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I went to the Historic Preservation Commission hearing tonight, and I had yto go first which was hard and scary, and our metal roof got denied as expected. But I stayed for much of the rest of the meeting, which was FASCINATING (our democracy in action!) and as is usual I found much to agree with on all sides (except the weepy sorority board member who was worried that externally applied window muntins would cause sorority girls to Die In A Fire.) And our builder and his wife came by at 8pm and we had a good long talk and they were rabidly on our side, more on our side than I was, and it is nice to be supported even if you don't fully agree. So we'll look at energy-star rated architectural shingles and creative ways to vent the roof, and see what we can do.

And in good news, it turns out we qualify for a (I think federal) program to allow mortgage refinances without PMI for people in just our situation - the value of the house dropping considerably since we purchased, but not in any danger of defaulting or anything. So we can refinance after all, for free (well, the bank paying), just as we'd been planning.

And use the money saved in the first year to pay for dental work on the Dillo. With that plus the fact that architectural shingles are cheaper than metal, we may have saved enough money today alone to pay for the dental work.
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Just got back from a nice lunch with a faculty member and her visiting colleague, at which we had a pleasant discussion about academia, academic publishing, gender inequities in academia, the conservative nature of Classics and the awesome nature of archaeologists, etc.

And got, bam, bam, two emails: one from our banker saying the house appraised at enough less than we paid for it that it doesn't make sense to refinance (because we'd need mortgage insurance), and the second from the historic preservation planning office with the staff recommendation on our application, which says we can put a membrane roof on the porch and take down the back chimney as long as we keep a shingle roof on the main part of the house.

Looking on the bright side, at least we don't have to actually sell our house? And the banker is awesome, and offered the split the appraisal fee so we'd only be out $175 for the attempt. She honestly didn't expect it to appraise that low.

Also on the bright side, I was expecting this verdict from the historic preservation commission, and the staff report contained some information I didn't know about the house (the wrapping portion of the porch was added after 1960, because it does not appear on the latest Sanborn maps they have).

Still, have had better Fridays.
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There's nothing as consistently stressful for me as the children's birthdays. Dillo's is Sunday, and do we have a plan? We do not. He's old enough now that he expects something to happen. mr. flea was going to see if we could do something at his school Friday, and invite the two friends who have left already (assuming they are in town, which I doubt.)

Part of the problem is that the dates of both kids' birthdays mean the chance of its being incredibly hot are high. So it's hard to plan a simple "run around in the yard" birthday party (our house being small enough that 4-6 children in it is a houseful, never mind their parents).

We're also going ahead with the refinance, which means collecting documents, and the planning commission will meet in 2 weeks on our roof proposal, and the kids are taking swimming lessons soon, and then mr. flea's parents are coming and then school starts. Blah.
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Apparently mortgage rates are insanely low right now - yes, even more insanely low than usual - and the people who buy up mortgages are desperate for good quality loans to buy. As a result, we currently have the opportunity to refinance at ZERO cost to us - the bank will pay all costs and recoup the difference when they sell our mortgage off. (Yes, mr. flea said, "Hang on, explain that one more time?" to our banker.) We can go from our current rather decent just-under-6% rate to something like 4.75 for free, which doesn't seem like much but cuts $150 a month off our payments and reduces the interest over the course of the loan by more than 100K. If we were willing to pay points (we aren't, because of the uncertainty of mr. flea's employment) we could get a rate as low as 4.26% (for 20% down, good credit, 30 year fixed rate.) If you've thought about refinancing, definitely look into what a reputable bank can do for you right now.
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I got All Your Worth from the library today; it's the money planning book by Elizabeth Warren and her daughter. Warren is the pretty darn awesome lawyer currently advocating for consumer protection legislation; her daughter is a financial consultant. The pair wrote the book The Two-Income Trap as well.

They argue that 50% of your income should go to Must Haves, 30% to Wants, and 20% to savings. To calculate the factors the way they do:

Income:
Gross income
Minus taxes
Plus employer contributions to your retirement

Must Haves:
Rent/mortgage
Insurance (life, health, car)
Car payment
Child care
Utilities
Food
Student loans
Anything you have a contractual obligation to pay for over the long term
Not credit card debt; the credit card piece gets complicated, but since we have no credit card debt I didn't pay that much attention to it.

Wants:
Clothes
Eating Out
Stuff You Buy
Gym memberships
Basically anything that if, you lost your job and cut back to the bone, you'd eliminate.

Savings:
Includes employer contribution to retirement.

So I totted up our percentages on Must Haves and Savings, which are the ones with easy-to-come-by numbers. With Dillo still in day care (until August) and counting our new car payment, our Must Haves are at 66%. Oops. Once Dillo starts school, we'll be down to 58%, which is still not that great, but is out of the Danger Zone. On the plus side, our Savings run at 19%, which is about on target. (Also on the plus side, we have an extensive cash reserve, that runs to about 6 months of Must Haves, and we have no consumer debt, but.) But no wonder it feels like we are still having to be cheap all the time - our Wants are what's getting squeezed in our budget.

Right now there's not too much we can cut from the Must Haves. We need to look at the life insurance we have through work, and maybe choose a cheaper health insurance plan when open enrollment rolls around. I think mr. flea may need to adjust his federal tax withholding. And it would be great if I were able to get a job as a librarian, and mr. flea got hired as a permanent employee. In the meantime, we'll be cheap.

In general, I think this is a good book. It says all the sensible things all good financial planning books do (don't buy a house with no money down, don't buy stuff you can't afford, credit cards are of the devil) and that we have always done. I didn't learn a lot, but if you need a good basic financial management book (in paperback, cheap), you might look at this one.
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Went to Honda dealer at 4pm. Drive

2010 Insight. Hybrid, the Prius competition. Size for mr. flea was big enough, but not by much. The back seat is pretty darned small. Drove fine. Price: maybe 20K?

2010 Civic Hybrid. Was bigger inside than Insight. Drove like a Civic; barely felt like a Hybrid at all. More pickup than the Insight. Price: hybrid was 22K, non-hybrid, 17.

2010 Fit. My god this vehicle is enormous inside. The river's seat doesn't crank down, but it doesn't need to. mr. flea had miles of headroom, and the back seat was palatial. From the outside it looks tiny. I cannot imagine how they do it. We didn't drive it. Price: maybe 14-16? Must check. They do have a stick.

Got kids, went to Toyota dealer at 6pm.

2010 Matrix. Fine inside - felt bigger than the Civic, not as immense as the Fit. Is actually a larger car than either. Gas mileage not great. They have a stick. Price: 19K. 0% financing with NO money down seems to be available for this one - yoicks! mr. flea drove it - said it was fine, nothing to get excited about.

2010 Prius. mr. flea really just doesn't fit in this. He drove it. Price: 24K+.

I am a fan of the Fit, for space, price and value. We'd need to drive it, of course. About 15 people on Facebook who have them told me they love them.

mr. flea just isn't excited about much of anything. He likes the idea of the hybrids, but they are just too small. The Civic hybrid is a possible, but we need to look hard at whether the premium for a hybrid makes sense - we don't drive that much, so our gas costs are already on the low end.

It's really not that fun to buy a car when you're not buying a Ferrari, I must say. Also, I had NO IDEA that Ferraris cost $300K.
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Since Casper is in public school and daycare is so much cheaper here than it was in Durham, I tend to forget we still pay a huge chunk of cash for child care. But, adding it all up (day care, after school and summer camp at the YMCA) it was still $9500 in 2009. $6000 of that qualified for the child care tax credit, and we are eligible for a credit of 20% of that (I think the % is based on income.)

I also paid $4500 in tuition last year that I won't be paying this year, since I am finished with schooling. (I can't imagine ever wanting or needing another degree, but I suppose one should never say never - maybe 10 years from now I will have a compelling reason to go to law school or something.) Unfortunately we got no tax credit for this since our income is too high.

I haven't filed yet - I need to get the YMCA's tax ID number and mr. flea needs to review things - but we should get a decent amount back again this year. Maybe enough to pay for the roof we need.
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I recently fell in love with some boots. Because I am the sort of person who always falls for the $$$ version of anything (seriously, when I was 13 my mother got me post-it notes that read "I have the simplest of tastes. I only want the best."), the boots I fell in love with are $332 Frye boots. These, to be specific. http://www.zappos.com/frye-veronica-slouch-cranberry?zlfid=111 Perhaps in saddle. (Side note: the people posting reviews mentioning that they've just bought their THIRD PAIR of $300 boots - I own a house and you don't, nyah nyah!)

On Sunday I had the bright idea that if I put $5 in an envelope every week, saved by the dint of not buying any vending machine candy or Jittery Joe's treats at work, I could buy myself the boots for Christmas 2010!

On Monday, I bought a $1 Three Musketeers. Just now I bought a $2.50 chocolate chip muffin. Sigh.

(ION, this week is TOO COMPLICATED. I want to call it off and come back next week.)
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We're talking again about the possibility of a new car - a used Toyota Matrix is looking good right now - an '04 or '05, maybe. This leads to talking about the funding of a new car. Which leads to actually setting out, with data, what our monthly income and outflows are. And of course it turns out that the reason we are finding it so hard to save anything is that they are too close together. Our absolute necessities: mortgage, child care, utilities, car insurance and gas, student loan payment, and groceries, puts us with $1200 left over for the month. I'm currently sending $250 of that to my IRA, and then there are things like two plane trips for 4 to Boston in successive months, my MLS tuition, dental care, termite treatment, etc. Some is getting frittered away in mr. flea's lunches out and unnecessary household items, but not really very much. Not enough that if we were really tight about it we'd be able to save up $6000 in the next six months for the other half of a car.

This burden should ease. mr. flea got a rather nice raise recently (6% if I am doing the math right), which was a nice surprise, since my workplace is furloughing me 6 days this year. In 10 months Dillo will start PreK, though my plan is to put the monthly daycare money into a college savings fund starting then. I should be getting a (marginally) better-paying librarian job in the next few years, assuming my workplace ever stops its hiring freeze.

But it's disappointing to see how our spending has risen to our dramatically increased income. Our mortgage is twice our rent (we had really cheap rent); our utilities are higher here (gas/electric some, because the house is bigger, but we now pay 3x as much for water/sewer/trash as we were, which is just a function of the municipality); we have a student loan payment for the first time in a while. Some luxuries are included in those "necessities": $30 a month for satellite TV, $12 a month for a cell phone, $45 for internet. Not a lot I suspect compared to some people.

miscellanea

Sep. 1st, 2009 09:24 am
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My feet are cold. It's a chilly day (for Georgia values of chilly, which means it's 70 degrees) and I am wearing pants and long sleeves and I wish I had worn socks!

I am trying to decide what I want to do with the upcoming 3 day weekend. It would be good to take the time to run up to NC and go camping and pick apples, but it would also be nice to have an at-home weekend and do yard work and paint Casper's room. (One of her birthday presents was a gallon of pink paint.) It's my birthday Sunday.

We got an estimate from the insulation people and it's much higher than I was expecting. They have a very detailed list of stuff and it all needs to be done and I am sure it's a fine estimate, but I was just hoping it would be about half as much. We haven't yet had time to sit down together and go over the estimate and decide what we want to do about it. I sat down this summer and wrote a list of financial goals but we seem unable to make any progress about saving towards them. I know some of it is unusual expenses (two trips for 4 people to Boston, dental work, annual car insurance bill, last tuition payment for my MLS) and we should be able to get back on track in the next couple of months. But I am full of things I want for the house (new couch, rugs, blinds, dresser, chairs, mattress for Dillo) and they are all incompatible with doing the insulation work and saving up for a car and so forth. Sigh.

luxury

Jun. 29th, 2009 05:01 pm
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To sign one's daughter up for swimming lessons at the beach after watching the teachers do private and small-group lessons for a couple of hours, without even asking what it's going to cost (we pay at the end of the week - they cancel for thunder, and if they cancel we don't pay. We do go if it's merely raining, like this morning).
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I've sold a few things on ebay now and then for a while now, and it's been perfectly easy and normal. Everything up to now has been items of children's clothing, either very inexpensive, or a little more expensive but something that I know exactly the market value of (often because I bought it on ebay in the first place).

This time I had two items that I started at $24.99 and expected might go as high as $50. One, a pair of Coach gloves, went for $100, and the other, a pair of sunglasses, went for $161! I just shipped them and I am fraught with anxiety about the whole thing. So much money! The gloves were a gift (like, 20 years ago, and I wore them perhaps twice; they are old-fashioned leather driving gloves), but I think $100 is a decent or under-estimation of the cost new, and probably okay for their current value. I know what the sunglasses cost new, though (hint: not $161), and while I feel I described them to the best of my knowledge, I still feel a little like I am defrauding the person who bought them.

I am going to be on tenterhooks until I get some feedback on these. And maybe even after that. How silly of me! It's because it is so much money, of course. Silly money.
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The upside to having been unable to fund IRAs the last four years is, at least we didn't buy high?
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Two completely separate topics.

As the weather has turned here, I was sorting out fall clothes for Dillo last night. He seized on the (size 4) Thomas the Tank Engine pajamas that Cashmere recently sent, and happily wore them to bed, sleeves and waistband turned up so they didn't fall off. (And then he slept through until 5am, for the first time in perhaps 10 days!!) But this morning he did NOT want to take off the jammies to get dressed for school. He is so rarely opinionated about such things that I was a bit nonplussed, and thus not very firm - I sent him off in pants, socks and crocs and a long-sleeved fleece pajama top. With a spare t-shirt, since it is supposed to be 84 degrees today.

The roll-over concerns my Looniversity pension funds. I worked for the Looni for 5 years and 10 months, as a non-salaried employee, so my only retirement choice was participating in the Looni pension - us non-professional staff can't be trusted to make our own choices about retirement, no siree! Well, I vested and I left, and now they are going to send me the money. I have the option of receiving $22 a month from now until the day I die, which cracks me up. If I lived to be 80 (a reasonable expectation, given my family history and limited interest in skydiving) I'd ultimately receive $11,000+ from them, but by the time I am 80 I expect $22 a month will not keep me in chewing gum. So I'm taking the rollover, and putting the money in my existing IRA. Guess how much I get? Less than $5100. For five years and ten months. If I'd been fully funding an IRA during that time (which I wasn't; I was paying for child care instead) I could have socked away $21,000. If I'd been salaried, they would have been contributing 8.6% of my salary annually, which would have come to maybe $15,000 (I would have been required to contribute 3% of my salary on top of that). So it feels very hinky to only get $5100 from the Looni. Am I misunderstanding the economics here?
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We learned this weekend, thanks to my FIL, that we're eligible for a first-time homebuyers tax credit of $7500. Which means that, if we elect to take it, we'll pay no taxes for this year, and will receive a check of whatever's left after the taxes are taken out. So, we'd get all our Federal taxes back (like, $3000, maybe) plus a check for anther $4500 or so, in April. The money has to be paid back, at $500 a year, starting two years from the time you take it, and if you sell your house at a profit, you have to pay it all back. If you sell your house at a loss, it gets "forgiven."

I'm not sure how I feel about this; I'm not sure if we'll take it. On the one hand it feels a bit like free money. We could use it to pay down some of the principle on the mortgage, or do some home improvement work. I feel a little strange that we didn't know about this when we bought the house; we're usually up on stuff like this, you know? So, on the other hand, I feel a little suspicious about "free money" from the government.

We also received a substantial gift of money from my in-laws, so that's another responsibility. They are scrupulously fair about giving gifts to their children. In this case, they wanted to celebrate mr. flea's completion of his dissertation, but they also wanted to give a substantial sum for mr. flea's sister, whose marriage is in trouble. The money is a secret from her husband, and is to serve as her emergency funds should things go wrong there. So that casts a little bit of a pall over the gift to us, in my mind. Also not sure what we're going to do with it - so many possibilities. Mortgage, student loans, long-neglected IRAs, college savings, furniture, home improvement. When you start to slice and dice it, even big money suddenly feels not-so-big.

oy

Jul. 11th, 2008 07:22 pm
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My mother has been on a negativity kick lately, at least when she's not talking about my brother, who is (as usual) the apple of her eye because he finally got a job, and has opted to spend more in rent on a 1 BR apartment in Brookline than our monthly mortgage including insurance and taxes on a 3 BR house. Aside from her gloom and doom about the stock market (she claims they are POOR now and she will have to go back to WORK to pay the mortgage on their vacation house, to which I have so far refrained from saying, "I HOPE you have to get a real job, it would be good for you"), her current main topic is her pity for poor Dillo, who will have to go to day care.

Now, until 2 weeks ago, Dillo had been in daycare continuously since he was 5 months old, and showing no ill effects. I think the new day care will be fine, although I suspect there will be a crying adjustment period.

This morning mr. flea got the earful, when she called to say Happy Birthday to Dillo (more on that later). She added a new tack - that upper middle class people don't put their children in daycare. Uh huh. And the fact that a huge percentage of the children in Dillo's ex-daycare have parents who are doctors or college professors, and most of the children at the new daycare have parents who are researchers holding PhDs, means what exactly?

I am so tired of my mother's affluenza.
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I seem to spend all my spare time alternately collecting obscure paperwork for my mortgage broker and explaining the various oddities of our lives to her (sure, I'll get my mother to write a note saying she gave me a gift of money, plus I'll call the bank and ask them to fax me an image of the check, and no, mr. flea hasn't been paid since summer 2007) and worrying about moving, which won't happen until ca. July 24 and will be performed by professionals (though we have to disassemble all furniture. Why hire professionals if they can't use a hex key??) I have joined Freecycle and will see if sucker number 1 shows up tonight to take our on-its-last-legs jogging stroller and I ponder the basement with despair daily and I fret about the possibility of having a 3rd child and the need to keep or not keep various baby accoutrements.

Oh, and stock market worries, since much of our down payment is not yet liquid, and I;d like to get it liquid, if the stock market would stop fricken sucking, already.

I think maybe tonight is a night for the anti-stress mantra CD, don't you?
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Please stop taunting me with your Big Big Sale. My kids really don't need more clothes. And I juts spent $120 yesterday, ordering Casper sparkly Keds for her birthday and me a slew of basic winter work clothes on clearance from J. Jill.

Wah!
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We're back from Athens again. The inspection was good, no real surprises. The closest thing to a surprise was polybutylene pipe in the upstairs bathroom, but the connectors are copper which is good. Just something to keep an eye on. It will need a new roof in about 3 years, which was known, and the front porch needs some serious understructure work and new decking, which was obvious when one stepped on to it. Job interview went well. I'm not counting on getting the job, but I have good hopes.

I think the money is going to come together okay for us to actually put 20% down. Do people feel uncomfortable about me talking about the finances of this house? I know there's a taboo about talking about money, which I kind of like breaking, and I also think it's fascinating to look at the way three factors - family support, thrift, and luck - are letting us buy this nice a house. Kind of sociologically analyzing our own situation. I could write a long post, but I worry that people would take it as bragging. I feel that there's value in talking explicitly about this kind of thing, to de-mysterize it.

Anyway, the kids. Casper said in the car on the way to Athens Thursday night: "Mom, you are all ass." We think that came from the YMCA... also, I am so NOT all ass that it is doubly funny.

(Another funny, I tried on some J. Jill knit pants at the mall today, and I tried a size too small but even so I could tell they were going to be clingy as hell and revealing of every panty line and body bump, so I asked the saleswoman, "What do people wear under these?" and she said, "Um ... underwear?" I think even a thong would be problematic, so it's probably got to be spanx of something horrible like that. So, no.)

Dillo is getting to be such a big boy. At the mall he ran straight in to the play area and even was able to climb on things by himself. he last time we were there, only a couple of months ago, he was too shy and clung to a leg. And this morning we were out to brunch and he sat at the kids' table like a grown-up boy. He talks and talks, not always very intelligibly still. At this age, Casper had full grammatical sentences, pronouns, verbs, and was clear as a bell, so I need to keep reminding myself that Dillo's mumbley two and three word phrases are actually average to above average. Another way he and Casper are different is in their play - she has always been into ordering things and creating scenes with little dolls and bears and eventually making them talk to each other and do things. Lots of lining up toys, arranging them just so when she was almost two. Dillo likes to disassemble and reassemble things, most notably the two Lego Duplo Thomas trains we have. He throws things a lot - balls and silverware - and drives cars and planes and any vehicle. He loves to play outside and begs for playground in this was he and Casper at this age are alike). He "draws" on paper - does seem to know a few colors - and asks me to draw cats all the time. Eating out he loves french fries, won't eat much else at fast food (with all this driving there has been a sad amount of fast food lately). Up and down steps, with a hand if they are steep. A bit cautious physically, but once secure in his ability he is all out. Loves to run, sometimes saying, "Running! Running!"

I really feel as he is approaching two that his babyhood is going. I feel lke our family is changing into a family with two kids, not a family with a kid and a baby. Dillo and Casper deal well together, normal squabbling over sharing stuff, but they also have fun together increasingly.

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