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Couponing? Maybe Not

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I had big plans for this post.  I was going to finally update my net worth after many, many years.  Alas, my computer is at the spa, aka the Genius Bar.  My left shift key decided to retire early and so my computer is in the shop being repaired.  Thankfully, I bought the extended warranty when I bought the laptop, so it should cost me exactly zero dollars.  My favorite price.  Let’s hope that’s still true when I go to pick it up.

Instead, I will be talking about something that gets a lot of attention in the personal finance and frugality world – couponing.

I am TERRIBLE at couponing.   I’ve considered going all extreme couponer and trying to pair good coupons with good sales and create a stockpile of things.  And instead of stockpiling, I would be able to donate a lot of it to the local food banks.  Everyone wins, right?

That plan lasted approximately three days.  Couponing is not for the weak of heart.  I am impressed with anyone who manages to do it.  I cannot do it.

No, instead, I try to use coupons like mere mortals do.  I clip coupons for items I use and then put them in an envelope in my planner to use when I grocery shop.  I have a cool coupon organizer that I fail to use. I put coupons in it and then forget to check it before shopping.  That’s not how coupons work.  In fact, I can see it sitting on my desk and it’s probably filled with coupons from last year.

My coupons all live mashed together in a single paperclip.  The goal is to use the good ones before they expire.  To me, a good coupon is for something I regularly use, be it canned soup or cleaning items.  Preferably for things that I can stock up on without them going bad quickly.  And yet, 90% of the time, my coupons end up expiring before I use them.  Every so often, I plan properly and the coupons get used.  But it’s just not something I’m good at.

I’m sure part of it is that I’m cooking for myself, so I don’t really meal plan.  I cook maybe once a week and then eat or freeze leftovers.  Other meals are created from previously frozen leftovers.  It’s a system that works well for me, but it means that I don’t do a ton of grocery shopping.  Maybe one big shop a month.  And that’s when the coupons get used.

I’m going to try to be better about it though.  I may not be able to always match up coupons and sales, but I should make a point to use my coupons when I do that monthly shop.  They do add up.

Now I’m off to clip this weekend’s coupons.

Being Prepared for Anything

Last week, a coworker was checking her bank statement and discovered that her most recent paycheck was short.  Significantly short.  As she had worked the full pay period and hadn’t made any changes to her withholdings, this didn’t make sense.  So she immediately pulled up her paystub (ours are all available online).

Somehow, her exemptions (both state and federal) had been reduced to zero.

Obviously, it was none of my business, so I didn’t ask how many allowances she normally claimed, but this change was enough to put a huge dent in her paycheck.

No one can explain to her why this change was made.  She had just filed her taxes, but got a refund, so there was no reason that her exemptions would need to be changed, at least from the government’s point of view.  She hadn’t gone into the system to make any changes.  It sounds like it may have just been a glitch somewhere.  On the positive side, she will get this money back.  On the negative side, she won’t get it back until she files her 2014 taxes next year.

Of course, she has the option to make a change in her withholdings again so that her next paycheck is high, then change the withholdings back to her normal level.  And if she were in dire straits, I’m sure that’s exactly what she would do.  But that requires more than a little bit of work.  So it sounds like she’s just going to deal with it.

Thankfully, her financial situation is such that this isn’t going to mean she won’t be able to pay her bills.  Ultimately, it means that for this pay period, instead of putting her standard amount into her savings account, she will be pulling a bit of money out of her savings to cover the loss.  But she’s lucky that she has that ability.

I take two lessons from this experience.

Number one, always check your paycheck.  Is it high or low?  Look into that.  Find out why.  I think that we all would immediately do some investigating if our paychecks came back low, but would we research if they came back high?  I know I would, but I think a lot of people would just consider it some sort of windfall and leave it at that.  But what if that windfall is actually because your withholdings got messed up and while you get the money now, you’re going to have to pay it back to the government come tax time?  Probably something you should know now before you go spending all of your money on plane tickets and fireworks.

And of course, the second is to make sure that you have an emergency fund or some sort of savings to cover you if something like this happens.  This isn’t the normal sort of emergency you would think about when considering uses for your emergency fund.  No one got sick or lost their job or had their house fall down around them.  No, there was just a simple computer glitch that meant the government kept more of her paycheck than anticipated.  If she lived paycheck to paycheck, this could cause some huge problems.

Remember, of course, that your emergency fund doesn’t have to be huge.  Of course, the goal is to get enough money to have a number of months of expenses set aside (a quick survey of the internet says this should be anywhere from 3 months to one year’s worth of expenses).  But that’s a lot of money.  I don’t even want to think about what one year’s worth of expenses actually calculates out to be for me.  But we can all try to set a little bit aside every paycheck.  Even if it’s only a few dollars.  It’s better than nothing.  Try to get to one month’s worth of expenses.  Or try to get to $1000.  And then go from there.  Save yourself from an emergency caused by a computer glitch.

Housing Prices

As I have mentioned before, my immediate family is all still out in my hometown in Smalltown, Midwest USA.  This past week, my sister bought a house in my hometown.  Well, she put in an offer and it was accepted.  Closing isn’t for another few weeks, but the deal looks good.

I haven’t seen the house yet, obviously, but from the listing, it looks pretty fabulous.  A little bigger than mine, with way more property.   It’s also about 40 years newer and looks amazing.  (Of course, all houses look amazing from a listing.)

And the price?  Less than half of what I paid for my house.

Ouch.

Yes, that’s the joy of living in an expensive part of the country like the Washington, DC area.  Of course, it is true that my salary is higher here than it would be living in Smalltown.  But it’s not twice as high.  So I am a little bit jealous of what money buys there.   I can’t help but think what I would do with the extra money.  Travel, home improvements, the list is endless.

It’s funny, when I am visiting my family and accompany someone to the grocery store, I can’t help but marvel at how cheap the groceries are.  And suddenly, it makes so much more sense that I find myself spending more on groceries than other bloggers no matter how hard I try.  Things are just more expensive here.

But that’s something I accepted when I chose to move here.  I knew that life was going to be more expensive, from housing to utilities to groceries.  And it’s been a good choice.  Sure, it would be nice to be closer to my family, but I like where I live.  I like my job and I like my friends and I like the house I bought, even though it cost me a pretty penny.  And there are perks to living in an area like this.  Where else can you regularly get stuck in traffic due to a Presidential motorcade?

Oh, wait, maybe that’s not a perk.  But it’s a fun fact, I suppose.  And seeing the Capitol every morning on my way to work is pretty darn cool.

And hey, if I ever decide to move, the money I get for my house, even if it’s less than what I paid for the house, will go a whole lot further in a cheaper part of the country.    Maybe when I’m old enough to retire.  In 50 years or so.

The Many Benefits Of An Online Casino

[This is a guest article]

When the first online casinos opened a decade ago, many people were skeptical about the fairness of the games that were available. Now that the industry is regulated by entities like The Nevada Gaming Control Board and there are major casinos with both physical and online presences, people have become more comfortable with using online casinos to gamble. Currently, more than five million people worldwide use online casinos on a regular basis, spending roughly $11 billion each year.

Online casinos have a wide variety of different games to play, often more than what can be found at a physical casino. For example, the online casino at http://www.norskespilleautomater.com has hundreds of different types of slots machines available, including those based on popular shows like South Park and old favorites like monsters and pirates. Most games are dressed up with fancy graphics and sound effects, much like real slot machines. These slot machines are created by some of the biggest names in online gaming and work the same way as the ones found in physical casinos, so you can jump right in and begin playing.

You do not have to worry about your personal safety with an online casino. In my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, a man who spent the evening gambling at our new local casino had his winnings stolen by a group of criminals that followed him home from the casino. He was held at gunpoint as his home was ransacked and his possessions were destroyed. While he lost his money and had his home violated, he luckily escaped with his life. Using an online casino means that your winnings are safe and can be electronically transferred to your bank account when you are ready to cash out.

The convenience of being able to play the games from the comfort of your own home may be the biggest appeal of playing at an online casino. You can be seated in a comfortable chair at your computer, lounging on the couch with a laptop, or entertaining yourself in a coffee shop with a tablet. If you want to stop playing to get a drink or go to the bathroom, you do not have to worry about someone snagging your machine before you get back. Playing at an online casino means no driving, no parking, no walking, and no dealing with annoying people. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Rising Interest Rates?

Last week, I was listening to news radio on the way to work (side note – when did I become the person who listens to the news rather than a fun morning show?).  They were discussing interest rates and a recent comment from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen that interest rates could start to rise in the US in 2015.

It’s a good sign – it means that the Fed seems to think our economy is improving.

If the Fed raises rates, that will make all other rates start to rise.  As a saver, it’s exciting to think that the interest rates on my accounts might start to rise.  I miss the days of the high yield savings accounts and high interest rates on CDs.  I used to regularly keep my savings in a CD ladder, but haven’t bought a CD in years because the rates were terrible.  Significantly worse than my savings accounts.

For example, right now, my Capital One 360 Savings Accounts have an APY of 0.75%.  A 12 month CD from Capital One is at 0.4%.  Of course, my savings account APY could drop at any time to below 0.4%, but the yield is so low that I am not worried about the risk.

Of course, I took advantage of these low rates.  I bought a house and then refinanced it when rates dropped even further.  My 30-year fixed mortgage is locked in at 3.875%.  When I was looking at refinancing, I was cheering the drop in interest rates.

While it feels a little selfish to be hoping for a rise in interest rates now that higher rates benefit me again, that’s the way the market works.  I would love to be able to start my CD ladder going again.  It was fun to see how much I was earning by saving.  And the added rewards made saving even more appealing.  I used to make it a point to transfer as much money as possible into the high yield savings accounts.  Now that that yield is so low, I’ve started keeping more cash at my brick and mortar bank just because it’s easier.  The work isn’t worth the rewards.

For now though, it’s just wait and see and hope that the economy continues on an upward trend.  Because it’s not just about my personal wealth.  I want to live in a country with a strong national economy as well.

(Though a growing savings account would be a sweet bonus.)