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.
Viewing the 'Goals' Category
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!
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.
So one of my plans for the year is to get back to tracking my expenses--something I did assiduously when I first started on this site in 2006, but which I stopped doing during all the life craziness that started at the end of 2009 (leaving my job/career, Henry Hound's cancer diagnosis, my mom's terminal diagnosis). After a "wild & crazy ride," things at long last feel more stable, so it's time to get back to tracking and trying to rein in spending reasonably. I don't feel the need to go all austere--after all, who knows how long any of us has? Financial independence is an important goal, but I also want to enjoy the ride along the way. So I'll leave in some money for books, movies, dining out, and vacation, but I'll also try to cut the money spent in those categories compared to the last couple of years.
Back in my earlier days on this site, I learned about and used YNAB for at least a couple of years--back in the days when it was an Excel-based spreadsheet. I liked it back then. I've gone and enrolled in the free trial for the current web-based version, and I must say that I don't find it at all intuitive, so I found another Excel-based spreadsheet that I'd used before, at SimplePlanning.net, and I'm going back to that. I love the *idea* of YNAB, but not the current incarnation. Jesse Mecham just came out with a book and I'm reading that, but I think I will part ways with his software and stay with good old familiar Excel (where I spend about half my working life).
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I got a 20% bonus at the end of last year. I did use some of it to bring down my debt, but even though part of me felt a strong urge to put it ALL towards debt reduction and cut another 6K off the debt, I decided--at least for the moment--to keep 6K in sinking funds for larger expenses that will (long-term care insurance premiums, dental for one of my cats) or might (car repair, home repair, etc) occur. Most of the debt is pretty low cost--0% to 4%. When one of the 0% terms expires in May, I might consider paying that chunk off in full, but I figure I'm ok not deciding right now. At some point, maybe I'll give in and get that debt down to the 86K total that I'd listed as a goal, but for the moment, I'm enjoying enough money in my savings accounts to cover the big expenses that tend to accrue for me in the summer.
The idea of "slowing down to speed up" by "funding true expenses first" is something that Jesse Mecham talks about in his "You Need a Budget" book. So what I'm doing is consistent with that--trying to get off the treadmill.
As part of my cost-cutting attempts, today's big grocery shop of the week was at Aldi's, where I got out for $85. They didn't have celery or sweet potatoes at the store I was in, so I'm stopping at the Price Rite on my way home to pick those up. Then home to make beef stew. (Not all of the day was cost-cutting--I went to my favorite diner for breakfast and treated a friend to lunch, but the rest of the week it's back to home cooked meals--the beef stew, a chicken dish--maybe a paleo sesame chicken recipe I saw online if I feel ambitious tomorrow, the vegetable soup that I'm still eating from last weekend's cooking, and another batch of ground beef tomato sauce, which I am eating over shirataki noodles, along with a side of kale.
No real progress on goals yet this week--I did one before-work exercise session. I'm recovering from an Achilles tendon injury anyway, so I'll push on the exercise once that is healed. It's too cold in my downstairs to spend time decluttering--when I'm at home, I make and eat dinner and then scurry up to bed. Upstairs is quite cozy and it's only when the weather is below 20 outside that I really feel cold downstairs. I didn't do any CFP exam studying yet, but I've drafted most of three blog posts for work that I am supposed to write this year, so getting that out of the way is good and cuts pressure from those expectations for the rest of the year. I promised at least 3 for the year and those are mostly done!
So here are my 2018 Goals, along with some plans for achieving them, as well as some one-off projects that I hope to complete in 2018.
1. Job performance: Improve timeliness of advance preparation for client meetings. Complete the basic CFP coursework.
Plan: I'll start tracking the number of days in advance that I have the meeting prep drafted, something that I have not been doing. As management guru Peter Drucker said, "If you can't measure it, you can't improve it," so step one is measuring it, with a goal to improve it.
As for the CFP courses, which I gave short shrift to in 2017 (I completed just one of the basic courses), I plan to complete the remaining four basic courses this year--one per quarter). To do that, I'm going to get in to work 30-45 minutes early and use that time each day to study (habit).
2. Take care of myself. Eat healthily (this includes an emphasis on whole foods and preparing my meals in advance), exercise consistently, sleep enough, and make time to de-stress with a daily meditation session (or two).
Plans: Food: I'm doing a "Whole 30" in January to do a "re-set" on the less-healthy holiday eating.
As for Movement and Exercise (which I learned in 2017 are two *different* things), I had an injury last week and tore some of the fibers in my left Achilles tendon, so at the moment, I'm focused on doing my PT exercises and some routines focused on increasing my joint flexibility and decreasing myofascial stiffness. I had already been working with a DPT (doctor of physical therapy) before the injury to try to avoid injury since I have a history of getting over-enthusiastic and hurting myself when I get active in a program. The current injury just slows the plan down a bit. Last year I was quite sedentary because of the bout of adrenal fatigue I spent the year dealing with. This is the first time in 12 years where I currently do not have a gym membership (!!!)
My goal for Q1 is to get back to regular movement, starting with the flexibility and strengthening exercises. Once the injury is healed, I will focus on increasing my daily movement count to 30 minutes and 10,000 steps a day (per my Fitbit). My daily step average for 2017 was a measly 5874 steps per day (in actuality probably closer to 6000 since there were several days where I forgot to put my FitBit on), with only 38 days all year with at least 10,000 steps. I'll count this goal a success for 2018 if I get at least 292 days with 10K steps (that's 80%). That's approximately a two-mile daily increase in step count. Once the Achilles tendon is healed, I'll get back to using my Leslie Sansone "Walk Away the Pounds" tapes in the morning to build up the step count. Then in Q2, my plan is to hire and work with a personal trainer twice a week for the quarter to build up my strength and develop a routine that I can eventually do at home. In Q3, I'll cap off the experience with either some kind of an event, like walk/jogging a 5K, or experience, like going on an Appalachian Trail hike -the kind of activity I did frequently in my 30s and into my 40s, but which has not been part of my life since I made the big career change in 2009. Then in Q4 (the busiest time of year at work), I won't abandon exercise altogether but I'll focus on maintaining a daily movement practice and those 10K steps a day.
3. Create a peaceful and inviting home environment. This is the goal I abandoned in 2017...and 2016, 2015, etc, going back to 2010 when my mom was dying and I was flying back and forth across the country to help her. My plan in the past has always been waiting until I had a big chunk of time and then clearing out as much as I could. A friend comes down to visit each summer, so this has typically meant taking one day off of work and doing a big clean-up in July. This tackles the surface clutter but doesn't solve the underlying accumulation problem, since the excess goes into the "storage room," whose door remains shut during the visit, and I don't tackle the stuff hidden in closets and on shelves.
Plans This year, instead, I'm going to try for a 10 minute daily HABIT of clearing a small space--one shelf, or in some cases, maybe even a quarter of a shelf, a day, then taking the donate-able excess to Goodwill once a month and recycling or trashing the rest. Then in Q2, I will hire a personal organizer to help me deal with the storage room and make that useable again. My plan is to make it a dedicated exercise space so that after I have worked with a personal trainer at the gym in Q2, I'll be able to have a place to work out at home in Q3 and beyond.
4. Increase my Net Worth by 15%. Obviously, attaining this goal to some extent depends on how the markets do in 2018, but I'll control it to the extent I can with increased savings (I increased my retirement contribution so it is now a total of 14% going into my 401(k). I have another 7% going into my HSA account. Although I do spend from the HSA for my larger medical expenses, I did save a net 3% in 2017.
A big change for 2018 will be getting back to tracking expenses, which I did religiously at the time I started on SA, but gave up during my mom's illness. I'm currently trying to figure out if I'm going back to YNAB or just tracking on Mint or Personal Capital.
5. Maintain and expand my social life. This is a secondary goal, but still important.
Last year at this time, I quoted James Clear about the "four burners" theory and how you could really only focus on a couple of "burners" (domains of life goals) at a time, while the others stayed on simmer.
This year, I'm instead going to cite former Coca-Cola CEO Bryan Dyson's "juggling" speech:
"[…] Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling some five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends, and spirit. And you’re keeping all of these in the air.
You will soon understand that work is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends, and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life."
The social domain is obviously one of the "glass balls" that I can't let drop even while my focus is for the most part on work, fitness, and improving my home environment.
I'll continue to (as I have been doing) go out with at least one friend locally per month as well as making sure I have at least one phone call or email exchange with some of my good friends who live at a distance.
This year, in addition, I think I'm going to add an activity, namely, starting to play with a local community orchestra. Playing in an orchestra was a big part of my life in my youth and something that I would like to get back to, which will also introduce me to a new group of people.
6. Take more and/or more frequent time off/vacations. I wasn't very good at this in 2017, especially the first six months, and I paid the price in adrenal fatigue. So I'm going to take more long weekends and try not to let more than five weeks pass without having at least a 3 day weekend.
Plans As far as vacations, I'm not sure. if my high school has a 40th reunion for my class, I may go out to that. If I don't make it out there, then maybe I'll visit the two cousins I have in Phoenix, or else visit Seattle and Vancouver. Plus I'd like to take one long weekend down south (I have friends in Atlanta and near Charleston SC and in Chapel Hill NC whom I'd like to visit sometime in the next few years--each of these would be a separate short trip, one a year). If I don't go out west, I'd like to take a week and visit my friends in New England--I lived in Vermont for 3 years and have friends there and in Boston and cousins in Western MA (plus I could stop and see Patient Saver in CT on the drive up or back). Plus I'd like to do a long weekend in Lancaster PA Amish country since I've been reading so many Amish romances (my latest guilty pleasure), and another B&B weekend locally along the DE for a low-stress getaway.
That's 3 short trips (Lancaster, local B&B, long weekend in the south) and one longer trip (either west or north) for the year.
I didn't travel much in the hard job-transition years after my mom died and 2017 was my first year getting back to it, and I'd like to continue the more frequent travel each year as long as the kitties' health holds. I need to get the travel bug out of my system before I get another Basset Hound, since I know myself and I know that once I have a hound, I will be hard-pressed to leave him for more than a day or two--one reason I am taking a 10-15 year break from hound ownership.
Projects Finally, here are some one-off projects that I would like to accomplish in 2018. All of these were on the 2017 list and none got done: Find a new Primary Care Physician. Get a passport (deadline 10/10/2018, as after that date my PA driver's license will no longer get me on an airplane). Find a lawyer and draft estate documents. Hire a house-call vet to check out Bridget since she is too skittish to take out to the vet, and have Buffy's dental work done. Write at least 3 blog posts for work, and master the last three (most difficult) spreadsheets at work where I still need to have my work reviewed since I haven't entirely grasped them.
I started the year two months into a new job, as a financial planner at a wealth management firm. The first two months (Nov & Dec 2016) had been doing tax-related calculations (my strength as a CPA) and learning some of the systems and procedures in the office.
I started really diving into the spreadsheets we use for financial planning at the firm in January, and I was assigned my own list of about fifty dedicated clients (as well as providing tax support for the other clients serviced by our office).
In January, I was still going to the gym and working with a personal trainer, but I started experiencing bouts of severe fatigue. By February (with an overload at work due to tax letters—we don’t do taxes, but as a wealth management firm, we provide our clients with an annual summary of what forms to expect), I had given up going to the gym. By March, I had decided to consult a chiropractor specializing in metabolic disorders (I had some adrenal fatigue as well as an increase in my Hashimoto’s thyroiditis symptoms). I checked out three and started working with one weekly in April, continuing through September, by which time the excessive fatigue had been mostly resolved. I’m still not as energetic as I would *like* to be, but neither am I feeling compromised the way I was back in the spring.
I kept my nose to the grindstone at work for most of the year—I hardly took any days off for the first six months. I got to attend the American Institute of CPAs conference in June in Las Vegas, which was a great experience hearing talks by people whose work I have been following for years now (although I really didn’t see anything of Las Vegas outside of the MGM Grand conference center). A highlight of this was being “life-planned” in a demonstration by the “father of financial life planning” as part of a two-day pre-conference workshop I attended. As a result of attending the relatively small pre-conference workshop, I had people to hang out with for meals, some of whom I am still in touch with. We also had a company retreat in Richmond VA in September.
On the “fun” side, I spent most of a week in Los Angeles visiting my sister, and I went on one overnight B&B trip locally over the summer, and I was invited to spend another overnight visiting a friend from grad school who was staying at a cabin in the woods along a creek. I hadn’t seen that friend in person in 25 years, so that was a great visit. I also hosted an annual visit from a friend who comes down yearly to see a play at the PA Shakespeare Festival with me.
Other than the travel (which was a lot for me compared to recent years, but not compared to what I used to do in my 20s and 30s), I saw a lot of movies (over a dozen for entertainment, and another six as part of a lecture series I attended on Religion and Art—six weeks of one lecture and one film per week taught by a retired professor of religion), two plays, one ballet, three "circus" acts (including one by Cirque de Soleil), and four choral concerts (my best friend sings in two choirs).
I went to nine or ten business networking events, four events for the new Food Co-Op I joined and four meetings for our local neighborhood association, two political events (the Women's Day March and a tax day rally), and I took a one day art workshop. I went to events at friends’ houses about once a month, meals with friends at restaurants at least once monthly, and to religious services about that often as well.
I originally had three big goals for 2017, which I eventually reduced it to two. The original three were 1. Job performance (technical mastery of systems and procedures at new job, CFP exam study); 2. Taking care of myself (eating healthy, exercising consistently, sleeping enough, and meditating daily); and 3. decluttering at home. The decluttering goal was the one I abandoned.
Overall, I made good progress at mastering the new job, but I was overly optimistic in thinking that I would be able to complete the CFP exam coursework and take the exam while learning everything at the new job. I did complete another one of the basic courses, however, and I did well enough at the job to get an overall positive evaluation and a raise.
I also spent effort taking care of myself, but instead of getting into shape, I managed to get out of shape because of the adrenal fatigue and stopping going to the gym. (I know I made it sound like I did a lot but I think I wrote out just about everything I did since I was in bed between 6 to 7:30 pm about 4 nights out of the week for at least half the year, and I still find myself in bed really early 1 or 2 nights a week.)
I did an ok job of getting to bed earlier and of meditating regularly, practicing on 277 days for about 10 minutes per day.
This month, I took myself to a physical therapist after experiencing unusual pain in my Achilles tendon after a two-mile walk, something that I have always been easily able to do, and I have developed a plan to get back to exercise in the new year. I also allowed my generally good diet to deteriorate over the holiday season, so it’s back to clean eating habits tomorrow, starting a month on the Whole 30.
In terms of finances, I had a very good year despite some bad spending habits (buying too many books on the Kindle, in particular). My net worth increased by $63,666—a 13.5% increase, and my overall assets are now very solidly over half a million.
Overall, it was a good year, and I am very happy that, other than Buffy’s brief bout of pancreatitis back in the fall, there was nothing significant to report with the furkids this year. Bridget turned 13 in October and Buffy hits that age in March, so they really are getting to be seniors. My previous kitties (Phoebe and Teddy) died at 13 and 14 respectively, so I am praying that my current “kitty matrons” remain in good health throughout 2018.
Today I got the email I've been waiting for all month: info about my annual bonus (first time in my 30-year working career that I've worked for a place that gave bonuses) and raise.
The bonus is given on a company-wide, not individual basis. Each year there is a revenue target, and if the company meets it, we all get the 20% bonus.
The raise is determined individually, and I believe that 3% is the standard raise unless one achieves a new certification or changes roles within the company or has some other special achievement.
With the bonus, I'll be able to pay off a chunk of credit card and loan balances and will meet my debt reduction goal for the year, hooray!
Argh, had a whole entry written and it disappeared into the internet void after hitting post.
I won't re-create the whole thing.
Buffy cat was diagnosed in the very early stages of kidney disease--it hasn't even affected her BUN/Creatinine levels yet. Hopefully knowledge is power and will help me give her a normal lifespan.
I went to Los Angeles on vacation--a 5 day tiring trip, but good to catch up with my sister and see my aunt. I'm looking forward to more frequent short B&B trips in the near future as vacations for a while.
Belated Q2 goal review: I've pretty much dropped Goal 3 of getting organized at home and limited it to getting organized at work. Goals 1 & 2 have been enough for this year. With regard to Goal 1, work, I have also extended my plans for passing the CFP exam out another year as my progress in the classwork has been slower than I like. And with regard to Goal 2, taking better care of my health, well, I am being watchful but fatigue has been getting the better of me and I need to just do it and manage to get more exercise in the mornings even if I do not feel like it. More exercise and outdoor time in the morning should help me sleep better, which in turn should help the fatigue. No more social media or reading endless news articles in the mornings over coffee! I'll save the recreational reading for 90 minutes maximum in the early evening.
Two hurdle numbers I would very much like to get past by the end of the year: 90K in debt and under 200 pounds. Both have been places that I have hovered around for the past few years, getting below those numbers for short periods of time but then rebounding. I'd like to say goodbye to those two numbers for good this year.
I got my paycheck today, so updated my balances on the net worth statement I keep for myself. For the first time today, my net worth is, unexpectedly, over half a million. That is, if I accept Zillow's value on my home value.
I did pay down two smaller loans (about 2K) this week, but the big surprise was that my home value bumped up over 5% on Zillow. I recall reading in the business section earlier this week that local home prices bumped up over 11% so far this year, so I guess it shouldn't be too much of a surprise that Zillow updated their values.
For comparison, I also looked up my home value on homelight (which priced it 2.5K higher) and Chase Home Value Estimator, which priced it lower. The Chase estimator is our default option when we do this at work, and it is the only one to give a range rather than a numerical estimate, but I've been using the Zillow estimator for a decade now, so am keeping it the same for consistency.
This was a really slow week at work, so one thing I finally managed to do was to schedule some vacation time, something I have been lagging on since I'm still in the first year at this job.
Next week, I'm taking Friday off because I have a friend coming to visit and I need an extra day to clean up around my house. Then I'm taking a 4 day weekend two weekends from now, including an overnight at a B&B along the Delaware River half an hour from here. Then in August, I'm taking 5 days to go visit my sister, who I haven't seen in 6 years. I also scheduled myself for an extra day Labor Day weekend, to make that another 4-day weekend.
Except for next weekend when I'm taking the extra day to clean, this is mostly R&R time, which I find myself much in need of at the moment. My sleep habits have been rotten and I need to stop watching old tv shows on NetFlix or Amazon Prime before bed so that I get more sleep. I have about two more weeks to get thru watching all the old Gilmore Girls episodes and then I won't allow myself any video until November or so when it gets dark so early.
I haven't made any significant progress on decluttering, one of my annual goals. Hopefully I'll manage a bit over Labor Day weekend, but if not, I'm probably going to take a couple of long weekends next spring to devote to this. Trying to do it when the weather is either too hot (like now) or too cold (like winter) doesn't seem to work for me because I am just too uncomfortable, especially in the rooms that need the most decluttering, which are not air conditioned or particularly well heated.
But I definitely had the need to make progress on this reinforced this morning, when my beloved Buffy cat disappeared for the first couple of hours of the day. I searched high and low in every known kitty hideout, and still she found a place that I was not able to locate. Fortunately she reappeared just before I left (20 minutes late) for work. She was somewhere in the "storage room," officially the master bedroom but never used as such, and formerly my study, before I got Henry and stopped using it to work because he could not climb the stairs.
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.
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.
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.
Overall goal assessment for 2016 is that I give myself a C on all fronts. Some progress but not significant progress on all fronts. The biggest achievement of the year was surviving a layoff proactively and landing a new position at a company that is a better fit for me within 3 months. (This is significant, but isn't nearly as good as having great success at my job and passing the CFP exam.)
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I did make progress reducing debt and increasing my net worth. My exercise progress was good from January until an injury on March 5, then when I finally went to physical therapy during June and July, I got back on track and am being more consistent again, but I was totally off track for March, April, and May. And while I did get my house presentable enough to have guests over a couple of times (something that I would have been ashamed to do the previous year), I didn't do any real decluttering, as in getting rid of stuff. There's still a bedroom (the master bedroom, in fact) that is just a storage room. I really do want to GET RID OF THINGS this year. I am targeting the spring for this project: late April, May, and June, when the weather and sunshine will motivate me, and the burden of tax season is behind me.
I read a blog post by James Clear, who talks about the "3 burner theory" and work-life balance. The theory is this: We have four burners we try to juggle: work, health, friends, and family. And just as a chef will struggle if they try to cook complex dishes on all four burners at once, so we can't tackle big goals on all four fronts at the same time, or we become less effective. Clear suggests that we tackle 3 or even better just 2 big goals at any one time.
So while I do have a more detailed list of 20 goals, I've just put the big 3 in the sidebar. Work and Health are the big two, with a focus on decluttering selectively in Q2.
Some of the other specifics that I hope to tackle this year are getting a passport (since PA drivers licenses won't be accepted for even domestic air travel after January 2018), getting estate documents in place, and visiting my sister in Los Angeles, who I haven't seen in 3 years now.
I also want to take two B&B weekends, one in the spring and one in the fall, plus go to a conference paid for by work. If they will pay for my CFP exam review, I'll do that in lieu of a conference; if not, there's a conference in Salem MA in July that tops my list but it's a bit expensive, so I have to do more research for alternatives. (Plus the company as a whole does an annual retreat at company headquarters in Richmond VA every November.)
I think of my goals as investments in my human capital. While I really haven't invested signficantly in the interpersonal domain in quite a while, I'm going to delay focusing there for one more year. If I can make significant progress this year on the work and health fronts, then in 2018 and beyond, I'd like to start investing more in the interpersonal domain, something that I've largely neglected since my last romantic relationship ended in 2009. (I also neglected the domain during my 30s as well.) Hopefully I'll assess myself a year from now as being in a place where I can make a change of focus.
A sweet New Year to those who celebrate (and those who celebrate alongside us).
A quick update here on my life:
My debt load is down to about 96K, 10K down from last December and close to where it was when it took a spike up with the HELOC last October. I keep on running projections for myself and am still optimistic that I can wipe out the non-mortgage debt by the time I am 60 (4 more years) and the mortgage by age 65. I don’t think I’ll ever again earn as much as I earned in my last position, but as long as I earn enough to repay my debts and cover my current living expenses, I’ll be ok.
A baseline rule of thumb for retirement income is to have at least 8 to 10 times your annual income in retirement accounts; this provides for a withdrawal rate of 3 to 5%. Now I don’t have 8 times my recent high level salary in my retirement accounts, but I do have 8 times my expected future salary in there, so as long as I don’t have to draw too much down before retirement, I’ll be fine. (Why would I draw money before retirement? Because part of this money is in inherited IRAs, which come with Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs). Ideally, pre-retirement, one takes the RMD, pays the taxes at one’s ordinary income rate, then rolls the money into a Roth IRA (so that you don’t have to pay taxes on it again). But these difficult years, I have been using the money to pay down debt at the beginning of the year. When I can also save for retirement through pre-tax deductions at work, these two amounts pretty much even out, but there have been years where it all ends up just being a paydown of debt without sufficient corresponding contributions.)
Bottom line: as long as I earn enough to cover my current expenses, I am fine. Being able to earn enough to save more for retirement would be ideal--I'd love to be able to retire with 12-15 times income in my retirement accounts (and will probably have to work until age 70 to do this)--but as long as I don't have a net withdrawal from the retirement accounts until actual retirement (as long as I am able to save at least the amount I take in mandatory RMDs) I have enough to survive retirement barring any black swan events (and I do have a long-term care insurance policy to cover the most likely black swan).
The biggest question mark in here is health insurance coverage. The COBRA plan offered to me was $762 a month so I instead went on the Health Care Marketplace and got myself a Bronze plan for the rest of the year at $524 a month. I may well go for a Silver plan next year if I don't have a job that provides any insurance, but hopefully I will. The idea of 8 to 10K out of pocket a year for premiums, deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance is daunting. Having once owed additional tax for getting a subsidy and then in the end not being eligible for it, I will from now on avoid opting for the subsidy paid in advance (the Premium Tax Credit) and instead take it when I file my tax return after all is said and done.
In terms of my projected debt reduction, I have so far reduced my debt load about 8K this year. It had reached a recent peak last November at 108K and is down to about 96k (roughly 66K mortgage and 30K non-mortgage debt; by January, it should be down to 94K. Then I am hoping to reduce it by 12K a year thereafter. Once the non-mortgage debt is gone, I’ll be able to increase retirement contributions, and I’ll be able to up them even more once the house is paid off.
Presuming of course that I am back at work.
I am feeling hopeful about that at the moment. Things have really picked up the past couple of weeks, and I’m onto second conversations for planning jobs—these would be with insurance rather than investing oriented firms, but I’m actually eager to learn that side of the business. Then there’s a position that would involve being a rotating consultant working out of a staffing firm—I’d be an employee of the staffing firm with benefits, and they would try to keep me working on short-term assignments typically of a few months. They would keep me on the payroll for up to a month after each short-term assignment ended and try to find me another assignment (hopefully going seamlessly from one assignment to the next); if they weren’t able to find me another position within that time frame, it would be back to unemployment. But at least I would be eligible for unemployment and even if the pay would be less working for a staffing firm than it would be working directly as an employee of the client company, someone else is doing the heavy lifting in terms of getting me interviews. And often enough, the client company decides they want to keep you and makes you a more lucrative offer. In addition, I’m interviewing for a part-time holiday season job at a local department store two miles from my house.
Also, I had lunch with one of my former colleagues and learned that they are NOT seeking to replace me, but instead have streamlined and eliminated part of what I was doing and are outsourcing the rest of it, so I can honestly say that my job was restructured out of existence, rather than that I was let go for making mistakes (which is what my boss said to me when he let me go). As I am prone to shame and self-blame, learning this has been very helpful to my state of mind.
On that note, currently reading Brene Brown’s “Rising Strong” about dealing with failures in a resilient fashion and finding it helpful.
Well, I need to get some documents prepared for tomorrow and try to make an Eruv Rosh Hashanah dinner (I’m skipping the service, alas), so—Happy New Year to you !
Take this test: http://app.keysurvey.com/f/989930/d74e/
Links to a test developed by two psychologists who have written books on the subject (which I own but have not yet had a chance to read). The test measures four money scrips: money avoidance, money worship, money status, and money vigilance.
I'll report my scores in the comments. I suspect that many of us on this site will score similarly, by virtue of the fact wer are here!
I am finally starting to do some long-delayed decluttering. In the process, I came across a little balance wheel exercise I had done almost exactly five years ago (3/29/2011).
A balance wheel is an exercise used by life coaches, etc, that has you rate yourself on a series of life domains. You put your ratings on a circle that is divided up into a series of pie slices (You can see one at http://www.innernorth.com/links-resources/life-balance-wheel/). Then fill in the pie slices to the depth that corresponds with your rating. That is, if you have rated "Family" a 10 out of 10, you would fill in the entire pie slice, but if you rated it only 5 out of 10, you would draw a line horizontally midway along the spoke and color in a slice that filled up half of the slice. (There's a completed example here: http://www.innernorth.com/links-resources/life-balance-wheel/).
So, having come across this from five years ago, I had to re-do the exercise and compare.
Domain, 2016, 2011, change
Physical Environment, 3, 7, -4
Career, 8, 2, +6
Finances: 5, 2, +3
Health: 6, 5, +1
Friends & Family: 6, 7, -1
Sig. Other: 0, 4, -4
Personal/Spiritual Growth: 3, 6, -3
Fun & Recreation: 6, 6, 0
Gains in Career (+6), Finances (+3), and Health (+1); Losses in Physical Environment (-4), Romance (-4), Spirituality (-3), and Friends & Family (-1).
Overall net rating change: -2.
Just goes to show that things balance out. Five years ago, I was at the start of what proved to be an arduous career change and was only employed part-time at a temp job, my mother was dying, but I had more time and energy to spend on personal reading and with friends. Now, I've found a full-time job that satisfies me, but I have let a lot of things in my personal life go as I make the transition. This year I am focused on getting the CFP certification, but after that is done, I think I need to focus more time and energy on my personal life again.
OK, back to decluttering--maybe I can move that Physical Environment rating from 3 to 4 today and back to 7 before summer.
Last year, having found stable employment after several years of instability, I decided to stop rolling debt from one balance transfer credit card to another. So first I got a personal loan, then later in the year, a home equity line of credit. I already had a small loan against my 403b account, so since November, I've been paying three loans plus a mortgage. I had incurred some additional expenses during the year, so I wasn't able to use the HELOC to fully pay down the more costly personal loan, only partially. With one more payment, that personal loan will be down to half the original balance. At that point, I'm going to take out another 403b loan at less than half the rate of the personal loan. Then I'll be back to two loans plus a mortgage. The 403b loan doesn't decrease my 403b balance, just possibly affects the balance in the annuity portion I have in the account. It's only 10k against a much larger diversified balance, so I'm ok doing that. I'll reduce my monthly debt payments and give myself back a little liquidity, decrease the interest rate on that 10k, and only add a year to eliminating the non-mortgage debt totally: 2019 rather than 2018, which still works in terms of my plan to pay off the mortgage and be completely debt free by 2024. I've been feeling a little pinched even with higher income because I have been aggressive about paying down debt. Time for a little more liquidity at the cost of an additional year.
On another money front, today I'm sending in a check to finish fully funding my HSA for the year. Means less into the Roth, but since I can pay my long term care insurance premiums in a tax-advantaged way this way, it helps on the taxes since I no longer qualify for a traditional IRA deduction.
A year ago today (as it turns out--this was not planned), I wrote an entry here about planning for debt reduction. While my intentions were good, I didn't make the kind of progress that I had planned. I did reduce debt over the first part of the year, but then increased it back to its starting point (and a little bit beyond). In the end, I more moved debt around than reduced it. I *did* reduce my mortgage by $4,000 (more than double the reduction that would have occurred if I were still plodding along with my original mortgage, and over a thousand ahead of where the refinance would have had me if I had not added in additional payments), so that part is good. But the non-mortgage debt, I ended up mostly moving around, from being mostly on 0% credit card balance transfers, which I kept on moving around from card to card as the 0% rate expired (kicking in a balance transfer fee of 2-4%) to being more on loans...first a personal loan and then a HELOC. The debt increased a bit with some personal investments I made in my health and my career. At the moment, the total is about 35K. I just want to use this post to lay out some targets for reducing this. If I were just following the loan amortization schedules, this would be a several year project, but I can do it in three years. Overall acccording to the amortization schedules, I'd be paying about $400 a month on the non-mortgage debt; in actuality, I pay about a thousand, so Target #1 is getting the non-mortgage debt to 30K by mid-year and to 25K by year end. Mortgage debt at year end should be down to 65K, so that's a total of 90K total debt by the end of 2016. I can cut the non-mortgage debt in half during 2017 and get the mortgage debt down to 61K, for a 2017 ending debt balance of 73.5K. Then in 2018 I can pay off the rest of the non-mortgage debt and get the mortgage down to 56K total debt. At that point I can really accelerate the mortgage payoff to have the mortgage paid off by sometime in 2025, two years before I reach full retirement age. Then I can funnel that money to a final push to accumulate two years' worth of cash for living expenses to have in my accounts before I retire sometime between 2027 and 2030.
One of the things about financial planning is that it is never done--one always has to revisit it as one's personal circumstances and the economy change. But one doesn't achieve one's goals if one doesn't plan for them, so planning is hardly fruitless.
I'll revisit my debt progress...hopefully a decline, even though I am planning some additional long-delayed household expenses this year...as the year progresses.
This entry is mostly nonfinancial, tho I will note that I decreased debt by $7,630 and added $7,975 to my retirement accounts during the year, so over 15K total to the good.
I've gone ahead and updated my side panel for my 2016 goals--fewer than in previous years, with the hopes that I'll make even more progress on each.
Here are my goals/results for 2015.
Job Performance: Completed 1 of the CFP classes, gained familiarity with the top 40 clients, improved efficiency, and earned a raise mid-year.
Organization: very little progress at home, made a start at office organization. I did improve my financial organization by moving my non-mortgage debt from credit card balance transfers to loans (first a personal loan and then a HELOC at a better rate, which I used to partially but not totally pay off the personal loan, and partially for some capital improvements). This will be a big area of focus for 2016 now that I have one year at my new job under my belt. Making big improvements here will enable improvements in other areas in future years.
Health: Joined a gym mid-year and have gone 2-3 times a week pretty consistently since; kept my weight fairly steady; and got my chronic bronchitis under control by going on FloVent. But I am suffering from fairly severe fatigue and need to work on improved sleep/decreased fatigue in 2016, as well as keeping up with the gym and decent nutrition.
Social/Recreational: Took 3 short vacations (first since 2011), saw half a dozen plays and about two dozen films, participated moderately actively with my congregation--but did not manage to entertain at all. I'll get organized in 2016 and make having people over a goal in 2017.
Professional development: Went to about two dozen Board meetings and/or networking events, joined a new professional organization, wrote one entry on my professional blog.
All in all, not a bad year, even if I fell short of my ambitions. But better to aim higher and fall short than to aim too low and not perform up to my best.
Just looking at my balance sheet today compared to six months ago (11/30/2014). Overall I have a nearly 25K net increase, of which half is in retirement savings (and that increase is pretty evenly divided between new contributions and capital appreciation).
Of the other half, 5,000 is a net decrease in debt (which has been transferred from credit card balance transfers to a personal consolidation loan) and the rest is an increase in savings (some ready cash and the rest in my HSA).
Nice to see progress and especially to feel like it is progress that will continue, rather than a few steps forward and a few steps back. Of course, we'll see if there is any big market correction this year, but at least for the factors under my control, I am feeling positive.
Also, for those of you who have seen me on here for a long time, yesterday was the five year anniversary of Henry's passing. Hard to believe it has been five years. I always told him his middle name was "Retirement," since during the 4 years I had him I ended up putting the amount that I otherwise would have put towards retirement towards medical expenses for him--but he was well worth it for the love and purpose he gave me during some pretty tough years.
Confession here: I fell off the debt reduction horse during the past few crazy, unstable years. My net worth has grown, but whereas I was out of debt in 2009, I accumulated, at a peak, 30K of non-mortgage debt (currently $25,667). For the first time in years, my income is stable and no family crises loom, so it's time to get back in the saddle. First step was getting back to posting income and expenses with YNAB, which I used to do. Nice upgrades to the program during the past 5 years since I last used it. Second step was consolidating the credit card debt with a personal loan-20k, 5 years, 10.9%. I'm tired of juggling 0% balance transfers. And it won't take me 5 years to pay...but I have flexibility with a longer term, just in case. And step 3 was to temporarily cut my retirement savings to 3% in order to add $420 a month to emergency savings. I've been living with too small a buffer, which is why the debt accrued. Increase the buffer, pay down the debt, max out retirement savings once I have more liquidity...and hopefully not only keep the job but eventually get a raise. My net worth is currently 27K higher than it was 6 months ago when I started the job, and hopefully the market and luck are with me and I'll do at least as well in the second six months. Overall debt to equity is currently 20.7%. Aiming to get it lower still.
While the first two months at work were about mastering software and physical systems (like the phone and alarm systems) as well as preparing year-end tax projections, the second two months expanded my work into the financial planning domain with calculation of annual trust distribution amounts (many trusts distribute for prior year within the first 65 days of the following year) and preparation of my first retirement and educational funding projections and my first client meetings. This next month, until April 15, it's back to tax--this time reviewing client returns rather than preparing them.
Looking at my goals for the year (see the sidebar), I see that I've done pretty well at #1 and #5, adequately at #3 and #4, and a mediocre job at #2.
As far as the job related goals (1 & 5) go, I'm happy with how much I've learned, even though I've put studying for the CFP exam on hold for the moment. There has been too much to learn to deal with particular client issues and questions, like 401K to Roth conversion or whether the exercised stock options were showing up properly on the tax return (they weren't, fault of the broker who didn't calculate basis correctly), or looking ahead to optimal social security claiming strategy for a married couple. But all of this is what I'll need to know and learning it on an as-I-go basis will make the formal classes, when I do complete them, that much easier.
And while it's been a cold winter and I've spent most nights huddling under the covers with my kitties, I am on two boards (one for my congregation and one for the local chapter of a professional organization), and participating in activities of those groups means that I'm out one or two evenings a week most weeks, which satisfies both goals 4 & 5. There's also a recorder group that I play with monthly, and I've become friendly with another person who has an odd mix of professional backgrounds (she's a lawyer & former philosphy professor with an interest in bioethics) and the combination has made her more successful in her career than the success she was able to achieve with either career taken separately (which is what I'm hoping for for myself).
I haven't been exercising--too cold--but I did walk to work once this week and hope to make that an almost daily practice as the weather allows. That one time felt really good. As I regain some very basic fitness, I'll try to build on it by getting back to the gym again.
Also with regard to goal #3, I've been consistent at meditating thanks to an app called Insight Timer. I don't meditate for long periods--more like 5 minutes a day rather than the 20 I aim for--but I am very consistent at the moment, thanks to the "gold stars" the app gives you for each 10 consecutive and 100 total days completed.
With regard to #2, getting my house in order, one aspect of that is satisfactory. I have reduced my debt by about 7.5K and increased my assets by 12K since I started work, 19.5K to the positive. This is because I have been paying about half of my earnings to either increased savings or increased credit card payments.
Four months in to this, though, I am beginning to feel a little bit pinched. I make my payments right after each paycheck comes in, so that there is almost never more than $200 in my checking account. Spring is here, and I'd like to hire someone to clear out the yard, have my hair professionally colored, and go away for a weekend after the end of tax season.
Feeling just a wee bit more secure in my job, I've decided to handle my debt in a different way than I have been. For the past few years, as the debt accrued due to the combination of un- and under-employment plus additional expenses due to playing "pet hospice" for three beloved pets, I've been transfering debt from 0% credit card offer to 0% credit card offer, sometimes paying one off, but then needing to do another balance transfer when another pet hospitalization arose. Now, as soon as I get my tax refund, I'll pay down a little bit more on the credit cards and then take out a consolidation loan. I'll take it out for 4 years but hope to pay it off in 3. This will allow me about $400/month more in my budget, which I can use for current spending and to add to the emergency fund, which is down to $825.
It's time to get out of the "deprivation"/"I don't deserve this" mindset and allow myself some room for current spending as well as paying off old debts from the past and saving for retirement in the future.
So I've done an ok job at getting my financial house in order, but the PHYSICAL house itself is a mess--I've been too cold or tired evenings and weekends to work on it. I'm hoping to get a much better handle decluttering in the next six weeks!
I've drafted my tax return. I would have completed it, but I'm having problems installing the state module, so I need to wait for tech support to get back to me.
My income will be changing a lot between 2014 and 2015, so I wanted to figure out how to get the most benefit by saving, while also continuing to whack away furiously at my accumulated non-mortgage debt.
This will be the last year that I can get a deduction for putting money into a traditional IRA (for singles, the ability to deduct money put into a traditional IRA phases out between 60K & 70K this year). So I played around with my tax software to figure out the optimal amount to contribute--the amount where my total refund will be just about equal to the contribution. I figured that out back in January and have been putting aside money from each paycheck to make the contribution (which has meant paying less on my credit card debt). As soon as I've got my software glitch figured out, I'll make the IRA deposit, file my return, and then use the refund to pay more off on credit cards. If all goes according to plan, I'll have managed to lower my nonmortgage debt by about 10K by sometime in March by a combination of using my required minimum distribution from my inherited IRA and the refund, plus some regular payments.
After this, I'll continue to pay off the debt at about $1000 a month. A lot of this debt is on credit card balance transfers (12 to 18 month) at 0%; but two of those expire in June, by which time I figure my total non-mortgage debt will be about 18K. At that point, I'll need to determine whether I'm going to look for another balance transfer or possibly find a low-interest loan. I'm thinking about taking out a 36 month loan (of course, depends on the interest rate). If there's no penalty for early pay-off, I can then think about whether I want to keep paying at a thousand a month, or whether I want to halve that and start saving $500 a month to build my emergency fund back up.
In any case, getting the debt down by 10K after I get the refund will feel really good. I had no non-mortgage debt back in 2008 and 2009, and I'd like to get back to that place as soon as is feasibly possible, while also working on my other goals (paying for the certification program I am in, rebuilding emergency savings, having a little money to do things like hire a personal trainer for a couple of months and go on vacation for a week, now that I once again earn enough that those are reasonable things to consider).
Balance. It's all about balancing goals over time.
By 9 a.m. this morning, I had chosen a fork in the road. At 8:10, I received an email from the recruiter telling me that the accounting firm wanted an answer by close of business today. I then sent an email to the President of the financial planning firm, telling him that I had to make a decision today. He responded by 8:20 with an email including the offer letter, telling me that he'd dropped the hard copy into the mail on his way in to work this morning. The offer is at a salary that is fully 50% higher than the accounting firm offered, with full benefits, and the job starts next Monday. With that salary (at a level that I was thinking it might take me another 4-5 years to attain), the decision was literally "no contest." I called the Principal of the accounting firm to tell him, with regrets, that I was turning down his offer and why, and then the Recruiter, who worked very hard on my behalf to get me the accounting firm offer, so I feel badly that she gets nothing for her efforts on my behalf in the end (I will send her a Harry & David type gift). So, before 9 o'clock this morning, the decision was made and I set off on the new path. Today was mostly reveling in happiness and sending thank-yous; tomorrow I will figure out more clearly what I need to get done before I start work and work on that list.
After a very long transition from academic to accountant, I am hoping that last week marks the end of one phase and the beginning of the next. Fingers crossed, knocking on wood, finding a lucky rabbit's foot, and all that, because I thought three years ago that I had reached the "holy Grail" of the full-time job with benefits, but that one turned out to last only three months. So I'm not going to believe that this really IS a turning point for at least half a year into this.
Just in case you have not previously encounted my blog, my brief backstory is that I once was an untenured college professor and ten years ago, I decided to become an accountant instead. I finally attained my CPA earlier this year, after five years spent on schooling and exams and another five years spent gaining experience at part-time and temporary/contract jobs.
Now it looks as though I'll have two offers--one of them is just an oral offer, though, so I'm waiting for the actual offer letter, which I expect to get tomorrow, that will state details such as salary, benefits, and starting date.
One of the job offers is at a smallish (15 permanent staff) full-service CPA firm 22 miles from home. This would be a contract-to-hire job, with the owner indicating a very high probability that it would turn permanent after tax season. I'd be in the corporate tax area, with some individual tax, and would have the opportunity to work on reviews, compilations, and audits during the non-tax season part of the year. 51 hours a week during tax season (mandatory Saturday mornings), 29 hours a week over the summer (Fridays off), and 40 hours a week the rest of the year. A couple of years of this type of experience and I would feel that I had the necessary background to consider opening my own firm, which is not yet the case (nor do I really anticipate wanting to open my own firm--it might be another story if I were 10 years younger). This is the type of job I've have been focused on getting for the past two years.
The other job offer is rather different, and is in line with what I planned when I originally set out on my new path a decade ago. My background is in psychology, and I used to do research on self-defeating behavior. So when I thought about switching careers, I remembered my own lack of financial smarts during my 20s and first thought about becoming a financial planner, since CFPs are interested in both aspects of people's psychology (their goals, their risk tolerance) as well as in their finances. But then I looked into CFP programs and found out that most graduates landed in sales jobs for firms like Ameriprise. Becoming a salesperson and working on commission really did not appeal to me, so that's the point at which I decided to get my CPA instead and become a tax accountant and "back door" into also offering planning services.
The second offer is to actually BE a CPA/Financial Planner for a small, fee-based financial planning firm targeting high net-worth taxpayers, primarily doctors, lawyers, and executives. In this role, I'd spend about 50% of my time on tax planning, and I'd also learn about retirement, education, estate, and risk planning and get my CFP along the way. I wouldn't actually be doing returns, however. But what's really neat about this job is that they *like* the fact that I have the psychology background. While I've been focused on applying for tax accountant jobs, I've considered my PhD my "dirty little secret" and it doesn't appear on my resume...you have to google my name or scroll down to the bottom of my Linked In profile to find out about it. But while I DO love the tax work, I ALSO love psychology as much as I ever did, so there's an additional excitement about this job for me.
The planning job feels like the risky but potentially higher reward choice (risky since I haven't done much of the planning before), while the accounting firm feels like the safer choice.
I still have yet to get the offer letter in hand from the planning firm, but I expect based on our conversation that the planning job would pay at least as much as the accounting firm job, would start six weeks earlier (this month rather than Jan. 5), benefits could apply from the beginning (depending on whatever waiting period is included in their plan rules), and also, it's basically an 8-5 job (with a one-hour lunch) that is located precisely ONE MILE from my house--I'd be walking except on days when the weather is extreme in one way or another.
So you can probably tell that I'm leaning towards the CFP job, pending seeing the actual offer in hand.
But recalling my previous experience getting hired for a "permanent" job with benefits and getting let go 3 months later when they lost their biggest client, I am trying to keep my excitement in check.
Hopefully this is the start of a new phase in both my career and for my personal finances, where my balance sheet continues to improve as the markets have done well and our local real estate market is rebounding, but where I have now amassed some personal loan debt, most at low or zero percent rate, but personal rather than mortgage loan debt nonetheless, enough that it will probably take a couple of years to pay off to get myself back to the state of my only debt being mortgage debt that I was in five years ago when I left teaching.
The other thing I have been obsessed with this summer, besides long term care insurance and job hunting (expecting more interviews after the 10/15 tax extenstion deadline....things have been a little quiet on that front for the past couple of weeks, as prospective employers are busy) is learning about functional/integrative medicine.
My interest is the result of serendipity. Earlier this summer, I started attending the twice-monthly networking events offered by a local small business marketing professional, since I am hoping to work for a small business servicing other small businesses. The very first meeting I attended included the business director for a chiropracter who was offering a free talk that night on thyroid issues.
My thyroid tests have always come back as normal, but both my sister and mother are (were) on Synthroid, and I've long known that loss of the outer third of one's eyebrows is a signal of thyroid issues, and I have that, so I decided to go to the talk, where I learned that the thyroid affects everything else in your body since every cell has thyroid hormone receptors. At the end of the talk, the doctor offered a two-visit assessment for $100 that he normally charged $450 for, so I decided to see what my results would be.
The blood tests that he ordered were different than the thyroid test ordered by my doctor, which I learned is typical. Most doctors just assess TSH and T3/T4 levels, but ignore the thyroid antibodies. My results came back indicating normal (but relatively low) thyroid levels, but an elevation in one of the antibodies, suggestive of Hashimoto's thyroiditis, an autoimmune disorder where your immune system destroys your thyoid.
When I talked about the results with my sister, she said that her doctor said that it wasn't worth testing her for Hashi's, since her thyroid levels were low anyways, and the treatment would be the same. I have since learned that this is the conventional medical approach: wait until a disorder becomes severe enough that the patient develops symptoms, then give them drugs. If the drugs cause other symptoms, then use other drugs to combat those new symptoms.
While I can't currently afford the chiropracter's program (he suggested a six-month program of additional testing, dietary changes, supplements, etc), I got enough information from him to begin reading and making changes on my own.
The most important thing I learned is that Hashi's is reversible, if caught before the thyroid has been destroyed by the autoimmune reaction. The conventional medicine approach completely ignores this possibility--very distressing! Most patients never learn that their thyroid is in danger until it is too late and the thyroid has been destroyed, because conventional medicine focuses so much on symtoms and not causes, and considers things "normal" until they are acutely out of whack.
I learned from the chiropracter that most people with Hashi's have "leaky gut" syndrome and should go on a gluten-free diet, so I put myself on that immediately. I also am gradually working to greatly reduce all grains, and am considering, at least temporarily, eliminating grains and legumes, following the suggestions of the Autoimmune Paleo diet. I also learned that low stomach acid tends to be associated with these conditions and to make the problem worse, so I started taking betaine pills with high-protein meals.
I also learned that a vegan diet generally does not work well for people trying to reverse autoimmune disease.
This is distressing because I have been basically vegan (vegan at home, vegetarian away from home) for over two years now.
But I became vegan in order to address some annoying health problems (a big increase in my seasonal allergies and asthma starting three years ago), and the vegan diet has not resolved those problems.
I also found out from the tests that the chiropracter ordered that my ferritin (iron store) levels were quite low, at the bottom of the normal spectrum, and, distressingly, significantly lower than the last time they were tested. I have noticed for the past couple of years that my late-afternoon fatigue has been more severe, and that I don't feel as well-rested upon waking as I used to, and low ferritin levels are the likely cause of this.
I've also read enough now in the functional/integrative medicine literature to see that issues like leaky gut, ferritin levels, vitamin D levels, stomach acid levels, and symptoms, including asthma symptoms, can all be tied together, and the root cause starts with getting your gut in order, since the majority of your immune system is actually housed in your gut.
So deciding to abandon my vegan diet (especially after having been at least somewhat vocal in support of it on facebook) is causing me a great deal of cognitive dissonance, but is something I've decided to do at least temporarily. I've started by beginning to eat fish for the past month, and am contemplating whether or not to add in other meat sources as well. I also have been taking increased iron supplements, and before I decide whether or not to make further dietary changes, I'm having myself tested again for the thyroid antibodies and iron levels. I'm hoping that 6-8 weeks of being gluten free and taking increased supplements will be enough to show some positive changes on those indicators. If not, I'll consider making more "meaty" changes--though the idea of "bone broths" and particularly the organ meats that are suggested in some of these protocols turn my stomach. I don't think I'll ever go as far as to eat organ meat or make my own bone broth. But a weekly grass-fed steak I am willing to consider. In the meantime, I have fingers crossed that the changes I've made to date will show some beneficial effect.
Long Term Care Insurance
My big financial accomplishment for the year (part of my getting organized goal) has been to enroll in a long-term care insurance policy. This was something that took a couple of months to accomplish.
I started with research, first on the internet, and then reading a couple of books. Then I went to einsurance and asked to contact brokers for these policies. No sooner had I pressed "return" on my request than my phone rang!
I ended up getting estimates from half a dozen different brokers, and sitting through join.me sessions with three of them. This was worth the time for me since I learned something different from each new broker.
The most important factor in my decision was choosing the company. You want a company that is highly rated by the various raters (Moody's, S&P, AM Best, & Fitch), since you won't be using the policy for a decade or two or three. Then I learned about the difference between "mutual" insurance companies and the others: "Mutual" companies are owned by their shareholders (like credit unions) and thus have much less of a history of rate increases. So I ended up going with Mass Mutual. Once I had made that decision, I have a friend locally who works for them, so I decided to give her my business rather than one of the on-line brokers, even though some of those were quite helpful.
Having chosen a company, I then had to decide the daily benefit rate, the term that the policy would cover me for, and the inflation rider. Some companies have other options that you can pay riders for as well, for example, having a monthly rather than daily benefit, which gives you a little more flexibility in your spending if you use the policy. I ended up choosing a $250 daily benefit, a two-year term, and a 3% rider. The first two of those were based on average cost/use statistics for non-Alzheimers patients (people with Alzheimers tend to be in facilities longer, but there is no history of this in my family) as well as knowing the terminal health histories of my parents and grandparents. The 3% rider was based on cost--it ended up costing me just slightly more than 50% of the total premium! Back when my mother bought her policy in the early 1990s, 5% riders were affordable, but these days, they cost signficantly more than the cost of the policy itself.
While from a personal perspective (since I am currently unemployed), this was not an optimal time to buy a policy, buying one now made sense to me for a number of reasons: the older one gets, the worse one's health tends to be and the harder it can be to get a policy, so I might as well get one while I am relatively healthy; also, for each year one waits, the cost increases 3-4% based on your age. Also, this is a time of turmoil and change in the industry: several former key players such as Prudential have pulled out (they service their current policyholders but will not sell new policies), and most of the companies are changing from equal rates for men and women to a gender-segregated system, where it costs significantly more for women to buy policies than men because women use more of the care. I had the time to do the research now, and while I don't have the money from my current earnings, I do have an inherited IRA with a required minimum distribution that is more than the policy cost, and I think that my mother would approve of my using the money for this purpose.
Also, since I currently pay for my own health insurance and have a mortgage, I itemize on my taxes and have recently been able to take a deduction for medical expenses. This expense will count towards that as long as my income is still relatively low. Once I earn more and if I ever again have employer-provided insurance, I probably won't be able to deduct this, but at least then I'll be in better financial circumstances overall.
In recent years, I've seen my mother and several friends/acquaintences as well as clients end up in assisted living facilities or with home health care workers, and this has probably made me more attuned to this issue than most people my age (54).
At any rate, another item on my "getting organized list" taken care of. I also found a friend to be my durable power of attorney for healthcare, and before years' end, I hope to get the POAs for health and medical as well as a will set up.
During my two-month job search (February & March), I applied for 32 jobs, had 8 interviews, and netted two jobs, both of which I took--sequentially. (So my hit rate is 25% both for applications getting interviews and for interviews getting jobs....though there were 6 rejections before either acceptance).
The first job that I took was an end-of-tax-season position at a small CPA firm. The firm owner got my name from the business internship director at the college where I got my accounting degree, and contacted me, unexpectedly. Like me, she is a career changer who went back to study accounting in her 40s and passed the CPA exam just before her 50th birthday, so it was a good match, and I enjoyed the 3 weeks that I worked there very much--despite the long tax-season hours.
That job would actually have lasted at a part-time level for several more months, and possibly beyond, save for another opportunity arising, this one through Accountemps. I've gotten my first corporate tax job, and started right on Wednesday,the day after tax season ended. The work is very different than what I'm used to but seems interesting. And working in a corporate cubicle environment is quite a change! I took a $5/hour pay cut from what I was getting at the small CPA firm to take this, which hurts--but that job would have become part-time after tax season, and the long-term potential was unclear, and while I was learning some new things, it was mostly consolidating knowledge I already had. This job, if I do well at it, could be a temp-to-hire job at a fairly large and reputable industrial company where, if things work out, I could be working not only full-time but be back to earning near or above my old salary from academia in a fairly short period of time. And if it doesn't work out, at least I'll have gotten more exposure to corporate tax, which will make me more likely to be hired by a regional CPA firm or in another corporate job, so it is more helpful to my resume in any case. We'll see how things work out!
Two month status report: two months ago, I was suddenly and unexpectedly laid off from my new (3 month) dream job.
The first month after getting laid off, I got right back out, meeting with a staffing manager at a local accounting-oriented staffing firm within days and applying for jobs, but I did so a little willy-nilly.
During February, I had five interviews, three in the third week of the month. I got three rejections on the following Monday, and that really felt like a sucker-punch to the gut, as much as the original lay-off had been, probably because my coping resources had already been drained by the layoff.
It took me a little bit to get my footing again. I took a week to focus on studying for the new Registered Tax Return Preparer exam (which I took and passed....still waiting for the IRS to finish its tax compliance check before they issue my certification).
I also decided that it was time to strategize.
I decided to get a professional resume upgrade, and I spent one phone session with a career coach who specializes in coaching accountants. I'm also going to work on my interview skills and go back to my college alumni center and have a mock interview taped, in case it is the interview that is holding me back.
It's been extremely frustrating having tax season go by without doing more than a few free tax returns for friends and family. The very first thing I did, the morning after the lay-off, was to look at Craigslist for ads for tax season help--which were all placed the first week in January, and all filled by the end of the month, when I was laid off. But I figured that, with a month to go, some firms might be feeling some pressure, so I placed an ad in Craigslist advertising my availability for last minute help. So far, I haven't gotten a response from that. I also leveraged the ad by finding a local group of accountants that meets monthly and arranging to attend their meeting, with a copy of my Craigslist ad and my business cards near the sign-in. Still no takers, but a couple of people did take my cards, so I'll be curious to see if that strategy garners any calls.
When I got home from that meeting, there was a message waiting from another accountant--one who knows one of my professors who knows about the lay-off. I went in Thursday for an interview, got hired (for a dollar more per hour than my last job), went in Friday to join the office pizza lunch and meet the staff and explore the new-to-me tax package by doing my own return on it.
The job is part-time, so if I get any response from the ad, I might be able to do that as well.
For the next three weeks, I'm going to focus on doing taxes, plus work on preparing my interview answers, and I'll schedule that mock interview.
I'm also preparing a list of desirable employers. Most major metropolitan areas have a local business journal, and business journals produce a "book of lists" which lists each of the major players in an employment category. I've subscribed to my local business journal for a couple of years and have their book of lists, and I also special ordered the Philly book of lists in accounting. Many of the firms are in Center City, which is an unrealistic commute because of traffic, but about 10 of the firms are north of Philly and about an hour away from me, which is commutable (not that I *want* an hour each way commute, but I would accept one at this point).
I've also been planning for some informational interviews right after tax season.
I've decided that I am really two jobs away from the job that I want--first I need a job that will expand my skills and experience a bit, then with more experience and a more polished resume and interview, hopefully I will start landing jobs.
In the meantime, I have part-time work for the next three weeks and possibly beyond. My new employer also changed careers--worked as a computer analyst, then had 4 kids and was a stay-at-home mom for several years, then went back to school in accounting in her 40s (as did I) and passed the CPA exam shortly before her 50th birthday (as did I). She got her experience working for a firm for several years and then bought into the firm, and eventually bought her old boss out, and acquired another practice as well. Even if the job doesn't pan out to be long-term or more than full-time, I am very hopeful that I have found a mentor.
So here's my annual spending recap, with a comparison to Dave Ramsey's recommendations (rounded...he gives ranges). I'll note that my record-keeping was not as precise this year as I normally make it; I just summarized data from the Mint.com data aggregator about my spending and then put it into an Excel spreadsheet to graph it. This means that many entries are inexact--for example, a purchase at Costco might have been coded as groceries but was really half household goods. But the way life was this year, this approximation is "good enough for government work," as my Dad would have said.
First, I'll note that spending exceeded income by about $3000, the balance going to credit card debt. A no-no, but this was an extraordinary year--the "triple whammy" of negative life events.
So a comparison: my mortgage spending looks great by the recommendations, but then there's the "Other Home," which included about $1800 of needed home repairs (water heater and sidewalk replacement). Still, even that total is 32% compared to his 30%, so not bad.
My food and medical are both 5% above his recommendations. The medical is because I paid my own health insurance for 11 months out of this year. The food is always a struggle for me.
My utilities are within his recommended range of 5-10%, even though the #s aren't comparable here (I was making his ranges add up to 100%). My transportation costs are actually a bit lower.
He has 10% to charity and I have 9% to Pets (and maybe there's another 1% to Basset Hound rescue....Pets *are* my charity, I guess).
And of course, he has 10% to savings, which I didn't manage this past year, but now that I'm a working girl again, I'm well on track towards being able to meet that for 2012 and beyond.
Last year, my mortgage company (Wells Fargo) called me and offered me an easy refinance...no appraisal, no cost (though I'm not sure what that means...I'll have to look at the documents I have from last year to be clear). Last year, even though I was approved for the loan, I didn't go through with it, because I was employed only part-time and still collecting unemployment, and I was worried that somehow things would come back to "bite" me.
Now that I'm employed full-time again, it makes sense to think about refinancing with the rates so low. So I googled "mortgage refinance calculator," pulled one up, filled it out, and, as typically happens with these, got a list of potential lenders to call me rather than an actual printout of an estimate.
I talked to two of them today. Seems like I can go from a 30-year mortgage with 24 years remaining at 5.875% to a 20-year mortgage at 3.75%, AND lower my monthly payment by about $50. Sweet.
And, of course, if I keep on paying the same amount, I lower the payoff date to about 17 years, which brings me to full retirement age (not that I plan to retire then, but I want to be ABLE to, debt free).
So I'm going to do it. Now I need to figure out who to do it with. I have two phone quotes (both of which agreed that I can get the 20 year 3.75% rate; one also offered a 15-year, 3.5% loan, but that takes my payment a little bit higher than I'd like it).
If I stay in the house, I'll save about $24,000 in interest over the life of the loan (less any points or closing costs, which still leaves savings of over $20,000). Even if I decide to move and even if there are points or closing costs, it would be worth it in just a year or two.
I know that with both of the lenders that I spoke to today, there'd be an appraisal to get. Don't yet have the details on other closing costs.
Now I need to contact Wells Fargo and get their rate and see if it is comparable, and weigh whatever that is against avoiding the hassle of getting another appraisal.
This is my first house and I've never refinanced before. Any words of wisdom on things I should look at for as I navigate this process?
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