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NYTimes article, Basing Life on What you Can Afford

March 20th, 2017 at 07:07 pm


Interesting series of stories.

How many jobs have you had?

February 21st, 2017 at 06:48 pm

We are having an unseasonably warm week, so I walked to work yesterday and today. On the way home today, I made a mental inventory of the different jobs I've had.

In reverse chronological order, 10 jobs since changing careers from teaching psychology to the financial services arena (tax prep/ CPA/financial planner). That covers Sept 2009 to the present.

Six psychology teaching jobs since getting my PhD, 1989-2009.

Six varied employment positions during my education.

Two Schedule C businesses along the way, the first as an undergrad (statistics consultant) and the second (writer/editor) as a sideline while a professor.

Grand total: 24.

Plus if I had filed as a minor, I might have filed another two Schedule Cs: babysitter and street musician!

So what's the big deal about CostCo?

February 12th, 2017 at 12:49 pm

We just had the first CostCo open up locally back a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. Since November was when I started my new job, this weekend was my first chance to go and check it out. It's over the other side of the valley, further than I usually drive on my weekly errands--a little bit of a distance but not too far--about 20 minutes, while most of my weekly errands are done within a 15-minute radius of home. (The nearest CostCo otherwise is about 50 minutes away.)

I arrived around 9, hoping to beat the crowd, and to my surprise, they were not yet open. Fortunately, a Whole Foods had also opened in the same mall, so I went and checked them out, seeing how the store was laid out and looking for interesting items to buy (but not yet purchasing anything at that point).

I went over to CostCo when they opened, but I was out 20 minutes later. I just didn't see the big deal. It looked just like the Sam's Club and BJ's that are a lot closer to me, with perhaps slightly higher quality merchandise in some areas. Certainly nothing that on the face of it would entice me to buy a membership or shop there regularly.

But before ruling them out entirely, I thought I would ask people what their favorite CostCo buys are. Maybe if I knew what to look for when shopping there I could see the value in sharing a membership with a friend (we currently share a Sam's Club membership, but let the BJ's membership drop).

The trip wasn't a waste--there's also a Nordstrom Rack and I picked up a dress and a sweater for work for less than $50, and I went back to Whole Foods and did my weekly shop there instead of the usual Wegman's run. (Whole Paycheck, indeed!)

So right at the moment, I can't see myself driving out there to go to CostCo again, but I can see myself going and checking out Nordstrom Rack and buying a few novelty groceries at Whole Foods maybe 2 or 3 times a year.

Other than that, mostly it's been a quiet weekend--potluck at my congregation Friday night, then went to see two movies at the local independent cinema yesterday plus will go to another one tonight. Yesterday both movies I went to with a friend. We met to see "Lion" in the late afternoon (worth seeing). While we were there, they announced that they were giving away passes for a free showing of "1984" for a later night showing, so we went back later. Today's film is a one-night showing of "A Better Life: An Exploration of a LIfe of Happiness & Joy in a World without God" about atheist philosophy (with the director in attendance for an after-movie discussion).

Tomorrow night I might go back yet again to see the Oscar-nominated Live Action Shorts--and next weekend are the Oscar-nominated Documentaries. I'll probably skip the showing of the Oscar-nominated animated films, but I very well go back on the 26th for the Oscar party and screening.

Good thing I renewed my annual membership at the arts center where the cinema is located yesterday--I go enough during the year that the annual membership pretty much ends up paying for itself in accumulated discounts.

Planning, taxes and HSA contribution

February 5th, 2017 at 04:07 pm

I have been drafting my tax return--it's mostly done, but I always draft the return at least a month before I submit it because I will often turn up additional deductible amounts during that time (I am not very good at regular expense tracking at the moment; mostly I keep things in check by using one rewards credit card for food and gasoline, which are "variable" as opposed to "fixed" expenses but shouldn't really vary that much from month to month, and another rewards credit card for all the truly discretionary expenses. If I have a high bill on that credit card for one month, I'll make an effort to make sure that the next month's bill is lower than average.

For the past couple of years, I've had an HDHP health insurance plan. At my old job, there was a set amount that went into the account per paycheck, and if I wanted to contribute more than that, it was an after-tax adjustment to the front of the tax return. (My new job allows you to adjust your contributions on a pre-tax basis, so for 2017 contributions, I am filling the HSA bucket that way.)

Just like with IRA contributions, you have until the tax return due date to make prior year contributions. I also have an inherited IRA where I have annual required minimum distributions. Cash flow is a little tight at the moment since I have recently paid off a big chunk of debt.

But what I have figured I can do is the following: Take an additional amount from the beneficiary IRA (and withholding 16% for tax, close to my effective tax rate), contribute that to increase my 2016 HSA contribution, add that adjustment to the front of the tax return, increasing my refund. Then when the refund comes in, I will take that money and contribute it to my Roth IRA. I know I would be ok filing the return and then using the refund to make the HSA contribution, but I'd rather have it out of the way before I file, since I always seem to be able to find ways to use extra money that is not "hidden" from myself in a deferred account.

So while my retirement balance will go down slightly, the total deferred balance (which includes the HSA) will stay the same, and I give myself a little float which will enable me to use my next paycheck to pay off this month's accrued credit card debt.

One of these days I will get back to having a month's worth of discretionary cash in savings, but liquidity in my accounts has been tight, and will be so for another year. But as long as I keep this job, the non-mortgage debt will be paid off in less than two years and I'll be able to start putting over 5K a year in emergecy savings and then a brokerage account, so my liquidity will increase a lot.


February 4th, 2017 at 08:14 am

I have switched recently from tracking my net worth on networthiq.com (where I have been tracking monthly since June 2006, the same time I started here on SA) to networtshare.com, which is kept more up to date. It took networthiq until the end of January to all 2017 entries. I input my yearly values for the past decade onto the new site, but I won't spend the time to enter the monthly data.

I'm hoping that I have reached a tipping point: if you look at my sidebar, you'll see that my debt is the lowest and my net worth the highest since I began tracking. The lowest my debt has been prior to this was the month before I left my teaching career, and back then it was 100% mortgage.

The urge to spend is still high--only by regular posting here can I keep on track.

Work is going well, very busy--in January and February, we have to get out letters to clients with tax info for the year, telling them who to expect official tax documents from, what our fees for the year were, whether they have made IRA contributions or taken IRA distributions, etc. It's an extra 30-40 hours of work over the two months, when the regular workload doesn't slack at all. And it is taking me longer because I'm new and don't yet know the whole client base yet, do I have to check on everything. Next year, when I know the clients better, a lot of the information I am having to look up on s case by case basis will be stored in memory, which should make the task faster.

It's Restaurant Week here, so I am taking myself to an early lunch at a Tapas Bar and then going in to work for a few hours to make more progress on the darn things.


January 12th, 2017 at 05:53 pm

I still have to update my sidebar column (I'll incorporate it into the Feb 1 rating), but I took my required minimum distribution from my inherited IRA and used it to pay down a big chunk on my HELOC. This brings the current debt total to $88,360--which is close to what it was when I started tracking on networthiq.com back in 2009 before leaving teaching. In 2009, I left my career of 20 years, followed by a 5 year transitional period during which I at first could only find temporary or part-time work and during which I was traveling back and forth across the country a lot because my mother was terminally ill (2010-2011) and I also lost/was dealing with serious ill pets (Henry, ill August 2009- May 2010, Phoebe, died March 2011, Teddy, diagnosed with the illness that he died of in January 2014 in November 2011). That period of high expenses during a period of low and uncertain income did a number on my debt which I am still struggling to deal with. Back in July 2009, right at the time I left teaching, my debt was at 87,342, its all time low since buying my house. At that 87,342 was almost all mortgage debt and a smallish credit card bill. One month later, Henry was diagnosed with cancer and the descent into debt began. Now I'm down to 88,360, of which 64,400 is the mortgage and the rest is still paying down the accumulated medical and extra living expenses from those tenuous years. 11K is on the HELOC and 11,400 is on a loan against my 403b. So the non-mortgage piece is finally significantly below 30K. It will probably take me another couple of years to pay off the non-mortgage piece, by which time the mortgage should be down to 55K, which I can easily pay off before I turn 65.

Knock on wood that no major home repair expenses are required and that I'm finally to a period of job stability after some rocky years.

2016 Goal Assessment, 2017 Goals, 3 burner theory

January 2nd, 2017 at 01:48 pm

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.

Net Worth Change 2016

December 31st, 2016 at 12:28 pm

Overall, my net worth is up $17,213 (3.79%) for the year, from 454,015 at the bginning of the year to 471,228 at year end. The change is due approximately to a 7K increase in assets and a 10K decrease in liabilities.

I'd set a goal of 92.5K total debt in my sidebar near the beginning of the year, and I'm ending the year with 94.4, so that's somewhat close to my goal and a significant decrease in any case (9.86%)

My retirement balance increased even though I used some of my beneficiary RMD to pay down debt rather than just taking it, paying the tax, and contributing to a Roth, which is what you would *ideally* do with with that kind of account. But it's what helps get the debt down.

I still have $28.628 in non-mortgage debt, which I estimate will take me until January 2019 to pay off, if I take part of the RMD and put it to debt reduction at the beginning of eatch year. But the amount that requires grows steadily less, so after this next draw, I'll be able to roll part of the RMDs over to a Roth.

(And if the company does well and I get a full bonus next year, I might even be able to use the bonus rather than the RMD to reduce the debt.)

I was able to add over 10K to my retirement accounts (about 8K on my own and 2K employer match). That helps balance out the RMDs, though the draws still exceed the contributions. It's net growth, though, because of income generated by the assets in the account. I like to look ahead to the point in a couple of years where I'll just be able to roll the beneficary RMDs to a Roth and it will be all contributions--that will definitely help my retirement balance--as long as I manage to still stay employed, knock wood!

Long weekend, bonus, raise!

December 30th, 2016 at 10:04 am

Yesterday was my last official work day of the year, as I took today off. I already have 3 days off accrued after being with the company just two months. I'm using one of them today, and then Monday is a company holiday. So a rare four-day weekend to be cherished and savored! I actually had one over Thanksgiving as well. Unlike my last job, the Friday after Thanksgiving is a company holiday as well. So I've been at the company two months and had 2 four-day weekends. I might have another in January as well. The two unused PTO days from this year have to be used by the end of January or be lost. We have a company holiday on President's Day, so maybe I'll use another then--something which I will decide whether or not to request over the weekend.

I was delighted to find out yesterday that, even though I've been at the company only two months, I received a year-end bonus equal to an extra week's salary, as an indication of the company's satisfaction with my performance and work so far (as well as the fact that the company itself did well and is growing--I am part of the employee expansion).

It's kind of amazing to me--I've never worked anywhere that gave bonuses before (the first two decades of my working life were in academia, which doesn't give bonuses, and the past several years have been mostly shorter-term assignments as I have worked to build my financial experience and expertise on my way to attaining my desired professional licenses).

I was also given a nearly 6% raise effective January 1. I don't expect to see any of that in my take-home pay, but instead will use it as an opportunity to increase my retirement savings. I'm currently at 10% with a 3% company match, and I'd like to raise it to 12%. I'll decide after the first pay of next year, which will have the effects of the new benefits elections calculated in.

As for my long weekend, today I am working on reviewing my first CFP course in preparation for taking the final exam, something which I pledged to myself and my supervisor that I would finish by tomorrow. I also will probably go in to the office for a bit to do some filing and take care of a few details I'd like finished before year end, and I'll do the household chores and try to clear up the clutter that inevitably accrues between times I have people over. I'll also be planning in more detail for next year. I have a potluck that I may to go tonight, but I'm planning to eschew the party invite for tomorrow night and stay home. Monday morning I have a personal training session scheduled at the gym, then Monday night, I'll go to a movie with a friend--hopefully to be celebrating a weekend of accomplishments achieved.

Happy Holidays!

December 25th, 2016 at 01:10 pm

Stopping in to wish everyone on SA the best of whatever holidays you celebrate! May your days be happy, healthy, merry, and bright, and may light come in to the new year after a fariy dark 2016.

Quiet here, as usual. My congregation's Hanukkah party was last night but they moved it from its usual place (at the synogogue) to the house of the person who does most of the cooking, which is a ways out, so I didn't go. I can do either dark or wet or unfamiliar but I get scared if I have to drive any combination of those, and last night was a bit of all three, so I stayed home. But I heard they had a good turnout, so that's good--and the family that hosted had a couple of members in the hospital for various things around Thanksgiving, so I don't mind that they changed the location to make it easier on themselves.

My Christmas tradition the past few years has been to have brunch with my closest local friend. She then goes to visit her daughter's family in NJ and sometimes I visit other people or go to the movies in the afternoon, and I always talk to my sister in Los Angeles sometime during the day.

Brunch was nice, although there was a bit of a pall over it because her dog Sammy has cancer and we don't know how much longer it will be. He seemed perky when I arrived and then again when we went for a walk before I left, but otherwise he just slept, more so than he used to. My friend lost her 6 year old grandson to cancer about 5 years ago, so this has triggered a lot of the same emotions in her again and she has been quite down. But the morning was pleasant enough.

Other than that, it was sunny and fairly pleasant (about 47 degrees) this afternoon, so I took a long walk around the neighborhood for the first time since we turned the clocks back the beginning of November. And I have yet to talk to my sister and open my gift from her, which arrived in 5 separate packages (actually, I have 4 so far and the final one arrives tomorrow)...very mysterious and my sister has been having fun keeping tabs on how many packages have arrived, so that is something still to look forward to.

And other than that, I have been beginning to do some journaling to review last year and plan for next--my favorite way to end the year.

Quiet and lowkey, but I prefer that to harry and hassle and stress of looking for just the right gift for everyone. My friend was pleased with her gift, and I still have to send out my sister's (we had an ice storm last Saturday, when I was planning to go)...but Hanukkah is 8 days so I just need to get it to her by the end of the week.

Anyways, best wishes for a mellow holiday, everyone!

First two weeks on the job

November 12th, 2016 at 05:36 pm

I started my new job on Halloween, so I've now completed two weeks. The first day was basically all meetings--and virtually all by video-conference. The company has two offices, with the main office in Richmond, VA. I work at the satellite office in PA, which is where the company started. In fact, the company president used to live about 3 blocks from me and the first home of the company was 50 yards from his house.

The second day started with another online training meeting. Then I got to sit in on my first client meeting. It looks like I will get to sit in on a lot more client meetings in this job, and for that I am glad.

The third day I spent filling out benefits forms. The company's plan year starts 12/1, and there were changes in the policies offered, so I had to fill out one set of forms for the month of November and a whole other set for December 2016-November 2017.

The fourth day was mostly in person staff meetings at our office.

Finally on the fifth day I began to get some training on the spreadsheets that I will spend most of my time in.

The second week was mostly taken up with our company retreat. Once a year all of the PA folks go down to VA. (There are twice as many people based in VA as in PA, so the PA office gets to travel. Also, once a month, the Company President comes up to PA to meet with clients, so he does his share of driving too.)

The retreat was good, with a lot of emphasis on communication training. I got to sit in on 5 or 6 mock client meetings and see the feedback the communications consultants were giving. It was extremely informative. It wasn't all work--we did a group painting event at one of those "paint bars" that has become fashionable followed by a restaurant dinner the first night, and dinner the second night was at the company president's house. The meetings were really about the compnay culture and improving the communication process, both internally and externally, something that is so important in this business. I like that my employers are investing in this.

It was also great to meet everyone in person who I had talked to previously only via videocam if at all. That will definitely help make it easier to contact them in the future.

It was also a crash course in getting to know my office-mates since we rented a mini-van and most of us drove down together.

So I'm really glad this occurred early in my tenure at the firm--but I did find on coming back on Friday that I'd already forgotten some of the technical stuff about using the computer programs that I had started learning the previous week. That will come with time and practice.

Next week is the company President's week in town, and my calendar for the week is already looking very busy. I'll be going in to the office tomorrow to get a jump start on preparing for the week ahead and to spend some time digesting and summarizing what I learned on the retreat.

I've heard from a couple of people that they felt that they spent a lot of time when they first started where they were not doing very much. Not the case here, by virtue of starting the week before the retreat and right before year-end when all of the RMDs need to be processed and year-end tax planning done.

I'm really glad this company allows for the day after Thanksgiving off, as well as Thanksgiving. I'm going to need a long weekend!

Transitioning out of my Job Transition

October 28th, 2016 at 12:00 pm

The one week between my new job offer and starting work this coming Monday is going very fast. It's almost gone and there is so much that I want to do before then. Most of the house stuff is not, alas, going to get done. Now that there is just a weekend left, my main goal with household stuff is to get the filing done and do all the laundry, a full grocery shop, and to do meal prep before Monday. Also call my service for a furnace cleaning so I can ask them about the radiators. One of the three upstairs radiators is heating but not bleeding, and another is bleeding but not really heating. The latter is in my bedroom so I need to make sure I am warm enough before it gets really cold. Or else I'll end up on a mattress on the floor in some other part of the house.

I'm reading a book called "Work Clean" about applying the culinary philosophy of mise-en-place to one's worklife. It's a good read and I am hoping to find or put in place better workflow systems in place from the get-go at mynew position than I had at my last job. The simple organizational things like filing are not difficult to do but they always seem like they can be procrastinated on--and then they get the better of you. Or at least of me. Got to try to prevent that!

This morning I went for what I hope is the very last time ever to LVP, my local networking group for unemployed professionals. I have been involved with this group off and on for at least five years, through 3 or 4 job searches. The group meets every Friday from 10 to noon at the local CareerLink. This time around, I was laid off on a Wednesday and back at LVP on Friday. I made sure to get involved with one of the committees early on, since those who are more involved in the organization tend to have more job hunting success. One also develops closer friendships in the smaller subgroups than in the large group meeting. So it was a bittersweet visit back to the group to give my "landing" speech and say goodbye. I got some nice feedback on the change in me since I first arrived in "mourning mode" until now and thanks for the two training presentations I gave as well as informal tax advice on our listserv. I made three decent friends and several new acquaintances during this transition, and I've put it on my calendar to follow up with the new friends again in a month to see how they are doing. That summarizes the lessons of this group: 1. new jobs are much more likely to come about as a result of networking than through any other method (online resume sites like Monster and Indeed are a black hole; only about 7% of hires occur off of those sites); 2. Following up is crucial--it was following up on a new connection I made at a networking meeting that directly led to my new job; and 3. Giving back by getting involved and contributing to the group is critical, for the success of the group, for your personal success, and for expanding your local network. Being involved with the small subgroups within the group also helped me maintain a positive attitude, and in the end, success in a career transition is largely dependent upon attitude and mindset.

Also this week as part of transitioning, I joined a new gym. I had been going to one which I liked a lot but which was expensive; that contract expired so I joined another gym that is one-third the price, has more equipment and classes, and best yet, is walking distance from my house. I got a special deal that lowered the normal price by joining a weight loss program that includes four sessions with a personal trainer, a meal plan, and a requirement that you go to the gym at least three times a week. As long as you meet with the trainer four times and attend the gym 3x/week, you can then quit at the four month mark OR you can lock in the discounted price for the balance of a year. And if you paid for the first four months up front, there was an additional discount. I took this and ended up paying as much for four months at the new gym as one month at the old one cost me. I've been to three classes so far and have my first personal training session tonight.

One of my successes during this job transition phase was changing my diet and getting going more with exercise again--I'm now nearly 20 pounds lighter than when I was let go just over three months ago. This time I want to do my best to keep the weight off as I get back to full-time work and I am hoping the new gym helps me do that. Since it's very close to both home and work, excuses not to work out are minimized. I will start out by attending the 5:30 pm classes most evenings, but I'd like to move to attending at 5:30 in the morning. I've been trying to wake up earlier to start doing that, but no dice currently. I wake up at 5, turn on the snooze, and then get up 60-120 minutes later. Maybe once we turn back the clocks it will get a little easier.

New Job!

October 21st, 2016 at 06:44 pm

I was offered--and accepted--a new job today. I'm very happy with the offer. It's a fairly similar type of position to what I was doing (tax and financial planning at a wealth management firm), but in a larger company, one with two levels of staff and other people in the same role. I'll be a junior planner to start but there is the possibility of someday rising to a senior role. It's still a fairly small company--I'll be the 23rd employee in total, and the 9th in this office, which is now a satellite office (but which is where the firm started, before the main office was moved to Richmond, VA). The company has an annual company-wide retreat each November, so I'll be in Richmond for the election. I'll be applying for my absentee ballot tomorrow!

My compensation will be 20% less, but the benefits are better, and there's the opportunity for growth, so I'm happy. I'll be very happy to have my medical and dental fully covered!

The office is actually in the building next door to where I WAS working, so it's still just a mile from my house. Now that I've gotten back to walking so much, I'm going to see if I can manage walking into work more often. I never did manage to do it very often at the last job.

I start on Halloween, so I have one week to get organized around the house and do some de-stressing before getting back to a new routine.

I also have to get back to the other jobs I was applying for soon. I had already accepted a holiday retail sales job at a local department store, but I hadn't even gone for training or filled in the employment paper work, so I already notified the manager there. I had three other jobs in process, one a definite offer that was part-time to start, building to full time after I passed some licensing exams, and the others full-time, one in tax and the other another tiny wealth management firm. The job I accepted has more people and better benefits plus was the closest distance, so the decision was pretty clear. This time on the market definitely felt easier than the last time--I didn't start job hunting at all until September 1, so it was less than 8 weeks in all.

L’Shanah Tovah

October 2nd, 2016 at 02:57 pm

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 !

My 20 things

September 18th, 2016 at 06:09 pm

I recall doing this activity once several years ago on this site. I'll do this now, then see if I can find the old list and compare.

1. I've been on SA for a decade.

2. I'm on my third career: psychology professor, tax accountant, and most recently, financial planner.

3. I've lived in ten residences during my life: 8 apartments (6 of which were in old houses that had been divided into units) and two houses, the one that I lived in from age 5 to 21, which my sister now owns, and the one that I've lived in for the past decade that I own (along with the bank).

4. These residences have been in California (Los Angeles for 21 years and Palo Alto for 1), Michigan (Ann Arbor), Vermont, and Pennsylvania.

5. I love basset hounds but for now and the foreseeable future, I am owned by cats (thanks to my beloved Henry, whom I used to tell, "Your middle name is 'Retirement," sad but true).

6. Some of my career dreams from my youth: being a writer; being a flutist with an orchestra; being a recombinant DNA biologist; being an anthropologist, being a journalist.

7. When I was 14, I wrote an investigative paper for journalism class on the problems with nursing homes. My grandfather, a retired attorney, was very active in advocating with politicians for changes favoring seniors. With my current career (as well as personal) interest in navigating the financial issues of retirement, I feel like I am coming full circle.

8. Someday I hope to write a book--another way of bringing life full circle (back to my childhood dreams of being an author).

9. And yet a third way I want to bring life full circle is to become active in musical performance again some day. There's a local division of the "RTO," Really Terrible Orchestra (started in Scotland by author Alexander McCall Smith and with branches over the world) that I hope to make the time to join some day.

10. I've been to 40 of the 50 states, mostly by way of traveling most of the lengths of I-90, I-80, I-70, I-60, I-50, and I-40 (plus a trip to Alaska).

11. On the other hand, the only foreign country I've been to is Canada.

12. I hope to visit the remaining 10 states and do a little foreign travel, probably during my 60s.

13. I once spent 7 weeks in the hospital during which I did not (could not) eat (I was fed directly into my bloodstream via TPN).

14. I have walked two half-marathons.

15. I am phobic about anything to do with tools or equipment--something I got from my mother. I wish I could be more self-sufficient but it isn't in the cards. The fact that I can fill my own gas tank, plug together the components of my computer, and once even reattached a spark plug that had gotten loose is as far as my mechanical skills are likely to go. I contemplate taking a bike or car repair class--but there are so many more interesting things to learn that I don't expect to get around to this for a while.

16. Almost all of my friends are older than me, some considerably so. My best friend is 16 years older than me and my oldest friend is 92.

17. This makes me feel like I need to make an effort to make friends who are younger than me just so I have friends in 20 years!

18. I was brought up as a Reconstructionist Jew, learned about Lutheranism from a boyfriend who I went to church with several times, about Buddhism from an anthropologist friend and my own extensive readings, about Quakerism from my several friends who are Friends, and made my way back to Reconstructisonist Judaism after attending a Buddhist retreat.

19. I have had a meditation practice of one sort or another--not long sessions and sometimes with long gaps between sessions--for over 40 years.

20. I am semi-agnostistic about the existence of God, but like the ideas of Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote a book "Why God Needs Man." The idea is that God created people with free will and needs us to act ethically of our own free will in order to bring good into the world.

Bonus #21. I have met one fellow SA blogger, but on another website (now defunct) that I was also very active on for many years, I have met half a dozen people. That one was a discussion forum about walking on a diet website.

I suspect this is quite a bit different than the last time I answered this list! Update: actually, much less so than I thought--the original entry from 2006 is at http://dido.savingadvice.com/2006/11/19/late-list_17556/.

Missed my Blogaversary!

September 18th, 2016 at 04:56 pm

After reading Monkey Mama's post about her blogaversary, I had to check mine. Missed it back in June! Interesting to look back at the early entries.

Like Monkey Mama, I also note a perspective shift: Back in 2006, I was blogging more frequently and with much more of a day-to-day savings focus; nowadays there is more of a longer term goal focus and an eye towards retirement.

On the other hand, it's also the case that "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Back in 2006, some things I blogged about a lot were my pets (especially my much beloved and much missed Henry), my job struggles, and my efforts to reduce my food costs. And I *still* tend to write a lot about my pets, my job struggles, and my food costs!

But the pets are different now: senior kitties Buffy & Bridget, replacing the trio of Basset Hound Henry and kitties Phoebe & Teddy. The job struggles are different too--I'm in a totally different career. In fact, I've changed careers twice, if you count the shifot from tax accountant to financial planner as a shift (and it is, albeit not as big as the shift from psychology professor to accountant). I was at a seminar dinner earlier this week and shared a table with a woman about my age; I told her about my career shift (she had an interesting one too: from restaurant manager to long-haul truck driver!) and she said, "you realize how amazing that is? How few people actually go through and succeed at making a big career shift like that?" which made me feel really good for the first time since losing my job.

And finally, the food struggles are interesting: I still wish I spent less, but when I look at what I was spending a decade ago, it's actually about the same as now, so given that there must have been some inflation, that's a cut. And looking at WHAT I ate, I see a LOT more prepared foods than I eat now--in fact, my old diet looks pretty much like garbage compared to the present. So that's at least a positive development.

And looking at my net worth: my liabilities are actually fairly similar in amount (though back then it was just home mortgage debt; now I have more home equity but also some other loans) but my assets are more than double (and a chunk of that is due to an inheritance). Back then my net worth was under 150K and now half a million is in sight, though it will probably take me another couple of years to get to with this latest transition.

September update

September 18th, 2016 at 04:29 pm

It's been about a month since I last updated, so I'll check in here. Still unemployed, still in shock over it. My activity has been up and down. I did a presentation for my group of unemployed professionals about informational interviewing, so that spurred me to go out and do some. It seemed like that led to one possible job interview, but the person said to call him back after he returned from vacation, and I haven't heard from him yet. I'll have to check in again; he went to Australia and that's a 12 hour time difference so he's probably still adjusting (he got back to the states on Wednesday). I also went to an interview with the Accountemps agency. Some weeks I seem to do a lot and others just minimal. I need to ramp it up: according to one recruiter, the best months for getting hired are September (nearly gone), December, and January.

The area where I have felt productive and competent is in health: I've lot 15 pounds since being laid off and am back to walking 10,000 steps many days during a week. I've also been doing a lot of cooking. The walking and the cooking are basically the things that make me feel good right now.

On Friday, I checked my credit card statement and found a $163 charge that I didn't recognize, so I had the card cancelled. This was the card that I use to autopay several expenses, so I have been going through and cutting many of those.

I also have been looking at health insurance. I am covered through the 30th on my employer's plan; my options after that are continuing the employer plan through mini-COBRA for 102% of the premium, which is about $750/month, or switching to private insurance (either on the marketplace or off). I'm just looking on the marketplace. I won't qualify for a premium subsidy this year, but perhaps next (I pray NOT). I'm on an HDHP plan with an HSA, and to maintain the tax benefits of that I have already reaped through the HSA, I need to keep an HSA in force through end of the year. Fortunately there are now individual HSAs on the marketplace; I don't think there were in 2014 when I last had marketplace insurance. With the HSA, a chunk of my annual long-term care insurance premium becomes deductible even though my medical expenses aren't above the 10% of AGI threshold, and, now that I am unemployed, I can deduct those premiums as well as long as I am either receiving unemployment benefits or paying COBRA. I'll do that for the remaineder of this year, then reconsider for next year (information about the 2017 plans will be available on November 1).

This week is another busy week: I have three professional education seminars and networking opportunities plus two other meetings for my unemployed professionals group plus lunch with a former co-worker. I need to fit time for applying for jobs in there!

Trying to emerge from my black hole

August 22nd, 2016 at 08:21 am

So it is just over a month since I was laid off. I have basically spent the past month trying to absorb the shock and personal sense of devastation while focusing on the non-work domain, which I really let go in order to focus on the new job and career. I have also "gone through the motions" with regard to some basic steps in preparing for a job hunt, without my heart really into it yet. That needs to change.

I've spent a lot of time over the past month with the friend whose dog was diagnosed with cancer the same day I lost my job. The good news is that whatever is wrong with the dog is NOT cancer after all and he has improved but there is still something wrong that remains undiagnosed. But at least the threat of 4-6 months remaining lifespan has been removed. And we've watched the Democratic convention, the Olympics, and several DVD movies. It's been very good to have someone there for me, living alone as I do.

My biggest focus has been on my health, which I felt suffered during the time I was at my job. Not only did I gain back the weight I had lost during the year previous to starting at the job, but my exercise plan, which I started investing in last summer, got derailed by a foot injury the beginning of March. I had started a course of physical therapy, so I finished that out during July and then went back to the gym, which I have been continuing to go to twice a week (I have a one-year contract which will get me through October and then I can no longer afford this gym), plus this past week I started walking and even doing a bit of jogging again now that the injured foot is 99% healed.

I also started to follow an Intermittent Fasting (IF) eating plan. A friend of mine has been doing this for a year and has lost some weight. After talking with her I read a book on the topic by Dr. Bert Herring and then started in on the plan, while continuing to do some research on my own both on the plan and on myself. There are several versions of IF eating; the one that I am following is the idea of time-restriced feeding, in which you start by limiting the timing of your meals, so that each day is divided into an eating window and a fasting window. Dr. Herring recommonds a 5-hour eating window and 19 hours of fasting, while another popular protocol (LeanGains) suggests 8 hours of eating for men and 10 for women, with corresponding 16 to 14 hours of fasting. While my daily eating window has varied between 2 and 8 hours since I started this on August 1, my average has been about 6, usually from 2 pm to 8 pm. And I am down 4-6 pounds since starting (the scale is bobbling a bit this week), plus I lost some weight just from the shock of the job loss decreasing my appetite, so I am down about 10 pounds altogether. Another six will get me to where I was when I started the job, and I hope to continue on to see if I can finally take off the excess weight which has gradually crept on over the years.

So far I find doing this very sustainable. Surprisingly, eliminating breakfast has meant basically eliminating mid-morning hunger, and it's usually pretty easy to delay lunch until 2. I drink lots of water with lemon before breaking my fast plus one or two cups of black coffee as well. Then during the eating window I usually have two meals, with the largest one being the earlier of the two. Not only do I end up eating less but there is both a time savings from not having to prepare breakfast and will eventually be some money savings as well as I eat less.

Exercise is what Charles Duhigg, in his book "The Power of Habit," terms a keystone habit--one which, when adopted, tends to lead to one making other positive and beneficial changes in one's life. Hopefully that proves true.

In addition to work on the health front, I also have done some work on the home front--a bit of organizing inside the house and redoing the front garden patch with the extensive help of a retired neighbor.

I've also been attending the weekly meetings of the local networking group for unemployed professionals as well as joining their training committee, plus I went to a networking meeting of a group of business women that has led to some useful connections that I am still in the process of following up on, including the possibility of an interview. I also reconnected with a fairly new acquaintance in the business who was unemployed herself last year and who has connected me with another person in a similar position. Ironically, the possible job interview is for her old job. We will be getting together later this week. So--good progress in networking but I really need to work on updating my resume further and developing different versions of it for different jobs, as well as getting together my "exit story" and documenting the job stories I can use in answering behavioral interview questions. I'm not feeling ready for an interview yet.

Plus I need to start investing more in studying for the online CFP course I am enrolled in. So far I have attended virtually all of the live webinar classes but I have not invested much in going through the printed materials online.

I also have a lot more decluttering to do. I've got my living spaces livable, but that doesn't mean that my kitchen is optimized. Too many things I don't use and should get rid of. Plus, as always, too many books, too much clothing, and then there is the whole second bedroom, which has become a "storage room" rather than a guest room or study over the years.

Lots to do, and lots more people to contact.

I just need to get over myself and the feeling of shame and humiliation and keep on keeping on.

A little bit of fun first. My birthday is later this week and today, three friends are taking me to lunch and then we are hanging out at the swimming pool that one of those friends has.

Lost my job

July 23rd, 2016 at 09:03 am

I was let go from my job this week--the perfect dream job that I could hardly believe my luck to land back in November 2014. I was lucky enough to have 20 months of excellent income and entry into the new career that I set my sights on a decade ago.

The main problem was this job being not just a new job, but a new career--and my firm being a small firm, where I was the only one who did my type of work. Communication was a related problem--in retrospect, there were things that my boss didn't say (because he assumed I already knew them) and/or I didn't ask (because it was a new industry and I didn't yet know it was important to ask). My boss held my hand the first six months--and then dropped it. When left to doing things totally on my own, I made a couple of errors. This year--the second time around--I went by SALY ("same as last year") as the guiding rule--but there were a couple of things that my boss had done in my stead the previous year while I was learning the ropes, so following SALY was misleading and I found myself behind and rushing to meet deadlines. If I had had a timeline written out for me of “what to do when,” that wouldn’t have happened, but I was left to infer much of what I needed to do, rather than being explicitly told. I learned a lot by doing things on my own, but I learned some of them by the process of making mistakes, unfortunately.

The errors I made mostly occurred back in tax season. At the time, there was about 6 weeks where things were extremely tense at work and I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. I formalized some workflows and checks and wrote out a timeline for myself of what needed to be done by when, and things actually went smoothly for second quarter, so I thought I was over the hump. But then last month, I had one project that required me to use our software in a new way, and my boss caught was essentially a proofreading error (before the project went out the door). I’m pretty sure that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and sealed my fate.

I learned a HUGE amount on the job and for that will forever be grateful. I also had the best income that I have ever had. I made some improvement to my financial situation as a result, but, after having lived on a shoestring with part-time and temp job income for five years, I was also a lot more “spendy” than I might otherwise have been, so, while my debt is better structured and my assets and net worth are up, the net improvement from when I started the job is only about 35K, and it could have been 10-15K more if I had reined in my spending more.

The feelings haven’t kicked in yet--I’m a classic repressor and things end up eating me up from the inside out and I eventually get sick, rather than my being able to feel anything. Actually, I’ve been feeling extreme exhaustion the past several months and I’m finally going to the doctor on Monday to get that checked out while my health insurance is still in effect.

My best friend’s dog was diagnosed with cancer the same day I lost my job, so I have been spending the evenings at her house, cooking dinner together and watching movies--misery loves miserable company. This is very sad but has also been helpful to us both.

I’ve already been to the local group for unemployed professionals and have a plan written out for next week which includes updating my resume and job stories and revamping my elevator pitch, getting active again in some local networking groups, and reactivating my job search leads on Indeed and Monster.

So far I have mostly told just a few close friends, but I have one former academic advisor who has become a friend whom I emailed, and I will be talking to her in about an hour, and I have a list of several friends to call and tell what happened and get some support and advice and keep them on the alert for any potential connections.

There is also a weird element of relief in that my health has deteriorated while working at this job--I never could get used to a job starting at 8 a.m. when the entire 25 years of my career before this, I worked at jobs that started at 9 or 10. (Yes, I know how lucky this is. One way of looking at what has happened to me is that it is a lot easier to take the academic out of academia than it is to take the academia out of the academic. Excessive but late-starting working hours are what I have done my whole career.) I have worked a lot of evenings and weekends for months, so the idea of being able to sleep in a bit and take the time to go to the doctor and get myself tested to see if my exhaustion is anything other than lack of sleep, and to also go back to the gym regularly (which I stopped doing back in February), is welcome.

Unfortunately unemployment is one thing I have learned all too well how to cope with (at least for short periods, as I have never been really long-term unemployed), so I have a well-worn routine to draw on for now.

On a side note, the only person from this blog who I have met in person is Patient Saver. We have both been on this site for a decade now, and over that time, our lives and careers have seemed to have a lot of odd parallels in terms of when we have gotten and lost jobs and dealing with family issues--so when I saw a couple of weeks ago that she had been laid off, I had this feeling in my gut that I might soon be sacked too. Just a wierd coincidence, but it added to the feeling of not being surprised when I was actually let go on Wednesday.

Memories Stirred

June 7th, 2016 at 12:18 pm

Well the link works but I can't remember how to share the picture so it just shows up here.

Anyway, the link is to a picture my sister sent me last night of me on college graduation day, standing in front of our house before we headed off to the ceremony.

She sent it to me, I guess, because last night I had dinner with my college boyfriend, who I hadn't seen previously in 28 years.

It was wonderful to see him, and the four hours we were together just flew by. An hour of conversation at my house first, then a little bit of a scenic drive up South Mountain to the Lookout, a spot where you can see the whole Lehigh Valley spread out before you with the Poconos in the distance, and then to dinner at a Greek Taverna nearby, where my old boyfriend showed off his knowledge of wine in picking out a bottle for us to share, and I introduced him to the fun of saganaki, the classic Greek flaming cheese appetizer, always introduced with a "Ooopa!"

Then I drove him through downtown, pleasantly lit with old gas lamps year round, to show off my city a bit.

It was fun to reminisce about fun during our college days--going to see the Rocky Horror Picture Show at a midnight showing at a movie theatre on Sunset Strip, his teaching me to use chopsticks at a Chinese restaurant, our student government days--and to talk about our families and the one mentor from college we have both kept in touch with, still teaching there part-time at age 76--and to share stories of some of the life experiences that have shaped us since the time we last met back in 1988, when he was working in D.C. for a year and I had a job interview in the city in the morning and a free afternoon. Back then he had been married for just a few years and was childless; now he has three grown daughters.

It was also enjoyable to learn about how we have both grown and changed--in simpatico if not similar ways. This isn't always true. Later this week I will be returning a phone call received from my very first childhood crush (at age 10), someone whom I never dated but whom I have been close friends with, whom I still adore, but whose life has diverged from mine in directions that it is easier for us just not to talk about (politics, for example).

I am usually one to look forward rather than back, but I am feeling a little heartsore this morning--glad to have had the chance to reconnect, sorry it was so short and that there will not likely be many chances to meet up again as we live on opposite coasts. (Not there is any romantic possibility here; just the rekindling of an old friendship and the disinternment of some old long-buried memories.

American Blue Cash Preferred

June 4th, 2016 at 04:44 pm

I saw a pop-up ad on this site for the above-mentioned card when reading some entries about debt and clicked through to the offer. 6% back on groceries (based on up to $6,000 of spending, which is close to my grocery budget for the year), as well as 3% on gas and select department stores, 1% on everything else and 1% on everything after the $6,000 spending limit is reached. That's quite good, and NerdWallet had a postive review. My credit score has rebounded back to 814 after dipping down below 800 when I opened the HELOC six months ago, so this seemed worth it--even though there IS a $75 annual fee. There's also a $250 joining bonus if you get the right click-through ad AND spend $1,000 on the card within the first three months. No problem for me to spend $1,000 on groceries over 3 months, unfortunately--my average for the past year is $380 per month, or $1,140 over 3 months. Even if I just use it for groceries, with the 6% cash back and minus the $75 fee, that's net positive $200 over the course of a year, PLUS the $250 signing bonus if earned. So we'll see. Still waiting on approval--although the site says a 30-second decision, I received a screen asking for me to call in at the end of my application--and then, because I called in after 4:30 pm on Saturday, I'm stuck waiting until Monday for the decision.

I find that more and more I'm segregating spending for certain items onto certain cards: I have a debit card linked to a checking account that I keep at a low balance (and not linked to my main checking account, given the potential limits on debit card reimbursements if the card is stolen) which I use to give myself an eating and entertainment budget. Then, if approved, the AmEx will be used for groceries. I buy at least half my clothing at LLBean and I use their Visa card for that, in order to earn the $10 coupons. (The LLBean card also had great 0% balance transfer offers back during the few years I was using those heavily.) The rest of my CC spending--my monthly gym fee, gasoline, professional association dues, my monthly phone and cable bill, and shopping, goes on a Visa card through my main bank and give me a $25 credit towards my mortgage for every $2,500 I spend on that card. So I'll probably earn $50 less in mortgage credit by moving the grocery card spending to the AmEx account, but I'll definitely be using the cash bonus to pay down debt so it's all to my new benefit.

Supplemental Unemployment Insurance

May 28th, 2016 at 04:26 pm

I had never heard of such a thing before, but came across the term in my reading and discovered there is in fact such a thing. One company that offers it (not sure how many do) is called Income Assure. This is something I would be tempted to do, or at least research more intensively, but alas, I don't and won't qualify. You cannot have been unemployed within the past two years ( which won't be true of me until December) and the company you work for has to have at least 20 employees (which won't ever be true of my company). Also it only applies to W-2 employees, which is currently true of me. But with luck and some growth in the company, I could eventually be offered a small ownership stake and would get my earnings reported on a K-1. That's still a couple of years down the road, though. Still, supplemental unemployment insurance would be something I would check into if my circumstances were different. At least I finally got a good *disability* policy by joining a professional association. None is offered thru work. Lower quality benefits is a downside of working for a smaller employer. But on the positive side, we also don't have bureaucracy ourselves, only with the institutions we deal with.

Bed & Breakfast Trip

May 23rd, 2016 at 04:31 pm

Just home from an overnight B&B trip in which I met up with fellow SA blogger Patient Saver.

This is the second time that PS and I have met in person. The first time was five years ago, when I was driving home from a cousin's Massachusetts wedding. We've known each other through this site for about ten years, though, and we are of similar age and demographic, and we've had career and personal ups and downs that are similar to each other, so this was a nice chance to chat more personally than one does on a public website.

We met up yesterday around noon at the B&B, an old house sitting along the Delaware River at the PA/NY border. Unfortunately yesterday's weather was gray and gloomy, which constrained our activities, but left plenty of time for conversation. After spending an hour drinking tea while sitting out on the front porch, we asked the Innkeeper for a lunch restaurant recommendation in the artsy town of Narrowsburg NY. The restaurant was very nice and the town was interesting, but because it was still the weekend BEFORE Memorial Day, at least half of the stores, including the relatively "big" arts center in the town, were closed--as was the riverside restaurant we had originally planned on for dinner. We ended up at an adequate Italian place (more pizzeria than restaurant) which we felt we could easily find our way home from in the dark along the narrow, not particularly well-marked roads in this sleepy part of New York state.

This morning, we were running at different speeds--something that could be predicted by looking at our typical weekend blog entries on this site. PS's are full of things that she's done during the day, while mine are, admittedly, boring, since I am all about sitting, reading, and reflecting and not so much about acting, when I have some time to myself. After a lovely breakfast at the Inn, we decided to check out and tag-team drive to a town 20 miles away and tour Gray Towers, the home of US Forest Service founder, conservationist, and two-time PA Governor Gifford Pinochet. We wandered around there for about an hour or so before going our separate ways.

Our conversation during the day we spent together was more personal than our blogs here, focusing more on details of our personal and relationship histories and less on the financial. No surprises--I think we both tend towards the reserved-yet-open. Just a chance to get to know each other a bit better than is possible online in a public forum. If we do such a trip again, we should schedule it for a more likely to be sunny time, when we might be more likely to be able to do something like kayak (something which I won't do on my own, but enjoy doing with friends). And while it was lovely that nothing was crowded, also going before Memorial Day meant that many things were closed.

What are your money scripts?

May 18th, 2016 at 03:21 pm

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!

Down to 5 figures debt

May 18th, 2016 at 01:44 pm

After having had my debt spike back up to the low 6 figures after my 7 month period of unemployment back in 2014, I am pleased to announce that I am finally back down to 5-figure debt ($99,195). This includes my mortgage.

For part of the time that my debt spiked, I was moving things around from 0% balance transfer credit card to new 0% balance credit card when the old term expired. Then a year ago, I decided that the debt would be easier to get rid of--at least psychologically--if I had a steady schedule of debt repayments which I then could try to exceed. So one year ago next week, I took out a 20K personal loan from Discover Bank, technically at 10.99%.

I paid it off yesterday and today, the account has even disappeared from my login page. Over the year, I ended up paying a total of $21,757.04 on the loan, making the effective rate actually 8.79% because of early and extra payments.

Some of that amount is a real decrease in my loan balance, but the rest has been transfered to lower rate loans collateralized in part by my house and by another financial account, so at lower rates (3.67% and 4.44%).

I prefer loans to zero percent credit card balance transfers because there is a predictable schedule to the loan payoff, which I can make a game of beating. Currently, I believe that can have the non-mortgage debt ($32,045) paid off by the end of 2019, and the mortgage ($67,150) paid off by the end of 2024. Technically, I could take longer to pay off the non-mortgage debt, but there's no point to that. My required minimum payments are now lower, giving me a bit more liquidity in the case of short term needs.

Whole 30

May 5th, 2016 at 03:16 pm

I am trying a new way of eating this month. It's a Paleo variation on a vegan diet called the Whole 30, and it's basically a whole foods diet that eliminates, for 30 days, added sugar, dairy, grains, legumes, and processed foods. I already eat very little dairy, so that's not a problem, and I'm not too much of a sweets eater (other than fruit, which IS allowed on this) so that's pretty manageable too.

The big changes are eliminating grains and legumes, as well as processed foods. It's only for a month; then one adds the eliminated food categories back one at a time to see if one has reactions to them--and ideally one breaks any "addiction" to sugar during this time, so that will be lower aftwards too.

So far the biggest challenge is breakfast, since I've long been a cereal eater. For now, I'm doing a couple of eggs most mornings, along with some veggies and fruit, and the occasional smoothie or chia pudding. (Chia pudding is also something I am keeping on hand for desserts too--it's chia seeds and almond milk and I sweeten it with chopped up dates and some other fruit.) Then for lunch and dinner I have some kind of meat (a turkey burger, piece of chicken, or some fish) and a couple of vegetables--usually at least one sweet potato or piece of winter squash each day to help with satiety. And a couple of times I've had a package of almonds for a snack (along with an apple).

Hopefully this will be good for the budget too--my food spending always nicks upwards during tax season as I end up eating out a lot, so reining it back in will be good for the pocketbook as well as the waistline. The main intent is to get me to eat more healthy, home-cooked meals. Not that I eat all that badly, but I've been indulging in commercial thousand island dressing on the salads I buy for lunch at the deli across the street and other, or getting a taco salad at the Mexican restaurant and eating part of the fried shell...foods that have an excess amount of unhealthy fat.

There's another bit of incentive: in a month, I will be seeing my college boyfriend for the first time in 28 years. He will be out east on a business trip and we will get together. He's happily married, so this is not a romantic prospect, just me wanting to look better than I currently do in front of a man I've known since I was 18 (with long hair and 60 fewer pounds on my frame).

Slow and Steady

May 1st, 2016 at 10:28 am

Cutting away at the debt...over 3k down so far this year. I'll be moving some debt around this month, paying off the personal loan I took out with Discover a year ago but will take out another loan at 4.44% (rather than 10.99%) to do so (and the loan balance will be 10k, not 20k!!) I still have north of 30k non- mortgage debt and north of 101k total debt, but by mid -year, I expect to be down on both. Debt reduction is still the main focus here, but I think by next year, I might be able to think about increasing the savings as well. I'm currently saving 10% per pay to retirement and I'd like to increase that to 12% and ultimately 15%, but with the debt load, I'm not there yet.

Debt ratio back under 20%, and this & that

April 1st, 2016 at 03:18 pm

I do a monthly net worth calculation. Last year, my debt crept up a bit the last quarter when I spent more of the money from the HELOC I took out than I had originally planned to spend. As of this morning, my debt ratio (liabilities to assets) is back down under 20% (19% to be exact); a month ago, it was at 23%. That will go down further when the April mortgage and loan payments hit the accounts this weekend. The big goal for this month is to get the 20K loan I took out last May down to 10K (it's under 12K at the moment) and then use another loan from my 403b at a much lower interest rate (4.58% rather than 10.99%) to transfer that debt. I'll then lower the payments slightly to build up the emergency savings fund a bit and give myself more liquidity. I'm still feeling confident that I'll have the non-mortgage debt paid off by 2019 and the mortgage paid off by 2024, well in advance of retirement sometime between 2027 and 2030.

The weather was almost balmy today--high of 76, and I went home for lunch. Tomorrow it starts dropping and the lows early next week are back in the 20s with the arrival of another polar vortex. Hopefully no snow, however!

Tomorrow I'll stop at the annual Home Show--I need a bit of landscaping done once I finally can get my taxes filed and get my refund (see my Health care marketplace entry for why I haven't filed yet).

And Sunday there are a couple of activities at my congregation I will attend, and a friend from there will bring me an electric mower that his neighbor gave him that he doesn't need. Just in time as the last lawn mower I was gifted seems to have some problems and I was getting ready to take it into the shop!

I've lived in my house a decade and this will be my third hand-me-down mower. Haven't had to buy one myself yet!

Very glad that Friday is here this week. Going home now to go to bed early--never really felt awake all day.

Balance Wheel Redeux

March 27th, 2016 at 10:55 am

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.

Health Care Marketplace Escalations and Frustrations

March 24th, 2016 at 12:13 pm

I had my health insurance through the Health Care Marketplace during 2014, since I had a seasonal job from January thru mid-April, then was unemployed mid-April through mid-November. I could have had employer paid insurance for December, but I had already paid my December premium and there was no way to cancel my December coverage and get my money back. So I had my employer coverage start on 1/1/2015 and called the marketplace in December to make sure that my policy was cancelled for 2015.

Despite the cancellation, I kept on receiving bills from the insurer for the first several months of the year. There was nothing the insurer could do about it; the cancellation had to come through the marketplace. After several phone calls, I finally got them to do an "escalation," and I received notice in May that the policy had been cancelled effecteive January 1.

Imagine my surprise then when I received a 1095-A form indicating that not only had I had insurance through the marketplace all year in 2015, but that I had also supposedly received a Premium Tax Credit (subsidy) for it (which I *had* had during 2014). If it were just the coverage, it wouldn't have been a problem, but the credit would mean extra taxes on my return for a benefit I never received.

So I called in mid-February when I discovered the problem, received assurance of another "escalation" and was told to expect a corrected 1095-A within 30 days. It never arrived. I finally had to call again, spoke to someone one level higher in the hierarchy, and found that, even though they had documentation in their files of all of the above, they had not yet started the process that would result in my receiving a corrected form. I received yet ANOTHER escalation, and the 30-day clock started all over again, although this person indicated that it would probably be less than 30 days. I hope so, since I would love to file my taxes before the April 18th deadline, rather than have to file an extension. In the meantime, my tax return sits there waiting to go, and my two thousand dollar refund remains unclaimed.

I will be really glad when I am done with the Health Care Marketplace for good!

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