Catching Up After A Long Weekend

Back in the swing of things after a nice relaxing holiday weekend. My wife and I spent most of the time decorating and relaxing. I will get back to my posting schedule starting….now! Thanks for being patient.
Odds and ends from the holiday weekend:

  • Giving Thanks – We had a lot to be thankful for this year and it was wonderful to get to spend time with our families. Even though we have a troubling financial year, it’s nice to remember the things we have to be thankful for. In our case, we have wonderful families, my wife and I both have jobs, we have Baby Beagle on the way, great friends, and so many other things. It’s nice to reflect on that and hopefully we all take the time to do it more often.
  • Black Friday – We didn’t do too much shopping. We weren’t planning on going out at all, but we both woke up around 6am, which is our normal time for getting up for work, and decided to go look around. I got some LED Christmas lights at 50% off for one of our indoor trees, and my wife got some odds and ends at Michael’s at door buster prices. So, we didn’t actually buy any gifts but we did get some good deals and do our part to add to the mad rush. Surprisingly, none of the stores were that busy, but I guess it seems that most of the attention is reserved for electronics for the early rush.
  • Health Insurance – I am not happy with our insurance provider, Empire Blue. They sent an explanation of benefits that about sent me through the roof, for my wife’s first doctor’s visit. Apparently they are claiming that some of the services fall under a ‘routine checkup’ which are limited to one per calendar year. I have to call them this week to verify that is the case, and see what needs to be done to re-classify the visit.
  • Fantasy Football – It was a depressing week for me in my fantasy football league. I’ve been atop the standings for most of the season, and the regular season winner gets $40. I lost my last two games to knock me down into third place, which means I got nothing. The playoffs start next week so I’ll have a chance for some additional money, but even the small money would have been nice. I know, such a small thing to be concerned about, but it’s fun to share!
  • Recession – So the markets tumbled 8 or 9 percent today on news that we really are in a recession. Wow, that’s news? I had thought the markets were supposed to factor in future events. And the fact that we’re in a recession is the oldest news out there, so I’m surprised that the market dropped in such dramatic fashion on that news.
  • Snowfall – We had our first snowfall which required shoveling. It was actually very beautiful and looked a lot like this picture (which is just a random picture). I was very pleased with the new shovel that I bought, much more so than the plastic coated one that I used last year and was good for only one season.
  • Disappointed in JoAnn Fabrics – We bought a new Christmas tree on November 13th, as it was on sale and we wanted to make sure we got it before they ran out. It listed for $180, and we got it for $100. They had a sale following Thanksgiving where it was $90, plus they had a ‘door buster’ coupon for an additional 20% any sale priced item. They didn’t have any more in stock, and they refused to do a price adjustment, as they said that they normally only do those for 7 days after the purchase. I am used to retailers price matching for 30 days or so. This will probably prevent me from considering JoAnn for any future purchases of higher priced items.
  • Baby Update – Mrs. Beagle reported that she felt the baby move for the first time this past week. She described it as feeling like a muscle spasm, which matches what others say the first noticeable movements feel like. Exciting times!

I hope that everybody had a great weekend!

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Changes To Benefits For 2009

It’s that time of year where it’s time for open enrollment for medical and other employer sponsored benefits.

My company sold a 51% stake in themselves to a private equity firm, so we changed insurance providers, though they kept benefit offerings along the same line as they did with the old company. Hopefully that carries past 2009 because it seemed to work out well.
Some changes I made in our benefits for next year:

  • Changed to a no-deductible PPO – This past year, our PPO had a deductible of $150 per person for in-network charges. This year I switched to a no-deductible PPO. The zero deductible applies to in-network providers, with the trade off being that the out-of-network provider deductible is significantly higher, as well as the annual ‘out of pocket’ cost have a higher cap. I went through all of our medical bills for 2008 and confirmed that all of our doctors are in-network, and also spent time talking to the hospital that will be doing our delivery to make sure that all aspects of our expected childbirth is covered. They are and were very helpful in answering questions. I think this will be a good trade-off.
  • Added extra life insurance – My employer offers life insurance up to 10-times my salary, and also offers a policy for my wife. With a newborn on the way, this is something I wanted to address. I contacted our normal insurance provider to see what a comparable policy would be, and it was almost three times as expensive, so I’m sticking with the policy from work. The downside, of course, is that the employer policy would go away in the event that something would happen to my job, but I figure that if something were to happen, I would address that when the time came, but will enjoy the savings for now.
  • Contributed to an Health Savings Account – I have never contributed to this, but I wanted to this year since there will be some bills coming with the delivery of our baby as well as costs that are incurred for a newborn. The benefits of this are that it allows us to contribute throughout the year, and also is tax deductible, which reduces the overall cost. The downside is that you have to use all of it in 2009, so if you over-contribute, you could potentially use it. However, I’ve found that there is pretty good flexibility in how you can spend this, in that drugstores will allow you to spend it on many items, including humidifiers, first aid care, off-the-shelf medicines. In other words, the chances are pretty low that this will go to waste, especially in the first year of having a newborn.

The costs aren’t too bad. If I hadn’t added the extra life insurance, the cost per paycheck would actually be about the same as 2008. The extra life insurance will raise it slightly, and of course the HSA contributions will deduct as well, but this will be offset by less recurring monthly expense in money that I personally earmark for medical related expenses. I also calculated what the contributions will be once we have the baby and move to family insurance. This will add an extra $50 or so per paycheck once Baby Beagle comes to the world. I’m going to just start setting that money aside now to ensure that the effects won’t be noticeable once we have to sign up for that coverage.

Luckily, I just got my annual raise so the ‘bottom line’ won’t result in less take home after the contributions. That’s good to know.

Also, I wanted to give a special thanks to ShtinkyKat, a fellow personal finance blogger. She read my earlier post in which I was unsure about the possible out-of-pocket costs for childbirth. She asked a friend who had recently gone through it, and provided some very helpful information which led me to come up with a more firm number for my HSA contributions. Part of the fun of blogging and motivation is building a rapport with fellow bloggers and readers, and it’s nice to know that there are people reading and willing to help. Thanks again!

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Putting Doors Back In Frozen Foods

The grocery store that we normally go to recently went through and put in all new freezers in the frozen foods section. In doing so, they addressed a problem that I’ve had with grocery stores in general, that I feel has been getting worse and worse. This problem, of course, is having entire sections of frozen and refrigerated goods stored in cases that don’t have any doors, but instead are wide open.

I could never understand this practice and how it was a good idea.

I understand that a lot of the cold is being lost regardless every time that somebody opens the door to take something out. I get that. But, there still has to be more loss of cold in open freezers than those with doors. How do I know? Easy.

When there are no doors, it is COLD! I hated walking down the frozen food aisles because I would freeze my tail off. Don’t tell me that this isn’t a tremendous amount of energy loss every time this happens.

I could never understand why the doors came off in the first place. It’s everywhere. Did stores really figure out that they were losing sales because people refused to open the door and take out the item? Huh? I know we got lazier and lazier as a society, but really?
If there is anybody that can shed some light on this, I’m all ears.

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When To Make The Switch To LED Holiday Lights?

We got an early start on Christmas decorating this weekend. Usually, we go in full force the day after Thanksgiving, but we decided to start a bit earlier this year, only because of how quickly Mrs. Beagle tires out now due to the pregnancy (which is going very well so far!).

Last year, and this year, I’ve spent time thinking about the switch to LED bulbs instead of the traditional bulbs. So far, we haven’t made the switch.
According to the site Holiday LEDs, there are many benefits of switching to LED lights, which include:

  • Much less energy use – They say that LEDs use about 90% less energy than traditional light strings.
  • Longer life – They say that the bulbs last 50,000 hours, which is up to 20 times longer than a normal set of bulbs
  • Safer – LED bulbs throw off a lot less heat than normal bulbs, which reduces the risk of fire caused by overheating
  • Easier to use – Many LED light sets do not suffer from the frustrating problem of a loose, missing, or broken bulb causing the entire line to fail.
  • Brighter – The LED lights typically emit a more bright, crisp light, so you don’t use as many lights on the tree.

These seem like great reasons, so then why haven’t we switched?

  • Price – The up front cost is very high compared to traditional bulbs. I would guess they’re probably about 10 times more expensive.
  • Availability – Last year I saw quite a few stores carrying them, but most had a limited selection or were sold out quite early.

We definitely see a bump in our electricity bill during the holiday months, so I have no doubt that the energy savings would be there with the switch. But, the up front cost is the biggest obstacle. We have 900 lights outside, for example, and the replacement cost of that would be several hundred dollars. That’s a pretty steep bill.

I’m thinking maybe starting to set aside $10-15 per month might make it so that we can start switching them out over the next couple of year. Heck, maybe the price will start to fall as prices on newer technology usually do over time.

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