Yellow's Green

The Adventures of Money Blog.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Baking Soda in the Bathroom

Baking Soda is great, and I mean really great.
You can use it for everything. Well, maybe not everything, but perhaps half of everything. Food, air freshener, non-toxic cleaner extraordinare. There are so many good uses for Baking Soda, that I'm going to begin collecting and sharing them here. You can get 16oz. for around $0.75. Let's start with where I use it the most regularly, and compare prices, shall we?

(in big wrestling or bad car dealership's announcer's voice)

"Baking Soda in the Bathroom"

(don't forget the corny echo here)

(End announcer voice.)

Air Freshener: I leave a small open box near the toilet. It's an odor absorber. With the occasional open window or match, no additional air freshener is needed. Maybe I'm just naturally not-stinky, you argue? Think again. ;) I use cloth diapers on my baby, and the dirty ones live in a vinyl bag in the bathroom.
box of baking soda: $.75
potpourri: $2.97 on sale
glade plug-in: $6.99
plug-in refill: $3.45
air freshening spray: $4.99
fancy-dancy time release freshener: $42.52

Toilet Bowl Cleaner: Every time I *ahem* "go number two" I sprinkle some in (after flushing) and do a quick go around with the toilet brush. It's the only in-bowl cleaning I have to do.
box of baking soda: $.75
nifty-necked bottle of toilet bowl cleaner: $2.63 bulk and on sale
drop in the tank and forget about it type: $8.99
no-touch disposable type: $27.54

Drain Cleaner + Freshener: 1/4 cup down your drain, followed by 1/4 vinegar. Seal tight till fizzing is done, and then flush with hot water. (I also periodically pour boiling water down the drain. Leftover water in the tea kettle, or when straining pasta, saves boiling time and energy and works great.)
box of baking soda: $.75
White Cleaning-Grade Vinegar: $2.99/gallon
Liquid Plumr: $11.99

Sinks and Counter Cleaner: I plug up the sink, pour in some in, add warm water and go for it. Alternately, sprinkle it around just like Comet, and use in the same way.
box of baking soda: $.75
some sink specific cleaner/sanitizer: $16.64/Gallon
comet: $1.36 buying in bulk

Floors: When the sink water is done cleaning counter-tops, I throw the mop in it and go for the floor.
box of baking soda: $.75
Swiffer Wet-Jet: "Starter Kit" $19.99
Floor Cleaner: $2.29

*The following I haven't used yet, but plan to. I know there are easy recipes out there, and will post them for reference on this blog:

Hand Cleaner (Aka soap), Toothpaste, Body Freshener/deodorant, Mouthwash, Shower Curtain Cleaner, Brush & Comb Cleaner, Bath Soak (Oh, how I wish I had a bathtub of my own...).

And this is JUST in the bathroom. I'm telling 'ya, Baking Soda is amazing.

Prices were found by a quick and painless search on Froogle, and you may easily find different prices when you look. I'm not even going to promise that I got all the links right. I am not endorsing any of the products linked to, nor the sites they are listed on. I am endorsing baking soda, but am not getting paid a dime, nor am I endorsing any brand. Why a disclaimer, Amberlynn, you only have about two readers anyway? Because you just never know.

Totally Off Topic

I dislike this template, and I haven't found anything among the templates found on blogger that I do like. Of course, I'd like a theme to have something to do with yellow and/or green, but I'm having trouble finding a free template I like. Any suggestions, anyone? Is there an easy way to make your own? (I do have Dreamweaver, from the days I used to have a website, but it's a pretty old version.)
Help? Sources? Anyone?

Friday, June 23, 2006

We Can't Afford a House - YET

Currently, we're saving $300/month specifically for a house downpayment or adding on to this one, or whatever.

The money gets parked in a Money Market account with a 4.8% APY.

If this was all we did, we'd have about $35,000 in five years - less taxes.

Whenever I reach $500, however, I'm throwing the money into an ever higher yeilding CD. The 2yr CD I bought today has a rate of 5.36%(5.51% APY).

Of course, I can't put *ALL* the money in CDs with a maturity that long. We will need to have times where we'll have enough money access to take good opportunities.

I'm very encouraged!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

OCSP 529 Plan

After much waffling, I finally decided to join the Oregon College Savings 529 Plan.

$25/month will automatically go for college savings.

Unless the law changes in 2010:
Earnings will be tax-free, as long as they are withdrawn for eligible education related expenses.
Contributions will be deductible at the federal and state level.
Maintenance fees will be waived for Oregon Residences.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

We Can't Afford a House

We were presented with the opportunity to begin home ownership. (Sorta, but I'm not in the mood to get into all the details of the opportunity itself.)
My Mother-In-Law played with several different options on an amortization calculator, and I spent the day playing around with our finance spreadsheets to look at the possibilities. I came to the conclusion that we couldn't afford it. We could pretend that we could afford the smallest amount - but I had only factored in mortgage payments. Considering how it would effect our utilities and food bill would make it out of the question with our current situation. I'm not currently willing to turn me working into a necessity - so we declined the offer outright.

The moral of the story? We need to save save save as aggressively as possible, so the next time an opportunity like this comes along, we can take it.

My question is this: In saving so aggressively, should I make minimum payments on my student loan and put the rest toward the "dreams" pot, or should I remain aggressive in annihilating my debt. On one side of the coin, we're finally earning more interest than we're paying. On the other, getting rid of my loan gets rid of that losing interest all-together, AND would lower our monthly must-haves.

I'm currently leaning toward backing off on my aggressiveness toward paying extra on the loan, but using any extra income we may get - like me picking up part-time job, or selling a car - against my loan.

Simple Update

*I never heard back about the job, so oh well.
*I did buy a CD, but only one. $500 for 6 months with GMAC. I figured if I want to start laddering, I'll wait one or three months and buy another one.
*I decided to leave the 401k with my original choices.
*I've been getting a 30/day free trial of the Investors Business Daily. Unfortunately, I haven't really been reading it daily, so I know it's definitely not worth my while at this point. Besides, I'd prefer online news - less waste of paper.

*I need help. I was reminded again this weekend of my issues with our current IRA status (through a broker instead of independent). Erik reminded me that they didn't even give us the deal they promised regarding their fees. We were supposed to be charged at the same rate as his parents, because they referred us. They are actually charging us more (because we have less money in our accounts). No good. They also purchased two funds without ever even consulting us on it. They only ever talked to us about one fund, but then went ahead and bought three. Erik's grandmother also wasn't too impressed with them. What I would like to do is keep everything exactly as it is - with Charles Schwab, and the same $s in the same funds - and just cut out the middle man. Unfortunately, I have zero idea HOW to do it. Should I just open another IRA and begin putting our money in to that instead, and leave what they (the brokers) already have alone? Can you have more than one IRA at a time? (We have one each.) It sounds like you can.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Applying for a Job

So I occasionally browse Craigslist for work-at-home part-time jobs. Most often, they're outright sales jobs, or cryptic ads that don't tell you what the job is but say "contact us for more details" (read:sales, likely the pyramid scheme variety).

I don't NEED to get a job right now, but I keep thinking it would help our savings and help pay off my loan quicker. It would also be good for me to have something that will force me to get moving when I'm feeling lazy.

I would only apply for a job that would give me the flexibility to still mother Jasper full time.

Last night, I found the perfect job. It's for a "Great Escapes" Coordinator for the Starlight Foundation. In other words, I'd be planning fun events for sick children and their families. This is SO perfect for me! Not only is it work I can do while Mothering, it's right in line with my skill set. I'd still get to work in the non-profit sector, and do something I'd be proud of.

So last night and this morning I refined my resume and wrote a cover letter, and sent it off with Erik to fax for me. (The add said fax only.) Well, the fax number they gave didn't work, it went to an office phone directory line every time. I want the job bad enough, that even though the add said no emails or phone calls, I left a phone message saying the fax number wouldn't work, and I looked up their email address and sent my resume.

Wish me luck!

Review - All Your Worth Again

THIS page is more than a review.
Please read it. What do you need me to do to convince you that this is the way to go?

It's also where we got the spreadsheets we use, although we've changed them a bit to meet our personal needs.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

CD Ladders and Safety Nets

We built up our ~7 month safety net pretty quickly once we put our minds to it. We also remember to factor in what it would need to be should our living situation change.

I just compared our monthly spending with the national average using one of Bankrate's calculators. We are well below the national average in almost all spending areas, except "misc." I remembered to include phone payments and student load payment in this area - so I wonder how that really does compare to the national average. Anyway, as I suspected, we are superiorly frugal: about half the national average for my age group. (We're at $935 according the their calculator, and average is $1886.)

We've done the math, and our monthly Must-Haves are actually a little higher at $1,017. We have $7,000 sitting in a money market account for a rainy day. While researching the best place to park money we're saving for down payment on a home (or something similar, like building onto this one) I came across the concept of CD laddering. This may be "duh" to you, but it's new to me, so I feel like explaining.

CDs, or Certificate of Deposits, are great if you want an exceptionally safe, short-term investment that you can do without touching at all for a given amount of time. Of course, as with most SAVINGS options, there are penalties if you touch it too soon (like losing all the interest you would have earned, or even paying back interest you would have earned but hadn't yet). They do, however, earn higher yields than Money Market accounts.

CD laddering is sorta the CD version of dollar cost averaging. Dollar-cost-averaging is when you make small installments, instead of large lump sums, into stocks or mutual funds because you never know if the market will go up or down. When it's down, you get more for your money. When it's up, you're still putting money in, and it will be that much better if it keeps rising. The same holds true for interest rates on CDs. They could go up, or down - but you almost always get better deals when you buy longer terms. So what you do is buy several CDs for different terms (term is the length of time you can't touch them).

Let's say you invest $1,000 each in a 3 month CD at 4.88%, a 6 month CD at 5.12%, and a 9 month CD at 5.12%. (These are the current rates at GMAC, one of the best rates you can find as of today's CD ratings on Bankrate.) In three months, you get your first CD back, and it's now worth $1,012. Now, you can take that money and put it back into a 9 month CD - and for fun let's pretend the 9 month interest rate has gone up to 5.25%, now it will be worth $1,053 at the end of its term. When the 6 month CD is up, you do the same thing. Now, every three months, you can purchase a 9 month CD, the highest earning "rung" on your "CD Ladder."

You can find CDs with terms as short as 1 month (though, they won't have a very good yield at all) and as long as 5 years (which will give you the best rates). If you're looking at investing money for longer than five years, you should probably look into other options besides CDs.

So I'm thinking... with $7,000 saved for emergency use over about 7 months, we would get a budget of $1,000 a month. We don't need to be able to touch all $7,000 in month one! Why don't I build a CD ladder, even if it's small like in the above example. When I compared rates, the 1 month CDs I could find are currently earning less than our Money Market account, so that doesn't make sense to do. But a 3 month CD does earn more, and I wouldn't want the hassle of buying a new CD every month anyway. So if I keep $3000 in the Money Market account for easy accessibility, and then $3000 in a 3 month CD, and $3000 in a 6 month CD - I'll have my little CD mini-ladder earning me even more "free money" than I would with all of it sitting in the Market. Trouble is, I have to come up with $2000 more before doing this would make sense.

We have about $1,000 sitting and waiting to see if we'll need it to pay for Jasper's birth. If insurance comes through like its supposed to (it's been 3+ months now), I could use that. I could also take some from our travel budget. Or just wait until we've saved it up.

Alternately, I could put about $1,000 each in a 3, 6, and 9 month CD. The trouble with that idea, though, is that we'd end up short in case of an emergency - leaving only $2,000 available in months 4-6.

Sorry, this has turned into an exceptionally long post. But, through writing this all out, I've decided what to do, so please be forgiving. (I'm usually long winded, so obviously if you're still reading, you are forgiving!)

I will keep $4000 in the market account and purchase just a 3 month CD with the other $3000. In three months, I'll know if that $1000 is available, and possibly have another $1000 saved. If that happens - I can add rung two to my ladder. If not, I'll at least have earned a bit more interest on that $3,000.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Revision on Portfolio Choices

I'm already thinking of revising my 401k choices...
As I haven't explained yet, I chose the small-cap fund and the bond fund for exactly those reasons... they were the only choice for small-cap or bonds in the plan.

I'm rethinking for two reasons, though.
The first is I finished browsing YF&B last night, and it ends with a page of don't. One of the don't is "Do not... invest in a mutual fund with the letter A or B at the end of its name. That's a sign that there will be a sales commission attached-it can be 5 percent. That's a silly waste of your money." PTRA and GTSA both end in A.

PTRAX. So Bonds, I was thinking, are a secure, so why don't I throw SOME security in there, especially since this PIMCO fund currently hold a 5 star rating. Being conservative somewhere is wise, right? But now I think... I'm just 27 and Erik is 32. Now is the time to be aggressive. Plus, choosing an index fund is conservative enough for now. So never mind on the PTRAX. Then again, Google says this is a no-load fund. Where are the charges that the "A" at the end of the name indicates?

Small-cap surely isn't conservative at all, but I thought I should at least throw a little in the mix. But if that little is the only small-cap option they give, it carries added fees, has an unimpressive history, and has a low star rating - why bother. So, never mind to you too, GTSAX.

So that's 10% of our 401k allocations up for grabs.
Should I throw that in to the Aggressive "Lifestyle" fund, or divvy it up among the other choices... hmmm...

Monday, June 12, 2006

Retirement Portfolio

I can't tell you how stupidly sophisticated I feel. Stupid, because I don't feel 100% positive about my choices - I still feel like I need to learn a lot more. Sophisticated because I did it - research and all. I made the choices for allocating our upcoming 401k options, and I didn't just choose the no-brainer "Lifestyle Options."

This is gonna diversify our current portfolio nicely, I hope.

Here's what it's gonna look like:
2.86% Bonds PTRAX in 401k
2.86% Small-Growth GTSAX in 401k
14.25% Mid-Growth CVGRX in Erik's IRA
60% Large Blend/Growth
25.7% SAGYX in 401k
5.7% RAFCX in 401k
14.25% NBSRX in My IRA
14.3% 500 Index in 401k
20% Foreign/World
14.25% AEGFX in Erik's IRA
5.73% TEMWX in 401k

Erik's 401k is offered through John Hancock. They sent him home with a really nice booklet laying out different retirement profiles so you can help set your savings goal, based on the kind of lifestyle you think you'll want, and a handy dandy calculator for how much you need to save each month now based on your age.

What I didn't like is that in all the funds they have listed, they don't give the tickers anywhere. You are just supposed to trust the (slightly outdated) materials they give your for all the information on your fund options. It also wasn't easy to find listings for fees. I finally found the expense ratios listed, but it didn't list anything about front loads or differed loads. I also have no idea what John Hancock's overall fee will be, and I don't like that. But hey, 50% company match on the first 6% should NOT be passed up. This is one thing I didn't have to understand anything about funds or stocks to know: DO NOT PASS UP (legitimate) FREE MONEY! You can think of it as a raise. Sure, your take home will be less now, but so will your taxes AND you'll have more later. Join the 401k? Duh!

So, I did some research on Morningstar, Google, and elsewhere finding what I could and looking at what I understood about each fund. (First, I had to figure out what the real names of the funds were, as everything in the packet began with "John Hancock" but nothing in the listings did.)

The first three choices were easy, because they were made for us. I know, I know, everything you read says learn and make your OWN choices - but here's why we didn't. We received a Christmas gift of an initial contribution into a Roth IRA through a brokerage/financial planning firm. When that happens, you don't say "Oh thanks, but you know, I'm going to just do my own thing instead, ok?" So for now, we're keeping our IRAs with Remick & Bartolet until I'm confident enough in my investment understanding to say "let's fly solo!"

Our first investment, NSBRX, was half our choice. We told R&B that we wanted to put our money somewhere socially responsible. They, then, found a good fund with this mission. You have to be a paying member of Morningstar to get all the dirt on this fund, but kindly, Google has the vital information for free. Then, R&B chose and AEGFX for us - for diversification. OK, so our IRA's hold one socially responsible Large Blend fund, one mid-cap fund, and one foreign large blend fund. Not a bad start. Funny enough, AEGFX showed up in our list of options for the 401k.

One reason I didn't choose one of the "Lifestyle Funds" (pre-packaged portfolios) offered was that it wouldn't take into account the holdings in our IRAs. The other, bigger reason was that I'm not interested in paying an additional fee.

Ok, I think I'll post my reasoning for other choices later, on a new post. If any money/portfolio savvy readers out there have advice you'd like to scream at me ("What is she thinking?") comment away.


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Google Spreadsheet

I've been trying to find somewhere I can post our current budgeting spreadsheet online for you to view. (Of course, I'd likely change our actual numbers for privacy reason once the spreadsheet goes public.)

Unfortunately, I've been unable to do so.

I have, however, begun the laborious process of translating it onto Google's new spreadsheet. (They don't yet support uploads from OpenOffice.)

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Review - YF&B

Ok, so I haven't finished reading it yet, but I got a big stack of Suze Orman books from the library, and I'm *not* reading through all of them, as there is a lot of overlap.

I'm currently browsing "The Money Book for the Young Fabulous and Broke."
fun title, eh? So obviously marketed toward, well, the Young, Fabulous, and Broke! On the cover, Suze is sporting an upturned collar, and the words are all different sizes and colors. Inside the book you'll see "pop-ups" and "quick-tips" and she's set a lot of it up in Q&A format. She also writes in a very conversational tone: "OK, Listen up. I'm serious here. Don't shut your brain off or let your eyes glaze over."

Sorry, I've simply babbled descriptives and actually reviewed nothing, so far. She throws some very surprising advice out, relative to others giving advice (use credit cards, or at least don't totally cancel them when you cut them up). But one surprising thing she said popped out at me in a way that really made me want to mention it on a review...

She says NOT to use a budget. She compares budgeting to dieting. You try it, and you never really stick with it, you just end up gaining your weight back.

In a way, she is right. I tried budgeting. I tried hanging on to all my receipts. I tried having a set time I would go and review, comparing my what I had planned to spend with what I actually did spend and it NEVER worked.

But "All Your Worth" tricked me into using a budget! How? Because it wasn't like any budget that had ever been sent my way. It was just simply, balance. Everywhere I'm reading says to set goals. I made a rather silly dig on that when reviewing the MASSPIRG budget deal, but in reality I do have goals. My goals, however, did not stem from "I want $[insert amount here] to get [object]." Instead, they are percentages. I have a goal of my Must Haves = 50%, my Savings = 30%, and my Fun Money (aka Flexible/Variables) = 20%.

Starting here led me very gradually toward actually using a real budget and setting more concrete goals. But I don't hang on to receipts and look at things with hindsight. "I planned to spend blah, I did spend deblah." Instead, I go - "Ooo, I want to get that 50% off cute baby outfit for my pregnant friend, but how much do I have saved up in my fun money right now? Is it worth it to get that, or do I need to save more because I plan on driving all the way out to Idaho to visit that baby?"

So I think the moral of the story is this: jumping head first into budgeting may not actually work. Thinking you're going to live your life following the Atkins Diet probably won't work either. Instead, make it a Lifestyle (yes, with a capitol L). Is your money lifestyle penny-pinching, or charging everything? Is it fresh veggies, or Big Macs? Who knows, if you start eating fresh veggies, it could lead to eating whole grains and even growing your own garden - which would save you more physically AND financially. I love it when things come together like that!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Drive By

Monday I was downtown so Jasper could have a quick follow-up with the doctor (aka, yet another $20 copay). While in town, we finally deposited the "Change the Baby" jar. Since there were zero guesses on the amount, I guess Jasper gets to keep all $130.43 of it. It was a bit funny that we withdrew our weekly $120 directly after this deposit. Well, it would have been awkward to carry around a change jar while buying groceries.

Like we usually do when we're in town, we did a drive-by through Ladd's Addition to see the old apartment. Something that hasn't happened in years was happening at the old place... the landlord was there! We saw his pickup in the driveway, and he was opening the windows to our old bedroom. We considered stopping to confront the man face-to-face... "where's our money!?" but since Erik had to be at work in just a few minutes, we decided to use that as an excuse an chicken our way out of there.

The next day, the check came in the mail. $600 with a short, handwritten note saying, "The contract said $100 was cleaning fee, but you left it in such great shape so here's the entire $550, plus $50 for your troubles." Not double, but not court either, so that made us both happy. I instantly put $500 toward my loan, and divvied up the remaining $100 for fun options. I would have put it toward our IRA's, but we're planning on traveling to Germany in September... If we have money left over from our trip budget, we can decide then if we'll invest it, or keep a travel budget for other, smaller trips.