Thursday, August 14, 2014

As Billy Joel said, "I'm Moving Out!"



There is no such thing as an easy move unless you are in a college dorm!  But then you may have had your parents helping you so you were not alone.

For the past two months we have been going through each room and storage area in the house and just shake our heads at how much we accumulated in almost 14 years in our home.  That is not counting the other 16 years of living in our previous home where the contents came along with us to our current one.

As I have now stated to anyone who will listen, there is no such thing as "What If?"  I will no longer say that we have to save something because what if we need it later? What if the kids want to see the cards they sent us when they were in Kindergarten?  What if I gain weight and I need to wear my old jeans?  What if I need that 40th basket or glass vase?

Out it all will go but at least we were able to donate so much to some organizations which do need those things.

Cleaning out is not only tedious and dirty, it is back breaking and neck hurting. Not to mention that I cut myself on a broken hanger.  Someone asked me why we didn't have help doing all this, and I answered that a stranger could not help us go through 30 years of memories before throwing it all out.   

Last week I was working in the last room of the basement and found a shopping bag buried under 5 cargo bags which have not been used since our daughters stopped going to camp.  I could not imagine what was in that shopping bag so I took it upstairs and started going through it.

I had to call my husband and tell him what I had found...all his "drawings" of me when we first dated and then when I was pregnant.  I laughed so hard at the captions to the drawings that tears came down and actually smudged the ink on the pages!  These are definitely a book in the making. Ok, so I was happy that I had not thrown this out. And I am going to keep these precious drawings until I can scan them and put them on a USB drive.

We think that saving all our kids' everything is great and that they will want all of it when they get older.  But the truth is, or at least in my situation, they loved seeing it all, took some photos and then said it was ok to throw away. They have no room to store any of it!  

More and more people I speak with tell me how much they save.  I tell them my story.  They say that is good to know, but I know that most of them will continue to save and save. It seems to be human nature.

Please remember that if you find yourself in a similar situation, you can always call Big Brothers Big Sisters at 1-877-399-2570 or schedule a pick up at:  www.bbbsdonate.org.  They will come to your house with a truck to get your items.  Also call the Vietnam Veterans of America at 1-800-775-8337 or go online to schedule a pick up at: www.scheduleapickup.com. Both groups are wonderful and are so grateful for your donations. Just be aware of what they won't take, such as TV's and they can't take anything that 1 person can't pick up by themselves, like a big sofa.

Needless to say, we don't ever want to experience this again. If we never save a paint can again, it will be too soon.



Thursday, March 6, 2014

FICO SCORES: The Ups and Downs

Nothing in life is simple.

When using your credit card, if you keep to under your spending limit your FICO score likes this.

When you then charge so much that you are very close to your credit spending limit, your FICO score will go down.

Why?  Read the quote below and see why no matter what you do, it is a "catch 22" situation. But what I leaned is that your FICO score keeps changing so one month it may be better than another due to your spending activities and how you are paying for them.

So one month you charge a good deal and the next month you don't owe too much.  Your score will be revised.

If asking for a credit increase is not for you, then try making a partial payment during your billing cycle to then open up your credit availability during that billing cycle's period.

Here is the quote:

  1. Proportion of balances to crdt limits is too high on bank / revolving accts  Hide details
  2. Consumers who use a high percentage of their available credit (generally known as utilization) have a higher risk of delinquency (falling behind on payments) and charge-off (loan default) over time. Lower use of available credit allows consumers who have the need to temporarily carry higher loan balances to do so, because they have available credit on their accounts. Consumers with heavier credit usage cannot absorb changes to their financial situation as easily, which can lead to higher risk over time. Keeping credit balances lower in relation to available credit will help reduce the negative impact on a credit score over time.

Credit Card Credit Limit Ceiling...How High is Yours?



Did you ever try to have your credit limit increased on your credit card?  Were you successful?  If not, here is what you need to know about credit cards and your spending limits.

Let's say you spend, on average, an amount not too close to your limit.  Let's say the reasons you don't are either because you don't need to most of the time, or if you charge a large amount, you might use up your limit and not be able to use your card again in that billing period. If the latter applies to you call your card company to request an increase.

Your card company may have a voice prompted system for this request and you do not actually speak to anyone.  In a few days you find out you were denied the increase.  The reason:  in the past year you never needed an increase because your charges never reached close to your limit. Now you have to call to actually speak to a representative in the credit area.  So you say, "If I had a higher limit, I would be able to use the credit card more often, but since I don't, I can't use the card all the time. And the response you get is, "But because you don't get close to your limit, the bank doesn't see why you need an increase."  It is a "catch 22" situation.  You can't use something you don't have.  This has nothing to do with whether you can't afford it or your credit rating not being good enough.

Now the representative says that they will do a "manual" credit line increase request. They ask you if you have a mortage and the amount and then ask for your yearly income.  They then ask if you have a minimum amount you would accept for the increase. Done.  Next thing you know, you have the increase. Granted, this is not always the case, but this is most likely what happens when you do a manual request. (I cannot promise that every credit card company functions the same way.)

Of course I am not advocating that you should spend more than you can afford. It is good to know how to go about this and what to expect if you should need an increase. Funny thing is that if you did spend close to your limit all the time, the credit card company may increase your limit without you having to ask.

Please look for my upcoming post about how all this affects your FICO score.  It will be short and sweet.






Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Supply Side of Your Electric Bill






It seems we spend more and more time trying to find the best price for anything and everything. And with the internet, this is not difficult to accomplish.

Same goes for the price we pay for our electricity, at least from the supply side of the equation.

Many states allow consumers to choose which company will supply the electricity although the delivery of electricity is the responsibility of your local electric company such as Con Ed, NYSEG, PSEG to name a few.

These supply companies may offer fixed or variable rates for the year.  There are some companies offering fixed prices for 24 months. Some companies have a cancellation fee if you leave the contract before the time period stated in the contract.

So many variables to say the least.

I started my search once I received a letter from my exisiting supply company letting me know that my contract is up and what my new fixed price was going to be for the coming year.  

I then set out to see what other companies were offering.  This is easy enough. Just log on to the sites listing ESCO companies in your state.  There are lists upon lists of each company showing fixed or variable pricing, length of contracts, cancellation fees, if any, and the website or phone number you can call to get more information.

For example, in NYS try this website:

http://www.newyorkpowertochoose.com/

Usually the contract takes about 2 months to get in place and most likely your new company will take over after a meter read date.  Most companies can't let you start anytime you choose so beware of any cancellation fees you may have on your current contract.  Paperwork is filed with your local electric company to let them know you changed supply companies.  Then you will get a letter stating that you have changed your supply company, or that you are continuing with your current one, and the letter will give you the start date of your new service.

You will also receive a letter from your new supply company. 

All very organized.

My first action was to take care of my house and I signed up with NYSEG Heating Solutions through DirectEnergy.com.  Apparently Direct Energy either owns or took over NYSEG Heating Solutions. It also represents Gateway Energy. When I mentioned that I needed to also change the supplier for the barn, I was connected to the person in Commerical accounts.

I had an extremely buttoned up representative from DirectEnergy.com handling Commercial accounts.  (Since the barn is unoccupied, my electric company considers it Commercial and the rates are different from Residential. Maybe I need some horses!)

There was an issue as far as when my current contract ended and when I could begin with a new company to avoid any cancellation fees and the representative, her name is Sandy, made sure that my contract started past the time my old one ended. She even checked my Residential account to assure me that I would be OK with the start date. We went over everything carefully to make sure I was clear on contract and procedure.

Sandy's professionalism surpassed almost every representative I deal with on a daily basis.  She gave me her number so that I could reach her if I had some any questions. And guess what? She was there when I called!

The next time you get your electric bill, check to see who supplies your electricity and what you are paying per KW hour and then see if you can find a better price.

And don't forget to see what your cancellation policy is before you commit to a new company. You don't want to lose money before you can start saving.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Your Kitchen Needs This Book: "BRILLIANT FOOD TIPS AND COOKING TRICKS"





For all those who know me, I cook by experimenting, not always using recipes.  I enjoy it but I am never sure if what I prepare will come out decently. Sometimes I need help.

Aside from all the cookbooks around, I have in my possession a wonderful book entitled, "Brillant Food Tips and Cooking Tricks" by David Joachim.

Not only does it contain over 900 recipes, but it has "5,000 ingenious kitchen hints, secrets, shortcuts and solutions."

This book is one of the few in my kitchen which is opened all the time.  So much better than searching Google for all the answers on different sites while greasy hands are all over your keyboard or screen.  All you need to know is in one book and who cares if the pages get a little dirty?

When you first open the book and look at the inside cover, the chart of Common Cooking Measures and Equivalents will be worth the price of the book. Then there is the Guide to Pan Sizes. This is followed by Common Temperatures and Conversions and Container Size Equivalents.

Turn to the back inside cover and find "Emergency Substitutions."  It reads, "if you're out of this...use this..."  You just might save yourself an extra trip to the supermarket.

The book structure is in alphabetical order. You don't even have to go to the index, just open to the letter of the subject you want to know about and there it is.

Do you want to learn how to extract pulp from fresh corn kernels, learn about mushrooms, how to choose oysters, how to butterfly a pork loin or how to cook "en papillote?"  Read this book and find out.

All you need to know under one hardcover book.  

The edition I have was published in 2001 and I have not found a newer version on Amazon so this must be it.

Check it out on Amazon.com and see if this book needs to be part of your kitchen. My kitchen can't live without it.




Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Your Cell Phone's Share Plan...GB Gone Wild



I finally had to leave my old "pay for minutes" phone plan.  I put off making the change fearing that the new "Share" plan would cost me more. As of this writing, I am spending a little less each month.  At least for now.  The experiment is just beginning.

There are 4 phones on my plan.  It goes without saying that some of us on the plan use more GB than others, like me...I don't do much with my phone other than call, text and clear out emails.  

But for those out there who use their phones for everything, I thought that I would find out what uses the most GB and how to control your data usage. 

Each cell phone company refers to their new plans differently, but it all boils down to data usage now.  Calls and texts are unlimited. Texting seems to be fast, easy and the texts go through even if you don't have a great signal for a call. So I text a good deal.

Starting with emails, each time you receive an email you are using data, even if it is a minor amount.  Each time you open the email, you use additional data. And if the email has photos or attachments, more data is used.

Watching videos on You Tube for example definitely uses data.  Movies, for sure. Your phone as a GPS.  Checking FourSquare, Facebook or for searching the Web. The list is endless.

For those of you who never delete emails, the more you keep on the phone, the more data you use each time you turn on your phone.  Deleting emails from your computer is an easy way to get rid of them on your phone. Afterwards, you refresh your emails on your phone and they are gone.  Less data to be used.

To make better use of data, I started to "unsubscribe" to all those emails sent to me which I never opened anyway.  Do I really need to know everything about every company's sale, or the zillions of "coupon" discounts on every service known to mankind?

It takes some getting used to because on the old plans you paid for call minutes and may have had an unlimited data package, as I did. What I hope to accomplish is to keep with the 6GB plan, but if things don't go according to plan, I can upgrade to the next offered GB amount.  My cell phone company will send texts letting me know if I am getting close to reaching my 6GB max.  They warn me at 75% and then at 90%.  This way I can upgrade to the next amount in my billing period for less than I would pay if I went over my limit. 

Use less data and you might have some extra money for something else, like a new case for your phone.




Saturday, September 28, 2013

Wines By The "Tasting" Glass




How can you learn enough about wine to enjoy what you drink without feeling that you need to become a sommelier?

I say, "Go to wine tastings!"

My husband and I do this every other weekend (and even more often if the opportunity arises).

Some wine shops offer a simple tasting - just a few bottles poured by someone working in the store - while others have a wine distributor come with a larger variety of bottles to pour.  

Usually the person pouring the wine will give you a detailed account of each wine, and while you are tasting what they pour you can ask questions.  Any question at all, so you don't need to worry about being shy or embarrassed.  Not everyone knows about every wine.

Is it a full-bodied wine, does it have aromas of blackberry, what fruit am I tasting, does it have legs, when can you drink it, what grapes are in it, can it be put away for a few years, how is this vintage compared to last year, describe the area where the grapes were grown... are just a few questions you might ask. There are many others, and the more you ask and the answers you get will assist in your learning.

You may find that the price point of wines does not always reflect the quality of the wine.  And taste varies from person to person.  It is not always a given that my husband and I will agree on a wine.  Our method is that what we buy will most always be what we both enjoy, with a deviation every now and then.

Wine tastings are fun and very social.  You are tasting wines with other people and you can compare notes or just start a conversation about anything and before you know it, you are exchanging phone numbers.

The world of wine is enormous and there is never a shortage of wines to taste. We are still learning about grapes we never tasted or at least never tasted in combinations with other grapes.

You can call your local wine shop and ask about tastings.  Even the big box wine stores offer tastings.

So go to a wine tasting or two and see what you discover about wine.  You just may find yourself attending more and more.

I would recommend two of my favorite wine shops to start if you are in the Westchester area: www.wineconn.com and www.surburbanwines.com.  You can also get on their mailing list for upcoming wine tastings and special offers.