This past week will (knock on wood) rank as one of the two most aggravating weeks of the year--the other was back in May and that was all work-related.
This week was a mix..
Personal: I met with the endocrinologist. The thyroid biopsy results indicated no cancer yet but showed cells with abnormalities and a genetic assay indicated a 50% possibility of developing cancer. I need to research more. What I know at this point is that there are four types of thyroid cancer and that my risk is for the one that has the best prognosis. I will be meeting with the primary care physician I finally set up an appointment with and a surgeon and probably will look for another endocrinologist for a second opinion. My endocrinologist said that, if it were him, he'd want it out, but I'm not yet sure. There's a 50% chance they could take out half my thyroid and it would prove not to be cancerous at all. I really need to research more. That is what is frustrating about doctor's appointments--although my doctor says he left a message that I never received. I didn't ask all the questions that I should/could have at the appointment and will need to follow up. Haven't even really BEGUN to process this because of the other stuff this week. If I have surgery, it wouldn't be until January, so there's time.
Cats: Tuesday began with Buffy throwing up. She ate breakfast but threw it up and when I got home in the evening, she was throwing up again. Wednesday she just lay in bed and had no interest in food so on Thursday I brought her into the vet. The good news is that the bloodwork was good, just slightly elevated neutraphils indicating a possible infection. She also had an x-ray and that was ok, so the working hypothesis became a UTI. They couldn't get a urine sample so I brought her back on Friday so they could give her fluids and try again for the urine sample. So far the culture seems ok but they need 3 full days to fully assess. In the meantime, Bridget started with the same set of symptoms starting Thursday night. So now the hypothesis is either a GI virus or food. I think the virus is the more likely. After a few worrisome days, the cats finally seemed to have turned the corner this morning, with their usual appetites finally back (thanks in part to appetite stimulation meds).
The vet I've been using for the cats is located closer to where I lived 13 years ago before I bought my house. I got these cats from the vet, who had promised their previous owner that he would find them a good home when she died. He was their vet since they were kittens, and because I have had a 20-year relationship with the practice, I've kept going back. But the drive takes a minimum of 25 minutes, and when it is trafficky, as it was Friday evening when I picked Buffy up, it can take up to 50 minutes. In the interim, there has been a vet that opened a practice in my neighborhood. It's been about 5 years now and so far her online ratings are good. I learned this week that the original owner of the practice sold it, and while the vet who is there now is fine, they are down from 3 full-time vets to a full-time vet, a part-time vet, and rotating on-call vets while they try to find another full-timer, so I've decided from here on in to take the cats to the vet in my neighborhood. I went in yesterday and set an appointment for early next March for Buffy to have her annual senior wellness exam with the new vet. Anything else that goes on with this episode will be with the old vet, and hopefully there won't be anything else that requires vet help in the next couple of months until I get all the cats records and transfer them over to the new practice.
Then there was the car. The day before Thanksgiving, the windshield washer indicator came on on the dash. I thought that was funny since I had just put more fluid in the previous weekend. When I added more, I saw it flowing down the sidewalk as I poured. I had first an appointment for a diagnosis (since it could have just been a hose that detached or a lose washer), but the reservoir had a hole and needed to be replaced. An inspection revealed that it was time for new front brakes and rotors, new spark plugs, etc, so I left my car for the day to have everything done. Then on Thursday--while I was taking Buffy to the vet--the low pressure light came on on the dash. I have a history of letting air OUT of tires every time I try to add it, so I brought the car to a service station and had them add it (something I had done just 3 weeks earlier--with this car, I get a signal every year with the first cold snap). But unlike the last time, when the indicator light went off after driving the car about a mile, the indicator light didn't go off (which added to the stress of driving the cat to and from the vet). I brought it in to the dealer's "express service" on Saturday and they found a faulty indicator light and replaced it. (THey actually told me that, since the light was blinking on and off, that it was probably a faulty indicator and I didn't need to replace it, but I couldn't live with the extra layer of anxiety that having a blinking yellow light on my dashboard would entail).
The car repairs totaled about $1,400 and the vet visits another $825. My health insurance plan turned over December 1, so I'm back to paying my deductible (I have to check, I think it's $1,500 on my HDHP/HSA plan this year), so the recent and upcoming doctor's visits will come out of pocket until that is satisfied. Thankfully, I've got just about that amount left in my HSA.
Work: It was one of the extra-busy, 6 meeting weeks (normal is 2-4). Fortunately at year-end, we are focused on tax planning, and that is my strength, so it wasn’t as stressful as it could have been. I am the only CPA in our PA office, so I also help out with other planner’s projections, plus I worked with a CPA in our VA office to do a training session for the firm on how to use the software.
Then I had my annual evaluation, which was just a tiny bit anxiety-provoking leading up to it. I wasn’t very worried, but the very first job I had, for 7 years, had super-stressful annual evaluations and consequently even when I think I’m doing well, the process is worrisome. Thankfully it went as well as I expected, not perfect but with an improvement from last year. The evaluation comes from my supervisors but information about any raise, personal bonus, or firm-wide profit-sharing bonus comes from our COO the last week of the year.
So that is some good news, at least.
It looks like next week will be stressful again, since I just checked my email and learned that one of the clients I work with passed away. I’m sad because I liked him, and mentally adding my work to what needs to get done this week--and weekend. I’d had his latest estate documents and tax return sitting on my desk, planning to review them during the quieter last two weeks of the year, but I guess I will go in and start working on that today.
I do have an afternoon yoga class coming up, so at least that will buffer the stress.
Viewing the 'Struggles' Category
This past week will (knock on wood) rank as one of the two most aggravating weeks of the year--the other was back in May and that was all work-related.
I haven't been here since my birthday this summer, so I thought I'd check in before the year-end updates.
Health: I might be back later this week depending on what I learn at my doctor's appointment on Thursday. I had a biopsy done on my thyroid and will learn the results. (I learned I had a nodule earlier this year, had one biopsy shortly thereafter that gave indeterminate results, so had a second biopsy, so praying it checks out as benign). I guess, having said this much, I'll make sure to post something in either case, either the bad news or the good. In the meantime, I've been trying not to think about it, but this does mean I need to put a lot more focus on my physical health as a goal for 2019. For one thing, I don't have a primary care physician. I had one whom I liked who I had been with for over a decade, and she died the same week that I started my current job, which is now over 2 years ago. I've gone to my ob-gyn annually, and she connected me with the endocrinologist, so I've had basic bloodwork and such. But it's high time to have a physician I trust whom I can turn to to coordinate results from any specialists I might see.
Plus I need to get back on the exercise bandwagon. That's been another thing that I became very inconsistent with after starting my current job. At my last job, I earned about 20% more and had about 20% less work, which gave me the money and the time to belong to a nice gym. Right now I can't afford that, but I do have home equipment and need to get more consistent with using that--plus there's a $25/month gym nearby that isn't too bad, for use of the cardio and weight equipment for some variety. I'll probably see what kind of new year's special they have and join that gym then. In the meantime, I had my neighbor install some wall mounts for resistance bands and am starting to do some exercises using those (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drXN_xIbv8Q). Actually, my home equipment would be enough if I just had the discipline and motivation to use it consistently! I need to find a new walking buddy, but will wait until the weather warms up again and then post an ad on the Next Door app to see if I can find someone.
I was good at intermittent fasting from 5/24 to 11/3 and I lost about 12 pounds, but feel off the bandwagon during a business trip and have had a hard time getting back to it with the colder weather. I gained about 4 pounds back during November and now that it's a new month, I will try again. Breakfast is so much more appealing in cold weather than it is the rest of the year!
Kitties: I am very happy at the moment. My older kitty, Bridget, now 14, started having some problems in the middle of her 13th year, losing weight and hair and having chronic loose stools. She is incredibly terrified of the vet (it takes multiple people to handle her and she screams), but I did manage to get bloodwork done for her in March and it looked good. We tried a different diet and that helped a little but not much, and she is soooo stressed out by the vet that I didn't want to put her through more vet work. But recently, I found a food online that is a more natural food (smalls for smalls). They had a trial offer for one week of food for half price. I tried it and even using just 50% the old vet prescription food and 50% the new diet, I could start to see improvements, so I've been transitioning both cats on to it. Bridget's stools have firmed up a lot and I'm hopeful that with a diet that agrees with her more, she'll gain back a little weight and hair too. Buffy likes this food better than her own prescription food (which is just a weight loss food--she needs grain-free for her diabetes but as long as the food is grain-free, her diabetes is controlled), and I can feed both cats the same thing, which is great. For the past year, I was trying to monitor two cats with two different prescriptions who each preferred the OTHER cat's food. Each cat ended up eating some of the diet that was prescribed for her and some of the diet that wasn't, and it was stressful trying to monitor them constantly. This food costs a bit more, but since they were on prescription food anyways, it's not massively more costly, and better health for two senior kitties is worth it, since the girls are now at the ages (14 & 13.5) where I lost my two previous cats (who were both on dry food for most of their lives and who both died of kidney disease, probably as a result of that diet). So the current kitties eat canned food but do get dried treats. I would love it if the girls lived into their later teens.
Social Life: I've continued, generally, to attend rehearsals of the orchestra I joined in August, and I've been in 3 concerts so far (usually at senior living facilities). The last 6 weeks are the busiest time of the year at work, so I've skipped the last two rehearsals (next concert is in mid-January), but I do plan to be back regularly after the new year. I've kept up with my friends, but I've seen them a bit less than I used to since I started this job, but still fairly regularly.
Work: Work is busy but generally good. I have my annual evaluation meeting this coming Tuesday, and hopefully, their assessment of me is as positive as my own. I know places I can make improvements but also places where I am particularly an asset, and I enjoy my co-workers and being part of a team.
CFP exam: I've not made progress since July on studying for the CFP exam. But I did complete two courses, Insurance and Estate Planning, back in the first half of the year, and both courses have been very helpful. I have 3 more courses to go and I have 10 months left to complete them, so I know I should be able to complete the courses and I have some incentive to do so. This probably means that I won't take the CFP exam until March 2020, however. As long as I complete the coursework in 2019!
Although this time of the year is overall busy, my personal schedule was not booked up with meetings for the last two weeks of the year (it's mostly the last week of November and the first two weeks of December that are overloaded), so I'm taking a week off at year end and hopefully will make some progress on other goals during that time (maybe get 20% of the Retirement & Employee Benefits class done and do a little decluttering and make calls to find a primary care doctor)
Finances: Well, after my last post in August saying that my retirement accounts had broken the half-million mark, the market had a correction. So I'm going to have to build up to that mark again. Right now my retirement accounts are pretty much where they were at year-end 2017, and with depreciation on the car and a little bit of a decline on Zillow's home value estimate, my total assets are 3K down from the beginning of the year. My debts, however, are down about 6k--which includes my mortgage now being more than half paid off from its original starting value. I will be restructuring some of my debt in the new year after I see whether I get a bonus and if so, how big it is, and I feel like I have a good shot at getting the total debt down to at least 80K, with 70% of that being the mortgage. As long as we don't have more market losses in December, that will put my debt at less than 15% of my net worth.
I'm finally admitting to myself that, given the exigencies of life, it will probably take me longer to get rid of the non-mortgage debt than I would like (for example, I have about $1,300 of car repairs that I've been advised to make, and I need to replace my oven and will replace my refrigerator at the same time, early next year, so that's about another $1,200), but my mortgage paydown acceleration is on track (just 56K left as of today!), so if it takes me a couple more years to get the debt paid off than I'd planned, that's fine, as long as I am working! I still feel that I am on target to have the debt paid off by retirement, just so long as I can work until my mid-60s.
I'll check back in next weekend and report back on the thyroid biopsy results, and other than that, I'll be back the last week of the year to wrap up the year and set up some goals for 2019.
Well, I've been making good progress this year on decreasing debt, but I'm going to backslide a bit in the service of preserving my health.
I've been struggling with a growing fatigue problem for about 4 years. The last time I remember being my "old self" who woke up early and easily full of energy was about 5 years ago. I remember going out and taking lots of long walks early mornings during the times I was out in Los Angeles helping out with my mom during her final year; I remember having a job that required me to be at the office across town at 8:30 am and not struggling with it. Then I remember starting to work at a manufacturing plant in April 2012 and having my asthma get massively worse within 3 weeks, which interfered with my ability to exercise, and gradually I began to struggle to be able to get in to work at 9 a.m.--not because I would wake up late, but because I would wake up at 6:30 and just zone out over a few cups of coffee until making myself get into the shower. The asthma eventually came under control two years ago after I was put on Flovent, but my energy never returned.
Lately I've been struggling at the other end of the day as well--if I want to be out after 7 pm, I am often too exhausted to do so. Not that I am falling asleep that early--just being nonproductive browsing social media because I don't have the energy to go out more than one or two nights a week.
I had my doctor run tests and she ran the standard panels, but my tests all come back normal.
Then 3 years ago, during the 6 months I was unemployed, I went to hear a chiropractor talk on thyroid issues, since I suspect this may be part of the problem. My mother was on Synthroid, and my sister has been on it since age 19, so clearly it runs in the family. That chiropractor ran a test for thyroid antibodies--a test that my doctor did not run because it is not part of the standard thyroid test panel. That test showed that my antibodies were out of range, indicating that my body is in essence attacking my own thyroid (a condition known as Hashimoto's Thyroiditis). The doctor recommended going on a gluten free diet (so I switched from being vegan to going gluten free, not that the two are incompatable but I just couldn't manage too many dietary restrictions at one time) and paid out of pocket for periodic thyroid antibody tests. When I brought the topic up to my doctor, she gave me the standard allopathic medicine doctor response of "there's really nothing to do but wait until your thyroid levels go out of range and then use Synthroid.") The chiropractor also had another program of treatment he recommended--but it was mostly out of pocket except for the lab testing, and I couldn't afford it at the time.
By going gluten free, I had seen my antibody levels gradually go down. But this winter I felt the fatigue increase, and when I had another test done in March, it showed an increase in my levels again. They're still significantly lower than the first time I was tested (which to me is evidence for the autoimmune nature and the role of gluten in the disease), but this was the first time i 3 years that my levels rose rather than fell.
Then 3 weeks ago I was on facebook and I saw a talk by another chiropractor being given on Saturday. I went to that talk and signed up for a consult with him. I also knew of a third chiropractor who treats Hashimoto's who is actually on the list of recommended practitioners listed by Isabella Wentz, author of "The Hashimoto's Protocol" and I made an appointment to see him as well.
So after all of this, I've decided that now is the time to get my energy back, because that is what enables my ability to accomplish every other goal in my life. Having met twice now with each of the three doctors, I've decided to go to the one who is on Wentz's list of recommended practioners. Yes, it will involve a big out of pocket cost, since again, only the lab tests are covered by insurance. But I'm not making progress on the other goals in my life in the way that I want because of my lack of energy. I'll be going for a more extensive panel of tests next week--and if there is anything more serious going on that would require an internist, that should be shown by the tests as well (in which case I need to hurry up to find a new internist as my last one died in November).
I brought along my last few sets of bloodwork results to the exams, and the doctor who I have chosen noted a recurring anomaly in another marker that no doctor had ever commented on before, and told me what it indicated, which fits with some other information I have from "genetic genie" interpretations of my 23andme results (basically a methylation anomaly). That, plus his answer to another "test" question I gave to my doctors to understand more about their perspective, gave me some confidence that this doctor will help get me on the path to restoring my energy--since right now, as the song goes, "my 'get up and go' has got up and went." And that, frankly would be worth incurring another 2.5K expense (especially in the least invasive way. I've done a lot of reading about functional medicine in the past few years, and have come to believe that while allopathic (traditional) medicine is the best route to treating acute conditions, for autoimmune and many chronic conditions, you are best off starting with a functional medicine approach which may entail lifestyle changes to forestall further problems rather than waiting until the problem becomes bad and then sticking you on drugs.
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 !
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!
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.
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.
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!
Certain classes of "Expenses" are also "Investments," not in the traditional sense, but in oneself.
There are a few key categories of these self investments: one's "human capital" or job skills/performance; one's relationships; and one's health. And one invests in these not just with money but with time.
Looking at my sidebar goals, there are two that have been lagging the others--taking better care of myself and getting my house in order.
I want to make progress on both of these by year-end.
I'm starting with health. Or, I should say, I started with it back the end of June. I joined a gym and also an online nutritional coaching program.
That gym I really liked, even though it was more expensive than my previous Gold's Gym membership ($75/month vs $19/month). It was worth it, though, for the first two months. The classes I were taking were the "Lite Intense" classes, which tended to be smaller than the regular classes at the gym (maximum class size in any case is 10). And all the trainers are certified, and the gym uses a heart-rate monitoring system to motivate students and make sure they are working out appropriately--every student wears a heart rate monitor and one's heart rate is displayed on a tv screen.
Then in mid-August the trainer that I was working with went back to college, and the gym decided that, since the "Lite Intense" classes were less popular, that they would stop offering them (at least at the times of day I could go...they still have one such class each weekday at 10 a.m.). They still had classes, but "Intense" ones, and the class sizes were longer, and the exercises were harder. And although the instructors were VERY good at modifying the exercises for me and my fitness level, I still found myself doing a lot of social comparison and negative self-talk and coming out of class depressed at my performance--even though my heart rate showed I was working harder. I have a degree in psychology; I understand this; but I still do this. And it was seriously undermining my enthusiasm for going to the gym.
So I began to look for another gym, and I found one--but at another step up in price. But, not only do they have the advantages of the other gym that made it so appealing--certified instructors, heart rate monitoring on a tv screen, but the membership that I am going to go for involves "Semi-Private" classes, maximum class size four, which is just right. Private training is too expensive and when you DO private training, the trainer ends up standing around a lot while you put in the reps; with semi-private, you get personal attention and the trainer stands around a lot less as they go from person to person. When there are only four people and sometimes they are doing different routines, there's much less opportunity for the social comparison/negative self-talk trap that I fall into. And they also have a larger group class called "Foundations," which is for people who are just starting out, to get you READY for the intense classes, which they also offer. I went to this class on Saturday and it is a good fit--I am NOT the heavest, slowest, and oldest person in the class :^). They also have body fat/lean body mass percentage testing with an impedence monitor every six weeks so you can see if you are getting results. They also have a monthly social gathering outside the gym and encourage the gym members to be a community. I already know more names of members there after one week than I did after two months at the first gym.
I know myself, I know that I have spent hundreds on exercise equipment and DVDs, and I know that what works for me are classes where I can get personal attention. If I cancel the online nutritional coaching (which is good, but I find that I am not making the time to participate), my net health expense outlay for each month will be the same. Also the gym is having a weight loss challenge starting the beginning of October leading up to Thanksgiving, so that should motivate me to start putting some of the good nutritional habits and principles I've learned more in to practice. My weight has crept up a bit in the new job as I am sitting at my computer so much....it will be 15 pounds down to where I was last year (not that that is all I would like to lose, but that is my target for by the end of the year).
In my last blog post, I wrote about the new car that I ordered, which will arrive sometime between the 15th and the 28th. It's a new 2012 Impreza, which have been hard to find to test drive. The last batch of the 2012s are on their way to dealers (mine's one of those), and they're beginning to accept orders for 2013s, which arrive in about 8 weeks.
I had hoped, by virtue of moving my car purchase up from the fall (typically lowest prices) to August, to be able to avoid more car repairs, but this was not to be. On Sunday, the temperature started spiking in my old car. I turned the A/C off and the temp went back down. Then on Monday, the same thing happened, and turning off the A/C didn't help. I popped the hood and found it needed more coolant, which I added. Things were fine Tuesday morning, but Tuesday at lunch, it began to overheat again, and again the coolant reservoir was drained. I got the car home without it overheating by adding more coolant and driving it with the heater turned on high. Then this morning, I drove it to the dealer where I am buying the new car and asked their service department to take a look.
When I described what had happened, the service manager said that it could be the head gasket, which would cost $1700-$1900, so I was antsy until he called with a diagnosis at lunchtime. Then he said it was the thermostat, so I had that replaced for $270.
But on the way home (5 miles), the temperature started spiking again! When the car cooled down, I checked the reservoir, and again it was empty.
The dealer has said they would give me $1200 for the car on trade-in. I feel like I've given them their chance....they could have told me this morning that it was the head gasket and I would have had to decide what to do. For now, I've decided that I'm not driving the car anywhere but back to the dealer when the new car arrives. I've rented a car (another pretty penny) to drive until the new one arrives, hopefully soon. I can't stand the anxiety of driving an overheating car anymore and I don't want to spend $2000 to repair a car that they will give me $1200 for on trade-in (which, by the way, is $200 more than anyone else offered me for it).
What would you do in this situation?
If I could get an Impreza other than the one I ordered immediately, I would, but most of the ones within 50 miles are "on order." There's a manual model, same color, same trim level, as the one I ordered, at the dealer I'm working with, but I had really decided to go with an automatic this time (both because of the better mileage and because I now live on a steep hill and parallel parking with a manual transmission when you have to back up on a hill is a bear....I do it but there are nights where I am too tired and either end up leaving my car parked too far from the curb, or I have to call the neighbor outside to move their car up so I won't hit it, or I have to park far away.
I was laid off, very unexpectedly, a month ago from my
"dream job" when they lost one of their biggest clients. A corporation probably would have kept the younger, cheaper, but also less experienced employee (that would be me, in this case) and have let the older (69), costlier, more experienced employee go, but this firm was more in the nature of a family firm.
So I get to revise my 2012 goals back to "get a job" again. Sigh. That's been my #1 annual goal since 2009. This territory is just way too familiar.
But I'm tackling it with gusto.
A couple of differences between now and 2009:
First, the economy. We're on an upswing now, rather than still reeling from the blow. It's slow, but the market is definitely different.
Second, my personal circumstances. Other than job-hunting and gaining such experience as I could, the other dominant theme of the past 3 years for me was dealing with family illness. Unfortunately, my beloved Henry Hound, my Phoebe Kitty, and my Mom all passed during the 14 months from May 2010 to July 2011. I still have Teddy Cat, and he, unfortunately, is chronically ill, too, but he's hanging in there so far. He was diagnosed with Chronic Renal Failure just after Thanksgiving. We've gotten used to the new routine of sub-Q fluids and meds twice daily, I've found online sources for his supplies that are half the cost of getting them from the vet, and he seems stable for now. But much of what was holding me back from pursuing the job market more vigorously was that it was actually very helpful to be working part-time during the past two years. It gave me a lot more flexibility in terms of being with first Henry, then my Mom.
Third, the fact that I have accrued some experience, albeit not yet enough to be really competitive. But when I left teaching back in May 2009, I had no practical experience in accounting other than my participation in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program.
Over the course of the past 2.5 years, I had jobs with first H & R Block, then two small CPA firms, plus a temp Office Manager job that kept me employed part-time most of the time. Then that job that I just lost was three months of full-time work that focused more on business accounting & taxes and less on personal taxes, so I did learn a tremendous amount. I may still be below the critical threshold for getting the job I really want, but I *am* awfully close.
In the month since I was laid off, I submitted nearly two dozen job applications. I've had 5 job interviews (3 this past week) plus another phone screen that didn't lead to an interview.
One of the jobs that I interviewed for this week would be another "dream job" situation; the other two would have their advantages, and I'd take any of them if offered.
Hopefully an offer will be in the offing soon.
I see that I haven't written an entry here since New Years, so here's the quick update of my year to date:
January: Spent a lot of time with a close friend whose grandson died on the 24th.
February-April: Busy season; worked two jobs, 30-35 hours each--loved one job, hated the other. But neither morphed into anything more after tax-season; I still work occasionally and part-time at the job I love, but the firm is too small for that job to become more than it is. I get good experience, learn a lot, and can say that I am employed, plus earn a little money--all good. On the sad side, I lost my cat, Phoebe, the one I'd had since kittenhood, to kidney disease.
May: Went out to Los Angeles for two weeks to visit my mom; she was able to leave the house (in wheelchair) for excursions to places like the Farmer's Market; we videotaped a 3-hour oral history with her. When I returned from the trip, one of my clients had died and I was hired by his son to assist him with his executor duties. (Poor guy--he lost his mother in the middle of May and his father two weeks later.)
June: The first half I was busy helping my client with the executor work, plus arranging for my sidewalk to be replaced (it had been torn up in September with a sewer pipe replacement). I had a talk with my Mom on June 15, the day they were starting the work, and she seemed fine. The next morning, though, I get frantic text messages from my sister that my mom is in the ER. She is hospitalized for 8 days--I monitor the situation from afar. She is released on Friday the 24th and calls me on Sunday the 26th to ask me to fly out--she needs extra assistance now that she is home, hopefully for just a couple of weeks. I fly out on Monday. She improves for the first week I am there.
July: My mom continues to improve through July 3--a day during which she spent much of her time sitting in the wheelchair at the computer making stock transactions. July 4 she is tired and spends most of the day in bed. July 5 she is extremely week and we end up having to call the paramedics again. She lands in Intensive Care for five days and then back on the regular floor for five days. I was able to be with her 14 or so hours a day. During this time, after the treatment options that she was willing to try failed, my mom made the decision to go home on hospice. She was transfusion-dependent and this meant turning off the transfusions. She came home on Friday the 15th and died on Tuesday the 19th. I spent 3 more weeks in L.A. dealing with her executor stuff and being there as a support for my sister.
August: I returned home. I still had executor work to do for my client for the first week, and then two of the staff in my office were on vacation, so there was work for me the second week. But I haven't worked since last Monday. My birthday was last week so I took a day off with a friend to drive down the river; then Hurricane Irene was distracting with preparations for a few days. I was fortunate to escape damage-free, but my friend had water in the basement and a big tree fall on her garage. I am giving myself a couple of days to clean up and organize and then hit the ground running in terms of job hunting after Labor Day.
It's been two years of transitioning--two years since I left full-time employment in my previous career, two years since my wonderful Henry Hound was diagnosed with cancer, two years since my mom's diagnosis. The part-time employment has been wonderful in affording me flexibility as well as experience during this time, but now I desperately need a full-time job with benefits. I was so good for over 15 years about avoiding unnecessary debt; now I have over 10K on credit cards to pay off so I can get my financial house back in order.
I'll be back here more as my attention focuses more on that goal.
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.
Still no word on the ideal full-time job I interviewed for Nov. 10. About two weeks ago I sent an email and learned that the person who was hiring me had been having health problems and gotten behind on the interviews. He sent me a very complimentary email, which was nice. Then about a week ago, he sent a two word email, "still interviewing." So I haven't closed the books on that opportunity but definitely as time goes by I get more discouraged about it.
I did get some reassuring news from my part-time CPA firm job in case this full-time opportunity doesn't work out...they'll be able to use me part-time, though with a lack of office space, it'll probably mean working 5-9 pm weekdays and all day on weekends for about 36 hours/week. Definitely better than nothing and I'll be doing a lot more corporate returns this year rather than individual, which is the kind of experience I need to make me a better candidate for the regional firm jobs I've been applying for.
I've been working part-time as a temp receptionist/office manager at a small (one-doctor) medical office. That job ends Dec. 30. The doctor is interviewing now for permanent replacements. While it's not a job I'd be interested in permanently, it still is disconcerting when sometimes she has me make interview calls to prospective job candidates.
At least it's been good for learning a bit more about health insurance and billing. I have to deal with that on two fronts now--I'm dealing with my mom's long-term care and catastrophic major medical insurances over her nursing home stay and subsequent home health care aide use, plus I'm right at the point where I need to buy an individual policy for myself.
I've been on COBRA since Sept 1, 2009. For 2009, with the 65% federal subsidy, I paid $164.50/month. In 2010, it went up to $189/month. As of December 1, I ran through the federal subsidy, so I had to pay the full amount, which was $540 for this month. On January 1, it goes up to $604.50/month, and then I'm off COBRA on March 1 but could buy an individual policy with the same firm with no pre-existing medical condition clauses, but I think that'd be about $700/month.
Not something that I can afford on my mix of unemployment and part-time temp income--that'd be over a quarter of my take-home, and nearly as much as my mortgage.
So I'm trying to get new health insurance in place by Jan 1. I'll be comparing plans this weekend and making phone calls during business days next week. I'm suspecting at this point that I'll end up with an HDHP/HSA combination and probably about a $300/month premium. I'll post the details of my decision process once I decide.
I also decided to take out a substantial loan from my 403b plan to help pay down my credit card debt which has mounted substantially from zero to 14K during my 16 months of unemployment coupled with Henry's cancer and major capital repair expenses (about $3600 on plumbing and $3300 for car repairs during this interval...car has a relatively new engine (about 8 years) compared to age of the body (13 years) and things that are going wrong are just natural aging, e.g., replaced tires after 60K miles, replaced clutch mechanism after 125K, so I figure I'm justified in trying to avoid car payments until I get to the point where I have a salaried job and can save in advance to buy a new car). Between the loan and a substantial gift from my mother I'll be able to take most of that debt off of credit cards at 9.99% and leave myself with about $8000 in loan debt at 5.05%. There's still about $6000 in additional loan money that I could take if the car breaks down and I need to buy a cheap replacement before I find a real salaried job.
Progress, but certainly slower than I'd like!
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.
Around 20 years ago, I got myself seriously in debt--about $13,000 worth. To some, that may not sound like much, but my income at the time was about $16,000 and my assets were nonexistent, so percentage-wise, it was serious. It took a few years to get myself out of that debt--about 4 years to wake up to my poor money-management habits and about 3 years after that to nix the debt. Since that time, I have remained debt-free--other than acquiring a mortgage, which at least comes along with a substantial asset.
I'm getting dangerously close to crossing the line right now, however. The amount of my total cash balance is close to the amount of my credit card bills, and for the first time in years, I will be carrying a balance on a credit card that isn't paid off within a month or so.
I hate that I've had to put so much on credit cards, but $3500 worth of car repairs on a car that is generally in good shape and $5000 worth of vet bills for the hound who gives me a reason to wake up in the morning were non-negotiable expenses. (I'm afraid Henry will be my last dog for a while, though--this is his second costly medical crisis in the 3.5 years I've had him, and odds being what they are, he'll have at least one more costly crisis before he goes.) I paid much of that out of savings, but now I am getting to the point where I am reluctant to completely empty the coffers in order to pay the bills.
At least at this point, I am much more financially aware, and I have a positive net worth. But I am unemployed, the job market is tight; I am looking for entry-level work in a career field new to me that will mean that my first year's income will be relatively low (although the potential for growth in income is
much greater once I am established).
This is a real tipping point, and it scares me.
Now that I've been a homeowner for 2.5 years, I have my first major home repair to make--the gutters on my front and back porches have rusted through (they're old steel half-rounds).
So I've been getting estimates--I contacted 5 contractors; 4 have been by so far, and I have 3 estimates in hand.
In any case, I'm going to get seamless aluminum "K" gutters--no need to worry about rust again.
The choice seems to come down to either spending about $600 for .027 gauge "industry standard" gutters, or spending about $1200 for .032 gauge gutters--he showed me a piece of one and it really does look much more sturdy than the typical gutter. The .032 gutters come with a 10 year warranty on workmanship and 20 years on the parts.
I need to call back the contractors for the .027 gauge gutters and ask about a warranty, since neither contractor whose estimate was in this range spontaneously mentioned one.
As I'm writing this, I'm convincing myself to go for the $1200 gauge gutters, at least in the front. The front porch has a roof that still is under warranty for another 10 years and is in good condition. I'm not sure about the condition of the "soffit" or section underneath. The back porch has a stationary aluminum awning which the gutter hangs off of--it's attached to wood strips that are screwed to the awning supports. The awning supports are beginning to rust a bit, and one contractor (the one who hasn't gotten back to me yet) said that he recommended replacing the awning instead, and said he'd give me the name of the contractor. He tried to scare me that during an ice storm it could collapse on my dog. While it might need some new supports on the far side of the porch, the awning itself is perfectly good, and it is firmly attached to the house, so I just vowed for the moment to get a roof rake before next winter. I'm hoping to have that awning last another 10 or so years--if I'm still in this house (and the only reason I wouldn't be is if DBF & I get married), I'm hoping to renovate the kitchen and expand the house by about 3 feet into the patio, which would entail redoing the concrete patio as well.
Also this summer I need to have the roof silvercoated, the furnace serviced, and I desperately need new glasses (it's been 4 years and I'm reading thru scratches). That's at least $1000 in additional expenses there--and, to be prepared, I should probably expect about another $500 in unexpected expenses, either a big car repair or a big vet bill. Praying neither comes to pass, but I can't ignore history, and I haven't had either of those since a $500 vet bill in February, and I usually experience about 3 major "unanticipated expense" events a year. (Hopefully the laws of probability will work in my favor--if things work out to average, I'm still way ahead in expenses paid on based on the $8000 I spent on Henry the year I adopted him!)
Also I really should travel to L.A. and visit my mother this summer--another $500 expense.
Summers always end up being pricey, and this summer my income is low, which means that some of these expenses will get paid for out of savings. I have one more year on my job and then need to make the big career change, so I hate going into savings to do this--which is the one temptation to go for the $600 gutters. They might not last as long or look as pretty, but that's about what I had originally planned to spend (based on the first estimate that I got way back in March when a contractor was working on a neighbor's roof).
I'll do this now, since I get busy during the week. Also, I started my fitness and diet plan on Dec 27, so it really IS a month.
So far: 7 pounds down (about 3% of my weight). I've exercised all but 5 days since starting. Food spending was about 10% lower than last year's monthly average; I should do even better in February, when I won't have out-of-town company coming to buy for. I ended up buying food [bagels & cream cheese, tortilla chips] that the visitor didn't eat and which I just gave away to my boyfriend because it's not on my health plan right now.
In terms of savings goals, I haven't saved *anything* so far--in fact, I overspent in January--$220 on exercise DVDs and equipment and new walking shoes, an unexpeced $500 vet bill (well, not totally unexpected, as Henry ends up with about 4 of these per year; just not expected this month); over $200 in textbooks for the school term, and $116 for a new 3 handset phone system when my old cordless phone died. Some months are like that. Everything was put on the credit card, which I pay off in full each month. My goal for the next month, however, is to limit expenditures to basic bills, food, gasoline, and any emergency medical/vet bills that arise--in other words, I'll eliminate discretionary spending other than that which I routinely get billed for (the $19/month gym fee; the minimum $5.23 most basic Netflix subscription) and see if I can thereby catch up on my planned savings.
The other big goal for the month is working towards the career change. I've got a big hurdle in the next 2.5 weeks: I finished last semester with an incomplete in a critical course, and now have just 2.5 weeks left to complete two exams and the papers. I wasn't able to focus on working on this last month when I found my job unexpectedly up in the air, and the past week, I've been feeling on the verge of a cold and end up going to bed early each night rather than studying. I'm going to be pretty frantic until my Feb 16th deadline.
I mentioned about 3 weeks ago that my job (which runs on yearly contracts) was iffy for next fall (teaching, so starting in September). I just found out that I indeed have one more year! This is great not only for next year, but because it makes my planned career transition so much easier. I've been taking classes in accounting in the evenings/summers, and I'm getting close to being done with requirements, but there are still three key classes to take. This gives me the opportunity to take the classes before I move into the accounting world. Since I teach at a college, I can take the classes here for free, so that saves on tuition, too. Also, most of the job searches for beginning accounting jobs are currently done in the fall for jobs that start the following summer. I should be able to do an accounting internship over the summer, then interview for jobs in the fall, and walk out of next years' teaching contract into my new career! I am so relieved I can't even begin to say!
I had thought that I had plans in placed for a seamless career transition from teaching to accounting, but a wrench just got thrown into the plans. I had been *informally* told by my department chair that, if certain things happened at work, they would be able to offer me one more additional full-time contract for the 2008-2009 year. It looked likely that those things would come to pass, and indeed they have, but I just learned that they are planning to hire a post-doc (whom they can pay $10000 less than they pay me even after they cut my pay by $9000 this year) instead. I was never even told directly but learned this by being on the department email list, where they have been discussing how much they would have to pay such a person. The chair seems to have forgotten what she said back in September. This has induced an instant panic attack--my heart is still beating wildly an hour & a half after opening that email. I've sent a note to the chair, but it sounds as though this new plan is too far underway for them to turn back. Now I don't know WHAT to do for the fall--do I apply for more adjunct teaching, which pays very low, or do I hope that, even though I'll still be two classes shy of the coursework I need, that I'll be able to find an accounting job for this fall? Things would work out so seamlessly in the career transition if I had another year in academia 2008-2009; if I have to fully transition in 2008, I'm much more unsure...and frankly, terrified. And angry.
Friday was my birthday. I had planned to to take myself out to breakfast, then go in to work, and in the evening, get taken out to dinner by my boyfriend, but my plans were changed when my beloved basset, Henry, started the day by throwing up and refusing his food. The food refusal was alarming, as this dog is nicknamed "Henry the Hungry" and "Henry the Ate and ate and ate." He didn't seem otherwise actively distressed (as he did during his gastric woes of last summer), but he was quieter than usual. When we were sitting on the porch and a neighbor greeted him, he just lay there--no tail wag. Then he had an episode of diarhhea. So I called the vet and they had an appointment open right away. An exam revealed that his vitals were normal, and bloodwork showed all values in normal range for blood, kidney, liver, etc (which was reassuring to know in any case since he has been on prednisone for nearly a year). No parasites, either. However, while we were there, he had another bout of diarhhea--and this one was almost pure blood and mucous. The vet suggested that his IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) had re-emerged, though this time with lower GI tract symptoms rather than upper GI tract ones. A call was made to his internal medicine specialist, who prescribed an antibiotic. I cancelled almost all my plans and (since classes hadn't started yet and I thus had the luxury to do so) stayed home with him all day. Tom picked up Chinese takeout and a video and came over for a quiet evening in. Henry was lethargic most of the day, but, after a long nap, felt well enough to take his afternoon walk, and his tail was wagging when he saw the neighbor kids. It took another 24 hours, during which he fasted without complaint, before the occasional bouts of throwing up stopped and before his appetite reemerged.
Since my attention was preoccupied with Henry all day Friday and Saturday, I had to spend Sunday frantically working on syllabi for the start of the school year--a chore which I will finish as soon as I finish this entry.
Classes started this morning and we're off on another school year. It's scary knowing that it's possible that this is my last year of full-time teaching, but who knows what the year will bring?
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.
The good news is that I have a full-time job offer for next year--when I'd presumed at the beginning of the year that I'd be patching together part-time adjunct teaching positions.
I began to suspect that I might get another full-time offer when in February, the department decided that they had a "failed job search" and would have to search again next year (the academic job-hunt calendar being what it is). Of course, that job was in a different specialty than my own, so I was hopeful but not certain. Then when a colleague announced her resignation the beginning of March, I felt certain that I'd get an offer.
This type of thing has happened to me 3 times previously on this job--what began as a one-year replacement position in 2003 has been continously renewed through circumstances of either resignations or failed searches.
Each time previously, however, when they offered me a one-year contract, there was a nominal salary increase (the 3% college average). This time, however, the position was offered to me with a 23% pay CUT--and a corresponding demotion in title down two ranks. This will have me earning $12,000 less than I am earning this year--significantly less than they started me at in 2003.
No explanation has been given--only that the alternative is that instead of hiring me full-time at this lower salary, they could hire me part-time for about half the cost. It's a decision by the Financial VP who's decided to save himself some money--but it certainly will reflect poorly on my CV. The demotion in title has nothing to do with my performance, but is so that the lower salary doesn't bring down the averages for my rank in the salaries reported each year in the Chronicle of Higher Education. If I had any other alternative source of income for the fall, I'd turn it down because of the insult. But I don't.
I've spent all day trying not to be furious, but I'm spitting-nails angry. I try to focus on the positives--guaranteed income and benefits until August of 2008, health insurance, free tuition--but the RED FURY is overwhelming everything at the moment.
Didn't mean to abandon this blog, but life has been busy.
-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.
Since Henry fell ill this summer, my wallet has had a hole in it that has been immune to being patched. I'd expected that a fairly young dog would cost me about $80 a month to feed, supply, and provide veterinary care for. Henry has been diagnosed with 3 chronic condittions that require 3 monthly medications for life, plus an expensive veterinary diet that I expect him to be on for life since the other conditions apparently derive from his food allergies. Even buying his medications online 6 months at a time, his monthly maintenance cost is now about $250 just for meds and food. Hopefully with the diagnosis and treatment, the outrageous vet bills will go down. Between the startup costs of getting the dog (whom I DID have checked out by a vet first...he had no problems until I'd had him for five months), the vet expenses, and the maintenance, he's cost me about 15% of my salary for the year (in other words, my retirement contribution and my emergency fund.) My baby is well worth it but it's frustrating nonetheless--and I worry terribly about what happens when the contract job I am on ends in August. My income could take a significant hit.
So any savings is good. I have two small victories to report, one pet-related, one not. The pet-related one relates to the weekly urinalysis the vet has been charging me $30/week for. I bought some pH strips (which cost about 10 cents each) and will start doing the weekly reports myself most of the time. I paid for one last urinalysis today just to calibrate my strips against their reports--mine were .25 off, which is close enough (given the scale of these measurements) to accept most of the time.
The other savings has to do with a personal purchase. I've spent a good deal of time the past couple of weeks evaluating various software packages for doing mindmapping, which I've decided will help me be more productive in my teaching and other work. The first time I'd tried to download a freeware program, I'd had no luck, and I gave up and instead became enamoured of a commercial program that would cost me about $100. But I was motivated to try and download the freeware program again, and this time I got it working and am quite happy with it, thus saving myself that $100. (Now I can buy that new pair of walking shoes--the old ones are a year old and I put about 600 miles/year on them, so they are in need of replacement. A good pair of shoes is less costly than podiatrist care!)
I just can't seem to get ahead. I *thought* I was in good shape to have all my credit card and loan debt paid off by the end of the year. After all the money I've spent recently on vet bills and getting Henry's problems under control (and after last week's $150 car repair), I thought the laws of probability would work with me--at least til the end of the year. But NOOOOOO.
The female kitty hasn't been eating or drinking, and it's been three days, so I brought her in to the vet and she's in the hospital now getting rehydrated. That's at least $350-400 I spent on tests etc for her this morning, and if the rehydration alone doesn't do it, then tomorrow she goes off for a $450 ultrasound. Before that, I took the car in for its regular maintenance service and they told me that the inner front axle boots are broken and should be replaced before they need to start sanding the roads--so I have an appointment next week for another $325 (on top of today's $85 for oil change & tire rotation).
Then today I received the last of my part-time job paychecks, since the last class was last week. That's $840 extra a month that I'm really going to be missing.
Maybe I should start looking for a part-time job for my month off of teaching but I am SO burned out and SO don't want to.
So much for ending the year being out of debt.
Well, I didn't think that today would be a "no-spend" day (given that the refrigerator was empty this morning), but I didn't think it would be as costly as it turned out. Still, could have been worse. Feeling hungry this morning and facing a large stack of grading, I thought I'd go out for breakfast (being in a celebratory mood with the ending of class), then stock up the fridge and spend the rest of the day grading. It was not to be.
When I went out to my car in the frigid cold (air temp about 10, with windchill about zero), the car wouldn't start. I went in and called AAA. They sent someone out who gave me a boost and got it started and then did a load test on the battery and told me on the basis of that that I'd need a new battery...the CCF or something number should have been over 500 and mine was 178. He said he had a battery of the same brand (Interstate) as I had with him and that it cost $74 and he could install it right then for another $15, so I agreed (the battery was 5-6 years old and corroded and had been a bit sluggish as it got colder, so I knew it was indeed time for a new one). It actually took him nearly half an hour to install it--something wasn't catching right--and he worked pretty hard for that $15 out there in the frigid cold, so I gave him a $5 tip when he left.
By then it was lunch time, so I stopped off at the library and then for lunch at my favorite little Korean restaurant. While driving to the library I kept on hearing this ticking noise that had started when the battery had originally died, and when I got out of my car, I could see that the hazard lights would not switch off. I didn't want those to drain the battery again, so I drove over to the dealership. They ended up having to reset the security system and that cost another $52. I also treated myself to a latte around the corner while I was waiting.
After the car was fixed, I finally got a chance to do my grocery shopping, so that was another $90 or so out the door--plus $21 for filling up the gas tank while I was at BJ's since their gas is relatively cheap.
Now I've got a pot of minestrone cooking on the stove, a full refrigerator, and a car that starts right up....and a whole pile of papers to grade that I haven't touched yet. Oh well. I'll tackle some of those, then watch an epidosde of Northern Exposure on DVD and call it an early night and get up to grade bright and early in the morning.
I just taught my last class for the semester this afternoon. I don't have to step in front of a classroom again to lecture for over a month!!!--the new term doesn't begin until January 15th. I still have final exams to give and administer and a heck of a lot of grading in front of me (100 exams, 25 term papers, 120 lab papers, and two honors theses), but the daily grind of class prep is over for the moment. By this time next week I ought to be able to hear my own thoughts again!
(Ought to be eating decently again too....as often happens this time of term, I haven't had time to go to the grocery store or to cook and meals for the past week have been frozen dinners, fast food, and PBJ sandwiches.
It's been a while since I had one of these, I think. Most expenses have been related to the dog and his surgery, but a smaller subset (eating out/buying prepared meals and renting videos) have been devoted to keeping me together and sane while being his nursemaid and working full-time-plus.
Henry is mostly feeling back to himself, though he's still having the occasional bout of the digestive problem that led him to surgery in the first place. That was diagnosed by biopsy and on Wednesday we'll get the details and get him put on the right medications to hopefully stop the episodes altogether. I'll also be looking for the right diet to keep him on now that he's been diagnosed with a chronic digestive ailment. This means additional expense because we'll end up doing some combination of an ultra-premium food and home cooking, I suspect. My buying food in 40 pound bags and stockpiling bisquits when they went on sale means only that I have about $100 worth of food to donate to the local shelter. But anything to keep my baby healthy!
Not yet ready to do the bills and face all the damages--I'll map out a plan by the end of the month for the additional $4000+ in unplanned expenses Henry's illness has cost me.
After a week devoted mostly to my dog Henry and his surgery (and incidentally to work), I finally stopped and tallied the week's and the month's expenses. My usual monthly outflow is 2400, and that was the price of Henry's surgery, so I doubled expenses there. Then there have been ancillary costs--things like additional meds or things to keep Henry from scratching at his stitches, plus stuff for me--a bit of money eating out because between the dog and my cold, I've not been cooking; money renting DVDs since sleep has been erratic and sporadic, etc.
Henry is finally done with the post-surgical pain, but he is beginning to lick and scratch a bit at his stitches, which is a no-no. Still have yet to get the biopsy results but so far he's only had about one minute of one of his digestive "episodes" since the surgery. Since I've been sick, I stayed at home all weekend monitoring Hen, catching naps when I could, doing a bit of prep work for the week, and finishing going through the second season of Grey's Anatomy (a show I hadn't even heard of 10 days ago, which I've now seen two complete seasons of).
Life has been "abnormal" in many ways since Hen's illness (not least of which has been that I've been sleeping on the living room floor to keep an eye on him). Hoping things move back towards normal and the high level of spending normalize this week.
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