Or so the saying goes.. 🙂 Since the year began, I’ve been hard at work with a new (to me) course for the Spring Semester. My job’s physically demanding and thankfully, I’ve been up to the task. I love all my bosses especially as I feel really appreciated. The students I’ve been working with also appreciate the work I put in to making the laboratory a comfortable place to be despite the circumstances. lol. Matt’s been acing his tests and exams. I couldn’t be prouder of him and how far we have grown as a unit. Not too long ago, I posted a status message on my Facebook page about how nothing beat taking a stroll in the woods with the one you love. That continues to hold true and I couldn’t be happier with my choice of a life partner. Alright, enough sappiness. 🙂
In personal finance management news, our heating bill saw a $20 spike in the month of December and we continued getting heating bills in the ~ 60s for a while until last month when it finally came down to $58. However, that didn’t give me much consolation because our energy usage per day was still higher i.e. ~ $2 per day. In any case, we’re doing pretty good considering I’ve sorta given up being so strict.
With news of the American economy tanking, Matt & I have continued our habits of keeping our credit card debt as low as we can i.e. 22% of our credit limit which is just enough to let the credit card company that we are actively using the card, but low enough for them to understand that we are not in trouble & maxing out the card. Our savings are not where I’d like them to be, but that’s to be expected when unexpected expenses arise. It didn’t make it easier when our federal and state tax refunds were less than half of what we received last year. Thankfully, we have a good grasp on our finances and it didn’t really matter whether we received a tax refund or not. As a matter of fact, I’d rather keep more of my paycheck and receive a smaller tax refund because I’ll be able to put the money to better use when I have ownership of the funds right away!
In retirement account news, my Fidelity 401(k) has been tanking. My rate of return for this year is ~ -14%. Thankfully, my employer’s match takes the sting out of seeing the funds drop because the way I see it, it’s not my money that’s disappearing although it kinda is. lol. Does my weird logic make sense? I haven’t even looked at Matt’s retirement accounts lately although his accounts should do well. That’s about it for now. A ‘thicker’ post to come!
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 goodÂ 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:
- 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.
- 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. 🙂
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 rateÂ 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. 🙂 I’m currently jamming to some Alicia Keys. Peace and I’m out!
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. 🙂 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:
|HP Laptop Credit Card
|SunTrust Credit Card
|ING Direct Savings
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!
Here are some words of advice to WordPress users who download themes from the WordPress Theme Viewer site: make sure to visit the theme authors’ sites to download the true latest versions. Case in point: Breaking News by ShinRa House. On the Theme Viewer, it’s still only version 1.0. On a hunch, I downloaded the version of Breaking News on the author’s site and lo & behold, it came up as version 2.6.Â If only the theme viewer site was as streamlined as the official WordPress plugins directory! I am more in love with my theme right now because it’s not picture heavy at all. I will be working hard to add some more tweaks, but out of the box, it fits all my needs right now. My first week back at work was uneventful and a bit slow. I didn’t have too much to do, but I know that the pace will be picking up pretty quickly. There are a couple of goals that need to be reached and I need to be on my grind. So, as next week rolls along, I shall be rolling my sleeves up along with it. Let’s get this party started!! 🙂
We’re still apartment-hunting. Thanks in no small part to my aggressive cost-cutting measures, our power (gas) bill is still low.Â However, little niggling issues (mostly on my part) are cropping up and making me just a wee bit extra-eager to get our own place. Since I’ve started working, I really get at most 4 hrs per week day to myself. I don’t want to spend it housekeeping especially if it’s not stuff that I’ve majorly contributed to or accumulated. I do a bit of housework myself. Just not as much as I used to when I was jobless. However, PC likes delegating during his free time and me, I like to do things as the spirit moves me. So, even paying me will not entice me to do certain duties unless aforementioned spirit moves me. 🙂 *sigh* We’ll see how things pan out.
In other news, lol, I just made a batch of kick-ass chili (very thoroughly inspired by J, M’s sister). I followed the Pinto Bean Chili Recipe as found on About.com with some minor modifications. I soaked the pinto beans overnight to get them to soften. Then, I fired up a pot of water to boil and dumped the beans in there and left to simmer for about 1hr or until the bean skins peel off if lightly touched or blown upon. Then, I dumped a big can (and a quarter can) of diced Hunts tomatoes and allowed this to simmer with the beans for over 30mins (the recipe said 5 mins, but I began to panic because it didn’t taste like Julie’s chili yet. lol). Then, I fried up (in 3 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil) 2 big green bell peppers and 1 and half large onions till the onions turned brown.Â I added my seasonings consisting of chili powder, curry (I thought the recipe said curry, but it was cumin. Oops. lol), garlic powder, dried oregano leaves and some maggi. I let the chili simmer for over 4 hrs and M said it was awesome. I am definitely going to try my hand at this again.
In other other news,Â I’ve paid off my BoA credit card. I am more than relieved about this. I can now focus all my energies to paying off my SunTrust card. I’m reading a bunch of personal finance articles that are alternately uplifting and scary. lol. I’ll have to write about my findings in a separate post. Till I do, take care!