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Goal review and mini-milestone

June 3rd, 2018 at 01:54 pm

Looking back at my goals for 2018 (in the side bar):

1. I'm falling behind on the CFP coursework--started out strong but the heavy workload at my job from the beginning of the year until now overwhelmed me. Still a work in progress and hoping to catch back up with the CFP over the summer.

2. With the heavy workload came a lack of focus on health. As things have now calmed down, I am turning my attention here as my weight has crept up to the highest in over a decade--ugh. I'm back to intermittent fasting, which worked for me well in 2016 and have lost about 5 pounds in the first 10 days. Water weight, I know, but always nice to get a good start. I am also experimenting with something else that I will blog about eventually if it is successful.

3. The home environment, as ever, ends up on the back burner. I'll really work on it after I'm done with the CFP. But for now, I had the yard cleared out and I'm getting a few big items out of the basement, and my annual visitor comes on the 23rd so the house will get back to its status quo by then, but I'm not sure if I'll make progress on the big decluttering I need to do.

4. Debt reduction is going well so far, although I always make the most progress at the beginning of the year. The mini-milestone is that I'm now back under 88K which was about the level my debt was when I left my teaching career and started the difficult decade of changing careers along with loss of my mom and three pets. So in a way it feels like beginning again, and hopefully it's just downward from here on out. I am making good progress on the mortgage, paying extra each month to get the total down to an even multiple of 100, which amounts to about 1.5 full extra mortgage payments over the course of the year, and I'm feeling relatively certain that I'll pay it off by 2026 and hopeful that I'll meet my goal of paying it off in 2025 (a total of 20 years).

5. I've maintained although not expanded my social life. June is a relatively social month. I'm going to visit Patient Saver next weekend and I have my annual Shakespeare Fest visitor coming on the 23rd.

6. I took a full week off ending with Memorial Day. Just sat by the river and read!

Whew! Exhausted!

May 19th, 2018 at 07:50 am

It's been crazy at work the past two months, but after Monday, I'll be over the hump and life should calm down considerably until September (when it will pick up and be busy until the following May).

After working in the tax world for a few years, I got used to a little bit of a break after April 15 (or 17, as was the case this year), but since I'm now working at a wealth management firm, there isn't the usual decrease in work after tax day. In fact, it's been busier than ever since then. A confluence of things have led to an exceptionally busy time (about 3x my normal workload this week, which was the worst of it), but I am pleased that my supervisors noticed and have taken some measures that should help in the future. No promises, because there are always unusual situations and unexpected confluences of events, but at least some steps for better communication.

I'll be working most of this weekend to meet a Monday deadline, but then I am taking most of next week off!!! Tuesday afternoon thru Memorial Day gives me 6.5 consecutive days!!! I'll be spending them at home, trying to make some progress on decluttering.

In other news: I replaced my two window ACs this week--the ones I'd been using were about 15+ years old. The new ones are Energy Star, so hopefully my summer electricity bill will go down. I bought them from a local store 5 blocks away that has an excellent reputation. They took away the old ACs, and, for an additional $50, also took the two left in the basement by the previous home owner. For a reasonable service fee, they'll also come and take them out and put them back in again each fall and spring. My neighbor has been doing that the entire time I've lived here. He was 62 when I moved in, so 74 now, and I don't want him injuring himself doing favors for me.

I also got started experimenting with the ThriveLife foods that Lucky Robin has posted about on her blog. I ended up doing 3 orders in a month, for over $400, but the food will last (one year after opening, 25 years in the #10 cans unopened), and it does save some time grocery shopping and considerably on food wastage--which happens a lot as a single person. No more hairy carrots, limp celery, or sprouted tear-inducing onions. Right now on this rainy morning I am cooking up a pot of cream of chicken and mushroom soup using mostly freeze dried ingredients. Hopefully eventually this will cut down on my eating out, which gets out of hand when I am superbusy as I have been.

Kitty Buffy had her thousand dollar dental work and recovered nicely; kitty Bridget still pulls the hair on her sides and belly out, but her bloodwork is good and she seems happy enough, so I'm not going to stress myself out too much over the behavior, which apparently is neurotic.

Finally, it is looking like I'll take a short trip in June to visit Patient Saver, whom I've met F2F twice before. I'm looking forward to the trip!

I'm working most of today, but will go see the new film about Ruth Bader Ginsburg this evening.

Kitties and Net Worth

April 1st, 2018 at 10:27 am

My last blog post was about my cat, Bridget, who has lost some weight and hair. (see https://www.flickr.com/photos/elissaw/41121285262/in/dateposted-public/; I can't remember how to insert images here). The home vet visit was traumatic (long leather gloves, a muzzle, and kitty screams were involved, sigh), but it revealed that her bloodwork is, to my great relief, completely normal. The vet thinks the hair loss is behavioral, so she is going on transdermal Prozac this week, and I've changed her diet to a hypoallergenic prescription diet. We'll give it two months and re-assess.

My other kitty is scheduled for a dental on 4/18 as her teeth are in bad shape. It hasn't prevented her from eating, though; she gained another .75 pound :^(. At least her diabetes continues to be very well controlled by her diet change--totally normal glucose.

On another note, I decided to change one of my annual goals from increasing my net worth to decreasing my debt. With the markets being so volatile so far this year, it seemed better to focus on the debt reduction, which is more in my control, than the net worth, which is out of my control.

If you count HSA contributions and employer matches, I am currently saving 24% of my salary, which is as much as I can reasonably afford while also paying off the debt.

This is offset by the fact that I have to take RMDs (required minimum distributions) from the two IRAs I inherited from my mom, but so far it looks as though this year I may be able to limit myself to just taking the RMDs and nothing else, and the accounts generate more in income than I take in RMDs, so there should be some small growth in those accounts.

Overall, for Q1, my assets are down 1.43%, mostly because the losses in my retirement savings are greater than the contributions YTD. My debts are down 7.12% because at the beginning of the year, I took the RMDs and applied them to debt reduction.

Overall, my networth is down $2,225 from 12/31, or .42%.

In other news, I spent $450 to have a landscaper clear out and re-mulch my very overgrown yard and place weed barriers to reduce the weeds along the fence.

Something that I would like eventually to do is to hire someone to build me some raised beds to do a little bit of vegetable and herb gardening. I was fantasizing about that yesterday, but am not sure if I will do it this year or next. I think my next outlay of money for the house will be to hire some home organizing help. I went to a presentation by an organizer last week and actually made some progress on my own this weekend, but there are certain areas of my house where I need a coach and some assistance to inspire me to get through in the very limited amount of time I have to deal with this. She charges $235 for a 3-hour session and I will be scheduling this for May, I think.

After putting that goal of "creating a peaceful and inviting home environment" in my sidebar year after year, I think I may actually make some progress towards that goal this year!!

Sick Kitty; Credit Sesame

March 18th, 2018 at 05:10 pm

I have the vet coming to pay a house call tomorrow morning. It's $90 for the vet + a vet tech, plus the usual exam and lab fees. But the kitty for whom I scheduled the appointment completely freaks out at the vet. I've only taken her once since I adopted her, and that time, it took 3 vet techs + the vet and me and a sedative to get her examined. It stressed her out so much I decided just to let her be until something was clearly wrong.

That time has come. She's been dropping weight and a couple of weeks ago I noticed that her fur was looking patchy too. Plus her digestion--which has never been as good as her sister kitty's--has been worse. The *best* outcome would be a diagnosis that she is hyperthyroid, but chances are it is something worse than that. She is 13.5, her "sister" (from the same home but not biologically related) turns 13 on the 30th...and the only other two cats I had lived to be 13 and 14, which makes me anxious. The first two kitties were fed on dry food and both developed kidney disease--one had to be put down immediately after diagnosis and the other I kept going with sub-q fluids for 2.5 years. I learned a lot about feline chronic renal disease over that time and these two kitties have been fed mostly with canned food to try to prevent it.

Anyways, I am quite nervous about what news tomorrow morning will bring.

The other cat gets taken to the vet regularly, and I'll be able to have the vet examine her as well as long as he is out here. I know she needs dental work, which will cost about a thousand. She's been eating well and there is no sign that the bad tooth bothers her, so I've let it go for six months since I was told she needed the work done, but spring is time.

So I transferred about $1,500 from my sinking fund account at Schwab to the bank so that costs will be covered.

Prayers for Miss Bridget are appreciated! I hope hyperthyroid is all that it is. If it is anything that needs regular intervention by me, she is too scared of a cat to adapt easily. When Teddy needed subcutaneous fluids for all that time, he fought the first few weeks, but then realized that he felt better after the fluids and stopped fighting. When Buffy was diagnosed diabetic, she hated getting the ear prick tests but there was a while there where it became easier to do. (Now that her diabetes is well controlled with diet and she needs the test only occasionally, it is much harder to do.) But Bridget was the cat who hid in a box for two months when I first adopted her, whom I've never even dared to pick up until the past month (and only extremely briefly), who spends an entire day hissing at me and at Buffy whenever I take Buffy to the vet, so I don't feel as tho anything that requires daily administrations from me is going to go over well with her.

On another front, I got an email from Credit Sesame today that I found informative, on suggested credit usage. The one thing that always dings my credit score a bit is having high balances relative to the limit. Mostly that's due to the one 0% balance transfer cardI maintain. But this time I got a link to actual balance limits and percent utilized, and discovered that the maximum you should use of any card is 10% of the your limit. After finding that out, I went and requested a credit limit increase on my Discover card, and I was granted an immediate $6,300 increase. The 0% balance transfer card is still going to knock things off, but I'm going to have to do another transfer by May, and I'll check out the limits before I do so this time. I didn't know before that 10% of your limit is the most you should use before they start counting your usage against you.

(On the other hand, they *also* ding me for not having enough TYPES of credit open--just a mortgage and the credit cards, no auto loan, student loan, or personal loan, so *that* brings my score down a bit too.

Mortgage Milestone

March 2nd, 2018 at 05:46 pm

When I took out my mortgage at the end of 2005, I started by owing $92,800 (at 5.875%). I refinanced in 2012 for a lower rate and changed the term from a 30 year to a 20 year. And whenever possible, I've paid some extra principal in, usually down to the next "round" number.

At the beginning of the year, I started by owing $60,700. Now that the March payment is made, I'm down to $59,900--I threw an extra $65 in this month to get down to a multiple of $100. Feels good having broken the $60K barrier. I'm 57.5, so it feels doable to have the mortgage paid off by the time I am 65.

I am not planning to retire at that age at this point, but having the freedom to be able to afford to would be nice. Once the mortgage and other debt are gone, I'll be accelerating my savings into a brokerage account, building a bucket of "safe" money I can live off of during any market downturns in my early retirement years.

Moves, movies, movies--and Single Payer healthcare

February 28th, 2018 at 01:26 pm

I've spent the past three evenings at the movies. On Sunday, I saw "I, Tonya." On Monday, I saw "Citizen Jane," about Jane Jacobs and her activism with housing projects. That one was followed by a panel with a couple of local college professors and the head of the local council on economic development.

Then last night, I saw another documentary: Fix It: Healthcare at the Tipping Point. It provides an argument for "Medicare for All." You can actually watch this one online (https://fixithealthcare.com/). But what was extra special was that the producer and director of the film were both there and spoke after. It was also kind of neat that, even though the film speaks to national and international issues, it was made locally and you can see some nice footage of our city, the downtown (where I work), and the former mayor, who is interviewed and who works in the building next door and is still quite active locally.

The big roadblock to single payer isn't so much it being a conservative vs liberal ideological issue, but the lobbying money that the insurance industry and big pharma throw at the issue.

The producer and director also made two other films, one on Big Pharma, which they'll be showing locally next month (and which you can see online at https://fixithealthcare.com/big-pharma-movie/) and a third documentary, which they'll be releasing in about a month--no local screening or online access yet, but I expect there to be.

I feel so fortunate to currently have employer insurance, but I paid my own, first under COBRA and then outright (individually and then on healthcare.gov) from 2009 thru 2014. I don't really look forward to getting older but I can see the benefit of getting to Medicare age with my friends and clients.

Price Rewind Credit Cards

February 13th, 2018 at 07:34 am

A client of mine who works outside the home only one day a week told me about a credit card feature that I have never heard about before: Price rewind. She has it on a Mastercard through Citibank, where she gets a 1% reward on purchase, another 1% on payment, and, if she can find an item she purchased for a lower price and uploads a picture of the lower priced item to the site, they refund her the difference between what she paid and what she COULD have paid elsewhere. It has been quite lucrative for her, although it does take time. I don't have the time to do anything like this, but I thought I would mention it for any of you who do have the time and haven't heard of this feature. If you google, you will find articles about this idea by NerdWallet and other frugal living bloggers.

Disability Insurance

February 11th, 2018 at 02:14 pm

I've been taking the insurance course for my CFP recently and thinking a lot about insurance.

One area of potential risk to many that is often underinsured is disability. Personally, I am aware of this because back in 2000, I spent 7 weeks in the hospital and another several months recuperating, having a second minor related surgery, and recuperating from that.

But I, like most people, assumed that the disability insurance I had through work would be sufficient. Back then, I was ok, since the period when I was out of work covered the summer, when, as a teacher (my former career), I would not be working, and just one semester, when I was sufficiently recovered to be enrolled in a program for temporary substitute teachers. It was just a very short time of not working, which I was covered for by my assets at the time.

The typical employer-provided long-term disability policy insures up to 60% of your income. Since this insurance is provided at no cost to you by your employer, it is taxable income when received. Would you be able to survive on 60% of your base salary? I know that I would find it a challenge!

When I first changed careers and started to learn more about this issue, I worked for an employer that did not provide any disability insurance, so I joined an industry association and bought a plan through them.

My current employer does provide long-term disability, so I've canceled the group policy, but I found that another industry group I belong to provides the opportunity to purchase true individual insurance for either $1,000 or $2,000 a month above what my employer benefits would provide. I'll be completing that application this week, If I chose the $1,000 additional income per month, that would be nontaxable (because I'm paying the premiums myself, any income that results is free from tax, unlike employer provided insurance) and would give me over 80% of my current income. Since there are bound to be more expenses when one is disabled, this feels more reasonable to me "just in case."

I have three friends who have been going through breast cancer treatment this year, another one who is off on disability for a rare disorder. Until I am at the point where I feel financially independent, this insurance is important. After financial independence, it's a luxury, but beforehand, it's a must. After all, one's ability to earn income is the biggest asset that most of us have--especially the young!

I found an online calculator at www.whatsmypdq.org that allows you to calculate your personal probability of being out on disability before retirement. Mine is 13% for being out for 3 months or longer, with a 46% chance that if I were disabled that it would last 5 years or longer, and an average length of long-term disability of 85 months--over 7 years, which would get me very close to retirement age.

Insurance is meant for low-probability, high-cost situations. Disability is definitely an area where many people are underinsured--and by the time they start to think they might need it, they no longer qualify!

So--what's your PDQ and do you have disability insurance through your employer or anything purchased on your own?

Having my cake and eating it too with the new tax law

February 2nd, 2018 at 12:12 pm

My January 31 paycheck used the updated withholding tables, so I compared the Federal withholding on that check with the withholding on January 15 and found more than a $60 difference. I played around with the calculation in 1% (of gross salary) increments and figured that I could increase my retirement contributions by about $45 per pay period and still have an extra $15 per paycheck in my take-home pay, so I arranged for that change to occur starting this month. Over the course of the rest of the year, that's nearly an extra $2,000 in retirement savings, a $2,000 decrease in federally taxable income (which at the marginal 22% bracket means $435 less tax due next April, and an extra $330 in my pocket to spend. Win/win all around!

I also posted a blog post about this on our company's website at http://www.joycepaynepartners.com/client-insights/the-new-tax-law.

January in review

February 1st, 2018 at 03:33 pm

So I set myself up at the beginning of the year with half a dozen goals plus a few projects. I made progress in some categories, but on the daily exercise and CFP exam studying, I need a goal reset for February.

Here are the details by goal.

1. Job performance: Improve timeliness of advance preparation for client meetings. Complete the basic CFP coursework. I am tracking my meeting preps and got the last one done six days in advance. The year really started out with a bang, with a whole month's worth of meetings to prepare for in the first 18 days of the month. February looks more reasonably spaced. But I've made no progress yet on the CFP studying.

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). I started a Whole30 but didn't adhere to it consistently, as I ended up eating out several times while feeling busy & stressed. Still, I did eat more "Whole30ish," limiting grains, dairy, etc. I lost weight while I was being strict about it but after I relapsed and particularly once I allowed myself to fall prey to the candy in the office, I ended the month weighing the same as I started. Also, I got very little exercise, but I did get fairly good sleep and I meditated 24 days out of 31.

3. Create a peaceful and inviting home environment. Teeny tiny progress so far. I'll do better when I'm less stressed and less cold.

4. Increase my Net Worth by 15%.
Assets up $7,245. Debts down $5,427. Total increase: $12,672, or 2.37% (28.46% annualized rate).

I have started tracking my spending--not daily, but a few times a week, using the Simpleplanning Budget planner, a nice straightforward Excel-based spreadsheet that I find much easier to work with than the current version of YNAB. I liked YNAB when it was Excel-based, but there are now too many bells and whistles and I find it confusing to get started with.

While I was successful at regular tracking, I was not successful at keeping my expenses under budget. I spent 10% more than planned. Food is my biggest area of concern, both groceries and eating out. I also spend too much on books. I already have social restaurant plans in place for the weekend, but starting Monday, I'm going to try to make the rest of February a "gas & groceries" month, in terms of spending on "variable" as opposed to fixed expenses--with the exception of (knock on wood) medical if needed for myself or the kitties, or any home or car repair emergencies that might arise.

For groceries, I'm going to limit myself to the cheaper chains this month: Aldi, PriceRite, and Giant, and avoid my favorite Wegmans, which isn't really that much more expensive on a per item basis for the basics, but it has better quality and more variety, so that the items that end up in my cart are that much more pricey. I only shopped at Wegmans once in January and I could really see the difference. Also, last month I bought some dehydrated vegetables plus some bulk teas I like on Amazon, so for those items, I still have a lot of food left over.

Even though I was over *budget*, my take-home pay for the month was $2,917 and my expenses were $2,613, so that is $304 to the good.

5. Maintain and expand my social life. January was a maintenance month--went out 3 times, once with one friend and twice with another, which is good for a month as busy as it was.


6. Take more and/or more frequent time off/vacations. Nothing concrete planned yet.

Projects: I'm not listing the ones I haven't started yet, but one project was to write at least 3 blog posts for work. I've now written 4, of which two have been published so far, a third will be published tomorrow, and one the week after that.

Market boom

January 24th, 2018 at 01:59 pm

Heady times on Wall Street these days. I updated my personal balance sheet and find that my net worth is up by $14,540 so far this year. My retirement accounts are up by about 10K *despite* the fact that I took almost 8K in required minimum distributions at the beginning of the year and set them aside to create "sinking funds" for other big expenses expected during the year (so I won't end up putting those expenses on credit cards as I have in the past). I also took the bonus money that I received for last year and used it to pay down some debt. All together my assets are up 8.3K, my debts are down 6.2K, for the total net worth change of 14.5K. That's an improvement I would usually be happy to see in a fiscal quarter already in three weeks.

I'll enjoy it while it lasts since one always wonders just how long the current boom times can last.

Painless Savings Idea to Share

January 20th, 2018 at 03:15 pm

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.)

Budgeting: YNAB vs SimplePlanning.net; Debt paydown vs Sinking Funds

January 6th, 2018 at 03:39 pm

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!

2018: Goals, Plans, Projects, and Juggling

January 1st, 2018 at 09:58 am

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.

Goals:

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.

2017 Year in Review

December 31st, 2017 at 04:26 pm

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.

20% bonus, 3% raise

December 28th, 2017 at 08:40 am

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!

Year to Date

December 1st, 2017 at 10:21 am

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.

One year at the "new" job

November 5th, 2017 at 10:36 am

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.

September catch up

September 3rd, 2017 at 05:46 pm

Argh, had a whole entry written and it disappeared into the internet void after hitting post.

I won't re-create the whole thing.

Key points:

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.

Reached the half million mark!

July 14th, 2017 at 10:14 am

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.

Blogoversary: 11 years on SA

June 22nd, 2017 at 02:36 pm

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.

Vegas, Baby, Vegas!

June 17th, 2017 at 01:16 pm

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.

Another big expense

April 14th, 2017 at 02:51 pm

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.

So who here has used Air B&B?

April 2nd, 2017 at 01:09 pm

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.

Q1 Review

April 1st, 2017 at 02:13 pm

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.


NYTimes article, Basing Life on What you Can Afford

March 20th, 2017 at 07:07 pm

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/19/your-money/budget-what-yo...

Interesting series of stories.

How many jobs have you had?

February 21st, 2017 at 06:48 pm

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!

So what's the big deal about CostCo?

February 12th, 2017 at 12:49 pm

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.

Planning, taxes and HSA contribution

February 5th, 2017 at 04:07 pm

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.

Progress

February 4th, 2017 at 08:14 am

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.


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