Heating bills and financial lessons

Okay, breathe with me. Last month’s heating bill was ~ $44. This month’s heating bill = ~ $66. My jaw literally dropped and I instantly placed a call to my energy company to schedule a free high-bill re-check. Then, I called my husband and broke the news to him. lol. He claimed he wasn’t surprised, but I was honestly was. In retrospect, and if I’m brutally honest, the high heating bill was my fault. My usage of my small space heater was drastically increased (I’m talking about turning it on daily for ~ 12 hrs each day!). Being the argumentative wife I am, I argued with Matt that it must have been the 3 – 5 times we must have run the heater for the house or leaving lights on. In any case, this is a huge wake-up call for me. I cannot do things like run a space heater for 12 hrs daily and not expect my heating bill to bite me in the ass. *sigh*

In other news, if you have been living under a rock, the Federal Reserve slashed interest rates further and while this is goodร‚ย  news for borrowers, people with money in savings account (i.e. us) are essentially seeing our savings rates slashed too. Right now, ING Direct’s Current Annual Percentage Yield is 2.75%. I’m not complaining though because it is still better than Wachovia’s saving rates. Now I’m on the topic of finances, I just have to say that we have done rather badly in terms of savings. This wasn’t because we went on a huge spending spree. We had strategic investments i.e. payments to make. For one, I finished making payments on my laptop and we also bought a used car from Matt’s friend (which was a steal). Nevertheless, I’m forging ahead and I clearly won’t make my saving amount of ~$5, 000 for the year (although that goal was set while at my previous job).

The Suntrust account is still 75% paid off and I’m disappointed that I didn’t do more to get this figure up. Nevertheless, my financial goals (going into the new year) will be:

  1. Keep making “payments” to our ING Direct savings accounts: Again, it bears repeating that everyone needs an emergency fund. Ideally, this should be 3 – 6 mths worth of money that will allow you to ride out the loss of 1 income source, a health issue, a car wreck, etc. We technically don’t even have an emergency fund yet because once I remove the cost of our current liabilities (just 1 credit card), we’re left with not much. These payments will occur monthly and the deposit will be at least $150 each time.
  2. Pay off Suntrust credit card before April 2009: This is a rather modest goal and definitely eases the pressure. We have enough room to keep making just the minimum payments, but I’ve been reading horror stories about people who saw their lines of credit cut in half & their credit scores plummeting. I definitely want to keep my score (~ 720 in all 3 credit bureaus) looking the way it is. ๐Ÿ™‚
  3. Resume payments to Fidelity ROTH IRA: Since the purchase of my laptop and other big ticket items, I put my payments on hold. I haven’t actually begun investing the current funds in my ROTH IRA because it needs to be at $2,500 or above in order not to incur yearly (not sure if they are monthly) fees for making investments in mutual funds. The only way to get around those pesky fees is to commit to making automatic payments of $200 or more in order to invest in mutual funds.
  4. Consolidate my retirement accounts: Actually, this is already done because I’ve got my employer’s matches going into a Fidelity retirement account as well as my contributions. Fidelity’s also the holder of my ROTH IRA. The consolidation largely refers to the previous holder of my retirement account. It should be interesting how this all plays out on my taxes filings.matt
  5. Figure out investment options with Matt’s retirement account: His rate of return is currently -26% while mine is -1.8%. Now, my low rate of return is largely because Fidelity (for some reason) has about half of my stuff in a money market account. I’m sure when all that’s migrated to actual investments, I’ll see my rateร‚ย  of return get lowers. Now, Matt’s retirement account is managed by Merrill Lynch and while they provide a more hands-on approach, their selection is a little bit limited (not to mention confusing!). I just want to put his funds into an investment “bucket” (so to speak) because they takes the headache out of managing his account. I adjusted his investments to spread the risk so I’m hoping that it will stem the bloodletting. lol.

Enough of the money talk. ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m currently jamming to some Alicia Keys. Peace and I’m out!

Financial recap and other musings

So, I haven’t said much about savings, retirement planning et cetera. In fact, all that stuff seems trivial in the face of the real depression-style era that is looming ahead of us if things continue as they have in the US lately. The economy is in a free-fall as more people and investor panic and yank their money out of the system. I don’t blame them, but it’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy. *shudders* Anyhow, I’m not retiring anytime soon so I hope that my investments will stand the test of time. I’m sorely tempted to do the usual trick of investors i.e buying stocks at low prices, but what if they never recover? Well, that was not the sole focus of this post. I was going to talk about our energy usage and brag a little bit even about how two of us are keeping a low energy footprint in our apartment in the face of a hot summer and now, perhaps an unusually cool winter? Here’s a chart I whipped up in Excel:
As you can see, we haven’t even cracked $42 in bill payments yet! Clearly, we’ve shot up during the summer, but not enough to get me worried. My guess for this winter will be that we won’t hit $50, but I anticipate running some standalone heating elements because I’m really anti-cold. ๐Ÿ™‚ According to M, reason number 2001 to have more body fat. Here are the actual numbers:
Now, if only other areas of expense resemble our energy costs! In fact, our utilities are the most stable liabilities we have i.e. internet and energy. Food and Gas are the current major money guzzlers and we are working on a means to cook at home more. We are paying the price of eating out and constantly having excuses for not cooking at home. Heck, I can’t count how many items have gone bad because we didn’t cook them in time.

Payday is nigh and I’m already feeling pinched! Here is a quick breakdown of some of the pre-programmed expenses I have:

Jane’s expenses
HP Laptop Credit Card $500
SunTrust Credit Card $100
Roth IRA $200
ING Direct Savings $250
Rent $275
Cellphone $50

Now, in a sick and twisted way, seeing the expenses laid out gives me courage to keep going on because I know that my aggressive strategy will pay off! For instance, after another such $500 payment to the HP laptop fund, I’ll have an extra $500 to “play” with. We have slowed off on the SunTrust payoff, but I’ve been snowflaking little amounts to it so I fully expect to have a balance of zero by the end of the year. I’ve been making little contributions to a christmas fund so that I’ll be able to get little tokens of appreciation for people. Overall, I don’t think our financial outlook is dire. After I got my laptop, things got thrown off kilter a little bit, but I definitely don’t regret that purchase. In a couple of years, I see myself upgrading the laptop i.e. giving Matt this one and getting the next OS upgrade that Microsoft has to offer. On that sombering note, I’ll sign off and I bid you all a good night!

Putting the brakes on and being focused

I’ve been having a blast on the bike. Definitely not overdoing it so that I am not overly tired. I’m thinking of putting the kibosh on a few things and I’m mulling over it to make sure I’m doing it for the right reasons. In any case, I think that I will be fine with whatever decision I make. I’ve made the first steps and I feel good about that. I’m attending a shower (my first ever!!) for Mrs. J and I’m excited about that. I’m planning on busting out the camera and taking tons of pictures. ๐Ÿ™‚ It makes me wish that I could also be around my own sister who’s got visited by the stork too! One of these days… I know I keep saying that, but it will happen. Little drops of water make puddles and puddles turn into ponds and so on.

In financial use, our usage of the credit card is down to 25%. I recently got them to increase the limit purely to inflate the credit to debt ratio so that our credit scores don’t nosedive. As a matter of fact, I’ve cracked past 710 on Transunion and Experian! Equifax reads a bit lower, but I’m not bothered. Again, you do not want to up your spending simply because your limit has been increased. So nothing has changed except that we’re waiting on a certain buyer to pony up money so we can send a relatively large snowflake to the credit card. I’m also committing to savings and I’ve been treating it as a ‘debt’ that I have to make payments to. So far, it’s working. I was so close to not making a payment this month, but I reminded myself of my goal for this year which was to have an emergency fund. I have to say that we had a month of some large expenses, but Uncle Sam’s tax rebate helped buffer a lot of it without us having to dip into our emergency fund. Not to mention that we have been consciously keeping tabs on spending. Nevertheless, I still think a budget will go a long way in curtailing things further.

In other news, I just wooted this morning and got myself a Garmin Mobile 20 Portable GPS receiver for $54.99 which is $10 less at Amazon. If you recall, I upgraded to a Treo 750 (refurbished) for the princely sum of $100. This smart phone can become a GPS device. All it needs is a receiver which is what the garmin thingamabob is. Of course, this was an impulse buy, but it is currently at a low price than I’ve been seeing all year. I can’t wait to play with my new toy. ๐Ÿ˜€ Speaking of toys, I still haven’t gotten proper bike gear. Right now, I’m wearing the pants off my shorts. As I’m doing more challenging trails, I will need to get biking gear so I’ve started a sub-account to fund the purchase of my biking gear. I’m glad that I’ve stopped thinking about simply charging things to the card. It’s a Ferris wheel that’s hard to get off once you get on it. My other goal for the year besides building our emergency fund will be clearing the credit card balance.

In other other news, I just got done watching a performance by Pilobolus at TED (a conference) which is awesome. I just downloaded the movie file to my computer to watch again to ponder its meaning. Right now, I would willingly pay $100 to see a live performance. I’m sad they won’t even be visiting Georgia (based on their schedule on the web). Right now, I’m obsessively going through their videos. Very impressive.

Movies that make you go “What?!!”

M rented a movie called “Shattered” and we just got around to watching on yesterday night. The basic premise (which later got turned upside down on its head) was probing how far parents would go in order to protect their kids in, say, a hostage situation. Needless to say, Hollywood likes to present the point of view (POV) that parents should do ANY thing. This movie calls that into question and presents several ethical dilemmas. One of the characters was unbelievably wimpy and I got so mad that I requested that we end our movie watching experience. M vetoed that idea or somehow we got to talking about it and kept watching (he’s tricky, that one). I think I liked this movie. I’m still trying to process and figure out why I had such a reaction to it. Oh well…

In personal news, I just found out that my sister’s traditional wedding date is set. I’m sad to miss it and I am not too optimistic about being able to make it to the “church” wedding either! I know, I know. I hope we either get a bigger tax refund windfall or I penny pinch my heart out because it will involve considerable expense to go home. There are several things I wish I knew while I was in college. Without further ado, I wish I:

1) Knew to save my damn money from my summer internships that netted me over $7000 tax free!! Then again, I know the sad circumstances that followed my receipt of saidร‚ย  money. Needless to say, I have moved on from regretting my reckless spending and trying to curtail things. M & I are trying to start an emergency fund and pay off credit card debt at the same time. Thankfully, it’s only 1 credit card which we will

2) Had some sort of financial education a la starting up a savings account, investments, etc. Again, in the decade or more whenever M & I decide to have offspring, we will be having not just “the talk” but talk about fiscal responsibility and value of savings.

3) Had some sort of discussion about career choices. I love the field I’m in. However, I wish I hadn’t “rushed” to graduate college. In retrospect, I should have stuck with my initial feelings of wanting to minor in Computer Science. Or something else besides my field. These days, I love when I hear an undergrad is majoring in two different fields because this “up”s your marketability. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having one major. I went the grad. school route because part of me thought I wasn’t ready for the working world with the “little knowledge” I had.

Anyway, as they say, live and learn. I’m turning 23 soon and learning as I go. Watch this space! ๐Ÿ™‚