Thursday, April 16, 2009

Going Green

I’m on a money kick lately. Not because I suddenly have more (I don’t) or less (thank goodness not). Its more of a spring cleaning. A long overdue spring cleaning.

I started things out a year or so ago by moving my personal checking account to the same credit union where my husband and I keep our joint checking. It was a much better deal, especially for when I overdraw the account. Doesn’t happen often, but I don’t tend to stockpile money in that account and I run it close to 0 on purpose. It’s my "pin money", not the family finances after all. The old account would charge me like $50 for every overdraw, meaning that one overdraw inevitably led to two or three more before I caught the problem. The new one costs under $5. Much better. Plus, they give me free online bill pay, a service that cost $ with the other bank. Again, not many "bills" come out of this account, but the few that do are easier to take care of. I’ve used 5 whole paper checks in almost a year.

I’m in the process of changing my credit card over too. I’ve had the old one for like 15 years, but it’s been a pain lately. Last year while planning a trip to Texas for my sister's graduation, I found that couldn't verify the phone number on it, so I couldn't use it to buy plane tickets. And Alamo's website swore up and down that it was a debit card, and therefore not eligible to reserve a car online. And points/perks? None. My new one (at the same credit union as my newer checking account) also has a lower interest rate (though I'm scared sh*tless of credit card debt, and only carry a balance under extreme duress). And it earns points that might earn free stuff. I have one more item on the old card (a hotel reservation for later this summer) that I need to move, and I can close it for good.

Also on the list of clean-up/tune-up:

Cancelling a completely un-used second phone line in the house. Once upon a time it was a fax line, but hasn’t even had a modem hooked to it for a couple of years. At the same time, I got our phone agreements changed around so that we now have caller ID and call waiting (20th century here we come…), unlimited long distance on the house phone, and it costs less than what we were paying before.

Getting rid of a Sears card that we opened 3 years ago solely for the 0% interest deal for a new washer and dryer. We’d never even activated the cards, and really don’t need the open credit account hanging around.

Opening college savings accounts for both kids. You’d think we might have done this for at least Charlotte already. Oops. Last night we did. We went with the Missouri 529 plans, and have just barely opened them with minimum balances. Scheduling contributions will come soon.

Moving some of the small pad of savings in my personal account to a slightly higher interest-rate bearing CD. I was *this* close one day to investing some of it in stocks for a potentially higher gain, but I really do need the money as an emergency fund. A CD is not quite as liquid as a basic money market, but its as much of a gamble as I'm willing to take.

Refinancing our house. With rates down almost 1% from our existing mortgage, I did a little spreadsheet magic and realized that we could save about $200 a month on our mortgage payment, and not pay more total interest on the new loan than we have left on the current mortgage. That one’s a no-brainer. The process is underway. A bonus feature is that our credit union doesn’t require an escrow account, unlike the previous mortgage company. So, we get to earn interest on our own money for the taxes and insurance every year, instead of forking it over to some big company to profit from. I see more fun with CD’s and money market accounts in my future :)

And speaking of homeowners insurance, while sending info to the credit union for the re-fi, I realized that I’d never forwarded our security system info to our insurance company. Sending that in should net us a small discount off of our policy. A discount we should have started getting like six years ago. Doh.

Even the financial advisor for my IRA (made of what used to be 401ks from previous employers) is helping me with my financial spring cleaning. I had Anhuesuer Busch stock in that account until they were bought by InBev last fall. Its probably past time that I actually invest that cash in something else. I guess he agreed, because he called me yesterday to initiate the discussion. Quite timely.

It sounds like we’re saving money left and right, but that’s never quite how things work out. While we’re knocking down monthly payments, we’re also planning to replace my husband’s car. What to replace it with is still in the discussion stage--leaning towards either a Prius or a Highlander Hybrid. But test drives and budget talks will make the ultimate decision there.


flatflo said...

I've heard good things so far about the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. I love my 2007 Ford 500 and would consider moving over to the Fusion Hybrid. My folks have a Prius and it drives more like a toy car.

Bethany said...

If I could afford it I would love love love a Toyota Highlander. Yes, I know I'm the antithesis of SUV, but they do about as good as any other option on the market...and they have enough room for 8 people...without being a minivan. Used ones (at least a few years old) go for around $16,000 in our area which is FAR better than the $40,000 new sticker price (ouch).

Not that this helps at all, but check out this electric car that will be ready in 2012. It's a 7 seater and charges in 45 minutes! Okay, it's pricey, but who's counting the difference between a new Highlander and a new Tesla ($50,000)?

Kristi said...

I'm not a big SUV fan either, and I have no issues with minivans. Except, no one (to my knowledge) is yet selling a hybrid minivan. If they were, I'd be all over it... But there's the Highlander, the Escape, and possibly a couple of fancier hybrid SUV's on the market. We aren't considering a non-hybrid SUV at all--NOT spending that kind of money on gas. Both of our cars get in the mid-20's MPG, and we see no reason to go below that for a car that will be driven daily.

We haven't looked much at Ford cars--not real confident in American made ones at the moment, otherwise the Escape hybrid would be on the test-drive list. Actually, it would be on my test-drive list, but Hubby ruled it out, and he'll be the primary driver of the new car :)

Hubby has been looking at the Prius for a while. I brought up the Highlander Hybrid because we keep needing to haul big things around (oversized toys, sheets of plywood, etc) and there's only so much you can do with a sedan. And the local hardware stores are getting away from the hourly truck rentals (why? why? why?)

Going smaller than a Prius, or perhaps an Accord Hybrid, is just not feasible. We have 2 carseats permanently attached in the back, and need enough trunk room for kid stuff. You ought to see us on a road trip--every avaialable inch of space in the car is utilized.

And no matter what we do, the kids keep getting bigger :)