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Archive for December, 2007

Credit Report & Application

December 30th, 2007 at 06:45 pm

While I do take advantage of the free annual credit reports you can get from the three reporting agencies. those reports don't tell you the actual FICO score. I haven't seen my FICO score since I bought my house two years ago, so today I decided to check up on what it was. I paid for a report from one of the agencies (of course, I checked online and found a promotional code so that I paid $12.76 for the report rather than $15.95), and my score is 770. That's within 20 points of where it was two years ago. I was surprised to note that one "negative" factor on my report is that my oldest account is only 8 years old--the report said that people in the top category have accounts that are 19 years old. I've certainly had credit for more than 19 years, but I guess I've changed banks as I've moved bewteen California, Michigan, Vermont, and Pennsylvania. Eight years ago is the time of my last inter-state move, so I guess that makes sense.

Another slightly negative factor is that I've applied for credit recently. My mortgage company offered me a card that gives me 1% back on my mortgage, so I applied for and received that. I figure that, in the long run, that's worth more than getting myself free gifts on Amazon.com (since my current rewards card is from Amazon). I did just yesterday decide to redeem about $125 of the $225 in rewards certificates I've earned this year.

While I was checking my account status, I noticed the Chase Freedom account banner. While the Amazon.com card gives me 3% back on amazon.com purchases and 1% back on everything else, the Freedom card gives you 3% back on your top three categories of spending each month, whatever they are and whereever they were spent. Additionally, it allows you to redeem that $ back either as points that you can exchange for gifts, OR as cash back. After thinking about it, I decided that by getting cash back and then sending in that amount in extra mortgage payments, I would be able to put even more extra towards the mortgage, so I decided to apply for that card as well. I'll cancel the amazon.com card when it comes so as not to have too many credit card accounts outstanding. I *was* going to cancel another VISA card I have until I realized that it is the oldest card in my wallet, two years older than any other. I may cancel that too, eventually. The additional credit card application may lower my score some temporarily, but I have no plans in the immediate future to apply for a loan, so a temporary lowering should not make much difference.

Fitness and Food Preparation

December 30th, 2007 at 05:21 pm

Today was the first day of a three day "detox" I am doing. This is the first step in trying to get myself in better shape this coming year. I've been so busy with my career change that I've let my health go over the past year. While for the past several years, I've religously exercised 3-4 times a week, this past year, I let exercise become sporadic--in part because of busyness and in part because a series of injuries foiled my attempts at maintaining my walking program (my main form of exercise). During 2007, I had a strained Achilles tendon that gave me problems for 6 months until a physical therapist gave me some stretching exercises that finally relieved the problem. Then I started walking again over the summer, only to be foiled by first a sprained ankle and then, when that was healed, a broken toe. I probably walked only 50 aerobic miles this entire year, about a tenth of my usual walking.

As a result of not doing much exercise, I gained 15 pounds (since I didn't cut down my food intake at all). I also pretty much wasted $228 on my gym membership--I have a pretty good deal at just $19/month and it will cost me double that if I quit and rejoin. But I hit the gym less than once a month this year, so that's about $20 a visit. I'll resume going at least once a week in 2008.

In addition to/as a result of the weight gain, I once again begain experiencing joint pain in my hips and GERD, and I've been feeling quite low about my physical appearance. And of course, some clothes don't fit and others don't look as good. So I've got to get the weight off.

I'm starting with a short "detox" diet to test for food intolerances. I spent the past week getting off of coffee--I usually drink about 4-6 cups/day, so that was a challenge, and I pretty much slept through last week because of it. There was only one bad headachey day, though, and now I feel alert with just a few cups of green tea. For the detox diet, I'm removing gluten and dairy from my diet for a few days, and eating mostly fruits, veggies, rice, beans, and fish. Then I'll start adding back in dairy and gluten-based items one per day to see if those make any difference in how I feel.

I did my last grocery shop for the year to enable this detox. I bought lots of veggies, and hummus, and a bag of tilapia filets (which are bottom feeders so low in toxins compared to other farmed fish). Then at home today, I steamed up several artichokes (which are supposed to be good for taming ghrelin, the hormone that makes you hungry); some carrots and beets for a carrot/beet/cucumber/pea salad; and I made a pot of "beans and greens" soup with cannellini beans and escarole. I also made a quinoa pilaf. I still have a 5# bag of apples to peel and quarter and stick in the crockpot to make homemeade applesauce.

And I'm back to walking again. For 6 mornings in a row, I've managed to get up and do *something* physical. The past two mornings this has meant jaunts around the neighborhood in the dark at 6 am. I'll enjoy these just a bit more once there's a hint of dawn at 6. Tomorrow I might go to the gym then for a change of pace (and to use my membership one last time this year).

Dido's Journey blog has a new name

December 30th, 2007 at 04:49 pm

In honor of the new year, I'm renaming my blog to Fiscal Fitness. This not only reflects that two of my main goals for the year are to improve my finances *and* my fitness, but it also reflects my intention to make some additional entries to another blog I maintain under the same name at blogspot (see links). While this is my personal blog, the other one reflects my professional interests.

Panic Attack!

December 27th, 2007 at 09:24 am

I had thought that I had plans in placed for a seamless career transition from teaching to accounting, but a wrench just got thrown into the plans. I had been *informally* told by my department chair that, if certain things happened at work, they would be able to offer me one more additional full-time contract for the 2008-2009 year. It looked likely that those things would come to pass, and indeed they have, but I just learned that they are planning to hire a post-doc (whom they can pay $10000 less than they pay me even after they cut my pay by $9000 this year) instead. I was never even told directly but learned this by being on the department email list, where they have been discussing how much they would have to pay such a person. The chair seems to have forgotten what she said back in September. This has induced an instant panic attack--my heart is still beating wildly an hour & a half after opening that email. I've sent a note to the chair, but it sounds as though this new plan is too far underway for them to turn back. Now I don't know WHAT to do for the fall--do I apply for more adjunct teaching, which pays very low, or do I hope that, even though I'll still be two classes shy of the coursework I need, that I'll be able to find an accounting job for this fall? Things would work out so seamlessly in the career transition if I had another year in academia 2008-2009; if I have to fully transition in 2008, I'm much more unsure...and frankly, terrified. And angry.

Dido's Year End Recap of Income, Expenses, and Changes in Net Worth

December 26th, 2007 at 12:19 pm



Income after deductions for taxes, health insurance contribution, & retirement contribution: $44,473 (38,210 from my full-time job, 3718 from part-time work, 1244 income tax return, 1000 gifts from Mom, 301 in survey income and rebates. I need to do better planning to get less of an income tax return; I’m a relatively new home owner, so I’m still having to adjust my tax planning for the extra deduction I get for mortgage interest payments.

Expenses:

Mortgage & PITI (property insurance & property taxes):
$9240. This includes $575 in mortgage prepayments.

Food (Groceries & Eating Out): The books say 7616 (5963+1653), but it’s surely less—as much as 1500 less (2006 food expenses were 6152). The problem in my record-keeping this year is that my detailed records were lost when my last computer died in mid-July. I had to reconstruct my file from bank statements rather than receipts, and since I did a lot of buying at a warehouse store, toiletries, household supplies, clothing and even books got lumped in here—since I had no way to estimate actual expenses, I just categorized everything as groceries, the biggest expense at the warehouse store. Also, when I do ATM withdrawals, I also tend to list those as dining out expenses initially and go back and recategorize as I spend money, but all of those recategorizations got listed as food for January through July. All of that said, my food expenses are way too high.

Pets: $4032, most of that on Henry the Pricey & Priceless Hound, who suffers from several chronic illnesses and is on prescription food and several prescription meds for life, plus who requires about half a dozen vet visits per year. The two cats, Phoebe and Teddy, cost little in comparison—one vet visit per year, and food, kitty litter, and the occasional toy or treat. Between the two of them, there’s only ever been one vet visit for illness—knock on wood, as I hope it remains so. I also include money for bird food in here—I maintain two feeders by the windows for the amusement of myself and the kitties, and that costs about $5/week during the months when the plants are dormant.

Utilities: 3915 (gas heat 1841, electricity 462, phone, internet service, (basic) cable TV (package deal at 76/month for the three), water/sewer 315, trash 385)

Car: 2684 (about 600 on insurance and a thousand each on gasoline and maintenance & repairs, plus my first moving violation ticket ever, for running a stop sign I didn’t see.)

Business Expenses: 2616 (a new laptop computer and software for it (Office 2007, etc), lots of money trying to repair the last laptop, plus the usual array of books and videotapes I use in teaching, and some office supplies and postage.

Personal Care Expenses:2270 (clothing 1304, gym 445, toiletries, vitamins & supplements,521). I spent more than usual on clothing this year, as the only clothing I bought last year was a single pair of athletic shoes, and clothes were beginning to look raggedy and shoes to wear out, plus I gained 15 pounds (which I hope soon to lose) and some items did not fit.

Household: 1691. This includes handyman repairs, items for DIY repairs (that the boyfriend handles), small home appliances, furniture, gardening items, and supplies such as paper towels, light bulbs, and salt for the walks.

Entertainment (385), Gifts (266) & Charity (296): 947.

Health co-pays and disability insurance: 919 (there’s also 104/month health insurance contribution that gets taken out of my pay each month that I haven’t included here.)

Total Spending: $36,430 (compared to $38,653 in 2006. Biggest changes compared to last year are more in savings, less in taxes, more on food, less on pets (no major veterinary emergencies this year, thank god!), a bit more on utilities, clothing, and household; and this year, I didn’t have education expenses because those were picked up by the college.

Change in Net Worth in 2007: +8261 in short-term savings, +8739 in retirement accounts, -1796 decrease in home mortgage principal balance, -1000 loan from mom settled = +19,796 (plus the estimate of my home valuation on Zillow.com is up about 15,912, which I know is not a great estimate, but it’s what I have.)

My goal for next year is to cut down food expenses down to 5800. This is always a “spendy” category for me, as I buy a lot of food that is either pre-made or has a high labor margin—e.g., I buy a lot of pre-chopped veggies, and this past year, I bought a lot of pre-cooked chicken breasts—since that seems to make the difference between my cooking at home or not. Working a full-time job, a part-time job, AND going to school part-time, I do not have the time, energy, or inclination to cook, but I’m going to try to do a bit more so in 2008. I also expect business expenses to be lower, since the big one was buying a new computer this year. Ideally these two cuts will give me an additional 5% to put towards savings.

A quiet, frugal christmas

December 25th, 2007 at 06:49 pm

My boyfriend and I got together to celebrate the holiday last night. He brought over take-out Chinese and we exchanged gifts and watched a video. I got him a "Thera-cane," a device for doing self-massage and getting at one's "trigger points." We'd come across the device in a "Relax the Back" store in November, and he tried it in the store and said that it got out a tough knot. He's always complaining about pains in his back, shoulder and forearm (as a graphic designer, he spends too much time on the computer by necessity). I was so impressed with the device that I got one for myself and one for my mom, too. For my sister, I renewed a favorite magazine subscription of hers that I've been buying her for a few years now. As for what I got, well, Tom paid for the annual B.J.s Warehouse membership that we share, and he took home two of my dresser drawers that were broken to repair. (This is typical; I buy him things; he gives me gifts of help with home maintenance and repair that I cannot do on my own.) My mother sent me a check, and I told her that some of the recent clothes purchases and a book purchase I made earlier this month were "her gift" to me. My sister says that she has something for me, but, knowing her, I suspect that I'll receive it when next I visit her in L.A.

As for the big day itself, it was quiet. As I'm Jewish and don't really celebrate Christmas but rather "the holidays," spending the day alone was no big deal. I had originally planned to accompany my boyfriend to his parents, but he was concerned about some current family stresses and felt it might be better if I didn't come today. The day was sunny and relatively warm, so I spent a couple of hours finishing up some fall garden chores, another hour or so on the phone with my mother and sister out in California, and the rest of the time puttering about on the computer, making goals and plans for 2008 and tallying up my 2007 expenses. Now I'm about to sign off the computer and watch the second video that I rented yesterday.

So today was more like a lazy weekend day than like a holiday, but it's helping me renew my batteries after an exceptionally overybusy fall term.

Year-End Assessment & Goals for 2008

December 23rd, 2007 at 03:43 pm

My financial goals for 2007 were to save 15% of my earnings and to use it to rebuild my emergency fund. Usually I put most of my savings towards retirement, as I have had no employer retirement contributions on my behalf since 2000, but this year, as a fairly new home owner, I felt that putting the savings into liquid accounts was vital.

Totals:
$7265 into short-term savings accounts (savings + laddered CDs)
720 into retirement accounts
530 additional principal payments on mortgage
=
$8515, which rounds to 15% of my gross earnings for the year

(The additional payments on mortgage represent future savings, as I have, in two years, cut 3.5 years and $13,885 in interest off my 30-year mortgage, so I feel justified in including it here, even though techinically the additional payments are an expense.)

Goals for 2008:
Continue to save at least 15% of earnings. I'd prefer to be able to save 20%, but I have at least one major house repair upcoming next year, so I doubt I'll achieve the more ambitious goal. It also depends on how much I earn. I'm in the middle of a career transition that I hope to complete by 2009, but, as of now, my income is certain only through August of 2008. I plan to do an internship in the new line of work over the summer, and I expect it to be paid, but I have no idea how much. I'm moderately sure I'll have my one year contract renewed--there's a strong probability of a half year, and a moderate probability of a full year, extension. I'll finally qualify for retirement contributions from my current employer starting in January (Hallelujah!), and those amount to 10% of salary. Because of the retirement boost, and because of the imminant career change and its uncertainties, as well as the need in the foreseeable (3 to 5-year) future for a new roof on the house and a replacement for my car, I'll continue to direct the bulk of my 15% savings towards the liquid accounts--I'm planning to put 6.5% into retirement and 8.5% into the savings fund (which includes emergency funds, a car replacement fund, and home maintenance funds in separate accounts, but I do shift money between these as needs dictate.)

I'll be making some additional pre-payments on the mortgage, probably $460, saving a few more months and $$ in future interest.

As for non-financial goals, those are mostly related to the career change: complete a summer internship, interview for jobs next fall, take 3-5 classes over the course of the year, and lose at least 20 pounds for my health, to fit into my job interview clothes, and so I feel better about myself. This will entail being very regular again about exercise, which I let lapse during the past year. I hope to maintain my relationships and a sense of life balance over the year as well, for sanity's sake, but this year the social goals take back seat as the career change nears the critical "switchover" point. Once I'm focused on one career rather than two, I definitely plan to spend much more time with friends and doing things that I enjoy such as taking art classes and traveling. One more year in the current career, and then a year where I make the switch, and by 2010, life (and income) should, I hope, be more stable than it has been during this long transitional decade (the last time I had a "permanent" job, that is, one with more than a one-year contract, was 1999).

A good deal

December 19th, 2007 at 07:09 pm

I pulled out my winter boots a couple of weeks ago to find my two pairs not really usable. Both pairs are over 10 years old. The vibram sole on the dressier pair had just about collapsed, and the uppers are looking quite shabby. The uppers on my GoreTex insulated LL Bean boots are still in good shape even despite their age, but the sole has been worn down to be almost flat.

I am lucky enough to live near an LL Beans outlet, so I went there to figure out what to do for winter boots this year. I had thought about replacing the Bean boots, but I found a cheaper way around that--as I was in the checkout line, I spyed safety treads for ice fishing for $5. I bought those and put them on the Bean boots--they stay in place, unlike the much more expensive "YakTracks" that I had bought a few years ago. Now I have a way to shovel snow and pick at ice while having some traction, and it only cost $5. (I did buy some dressier snow boots for $60, too, to wear to work).

It looks like we're in for a bad winter, so it's good to have these purchases in hand early in the season.

Almost vacation time

December 14th, 2007 at 07:22 pm

Today I picked up my last set of papers to grade for the term. They were due yesterday, but with the ice storm we had, I didn't want to go out in the weather. (Neither did the students: half of them submitted their papers via email, and I had to spend half an hour printing them out.) Once I grade this set of 20 final essays and the 50 exams I gave on Wed., I'll be done for the term. I had hoped to finish today, but it will be sometime over the weekend.

A friend of mine was supposed to come down to visit me this weekend, but she postponed her visit for a month because of the storm that's supposed to hit the east coast starting tomorrow night, and her holiday plans that intervene after that. I'll look forward to seeing her, but we'll miss all the Christmas stuff. I live in Bethlehem, PA, and of course the town does Christmas up big time. It's fun to have a visitor for Christmas to share this with. Of course, I could go do some of it on my own, but it's just not as fun as having someone to share it with.

I'll look forward to getting my "nest" back in order over my winter break. The downstairs generally remains presentable, but piles of clutter build up here and there--in particular, a small desk I have in the living room has been unusable for months because of the piles of paper, and the top of the dog crate in the living room is my "active project" piling base and is getting to the paper-toppling phase.



Otherwise things look homey, especially with the bulbs I've been forcing: an amaryllis, paperwhites, and crocuses. With the bulbs and the two birdfeeders that sit out on the porch just beyond the windows in this picture, I have ample signs of life all winter long to cheer me up.