Monthly Archives: October 2010

The Calm After the Storm

I’ve been quite engaged this past week with a lot of load of this.

Pun intended.

And now that John’s gone, I’m looking around at the destruction left in the wake of someone preparing to be a geo-bachelor for… an as of yet undetermined amount of time, and all I want to do is take a nap. Is it a good thing that we haven’t had a call for a showing in over three weeks? Because right now it feels like it is, even though all I wanted to do when John left was get in the truck and drive off with him.

How Far Do You Push Your Car?

John got a very late start, even by our standards. He got stuck at the Toyota dealership trying to get the converter-thingie fixed that makes the trailer lights work. The part that was needed is no longer available. Quote: Wow, we haven’t seen one of these in a loooong time. They don’t make that part anymore for ones this old, boy how-die.

The guy was talking about our 1999 Toyota 4Runner like it was a machine relic. The thing’s running great, you know? Pushing 200,000 miles and still holding strong.

We’ll see how it’s faring after this trip, though. And after towing (almost? over?) 1000 pounds of schtuff. If he had to do it all over again, John’s already saying that he would have had the movers come and do a split move: take part of his stuff now and the rest of it (with us) later. Thing is, either way, we’re on the hook for the cost of his move in the short-term: he won’t get reimbursed for anything until we’re all moved. Time will tell when that happens…

How far do you push your car? Is 11-years-old really so … unusual?

Oh — and once they finally got a converter-thingie part jimmy-rigged so John could drive cross-country without getting arrested for not having rear lights on his 1000-pound trailer? They bid him adieu — with no charge, in honor of a military man with a trailer load of stuff fixing to move cross-country, geo-bachelor like. Thank you, Toyota.

$ How We Fared On My Husband’s Last TDY $ — and Why We’re Using a Credit Card Again

That’s Temporary DutY for you non-military folks. Military-speak for a business trip.

Yea, yea… So he last went TDY, like, two months ago. But here are the numbers anyway.

  • During his four-week TDY to Texas in August, John spent $1657.98 (excluding lodging).
  • His reimbursement came in the next month at $2,300.45 (again, excluding lodging).

A difference of $642.47, obviously in our favor. This is pretty good considering a core requirement of the class he was attending seemed to be the socializing that went on after-hours. Oh, and also that the $1657.98 included $243.52 toward a new car stereo– so yay, for him!

Seriously, I’m not being sarcastic or begrudging him or anything. His car radio was just one of many things that has been falling apart in his 11-year-old Toyota 4Runner, still running strong though not without quirks that come from racking up some 144,000 cross (multiple-) country miles.

And about to rack up many more. How many miles between Ohio and northern California? I should look that up.

August was pretty tight financially, what with John’s TDY and the kids and I going to Maryland to visit friends and our nation’s capital. A whopping $85.01 went into our savings account that month. Seriously. When the $2300.45 travel reimbursement hit the account in September, every penny of it went into savings. It really annoyed me: I mean, we basically gave Uncle Sam a free loan for the month of August.

We’ve Resurrected a Credit Card

First, for the times when John is traveling and we’re footing the bill for weeks at a time before he has a chance to file for a reimbursement.

Yes, John has a government credit card. But don’t even get me started with the problems we’ve had with their inept billing and accounting services.

But I’ve also gone a step further: I’ve started using that same credit card again for regular purchases: mainly, fuel; groceries; and other regular, unavoidable, monthly bills.

Yea, yea, I know what they say about using a credit card…

…you use more than you would pay with cash. That’s why I am purposefully only charging purchases that I would be making anyway. Also. I’m paying off those purchases on a weekly basis instead of waiting for the credit card payment due date.

I got that idea from a reader comment (and I am so sorry I’m not taking the time right now to look again for which one of you made that comment. But if you recognize yourself when reading this? I thank you! And feel free to remind me of yourself and to take credit in the comments below) and I really can’t believe I never thought of doing it that way before. Paying off your credit card purchases as you make them totally takes away the mentality (for me) of putting off the purchases until the next month, but still gets you the rewards for using the credit card in the first place.

My goal? To rack up enough reward points to finally get my DSLR I’ve been jonesing for for oh, so, so long. Call it what you will: I want me my Nikon.

(And if you have a DSLR recommendation? Please comment away.)

How Much are Your Pumpkins Costing You?

My Pumpkins with their pumpkins in 2009

Okay, so maybe I wanted an excuse to take a short jaunt down memory lane. But I haven’t gotten a photo of these crazy kids (aren’t they adorable?) for this year yet, though not for lack of trying. For some reason, we’ve been a little busy around here…

But we’ve managed to spend some money on the pumpkins anyway, apropos of the season. Have you ever gone to a Corn Maze? They’re all the rage around here. We decided to experience Tom’s Maze outside of Dayton, where Tom turns his 8-acres of mazing into a game and admission costs $8 a person.

We got coupons off his website and paid $28 for four people. (Five and under are free.)

We managed to avoid the overpriced pumpkin patch — I’ve already picked up some good-sized pumpkins at the commissary for a very reasonable price: less than $4 a piece. And we threatened the kids bodily harm if they didn’t convinced the kids to just keep on walking.


I actually entertained the idea of buying new costumes for Peter and Olivia! Well, not new, exactly, but new to them. Thing is, when I asked Peter what he wanted to be this year? “Batman!” Brilliant! That’s the costume he still has hanging in his closet from last year! Too easy.

Thing is, I’m pretty sure he thought I was asking him to choose from what he already has. As in, it never occurred to him that his mom would buy him a new one… Is that kind of sad?

Olivia’s costume is still up in the air. She and I may bee-bop around a couple of second-hand stores right before the Big Day. It’ll be a nice distraction after her dad leaves. Waiting until the last minute will also ensure that I don’t go out and buy a costume for a kid who ends up getting sick the night-of.  Not that we have any experience with that or anything…

How’s your Halloween/Fall Season Spending faring? Gotta live a little and enjoy some holiday spirit! Just try not to bust the budget while you’re at it… right?

I Got the Homeowner Blues.

John’s set to leave for Cali in a couple of weeks, just a few days after his *40th* birthday. Don’t you think it’d be fun to have some friends over tonight for a going-away /slash/ over-the-hill birthday party?

I sure thought so. Even when someone in this family was home sick every day this week. Even when that someone was me. And I still thought so – possibly – when the kitchen sink backed up last night. We plunged and poured in some non-environmentally friendly junk and went to bed and hoped the chemicals would work their mo-jo by morning.

I started to have doubts when my daughter woke up during the night crying with an earache. And I finally read the writing on the wall when the sink was still backed up this morning. You don’t realize how much you use your kitchen sink until you can’t. Nor how many dishes your family actually uses when they pile up unchecked.

Do you ever have problems with communication and your teenager? No? Just me?

Oh, you should have heard the shouting this morning between father and son. “Turn off your 40-minute shower and get down here!” There might have been some bleepity-bleeps in there, I’m not sure. I was too busy frantically bailing the putrid water gushing out of and over my sink and out of my dishwasher and onto my kitchen floor. (Which did I mention is laminate?)

Conner came downstairs unhappy and with shampoo still in his hair, but dutifully impressed: “There’s pee in that water.” Thanks, son. I really needed that spelled out for me.

Home Warranty Blues

We’ve had a home warranty ever since we bought this house three years ago. When you have a warranty, you can’t just call up a plumber: you have to call your warranty service so they can put in a work order to call a plumber for you. Under our warranty, we pay $70 for the plumber to walk in our door, and the rest of the repair/service is covered under the warranty.

As I pulled out the warranty paperwork, I realized that our contract had expired last month. I don’t remember getting the renewal paperwork. Had I spaced off yet another bill?

No, in fact, I hadn’t. “It looks like they decided not to bring your contract up for renewal.”

Huh, what? Without so much as a how-do-you-do?

I know why they did this: because we’ve actually used the warranty. At least three times in the last year alone. Apparently home warranties are like car insurance: you’re not actually supposed to use them.

Peter learning about $399 snakes.

I honestly wouldn’t care about the warranty not renewing our contract if we were staying in this house long-term. As it is, I’d like to have the option of offering a home warranty to the future buyer, so I’ll have to do some shopping around. But that is an issue for another day. Right now, we just need a plumber. (Did I mention the pile of laundry I was planning to do today?)

And why do these things always happen on the weekends?

**Aside** Many reputable companies often end up terminating business relations with a warranty company: it’s just too much of a pain when you don’t need the referrals. We had that happen with the Heating and Air Conditioning contractor who used to be a regular visitor when we had so many problems with our Heat Pump. Ultimately, he helped us secure a new indoor air handler through our warranty — after we paid many, many $70 service call fees — and we haven’t had Heat Pump issues since. However, they became so disenchanted working with our warranty company that they discontinued their contract. (Perhaps because they actually wanted to work for the customer instead of the warranty?) When you have a warranty, you have to go through their contractors. **End Aside**


The plumber showed up in the middle of my ranting writing up above. He snaked our pipes all the way to the main line and chastised us for using that goop (apparently nothing you can buy differentiates between the goop in your pipes and the pipes themselves) and charged us a mere $399 for an hour’s work.

And that included a $25 coupon I got from his website.


It cost $109 just for him to walk in the door, by the way. As opposed to $59 on any given weekday. It’s like the pipes know: Hey guys, it’s Friday! Time to clog up!

And John’s party will have to wait. Too bad turning 40 won’t. Heh-heh.

Mums make me happy. And so do Open Houses when people actually show.

In honor of our latest Open House, I splurged on some seasonal flowers to spruce up the front door. I say “splurge,” but I didn’t actually realize how cheap a pot of mums go for: just $5 at Home Depot. (I replanted them in a pot I already had.)

Definitely a lot of bang for your buck, don’t you agree? Nothing says, Come On In! like some fresh flowers greeting you at the door.

And they worked! Three groups showed, which is a 300% improvement over the last two Open Houses. This is also the first Open House we’ve had in several weeks: I’ve begged off the last couple or so that our realtor suggested. I’ve just gotten tired. Weary, really. And discouraged. I needed a mental and physical break from preparing for an Open House and being okay when no one showed any interest, or even showed at all.

Two of the couples that came today are currently renters, too. Which is huge. That means they’re not homeowners waiting for their own houses to sell.

The geraniums I had by the front door before? Are actually still thriving, just on our back porch instead. Where, reportedly, one of the couples sat today and chilled and talked amongst themselves for quite a while.

Can you hear the hope in my voice?

Flowers have good vibes, people. Such a simple, economical way to upgrade your home’s curb appeal. Or just your mood, as the case may be.

To Stay, Or Not To Stay

John leaves soon to start his new assignment in California: specifically, he’ll be going to school. (Yea, no deployments!) Our house is reaching the six-month mark on the market, with no more offers since that first one we received barely two weeks after the house first went on the market. (That contract fell through, as you might recall, which felt like a mixed blessing at the time as we were in no way prepared to move so quickly.) (Of course, now we’re ready!).

We’ve also decided that the kids and I will not be joining John in December unless the house sells. As in, soon. The original plan was for me and the kids to stay in Ohio just until the end of the year so Conner could finish up his first high school semester all neat and tidy. Then we’d head out to California to settle in and start homeschooling. However, the financial stress is just too great. Because John is PCSing to such an expensive area, his housing allowance will be quite high. The plan is for him to find some basic hole in the wall (but you know: safe and close to his school) that costs around $1000-$1200 a month, leaving the remainder for our continuing housing expense in Ohio.

In other words, we can float a small studio or one-bedroom apartment in California and our home in Ohio on the California housing allowance alone.

However, if the kids and I all go out to California, and we take a house on base there? No more housing allowance. Turned off. Zilch. And we’ll be left to cover the mortgage and other expenses of the house in Ohio out of the rest of his income, until the house sells.

To give you some numbers (which are all easily accessible on-line, by the way; I’m not giving up real secrets here)(except our mortgage payments, of course. But I’ve given up those secrets many times before):

  • $1,695.00 = Ohio BAH (Housing Allowance) — This just went up after John’s promotion, from $1602. (An increase that was essentially wiped out by the increase in federal taxes coming out of the pay raise.)
  • $2,928.00 = California BAH.
  • $1,822.53 = First & Second Mortgage Payments for house in Ohio.

As you can see, the Ohio BAH hasn’t been covering all of our housing costs anyway. This is usually the case for military families. Once we sell this house in Ohio and move into base housing in California, if all goes to plan: our housing expenses will naturally drop by several hundred dollars, once you factor in utilities.

I’m kind of excited about that part.

Are Finances the Most Important Factor to Consider?

When John and I were discussing our options in light of the house not yet selling, we were having a hard time coming to an agreement: I wanted to find a way to bring me and the kids out to California whether or not the house had sold; John thought we should wait.

We finally decided to broach the options to our teenager. He’s 15, after all, certainly old enough to be consulted. Also, he was a big reason I was so reluctant to stay behind. What if we sell the house in January? Or February? He will have just started his second semester of his freshman year of high school. It just seemed like such a difficult way for him to transition a big move, right in the middle of a semester, over half-way through a year.

And I have to admit, a big part of me is daunted by trying to figure out how to start homeschooling (and record keeping for a high schooler) three-quarters of the way through the year — or two-thirds, or five-eighths. Whatever it might end up being.

But I will just have to cross that bridge when we come to it, because waiting we are, at least for now. We told Conner the options, then asked him to think about it for a while. After a few days, I casually asked if he’d given it any thought. He said, “Well, we might as well just stay until the house sells.”

It was very anti-climatic.

But we’re still hopeful that another offer will come, even before the holidays. There’s still time. In the meantime, I’ll keep putting out the flowers. Buyers or no, there’s still the mood upgrade to consider, after all.

My husband’s in love. And before he leaves me and Eastern U.S. behind, he wants to get as much of this in as possible.

What? What did you expect to see?

Aw, Dunkin Donuts. They make John happy.

The Alabama-South Carolina game today? Not so much.

One dozen donuts (plus one fritter): ~$8.00

This includes a 20% military discount, which is huge as far as military discounts go. And one we didn’t find out about until we’d been buying donuts here for over a year.

Tip for fellow military members: always ask if there’s a discount. No matter how small or marginal the merchant may be, it never hurts to ask.

I’m just glad that we finally found out about Dunkin’s discount. I see a lot more of these donuts in our immediate future.

Personal Finance Debt Balance Updates! And the credit card game: we so own you.

Whew! Almost forgot this post in all the excitement of my guest post over at Get Rich Slowly. Man, I wish I had more traffic, even half a fraction of a fraction of GRS: the comments are so much fun! Even when it is, you know, about how you let $120,000 slip through your fingertips…

If you haven’t already, please go check out my post over there about How We Became Reluctant Landlords. And don’t forget to read the comments: they can be quite enlightening; and always interesting. I also know J.D. filters out any of the real nasty, crude comments, and I can’t help but wonder if I warranted any…

And thanks you guys who continue to be loyal commenters over here at my humble Budgets Blog. I  so appreciate you. Really.

Anyhoo. Here’s our numbers for the end of September. You astute ones (you know who you are!) might notice a few changes:

Debt Balances as of the End of September 2010:

  1. First Mortgage:  $169,668.33
  2. Credit Card Transfer: $23,975.00
  3. Second Mortgage:  $7,106.09
  4. Rental Property:  $107,319.92

Total Debt:  $308,729.35

This is a difference of –$660.01 in principle from the $308,069.34 owed in primary and rental mortgage debt at the end of August.

Yes, our debt snowball is still just sitting there until we sell this house.

Reminder: Regular Payments Breakdown:

  1. First Mortgage: $1538.63
  2. Second Mortgage: $283.90
  3. Rental Property: $758.00

Total Monthly Payments: $2580.53.

$1,919.93 of this was toward interest alone. But we finally got it under $2000! Woo-hoo!

Quiz: What Changed?

Ooh, we racked up a credit card! But somehow we paid down almost $24,000 from our second mortgage…? Oh, wait. You guessed it! (Or remembered me telling you from last month.) We transferred a chunk of our 2nd mortgage balance over to a credit card offer of 0% interest for one year. And the fee was just $75 — which is made up for in about ten days of not paying interest.

We’ve done the 0% balance transfer before with great success, so I have confidence we can do it again, barring any natural catastrophes or personal disasters.

Changes in Interest Paid to Second Mortgage

After “paying off” $23,000 from our second mortgage, the daily interest that accrues on that account dropped by about $5.50! (To about $1.59 to date.) And the amount of the $283.90 payment that actually goes toward principle (and not interest) almost doubled.

I like that.

Until We Sell This House…

The question I have to answer, exactly:

  • How much will we pay on the 0% offer each month?
  • How much will we continue to put away in cash savings each month?

For the last six months, all available cash has been going into a liquid savings account until we sell this house. So far, we’ve built up $9,111.50.

Part of me didn’t even want to tell you that, because I feel like it should be at least $2k more. We’ve definitely loosened up our spending a bit since we eradicated our initial snowball and found out that we’re moving.


Technically, if we sold our house tomorrow, we’d only owe $176,774.42 to the bank from the proceeds of the sale (give or take some interest). After all, the bank doesn’t care if we have a credit card balance that we know came from the home’s equity.

That does free us from some financial complications in case we have to sell this home at a loss (to us).

Ideally, we will sell this house soon and pay off the first mortgage, what’s left of the second mortgage, AND the credit card transfer. In that order. BUT.

What if we don’t sell in the next few months? What if it takes until Spring? (Or *egads* longer?)

I really want to take some of our savings and max out at least one of our ROTHs by the end of 2010: $5000 worth. Currently, we are not contributing anything to either ROTH. And that’s not good.

We have until April to contribute to our 2010 ROTHs, by which time I’d like to have maxed out both: $10k total. But depending on what this house sells for, I understand that may not be possible. But I’m hopeful.

What would you do? Are you still with me?

Thanks guys, so much, those of you who are still hanging in there with me. I know this is so exciting. Don’t you all wish you were me?

Finance Updates Linky-Linky

Speaking of exciting, I hope you all will link up your own debt and networth updates to my linky-linky below. If you’re reading this by email or your RSS feed, you’ll need to click over to the post itself. But please do: I’m still hopeful that this will be a monthly get-together for all of us keeping track for all the web to see and cheer us on and gain motivation. This is inspiring, people! And if I may speak for myself and others, I’m needing all the inspiration I can get right now. :)



I walked through our saga of how we became reluctant landlords of a rental property in Las Vegas over at The Man J.D. Roth’s blog Get Rich Slowly. Go on over and check it out! (Please?) 😉

And if you found your way here for the first time from GRS — welcome! I hope you’ll pull up a chair and stay awhile. We don’t always have such grandiose tales to share of woeful financial mishaps — but our lives are never dull! And I’m having a blast documenting (most of) the financial details on this blog and sharing our journey with all of you. Not only does it motivate me to hold us accountable; I learn so much when you all share your stories with us, too. I think of this blog as the place where I can talk about that taboo subject of finances and my audience won’t shirk away in horror.

I hope you’ll check back in again soon! You can subscribe via RSS or by email (look on the right sidebar). You can also follow me on facebook and twitter.

We just shelled out $670.94 on a new…

… computer!  Which was quite necessary, in the modern scheme of things.

We have been putting off the wheedling from our teenage son for well over a year, but the time had come: our old desktop lasted years longer than any other computer we’ve owned and it was one step away from crashing completely. Also, our son requires a computer for an online high school course — not to mention his regular classes — and I was paranoid that the old one would crash and breath its last after John leaves for California and I’d be left here not having a clue what to do.

My husband is the computer guru, not I. He’s the reason the desktop lasted even as long as it did — over five years? My, how times have a-changed! When he researched this time around, he reached a realization, “I am at the time of my life when I am getting off the tech-train.” He no longer has the interest or time to keep up with the latest and greatest in chip power speed and super high-powered ninja-bytes. (Can you tell I have no idea what I’m talking about?)

But John at least knows what the specs mean when he’s standing there determining which one he should ultimately purchase for our purposes. He visited three different local stores looking for a mid-grade PC with sufficient upgrades to keep it from becoming obsolete in just a few years, but without the unnecessary bells and whistles that cost an arm and a leg: we don’t need the thing to design the next space shuttle or calculate the speed of light; we just need enough of a machine to handle email and homework programs and carousing around facebook.

He ended up bringing home our first Gateway PC — no new monitor, as the one we have works just fine (much to our son’s chagrin).

With tax: $670.96.

Based on John’s research leading up to the purchase, we had estimated spending about $600, before tax. The first two stores didn’t have what he was looking for in stock. The third store had the one he wanted, but right beside it was the Gateway for $30 more (before tax) but with specs that added up to a lot more:

  • i3 chip
  • 8 MB RAM
  • 1000 MB hard-drive*

*see below for an explanation and the corrected specs!

This was vs. the quad-core chip, six GB RAM, and 750 GB hard-drive of the Dell he’d originally planned on buying.

Lest you think I sound like I know what I’m talking about, I’m just writing down what John is telling me. All in all, I thought he did very well within the budget we had set for ourselves. He also knows how to install these things and set everything up. Did you know they want $70 to come out to your house and do that for you?

He bought a computer, and I got a much-needed night out.

I got a much-need night out with the ladies last night while Conner babysat (yea, for teenage siblings!) and John did the final computer shopping. I enjoyed a yummy soup and half-sandwich ($7.87) from Panera before the girls and I headed to a live concert and soaked our souls in the soothing tunes of an amazing new (to me) Christian singer-songwriter and pianist — who also just happens to be blind.

Pizza for The Boys: $19.98

Unbeknown to me, “The Boys” were ordering out a meal of their own, courtesy of Father John.

All in all, it ended up being a rather expensive day.

(At least the concert was free.)

Laptop Woes

It could be so much worse, of course. (Can’t it always?) But my laptop is also on its last legs!

Do I need a new laptop? Hmmm… define “need”, exactly. No, a laptop is not necessary for human survival. But it does greatly help me maintain sanity.

HOWEVER. A new laptop is simply not where I want to put more money right now. Not now. So John spent the afternoon cleaning up my laptop and generally running scans and wipes and… well, I don’t really know what all. But it is running so much better. (Thanks, honey!)

This is How You Budget

In the interest of planning ahead for the day the laptop does finally die… What laptop do you use or otherwise recommend? Bonus if you can give me an idea of how much it goes for, though these prices like to change as much as the weather in the Midwest, don’t they?

Do tell, and help this girl start planning the $$ accordingly. I thank you in advance.


Ha! Forest just pointed out in the comments that he was very hopeful that I mistyped when I outlined the computer specs above? Did I ever! Here are the correct comps:

  • Intel Core i3 550 chip
  • 8 GB RAM
  • 1 TB hard-drive (which I now know is the same thing as 1000 GB) 😉

As John explained, “That’s what you get for interviewing me while I’m trying to watch the Florida-Alabama game!”

Just look at this as further proof of how clueless I am about such techie things. 😉