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Blogoversary: 11 years on SA

June 22nd, 2017 at 09:36 pm

With a hat-tip to CeeJay, I'll do a similar entry, comparing where I was then to where I am now.

June 22, 2006:

Assets: 241,761 (about 48% home value & rest retirement)
Liabilities: (92,669) (mostly mortgage w/ a bit of CC debt)
Net worth 149,092

My life at that point: Working full-time as a college psychology professor, but as a sabbatical replacement (year-to-year contract), living with my basset hound Henry and cats Teddy & Phoebe. Also, in a relationship. I was taking accounting classes evenings and summers in preparation for a career change. Having landed on the yearly-contract track, I couldn't do the research necessary to land another tenure-track job because I was constantly job-hunting.

June 22, 2017:

Assets: 585,603 (about 20% home value & 80% retirement)
Liabilities: (90,248) (70% mortgage, 30% loans & CCs)
Net Worth: 495,396

My Life at this point: Workng in a full-time (hopefully permanent) job as a Financial Planner, having attained my CPA in the interim and currently working on the CFP), living with kitties Buffy & Bridget. Not currently in a relationship.

Dollar value change:

Assets: up 343,842 or 231%. Mostly this is a change in retirement assets. My home 11 years ago was within 1,000 of its value today, but went down during the crisis and now is very close to its value when I bought it 12 years ago.

Liabilities: down 2,421 or -2.6%. However, the mortgage is down to 62,900 and the non-mortgage debt is up a lot due to the exigencies of lower income while changing careers combined with less time working while my mother was dying and final medical expenses for 3 pets. So whereas my debt at the beginning of the journey was pretty much all "good" debt, now I have a significant amount of "bad" debt due largely to circumstances beyound my control.

Net Worth: up 346,304 or 332%. About half of the increase is from an inheritance from my mother and the rest due to retirement savings and portfolio gains.

Income change: I currently make about $4,000 more than I did 11 years ago. This fairly nominal change from beginning to end masks a lot of variability. Average income was a bit under 40K, but it has varied from 12K (110% of the poverty limit that year) to nearly 80K.

All in all, it's been a hell of an 11 years, but in the end, I feel blessed to have survived it and I feel positive about my ability to handle what my personal life throws at me. If this site still exists in a decade, I'll be just about at my Full Retirement Age for Social Security, and I still expect to be working (although hopefully for 25-30 hours per week rather than 40-55), and the work at that point will be solely to satisfy my need for a sense of meaning and purpose and won't be financially necessary. Also hopefully there will be another basset hound at that point :^) along with two kitties--and even another relationship.

How many jobs have you had?

February 22nd, 2017 at 02:48 am

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!

Long weekend, bonus, raise!

December 30th, 2016 at 06:04 pm

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.

First two weeks on the job

November 13th, 2016 at 01:36 am

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 07:00 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 22nd, 2016 at 01:44 am

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.

My 20 things

September 19th, 2016 at 01:09 am

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 11:56 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.

Memories Stirred

June 7th, 2016 at 07:18 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.

Four Months into the New Job: Reflections & Re-Grouping

March 21st, 2015 at 07:34 pm

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!

Two Months into my New Job

January 18th, 2015 at 09:50 pm


I thought I had updated this blog before now, but I think I wrote a long post that somehow got "eaten" before it was posted, and I didn't have the time or energy to write again at that time. This post, I have learned better and I am drafting it in Word and cut & pasting it into a blog posting.

So, I am now two months into my new job. It's gone quickly. Up until now, I have been focused on doing tax projections for people's 2014 tax returns. Before year-end, the projections were done with a mind to any last-minute year-end tax planning we could do; then the past two weeks have been focused on ensuring that clients' estimated tax payments are sufficient to meet the "safe harbors" to avoid penalities.

Now I'll be switching to focus more on estates and trusts, then back to taxes when we put out "tax packages" to clients' accountants with their investment earnings reported.

There's been (and continues to be) a steep learning curve, as my predecessor didn't document things as well as he might have, but I feel like otherwise there is good support at work and like I am fitting in as part of the team.

It's nice to be able to save again for retirement. For the past few years, I have been taking from my inherited IRA accounts (when you inherit an IRA, you have to take required minimum distributions just as the original owner would have). Ideally, one takes the RMD, pays the tax, and puts it into a Roth, losing nothing in terms of retirement savings, but for the past 2 years, I have been taking my RMD (and then some) and using it to supplement my low wage income. I've also accumulated an uncomfortable amount of non-mortgage debt, so this year, once again, I'm taking my RMD, using it to reduce a portion of the debt load, but from now on, I expect to go back to using the RMD to put into a Roth. It will take somewhere between 12 to 18 months to pay off the debt I've accumulated, depending on how much of my current income I can put towards that goal. I also have some home repairs that need doing, and I need to pay for another certification program, so I'll see just how quickly I can pay the debt down. But in general, I figure I can live frugally on 50% of my take-home, so that leaves me the other 50% for debt repayment, retirement and other savings, and extraordinary expenses. For now, I'm putting just 10% for retirement, but after the debt gets paid, I'll up that substantially. I might also look, later this year, into getting a home equity loan to pay for that new roof and some other work on the house--that has the advantage of adding to tax deductions. While I don't like debt, I'm also not averse to using it as leverage when I'm in the position to be able to pay the debt off quickly.

Short Update

June 11th, 2014 at 12:52 pm

The year to date has been reasonably productive. I still haven't attained the BIG goal (finding a salaried job), but I have attained some of the smaller goals on my list. I am at long last a CPA (ten years after starting down the career change path), and I had a reasonably productive tax season, both in terms of productivity and earnings.

I decided to give myself a couple of months after tax season ended to focus on other goals.

First, the fur-kid update. I had to put Teddy down on Jan. 6, shortly after my last blog post. He had gotten so weak that he would walk up 5 steps, his strength would give out, and he'd slither back down the stairs. He had tremendous will to live and might have kept going for another month, but I was afraid he would hurt himself and believed that there would be only increasing distress, so I called in the home euthanasia vet and he passed peacefully, ending my 5 year "hospice" stage (losing my mother and 3 pets during that time).

It was so lonely in the house after he passed (first time in 20 years with no pets) that within two days I had taken on two senior foster cats who had lost their owners. They are both still here--and at least one of them will become permanent.

I have made major inroads on the decluttering front. The storage room is largely cleared except there are still boxes of papers to go thru, weed out, and file the remaining ones properly. But the room itself is usable fir the first time in 3 years. And the rest of the house has been decluttered too, so I can now have guests over for the first time in years. I still have to call the haulers to get rid of some furniture I am parting with that I can't move by myself, and the electric co, who will remove and give me $35 for my old freezer plus remove unused old freon A/Cs for free. That should be done later this week, and the paper sorting I will tackle a couple of hours a day over the summer. I hate temperatures over 80 so I hide inside all summer anyhow.

I haven't worked since 4/15, but I have regularly been attending some professional networking events and completing lots of CPE that is required to maintain my license.

Starting now, I am ramping up the job hunt efforts. The permanent jobs in the smaller tax-focused firms I have targeted don't really open up much until the fall, although there is one listing now that I am excited to apply to, and hopefully I can get some temp work in between. I have unemployment that I can draw until mid-October, plus additional savings from tax season, so hopefully I won't have to take too much from my inherited funds to get me through.

I remain optimistic about my future prospects for the moment, and have been enjoying the additional time to focus on personal issues after the past few crazy years. And I'm looking forward to seeing two friends whom I haven't seen in a while during the next month and driving up to visit a friend who owns a cabin on Schroon Lake in the Adirondacks some time over the summer. That will be my first trip out of town in 3 years!

Re-Invention

October 16th, 2012 at 03:20 am

This post is directly inspired by Patient Saver's post, "How well do you reinvent yourself?," where she lists the jobs she's held during her career, and invites us to do the same.

This is fun to think back on! Here's my list, with selective commentary.

Elementary School. First paying job: dog sitter for the neighbor's dog while they were away on vacation. I'll always remember my 10th birthday--I went in to feed the dog that morning and she had pooped several times all over the kitchen. I ran home crying to my dad for help and he gently told me that this was what I was getting paid for and doing the job that needed to be done was part of growing up. I think he probably helped me but he certainly made me do my share!

Junior High/High School
-Street Musician, in front of LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art). There was a huge plaza in front of LACMA at the time with a lively street festival culture. My friend Susan and I would play duets, and--as two young teens (we were about 14/15 at the time)--we earned a decent amount of money doing this each Sunday.
-Babysitter
-ESL (English as a Second Language) Tutor. My dad was an ESL teacher (as well as an elementary school teacher) and a few of his students hired me for extra help to prepare for the TOEFL exam.
-(Volunteer) lab assistant in oncology research lab. I had to wash/autoclave glassware, but they also taught me to count blood cells, inject mice, etc, plus do some data collection.
-Volunteer orchestral musician for theatre arts and performances; solo performer at monthly musical salons.

College
-Cashier, Gift Store, Xmas rush
-Research Director, Student Educational Policy Commission. Probably the highlight was doing research with the assistance and supervision of the university registrar documenting the number of students getting C- grades, who would lose credit for classes which they took Pass/Not Pass (which they would get credit for had they taken it for a grade) and getting to present this in front of the Faculty Senate. They did vote to change the policy at the time, but I just checked and see that they have since changed it back.
-Clerical Assistant, Documentation Associates, Information Services Inc (DAISI)
-Copy Editor, Psychology of Women Quarterly. The editor actually asked my mother (who had indexed one of her books) if she would do this, and my mother suggested that she try me. She gave me a copyediting test, and I ended up doing this for two years, working for the editor, communicating both with faculty authors across the world and with the publisher.
-Research Assistant, Psychology Department.
-Statistical Analyst. I discovered in the process of working as a research assistant that many clinical psychology grad students were statistics-phobic, so during my senior year, I had a small business consulting to clinical psych grad students and running their statistical analyses. They had to interpret the data; I just crunched the numbers.

Grad School
-Research Assistant
-Co-Author of several book chapters
-Teaching Assistant
-Survey Coordinator
-Babysitter (for some extra bucks)

Professional Life, Career One
-Instructor/Assistant Professor/Associate Professor of Psychology
-Free-lance Author of Test Banks and Instructors' Manuals for psychology textbooks
-(Volunteer) flutist. Got to be in the orchestra for the college chorale's performance of the Bach Magnificat (the other orchestra musicians were professionals from the Albany Symphony), Velveteen Rabbit at a local theater)
-Volunteer Income Tax Assistant

Then I left college teaching because I was stuck in a rut where my career wasn't showing any upward trajectory (and I never got tenure). I spent the last 3 years of my teaching career taking the courses for the accounting major, and as soon as I left teaching, I spent a few months preparing for, and passing, the CPA exam.


Professional Life, Career Two
-Tax Return Preparer (started at H & R Block; have worked at four small CPA firms since then).
-(Volunteer) Cashier, local arts center
-Bookkeeper
-Medical Office Receptionist (filled in for two months the end of one year while the accounting firm didn't have enough work for me
-cat sitter (again, during slack periods during my career change).
-Staff Tax Accountant (both at a CPA firm and currently as a temp (hopefully -to-hire) at a multinational manufacturing company.

5 year recap

December 19th, 2011 at 04:23 am

Here's a summary. First the pictures, then the words; first the past four years and then the current one.


A look at the past four years shows that both my assets and my debts climbed (with the exception of the year when the recession hit, when my assets fell). On this balance sheet graph, which gives a sense of overall context. the debts line actually looks relatively stable, but the actual amount of debt increase was significant and scary. That comes through better on the income statement graph below.

The debt ratio, by the way, is total debt relative to total assets, and shows an increase for the first four years of the period. Currently it is at about 25%, down from a high of close to 40%. My goal for the next year is to bring this down below 20%, ideally to 18%.



On this graph, you can see that, for most of the time during this period, my expenses outpaced my income, due to a 2.5 year period of unemployment combined with unusual, large expenses.

No amount of emergency fund planning that I might have done prior to this period would have been sufficient, and the financial planning literature I've read tends to significantly underestimate emergency needs as people, pets, homes, and durable goods age. Of course, I haven't read much financial planning stuff the past two years as I've been focused on finishing the CPA. The literature that I'm familiar with is from before the recession and overestimates expected retirement returns and underestimates expenses. I'm hoping that the recent literature is more realistic. (Not unduly pessimistic--realistic.)

The profit margin is net income (income less expenses) divided by income; here I just include "operating" income, i.e., salary, unemployment, and gifts, but not the investment income that accrues in my retirement accounts. As you can see, I had losses rather than income for most of the period.

As for the past year, you can note a turn-around on both graphs. This reflects a "bad" (sad) reason and a good one. The big increase in my assets is because my mother died and I had a bit of an inheritance; the recent increase in net income is because I worked a full tax season (lots of hours) back last winter and because I landed a full-time job with benefits this fall.

Hopefully the next time I do a five-year assessment, I'll be able to show annual profits (ideally, 10% for this next year and 15-20% thereafter) and a big reduction in debt.

Things I'd Change, Things I Wouldn't

January 30th, 2011 at 04:20 pm

What I'd Change
1. I'd have a bit tighter rein over my spending. I'm not cutting back as much as I should given my part-time employed circumstance. There are a few expenses I regret, but most of them I don't...for many of them, I feel like I've been making investments in my future (spending about $500 on CPE units, spending about $200 on nutritional supplements and $100 on exercise equipment/gym fees/videotapes).

So I'm already on to
What I Would NOT Change
1. Money and time spent on my beloved Henry, even though the cancer beat us in the end.
2. Money spent on CPA review classes....got me through all the exams the first time around and saved on future exam fees (I think it's about 20% who pass all four on the first try)
3. For the most part, money and time spent on my health, though there are months I paid for the gym and didn't go.

What I'll Change in the Future
1. More focus on debt reduction. The past 18 months or so have been hard. I've been unemployed or part-time employed; my long-term relationship broke up; I lost my beloved dog to cancer; my mother is seriously ill and spent five months in a nursing home and while she's home and stable now, she does have a terminal illness; and my best friend's grandson has been dying of cancer...the last month we knew it was getting close to the end and I spent almost every evening with her so she wouldn't have to be alone with her thoughts; he finally passed last Monday. Because of all the hardship, I've fallen into debt whereas before I had none and needless to say, I haven't saved anything either. I need to focus on getting out of that debt...the credit card debt will be gone this year one way or another although some of that may be by transferring the debt to five-year loans I can take out at a low rate by borrowing against my retirement savings. Better five years at 5% that can be paid off early without penalty than 10% or more on credit cards.
2. I'm praying that my mom stays stable this year, both because I love her and want her around and because I really need to focus on completing my CPA license and getting a salaried job. It actually gave me leeway to be with her that I was only employed part-time last year. This year I really need to finish the license requirements (which means finding an auditing job after tax season) and find a salaried job one way or the other....so far I've only applied to CPA firm jobs and haven't tried for corporate jobs.

Catch-Up Post

July 28th, 2010 at 03:51 am

I haven't blogged here in ages, but I thought I'd update.

Those of you who know me from my earlier posts (most active about 3 years ago) know that I have spent a lot of time and money on behalf of my beloved basset hound, Henry. Henry developed cancer just about a year ago, and during the past year I got myself back into debt trying to save him. It didn't work--I had to have my beloved baby put to sleep on May 30--but I bought him about six months, during four of which he felt really good, acting years younger. I have no regrets about the debt. But it will be a while before I adopt another dog. I'll do some fostering and other work for basset hound rescue in the meantime, though.

My mother has also been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness this year. She spent five months in a nursing home and only just returned home, where she needs a home health aide much of the time. I've had two visits out to see her and that has also cost some money, time and grief.

On the positive front, I'm making good progress on my career goals. I've now passed all four CPA exams and have completed about 20% of the experience requirement (one year of full-time work) working at a CPA firm. I still need a full-time permanent job, but I'm happy with where I am. Good thing, too--I turn 50 in a month, and making the career change successfully was a goal I set for myself when I turned 40. I'm not 100% to where I wanted to be, but I'm 90% there and feel fairly confident that I'll be where I wanted to be (full-time regular staff accountant position) during the year that I am 50.

I had also set some health goals this year, and could make better progress on those. The triple whammy stress of two family illnesses and being unemployed for much of the year definitely worked against me here! But I've lost a couple of pounds and maintained my walking schedule up until the last month of Henry's life, and am getting ready to get back to more of a focus on fitness now.

Every "decade" year of my adult life (20, 30, 40, 50) has had a major life crisis, but in each case, the crisis has been over by my actual birthday. I'm hoping that I'm done with crises for the year and can go back to focusing on more ordinary life goals--getting the full-time job I want, keeping fit and happy, and getting out of debt yet again.

Talked to Vicki Robin of YMOYL

January 12th, 2010 at 04:00 pm

Your Money or Your Life (YMOYL) is the book that changed my life when I first read it back in about 1992. Even though I never followed completely through the program, I did several of the "9 steps," and just reading the book helped me move from being "mindless" about money to "mindful." It also started me on a path to become educated about personal finances, which has lead to my currently in-progress career change.

Along the way from academic psychologist to financial professional, I developed two courses, "Simplicity and Sustainability" and "Money and Happiness." These were academic courses oriented to college undergraduates with no particular financial expertise and involved reading, discussing, and writing about a series of books written for intelligent laypeople. Several of the authors whose books I read myself along the way are featured in a tele-seminar series organized by Vicky Robin herself. The first introductory class was last night, and I actually got to thank Vicky personally for her work, though I didn't get to elaborate on what a difference it made in my life. She's having a second introductory tele-class tonight and the series starts "for real" next Monday. You can read more about it here: http://yourmoneyoryourlife.info/?page_id=1815&preview=true, and the link if you want to attend tonight's intro is here: http://myaccount.maestroconference.com/conference/register/Q...

The intro class is free, and if tonight is like last night, she'll discuss YMOYL--which even as someone who has read the book 3 or 4 times, I found useful. The speaker series does charge, however. Since I'm currently unemployed, I'm debating whether to attend myself or not--especially since I think I'll be taking a class at the local college, and much as I could easily spend all the money I don't spend on Henry on education, one does have to make choices. She says she's currently planning to repeat the series a second time, so possibly I'll wait until the repeat. But it was a real honor just to be able to thank the person who co-authored the book that changed my life.

Started this blog just over a year ago

June 24th, 2007 at 01:45 pm

I've been too busy to post much of late, but do check in periodically to see how the people I've gotten to know here are doing.

This summer isn't the crisis of last summer, when I had no paycheck and was trying to live off savings--but on the other hand, I'm trying to build up the emergency fund to prepare for a 23% drop in salary in September. I've got to cut expenses now so I don't go into debt then! And whatever I can save will go into the emergency fund.

The first month of summer has led to some overspending--which is typical of me. I get so busy the end of the term that I start eating out more, and I'm exhausted when vacation first begins, so it takes a while to get back into cooking. Actually, I only had a week of time off, since I'm teaching this summer (hence the summer income). And I'm taking a class. So I've spent money on books, a postponed home repair, a postponed vet visit for Henry, and 6 weeks' worth of training classes with a person to get me back into shape after having not exercised for a few months. After only two weeks the persistent pain in my Achilles tendon is gone, and the frozen shoulder is beginning to loosen up, so it's a worthwhile investment.

Now that I have only two more paychecks at my "regular" pay before the big decrease, I've got to focus on cutting expenses as much as possible, so I'll be hanging out around here again.

Exploring Consignment Stores

March 31st, 2007 at 10:40 pm

Back when I lived in the next town over, there was a nice consignment store that I used to shop routinely. But that store burned down 3 years ago, and then I moved. I haven't bought very many clothes in the past couple of years, but what I have bought has been primarily Lands End clothing, bought at Sears when on sale.

Last week, my friend Anne & I were talking, and she told me about some stores that she knows in another nearby town. Today we went, since Anne is shopping for some new outfits for work. I'm not particularly in "need" of anything (other than of 1. losing the 12 pounds I gained recently to fit better into most of my clothes and 2. a warddrobe update--lots of my dresses and skirts are over 10 years old and work outfits that seemed fine in my early 30s doesn't feel appropriate to my mid-40s), so I looked at what was available. I found two sweaters (identical style, different colors), a scarf, and a pair of earrings, all purchased for $39, that work towards the "wardrobe updating" goal.

Now that I know about these two stores, I'll chek them out a few times a year as I continue updating.

And tomorrow I officially launch a diet to see if I can lose the 12 pounds by summer.

My first entry this year

January 28th, 2007 at 03:57 am

Didn't mean to abandon this blog, but life has been busy.

Quick update:

-Henry the $$$ Hound has been doing ok, thank god. I worry because he's gained so much weight while on the prednisone (from 67 to 80 #s), but I'm beginning to cut the prednisone back (for the second time...tried it around Thanksgiving and he wasn't ready yet, but so far so good this time--knock on wood!!!).

-Back at work, of course. I'm taking a course as well as teaching three. I'm auditing the course, actually, since I already have credit for it on the books from this past summer when I took it via Distance Learning at the Community College. But such a difference having a class in person makes! I'm seriously contemplating changing programs to complete my Accounting Certificate at this college rather than at the community college. The courses cost 3x as much but there are fewer of them--I think it would cost about $4400 (vs $2400) if all the credits transferred. But the difference could well be worth it. More in a later entry.

-It looks like I most likely have 3 classes in place to teach for the fall (plus one over the summer) as an adjunct--which means that I should be able to pay the basic bills but things will be extremely tight. My usual monthly expenses the past year or so have been $3000/month, and this should bring me in $2880/month...but if I'm adjuncting, my COBRA health insurance will add about another $270 beyond the $100/month I currently pay to the bills, so there will be a lot of skimping and cutting, and I'll be saving as much as possible now and praying with all my heart that Henry (and the cats) stay healthy.

But at least having that income in place for the year means that the anxiety and depression of December have mostly disappeared.

And I anticipate some income beyond that as well--for one thing, there's still some possibility that another full-time renewal will open up here if their current attempt to do a new hire falls through (as has happened in the past)--I'll know within the month. And the big one is that, inspired by the course I'm taking, I'm going to look for a summer internship in accounting and start making this attempted career change seem more real. Get myself out of the classroom and into the "real world." I'm such an ivory tower type that this is a bit terrifying, but right at the moment the excitement is higher than the fear factor, so that's good.

A few more List items

November 22nd, 2006 at 02:36 pm

26. I worked during college as a proofreader/copy editor for a professional academic journal. The editor actually tried to hire my *mother,* who was primarily a book indexer and reference librarian. My mother said that I was the one who did all of *her* editing, so the editor gave me a test and then hired me.

27. Also during college I hired myself out as a statistical consultant to graduate students in clinical psychology who were math phobic. I had taken a year's worth of statistics as an undergrad and had taught myself SPSS and BMDP from the manuals, and I ended up doing the analyses for two dissertations. Sometimes I think about going back and getting an M.A. in statistics now.

28. When I was in high school, my school was very active in a state-wide program called "Reform in School Education" (RISE) that involved groups of faculty, administration, students and community members to come up with suggestions for improvement. I was active all through high school and my senior year was the city-wide representative for high school students for this program.

29. Later on in college I continued my involvement in educational policy: I served as the undergraduate "Research Coordinator" for the Student Educational Policy Commission at UCLA and once made a presentation in front of the faculty senate that successfully convinced them to make a policy change.

30. Three dreams that I want to pursue at the point where I need to spend less time earning money are to get involved in local history organizations (I am fortunate to live in an area where there is a lot of pre-Revolutionary War history around), to get involved in local politics, and to become much more involved in making music.

31. I've been involved for 6 years in a local voluntary simplicity support group that meets for monthly potlucks.

32. I am Jewish by birth but went through a serious Buddhist phase in my early 30s. I went on a meditation retreat the result of which was an insight that it was time for me to explore my Jewish roots, which I promptly did. I was very active in the congregation that I joined for the next five years. More recently, I have found that most of my friendships are with Quakers (via the simple living group) and my lapsed-Catholic sweetie and I have agreed that if we get married we will join the Friends meeting.

33. I have a wealthy cousin in NYC. One of my fond memories from graduate school is visiting NY, where I stayed at the YMCA and had them move my room several times until I found a floor where there were mostly students rather than down-on-their-luck men, and then going to meet my cousin for lunch at Sardi's, where he was greeted by name by the maitre-de, and for dinner at another restaurant, where his wife was telling me about how sitting on the *first* floor was de-riguer while the *second* floor seating was declasse--when who comes sweeping down from the second floor but Bernadette Peters, who was at that time starring on Broadway in "Sundays in the Park with George." The trip was a vision in contrasts.

34. Three of my favorite places in the world: a patch known as "Henry's Woods" in the local state park, where a plot of conifers stand by a stream and create a cathedral-like space; the Temple of Dendur at the Metropolitan Museum of art; and the 17-mile drive in northern California (though the latter is sadly developed compared with what I remember from my childhood memories).

35. I've had the honor of standing on the Supreme Court dias. An old boyfriend worked as a clerk for Justice Rehnquist back in the late 1980s and he took me on a tour of the building including the courtroom and up on to the dias when I visited him while I was in D.C. for a job interview.

36. I went to a nursery school run by a bunch of psychoanalysts since my mother was in psychodynamic therapy at the time. No wonder I turned out rather neurotic!

Late List

November 19th, 2006 at 05:59 pm

I see that while I've been busy grading and tending Henry, many of you have been posting interesting lists about yourselves. I'm still catching up on reading those. In the meantime, here's mine. Only 25 items...I'm not *that* interesting.

Twenty-five things you may not know about me

1. I was born in Hollywood.

2. I play the flute. Quite well in fact. I've played duets with the principal flutist of the Oregon Symphony and performed on stage with members of the Albany Symphony.

3. When I was a child, I lived near the abandoned set for "Hello Dolly." Although there was a "No Trespassing" sign, the gate was loosely locked and it was easy for a 10 year old to sneak inside, which I did several times that year.

4. I have a PhD in social psychology and did a post-doctoral fellowship in personality & psychopathology.

5. I am taking classes towards a post-BA certificate in accounting (all the requirements for an accounting major, minus the general BA requirements).

6. I was given a stuffed Basset Hound (Cleo for the People's Choice bassest) when I was born and got my first "live" basset at six. Henry is my third basset, or fourth if I count the dog whom I fostered for a year but did not adopt because of aggression problems.

7. I'm still good friends with the first boy I ever had a crush on.

8. I once went white-water rafting on a Class III river in Alaska (this is SO not me....this was only because of that then-boyfriend of mine).

9. I've done 3 driving trips back and forth across the country, taking a different route each time.

10. I've seen 40 of the 50 states--almost all the exceptions being in the Deep South (plus Hawaii).

11. Despite loving to travel, the only places I have been outside the USA are in Eastern Canada (Toronto, Montreal, and thereabouts).

12. I once spent 7 weeks in a hospital. I did not eat during that time (until the last day) but was fed intravenously.

13. I learned Transcendental Meditation at age 13.

14. I took tennis lessons starting at age 8. Never did master the game.

15. I was kicked out of swimming school at age 3 for calling my teacher a "bastard."

16. I took Yoga for gym class during high school.

17. I met my sweetie when he taught a class called "Creativity for Non-Artists." Nothing happened during that first year I took the class from him (my mind was on getting ready to move out of the area), but when I moved back, I learned that he still had kept two of the little sculptures I'd made in class and had them on top of his refrigerator...unusual for him. The relationship has always felt like fate.

18. I've lived for 23 years in California, 6 in Michigan, 3 in Vermont, and 14 in Pennsylvania.

19. I decided to become a social psychologist before I ever took a class in the subject, and to move to the East Coast before I'd ever been there for the first time.

20. I am also very active online on a Walking discussion board and my regular walking buddy is the former "walking editor" for a national health publication. (She provides great incentive to keep me going!)

21. I lost 95 pounds one year. Gained about half of it back, though, in the subsequent 7 years. Still much better than where I was!

22. I made my first money working as a street performer. The old Los Angeles County Museum of Art had a big plaza on which street performers gathered each Sunday. A friend of mine and I went each week and earned quite a lot of money for our efforts--probably because we were by far the youngest performers there. (Late edit: we played flute duets.)

23. I used to teach at an environmentally oriented liberal arts college, where my proudest achievement was developing a new course called "Simplicity & Sustainability."

24. More recently I taught a class called "The Psychology of Money and Happiness."

25. I firmly believe that the best way to learn something is to teach it. Thus I'm not an expert on much of what I teach; more an impassioned learner.

Came across my budget from 8 years ago

September 9th, 2006 at 02:00 am

When I picked up one of my old financial planning books ("How to get what you want in life with the money you already have"), a piece of paper fell out, and on it was my budget from January 1998. Interesting to compare now and then.

My circumstances are very different: I live in a different state, have a different job, own a house rather than rent, am now in a committed relationship, and I have three pets rather than one. I'm still adjusting my budget to new circumstances since some of these changes (home & two of the pets) are fairly recent, but still, the comparison is interesting.

I make about 60% more--but that's both because I'm at a higher paying job and because I have a second part-time job in addition to the main job, which I didn't before. So taxes of course are proportionately higher. And I save more (30% more) and give more to charity (117% more), but my gift-giving has stayed about the same (I'm a notoriously bad gift-giver, alas).

Going from renting to owning makes a huge difference--my monthly housing + utility expenses have gone up from about $700 to about $1022, a 46% increase--but at least I'm building equity now. Household expenses are up, too, from $20 to $50/month as there's more to buy with a house, especially as a new owner--plus that includes repairs, which I never had to worry about before.

The other big increase is education expenses. I've gone back to school the past three summers, working very slowly on getting a certificate in accounting to add to my credentials. Mostly I take these classes at the community college, but just this year, I finally qualified to take classes for free at one school that I teach at, so that is helping hold those costs down some.

My grocery expenses are up about 24%, but eating out expenses have held steady. That increase could be accounted for by inflation--plus here in PA, I have much nicer grocery stores available to me on a weekly basis than I did when I lived in rural VT, so I buy somewhat more upscale ingredient indulgences--one of the ways I hold down the restaurant expense.

Transportation costs are up 52%--I have a newer car, but when I lived in VT, I lived literally right across the street from where I worked, so I only drove my car to do errands on the weekends and to travel. Now I commute 16 miles daily--but I also travel less. That is reflected in a nearly 80% *decrease* in my entertainment expenses (since I budgeted in travel with entertainment). Owning a home and 3 pets and having a relationship--not to mention more than one job!--I've become much more of a homebody than I was.

The other big decrease in my spending is in my "unreimbursed business expenses." As an academic, I can justify many of my nonfiction book purchases as research materials, and I used to do so quite a bit more than I do now. I still spend about $50/month on books and films for use in research and teaching--but I used to spend about three *times* that amount, so that's a big decrease.

So--lots of increases, a couple of decreases. I do miss the travel and "culture-vulturing" I used to do, and some day will have to do more of it again. The biggest increase over the past several years has been in my overall net worth, so that is satisfying.

Changes I've Made So Far

June 22nd, 2006 at 01:17 pm

I didn't have too many struggles with money until I finished graduate school and entered the working world. My first year out, I had a postdoctoral fellowship, and I managed to spend almost twice what I earned and when I got a "real job" the next year, I started my career over $13,000 in debt. For the first 3 or 4 years, I just paid the minimum balance due, and then it hit me that my debt wasn't going down. I started reading about personal finance, including Your Money or Your Life, got a consolidation loan and started paying my debt down. It took a couple of years, but by the time I'd left my first job, I'd not only gotten rid of the debt but started saving 10% of my salary in a retirement fund.

At my next job, I also managed to save up a significant amount towards a downpayment for a house. However, I had a bout with an illness that landed me in the hospital for two months, cost me two surgeries and six months of unemployment, and led me to make the decision to get off the "fast track" towards my career and worry more about my life as a whole. The experience also ended up eating up the downpayment fund.

Successes I've had so far in changing habits:
--I spend much less on books than I used to and frequent the library much more often
--I eat out less than I used to, but I still could make a lot more progress
--I pretty regularly save 10% or more of my salary (which varies tremendously year to year depending on my job situation...I've saved up to 27% of my salary in flush years but have had a couple of years where I've lived close to the bone and eaten into the emergency fund instead of adding to it).
--I've put most of my bill-paying on auto-pilot, so I don't get hit with the late fees I used to incur about once a year in the past.
--I finally was able to buy a house this past year, due to the generosity of my mother, who gifted me the downpayment money. This brings the total housing expenses up a bit from what they were, but now I have equity, plus the rents in this area are rising rapidly and it won't be long before my expenses as a homeowner will be less than what they were as a renter.