A Three Year Old Birthday Party and Sticking With My Minimum Gift Rule

Very Hungry Caterpillar

After much contemplation I decided against a big party for my son’s third birthday. We invited our families to the celebration but chose not to invite any of my son’s friends. I am so happy we took this approach. We don’t see my brother’s children very often and it was great to see my son playing along side his two older cousins without any distractions from other children.

Rather than focusing on a large celebration we spent time baking a cake with my son. He helped measure, add the ingredients, mix and even pour the batter into the pan. Once the cake cooled we let him choose the icing color, (with the help of a little food coloring), and helped him cover the cake with it. He added a few little decorations on top too.

I didn’t stick to the two gift rule, but I wish I had. Last year I only bought one gift for my son and this year I think I could have stuck to that model. One of his favorite presents was a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar that I purchased for $3.99.

I bought four gifts for less than $20. My son loved all the presents I bought, but in retrospect I wish I’d only given him two and saved the other two for some other time.

I chose to buy him one puzzle, one book, one tub toy and one just for fun toy. On the night before his birthday my husband and I also filled my son’s bedroom with a dozen helium balloons. On one hand you can say balloons are a complete waste of money, after all they deflate in a matter of days. On the other hand I can honestly say that the experience of waking up to a room full of balloons was probably more thrilling than any gift my son received.

As always our families purchased an inordinate number of gifts for the little tike. The pile of presents stood at least eight or ten high. Just another reason I should have stuck with only one or two gifts this year. There were so many gifts in our living room that I have absolutely no idea how we’ll handle Christmas two and a half months from now.

I still have a few of the new toys in boxes and I’m hoping I can sneak them down to the basement for a bit and then add them to the toy rotation at some future point in time.

My son seemed to enjoy the festivities. At night we tell stories about the day’s adventures and he seemed most proud that everyone enjoyed the cake he baked. It just goes so show that the experiences of life are much more important than the things.

October 20, 2014 at 1:04 PM 2 comments

LeapFrog LeapReader Plus Free Book for $31.99

LeapReaderI’ve been keeping my eye on LeapFrog LeapReaders for my three year old son and finally spotted a deal. Amazon is currently featuring $5 off LeapReaders plus a free book or flash card set with purchase.

Simply click the link above. Choose the LeapReader you prefer, (pink or green), then check the box to the left of the free item you’d like to add.

You will NOT see the discounted price until you reach the checkout page. Please note Amazon prices change quite frequently, so make sure the price and deal are valid before proceeding through checkout.

I chose the LeapFrog LeapReader Learn to Read, Volume 1 (works with Tag) as my free gift, which typically costs $14.43. I saved $19.43 after the free gift and $5 discount.

October 20, 2014 at 11:55 AM Leave a comment

A Little of This A Little of That

My finances have been all over the board lately.

On the good side of things:

  • My husband never watches television and I typically only watched Chopped or Cutthroat Kitchen once every couple of days so I downgraded our package and requested a monthly discount. Yearly savings: $324.
  • We increased the deductible on our insurance policy from $1000 to $2500. Actually I asked to change it to $5000 but that wasn’t possible through our particular policy. Yearly savings: $240.
  • Requested off-season rates for internet service to our beach home. Yearly savings: $137.48.
  • Our mechanic purchased our broken 1999 Toyota. We agreed to the deal for $350. That’s not a whole lot of money, but it’s more than a tax write off would have provided.

On the not so good side of things:

  • I opened a new IRA account. Somehow my husband and I missed the opportunity to contribute to our IRAs the last two years! I set calendar alerts to remind me from this point forward. That will not happen again in the future.
  • I ordered new black flats and boots. I actually picked out a few pairs from Zappos with the intention of returning whatever doesn’t fit. Estimate: $200. By the way does anyone know a place to purchase super comfy, good quality boots that don’t cost a fortune?
  • I drained $250 on new clothes last weekend. My clothes don’t fit particularly well right now and I need to prepare for the colder weather.
  • We are closer to choosing a vehicle to replace our old Toyota. My husband originally wanted a commuter car, but recently started dreaming of something bigger.

October 16, 2014 at 12:46 PM 2 comments

Smart Interiors: Thinking Frugal in Design

Despite what certain magazines may tell you, it is possible to create a beautiful home on a budget. Smart designers, however, work to create homes that not only look good right away but that stay in good condition for many years to come. Frugality isn’t just about doing things cheaply in the short term, it’s about saving money over the long term, and there are lots of ways you can make this happen in your home.

Repairs

The first thing to think about when doing up your home is repairing damage. If you live in a city like Toronto water damage restoration is likely to be a major concern, especially in basements and attics; doing this promptly can stop mold from spreading and protect the structure of your home, so make it a priority. If you have to cut away water damaged wood, remember that taking out too little in the immediate term can end up costing you a lot over time. You’ll also need to identify and address the leaks that led to the problem in the first place—even small ones need to be carefully sealed and if water is pooling on surfaces it needs to be directed elsewhere.

Simply walking around your home with putty and sealing up all the small cracks you can find will do a lot to insulate it and so lower your heating bills.

Decoration

If you want to give your home a new look but can’t afford expensive wallpapers or paints, look for a paint shop that’s willing to mix colors to give you exactly the shade you want at a lower price. Making your own stencils provides a cheap way to decorate walls in line with current trends.

By using online auction sites it’s possible to buy rugs direct from the Middle East at surprisingly low prices. Good quality items like this are designed to last and really help to stop heat loss through floors. You can also make your own rugs by weaving together rags or cutting old pieces of carpet into novel shapes.

Many thrift shops sell curtains and can often find just the type you want if you ask and are prepared to wait. Old theatrical curtains can be a fantastic option as they tend to be much thicker than average—great for insulation—and their length means heat doesn’t easily leak out from underneath them.

Furniture

Thrift shops and antique sales can also be a great place to pick up solid wooden furniture that’s built to last, unlike a lot of its modern equivalents. A bit of work with sandpaper and varnish will soon have an old table, chair or bedstead looking as good as new.

Some furniture is easy to make at home, even without much skill. Kids love giant beanbags and they can be just as comfortable as armchairs. You can also pick up sofas and chairs very cheaply if they have torn or stained fabric, which is easy to replace, and you’ll find videos on YouTube to guide you through it.

Although money can make decorating simpler, if you’re equipped with a good imagination and a willingness to work hard, you won’t need much of it to create your dream home.

October 14, 2014 at 3:27 PM Leave a comment

Insurance Options: HSA, HMO or PPO

piggy bank

I sat down this weekend to review our insurance options for next year. As owners of a small company my husband and I spend a ridiculous amount of money on insurance premiums each month. I don’t miss much about my working days, but I do miss the benefit of employer provided insurance. In 2011, (the last year I was gainfully employed), I paid less than $2000 in premiums for an entire year’s worth of insurance! My employer paid $8,725. These days we are on the hook for the entire $10,000 to $18,000 bill!

Our options for next year include three different plans; a PPO, an HMO and a high deductible HSA plan. The breakdown is as follows:

Type of Plan Yearly Premium
PPO $1,541.71
HMO $1,082.90
HSA $843.07

These numbers are quite specific to our little family of three. The premium is based on each of our ages, so I know that the PPO plan costs $611.94 for me, $615.89 for my husband and $313.88 for my son.

The difference in premiums is quite substantial. The PPO plan costs $698.64 more than the HSA plan per month and $8,383.68 per year.

Type of Plan Yearly Premium
PPO $18,500.52
HMO $12,994.80
HSA $10,116.84

Of course the premium calculation is not the only factor to consider. The breakdown of deductible costs are as follows:

Type of Plan Deductible
PPO $500
HMO $0
HSA $3000

Comparing medical plans is like comparing apples to oranges. To better even the score I added deductibles to the yearly premium totals. In the worst case scenario, (like this year), we will pay the entire deductible before our insurance kicks in.

Type of Plan Yearly Premium
PPO $19,000.52
HMO $12,994.80
HSA $13,116.84

As you can see the HMO plan is the cheapest overall option, but I am not a fan of HMO plans. I’ve experienced my fair share of medical issues and I know how difficult it can be to navigate the health care system when troubles abound. I have no desire to wait around for doctor referrals when I am in pain or in need of care. Especially not to save $122.04 a year.

After ruling out the HMO I tried to break down the costs of the PPO and High Deductible plan even further. There are definitely more upfront costs with the high deductible plan. For example, I would owe a $30 copay for medical treatments like allergy shots, physical therapy, and acupuncture. The same goes for x-rays, lab work and other diagnostic procedures. If we experienced a truly horrible year we could easily pay hundreds to thousands of dollars for these services. The maximum out of pocket costs for the HSA plan are $8,000, which means I could pay a total of $5,000 more after meeting the yearly $3,000 deductible.

It seems even in the very worst case scenario the HSA plan is a better deal. After accounting for deductibles the difference between the HSA and PPO plan is $5,883.68, which means even in the very worst case scenario I will save $883.68 by choosing the HSA plan.

The high deductible plan also allows me to save $6,650 per year in a tax advantaged account, which means some of my dollars will be spent before tax further boosting my overall savings.

What do you think? Am I missing something important? Is there something else I should consider when choosing between these plans?

October 12, 2014 at 5:55 PM Leave a comment

A Happy Medical Bill Update

Medicine Bottle

I appealed my unexpectedly high out of town medical bill and received notification that a portion of my $875 bill will be covered after all. Since the facility is out of network I am responsible for 20% coinsurance on the total, which amounts to $175. I also owe the negotiated rate, ($165.59), for a $268 doctor’s bill.

Rather than paying $1148 I now appear to owe only $340.59. (I say appear to owe because the Explanation of Benefits have not been finalized yet.)

Readers of this blog may remember that I was contemplating the decision to drive twelve hours roundtrip to avoid paying out-of-network prices. I would have paid roughly $80 in gas plus a $30 copay to drive north, which means staying put only cost me $230.59 more and a whole lot less hassle and headaches.

Yay!

Photo Credit

October 10, 2014 at 5:17 PM 4 comments

Not Exactly What I Had in Mind

wedding ring

The day after my husband and I were married I turned to him and said, “Can we do that again?” After spending so much time picking a dress, venue, flowers, food and all of the other fun stuff that comes with hosting a wedding I was bummed that the big day had come to an end.

To be honest I never wanted a big wedding. I wanted to get married on the beach in North Carolina surrounded by a very small number of family and friends. Somehow or another my family talked me out of that idea. It started with my parents. My dad asked, “How on earth my 80 year old grandmother would walk in the sand?” This was followed by questions like, “where will people stay” and “how many people are going to drive south for this event?”

I’ll be honest. I didn’t care how many people attended the event or what they did with themselves before and after the wedding. That sounds rather insensitive, but at the time I stupidly thought weddings were for the bride and groom. I later learned they are often for the parents of those getting married.

My tiny list of invitees grew exponentially as my parents and in-laws added relatives and friends I’d never met. My grandmother even wanted in on the action and asked to invite a table’s worth of friends to the big show.

The wedding list expanded from forty people to just over one hundred. My husband and I certainly could have said no at any point in time. After all, we paid for the wedding ourselves, but I could sense the excitement in our parents and didn’t want to disappoint them.

I spent a few months planning the big day. Visiting florists, picking out menus, invitations and all the rest of the things required of the bride-to-be. The day of my wedding was a sunny and beautiful seventy-five degrees. Everything went off without a hitch and I was glad everyone convinced me to host a traditional wedding.

In fact I was bummed by how quickly the day ended. I spent months thinking and preparing for that event; an event that only lasted four hours and due to the big list of attendees I wasted one of those hours greeting relatives and friends my parents and in-laws invited. Three hours of fun after months of preparation? It hardly seemed fair.

The next day I told my husband I wanted a do-over. Don’t get me wrong I do not regret the details of my wedding. It’s just that I wanted to throw another big party, with just the people I loved in the place that I love. I told my husband we’d renew our vows after ten years on the beach in North Carolina.

Well we never planned that big celebration. Thank goodness we didn’t. Rather than renewing our vows we spent our anniversary fighting off the norovirus. My son tripped off the event with seven straight hours of vomiting. My husband quickly followed suit and I came to the party about eight hours later.

As I laid on the floor next to my son’s crib I couldn’t help but laugh about the situation. It’s funny how things change over time. Ten years ago I wanted to throw a big party. These days I couldn’t care less about that. I just wanted to spend the day with my family.

I suppose my wish was granted, but certainly not in the way I expected.

October 9, 2014 at 5:02 PM 5 comments

Fixing Old Appliances: An Update On My Furnace

tools

Last week my husband and I were hit with two major expenses. First our car broke down on the side of the road. The next day our furnace crapped out on us. The mechanic said our 1999 Toyota was a lost cause, but I had hope that I wouldn’t need to shell out $6000 to $10000 for a new heating system.

This isn’t the first time we’ve encountered problems with the furnace. A year or so ago we had a small part replaced when the pilot light wouldn’t stay on. I’ll be honest I hate calling technicians out to our house. I know they need to be paid for their time and effort, but being told a 30 minute visit is going to cost $150 in diagnostic fees drives me crazy. Doesn’t it seem a little insane to pay $150 for someone to look at the appliance even if they can’t fix it?

I called a number of companies and the price to drive out and look at that big old metal box in the basement ranged from $89 to $150. I decided to call the company that repaired it for us last year. After all, we had previous success with them.

Right off the bat I got a bad feeling about the technician. He didn’t know how many thermostats were connected to it, despite the fact that you can see the wires leading right down the side of it. He said it looked to old to fix, but couldn’t give me an estimate on just how old he thought it might be. He tried to replace one part, showed me that it didn’t work, charged me $89 and went on his way. His recommendation was to replace the entire thing. On the paperwork he wrote, “This appliance is too old to repair. Recommend replacement. Estimated cost: $7400.”

Before replacing that old hunk of junk I wanted to get a few other quotes. I didn’t think the first guy new what he was talking about and I really had no idea if $7400 was the going price to replace it.

I searched my local listserve for heating and cooling recommendations and came across a small, family run business. The owner of the company came out to give me a quote on a new furnace, but he also suggested trying to replace a few parts on the old one.

When he left I called his secretary and scheduled an appointment for him to come back a few days later. Sure enough he was able to fix our furnace, (at least for the time being), for a little over $200. He said the fix could last a few years or a few months, but for $200 it seemed worth the risk. Heck I paid half that much for the other technician to tell me it couldn’t be repaired.

I’m hopeful these repairs will last us all winter, but we have a full stack of wood and a space heater ready just in case it doesn’t.

Photo Credit

October 8, 2014 at 5:03 PM 4 comments

How Much Money Do You Need to Feel Content and Secure?

200547695-003

When I first started working I remember thinking, “If only I could save $50,000, then I’d feel relatively content and secure.” When the bank account reached $50,000 the number in my mind jumped to $100,000, but when I hit that $100,000 mark the figure in my head continued to grow.

I saved the maximum amount in my 401(k) each year and watched the numbers climb higher and higher, but each time I hit a specified target I decided it wasn’t nearly enough. $100,000? $200,000? $300,000? I began looking forward to the future and thinking that might be enough for today, but it surely wouldn’t be enough to last me through retirement.

How much did I need to feel content and secure? $1,000,000? $2,000,000? When I reach those numbers would I finally be satisfied or does having more money make you dream of having even more?

Over the years our net worth has grown by leaps and bounds, but as I look at the total of all of our accounts I still think the final figure should be larger than ever. I am extremely concerned by the future of our health care system and the price that my husband and I may need to pay as we get older.

My parents and in-laws both carry supplemental insurance covered by their previous employers. At 60+ years old they pay only a few hundred dollars per month for quality care while my husband whose is self employed pays over $1000 per month for our family of three. I ran a hypothetical calculation on premiums in our fifties and found the figure to be twice our current cost. Rather than paying $1000 for three of us we’d pay $2000 for just my husband and I!

That’s $24,000 a month in premiums in an HSA plan, which also requires us to pay $3000 in deductibles before insurance even kicks in and God knows how high premiums and deductibles will rise in the future! We are currently saving money in our HSA but with limits of $6,650 per year and significant fees it’s difficult to believe this money will grow significantly enough to cover our future medical expenses.

The worst part about insurance is feeling like you are paying something for nothing. Imagine paying $24,000 in premiums and only going to the doctor once a year for a physical. That’s a whole lot of money that could have been used for other purposes.

When I look at my bank accounts I feel ridiculously secure with the amount of money we’ve saved to date. I know it would last us ten or fifteen years without any trouble, but when I project forward I’m not quite as certain.

How much money do I need to feel content and secure? I’m afraid as the money grows so does my fear that it may not be enough.

What about you? Do you have a specific figure in mind?

Photo Credit

October 2, 2014 at 8:27 AM 2 comments

Inundated by Unexpected Expenses

Every year it seems we have some ridiculous expense and more often than not when one major event comes our way it is quickly followed by at least one or two others. Last year we plunked $36,000 into a new vehicle. We bought the car below invoice, but that was definitely a hit to our wallets. In 2013 we also remodeled three of the four bathrooms in our house. In 2012 we paid over $20,000 in just over a month to repair damaged pipes, a car, air conditioner and closing costs on two mortgages. In 2011 we paid a hefty chunk of change for professional painters to coat every wall in our house and in 2010 we spent over $30,000 to replace all of the windows and doors in our home.

It seems this year will be no less pricey. From January to March I spent thousands of dollars on unexpected medical care followed by a big wad of cash for out of town medical charges that were three times larger than the originally quoted price.

Yesterday as my husband was driving our 1999 Toyota to work the engine crapped out. The vehicle was towed to our local mechanic who declared it wasn’t worth repairing. The repairs amounted to more than the car was worth, which according to Edmunds is just over $1,500. My husband was hoping to continue commuting with that vehicle for at least another two years, but is seems it isn’t meant to be. The cost of a new car: $20,000 to $30,000 depending on what we choose to buy.

As if that weren’t enough this morning we found out that our furnace needs to be replaced. The unit is probably as old as our house and has finally stopped working. We were able to make a few minor repairs over the last two years, but this morning the technician assured me it is time to call it quits. His recommendation a brand new, sparkly $7600 unit.

Just once I would like to go an entire year without a major expense!

October 1, 2014 at 9:08 AM 7 comments

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