My last blog post from about a month ago seems to be gone. But that was another lifetime, concerned with normal things like my annual raise and saving for retirement.
We are in a new reality now, amazingly quickly.
Last Sunday, I went to brunch with my best friend in anticipation that it would soon not be advisable to do that. Last Sunday, PA had 6 presumptive or diagnosed cases and none in the local counties. Today, we have 63 cases, including the first case in my city announced today.
Restaurants, gyms, and shopping malls in my city are still open, but if you go 40 miles south towards Philly, those are all closed. I expect those restrictions to be here by later this week.
Last Sunday, the grocery stores were generally well-stocked, with only a couple of items such as Chlorox wipes being bought out. Now vast rows of shelves are empty, and the stores finally limited their hours to allow for restocking and started placing limits on the number of each item you could purchase at once.
Work was weird on a number of fronts last week, since a major renovation of our office began on Monday. Last Friday I had to move my desk to what is normally our front conference room, along with one other colleague. At least it's big enough that we can sit about 10' apart. The advisors began placing calls to all the clients to calm fears as they could and advise not to sell in this downswing. Since I work for a wealth management firm, most of the focus this week was on the market. We also instituted a rotation of people wiping down all the high-touch surfaces at least daily.
On Monday, the expectation was that everyone would come in unless feeling sick. By Friday, some possibility of working from home was allowed--particularly as fewer clients are wanting to come in for meetings. About half of last week's meetings were still face-to-face, while half moved to Zoom meeting or phone.
The two young mothers in our office will be working from home starting next week. At least as of Friday, there was an assumption that the four of us who don't have kids at home would come in. I'm kind of hoping we move quickly to more acceptance of working at home. There's still a sense of discordance between what they say on paper is ok and what is actually expected.
I'm a bit of a news junkie, which on the one hand has ramped up my anxiety and on the other allowed me to do a bunch of stocking up before the stores got so bad. Between what I have on hand now and what I've ordered during the past week, I probably have enough for at least a couple of months, though never having been through anything like this before, I'm a bit unsure.
My gym is videotaping one class a day for us to be able to stream on you-tube if we don't want to come in, and my congregation instituted online Zoom services as of this weekend.
I did stop by to visit with the retired couple I am close to on Friday evening, but that will probably be my last personal visit until this is over, except for any client meetings we have at work--and as I said, I am hoping we move those to Zoom.
Personally I am fighting a sense of panic since I believe my lungs have already been damaged by a few prior bouts of walking pneumonia as well as asthma. That suggests that, if I get the virus, I might be harder hit.
What is keeping me up at night is what I would do about my pets if I needed to be hospitalized. Both girls are seniors, ages 15 (on the 30th) and 15.5, and each has been diagnosed with her "probable life-limiting condition." They are thus not adoptable should something happen to me. but scarier is that, whereas if I went into the hospital in "normal" times< I would hire a pet-sitter and/or have them cared for by my retired neighbor at my house. But if I were infected, my house would be a contaminated zone, and thus dangerous to others--and I worry that the kitties would carry the virus to others too.
Praying that this nightmare passes soon, but I am not hopeful.
And even if "wave one" passes and the disease slows down as the weather warms, it's worth keeping in mind that the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 had 3 different waves--one in the spring from March until June, a second (which hit people far harder) from August until the beginning of November, and a third which started at the end of December into early 1919. Hopefully there will be some vaccination progress by then.
My last blog post from about a month ago seems to be gone. But that was another lifetime, concerned with normal things like my annual raise and saving for retirement.
Our company changed its system of granting bonuses and raises for 2019. Previously we were notified about raises for the next year and received any bonus at the last paycheck of the year.
Going forward and starting with 2019, they're moving the notification to the end of February. So I'll have a decent bonus in my 2/29/2020 paycheck and a raise starting with the 3/15 pay.
Also going forward, bonuses are being granted to everyone based on the company meeting its profit margin goal--either we meet it and everybody gets a full bonus, or there's no bonus. Up until now the bonus has been on a percentage of goal reached basis, so if we reached 80% of our profit margin goal, then we got 80% of the target bonus. So that will makes bonuses harder to come by.
On the other hand, to incentivize us, they gave us a 20% raise across the board (with a note not to expect this every year!). That brings my salary to its highest yet. I figure that I can increase my 401k contribution from 17% of salary where it has been this year (and with the 3% employer match, that's 20%) to a 22% elective deferral (25% with the employer match). As I turn 60 in six months, it's nice to be able to do that increase as I enter the "home stretch" towards retirement (not anytime soon!).
Oh, one more note; I turned 59.5 this week, so if I do have to make any draws from retirement accounts (NOT that I will), they would be coded as "normal distributions" with no 10% early withdrawal penalty. Not that I'm doing that, but nice to know that I can.
The bonus is going to let me pay down debt and get under my original 2019 year-end goal of total debt being at 80k (actually about 78k) just two months late, and despite the large unexpected vet bills I had last year.
After my regular mortgage payment (which I always round up so that I pay $400/month and keep my balance to a round number), the balance was $50,100, so when I got my paycheck yesterday, I allocated an extra hundred to the mortgage so that it's now at an even 50k, and should be at 46k by year's end. Total debt is now about 83.5k. They moved our annual bonus and pay raise to start with the last pay in February, so if we do get a bonus, I'll pay the debt down to 80k. 80k was originally my goal for 2019 but a very sick kitty who has cost me over 10k since she was hospitalized last June put my goal achievement a bit behind. In any case, my debt is now lower than it has been in quite some time. And with the stock market run-up, assets are as high as they have ever been as well. Net worth should hit another "round number" goal in March unless there's a set-back.
1. Health updates: Both kitty Buffy and I had re-checks for our chronic conditions in the past week. After giving me a BIG scare mid-month, requiring a veterinary ER visit, Buffy thank goodness seems stable, and the vet put the next ultrasound off for 3 months--unless, of course, she is symptomatic. Next appointment is May 1. I've spent at least $500 per month on her vet bills every month since June, so the possibility of 3 months without a vet visit is lovely. Right now I'm still focused on the possibility of her getting to her 15th birthday March 30. I know I will in all likelihood lose her this year but the longer I can put that off (while not causing her undue distress) the happier I am (even if my wallet suffers).
And I had the surgical oncologist tell me that I didn't need to come back for another thyroid ultrasound for a year--up until now, I've had screenings every 6 months, but it's been totally stable. Unless, of course, I note a change.
2. Also on the health theme, I joined another "metabolic" type gym. They added an "intro" series of classes which slow the pace and modify the exercises for beginners. I can take the intro classes without having to pay extra for small group "semi-private" training, and if I go at 6 am, the group is small by default. So far it's never been more than 2 other people and me, and a few times it's been just me and the instructor. I'm going 3 times a week. I'm determined to get in better shape before turning 60 in August.
3. I'm finally making progress on my CFP goal, after stalling when Buffy got sick in June and not doing *anything* on it for six months. I finished the "Investments" course in December and January and started the "Capstone" course, which I've done a third of so far. I expect to have that finished in a couple of weeks. Then I have to get my undergrad transcript sent to the CFP board and sign up for a review class and start the "pre-study". When you sign up for a review course, they send you two big thick books of problems which you are supposed to work your way through before the actual "live review." It's 60 lessons/about 10 weeks of pre-study, a four day "live review," and then another 3 weeks of final exam prep before the big day, which will be sometime between July 7 and July 14. The end is still quite a bit away, but is finally in sight! I started this program in 2016--did one class in 2016 (during which I changed jobs), one in 2017 (while learning the new job), two in 2018, 1.5 classes in 2019, and I expect to have the last 1.5 classes done this month).
4. We'll find out about our bonus/annual raise the end of this month--so I'm hoping I can make a significant dent in my debt then. At that point with a bonus, I'll meet last year's goal of getting the total debt down to 80k and can then try to get to 70k a year later. But even if the bonus doesn't work out, I expect to get under 80k later this year and to 75k by year-end. My total liabilities have been over 90k since I bought my house in 2005, so that will be a significant improvement. Knock on wood of course about this year's veterinary and other emergencies!!!
Ten years ago: I was just starting my first job in the financial industry, doing taxes for H&R Block, after leaving a 20-year career in teaching and four months of unemployment. Both my mother and my basset hound Henry were alive, but each had been diagnosed with the illnesses that would soon kill them. I also had Phoebe and Teddy, the cats. I was about to take my final CPA exam. My Net Worth was positive but lower than it should be for someone nearing age 50.
Ten years later, I have had ten different jobs in the financial industry (most of them in the first half of the decade), finished my EA, CPA, and am nearly done with the CFP certification. All 3 pets that I had a decade ago were gone early in the decade and I adopted Buffy and Bridget, two middle-aged kitties who had lost their owner (and who are now both seniors and ill). I still live in the same house, belong to the same congregation and have the same friends (of course, there are new ones, but the core group is the same), and I’m still concerned with eating well and exercising. I never lose as much weight as I want to but the good news is that I have generally stayed moderately active and within about 10 pounds of the same weight for the decade.
My Net Worth is about 3.7x what it was. The inheritance from my mother doubled my net worth early in the decade, and I’ve grown the accounts since then. A new car in 2012 was my biggest single-item expense of the decade, but cumulatively with five pets (the three back then and the two now), veterinary expenses have been the biggest “discretionary” category of spending, particularly the two, Henry and Buffy, who had more major illnesses. But the pets keep me happy so they are well worth the money I spend on them.
Now, looking ten years ahead I see both more of the same and more changes. I’ll continue to focus on both health and finances (which is why I named my blog “Fiscal Fitness”); I’ll continue to have pets despite the expense, and, for the next decade, work will remain a focus. But I’ll begin to mentally prepare for retirement as well. That change in mental focus shall be a challenge for the decade.
-Kitties are both still here and happy, if not healthy.
-Completed 1.5+ CFP courses—and 1.5 to go.
-Was somewhat more active in 2019 than in 2018—about 10% more steps.
-Increased savings to more than 20% of income between 401k, HSA, and emergency fund.
-Did not increase debt despite unexpected ~10k in veterinary medical expenses and accelerating a 5k roofing project into 2019 rather than 2020.
-Work has generally gone well.
-Managed to tackle some deferred home maintenance projects.
-I managed to maintain a sufficient social life despite working long hours.
Kitties now both have been diagnosed with what the vet terms their “life-limiting conditions.”
My vet appointment with Buffy last week was distressing. Whatever it is that blocked her biliary tract back in June is growing again. Without opening her up we don’t know if it is cancer or merely an “inflammatory process.” Surgery would cost 6-7k and Buffy turns 15 in March, which is the average lifespan for an indoor cat. If she were 5 years younger, I would go for the surgery, but I had a hard talk with myself and decided that it isn’t worth spending that much money on a cat whose likelihood of living more than another year is not high in any case. What I *am* doing now is that we added a third medication, one to keep her blood sugar in control, and I am treating her as if she is actively diabetic. She has been a diabetic-in-remission for four years. The prednisolone that helps her biliary tract/inflammation issues causes her diabetes to become active again, so we added a medication (not insulin but glipizide) that helps bring her blood sugar under control, but this means that I have to measure her blood glucose to make sure that I’m also not causing her to become hypoglycemic. We are both getting used to this new routine. My goal is to keep her going as long as possible without the trauma and expense of surgery. At some point, inevitably, though, the “thing” will block her biliary tract again and I will have to have her put down, and it could happen quite suddenly. So I am cherishing every moment with her.
Bridget, my other kitty, was diagnosed in the early stages of kidney failure. It’s early stages yet, so I’m not as worried. I’ve changed her diet and am looking into supplements, and will have her monitored more frequently. The last cat I had with kidney failure I kept going for 2.5 years after diagnosis. Unfortunately, Bridget doesn’t have the mellow temperament that that cat or Buffy have, and I fear that the stress of daily subcutaneous fluids would be more than she could tolerate and put me at risk of getting bitten. So I’m just praying that I don’t lose them both this coming year.
Thyroid issue holding stable, knock on wood—next ultrasound January 24.
Goals for 2020
1. Finish CFP coursework.
2. Regular exercise routine.
3. Do as much as I can realistically do for the kitties.
4. Continue to save 20% of earnings while reducing debt. Note that my company changed the timing of our annual bonus from 12/31 to 2/28 starting this year. If I were getting a bonus tomorrow, then the debt would be down to what I was hoping for, but that will be delayed. I am still feeling pretty confident that I will be able to meet my goal of being debt-free by at least a couple of years before retirement (which will give me a chance to spend a couple of years building up a bigger cash reserve).
I've been updating the net worth spreadsheet I've kept for the past decade today, so it's time for a quick update, although the year is not over yet.
In terms of finances for 2019, there's still one paycheck to go, and one more vet appointment, which should be the biggest expense left this year. (That's tomorrow--please wish my kitty luck! After six months, I am hoping that we have finally gotten the medication balanced out to both keep her biliary tract illness from progressing too fast while at the same time preventing her diabetes, which is currently in remission, from becoming active again.)
In general terms:
Assets are up about 10%;
Debts are down about 2% (despite the big increase in veterinary expenses and accelerating a major home maintenance issue from next year into this year);
and Net Worth is up about 12%. That's the second-best year this decade that is due to my own efforts (I've had bigger increases but due to inheritance).
The only big financial changes were a large raise early in the year and the fact that both of my cats were diagnosed this year with what the vet refers to as their 'probable life-limiting conditions." Despite the diagnoses, both kitties' illnesses seem well under control for the moment with medication and diet changes, but because of the meds and the prescription diet and for the one cat, much more frequent vet visits, my pet care expenses have grown quite a bit compared to previous years. Both cats seem happy and are doing well and they give me a huge boost of happiness so the expense is worth it. The increase in costs is about equal to what the pay increase is, so in terms of my day-to-day living, it's just been a minor budget adjustment.
Overall I am satisfied. Yes, I would like the debts to be going down faster than they are, but I am making progress even in the face of some large unexpected expenses.
At the beginning of the decade, my "debt to equity" ratio was about 60% (right after the double whammy of leaving my former profession and losing that income at the same time that my mother was dying and I had a lot of travel expenses) and now it is 15.5%. I look forward to getting it under 10% but I feel confident that I will get there in the next handful of years--still feeling on target to have the debts paid off completely sometime between 2025 and 2027. That paves the way to have the freedom to retire (not actually likely at that point, unless something changes) or (more likely) to scale back on work.
I live in a house with a flat roof. The realtor suggested when I moved in that I should have the roof silver-coated every few years to protect it plus make it more energy-efficient. I have been faithful about having it done every 3-4 years. The warranty on the roof itself expired about 5 years ago now, but I have read that you can pretty much double the time on the warranty by taking good care of the roof, so I have.
The last time I had the roof coated was in 2015. Costs at that time were up from the amount I paid the first time I had it done, but only by a little bit more than inflation.
This time, the estimate was quite different. Every time I've had it done in the past, I was provided with one option: a fiber + aluminum coating. This time I was given three options, with different warranties depending on the product used.
The baseline fiber + aluminum coating was way more expensive than in 2015, more than doubling in price. The other two options were more expensive in total, but when adjusted on a "cost-per-year" basis, the 10-year option was cheapest. This is a new product called "Acrylabs," which is an energy-star rated "fluid-applied membrane."
It's more expensive than I had planned on, but doing this now is significantly cheaper than replacing the roof. (The last time I had the roof coated, I also had an estimate done for a roof replacement.) I am planning on moving out of this house in about 7 or 8 years, so the next owner can tackle the replacement. I'll also have to replace the side-porch roof, which is sloped and shingled, but the roofer said that he thought that roof had about 3 more years on it.
This is temporarily adding to my debt, but even after the job is done and fully paid for, I'll still have less debt than I did at year-end 2018.
This will be the biggest home maintenance project that I've done in the 14 years I've been in the house. The other big jobs were a couple of plumbing projects, replacing four windows, the gutters, and the water heater. Before I leave this house, I expect also to replace the range, refrigerator, washer and dryer, and front and rear doors, and have the stained yellow countertop in the kitchen replaced at the very least, plus I'll have the house painted and the floors done when I put it on the market, but I'll leave any major cosmetic or functional upgrades to the next owner. The furnace may also have to be replaced--but, as with the roof, I have it maintained annually in hopes that it will outlast its warranty. I like my house, but I really hate the stress of being a homeowner since I feel completely unprepared for it, and I'm not at all motivated to spend my mental energy learning what I really should know.
As a note, everyone's entries from mid-April until October were hacked. I had about half a dozen entries, but I can't recall what they were about, other than one in May documenting a day trip to meet up with "Fern" a/k/a "PatientSaver," and several in June documenting big expenses for my cat Buffy, who was hospitalized for a week and then fed at home via a feeding tube for two weeks, and who still sees the vet about once a month for testing as we try to find a medication regime that keeps her steady.
I finally got Buffy's sister Bridget to the vet on Friday. The last time I took Bridget to the vet's office, it took 3 vet techs to manage her, but with an herbal calming tablet, Feliway, and a vet tech who was fore-warned on what to expect, the visit went off surprisingly well. Bridget's kidney values and her white blood cell count are a bit off. I still have to talk to the vet about this, but hopefully I can keep both kitties going for another year or two. Bridget just turned 15 and Buffy is 14 1/2, so I suspect I'll lose them in the not-too-distant future, but I also pray I can keep them going for a while yet.