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End of March Update

April 1st, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Investments lost some money this month, so we are down a little in spite of making contributions.

401ks: $252,528
IRAs: $44,305
Def Compensation: $91,539

Total Retirement: $388,372

Taxable Accounts
SCHB ETF: 2,755
Fidelity: 84,824
Loyal3, TradeKing: $9,963
DRiP/DSPP Plans: $2,275
P2P Lending Accounts: 3,493

Total Taxable: 103,310

Total Investment Balances: $491,682

Total amounts invested this year:

401ks (including match): $4,187
Deferred Comp: $1,443
Schwab ETF Fund: 650
P2P Lending: $885
IRAs: $900
Loyal3, DRiP Plans etc (Taxable): $5,938

Total Invested: $14,002

Planning Ahead

March 17th, 2015 at 06:07 pm

It occurred to me this morning that it is really much more fun to tell other people what's wrong with the way the earn, spend, and invest their money than to sit down and make some of the hard decisions about my own money.

No seriously. Tell me what your next paycheck is going to be and I'll form a 100% correct opinion in the next 20 seconds. My own? Blah.

Next month is EXTRA PAYCHECKS month around here which means some decisions have to be made. This is my thinking so far.

Roth IRA Investment Account $1,000

Car Repair Sinking Fund $1,000 (we totally emptied this out a couple of months ago when all 3 of our cars decided to get sick the same week)

Peer 2 Peer Lending Investments $300 (This Investment Account continues to do quite well for me, still earning a respectable 8%)

Child 1, Child 2 .. $200 Money I'll put in savings in order to handle the next unexpected expense they throw my way

House Repair - $1000 Our Chimney Rebuild has been completed and now we move on to a driveway resurface project

Schwab Taxable Investment Fund - $300

Education - $1000 Tuition money

Total $4800. So a little bit toward several of our goals. No vacation or big spending sprees. Maybe putting it here will make it more committed. But I'll likely change my mind about 10 or 20 more times before we actually get the money next month.

I am at about 2310 Swagbucks. Has anybody else ever noticed how hard it is to earn the last couple hundred needed to cash out? But as soon as I get enough for a $25 Paypal, I'll likely be sending that to my Loyal3 Investment account.

Brokerage Activity

March 9th, 2015 at 05:00 pm

I received an invite last week to open an account at Robinhood - the new brokerage that has been receiving press for no commission buys and sells of stock. I wanted to give it a try, so we transferred money in and bought one share of Caterpillar Tractor stock.

I chose Caterpillar for a couple of reasons. It has a high dividend yield and has been trading near the bottom end of it's one year trading range. It has for a long time been on our lists of "Possible" to set up a DRIP/DSPP plan, but we've always passed on it because it has a particularly fee laden direct purchase plan with set-up fees and purchase fees and we prefer to choose no fee DRiP/DSP plans.

Our plan right now is to buy one share a month of Caterpillar for the foreseeable future, although we have no commitment to do so such as with an enrollment in some DRiP/DSP plans. We could also buy more than one share on any trading day, again with with no trading commissions.

My general impression of Robinhood this far

Advantage:

1. Relatively painless to set-up account, transfer in cash and buy stock. It even allowed me to set a limit on the Buy price which is something our Loyal3 brokerage account lacks.

2. Unlike Loyal3, which only offers an extremely limited number of stocks which can be purchased, nearly any US company that sells stock can be purchased via Robinhood.

3. Real time trading. A few other of the low cost brokers such as Loyal3 and the regular monthly purchase option at Sharebuilder employ batch trading, which means that you might need to wait a full trading day or more to sell your stocks, if you wanted to sell for whatever reason.

Disadvantage:

1. I can only trade on iOS devices. In their FAQ section they mention that an Android and Web Based method of trading is on their to do lists.
This is actually a big deal for me as I personally use an Android phone and tablet. I can only access this account via my husband's iPAD mini, which is often in my husband's briefcase and not readily available for me.

2. Ongoing concern. Many might remember the saga of another no fee brokerage from a couple of years ago - Zecco. They simply were not able to maintain the no fee business model and all their accounts eventually ended up at TradeKing when the two companies merged. Currently this is not a huge concern of mine as I'm only dealing with a small number of shares of one stock and I will not have a significant account balance for quite awhile.

This factor, however, is why I have no interest in transferring my other brokerage holdings TO Robinhood in spite of the fact that I could buy and sell those holdings commission free. If they are still around several years from now and things have gone well with them, I might consider a transfer. Until then I will have to deal with another brokerage, another set of tax forms and added complication of having money in several different accounts.

3. Robinhood does not offer automatic dividend reinvestment, although the website states it is also in their list of possible future benefits. Automatic Dividend Reinvestment is a strategy we often employ with our DRiP/DSP plans and with some other stocks we own such as Lockheed Martin.

4. Similarly they do not offer the purchase of fractional shares, although few Brokerage Accounts do. With our Loyal3 account in particular we often take the $10 to $15 we might have saved elsewhere (such as on the grocery bill) and use that to purchase a small fractional share of a stock such as Berkshire or Apple. The advantage of being able to dribble in $10 at a time is the HUGE strength of the Loyal3 brokerage.

5. No Joint account registration. This account is only registered in my name and not jointly owned by my husband because Individual Ownership is the only option available at the moment. Again, with such a small account balance it is not a significant factor, although I prefer accounts to be jointly owned with clear Beneficiary Designations in order to circumvent Estate issues should I kick the bucket next week. These are advantages to holding investments at the larger, more established institutions such as Fidelity. This is another reason I would not consider depositing large holdings with Robinhood for the moment.

Beyond Robinhood, we also made purchases at Loyal3 today. We added $10 to each of the following stock holdings at our Loyal3 account, for a total of $80: Apple, Google, Hasbro, Intel, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, Microsoft, Unilever.

A few of our DRiP/DSP are scheduled for automatic buys soon. Exxon, Pinnacle West and Realty Income.

March is an active Dividend month for many companies. I will be collecting dividends from several stock positions and we manually reinvest those that do not automatically reinvest into new or established stock holdings.

} { This Close!

March 2nd, 2015 at 03:51 pm

Well, we are almost half millionaires. I suppose we probably are if house equity and cars etc were included but I really don't consider either of those "investments" and I don't like to worry too much about market values of assets that are so illiquid that it seems pointless. We don't live in a "hot" real estate market. It isn't uncommon for houses in our area to take years to sell, so it's a good thing we're fairly happy living here.

I also don't consider the college funds we have set aside because it's pretty certain that all that money will be spent on tuitions. LOL

Investment Balances at end of February

Retirement Accounts

401ks: $253,454
IRAs: $43,743
Def Compensation: $91,216

Total Retirement: $388,413

Taxable Accounts
SCHB ETF: 2,633
Fidelity: 91,946
Loyal3, TradeKing: $8,870
DRiP/DSPP Plans: $2002
P2P Lending Accounts: 3,295

Total Taxable: 108,746

Total Investments: $497,160

We have been playing around with several calculators recently trying to determine just how we should structure our money in order to fund an early retirement. In other words, how to pay for those years before we can start tapping our 401k and IRA money. This is the main reason we have been saving so hard outside of retirement funds in recent years.

About the one concrete factor we can agree on is that we'll need a paid off house. Our mortgage is scheduled to dip below $100k balance in the next couple of months so we are strongly considering using a large part of our year end bonus monies to knock it out. With such a low interest rate I'm not convinced it is the best thing to do, but then again the stock market seems to be positioning for another one of those "corrections" so maybe a guaranteed return of debt payoff is better than Investing right now.


February Mid-Month

February 14th, 2015 at 11:25 pm

So far

Non-Paycheck Income

Swagbucks/Perk/Surveys etc $130.06
Credit Card Rewards $60.60
Storage Rent etc $67.97
Stock Dividends $10.46

Non-Retirement Investments made

SCHB ETF $290
P2P Lending Accounts: $260
Loyal3 Account and DRiP Accts: $1047.9
TradeKing Brokerage: $497.15

Balance of Retirement Accounts: $386,014
Balance of Non-Retirement Accounts: $102,039.56
Total Investments: $488,053.71

Note: I am really looking forward to breaking $500,000.

So far in 2015 our Investments have increased by $26,485. Of that $8467 has been from contributions and the remainder from growth.

Organizing DRiP Plans and Purchases

February 10th, 2015 at 06:20 pm

I have a few DRiP/DSPP purchase plans going and the one thing everybody complains about with these is keeping track of your cost basis. That isn't always so easy when you have little fractional amounts of dividends being reinvested every month. I've been doing it all on a spreadsheet but yesterday I started using the portfolio tracker at the CBS MarketWatch site. I spent a couple of hours inputting my history in and ongoing shouldn't be as difficult. Since I'm a numbers geek, that was actually kind of fun and as a bonus I got to put off cleaning the bathrooms because I was busy with important money stuff. I'll see how that goes.

Valentines Day this weekend which really is not my favorite holiday at all. I don't know why, after almost 28 years of marriage my husband and I cannot come to some compromise on this but we are always out of whack. I spend big, he doesn't. He spends big, I don't. Or we both spend big and then I spend the next month wishing we didn't have so much chocolate in the house trying to attach itself to my hips.

But whatever. I got him some sort of "Love Gift Pack" of 3 bottles from a winery and a set of Depression Era Glass Wine Glasses from an antique store. I've seen the credit card bill, I think we're about equal in outflows so hopefully it won't be another "But you didn't stick to the agreement!" holiday.

I received some money from surveys and a rent payment so I sent $110 off to my Loyal3 stock purchase account. This is how I divided it up

Berkshire $30
Coca Cola $30
Apple $10
Mattel $10
Intel $10
Unilever $10
Google $10

I am up to a whopping .1155 Shares of Google stock! I think when it gets to the point of owning one full share I might have the family celebrate with a Pizza Night or something. Woo Hoo we own a full share of Google!

Since our Tax Refund is going to be so much larger than expected, I also took $500 that I had saved up to replace our Furnace and A/C system this summer and bought 20 shares of GE stock in my TradeKing account this morning.

My P2P Loan accounts are going pretty well. Between Lending Club and Prosper I have a little over $3000 accumulated in there and it's currently generating about a 7% return. My returns are lower than many of the people who post at places like LendAcademy, but at this point in time I'm still sticking with the higher quality notes rated A, B and C which mostly return 7 to 10%. I haven't decided when I'll feel comfortable diversifying out into some of the riskier loan pools but likely not until it gets to over $10,000.

Ebates and Tax Estimate

February 6th, 2015 at 08:20 pm

Received $52.90 from Ebates today. Haven't quite decided where to send the money but it will go into one of the investment accounts.

We have about 90% of the paperwork we need to complete our taxes, and all of the major items like W2 forms and our Real Estate Taxes. So far our Federal Refund looks to be around $8k. This is mostly because I was extremely busy last December and didn't have time to look closely at all the numbers, so I had husband's company withhold a huge amount of his year end bonus just to be "safe." I guess I hit safe and then some. I haven't looked at the State yet but I've never gotten a huge refund or owed a huge amount on the State return.

The good thing about this is it should cover our heating and a/c system upgrades planned for this summer. Now I can move on to saving for some roof repairs and fixing up our driveway.

Since 2015 will likely be similar to 2014 in terms of income, I'm reducing our quarterly estimated payments.

Loyal3 Stock Purchases

February 4th, 2015 at 06:03 pm

I finished getting all my accounts reconciled in YNAB and my cumulative under budget amounts for the month of January was $223.

I made the following stock purchases in my Loyal3 account. In case you are unfamiliar, Loyal3 is a new-ish discount broker that lets you buy choose from a slate of around 50 companies and purchase small amounts with no commissions or fees.

They also let you purchase fractional shares. So you can buy a fraction of one stock for as little as $10. For instance, even though just one share of Google costs over $500, I am able to buy a tiny fraction of a share for $25.


Apple $15
Alibaba $40
Berkshire Class B (I hired Warren Buffet!) $25
Google $25
Hasbro $25
Kraft $18
Mattel $15
McDonalds $20
Microsoft $20
Unilever $20

I am attempting with this account to build balances in some strong Dividend Stocks as well as throw in a few Growth and Technology companies.

Some January Numbers

February 2nd, 2015 at 05:38 pm

Amounts Saved:

Retirement Accounts
401K - $1,182.92
Non-Deductible IRA: $300
Employer Match - $591.45
Voluntary Def Compensation: $477.8

Taxable Accounts:
Schwab: $200
P2P Lending: $300
DRiP/DSPP/Loyal3 $1,511

Some Balances:
Retirement Accounts: $368,421
Other Investments: $80,788
Emergency Fund (added $400) - $23,198.79
Furnace and A/C Replacement Fund (just started) - $481.65
Chimney Rebuild Fund - $2147.78

I have applied to start a new DRIP for HCP, Inc. The minimum starting purchase is $750, which I've set aside. However the plan only processes new purchases once a month so my account is waiting for the next batch processing date to fund. I didn't include that in my amounts saved since the money is still in my bank account. But I've already subtracted it from my register.

Unfortunately my husband's company stock has taken a huge hit this year which has reduced our Net Worth. It looks bad on paper but since we had no plans to sell the stock, hopefully it will recover sooner rather than later. The President was golden parachuted away in December and they are now in rebuilding mode.

My husband thinks they will have a much stronger year financially since they just picked up 2 rather huge contracts. There are rumors that the Dividend is going to be decreased next quarter which is important to my planning processes, since we use much of that Dividend money to invest in other places. We'll just have to wait and see what happens. Thankfully I dissuaded my husband from buying more Company stock within his 401K, which many employees have done. They are all kind of nervous now.

I have a 0% Discover balance that is due to start charging interest on the March statement so I will probably pay it off fairly soon. I like to pay those off far in advance so I can be certain the balance is at $0 well before the cut-off date.

For the first time in over 2 years, I don't think we'll have enough Fidelity Investment rewards accrued to cash out for investing this month. But EBATES is supposed to pay this month so I'll get some money there. I received a $25 Swagbucks payment right at the end of January so even with the bonus on the 5th, it'll be a bit of time before I can make a February cash-out.

The Uncertainty of January

January 21st, 2015 at 03:27 pm

This is kind of small in the grand scheme of things but January finances always drive me a bit batty. I'm the type of person that just likes to know in advance and plan and January is just that month of the year that you just don't know …… until you do

Raise
New Health Insurance Rates
Other Deduction Changes

So I never know exactly what the paychecks are going to be until I see them in the account. But thankfully tomorrow is the last paycheck of the month, and then I'll be able to plan all the future paychecks more accurately.

So I've been taking a poll of people around me. In January of this year, our State (Illinois) Income tax rate decreased. This effects everybody in the State who earns a wage.

Basically a couple of years ago our politicians passed an increase and sold it to the Public as a "Temporary Measure to Solve Our Fiscal Crises!" In order to make that look realistic, they put automatic rate decreases into the legislation that unless the legislature voted to extend the higher rate or make it permanent, the rates eventually drop down toward prior levels.

They then raised the state spending by amounts greater than the increase. And of course no politician who wants to be re-elected is ever going to say "I WANT TO RAISE YOUR TAXES EVEN MORE!!!!" to the voting public.

So here we are with even more spending and decreasing revenue, but everybody knows the Illinois government is in huge financial trouble. We don't need a poll for that.

But this is my thing. I have been conducting an informal poll of people around me and so far I've found 16 people who didn't have a clue that their state income tax rate increased, or that they've now decreased ….. and 2 who actually noticed.

Sometimes I think I'm probably overly anal about things like this but sometimes I just want to line the world up in front of me and scream: PAY ATTENTION PEOPLE!!!!

Meal Planning - 1/19 to 1/25

January 18th, 2015 at 09:12 pm

One of my resolutions this year was to try and get a handle on meal planning so we aren't constantly looking at each other around 7pm nightly wondering what we should eat.

And of course it's Jan 18th and so far it's failed, but I have managed to come up with a menu plan for next week. I've also started using the Pepperplate app to organize a shopping list. The helpful thing about using apps around here is that we can all put the apps on our devices and then whenever somebody ends up at the store, they can check to see what is needed.

But here's the menu

Monday - Vegetable and Cashew Stir fry with fried rice.
Tuesday - Crockpot Chicken soup
Wednesday (Son Cooks) - Homemade pizza
Thurs - Sausage Pasta and mixed Vegetables
Fri - Vegetable Fajitas
Sat - Caesar Salad w/ Chicken Breasts
Sun - Slow Cooker French Dip w/ Fries