May 24, 2017

Chase is throwing money at us

and I’m more than happy to accept. I’m rubbing my hands in at least a little bit of glee.

After interviewing a few lenders, I’d chosen to go with Chase’s mortgage lending because we were in touch with a very hands-on and responsive banker. I had dreaded the process, of course, and of course it was three metric tons of paperwork, but this was by far the best lender I’ve ever worked with. Not intended to be an advertisement, by the way, I was just pleasantly surprised.

Armed with my PF money hunting spear, I hunted for all the promotions I could find once we were reasonably settled on a mortgage, and lo, Chase Bank has been willing to provide! I have turned up some riches!

It’s not more than a drop in the bucket compared to what we’ll be paying but this isn’t chump change.

With a $25 deposit, I opened a Premier Plus checking account and then PiC opened both Total Checking and Savings accounts. We’ll keep all three accounts open for six months, then take home $650 in bonuses! But I didn’t stop there, oh no. Then I’ll set up the automated payments for another $595 which makes a grand total of $1245.

All the fun details are below if you want to join in some of the money-grubbin’ fun. 😉

I’ll keep looking for more money to shore up our accounts before the hemorrhage begins!

These bonuses will be taxable, so I’ll set aside a portion of it just like I do with any other freelance income. I should note that I don’t LOVE Chase as a bank so I’ll be closing these accounts after 6 months and going back to my old stand-by bank. This is just enough money in bonuses to be worth taking the time.

The promotions

Chase Premier Plus $300 Bonus

  • Open a new Chase Premier Plus Checking.
  • Deposit $25 or more at account opening.
  • Set direct deposit to your Premier Plus Checking within 60 days of account opening.
  • Chase will deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days.

Fine Print

  • Keep your account open for 6 months, or they’ll take back the bonus!
  • The $25 Monthly Service Fee is waived when you keep an average beginning day balance of $15,000 or more in any combination of this account and linked qualifying Chase checking, savings and other balances.

Chase Total Checking $200 bonus and Chase Savings $150 bonus

  • Open a new Chase Total Checking Account
  • Deposit $25 or more at account opening.
  • Set direct deposit to your Total Checking within 60 days of account opening.
  • Chase will deposit the bonus in your new account within 10 business days.
  • Open a new Chase Total Savings Account
  • Deposit $10,000 or more in new money within 10 business days, and maintain a $10,000 balance for 90 days

Fine Print

  • Keep your account open for 6 months, or they’ll take back the bonus!
  • The Checking $25 Monthly Service Fee is waived when you do at least one of the following each statement period: Option #1: Have monthly direct deposits totaling $500 or more made to this account; OR, Option #2: Keep a minimum daily balance of $1,500 or more in your checking account; OR, Option #3: Keep an average beginning day balance of $5,000 or more in any combination of this account and linked qualifying Chase checking, savings and other balances. Otherwise a $12 Monthly Service Fee will apply.
  • Chase Savings has no Monthly Service Fee when you do at least one of the following each statement period: Option #1: Keep a minimum daily balance of $300 or more in your savings account; OR, Option #2: Have at least one repeating automatic transfer of $25 or more from your Chase personal checking account (available only through Chase OnlineSM Banking); OR, Option #3: Have a linked Chase Premier Plus CheckingSM, Chase Premier Platinum CheckingSM, or Chase Private Client CheckingSM account. Otherwise a $5 Monthly Service Fee will apply. A $5 Savings Withdrawal Limit Fee will apply for each withdrawal or transfer out of this account over six per monthly statement period.

Chase mortgage $595 bonus

  • Have an existing or open a new Chase personal checking account
  • Enroll in Chase’s automatic mortgage payment service. The mortgage payment will be automatically deducted from the Chase personal checking account. Payments must go directly from a Chase personal checking account to the Chase mortgage and not be managed by third parties
  • Enroll the new mortgage in paperless statements. All promotion requirements must be met within 60 days of closing.

Fine Print

  • Customers get $595 cash back after closing a purchase mortgage with Chase.
  • This offer is only available for new, residential first mortgage purchase loans submitted directly to Chase.
  • Customers must enroll in the $595 Cash Back promotion online within 60 days of closing with the E-coupon code provided in the Welcome brochure.
  • Applications received after March 26, 2017 are eligible for the $595 Cash Back promotion.
  • Property address must be included with the application.

Chase mortgage + Chase Sapphire Reserve cardmembers!

Thanks for the reminder, Mrs. BITA!

This one is on hold for us because our mortgage application was started before the promotion was live, but our banker opened an investigation to see if they could still give us the 100,000 points. We should find out this week. Cross your fingers!

:: Have you found any worthwhile promotions lately? 

May 22, 2017

Life talk: Always see Option C

At work and at home, I’ve been working a method of getting a desirable outcome. I present JB with choices, any of which that I would be ok with, which gives zir some options but not unlimited choices.

This works perfectly for organizing work group events when everyone has an opinion – I narrow down 50 choices to my top 3 that are the best cost, easy to work with, and catered to the most diverse tastes. Any of the 3 would be fine and the group gets to weigh in on the selection in a sensible manner. Win win!

Ten years of wins. Naturally, when I try it on my child, the results … well. You’ll see.

In practice…

Me: you may hold the leash in the middle, or you may hold my hand.
JB: *thinks for a long minute* Up, please.

Me: Do you want oranges or pears?
JB:  Stah-berries plz!

PiC: You can either walk with me or you can hold mama’s hand.
JB: Hold Gigi (Seamus) hand!

It turns out that JuggerBaby is the absolute champ at refusing to be limited, or manipulated, in zir choices.

The wonderful thing about teaching a sometimes-savage small child to be a civilized human being is what we learn in return.

You don’t have to take one of the two obvious options. Think about what you really want.

It’s fine if you want one of the options on offer but many of us don’t realize there’s more than what you can see.

I definitely didn’t want to be a stay at home mom if we had kids. I also didn’t love the idea of being a working mom the way my mom had been: doing everything for everyone except myself, plus working 15 hour days. It took such a toll on her, and I wanted my parents to be in my life more than I wanted anything they could buy me.

For years, I knew the happy medium had to be out there, though I didn’t know what it looked like. I assumed that I would be the working mom and PiC would be the stay at home dad. He was willing to entertain the notion, but we stayed in CA, and even moved to the most expensive possible region so going down to one income while I was still supporting my own family wasn’t possible.

Based entirely on faith, I kept working at having more than two options, trying to foster the right circumstances for C to come along when I needed it.

As it happens, it did!

I earned enough seniority, autonomy, and respect to get some serious flexibility. That’s what the gold ring was: flexibility to make the right decisions for our family based on what we need, and not just what the boss demands.

Our option C kept changing, and that was good

My work situation is flexible enough that I don’t have to go to the office five days a week and spend 13 hours a day there like I used to. I can preserve that commuting energy for taking care of my family, taking time out for myself to write here, or check on friends and make sure that life doesn’t just pass us by. I’m grateful for that. I’m grateful for the choices it gave us:

We had JuggerBaby and the nanny search failed miserably, so I transitioned into a working from home mom for a year.

Then we had childcare but we still juggled a combination schedule because we wanted to save money.

Saving that money meant that we could more comfortably afford full time childcare when that time came. Full time childcare in these here parts is heartbreakingly expensive if you can’t find a spot in one of the cheaper in-home situations, and assuming they’re good.

Thank goodness that even though I had no idea what going off the usual path would look like, I prepared for the possibility and stayed open to it.

:: Do you take the road less traveled in your life? What choices did you make that were out of the norm? What traditional choices work best for you? 


May 15, 2017

On the home(buying) front: SF Bay Area eccentricities

Househunt 2017: buying in the SF Bay AreaWe’ve looked at dozens of homes online and in person. We started working on this in February. By mid-March I was pretty sure that nothing was going to come onto the market that we wanted. We didn’t even see anything worth making an offer on until about April.

Oddly, this made me feel better about the process. Probably because it gives us more time to save!

We’ve done our preliminary budgeting and number crunching, though I did it again for every house that we made an offer on.

Together, on the advice of our broker, we wrote up our list of must haves.

She advised us to write our entire list separately, and then combine them to get our top 3 picks together. We were very Gift of the Magi on this one – PiC prioritized a better microclimate for me, I prioritized a maximum distance/commute time for him. It turns out that I don’t actually want the better microclimate anymore, which is a frugal win, because I’ve gotten used to the year-round fog and appreciate that we don’t need central air! My fibro has actually adapted to the colder weather these past few years, so warmer weather is not longer good for me. Blasphemy from a sunny SoCal gal but there it is.

We’ve now submitted multiple offers and a pattern has emerged.

  1. The $$$$$ option is to pay through the nose for an essentially finished home and live with it for a decade, making no changes because we cannot afford to, no matter how gaudy or stupid their upgrades were. And my goodness some upgrades are stupid. There’s the fully remodeled kitchen that had no oven, sold for $1.1M. There’s the “fully remodeled” house that might maybe have electricity but nothing else, listed for $989,000.  There was the perfectly perfect house with a microwave smaller than a chihuahua and stairs that would kill me inside of a week, sold for $1.2M.
  2. The $$$+$$ option is to buy a fixer upper and live in a construction zone for the next five to ten years as we slowly earn the cash to pay for remodeling or do it ourselves.

Debt averse as I am, the second option was the lesser two of evils. Not by much, but still the lesser. I think.

Our process and discoveries this far:

We got a recommendation for a realtor from our friend, and we love her for her honesty, responsiveness, and willingness to go the extra mile for us. We were traveling recently and she did big video walkthroughs for us so we could view homes even while we were gone.

1. Pre-underwritten loans
Our broker connected us to lender who would approve and underwrite our loan before we even had a property identified. That’s huge so when you make an offer in this market where even fixer uppers that need A TON of work are getting 10-15 offers. It allows us to remove the loan contingency.

2. This leads me to the no-contingency buyer.
We are finding that many prospective buyers are making offers with no contingencies and that’s knocked us out of the running when we have any contingency at all, forget it if you have two contingencies!

The three common ones are the loan contingency which you need if you only have a preapproval and not a fully underwritten loan, an appraisal contingency (which protects you from being committed to the offer until you know that the appraiser is assessing the property to be worth at least as much as you offered, since they will only lend based on the appraised value), and the property condition contingency for you to take a look and be sure that the place is in the shape you expect. I might have gotten that name of the last one wrong.

3. A common thing that’s done here in the SF Bay Area that I haven’t seen elsewhere is the seller often does the property inspection, the buyer doesn’t.

On the one hand, it sucks that you’re locked into the inspection company that the seller chooses but a good broker will tell you if the company is reputable or if you should get another inspection. The upside to this is that I love getting the property inspection reports with the seller’s disclosures so I can make an offer that takes into account the condition of the whole place, not just what I think I saw, and there are fewer surprises.

4. More cash is better.
Well, duh. No, I mean strategically: I found that it was more comfortable to make offers that might be over the appraisal a touch only if we had an extra 20% in case over and above our expected down payment. It’s not great, but when every house has more than 10 offers, it’s helpful to be flexible where you can afford it.

We had intended to buy in 5-7 years, if at all, so our cash reserves are net as hearty as they would be if we’d waited. The benefit of being as diligent with our money as I am, though, is that I’m one of the few people that can be offered a personal loan by a couple friends who can afford to lend it and know that I will, without a doubt, repay them immediately on the sale of our present home. This is something I never would have looked for but they knew of the situation and offered it as a way to help us bridge any temporary gaps in funding. On the one hand, it’s a huge responsibility, but on the other, I know they never would have made the offer if they didn’t have absolute faith in my judgment and discretion and that faith is based on knowing how I’ve managed our money for the past decade. The work really does pay off. 

:: Which route would you pick? Are you a DIY expert or a DIY avoider? What remodeling or renovations would you feel comfortable tackling? 

Disease Called Debt

May 8, 2017

On the home(buying) front: making the numbers work

HouseHunt 2017: the budgeting process I’ve been crunching the numbers constantly and noisily. And I do mean constantly. It’s a morning, noon, and night sort of hobby.

Taking on a new mortgage when we were within 5-7 years of paying off this one was not in the list of dreams I held for 2017. Not even close!

Buying in the Bay Area is a stiff proposition. Competition is fierce, people are making all cash or no contingency offers right and left, it’s easy to get caught up in the fervor. But not I!

Even ignoring the desire to retire early, which is quite a bit further away once the new mortgage happens, there are serious constraints on our ability to buy. Which is to say, I refuse to stretch ourselves beyond our means.

Budget considerations

First things first. Ignore what the bank tells you that you can “afford”. We all know that the bank only cares about the money it’s going to earn off your loan.

This is what I did:

  1. Set my top comfort level limit. There’s a number that would just make me run for the corner, gibbering. I absolutely won’t buy a home at that price.
  2. Ran the numbers based on that limit: 20% down payment, loan amount, possible monthly payments and total loan cost.
  3. Looked at how much the new mortgage would cut into our monthly and annual savings, assuming all other costs stay the same: investing, utilities, daycare, food, gas, travel.
  4. Then I looked at how that total number stacks up against the regional comps. This was a bad comparison – our number was not competitive at all. Instead of increasing our number, I adjusted our expectations of what we could get. Adjusted = dropped the bar to the floor.
  5. I had a moment of madness where we checked to see if we could increase our pre-approved loan limit but then I came back to my senses. It wasn’t worth it.
  6. I asked our prospective loan officer 30 questions: what products they offered, the loan terms, and how much they charged to recast the loan, if anything. After deciding which of the lenders was the best fit for our needs, I gathered all our paperwork – oh so much paperwork! – and started the loan process.

We now have a somewhat reasonable range for making offers and I’ve got a fleshed out spreadsheet to work our numbers in for each time we plan to make an offer. I also asked our insurance provider to give me a quote for coverage based on an equivalent property to what we’re hoping to find.

This means I can quickly calculate our monthly, annual and life of loan costs, taxes and insurance, and see right away if we’re making a totally unrealistic commitment. This also means I can see that our “reasonable offers” are laughable in this market. But I do NOT care. We’re going to make this work.

Helpful tip 1: Even when they say you’re fully underwritten and you can proceed with making an offer, you might still want a loan contingency because the early underwriting process isn’t the final process. Things can still change.

Helpful tip 2: Be careful about what you do with cash and your accounts that they’ve already assessed. It’s a huge pain to have to explain pretty much every transaction that you make between the time they approved your loan and when you get to closing.

Helpful tip 3: It should go without saying that you shouldn’t be running out to spend a whole lot of money after an offer is accepted and before closing. Not that you should spent a boatload after closing, unless you’re so flush with cash that there’s literally no use for that money but spending. But before closing, the important thing is that the lender can decline to fund your loan if your assets drop enough before closing.

:: Have I missed anything important in this early stage? 

Disease Called Debt

April 26, 2017

Seamus: the dog who’s practically perfect 

Veterinary issues aside, and we have had MANY, Seamus is as near to perfect a dog as we could ask for. He often tricks me into thinking we could have another dog – if only we could duplicate what makes him so perfect!

This month has been a roller coaster of trying to treat an eye problem that stubbornly refuses to respond to the normal medication regimen. If he doesn’t improve by the end of this week, we may have to take him to an eye specialist. This doesn’t come at a good time for our money, of course, nor is it a good thing for him because if it gets worse, it gets a lot worse.  I don’t think he or I could take any more misery – he’s sad enough that he won’t even destroy his new plush toy! As a canary in the mine goes, the canary is mostly dead.

I spent days on Seamus Don’t-Rub-Your-Eyes!-Watch until I found this KONG Cloud E-Collar. It’s the first version of an e-collar that hasn’t made Seamus go gorilla-mode and rip it to pieces. Apparently the Cone of Shame is one humiliation too many for the otherwise perfect pupper.

Don’t get me wrong – this looks ridiculous too, enough so that JuggerBaby insists that we take it off for his walks: “No pee-yo!” But it’s soft and he doesn’t hate it with every fiber of his being. It also doesn’t catch on things and serves as a useful bumper when he veers too close to walls and furniture with his rheumy eyes. When the Velcro is loose, he knows that he can take it off and use it for a pillow if I’m sure he won’t rub his eyes. All in all, the best $14 spent this month. In addition to the $450 in exams and medications. :/

Meanwhile! Rather than fret myself to pieces waiting for healing to happen all week, I’m choosing to focus on why I adore him.

Endless patience, plus boundaries

He allows JuggerBaby to festoon him with necklaces, or blankets, or lean on him affectionately. He puts up with a certain amount of rudeness, that ze is immediately reprimanded for by the adults, without more than a blink or two. But in all of his tolerance, he doesn’t stick around long enough for zir push him to the point of being angry, or even irritated. When it’s clear that his fur might be ruffled, he simply and calmly gets up and leaves.

Snap your fingers obedience…

If he understands your command or intent, he obeys immediately. Try shouting stop to him at his most focused on something else moments. I field tested this the other day when he threw his own ball into the middle of the street, as I held back a flailing JuggerBaby from chasing it too. I hollered STOP NOW and boy if that dog didn’t skid to a stop like he hit an invisible brick wall! It was better than a crash test dummy situation, and for my blood pressure. I’ve seen dogs chase their balls into the street and right under the wheels of an oncoming vehicle, it’s the worst sound in the world.

You can trust him with your food at all times – he doesn’t touch your food when he’s told to “leave it.” I’ve literally put his food in front of him, told him to wait and stay, left the room, and come back later to find him standing in the exact same position, gently wagging his tail with a smile. Just waiting, as told! This is

… and helpful to boot

When I was pregnant and half mobile, he learned to come over to lend me the strength of his steady back, so I could lever myself up. The habit’s stuck with him. When he thinks I’m too sick to get up, he comes over, sniffs my head and offers his back for me to get up.

Sweetest of dispositions…

There’s not a thing that could make Seamus do more than rumble at me when he’s grouchy that I refuse to feed him three meals in an hour. I’ve clipped his nails, cleaned his ears, wiped his bum, examined every inch of his body right side up and upside down, bathed him 4 times a week battling his allergies, and brought home a surprise infant. He’s never fazed or anything but loving and loyal.

In the course of his tenure here, he deferred to Doggle with the greatest respect, and never ventured to do more than snuggle by his side since Doggle didn’t know how to dog.

Despite constant little provocations, Seamus has never reacted poorly to any of JuggerBaby’s pokes, prods, or licking. The most he’s done is rolled his eyes at me in a mute appeal for help, with his ears slightly flattened. Part of this is because he knows I’m alpha and will intervene so he doesn’t have to lash out but really, getting my toes pinched or my ear tweaked would irritate me more than he’s ever shown. It DOES, in fact, since ze does that to me too.

… and protective as anything

Don’t come near his sibling, though, being loud or raucous. Ze might be an obnoxious little twerp sibling but ze is HIS sibling.

And don’t come to our house being rowdy, banging on the door, that’s completely unacceptable behavior and his booming barks let you know without a doubt that he doesn’t tolerate that nonsense. His booms surprise me, even, it’s rare to hear them!

I love my dog.

:: Regale me with tales of your favorite beloved pets, would you?

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