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Annual Check-In

October 6th, 2013 at 02:39 pm

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.

The second biggest purchase of my life

August 3rd, 2012 at 09:32 pm

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!

Refinance approved

January 22nd, 2012 at 06:56 pm

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.

Slow progress

December 26th, 2011 at 01:52 pm

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.

Actually, I'd *rather* be here

December 24th, 2011 at 02:14 pm

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?

Another blow

December 8th, 2011 at 08:56 pm

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.

2010 wrapup

January 5th, 2011 at 09:31 am

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.

David Bach's latest book free, Jan 5 only

January 5th, 2011 at 09:22 am

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.

Gut Yontif

September 19th, 2009 at 06:39 pm

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.

Buying Coupons?

August 3rd, 2008 at 02:28 pm

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!

Travel--and Mortality

July 13th, 2008 at 12:32 pm

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.

Mid Year Goal Assessment

June 30th, 2008 at 07:49 pm

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.