Paying the December Mortgage Bill Before December 31

Now that we’re snowed in (thanks to a blizzard that no one seems to have nicknamed as of yet), I’ve been cleaning my little heart out. The bathroom is sparkling, the Christmas gifts have been sorted and the tissue paper, boxes and gift bags carefully tucked away for re-use next season, and the back room that was loaded with baby stuff generously given to us by family and friends has been organized into a tolerable mess.

One thing I did remember to do before the end of the year is to pay our December mortgage before the 31. Why does it matter, you ask? By paying it before the end of 2010, we’ll be able to deduct the mortgage interest on our taxes come February. Between the mortgage interest and property tax deductions, we know we’ll be getting a hefty refund, and this will boost it. Yes, it’s an interest-free loan to the government, but this will be the first full year we’ve been paying these things, and I want to see what the numbers are before we readjust our W-4 withholding, if we choose to do it at all.

Currently, we both claim “zero” on our employer W-4s. I did so because I’ve always had freelance gigs. I get a 1099 at the end of the year, and I’m responsible for paying the taxes — and the last thing I want is to pay taxes in April. But now that we own our own home, it’s a whole new ballgame.

Do you remember to pay your December mortgage bill before the 31st? Worst comes to worst, you’ll include that mortgage interest in the follow year’s tax deductions, right?

Little Bites: Holiday Hodgepodge

It’s been one heck of a week. What’s normally my favorite week of the year has been tinged with sadness: I received news that an aunt had passed away. We’ll be attending the wake and funeral, then celebrating Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, although I’m sure my usual holiday joy will be muted. I’m not good with loss — the last time someone close to me passed away, it was my grandmother back in 1997. Before that, I was too young to remember.

She was a wonderful, vibrant woman who spoke her mind and had a heart of gold, always helping others. She will be dearly missed. I’m so sad that our daughter won’t get to meet her.

Little Bites

— I neglected our checkbook for two weeks. I paid bills, but didn’t input anything else into the register. I finally caught up on that Sunday night. December is a three-paycheck month for me, which works out well for present-buying.

— Speaking of presents, I’m done buying and wrapping. Except for one gift that needs to arrive (in time for Christmas, I hope), everything is wrapped and tucked safely away from the prying claws of our two cats. Well, the younger one claws, while the older one just likes to bite the ribbons.

— I’m now 29 weeks pregnant. And it’s getting harder to move around and get a good night’s rest. I also think this is the last week I’ll be able to wear my engagement/wedding rings without fearing they won’t come off.

— My side gigs are still going. I continue to take freelance work, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it much longer, now that I’m getting more and more tired. Interesting side note: I interviewed Jim Cramer this week (you know, the host of CNBC’s Mad Money). And it wasn’t for a finance-related story.

Frugality Means You Have “Quirks”

They may not be “quirks” to you, but the little things we do to save money are seen as ridiculous by many other people — especially those who spend without a thought to their financial stability.

This weekend alone, I had to laugh when I realized I was doing even more quirky things to save a buck. The latest?

— I save all gift bags and tissue paper. Hey, if it’s in one piece with no rips or tears or stains, why the heck not?

— Almost 100% of the time, any cash I get for my birthday or Christmas goes straight into the savings account. -I can’t remember the last time I took the money and went right out and bought something with my windfall.

— I reuse foil pans. Notice I’m not saying I BUY them to begin with. My mother-in-law will send us home with leftovers or desserts in one of those aluminum foil catering half-trays, and I’ll promptly remove the goodies and clean the pan for future use.

I’m sure over the new few decades, I’ll find even more oddball ways to pinch pennies. Anyone else with me?

Re-Gifting & Thrifted Gifts Aren’t the Devil’s Handiwork

Last December, Mrs. Money at Ultimate Money Blog asked, “Are Thrifted Gifts Acceptable?” I think they are, within reason: If they’re in excellent condition, and it’s something the recipient wants, then why not? Perhaps not clothing, but other items may be acceptable, such as dishes, wine glasses and handy kitchen items. (DISCLOSURE: I’ve never actually given someone a gift that was secondhand or thrifted).

As I’m writing this post, my attention was brought to another great post about thrift-store gifts from J.D. over at Get Rich Slowly. As the reader featured in the post mentions, sometimes, you’ll come across fantastic finds such as hardly-used designer handbags at thrift stores. Would you turn down a gently-used Coach bag if you know you would never be able to afford one brand-new (or, in my case, wouldn’t dare spend our hard-earned money on one)?

Now that we’re trying to further cut our expenses in anticipation of our little bundle of joy, this Christmas leads me to another, similar thought. What about RE-GIFTING? When you get a present (that isn’t to your taste or is a duplicate) that doesn’t have a gift receipt and it’s something purchased brand-new, is it so terrible to “pass” that gift on to another person for Christmas or a birthday? It could be a piece of clothing, perfume, gift card for a store you don’t go to.

I don’t think it’s insulting to re-gift these types of items, because the alternative is to let them take up space in your home and let them go to waste. And yes, this also means that I’m open to receiving thrifted or re-gifted items, especially if they’re something I can use or are vintage or antique.

Frugal Admission: Yes, I have re-gifted some presents — but only once in a blue moon. I look at it this way: I’m making sure the item will get proper use AND saving myself some money in the process. No, I’m not talking about re-gifting an ugly sweater to a cousin who will think it’s just as ugly as I do. I wouldn’t pass “junk” over to anyone as a present, either.

We’re now two weeks out from Christmas Day and I’ve about finished our gift shopping. I may have used coupons, but have no fear. I’m not re-gifting or thrifting anything — this year.

In the News: NJ Residents Most Fiscally Responsible in Country

Came across a headline today that struck me:

“N.J. residents among most fiscally responsible in nation, study says”

Naturally, I wondered what this story would entail. What exactly makes myself and my fellow New Jerseyans ‘fiscally responsible?’

It’s our rainy-day funds. The survey asked residents across the nation if they had emergency funds equal to 3 months of expenses — which I consider the bare minimum of being prepared for an emergency.

So percentage of people in NJ who have three months of expenses saved up? 47.5 percent.

This puts our state FIRST in the nation. Pretty paltry, if you ask me.

— New York is second, with 45.1% of folks having 3 months of expenses set aside in savings.

— Lowest? Oklahoma, at 28.1%

— The national average? 35.1%

We “only” have about six months of expenses set aside in liquid assets, and I’m not feeling totally secure about it. With a mortgage and a baby on the way, it looks a lot less comforting than, say, 12 months of expenses!

Another Car Repair II: This Time, $300 Down the Drain

My car continues to be a drain on our wallet. After the last car repair, replacing the wheel sensors, I thought I was in the clear. But about 2 weeks later, I started hearing a strange thumping noise coming from the front left wheel.

I brought it back to the mechanic, and of course, the noise disappeared while he had the car. But right before I left, the noise was back — and he thought it was a dirty brake caliper. He sent me off with this advice: get the car washes, and the water should dislodge the debris that was causing the noise.

A week later, I got the car washed. And two days after that, we had a terrible rainstorm. Not only did the noise NOT disappear, it got LOUDER. So back to the mechanic I went.

Over the phone, he told me it was “cracked brake shoes.” But when my husband went to pick the car up for me, the service ticket said the brake pads and rotors had been replaced. While I don’t know enough about brake systems to determine what he meant, I’m very glad that it’s been fixed. I was actually afraid to drive the car to and from work because of the unnerving sound coming from the tire as I drove — I heard it above the radio.

This comes on the heels of the $750 repair in early November and the $600 fuel pump repair in August. The grand total? $1650.

While I realize this is a lot of money to spend in the last four months on repairs, it’s still been a heck of a lot cheaper than a new car (and the years of payments/interest that go with it). As long as the engine and transmission are sound, I’m happy with my seven-year-old car. And I hope it’s happy with all of the money I’ve spent on it this year.

Our DIY Room is FINALLY Finished

It only took 13 months, but we’ve finally completed the bedroom that will be the baby’s room. For now, we’ve moved our bedroom furniture into the room and plan to have the baby’s furniture in there, too, while the other room gets renovated.

Thanks to a bunch of family members pitching in, we were able to finish this room ourselves, but we’ve pretty much decided that we will be doing a minimum of the work when it comes to updating the other bedroom (which will be ours again once done). We’re currently working on getting some estimates for the framing (we raised the ceiling from 7 to 8 feet; it’s a Cape Cod home so we had room to do this) and drywall work, which was the biggest bear for us. Gutting the room and putting up new insulation is a breeze in comparison.

However, we won’t be doing the flooring until both rooms are done. In the meantime, we cleaned up the old tile floor the best we could and put some area rugs over it in the “new” room. The new paint job is actually lavender, and the color is richer than it appears.

Here are some before and after pictures.

EDIT: I really didn’t think I needed to explain this, but the wood paneling is the BEFORE room. Completely out-of-date, knotty pine paneling, circa-1960. Thought the modernized drywall, paint job and updated trim in the last two pictures made it clear!

BEFORE:

AFTER: