Monday, March 26, 2012

How My Inattentiveness Cost Us $400

Speeding
Photo credit: bodgie
Two weeks ago Chip was out of town for two days on orders from the National Guard.  So I had to drive Patrick to school (Chip normally does it).  Wednesday went off without a hitch. We got to school on time, sat in the carpool line for just a little bit, and got to work in a timely manner.  The afternoon - once again - went great.

Thursday we got to school alright and had no problems with the drop off. As I was leaving, I prepared to turn off the road that his school is on to make a left onto a busier highway. This was a frustrating task, as the person who sat opposite me in the intersection (who was going straight - both by his lack of blinkers and in reality), sat and wanted me to turn left in front of him, like I had the right of way. Of course I didn't, but I was needing to get on my way to work, and other drivers' stupidity is one of my pet peeves (because you know, we all drive better than everyone else - myself included). After I finally waved like a crazed lunatic enough to indicate to this person that he, in fact, needed to go first before I could go, he finally proceeded forward and made it through the intersection so I could make my left turn. I was frustrated and probably whipped my car around faster than I would have normally. My mind was on the idiot and his lack of driving skills and knowledge as to the rules of right-of-way. A few hundred yards down the road I see them standing on the side of the road throwing their arms in the air and flagging me down.

Cops. Both on foot on the side of the road.  One with a radar gun in hand.

This was not good.

I look at my speedometer immediately and see I'm traveling just over 40 mph, well below the posted 45 mph.

But obediently I pulled over.

What I didn't realize?

I was still in the school zone.  And it was school zone time.

It wasn't the school zone for my son's school, which is about 2 miles down the road I had turned off of.  This is another school that is located some unknown (to me) distance down the other side of the intersection where the idiot other driver had been coming from. 

Posted for school hours was 25 mph and I was clocked at 41mph.

The officer asked if I wasn't aware of the school zones and I told him that no, I was not because I typically did not make this drive in the morning. He left with my license and I hoped for the best, although I was certain I wouldn't get it because it was a school zone.

And I was right.  I was now the owner of a speeding ticket - my first in about 7 years.

It's amazing the amount of guilt and remorse that ticket brought about. I was convicted of not only speeding, but being so inattentive that I didn't know the posted speed limit accurately. And in a school zone, no less.

Well, last Thursday was payday and since this check was not going to our mortgage this month I signed on to see how much my ticket was going to be.  I knew it'd probably be bad because it was a school zone.  I kept repeating this to myself to prepare myself for what I was to find.

$367.60. Plus $29.00 to pay it online.  For a total of $396.60.

That was my punishment for being rash, inattentive, and flustered.

No, I'm not angry.  I deserved the penalty. I was speeding. I was unaware of the school zone. Were they speed trapping me?  Absolutely - but I was speeding, so I have no reason to be mad at them.

I'm frustrated with myself though. Although we did have the money to pay it (thank goodness), that's $400 that I cannot use to pay down my debt. That's a probability that my insurance could go up.

I hate stupid decisions/mistakes. I hate how stupid I feel for making them.

But the fine is paid now. Time to go send everything ELSE to my credit card.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

It Will Be A Good Three Months for Debt Reduction Around Here

Photo credit: SailorJohn
I have been the most terrible blog host this week. Barely speaking with you, my faithful friends. I've just had a lot on my mind. At work. At home. In my sleep. But I felt I could at least tell you what is going on around here and I decided to brag about what the next two months SHOULD look like around here for our debt reduction plan.

This past month was great.  Scratch that.  It was really, really good.  But it could have been better.  You'll see how in a couple of weeks when I do my financial update/disclosure post.  We have spent far too much money on food - mainly on eating out - this month. It's our downfall. A true weakness. And you would think that knowing this, we'd try to make more of an effort in this area. This month, we have just thrown all caution to the wind and eaten out far too much.

So although we sent OVER $3500 TO OUR CHASE CARD this month (WOO HOO!), that victory is still slightly clouded by the fact that it probably could have been closer to $4K had we been more careful with our eating habits.

Sigh.

However, another good point to make - Chip was on orders for the National Guard two extra days this month.  We won't make any money in as take home pay seeing that we had to pay a babysitter those days which we were both at work, but it will automatically withdraw the extra amount to apply to our Army loan.  That should knock it down about another $200.  I'll take all I can get!

Additionally, we closed on our mortgage refinance.  So we have taken on slightly more debt (since there were closing costs that got rolled into the mortgage, our mortgage principle is now higher than it was last week), but at a lower rate. And it will take us about 18 months to save enough to pay for the closing costs.  Not too bad.

Why am I telling you this again?  Well, because of the refi, we will skip April's mortgage payment and that amount we previously were paying toward our mortgage ($1615) will go to our Chase card as well.  Booyah!  Another blow for the debt in April!

And lastly, we will once again have a mortgage payment.  We will also have the addition $250 that we are saving due to the refinance to send to Chase on top of our normal payment. What else will we have in May?  A three paycheck month which means another chunk (maybe $1800-$2000) to Chase. 

That's over $7000 to Chase in three months!  It should be down to right around a $5000 balance then. 

The original balance of this credit card was over $17,000.  That hurts to say, but it was.  And now, we are moving full speed ahead and I am LOVING it!  Soon we will be done with this card altogether!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Taking Advantage of Lower Mortgage Rates

Photo credit: danzo08 (loved this toy!)
Five years ago this June we purchased a new home in Savannah, GA. We had just moved to town and at the height of the real estate boom, locked in a decent mortgage rate of 6.25%.

Fast forward through the economic downfall and the real estate crash.

In January 2010, we refinanced our mortgage at 5.0% in a fixed 30 year mortgage.  It made us so happy to save about $156/month. Yippee!  The closing costs were not that bad and we found that with that $156/month savings, we would recoup the closing costs in 19 months. Less than two years?  Yes...let's do it!

Guess what?  Mortgages are even LOWER now.

So guess what we did?

On Tuesday night, we closed on a refi at 3.875%.  That's going to save us another $180/month.  Closing costs?  We'll pay for them in 20 months.

So there is no plan to refinance again once we've made up the closing costs.  Otherwise that would be a terribly vicious cycle.  But honestly, based on the current laws, the mortgage rate can NOT get much lower for a fixed rate loan.  So we're very pleased to be locked in where we are.

Could we get a lower interest rate with an ARM (adjustable rate mortgage)?  Sure.  In fact, we played with that idea. But the problem has already been stated.  It can't get much lower. In fact, I'd personally be surprised if it stays this low much longer (although I'm certainly no expert).  We could also go with a shorter term loan and come out better.

But right now?  We're in a load of debt and the focus is keeping our expenses as low as possible so we can get rid of this debt!  Then we will boost our emergency fund.  THEN we will start doubling up on payments to our mortgage and knock it out.

Immediate future?

We'll skip the first month's payment (April) because that's what you do with a refinance. The money we save there will be sent to good old Chase Mastercard. Sure, we could knock time off the mortgage by doubling up on May's payment, but the goal again is debt depletion.

We will get back money from our escrow account.  What is that for?  It will be sent to our timeshare company to buy our way out. Yep - that's what we're going to have to do and frankly, it sucks, but we aren't willing to be stuck with more maintenance fees for a property we aren't using.  So we're buying out of it.

Still, we're making headway.  And hopefully in the next few years, we'll be living the dream because of it!

What about you?  Have you thought about refinancing lately?  What would you do with a skipped mortgage payment or a refund of your escrow account?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

When Natural Consequences Just Aren't Enough Discipline

This could be a tricky post to write. But I'm going to give it a shot anyway.

There are a number of means and methodologies about disciplining children. Some people believe in corporeal punishment. Some people think it's child abuse. Some people believe in exclusively reasoning with a child. Others swear that's completely ineffective.

I don't think there is any one correct way to discipline children. I mean, personalities are so different and what works for one child may not work for another.

We only have two children and by far do not consider ourselves child-rearing experts no matter how awesome we think our kids are (and they are, by the way).  But even across our two offspring, we see two very different people and have learned that two very different types of punishment are required to be effective for our children.

Our older, more passive people-pleasing child just gets upset at the idea that you are mad or upset with him. A stern look is enough to put him in line and when things are really bad - time out. That's all he has ever required.

Our spitfire little princess who is strong willed, very opinionated, and not swayed by what anyone else wants or thinks requires a totally different form of punishment because you cannot make the child sit in time out short of tying her to the chair (which no, we do not do).

Our son's school however introduced us to the concept of Natural Consequences.  Let me rephrase that. They introduced us to the terminology "Natural Consequences" as a form of punishment. We already incorporated them into our strategy without realizing it was a whole concept of discipline.

The gist of it is this: let whatever could happen actually happen and let the child learn from their mistakes. (Exception of course: If it is a safety issue, take them away from the situation but give some form of discipline that matches the crime). For instance, if a child doesn't eat their dinner, they go hungry for the evening.  If they are playing with a toy incorrectly after being redirected, let them break it. If they are leaning back in their chairs, let them fall.

I have to say, it can be very effective.

But not always.

Here's the deal, at least in my eyes:  there are some areas where natural consequences are perfect.  If you tell them that they might pop a balloon they are playing with and they continue to do so, let them pop it and then be upset about it. If they draw on the walls with crayons, they should have to clean the walls off themselves. Those natural consequences work beautifully.

But they also need to know that there are times in life when the punishment may not be equal to the crime - it might be much, much worse.

As a small child, if they shoplift, they should not only not get to keep the items, but they should be mad to  return the items to the store with a full apology in person to the owner/manager. If they are older and shoplift, I think it is awesome when I've seen kids have to stand outside the store they stole from with a big sign indicating "I SHOPLIFTED FROM THIS STORE" or something similar. Shame can be a powerful teacher and deterrent.

If a child is continually running late, a natural consequence might be for them to miss the activity to which they were supposed to be getting ready. However, this may not be possible. It might be an event that the whole family is required to attend. It might not be effective. It might not be an event they wanted to go to in the first place and therefore, this would not be punishment for them. Instead, maybe they could use some of their precious free time to help you clean the house. Put them to work. Some sweat and hard work in a task that they see no value in will be torture to them. Will this be abusing your power as a parent?  Some people would think so, but not me. Nope - I get a semi-clean house out of it AND they are miserable as they "serve their time."

Here's the deal:  As an adult if either of the above scenarios happen, consequences much worse than the natural ones will occur and that former child needs to understand that they have to follow rules or be subject to the ruling authorities.  In the former case, a shoplifting adult goes to jail and/or pays a large fine. Much worse than being made to the return the items. In the latter, an adult who is continually late for work not only does not get paid for that day (natural consequence) but could easily get fired if it is a recurring problem for them, which is worse than not getting paid for that particular day.

My point is this - natural consequences do have a place in the discipline spectrum. But they should not be the driving force in all instances. I feel that children need to be made to listen to their authorities (parents, teachers, etc) and obey just because those are the rules. It's life. It's reality. And if they are not taught this at a young age, they will be challenging that authority time and time again as an adult. And those consequences can be severe.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Wrapping Paper Storage and Organization Solution

I work for a gift wrap manufacturer and therefore probably have more wrapping paper, ribbons, bows, tissue paper, gift tags, gift bags, and whatnot than most sane people.  As an employee I get a lot of free stuff as a perk, and even when my closet of supplies is full, it's hard to say no. My neighbors are fully stocked as well since I bring home more than I can handle.

My previous solution, and I regret that I don't have a photo of this for you, was to use our old vacuum cleaner box to store the rolls of paper and a cardboard box (let's say a 14 x 14 x 10) to store the tissue paper and ribbons and goodies.  The bags were stored in another larger bag. All of these were in the coat closet next to our stairs in the downstairs hallway.

I got tired of the chaos that would ensue each time a birthday party came up and I needed to dig through Christmas paper to find a juvenile boy gift bag. So I decided to organize.

My first attempt was to use some hooks and bungee cord and go vertical up the wall in the closet.  It was a good idea, but the rolls were too heavy and not stable in that set up. I tried to do it spending as little money as possible, but with that failed attempt, I was reminder that it is often cheaper to buy the right tools for the job in the first place! So I bit the bullet and paid just under $35 for this beautiful find at a home improvement store:



What is it? It's an adjustable pantry organizer. It comes with several deep and shallow shelves and some bracing rods (which was key for this project), and it mounts to either a wall or a door. It's over 6 feet tall, 17 inches wide and only 6 inches deep. It was perfect for the small closet and since it was only 6 inches deep, it didn't come out too far into the usable space of the closet.

So I went to work.  With a drill in hand, after about 30 minutes, I had this:

Please ignore the bags behind the organizer. That's my current gift stash and the next area to be organized.




You can see in the pictures that I used the shallow shelves to hold the gift wrap and the bracing rods several inches above to keep them upright. I then used the deeper shelves to store my ribbon, tissue paper, gift tags, and bows.

The "everyday" paper (aka - non Christmas paper) is stored on the bottom and the Christmas paper is up top. This was for two reasons. First of all, I'm more likely to access the everyday stuff most of the year, so it is easier to get to at the lower level. Also, as an industry insider, I know that this paper will always be 24" or 30" tall. The Christmas paper may be 24", 30", or 40". That extra height extends upward into my closet and doesn't affect the shelf height for the ribbon.






The Christmas paper is mounted so that the bottom of it is right eye-level for me. I can pull the rolls out from the bottom and put them back the same way.




So this set up is really working for me.  It keeps everything organized and easily accessible and it takes up vertical space that was not getting used otherwise!  Hooray! Now I have to figure out something similar to do with all of the gift bags!

Go visit We Are THAT Family and see what is working for everyone else too!  You just might get some brilliant ideas!

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Our Financial Status #25 - February 2012

February was the beginning of great things for us financially.  A lot of steps were taken in February to really knock down our debt permanently - for the long haul, people!  That honestly makes me want to dance and shout!  If you've never known this type of celebration, you cannot possibly know how liberating it is to have successes in paying off debts.  If you never had to - good for you for being responsible in the first place.  In you haven't gotten there yet - don't worry - keep plugging away and it will come and you'll get to celebrate like us (and I want to know about it when you do!).  If you haven't started, let me tell you - it will all be worth it!

Okay - so here we got getting down to the nitty gritty.  I'll admit - the numbers aren't all pretty, but it is what it is.

INCOME:
We're actually $4916 over usual this month due to income tax refunds. Yippee!

UNDER BUDGET:
Auto Service/Parts: No spending this month, but we're rolling over $123 from previous months.  As long as we can just buy oil a few times in the upcoming months, this overage should roll out of the budget in about 5 months. 
Electricity/Water: $8 under budget. Ahhh...love to have breathing room in this area while the weather is mild. Hopefully we'll build up some "underage" to roll into upcoming months which will only get warmer.
Doctor: No spending this month but still rolling money over from previous visits.  Should clear up in about 3 months. 
Hair: No spending this month.  I will have an appointment in March though.


ON BUDGET:
Auto Insurance: No surprises here.
Television: As usual.
Term Life Insurance: Done
Mobile Phone: Nothing new here.
Alarm Monitoring/Pest Control: Regular charges here.
Mortgage/HOA/Timeshare: On course.

OVER BUDGET:
Gasoline: $181 over budget. This will probably only get worse as gas prices rise.  We'll have to reevaluate our budget soon I'm sure. 
Eating Out: $164 over budget. Seriously...we are AWFUL in this category.  I know we can do better, but we usually just don't make the effort to. Definitely our downfall and something I want to work on.
Groceries: $162 over budget. And this would be forgivable if we didn't eat out so much.  How do we spend so much on food?!
Pharmacy: $15 over budget for the month. Chip is starting to need his reflux medicine again so we might have to readjust this budget if that doesn't change.
Childcare: $12 over budget.  We went out with some friends on a "double date" last week and got a sitter. It was the first date we've been on since our anniversary in October. It was nice. 
Toiletries: $3 over budget for the month, but I have a huge "underage" that is rolling over from previous months, so this is fine.
Clothing: $130 over budget for the month.  There were a lot of great sales for my kids' clothes this month and I took them up on it.  Abigail is stocked for the summer and already has some great things for next winter as well.  Patrick might need a few more things for the summer, but I don't really know yet because I don't know what items from last summer will still fit him yet. This should work itself out in about 4-5 months when the amounts roll over.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:
  • We haven't done anything with the tax refund yet.  We were going to apply it to his Army debt just to knock it out of the way, but were advised against that by his Staff Sergeant.  Obviously the military is notorious for applying such payments to the wrong place and continuing to take it out of your check until they get it all straightened out. We're taking his word for it and sending it all to my detested Chase card. That will show up in next month's numbers.
  • I have officially eliminated our $20/month budget for "baby supplies" because we are diaper and pull up free now!  We have a small stash that we are using up at night but they will last a while and we'll be fully confident in Abigail's potty abilities by that time, so hooray!  That's money that can now go somewhere else now!
  • We spent $133 on Family Time and Kids' Activities this month.  Some of it was a Daddy-Patrick "Dude Day" to see Star Wars in 3-D. Some of it was signing Abigail up for t-ball, some of it was our date night, and one was a movie rental at Redbox.  Seriously...not bad spending for all of that!
  • Spent $70 for gifts this month (some beautiful flowers from Chip on Valentine's Day and a birthday present for a neighboring tot). 
  • Paid $250 over budgeted amount on Credit Cards. 
  • Will be using the overage we've had in our savings account to buy Patrick some new furniture this upcoming month (he's seriously outgrown his old set). 
  • Hopefully will be closing on our mortgage refinance this upcoming month.
  • Chip might be gone for 2 of the 4 weeks of next month (we'll know after this weekend) but will be getting paid for it.  We'll see some of that month in the form of income and some will be taken out of his check to pay down that Army debt. All in all, it will be good. 
Debt Paid off Since January 2012: -$482.84 (after clothing purchases, some gasoline, and filing taxes online, we lost ground this month - boo!)
Debt Paid off Since October 14, 2009: $23,257.19
Change in Networth from January 2012: $3291.76
Change in Networth from October 14, 2009: $48,594.93
 

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