Saturday, December 31, 2005

 

Little House on the Hill and the Costs of Keeping It

My house is little, I mean really little. Two bedrooms, one bath, 670 square feet. That is smaller than both one bedroom apartments I've lived in. The bfriend has lived here 10+ years and he loves this house. I've only been here 2+ years and I have a love/hate relationship with the house. I love that the lot is over 5000 sq. feet so we have a nice big yard. I love the location and that I'm only 5 miles from work and 10 minutes from downtown seattle. I mostly love that I'm living in a house instead of an apartment. I hate that there is practically no storage space to speak of and that the washer and dryer are not in the house. The laundry room is connected to the garage which is detached from the house, its at the far end of the backyard this means schlepping through rain and mud on laundry days all year 'round because this is seattle after all. This house has been a huge motivation factor in my wanting to live more simply, we just don't have room to not be simpletons. Here are the costs of keeping this house, I'd like to reduce where I can:

Rent, $960
Cable/Internet, $92.67 I thought of switching to limited cable for $12.30/month, but I don't watch local channels. I like HGTV, FSN, and Food Network.
Phone, $34.91, I researched switching to Vonage, we don't use the phone hardly at all so their $14.99 plan looked really good, but the fact that if the power or cable goes out you lose phone service worries me. We don't have a cell phone (GASP!!!) and I do not ever want to lose the ability to call 911, if the fire we had this month had been worse and we couldn't call 911, I don't even want to think about it.
Electricity, $81.83/month budget billing plan, need to make sure it doesn't go up for 2007.
Water, Sewer, Garbage, $105/January. These services come bundled and are billed every other month. Garbage is pretty much a fixed cost unless we have extra trash $29/month. I'm going to assume Sewer is fixed as I can't think of a way to reduce it, roughly $46/month, Water of course fluctuates but I'm working on lowering it, the hard part is because we don't have a dishwasher we tend to handwash the dishes every day, for January $31.51.

Here's a link to an FCC consumer advisory regarding VOIP phone service and 911.
 

Goaaaaaaaallllllll!!!

Sometimes I watch soccer on Univision. Anyway, its not even January yet, but I've already accomplished one of my goals, I've just set up my cat's health account on autopay. Hopefully he will never need to use it, but I'm very glad I'm doing this for him.
 

Current Credit Card Balances

These are the credit card balances and interest rates I will be heading into 2006 with. The interest rates are all fixed, so I don't have to worry about them changing.

$6220.73, minimum payment $102.37, interest rate 7.9%. I'm paying the minimum, pay off in Feb 2008
$2965.09, minimum payment $79, interest rate 9.9% Paying $81, pay off in March 2007
$2942.67, minimum payment $88, interest rate 6.9% Paying $323, pay off in September 2006

If the bfriend is able to give me $200/month from his part-time work, that will change the pay-off dates to July 2007, December 2006 and June 2006, but I won't count on that income until I actually have it.

My car loan will be paid off in November 2007, I'm not snowballing it, but I am going to add its payment amount of $243 to the snowball once the car is paid off.
 

More from Citi, its getting funny.

When I applied, I had wanted the card that gave you the 5% back at grocery stores, but I applied for the wrong one. I called Citi and let them know, they said they would cancel my original application and I would have to reapply for the dividend card which I did. Today in the mail I received the card from the application that was supposed to have been cancelled. This is getting really funny now, they wouldn't let me increase my credit limit from 2300 to 4000, but they send me 2 credit cards with a 4600 limit total. I'm not going to activate this one at all, and I'm pretty sure I'm never going to apply for a Citi card again, not after this comedy of errors.

Friday, December 30, 2005

 

Snowball Wahoo!!

My highest balance credit card has just raised my minimum payment from $55 to $102 which is only 1.6% of my balance so I guess they want to make money off of me for a long time. I think this new payment amount is fabulous, I have a spreadsheet where I have figured out how long it will take me to pay off my 3 cards, with payment amounts and interest rates all figured in, debt free March 2008. By paying $102/month it shaves one month off of my spreadsheet. Yippee! And thanks to his new part-time job, bfriend is going to take over the $200 food budget, so that will be even more for the snowball. I'm spending the rest of tonight playing with Excel and creating scenarios. I can't wait for 2006 to get here!!!
 

Problems with Citi

When I applied online for a Citi Dividend card to take advantage of the 0% balance transfer offer, I was approved for a $2300 credit line, not enough to do a balance transfer of $2900. Last week when Customer Service called me to verify my information, I requested that it be increased so that I could do a balance transfer. I was told the credit line would be $4000 when I received the card. Well I received the card today and the credit line was only $2300, when I called Customer Service they told me that the $4000 had only been an estimate and that my debt to income ratio was too high and they would not increase the credit limit. I cancelled the card since it worthless to me, I only wanted it for the balance transfer. I'm also going to write a letter to Citi, I'm not sure how one person on the phone can tell me that $4000 is approved and another tell me that it was only an estimate. I don't believe that they took into account my credit score of over 700, the fact that I have never had a late payment in my 18 year credit history, or the fact that my debt is less than 50% of my available credit. I'll post more if they answer my letter.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

 

This is a Shout-Out

Most of my reciprocated links are from blogs that I have referred to in my posts, but this week I've gotten one request to share links and discovered two other blogs that I didn't know about had linked to me! So I am giving a shout-out to:

Funny Munny for having me in his list of blogs he reads
Stuff You Oughta Know for linking to me in one of his posts
and Jeffrey of Financial Baby Steps, Saving Advice, and Personal Finance Advice for wanting to swap links.

Woot Hoot!! Thank you!!
 

This is a Vent

All day long while I am at work, I have nothing to do. This has been an ongoing problem of mine for about 2 years, I work in an office and have been told that basically its my fault for working quickly and efficiently. I am not sure how being quick and efficient is a negative, but I do work for a state-run university. I used to hunt around for extra work, but lately have decided that if my manager is not going to do anything about the problem why should I? So instead I take my revenge by using my extra time to surf, which is how I discovered the world of personal finance blogs and also brings me to my point. I am thinking of things to blog all day long, yet I can't post from work (not brave enough). Then when I get home, I'm mentally tired from all the non-use my brain is getting and I can't remember anything I wanted to post. I tried writing myself sticky notes, but I tend to forget to bring them home. I thought about leaving the university for the private sector, but I like the idea of working at a university so that was a no go. On the bright side, I'm switching positions within my department in January, I'll pretty much be able to determine my own workload so I'm really looking forward to that. There really was no point to this post, except that I wanted to get this off my chest. Whewwww.
 

What Day is it

I stayed home from work yesterday (12/28) and when I did my out-of-the-office voice and e-mail I said that it was the 29th. And I just now realized that the budget update I did in the sidebar on the 22nd I dated as the 28th. It is now updated as of today which I am reasonably sure is the 29th. We have a pitiful amount of money to last until the next budget cycle starts on January 10, but all the bills are paid, we have a full larder (that is a strange word, sounds kind of gross) and just filled up the tank this morning, I feel sure that we shall survive with a positive balance.
 

Insurance goes down

I thought this was strange. Two years ago when I moved in with the bfriend, my insurance company said that my rates would go up due to the zip code I moved to having a higher crime rate and all that other stuff they use to determine your rates. So I left the address on my policy my mom's house whiich is about 30 miles outside the Seattle city limits. Since I dont use the car to drive to work, I was fine with this little cheat as it saved me about $240/year. Now that the bfriend has a job, he will be using my car to drive to work, he can't bus because he is working graveyard and we are a one car couple. I went online and changed the address on my policy and added him to it and my rates went down instead of up. Only $3, but I was expecting a $25-$50 increase based on the change of address and the additional driver. I checked my most recent statement which reflects the new rates, but it didn't note any new discounts, I thought maybe I was receiving a multi-driver discount? Very strange. Maybe crime has gone down in Seattle.

My health insurance is going down as well, from $33/month to $14. I don't know why this went down either, but maybe its best to just accept the tiny windfalls and not question them.
 

No Resolutions for Me

I am lazy, Basically I am a couch potato, although right now I'm in a chair and the tv is off. I have absolutely no stick-to-it-iveness either. This has made me decide not have have any New Year's Resolutions as they are typically long-term resolves that I end up not following through with. Instead I have decided to go for short-term monthly goals that I hope will be easier for me to accomplish. Its all a matter of tricking my mind you see.

Goals for January:
Dietary:
  • Drink more water (starting with at least 4 glasses a day for January)
Exercise:
  • At least 3 times/week (see above re lazy, I'm starting with small steps)
Financial:
  • Renters Insurance (this was put on hold due to the holidays, I want to have it by the end of January)
  • Auto insurance, shop around to make sure my rates are acceptable.
  • Set up an autopay into my cats health account of $20/month
I think this is good for January, now I just have to follow through.
 

Well Phooey

My doctor said this month that I have elevated blood pressure. Not high enough to be called high or to warrant meds, but I do need to watch my diet and exercise more. I have to try to lower my salt intake as well. This is the tricky part since I don't keep salt on the table at home, I mostly use it as a seasoner when cooking, but very lightly. This means I'll have to pay more attention to labels when grocery shopping. What really sucks is that I was looking forward to going to the dietician my doctor recommended until I found out my insurance won't pay for it, so the dietician is out. So far my internet research has discovered that not eating enough calcium and potassium can affect my kidney function which in turn affects my sodium content. I also found an eating plan called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) which is recommended by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

I will miss pizza, maybe if I'm really good I can have some in March or so.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

 

Federal Reserve Website

I popped over to the Federal Reserve's website today, they have a section devoted to consumer issues. I haven't had time to go through the site in depth but it does look interesting. There are articles on mortgages, choosing a credit card, identity theft and personal finance among others.
 

Holiday Spend Update

Whew! My holiday shopping came in .56 under budget, I forgot to account for having to buy dirt and pots for all the free trees that came. Even though I only gave 3 trees as gifts, I received 10 and they all had to be temporarily potted until I can put them in a permanent place in the yard. And I must confess to using some of the holiday funds to eat out and buy laundry soap. (its like a present to my clothes isn't it?)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

 

We don't know how to Grocery Shop

This from an article on CNN/Money:

Grocery shopping seems simple enough, but Americans are wasting more money, food and time than ever by not planning. We spend more on food each year (an average of $5,340 these days) than on anything else besides our house and car.

We research those two purchases exhaustively before buying because we know that the bigger the line item, the greater the opportunity to save. Can't we spend 10 minutes on a grocery list?

"Americans have forgotten how to food-shop," says Phil Lempert of SupermarketGuru.com, which tracks the industry. "When we don't plan, we buy the wrong things, which causes us to spend more money and more time."

I had no idea that I didn't know how to grocery shop, but the article does make sense, today's lifestyles are fast paced and us Gen X & Y'ers have been brought up in a fast-food on the go society. I know that I don't like to take the time to meal plan, but I do try to always have a grocery list at the store so I don't impulse buy. Dare I say the article provided some food for thought (that was bad, I know).


 

More Money for the Snowball

My bfriend has spent the past year unemployed, having surgery, and getting his home business started back up. He's also been unsuccessfully looking for part-time work to supplement my income while still allowing him time to do the home biz thing. We haven't been in danger of starving or anything, but I am always looking for extra money to put towards the debt, because I hate having debt so much! And now I can happily report that starting in January there will be extra funds going to the snowball because he has found a part-time job doing work that he loves to do and he will still have time to do his own business. I'm not going to seriously count any chickens before hatching, but I'm thinking this could cut one of the credit cards down to being paid in 6 months instead of 10. Yippee for us and boo for the debt!
 

Electric Bill Goes Down!!!

We are on budget billing for our electric and our currently paying $108/month. I've been working really hard over the past year to conserve, and today I received a Christmas present from the City. Our electric bill for next year will be only $81/month. My next task is to get the water/sewer/garbage bill lower. Right now its averaging about $60/month and I have no idea if thats excessive or not.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

 

Changes to the Blog

I really liked having an all black background on my blog, it was a visual reminder to me of my goal of being financially in the black. But my poor eyes told me that it would be much easier on them if I used a lighter background for the posts, so here is the result. I miss the black, but it does seem easier to read everything. Next I am working on getting a picture of my snowball up in the sidebar.
 

Dryer Lint Trap

I received an email about lint the other day. Did you know that the chemicals in dryer sheets leave behind a film on your lint trap? I had no idea, but I tried running water through my lint trap like the email suggested and the water just pooled on top the trap. Once I washed the trap, the water ran right through. The email recommended that you wash your lint trap in warm soapy water every 6 months to remove the film from the lint trap and your dryer should run a little more efficiently.
 

I applied for a Citi card

Last night I applied for the Citi Dividend Platinum card, I wanted to take advantage of the balance transfer offer of 0% interest for 12 months. The 0% interest on my smallest snowball debt just expired and I wanted to transfer it over. Unfortunately, I was only approved for $2300 which is not enough to transfer my $2900. Once I receive the card, I'm going to request a credit line increase to 5k so that I can transfer that balance. Since Citi also pays cash back on grocery and gas purchases, I'm pretty sure I'll be using it anyway even if I don't get to transfer my balance.
 

My Fico

Neo's Nest Egg pointed me towards the Fico Score Estimator on MyFico. Answer 10 questions and they will estimate your Fico score, mine was 710-760. I also signed up for the free newsletter to receive credit news and tips, when you sign up for the newsletter they also give you an ebooklet on understanding your Fico score for free. I'm happy my Fico is estimated to be in the 700 range, now I will work on getting it even higher. I'd love to get it in the upper 700's or even low 800's but that might be quite the lofty goal.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

 

Shopping Update

The Zazzle idea didn't work out as well as I thought it would. One of the pictures I was putting on a t-shirt was an animated looking Sleeping Beauty's Castle done in Photoshop. Zazzle decided it was a copyright infringement and cancelled my order. They said I could reorder the other shirts, but by the time I got the email, it was past the holiday shipping deadline. I was a little angry that they had cancelled the whole order instead of shipping a partial order, but it has all worked out fabulously. My sister and I decided we would print the pictures on iron-on transfer paper and do the t-shirts ourselves. The per t-shirt price after buying the shirts, transfer paper and printer ink works out to roughly the same as purchasing from Zazzle, so my Christmas budget didn't take a hit at all.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

 

Surf's Up!

Some interesting finds from surfing this week:

Short-term Savings Center from Motley Fool

Consumer news from Consumers Union (a branch of Consumer Reports)

Money 101 from CNN/Money

I'm also adding more blogs to the sidebar list as I come across them, there's so many out there I need to just sit down and add them to the list all at once.
 

8 Steps to Cheaper Airfare

I found this article on the Seattle Times website, via the Washington Post. I'm not sure how long their links stay active, so I'm posting the entire article here, but all credit and copyrights go to the Seattle Times and Washington Post.

The Washington Post

It's not hard to get a fare deal these days, even with the surge in the
cost of jet fuel and the long list of airlines in bankruptcy. You just
have to work at it. Here's a primer on how to snare a decent airfare.

1. Go to an all-purpose travel site. The Big Three (www.orbitz.com,
www.expedia.com and www.travelocity.com) remain the dominant trio, since
you can book your flight/hotel/car in one spot. While all have exclusive
Web deals not available elsewhere, some airlines aren't represented on
the sites, fares can vary wildly, and the sites charge a $5 to $7
booking fee. Sign up for Travelocity's Fare Watcher feature, which tracks
fares to five destinations of your choosing; when the fare goes up or
down, you receive an e-mail alert.

Another useful tool is ITA Software (www.itasoftware.com). While you
can't buy online, it'll direct you to where you can book and offers
myriad info on different flights, including such warnings as
"long layover."

2. Check an aggregator. Booking aggregators -- including
www.sidestep.com, www.kayak.com and www.cheapflights.com -- scan numerous
booking sites and cull the results. Most also display hotel and car rentals.

Aggregators work in one of two ways: Either you download them or go to
their Web sites. SideStep works both ways. You can go directly to its
Web site and plug in your dates, etc. In the downloaded version, the
SideStep Toolbar pops up on the left third of your screen and runs a
concurrent search when you're on another site; when it's done, it directs
you to where you can book.

3. Look at individual airline sites. Go to airline sites to see if they
can match the lowest fare you've found. You can often snare extra
frequent-flier miles for booking directly with the carrier, and you'll
avoidthe service fees on some of the all-purpose and aggregator sites (as
well as the fees charged by some airlines if you call their reservations
numbers). Note that some discount carriers are not widely represented
among the discounters and aggregators. Sign up to receive the airline
e-deals that pop up each week (usually midweek) and download such
features as Southwest's "Ding," which provides instant notification on your
computer of special fares.

4. Check Priceline and Hotwire. Though www.hotwire.com and
www.priceline.com provide regular flight-booking services (showing airlines and
flight times along with prices), both offer potentially money-saving
twists. On Priceline, you can still bid for a flight, then discover the
airline and times after you pay; check www.biddingfortravel.com for bidding
pointers. Hotwire works a little differently: It shows you the price up
front, then reveals the carrier/flight times after you've forked over
your credit card (it does give you helpful hints like "not a redeye"
when listing fares with the veiled flights).

5. Check other budget sites. A number of sites -- including
www.cheaptickets.com and www.travelzoo.com -- are frequently updated and
full of bargains.

6. Consider last-minute specialists or auction sites. Check out the
packages at services such as www.site59.com, which offers late- breaking
air/hotel combos from just a few days out to weeks in advance. While you
may not need the hotel, the package price could very well beat the
no-advance-purchase fares being offered elsewhere. Or go to a site such as
SkyAuction.com (www.skyauction.com), in which you can bid for an
airline ticket -- just remember that once you buy, you're stuck with the
ticket.

7. Check with a consolidator. For complicated, costly international
flights, consider using a consolidator, which purchases blocks of tickets
and passes the discounts on to consumers. Many don't deal directly with
the public, so you'll have to book through discounters or retail travel
agents. Check www.moffits.com, a good online resource geared toward
consolidators and travel agents who work with them; registration is free,
and you can search its database. Or try an online consolidator such as
www.1800flyeurope.com, which specializes in Europe. Beware that
consolidators come and go -- protect yourself by purchasing with a credit
card.

8. If all else fails ... let someone else do the work for you and
contact a travel agent. Remember that many charge fees for booking a ticket,
but a good agent will know where to look for cheaper fares. Check for
an agent's good standing with the American Society of Travel Agents,
www.travelsense.org.
 

Christmas Shopping

I have 11 people to shop for, with a budget of $243, only $22.09 per person, I'm doing pretty good so far:

Custom t-shirts from Zazzle $93.80 (for 5 people)
This is a website where you design your own t-shirts, posters, etc. and can sell them. I bought 5, 2 are for my sister to give as presents. They came to $18.76 each. I'm quite proud of this purchase because I received a 5% discount for purchasing more than 2 items, a 10% discount because I purchased products from my own store, and I had a free shipping code. The total before discounts was $118.19 for a savings of $24.39, plus since I went through Fat Wallet to make the purchase I get a 6% rebate back on the purchase. (Thanks to Jane Dough for the Fat Wallet link).

National Geographic gift subscription $15 (for 1)

Trees from National Arbor Day Society free (for 2)
Back in April I joined the National Arbor Day Society, for $25 you receive a monthly newsletter and 10 free tree seedlings,I chose the flowering trees. They will be delivered to me this month, this is because they are not shipped out until the dormant season. Since my parents are avid gardeners, I'm giving them each a tree.

My sister and have decided to go halfsies on presents for our grandparents (2), in exchange for my paying for the t-shirts she is giving as gifts, I do not have to pay for my half of the grandparent gifts.

Total spent so far: $108.80, gifts purchased for 8 people. This leaves $134 for the remaining 3 people and extra stocking stuffers for my parents.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

 

Current Conundrum

I like to do my taxes in January because I almost always get a refund. This year I am expecting about $1400 which I am not sure what to do with hence the conundrum. If I put it into savings it decreases the balance I have left to save for my emergency fund quite dramatically which means I can increase my monthly snowball payments. But maybe I should put it all towards the debt snowball? Through a debt calculator I found via Mighty Bargain Hunter, I discovered that I can pay off the credit cards 6 months early and save a bunch of interest by increasing my monthly payment by $100, $1400 is just over a year of extra $100 payments. Hmmmm
 

Budget 12/13/05

December's budget is in the sidebar, I've already subtracted out the bills and rent etc. The remainder is the balance of the food, gas, and cat syringes portion. The $243 available is my Christmas present budget. Hopefully I will stay well within that amount, and I better hurry because I haven't done any shopping yet.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

 

Cyber Clutter

Decluttering is a huge part of living the simple lifestyle that I'm trying to embrace and tonight I realized that it includes cyber clutter as well. We have a wireless network in our house so that my pc in the house and the bfriends Macs out in the garage/studio can all be on the internet. Well lately our router has decided not to play nice with my pc anymore. All day long today it said I was connected to a network but wouldn't let me on the internet. (I'm getting to the point of this post) After fiddling with it for awhile, my bfriend brought one of his Macs in the house and hooked me up to it. Which meant that I no longer had any of my bookmarks, or what I am calling cyber clutter for the sake of this post. I pouted for awhile, but then I realized that this was a good thing. I have so many bookmarks that they are quite the pain to organize, I can't keep tack and have duplicates of some and I probably don't use half of them. Not having them on the Mac means I am decluttered and living the cyber simple life. When I get my pc back I'm going to delete all the bookmarks and start fresh with only the ones I really need.
 

Budget with a Twist

Here's a story about a man who got tired of the "anal-compulsiveness" of budgeting and tracking all those monthly expenses. Instead he divides his monthly budget into 4 categories and allots accordingly. Committed expenses (rent, utility bills etc) are given 60% of his income, irregular expenses (vacations, repair bills), long term saving/debts, and retirement are each allotted 10% of his income. He can spend on anything he wants as long as he doesn't exceed his allottments. Its an interesting take on budgeting, maybe if I can ever get my committed expenses down to 60% of my income I'll try it out.
 

Giving with Nothing

For those of us who would like to give but aren't able to fit it into the budget here's an interesting website I found, eScrip. If you use grocery store loyalty cards, debit cards, credit cards etc. and if your store/merchant participates in the program, you can go to this site and register your card. Then everytime you shop, a percentage of your spend is donated to the school, group or organization of your choice.

For the animal lovers out there, World Wildlife Federation and Greenpeace both have action-oriented programs that require no money from you. If you sign up you'll receive emails that describe a particular campaign, then you are asked to email or write a letter to the appropriate congressman etc. They've even got it set up where they will send the email for you if you just want to send the standard script instead of personalizing. I do this all the time, it helps alleviate my guilt at not being able to send money.
 

Some interesting articles

I found this story on MSN Money, its about how a single mom with 3 kids, 2 mortgages and a car payment is surviving on a salary of 31k. There are some good tips in the article on getting by with less, plus I find the fact that she is able to get by inspiring.

A second article I found at MSNM is about the business of bad debt collecting. It seems that the latest thing in debt collection is to buy old charged off debts for pennies on the dollar and try to get people to make payments against them. The problem is that many of these debts are beyond the statute of limitations and have gone off of peoples credit reports, for instance 10 years ago abe owed 2000 he couldn't pay. His credit card company gave up on him and charged off the debt. It stayed on abe's credit report as a charge-off for 6 years (each state differs) then the statute of limitation kicked in and the debt was no longer on abe's credit report. Then his debt was purchased by the debt collection agency who managed to talk abe into making a payment on it. That reopens the debt again and bingo abe's clean credit report is not so nice again. Even if abe pays it all off, it still stays for another 6 years. The article recommends that if you have to go to the extreme of not paying a debt, once the charge-off is off your credit report make sure it stays off and don't pay anything if someone is trying to collect on it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

 

Yes You Can

No Credit Needed had a post yesterday about making more than one payment a month on your debt. One time he was paying $5/day on his credit cards just because he could. I think its a really good idea to make payments as often as you can so that you don't accidentally spend the money on something frivolous which is what I used to do with extra money.

I wanted to mention because it goes along with NCN's post that if you are able to make more than one car payment a month, check with your finance company to see if they will allow you to make a principal payment. That way the amount you pay is deducted from the amount you owe prior to interest. Your total amount owed will shrink faster and you will save yourself interest to boot. Right after I bought my car in 2002, I was able to make 6k principal payment which put me so far ahead of the payment schedule that I didn't have to make any payments for a year, which of course I didn't. In hindsight I should have kept making the payments and my car might be paid off already. Oh well.

This post reminds me, I'm going to go make a $5 payment on my #1 snowball card.
 

Renters Insurance part 1

Here are the results of my search so far for renter's insurance, I'm trying to get all my quotes online or via email so that all the information I have is in writing:

Geico: Their online quick quote system does not ask any questions about the type of home you live in, the type of items you have, if you have burglar/fire alarms etc. The quote is based on your zip code and whether you want 10k, 20k or 30k worth of coverage. Personal Liability is 50k, deductible is $250, no earthquake insurance. Price for 30k at my zip code is $307/year

Pemco: The site has an online form with all sorts of questions about your house, alarms, your personal property etc however they do not provide a price quote online. I submitted the quote request and asked for an agent to email me. I was left a voicemail and received a calendar in the mail as a thank you for visiting their website, I haven't received an email yet.

State Farm: They have the same type of extensive questionnaire as Pemco, however they also included questions about whether you had a home business which works well for us. The lowest personal liability coverage amount is 100k, the deductible is $500, the deductible for earthquake coverage is 10% or a minimum of $250 and the agent emailed instead of calling. Price for 35k of coverage at my zip is $209.

Liberty Mutual: I'm waiting to hear back from them, I can get a discount if I go through them because they have a contract with the State of WA and I'm a state employee.


I have pretty much decided to go with State Farm because they will cover the boyfriends home business and have the earthquake coverage unless Liberty Mutual is able to provide comparable coverage at a cheaper rate. If I feel like it tomorrow, I may check out a couple more companies just to make sure I'm getting a good idea of the marketplace.
 

Carnivals and Festivals

The Carnivals of Personal Finance and Debt Reduction are up. Carnival of Personal Finance is hosted by Frugal Underground here and the Carnival of Debt Reduction, hosted by Free Money Finance is here.

Blueprint for Financial Prosperity will be hosting Festival for Frugality #1 next week, this sounds like it will be a good one to read as well.

Monday, December 05, 2005

 

Savings Tips

I came across this article on MSN Money the other day, (I wish they would date their articles,) but it does have some interesting ideas. There are several tips about savings including what to do with spare change. I dont have any spare change as I don't use cash at all. I have found that if I have cash with me I spend it on something wasteful, like buying lunch even though I brought lunch. I solved the problem by not carrying cash, I just have the debit card with me which for some reason I have no problem not using at all. Anyways back to the article, here are some of the suggestions I liked:

Create bank errors in your favor. I've done this in the past but not since I started budgeting. I simply rounded up all the amounts of bills I owed when balancing the checkbook, $33.27 becomes $35 then at the end of the month you have a little surplus.
Research before you buy. This one is self-explanatory
Stash a dollar in a jar when you do laundry I like the idea of paying myself for doing chores even though I don't have the spare change to do so. Maybe I could decide how much to pay myself for laundry and vacuuming etc, then put that amount in the savings account at the end of the month.
Save all your $5 bills in a coffee can What's a $5 bill? I used to do this with my change and small bills, then whenever I went to Vegas all that money became my spending money. Once the debt is gone, the Vegas coin jar is coming back out of the closet.
 

Budget Update

The updated budget is posted in the sidebar. This months budget period ends 12/9, we are roughly $10 under budget and no expenses left, plenty of gas and food so I'm pretty confident we will end the budget month under budget and with the surplus funds intact. Yippee! That'll be the first time under budget in spite of having gone over the food budget: $200 budgeted, $218.64 spent. But of that amount $49.07 was fast food and Thanksgiving items, this bodes well for the budget if we can exercise more control in the fast food area. I did have to make an adjustment to the surplus funds to allow for our Netflix membership and I am going to apply any surplus left after Friday to Christmas gifts instead of snowballing it. I'll have a post on what we are doing this year for gifts later.

Friday, December 02, 2005

 

Fire Part 2

I was asked to post on what my landlord did after the fire. First thing I want to say is keep your landlords phone number handy, the bfriend has been living in this house for so long that we couldnt find the lease anywhere and had to look up the phone number online. The day after the fire, the llord came out to see the damage, contacted his insurance company and arranged for a cleaning crew to come out on Wednesday (fire happened Monday), they were here for 3 days. The insurance adjuster came out on Thursday, we will definitely be getting a new stove and new floor. The llord's deductible is $1000, he asked us to pay half, however if the insurance company simply gives him a check to cover everything he mentioned having us repaint and he would subtract our labor from the $500. I would prefer to go that route, but the bfriend says that it is worth $500 to have the rooms professionally repainted. This is because there is smoke damage in the living room as well as the kitchen from the smoke trying to head out the front door. I will know more once the llord lets us know what the adjuster's final figures are but it will cover all the replacement items, the repainting and the cleaning crew.

About fire extinguishers and smoke alarms, they are extremely well priced! I bought an additional smoke alarm to put in the kitchen for $5.99 and the extinguisher was only $10.99. I thought the extinguisher would have been much more, of course it is for a smaller area, up to 600 sq feet, but our house is only 670 so it should work fine.
 

Cookies, My Grandma, and Frugality

Today would have been my Grandma's 81st birthday. I've been thinking about her a lot lately because I made peanut butter cookies not too long ago. The recipe is one my Grandma found in the newspaper a long time ago when I was about eight I guess. I remember that she clipped it out because it was an easy recipe for kids, so it was perfect for baking cookies with my sister and me. This is the only peanut butter cookie recipe my sister and I use and its the only recipe I have memorized. The frugality comes into play because there are only 3 main ingredients most of which are pantry staples. So in honor of Grandma Francie's birthday:

Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients:
1 egg
1 cup of peanut butter
1 cup of sugar
chocolate chips are optional

Mix well, drop by rounded spoonfuls on non-stick cookie sheet, and bake at 350 for 10 minutes or until golden brown. If they are a little soft when done, thats okay they usually firm up on cooling. Thats it! Very easy, makes about a dozen cookies. They are very sweet so have with milk and enjoy!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

 

The Disaster that May End Well

I haven't posted for a couple of days because I've been de-stressing from Monday night when we had a fire in our kitchen. I was heating oil to fry fish, left the room for what I thought was just a sec and came back to flames up to the ceiling. Luckily the fire was contained in the pot and we managed to put it out before the fire department arrived. Since then we've been dealing with the landlord, the insurance adjuster and the cleaning crew. The end result is that we are getting a new stove, new hood, new paint job , and new floor. The downside is that this will cost us $500 (our share of the landlord's deductible) which one of us will have to borrow from a parent. However I am feeling very fortunate right now when I consider how much worse the damage could have been. And I have learned a lot from this, some of which was common sense and I feel like an idiot for causing this to happen

1. Always have a fire extinguisher (we didn't, we had to throw flour on the fire, but we have one now)
2. Install a smoke alarm in the kitchen (our is in the hall and never went off)
3. Never leave oil unattended
4. Firemen are extremely nice and deserve huge kudos for the job they do
5. Never take anything for granted, you don't know when you'll lose it

Besides the new kitchen items we are also going to get renters insurance. It was simply something I never thought about before but it'll be in place by the end of the month. I'll have a post later with some insurance company comparisons.