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Gave Myself a $400+ Raise

September 25th, 2012 at 02:06 am

Well, the truth is it feels like a raise. Today I signed the papers for refinancing two rentals that are my sole and separate property. I have been thinking about it for several years but dragged my feet, mainly because I didn't want to deal with B of A (the current lender), and home values had dropped dramatically. But values are finally creeping up again.

I remembered the name of the loan broker I used when I bought the houses. He used to be with Countrywide (now B of A) but is now w/ a small mortgage company. He was able to get a rate of 3.625% locked in with no points. This is an excellent rate for investment property. I also decided to have impounds because it makes life easier for me. I will no longer have to deal with tax bills or annual insurance premiums... only HOA fees.

It will take about 15 months to recover the closing costs but after that I will have about $447 a month net, after paying for property management and reserving funds for HOA fees to be paid twice a year. Wish I'd done it sooner, especially since I've had a negative cash flow of ~$65 a month.

The cash flow will come in handy... we are expecting out first grandchild (a boy) early next year and I will want to start a college savings account. It's never too early!

Travel $avings

September 24th, 2011 at 06:20 pm



Tomorrow dh and I leave on our next adventure, a month-long trip that will take us to eight European countries. The first leg of the trip will be two days in Barcelona followed by a 12-day Mediterranean cruise to celebrate a friend's retirement. Then we are back in Barcelona for a few days before flying to Geneva to spend time with my cousin. After a few days in Geneva, we'll take a train to Basel to begin a one-week cruise on the Rhine. Our trip will end with three days in Amsterdam before returning to the USA.

While planning the trip I discovered it's sometimes cheaper to buy a round-trip ticket, even though you just need a one-way fare. For example, a one-way flight on Swiss Air from Barcelona to Geneva was $592 (Economy Class). By booking a round trip ticket, I paid $177 (and it is Business Class to Geneva and Economy Class for the "return" trip). Baggage weight limits are lower in Europe and we each have a 50 lb. bag. Business class allows more weight, otherwise I could have spent ~$35 per RT ticket.

Other savings: I booked the first cruise through Costco Travel, and even though the price was exactly the same as through Royal Caribbean, Costco gave us a $500 on-board credit. The river cruise was a 2-for-1 special on Viking. I will use my Chase Sapphire card to pay for hotels in Barcelona, as well as meals and extras, because there is no foreign transaction fee with this card. And at home, I saved ~$150 by putting the garbage, paper, and TV satellite on hold, and by skipping one of our bimonthly house-cleanings.

We finally closed escrow...

September 7th, 2011 at 12:36 am

on our California condo... three weeks late, but at least it's done. We had to be patient due to buyer's loan issues that necessitated signing FIVE extensions to the contract. It's a good thing we knew and liked the buyer otherwise we would have gone with the backup offer and would have had a speedier close.

It's been over a month since we moved our belongings from the condo. Although we really loved our home, we decided to sell because we just didn't use it enough to justify the expense of keeping it. It will be nice to save the money we've been shelling out each month for expenses plus the substantial equity from the sale. Moving and consolidating two homes into one was a project I do not want to repeat anytime soon.

We hired a nationally known company because we thought they would be more reliable. Wrong. The movers showed up 12 hours late. We had to stay in a hotel an extra night because they started the job at 9:30 p.m. and worked until 12:30 a.m. Then they started at 8:00 a.m. the next day and finished at 1:30 p.m. We spent the next night in Nevada because we left CA too late in the day to make it all the way home. Of course, the final cost was MUCH more than the estimate, and even though the movers were respectful and friendly, they were not as careful with our furniture as some of the local movers we've used.

All in all, we survived the move and the furniture survived, although with a few more scratches than before. The task of blending two households into one involved sorting items for donation, giving away loads of extra furniture, household items, and clothes, putting some furniture into storage for my stepson, and shredding old financial records and personal papers. Whew! Glad that is behind us but it has given me renewed motivation to streamline financial record keeping and to think twice before buying anything new for the house.

Update on the Condo Sale

July 28th, 2011 at 03:01 am

Tomorrow dh and I leave for CA to finalize the sale of the condo... escrow papers will be signed on August 2. We are selling it for 95% of what I paid in 2003. That is how bad the real estate market is in Silicon Valley. Still, I'm grateful it sold, although I won't celebrate until escrow actually closes on August 15. I've seen too many sales unravel at the last minute.

The woman who is buying the condo is a neighbor and a lovely person. She lives with her sister who owns the unit attached to mine and she even has a key to our condo. I gave it to her a few years back because she keeps an eye on things while we travel. So now the sisters will have adjoining homes. How wonderful! I really like our complex and it is rare for a unit to come on the market, so I'm happy our house ended up with someone who already loves living there.

While we're in CA we'll be busy attending dh's family reunion, spending time with friends and my sister, and packing and preparing for the move. The movers will arrive August 3 and there's much to do. I'm giving away a lot of furniture and household items to avoid bringing them back to ID but we will still have plenty that is being moved.

We rented a storage unit in ID for the furniture and household items we're keeping. Dh wants to give all of it to his son who would like to buy a house when he returns from his deployment in Iraq in November.

In the event escrow falls through, we may decide to rent the condo. Our realtor says she can rent it for about $2,500 a month which seems high, but I'd rather not go that route. We also have a backup offer but I don't know the details. In any event, with the furniture gone, we wont be staying there again so we will just wait and see what happens.

And, finally, after much debate, we are selling the Prius to dh's daughter for a great price. She needs a reliable car but she has very bad credit so she can't get a loan through a bank. In the past, she has always been unreliable about repaying loans from her dad but my dh bails out his kids time and time again. He and I are very different in this regard, but that's the subject of another post.

Selling CA Condo

June 26th, 2011 at 03:16 pm

A year ago we debated whether to rent or sell our condo in CA. We eventually decided to do neither, and just held on to it to use when we visit family and friends in the Bay Area. Now a year later, we have decided to sell it, largely due to the high cost of keeping it vs. the amount of time we use it... only about 6 weeks in 2010. So far, in 2011, we have been at the condo less than 20 days.

We are not planning to move back to Silicon Valley any time soon because we are enjoying living in ID too much. A few benefits are cleaner air, reduced traffic, lower cost of living, and relaxed pace compared to San Jose. But the best part is being close to my DDs/SILs who live nearby.

Unfortunately, property values in CA continued to decline last year so our asking price is ~95% of what we paid in 2003. But since it's costing us over $25,000 a year to keep, it's a good move financially. These costs include PITI, HOA fees, utilities, housecleaner, the cost of insuring/maintaining the Prius that we keep at the condo, etc. At least we have some equity, so it's not as bad as some folks who are underwater.

The taxes and interest at the condo are write-offs, so we will possibly owe more income tax, but it will be offset by the savings in annual expenses.

Here is a picture of the cute little patio at the condo. MC, the cat, crossed the rainbow bridge in 2008:

Bubble and Squeak

May 25th, 2011 at 10:28 pm

Today we deviated from our usual breakfast of oatmeal or cold cereal and had a different but delicious breakfast using left over mashed potatoes and cabbage (very frugal):

Menu
~

Text is Bubble & Squeak and Link is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bubble_and_squeak
Bubble & Squeak
~ Organic pork sausage patties
~ Fried Eggs

I decided to make bubble and squeak after watching a British comedy where it was mentioned. Apparently it is a common dish in the UK and it gets its name from the noise it makes while cooking. It's a good way to used leftovers. There are many variations to the recipe, including using meat in the mixture. Following is the recipe I used.

Bubble and Squeak
3 tbsp. butter
1 small onion
2 c. shredded cooked cabbage
2 c. leftover mashed potatoes
salt and pepper to taste

Saute onions in butter until tender. Combine cabbage and mashed potatoes. Add to skillet, and press with fork to form large cake, cook over moderate heat until well browned. Loosen cake with spatula, slide onto plate and flip back into skillet so uncooked side is down. Cook until browned. Slice into wedges and serve.

I'm Still Here

April 7th, 2011 at 12:09 am

It's been a while since I posted, so I guess an update is in order. My dh and I have been busy traveling. In early March, we spent a week on the Oregon coast. The weather was cold and we had some rain, but it didn't dampen our spirits. We enjoyed whale watching right from the condo balcony, walked on the pristine beaches, bird-watched, and dined on fresh seafood. Our favorite restaurant is Mo's which has the BEST clam chowder. A timeshare exchange made this a very affordable trip.

In late March we were in Cabo for a niece's 25th wedding anniversary and their renewal of vows. We stayed at the Dreams resort that is pricey, especially if you choose the all-inclusive option. Through our timeshare exchange company (Interval International Getaway), I reserved a one-bedroom suite with a kitchenette for $759 for the week. We saved on meals, especially breakfast and lunch, by preparing our own. Cabo has a Costco, two Walmarts, a Sam's Club, and every American fast food restaurant you can think of. In fact, it is a Canadian and American vacation and retirement haven.

Currently, I am in NYC, spending a week with my ds who is on spring break from her teaching job in CA. We are having fun with her two-year-old grandson, but are doing lots of sightseeing while he is in pre-school. His parents are taking a vacation to Turks and Caicos while we babysit. I had never been to the annual Macy's Flower Show and it is beautiful. Not to mention that Macy's is the biggest department store I've ever been in.... with nine floors to shop, three Starbucks, a McDonalds, a full restaurant, and more. I love NYC!

Next Friday, we are off to El Salvador (1 week with family) and then flying from there to Costa Rica (two weeks of bird-watching and trekking). I've been so busy I haven't updated my travel blog but will get to it one of these days. In the meantime, another
adventure calls.


Hefty Costco AmEx Rebate

March 1st, 2011 at 06:17 pm

Last Thursday we received a Costco American Express rebate check for $1,019.59. These rebate funds will go straight into our travel savings.

According to the year-end summary we spent 53% of our total expenditures on travel, a category that pays back 2%. It's a good rebate program but it pays to monitor transactions to ensure expenditures are assigned to the correct category. A few months back, I found an expense that should have been tagged as travel but wasn't. The correction resulted in an extra $67 on the rebate.

We charge everything possible on our Am Ex account and pay the balance in full each month. There are just a handful of items I can't charge (e.g., property taxes), but if they take Am Ex, it goes on the card. I especially like paying for gas because this category pays back 3% and it means ~16 cents per gallon savings at the current price of gas. Another good feature: the card has no annual fee.

One drawback is that some places still do not take Am Ex, but in that case, I use my Chase Freedom card that also has a decent rebate program.

American Airlines and Expedia Are No Longer Partners

February 27th, 2011 at 04:31 am

This afternoon, while confirming upcoming travel reservations I learned that as of January 1, 2011 Expedia and American Airlines no longer have a business partnership. An Expedia agent told me the breakup is due to "incompatible computer systems." However, I'm sure there's more to the story. Too bad... I often use Expedia to make reservations, and I frequently travel on American because it's one of the partners connected to my mileage program.

Now when you search flights on Expedia, American is not included in the lineup of airlines offering flights. I tested it out with a hypothetical trip from San Francisco to NYC and found that American had the cheapest flight for my travel dates/times. If I had chosen to fly on one of the airlines from the Expedia search, I would have paid about ~$48 more for the lowest round trip fare.

American Airlines and Expedia should try to patch things up because researching flights will now take longer for consumers who want to use Expedia but who also want to check American's fares. It also complicates matters for those who sometimes schedule different legs of a trip on different carriers. Fortunately, there's Travelocity... it still offers flights on American Airlines.