Wednesday, March 23, 2016

2016 United Airlines NYC Half RECAP

I did it! I ran my 4th Half Marathon this past Sunday. As I said on my previous post, I ran in the 2016 United Airlines NYC Half Marathon and I had a blast! Wife and I left Houston on Friday morning at 7 AM and arrived at LaGuardia airport around 11 AM. From there we took at cab to midtown and checked in to our hotel. After a quick stop for a Bloody Mary and lunch we went to the expo where I picked up my bib number and shirt. After that we went back to our hotel for some rest. Friday night was Times Square, Rockefeller Center (Bar 65), dinner and drinks at an Irish Pub and then some more much needed rest. Saturday we saw the Brooklyn Bridge, 9/11 Memorial, Freedom Tower, Trinity Church and a little bit of Central Park. We even got to see a Trump protest outside his tower on 59th Street. Dinner Saturday night was at an upscale Italian restaurant and we finished the night at a rooftop bar in midtown. Sunday morning was my run, had a quick lunch afterwards and then flew back to Houston.

My run was at 7:30 AM and the start line was in Central Park. Security was hectic, I have never had to take everything out and go through a metal detector to get to my corral. There was at least 100 police officers around Central Park and tons of different surveillance vans and police vehicles. There was also a lot of 'counter terrorism' police officers- something you never really see in Texas. I cleared security around 7:15 and waited in my corral for the run to start. There was probably 20,000 runners and my start was somewhere in the middle so that took another 20 minutes. It was also very cold, temperature was in the 30's and I was the only person wearing shorts but keep in mind it was 80 degrees when I left Texas. Once the running started I felt great and liked the cold. The first 6 miles were mostly in Central Park and then we went down to Times Square then we made a right somewhere in Midtown and then ran all the way down to Freedom Tower. I felt great the whole time and my timing was 2 hours and 35 minutes. I had so much fun and got to see a lot of New York City. I would definitely do this again!! Below are a few pics I took with my cell phone, this run did NOT allow selfie sticks so I was not able to record with my GoPro.

Pictures- This is at the Expo:


Running around Central Park:


Leaving Central Park and heading towards Times Square:



Running at Times Square:


That's just some of the pictures that I took. Great run, great city, amazing crowds I want to do this one again but it was very costly. We probably spent $1,5000 with hotel, food, drinks and souvenirs. Uber was also in the mix and it was probably $100 with the airport trips. We did ride the subway downtown so that did save some money. Now it's time to pay some of this money back but since it was all hotels and eating I will probably get $100 back in rewards from Citi.

Next up in my city series is the Chicago Half Marathon, I believe that takes place in Septmeber so be on the lookout for that. Wife said she has no interest in going to that one so that should save a ton of money.

If you've never run, start now, it is truly the best therapy and it is free... well except when you start signing up for runs that cost over $100 and in other cities :(


HS

Friday, March 11, 2016

United Airlines NYC Half


Next Sunday, March 20, 2016 at 7:30am I will be running in the United NYC Half Marathon! I will be running all over Manhattan, from Central Park through Times Square to South Street Seaport with 20,000 other runners. Wife and I are flying out next Friday morning and arriving in New York around 11 AM. From there we will go check in to our hotel and then go down to the expo and pick up my running packet. We are going to play tourists until my run on Sunday and then we will leave in the afternoon and fly back to Texas.

This will be my 4th Half Marathon and I plan to record most of the event with my GoPro camera. To this day I have no idea why I keep running but I keep signing up for these events. I figured I should step it up a bit and start traveling more for these runs. New York will be the first of many cities I hope to run in. Next on my list are Chicago and San Francisco and maybe do a Disney Run either in California or Florida.

Money- this trip did hit my wallet pretty hard. The cost of the run itself was $125 and the airfare for both of us came out to $830. The hotel will be $214 per night but we are staying in Midtown so the cost is reasonable. Hotel should come out around $500 but we will need a lot of cabs and UBER so that will also add to the expenses. Meals, drinks and souvenirs will probably be another $500. I will probably take $300 in cash for tips and small purchases.

New York City here I come!! I cannot wait!!

HS

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

iPhone, Android and Apple Watch

I can't believe I have been using my wife's old iPhone 5 since I bought her a new one on this post. That was the phone I bought for her way back in 2012 while I was working in New York. Fast forward to 2016 and the battery is going out. It randomly shuts on and off so I decided it was time for a new one. I didn't want to pay the monthly fees for a new phone with the carrier or sign a 2 year contract. Our shared bill with AT&T is $123 per month for 2 lines with unlimited talk, texts and 15 GB of shared data which also has roll over. I like that price and don't want to change that so I went ahead and bought a brand new phone on eBay. Once again I am going back to Android, I picked up a brand new Nexus 5X for $299, phone is unlocked and that also includes free shipping. I received the phone last night and it works perfectly. I am happy going back to Android, having a brand new phone and our AT&T bill will stay the same. I will sell that old iPhone 5 on eBay for $100 and get some money back, I see similar models selling for about the same. Here's the phone I bought:


This is where the Apple Watch comes in. Of course I love all things Apple so back in December I bought a brand new Apple Watch Sport Edition. I paid around $340 at Best Buy which I think was a bit high but I had some gift cards and some rewards certificates so it was probably more like $240 out of pocket. The watch is not all that I think it still needs a lot of work and the apps still a need a lot of tuning. I bought the watch mostly to track my running but eventually found myself wearing it more and more, it is nice to reply to a text message without getting the phone out. What I also love about the watch is you can quickly change straps so today I'm also the proud owner of 9 different straps! Nice to change the look and people certainly do notice. The issue now is I can't really use the watch without an iPhone. I asked my wife is she wants it but she said she's perfectly happy with her Fitbit Charge HR which syncs to her phone, has caller ID and she also likes doing step challenges with her friends. I really don't have a need for it now so it will probably go to eBay for $300 with all the straps included. I am going back to my mechanical watches which I love and you may recall I have a slight addiction to them. Anyways here's my Apple watch sporting a Product RED strap before one of my runs a few weeks ago:


There you have it, a new phone and getting rid of my Apple watch. Anyone else have an Apple Watch? Did you like it??

HS

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Citi Annual Account Summary

Last month I got my annual account summary for our Citi Thank You credit card so let's take a quick look at the numbers. Keep in mind this is only for one account, this is not for our Citi Forward card which I also use but always keep a zero balance on. This is also not Best Buy or Macy's credit accounts. This is for one credit card! The first thing that stand out is the total amount we charged which was $37,781.06 That's right, we charged that much on a single credit account! As you can see on my previous post our current balance is not that high so that tells you have I have paid close to $40,000 to this account over the past 15 months. This also is not counting cash, I usually take out 300 to 400 per pay period for stuff. Are we spending too much money? YES! but we are a family of 4 with 1 dog. Remember this is NOT a 'live frugal' blog, this is more a how do we deal with debt blog.

Here are the graphs:




Crazy, crazy, crazy! This needs to stop! We should not be charging more than $20,000 per year so once again I am trying to go more cash, cash, cash!!! Notice how April was a low charge month, this is why. You can also see how November and December are way higher... the holidays always throw me off with gifts, parties, alcohol etc.

Do you charge that much on a single credit account? 

HS

Monday, February 22, 2016

February 2016 Credit Card Updates

A few weeks ago I did a quick update on our credit cards so let's take a look and see where we are as of today. On the link above you can see I had that pesky Best Buy balance lurking around and actually had to charge another gift to it but as of this morning the balance is ZERO. Best Buy offered me 0% interest for 18 months but why carry a balance if you can quickly pay it off. Sure it may not be costing me any money but mentally I know it was there and I owe them money. Here's the latest balance for Best Buy, you can see it was a little higher when I got the statement in January:


CITI- The Thank You card is our main credit card and we charge a lot. The balance was close to $6,000 last week but luckily Uncle Sam rescued me and I was able to bring this down under $3,000. Below you can see the latest numbers, my goal is to try and keep this under $3,000 until June but there's a lot of stuff coming up like my daughter's birthday and a trip to New York City. I will try to use cash more often but most of the time it's just easier to charge things. The Citi Forward card we really don't use but it is the account linked to Amazon. I did not renew my Prime membership this year and wife is aware not to order anything so hopefully I can keep it with a zero balance. Here are the latest balances on Citi:


There you have it, all of our current credit card debt. Hopefully nothing crazy happens and I can bring this down a bit more. Life does happen but hopefully our paychecks can take care of most of that stuff. I need to be a bit more frugal, spend less and not chase those credit cards rewards.

Have a great day!

HS

Thursday, February 18, 2016

New Roof Killed My Savings!

Oh the joys of home ownership... Our house was built in 2001 and 15 years later it is time to replace the roof. I have never done any kind of repairs on our roof even after going through both hurricane Ike and Rita which hit the Houston area pretty hard. We also had a couple of hail storms this year so I figured it was time to replace.

This is where things get interesting. I'm always looking for ways to save money so 3 years ago I got new home insurance quotes which lowered my yearly premium to $1,100 a year... well of course I didn't even looked at the deductible so, lesson learned- with a low premium comes a high deductible. Our current home insurance deductible is $4,000! Yes, I saved some money but now that I need to use the insurance I will pay most of those savings back. I called and filed the claim and they approved a new roof repair for $12,500 but with that high deductible you can see where I am going to have to come out with out of pocket money. Somehow my roofer worked it out where he can do all of the work and I come to the table with $1,900 (tried to bring this down, no luck). Keep in mind that the average cost to repair a roof  according to Angie’s List members is $11,095 and that's to tear off and replace an old roof . Prices can also vary greatly depending on where you live so I think I got a good price. Anyways... this is where we dip in to our Discover Savings:



I really wanted to bring our Discover Savings back up to $20,000 but that won't be happening anytime soon. I could have put the roof repairs on the CC but I don't want anymore debt. I rather lose a little on the savings than have more consumer debt. The roof is something that needed to be done and hopefully I won't have to worry about this roof for another 15 years.

Has anyone else replaced their roof lately? Did you have to bring out of pocket money? Is this tax deductible?? 

HS

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Credit Card Rewards

Let's take a look and see how many Citi Thank You points we redeemed last year. Points and rewards can be good and bad, we usually put everything on the credit card but as you've seen here we always overspend and charge way too much. I still do a lot of cash only but usually restaurants, gas and hotels still go on the card which means reward points. At some point I am going to quit playing this game but for now let's see how much we got out of Citi:

Gift Cards- We got $375 to the stores you see below. You can also see the dates and the quantities. Most of these cost 10,000 points for $100, 5,000 for a $50 and 2,500 for a $25:


Amazon- My Citi Thank You account is linked to my Amazon account so having the points there at checkout makes them very convenient to use. This is where the bulk of my orders came from, you do get less money this way but having Prime makes up for it. I added up all the reward points and it came out to over 80,500 points redeemed last year. I'm not going to try and calculate the actual money amount so I will estimate it to be $750. Below you can see all of the orders for 2015, you can say we really like 'stuff'. Sorry this list is very long:


Now you can see why I like using my credit card for everything but like I said, it always leads to debt!! I will post the credit card number next week.

Have a good day!

HS

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

$1,000 Bill

Ha! This is a bit of a crazy post! I had a little bit of extra money (money I should be sending to the cc) in my PayPal account and decided to buy a $1,000 bill! I am the proud owner of a 1934 banknote that still legal tender and can be deposited at a bank. I won't say how much I paid for it but it was well over $1,500. The note will be added to my currency collection which is around $5,000 in face value. What started as a trading hobby, has now lead to me hoarding most of the currency I'm supposed to be re-selling for profit. One day I will cash in and hopefully come out way ahead. Not much you can do with a $1,000 note but it's always fun to bring it out and show friends. You may remember I also have a $500 bill but not the one on that post, I actually sold that one and picked up a newer and better looking note. Anyways here's my crazy eBay purchase:


Sorry, not sure why blogger is rotating the picture. The stack of $2's you see there are 100 notes in brand new uncirculated condition. I pick those up at Bank of America locally and I sell them on eBay for $250. They do have to be brand new and in sequential numbering to get that much but not a bad deal for money I can get at the bank. I'm currently searching all banks downtown for a stack of star $2's from 2013, each one of those notes sells for $15 since not many were printed but no luck finding a pack and my bank tellers are getting tired of me asking.

I have a few more notes on my list that I want to get but this is as much as I will ever spend on a piece of paper, most of the other notes I want cost around $300 to $400.

What do you think? Would you ever buy a $1000 bill?

HS

Friday, February 12, 2016

Taxes, TaxAct and TurboTax

Tax season is here and I filed our taxes last night. We will not be getting as much money as we got last year and to me things still don't add up correctly but the return was accepted by the IRS. Last year I was trading Apple a lot and you may remember when it took me down, well around that time I incurred a few wash sales and when I sold on that day, I was pretty much going for the tax loss but with the wash sales I did not end up getting as much... I even knew about the wash sale rules but when you're trying to make money and taking risks, you don't always reap the rewards. In this case after doing taxes I probably lost around $2,500 so yes, lesson learned, buy stocks and forget about the m, leave the money in there...anyways, no more crazy day trading.

You may recall that I always use TaxAct but for some reason this year it was not taking my CVS stock import file from Scottrade. It would load it and then bring my numbers (refund) way too high or way to low. I don't understand how to enter wash sales on TaxAct, I tried adding and deleting lines and no luck so this year I decided to go with TurboTax, I must say it was not my favorite. On TaxAct you feel like you are doing taxes and entering more numbers and you see the actual forms but TurboTax treats you like you don't know anything about taxes. The main advantage TurboTax has was the stock import, all I had to do was log in from TurboTax into my Scottrade account and everything was updated! The numbers added up correctly like I had calculated them and the Schedule D was filled out perfectly with all the wash sales. I don't recall seeing the Schedule D on TaxAct but that's probably because I didn't make it far enough to review since my numbers were not adding up. Enough tax talk, I'm glad everything is done and got to see the approval this morning:


On to the amounts, so last year we got close to $7,000 but this year we will only be getting $5,286. Like I said above, the wash sales had a huge impact on this number but we also made an extra $15,000 in income. Most of that extra income was a promotion at work, my promotion increase, my previous year increase and a couple of bonuses that were paid out mid-year. Wife also had a nice increase this year but we forgot to take out taxes from her dad's pension so that was another $600 that we lost. Well, technically we did get money and it made us money in our savings account, we just didn't pay any taxes on it. Since our AIG is lot higher- like way in to the 6 digits, we are starting to miss out on things like the childcare credits and dependent care. We are still getting them but not as much. Since we are making a bit more money now I probably need to stash more on the 401K but I already put in close to 15% so I may be sending more to the 403B or to the kids 529 plan which is already up to $5,000 last time I checked.

Difference with the numbers- so this is what TaxAct had when I put in my wash sales which I knew was wrong and way to high but it passed all the alerts:


Here's the actual refund amount from TurboTax and it also added up with all my manual calculations and since it passed the IRS acceptance, hopefully that means no audit:


The money is going straight to our Discover Savings account which will put us back over $20,000 in cash savings but I will probably have to take $3,000 out of that and pay... down.... our stupid credit card...

As usual, I am glad the government holds on to most of this money for us. If we got more money every month in our paychecks we would spend it so it's always nice to get a big refund once a year.

That's it for our taxes, have you filed yours?? Big refund? Little refund? TurboTax? TaxAct?

HS

Monday, January 11, 2016

Quick Updates, Credit Cards and Savings

Hi I'm still here! There are 71 comments pending so at some point I will go through them all. Sorry I know you want to see your stuff posted but give me time. Speaking of time, it has been a while since I posted so let's do some numbers:

Credit cards:

Things are good, below you can see our overall balances. There's stuff pending and I hate to tell you this but I had to dip into savings to bring this balance down. As usual our spending is pretty high. I had to pay my HOA fees in November which have gone up to $960 and then came the holiday shopping season which set me back a good $1,500. After the holidays we took a small family vacation and drove to see some friends in Oklahoma so that was probably another $1,000 gas alone for the giant SUV was $250! Also included in that total below is airfare to New York Citi for March. My running is out of control so last year I decided I wanted to run half marathons in all the major cities so around December I was picked for the United NYC Half ($135). Chicago and San Francisco are next on the list. Adding to all these crazy expenses is my daughter's school, they wanted $740 up front the first week of January so that also messed up my credit cards numbers up a bit. They will take another $740 in February. The last portion of credit card debt is Best Buy which you can also see below, most of that was holiday shopping BUT I also decided to buy the Apple Watch for me to try out and so far I'm not a huge fan so it may be going to eBay soon. So here's all of our actual credit card debt:

 








Savings:

This one is driving me crazy! Like  I mentioned above we spend a lot of money, I probably had close to $23,000 in this account 7 to 8 months ago but now it is down to $17,000! I want to save money but it is so hard. The good news is that I talked my wife in to doing after school care at her school so she has to stay one extra hour per day and she will be making an additional $25 dollars per day. I set up her direct deposit to go straight in to our savings so this is money that will be saved. It may not be much but you may recall we also have a pension coming in to this account so if we save $300 per month I am fine with that. Tax return should put this account back to $20,000 so as long as I don't touch this money and we live on our paychecks it should continue to grow. We made $175 in interest last year just for having the money in this account, it may not be much but at least we made some money with our money. At Bank of America I still keep $1,000 in our savings at all times, like I've said before this money is mainly for emergencies but I have never really used it, if anything crazy happens I usually just put stuff on the credit cards. At home I have over $5,000 in cash, most of it is in $100 bills but I also have a few rare notes that are worth way more over face value. I love having cash at home, there's no better feeling in the world than just starting at $5,000 in cash LOL. Enough words already, here's the balance on our main savings account:


Crazy life but now you can see where we are at financially as we start 2016. With that said, 2016 won't be a cheap year we already have 3 trips planned and with my running out of control I'm sure I'll be doing more runs out of town. Running is very addictive, I do not recommend it to anyone trying to save money. Speaking of running this coming weekend I also have the Aramco Houston Half Marathon! link to my recap from last year. Wish me luck!

Have a good day!

HS