Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Close Call

I came very close today to breaching my 30 day spending fast  to purchase this  J. Crew polka dot skirt  that is on super sale, currently on sale plus 40% off (and today is the last day).

But I held out, put my J. Crew spendy certificate back in its drawer and closed out of the site and went back to work.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Retirement Savings

I have had a a chance to update our retirement savings numbers.

In January 2011, we had $381,076 in our 401k accounts and a total of $445,933 for retirement savings.  Now, in January 2012, we have $407,895 in our 401k accounts and a total of $484,333 for retirement savings.

If you follow this adventure, you will note that we actually "lost" money this past year in our 401k accounts as we contributed the max to our 401k accounts, $33,000 (plus my husband receives a match) but our 401k accounts only increased by $26,819.  The 2011 markets were generally flat, so our returns were worse than the market.

We did a bit better in our IRA accounts.  In January 2011, we had $60,858 in our IRAs and in January 2012 we have $76,438.  We contributed the max to our IRAs, $10,000, in 2011, so we had a "profit" of $5,580.  I think it is interesting that our IRA investments did better than our 401k investments.  Our 401k monies are invested in mutual funds, while our IRA monies are invested in riskier individual stocks.  However, we did buy some super bargain stocks in the spring of 2009 and those investments are doing quite well.

As an aside, I heard an interesting tid bit on NPR the other day.  The speaker suggested that when purchasing an investment, one should keep track of the cost of that investment, the amount purchased, and why the purchase was made so that when considering selling you have much more information.  I think this is a great idea and one I'm going to suggest to Mr. Sam.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

More on Mortgage

Post holidays I have been slammed at work, so I have not finished our 2012 Annual Spending Plan nor have we completed our 2012 Savings Plan.  My goal is to get it done this week, since we are one pay period into the new year.

I'm still researching and contemplating whether to continue our mortgage prepayment plan from 2011, and if yes, how much.

I think the answer to question #1 is yes.  I think we will either continue a monthly principal prepayment or we will set aside prepayment amount into a savings account (meaning we will allocate funds for principal prepayment but keep it liquid in a savings account).  

The answer to question #2 is still unknown and somewhat dependent on our spending plan.  But, today we received our 1098 for the mortgage on our primary home.  We paid down our mortgage principal by $11,847.53 in 2011, $5000 of that from prepayments and the rest from our regular mortgage payment.  We also paid $13,365.03 in interest in 2011.  So, I'm thinking that we might increase our principal prepayment at least a couple thousand more, if possible, so that we are paying as much in principal as we are in interest.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Store Debit Cards

I stay far, far away from most store branded credit cards because, more often than not, the terms of such cards are horrible.

But, did you know that Nordstrom and Target both offer a store branded debit card?

Nordstrom is one of my favorite stores, great quality merchandise and the best customer service.  I have friends who live by their Nordstrom credit cards, because the rewards are so great, but I have always said no, no, no to a Nordstrom credit card.  In fact on a recent girls trip, one of my friends paid for my Nordstrom purchases with her Nordstrom credit card because she wanted the points (I gave her a check).  I understand that the Nordstrom rewards program provides two points for every dollar spent, and when you hit 2000 points you get a $20 Nordstrom note.  So basically once you spend $1000 you get $20 back which doesn't seem that great.  But, and this is why my friend paid for my purchases, if you make your purchases during double or triple bonus point events they can add up quick.

The Target debit card provides 5% discounts (just like the Target credit card) on purchases.

So, how do these fancy new cards work?  First, you can only use the debit cards at the particular store.  With your debit application you supply a voided check our a routing number and the store submits a transaction, like if you use your debit card for an online purchase, utilizing same.

Upside for these types of cards? no debt and rewards galore.

Downside for store debit cards? possible overdraft charges and increased spending to obtain said rewards.

Monday, January 9, 2012

A January Spending Fast

After balancing our checking accounts last week, I was shocked at how much money we spent in December.  Between holiday, charitable, party and vacation/travel spending during December we blew through quite a chunk of change.  The vast majority of that spending was thoughtfully planned and also saved for, in advance, in our holiday and travel/vacation ING savings accounts.   But some of our December 2011 spending was just spending . . .

I don't do well with temptations and if I'm out buying gifts at Target for the Angel family we sponsored for the holidays I might just pick up an item or two for myself (which happened).  Or if I am at a charitable function with the  "ladies who lunch"  I might just find myself caught up in their spending cascade (which happened).

As a result, I have decided that I am on a 30 day spending fast starting today January 9, 2012.  What that means for me is that I will avoid the malls, the shops, the catalogs (they will go directly into the recycling bin), the emails from my favorite retailers touting their post holiday sales (delete, delete, delete), I will refrain from downloading E-books, iTunes, iPhone apps, etc.

To the extent I think of something that I need or want in the next 30 days I will write it down and revisit it in a month.  I will calendar the two rebate coupons that I'm carrying around ($15 at J. Crew and $125 at Pottery Barn) so I will not worry about forgetting them but also will not use them in the next 30 days so as not to be tempted into spending above and beyond the rebate amount.

Please consider joining me in my 30 day spending fast.  If 30 days feels too long, consider a weekend or a work-week spending fast to jump start your habits in the new year.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lost in Translation

Last night I stopped by CVS to pick up a prescription.  Since I live in South Florida, which has a high population of Spanish speaking folks, CVS has moved to employing bilingual folks in the pharmacy department.  While this makes perfect sense, some of these folks actually don't speak English very well.

The pharmacy tech gave me the prescription and then asked me for my card.  I was perplexed since under our insurance plan I thought my prescription would cost $0.00.  But, since it is a new year and health benefits change from year to year I was not overly surprised that what was $0.00 in 2011 might have a charge in 2012.  I gave her my debit card and she said "no, no, card" and returned my debit card.  I asked, do you need my insurance card (we have not received new 2012 insurance cards yet)?  She responded, "no, no" and walked away and returned holding up a red CVS savings card.  Now, as an aside I don't use those savings cards as I don't like corporate America tracking my every purchase.  I do know folks who use them and get good discounts but use a fake name or their dog's name (and I actually have a savings card in Snarfle's name which I have used for his medications from time to time, since not covered by our insurance) so I need to look into that.  I told her I didn't have a CVS savings card and asked what my total was?  Her response, there was no charge for the prescription.  So my follow up question was, what savings would I get by using the CVS savings card on a $0.00 transaction?  Her response, no savings.

I left wondering about the point of all that back and forth.  I'm sure the pharmacy tech is required to ask each and every customer for their CVS savings card so I don't hold her responsible.  But, what should have been a one (1) minute transaction turned into a five (5) minute transaction.  I was frustrated both because I did not understand what she was asking for and, when I did finally understand, what the point was.  CVS is losing money because the employee is wasting time on pointless banter and I'm, as the customer, left with a negative impression.

If a pharmacy transaction is $0.00 there should be no request for a CVS savings card  Since, logic would dictate, there is no opportunity for savings.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

2011 Savings - Final Tally

(1) Max out 401k(s) - $32,749 (99%)(goal is $33,000) 
(2) Max out IRA(s) - $10,000 (100%)(goal is $10,000) 
(3) Add to e/r fund - $10,000 (100%)(goal is $10,000) 
(4) Pay down mortgage - $5,000 (100%)(goal is $5,000) 
(5) House projects - $2,314 (46%) (goal is $5,000)

 Total - $60,060 (95%) 

Overall, we are pleased with our 2011 savings performance.  We completed, in full, three out of five of our goals.  As for our 401k contribution, I maxed mine out and Mr. Sam almost maxed his out.  He fell $255 short on his contributions, but he also received a match of $5,545 from his company.  So, while we are not counting the match in our 2011 savings tally we are counting the 401k goal as completed. Comparing our savings in 2011 to 2010 we saved an extra $10,735 in 2011.

As previously discussed, most of that extra savings came from increases in our respective salaries and bonus money.  So in 2012 we will be looking at whether we can boost savings by reducing recurring costs (i.e. we already reduced DirecTv by $240 a year) and discretionary spending.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Diving into 2012

While we have not finished out our 2011 year end assessment and we have not completed our 2012 Annual Spending Plan or 2012 Savings Goals, we have already started to make progress tidying up our financial house.

We were having trouble with our DirecTv box, so we had to call in to request a replacement box.  While we had them on the phone we spoke to customer service and requested a reduction in our monthly bill.  I have done this before and I have always had success.  This time around the reduced our bill by $20 per month for one year which will save us $240 in 2012.  We also got ShowTime, a premium channel, free for three months.  We will have to call to cancel ShowTime or we will be billed, so I put it right into my iPhone calendar while we were on the phone with them so I won't forget.  That is an extra $240 we can put towards prepayment of our mortgage or add to savings or even spend it on something more exciting.

Getting your financial life in order doesn't always mean you have to cut out things you enjoy, like pay t.v., rather you can ask for a deal and chances are good you might get one because DirecTv will spend less on giving us a discount vs. trying to get another new customer.