Cash helps my determination

It sure feels different handling money. Because I have this need to be organized, I make sure that my notes are folded in a pile in my tiny purse. I cringe when I think about pulling folded notes and counting my money in front of strangers. I’ve seen people do it, I don’t think it’s weird, but when I do it I think it’s showing people my money regardless of how much I have. I have this thing about pulling out money, like it’s tacky or something.

Image from

It’s irrational, I know. There are plenty of irrational reasons why I spend. I mean I want to know where our money goes but I don’t have a strict self-imposed limitation on how much to spend. Yes, I do budget but it has always been a guiding information but I don’t feel shackled when I run out because I know I can rely on savings if I need to.

The money manager is me. Jonno asks me if we could buy this or that because he doesn’t touch the budget I set monthly. So, I bear the weight of budgeting and I feel I let down myself and my husband. Of course he has no idea that I feel this way, because he would think that I’m doing great. After all, we have $10k saved within 4 months.

That was my turning point, the savings. The plan is to have $15k by end of December. It has been $10k for more than a month, maybe even 2. We lost so much time and money spending aimlessly. So that’s where we are now, at least where I am. And it’s not even wasted spending. We went to San Francisco for 3 days not only to visit it but to also meet a friend from NZ who traveled to the States. We bought a car for $1,500 and bikes that we enjoy.

At the rate of saving $1k a month (at least), February 2012 is the projected month to reach the $15k goal. I’m beating myself for that, hence the determination to truly reduce eating out and non-budgeted spending. Like I said in an earlier post, we believe that spending in cash would truly keep me determined. I’m getting there. I haven’t thought of ordering food for a week now.

Do you spend cash? If you do, what for and how often?


Rewards on using our debit card


After a solid 2 days of resolve to use cash for the month of November, we received a snail mail today informing us that we could earn reward points for using our debit card.

Great! :-S (I wish there were such a thing as sarcasm font.)

I’m not convinced to change resolve just yet because the options are:

  1. Earn half a point for every $100 spent using the card as debit
  2. One point for every $100 spent using the card as credit

So I checked our credit union‘s website to see the items they are trying us to lure with. Not much to get me oggling.

I thought about what it would cost local businesses if we started using our debit card as credit. I don’t know, and maybe I won’t attempt to find out. I’ve only used the debit card as credit on rare occasions. It doesn’t come automatically to me to use it that way. What’s the point of using a debit card as credit though? Do you know?

That said, I’ll probably stick to using cash for the most part of this month.

One goal, two goals, red goal, blue goal

While tinkering with our account on Mint, I decided to play with the Goals feature. There was already one goal–the emergency fund–that’s being tracked. We can’t track the student loan because the company is not in the list yet, but I had already requested so let’s see what happens.

I added new goals:

  1. Save for college
  2. My retirement (here in the US)
  3. Husband’s retirement (continuation)
  4. Grand Design Project

We have our Kiwisavers still in NZ that we can’t take out yet until we’ve reached one full year of living overseas. It doesn’t do us any good that it’s sitting there because the government does not contribute to accounts whose holders are living and working overseas. Kinda sucks, but it makes sense because why would they give us benefit when we’re not paying taxes, right?

So for now, what I’m doing is researching on investment companies to find one where I’m going to invest my Roth in. I would’ve chosen Traditional IRA but I don’t plan to retire and get my money when I’m 70.5 years old. I just don’t see myself working that far out in my life. I would rather be doing other things, such as traveling, cooking for a living (maybe own a café), teaching pre-school kids…the list goes on and on, but those mentioned are strongly my inclination.

I would’ve done those things now but they aren’t exactly paying much. I earn a good living, a really good one in terms of money. It’s a career but it’s not all that to me anymore. It used to be the guide in my life, but after having a child I realized that life has more to offer.

Based on our goals to retire at 55 (me) and 65 (him), about 90% of discretionary funds after paying fixed expenses MUST go towards funding retirement! That means we might not be able to fund our Grand Design Project, which was inspired by the show itself. I strongly recommend that you watch a few episodes of it before you buy a house, and even if you’re not, the show would still be good for your soul. 🙂

With very simple finances, I’m able to see the picture. Thanks for that! I wonder how others with complicated finances do it? It being many things actually–buying a large house, vacationing, shopping, sending kids to school, funding retirement, etc.

There are risks involved that some people choose to take. I know at some point my strategy will change because we would really love to build our own home someday and have our child experience living in it before he moves out and lives on his own. I know he’s only 3 but saving takes time!

So, really, what makes sense is to complete funding our emergency fund and then pay off student loan. Blech.

What a busy summer!

Portland did not disappoint me this summer. With it being our first here in America, it has been full on and I’ve enjoyed it. I thought that it was only Jonno and I who talked about flaking out on a few events, but I met a friend of his who spoke about it. I felt normal suddenly. 🙂

I’ve read many complaints about the heat in the Midwest and in the East coast. I just love Portland’s summer, just about right.

And what also defines summer (to me) is it being such a spendy season. I don’t think I get this much gusto to shop in any season. We’ve already spent $400 on our joint birthday barbecue party and will need to spend a few hundred bucks on a road trip to visit my father-in-law.

A friend from NZ is coming to California on business so we decided to see him together as a family instead of the original plan that only Jon went down to see him. That’s $780 for airfare for 3 and $250 for 2 nights in an apartment rental, with just a few mouse clicks. Technology is such an enabler.

So it’s easy for me to these days to snap. We have to be really good about cooking and eating at home this August. I don’t want Summer to be over, ever, but it’s hurting our pockets. 😛

Portland, you’re beautiful.

Goals, revisited

I made 2 goals for August that you see in the side column. Halfway there, it’s prudent to revisit any goal and not wait until close to the desired completion date. Doing so will give me enough time to assess them, and make necessary adjustments.

Goal 1: Save $9k. This is progressing as it should. However, there will be a party at the end of this month that we didn’t anticipate holding, despite it being about our birthdays. 🙂 We also bought bikes and a trailer. Also unplanned, yet we are enjoying riding around Portland almost everyday!

Goal 2: Complete Insanity Workout by August 15th. As early as today, I can say that I failed. I’m not even halfway through the first 15 days. Life took over, as usual, but I’m still doing it at least once a week. I’m hoping to do more but at least I bike nowadays for some exercise. I still want to finish the program and achieve a stronger core. Since child-birth, my core has been a problem–not only does it bulge but being weak causes back and hip issues. I’ll have to change the deadline for this goal to make it realistic.

At least, I can say, that I’m doing well in the first goal and compensating for the second. I already have an idea about a next goal based on Goal 1, which has a deadline of Christmas Day. I’m still in the process of brewing up the next set of goals, so watch this space!

To rent or to buy…a car?

Our family does not own a car. Gasp.

This is something I’ve pondered on a lot these days. While it was a decision we made in NZ not to own a car once we moved here, sometimes I ask myself whether we should back out on it. Along with that decision was to choose living near to downtown Portland where both Jonno and I work. We live so close that it takes 15 minutes or less to get to our offices including walks to and from bus stops.

In a way, it’s very refreshing. I like taking public transport — it’s cheap and convenient. We don’t pay for car insurance and we like that very much. We don’t have to worry about parking fees. We don’t have to worry about fluctuating costs of petrol.

And yet, we spend at least $250/month on Zipcar in the first 2 months of membership. We are on occasional driving plan, which means we pay for what we use. We are considering moving to the next plan level, but that entails $50/monthly plus an x number of hours we could use Zipcar free of charge. This could be the best option to take next. Going for the occasional driving plan was a test, and what a surprise to see how much we have spent so far! I can’t help myself going on Craigslist to check some cheap cars that are still in good condition. I filter my search for cars to sale price up to $5k only. I’ve seen some good ones for $4k! I need to also add that it is summer and we have been proactive about taking our child to activities outside of Portland, and just generally taking advantage of our first summer as a family in this beautiful town.

There’s always an effort to remind myself that not owning a car means something good financially. I have to constantly identify that it is a want for now. It may never be a need. A car makes some aspects of life convenient, but having one makes it easy for us to decide to just drive somewhere to dine out or buy something. Being frugal can be difficult sometimes.

Happy 4th of July!

Haggle you silly

I didn’t like haggling when I was young. When my mother did it with me, it embarrassed me. I thought that it allowed people a view into our family’s finances. I knew that my mom could afford whatever it was she was haggling for, so it made no sense to me at that time why she haggled like crazy. I believe my mom used that “view” to her advantage. When people thought she was poor, they were more inclined to give her a deal. That was back when she had 3 kids at school at the same time. As soon as people noticed that she wasn’t really poor, they started complaining what a chintz she was. 😛

A little over three years ago, I started becoming involved in personal finance. It was an accident while in preparation for parenthood. Looking closely at spending, attitudes toward spending, goals, and consideration of another person joining the family, I became more aware and proactive about money. This started a level of comfort with money that I thought I would never have. I’m still not comfortable about telling people what my annual pay is, but my reason now is that I could be earning more than they do and I don’t want them to know that. 🙂

I also haggle now. I haggled down real estate commission when our house was sold (saved us an extra $500 on top of lowering the rate for repeat business because she sold the house to us). I haggle when I can but I also choose the place where to do it. A recent visit to a vintage shop cost me a $28 step stool/seat for my toddler. I had wanted a wooden stool for $8.50 but he didn’t want it. He sat on the $28 stool and said he “loved” it. We don’t even use the word LOVE for affections on things, so I wonder where he picked that up. I went up to the counter and haggled it down to $20. The lady said she couldn’t engage in haggling. Ok, sure.

As soon as we got home, I told my husband that I tried to haggle but he and a friend said that it’s not normal in America to haggle.

YOU’RE KIDDING ME!!! You’re kidding me???

I don’t know how much truth there is in their opinions but I would like to know for sure. I just don’t understand why haggling would not be used to get better deals. I don’t see anything wrong in doing that if used in appropriate places. I don’t haggle at farmers markets because I support and value them. I will haggle one-off or rare transactions, such as property sale commission, buying cars or big-ticket items, and going to vintage shops.


The infamous $28 vintage Cosco high chair