December 6, 2017

Holiday gifts in 2017 and wish list

While we stopped buying Christmas presents in our little family, preferring to spend money on stocks to build our Someday Retirement portfolio and enjoying our fake Christmas tree, this year was an exception.

We hit Black Friday sales pretty hard. Online only, but it still counts.

We won’t cover the obligatory family gifts ($250) because they’re obligatory and we shop from wish lists anyway so little thought is required, except for a quick note to say that I’m apparently mellowing on this front. I don’t LIKE it and still think it should be eliminated because we’re also required to spend money on travel every Christmas due to where we live, but my heart is less crabby about it these days.

This must mean that my 2015 wish list has a check mark by Wish #3 – to be a Better Me. There are long held ill feelings that are finally starting to affect me less, and not being grouchy about the Christmas gifting tradition even though I strongly oppose it is a good sign. Oh AND I started liking guacamole! I’m allowed to stay a Californian! I do still want to be doing something more personally meaningful and btw lucrative, but that’s a longer term project. There’s still room for improvement, and that’s ok.

I gave us the (physical) gifts of …

Cast iron! Our last two nonstick fry pans have been A-W-F-U-L and I refused to replace that last one for a few months because dammit, they should last longer than a couple of years! In a nod to Katy at The Non Consumer Advocate who extolled the virtues of cast iron, we located a 12-inch Lodge cast iron pan (with scrub brush and grippy handle thing because we are both idiots who WILL grab hot cast iron with bare hands). This should, once we read up on how to properly take care of it, last us decades!
Total: $30, and we stop ruining the environment with crappy nonstick pans

Power on the go! My 3.5 year old charging pack is on its last legs, barely taking a charge, so loathe though I am to replace it already, replace it we did. I resisted the urge to go for the super-powered 26900 mAh pack at twice the price, and picked up the more economical and compact 10000 mAh pack which is still more than I was getting before.
Total: $26

Data storage! This is where we splurged – I went for the 8 TB drive for long term digital storage. I’ll keep our 120 GB hard drives as backups to the backup for critical information in case this drive ever fails. It would be heartbreaking if we lost all our financial and photographic files.
Total: $164

Nice holiday photo cards. I almost got away with cheap Walgreens photo cards, using a T-Mobile affiliated code for 75% off, but unlike their photo prints, their standard photo card prints are unbelievably bad. I briefly debated taking them because I loved the simple design and $15 for 40 cards was under budget but they looked awful and even I hesitated to send them out. These may be PiC’s passion, I didn’t think I cared about their quality, but $15 on crappy product is a waste of $15. Instead I combined sales and promos at Shutterfly to get nice cards that neither of us will be embarrassed to sign.
Total, $50

and the financial gifts of …

Points! Chase thought they could dangle a 100,000 Ultimate Rewards point promo for closing a mortgage with them, and then fail to credit us? Oh no no no, you do not know who you’re dealing with, foolish bankers.

It took 4 emails, 7 phone calls, 3 inquiries, and 6 months to run them to ground, but those delicious points are in my account for future travel.¬† We’re going to be traveling with points and miles most for a few years while we recover from the mortgage.

Savings! The very second those points arrived in our account, having been held hostage for an additional two months, I laid out our ten step plan to liberate our cash from Chase. The cash was wired (free courtesy of our temporary status as Chase Private Clients) to our savings account, there to earn 1.25% APY until our next stock purchases are selected.

Investing (but on hold)! The market being what it is, I’m hesitant to commit to any particular stock right now but we’ll pick something in the next several weeks.

More savings (a second recast)! I speculated that our money would be tied up through December or January but the second those UR points landed, an email was launched to Chase to start the next recast approval process. I’m crossing my fingers that it’s approved Very Quickly.

Last, a little wish list

There’s still a handful of things I want but can or must wait for: a working Kindle, a trip to Japan, another trip to Australia, yet another trip to Italy, also to Hawaii and New Zealand… a second dog. Fleece and flannel pajamas (one of each and with pockets, dangit!). But none of these make it onto the Christmas list for this year.

My focus is putting together an office that isn’t a children’s sized maze of boxes and puzzle pieces, so more organizational pieces like shelving and some good baskets or containers are needed. Room enough for an actual library or a piano remains a far fetched desire. ūüôā

I’d still love to get Seamus that Costco bear, or something that size. It would blow his mind!

PiC is a simple man. He likes basic clothes like shirts without JB-torn holes in them, and tools I usually find with deals and coupons, so he’s set.

JuggerBaby has so much already, there’s nothing ze needs other than our love and attention. Lots and lots and lots of attention. It almost makes me wish we could have had a second child after zir 2nd birthday to play zir Boon Companion. The age difference would have been perfect, zir favorite cousin is around that age. It’s close enough to adore and engage with and ze adores small children. But now it feels like even if we could manage another pregnancy (physically, or the very real monetary costs for help), the age gap would be too big. Ze wants a companion to actively play with now, not a baby to care for like ze enjoyed earlier. This is all speculation, anyway. Our plates are full right now.

:: Is there anything on your wish list? Did you find or get any spectacular gifts yet?

December 19, 2016

Holiday gifts in 2016

2016 holidays: What we'd like to give and what we are givingI’m not big on Christmas gifts like I used to be. I used to overcompensate for loneliness and being poor by trying to give as many gifts as I could, wrapped and tied up with a nice bow.

These days, I have as healthy and happy a family life here in the Bay Area as I could hope for, and supportive friends all over.

I still love giving gifts but only when they’re truly meaningful, usually practical, and serve a purpose in the lives of the recipients rather than taking up room, gathering dust, or being regifted because who needs a fourth coffeemaker in their kitchen? I know some people have go-to gifts they give everyone for simplicity’s sake – I give books, for example, but can it please not be a huge, clunky, appliance that only one person in the family can actually use?

At this point in life, my money wants to go toward retirement investing, building our real estate empire, and helping people and animals.

Fantasy gifts: if money and space were no object

$290: Seamus would get the 93-inch plush bear from Costco. Currently on sale for $260. It’s a tossup whether he would sleep on it or tear it apart. Probably both.

$70: JuggerBaby would get this magnetic tiles set. But ze would have to donate or pass along at least three other toys.

$290: I would get this Kindle Oasis. Just kidding, I don’t need all that flash. I’d get the Paperwhite for a third of the price. (But the Oasis is so LIGHT.)

$5000: PiC would get that super fancy bike he admires from afar and we’d get a sitter twice a month so he could go on super long rides on the weekend.

$2000: We have five favorite daycare full time teachers, and five part time teachers or support staff, who have been amazing with JuggerBaby. They’re warm, caring, attentive, all things that make it possible for us to leave zir and work on the weekdays. We’d love to be able to give them each a substantial thanks.

$5000: There are several charities I’d like to support with more than just a small bit of cash.

Reality gifts: because money does matter

$250: Family gifts. I think all but $50 of this is frivolous and we should skip doing it altogether but we have yet to convince the family of this so here it is. The remaining $50 goes towards clothing for the kids so I don’t mind that, since we all pool the clothes we use and pass them along.

At least $100 of that $250 will be gift cards that I purchased at a 4% discount, using GiftCardGranny. The second $100 will mostly be covered by a gift card we received, and the last $50 was covered by gift cards that I earned through Swagbucks and the Carter’s Rewards from last year’s gift purchases. Most of these gifts won’t cost much out of pocket at all, I’ll just have to wrap them.

$75 + $100: The daycare organizes gifts for the center by way of contributions from parents, requesting $60-75 per child, per family. They pool it, then split it across all the teachers and staff at the center. We give the $75, which works out to about a dollar per person, but we’re also going to give some small token of appreciation to our favorites. A card, and perhaps a small gift card? I’m not sure yet but we have about a day to figure this out.

Making new traditions

While I work towards a gift-free holiday season, PiC and I splurged on our own Christmas tree for our home. We went with an artificial tree, to my inner sadness because I miss the smell of a fresh new tree, but the deal was good enough for what we were looking for. We found it at Target, originally $67, marked down to $42 which was covered with a gift card. Add a couple strings of lights and a few ornaments, and voila, 4 weeks of wintery, Christmassy cheer in our living room.

It feels very splurgey, we don’t typically spend money on decor, but it’s a long term happiness thing.

:: What are your favorite winter holiday traditions?¬†Do you typically exchange holiday gifts? What’s your perfect gift to give or receive?

December 11, 2013

All I want for Christmas is a great stock portfolio

PiC was relatively unimpressed when I announced that our Christmas presents this year were going to be Costco stock.

“… I like Costco….”

Yup. So do most people I know. ¬†Fun fact: Costco apparently ed to keep offering mainland prices when they opened up their Hawaii stores. This was from a Hawaii-based friend. We’ve shopped there and while I won’t say all the prices are still on par with mainland prices, they’re pretty close. For a place that easily charges 3-5x more for basics than the mainland, that’s not bad.¬†

I’ve been on the hunt for an addition to my tiny portfolio, so I started thinking over the businesses that I’ve tracked over the years, as well as the businesses we frequent. If we’re consistently willing to spend money at a business that has a strong foundation and cash flow, it makes sense to consider them as a stock holding after some research.

I’m looking for stocks with dividends this round and Costco (COST) fits that bill. Their fundamentals looked tolerably good, though the ratios are on the lower side compared to some other stocks that are flying high.¬† I will admit that my working knowledge of the market is pretty rusty after spending enough years sitting on stocks and not doing a lot of research. It makes Evan’s Investment Club an attractive idea; you’d think this was like riding a bike but apparently I was never that good at riding bikes/stock picking!

I decided the number of stocks I wanted (based on how much cash I had on hand, honestly), the price I’d be willing to pay and set a GTC (good til canceled) stop order at that price.

My portfolio is currently at TradeKing (referral link gets you and me $50) which has been great for my style: simple, low-cost at $4.95 per trade, easy to navigate and good information resources. I buy and hold, reinvest dividends, and balance growth and income stocks.

::Update: I’m now the proud owner of COST. PiC remains slightly indifferent.¬† ūüôā


June 20, 2011

Showering Together, Women of the Ages

Borrowed from a free Owly comic, one of the most expressive non-verbal books I’ve ever had the pleasure of “reading.”

My oldest friend, measured by years we’ve known each other, not by her age, was feted recently.¬† She’s expecting her first baby and we both traveled fair distances to meet each other for this event.¬† I can’t remember the last time we were able to spend time together.

That’s always been the story of our friendship, actually.

We met as children of primary school age, then separated by district lines until that same bureaucracy funneled us back into the same schools.¬† Through high school we remained good friends, despite sharing few classes.¬† We had little in common other than a drip of superficially similar background but we fit like two bits of puzzle without jostling,¬†always kindred spirits, always loyal,¬†no matter how long since last contact. ¬†It’s the kind of relationship that doesn’t needa crisis or a reason¬†to¬†prove that it exists.

In the years following, her faith and our lives have taken dramatically different directions and yet neither of us have felt any distance grow between us.  No moss has overgrown our friendship; no differences diminish the value of our connection.

And so, with the coming of her baby ever-imminent, PiC and I headed down south so I could spend this joyful time with her. ¬†Now typically, I’m a bit of a groaner when it comes to these things. ¬†I hate them, to be honest, having been to so many bloodless affairs.¬†Wedding and baby showers can tend to become gift grabs when all and sundry are invited, fancied up for the look of the thing, and frankly, I tired of it long ago.

But this shower was a labor of love by her other closest friend who hosts beautifully and thoughtfully.  The guest list was a small, curated mix of close family, family friends, and dear friends, and the mum-to-be was able to spend good quality time with most of the attendees such that everyone who traveled was able to share some wisdom and laughter.  The food was delicious Рalways important Рand plentiful, and the guests all seemed relaxed and comfortable.

She and I saw the guests off and stayed well after to help clean up, spend time with the hostess and her family, and we later packed her gifts for her travel back. ¬†Despite being quite far along, she was doing the dishes while I¬†cleared the table,¬†dried the dishes, and¬†watched the kids.¬†Clearly, my friend is not a brat and we’re still a good team. ¬†We later spent a good half day together catching up and running other errands.

I spent $100 on the shower, for gifts on and off-registry, lunch, and gas (because she generously offered to be the driver during our post-shower bonding time), not counting travel costs to SoCal. We noticed that it’s a funny thing with babies that people can’t resist buying all kinds of things so you go off-registry so easily. ¬†Guilty.

But, look, I’m not going to get to see my niece or nephew related by long-time friendship much so I have to start the nerding-by-osmosis early and often: books and bonds! ¬†My favorite gift to the baby was a black and white Owly book. Mama-to-be says black and white is supposed to stimulate the baby’s brain. ¬†Favorite gift for me was Mama-to-be assuring me that yes, if I *had* gotten her child superhero underpants, the baby would have worn them. ¬†(Guess what I’m going to buy next?)

I also brought back a few offers to help with wedding planning from old friends I hadn’t seen in ages which was really generous and a possible line on other wedding related stuff.¬† It was one of my best trips back down south in a really long time.

December 18, 2010

In this season, think of others

In any season, I think it’s appropriate to think of others, actually, but this is particularly timely for a few reasons.¬† My good friend and fellow blogger J. Money of has been toiling long and hard on this fantastic project called LoveDrop.

It’s a micro-giving network intended to target people in need, one person or family per month, and surprise them with a bundle of financial gifts and other assistance.¬† This started as very much a grassroots campaign, so although it’s not a not-for-profit organization and your contributions aren’t tax deductible, it’s for a very good cause.¬† The project officially launches on January first, but it’s certainly open for people to purchase a subscription and get involved.

The group does have to pay taxes so the ratio of your contributions breaks down as follows: 50% to the recipients, 20% to taxes and 30% to organizational overhead.

Score one for transparency, and ten points to these guys for pursuing their passion of changing the world, one ‘drop at a time!

And to add to the mix, just as I completed the last touches on this post, I heard that LoveDrop co-founder and friend J. had been fired.¬† Frankly, given all the projects in his head that need birthing with so few hours in the day, it couldn’t have happened to a better man. So consider supporting the cause and becoming a member because wouldn’t it be fantastic to help one of our own realize a dream of making the world a better place?¬†¬†

December 6, 2010

Christmas Wrap DIY

*** Whoops! Meant to post this before I left! ***

Half of our Christmas shopping is done, and now that I’m business trip-bound for two weeks, the other half must rest on PiC’s shoulders lest we shop on the week before Christmas. I’m awfully proud of the bit that I accomplished, though!¬†

Some time ago, I’d discovered the lovely Lesley of GeekSoap fame, and I was bound and determined to share the wonder of Geeksoap with my friends for Christmas.

Turns out, most of the soaps I ordered are now wrapped for PiC’s friends because somehow, he’s infinitely less geeky than me and still gathered more geeky friends around him.¬† Our dynamic continues to baffle me.

At a nearly standard soap size, these lovelies don’t merit a whole box. I have small boxes, they’re not nearly that small.¬† For the folks who only get one bar (one lucky fella’s getting four), I decided to repurpose odd-sized wrapping paper to craft my own gift bags instead of running out to buy them at $2 a piece or a pack.

Armed with a Swiss Army and glue stick, it was all pretty much executed by eye and estimation.¬† There was at least one major gaffe where I forgot to account for the fold at the bottom part of the “bag” so I had to glue two squares together because I’d gone and carefully cut out perfectly estimated squares that would perfectly surround the soap.¬† Those bags didn’t have enough paper to fold over like above, so I popped a couple holes in using a star shaped hole punch leftover from crafting days and tied it shut with a ribbon.

The post-it will be replaced by a sticker, surely, unless it’s going to one of my friends in which case it’s an inside joke to just address gifts via post-its.

August 16, 2010

Am I ready for Christmas?

The Season?¬† No, probably not. In Calvin And Hobbesesque logic, I haven’t had a summer yet so it’s not allowed to become fall or winter. Nevertheless, Christmas and the associated gift-giving season (it’s preceded by a number of birthdays, mine included) is nearly upon us.

It’s already mid-August and I’m trying to decide if I’ve adequately covered Christmas gifts for the year.¬† A couple weeks ago, the outlook seemed good because I was at Con and Con is where all Christmas shopping happens!

But now that I take a second look at the gifts I bought, that’s actually not the case.

I’ve got a good start on Comic BFF’s Christmas and birthday gifts, but still need about 4-6 more comics.
PiC’s birthday gift is set, but I still don’t have a fab Christmas gift yet. (Perhaps it’ll be a Making Greece Happen next spring by not taking any more days off between now and then?)

That’s pretty much it. Amazing how shopping over 4.5 days made me feel like I’d accomplished a ton – I’ve still got at least 4-5 more people to buy for, probably.

And, taking a lesson from last year, I’m going to insist PiC hand over his Christmas list by the end of the month because I’m not having a repeat of the post-Christmas shop fiasco wherein we were shopping the night of his gift exchange.

Is anyone else thinking about this yet?

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