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Music to My Ears

February 24th, 2010 at 03:22 pm

After reading the comments to my last post, and responding to them, I decided to attempt a(nother) conversation with Mr H regarding my car. I've been attempting these conversations since my car approached ten years in age. Usually my concerns were met with vague responses and when I pressed for specifics Mr H would start to sputter and yell. Not conducive for problem solving, to say the least.

I realize that my last post and my response to comments may have sounded a tad whiney. I'm pretty discouraged in many areas concerning Mr H. All I can say is - if you are single choose your life partner very carefully. I'm a shining bad example of what not to do in that department.

The short version of the following is below the asterisks:

Setting the stage:
I chose a reasonable time (Daisy was in bed) and approached quietly.

When to replace:
I told Mr H that I had been thinking about my car, and what criteria we might use to decide to replace it. He told me about the four vehicles he'd owned: Truck 1 was replaced when he'd spent $500 every six months fixing it. Truck 2 was replaced when he'd spent $500 every six months fixing it, plus he just wanted something new. Truck 3 (purchased a month before he met me) was sold 1-1/2 years ago when gas prices reached $4+ per gallon (truck got 15 mpg). Car 1 is an economical Honda purchased used from his folks, who took meticulous care of it.

I asked if there was a dollar limit in repairs at which he felt my car ought to be replaced. We easily spent $2000 fixing it last year. He couldn't really come up with one. I pondered if the $500 every six months was felt more in the 1980's, when his finances weren't very stable. Our finances are reasonably stable; we set aside money for car repairs so while it's a hit financially we aren't wondering where our mortgage payment is coming from. He agreed that this could be true.

In the end, he really didn't come up with a dollar limit. But he believed that if the engine or the transmission needed to be replaced the car should be replaced. Success! I believe this too, so we are in agreement here.

How much to spend:
Without really knowing how much a "good" used car costs, I had thought $5000. He suggested $10,000 as a figure. (The Honda was between $9000 and $10,000.) I agreed.

What to purchase:
He suggested another small Honda. I told him that if my car dies before Daisy leaves I'd like to replace it with a mini van. I'm entering serious kid-hauling years and frequently haul more kids than just Daisy; I'd like a kid-hauling vehicle. After she leaves home we'd downsize the vehicle. He agreed, although, again, neither of us really know what a "good" used min-van would cost. And, I suppose, it depends on your definition of good. My car is likely to go at some point after 200,000 miles. The clock is broken, the tape player is broken, the paint is chipping in spots and I'm taking it in this week to get a seatbelt replaced. A vehicle with 100,000 miles on it could look pretty good to me!

Where the money is coming from:
We'd been doing pretty well in our conversation, and so I brought up the big question. . . the fight starting question. . . where is the money going to come from? He is going to be negotiating a raise with his employer this week. He suggested that we table this conversation until March 1st so we'd know how much, but then. . . he said the words I'd longed to hear since I started these conversations seven or eight years ago: "I think we should set aside money every paycheck specifically for it. If we don't do that we will just spend the money on something else." Be still, my heart!

Now I'll wait to see if he brings it back up on the first. . . if not, I'll bring it back up later.


The end result was that we had a suprisingly reasonable conversation that ended in agreement on when to replace, how much to spend, what to purchase and where the money is coming from. No yelling or sputtering was involved.

Mr H's Car

February 20th, 2010 at 09:33 pm

Mr H's car was damaged in an accident last week.

Fortunately Mr H was not in the car. Someone's car wouldn't start and that person was pushing said car and lost control of it. Also fortunately said person had insurance. Mr H's car sustained body damage but apparently is okay otherwise. He is now working to get it fixed.

In a different conversation he mentioned taking my car to get it fixed this summer while Daisy and I go visit my family. My car sustained damage to its front bumper a couple of years ago when Mr H was pressure washing the house. Did you know that the exhaust from a pressure washer is hot and will melt the plastic bumper on a car if the exhaust pipe gets too close to it? Neither did I.

Mr H's declaration was music to my ears. After I discovered the burn mark on my bumper I asked Mr H about it. He swore he didn't do it. Then, when he realized he did do it, he didn't apologize for it. I took my car in and got an estimate for the fix. . . but worse than the estimate (body work is never cheap) was the number of days I'd need to be without my car - three to five, I think. I don't remember now. I live in suburbia. I figured I'd get no cooperation from Mr H with getting around and so the burn mark sits there.

Now that Mr H is dealing with someone else (besides him) causing damage to his vehicle, I think he's starting to understand why I was (and still am, kind of) upset by the damage to my car. It wasn't the damage so much as Mr H's unwillingness to accept any sort of responsibility for his actions, at least the ones that cause problems. It's a pattern of his, and it's hard to live with. But if he does get it fixed this summer I'll feel better.


I also have come up with a plan for when my car finally dies. It is a 17 year old Toyota, running pretty well, but it has 194,000 miles on it. I'm hoping that it will keep going until Daisy is done with high school but if not here's what I'm going to do: take some money from the emergency fund and buy a used car. I think I can do this with help from my car guys. I'm not mechanically savy but I do have good car guys. I don't love this plan and hope that I can come up with a better one, but I feel better at least having something lined up.


There has been no change under the bench at ballet. I checked when there were no other ballet moms around.

Missed Opportunity

February 12th, 2010 at 02:22 pm

Twice weekly I sit on a bench in a hallway, waiting while Daisy takes a dance class. The bench is quite long - room for many parents - it sits like an old church pew. Earlier this week while I sat waiting a child came by with his mom. "Hey, look, there's money!" he exclaimed as he looked under the opposite end of the bench from me.

I tried to watch without staring as he pulled the change from under the bench. . . two pennies and a nickel. He and his mom had quite a discussion about his keeping the money, and after asking me if it was mine (I was the only person sitting on the bench at the time) she convinced him that he could keep it.

After he left I thought, I'm looking under the bench the next time I come to dance.


I chose not to take the "job" I was offered in November - I just didn't feel comfortable with the group. A friend of mine left her one day per week job and was going to recommend me for it, but that didn't work out either.

My pursuit of goals fizzled out at the end of last year, and hasn't really picked up this year. I have hard time emotionally during December, and it usually continues through mid-February. Additionally, a family member died right before Christmas.

Mr H's coworker retired; Mr. H is likely to get some kind of a raise. I believe he and his boss are negotiating it this month.

I listed an item on Craig's list only moments ago. I tried selling homeschool materials on Craig's list a few times but didn't get any takers.

Still feeling like I need to get my head together!

Where'd You Get All Those Coupons?

November 10th, 2009 at 06:18 am

These words were spoken to me - me - by a grocery store clerk the other day.

I am not a coupon queen. I do the bulk of my shopping at a natural foods co-op. I have for decades. It is more expensive than the discount grocery, but I feel that I am feeding my family with a better quality of food, and supporting a local business. (We also buy some of our food direct from the farmer, get some via a wholesale supplier, etc. We have more than one way we shop.)

Over time I've figured out what we eat and how much of it we eat. I've learned how to maximize my dollars there, although there is still room for improvement.

This store offers a 10% member discount coupon each month. It used to be one 10% member discount day per month. When Daisy was a toddler I'd get her out of bed, put her in the car and off we'd go to to the store. I had my grocery list made to go with the aisles of the store, and we'd basically eat our way through the store while I shopped (and filled the cart) as fast as possible.

But I digress.

This month, before heading off, I hopped on-line and hunted for coupons for brands I typically purchase. I found some, and added them to the stack I had from natural foods flyers and newspapers.

I don't think many people who shop there have coupons. But here I was, scrambling to match my coupons with my items as they went past on the conveyor. The coupons saved about $15. Added to the in-store specials and the 10% discount I think I did pretty well. At least well enough to impress the clerk.

It's Mine if I Want It

October 27th, 2009 at 05:56 am

I think.

I had an interview - and I use that term loosely - with the person from the non-profit group who is looking for a secretary. We introduced ourselves and she got right into the details of the job. She had a list of the various responsibilities by month, and for each month she said "Oh, and I also do this" or "I don't do that". She's been doing this particular job for 10 years, and she's so used to it that she's not terribly conscious of the details.

The job has one evening per month during which I'd need to be available to take minutes. The rest of the duties could be done with a more flexible schedule.

Pay is $150 per month. I asked her how many hours she worked per month, and she had no idea. I asked her what kind of a commitment they wanted and she said a year. I asked her if she wanted a copy of my resume and she said no. (Good thing I didn't spend any time updating it! But I might want to do that for the future.) They have no idea who I am, my background, etc. . . and I've only been involved with the social group for a couple of months.

The pay isn't huge. . . but combined with other small opportunities that come my way it would suffice. The family I tutored with is still interested. . . I think things haven't settled down enough for them to have me back.

I will go to the group's meeting in a couple of weeks and make my decision after that.

Retirement Discussion. . . Again

October 21st, 2009 at 06:17 am

We had a second conversation in June regarding retirement savings, and that conversation went no where.

I asked Mr H what he wanted out of retirement. I drew pictures of it with stick figures. I drew what I wanted in retirement. (The pictures didn't really mesh very well, no surprise there.) I tried to convince Mr H that if we want things to be a certain way now, we needed to be working towards it. He might agree in principle, but when it gets down to discussing strategies our conversation becomes . . . difficult. He even said something along the lines that he expects some sort of magic to occur to make this all happen.

I have been having discussions with Mr H regarding increasing savings for at least two years. I have expressed my concerns about the future. He agrees in principle, but when it comes to actually doing anything . . . well, he just can't/won't. At this point in our life together, it's hard to give him the benefit of the doubt, so I'd say that he won't. This is not a new interaction for us.

Having now tried the "sit down and discuss a problem like rational adults and come up with a solution that works for both of us then implement it" approach -- and failed at it -- it's time for a different course of action.

I've decided to try the "Tom Sawyer fence painting approach." If you've ever read the story ** Tom has to whitewash a fence. He convinces the neighborhood boys that painting the fence is the most fun ever, and the neighborhood boys end up doing most of the work. Well. . . maybe it won't be exactly like that. But I do plan to get the ball really rolling on retirement savings and then convince him that it's really not that hard.

In the past when Mr H has said Yes that's great/I agree/I want that too but No, I won't-can't/It's not me/I forgot/I don't know, I have gone on to do whatever it was on my own. I wanted whatever it was that "we" agreed on enough to do the work. Then in Mr H's mind "Things just worked out." (We'll call that the "Things Worked Out" approach. They worked out for him because someone else did the work.) But that strategy backfired a bit. "We" may have gotten what "we" wanted, but it didn't build up Mr H's ability to do hard things. This time I plan to look for more ways to involve him.

The "Tom Sawyer fence painting approach" is not my preference, but I don't see a lot of other options here. We've had two years and more of basically fruitless discussions. Mr H is not going to change. I'm not kidding myself - at this point I do anticipate putting in way more effort on this than Mr H does. But I'm just not willing to wait until we're 70 to see what happens.

** I think I read this in high school. I hope I get the gist of this right.

Transaction Clean Up

October 18th, 2009 at 04:57 am

In July, before Daisy and I went on our journey to The Land of My Youth, we went to the mall and bought some Crocs. Daisy was very interested, I was not so interested but thought they'd make good travelling shoes. I put the shoes on my credit card and paid off the amount when I got the next bill. Even though I didn't see the transaction I figured it hadn't gone through before the transaction cut off date. I try to stay ahead of the charges now.

The statement I received at the end of September had a credit in the exact amount of these shoes. I rechecked the statements and realized that I had never been charged for them. I believe in paying for what I purchase, so off I went to the mall, receipt in hand. I explained my situation to the person at the Croc kiosk and handed her the receipt. The top of the receipt had "declined" printed on it. At the time I purchased the shoes I remembered a discussion about this between two of the workers, but I didn't pay much attention to it. The worker this time got all excited about it and asked a bunch of questions about the original transaction, most of which I couldn't answer - I just didn't remember. She thanked me profusely for my honesty, took copies of the original receipt, and charged me again for the shoes less a 10 percent discount.

Now, I know I COULD have not gone back there - they clearly had no idea that I hadn't really been charged for the shoes. But my dad was very financially ethical, and impressed the same set of ethics on me (at least, I hope I'm that ethical) and there's just NO WAY I could have let that go. It wouldn't have been right. And, even if I wasn't that ethical, I think my dad would get on my case (in the next life, he is deceased) if he every found out. THAT thought would definitely keep me on the straight and narrow.

Surprisingly, I like my crocs. They're very comfortable, and they were a great travelling shoe. I might get another pair or two.

Job Possibility

October 13th, 2009 at 05:49 am

I've been keeping my antennae up (figurative, not literal) for job possibilities. I think the time has come. I'm not super-excited about getting back into the work force, but I'm not super-excited about the possibility, no matter how remote it seems right now, of poverty in my old age.

At this time I'm not interested in full or even half-time employment. I'm interested in working 10 or fewer hours per week at something with flexibility - ie, it can flex around my schedule. I'm less concerned about how high my pay would be, and more concerned about how energy sucking it would be. I look at this as how to start getting my foot back in the door, to have work-type references, use existing skills, etc.

A possibility arose this weekend. I don't even know how to describe this opportunity. . . it's a secretarial-type position with a local non-profit. . . I guess that's the most concise description. . . and I heard about it during a social group event I attended with Daisy. For this opportunity I whipped out one of my business cards*, handed it to the person making the announcement and told her I was interested. We'll see what happens.

*A few years ago I saw a business card for a stay-at-home mom, and I thought, I've got to get some of those! Over time I'd find myself giving out my phone number, email, etc and hunting down a scrap of paper to write the information on. A business card would make this so much easier! So I made some for myself using MS Publisher and my ink jet printer.

Change is Coming

October 5th, 2009 at 10:35 am

Mr. H let me know a few weeks ago about two changes coming at his work.

These changes are no surprise to me. About a year ago I figured that the business he works for would probably close in 10 years or less. They have lost clients over the years without adding any new clients, and his boss, the business owner, is about 55. If the business closed then it would leave Mr H out of a job at 55 or so. I have urged Mr. H to look for a new job. He reads Craig's List. He doesn't apply for jobs, talk to people or companies that have jobs, or develop new skills.

Mr. H does not deal well with change.

My current plan is to get back into the work force full time in about eight to ten years. I also have thought that I'd probably approach this incrementally - very part time, then part time, then more hours and so on up to full time and beyond. I'm not relishing the the thought of working full time plus at that point in my life, but with Mr. H at my side I think my options are limited. I haven't been successful in getting him on board the "do what it takes to save for old age" train, and he is not going to work any more (or any harder) than he already does. I'm only willing to let this situation go on for so long - *I'll* do what it takes to save for old age. I could write volumes on how frustrating it is to have a partner tell you that they want the same things as you, and then not be willing to take the actions necessary to get those things. We have been down this road many times.

In my snarkier moments I figure that, once this job is gone, I'll be supporting us because Mr H "can't" find a job. (Says the woman who is not working outside the home now, and hasn't looked for a job since 1992. I might be veering into over confidence.) I say this because I know Mr. H, I'm not going to let myself starve, and I have known several women who ended up in this position. Two of these women are part of my extended family.

At any rate, these two very significant changes at Mr. H's work - one definite before the end of the year, one looking more and more likely every day - may accelerate my time table a bit. If Mr. H's job lasted for another 8 or so years, that would work for MY time table - Daisy will be an adult. I'm going to keep tabs on this situation but I may have to start looking at the "very part time" work option now.

Weekend Shopping Trip - Frugal Family Fun

September 22nd, 2009 at 07:17 am

A few weekends ago we had a family adventure buying socks and underwear. I guess this is what the somewhat-frugal family does for fun.

On that day I was casually reading the newspaper ads for a local store. I saw a coupon for underwear, but it was men's underwear. And buy two get one free on socks, but I had just bought tights the day before (using basically the same coupon). I commented on both of these items. Mr H doesn't seem to read the ads, but apparently he needed both of those items. Suddenly we had a mission for the day. To these two coupons we added the 15% off apparel coupon (not to be combined with any other purchase) also in the paper and away we went.

When we got to the store Mr. H veered off to get his items, while I took Daisy and we headed to the ladies section. Zounds! There they had a buy one, get the second one half off coupon! Hmm, is 15% off a better deal, or buy one get the second one half off? Should I get two packages of three each or one package of five?

I actually stood there in the store, pen & paper in hand, and did the math. Yes, despite calculators I can still do arithmetic. *

Eventually Mr. H came looking for us, arms laden with socks and underwear. We were to meet in front of the electronics department and when we didn't show in a reasonable amount of time he came to the ladies' department. I'm pretty sure he grabbed what was applicable for his coupons and did not spend time calculating.

In the end, none of the above items was as good a deal as buying a package of the very same underwear marked as a clearance item. They were almost $1 less per pair than any of the above.

* Due in large part to homeschooling Daisy and tutoring last year. I had to practice my math facts.

Catching Up

September 17th, 2009 at 09:15 pm

I spent the financial part of my day balancing my check book and updating quicken.

Next steps are reconciling Checkbook One - tomorrow - and then figuring out how the money was spent during July, August and the first half of September - tomorrow and Saturday.

How's that for geeky excitement? Smile

What I Did on My Summer Vacation

September 16th, 2009 at 09:35 am

What I did with my summer vacation:

* Daisy finished school and we had to keep ourselves busy. And we did. We visited with friends, went places and did VBS.
* Daisy and I traveled. We were gone for two weeks, at the end of July/beginning of August. We went to my hometown, about two thousand miles from our current home. . . and in the middle of no where. It's seriously hard to get there except by car, even harder than in was in my youth. We had a great time. (For those curious, my mom paid for the trip.) Mr H doesn't really like to travel and he stayed home.
* Mr H and I had another fruitless discussion about retirement savings. He did remember our "appointment" but the discussion went about like the last one did. I am working on an alternate strategy.
* Mr H and I came to an agreement on and switched our health insurance. Our discussion opened with Mr H saying, "All of our options are okay with me except for this one with a Health Savings Account. I don't know anything about them and I don't want to learn about them." Should I laugh or cry? With gentle prodding Mr H did learn about Health Savings Accounts and that is the policy we now have. At the moment, the difference between what the old insurance cost and what the new insurance costs is going into the H S A.

What I didn't do:

* I didn't keep up on my budgeting. I think we did spend some extra money, but we didn't overspend Checkbook One. I had no budget for July or August. I don't really have one for September either, but again, we haven't overspent it. I will have that together before the end of the month. I have some plans in the works with regards to our food dollars so I'll need to get back into it.

Other developments:

* I have decreased my Starbucks trips dramatically. I always knew why I went - to have a positive social contact. (Yes, this is sad.) I decided over the summer that both Daisy and I need to get out more - see our friends more, to do more new things, and to go places regularly where we see the same people. The more social outings we have planned, the less need for Starbucks. Right now my friends are the moms of children who are friends with Daisy. Many of us are in the same larger, church-oriented social circle. Mr H has a much smaller need/interest in social contact; most of these outings occur while he is at work.

More Retirement Discussions

June 26th, 2009 at 10:22 am

Mr H and I had another discussion about saving for retirement. ** As I've said before, Mr H's plan is to spend what's available to us now, work until he can't work any more, then let the government take care of him. I don't like this plan. . . at all. I would rather save money now for retirement so we'll have more options when we're elderly. Mr H seems to like the idea of saving for retirement. . . but he's not invested in it. I've been down this road with him before - it means he pays lip-service to the goal, and things go along well - as long as I'm doing the work. But in the end I realize that I'm by myself. It's a crappy way to pursue mutual goals.

After we'd gone down the "How are we going to rearrange the budget to save for retirement?" road for at least an hour, I could see the above scenario developing. Mr H agreed to saving a percentage of our income but with heel-dragging, moaning, and "woe is me". So I backed up. I don't think the problem right now is "How are we going to save for retirement?" but "Why should I (Mr H) save for retirement? What's in it for me?" While Mr H thinks it sounds like a nice idea, he still doesn't see a need for it.

"Why should we eat rice and beans now so we can eat rice and beans later?" "We need to get some enjoyment (with a new TV, vacation, etc.) out of life." "We could die tomorrow. Why sacrifice now?" We can talk all we want about how to shift the money around, but unless he's invested he won't be willing to work hard and to make the sacrifices it takes to save. He's very comfortable with the way things are.

We agreed to discuss it again this Sunday. Of late Mr H has been very good about keeping his appointments with me for these discussions. But I'm not waiting until Sunday to see what happens. I'm going to prepare in advance. And I'm not going to jump into "How do we do this?" - I'm going to prepare for "What's in it for me?"

Mr H is a very visual person, and probably a visual thinker. A spreadsheet, a list of bullet points, a lecture - he tunes out. The trick is how how to sell him on the importance of saving for retirement using visual methods, and with enough impact to get his buy in. I'm not as visual. . . but I'm motivated to convince him that this is important to him as well. I'll keep you posted.

** I actually thought this was going to be a discussion about generating more income, and had my list ready. We didn't discuss it.

Allocation Done

June 12th, 2009 at 10:04 am

In late April I rolled over my 401k to an IRA. The 401k was with my previous employer, which was sold to another company. I decided that it was time to get out. Actually it was past time but I have been busy with other things.

The IRA is with a reputable company, and I rolled over all of the 401k into a money market fund. I knew that I wouldn't leave it there, but wanted to get the roll over done as quickly as possible.

May has come and gone - it's a tidal wave of activity for people with school-aged children, whose school ends in mid-June. I finally sat down today and moved the money from the money market into various mutual funds. There's nothing terribly exciting about that, except that it's off my task list.

In the process I decided that I ought to study investing a bit more. I know some basics. . . probably not as much as many people here, but more than the average American I'd guess.

In the fall Daisy's coming home for school. She was homeschooled prior to this year. One of the benefits of "away" school for her has been studying with other people. I decided that I'll do a little home school myself next fall. I'll take Latin with her*, I thought I'd review Algebra**, maybe read some history. . . and now I think I'll add investing to my coursework. . .

*Yes, she has studied Latin this year - she likes it and wants to continue. I know nothing, so I guess we'll both learn together. She likes the idea that she knows more than me.

** I am having way too much fun tutoring math.

Car Replacement Negotiations

June 3rd, 2009 at 12:35 pm

At some point during our latest car saga I caught Mr H and told him that we needed to discuss car replacement. He told me that he didn't have time/was too tired/some reason he couldn't do it right then. I said, "Okay, when?" "June 1st" was the reply. He surprised me by remembering this appointment and appearing willing to have the discussion. Frequently he "forgets" this kind of thing.

What came out of this discussion was that we should save about $10,000 for a replacement vehicle.

But as I thought about it, I was uneasy. There is no deadline, and no source for the money for this savings. This means in another year we will have the same conversation because no action will have occurred during that time period. I went back to him and requested a further discussion. It was down hill from there.

Basically, my experience has been problem occurs --> I bring problem to Mr H's attention --> I suggest we work to solve the problem --> Mr H verbally attacks me/reacts by "solving" the problem with the first solution that comes to his head (even/especially if it's one we both hate and it doesn't solve the problem!) --> I later solve the problem by myself or the problem remains unsolved (and uncomfortable for me) --> Mr H experiences that everything "just works out". Dysfunctional? You bet. At the beginning of our marriage I gave him the benefit of the doubt, believed that he would eventually come to see how unproductive this was. Now I realize that I was just way too nice and forgiving . . . but trying to change this pattern requires the full emotional amour because no woman wants to be verbally attacked by her husband. . . and yet I've been down this path enough to know that's pretty much what's going to happen. Much earlier in our marriage I asked Mr H what I could say or do differently to help this situation, or if there was another approach to take. He had no response.

In this instance, the problem is that there is no obvious source of money for these savings. Our budget's stretched pretty thin. Pointing this out to Mr H, and that, if it's not funded it's not a priority, and that bothers me . . . brought the predictable response. Mr H's solution was to sell my car and have us become a one car family, and since Daisy will be homeschooled next year she and I could just stay home all the time. He needs his car for work so of course he'll get to have it every day. It was way less pleasant than I'm reporting it here. Ouch.

At the heart of it though is what seems to be an irresolvable difference in priorities, and an unwillingness to change with circumstances.

Our income is unlikely to go up in the near future. Mr H will not work harder/smarter/more than he is now, and I'm unwilling to sacrifice my home life at this time for another corporate job. (I had two working parents and neither of them were really around to raise us. When Daisy is 18 I plan to work full time and more to make up for what was not saved during this time.) I'm very concerned about retirement savings, planning ahead for seen and unseen expenditures, and having a home life. Mr H appears to be concerned about keeping the house (and only this house) and not having to make any changes to anything about his life. I would be happy to sell the house and go to one car if we lived somewhere where walking and public transportation were more workable. Mr H wouldn't hear of selling this house. We're at something of an impasse.

In the end, I relentlessly forced us to stay focused on the problem. Mr H backed down a bit and apologized. It's progress for us, although sometimes I feel like having to work this hard (and unpleasantly) with him on *every* problem that occurs in our lives is going to kill me.

We agreed to discuss income generating ideas and saving ideas in a couple of weeks.

"You're crazy Petunia!"

May 31st, 2009 at 08:13 pm

That's what my mom said to me when I told her about fixing my car with Google.

Thanks Ma, for your vote of confidence in me.

My car saga continues. My car guys fixed my original problem (car dying during acceleration on to the freeway), but another problem turned up after that problem got fixed. When I drove on the freeway for 30 to 40 minutes, my car would stall when I stopped at the end of the off ramp. Sometimes I could keep it from stalling but the idle bounced around between 200-800 rpm. After it stalled I could restart it with no problem. Something about doing that reset the idle, and I could continue on my drive without the problem.

When the problem first turned up, the car guys thought that the replacement part was bad. I took my car back in, they replaced the part (free of charge), same problem. Took it in again, they replaced the second replacement part (free of charge - different manufacturer), same problem. Told them I thought they ought to look at other things that might be causing it. They replaced a different part (charged for service). Same problem.

I then Googled my car's problem - "make model year car stalls when warm" or something like that. Found a bulletin board with seven pages of postings - car owners of my car's make and model discussing this exact problem. I read through all 122 entries. I can't say I know much about the inner workings of my car, but I could pick out the two most frequent causes of the problem.

I printed a few of the postings and took them into my car guys. They looked at them, but kind of dismissed them. They found a part that was kind of dirty (my interpretation of what they said), cleaned it up (no charge) and sent me on my way. Same problem. (I'll add here that they couldn't always reproduce the problem in the shop. Tough to troubleshoot when you can't do that.)

I called them up again. They had become more and more apologetic as time marched on and my car wasn’t fixed. I asked for their email address and told them I was going to send the link to this discussion. By this time my car and its problems had been passed up the chain to the "second in command" of the car repair shop. He read all 122 entries and used the information to look at the car. He found a part that might be causing the problem, replaced it and sent me on my way. (charged for this service) Interestingly, the part he replaced was one of the two most frequent causes of the problem, per this bulletin board entry.

I haven't completely tested the car - just too busy with other things over the weekend. But I should have a good indication tomorrow if the most recent fix is the last fix for this problem.

And my mom? Well, I'm used to her. I said, "Mom, I am not crazy. I am smart and resourceful, and using the resources I have available to me to solve my problems."

Don't Tempt Me

April 27th, 2009 at 09:12 pm

I spent about an hour and a half last Friday morning dealing with my 401k. When I left my former employer several years ago I just left my 401k sitting there. About three years ago I decided that I really should roll my 401k over to an IRA and ordered the paper work to do so. I couldn't figure out how to allocate my investments, and I got busy and didn't follow through.

Now my procrastination is catching up with me. My former company was sold to another company, and the 401ks are getting moved to a different 401k plan administrator at the end of May. I have just a few short weeks to act, or face another layer of complication.

It turned out to be a relatively simple process to set up an IRA with an investment company (Mr H and I already have a mutual fund with them). I can put the assets of the 401k into a money market account while I figure out how to allocate them. (Note to self: don't procrastinate on asset allocation.) But there was a little wrinkle in my smooth rollover process. Before my 401k was a 401k it was some other type of savings plan which took post-tax dollars. So I had both post-tax dollars and pre-tax dollars in my account. If I put the post-tax dollars into my IRA I would have to fill out some tax form every year forever (or, I suppose, until those dollars were no longer in my account). I like simple. I do not want to do additional tax forms. I opted to have them send me those dollars as a check. (Note to self: Don't sit on the check.) Because they are post tax dollars there are no tax consequences for me.

While I was on the phone with the 401k person, after I told them to send me a check, they suggested all kinds of things I could do with the money including buying a new car. I ignored the suggestions, but that afternoon as I was accelerating down a long on ramp to get on the freeway I noticed that my car was decelerating. I had just enough time to pull over onto the shoulder of the on-ramp before all the lights came on on my dash and my car died completely.

As I sat in my car on the side of the road for over an hour waiting for the tow truck, I felt tempted by newer cars. But at this point I'm not going to give in. My current plan is to see if I can get my car to last until Daisy's high school graduation, then get a Vespa or something similar. My car is 16 years old, and Daisy has another 9 years before graduation. We'll see how this plays out.

Reflections on a year of blogging

April 18th, 2009 at 08:50 pm

Well, my blogoversary has passed without much fanfare. I don't post much and I guess I'm kind of a lazy blogger. But even the little I've done in the past year has brought some positive changes in my life.

* While Mr H and I are unlikely to ever be on the same page, we have more productive discussions. I initiate most conversations, but every now and again he'll bring up something related to our financial life. It's progress.

* I've learned that to engage Mr H in almost anything involves stages. First he ignores what I'm saying, then I provoke him**, then he reacts, then I gently tell him that he's reacting and suggest that we look at different options to solve the problem. Then he'll come through. Kind of. It's kind of dysfunctional, but it works better than him ignoring the situation and me finally just solving the problem on my own. (That has been the dynamic for most of our marriage.) Not all of our discussions are this way, but bringing up anything new is.

* We have a budget that balances for Checkbook One. It took several months to get there. It didn't balance, really, for about five years.

* We have a grocery/food budget that balances. We have never spent that little on food. We're eating well. I actually don't mind this part. It's fun to get creative with food, and I have done it for many years. I'm just way more conscious now, trying to use leftovers before they spoil and figure out how to have great dinners with lower cost foods.

* We have an emergency fund, that is designated as an emergency fund. I feel a lot less anxious.

* We have a plan for increasing retirement savings.

Everyone here has been so kind and helpful. I have been so grateful for the support. Thank you all so much!

** Believe me, I really don't want to provoke him. However it seems to be the only way I can get him to engage.

$50,000 or less - Is that all?

March 31st, 2009 at 10:34 am

In my last post I commented on our small retirement savings. After reading the comments I decided to do a bit more research.

I read the following statistics in different places on the web:
* The average 45-54 year old has less than $25,000 saved for retirement.
* 53% of people 45-54 have 50,000 or less saved (29% have less than $10,000 saved)
* Baby boomers between 41 and 54 have retirement savings of $30,000 (this must have been an older article - if the baby boom cuts off in 1965, the youngest of this group would be 43 now)

Wow. If all this is true we are in better shape. . . well, than average.

Does anyone know where to get accurate statistics? One website I read said that that particular organization had surveyed 1000 people. That doesn't seem like a very representative sample.


March 28th, 2009 at 11:20 am

As you can probably guess, retirement is a source of contention in the onion patch.

Mr H's approach is: he'll work until he can't work any more, then he'll live on savings, then the government will support him. (You'll notice that it's "he" and not "we", although I think the "we" is somewhat implied.)

This is not what I would want for my older age, but I'm willing to live with it - up to a point. In order to live on savings, we have to be saving now, and all the time until then. We've saved relatively little - we have the 401k that I contributed to during my corporate years. That is 10 (or is it 9? I may not have been able to contribute the first year, although I don't remember now) years out of a total of 28 years of my working life (starting the count at age 18). DH has no pensions or 401k's from any present or past employers from his 28 years of working life.

Now that the budget is balancing with regularity I'm turning my sights toward saving 15% of our income savings for retirement. Is this enough? Probably not, but we have to start some where.

It seems like an impossible goal, but then we've managed to keep the food budget at a limit that I never would have imagined a year ago, and it hasn't been that hard. And with the few changes I made over several months getting checkbook one to balance hasn't been that difficult either.

After a rather heated discussion last week I think I've finally convinced him that in order to live off savings we have to be saving now, that he must be involved in this, and that a graduated approach (first 1%, then 2% etc up to 15%)* is the most reasonable approach. Starting in April we will be saving 2% of our monthly income towards retirement/old age.

*I have been setting aside 15% of my tutoring money since I started tutoring in January - trying to move us in that direction.

Do we have enough?

March 6th, 2009 at 01:53 pm

Do we have enough in Checkbook One to buy some bird food? Yes, Mr H asked me this last night. Looks like he's getting with the program.

I just finished running the numbers (I'm behind) and we had a $248.72 surplus in Checkbook One for February. Wow, this budget thing is working!

Unfortunately, the temptation now is to spend. I haven't yet figured out what we've spent so far for March, but I have given in to the temptation a bit. It's so easy to get careless. I'm reigning myself in and getting back into "keeping our money" mode.

I have decided that my tutoring money will go towards our annual Memorial Day camping trip. Expenses for this trip include space in the campground (already paid for), ferry fare for two vehicles, extra gas money and extra food costs. You would think that we would just eat normally but no. . . our camping diet includes things like s'more fixings, bacon, snack foods and beer and wine, and those food items add up.

I love camping. I love sleeping in a sleeping bag in a tent (even in pouring down rain), I love getting up and making coffee and looking at the beautiful surroundings, I love sitting by the campfire on damp mornings, I love Mr H's obsession with tarps, I love our friends who we camp with, I love my camping clothes (wool sweaters, long johns and rain poncho in addition to other layers). I'm getting giddy just thinking about this trip.

How'd we do in February?

March 4th, 2009 at 01:33 pm

These words came out of the mouth of Mr. H on the first day of March.

I'm shocked and thrilled. Mr H seems to be engaging a little more in our financial life. I didn't have the information for him - we had commitments throughout the weekend that kept me busy. But even with a last-minute burst of spending we are still had a surplus in Checkbook One for the month of February. Yay us!

I'm reading an interesting book called Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. It's apparently on the best seller list, and discusses why some people are super-successful in what they do. There are lots of interesting observations made, but the one I am finding useful at the moment is the contrast between Chinese rice-growing farmer's proverbs and Russian peasant's proverbs. (It's on page 237.) Here is one listed as the Chinese farmer's: "If a man works hard, the land will not be lazy." Here is one attributed to Russian peasants: "If God does not bring it, the earth will not give it." Do proverbs express what the cultural beliefs are, or do they shape the cultural beliefs, or both? In a way it doesn't matter. Gladwell discusses the cultures that produced both of these proverbs and how the proverbs might have developed.

I'm not a Chinese farmer and Mr H isn't a Russian peasant, but I think the two proverbs above express our very different attitudes towards life. I am working to make things happen and Mr H is waiting for something to happen that he will then react to. In a way we both have a self-fulfilling prophecy - things happen because of my efforts, but to Mr H it looks like things "just happened". It's become clearer to me over the last year that Mr H really doesn't see much of connection between his efforts and his results.* Which is fine, except when we try to work together. . . which in a marriage is pretty much all the time in one way or another.

Mr H handles Checkbook Two and I handle Checkbook One. I've written quite a bit in the last 11 or so months about Checkbook One - with persistence and changes to some parts of our financial life it's finally not being overspent. Part of these changes involve some real effort on my part to not just spend money randomly. Mr H has noted that Checkbook Two is running a bit low. He's concerned. . . but I'm not seeing much effort or involvement on his part to figure out and solve this problem.

I can't change Mr H's very deeply held beliefs. . . that I'm not even sure he recognizes as having. But I am going to continue to point out cause and effect in our lives, to the best of my ability to do so.

*I should qualify this. It looks like he does see this in very short term efforts, things that can be completed in four hours or less.

January and February Update

February 25th, 2009 at 08:56 pm

We spent a little over a month being sick here in the onion patch - all of us, Mr H, Daisy and me. I finally went to visit my doc and got antibiotics. Normally I'm not in favor of that stuff (plus a doctor visit isn't cheap, even with insurance) but I could feel the difference within one hour of taking the first dose. So it was a good decision. Being sick put me in a stupor. It wasn't a terribly productive month.

Checkbook One had a small surplus in January and looks to have the same in February. That will be three months in a row now that Checkbook One has not been overspent. Pinch me, I must be dreaming!

We had a windfall and now our EF is funded for six months. That would be six *tight* months, but I feel relief about our EF.

I've been soliciting Mr H's feedback on the budget for Checkbook One. Usually he doesn't give much. One day he expressed frustration "because the money's already spent". I went back and tried to figure out what he meant, because isn't that the point of a budget - to prioritize and spend your money on paper first? I never did get a clear answer, but I suspect he wants to spend money on some items and doesn't feel like he can. I added a "wish list" to the bottom of the budget page. If there's a surplus we can look at spending money on those items. Some items Mr H would like are on that list.

I've made good progress on Goals 2 and 3, but none on Goal 4.

Mr H and I have had many, many short and sweet financial conversations in the last two months. The all start with one person stating something they want or something that needs to be purchased and the other person asking how we will pay for it. Fortunately they have been civil and productive discussions. It's definite progress for us.

Budget Update and Goal Update

January 24th, 2009 at 10:28 am

I've decided that updating the budget for Checkbook One on Thursdays works well. So far so good. We are still under or at budget in all categories for Checkbook One. I think we'll even make the budget in the grocery category this month and not be 21% over.

I've moved what used to be Goal 1 off to a page. It is fun to look at past accomplishments but I don't want to get stuck there!

Goal 3: Decrease food costs. I've given it a dollar figure. Some people here might wonder why the budget is set at $650 for just three people. Two reasons: It includes personal care and cleaning supplies (and also any eating out), and I value organic and locally produced food and that adds up. To bring the costs down I've done things like look for sales on food that we typically buy, change some things about our diets (oatmeal instead of cold cereal for example), and figure out how best to use meat and dairy products which seem to be the most expensive categories in the food budget. Last year's average was higher than this, so it's definitely an improvement.

Future goal: Develop a source of "egg money". Here's a definition I found of egg money:

Before World War II, most eggs were produced by small flocks that scratched their way around the barnyard. The farmer's wife usually supervised the operation. The money received from the sale of the eggs was considered hers. Source: http://www.georgiaeggs.org/pages/eggmoney.html

I started tutoring a couple of weeks ago. . . and I really like it! I'm tutoring math with younger children using materials I'm already familiar with. I'm not charging enough, and both my client and me know that. But as I told her, she's helping train me so we're both winning. We will re-evaluate the fees in a month or so.

While the definition of egg money posted above has it under the control of the farmer's wife, I asked the farmer what he thought we should do with the money. He had no opinion. So I suggested that a percentage of it be set aside for taxes, 15% for the EF or retirement and the rest in to Checkbook One. He was agreeable. It's not a whole lot in to the checkbook but it might be enough to fund our summer camping trips.

2009 Goals Update

January 18th, 2009 at 08:30 pm

Mr H and I had a discussion about the EF in December. We agreed to take some of his bonus money and add it to the 4496.85 already in the Emergency Fund. We later discussed what type of account to put this money in and decided to put it in a three month CD. While it's possible we could lose some interest if we had to tap in to the account, it wouldn't be a huge loss. If we don't have to tap in to it the account will earn better interest than a money market account would.

So, Goal 1 (emergency fund to 8625.00) on my list is completed, six months ahead of schedule!

Goals 2 (budget for checkbook 1) and 3 (decrease food costs) are in progress, with more progress on 2 than 3 I'd say.

Goal 4 (stay away from coffee shops) has had minimal progress. I was given a Starbucks gift card which has helped our bottom line but not my coffee-out habit.

Goal 5 will probably get moved elsewhere, but I may blog about it from time to time.

I will add a goal of earning part-time or sporadic income. This has been in my head for a while, but strangely it's also under way. I was asked by a friend to help tutor some of her children.

Checkbook One Conclusions

January 17th, 2009 at 07:01 am

I've been giving some thought as to why we suddenly didn't overspend Checkbook One in December. I have been concerned about this problem since I started blogging here in April, but feel like I have been chasing my tail trying to solve it.

I've come to the conclusion that it's just perseverance in trying to figure out where we went wrong each month and correct that. (Having bad weather for about two weeks which limited us leaving the house also helped. When you don't leave the house you don't spend money or use up your gas.) So, I suppose it's not really sudden at all.

Our top three problems with Checkbook One were the credit card, spending during the week between the time that Mr H got his check and the new month started, and not having a spending plan that works.

Credit card: Although we pay off our credit card every month, it's psychologically hard to write a check for one-quarter to one-third of the amount in your checkbook at the beginning of the month. Our credit card usage increased over the years as stores stopped taking checks. I got a debit card a while ago, and Mr H got one a couple of months ago. Where we regularly used to put gas and take-and-bake pizzas on the credit card we now put them on the debit card. "Pay as you go" is working better than "put off the paying until next month". Don't people spend 23% more when they use a credit card?

Spending during the week between the time that Mr H got his check and the new month started: Okay, that was me. . . and it wasn't THAT much. . . but enough to kill the budget. I wrote about this last spring. I called it "The Dead Zone". My brain kind of went on holiday during that week. What was I thinking? I wasn't thinking, and that was the problem.

Not having a spending plan that works: There are so many ways to write a budget. For this checkbook and us, having a limited number of categories and looking at the amount left in each category weekly, on Friday, seemed to do the trick. We have the following categories: Grocery/Personal Care/Cleaning, Gas, Church Contribution, Bowling, Master Card and Everything Else. (Regular bills like mortgage, insurance etc are paid out of another checkbook.) The Everything Else category scares me - the dollar amount is limited and it covers a huge number of other categories like clothing, gifts, office supplies, household items and yard and garden. But lumping these into "Everything Else" works better than trying to allocate a few dollars into each of the sub-categories. Or at least it did this month.

January is looking good so far.

Last Month's Groceries

January 3rd, 2009 at 07:44 am

I have spent some time the last couple of days figuring out where we went wrong on the Grocery/Personal Care/Cleaning budget last month. We spend 20% more that the amount budgeted.

Because I rank among the world's biggest nerds, I actually went through each grocery receipt, categorized each purchase and wrote the purchase down on a sheet of paper with the category heading at the top. Christmas food purchases sank our food budget. Like most people we have special food items we buy during the Christmas season and some of them are expensive. The dollar amount of these purchases was almost equal to the dollar amount over food budget last month.

I showed my sheets of paper to Mr H. First he said incredulously "You went through every grocery receipt?" Yes, there were quite a few, and while I tend to be organized with receipts I wasn't last month and had to spend some time finding them. He came to the same conclusion regarding Christmas food purchases, then he said something like, "This looks pretty much like what we eat. I don't see how we can spend less money on food." I didn't say anything but I thought, "Them's fighting words - sounds like a challenge to me."

Maybe we did get somewhere

December 31st, 2008 at 07:44 am

Overheard at our house a few days ago:

Mr H: When are we going to look at the budget for Checkbook One? We haven't done that since before your mom was here.

And (at about 4:45 in the afternoon yesterday):

Me: Do you have any suggestions for dinner? (I spent my day sewing and driving kids around, and not on cooking dinner. Oops.)

Mr H: (Gives some suggestions and then says) or we could go to the burrito place.

Me: With what money?

Mr H: I have $20 in my wallet.

Me: Do you really want to spend your money that way?

Mr H: No.

Me: Then let's eat the leftovers that are in the refrigerator.

A few weeks ago I reviewed all my blog entries, which started in April. I thought, Geez, I really haven't gotten anywhere this year. I'm still talking about trying to get Checkbook One to balance and I'm saying the same things I was saying in April! What is wrong with me?

When DH and I sat down to look at the budget for Checkbook One a few days ago, we still had about $2 in it. (The actual checkbook balance says $6. There is some additional money in the checkbook which is not included in the balance to be padding in case of arithmetic errors.) This is the first time in I don't know how long that no additional money has been added to this account - it was not overspent. This is not to say we don't have some spending issues with this account, but for us this is a huge accomplishment.

Well, maybe I did get somewhere this year.

We aren't going anywhere tonight, and when I told Daisy about a "New York New Year's Eve"** her eyes lit up and she asked if she could stay up. I think I will go get a bottle of sparkling cider - I believe they are about $2 - and we'll toast the new year in style.

**When you live on the west coast, you stay up until 9 and celebrate the new year with those in NY because when it's 9 here it's midnight there. Then you go to bed. Daisy's normal bed time is 7:30. We have been known to celebrate a "New Foundland New Year's Eve" - 8 here, midnight in New Foundland - we've had some tired years.

Endless Winter and Hog Wild

December 22nd, 2008 at 05:42 am

Endless Winter

Snow, snow and more snow. I live in an area that doesn't tend to get much snow each winter, or even be cold enough to snow. But some years we get dumped on and this is one of those years.

We had a snow last week which closed schools for three days. We have about 10 inches on the ground now. It's been cold enough to freeze the hummingbird feeder.

I've only gone out driving three times in the past six days. It does look like gasoline consumption will be lower than usual this month and (hopefully) allow Checkbook One to balance for the first time ever. . . or at least in several years. I don't think my navy showers and lowered thermostat will offset the extra power and gas usage caused by prolonged low temperatures though.

Hog Wild

Partially owing to the impending snow I did go a little hog wild in the store the day before yesterday. No, I wasn't at the grocery store buying milk, bread and batteries. I was at the fabric store buying polar fleece and patterns. I will use a lot of this fleece for Christmas gifts.** While there was some thought put in to this shopping trip there clearly wasn't enough. Here's what I see as the problems:

1) Too little advance planning. I did go through my patterns to see what fleece-type patterns I had, but there are many free patterns available on the internet. About 33% of what I spent was on patterns. Also, it would have been better to decide to do this months ago. Patterns go on sale for $1 each very regularly, so I could have spent next to nothing on them.

2) Went to the store without a dollar figure in mind. It really helps the budget to decide in advance how much you want to spend.

3) Did not keep a running tally of how much I was "spending" as I pulled bolts of fleece off the shelves.

4) I was in a hurry. I asked Mr H to take me to the fabric store since some of the roads were kind of icy. (I'd already slid to the corner on one street during a previous errand.) Mr H HATES the fabric store and early in our marriage swore off ever going there. Since he agreed to take me (and Daisy) and we were trying to beat the weather I tried to shop quickly.

I've had this type of shopping experience before, so I have an idea of What Not To Do. Sometimes it's hard to recognize when your brain is taking a holiday though. I think the number one thing that would have helped me out (besides applying forethought to Christmas preparations, something I didn't really do this year) was to go to the fabric store with a dollar figure in mind.

** Yes, it's three days until Christmas and I'm not prepared. Most of the gifts are for after Christmas get-togethers.

Bonus and Budget Update 12/18

December 20th, 2008 at 05:54 am

My mom visited this last week and it curtailed my blogging. Fortunately (for me) she didn't have any comments about my spotty looking carpet.

Mr H received a bonus check the day before she arrived. At his work place they have something like a profit sharing bonus that usually turns out to be a significant amount of money. I'd guesstimate the take-home amount of it this year is equal to one-fourth of Mr H's annual take home pay. "What would you like to do with this money, Mr H?" was the first thing I said when he told me he'd deposited the check. "We'll talk about it after your mother leaves," was his response. We agreed on a date and time, and this conversation sat for a week.

We discussed it the day she left, just hours after she went to the airport. Mr H surprised me: he had a list ready of things he'd like to spend the money on. The Emergency Fund was at the top of the list! It looks like we will complete the Emergency Fund goal by December 31, well ahead of the July 1 date we'd set. I plan to set further Emergency Fund goals though, and Mr H agreed to that. We also tentatively agreed to replacing the sliding glass door, and replacing the carpet in the family room with a hard surface. Mr H can put in the new door and he has some work connections with a flooring company so even with doing both of these projects there should still be some money left. No firm decisions were made, except for the Emergency Fund. For us this conversation went very well.

Later I showed him a Checkbook One budget update. He didn't have much to say, except to note that the money for Grocery/Cleaning/Personal Care category was almost gone. But - we still might squeak by for the month, if we end up spending less on gas. Usually by this point in the month I've transferred $100 - $500 from savings to cover spending in this account. This savings transfer has been going on for years, so to even get this far in to the month without it is a huge development.

My current Goal 1 of getting the EF to $8625 by July 1 and Goal 2 of a Budget for Checkbook One are progressing nicely.

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