign up for it the way it happened.  It wasn’t my plan.  But you know what, I/we are in a really good place right now.  There is a light, not just a light, but a BRIGHT light at the end of this tunnel and we are plugging away for full steam ahead despite setbacks and hardships this past year.

So for your Quicken users, specifically those who may be entrepreneurs/business owners, got any suggestions or tips and tricks to share with me?


Christmas Time is Here

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Disclaimer: This post does contain a couple of affiliate links.  I wanted to share these ideas with you and decided there was no harm if I let you know up front that they were affiliate links.

Having a frugal Christmas is not hard for me.  Okay, I take that back because of course I want to see the look of complete and utter joy and shock on my kiddos faces when they open presents.  But let’s face it…One, we really don’t NEED a single thing; Two, there are so many other things I NEED to do with my money right now (ie debt;) Three, we don’t have ANY free space.

Therefore, my temptation to “shop til you drop” is extremely limited and my desires for my kids Christmas gifts are pretty limited as well.  Over the last few years, I have really steered clear of “stuff” and focused instead on making sure that each child got one thing from each of these categories:

  • Something to wear – this is one that kids would normally frown at, at least in my mind, but since my twins buy their own clothes, they love when mom kicks in and helps them out.  We are not a name brand kind of family but this gift is either something they really need or something they really want, so sometimes socks and underwear and sometimes a new pair of tennis shoes.
  • Something that makes them happy – my kids submit lists to me every year and over the years they know that mom is not going to be trendy toys or anything she would consider “junk.”  (I stopped buying video games, system two years ago so they don’t put those on their list at all.) I encourage them to put things on their list that they will really enjoy having and calling their own.  So to give you an example of this years lists, here are a couple of things that they listed: Loot Crate subscription, a $50 bill, a bottle of grape juice all to myself, art supplies and the best one in my book “a baby duck that I can imprint on.”  Go figure!
  • Something they need – let’s face it, we can always find things our kids need, and in our case, with homeschooling there are always things that are needs that can be made a bit special by making them a gift.  Most years they twins get a box full of personal hygiene stuff.  At first it was because they lost it so often and now it’s because I know they would rather spend their money on other things, so if they are responsible and keep up with the stuff, it frees up their personal money for other things throughout the year.  Sometimes it’s art supplies, gift card to a specific place for an upcoming event, etc.
  • An experience – my kids have never been “toy” players.  Anything they got, when the novelty wore off 5 minutes later, the toy was literally just a waste, so we stopped toys probably 4-5 years ago.  Instead they get experiences…camp money (summer camp,) classes or something associated with that (sewing machine and patterns,) girls day out (hand written gift certificate for lunch out, window shopping and pedicures.)  Whatever it is, this is typically their favorite gift.  And I’ve found, especially with summer camps that if you register at this time of year, you typically get a “double discount.”  My dad is paying the deposit for each child to attend a week of summer camp this year as a Christmas gift for them so not only do I get the double discount, but I don’t have to pay the registration fee which is applied to their tuition and gives me months to pay for camp (line item Kids Activities.)

Because we are so limited in space this year which has really affected our crafting and science space I was struggling to find that “wow” gift for the little ones, and then after hearing from my oldest that he would like the Loot Crate subscription (second year he’s asked for that) I began thinking there might be something like this for the littles.  Here’s what I came up with:

  • Tinker subscriptions – they describe it as a “Laboratory for Hands-on experiments delivered every month.”  How cool is that!  This is our first year trying it, but since Little Gymnast LOVES science I though this was the perfect way to surprise him and it’s the gift that keeps on giving since he will get one every month.  (We started with a three month subscription to try it out.)
  • Doodle subscriptions – they describe it as “Ready, Set, Make – fresh new DIY projects to make stuff that you’ll love.”  What a perfect gift for the budding DIY’er or artist.  Princess is getting a 3 month subscription to this which I hope will complement her current obsession with nail art and marker drawings.

This year I will round out the gifts with a magazine subscription for each child, cheap and educational – woohoo and probably a gift card to some entertainment…movie theatre or trampoline playground.  Great for winter entertainment when we just need a break from the apartment.

In the meantime, we have put up a six foot plastic crafting table in our living room and Santa’s Workshop is in full affect.  They have purchased supplies with their own money and are sculpting and painting, screwing together and hiding as they make their gifts for each other and our extended family.  Little Gymnast even bought a gingerbread house kit and has finally mastered putting them together…well, until he ran out of frosting from licking it off his fingers.

It truly is a wonderful time of the year!  Do you have any frugal gift ideas to share or a way you kept your family Christmas reasonable?


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