Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Closer

For the second time in less than two years, I've closed on my property. That's right: I finalized my refinance today. Woohoo!

I have to say that as with my original purchase, things for the refinance aligned as though it was all meant to be. My timing couldn't have been better -- right after I decided to refinance and completed my new loan application, which locked in my rate, the rates started to inch up a bit. I now have a 3.75 percent rate, down from 5.25, which, let's be honest, was still pretty darn low. And everything went so smoothly.

The closing costs were about $3,900. But I get to skip the June mortgage and I'll get back what was in my old escrow account. Factoring in those two things, it cost me $1,800 to refinance. I'll be saving $92 a month on my actual payment, so the closing will pay for itself in less than two years. And of course I'll be saving a decent chunk of change over the life of the loan.

Mom Week 2012 is coming up in June. I'm trying something a little different this year: a day trip. We're going to the Brandywine Creek Valley. My mother loves flowers and there are a couple of major gardens there. So that's an expense, what with the hotel and the tickets to the gardens. But all in all, it's not bad, and it'll be a nice change of pace from the usual assortment of activities. There will also be a few meals out. And she likes to shop, so there will be that too. But I'll keep my spending to a minimum.

My savings has taken a few hits lately. I'll get it together, though. I have to.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

(Re)Fined

Somehow it seems longer since I've written. I don't know why.

Life is fine. Actually, life is pretty good. I can finally report on something I put into the works last month: I'm refinancing the condo. I started investigating it last month on a whim. OK, so it wasn't quite a whim -- I kept getting little messages here and there, including some "junk" mail. I didn't think it would be for me, mostly because I thought it would be more complicated, and I really didn't want to go through that stress. But I figured, "What the hell?" So I e-mailed my previous mortgage handler. She had me complete the application, and voilá! I'm refinancing.

The interest rate is more than a point lower now than it was when I bought a couple of years ago. To avoid any potential problems with an appraisal -- my mortgage person worried that my place might not appraise for the amount we need, what with the still-unstable market -- I will pay my closing costs. But it's worth it to me to pay a couple thousand now to save several thousand down the road. And lucky for me, I have the savings to cover the closing costs.

I close next month. Oh! And in doing all this, I found out my credit score. It's over 800 -- higher now than it was when I bought my place. This is excellent news.

In other news, I met with a new financial planner today. Our 401(k)s at work are done through Principal. Our employer arranged for a couple of their financial planners to come in and meet one on one with any employee who was interested. For free. They did this last year, but I had already dropped coin on my other financial planner, and it seemed pointless to meet with yet another planner. This year, however, I figured I'd give it a go. It went well. Free Financial Planner (FFP) didn't see any need to make any changes to the allocations Paid Financial Planner (PFP) set up. FFP did recommend that I take advantage of the automatic 1 percent increase in contributions every year, so I signed up for that. Otherwise, things are in good shape.

Which brings me to this: My financial needs are straightforward, so I've been thinking that maybe it's time I stop paying $$$ for financial advice now that my Roth is all set up and my 401(k) is properly allocated. I mean, if my employer is gonna send out planners for free every year, wouldn't the wise financial advice be to cut PFP? I mean, PFP is a nice guy, and I like him personally. But he isn't cheap. In fact, he's not cheap. Right now I'm doing his cheapest plan -- basically one or two visits in one year at half his regular rate -- and even that is expensive.

As hard as it's going to be (I hate hurting people's feelings), I'm gonna have to stop seeing PFP. That money would be better served in a savings account.

I've made a few expensive purchases this month, mostly for clothing items but also for some things around the house -- a rug for the balcony, some plants, etc. I've got to simmer down, though, and start focusing again on saving. My savings cushion should be loftier than it is, considering. I know I've bought things for the house, and for myself, but still. Considering I got the home buyer credit and given my tax refund, my savings should be in double digits. It is not.

I know I can do better: I paid off $20K in debt in three years. And not only did I do that, but I also saved a chunk of change. If I can do that, I can get my savings back in double digits. And that's what I aim to do. Back then, I kept a graph in a notebook. Having that visual was helpful. Time to get more graph paper, I think.

All in all, though, things are going well.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Fool's Day?

Holy crap, it's already April! Where did the time go?

I've made my travel arrangements for Paris to the tune of $2,000. I'd originally hoped to stay between $1,500 and $1,800, but when I started pricing the trip and deciding where I wanted to stay, I figured it was worth the extra money to be where I wanted to be. I wanted to be in St. Germain, and as luck would have it, I found a charming hotel in the heart of that arrondissement. It's not far from the Seine, so I'll be able to walk to Notre Dame and to the Louvre. I go in September.

In other news, I've upgraded my cellphone ... finally. I went with a smartphone (no surprise there), and I haven't looked back. I love it.

I've bought clothes and knickknacks. I've eaten out more than usual. I've spent on random things, big and small. There was the deductible for my accident back in February, as well as the cost of the rental car. There was my trip to Richmond for an art workshop, and then down to Virginia Beach to visit my parents, where I also spent on random things.

All that to say this: I've been spendy. I don't like it when I'm spendy. I have to do better.

I'm still saving the same amount. However, because I've been spendy, I've been taking savings out to cover it. Sigh.

Old habits die hard.

There is another possible financial thing, but it's too early to mention right now. It can be a good thing. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Twitchy

I was in a fender bender this past weekend. It sucks, but there you have it. No one was hurt, but I have expenses now that I hadn't planned on. Rental car ... deductible ... mental and emotional health (believe me, those last two items are big expenses).

The good thing is that at least I have the money to cover the financial part of it. Four or five years ago it would've really hurt.

Also remarkable is that I'm back to being debt free. I just scheduled the payment for my new computer and the awesome, gorgeous new rug I bought for my living room (on sale for $179 from nearly $800), both of which I put on AmEx. I wasn't thrilled about taking that chunk out of savings, but it was either that or incur interest. Since my savings earn less interest than what is charged for credit, it made more sense to pay it off.

But ... wow, do I ever hate seeing my savings balance go down. Hate it. Just wait till it's time for me to plan (and pay for!) my vacation. By then I will have saved more money, and there's an "extra" paycheck coming in May. I will be able to afford for it, but I will hate spending the money. At some point I've got to stop getting twitchy when it comes time to pay for things.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Monthly Update: February 2012

I can't remember the last time I did a monthly update, and to tell you the truth, I don't feel like looking it up. (I know, I know. I'm lazy.) And this isn't going to be a huge post. But I did realize I hadn't checked in in a while and thought enough had happened that warranted an update.

First, I finally bought a new laptop. I'm typing on The Precious now, actually. I decided on another Mac, and I'm very happy with it. I purchased it with my AmEx because of the cash rewards and for the warranty protection, but I have more than enough in savings to pay off the balance. I will be meeting with my financial advisor sometime this month and will ask what he suggests -- whether I should pay it all off in one fell swoop, or whether it would make more sense to pay it off in installments. I'm leaning toward to the former.

Second, for the first time ever, I filed my tax returns electronically. Yeah, yeah ... what took me so long. Well, cheapness is one reason. TurboTax ain't free. And the one year that I tried to use the FreeFile thing, there was a technical glitch and I couldn't access the forms necessary for my freelance income. And last year, I had to file on paper because of the home buyer credit. Anyway, back to my point: I filed electronically and it was a breeze. Like ... I'm embarrassed for having avoided it for so long and laboring over my returns.

I'm getting back a decent refund, one that's slightly more than I expected. And the refund for my state taxes is much more than I expected. I do love itemized deductions. I'll be using some of it to help pay for my Paris trip, which I am still planning. The rest will camp out in savings, which brings me to this ...

Third, The savings are slowly getting back on track. Mind you, I'm about to eat into it to pay off The Precious, but I still feel encouraged.

Other developments include the purchase of an area rug for the living room. I ordered through Gilt Group. It was deeply discounted (regularly $795; paid $193, which included shipping). It's pretty darn perfect. Today I finally came up with some ideas for the odd space in my living room, but I want things to settle down before I start buying things to bring my idea to life. That's the good thing about owning, I've discovered. I can take my time.

OK. I think that's it for me. Peace.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

And Then There Were 2

When I first started this debt blog, I had eight accounts spread among six financial institutions. And then I added a small local bank to the mix. As of today, I'm down to two banks.

I started consolidating a while ago, first cutting one of the two credit unions, and later cutting SunTrust when they decided to charge a monthly fee for using debit cards. (While they gave in to customer pressure shortly thereafter and changed the policy, it was too little too late for me.) I opted to close my ING account with Capital One bought them. In the end, I figured I'd keep HSBC as my "cookie jar" account for emergencies -- the account that's to remain just out of touch -- but when their website glitch the other day locked me out of my own account, resulting in my spending an hour on the phone -- most of which was spent on hold -- I reconsidered. Rather than have them reset my password, I had 'em close the account and send me my money.

As of today, I'm officially down to two banks. One is my "regular" bank. It's where my paycheck goes. It's where my main savings account is. The other is the credit union from my old hometown. I've had it since I was in college, but never really used it beyond getting my guaranteed student loan and keeping a token amount in the savings account. I have at various times forgotten that savings account even exists. That account will now serve as my cookie jar. I have set up a small but reasonable amount from each paycheck to be deposited directly in it. There is no online bank-to-bank transfer option -- an "inconvenience" that will keep me from tapping into it. But it's not so inconvenient that I can't get my butt to a local credit union service center to access the account.

I'm officially out of the big banks. Yay!

In other news, I've had to help a relative with a financial emergency. As annoyed as the situation has made me (he should be more responsible than this), I'm also grateful to be in the position to help.

Lastly, I've done a rough calculation of my tax return and it looks like I may get back more than I thought. While my refund will help fund Paris later this year, it will also help me get my savings back on track to where I want things to be.

I feel like I'm finally regaining some control following my spending spree in 2011.