April 2008


Spend much time on the ‘net? Ever visit a page where you’re required to put in your email address, but feel a little unsure about whose hands your address will wind up in? <<Side note: you’re never supposed to end a sentence with a preposition, but sometimes I can’t help it!>> Several years ago my brother turned me on to SpamGourmet, a website where you can register for disposable email addresses. You just pick a username, and then any time you need an email address and you’re not sure if you’ll end up with a bunch of spam, you just give out one of these disposable addys. Then, when the company tries to contact you, you still receive their email (SpamGourmet forwards the email on to your regular address), but only for a set number of contacts. Then, after that number is reached the emails will no longer be forwarded on to you.

From SpamGourmet’s website:

The disposable addresses are like:

someword.x.user@spamgourmet.com

where someword is a word you have never used before, x (optional) is the number of email messages you want to receive at this address (up to 20, and the number 3 will be used if you leave it out), and user is your username.

For example, if your user name is “spamcowboy”, and BigCorp wants you to give them your email address (on the web, on the phone, at a store – it doesn’t matter), instead of giving them your protected address, give them this one:

frombigcorp.3.spamcowboy@spamgourmet.com
(and frombigcorp.spamcowboy@spamgourmet.com will work the same way)

This disposable email address will be created here the first time BigCorp uses it (you don’t have to do anything to create it), and you’ll receive at most 3 messages, forwarded to your protected address. The rest will be indelicately consumed.

Since I print out a lot of coupons, I always use disposable addresses at sites that require me to register in order to get what I want. So far my regular inbox has stayed fairly clean from spam, and I’ve given out over 20 disposable addresses, so I think it’s working! 

I just got back from a trip to Fred’s. I got my first rain check – woohoo! I ended up carrying Jacob in his seat the whole time (he’ll fall right asleep this way, but why he won’t do the same while his seat is in the cart is beyond me). So, not only did I get a couple great deals, but some stronger forearms also. This week’s best deals:

  • Selected General Mills cereals are on sale 6 for $10 (with the Fred Meyer coupon), for a total of $1.67 per box. This in itself is a GREAT deal for cereal up here, but you can also combine this with a 50 cent Cheerios printable to make the total for Cheerios to be $1.17 per box. Woohoo! You’ll probably have to get a rain check though, as I did, as there are few varieties left on the shelves. To get the Cheerios coupon you have to sign up with the site, but they’ll let you print the coupon as many times as you’d like.
  • The only other GREAT deal I got was Colgate Total Whitening toothpaste (6 oz size) for 17 cents. How? Use the Fred’s 3/$5 Colgate total coupon, and add in this printable coupon for $1.50 off. Need more toothpaste? Here’s another printable for $1 off

I wish I could say that I just filled my cart up on the best deals, but I didn’t. I’m still learning, and hope to be a coupon pro in no time…

As South central bloggers have been saying, Spring is here! No, there are no tulips (yet) but the snow is melting and the temperatures are rising. My mood has improved dramatically, along with thousands of other Alaskans. A couple of weekends ago we drove into Anchorage to pick up our new double jogger. I’ve secretly dubbed our new stroller “Big Bertha” as she’s fairly wide-hipped as compared to our previous single version. I’m glad we got her though, and I’m envisioning strolling along with her for several miles this summer.

And another pic to brighten your Spring day:

Grab a bag full of the following for only 41 cents plus tax:

  • Huggies Clean Team flushable wipes refills (pick up 2) for $1.84 each. These are located in the health and beauty section NOT the baby section. Print off a coupon at coupons.com for $3 off 2 packs, for a total of 34 cents per pack.
  • Johnson & Johnson Buddies bar soap (small orange boxes in the baby section near the wipes), pick up 2 of these at $1.08 each. Another coupon at coupons.com for $2 off 2 J&J buddies items brings the total to 8 cents per bar. 
  • Zantac Cool Mint (pick up 1). The smallest package of this is $4.53. Click here for a $5 off coupon, which gives you a 47 cent overage. After purchasing this product, you can go to Zantac.com and enter the UPC to print off yet another $5 coupon. That is, if you can use this much Zantac 🙂 

If you happen to be going to WalMart anyway, and can use any of the above items, it’s a great deal. If you’re not already headed that direction, you’ll probably spend more in gas than it’s worth 😉

As promised, the Maxwell Family plan:
Here in Alaska we are so blessed to get a big chunk of change each October. That’s right, the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend. The coolest thing about this dividend is that families receive one dividend per child. With regards to college savings, that means that each family has the opportunity to invest approximately the same amount for each child, without having to save extra each month. That is so appealing! It’s tough to put aside extra money each month, but transferring the dividend once a year is relatively painless. For this reason, we’ve chosen to begin by just investing each kid’s PFD. We’d love to add to this amount in the future, but until then we know that we’ll be able to at least put in $1,000 or more a year without ever noticing a drop in our bank account. Our current college savings plan:
  • A Fidelity UGMA/UTMA. The required opening balance is $2,500 on this account. We saved Jimmy’s 1st PFD and have set it aside to add to this year’s, and then open the account. Our plan after opening the account, is to invest $400 a year from Jimmy’s PFD into a portfolio of funds. According to my math, this would put us at just about the right amount to be able to turn the account over when he reaches 18 while having maximized the earnings without ever having the gains taxed at our rate. This number is going to of course vary, and I figure that we’ll have to reassess every couple years to make sure that we keep this course. We like that the child can use this for anything. If they’re diligent, get the UA Scholar’s 4 year grant, and work during the summers, this money can be used to help buy a house, or pay for missionary work, or whatever. We like that flexibility.
  • UA 529. We opened this account when Jimmy was born ($250 to start, not too bad) and haven’t stuck in any money since. The plan (after beginning the above custodial account) is to deposit the remainder of each year’s PFD into this account. We’re currently 100% invested into the ACT portfolio, which buys prepaid tuition at today’s rates. If the kiddo chooses not to attend UAA, the ACT portfolio still has a cash value that can be used at any school. If this money isn’t needed, it can be rolled over into an IRA (I believe) to give the child a head start on their retirement savings. 
Just investing each kid’s PFD isn’t going to pay for four years at a private college. But, it will give them a great head-start. It’s painless for us, and easier than paying for oodles of tuition later. I am so grateful today that my folks opened a UGMA/UTMA for me when we moved to Alaska. They also helped with college tuition, and I worked during the summers. I was able to use the money from the custodial account to help purchase the land that we later built our house on. I’m excited to give the same benefit to my kids, and can’t wait to see just how it all works out. That is, as long as the spending of the investment doesn’t involve paying tuition at the University of Underwater Basket Weaving or the purchase of a mail-order bride 😉

I’ve been having a lot of fun (yes, really) the last couple of years researching college savings plans and investment tools. I’m sharing what I’ve learned for two reasons (1) I want to be able to look back and recall this info and here it’s convenient, and (2) many parents put off this decision until their kids are already in school, and by then they’ve missed out on several years of a growing investment. So, given that a parent decides to begin saving for their kiddo’s college (or future), where do they start? Here are the options:

1) A 529 savings plan

Benefits: this type of investment grows tax-free (contributions to the account aren’t deducted from your federal taxes, but distributions to pay for school aren’t taxed – yay). Also, the beneficiary can be changed. This is handy if one child decides not to attend college, the money can be used for another child (ouch). Or, the money may be rolled over into an IRA when the child reaches a certain age (not positive on this one, I just remember reading it somewhere). One benefit that many parents find attractive about a 529 is that the account remains under the control of the parent, not the beneficiary. So, if Johnny goes nuts and wants to spend his college savings at the University of Underwater Basket Weaving, mom and dad have the power to keep his hands off the investment. Many 529 plans also offer a “prepaid tuition” option, where contributions to the account go toward purchasing credits to be used in the future (but purchased at the current tuition price). With the increasing cost of tuition, this is an attractive account (although prepaid plans generally grow at a slower rate than their regular 529 counterparts).

2) Coverdell ESA

Benefits: Earnings grow tax-free. The biggest advantage that I see from this account is that withdrawals can be used toward not only college expenses, but qualified k-12 expenses as well. This puts a Coverdell ESA as a good option for parents who are planning to put their kids in a private K-12 school. If you’re going to pay for the schooling costs anyway, why not get some benefit out of it by pulling it out of a Coverdell Account? Contributions to the account are limited to $2000 per year. The account can also be transferred to a different child.

3) UGMA/UTMA (custodial account)

The investment options here are endless, as a UGMA/UTMA is basically just a mutual fund (or portfolio of funds) that is opened in a child’s name. The scariest thing about this type of account for many parents is that a new beneficiary can’t be named on the account, and once the child reaches the age of majority (usually 18 or 21), the money is theirs to do with as they please. The greatest benefit of this type of account is that the money is not restricted to college costs. It can be used for anything (gambling on the stock market, down payment on a house, mail-order bride). Because of this flexibility, the tax benefits are not as great as that of the 529, but it still offers some benefit over just opening a portfolio in the parent’s name. The first $900 of unearned income (interest) is tax-exempt, the next $900 of unearned income is taxed at the child’s rate, and the rest is taxed at the parent’s rate.

4) IRA

I’ve read a lot of conflicting advice about using this tool for college purposes. If you’re interested, do the research. Some people like this option, but I’ve run out of research time, so you’ll have to do your own 🙂

Things to consider when choosing a plan:

  • Is it important that I be able to change the beneficiary? (If yes, then don’t choose a UGMA/UTMA)
  • Am I comfortable with my child using the investment as they wish after reaching the age of majority? (If No, then a UGMA/UTMA is out)
  • Do I want to use this investment for any k-12 expenses? (If so, consider a Coverdell)
  • Do I want my child to be able to use this investment for more than just college? (If yes, consider a UGMA/UTMA)
  • Do I want my child to be eligible for Federal Financial Aid? (If yes, then research these considerations, some investments count as the parent’s asset, and some the child’s)
For the next post I’ll present the Maxwell Family college savings plan, for your reading pleasure…

This is the section heading for Jacob’s current stage, in the book Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, the Maxwell House sleep book of choice. Well, Dr. Weissbluth, that heading is spot on. Today Jacob is five weeks, and the last couple of days he has definitely been more fussy. This equates to a grouchy, more tired mommy, and a big brother who’s watched WAY too much TV. The good news for me is that scheduled sleep is just around the corner, and we can have a little more predictability back in the house.

Today has been an exercise in stereotypical “newborness”. I have spent the entire day in Pajamas, much of it carrying around Jacob in the Baby Bjorn (which he thankfully loves). For lunch Jimmy and I ate popcorn and ice cream. It’s all the nutrition my foggy brain could come up with. The food pyramid is for sissies!! At least for today 🙂

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