Archive for October 2013

Vacation in Northern California on a budget (part 2)

In my previous blog I discussed a few ways that I was able to get a good deal on airfare and hotel rates on my trip to Northern California. In this post I am going to discuss specifically how I was able to keep the transportation costs down.   Once off the plane, with minor confusion in finding my mom’s gate, we connected, and were on our way to downtown San Francisco via the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) train.  The cost of a one way trip via the BART to downtown was $8.50, much cheaper than a taking a cab, which would have cost us around $50.  The quick half hour BART trip dropped us off only a few blocks from our hotel, although that did include a steep uphill climb with our luggage.  When we got off the BART we where right near the welcome center and that is where we bought our MUNI passes.  The MUNI pass covers all public transportation, which includes bus, streetcar and the ever-popular cable car.  We purchased the three-day Muni pass and it cost $22.  I added up the amount we would have paid if we purchased single tickets and in the first day alone we would have surpassed $22.  We did also rent a car to go to Napa valley, but I was still able to find a good deal via my AAA membership.  For a two-day rental including gas and additional fees, and insurance it was still under $200. 

Stay posted for my final blog about my trip in which I will discuss how we were able to affordably dine out and site see while vacationing in Northern California.

Navigating the Changing World of Healthcare

I recently had my second child more than a decade after having my first child.  I remember going out to lunch with Brent Hunsberger, It’s Only Money columnist for the Oregonian newspaper, and him asking what the biggest difference was the 2nd time around.  I think he was surprised by my answer…..the health insurance.

When I had my first child in 2001 my health insurance was purchased through my husband’s employer and we were paying $25 per month for a Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO with a $2500 deductible.  At the time I remember thinking this was a “catastrophic plan” and that $2500 was a lot from our budget.

When I got pregnant with my second child in 2011, one of the first things I did was check our health insurance policy to see how much I would need to budget for the medical bills.  We were paying over $800 per month for insurance for just my husband and so I assumed that we must have the platinum coverage and would not be paying a lot our of pocket.  Still, I found that the deductible was $1500 and the out of pocket maximum $3000.   We planned our budget accordingly so when the bills started coming in a few months later I was surprised when we were quickly over $3000.

I called the insurance company to find out why we were still being billed even though we had paid the $3000 maximum already.  Well, those few months from when I got pregnant to when the bills started coming in brought us into a new coverage year and with it new limits.  Our out of pocket maximum had doubled from $3000 to $6000!

This was a big chunk out of our savings and especially hard with all of the other costs that go into having a new baby (remember it had been 10 years so I didn’t have anything left from the first).

Like many others, I am watching to see what happens with Obamacare.  I have many questions that are unanswered.

To answer these questions we have organized a free forum be be held at the Hillsboro Library on Nov 7th at 6:30pm where the public can come and get their questions about the changes happening with health insurance.

Find out more!

It has now been three months since I began my journey with Financial Beginnings. In my three months of working with the fabulous Melody, Sarah, and our office squatter, Dave, I have found myself to be significantly more aware of my personal finances. Whether we are conversing about where we found a cheap spot for happy hour, tips on how to get through a vacation without breaking the bank, or my recent obsession with Amazon Prime (which I will save for a later post), these people have really gotten me to think hard about my spending and saving habits, and each in their own way empowered me to start making my own financial decisions. As a recent college graduate, I knew the time was coming, and I suppose that time is now.

To start my financial renovation, I plan on considered switching from a bank to a credit union. After chats with my co-workers, meeting some of our fantastic volunteers, and doing a bit of online reading I have complied a list of my own pros and cons that have helped me make my decision for the switch.

Pros:

  • Perhaps the biggest pro in my book is the CO-OP ATM Network that includes almost 30,000 cash machines, and shared branching at 4,700 branches around the country.
  • Also, credit unions tend to have less fees and lower interest rates for both loans and credit cards, two big hitters for a newly graduated young adult.
  • Lastly, I have hear that the customer service, is superb.

Cons:

  • Technology. I will admit I am a bit obsessed with technology, but more for the convenience of it all. I am a busy individual, and anything to help me keep my life in order and tone down the chaos is welcomed. I rely heavily on the online baking and iPhone App features that come along with my bank, and am a bit scared I will not find the same features when joining a credit union. Come on, who wouldn’t want to be able to take a picture of their check and deposit it right from their phone?!
  • Another aspect I am worried about is what happens when I travel internationally. I can picture my worrisome self, sitting in the middle of London some day just had been mugged and at a loss of what to do next.
  • With lower interest rates come less rewards, so it looks like gift cards or air miles are not in my future.

It turns out, at this point in my life, a credit union was the best option for me, and I am looking forward to making that switch!