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:

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

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:

Have at it!

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…

Travel Travails – part 2

unitedI posted about my recent trip to Calgary the other day. My flight back to Denver, on Monday, was cancelled due to weather. I was at a movie when the text came on my iPhone. They provided me a link to their website, but no phone number to call. It’s not that easy to navigate the internet on a small screen and, like many companies, United does everything to keep you from actually calling them. Finding an actual customer service phone number is like finding a needle in a haystack!

Anyway, I did manage to call and after about $50 in roaming charges I was able to rebook on a flight the next day. Note to self: bring enough meds for an extra day or two. (Some family members lost their passports in Egypt a few years back. This was shortly before Christmas and the embassy was closed a lot. Their trip was extended by TEN days before they were able to get the passports replaced and get home. And it was almost longer than that.)

Tuesday morning the roads were terrible. I didn’t want to leave for the airport until I knew the aircraft I was flying on was actually going to arrive. It originated in Denver that morning and I had already made sure that it had arrived in Denver from Detroit Monday night. It kept getting delayed out of Denver, waiting for an inbound crew which, subsequently, was delaying my 11:46 am flight out of Calgary. But I was still expected to arrive at the Calgary airport an hour before my flight was “supposed” to take off.

That’s crazy!!

The road conditions were atrocious. The weather was bad. Why would I risk leaving for a flight when there was a reasonable chance it would be delayed or cancelled? Anyway, we headed out the minute we saw that the flight had actually taken off from Denver. I got to the airport more than an hour before my flight was supposed to leave, but not with much time to spare. Of course, I had tons of time before it actually left…

Lesson #2 – keep the airline’s customer service number handy.

Lesson #3 – bring meds for extra days.

213,000 Miles/Points Earned in 2014

Last year we earned 161,000 miles/points. But we used up SO many miles in 2013 that, we ended up going from a balance of almost 500,000 down to 167,000.

I figured it would take a full year to get back up to my comfort level of having a balance of 300,000 miles/points. I was right. But, we managed to get there and we even had enough to spare so I could book a post-Christmas trip to Calgary using miles. ;)

Here’s a summary for the miles/points we earned in 2014:

Ink Bold – 36,681

MileagePlus – 35,613

Explorer – 50,830 (of which 10,000 were bonus miles)

Sapphire card for me – 46,103 (of which 40,000 were bonus points)

Sapphire card for Jay – 44,031 (of which 40,000 were bonus points)

Total: 213,258!

Our spend of $81,624 was about $6,300 less than last year, but we earned around 52,000 more miles/points thanks to the bonus points from our Sapphire cards. Next year, I hope our spend will be even less – though I’m not sure it will be as I’m switching a couple of large payments from online checks to our credit cards. I’m certain we’ll accumulate fewer miles/points as I’ll be waiting another year to try and apply for new Sapphire cards. Hence, there will only be our usual 10,000 bonus miles from our Explorer card.

I’m also contemplating cancelling our MileagePlus card. It’s an old card and I’ve been reluctant to cancel it as it’s the only United card that gives you 2X miles for groceries and restaurants. For the two of us it costs $140/year for card fees and I have to decide if the 12,000 extra miles we earn are worth it. I’m leaning towards no. It doesn’t renew until April, so I have awhile to think about it and won’t cancel until then, anyway.

Paying Homeowners Insurance by Credit Card

homeowners insuranceSome time ago I posted that Denver county started to accept credit card payments for property taxes in 2014. I’m hoping that Arapahoe county follows suit. In the meantime, about 18 months ago I had made a request to the company that holds our mortgage to allow us to pay our homeowner’s insurance by credit card vs. them escrowing it for us. I want the miles!

Our mortgage was relatively new, having a) just bought the house in 2011, and b) having refinanced within the first year. They told us they needed us to have made a full year’s payments before considering.

So, I resent my request a month or so ago and, voilà, last week I received a letter saying they were no longer escrowing insurance or property taxes. Now I really hope Arapahoe county starts allowing credit card payments for property insurance! Without the escrows, our monthly payment drops more than $800. Yowza – our property taxes are high!

Spiral Ham for $1

cheap hamI’ve posted before about getting meat that has been improperly priced before. It rarely happens, but I’m always on the lookout - just in case the clerk made a mistake labeling the meat.

Well, it happened again this week. I was at Costco and was checking out the spiral hams. The price was $2.49/lb and I was hoping to find a small one. However, they were all somewhere around 10 lbs and $25/each. I really only checked a handful of labels, looking for the smallest one, when I turned over a label that read $1.

Yup! $1 for a .4 lb ham – except it was every bit as big as all the other hams. Easily 10+ lbs! I put it in my cart, wondering if the clerk would have something to say about it.

I looked at a few more labels, but didn’t see any more mistakes. (Lest you think that I would go through all 100+ hams in the section, I’m not that fervent (especially about ham). Plus, I hurt my shoulder recently and am not about to mess with it further by hoisting 10 lb hams around.)

Anyway, the clerk didn’t even notice the abnormal price when I checked out.

I was tickled!