Monday, November 27, 2006
Read your loan terms and conditions CAREFULLY.
After a much-needed Thanksgiving Day trip to see my dad and brother (and some good friends), I feel much more ready to take things on. I'm still probably going to post sporadically while I'm in work deadlines, but I'm not feeling nearly as overwhelmed.

Which is good, because I had a challenge to deal with today. I decided last month to make a loan payment before the grace period was over, thus chipping away at my interest. This pushed the due date for my payment up by another month. So I assumed that my payment for this month, the first scheduled withdrawal, had been pushed up as well. I wanted to keep making the payments, so I sent one in yesterday evening.

When I checked online today (because I am obsessive and check my balances at least every two days), I discovered that I'd had TWO loan withdrawals. After a call to my member services department, I discovered that the withdrawal would start on schedule no matter when my payment was officially due. The MSR agreed to reverse the withdrawal on the second payment, and I agreed to wait for automatic withdrawals in the future. Fortunately there was no real harm done. If I'd been less vigilant, however, I could have found myself overdrawing my accounts by a lot. The moral of the story is to know how your financial institution will collect your payments, and proceed accordingly. And if you aren't sure, ask.

On a lighter note, I did NO Black Friday shopping this year. I needed to help my brother out with something that kept us away from the malls, and also visited a friend. In fact, the only money that I really spent on my trip was for cab fare to and from my local airport.

I did do a bit of shopping yesterday. My family has a tradition of giving White House ornaments to each other every year. Last year, I discovered another set of commemorative ornaments that are similarly designed and often prettier. So my aunt and I made a trip down to [Restored Historical Estate] to purchase this year's model. When I got there, however, they had a two-pack of older ornaments on sale for $8 less than the current-year single ornament. And the current year never completely sells out, so I expect to be able to pick that one up at a discount next year. So I picked up the two-packs for a couple of people, along with some foodie gifts for some family friends. My aunt, bless her heart, bought LOTS of ornaments and some books for her parents, who are big history buffs.

I love not having to stress over shopping. I'm still not quite done, but I'll easily find everything else I need in the next four weeks. And this year, I get to stay put while my family has Christmas in town. So no extra travel worries!

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Friday, November 17, 2006
I have been REALLY sick.
As in, I had last Friday off. I could theoretically sleep in and knock out the cold. I was STILL on the couch for most of the weekend and stayed home Monday and Tuesday as well. And then I spent the rest of the week trying to catch up, and am still only about halfway there.


On a brighter note, I managed to get a submission into the Carnival of Personal Finance over at A Geek's World. I'm not the most regular contributor to carnivals. I'm forgetful, but I also don't want to contribute a less-than-personal-best post just to get some link traffic. But I felt that my post on life lists as shortcuts to estate planning was sufficiently on-topic, specific, and actionable to send on in. I also really liked The Finance Buff's post on Open Enrollment (as I'm dealing with it myself), Dogberry's comparison of 529 plans for the Dogberry family's OWN tax situation, and Tired But Happy's feelings about (not) planning for inheritances.

Also, I had my full annual review a few days ago. Despite receiving a mid-year (and completely unexpected) promotion, I still received a raise and a small bonus. Two raises in a year is quite all right by me. The bonus is mainly going to be funnelled back into my emergency fund. While ideally I would replace ALL the money I took out for my car repairs, if I can get $800 from "extra sources" (bonuses, gifts, and tax returns), I'll probably let myself go back to a normal contribution schedule and focus more on my downpayment fund.

And now, to catch up on still more work.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006
Finding what you need when you need it.
The Frugal Duchess offers up a worrisome post about upselling in the funeral business. While I've never had to deal with anyone pushing video presentations on me, my family was shocked at the prices of a lot of the services that go along with having even a relatively simple funeral.

We did figure out one way to save money, though. The suggested urns were priced in the hundreds. And I thought about how my mother loved her Delft tobacco jar that she'd purchased in Colonial Williamsburg and had given it pride of place in our front room for years. "Dad, I think she'd get a kick out of it." And with a minor fee for the seal, we had a lovely and meaningful urn.

Now that I've been reading these blogs for several months, I've decided that it's not that coincidental that I really started paying more attention to my finances at the same time that my mother declined. She had planned to draw up a will, but couldn't find an attorney that would come out to meet her and was in no state to leave the care center, nor, eventually, the hospital. The one saving grace was that most of her assets had direct beneficiaries or gave my father right of survivorship. It could have been an even more difficult time for us otherwise.

So over the past few months, I've assigned my financial assets to my father and brother. That doesn't do much good, however, unless I tell them how to track them all down. I know some people have detailed binders that keep track of every possible contact and contingency, but I wanted something simple that would fit on a single sheet of paper and allow my family to deal with my affairs if anything should ever happen to me.

And so I developed the life list.

I've generalized and redacted the presentation here, but it explains the general organization. It lists which accounts I have active, the account number, and the contact information for each account. (As a general rule, I find "contact us" URLs best because they'll also include links to common questions. For my retirement and life insurance, however, I included a link to the PDF of the form required.) Then I provide an as-of-date balance, and the beneficiary. If someone would get the account based on standard order of preference, then I refer to them as an automatic beneficiary. If I actually filled out a payable on death form or something similar, then they are listed as an applied beneficiary.

Loan accounts are similar, with the obvious exception of the beneficiary field. Again, all balances are as of a certain date. I update this along with my net worth spreadsheet.

And finally, I provide a list of my current utility accounts. Although my rent and my car are not "standing accounts," I also include them here. My state's DMV offers instructions about how to dispose of plates and titles and how to change resigstration, so I include links to that and to the county website.

This is no substitute for careful estate planning. My goal for next year is to procure an official will and better documentation of my holdings, but knowing that my family has a copy of this list will make it much easier for them to take care of eventualities.


Monday, November 06, 2006
The insanity has not abated.
So I'm still going to be kind of spotty round these parts. I am still checking out posts for the upcoming roundup, so feel free to drop me an email if you think I might have missed yours.

At any rate, I was pleased about one thing. Despite pulling money out of savings for my car repair and reducing the value of my car by $100 (it's already below the KBB "fair condition" estimate and was fully repaired, but I wanted to account for the accident), my net worth IMPROVED by a few hundred dollars.

Thanks, big runup in my retirement account!

Thanks, loan payment that is no longer negligable!

Also, before my father left this weekend, I finally gave him a copy of the life list. And I dropped off my last POD form at my credit union today. Except for one account I've decided should go to my brother, he's now the named beneficiary on all my financial accounts (or the automatic beneficiary, in a few cases). I still need to do a proper will, but at least my financial assets wouldn't have to go through probate if something were to happen to me.

And if you're in the U.S., remember to vote tomorrow! If nothing else, it will be the END of those appalling ads.

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Thursday, November 02, 2006
Tearing my hair out.
I have five different projects going on right now at work. I have family in town. I'm trying to plan for the holidays.

The long and the short of it is that I won't be doing much blogging this week. I do need to update my net worth calculator, so I'll probably do that tonight.

So I'm not completely off the bandwagon, here's a quick tip from last night.

My family, as I mentioned, got tickets to [Famous Performing Troupe]. It was located downtown very near [Mezze Restaurant], so we went there. In the midst of ordering our various dishes (yay for small plates variety!), I quickly looked at the drink menu. They offered a pomegranate cocktail that looked pretty tasty.

To get a glass? $8. To get a carafe that poured a drink and a half for all five of us? $24.

If you do choose to drink while dining out, consider carafes, bottles, and pitchers.