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Stupid Auto-Renewals!

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One of the things that has continued to get me are auto-renewal payments or even monthly subscriptions.  As I mentioned previously I really fell off the wagon with record keeping some time ago and am really just getting back into Quicken to track and plan things…and that has been really slow going.  So without that, and the historic data with say dates things are going to renew, I am often surprised when a renewal comes out and I’m not expecting it.

Many times, these are business expenses so not something I address here on the blog, but there have been a couple lately that got me.  First, Sea Cadet’s Christmas present from my dad was a subscription to Loot Crate *affiliate link for my son.  My dad sends me the money, I put it on my card…but it auto-renewed this past week for $55!!  No way.  I emailed their support team and as one time courtesy, they cancelled it and refunded me the money (you are supposed to cancel 3 days prior to renewal, but they don’t send out a warning that it’s going to renew.)

Then the same week…I get a charge for $81.  Ugh!  What is going on here?  And this was for our Invisible Fence at our old house (not an affiliate link but a product I highly recommend if you are like me and love your animals AND your wide open spaces.)  What?!?  I haven’t had time to call them yet.  But really?  This is one that I definitely did not sign up for and the only thing I can think is that they have somehow put us on a subscription for batteries for the collars, which we are no longer using.

So the point of the story is, that 1) I really have to get my act together and get all these auto-renewal dates down and into my records and 2) making those phone calls does help especially if you weren’t planning to renew.

For my monthly subscriptions and expected renewals, I have designated one of my credit cards (the only one I’m keeping after pay off) to take those charges.  This will serve two purposes: 1) keep me from being surprised out of my main cash account which is how things have been up until now and 2) continue to earn points for travel for when we can resume that.

The same card will be used for business and personal, I just want to make things easy for myself and keep it all in one place.  Charges that reoccur are Personal: Netflix, Insurance, milk delivery, pet food delivery, EZPass for toll roads (mostly used when transporting Sea Cadet) and Business: subscriptions for business tools, cloud service for storage, domain name and hosting fees, etc.

How do you handle those pesky renewals and subscription charges?


Birthday on a Budget

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Shhh, this is a secret post.  You’ll remember a month or so back I mentioned that I was going to find a way to throw together a birthday party for the littles since they so graciously gave it up last year.  Well, we started exploring and talking about it…and I started pricing things.  The bowling alley ($15-17 per child,) the trampoline park ($250+,) and so on and so forth.  And frankly, in my frugal state of mind, I was just flabbergasted.  So I’ve come up with a fabulous, frugal plan and the kids no nothing about it.

Prepare for a Surprise Pool Party!!!  And it’s next week.  I went to our apartment management and asked how much it would be to rent the clubhouse and pool for a party.  My thoughts were since school was still in session we might could get a pretty good deal doing it during the week.  Well, they wouldn’t rent them to me.  The clubhouse is never available for rent, but as long as I kept the guess list to less than a dozen…I could use the pool for FREE!!!!

So next Thursday, we are having a SURPRISE pool birthday party for the littles.  I have invited all their homeschool friends via text message (free,) ordered a birthday cookie cake (discounted because one of the twins works there,) will order pizzas for lunch (discounted because of the twins work there,) and will have a cooler full of drinks.

And the icing on the cake is that our best family friends, who also homeschool, are going to come in town the day before and spend a long weekend with us so they can celebrate with us!  (The littles know they are coming, but not about the party.)

I am so excited about this surprise for the kids, so now I’m just praying the weather cooperates!  (I will post the numbers after it’s all said and done, but am anticipating less than $100 for the whole thing and that includes feeds 5 other families lunch and cake – woot, woot!)  Another plus side to living in our wonderful apartment complex!


Cruise 2016 Update

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Remember when I first told you all about my plan to set sail in February 2016 on a cruise with my family in celebration of my Mom’s 60th birthday? Well I’ve got some updates….

Initially, the plan was for this cruise to be a 100% surprise for my Mom. The entire family was in on it and the loose plan was for my stepdad to tell my Mom that he was going to take her on a trip (she would surely assume they were going to San Antonio, as they regularly do), and then drive down to Galveston where the cruise ships dock. The rest of us would surprise her there on the dock. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!!!!!!

Well, the more planning we were doing, the less likely it seemed that this would stay a surprise. There were so many logistics involved (e.g., making sure she had enough time off work, making sure she packed appropriate clothing and swimwear, etc.) AND some of you commenters planted little seeds of doubt in my mind. You mentioned that maybe she’d prefer her dream cruise vacation to Alaska ALONE with my stepdad. And then I had a conversation with my Mom where she mentioned that since she’s gotten older she much prefers the MOUNTAINS over the beach (since when, Mom?!?!) The point is…I started second-guessing myself.

So after a LOT of phone calls with my sister, internal wrestling, and careful thought and consideration we came up with a plan. My sister was having my Mom and Stepdad over on Mother’s Day and made a little craft to present my Mom. First, the card:

Your 59th was pretty crappy.

All we want is for YOU to be happy!

So your 60th is all about you.

And now its your turn to choose.

Then my sister presented her with three envelopes. Inside each envelope was a different vacation: a ship to represent the family cruise, a mountain to represent a mountain-oriented family vacation, and a picture of Alaskan wildlife to represent the Alaska vacation.

My sister explained what each picture meant and what the vacation would entail (we did a lot of research on each of the trips so sister presented all the information of where we would stay, what we could/would do, ports of call for the cruises, etc. etc. etc.). My mom was shocked and surprised and didn’t know what to think. She said she needed some time to think it over and let us know by that same afternoon that her choice was the same one we’d originally made: Family Cruise 2016!!! So it’s on.

Skipping forward….

One of the BIG things about this vacation, to me, is that it be paid with 100% cash. I am very excited and working very hard to make it a complete debt-free vacation.

Another thing is that this gives me a really concrete goal: have all consumer debt paid in full by the time we set sail! I’ll still have student loans to contend with, but it will feel so satisfying to be able to make the trip down to Galveston in a newly paid-off car!!!

And a final update – the cruise is booked! There was a $1,000 deposit, so I wanted to wait until we had that saved up in cash. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that cruises can book up so far in advance. We were originally going to cruise in February 2016 (I thought 9 months in advance was plenty of time to book), but we’ve had to push it back to April 2016 to get the accommodations we wanted (two absolute must-haves were 1. adjoining rooms for sister & I so we could let kids nap in one room and have adults in the other, and 2. A 6:00pm dining time, since the kids are already asleep before the 8:30pm dining time and they need to EAT before bed!) Apparently, those two things go fast so we pushed back the sail date a couple months to make these things happen.

All in all, I’m super excited. I’d wanted this to be a big surprise for my Mom, but I think it’s better this way since she’s now been part of the planning process, has been able to voice her opinion of what matters to her (e.g., she wants an upgraded larger room), and has time to adequately prepare (basically diets all around for every one of us, lol).

So there’s the update.

We’re now officially booked (paying all cash, thankyouverymuch), and I’ve now got extreme motivation to be consumer debt-free by April 2016.

I know some of you were interested in the exact costs associated with this vacation. To give some additional information, we will be sailing on Royal Caribbean cruiseline. Our itinerary is an 8-day/7-night trip to visit 3 different countries (set sail from Galveston, docks in Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico). We are paying for four people (no, kids aren’t free), but are all staying in a single room. We chose an interior room (I’d really wanted an exterior for the extra square footage, but settled on the interior since it was cheaper and we could be adjoining with my sister’s family). The total cost including taxes, port fees, and pre-paid gratuities is $2496. This cost includes all food on the ship (there are options to pay for dining at certain on-board restaurants, but the free options are already delicious, gourmet, and FREE, so we won’t pay extra for food). We will, however, budget additional money to pay for any miscellaneous expenses that come up, including souvenirs, possible excursions (e.g., they charge money to go to the beach at the different ports of call), and any food we eat while visiting the different countries we’ll be visiting. In total I’ve planned to set aside $4,000 for the trip, which should be MORE than enough. I’d rather have extra money set aside and end up being able to make a debt payment with leftover money after-the-fact rather than come up short on cash. So that remains the plan.

I know the whole idea of a cruise while still in a mountain of student loan debt is controversial so I won’t be bringing it back up a lot. But I stand by my thoughts in this post where I described how and why we came to this decision. I’ve also had a couple commenters ask if we plan to do any type of celebration once we pay off all consumer debt. I think the cruise is celebration a-plenty. Yes, it’s technically for my Mom. But it will be fabulous to pay for the cruise all cash and know that – for my family – the trip also marks an important milestone in terms of being committed to NEVER acquiring additional debt in our lives (big exception: we still plan to buy a home at some point!) Sooooo…..consumer-debt free by early 2016! That means we’ve got some serious work to do on our car loan! Better get to it! ; )

What do your 1-year financial goals entail?


Cheap Mother-in-law Birthday Gift

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In keeping with the cheap gift ideas of late, here’s another one to add to the mix.

My mother-in-law’s birthday was last Thursday. She’s actually flying into town today for the long weekend (yay!), so we’ll be taking her out to dinner one night while she’s here. But we also wanted to do something on her actual birthday, so I had the girls make another super cheap craft that we mailed to her last week.

This was actually an idea I saw when I was in Michael’s craft store for something totally unrelated. This was right before Mother’s Day and they had a whole display of crafts for kids to do for/with their Moms. One of the crafts was a coffee mug/paint set. They were on sale 2 more $3, which seemed like an excellent deal (came with the mug and the ceramic paints). I bought two and had the girls make 1 for me to keep and 1 for my MIL’s birthday.

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We (heart) You!

If I were to do it again, I probably would have done the palms at the bottom, overlapping, and done fingers up (we had a hard time keeping the thumb tucked in, so the heart has some little “wings” hanging off the side). But the imperfection just makes it that much more special and precious. Maybe not worthy of any fine art awards, but definitely worthy of a grandma’s love! <3

 
Hope you all have a great weekend! A good long weekend to those in the states! Be safe and have fun and let’s remember what the holiday is really all about : )


Starting to Review the Next Step

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Within 8 weeks of this post, I will be consumer debt free.  I will also have saved approximately $5,000 from new jobs, odd jobs and selling a few odds and ends here and there over the last few months.  Now I have to plan the next step.

If I kept going at the rate I’m going with no other changes, paying $2,400 per month towards debt, my student loan debt would be wiped out by the fall of next year.  Isn’t that amazing!

However, we are going to need a car especially by September when school starts back, not to mention the idea of traveling in our sardine can is starting to give me and the kids hives.  Just a quick trip up to one of Little Gymnast meets had us all saying “never again.”  And since I’ve taken on new work with teaching both in person and online, I am definitely going to need some help in getting everyone everywhere.  Not to mention, both the twins are ready for a bit more independence.

We have already established that the twins will be paying 50% of their car insurance, plus gas and maintenance on their car.  (It’s in great shape so other than routine stuff, not anticipating any big bills for the time being.)  That means I will up my insurance payments a bit to help them out (anticipating $100 monthly increase on my part.)

So my thought at this point is to find a family car, obviously older that gets relatively good gas mileage which would be comfortable for us to travel in a bit (remember two trips to GA to see family over the next 5 months.)

I know there are going to be lots of opinions on this.  So the facts are…when this happens my only debt payments will be to my student loan currently right at $300 per month.  I will have $5K saved from recent odd jobs (this does not include approx $3K in my EF.)  So tell me what you think…

 


“Free” Swim Lessons & A Preschool Update

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Remember when I put out the question of whether it would be a worthwhile expense to pay for swim lessons for my girls this summer? As a reminder, they have never been in any paid activity (ballet, soccer, swim, etc.) in their entire lives with the exception of childcare.

Well we just got letters sent home from our girls’ preschool (they attend the Jewish Community Center). We signed permission slips for the girls to go to the pool over the summer months where they will be receiving swim lessons from certified water safety instructors! This is “free” to us (in quotations because we pay a lot for the childcare, itself, but we are not required to pay any additional money for the swim lesson services). So YAY!!! I was super excited about this because I had NO IDEA this was going to happen! What a selling point/benefit for parents! I’m surprised they didn’t make a big deal about this when we first enrolled our kids here (they didn’t even mention that over the summer they do swim lessons!) To be fair, it’s surely not as in-depth as paid lessons (they go for 30 minutes twice per week for a few weeks in the summer), but it will teach them the basics and won’t cost us additional money out of pocket. Win-win!!

So that’s the free swim lesson update. Onto the preschool update…

Currently we pay a TON for very high quality care (see our budget where these costs are outlined here). Finding care for children aged 2 and under is challenging in our area. There were cheaper options available, but the quality wasn’t nearly as good. You can read about one of our experiences here. So we were willing to pay extra for really high quality care. There were two main issues related to this when we chose to go to the JCC. 1. Cost, and 2. Distance. Our current childcare facility is a full 30-40 minutes away. And since I work from home, that’s a 60-80 minute round-trip twice per day (once for drop-off and once for pick-up).

When the girls first started I was pretty diligent about staying at the JCC the whole day. I’d work in the library, then move to the patio, out to the commons area, etc. But there were lots of distractions and across time I found myself simply driving home more and more often. This, of course, meant less work-time since I was spending more time driving. In the past month or two all this driving has really become burdensome for me professionally speaking. I’ve had difficulty getting my work done in the limited hours available to me. The girls are in preschool 21 hours per week, but I easily have 30 hours worth of work. Not to mention the driving time means that the 21 preschool hours really only equals about 17-ish hours of actual work time. Less when you factor in other miscellaneous errands or activities (e.g., I’d often go to the gym at the JCC for 30-45 minutes when I’d drop off the girls. This reduces my work hours even more…now down to about 15-ish per week). The point is that I ended up working more and more late in the evenings and/or on weekends and felt my overall productivity waning. Toward the end of the Spring semester I was barely hanging on by a thread. Still taking care of my responsibilities, but just barely.

So we knew it was time to move the girls to a new preschool facility. They turn 3 in June and a ton of new options will become available to them (many preschools are only for potty-trained kids age 3 and up, so they weren’t options last summer). I found one place I really like (I spoke about it here). Last Friday I went to the preschool office and paid the enrollment fee ($75 per child) so starting this Fall (the preschool year is the same as the academic year in our area – starting in August and running through May), our girls will officially be starting a new preschool!!!

I’m super excited because both of our big issues with the JCC (price and distance) will be resolved to some extent. Instead of a 30-40 minute drive, our new preschool is about a 10-15 minute drive. And we’ll be saving some money, too. I ended up deciding to enroll the girls in 5 half-days instead of 3 full-days. The difference is 21 hours (for 3 full days) versus 25 hours (for 5 half days). The price is going to be about $800/month for both kids. We’re currently paying over $1,000/month so we’ll be saving a couple hundred a month (not to mention gasoline and having more work-able hours since I won’t be driving as far). I wish we’d be saving more, but I think this was a good compromise and I’m happy with the trade-off.

We do have to be officially “accepted” to the program (I had to fill out a huge application packet and they’ll notify me within 2 weeks if we’re accepted or not), but the woman at the front desk didn’t seem worried about it. My guess is its more of a formality to make sure there aren’t glaring red flags about the family or children somehow. I think we’ll be okay (fingers crossed).

So now let’s just hope that the transition is a smooth one. The new preschool has fabulous reviews and I coincidentally met a mom at the park whose kids go to the preschool and she just raved about it. So I’ve got high hopes!

Do you pay for summertime activities for your kids (if you want to share, just out of curiosity, I’d love to know how much you pay and what the activity is)?

How much do you pay for childcare?


Nooooo!!!!!!!!

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That was my immediate thought when I opened my email inbox to discover THIS message waiting for me inside.

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So there’s that. ACS (with whom I’ve never ever had a single issue) has sold my loans to Navient (with whom I’ve had multiple and ongoing issues). So that’s good.

I’ve got a couple months until the transition is complete, but I’m really contemplating what to do regarding my loans.

I’m still set on my current plan: focusing predominantly on my car loan, while also paying aggressively on my balance-transfer student loan. But, ugh! My passionate hatred for my student loan company makes me wish I could just write a check, pay them all off, and never deal with them again.

My Income Based Repayment (IBR) renewal is on the horizon as well, and once I submit our 2014 tax information I’m anticipating that my monthly payments will be going up a bit. I’m really not sure by how much (side note: one good thing is that they take into consideration income AND expenses…although our income went up in 2014 compared to 2013, so did our childcare expenses. We were paying $600/month when I initially applied for IBR, but we currently pay nearly double that, so hopefully that will help offset the increased income a bit in determining our monthly payment obligations).

Random question (I’m sure I could call and ask but thought I’d throw it out here)… for anyone else who has done IBR payments, when you renew does your payment immediately change or does it not change until the end of the year? I ask because I don’t have to renew until August, but I’m getting emails to renew now. Just wondered if I went ahead and renewed now if my payment would immediately change or if the change wouldn’t go into effect until August.