Almost nine years ago I hired myself to make the most of our family’s finances. In that time I’ve tried lots of different strategies, some of which have stuck and some of which have fallen by the wayside.
This week, however, I found myself doing some of the things that have become more or less routine in my role as a Family CEO.
Chasing down a contact lens rebate.
One thing that has stuck and stuck big time is my habit of taken found money and using it first to pay down debt and now to build up our savings. Rebates are a regular source of our found money for us, including rebates from contact lenses, which my son and I both wear.
Over Christmas break Grant drove himself to an optometrist appointment and after checking out, they gave him the credit card receipt for his contacts, but not the itemized receipt from the eye appointment that I needed to send in for the rebate. That required a call to the billing office to have it sent to me.
I also found myself digging the contact lenses out of Grant’s luggage right before he left for school so I could cut the UPC code off one of the boxes, which was also required for the rebate. And then there was the rebate paperwork to fill out and send in.
This is one of those things that would have been easy to blow off or, more likely, leave on my to-do list until I procrastinated to the point where the deadline had passed. But it meant $70 that will eventually end up in our emergency fund.
The annoyance factor was high, but all of it took at most 30 minutes, resulting in a $140 tax-free hourly wage. I love it when I can put a dollar value on my time like that.
Itemizing charitable donations.
My urge to simplify is strong so we routinely put out donations for the local Big Brothers and Big Sisters organization that picks up from our neighborhood. They make it beyond easy by sending emails reminding me to schedule a pickup online, and then coming to get the items off our front porch.
I like to list and value what I’m donating (I use It’s Deductible) in order to take the tax deduction. I sometimes skip the small, hard-to-value things like knick knacks, but I routinely keep track of easy-to-value things like clothing, shoes, household items, and sports equipment.
This week we had a porch full of stuff for Big Brothers, Big Sisters from a big post-Christmas declutter, and I considered throwing a couple of bags of clothing out without making a list of them, just to get them out of the house. But I held off, made the list, and bagged them up to have them ready for the next pickup.
While it takes a bit more calculating than a rebate, you can put a dollar figure on your time when itemizing donations by taking the total value of your donations and multiplying that by your tax bracket. So, if you’re in the 25% tax bracket, for instance, for every $100 of donations you make, you’ll save $25 on your taxes. Knowing things like that makes it less likely I’ll just toss those extra bags onto the porch without making a list of them first.
And now onto, something I LOVE to do: play with numbers.
Figuring the breakeven on our college funding.
Earlier this week I called my husband and said, “Wanna hear some good news?” No one says no to that, of course, so I told him, “In just over a year we’ll be done paying for college.” That seemed unlikely since our youngest is a freshman in college and when he started school five months ago we had just somewhere between one and two years worth of his college expenses set aside.
But rather than tap the money we had saved right away, we decided to pay the monthly college bill out of our regular monthly budget. We had freed up some money when his sister graduated from college and he graduated from parochial high school, both last year. Those redirected amounts didn’t cover the whole college bill, and we realized that there might be months when it wasn’t possible to pay the whole bill without tapping the savings, but, so far so good.
While we are doing this, we are continuing to contribute to our college savings account each month, using the money from my part-time gigs: bookkeeping and blogging. What all that means is that each month our college savings balance is getting bigger, while the amount we have left to pay for college is getting smaller.
So this week I broke out the calculator to try and locate the breakeven point: that magical point in time when the amount in our college savings will equal or exceed what we have left to pay. That time should come sometime next spring.
I’m not going to lie, cashflowing college while continuing to save for college has been an extreme challenge. We did what you have to do when you’re attempting something that seems overwhelming: we made the commitment to do it the first month and have taken it a month at a time from there. In fact, that’s what we’ve done with college all along the way, for both our daughter and our son. And all of a sudden we’re a little over a year away from being done.
So what will we do with that chunk of money when we’re done paying for college? Something exciting? Something sexy? We’re redirecting it into more retirement savings. Such is the glamorous life of middle age.
I know those of you who read the blog are Family CEOs as well. What does your nitty gritty look like?