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 good  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. πŸ™‚
  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 rate  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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™‚ 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!

Foolish banks (Bank of America, I’m looking at you)

I realized I hadn’t kvetched in a while about finances. In this case, it’s going to be a very good kvetch. lol. You probably know that I’m not too fond of Bank of America any more. Yes, they were the first credit card provider that took on this poor needy post-college student, but now, I’m grown but they don’t want to acknowledge it! I think I can feel free to say that my card has a $1,000 limit. I currently owe nothing (zip, zilch, nada) on this account and right now, I’m only keeping the card to make my credit to debt ratio look good for my credit score’s benefit. Which by the way, according to all 3 credit bureaus, is so close to 700 that I can taste it. That’s awesome considering I only had credit starting in late 2006.  The other credit card is on its way to being paid down and I anticipate keeping this other card because they have a way more reasonable APR (13.99%) than Bank of America’s eye-gouging 20.49% for purchases and 23.99% for ATM withdrawals, etc. I’m just glad that I got rid of that debt and can focus on Sun Trust. I plan on closing out the account right before they have a chance to charge me almost $30 for the "privilege" of having an account with them. They can suck lemons. I plan on calling every month till about June to ask for an APR decrease or try to have my account converted (hopefully without a hard credit pull) to a credit card account without the annual fees & hopefully a reduced APR too. However, with the folks I’ve spoken with, I don’t think they’ll bite so the alternative: they’ll lose me as a customer. Just not yet. I’m going to milk this cow till I’m good and ready. Once again, let me see them collect fees on a $0 balance account. LMAO.

[in heavy drawl]Anyways,[end of heavy drawl], I’m doing fine. I just saw a brief glimpse of my sister and her husband (dang, we’re both off the market now) and she looked simply put, beautiful. I’m itching to get my hands on some video of the event. I’ll put up bite-sized chunks up on my gallery (password-protected, obviously). Life is good at Hotel California (inside joke) and I’ll tell the joke. In short, we (all the residents of the house we live in) got T-shirts that read "Hotel California" from one of the residents (JH) and that’s what we’re calling the place we live in: Hotel California. Where the thermostat goes straight up to 72 degrees Fahrenheit at the whisper of lows of 62F in Winter. Jeez. lol. Don’t get me started on this heat rant again. Our utility bills went up quite appreciably for January and I can tell you that that was not appreciated by yours truly. PC came over and kept trying to explain the reason for the jump and while there was one particular reason for it to go up (a leaky faucet that dripped hot water), I truly think it was the fact that I eased off on my fanatical monitoring of the thermostat. Well, that’s over. I gave PC the benefit of the doubt that he wouldn’t abuse it i.e. switching it to higher temperatures unnecessarily, but I can honestly say that there were several occasions that that heater did not need to be going on!! I mean, I just have to vent here because I can’t express myself to him without feeling like I’ll be construed as "ungrateful". Again, it’s going back to the whole mentality of knowing that he’s got tenants who will bear the major brunt of the utility bills and thus, feeling free to go crazy with the thermostat. Don’t tell me: it’s his house, yes and we can put up or shut up. Well, as it is, we’re in a symbiotic relationship and he needs us just as he needs him. We have a common ground even though I make Hotel California sound like a war zone. It’s actually nice and definitely keeping our living bills still below $450 monthly (I can’t say that for the summer though. It was awful). So, I’m not in too much of a hurry especially as the "deals" we’re seeing for housing aren’t that great i.e. ~ $455 just for rent and water excluding utilities. Right now, we pay for water and trash and they probably amount to ~ $60 so it’s a relatively small price to pay versus the ~ $100 utility bills we may be receiving in an apartment complex (that’s without cable). It shan’t be for long though and I’ll leave it at that. πŸ™‚

I’m currently embarking on an "experiment" that’s leaving me a little bit more tired than I’m used to being. So, I’ll monitor the situation and then, make a decision to take it or leave it. Dad/Mom, don’t freak. I promise it’s nothing crazy. lol.

Finally, I need to put M on blast. lol. What did he do? Where do I start? πŸ˜€ Okay, I got a coupon book from a lab mate who was gracious enough to spare from her excess. It has great deals like buy one/get one free (BOGOF) from places we eat at (I believe I’ve mentioned this book before). Well, M decided to go eat at Subway (bearing in mind I’m not too big on the whole subs idea especially Subway’s subs). I went along because he’d been dropping mad hints that he wanted to scratch his sub itch. So, we broke out the coupon booklet and behold, we had a coupon for a BOGOF on 6-inch subs. Well, I decided to substitute my free sub for a salad which cost a dollar more. Then, suddenly and inexplicably, M asked me if I wanted a drink. lol. You have to be with us to understand why this was so earth-shattering. We never get drinks at fast food restaurants because we’ve both concurred (a long time ago) that those deals were rip-offs. Now, in his defense, he had just done an intense workout and I was even extra-tired too and we were both acting loopy. So, he got 1 sub, 2 small drinks and a salad that was essentially $1. The bill totaled to approximately $8.50. I literally did a double-take as did M. You guessed it, the two drinks were $2.60 and the sub was nearly $4!! That was what threw me for a loop. I didn’t know subs had gotten so damned expensive which is a testament to the truth behind my assertion that I really don’t do sub shops. πŸ™‚ Anyhow, lesson learned: avoid getting drinks when getting meals. The main redeeming aspects of our trip to Subway were the awesome salad, the free refills which I took liberal advantage of (I made M get his refill too) and the pleasure of knowing that M was going to be hungry again due to the malnourished looking sub he got (I love you Matt!!).lol. I was right. Just kidding. I wasn’t being a downer, I promise. I took it like a champ and we had fun. Now that I’ve put him on blast, I know I’ve jinxed myself and will slip up on something. πŸ™‚ *crosses fingers and toes*

And that’ll do it for now. Peace!