Home > Archive: January, 2009

Archive for January, 2009

My Points

January 30th, 2009 at 01:34 am

I've participated in

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My Points program for about a year now. Most of my points have been earned doing surveys or checking out "clickthru" ads that come via email... very easy. So far, I've used the points I've earned to get a $25 B & N gift card and now I have enough to get a $50 GC. I'm thinking about Kohl's.

The most points I've earned at one time was 1,000 to try out Netflix which we really like and were thinking about getting anyway. A few days ago I earned another 1,000 points by buying the 2009 Entertainment Book ($19.50). I've wanted to try it because there are several featured restaurants near us that we already go to. I figured that using coupons twice would recoup the $19.50. Has anyone else tried the book and do you think it's worth the cost?

New Netbook

January 28th, 2009 at 06:08 pm

I've been a Mac user for over 20 years but I am now breaking into the world of the PC. I recently bought an Acer Aspire One netbook, primarily to access email and the Internet when I travel. With an 8.9-inch screen, it weighs just 2.2 pounds and is ultra portable... it fits right into my purse so I don't have to carry a computer bag. It's wireless, has a built-in webcam for Skyping, a 6-cell battery for about 5+ hours of use when not plugged in, a 160 MB hard drive, and 1MB RAM.

The netbook came with Windows XP Home and so far, it's got me on a learning curve. To me, it doesn't seem as user-friendly as the Mac, but it's getting easier every day. The right and left click is different from the Mac. The keyboard is very small so I have to focus or I end up making lots of typos. It's not a bad thing to be on a learning curve... gives my boomer brain some exercise.

For creating documents, I downloaded

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OpenOffice, a free productivity program that includes a word-processor, database, spreadsheet, and presentation program. It lets me save files in various formats including MS Office, so they can be read on my Mac. So now when I travel, I'll take along the netbook and leave my bigger MacBook Pro at home. The cost was ~$379, including tax and free shipping.

Earned 0% interest and grateful!

January 27th, 2009 at 05:50 pm

Monday I received the annual statement for one of my retirement accounts, a 457 plan. In 2008, I received no interest... nothing, zip, zero, zilch, nada, not one red cent. So why am I grateful for this? Well, I did not lose any principal, either, and this is better than many others have fared.

I've heard of people whose retirement accounts have dropped anywhere from 25-40% including a loss of principal. Although my 457 account is tied to the S & P index, the principal is guaranteed to never decrease. But since the interest rate is keyed to the performance of the S & P, the account earned 0% in 2008. Yet, it could have been much worse.

If cash is king...

January 26th, 2009 at 05:25 pm

do we still need credit cards? This

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article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal caught my eye. It is thought provoking, although I don't agree with the premise that it's impossible to live without a credit card because sometimes you HAVE TO use a one (like when you buy a "$10,000 home entertainment center"). People who want to pay cash would do so by writing a check or using their ATM card. Only a fool would carry around $10,000 in cash.

I think if you really wanted to, you could get by without a credit card, a good idea for people who tend to spend more than they earn and want to get out of debt. But, then again, maybe I'm not seeing the whole picture, since I use a credit card for everything. But, I pay off my balance each month and I love taking advantage of the reward miles that never expire.

The video clip that's part of the article was interesting to me because it discusses how closing a credit card account can hurt your credit score. It suggests some alternatives in lieu of closing accounts that have been paid off. It definitely is making me reconsider my plan to close some credit card accounts I haven't used in years.

Carbon Footprint Update

January 25th, 2009 at 06:51 pm

So far I am on track with the goal to reduce our

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carbon footprint by saving energy. Here is the analysis of our PGE bill (gas and electric) for the last two months:

12/2007 $193.68
12/2008 $116.99
~40% less

1/2008 $165.17
1/2009 $154.07
~7% less

I have also been buying more organic foods but haven't determined the cost impact yet. Sometimes the organic produce at the store I shop most frequently looks pretty sad, so I have to pass and go for the non-organic.

A New Beginning

January 24th, 2009 at 06:40 pm

Wednesday marked the start of the spring semester and with it, some changes. I accepted another part-time contract to supervise student teachers, an assignment that means working about one or two days a week but only a few hours each day. This assignment is special in that I might be able to follow the group for a whole year while they complete both semesters of student teaching. The fall 2009 term would be more intense. The job pays very little, but the extra money is appreciated and I plan to funnel most of it to the travel savings.

My dh, who works at the same university, has decided to retire in June of 2009 (he just turned 63). He plans to participate in a special "early retirement" program that would allow him to collect his pension but also teach one semester (for regular pay). He would be eligible to do this for up to five years although I am hoping he doesn't go that long as he would be 68!

Unlike me, who was very ready to retire last fall, my dh loves his job and seems to have very little stress. He is popular with students and his classes are always filled to capacity and beyond. Sometimes I worry he is retiring to please me. But after 30 years of teaching, he does agree it is time to slow down. We have had many talks... about choosing retirement because he is ready and not because I am already retired.

Well, this morning he told me he is submitting his paperwork next week, but I will believe it when I see it. If he retires, he would work the fall term (late August to early December), then we would be free for the next nine months. It would give us time to travel and just enjoy a more relaxed pace. One concern: once dh retires, will so much "together time" be as pleasant as it sounds? Hmmm...

Coupon Resource

January 23rd, 2009 at 03:39 pm

Since retiring I have been trying to get better at using coupons to save $$ on groceries. The problem is many of the coupons that come my way or that I find online are for pre-packaged processed food or products I don't use. One of my

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health and fitness goals for 2009 is to buy more organic and fresh food and cook healthier meals.

Recently I found
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Mambo Sprouts, a website that promotes "Free Printable Health, Natural & Organic Grocery Coupons." So far, I like it because it also has recipes, eco house tips, and freebies. I also found some $1 coupons at
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Organic Valley.

Socks Galore!

January 22nd, 2009 at 05:42 pm

Yesterday, on a lark, I decided to go to Macy's to check out their sales. I was in search of new socks to wear with trousers and jeans, especially in winter. Knowing Macy's can be high-priced, I was not too hopeful, but I have hit some great sales there in the past.

Well, to my surprise, socks were on sale... they had been marked down 50%, then the sale offered another 50% off, and with my coupon, I got an additional 20% off. Bottom line: socks that are normally ~$6.00 a pair, I got for only $1.19! So now I'm set for a while and will recycle my old socks to the rag bin to use for polishing. Amount saved = > $57.

Later, I found a pair of much-needed rain/snow boots @ 50% off at the Bass shoe store. These will come in handy when I go to see my DDs in ID in a few weeks. Amount saved = $38.

TC approves of my new socks.

The Renewing Sea

January 21st, 2009 at 05:15 pm

The majestic power of the sea has always attracted and fascinated me. I could spend hours soaking in the beauty and marveling at the abundance of life that emanates from the sea. During our recent long weekend at Carmel (on the Monterey Peninsula), dh and I were fortunate to have perfect weather that hovered in the 70s. It was spring weather in the middle of winter. As always, the sea renews me, in spirit and in body... there is nothing like breathing fresh, clean sea air and meditating to the sound of the sea breaking on the rocks.

Some of the best memories of the weekend were taking our picnic lunch to the

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Point Lobos State Reserve where we were entertained by the resident colony of sea otters, watched the frolicking sea lions, and observed the migration of the gray whales, gentle giants that allow the whale-watching boats to get very close. Dh and I decided we would come back soon for whale watching, a fairly reasonably priced experience at ~$35 per person. Monterey is only about an hour from our home so we could easily make it a day trip.

The powerful waves along the California coast can be treacherous. Although the gull in the photo seems unfazed, people have been swept off the rocks, so one must be on-guard at all times.

Here you can see two sea lions playing in the crystal blue water.

Sunsets like this one brought closure to perfect days.

An Honest Man

January 21st, 2009 at 08:08 am

I previously posted about having to repair our gas fireplace. It cost $122 to have someone come just to "diagnose the problem" which was determined to be a malfunctioning part. So, we paid $122 for the house call plus $33 (10% of the $329 part that had to be ordered).

Well, late Tuesday afternoon the repairman came to install the new part. He removed the old part and replaced it with the new, but the fireplace still didn't work... it would not light. Then he started systematically checking other things and finally got it to work.

What astounded me is that the repairman then told me the original part was working "perfectly well"... that it was not broken. The problem was that the system had to be reset. That was all... a very simple fix. The nice man then showed dh how to reset it in case it happens again (it was not something we would have figured out).

The best part of this story is that the repairman said there would be "no charge" for the visit, that he would take back the part that had been ordered, and the company would refund us the 10% we had paid to order the part. I couldn't believe it!

So, even though the original visit cost $122, we saved $329 on the replacement part and we now have a fireplace that works. We are so grateful that this honest technician told us the truth. He could have replaced the old part, reset the system and charged us... and we would not have been the wiser. His actions have reinforced my faith in the basic honesty of people.

Refi Update

January 16th, 2009 at 05:47 pm

I posted previously we had applied for a refinance based on getting a rate of 4.875%. We finally closed escrow four days after the lock-in period expired due to a delay by our HOA in getting a report to the lender. And this for a loan that was supposed to be "fast-track" or low paperwork. However, Countrywide honored the lock-in and we were able to close with the loan amount covering all closing costs. We even received a "proceeds" check yesterday for $271.09. The best part is that our payment has gone down $225.82 a month. BTW, the thing that got the ball rolling on our refi was a

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post by monkeymama, proof of how participating in SA can help our financial well-being.


January 16th, 2009 at 05:58 am

To celebrate dh's birthday I've planned a four-day weekend at one of our favorite places, Carmel-by-the-Sea. The timing is good, just before the start of the spring semester. I am able to do this through a timeshare we've had for a few years. If we don't use the time, we would eventually lose it. So, Carmel, here we come... four days in a luxurious one-bedroom suite at the Highland's Inn, complete with an ocean view, a massive fireplace, a spa tub, and a kitchenette in our unit.

Our timeshare works like a "pre-paid" vacation in a sense. The annual dues are now up to ~ $1,000 a year, but through the exchange process, we can leverage our week to give us 2 or 3 weeks depending on the season, but at a different resort. Or, we can use the time for a week at the resort we purchased, including a split week. I checked online and the condo we are using is $635 a night. But here is the thing... we would NEVER pay this much for a hotel room because we like to economize when we travel. So when it's not connected to the timeshare, we usually stay in modest digs. But the timeshare makes staying in luxury condos more affordable.

Of course, there are pros and cons to timeshare ownership, and to be frank, I am not sure there is a HUGE money-saving advantage. First of all, you have to pay the initial purchase price and then annual maintenance fees. And if you want to exchange, you also pay a small fee. But it comes out about the same or slightly less than if we were staying at budget hotels. Timeshares are typically apartment-like in that they have kitchens and sleeping space for additional visitors. Cooking some our own meals saves money and is healthier than constantly eating out, and we often invite friends to join us part of the time.

One good thing about owning a timeshare is that it's motivated us to travel to different parts of the USA and the world. So from that standpoint, it has been great. When dh and I are both retired, we'll have more options for traveling during the "low" season and the timeshare should pay off even more.

Thank Goodness for the Reserve Account

January 13th, 2009 at 05:28 pm

We have lived in our small condo for almost three years, since downsizing in the spring of 2006. All in all we've been pretty lucky regarding any needed inside repairs until now. The HOA takes care of all the outside repairs. We do, however, pay $240 in monthly HOA fees that cover all outside maintenance, insurance, and garbage collection. The complex has several swimming pools, greenbelts, and common areas, so I don't think our HOA fee is exorbitant. In fact, we have friends who live in a nearby gated complex requiring a 24/7 guard and their fees are three times higher.

Our unit has a gas fireplace we turn on with a switch. We love the way it heats up the room quickly, not to mention the lovely atmosphere it provides. But it suddenly stopped working in early December. I called the power company to see if maybe the pilot light had gone out and I learned that it doesn't even have a pilot. But the service call was free and the technician said the problem was a bad spark ignition module. The next step was to get referrals and call around. Then I scheduled a service call with the longest-established company whose fees were in line with others.

Well, the repairman came early this morning. The company charged $122 to just walk through the door. Then after a 10-minute inspection, we were told the part that needs replacement would cost an additional $329 and it has to be ordered. Thank goodness for the household reserve savings, where we have $$ stashed for this kind of situation. If it takes care of the problem, I will be happy, although I am still surprised at the high cost of the service call.

Network for Good

January 12th, 2009 at 03:20 pm

For Christmas dh and I asked our family to donate to our favorite local food bank in lieu of getting us a gift. My DDs, nephew, and my niece donated to the food bank via

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Network for Good rather than through the food bank's own website. I found out about NFG when I received emails about donations made in our honor.

I've had a chance to explore the NFG website and I am so impressed that I decided to share. Network for Good allows donors to access THOUSANDS of non-profit organizations/charities across the USA or to explore volunteer opportunities. It provides research and profiles about the charities, tax tips and resources, and much more. I even found Kiva Microfunds, one of my favorite non-profits that I support as a donor/lender and a volunteer.