I Think I Want a FitBit

fitbitI’m not much of a gadget person, but I think I want a FitBit. :o My birthday is coming up in a little over a month, and there’s nothing much on my want/need list. In the meantime I will ponder it.

And, I’ll see how much I can get one for. I’m looking at the Fitbit Charge. They retail for $129.99 pretty much everywhere they’re carried. I can’t easily avoid sales tax as most of the places selling them have brick and mortar stores in Denver – which is fine, since I’ll want to get it locally in case there’s a problem or I want to return it.

I will probably get it at either Bed, Bath and Beyond or Sports Authority. I can go to TOPCASHBACK and then buy discount gift cards for either store at
Buy, Sell, and Trade Gift Cards at Cardpool.com!

And I have coupons for both stores. The Bed, Bath and Beyond coupon is for 20% off. The Sports Authority coupon (from the Entertainment book) is for $20. Depending on the discount I get on the gift card, I’ll probably be paying between $92 and $95 (before tax) instead of $129.99. That’s a pretty decent savings!

I’m leaning towards getting it at Bed, Bath and Beyond because I shop there pretty regularly. If, for any reason, I return the FitBit, I will end up with a gift card and a gift card from Bed, Bath and Beyond is more valuable to me than one from Sports Authority.


Know Local Mailbox Locations

mailboxDo you know where local mailboxes are located? Not necessarily at the post office, unless that happens to be as convenient location as any, but mailboxes located near businesses/places you regularly go to.

Years ago I put a check in our mailbox, setting the red flag up for our mailman. Then we went on vacation. By the time we got back someone had stolen the check out of the mailbox, called our bank to verify funds (possibly numerous times), “washed” the check and rewrote it to themselves for as much money as possible ($5,000).

It took weeks to get resolved. An investigator came to our house. The bank at first “loaned” us the money before making it official. Our account had to be closed and a new one opened. It was a massive pain in the butt. And, ultimately, the bank took the hit on the $5,000.

Since then, I’ve rarely put mail in our mailbox, especially if it contained a check. Luckily, with online bill pay, I rarely have to write checks anyway. I now try to pay attention when I notice a mailbox somewhere on my regular route. There’s one at the library. There used to be one at the rec center I go to (and now work at), but that disappeared last year. There’s one a mile away that I pass almost every day. And I noticed last week that there’s a new one outside Costco, somewhere I go almost every week.

Knowing where a number of convenient, easy-to-access mailboxes are means I don’t have to put mail out for our mailman to get. And, based on what I’m doing on a particular day, it’s easy for me to plan where to drop it off at.

Rebalancing the 401K

401kA substantial amount of our net worth is tied up in Jay’s 401K. He puts in just enough to maximize his company match. It’s been years since he originally picked the funds that the money is allocated to and it definitely needs to be rebalanced. About 63% of the funds were in one of the riskier, aggressive stock funds.

So, at the beginning of the year we specified that all new contributions go into Vanguard’s 2025 Target fund. We also moved about 15% of the existing funds out of the aggressive fund into the Target fund. And we’re continuing to do this on a weekly basis, moving a small fraction so that by the end of the year another 15% will have been moved.

We picked the 2025 Target fund even though Jay is probably going to retire closer to 2020. But we don’t expect to need the money until 2025. Also, there’s a chance that he’ll keep working past 2020, especially if he can find a way to take time off without pay. If, however, it starts to look like we need an even more conservative position, we’ll move the funds from the 2025 Target fund to the 2020 Target fund.

Rebalancing his 401K has been on my To Do list for awhile and I’m really glad we’re finally taking action. ;)

Keeping Track of Costco Discounts

net worth spreadsheetI’ve decided to track Costco‘s sales cycles, so that I’m buying stuff only when it’s on sale (as much as possible). I was hoping to find some websites or blogs that laid this out in detail, but haven’t had any luck. So, I’m creating my own spreadsheet.

Here are the items that I tend to purchase that are on sale in January:

Kleenex
Ziploc freezer bags
Aveeno (although I think I’m going to switch to Costco’s body lotion)
Ink
Toothbrushes
Tape
Vitamins and supplements
Sponges

In addition to keeping track of the items that go on sale, I’ll have to keep track of how much I use over the course of a year. That way, I’ll know how many to buy when they do come on sale.

7,500 Customer Care Miles

Mileageplus_newlogoAfter all the troubles I had with United on my recent trip, I emailed customer care to complain. As a result, they added 7,500 ”goodwill miles” to my account. Didn’t give me too many warm fuzzies, but it’s better than nothing.

I would have appreciated a club pass to replace the one I used in Denver, too. But I pursued the issue and got something and I’m moving on. Live and learn. And think hard about scheduling a trip to Calgary in the bitter winter.

Going Through Pantry, Fridge and Freezer

januaryAs part of my January “purging” spree, I’ve already gone through my pantry, fridge and freezer and thrown out expired food.

Now I’m on to stage two, where I’m eating, using up or giving away the remaining non-expired food we’ve somehow acquired. This includes the half box of graham crackers and the Hershey chocolate bars left over from a summer camping trip. (I’ll probably throw the opened bag of marshmallows away.) When I was a kid, I used to love graham crackers with milk for breakfast. So, I’ve had this for a snack or lunch a few times. Yummy and nostalgic, it’s also like a shot of insulin – so it’s a good thing they’re all gone! The chocolate bars I’m eating a piece (or two) at a time. They should be gone in a couple of weeks.

I’ve accumulated many boxes of herbal tea over the past couple of years. Some came in a gift basket from a friend when my Dad died. I’m trying to drink a cup of tea every afternoon or evening – either peppermint or Sleepy Time. But I can’t stand spice teas or Chai tea or vanilla flavored ones. So, all those went to our son’s girlfriend this weekend.

Soon, everything in the pantry, fridge and freezer will be “staples”, items we eat regularly, things I use in my tried and true recipes. Over the course of the year, when trying new recipes, or when the kids are staying with us, or as the result of entertaining, I’ll accumulate extras and, next January, I’ll do the big purge again.

Understand Merchant Category Codes (MCC) to Maximize Credit Card Rewards

Credit card rewards (whether cash back, miles, points) are often based on Merchant Category Codes, known as MCCs. For example, my Chase United MileagePlus card earns double miles for groceries, gas, dining and home improvement. My Chase United Explorer business card earns double miles for travel, dining, gas and office supplies.

How a purchase is categorized is based on the MCC associated with the merchant and is spelled out in the fine print of the credit card features/benefits.

For example, I’m looking at the BankAmericard application that came in the mail recently. The rewards for this card are 2% cash back on groceries, 3% cash back on gas, and 1% cash back on everything else (with quarterly limits). If I go to the fine print on the back of the application, I see that “Eligible merchants and the associated MCCs…are the following: (a) Grocery Stores (MCC codes 5411, 5422, 5441, 5451, 5462, and 5499); and (b) Gas Stations (MCC codes 5541 and 5542). Purchases made at a merchant that does not process transactions under these codes will not qualify and you will not receive the bonus cash rewards.”

The trick is to figure out what the MCC is for a merchant you shop at and make sure you use the card that maximizes your rewards. This comes with experience and research. Asking the cashier what their MCC is will usually not get you anywhere! ;)

Reviewing your year end statement, which breaks purchases into categories (at least with my Chase cards) is very helpful. That’s how I discovered that purchases at my local Target (which has a grocery section) and Walmart are categorized as groceries. Handy to know!

There’s also this handy website which tells you exactly what the MCC is for any “supplier” that takes VISA:

https://www.visa.com/supplierlocator/index.jsp

Have at it!

2015 Entertainment Book for $10

entertainment bookI hadn’t decided whether or not to purchase this year’s Entertainment Book. I would never pay the $35 regular price, but when I got an email this morning saying it was on sale for $10 (free shipping), I didn’t hesitate. I will save two to three times that amount just using their Regal theater coupons.

The sale ends Monday, so don’t delay. Go to www.entertainment.com

Checking Expiration Dates

expiration dateHaving just returned from a visit home I am, once again, reminded to check the expiration dates on the food in our pantry. This, after finding that the mushroom soup I planned to use in a recipe I was making while up there expired in 2011.

I’m not saying that food has to be thrown out the second it’s past the expiration date – like at least one of my kids seems to feel. ;) However, I do not want any of them to stumble upon cans that expired four years ago, let alone four decades ago – something my friend discovered last summer when clearing out her father’s house.

I don’t like waste. And we waste very little. But I did find, and throw out, a can of beets and a container of beef stock. Other than that, everything is well within its expiration date, and are all items that I will unquestionably use in the coming months. My pantry does not overfloweth, something I may regret it in the event of a nuclear war…

No Raincheck, Thank You

king soopers produce adI went to King Soopers yesterday. One of the items on my shopping list was mushrooms. I had a beef burgandy going in the crock pot and needed to add mushrooms shortly before serving. The 16 oz packages of mushrooms were on sale for $2.99 (regularly $3.49).

And, of course, they were out of them. The guy in produce told me I could get a raincheck, but I explained that I needed the mushrooms today and asked if I could substitute two 8 oz packages, which were not on sale and priced at $2.19 each. He said to tell the checkout clerk that he, Tony, said that would be OK.

When I got to the dairy section, I saw that they were out of the skim milk that was on sale for $1.99. (Honestly, Sundays are the worst day to grocery shop.) Luckily, an employee was there stocking one of the cases and he went to the back to get more. What had other shoppers done – just shrugged their shoulders and bought the $3.39 milk instead? I grabbed two and put them in our freezer. If it’s still on sale next time I go, I’ll grab another one or two.