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Archive for July, 2014

Another (minor) Problem with Fuel Oil Budget Plan

July 25th, 2014 at 10:31 am

I blogged earlier this month about how our fuel oil supplier increased our monthly budget payment amount, even though we finished the year with a credit. A quick call fixed the problem, and our budget payment was reduced.

Today I was looking through our checking account withdrawals, and saw that $220 was debited from our account on July 21. That's our normal fuel oil budget payment date, and our normal payment amount. The problem is that we weren't supposed to have the withdrawal made this month, and the amount withdrawn in August was supposed to be reduced, so that our Sept. 1 credit would be $0. That was according to a conversation I had with a rep from the company in May.

I made another quick call this morning, and the $220 charge will be reversed, and a reduced amount will be withdrawn in August. Problem fixed.

But, I've had two billing issues related to our budget plan this month! I'm left wondering if:

1) they were two honest mistakes
2) the billing person is incompetent
3) there is something more menacing going on, and they are trying to milk as much money out of the customers as they can, and if a customer catches on, and makes a call, they will only then fix the problem

Please convince me that option #1 happened.

Milk Fat

July 24th, 2014 at 11:31 am

I've blogged at least once that my family collects WIC benefits because we adopted our sons from foster care. DS1 turned five last year, so since then we've been collecting benefits for only DS2.

When we were collecting benefits for both boys, we figured the benefits were worth about $80 per month. The benefits for just DS2 are: three gallons plus one quart of milk (2% or less), two 64 oz. bottles of juice, two loaves of bread or two packages of tortillas (whole wheat), two boxes of cereal, one dozen eggs, one pound of cheese, a jar of peanut butter, or a couple cans of beans, and $6 of fresh fruits or vegetables.

Participants are limited to certain brands and types of different products. For example, you can't buy Lucky Charms or Fruity Pebbles for the cereal. You need to buy approved healthful brands, you can't buy fancy cheeses, only basic cheddar, mozzarella, etc., or expensive breads.

DS2, DW or I have to check in at the county health department every quarter. Twice per year, a face-to-face appointment is required so he can have his height and weight measured, and we consult with a nurse. The other two times, one of us has to review some nutritional information, and take a quiz. Usually that can be done on-line.

DS2 had an office visit last week. At that office visit, we learned that the 2% milk would be dropped as a WIC approved choice. Only 1 1/2%, 1%, or skim will be approved after Sept. 15.

For the first 15 of our 18 years of marriage, we were a red cap, whole milk family. DW is from a dairy farm, and growing up, she drank milk that was drawn off the bulk tank, fresh from the cows. Milk straight from a holstein cow (the breed that her family milks) is about 3.4 to 3.6% milk fat, and red cap "whole" milk is 3.25% milk fat. So, for her, buying red cap milk was a drop in milk fat. But, once we were on WIC, we relented, and began buying blue cap 2%, whether or not we were using WIC.

The change wasn't a big deal for me, or for the kids, and I'm not sure it was a big deal for DW, either. Regardless, we made the change, and are probably healthier for it.

I've seen 1% milk in local stores, but I'm not sure I've ever seen 1 1/2%. I think skim tastes like milky water. I'm sure I could get used to it, but I like a little substance to my milk.

If we plan to stay on WIC, we'll have to change our ways. We've discussed dropping WIC, and have decided that if the "cost" of the quarterly check-ins outweighs the benefits, we would drop it. My office is very close to the clinic, so it's been fairly convenient to keep up with the appointments. We'll probably ease into the decrease in milk fat with no problem, and probably switch over to the 1 1/2 or 1% (or it could be 1% or 1/2%, I'm really not sure) completely, and stay there even after benefits expire in another year.

Buying Feed is Expensive

July 18th, 2014 at 11:16 am

As of right now, our "farm" consists of:

one dairy heifer
three pigs
six goats
twenty six broiler chickens
probably a couple dozen laying hens and associated roosters.
Two cats

They are expensive to feed. I'm embarrassed to admit how expensive.

Our county fair will end two weeks from Sunday. The three pigs, two of the goats, and twelve of the broilers will be sold at the fair. The rest of the broilers will be slaughtered shortly after that.

The dairy heifer, Poppy is on loan from my brother-in-law, so DD1 can show her at the fair. Poppy will be returned to her home farm within a few days or a week after the fair ends. Heck, we might put her in the trailer after the fair is over, and drive her straight to the farm.

And really, the breeding goats and laying hens aren't *that* expensive to feed.

Of course, we do this for our kids. Lots of parents spend lots of money sending their kids to camps, or gymnastics, or for band instruments. Or maybe I'm just trying to justify the expenses.

The major expense is the grain, but hay is not cheap, either. The hay is for the goats, and heifer. The other day I was looking through a magazine, and I saw an ad for a walk-behind hay baler. It makes round bales. I don't know how much it would cost. It looked kind of like a walk-behind lawn mower.

That got me to wondering if we should rent 10 acres from my dad, and plant some hay. But, we'd still need the hay mower, hay rake, a small tractor to pull the equipment. We could probably get a short-term lease on the tractor.

We'd probably custom hire someone to plant the seeds.

The last load of hay cost $4.50 for each bale. We usually buy enough bales each time to last 3-4 months. We're going through 2 - 2 1/2 bales per week, with the heifer and all six goats. Is $11.25 per week - at maximum usage - really worth it? Especially when you figure the expense of all the equipment, and the work to raise and harvest the crop? Probably not.


Our Cedar Point Vacation

July 15th, 2014 at 06:03 am

I never did make a post after our Cedar Point vacation. I'm not sure why its occurring to me now that I should do one, but I'll go with it.

We had fun. DD1 and I had a bit more fun than DW and DD2. They boys stayed home with grandparents. DD1 and I enjoy the very large roller coasters, DD2 and DW don't.

Because we stayed at the CP hotel, we had passes to enter the park an hour earlier than regular opening time. DD1 and I hit three big roller coasters all in a row. We did have to wait maybe 15-20 minutes for the giant Millennium Force.

After that we caught up with DW and DD2, and spent some time together. The day was basically spent alternating between whole family activities, and split family activities.

The park was fairly quiet for most of the day for two reasons: We picked a low traffic day, mid week in June, and there were a couple minor rain showers. After the morning shower, things quieted down a bit, but after the 4 pm rain shower, the park seemed to clear, and stayed clear.

The longest wait DD1 and I had for any coaster was about 45 min. After the 4 pm rain, we went on another three roller coasters without hardly and wait at all. We did wait in line to get in the front car for the Millennium Force the second time around.

A neat thing happened the second time we went on that coaster. When you are on these rides, there are certain spots where your picture is taken. Then, you can go through a booth, and see what you looked like on the ride, and you can even purchase a picture for something like $18.

DD1 remembered exactly where that picture was taken. So, she made sure her hands were straight up in the air, and she had a brave, and satisfied look on her face. We took a look at the picture, and she asked me if she could buy it with her own money. I told her she could, if she would like to, but I thought it was a waste of money. I told her that two weeks, or even two days later, after she had shown it to her friends, that it would seem kind of silly to her. She opted to not buy the pic (YES!). I'm glad I left it up to her, and I'm also happy with her decision.

We ended the day with more family time, and left the park at about 7:00. All in all a great vacation.

DW's Freelance Project

July 14th, 2014 at 06:07 am

DW was fully and gainfully employed until DD1 was born nearly 12 years ago. She was an agricultural communications major at MSU, and she worked in the communications/writing/PR arena. She left the world of W-2 employment when DD1 was born, and took on the full-time task of raising children.

She began her own freelance public relations business probably six or eight months after DD1 was born. She would work on her projects when the baby, then babies were sleeping, or when I was home to care for the children. Most years she earned somewhere between 8-10K in income, after expenses. In fact, it was a freelance check that catapulted us into the world of finally addressing our debt problem. She received a check for about 11K in October 2010. We were woefully past due on a hand full of bills. We also had a mountain of debt. That 11K check allowed us to get current on all of our bills, and also take a big chunk out of our highest interest credit card. In fact, looking back, it was kind of funny how it worked out. We were past due on our highest interest CC. I think it was a day or maybe two after we got the freelance check, we got a letter in the mail from that CC company. They were offering us a deal. The int. rate on the card was, I think, 32.99%. The offer was that if we paid the past due amount, which I think was around $450, the company would cut our rate to 16.99%. We mailed the check that very same day, and our int. rate was cut nearly in half.

Once we were caught up on all of our past due bills, and got that CC back to current, there was a glimmer of hope that we could finally tackle this debt monster. I started posting to the SA forums, and six months after that, I started blogging here. Many of you know a lot of the rest of the story.

However, once we had four children under our care, DW was much too busy with children, and she stopped looking for freelance work, and that 11K check in 2010 was the last of of any freelance work, until a couple months ago.

One of DW's former direct supervisors works for another company now. He has a project that is just about perfectly suited for DW. He searched her out somehow, and and talked to her about this opportunity. The job involves interviewing people in the food industry - people who grow, process, and distribute food, as well as representatives from the state department of agriculture, and university agricultural researchers and educators. Once these individuals are interviewed, she will write reports about what they said.

The job is much too big for her to handle on her own, with her other responsibilities, within the time frame that it needs to be completed. So, she recruited one of her sisters, and a friend from college to help out. But, her part will be worth 7K. All of the pieces are in place, and she began working on the project this weekend. Our boys are in summer school this week, and our girls have bible school this week. So, she'll have about three hours each morning to work on the project. I'll give her the time she needs in the evenings, and weekends. It should work out well.

Although we're not behind on bills like we were in 2010, we still have a list seemingly a mile long for this money. And, I think she has an eye on a new printer for home. It does make sense to me that she use some of the freelance money for equipment used in her freelance business.

It also makes DW happy to get into the old groove of things for a while, too.

Generations

July 11th, 2014 at 07:08 am

I've noticed that a majority of the regular bloggers on this site seem to be Gen Xers, or between mid thirties and late forties in age.

Has anyone else noticed that? Am I mistaken? Or, are the blogs written by Gen Xers tend to be more the ones I follow, because I, as an Gen Xer tend to more identify with their situations in life?

I can think of several examples of regular SA bloggers who are Boomers, and a couple Millennials, but it just seems like a good majority are Xers.

Maybe because we're the ones that are at a point in life where we are in the beginning/middle of saving for retirement, kid's college, have a sizeable mortgage, etc? Or maybe it's something about our generation that draws us to blog on a site like this? Or maybe I'm mistaken.

Thoughts?

My retirement fund

July 9th, 2014 at 09:35 am

My July retirement fund value was just a bit more than $160,000. I looked back, and in February it was almost $143,000. That's a 17K increase in five months - average increase of $3,400 per month!

Good times.

Mileage Reimbursement

July 8th, 2014 at 07:07 am

I blogged, I don't know, a while back - maybe a month or six weeks ago, that we were having trouble keeping up with the expense of driving our sons to an autism clinic about 25 miles away.

DW waded through the maze of red tape, paper work, and phone calls, and finally got approved for mileage reimbursement to and from the autism clinic. We were also approved for mileage reimbursement to and from physical therapy twice per week for DS 2- that's 12 miles RT, so not such a big deal, but nice.

This is all covered through Medicaid - your tax dollars at work. Thank you.

There's a ready-made program in place for the tri-county area around metro Detroit. Those three counties comprise approximately half the population of the state. The other half of us not in the area have to work a little harder to get the benefit.

Fuel Oil Budget Plan

July 7th, 2014 at 07:45 am

If you've been following my blog for the past year, you may remember that we're on a budget plan with our fuel oil supplier, for our home heating. The cycle runs from the beginning of July, to the end of June. Our monthly budgeted payment was $220 for the past year.

This weekend, we received the year-end statement. Our balance at the end of the cycle was -$399.22, or we had payed about $400 more over the course of the year than we had used in fuel oil. That's more than $30 per month in over payment.

BUT, our new budget amount is $250 per month, a $30 increase. So, I'm sitting here wondering why our new budgeted amount is $30 more per month, when last year we overpaid by an average of more than $30 per month.

My assumption is that the company is forecasting an increase is fuel oil prices over the next year. And, they very well might be right. However, The winter of 2013-14 was the coldest winter in about 36 years! I have a hard time believing that we will spend $720 more to heat our house this next year than we did this past year.

Clearly, I need to call our supplier, and I will. I just wanted to vent my frustration first.

Life Insurance

July 1st, 2014 at 01:54 pm

I buy my term life insurance policy through my employer. When i first bought the policy about 10 years ago, I think it was for $300K or maybe even $350K. Back about 5 years ago, when we were struggling with debt, I reduced the coverage to reduce the premium. I'm not sure what I dropped it to, but I think $200K, or a bit less. When we got our debt problem under control, I didn't remember to increase coverage, until last week.

One of DW's FB friends is a recent widow. She's younger than we are, maybe early to mid 30's. Her post last week revolved around how she is in an on-line forum or group with other widows, and how she can't believe the number of widows whose husbands were not covered by life insurance prior to their death, and how their wives need to sell off property to get bills paid. DW's friend has received payment from a life insurance policy.

Even though I do have a life insurance policy, it is grossly inadequate. Even my previous 300 or 350K would be inadequate to cover my current salary, with now four children, two of whom we're planning to send to college.

The number I'm thinking is $750K. I had that number in mind, and took an on-line evaluation. It came up with (something like) $734,123.58. (seriously, $0.58?) But, we were close, so I'm leaning strongly toward $750K.

I'm not sure what it will cost. I tried to navigate my employer's HR website to increase the amount. I couldn't figure it out, so I sent an email message to HR. They are good at getting back within 24 hours. So I don't know for sure what my current coverage is - same website issue, but I'm fairly certain it's somewhere right around or just a bit less than $200k. I know it's costing me $9.95 per month. I can pull up my earnings statements from the web site, no problem.

If this group has any input about adequate coverage, I'd be happy to read any comments. Brief synopsis:

My salary is about $58K/yr.

DW does not draw a salary.

4 kids ranging in age from 4 - 11.

The eldest two kids will attend college.

I have a laughable EF.

DW is smart, and ambitious, and educated, but the preference would be that she not work until after the youngest child is 18.

Thanks for reading!