A client of mine who works outside the home only one day a week told me about a credit card feature that I have never heard about before: Price rewind. She has it on a Mastercard through Citibank, where she gets a 1% reward on purchase, another 1% on payment, and, if she can find an item she purchased for a lower price and uploads a picture of the lower priced item to the site, they refund her the difference between what she paid and what she COULD have paid elsewhere. It has been quite lucrative for her, although it does take time. I don't have the time to do anything like this, but I thought I would mention it for any of you who do have the time and haven't heard of this feature. If you google, you will find articles about this idea by NerdWallet and other frugal living bloggers.
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I had this brainstorm, which I am going to implement for myself and wanted to suggest this to others as well: If you are not already maxing out your pre-tax retirement contributions, ask your HR/employer to increase your 401k/403b contribution by an additional percentage point when they change over to the new withholding tables, which should be sometime in February. Without taking any action, the change in withholding should make your take-home pay go up by a bit--a small amount, maybe easing the pressure a tiny bit if you are living paycheck to paycheck, but not enough overall to really make you feel wealthier. If you are not living paycheck to paycheck and you have gotten used to living on your current take-home pay, take advantage of the change in withholding tables to divert that extra amount into long-term savings rather than spending it on extra consumables. Your take-home pay should remain similar to what it was and your savings will increase. You could wait until after the change takes place and compare your January and February paystubs, or you could try to figure out the change from IRS Notice 1036 with the new withholding tables vs Pub 15 2017 if you are an accounting geek, or if you have a bit of wiggle room in your budget you could just take it on faith that one change will offset the other by an amount that you won't really notice. I'm not a master of payroll but I did calculate for myself that the decreased withholding will be about 1% of my takehome pay and thus a good opportunity to increase my 401k contribution from 11% to 12% (I also have a set dollar amount taken each pay and put into my HSA account, some of which I spend during the year and some of which ideally gets saved; between the two set-asides I will be putting away over 16%, although last year I did end up spending about 2/3s of what I put into the HSA for out of pocket medical expenses. In a healthier year I'd be able to save more of that, and at least the healthcare expenses were paid for with pre-tax dollars.)
I celebrated my one year anniversary at the (no-longer) new job on Halloween. Halloween was also my 12th anniversary of purchasing my house, so it's a day with positive associations for me.
I still have to get my formal year-end review, coming up sometime this month, but I am cautiously optimistic (knock on wood, of course!). And hopefully there will be a wage increase that goes along with it. My understanding from the others who hold my position is that there usually is, which is nice to hear. If I get a 3% raise, I'll increase my retirement contribution to 11%. With the company match of 3%, that's 14%, almost to my target savings of 15%.
I also contribute $2,400 per year to my HSA, and the company gives me enough (partly through an outright contribution and partly through matching) to cover the deductible on the high-deductible health insurance. Last year that amount was $2,000 and for 2018, we're changing insurance and the new policy's deductible is $1,500. If I were able to save the money I put in the HSA that would be another 6% of income to savings (for a total of 20%), but this past year, my medical expenses were high (partly my long-term care insurance premiums, partly the chiropractor whom I saw weekly from April through September), so I only have about $500 left in the HSA account.
The big unknown at work (other than the details of the yearly performance review and salary adjustment) is the year-end bonus. This is not an individual thing but is based on the company as a whole meeting its profit goals, and employees don't hear about whether or not there will be a bonus until the very end of the year, so it's hard to plan. More often than not, there is one, but not always. If there is, it can be as much as 20% of wages, which would do a great amount of good for me in terms of paying down my debt. I had paid down a chunk at the beginning of the year, but it's now crept back up what with the traveling I did to Las Vegas and Los Angeles over the summer, as well as a couple of weekends away here in PA. While my debt has thus only gone down a couple of thousand since the beginning of the year, my assets are up over 40K, so it has been a good year for my net worth.
If we do get the full bonus, I'll put all but a couple of hundred of the after-tax amount towards paying off the debt, which will finally bump the amount down signficantly lower than it has ever been since I bought my house and took out a mortgage.
It's been a good year at work, and while I think that my job performance has been satisfactory, there have been some parts of the job that have taken longer to master than I had anticipated, and I haven't made as much progress as I would have liked at studying for the CFP. But that is something that I will double down on in 2018. This year really had to be about mastering all the details of the job itself, and pretty much, I have.
I just returned from a week in Las Vegas at a conference. I've driven through the city once before on a road trip, at night, but we didn't stop then. This time I saw a tiny bit more, but not the full tourist experience.
The conference was at the MGM Grand, and I stayed at the Signature Towers at the MGM right next door. The Signature is newer, less flashy, cheaper, and quieter, so I'd recommend it if you go. It's not a budget hotel--there are plenty cheaper, but it does have kitchenettes so you can economize on meals.
I had all good intentions of doing so, but I was so wiped out after the first couple of days that I ate out as the quickest way to a meal and bed. And then after that, I connected with a Chicago-based financial planner and her friends, so I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to network and ask questions of other planners more experienced than me, so I ended up going out to dinner every night after all. The conference provided breakfast and lunch at least.
I'm still trying to absorb the information I learned, but it was a great conference with many of the top names in the field whose writings I follow in the literature presenting.
I'm really glad I opted to do the pre-conference workshop. The workshop was only 30 people, while there were probably 8,000 or so at the conference, so going early to a more specialized workshop meant that I usually saw a few people I already had some acquaintance with at the sessions I went to.
Most of the dinners were at the MGM Grand itself, but one night we left and went to Mon Ami Gabi at Paris (with the fake Eiffel tower) and watched the water show across the street at the Bellagio. One of the members of the group I was with does planning for malpractice attorneys, who are big spenders, and he has picked up some of the practices of his clients, so he bribed the waitstaff at the restaurant to make sure that we got a really good table and also paid for a stretch limo to ride back to our hotel in.
I didn't spend a dime at the casinos (no regrets there), and I didn't get a chance to see any shows (I would have liked to catch a Cirque de Soleil show).
It was good to get away but not in the least restful. This week is busy, but so far July is looking really slow for me. I'm happy to see that because May was overly busy, with almost twice the number of client meetings to prepare for as is typical. I'm behind on my meeting follow-ups, so a slow month will give me a chance to catch up, and possibly take a few days off to just rest. I had written a blog entry or two about wanting to get away in the spring but I never did, so maybe next month I will.
In other news, I found myself behind in my CFP exam preparation because I underestimated all the adjustments I'd have to make for the new job, so I met with my supervisor and got his ok to push that off until 2018, just trying to get at least 3 courses done by the end of the year.
And I see on here that my "Blogoversary" will be in 5 days. Since I post on here relatively rarely, I'll make note of that now.
One of my new year's resolutions was to try to do a couple of weekend getaways this year--one in the spring and one in the fall (plus work will pay for my going to a conference in Las Vegas in June, and I need to take some time to visit my sister in Los Angeles, possibly in July since work is slowest then).
In beginning to think about a spring getaway, I looked at the website for the bed and breakfast that I have gone to a couple of times before--once on my own in the fall, and then I met Patient Saver there last May (the second time we had met F2F). I love that b&b because it is right on the Delaware River, but in northern PA so less pricey than the New Hope area B&Bs, and there were a couple of restaurants within walking distance.
But when I looked at their schedule for this year, I see that they aren't taking reservations, citing health reasons. I'm sorry to hear that one of the owners is ill, and sorry that my nice little weekend getaway is now most likely out of business.
So I began looking at Air B&B places and thought I'd ask about people's experiences with them. Of course, it's going to vary a lot based on the particular place you stay. I only have ever had conversations with two people about their Air B&B experience.
Interesting series of stories.
We just had the first CostCo open up locally back a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving. Since November was when I started my new job, this weekend was my first chance to go and check it out. It's over the other side of the valley, further than I usually drive on my weekly errands--a little bit of a distance but not too far--about 20 minutes, while most of my weekly errands are done within a 15-minute radius of home. (The nearest CostCo otherwise is about 50 minutes away.)
I arrived around 9, hoping to beat the crowd, and to my surprise, they were not yet open. Fortunately, a Whole Foods had also opened in the same mall, so I went and checked them out, seeing how the store was laid out and looking for interesting items to buy (but not yet purchasing anything at that point).
I went over to CostCo when they opened, but I was out 20 minutes later. I just didn't see the big deal. It looked just like the Sam's Club and BJ's that are a lot closer to me, with perhaps slightly higher quality merchandise in some areas. Certainly nothing that on the face of it would entice me to buy a membership or shop there regularly.
But before ruling them out entirely, I thought I would ask people what their favorite CostCo buys are. Maybe if I knew what to look for when shopping there I could see the value in sharing a membership with a friend (we currently share a Sam's Club membership, but let the BJ's membership drop).
The trip wasn't a waste--there's also a Nordstrom Rack and I picked up a dress and a sweater for work for less than $50, and I went back to Whole Foods and did my weekly shop there instead of the usual Wegman's run. (Whole Paycheck, indeed!)
So right at the moment, I can't see myself driving out there to go to CostCo again, but I can see myself going and checking out Nordstrom Rack and buying a few novelty groceries at Whole Foods maybe 2 or 3 times a year.
Other than that, mostly it's been a quiet weekend--potluck at my congregation Friday night, then went to see two movies at the local independent cinema yesterday plus will go to another one tonight. Yesterday both movies I went to with a friend. We met to see "Lion" in the late afternoon (worth seeing). While we were there, they announced that they were giving away passes for a free showing of "1984" for a later night showing, so we went back later. Today's film is a one-night showing of "A Better Life: An Exploration of a LIfe of Happiness & Joy in a World without God" about atheist philosophy (with the director in attendance for an after-movie discussion).
Tomorrow night I might go back yet again to see the Oscar-nominated Live Action Shorts--and next weekend are the Oscar-nominated Documentaries. I'll probably skip the showing of the Oscar-nominated animated films, but I very well go back on the 26th for the Oscar party and screening.
Good thing I renewed my annual membership at the arts center where the cinema is located yesterday--I go enough during the year that the annual membership pretty much ends up paying for itself in accumulated discounts.
I still have to update my sidebar column (I'll incorporate it into the Feb 1 rating), but I took my required minimum distribution from my inherited IRA and used it to pay down a big chunk on my HELOC. This brings the current debt total to $88,360--which is close to what it was when I started tracking on networthiq.com back in 2009 before leaving teaching. In 2009, I left my career of 20 years, followed by a 5 year transitional period during which I at first could only find temporary or part-time work and during which I was traveling back and forth across the country a lot because my mother was terminally ill (2010-2011) and I also lost/was dealing with serious ill pets (Henry, ill August 2009- May 2010, Phoebe, died March 2011, Teddy, diagnosed with the illness that he died of in January 2014 in November 2011). That period of high expenses during a period of low and uncertain income did a number on my debt which I am still struggling to deal with. Back in July 2009, right at the time I left teaching, my debt was at 87,342, its all time low since buying my house. At that 87,342 was almost all mortgage debt and a smallish credit card bill. One month later, Henry was diagnosed with cancer and the descent into debt began. Now I'm down to 88,360, of which 64,400 is the mortgage and the rest is still paying down the accumulated medical and extra living expenses from those tenuous years. 11K is on the HELOC and 11,400 is on a loan against my 403b. So the non-mortgage piece is finally significantly below 30K. It will probably take me another couple of years to pay off the non-mortgage piece, by which time the mortgage should be down to 55K, which I can easily pay off before I turn 65.
Knock on wood that no major home repair expenses are required and that I'm finally to a period of job stability after some rocky years.
Stopping in to wish everyone on SA the best of whatever holidays you celebrate! May your days be happy, healthy, merry, and bright, and may light come in to the new year after a fariy dark 2016.
Quiet here, as usual. My congregation's Hanukkah party was last night but they moved it from its usual place (at the synogogue) to the house of the person who does most of the cooking, which is a ways out, so I didn't go. I can do either dark or wet or unfamiliar but I get scared if I have to drive any combination of those, and last night was a bit of all three, so I stayed home. But I heard they had a good turnout, so that's good--and the family that hosted had a couple of members in the hospital for various things around Thanksgiving, so I don't mind that they changed the location to make it easier on themselves.
My Christmas tradition the past few years has been to have brunch with my closest local friend. She then goes to visit her daughter's family in NJ and sometimes I visit other people or go to the movies in the afternoon, and I always talk to my sister in Los Angeles sometime during the day.
Brunch was nice, although there was a bit of a pall over it because her dog Sammy has cancer and we don't know how much longer it will be. He seemed perky when I arrived and then again when we went for a walk before I left, but otherwise he just slept, more so than he used to. My friend lost her 6 year old grandson to cancer about 5 years ago, so this has triggered a lot of the same emotions in her again and she has been quite down. But the morning was pleasant enough.
Other than that, it was sunny and fairly pleasant (about 47 degrees) this afternoon, so I took a long walk around the neighborhood for the first time since we turned the clocks back the beginning of November. And I have yet to talk to my sister and open my gift from her, which arrived in 5 separate packages (actually, I have 4 so far and the final one arrives tomorrow)...very mysterious and my sister has been having fun keeping tabs on how many packages have arrived, so that is something still to look forward to.
And other than that, I have been beginning to do some journaling to review last year and plan for next--my favorite way to end the year.
Quiet and lowkey, but I prefer that to harry and hassle and stress of looking for just the right gift for everyone. My friend was pleased with her gift, and I still have to send out my sister's (we had an ice storm last Saturday, when I was planning to go)...but Hanukkah is 8 days so I just need to get it to her by the end of the week.
Anyways, best wishes for a mellow holiday, everyone!
I had never heard of such a thing before, but came across the term in my reading and discovered there is in fact such a thing. One company that offers it (not sure how many do) is called Income Assure. This is something I would be tempted to do, or at least research more intensively, but alas, I don't and won't qualify. You cannot have been unemployed within the past two years ( which won't be true of me until December) and the company you work for has to have at least 20 employees (which won't ever be true of my company). Also it only applies to W-2 employees, which is currently true of me. But with luck and some growth in the company, I could eventually be offered a small ownership stake and would get my earnings reported on a K-1. That's still a couple of years down the road, though. Still, supplemental unemployment insurance would be something I would check into if my circumstances were different. At least I finally got a good *disability* policy by joining a professional association. None is offered thru work. Lower quality benefits is a downside of working for a smaller employer. But on the positive side, we also don't have bureaucracy ourselves, only with the institutions we deal with.
Just home from an overnight B&B trip in which I met up with fellow SA blogger Patient Saver.
This is the second time that PS and I have met in person. The first time was five years ago, when I was driving home from a cousin's Massachusetts wedding. We've known each other through this site for about ten years, though, and we are of similar age and demographic, and we've had career and personal ups and downs that are similar to each other, so this was a nice chance to chat more personally than one does on a public website.
We met up yesterday around noon at the B&B, an old house sitting along the Delaware River at the PA/NY border. Unfortunately yesterday's weather was gray and gloomy, which constrained our activities, but left plenty of time for conversation. After spending an hour drinking tea while sitting out on the front porch, we asked the Innkeeper for a lunch restaurant recommendation in the artsy town of Narrowsburg NY. The restaurant was very nice and the town was interesting, but because it was still the weekend BEFORE Memorial Day, at least half of the stores, including the relatively "big" arts center in the town, were closed--as was the riverside restaurant we had originally planned on for dinner. We ended up at an adequate Italian place (more pizzeria than restaurant) which we felt we could easily find our way home from in the dark along the narrow, not particularly well-marked roads in this sleepy part of New York state.
This morning, we were running at different speeds--something that could be predicted by looking at our typical weekend blog entries on this site. PS's are full of things that she's done during the day, while mine are, admittedly, boring, since I am all about sitting, reading, and reflecting and not so much about acting, when I have some time to myself. After a lovely breakfast at the Inn, we decided to check out and tag-team drive to a town 20 miles away and tour Gray Towers, the home of US Forest Service founder, conservationist, and two-time PA Governor Gifford Pinochet. We wandered around there for about an hour or so before going our separate ways.
Our conversation during the day we spent together was more personal than our blogs here, focusing more on details of our personal and relationship histories and less on the financial. No surprises--I think we both tend towards the reserved-yet-open. Just a chance to get to know each other a bit better than is possible online in a public forum. If we do such a trip again, we should schedule it for a more likely to be sunny time, when we might be more likely to be able to do something like kayak (something which I won't do on my own, but enjoy doing with friends). And while it was lovely that nothing was crowded, also going before Memorial Day meant that many things were closed.
In total lifetime earnings, that is. Not savings, not by a long shot! I just went on Social Security.gov and downloaded my lifetime earnings. Adding to that this year's salary and I finally will reach one million earned so far in this lifetime in 2016. That's what comes of delaying my earning years pretty much until age 30 (29, actually), by virtue of the better part of a decade of grad school and post-doc work.
It will still take me another 2 years or so to get to half a million net worth, and if I want to have a million in the kitty when I retire, I'll have to work until 70 and have reasonable luck with the markets. Hoping I can maintain the good health to keep working another 15 years!
Yesterday was my one year anniversary at my new job. So far, so good! Absolutely loving what I do--which is not to say that it is a low-stress job. In fact, we are coming up on the highest-stress time of year for me. I am now the tax planner at a financial advisory firm and year-end is when you can do the most (and most good, hopefully), so it will be a busy few weeks for me. Then things continue busy until after April 15, but not nearly as busy as in a CPA firm!
Since I knew year end would be stressful, I took a weekend in October and went to a bed and breakfast again. Very enjoyable. (Patientsaver, if you read this, this is the one that I had mentioned to you via email.) I was really in the mood to mostly sit and read and write (and take a few walks), but I did force myself out on one sight-seeing expedition: to the Museum at Bethel Woods, which commemorates the Woodstock Festival (which was actually held in Bethel, NY, not Woodstock). I bought a mood ring as a memento--had one back in the 60s, too.
In other happenings: I've now been going to the gym regularly for 5 months. I definitely feel better and look a *little* better, but weight loss progress is slow--about a pound a month. And it's not something I'm going to stress myself out going into busy season. The gym has a holiday deal, which I will go in on: give them an extra $25 next week and weigh in, then weigh in again the first week of January. Maintain your weight or lose over the holidays and you get your $25 back. But gain and your money goes into the pot to be split between the top male and the top female loser (in terms of body fat percent). Who couldn't use a little extra incentive to keep on track over the holidays?
And I took out a HELOC (home equity line of credit) last month on my 10 month anniversary of buying my home. I had some work done on my roof, and in the spring, I need some professional landscaping to restore the area damaged by digging to repair a broken sewer pipe a couple of years ago and to repaint my house, but mostly I am using it to pay down the personal loan I took out earlier this year, since the HELOC is at a better rate. I still will have about 23K in debt to get rid of in the next year & a half before I do any interior cosmetic changes (the kitchen and bath both really could use a refresh), but it's nice to have a bit more liquidity there should I need it.
I'm hoping to feel enough ahead of the game next week to be able to take off the day before and after Thanksgiving (as well as Thanksgiving itself, of course) to give myself some uninterupted time at home to work on decluttering and home organization. That is the goal for the year that I have made the least progress on, and I'd like to keep the needle moving on all five fronts. After that, I'll be working through to year end, with Christmas and New Year's Days off, and half-days on the eves of those two holidays.
In 2015, virtually all my time off was in the second half of the year--I had one sick day in February, and I took off the day after Memorial Day, but all the rest of my time off was July or after. Next year, I'll try to balance it a bit more evenly throughout the year, leaving time again for a one-week vacation in the summer. Next year will probably be to Los Angeles, my hometown, as it is four years ago on Thanksgiving since I saw my sister, who has been having a bit of a rough time herself, so she has not been traveling either.
I've only been at the job eight months, but the boss likes to keep everything on the same schedule for everyone, and July/August is a slow time for the business and most vacations are in August, so July for salary review it was. The boss said that they made the "right choice" in hiring me, that my strong points and my weak points are just as he anticipated when hiring me, with the weak point being getting me integrated into the Team, who have worked together for several years...I am the only new person in a group of 5, the last of whom joined about a decade ago. And I tend to be self-sufficient and reluctant to ask for help, and the rest of the Team hasn't really gone out of their way to get me up to speed, so it's something to work on on both sides. But generally, he is pleased with my progress, said that he hopes I finish my career with the company, and that he regards me as the firm's greatest "untapped asset," so all that is good. And I have a $2,500/year salary increase as of August 1. All in all, a good result.
Some interesting things to know if you are one of the people who, like me, is buying their own insurance from the healthcare exchanges and receiving an advance subsidy from the government to help pay for it:
1. If you received a subsidy this year that was directly paid to your insurance company, you MUST have your return filed by April 15th. No extensions--not even if you are missing crucial information like K-1s from partnerships etc. Your preparer will have to make a good faith estimate, note the number under question in a statement attached to the return, and file an amended return if needed. The IRS needs the return in order to calculate whether you received too much subsidy and need to return the advance payments, or whether you received too little and get a refund.
2. This January (or actually, for 2015, February 2) and every year henceforward, you (EVERYONE, not just people buying care off the exchanges) will receive a new tax information form to be brought to your return preparer with information about your health insurance. Most of these forms are numbered 1095 with a letter indicating whether the insurance was purchased through your employer or from other sources. Your preparer cannot file your tax return until you have your information form, so tax season will be delayed and abbreviated this season. Expect very harried tax preparers especially as tax season progresses. Also because of the additional work required to reconcile the information, potentially up to an additional hour per return, especially if your insurance changed during the year or if you had a coverage gap during the year, expect tax return costs to go up this year. On the other hand, you are much more likely to be able to avoid or minimize penalties if you are using a qualified tax preparer--and especially if you have a tax planning meeting before year end--so the value provided in return for the fee only increases. But if you are focused only on the cost, it will probably go up more than usual this year.
3. If your income changed during the year in any substantial way from the way you estimated it last year when signing up on the exchange, you should have gone on to healthcare.gov or your state exchange and updated your information during the year. Especially if your income went up substantially, you could lose the subsidy and have to repay it--even if your modified AGI was just one dollar over the limit for your filing status.
4. If you chose to remain uninsured this year, you will owe a penalty. The MINIMUM penalties rates are relatively low this year (the $95 Single minimum penalty number has been much bandied about) and will rise steeply over the course of the next two years, but if your income was a middle class income and you went uninsured, your penalty could be quite steep--up to 1% of income this year (going up to 2.5% by 2016), and capped for this year at $9800 (the national average price of a bronze plan for a family). Some taxpayers are going to be in for a nasty surprise.
5. Now here is something that I heard from a trustworthy source but which I find a little bit unbelievable, so take this with a grain of salt until I can find the IRS Regulation that governs it or else get my 2015 software installed and see it for myself: according to the lawyer who taught our update class, if you owe a penalty and have a balance due on your tax return, as opposed to a refund, you will not be assessed an extra payment for the penalty--they will be taking the penalty payments from tax refunds and will just wait until you have a tax refund year and take the money then. Again, I need to see this in writing before I believe it. UPDATE: Apparently, it's better to say that you WILL be assessed the penalty but they won't go after you if you fail to pay it and have a balance due. They'll just wait until you do have a tax refund year and grab the penalty then. Interest and penalties will continue to accrue until the penalty is paid. I still need to find the discussion of this in the Regs--I do like to be able to cite my sources.
6. The subsidies are now under Supreme Court challenge for those of us who receive the subsidy from Healthcare.gov, as opposed to from a state exchange. The Supreme Court on Friday accepted the King v. Burwell case, which challenges the legitimacy of subsidies received from the federal as opposed to the state exchange, since the governing law refers to "State" subsidies. Two different Circuit Courts decided differently on this issue, hence the Supreme Court acceptance of the challenge. TBD by June-yet another way the Right is trying to make the Affordable Care Act go away. Two-thirds of people would lose their subsidies if the word "State" is interpreted in the narrow rather than in the broad sense, making insurance unaffordable for them and effectively undermining the law.
When one door closes, another opens.
2013 was my transitional year, a year during which some doors closed.
2014 thus is to be my year of new beginnings, I hope.
Two big doors closed, or mostly so, during 2013.
The first had to do with my career. I started the year having been at a temp job for 7 months, hoping that it would turn permanent, which would have provided a nice salary and benefits and reasonably good job security and interesting enough work. This was not to be.
But ultimately I realized that this was a silver lining: while the job was interesting enough, it wasn't one I was passionate about, and also, working at a foundry greatly exacerbated my asthma.
By year's end I left the company and found a tax season position at a CPA firm. Although I had interviewed for four permanent jobs, I didn't land any of those, losing out in each case to someone coming directly from a CPA firm and with a bit more experience in public. I'm hoping that, with one more busy season under my belt and the CPA and EA in hand (EA arrived in December and I expect the CPA to be final in January) and a CPA firm back atop my resume, that I'll finally get the permanent job I seek.
And a job in public accounting, especially working with individuals and small businesses, will give me more of a chance to use what I know about psychology in my accounting career and thus will be more personally satisfying.
The second door that is closing in the near future is the door on my dear Teddy cat's life. He was diagnosed over two years ago as being in Stage Four kidney failure and given a prognosis then of 6 months to a year. He was started on a medication a few months in that greatly improved his condition, but he developed antibodies to that this past summer and had to be taken off of it. He stayed stable through the summer (when he was spending lots of time outdoors), but as the weather cooled, he began to fade. He has been going downhill quite rapidly since Thanksgiving and is now in the phase where every day I ask myself: is he eating? can I get him to purr? is he suffering? and I expect to lose him in the next week or so....there are no overt signs that he is suffering but his purrs are getting quite rare.
When he passes, this ends a nearly five year "hospice" period that started in August 2009 when my Henry Hound was diagnosed with cancer. I lost Henry in 2010, my mother in 2011, my Phoebe cat in 2012, and Teddy any day now.
It will be a relief to have this dark period of continual losses behind me.
Other than trips out to California during my mother's illness and passing and one long weekend back in 2011 to attend a family wedding, I have done no traveling in that period beyond a couple of daytrips each year that took me maybe 75 miles from home.
So after Teddy passes, I'll look forward to being able to do a little traveling again, and later in the year, after busy season, I'll start another "fur family," most likely with a pair of bonded cats. (Another basset hound, while much desired, is not practical at this point and will have to wait.
So, two doors pretty much closed in 2013, but in 2014 I hope to open the door to a full-time job with benefits and a new fur family and the chance to travel and expand my perspective, which has gotten overly narrowed due to all the crises on the home front.
Despite my poor kitty's imminent demise, I start this year feeling more optimistic and hopeful than I have in years.
I see that it has been nearly a year since I last posted, and I'm glad to see many familiar "faces" still here.
So here are the high (and low) lights of the past year.
1. On the job/career front: Making progress, but I am still seeking the "Holy Grail" of the full-time salaried job with benefits. Back in April, around the one-year mark at my temp job, I was told that it would not become permanent. Job-hunting time in my field peaks in Sept-Nov, so I had not applied for any jobs last year at this time in the hopes that the temp job would become permanent. Of course, I was disappointed not to get the permanent position, but I'm fine with it now. After some soul-searching, I realized that the private-company job, while intellectually challenging, doesn't give me any client interaction. The only interaction I have is with other team members, and that is actually pretty limited--maybe one meeting a week and one group lunch a month, and often less than that. I want the opportunity not only for the increased social stimulation, but for the chance to make use of my psychology background.
So now I am job-hunting again, looking to get back to a smallish public accounting firm (2-6 partners). I had two interviews with one firm back in July & August, but lost out to someone with more experience. Now I have two interviews with two different firms coming up this week.
I have also completed the CPA requirements (curtesy of Pennsylvania's changing a law which eliminated the requirement for one particular type of experience (audit) that I just couldn't get because all my accounting experience is in tax. So I will be sending in my license application later this week.
I have also gotten a decent grasp of business taxes and have passed the two hardest (of three) Enrolled Agent exams, so I expect to add that certification later this year, too.
2. I hired a personal trainer for 5 sessions in September & October to help me get started on getting back into shape. I'll pay for more sessions once I land the "Holy Grail" job, but at least I'm going to the gym again now. The job I've been at disrupted my old regular exercise routine, and I'm hoping this fall both to find a new job and along with it, start a new routine that gets me out & exercising first thing in the morning. I bought one of those "sunrise" alarm clocks and that is helping get me out of bed earlier as our sunrises occur later and later. I've also meditated fairly regularly (the free "Insight Timer" kindle app has been a great help) and I've been pretty consistent with a vegetarian/vegan diet, but I haven't worked hard enough at it to lose any weight.
3. I've had a decent enough social life, mostly with my congregation and secondarily with the vegetarian pot luck club that I joined a year ago. A friend came to visit for a long weekend over the summer, and I had one day-trip ride with friends along the Delaware River on my birthday, but otherwise, my free time has been at home, where I have spent loads of time sitting in the backyard, reading and studying, with my cat, Teddy. Teddy was diagnosed nearly two years ago with chronic renal failure, and back in April 2012, he was put on a medication that greatly helped his condition. He developed antibodies to that medication in May and was taken off of it June 1st. At that point I kind of expected that he would go rapidly downhill again and that I would lose him over the summer, but it's been a much slower process than I thought, so he is still with me. We celebrated 10 years together just this week. I still don't know if he'll make it to the new year, but now I at least think that's within the scope of possibility. Spending most of my free time with him has meant, however, that I don't do any traveling. I've had the "new" car over a year now and the furthest I've driven it has been about 70 miles away.
4. For the rest of the year, other than getting a new job and getting settled with that, I am hoping to finally turn my attention to getting my house in some order. I am praying that I am able to take two weeks between finishing at my temp job and starting the new gig, whatever that turns out to be. During the past year, I had 4-day weekends for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years, and 3 day weekends for Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day, and that's IT for time off--except for 2 sick days and 2 home repair days (which was time off I didn't get paid for--no personal time off on a temp gig). Saturdays are eaten up with commitments--vet appointments for Teddy, a 4 hour Enrolled Agent review class, and my personal training appointments, and Sundays are when I get to do laundry, go grocery shopping, clean and cook and do any extra socializing. That's just not enough time for me to keep things as neat as I'd like. Once upon a time, I was really pretty organized, but during the past 4 years of frequent job changes and helping three beloved pets and my mother through their final months, my ability to keep on top of my home life just vanished. Simply not enough time. I'm hoping to be able to manage enough time off within the next two months to make my home feel a comfortable place that I would like to invite people over to again. At the moment, it's not. So that, along with getting a job and getting back in shape, is on the top of my agenda for the rest of the year.
If you look at my goals for the past 3 years over on the sidebar, you'll see that I've just been repeating the same themes (essentially since I left my old career in 2009). I'm hoping to move on to the next stage with some of these by 2014.
I ordered a birthday present for myself today--a new car! The only more costly thing I've purchased is my house. (Well, my education cost more, in toto, but I was basically a scholarship student, so most of the money for my education didn't come out of my own pocket.)
I never really expected to buy a brand-new car, and certainly have never done so before. Each car that I've owned I've bought used, and and coincidentally, each has had a 14-year lifespan: the 1978 Volvo, purchased with nearly 100K at age 10 that I got rid of in 1992 due to too much rust; the 1988 Toyota Corolla All-Trac Station Wagon that I bought at about 4 years old with 70K that the insurance company totaled for me in 2002 after I was hit by a soccer mom who was paying more attention to her son in the back seat than the highway she was pulling out onto; and now the 1998 Subaru Forester, also bought at age 4 with 47K, that I am getting rid of because it has already cost me twice its remaining value in repairs this year, and I know of at least $1000 more worth of repairs that need to be done. I love the car, and would keep it, but it also so happens that we are beginning to close out my mom's estate and I have enough of a windfall to pay for it in full.
If all my cars last 14 years, this time I'll take the first four relatively repair-free years for myself, and try to make the car last 14 years--which will bring me about to retirement age by the time this one expires. Of course, I lose more on the depreciation--but that's just accounting lingo for spreading the cost over time to match with use, and if I keep the car, the greater bite on depreciation really doesn't make any difference--it would only matter if I were leasing it or planning to sell in just a couple of years.
I thought about replacing the old Forester with a new used one--I could get a 2010 used Forester for the same price as a new 2012 Impreza--but after thoroughly investing not only the cost of purchase but the cost of ownership, I found that the Impreza is about 20% cheaper all around--fuel, insurance, maintenance and repairs as well as initial cost, so that swayed my decision.
My Forester has had so many repairs since the beginning of the year that I've reserved it purely for going to work and doing the weekly grocery shopping. With a new car, I'll look forward to taking a road trip sometime this fall. A friend owns a cabin in the Adirondacks that she is always inviting me to, and this year, after all the stresses of the past few years (the career change with long bouts of unemployment, and losing my mom and two of my three pets), I'd really love to take another weekend away (I went to a family wedding near Boston last September, and that was my first vacation in years...I'd so love another short one this year).
My birthday comes in 3 weeks, and the car should be here between the 15th and the 28th, so hopefully by my birthday, and if not, very shortly thereafter!
Around the beginning of the year, I decided to refinance my house. I did look around at rates and found that I could get as low as 3.75% for a 20-year mortgages, but I actually ended up with a 4% loan, staying with my current mortgage company (and bank), Wells Fargo. They waived all the closing costs so it was actually cheaper this way.
So I cut my rate from 5.875% to 4%, and I cut my loan term from 24 years remaining on a 30-year mortgage to a 20-year mortgage, and I *still* will save about $50/month on the payment--pretty sweet.
I'll start putting that extra $50/month into retirement after I get my other debt closed out. No, I won't put it into the mortgage because I want to be more diversified.
This weekend was a quiet one (most are). It snowed yesterday, so I stayed in and spent much of the day reading. Today I spent reviewing my notes from a year ago on doing S-Corp returns. Now that I'm actually DOING them, things make more sense.
I also did a fair amount of cooking over the weekend...trying to make sure that I have food prepared for the coming week, because I'm very unlikely to cook mid-week. Yesterday, I made a nice tofu-veggie stirfry that I served over Kashi pilaf for lunch, and turkey burgers for dinner. Today, I roasted a butternut squash and cooked up a pound of swiss chard and made baked apples (plus had one of the turkey burgers) for lunch, and made a big pot of "stuffed cabbage soup" (similar ingredients to stuffed cabbage., just in soup form) for dinner.
We've finally turned the corner on mornings getting light earlier (though still it's well after 7 before the sun is really out), and it's staying light til after 5. The dark is really making me feel sleepy early this year, and I'm just not productive once it's dark. I'm looking forward to having more light soon.
The gold standard toward which I aim, as a disciple of YMOYL ("Your Money or Your Life," by Joe Dominguez & Vicki Robbins) is "F.I.," financial independence, the point at which you can live off your investment earnings (plus any Social Security that you qualify for, once you reach retirement age). That generally takes retirement savings (a.k.a. investment capital) of 12 to 15 times earnings...so that someone who earned 50,000 a year would need to have 600-750K in order to consider retiring.
So a useful year-end metric is not just to look at percentage earnings, but at how much money your money earned. That actually matters more than the percent. If that number looks like income that you could live off of (or could live off of supplemented by the social security you can expect to get), you have a sense of how close to F.I. you are.
I sat down and did that calculation. This past year, my investments (basically my retirement accounts) earned me about $5000. Not hardly enough to live on, but it's a start.
but I'm about to drag myself out to the two Christmas Eve parties I've been invited to.
I've spent most of the past two days reading "Your Money Ratios," analyzing my annual expenses, and thinking about refinancing, and the Scroogey part of me would be perfectly content to stay here doing that.
But I am forcing myself into a bit of congeniality, and even went and bought some small gifts for some of the neighbors and handed them out and did a little visiting this afternoon. Good for maintaining good relationships with the neighbors, which I value.
Tomorrow, I *will* have the day to myself, and I'm planning on *finally* putting this place in some decent order to give myself a little feeling of peace and refuge when I arrive home. At the moment, I have to put blinders on to get that.
I'm Jewish, so this holiday doesn't mean anything to me, and my focus is really on getting organized and motivated for the new year.
And maybe I'll treat myself to a movie tomorrow afternoon. We used to do that when we were kids sometimes on Christmas Day. Anyone know anything decent that's playing?
Teddy, my last remaining pet of the three I had two years ago, was diagnosed with chronic renal failure after I came back from my weekend away at Thanksgiving. He's now on subcutaneous fluids twice daily, and hopefully can have 6-12 more months. He's only 10, and I thought I'd have him longer than that. Poor Teddy Bear.
I read an article recently about how much better pet insurance is now than it was a decade ago. Too late for Teddy, but has anyone had some good experiences with it? Something to look into before the *next* pet.
Goals & Results for 2010
Goal: 1. Finish the CPA exam and the EA exam. Find a real self-supporting accounting job. Results: CPA exam--passed! EA part 1, passed. Working part time at a CPA firm and for 4th quarter at a doctor's office too. But no job that is full-time and self-supporting yet.
Goal: 2. Continue regular exercise with an eye towards weight loss. I walked 285 fitness miles in 2009...hoping to increase this to 365 in 2010. Also need to add in strength training at least twice weekly. Results: Walked 205 miles (didn't walk during two crisis months with Henry & my mom). No real strength training effort.
Goal: 3. I will focus on eating fewer prepared foods and smaller portions with an eye to both losing weight and trimming my food budget. Results: I made progress here--switched to Dr Fuhrman's "Eat for Life" plan in mid-Sept and have lost 19 pounds since Jan. 1 of 2010. I'll have to check how this affected the food budget...I don't really think it is down substantially.
Goal: 4. Do my own "happiness project" to combat the depressive tendencies that come with long-term unemployment and dealing with two dear family members facing terminal illness. Results: I made sporadic efforts and have at least avoided outright depression--mostly because I have been working part-time all year, much better for my mental health than total unemployment. Also a friend of mine whose grandson is dying of cancer and I partnered to form a strong mutual support network and check in on each other regularly, especially when one of us knows that the other is dealing with a rough patch, and this helps.
Low points of 2010: Henry's death; mom's landing in the hospital and then nursing home and realizing how serious her illness was.
High points of 2010: Landing the part-time job at the CPA firm; passing the last of the four CPA exams.
Goals for 2011 are the same but the plans and strategies are different.
One of the things that I appreciate about David Bach is that he usually offers his latest book for free for one day each book release. Today's the day. His latest book is "Debt Free for Life." Go to http://www.walletpop.com/david-bach to get your copy.
I haven't read it but I have appreciated his advice in the past.
Happy 5770! It's the Jewish New Year, and New Years is always a good time for a new start.
I haven't posted here in over six months but will try to post more regularly as I am struggling financially, and otherwise, right now. So far there's still money in the bank, and I have my health, so things could be a lot worse. But I am hoping for a turnaround in my fortunes this year, and in particular, successful entry into a new career. This is NOT the job market that existed when I first went back to school 5 years ago to get training in a different field, but it IS the job market I have to deal with today, so I'm busy trying to figure out networking, and still in shock over the reality of being unemployed.
Hopefully the new year will bring some positive changes.
Yes, I've actually been buying coupons--but coming out better for it in the end, as long as I remember to use them--which I will.
Before I started couponing about a month ago, I never realized that people actually sell coupons on ebay. Actually, they don't sell the coupons themselves (I guess that is illegal)--all the sellers say that the coupons are free but you are paying for their time in clipping the coupons.
Buying coupons actually makes sense if you have a product that you use that (a) you won't accept a substitute brand for; (b) the product is relatively expensive; (c) you buy a large quantity of the product; and (d) either the coupons have no expiration date OR the product is non-perishable and you have storage room. The latter two requirements are because the sellers sell the coupons in batches, typically six or ten or twenty of the same coupon. Also, (e) the coupon should be for a high amount off.
I've done this for 3 products: my brand of soymilk (I drink Silk Unsweetened and will ONLY drink that brand; all the others taste bad to me; also, I drink at least a gallon of it a week); my dog's brand of premium dog food; and my brand of tampons (again, I'll ONLY use that brand). In each case, the coupons I bought were for either 1.50 or 2.00 off, so the discount is substantial. The soy milk coupons have no expiration date, and the other two have expiration dates but my dog eats a can of dog food a day, and the tampons will last ad infinitem so can be stockpiled. In buying coupons for a month's worth of dog food, a year's worth of soy milk, and a year-plus worth of tampons, I've saved--after the cost of the coupons--about $150. If I can couple the coupons with a sale (which I can in the case of the tampons), the savings will be even more. Not a bad profit for an hour's effort--once I figured the strategy out!
I'm getting ready to travel to my mother's this week--my first plane trip in two years. My sister has flown recently, so she brought me up to date on all the new carry-on regulations--glad I learned about that *before* going to the airport.
I also checked out the size of my old carry-on and found that it was a couple of inches bigger than regulation. Most of the time that might not matter, but I figure in this day of packed flights and charging for baggage, they'll be more likely to check. Anyway, I found a carry-on that's within limits on sale for 51% off at the LL Bean outlet--because the color is being discontinued. So I was happy with that find, especially as my mother is aging, and I figure that at some point in the foreseeable future I will probably have to do a great deal of cross-country flying back and forth.
That's on my mind as I've been witnessing first-hand the decline of an elderly man in my congregation who has been ill this year. I had visited him (and his wife, who was also hospitalized at the time) in hospital on New Years, and then three weeks ago heard that he was in hospice. So I was very surprised a few days ago to hear that he and his wife would be hosting Shabbat services at their assisted living facility this past Friday night.
I went, and Frank was in much better shape than he had been the last I saw him, though the change in his appearance was shocking compared to that of just a year ago before illness took its toll. He seemed in good spirits, and I was hopeful that he would have a while yet.
But it turns out that that Shabbat service was a good-bye. I received word by email that he died in his sleep last night. I know that he suffered a lot this last year, but I'm glad that his last Shabbat was such a pleasant one.
It seems so odd, to be going to a service hosted by a fellow on Friday and then to his funeral on Monday.
So here we are, already half-way through 2008!
Time to take stock.
I've posted my goals on the sidebar, and so far, I'm not terribly happy with my progress. I really doubt that I'll either save 15% of my income OR lose 15% of my weight in 2008.
So far, I've saved about 5% of my income. This is far less than planned. On the other hand, one thing that I did not really take into account sufficiently in setting my goals is that I suffered a fairly big salary cut (17%) back in September. I'm still getting used to living on a reduced income. I did well at saving last year because I had more income. Now I'm living on less income *and* prices are higher--yet I've still managed to save *something*. So I really should be happy about the savings that I *do* have.
I did have some "extra" expenses during the first half of the year (medical bills, a plane ticket, and $560 worth of textbooks for courses I am taking), but I'll probably have about equal "extra" expenses during the second half, as I am having a home repair done, and need to take my car in for inspection. There's usually about one $300-$500 car repair bill during the year and I haven't had one yet, so I won't be surprised if something of that size needs doing in July when I get the car inspected.
Food costs haven't decreased at all--not surprising given inflation but there are still some bad habits I can improve on. I'm going to try to be more mindful of them as the year progresses. If I can make some changes habitual over the summer when my workload is lighter, perhaps some of that will carry on through the fall.
Weight loss isn't happening--I *did* lose 9 pounds during Jan and Feb, then gained it back in the interval since then. Going to try to lose it again during July and August.
Career change progress, mortgage paydown, and investing are going reasonably well. The market is down horribly as are my retirement assets, but I'm in for the long-haul so not panicking over short-term decreases. I *do* think we're in a recession, but recessions don't last forever. The economy will turn up at some point and I'll be in the market to take advantage of the increase when it does.
I've decided to change my original summer plans. The original plan was to take one summer school evening class and to find an accounting internship during the day, as I don't have any actual accounting experience, just 3/4s of an undergrad accounting major completed (this is a post-BA certificate; I already have a Ph.D. in another field but after 20 years have given up on getting tenure in academia; hence the career change).
Alas, I really dropped the ball on getting an internship--it's something I should have gone after in February and March. But I didn't. The past two years, I've been working one full-time teaching job at a day college, a part-time teaching job at an evening college, *and* have been taking a class a semester, too. It's an intense schedule and so I didn't get around to applying for the internships when I should have. So I told myself, well, there's "Accountemps," or I can try asking a couple "friends of friends" with small local CPA offices if I could do some work for free.
The school semester ended in mid-May, and I spent the first two weeks after getting life organized around the house--housework and home maintenance are relatively low priorities given all the other stuff, and some things were in need of attention. Then my summer school evening class started. But as we got into June, I began feeling like it was really late to ask for a summer internship. I also was feeling panicky about the fall, when I am currently scheduled to take *two* classes on top of my usual full-time plus part-time teaching load. One has really been as much as I can handle, and I even had to take an incomplete on one last fall. So I've been feeling as though the fall will be an impossible task, but I contacted the instructors and got hold of the textbooks ahead of time and said to myself, "maybe I can do this if I get most of the reading done ahead of time." But that reading takes time, of course.
To shorten an overly-long story, I've given up on the internship idea for the summer. Instead, I am going to take a second course for credit that starts via distance learning on Monday. I may take a third class as well (during the evening in second summer session), albeit one that is not a requirement, so I may audit it rather than take it for credit. And, so I start getting out there in the accounting marketplace, I am going to contact one or two of those "friends of friends" and do some informational interviews and seek mentoring. The actual accounting work is going to wait.
This plan will make things financially tighter--I have my base salary coming in, but no second-job salary, so my income is down 23% for June, July, & August from what I'm used to. And there are some big expenses coming up that may require me to dip into my savings. I'd been planning on some income from an internship to replace some of that second-job income. But the new plan *greatly* reduces the panic I've been feeling, and it will make the fall much more do-able, as I'll only have to take one class on top of the full-time & part-time jobs, and I know I can handle that. Plus now I can think more seriously about visiting my mom sometime this summer, during July or August.
This weekend has been the antithesis of last, much quieter and laid back. Good thing, too, as I am exhausted and have been for several days.
Friday I was too tired to cook but the contents of my fridge weren't inviting, so I went to my favorite little Korean restaurant, where Kim cooked me a lovely 5-course Korean meal for $12 (dumplings, soup, a selection of 4 salads & kim-chees, chicken & rice, and vanilla ice cream topped with strawberries & kiwi for dessert). It was too much to eat so I took the leftovers with me and dropped by my BF's on the way home--I left the leftovers with him for a snack and he made me a cup of coffee). (I'd invited him to eat with me, but he'd already eaten by the time I called). I got home around 8:30, watched an hour of TV, talked to my mom on the phone, and went to bed by 10.
Saturday I mowed the lawn first thing, went to the vet to pick up Henry's prescription food, then stopped by the gardening center and got some weed block cloth for the foot-wide weedy patch of dirt under the fence on the north side of the yard.
I got the existing weeds out as well as I could with my limited assortment of tools (I'm sure there must be better tools, but I have no idea what they would be; I grew up in L.A. where every middle-class family (except those with teenage sons) hires a gardener to do the yardwork), and I cut and pegged down the weedblock cloth. It's a bit messy, as every physical thing I do tends to be, but I'll get some mulch to cover over and hide the messiness. (I love the *idea* of being self-sufficient, but not the implementation; I have little patience and even less knowledge when it comes to doing anything but the most basic of physical tasks--and I often struggle with the most basic as well.)
I also spent two hours yesterday ensconced in my favorite activity: browsing at the bookstore. I buy a cup of coffee and find an armchair in the coffee shop and browse to my heart's content.
Last night DBF and I had take-out Chinese and again I crashed early.
This morning, I did a few errands (grocery, fill up the tank, deposit $$ at the ATM) and chores (dishes, vacuuming, cooking). It's now 6 pm and I'm hunkering down to do some grading of exams. I really don't know where the day has gone; I DO know that I'm exhuasted again and feel pretty much ready for bed right now!
After the grocery trip and filling the gas tank, I think I am done spending for the month, barring any unforeseen emergency, and am coming in at $2206, close to what I spent in February. That's good as it allows me to put a bit of money away.
My take-home full-time salary is about $2600/month, and I've been working a part-time job as well to bring in another $700/month, but I'm not sure if I'll have any extra income this summer.
I have to prioritize my summer projects:
Furnace yearly servicing $109
Have the roof silvercoated (?$200-$400)
Replace the gutters ($600-800)
New eyeglasses (~$400-500)
Hopefully I'll earn enough this summer to at least cover these additional expenses.
One nice thing is that my Mom called today to tell me that she's getting me an early birthday gift (my birthday comes at summer's end). I had been talking about maybe getting a grill for my backyard this summer, and she went and ordered me one that should arrive this week, so that's one item on the summer expense list crossed off already!
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