|Mini Price Book, Part I
||[Nov. 26th, 2013|07:32 pm]
It's frugal to comparison shop, and the "price book" is a frugality tool for things you buy regularly. You check prices at all your stores to learn which things are cheapest at which place. The first time I did this, I had an HEB and an Albertsons within walking distance and had no car. My impression had been that both were similar. But after writing down prices, I decided that although Albertson's was often cheaper on dairy products and had better sales, HEB was the cheapest overall. So when Albertson's stopped letting me bring my backpack in (so I had to wait in line to check it in, wait in line to pay for my groceries, wait in line to get my backpack back, move my groceries from bags to backpack, then try to put the bags where they would get re-used), it was easy for me to start always going to HEB.
Over the years, my price book has evolved but has never been particularly handy. I haven't found a good electronic price book, I can't count on getting to Google docs at the store. And the staples I get keep changing as I begin insisting on things like more nutrients or fewer poisons. And now I have a car and get to many, many stores, including yet another new one as of last summer. So I've decided I want to make a list of all the things that are best to get at each of the different stores so I don't forget to stock up when I'm there. And I want it to be a one-page thing I can just bring with me.
The first step is to figure out a single page of things I actually buy repeatedly. The next step is to collect additional prices for those items for which I'm no longer sure of what my favorite place to get them is. Here is that list, include best place to get it for those items I already have a handle on. (Really, I can fit all these on one piece of paper with two columns.)
* sandwich bread (with some fiber in it) - $1.88 HEB
* spaghetti (Barilla plus - has fiber, but tastes and cooks like regular) - $2.08 HEB (often on sale for $2 at Target)
* macaroni and cheese (whole wheat) - $0.59 HEB
* flour (whole wheat) - $2.99 for white whole wheat flour (which my sister likes, but I haven't yet tried) at Trader Joe's, $3.48 for whole wheat pastry flour at HEB
* oats (instant)
* graham crackers - $1.98 HEB
* taco shells (no GMOs) - the cheapest are $1.99 at Trader Joe's, but the tastiest are the blue corn ones at Whole Foods which are more like $2.50
* crackers (some fiber, yummy, but not too evil) - $2.49 for the Everything flavor of crackers at Trader Joe's
* pretzels (some fiber--I get Newman's Own spelt pretzels) - $2.79 at Wheatsville
* brown rice
* tortillas (with fiber) - the ones at Central Market are often warm
* bagels (with fiber)
* hominy (for taco soup) - $0.98 for a big can at HEB
* cold cereal (with fiber)
* milk (with no growth hormones) - $2.84 at Target using the Red Card (for 5% off)
* sour cream
* sharp cheddar (with no growth hormones) - $4.29/lb at Trader Joe's
* sliced cheese (with no growth hormones) - Trader Joe's (prices comparable to those of conventional cheese at HEB)
* ice cream (yummy, and not pumped with extra air) - $2.50/quart HEB
* parmesan cheese (ungrated)
* mozzerella cheese (ungrated)
* whipping cream - $1.29 for shelf-stable cream at Trader Joe's
* cream cheese (no growth hormones)
* hamburger (extremely low fat and grown some way that's more humane than conventional) - Whole Foods buffalo or grass-fed beef
* eggs (with omegas)
* hot dogs (no nitrates, but taste like regular) - $2.48 HEB
* canned beans - ~$0.55 HEB
* refried beans (La Sierra refried black beans yum, yum, yum) - $0.97 HEB
* tuna (no dolphins, not albacore) - $0.74 HEB
* veggie corndogs
* veggie breakfast sausage
* peanut butter (organic, no added sweetener)
* peanuts (organic)
* TVP (no GMOs)
* chili (Wolf brand low-fat yum)
Produce - Prices on fresh produce and canned pumpkin are always changing, but if I find prices around the same time period, I may be able to make generalizations.
* salad bags - $1.99/5 oz Trader Joe's
* grape juice (concentrate, organic) - $3.89 Natural Grocer
* frozen spinach
* canned artichoke hearts
* canned tomatoes
* tomato paste
* canned pumpkin - $1 is a good price I can sometimes find around the holidays
* frozen berries - $1/bag from Dollar Tree
* raw sugar - $1.89/lb HEB, $1.99/lb Wheatsville (cheaper on member appreciation days)
* brown sugar
* chocolate chips (shade grown = fair trade or organic) - $3.29 for Guitard at HEB
* butter (no growth hormones)
* walnut oil - $6.49 Wheatsville
* grapeseed oil
* sesame oil - MT Market
* cheese puffs (no GMOs) - $1.99 Trader Joe's
* tortilla chips (no GMOs)
* cocoa powder (shade grown)
* vinegar - $2.68 for 128 oz of 9% acidity vinegar at HEB
* cumin - $4.99 for 400 g = $5.70/lb at some ethnic grocery story I can no longer remember
* other spices - probably bulk at Wheatsville, but should check
* vanilla beans (for vanilla extract)
* vodka (for vanilla extract)
* baking soda
* baking powder
(I'm not going to go into toiletries or nutritional supplements here though they are on my list.)
|Dental Update: And Then There Were Two
||[Nov. 15th, 2013|02:56 pm]
What has two crowns but only one head? Me.
I don't really feel like a super princess for some reason. More like some kind of weird stalker who keeps chipping her teeth so she can come in for another crown. At my dentist that requires two visits--one for the temporary and another for the permanent a hundred years later after at least one delicious holiday has gone by during which time you are not supposed to eat anything sticky or hard.
Sorry, I couldn't resist the parallelism from my last entry, Job Hunting Update: And Then There Were Two.
|Job Hunting Update: And Then There Were Two
||[Nov. 13th, 2013|03:58 pm]
Today I passed my final and am officially qualified to work the tax prep job. The next step is: I will probably get a call tomorrow about what the next step is.
Monday I got an e-mail from my contact in one of the three colleges I have worked with before. And as of five minutes ago, it has been decided that I will do some more work for them starting next month. They have had a very high turnover and need some training plus some help getting the new catalog ready.
This will probably be quite a short job, with probably 30 hours a week for two weeks in December and maybe 20 hours a week briefly in the following year, for $20.19/hour.
I really like these fun these little jobs, so yea!
Blog of the Day - The Good Old Days at Ombailamos - "I'm starting to think the single most destructive force in human nature is not violence, not greed, not lust, not envy ... but nostalgia." At least politically. Interesting viewpoint.
Quote of the Day - I found this in How to Say No Gracefully, giving me even more respect for E.B. White (which, who even knew that was possible?):
Dear Mr. Adams,
Thanks for your letter inviting me to join the committee of the Arts and Sciences for Eisenhower.
I must decline, for secret reasons.
|The Next Big Thing
||[Nov. 8th, 2013|08:22 pm]
I've been thinking I should pick something new to become an expert in. In the past, I've kind of fallen into things (like, most recently, learning about taxes), but now (or soon) I should be able to make my own choice.
Is there anything so fun that I would like to do it many hours a day? That I would like it to mold my perception of other things (like how quilters see everything as possible quilt designs and rock climbers see hand-holds in everything)? That I would like to hang out in discussion boards about? That I would like to go to conferences on?
I've made no serious decisions yet, but ( here are some possibilities I've thought of, in alphabetical orderCollapse )
So, next steps currently (though perhaps not until after I quit worrying about making more money) is to volunteer at a school tutoring math and see where that leads, try writing some nonfiction books and some songs, and learn some Spanish and then maybe some ASL.
|Job Hunting Update: Temp Job
||[Nov. 7th, 2013|07:42 pm]
It seems quite likely that I will be working for the tax prep company with whom I am currently taking a course. And I will get to work at the branch that is in walking distance of my house.
The Client Service Leader for that office just wrote "I’ve been hearing some great things about you and hope that you’d consider working in our office. I should be in Austin on Monday, November 11, 2013 and look forward to meeting you and others in your class."
My instructor said that he is going to be at the same branch and he will be mentoring us. He told me and the gal who is better than me that he would be fast-tracking us so we would not just be working with people with 1040EZ forms the first year.
Woo hoo! Ten bucks an hour! For many, many weeks!
Ahem, of course I still have to pass the final. So far I have a 95%, so it seems likely.
And I have to finish this last module, the longest one of them all. I'm running out of steam, but I guess I'll be fine.
Now I'm just wondering if I'll like the job. To me, the hardest part of doing my taxes is getting all the numbers together--keeping track of all the forms that come in the mail as well as any relevant receipts. So all the customers still have to do that themselves. That seems pretty unlikely. What's it really going to be like?
People who do this type of work seem to feel like they get to help people to do things that they need to do but either don't want to or don't know how to, and that it's interesting finding out about the lifestyles of their fellow man. They don't seem to feel that they are always telling people to go home and search for some more papers and make another appointment. Nor do they feel they are always giving people bad news, like people who didn't have taxes withheld from their unemployment or people who started self-employment but didn't know about estimated payments.
I did learn that we are allowed to (and have to) refuse to do forms that we know involve lying, and if we learn about problems with earlier returns, we only have to tell the person about the problems we noticed and the possible consequences. There is no having to turn people into the IRS or call the police, and there is no having to lie because the customer is always right and/or they must get the biggest possible refund.
|Health Insurance Update
||[Oct. 28th, 2013|07:31 pm]
I wrote about some issues regarding my decisions on private health insurance in Private Insurance Transition. Since then I have gotten more data. By the way, Consumer Reports is putting out a nice set of articles on the Affordable Care Act.
I've read that on average, prices will be about 16% lower in the new system.
But I now can see the prices on insurance plans that will actually be available to me.* The good news is that in my state, high-deductible insurance plans will still be available to me. So there are plans that are cheaper than the ones I found in California.
The bad news is that they will still cost 25% more than the one I'm in now (~$250/month instead of $200). The reason is that states are allowed to charge different rates for people of different ages and apparently in the new system, there are only two tiers: under fifty and fifty or more. I am fifty. If I were forty-nine, these plans would cost 33% less than my current insurance (~$150). Grr.
Of course my actual cost would also include the tax subsidy. The subsidy is based on income. If you don't know your income you can give an estimate and it will all be straightened out when you do your taxes and know your exact income.
* Updated to add this quote I just read: "Be aware of rates on healthcare.gov’s “see plans now” button. If you choose a single person, it will ask if you are under 49 or over 50. If you are under 49, it shows rates for a 27 year old. If you select that you are over 50, you will see rates for a 50 year old. Prices will be different if you are not that exact age. CBS did a story on this a couple nights ago."
Fine Print, part A
One weird part is that you are not allowed to get a subsidy if your company is offering you insurance and your insurance (for you only--not other family members) is "affordable" (<9.5% of your income). If I get a half-time job, I could get good insurance for half-price, but in the past I have chosen just to keep my private insurance.
Of course in the past they could decide not to let you have your old insurance back at the end of the job if you developed a pre-existing condition during the job, and I guess that's not true anymore. And the company insurance would probably cost around $230/month, and for that to be less than 9.5% of my income, I'd have to be making upwards of $27/hour, which has never happened, so I guess I'm safe there.
Subsidies are based on income and my income has gone wonky. So much so that doing my taxes will be changing drastically.
Income taxes - last year
In the past, I have itemized deductions and, unless I have a lot of side jobs, I get a refund. So my tax breaks come from paying various taxes, mortgage interest (until recently), charitable contributions, and for the last couple of years, a deduction for my Health Savings Account contributions. Plus capital gains and dividends are taxed at a lower rate than other interest.
Income taxes - this year
This year will be different. It looks like I'll have made about half as much money from jobs and unemployment compensation. It's quite likely that I won't be itemizing because although my property taxes will still be plenty high, my estimated sales tax and my charitable contributions are based on my income and will not add up enough to exceed the standard deduction. (So I may put off paying property taxes and charitable contributions until the first of next year in case I can double up.) Another change is that if I don't get any more work, my income will be low enough for me to get the Saver's Credit, which for me will be $200 for contributing at least $2000 to a retirement plan. I will get a smaller refund than last year even though I'm paying less taxes because I pre-paid less into the system.
Income taxes - next year
Next year will be different still. I expect to earn around $0, around $2500, or maybe even as much as $15,000 (if I get this one last degree audit job that's in the works and it pays well and lasts the full six months that has been requested and it doesn't start until next year). Plus there will be a trickle from interest and dividends in taxable accounts. All my other money will come from savings which have already been taxed. So I will look super poor, quite likely so poor that I won't pay any taxes at all. (If not next year, then the following year, when there will not be any degree audit jobs.)
HSA contributions and additional itemized deductions will no longer be relevant, because I won't have any owed taxes from which to subtract those things. (So I'm going to max my HSA contributions this year, even though I was planning on making less than the max this year and continuing to contribute less than the max for a few more years.)
And the creepy thing is that as a fake poor person, I would be "entitled" to some things that real poor people get. There's a good chance I will qualify for the Earned Income Credit which is refundable (a not-quite-accurate word that means you don't need to owe taxes from which to subtract it). Meaning the government pays me for not finding enough work to support myself.
But even worse is this subsidy. I could get a federal subsidy to pay for most or all of my insurance. Kaiser's subsidy calculator shows that if I made 15K, I could get a subsidy of $3886 ($324/mo). If I had a plan that cost only $250/mo, the subsidy would be only $250/month of course ($3000). If I wanted to, I could always contribute that money back to the government to reduce the public debt, ideally after I'm getting my pension and feel rich again.
Fine Print, Part B
Even crazier: If I make only 3K, I'd get no subsidy. You only get a subsidy between 100% and 400% of the poverty level, and since 3K for a single person is below the poverty level ($11,490), you qualify for Medicaid instead except that my state has not expanded Medicaid. I'm kind of afraid of Medicaid anyway, but really I know very little about it. I'd probably rather have insurance. Since I don't feel at all confident that I will earn beyond the poverty level, it will probably be cheapest for me to stick with my current plan, which I am allowed to do until December 1, 2014.
Except I don't actually know what my current insurance company will be charging me. They say they will send out notices in the next few weeks.
|On Federal Income Taxes - Week 6
||[Oct. 28th, 2013|10:25 am]
Earned income includes pay and tips from a job plus self-employment and farming income. Of course interest, dividends, capital gains, unemployment compensation, alimony, and child support are considered unearned income. But so are royalties, income from being a landlord, and pension income. And "royalties" is the term used both for pay from creative works and for pay from extracting resources such as oil from your land.
Tax Prep Prices
Friday we just practiced entering a bunch of returns into the company software (the forms from the first few chapters). Mostly boring. But I accidentally hit the button that shows the costs when I meant to hit the adjacent button that shows the final forms. Once that happened, I started hitting the button on purpose, just to see.
Of course charges are a lot more than I would ever want to pay. But, I don't like to pay anything for stuff I can do myself, and so far I've felt that I can do my taxes (and I don't totally hate doing them), so of course I would think that.
It's tens or hundreds of dollars for the ones I'm entering (which, how hard can those be?). We'd already been told that the cost depends on the number and complexity of the forms needed.
And we'd been told that sometimes the client will save more money in tax prep fees by not claiming something than they will save in taxes by claiming something. And the prices I saw were broken down into two levels: the cost of required forms (and the resulting tax refund, which might, of course, be a negative number) and the cost of the optional forms (and resulting tax refund). In most cases (from my class, and probably in real life, too, for people who work for others), people have prepaid so much money that they do get refunds. And in most cases it's the optional forms that get you the extra money, so that's probably how they make it easy to talk the clients into feeling that it's worth the money. Although I don't know if they let you fill out all the forms first and then remove some to save the client money or if the worker has to already know without actually doing all the work.
We never talk about this in class except that certain things are red flags such as owning your own business and clearly lying. Also, if the amount of taxes in question is small, you're less likely to get audited than if it is large--auditors do, after all, earn a salary, and they try to get the most bang for the buck.
However, Aunt M said never to meet with the IRS if they are auditing you. Send someone else. If you're not as rich as they are, buy audit insurance. Until they were first audited, she thought the laws were black and white, but then she found out that everything was grey--different auditors interpret things differently. Also, what makes an auditor look good to their boss will make them look bad to you, but you can sometimes work with that--her accountant got one auditor to let her move a deduction they were going to disqualify to another area rather than go to tax court over it--the former looked less bad on his record than the latter and was much better for her.
|On Federal Income Taxes - Weeks 4 - 5
||[Oct. 20th, 2013|02:23 pm]
I'm sure I learned many more interesting things than are described below, but lately it's felt more like juggling an ever-increasing amount of balls than actually internalizing exciting new facts.
Depreciation rules in particular are out of control. Of course you could say that about US income tax law overall.
Basically it seems like you should make a big chart at the beginning (when you first acquire the item or switch it to business use) showing all the amounts ever, then look at it again every year to get the figure for that year's taxes.
I can't imagine Robin's grandfather dealing with all the depreciation rules. As a man who built three subdivisions and sold hundreds of houses, he had a lot of stuff that required depreciation, not to mention all the other business expenses he had to record.
I've had self-employment but I've never claimed expenses. [Everything I used was used mostly for personal use or provided to me for free (borrowing a transcription machine when I was transcribing social work interviews).]
The depreciation chapter made me wonder why I got into this class again. (Right, a chance at a practically guaranteed job for super cheap. Except for all the hours that are getting used up.)
The instructor said we don't have to actually know much about depreciation for this class or for the first year on the job, so that's something I guess.
There's yet another tax aid for having children and that's a credit for day care costs if the parent(s) are working or job hunting. You cannot take this credit if it's to allow one spouse to slip out for an affair--it has to be paid work. (And even then, you might not want the other spouse to know, and both are supposed to sign the return and know what they're signing.)
There's also a credit to help with adoption fees.
I knew you could get tax breaks for going to college now that it's too late for me. There are actually three ways, though each year you can pick only one of them for each student--no double-/triple-dipping. One of them might even be applicable to me if I decided to take college Spanish. You don't have to be in a degree program for the Lifetime Learning Credit, but it might be the case that your goal for the class is to either get a degree or to acquire or improve job skills. Spanish is a job skill. And if I like doing taxes, it would be handy for that job. Even if I don't like doing taxes, it would be handy for tutoring. Does it count as a "job" if it's volunteer? Or do they not even care? Instructor says they don't care--plus they can't even tell what you're taking, let alone whether it's counting toward a degree, let alone for a job.
[Things like this tax prep class are not deductible for any reason--it's not from a school that qualifies for federal financial aid, and it's to to increase skills for a current job (but to qualify you for a new job).]
In addition, you can get a break on the interest you're paying toward student loan interest later.
|Math in Real Life: Credit Card Comparison
||[Oct. 12th, 2013|05:28 pm]
I almost shredded the credit card application like always, but then I noticed that the reward was 1.5% on everything. My current rewards credit card pays me 1.1% on everything + 10 cents per purchase + 4% on a rotating set of categories. I don't buy much in the different categories. (There was a nice surprise when one of the things on my vacation turned out to be in the "amusement park" category. And I generally can manage to buy gas when there's a gas category.)
An added bonus is that you don't have to wait until the rewards add up to a certain minimum amount like with my current card; you can cash them in every month.
Another added bonus is $100 if you charge at least $500 during the first three months.
That sounds better. But is it really? I looked at all of this year's statements and calculated the percentage I actually earned. It was above 1.5% for five months and below it for five. Duh, I added up the total expenditures and total awards and saw that overall I've earned 1.4%. The higher percentages mostly happened in the months where I spent less, which is in the months where I didn't have any large expenditures like property taxes or car insurance.
So it looks like a good idea to switch to this new card. I don't really want to carry around a lot of credit cards. But R's on my account, too, with his own credit card number, so things might be easier if I left the old card open.
And then I remembered how it wasn't much of a problem when I used to have two rewards credit cards before and thought that if I get the new one, maybe I should use both. I'd use the old one for small purchases and purchases in a category with extra rewards and the new one for everything else. But what's the cut-off point for small? Algebra will tell me!
(I almost never get to use algebra; for some reason I get really excited when I have the chance to use it.)
The question: When does 1.1% plus 10 cents = 1.5%? (Okay, it's whenever 0.4% is a dime. I don't even need to do all the work. But I almost never get to!)
0.011x + $0.10 = 0.015x
$0.10 = 0.015x - 0.011x
$0.10 = 0.004 x
x = $0.10/0.004
x = $25.00
($25 * .011) + $0.10 = 0.275 + $0.10 = $0.375
$25 * .015 = $0.375
Of course then there's the whole question of whether they'd actually give a credit card to a jobless person. Yes, they do ask for income. Oh, but for my current employment status I could check the "Retired" box instead of the "Unemployed" box. They do ask the value of my investment accounts. Although the highest category is just "More than $50,000," not necessarily enough to finance a retirement. Oh, I would also get to say that I own my home and that my "Monthly rent/mortgage payment" is zero. Freakish.
So then because it's modern times, I did some online research. The new card is well reviewed. And I learned another bonus: it doesn't have that extra fee for using it in foreign countries.
Then I went to a forum for people who want to save up loads of money and live super cheaply so they can retire young and I asked what people who have already done that should put on their credit card applications. They said by no means say that I'm retired. Credit card companies like people whose income is increasing faster than inflation (and who might not be about to die on them with unpaid debt). I should say that I'm self-employed. They said it's okay to use a round number for the salary--that doesn't set off alarm bells for them like it does for the IRS.
|Job Hunting Update: No More Begging
||[Oct. 11th, 2013|01:49 pm]
I've been job hunting pretty hard for almost four months and I have gotten zero interviews. And I have not even gotten a call-back about temp jobs--that application said that if you are favored they will ask you more information and make you take some tests and they didn't even approach me to do that. So screw it. I have savings.
It's not quite right to say that I'm no longer job hunting. Really, I'm just done trying to talk people into giving me a job. I'm done fervently hoping that I will get the kind of work I want. I'm done with the begging and the suspense and the rejection. Also with collecting unemployment compensation. It was very nice to get paid for job hunting, but I am no longer willing to jump those hoops. (I've almost used it up anyway.)
I will still take work from people who have already made it clear that they want me. So I will take any degree-audit jobs offered (one is still in the works). I will try working for this tax preparation company if they want me. I will ask for more teacher-certification-test-scoring work. And I will even continue checking the UT website daily, but I will apply only for jobs that sound obvious and fun and will stop applying for jobs that are clearly (to me) the type of work I would be good at but either no one there knows me or the work is not all that close after all to what I've been doing.
This decision means a change in my default thinking. Before I was hoping to work until I received my pension, thinking that I could live off savings if necessary. Now I'll be assuming that I'm going to live off my savings, thinking that I would accept jobs if possible. Before I was hoping for the best-case scenario and things were not looking good. Now I'm planning for the worst-case scenario and things can only get better from here. And if they don't, that's okay, too.
Another change is in what to do next. Before, the next thing was to look for a job. Now the next thing is to do well in this tax prep course. And the next thing after that is--still undecided. Exciting!
Since I want to minimize the depletion of my savings, I will try to live lightly. I can't say that I will spurn all luxuries. That's because I'm going on a cruise. (We booked it when they were super cheap after the ship we're taking made the headlines.) Also I just ordered the 13th Gloom Street woot shirt. [I didn't buy it when it first came out because I thought I would wear it only one month out of the year. It's an orange t-shirt with a haunted house on it. I have a weakness for Victorian houses (don't want to own one, but I do like to look at them). And I also love the vulture. And the cat. And the bats. And it has glow-in-the-dark ghosts in it. I have since decided that I would be happy to wear that shirt pretty much any time but Christmas day. And it's discounted this week ($15 + tax instead of $18). So now I will have it.]
But I will be living a lower-cost lifestyle than after I get my pension, which, according to my new point of view, likely won't be for over three more years. For example, when I realized I was going to need another pair of jeans to get me through the winter, I went to the thrift store instead of to LL Bean. (Shockingly, this worked. They have a million pairs of jeans. I was able to eliminate most of them just by seeing how short the zipper was, but I still found nine pair to try on and three pair actually fit, from which I chose the best.)
||most recent entries