I had this brainstorm, which I am going to implement for myself and wanted to suggest this to others as well: If you are not already maxing out your pre-tax retirement contributions, ask your HR/employer to increase your 401k/403b contribution by an additional percentage point when they change over to the new withholding tables, which should be sometime in February. Without taking any action, the change in withholding should make your take-home pay go up by a bit--a small amount, maybe easing the pressure a tiny bit if you are living paycheck to paycheck, but not enough overall to really make you feel wealthier. If you are not living paycheck to paycheck and you have gotten used to living on your current take-home pay, take advantage of the change in withholding tables to divert that extra amount into long-term savings rather than spending it on extra consumables. Your take-home pay should remain similar to what it was and your savings will increase. You could wait until after the change takes place and compare your January and February paystubs, or you could try to figure out the change from IRS Notice 1036 with the new withholding tables vs Pub 15 2017 if you are an accounting geek, or if you have a bit of wiggle room in your budget you could just take it on faith that one change will offset the other by an amount that you won't really notice. I'm not a master of payroll but I did calculate for myself that the decreased withholding will be about 1% of my takehome pay and thus a good opportunity to increase my 401k contribution from 11% to 12% (I also have a set dollar amount taken each pay and put into my HSA account, some of which I spend during the year and some of which ideally gets saved; between the two set-asides I will be putting away over 16%, although last year I did end up spending about 2/3s of what I put into the HSA for out of pocket medical expenses. In a healthier year I'd be able to save more of that, and at least the healthcare expenses were paid for with pre-tax dollars.)
So one of my plans for the year is to get back to tracking my expenses--something I did assiduously when I first started on this site in 2006, but which I stopped doing during all the life craziness that started at the end of 2009 (leaving my job/career, Henry Hound's cancer diagnosis, my mom's terminal diagnosis). After a "wild & crazy ride," things at long last feel more stable, so it's time to get back to tracking and trying to rein in spending reasonably. I don't feel the need to go all austere--after all, who knows how long any of us has? Financial independence is an important goal, but I also want to enjoy the ride along the way. So I'll leave in some money for books, movies, dining out, and vacation, but I'll also try to cut the money spent in those categories compared to the last couple of years.
Back in my earlier days on this site, I learned about and used YNAB for at least a couple of years--back in the days when it was an Excel-based spreadsheet. I liked it back then. I've gone and enrolled in the free trial for the current web-based version, and I must say that I don't find it at all intuitive, so I found another Excel-based spreadsheet that I'd used before, at SimplePlanning.net, and I'm going back to that. I love the *idea* of YNAB, but not the current incarnation. Jesse Mecham just came out with a book and I'm reading that, but I think I will part ways with his software and stay with good old familiar Excel (where I spend about half my working life).
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got a 20% bonus at the end of last year. I did use some of it to bring down my debt, but even though part of me felt a strong urge to put it ALL towards debt reduction and cut another 6K off the debt, I decided--at least for the moment--to keep 6K in sinking funds for larger expenses that will (long-term care insurance premiums, dental for one of my cats) or might (car repair, home repair, etc) occur. Most of the debt is pretty low cost--0% to 4%. When one of the 0% terms expires in May, I might consider paying that chunk off in full, but I figure I'm ok not deciding right now. At some point, maybe I'll give in and get that debt down to the 86K total that I'd listed as a goal, but for the moment, I'm enjoying enough money in my savings accounts to cover the big expenses that tend to accrue for me in the summer.
The idea of "slowing down to speed up" by "funding true expenses first" is something that Jesse Mecham talks about in his "You Need a Budget" book. So what I'm doing is consistent with that--trying to get off the treadmill.
As part of my cost-cutting attempts, today's big grocery shop of the week was at Aldi's, where I got out for $85. They didn't have celery or sweet potatoes at the store I was in, so I'm stopping at the Price Rite on my way home to pick those up. Then home to make beef stew. (Not all of the day was cost-cutting--I went to my favorite diner for breakfast and treated a friend to lunch, but the rest of the week it's back to home cooked meals--the beef stew, a chicken dish--maybe a paleo sesame chicken recipe I saw online if I feel ambitious tomorrow, the vegetable soup that I'm still eating from last weekend's cooking, and another batch of ground beef tomato sauce, which I am eating over shirataki noodles, along with a side of kale.
No real progress on goals yet this week--I did one before-work exercise session. I'm recovering from an Achilles tendon injury anyway, so I'll push on the exercise once that is healed. It's too cold in my downstairs to spend time decluttering--when I'm at home, I make and eat dinner and then scurry up to bed. Upstairs is quite cozy and it's only when the weather is below 20 outside that I really feel cold downstairs. I didn't do any CFP exam studying yet, but I've drafted most of three blog posts for work that I am supposed to write this year, so getting that out of the way is good and cuts pressure from those expectations for the rest of the year. I promised at least 3 for the year and those are mostly done!
So here are my 2018 Goals, along with some plans for achieving them, as well as some one-off projects that I hope to complete in 2018.
1. Job performance: Improve timeliness of advance preparation for client meetings. Complete the basic CFP coursework.
Plan: I'll start tracking the number of days in advance that I have the meeting prep drafted, something that I have not been doing. As management guru Peter Drucker said, "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it," so step one is measuring it, with a goal to improve it.
As for the CFP courses, which I gave short shrift to in 2017 (I completed just one of the basic courses), I plan to complete the remaining four basic courses this year--one per quarter). To do that, I'm going to get in to work 30-45 minutes early and use that time each day to study (habit).
2. Take care of myself. Eat healthily (this includes an emphasis on whole foods and preparing my meals in advance), exercise consistently, sleep enough, and make time to de-stress with a daily meditation session (or two).
Plans: Food: I'm doing a "Whole 30" in January to do a "re-set" on the less-healthy holiday eating.
As for Movement and Exercise (which I learned in 2017 are two *different* things), I had an injury last week and tore some of the fibers in my left Achilles tendon, so at the moment, I'm focused on doing my PT exercises and some routines focused on increasing my joint flexibility and decreasing myofascial stiffness. I had already been working with a DPT (doctor of physical therapy) before the injury to try to avoid injury since I have a history of getting over-enthusiastic and hurting myself when I get active in a program. The current injury just slows the plan down a bit. Last year I was quite sedentary because of the bout of adrenal fatigue I spent the year dealing with. This is the first time in 12 years where I currently do not have a gym membership (!!!)
My goal for Q1 is to get back to regular movement, starting with the flexibility and strengthening exercises. Once the injury is healed, I will focus on increasing my daily movement count to 30 minutes and 10,000 steps a day (per my Fitbit). My daily step average for 2017 was a measly 5874 steps per day (in actuality probably closer to 6000 since there were several days where I forgot to put my FitBit on), with only 38 days all year with at least 10,000 steps. I'll count this goal a success for 2018 if I get at least 292 days with 10K steps (that's 80%). That's approximately a two-mile daily increase in step count. Once the Achilles tendon is healed, I'll get back to using my Leslie Sansone "Walk Away the Pounds" tapes in the morning to build up the step count. Then in Q2, my plan is to hire and work with a personal trainer twice a week for the quarter to build up my strength and develop a routine that I can eventually do at home. In Q3, I'll cap off the experience with either some kind of an event, like walk/jogging a 5K, or experience, like going on an Appalachian Trail hike -the kind of activity I did frequently in my 30s and into my 40s, but which has not been part of my life since I made the big career change in 2009. Then in Q4 (the busiest time of year at work), I won't abandon exercise altogether but I'll focus on maintaining a daily movement practice and those 10K steps a day.
3. Create a peaceful and inviting home environment. This is the goal I abandoned in 2017...and 2016, 2015, etc, going back to 2010 when my mom was dying and I was flying back and forth across the country to help her. My plan in the past has always been waiting until I had a big chunk of time and then clearing out as much as I could. A friend comes down to visit each summer, so this has typically meant taking one day off of work and doing a big clean-up in July. This tackles the surface clutter but doesn't solve the underlying accumulation problem, since the excess goes into the "storage room," whose door remains shut during the visit, and I don't tackle the stuff hidden in closets and on shelves.
Plans This year, instead, I'm going to try for a 10 minute daily HABIT of clearing a small space--one shelf, or in some cases, maybe even a quarter of a shelf, a day, then taking the donate-able excess to Goodwill once a month and recycling or trashing the rest. Then in Q2, I will hire a personal organizer to help me deal with the storage room and make that useable again. My plan is to make it a dedicated exercise space so that after I have worked with a personal trainer at the gym in Q2, I'll be able to have a place to work out at home in Q3 and beyond.
4. Increase my Net Worth by 15%. Obviously, attaining this goal to some extent depends on how the markets do in 2018, but I'll control it to the extent I can with increased savings (I increased my retirement contribution so it is now a total of 14% going into my 401(k). I have another 7% going into my HSA account. Although I do spend from the HSA for my larger medical expenses, I did save a net 3% in 2017.
A big change for 2018 will be getting back to tracking expenses, which I did religiously at the time I started on SA, but gave up during my mom's illness. I'm currently trying to figure out if I'm going back to YNAB or just tracking on Mint or Personal Capital.
5. Maintain and expand my social life. This is a secondary goal, but still important.
Last year at this time, I quoted James Clear about the "four burners" theory and how you could really only focus on a couple of "burners" (domains of life goals) at a time, while the others stayed on simmer.
This year, I'm instead going to cite former Coca-Cola CEO Bryan Dyson's "juggling" speech:
"[…] Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends, and spirit. And you’re keeping all of these in the air.
You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends, and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life."
The social domain is obviously one of the "glass balls" that I can't let drop even while my focus is for the most part on work, fitness, and improving my home environment.
I'll continue to (as I have been doing) go out with at least one friend locally per month as well as making sure I have at least one phone call or email exchange with some of my good friends who live at a distance.
This year, in addition, I think I'm going to add an activity, namely, starting to play with a local community orchestra. Playing in an orchestra was a big part of my life in my youth and something that I would like to get back to, which will also introduce me to a new group of people.
6. Take more and/or more frequent time off/vacations. I wasn't very good at this in 2017, especially the first six months, and I paid the price in adrenal fatigue. So I'm going to take more long weekends and try not to let more than five weeks pass without having at least a 3 day weekend.
Plans As far as vacations, I'm not sure. if my high school has a 40th reunion for my class, I may go out to that. If I don't make it out there, then maybe I'll visit the two cousins I have in Phoenix, or else visit Seattle and Vancouver. Plus I'd like to take one long weekend down south (I have friends in Atlanta and near Charleston SC and in Chapel Hill NC whom I'd like to visit sometime in the next few years--each of these would be a separate short trip, one a year). If I don't go out west, I'd like to take a week and visit my friends in New England--I lived in Vermont for 3 years and have friends there and in Boston and cousins in Western MA (plus I could stop and see Patient Saver in CT on the drive up or back). Plus I'd like to do a long weekend in Lancaster PA Amish country since I've been reading so many Amish romances (my latest guilty pleasure), and another B&B weekend locally along the DE for a low-stress getaway.
That's 3 short trips (Lancaster, local B&B, long weekend in the south) and one longer trip (either west or north) for the year.
I didn't travel much in the hard job-transition years after my mom died and 2017 was my first year getting back to it, and I'd like to continue the more frequent travel each year as long as the kitties' health holds. I need to get the travel bug out of my system before I get another Basset Hound, since I know myself and I know that once I have a hound, I will be hard-pressed to leave him for more than a day or two--one reason I am taking a 10-15 year break from hound ownership.
Projects Finally, here are some one-off projects that I would like to accomplish in 2018. All of these were on the 2017 list and none got done: Find a new Primary Care Physician. Get a passport (deadline 10/10/2018, as after that date my PA driver's license will no longer get me on an airplane). Find a lawyer and draft estate documents. Hire a house-call vet to check out Bridget since she is too skittish to take out to the vet, and have Buffy's dental work done. Write at least 3 blog posts for work, and master the last three (most difficult) spreadsheets at work where I still need to have my work reviewed since I haven't entirely grasped them.
I started the year two months into a new job, as a financial planner at a wealth management firm. The first two months (Nov & Dec 2016) had been doing tax-related calculations (my strength as a CPA) and learning some of the systems and procedures in the office.
I started really diving into the spreadsheets we use for financial planning at the firm in January, and I was assigned my own list of about fifty dedicated clients (as well as providing tax support for the other clients serviced by our office).
In January, I was still going to the gym and working with a personal trainer, but I started experiencing bouts of severe fatigue. By February (with an overload at work due to tax letters—we don’t do taxes, but as a wealth management firm, we provide our clients with an annual summary of what forms to expect), I had given up going to the gym. By March, I had decided to consult a chiropractor specializing in metabolic disorders (I had some adrenal fatigue as well as an increase in my Hashimoto’s thyroiditis symptoms). I checked out three and started working with one weekly in April, continuing through September, by which time the excessive fatigue had been mostly resolved. I’m still not as energetic as I would *like* to be, but neither am I feeling compromised the way I was back in the spring.
I kept my nose to the grindstone at work for most of the year—I hardly took any days off for the first six months. I got to attend the American Institute of CPAs conference in June in Las Vegas, which was a great experience hearing talks by people whose work I have been following for years now (although I really didn’t see anything of Las Vegas outside of the MGM Grand conference center). A highlight of this was being “life-planned” in a demonstration by the “father of financial life planning” as part of a two-day pre-conference workshop I attended. As a result of attending the relatively small pre-conference workshop, I had people to hang out with for meals, some of whom I am still in touch with. We also had a company retreat in Richmond VA in September.
On the “fun” side, I spent most of a week in Los Angeles visiting my sister, and I went on one overnight B&B trip locally over the summer, and I was invited to spend another overnight visiting a friend from grad school who was staying at a cabin in the woods along a creek. I hadn’t seen that friend in person in 25 years, so that was a great visit. I also hosted an annual visit from a friend who comes down yearly to see a play at the PA Shakespeare Festival with me.
Other than the travel (which was a lot for me compared to recent years, but not compared to what I used to do in my 20s and 30s), I saw a lot of movies (over a dozen for entertainment, and another six as part of a lecture series I attended on Religion and Art—six weeks of one lecture and one film per week taught by a retired professor of religion), two plays, one ballet, three "circus" acts (including one by Cirque de Soleil), and four choral concerts (my best friend sings in two choirs).
I went to nine or ten business networking events, four events for the new Food Co-Op I joined and four meetings for our local neighborhood association, two political events (the Women's Day March and a tax day rally), and I took a one day art workshop. I went to events at friends’ houses about once a month, meals with friends at restaurants at least once monthly, and to religious services about that often as well.
I originally had three big goals for 2017, which I eventually reduced it to two. The original three were 1. Job performance (technical mastery of systems and procedures at new job, CFP exam study); 2. Taking care of myself (eating healthy, exercising consistently, sleeping enough, and meditating daily); and 3. decluttering at home. The decluttering goal was the one I abandoned.
Overall, I made good progress at mastering the new job, but I was overly optimistic in thinking that I would be able to complete the CFP exam coursework and take the exam while learning everything at the new job. I did complete another one of the basic courses, however, and I did well enough at the job to get an overall positive evaluation and a raise.
I also spent effort taking care of myself, but instead of getting into shape, I managed to get out of shape because of the adrenal fatigue and stopping going to the gym. (I know I made it sound like I did a lot but I think I wrote out just about everything I did since I was in bed between 6 to 7:30 pm about 4 nights out of the week for at least half the year, and I still find myself in bed really early 1 or 2 nights a week.)
I did an ok job of getting to bed earlier and of meditating regularly, practicing on 277 days for about 10 minutes per day.
This month, I took myself to a physical therapist after experiencing unusual pain in my Achilles tendon after a two-mile walk, something that I have always been easily able to do, and I have developed a plan to get back to exercise in the new year. I also allowed my generally good diet to deteriorate over the holiday season, so it’s back to clean eating habits tomorrow, starting a month on the Whole 30.
In terms of finances, I had a very good year despite some bad spending habits (buying too many books on the Kindle, in particular). My net worth increased by $63,666—a 13.5% increase, and my overall assets are now very solidly over half a million.
Overall, it was a good year, and I am very happy that, other than Buffy’s brief bout of pancreatitis back in the fall, there was nothing significant to report with the furkids this year. Bridget turned 13 in October and Buffy hits that age in March, so they really are getting to be seniors. My previous kitties (Phoebe and Teddy) died at 13 and 14 respectively, so I am praying that my current “kitty matrons” remain in good health throughout 2018.
Today I got the email I've been waiting for all month: info about my annual bonus (first time in my 30-year working career that I've worked for a place that gave bonuses) and raise.
The bonus is given on a company-wide, not individual basis. Each year there is a revenue target, and if the company meets it, we all get the 20% bonus.
The raise is determined individually, and I believe that 3% is the standard raise unless one achieves a new certification or changes roles within the company or has some other special achievement.
With the bonus, I'll be able to pay off a chunk of credit card and loan balances and will meet my debt reduction goal for the year, hooray!
My debts have stayed fairly steady--the usual beginning of the year decrease when I take some extra money (required annual distribution from an inherited IRA) and use it to reduce the debt, followed by an increase over the year as extra bills mount--things outside the ordinary budget I can't really afford at my current salary but feel are worth the expense (paying for my CFP coursework, long-term care insurance, some household improvement stuff) so that by the end of the year, the debt ends up back where it had been around the beginning of the year. It's just that less of it is in the mortgage and more in the form of other types of low-interest debt. Fingers crossed that this coming January I can reduce the debt below what I have been able to do in past Januaries so that next year is a permanent reduction. Depends largely on what happens with year-end bonuses. If the firm I work at meets its revenue target and pays a bonus this year, that could mean a larger inflow this January than previously (I've never, ever, worked at a place that paid bonuses before, but this firm does, but not every year, and they can be a decent size) and a permanent reduction in debt. That is my goal, but obviously not something I control.
Fortunately, the increase in assets more than compensates for the fact that the liabilities are flat YTD--over a 40K increase in my accounts as well as an 8% increase in my estimated home value, for a net worth increase YTD of over 50K.
Of course I, like everyone else, am waiting for the other shoe to drop on these high markets. My boss (who routinely ends up on the Barron's list of top 100 financial advisors) thinks that, while there will undoubtedly be a correction at some point, the markets are not unreasonably overvalued, so that while we may see a 10-15% dip lasting for a month or two, he is not expecting a long-term bear market.
Of course, with all the crazy on the political scene, who knows what will ultimately happen. I was following all the politics avidly early in the year and it was just too much. So now I focus locally--there's an active group in my neighborhood, the Mount Airy Neighborhood Association, and I go to their meetings when I can. Think globally, act locally and all that.
I celebrated my one year anniversary at the (no-longer) new job on Halloween. Halloween was also my 12th anniversary of purchasing my house, so it's a day with positive associations for me.
I still have to get my formal year-end review, coming up sometime this month, but I am cautiously optimistic (knock on wood, of course!). And hopefully there will be a wage increase that goes along with it. My understanding from the others who hold my position is that there usually is, which is nice to hear. If I get a 3% raise, I'll increase my retirement contribution to 11%. With the company match of 3%, that's 14%, almost to my target savings of 15%.
I also contribute $2,400 per year to my HSA, and the company gives me enough (partly through an outright contribution and partly through matching) to cover the deductible on the high-deductible health insurance. Last year that amount was $2,000 and for 2018, we're changing insurance and the new policy's deductible is $1,500. If I were able to save the money I put in the HSA that would be another 6% of income to savings (for a total of 20%), but this past year, my medical expenses were high (partly my long-term care insurance premiums, partly the chiropractor whom I saw weekly from April through September), so I only have about $500 left in the HSA account.
The big unknown at work (other than the details of the yearly performance review and salary adjustment) is the year-end bonus. This is not an individual thing but is based on the company as a whole meeting its profit goals, and employees don't hear about whether or not there will be a bonus until the very end of the year, so it's hard to plan. More often than not, there is one, but not always. If there is, it can be as much as 20% of wages, which would do a great amount of good for me in terms of paying down my debt. I had paid down a chunk at the beginning of the year, but it's now crept back up what with the traveling I did to Las Vegas and Los Angeles over the summer, as well as a couple of weekends away here in PA. While my debt has thus only gone down a couple of thousand since the beginning of the year, my assets are up over 40K, so it has been a good year for my net worth.
If we do get the full bonus, I'll put all but a couple of hundred of the after-tax amount towards paying off the debt, which will finally bump the amount down signficantly lower than it has ever been since I bought my house and took out a mortgage.
It's been a good year at work, and while I think that my job performance has been satisfactory, there have been some parts of the job that have taken longer to master than I had anticipated, and I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked at studying for the CFP. But that is something that I will double down on in 2018. This year really had to be about mastering all the details of the job itself, and pretty much, I have.
Argh, had a whole entry written and it disappeared into the internet void after hitting post.
I won't re-create the whole thing.
Buffy cat was diagnosed in the very early stages of kidney disease--it hasn't even affected her BUN/Creatinine levels yet. Hopefully knowledge is power and will help me give her a normal lifespan.
I went to Los Angeles on vacation--a 5 day tiring trip, but good to catch up with my sister and see my aunt. I'm looking forward to more frequent short B&B trips in the near future as vacations for a while.
Belated Q2 goal review: I've pretty much dropped Goal 3 of getting organized at home and limited it to getting organized at work. Goals 1 & 2 have been enough for this year. With regard to Goal 1, work, I have also extended my plans for passing the CFP exam out another year as my progress in the classwork has been slower than I like. And with regard to Goal 2, taking better care of my health, well, I am being watchful but fatigue has been getting the better of me and I need to just do it and manage to get more exercise in the mornings even if I do not feel like it. More exercise and outdoor time in the morning should help me sleep better, which in turn should help the fatigue. No more social media or reading endless news articles in the mornings over coffee! I'll save the recreational reading for 90 minutes maximum in the early evening.
Two hurdle numbers I would very much like to get past by the end of the year: 90K in debt and under 200 pounds. Both have been places that I have hovered around for the past few years, getting below those numbers for short periods of time but then rebounding. I'd like to say goodbye to those two numbers for good this year.
I got my paycheck today, so updated my balances on the net worth statement I keep for myself. For the first time today, my net worth is, unexpectedly, over half a million. That is, if I accept Zillow's value on my home value.
I did pay down two smaller loans (about 2K) this week, but the big surprise was that my home value bumped up over 5% on Zillow. I recall reading in the business section earlier this week that local home prices bumped up over 11% so far this year, so I guess it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that Zillow updated their values.
For comparison, I also looked up my home value on homelight (which priced it 2.5K higher) and Chase Home Value Estimator, which priced it lower. The Chase estimator is our default option when we do this at work, and it is the only one to give a range rather than a numerical estimate, but I've been using the Zillow estimator for a decade now, so am keeping it the same for consistency.
This was a really slow week at work, so one thing I finally managed to do was to schedule some vacation time, something I have been lagging on since I'm still in the first year at this job.
Next week, I'm taking Friday off because I have a friend coming to visit and I need an extra day to clean up around my house. Then I'm taking a 4 day weekend two weekends from now, including an overnight at a B&B along the Delaware River half an hour from here. Then in August, I'm taking 5 days to go visit my sister, who I haven't seen in 6 years. I also scheduled myself for an extra day Labor Day weekend, to make that another 4-day weekend.
Except for next weekend when I'm taking the extra day to clean, this is mostly R&R time, which I find myself much in need of at the moment. My sleep habits have been rotten and I need to stop watching old tv shows on NetFlix or Amazon Prime before bed so that I get more sleep. I have about two more weeks to get thru watching all the old Gilmore Girls episodes and then I won't allow myself any video until November or so when it gets dark so early.
I haven't made any significant progress on decluttering, one of my annual goals. Hopefully I'll manage a bit over Labor Day weekend, but if not, I'm probably going to take a couple of long weekends next spring to devote to this. Trying to do it when the weather is either too hot (like now) or too cold (like winter) doesn't seem to work for me because I am just too uncomfortable, especially in the rooms that need the most decluttering, which are not air conditioned or particularly well heated.
But I definitely had the need to make progress on this reinforced this morning, when my beloved Buffy cat disappeared for the first couple of hours of the day. I searched high and low in every known kitty hideout, and still she found a place that I was not able to locate. Fortunately she reappeared just before I left (20 minutes late) for work. She was somewhere in the "storage room," officially the master bedroom but never used as such, and formerly my study, before I got Henry and stopped using it to work because he could not climb the stairs.
With a hat-tip to CeeJay, I'll do a similar entry, comparing where I was then to where I am now.
June 22, 2006:
Assets: 241,761 (about 48% home value & rest retirement)
Liabilities: (92,669) (mostly mortgage w/ a bit of CC debt)
Net worth 149,092
My life at that point: Working full-time as a college psychology professor, but as a sabbatical replacement (year-to-year contract), living with my basset hound Henry and cats Teddy & Phoebe. Also, in a relationship. I was taking accounting classes evenings and summers in preparation for a career change. Having landed on the yearly-contract track, I couldn't do the research necessary to land another tenure-track job because I was constantly job-hunting.
June 22, 2017:
Assets: 585,603 (about 20% home value & 80% retirement)
Liabilities: (90,248) (70% mortgage, 30% loans & CCs)
Net Worth: 495,396
My Life at this point: Workng in a full-time (hopefully permanent) job as a Financial Planner, having attained my CPA in the interim and currently working on the CFP), living with kitties Buffy & Bridget. Not currently in a relationship.
Dollar value change:
Assets: up 343,842 or 231%. Mostly this is a change in retirement assets. My home 11 years ago was within 1,000 of its value today, but went down during the crisis and now is very close to its value when I bought it 12 years ago.
Liabilities: down 2,421 or -2.6%. However, the mortgage is down to 62,900 and the non-mortgage debt is up a lot due to the exigencies of lower income while changing careers combined with less time working while my mother was dying and final medical expenses for 3 pets. So whereas my debt at the beginning of the journey was pretty much all "good" debt, now I have a significant amount of "bad" debt due largely to circumstances beyound my control.
Net Worth: up 346,304 or 332%. About half of the increase is from an inheritance from my mother and the rest due to retirement savings and portfolio gains.
Income change: I currently make about $4,000 more than I did 11 years ago. This fairly nominal change from beginning to end masks a lot of variability. Average income was a bit under 40K, but it has varied from 12K (110% of the poverty limit that year) to nearly 80K.
All in all, it's been a hell of an 11 years, but in the end, I feel blessed to have survived it and I feel positive about my ability to handle what my personal life throws at me. If this site still exists in a decade, I'll be just about at my Full Retirement Age for Social Security, and I still expect to be working (although hopefully for 25-30 hours per week rather than 40-55), and the work at that point will be solely to satisfy my need for a sense of meaning and purpose and won't be financially necessary. Also hopefully there will be another basset hound at that point :^) along with two kitties--and even another relationship.
I just returned from a week in Las Vegas at a conference. I've driven through the city once before on a road trip, at night, but we didn't stop then. This time I saw a tiny bit more, but not the full tourist experience.
The conference was at the MGM Grand, and I stayed at the Signature Towers at the MGM right next door. The Signature is newer, less flashy, cheaper, and quieter, so I'd recommend it if you go. It's not a budget hotel--there are plenty cheaper, but it does have kitchenettes so you can economize on meals.
I had all good intentions of doing so, but I was so wiped out after the first couple of days that I ate out as the quickest way to a meal and bed. And then after that, I connected with a Chicago-based financial planner and her friends, so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to network and ask questions of other planners more experienced than me, so I ended up going out to dinner every night after all. The conference provided breakfast and lunch at least.
I'm still trying to absorb the information I learned, but it was a great conference with many of the top names in the field whose writings I follow in the literature presenting.
I'm really glad I opted to do the pre-conference workshop. The workshop was only 30 people, while there were probably 8,000 or so at the conference, so going early to a more specialized workshop meant that I usually saw a few people I already had some acquaintance with at the sessions I went to.
Most of the dinners were at the MGM Grand itself, but one night we left and went to Mon Ami Gabi at Paris (with the fake Eiffel tower) and watched the water show across the street at the Bellagio. One of the members of the group I was with does planning for malpractice attorneys, who are big spenders, and he has picked up some of the practices of his clients, so he bribed the waitstaff at the restaurant to make sure that we got a really good table and also paid for a stretch limo to ride back to our hotel in.
I didn't spend a dime at the casinos (no regrets there), and I didn't get a chance to see any shows (I would have liked to catch a Cirque de Soleil show).
It was good to get away but not in the least restful. This week is busy, but so far July is looking really slow for me. I'm happy to see that because May was overly busy, with almost twice the number of client meetings to prepare for as is typical. I'm behind on my meeting follow-ups, so a slow month will give me a chance to catch up, and possibly take a few days off to just rest. I had written a blog entry or two about wanting to get away in the spring but I never did, so maybe next month I will.
In other news, I found myself behind in my CFP exam preparation because I underestimated all the adjustments I'd have to make for the new job, so I met with my supervisor and got his ok to push that off until 2018, just trying to get at least 3 courses done by the end of the year.
And I see on here that my "Blogoversary" will be in 5 days. Since I post on here relatively rarely, I'll make note of that now.
Well, I've been making good progress this year on decreasing debt, but I'm going to backslide a bit in the service of preserving my health.
I've been struggling with a growing fatigue problem for about 4 years. The last time I remember being my "old self" who woke up early and easily full of energy was about 5 years ago. I remember going out and taking lots of long walks early mornings during the times I was out in Los Angeles helping out with my mom during her final year; I remember having a job that required me to be at the office across town at 8:30 am and not struggling with it. Then I remember starting to work at a manufacturing plant in April 2012 and having my asthma get massively worse within 3 weeks, which interfered with my ability to exercise, and gradually I began to struggle to be able to get in to work at 9 a.m.--not because I would wake up late, but because I would wake up at 6:30 and just zone out over a few cups of coffee until making myself get into the shower. The asthma eventually came under control two years ago after I was put on Flovent, but my energy never returned.
Lately I've been struggling at the other end of the day as well--if I want to be out after 7 pm, I am often too exhausted to do so. Not that I am falling asleep that early--just being nonproductive browsing social media because I don't have the energy to go out more than one or two nights a week.
I had my doctor run tests and she ran the standard panels, but my tests all come back normal.
Then 3 years ago, during the 6 months I was unemployed, I went to hear a chiropractor talk on thyroid issues, since I suspect this may be part of the problem. My mother was on Synthroid, and my sister has been on it since age 19, so clearly it runs in the family. That chiropractor ran a test for thyroid antibodies--a test that my doctor did not run because it is not part of the standard thyroid test panel. That test showed that my antibodies were out of range, indicating that my body is in essence attacking my own thyroid (a condition known as Hashimoto's Thyroiditis). The doctor recommended going on a gluten free diet (so I switched from being vegan to going gluten free, not that the two are incompatable but I just couldn't manage too many dietary restrictions at one time) and paid out of pocket for periodic thyroid antibody tests. When I brought the topic up to my doctor, she gave me the standard allopathic medicine doctor response of "there's really nothing to do but wait until your thyroid levels go out of range and then use Synthroid.") The chiropractor also had another program of treatment he recommended--but it was mostly out of pocket except for the lab testing, and I couldn't afford it at the time.
By going gluten free, I had seen my antibody levels gradually go down. But this winter I felt the fatigue increase, and when I had another test done in March, it showed an increase in my levels again. They're still significantly lower than the first time I was tested (which to me is evidence for the autoimmune nature and the role of gluten in the disease), but this was the first time i 3 years that my levels rose rather than fell.
Then 3 weeks ago I was on facebook and I saw a talk by another chiropractor being given on Saturday. I went to that talk and signed up for a consult with him. I also knew of a third chiropractor who treats Hashimoto's who is actually on the list of recommended practitioners listed by Isabella Wentz, author of "The Hashimoto's Protocol" and I made an appointment to see him as well.
So after all of this, I've decided that now is the time to get my energy back, because that is what enables my ability to accomplish every other goal in my life. Having met twice now with each of the three doctors, I've decided to go to the one who is on Wentz's list of recommended practioners. Yes, it will involve a big out of pocket cost, since again, only the lab tests are covered by insurance. But I'm not making progress on the other goals in my life in the way that I want because of my lack of energy. I'll be going for a more extensive panel of tests next week--and if there is anything more serious going on that would require an internist, that should be shown by the tests as well (in which case I need to hurry up to find a new internist as my last one died in November).
I brought along my last few sets of bloodwork results to the exams, and the doctor who I have chosen noted a recurring anomaly in another marker that no doctor had ever commented on before, and told me what it indicated, which fits with some other information I have from "genetic genie" interpretations of my 23andme results (basically a methylation anomaly). That, plus his answer to another "test" question I gave to my doctors to understand more about their perspective, gave me some confidence that this doctor will help get me on the path to restoring my energy--since right now, as the song goes, "my 'get up and go' has got up and went." And that, frankly would be worth incurring another 2.5K expense (especially in the least invasive way. I've done a lot of reading about functional medicine in the past few years, and have come to believe that while allopathic (traditional) medicine is the best route to treating acute conditions, for autoimmune and many chronic conditions, you are best off starting with a functional medicine approach which may entail lifestyle changes to forestall further problems rather than waiting until the problem becomes bad and then sticking you on drugs.
One of my new year's resolutions was to try to do a couple of weekend getaways this year--one in the spring and one in the fall (plus work will pay for my going to a conference in Las Vegas in June, and I need to take some time to visit my sister in Los Angeles, possibly in July since work is slowest then).
In beginning to think about a spring getaway, I looked at the website for the bed and breakfast that I have gone to a couple of times before--once on my own in the fall, and then I met Patient Saver there last May (the second time we had met F2F). I love that b&b because it is right on the Delaware River, but in northern PA so less pricey than the New Hope area B&Bs, and there were a couple of restaurants within walking distance.
But when I looked at their schedule for this year, I see that they aren't taking reservations, citing health reasons. I'm sorry to hear that one of the owners is ill, and sorry that my nice little weekend getaway is now most likely out of business.
So I began looking at Air B&B places and thought I'd ask about people's experiences with them. Of course, it's going to vary a lot based on the particular place you stay. I only have ever had conversations with two people about their Air B&B experience.
Financials First: My net worth is up to $490K, so I'm getting very close to the half-million mark. Very exciting!
My debt is also down, but still beyond what I would like it to be. There's more on the credit cards than I can pay off in one month and that makes me unhappy. I just need to keep that in mind and keep the discretionary spending more in check. Q1 always leads to my eating out going out of control what with tax season busy-ness.
Time also for a Goal Review. I definitely need a re-boot! Being at another new job and going through the tax season here for the first time, having them reorganize our work flow in the middle of this (which is ultimately much more effective, but the transition from the old system to the new system was bumpy since I didn't yet have the old system fully mastered) and then getting sick and feeling not entirely well for the past month have done a number on the goals.
So: Goal #1, Job performance: I'm improving on my technical mastery, but don't have full mastery of everything at work yet. I've definitely NOT managed to shift to an early schedule of getting in half an hour early. And I need to start studying for the CFP exam again--that's what got most off track during Q1.
Goal #2: self-care. Again, got off track. I've been feeling really tired and have been going to bed early but this doesn't mean that I'm getting eight hours sleep each night. I need to turn all screens off at 9 pm. I have spent too much time on social media, especially in light of my upset over the current administration's performance.
Does anyone else here have a Fitbit Charge HR 2? Have you noticed the new sleep screens? They now use your heartbeat to track your sleep stages: deep, light, REM, and awake and display your pattern over the whole night. Up until last Sunday, they just tracked times awake and times restless. The new output is much more useful.
I did really well on meditating daily until I got sick. Now I need to get back to it--and to find a new PCP.
I did get a blood test (one I ordered myself) and found out that my Hashimoto's has gotten a bit worse since I last assessed my antibody levels a year ago. I'm reading Isabella Wentz's Hashimoto's Protocol, which was just released this week, and I have made appointments with a couple of functional medicine doctors. I'm not sure if I will actually enroll in their programs right now, but getting a doctor's Rx for some additional testing and talking to someone will help. The traditional (allopathic medicine) approach is to wait until autoimmune disease gets so bad that it pretty much destroy's an organ (the thyroid in the case of Hashimoto's; the adrenals in the case of Addison's) and then just put you on medication for the rest of your life. The traditional thyroid tests that they give you if you ask your doctor to test your thyroid (TSH, T3, T4) don't necessarily catch the disease in progress. My regular thyroid tests are normal but the antibody tests are not, and I'd prefer to prevent this from getting worse and having to be on some form of medication for life, so this may mean more out of pocket health care expenses.
The Hashimoto's protocol author suggests that following her regime (supplements, more money sigh) will help significantly with fatigue. I've started with thiamine, selenium, and NAC. If I'm to get back to regular exercise, I need to feel more energetic.
I did walk to work one day this week, at least, and am looking forward to doing that much more often as the weather continues to warm.
Finally: Goal #3, getting organized. I have tentatively found someone to help me with the landscaping, and as things get warmer, I'll try to make progress on the inside-the-house organizing as well. This was always intended as a primarily Q2 goal, since this season has the best weather and is less busy with work than the end and beginning of the year.
So: I'd give myself a C- in overall goal progress. But today is the start of a brand new quarter, so hopefully by the time I sit down July 1, I will have a more positive self-assessment to report.
Interesting series of stories.
We are having an unseasonably warm week, so I walked to work yesterday and today. On the way home today, I made a mental inventory of the different jobs I've had.
In reverse chronological order, 10 jobs since changing careers from teaching psychology to the financial services arena (tax prep/ CPA/financial planner). That covers Sept 2009 to the present.
Six psychology teaching jobs since getting my PhD, 1989-2009.
Six varied employment positions during my education.
Two Schedule C businesses along the way, the first as an undergrad (statistics consultant) and the second (writer/editor) as a sideline while a professor.
Grand total: 24.
Plus if I had filed as a minor, I might have filed another two Schedule Cs: babysitter and street musician!
We just had the first CostCo open up locally back a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. Since November was when I started my new job, this weekend was my first chance to go and check it out. It's over the other side of the valley, further than I usually drive on my weekly errands--a little bit of a distance but not too far--about 20 minutes, while most of my weekly errands are done within a 15-minute radius of home. (The nearest CostCo otherwise is about 50 minutes away.)
I arrived around 9, hoping to beat the crowd, and to my surprise, they were not yet open. Fortunately, a Whole Foods had also opened in the same mall, so I went and checked them out, seeing how the store was laid out and looking for interesting items to buy (but not yet purchasing anything at that point).
I went over to CostCo when they opened, but I was out 20 minutes later. I just didn't see the big deal. It looked just like the Sam's Club and BJ's that are a lot closer to me, with perhaps slightly higher quality merchandise in some areas. Certainly nothing that on the face of it would entice me to buy a membership or shop there regularly.
But before ruling them out entirely, I thought I would ask people what their favorite CostCo buys are. Maybe if I knew what to look for when shopping there I could see the value in sharing a membership with a friend (we currently share a Sam's Club membership, but let the BJ's membership drop).
The trip wasn't a waste--there's also a Nordstrom Rack and I picked up a dress and a sweater for work for less than $50, and I went back to Whole Foods and did my weekly shop there instead of the usual Wegman's run. (Whole Paycheck, indeed!)
So right at the moment, I can't see myself driving out there to go to CostCo again, but I can see myself going and checking out Nordstrom Rack and buying a few novelty groceries at Whole Foods maybe 2 or 3 times a year.
Other than that, mostly it's been a quiet weekend--potluck at my congregation Friday night, then went to see two movies at the local independent cinema yesterday plus will go to another one tonight. Yesterday both movies I went to with a friend. We met to see "Lion" in the late afternoon (worth seeing). While we were there, they announced that they were giving away passes for a free showing of "1984" for a later night showing, so we went back later. Today's film is a one-night showing of "A Better Life: An Exploration of a LIfe of Happiness & Joy in a World without God" about atheist philosophy (with the director in attendance for an after-movie discussion).
Tomorrow night I might go back yet again to see the Oscar-nominated Live Action Shorts--and next weekend are the Oscar-nominated Documentaries. I'll probably skip the showing of the Oscar-nominated animated films, but I very well go back on the 26th for the Oscar party and screening.
Good thing I renewed my annual membership at the arts center where the cinema is located yesterday--I go enough during the year that the annual membership pretty much ends up paying for itself in accumulated discounts.
I have been drafting my tax return--it's mostly done, but I always draft the return at least a month before I submit it because I will often turn up additional deductible amounts during that time (I am not very good at regular expense tracking at the moment; mostly I keep things in check by using one rewards credit card for food and gasoline, which are "variable" as opposed to "fixed" expenses but shouldn't really vary that much from month to month, and another rewards credit card for all the truly discretionary expenses. If I have a high bill on that credit card for one month, I'll make an effort to make sure that the next month's bill is lower than average.
For the past couple of years, I've had an HDHP health insurance plan. At my old job, there was a set amount that went into the account per paycheck, and if I wanted to contribute more than that, it was an after-tax adjustment to the front of the tax return. (My new job allows you to adjust your contributions on a pre-tax basis, so for 2017 contributions, I am filling the HSA bucket that way.)
Just like with IRA contributions, you have until the tax return due date to make prior year contributions. I also have an inherited IRA where I have annual required minimum distributions. Cash flow is a little tight at the moment since I have recently paid off a big chunk of debt.
But what I have figured I can do is the following: Take an additional amount from the beneficiary IRA (and withholding 16% for tax, close to my effective tax rate), contribute that to increase my 2016 HSA contribution, add that adjustment to the front of the tax return, increasing my refund. Then when the refund comes in, I will take that money and contribute it to my Roth IRA. I know I would be ok filing the return and then using the refund to make the HSA contribution, but I'd rather have it out of the way before I file, since I always seem to be able to find ways to use extra money that is not "hidden" from myself in a deferred account.
So while my retirement balance will go down slightly, the total deferred balance (which includes the HSA) will stay the same, and I give myself a little float which will enable me to use my next paycheck to pay off this month's accrued credit card debt.
One of these days I will get back to having a month's worth of discretionary cash in savings, but liquidity in my accounts has been tight, and will be so for another year. But as long as I keep this job, the non-mortgage debt will be paid off in less than two years and I'll be able to start putting over 5K a year in emergecy savings and then a brokerage account, so my liquidity will increase a lot.
I have switched recently from tracking my net worth on networthiq.com (where I have been tracking monthly since June 2006, the same time I started here on SA) to networtshare.com, which is kept more up to date. It took networthiq until the end of January to all 2017 entries. I input my yearly values for the past decade onto the new site, but I won't spend the time to enter the monthly data.
I'm hoping that I have reached a tipping point: if you look at my sidebar, you'll see that my debt is the lowest and my net worth the highest since I began tracking. The lowest my debt has been prior to this was the month before I left my teaching career, and back then it was 100% mortgage.
The urge to spend is still high--only by regular posting here can I keep on track.
Work is going well, very busy--in January and February, we have to get out letters to clients with tax info for the year, telling them who to expect official tax documents from, what our fees for the year were, whether they have made IRA contributions or taken IRA distributions, etc. It's an extra 30-40 hours of work over the two months, when the regular workload doesn't slack at all. And it is taking me longer because I'm new and don't yet know the whole client base yet, do I have to check on everything. Next year, when I know the clients better, a lot of the information I am having to look up on s case by case basis will be stored in memory, which should make the task faster.
It's Restaurant Week here, so I am taking myself to an early lunch at a Tapas Bar and then going in to work for a few hours to make more progress on the darn things.
I still have to update my sidebar column (I'll incorporate it into the Feb 1 rating), but I took my required minimum distribution from my inherited IRA and used it to pay down a big chunk on my HELOC. This brings the current debt total to $88,360--which is close to what it was when I started tracking on networthiq.com back in 2009 before leaving teaching. In 2009, I left my career of 20 years, followed by a 5 year transitional period during which I at first could only find temporary or part-time work and during which I was traveling back and forth across the country a lot because my mother was terminally ill (2010-2011) and I also lost/was dealing with serious ill pets (Henry, ill August 2009- May 2010, Phoebe, died March 2011, Teddy, diagnosed with the illness that he died of in January 2014 in November 2011). That period of high expenses during a period of low and uncertain income did a number on my debt which I am still struggling to deal with. Back in July 2009, right at the time I left teaching, my debt was at 87,342, its all time low since buying my house. At that 87,342 was almost all mortgage debt and a smallish credit card bill. One month later, Henry was diagnosed with cancer and the descent into debt began. Now I'm down to 88,360, of which 64,400 is the mortgage and the rest is still paying down the accumulated medical and extra living expenses from those tenuous years. 11K is on the HELOC and 11,400 is on a loan against my 403b. So the non-mortgage piece is finally significantly below 30K. It will probably take me another couple of years to pay off the non-mortgage piece, by which time the mortgage should be down to 55K, which I can easily pay off before I turn 65.
Knock on wood that no major home repair expenses are required and that I'm finally to a period of job stability after some rocky years.
Overall goal assessment for 2016 is that I give myself a C on all fronts. Some progress but not significant progress on all fronts. The biggest achievement of the year was surviving a layoff proactively and landing a new position at a company that is a better fit for me within 3 months. (This is significant, but isn't nearly as good as having great success at my job and passing the CFP exam.)
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I did make progress reducing debt and increasing my net worth. My exercise progress was good from January until an injury on March 5, then when I finally went to physical therapy during June and July, I got back on track and am being more consistent again, but I was totally off track for March, April, and May. And while I did get my house presentable enough to have guests over a couple of times (something that I would have been ashamed to do the previous year), I didn't do any real decluttering, as in getting rid of stuff. There's still a bedroom (the master bedroom, in fact) that is just a storage room. I really do want to GET RID OF THINGS this year. I am targeting the spring for this project: late April, May, and June, when the weather and sunshine will motivate me, and the burden of tax season is behind me.
I read a blog post by James Clear, who talks about the "3 burner theory" and work-life balance. The theory is this: We have four burners we try to juggle: work, health, friends, and family. And just as a chef will struggle if they try to cook complex dishes on all four burners at once, so we can't tackle big goals on all four fronts at the same time, or we become less effective. Clear suggests that we tackle 3 or even better just 2 big goals at any one time.
So while I do have a more detailed list of 20 goals, I've just put the big 3 in the sidebar. Work and Health are the big two, with a focus on decluttering selectively in Q2.
Some of the other specifics that I hope to tackle this year are getting a passport (since PA drivers licenses won't be accepted for even domestic air travel after January 2018), getting estate documents in place, and visiting my sister in Los Angeles, who I haven't seen in 3 years now.
I also want to take two B&B weekends, one in the spring and one in the fall, plus go to a conference paid for by work. If they will pay for my CFP exam review, I'll do that in lieu of a conference; if not, there's a conference in Salem MA in July that tops my list but it's a bit expensive, so I have to do more research for alternatives. (Plus the company as a whole does an annual retreat at company headquarters in Richmond VA every November.)
I think of my goals as investments in my human capital. While I really haven't invested signficantly in the interpersonal domain in quite a while, I'm going to delay focusing there for one more year. If I can make significant progress this year on the work and health fronts, then in 2018 and beyond, I'd like to start investing more in the interpersonal domain, something that I've largely neglected since my last romantic relationship ended in 2009. (I also neglected the domain during my 30s as well.) Hopefully I'll assess myself a year from now as being in a place where I can make a change of focus.
Overall, my net worth is up $17,213 (3.79%) for the year, from 454,015 at the bginning of the year to 471,228 at year end. The change is due approximately to a 7K increase in assets and a 10K decrease in liabilities.
I'd set a goal of 92.5K total debt in my sidebar near the beginning of the year, and I'm ending the year with 94.4, so that's somewhat close to my goal and a significant decrease in any case (9.86%)
My retirement balance increased even though I used some of my beneficiary RMD to pay down debt rather than just taking it, paying the tax, and contributing to a Roth, which is what you would *ideally* do with with that kind of account. But it's what helps get the debt down.
I still have $28.628 in non-mortgage debt, which I estimate will take me until January 2019 to pay off, if I take part of the RMD and put it to debt reduction at the beginning of eatch year. But the amount that requires grows steadily less, so after this next draw, I'll be able to roll part of the RMDs over to a Roth.
(And if the company does well and I get a full bonus next year, I might even be able to use the bonus rather than the RMD to reduce the debt.)
I was able to add over 10K to my retirement accounts (about 8K on my own and 2K employer match). That helps balance out the RMDs, though the draws still exceed the contributions. It's net growth, though, because of income generated by the assets in the account. I like to look ahead to the point in a couple of years where I'll just be able to roll the beneficary RMDs to a Roth and it will be all contributions--that will definitely help my retirement balance--as long as I manage to still stay employed, knock wood!
Yesterday was my last official work day of the year, as I took today off. I already have 3 days off accrued after being with the company just two months. I'm using one of them today, and then Monday is a company holiday. So a rare four-day weekend to be cherished and savored! I actually had one over Thanksgiving as well. Unlike my last job, the Friday after Thanksgiving is a company holiday as well. So I've been at the company two months and had 2 four-day weekends. I might have another in January as well. The two unused PTO days from this year have to be used by the end of January or be lost. We have a company holiday on President's Day, so maybe I'll use another then--something which I will decide whether or not to request over the weekend.
I was delighted to find out yesterday that, even though I've been at the company only two months, I received a year-end bonus equal to an extra week's salary, as an indication of the company's satisfaction with my performance and work so far (as well as the fact that the company itself did well and is growing--I am part of the employee expansion).
It's kind of amazing to me--I've never worked anywhere that gave bonuses before (the first two decades of my working life were in academia, which doesn't give bonuses, and the past several years have been mostly shorter-term assignments as I have worked to build my financial experience and expertise on my way to attaining my desired professional licenses).
I was also given a nearly 6% raise effective January 1. I don't expect to see any of that in my take-home pay, but instead will use it as an opportunity to increase my retirement savings. I'm currently at 10% with a 3% company match, and I'd like to raise it to 12%. I'll decide after the first pay of next year, which will have the effects of the new benefits elections calculated in.
As for my long weekend, today I am working on reviewing my first CFP course in preparation for taking the final exam, something which I pledged to myself and my supervisor that I would finish by tomorrow. I also will probably go in to the office for a bit to do some filing and take care of a few details I'd like finished before year end, and I'll do the household chores and try to clear up the clutter that inevitably accrues between times I have people over. I'll also be planning in more detail for next year. I have a potluck that I may to go tonight, but I'm planning to eschew the party invite for tomorrow night and stay home. Monday morning I have a personal training session scheduled at the gym, then Monday night, I'll go to a movie with a friend--hopefully to be celebrating a weekend of accomplishments achieved.
Stopping in to wish everyone on SA the best of whatever holidays you celebrate! May your days be happy, healthy, merry, and bright, and may light come in to the new year after a fariy dark 2016.
Quiet here, as usual. My congregation's Hanukkah party was last night but they moved it from its usual place (at the synogogue) to the house of the person who does most of the cooking, which is a ways out, so I didn't go. I can do either dark or wet or unfamiliar but I get scared if I have to drive any combination of those, and last night was a bit of all three, so I stayed home. But I heard they had a good turnout, so that's good--and the family that hosted had a couple of members in the hospital for various things around Thanksgiving, so I don't mind that they changed the location to make it easier on themselves.
My Christmas tradition the past few years has been to have brunch with my closest local friend. She then goes to visit her daughter's family in NJ and sometimes I visit other people or go to the movies in the afternoon, and I always talk to my sister in Los Angeles sometime during the day.
Brunch was nice, although there was a bit of a pall over it because her dog Sammy has cancer and we don't know how much longer it will be. He seemed perky when I arrived and then again when we went for a walk before I left, but otherwise he just slept, more so than he used to. My friend lost her 6 year old grandson to cancer about 5 years ago, so this has triggered a lot of the same emotions in her again and she has been quite down. But the morning was pleasant enough.
Other than that, it was sunny and fairly pleasant (about 47 degrees) this afternoon, so I took a long walk around the neighborhood for the first time since we turned the clocks back the beginning of November. And I have yet to talk to my sister and open my gift from her, which arrived in 5 separate packages (actually, I have 4 so far and the final one arrives tomorrow)...very mysterious and my sister has been having fun keeping tabs on how many packages have arrived, so that is something still to look forward to.
And other than that, I have been beginning to do some journaling to review last year and plan for next--my favorite way to end the year.
Quiet and lowkey, but I prefer that to harry and hassle and stress of looking for just the right gift for everyone. My friend was pleased with her gift, and I still have to send out my sister's (we had an ice storm last Saturday, when I was planning to go)...but Hanukkah is 8 days so I just need to get it to her by the end of the week.
Anyways, best wishes for a mellow holiday, everyone!
I started my new job on Halloween, so I've now completed two weeks. The first day was basically all meetings--and virtually all by video-conference. The company has two offices, with the main office in Richmond, VA. I work at the satellite office in PA, which is where the company started. In fact, the company president used to live about 3 blocks from me and the first home of the company was 50 yards from his house.
The second day started with another online training meeting. Then I got to sit in on my first client meeting. It looks like I will get to sit in on a lot more client meetings in this job, and for that I am glad.
The third day I spent filling out benefits forms. The company's plan year starts 12/1, and there were changes in the policies offered, so I had to fill out one set of forms for the month of November and a whole other set for December 2016-November 2017.
The fourth day was mostly in person staff meetings at our office.
Finally on the fifth day I began to get some training on the spreadsheets that I will spend most of my time in.
The second week was mostly taken up with our company retreat. Once a year all of the PA folks go down to VA. (There are twice as many people based in VA as in PA, so the PA office gets to travel. Also, once a month, the Company President comes up to PA to meet with clients, so he does his share of driving too.)
The retreat was good, with a lot of emphasis on communication training. I got to sit in on 5 or 6 mock client meetings and see the feedback the communications consultants were giving. It was extremely informative. It wasn't all work--we did a group painting event at one of those "paint bars" that has become fashionable followed by a restaurant dinner the first night, and dinner the second night was at the company president's house. The meetings were really about the compnay culture and improving the communication process, both internally and externally, something that is so important in this business. I like that my employers are investing in this.
It was also great to meet everyone in person who I had talked to previously only via videocam if at all. That will definitely help make it easier to contact them in the future.
It was also a crash course in getting to know my office-mates since we rented a mini-van and most of us drove down together.
So I'm really glad this occurred early in my tenure at the firm--but I did find on coming back on Friday that I'd already forgotten some of the technical stuff about using the computer programs that I had started learning the previous week. That will come with time and practice.
Next week is the company President's week in town, and my calendar for the week is already looking very busy. I'll be going in to the office tomorrow to get a jump start on preparing for the week ahead and to spend some time digesting and summarizing what I learned on the retreat.
I've heard from a couple of people that they felt that they spent a lot of time when they first started where they were not doing very much. Not the case here, by virtue of starting the week before the retreat and right before year-end when all of the RMDs need to be processed and year-end tax planning done.
I'm really glad this company allows for the day after Thanksgiving off, as well as Thanksgiving. I'm going to need a long weekend!
The one week between my new job offer and starting work this coming Monday is going very fast. It's almost gone and there is so much that I want to do before then. Most of the house stuff is not, alas, going to get done. Now that there is just a weekend left, my main goal with household stuff is to get the filing done and do all the laundry, a full grocery shop, and to do meal prep before Monday. Also call my service for a furnace cleaning so I can ask them about the radiators. One of the three upstairs radiators is heating but not bleeding, and another is bleeding but not really heating. The latter is in my bedroom so I need to make sure I am warm enough before it gets really cold. Or else I'll end up on a mattress on the floor in some other part of the house.
I'm reading a book called "Work Clean" about applying the culinary philosophy of mise-en-place to one's worklife. It's a good read and I am hoping to find or put in place better workflow systems in place from the get-go at mynew position than I had at my last job. The simple organizational things like filing are not difficult to do but they always seem like they can be procrastinated on--and then they get the better of you. Or at least of me. Got to try to prevent that!
This morning I went for what I hope is the very last time ever to LVP, my local networking group for unemployed professionals. I have been involved with this group off and on for at least five years, through 3 or 4 job searches. The group meets every Friday from 10 to noon at the local CareerLink. This time around, I was laid off on a Wednesday and back at LVP on Friday. I made sure to get involved with one of the committees early on, since those who are more involved in the organization tend to have more job hunting success. One also develops closer friendships in the smaller subgroups than in the large group meeting. So it was a bittersweet visit back to the group to give my "landing" speech and say goodbye. I got some nice feedback on the change in me since I first arrived in "mourning mode" until now and thanks for the two training presentations I gave as well as informal tax advice on our listserv. I made three decent friends and several new acquaintances during this transition, and I've put it on my calendar to follow up with the new friends again in a month to see how they are doing. That summarizes the lessons of this group: 1. new jobs are much more likely to come about as a result of networking than through any other method (online resume sites like Monster and Indeed are a black hole; only about 7% of hires occur off of those sites); 2. Following up is crucial--it was following up on a new connection I made at a networking meeting that directly led to my new job; and 3. Giving back by getting involved and contributing to the group is critical, for the success of the group, for your personal success, and for expanding your local network. Being involved with the small subgroups within the group also helped me maintain a positive attitude, and in the end, success in a career transition is largely dependent upon attitude and mindset.
Also this week as part of transitioning, I joined a new gym. I had been going to one which I liked a lot but which was expensive; that contract expired so I joined another gym that is one-third the price, has more equipment and classes, and best yet, is walking distance from my house. I got a special deal that lowered the normal price by joining a weight loss program that includes four sessions with a personal trainer, a meal plan, and a requirement that you go to the gym at least three times a week. As long as you meet with the trainer four times and attend the gym 3x/week, you can then quit at the four month mark OR you can lock in the discounted price for the balance of a year. And if you paid for the first four months up front, there was an additional discount. I took this and ended up paying as much for four months at the new gym as one month at the old one cost me. I've been to three classes so far and have my first personal training session tonight.
One of my successes during this job transition phase was changing my diet and getting going more with exercise again--I'm now nearly 20 pounds lighter than when I was let go just over three months ago. This time I want to do my best to keep the weight off as I get back to full-time work and I am hoping the new gym helps me do that. Since it's very close to both home and work, excuses not to work out are minimized. I will start out by attending the 5:30 pm classes most evenings, but I'd like to move to attending at 5:30 in the morning. I've been trying to wake up earlier to start doing that, but no dice currently. I wake up at 5, turn on the snooze, and then get up 60-120 minutes later. Maybe once we turn back the clocks it will get a little easier.
I was offered--and accepted--a new job today. I'm very happy with the offer. It's a fairly similar type of position to what I was doing (tax and financial planning at a wealth management firm), but in a larger company, one with two levels of staff and other people in the same role. I'll be a junior planner to start but there is the possibility of someday rising to a senior role. It's still a fairly small company--I'll be the 23rd employee in total, and the 9th in this office, which is now a satellite office (but which is where the firm started, before the main office was moved to Richmond, VA). The company has an annual company-wide retreat each November, so I'll be in Richmond for the election. I'll be applying for my absentee ballot tomorrow!
My compensation will be 20% less, but the benefits are better, and there's the opportunity for growth, so I'm happy. I'll be very happy to have my medical and dental fully covered!
The office is actually in the building next door to where I WAS working, so it's still just a mile from my house. Now that I've gotten back to walking so much, I'm going to see if I can manage walking into work more often. I never did manage to do it very often at the last job.
I start on Halloween, so I have one week to get organized around the house and do some de-stressing before getting back to a new routine.
I also have to get back to the other jobs I was applying for soon. I had already accepted a holiday retail sales job at a local department store, but I hadn't even gone for training or filled in the employment paper work, so I already notified the manager there. I had three other jobs in process, one a definite offer that was part-time to start, building to full time after I passed some licensing exams, and the others full-time, one in tax and the other another tiny wealth management firm. The job I accepted has more people and better benefits plus was the closest distance, so the decision was pretty clear. This time on the market definitely felt easier than the last time--I didn't start job hunting at all until September 1, so it was less than 8 weeks in all.
A sweet New Year to those who celebrate (and those who celebrate alongside us).
A quick update here on my life:
My debt load is down to about 96K, 10K down from last December and close to where it was when it took a spike up with the HELOC last October. I keep on running projections for myself and am still optimistic that I can wipe out the non-mortgage debt by the time I am 60 (4 more years) and the mortgage by age 65. I don’t think I’ll ever again earn as much as I earned in my last position, but as long as I earn enough to repay my debts and cover my current living expenses, I’ll be ok.
A baseline rule of thumb for retirement income is to have at least 8 to 10 times your annual income in retirement accounts; this provides for a withdrawal rate of 3 to 5%. Now I don’t have 8 times my recent high level salary in my retirement accounts, but I do have 8 times my expected future salary in there, so as long as I don’t have to draw too much down before retirement, I’ll be fine. (Why would I draw money before retirement? Because part of this money is in inherited IRAs, which come with Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Ideally, pre-retirement, one takes the RMD, pays the taxes at one’s ordinary income rate, then rolls the money into a Roth IRA (so that you don’t have to pay taxes on it again). But these difficult years, I have been using the money to pay down debt at the beginning of the year. When I can also save for retirement through pre-tax deductions at work, these two amounts pretty much even out, but there have been years where it all ends up just being a paydown of debt without sufficient corresponding contributions.)
Bottom line: as long as I earn enough to cover my current expenses, I am fine. Being able to earn enough to save more for retirement would be ideal--I'd love to be able to retire with 12-15 times income in my retirement accounts (and will probably have to work until age 70 to do this)--but as long as I don't have a net withdrawal from the retirement accounts until actual retirement (as long as I am able to save at least the amount I take in mandatory RMDs) I have enough to survive retirement barring any black swan events (and I do have a long-term care insurance policy to cover the most likely black swan).
The biggest question mark in here is health insurance coverage. The COBRA plan offered to me was $762 a month so I instead went on the Health Care Marketplace and got myself a Bronze plan for the rest of the year at $524 a month. I may well go for a Silver plan next year if I don't have a job that provides any insurance, but hopefully I will. The idea of 8 to 10K out of pocket a year for premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance is daunting. Having once owed additional tax for getting a subsidy and then in the end not being eligible for it, I will from now on avoid opting for the subsidy paid in advance (the Premium Tax Credit) and instead take it when I file my tax return after all is said and done.
In terms of my projected debt reduction, I have so far reduced my debt load about 8K this year. It had reached a recent peak last November at 108K and is down to about 96k (roughly 66K mortgage and 30K non-mortgage debt; by January, it should be down to 94K. Then I am hoping to reduce it by 12K a year thereafter. Once the non-mortgage debt is gone, I’ll be able to increase retirement contributions, and I’ll be able to up them even more once the house is paid off.
Presuming of course that I am back at work.
I am feeling hopeful about that at the moment. Things have really picked up the past couple of weeks, and I’m onto second conversations for planning jobs—these would be with insurance rather than investing oriented firms, but I’m actually eager to learn that side of the business. Then there’s a position that would involve being a rotating consultant working out of a staffing firm—I’d be an employee of the staffing firm with benefits, and they would try to keep me working on short-term assignments typically of a few months. They would keep me on the payroll for up to a month after each short-term assignment ended and try to find me another assignment (hopefully going seamlessly from one assignment to the next); if they weren’t able to find me another position within that time frame, it would be back to unemployment. But at least I would be eligible for unemployment and even if the pay would be less working for a staffing firm than it would be working directly as an employee of the client company, someone else is doing the heavy lifting in terms of getting me interviews. And often enough, the client company decides they want to keep you and makes you a more lucrative offer. In addition, I’m interviewing for a part-time holiday season job at a local department store two miles from my house.
Also, I had lunch with one of my former colleagues and learned that they are NOT seeking to replace me, but instead have streamlined and eliminated part of what I was doing and are outsourcing the rest of it, so I can honestly say that my job was restructured out of existence, rather than that I was let go for making mistakes (which is what my boss said to me when he let me go). As I am prone to shame and self-blame, learning this has been very helpful to my state of mind.
On that note, currently reading Brene Brown’s “Rising Strong” about dealing with failures in a resilient fashion and finding it helpful.
Well, I need to get some documents prepared for tomorrow and try to make an Eruv Rosh Hashanah dinner (I’m skipping the service, alas), so—Happy New Year to you !
I recall doing this activity once several years ago on this site. I'll do this now, then see if I can find the old list and compare.
1. I've been on SA for a decade.
2. I'm on my third career: psychology professor, tax accountant, and most recently, financial planner.
3. I've lived in ten residences during my life: 8 apartments (6 of which were in old houses that had been divided into units) and two houses, the one that I lived in from age 5 to 21, which my sister now owns, and the one that I've lived in for the past decade that I own (along with the bank).
4. These residences have been in California (Los Angeles for 21 years and Palo Alto for 1), Michigan (Ann Arbor), Vermont, and Pennsylvania.
5. I love basset hounds but for now and the foreseeable future, I am owned by cats (thanks to my beloved Henry, whom I used to tell, "Your middle name is 'Retirement," sad but true).
6. Some of my career dreams from my youth: being a writer; being a flutist with an orchestra; being a recombinant DNA biologist; being an anthropologist, being a journalist.
7. When I was 14, I wrote an investigative paper for journalism class on the problems with nursing homes. My grandfather, a retired attorney, was very active in advocating with politicians for changes favoring seniors. With my current career (as well as personal) interest in navigating the financial issues of retirement, I feel like I am coming full circle.
8. Someday I hope to write a book--another way of bringing life full circle (back to my childhood dreams of being an author).
9. And yet a third way I want to bring life full circle is to become active in musical performance again some day. There's a local division of the "RTO," Really Terrible Orchestra (started in Scotland by author Alexander McCall Smith and with branches over the world) that I hope to make the time to join some day.
10. I've been to 40 of the 50 states, mostly by way of traveling most of the lengths of I-90, I-80, I-70, I-60, I-50, and I-40 (plus a trip to Alaska).
11. On the other hand, the only foreign country I've been to is Canada.
12. I hope to visit the remaining 10 states and do a little foreign travel, probably during my 60s.
13. I once spent 7 weeks in the hospital during which I did not (could not) eat (I was fed directly into my bloodstream via TPN).
14. I have walked two half-marathons.
15. I am phobic about anything to do with tools or equipment--something I got from my mother. I wish I could be more self-sufficient but it isn't in the cards. The fact that I can fill my own gas tank, plug together the components of my computer, and once even reattached a spark plug that had gotten loose is as far as my mechanical skills are likely to go. I contemplate taking a bike or car repair class--but there are so many more interesting things to learn that I don't expect to get around to this for a while.
16. Almost all of my friends are older than me, some considerably so. My best friend is 16 years older than me and my oldest friend is 92.
17. This makes me feel like I need to make an effort to make friends who are younger than me just so I have friends in 20 years!
18. I was brought up as a Reconstructionist Jew, learned about Lutheranism from a boyfriend who I went to church with several times, about Buddhism from an anthropologist friend and my own extensive readings, about Quakerism from my several friends who are Friends, and made my way back to Reconstructisonist Judaism after attending a Buddhist retreat.
19. I have had a meditation practice of one sort or another--not long sessions and sometimes with long gaps between sessions--for over 40 years.
20. I am semi-agnostistic about the existence of God, but like the ideas of Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote a book "Why God Needs Man." The idea is that God created people with free will and needs us to act ethically of our own free will in order to bring good into the world.
Bonus #21. I have met one fellow SA blogger, but on another website (now defunct) that I was also very active on for many years, I have met half a dozen people. That one was a discussion forum about walking on a diet website.
I suspect this is quite a bit different than the last time I answered this list! Update: actually, much less so than I thought--the original entry from 2006 is at http://dido.savingadvice.com/2006/11/19/late-list_17556/.
After reading Monkey Mama's post about her blogaversary, I had to check mine. Missed it back in June! Interesting to look back at the early entries.
Like Monkey Mama, I also note a perspective shift: Back in 2006, I was blogging more frequently and with much more of a day-to-day savings focus; nowadays there is more of a longer term goal focus and an eye towards retirement.
On the other hand, it's also the case that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Back in 2006, some things I blogged about a lot were my pets (especially my much beloved and much missed Henry), my job struggles, and my efforts to reduce my food costs. And I *still* tend to write a lot about my pets, my job struggles, and my food costs!
But the pets are different now: senior kitties Buffy & Bridget, replacing the trio of Basset Hound Henry and kitties Phoebe & Teddy. The job struggles are different too--I'm in a totally different career. In fact, I've changed careers twice, if you count the shifot from tax accountant to financial planner as a shift (and it is, albeit not as big as the shift from psychology professor to accountant). I was at a seminar dinner earlier this week and shared a table with a woman about my age; I told her about my career shift (she had an interesting one too: from restaurant manager to long-haul truck driver!) and she said, "you realize how amazing that is? How few people actually go through and succeed at making a big career shift like that?" which made me feel really good for the first time since losing my job.
And finally, the food struggles are interesting: I still wish I spent less, but when I look at what I was spending a decade ago, it's actually about the same as now, so given that there must have been some inflation, that's a cut. And looking at WHAT I ate, I see a LOT more prepared foods than I eat now--in fact, my old diet looks pretty much like garbage compared to the present. So that's at least a positive development.
And looking at my net worth: my liabilities are actually fairly similar in amount (though back then it was just home mortgage debt; now I have more home equity but also some other loans) but my assets are more than double (and a chunk of that is due to an inheritance). Back then my net worth was under 150K and now half a million is in sight, though it will probably take me another couple of years to get to with this latest transition.
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