Thursday, January 30, 2014

Keeping on top of customer service

Back in December I called my cell phone company and asked them about a $15 out-of-contract discount they were offering. I did qualify (I figured I would, I've been out of contract for two and a half years) but it has been a PAIN to actually get that discount.

The first person I spoke with verified that I did qualify, but I would have to switch my plans around. I would be switched to a data plan ($25) and a voice/text plan ($20) that offered enough megabytes/minutes/texts to cover my usual usage. Sounds good - with taxes and fees, it still came out to about $18 cheaper than what I was already paying.

Then I got my first bill, which showed me on a $40 data plan and $30 voice/text plan - a $25 HIGHER bill than usual. I called AT&T and went over what I had been told by the first rep, and the second rep fixed the plans to what I actually agreed to and gave me a $25 credit to cover the difference. Since I called so early in the billing cycle, it was applied before I had to pay the bill (I HATE it when companies give you a credit but it doesn't appear until the next bill and you still have to pay the higher wrong amount - that's a free loan you're giving them! Anyway.).

That was great, but then I got the next bill, which showed the $25 credit but ALSO still showed the $40 data plan with no $15 out-of-contract discount. So I called AGAIN, and the third person I spoke with said it takes 2 billing cycles for those discounts to show up*. She again gave me a credit to offset the difference from what I had agreed to pay, and said things would be right by the next bill.

I'm waiting on the next bill to see if everything is actually as I agreed to.

It seems crazy to me that this was so difficult. You have to be organized and have time on your hands to pull this off - I write down the date, time, name, and other details of all customer service phone calls I make for just these occasions, and I called during Baby M's naps. I've had shady billing practices with AT&T before, so I was extra alert and careful to check everything twice. Three phone calls to save $15. If that was a one-time savings, I'm not sure it'd be worth it, but since it's almost $200 per year, I guess it was.


* Why hadn't either of the previous two reps told me that? And WHY does it take two billing cycles for discounts to show up? It doesn't take two billing cycles for higher-priced charges to show up. I suspect most people just don't notice, so the company is able to make a little more money. UGH.

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: Have a birthday coming up? Check out this huge list of birthday freebies! I've signed up for the ones that looked best to me, and set up a filter so that the emails will all go to a special folder. When my birthday comes up, I can just look through and plan a whole week of fun freebies!

Thing the Second: A new blog to love: FreeOurKids! The author realized how much they were spending on kid-related stuff and decided to take back her money. Her goal was to spend no money on kid stuff for 2013 - no toddler food, no toys, no clothes, no diapers. She switched to cloth and used freecycle and taught her kid to eat what was placed in front of him. I love it!

Thing the Third: There is a great run-down of the Affordable Care Act on Reddit. Seriously, a guy went through and explained it paragraph by paragraph in plain English! Really interesting reading. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Three Thing Thursday

Thing the First: I have no idea what our water heater is set to, and no real reason to think that I should care, as long as it's working. But Trent's recent article about safety reasons to keep your water heater at 140 degrees Fahrenheit made me realize I need to pay attention to this! I'm going to do some research on water heaters so I have my ducks lined up when (not if) the water heater needs replacing, so I'll have to look into this more.

Thing the Second: This is a fantastic post on post-partum depression from a wonderful blog called This Little Miggy Stayed Home. It's only looking back that I realize that I was struggling with PPD or something similar in the months after Baby M came home. I assumed PPD was a hormonal thing, and the fact that I didn't deal with it in the extremely stressful months after her birth made me think it had skipped me. But the dark months of being stuck at home in the winter with a very sick baby on oxygen who couldn't eat enough to grow really, really got to me. When I went into therapy this past spring, I thought it was because of her feeding problems and my guilt over her early birth, but now I think those things just compounded something that most new parents deal with - the colossal changes that a baby brings into your life in terms of identity, responsibility, and oh, yes, sleep. Every pregnant woman and the people in her life should know the signs of PPD and watch for them. (And watch for them in dads, too - I know a father who is really struggling with life after his son was born, and it's heartbreaking.)

Thing the Third: The most overlooked tax deduction: the saver's credit. I have to be honest, I'm not sure we have ever claimed this, although I also think that when we had two incomes we earned too much to qualify. That's not true this year, so if we can manage to sock away any retirement savings, we will be including this on our taxes! (Also, note the $600 new-account bonus mentioned in the post - free money!)

Bummer Spending



Over the weekend, I broke the carafe of my french press coffee maker. I've had this thing for years, at least since I lived alone and maybe longer than that. It makes exactly one cup of coffee, so it's perfect for me - I don't drink more than that in a day, and Peanut doesn't drink coffee at all, so I don't need a traditional coffee maker (and I DEFINITELY don't need one of those single cup doohickies that create all sorts of plastic trash).

I remember that this french press seemed kind of expensive - something like $25. They are hard to find used, although you can often find larger ones or even older style percolators at Goodwill and yard sales. Hopeful, I poked around on ebay to see if I could find a used version of my beloved french press, but they weren't that cheap - and combined with shipping, they cost as much as a new version.

Then I had the good idea to look just for the glass carafe part, and lo and behold, I found it! For $11, I have a new piece on its way to me, and the french press shall live again. (And this time, I'll be a little more careful while washing it!) I'd rather not have spent the money at all, but I'm glad I found a way around getting a whole new thing.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 Spending Recap

Previous years: 20102011, 2012

Spending

Category Amount % change compared to 2012
alcohol 20 -80%
baby 1034.7 -47%
blog 40.13 -65%
business 72.55 28%
car jeep 1975.94 -63%
car mazda 2289.22 -17%
cat 483.94 -26%
cell phones 1229.93 -8%
charity 167 -59%
clothing 387.92 0%
dental 1892.95 -12%
electric 966.52 84%
electronics 297.73 149%
entertainment 509.33 7%
food - groceries 3413.48 10%
food - other 2881.59 -12%
gardening 50.91 264%
gas 787.37 56%
gifts 580.99 -23%
Peanut hobbies 473.36 105%
house 23248.78 -48%
household 1235.06 -23%
hygiene 367.02 28%
insurance 560 -43%
internet 797.5 57%
medical 178.94 -93%
LMM hobbies 107.73 -88%
taxes 96.99
therapy 204.8
transportation 350 -42%
Water & Trash 812.34 25%
yoga 160 -32%
Total $47,674.72


Student Loans
Student Loan Payments $19,163.53
PAID OFF!!!

Things of Note:
Our spending this year is within the realm of normal for us, despite dropping to one income. If we didn't have the giant furnace expense at the end of this year, though, it would have been a bit lower than previous years.

We spent a bit less eating out than years past, although the difference went into the grocery category. (And that's despite my getting better at couponing!) I guess this is just how much we spend on food, whether we eat in or eat out. 

I'm trying to get a handle on what we spend for transportation - two cars and a bus pass - but it hasn't been easy. In 2011 we bought a car and in 2012 we bought a car so this is the first year that we've only been maintaining vehicles instead of purchasing them. I feel like the expenses are reasonable here - both vehicles needed some work done (and both will need more in 2013) but they are reliable and fully paid for. Bus fare is also a bargain (Peanut drives his jeep with no top or doors, so it's not a four-season vehicle here in Minnesota - he takes the bus to work about half the year). 

Our medical expenditures are an absolute bargain. We spent just a few hundred dollars out of pocket for prescriptions and therapy, while our health insurance company picked up the tab for more than $250,000 in expenses incurred by Baby M. I am so, so, so thankful that we have good insurance. 

Lately I have felt like we are just spending and spending - between the furnace and the basement renovation and some other big purchases that happened to come at the end of the year, I have felt like we are just bleeding money everywhere. But looking at the year as a whole, it hasn't been bad. Peanut and I are fairly disciplined with our extraneous spending and we have been able to achieve our goals - paid-for cars, paid-off student loans, no debt but the mortgage. We'd love to be maxing out retirement savings and paying extra on the mortgage, but right now it's more important to forego the second income and have me stay at home with Baby M. We could be stricter and more frugal but we believe it's important to enjoy life as we live it as well, and I would say that our spending reflects that. 

I'm hoping that our spending in 2014 shows a similar pattern to this year - but without the use of the emergency fund!

How was your 2013 spending?

2014 New Year's Resolutions

Each year I make the same number of resolutions as the last number of the year. So this year, there are four:

1. Transition Baby M to a fully homemade diet. In the tubie world, this is called a "blenderized diet" and it is just what it sounds like - you take real food, put it in the blender, and then put it through the tube. Baby formula is an amazing product, but Baby M is over one year corrected age now, and normal one-year-olds would be learning how to digest and eat other foods, not subsisting solely on formula or breast milk. This type of diet is a lot more work than opening a can, and there will be expenses associated with it that will not be covered by insurance. I'm ready to take on the challenge.

2. Be here now. I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking about being in the moment, and I need to bring this into my life. Whether it's on the yoga mat or on the play mat, I want to be focused on what's in front of me and not what I'm going to do when I'm done with what I'm doing. This is really hard for me.

3. Contribute to retirement savings again. Since Baby M's birth, our retirement saving has been pretty slap-dash. I haven't contributed to a 401(k) since I went on maternity leave 15 months ago. We did not contribute to Roth IRAs in 2012 in order to pay off our student loans. We don't really have a lot of money to spare, and we need to build the emergency fund back up, but Peanut and I agreed to try really hard to put some money in for 2013 before we do our taxes. These are use-it-or-lose-it contributions and we can always pull out contributed funds with no penalty - so it can be a back-up emergency fund (in addition to a more liquid stash).

4. Give back. I am starting to come out of the fog that enveloped me at Baby M's birth. I am ready to start helping others in the way I was helped. I have asked our feeding clinic, pediatrician, and early intervention team to give my contact information to other parents who are struggling with pediatric feeding issues - I can't provide advice to those parents but I can lend an ear and share our story and let them know they are not alone. Eventually I would like to start a formal local support group for parents of children with feeding disorders, and this is a step in that direction. I have signed up to serve a meal at Ronald McDonald House, and I hope to make this a twice-annual event. I am also exploring joining the parent advisory board at the hospital where Baby M spent so many months. I don't want to overcommit myself, but I do feel strongly about being involved.

Let's begin as we intend to continue!

Do you have any resolutions this year?

2013 New Year's Resolution Recap

Last year was by far the weirdest year I have ever had. Most of the time I feel like we have a general idea of what's coming up in our lives, but man, the first year of parenthood is something you simply cannot prepare for. Add to that the medical complications Baby M experienced, and, well - 2013 was unpredictable. I'm glad I only had three resolutions!

1. Go crazy on the student loans. SUCCESS!!! We paid off all our student loans and are now debt-free except for the house. We raided much of our savings to do this, but left enough of an emergency fund to deal with the furnace debacle and not be depleted. What a great relief!

2. Be gentle. I was surprised to find a well of compassion and tenderness in myself as I learned to be a mother to Baby M. I wanted to extend it to others, and especially myself. I am nowhere near perfect - nowhere near. But I am practicing every day. I am able to slow myself from jumping to conclusions, to judgement, to frustration, to anger. Usually. This has made this year, and my life, so much more pleasant. 

3. Finish what I start. I did surprisingly okay with this. I have made a point to tackle the projects that have been dangling over my head or to officially give them up. I have gotten rid of books, sold costumes, donated clothes, and organized baby stuff for consignment sales. I feel like I made a lot of progress, although there's still work to be done. I'm doing it in bite-sized pieces and I'm sure there will never be a day when I feel like, okay, everything I've needed to do is done. But I've stopped adding to my to-do list in a never-ending fashion, and that feels good. 

How did your 2013 resolutions go?

2013 in Review

(Previous years: 2011, 2012)

January

Baby M came home from the hospital after 134 days! I went on a 6-month unpaid maternity leave that wound up being permanent. I examined the reasons why things might always be just a bit more expensive than we think and I made three New Year's Resolutions.

February

Peanut and I started a college fund for Baby M. I tallied up the costs above and beyond the price of some things, and also learned how to look for ways to reduce those costs to nothing. My assumptions about WIC were challenged. I realized I was still being paid for a job I had quit, and returned the money (and will have to watch my taxes to make sure I'm not taxed on it!). We spent a night in the hospital with Baby M to have a brain and spine MRI, and I realized how much I had grown as a mother in just one month.

March

I participated in Women's Money Week. Not paying attention at the register got me a drink I didn't enjoy, and taught me a lesson about the expected and actual perceived value of a treat. I realized that Baby M was never going to breastfeed, and started coming to terms with the fact that a feeding tube was in her future.

April

I realized that probably no one ever feels like they've "got it", even if other people think they do. I looked in my closets and realized how many of my belongings were not serving me. I compared our lives in New York and Minneapolis.

May

I rejoiced in a "just enough" attitude towards finances (and pretty much everything else). I also rejoiced in imperfection, when it scored me a dutch oven at almost 75% off. Baby M was diagnosed with failure to thrive and admitted to the hospital for a few days to have a temporary feeding tube placed.

June

A huge freak storm hit Minneapolis and caused our basement to flood, ruining the carpet and drywall. We were without power for three days and lost all our perishable food, although Peanut managed to save the freezer full of breast milk by running it off a car battery for a few hours at a time. This happened right as I had two different groups of family members visiting and a few days before Baby M had surgery. June was a really sucky month.

July

I officially became unemployed when I notified my job that Baby M's health did not allow me to return to work. I fretted about the money we were spending due to the flooding and the surgery. I tried to find some small frugal wins. I wrote the guide I wish I'd had before our basement flooded: Part I, Part II, Part III.

August

WE PAID OFF OUR STUDENT LOANS!!!!! This means we became debt-free except for the house. I said no to "engaging with brands". I considered how debt is like slavery. I goofed trying to save money, and wound up spending more than if I hadn't tried.

September

Baby M turned 1! Peanut and I played general contractor as we repaired the basement walls ourselves, and I debated what to do about our broken dryer. (I don't think I ever posted an update - somehow my sister fixed it while she was visiting. I think she banged on it with her fist. No kidding.)

October

I shamed Congress for the government shut-down. We got ready for a Minnesota winter (and not a moment too soon!). I tallied up some more frugal wins. I confessed to paying for cat grooming. Baby M was both an astronaut and a dragon for Halloween (I couldn't decide, so she changed costumes halfway through the night!).

November

I considered the future of health insurance, where Peanut's employer might cancel coverage and we would have to buy it directly. (It hasn't happened yet, not sure it's still on the table, but I feel ready for it if it is.) In honor of World Prematurity Day, I urged pregnant women and those close to them to learn the signs of premature labor.

December

Our furnace went out during a stretch of sub-zero temperatures, and we had it replaced. I worked on saving little bits of money on regular bills. The news gave me fits, first misrepresenting data to say that vitamins are killing you and your budget, and then the hew and cry about Target's no-big-deal-to-me data breach. We snuggled in at home for a germ-free low-key Christmas - maybe next year Baby M can participate in big family gatherings but we are still playing it safe this year.

How was your 2013?