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Archive for December, 2018

2018 Financial Wins & Falls

December 30th, 2018 at 04:38 pm

Wins: 1. Decrease in debt (I’ll calculate the total on Jan 1), but good progress. 2. Good retirement savings contributions (13% withholding + 3% company annual contribution plus a nice annual profit-sharing-plan contribution from the company totaling close to 15k. Also, contributing nearly 8% to HSA & LPFSA for additional tax-deferral. 3. Made some progress on reducing a few recurring expenses—changed trash hauling services, changed individual disability policy, cut a few recurring unused services and contributions. Will do a bit more of this tomorrow and Wed on my time off. 4. Did some reallocating of my portfolio to be a little more conservative over the summer, moving from a 40%/60% allocation closer to 45/55. 5. Maxed out my HSA contribution for 2019 and also added $300 to a limited purpose FSA to cover purchase of new glasses. 6. A big engine repair in my car came in under warranty, saving me a lot of money compared to if the problem had shown itself after the warranty expired and upgrading the “short block” to a newer one, hopefully adding to the car’s longevity.

Falls: 1. The market fell in Q4, wiping out all gains for the year; I’ll recalculate at year end but looks like net worth will be down by about 5%. 2. I still haven’t gotten my tracking of spending on track; I do retrospective analyses and only the roughest of budgeting, and I still spend too much money eating out. 3. Kitty vet expenses were exceptionally pricey this year. Both girls are now teenagers so I hope this is not the "new normal." Both girls were sick last month, which involved a lot of testing (on the other hand, I now have confirmation that everything looks good), plus one cat had 8 teeth extracted.

Bonus & Raise

December 26th, 2018 at 04:26 pm

Today (my last day of work for the year) was the annual compensation adjustment announcement--a 3% raise and a 10% bonus. This bonus is the firm-wide one based on the firm's, not individual performance. Last year we got 20%, but there had been rumors that we wouldn't get anything this year, so 10% is good. It will help towards the debt payoff goal. The bonus comes on 12/31, and then on 1/1, I'll take my RMDs from my inherited IRAs (already set aside in cash back over the summer, so fortunately I don't have to sell in a down market to get the cash). I'll use the bonus and RMDs to pay down some debt and am pretty sure I'll have the debt total (including the mortgage) under 80k by the beginning of January. (This would be a 14K decrease from last year, and my goal for the year had been to decrease it by 10.5K, so 33.3% over goal.) My assets have currently taken an 8% downturn from the beginning of the year with the current stock slump, but my debts should be down 15% as of 1/1, so my net worth will be down but only by about 6%.

I'll do a final tally on 1/1.

Only 1.5 working days left this year!

December 19th, 2018 at 12:52 pm

I had my last client meeting of the year this morning, and my next is not until January 8th. I'm taking Thursday & Friday off this week, then Monday (Christmas Eve) is a half day, and I'm taking off a full week from 12/27 thru 1/2, so Monday the 24th and Wed. the 26th will be my last working days of the year.

It will be nice to have a chance to rest and regroup, do some research on my health issue, and possibly get a little reorganization done at home. Then it will also be nice to have a week at work to catch up on all the follow-up tasks that sometimes just end up getting punted to the following meeting. I really love my job but also sometimes I feel a little drained from the pace of it, especially since that is out of my control.

Tomorrow I have organized a get-together of a few friends to go see the local Chriskindlemarket (like the German ones) and to have dinner at a Maylasian restaurant nearby; then I've organized another dinner on Friday the 28th at a Ghanaian restaurant that just opened across the street from work. And last week my boss took us to the local city hotel with its fancy Christmas decorations to a nice dinner sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. And then there's a CoC breakfast on Friday, and an in-house holiday lunch on Friday, so I'm getting plenty of celebrating in and will look forward to some time to myself!

Last weekend, I went to see "The Green Book." I highly recommend that movie if it is showing in your area.

I have just one more holiday gift to buy and then I am done with shopping--not that I do much--just my sister, two gifts for the office (one a gag gift for a white elephant exchange and another $25 gift that we draw names for) plus a gift for the neighbor who insists on giving me $100 cash for Hanukkah every year.

I'm sure I'll be back to post another blog before the new year as I review my goal performance this year and set next year's goals.

But for now, happy holidays!

One of those weeks

December 9th, 2018 at 08:02 am

This past week will (knock on wood) rank as one of the two most aggravating weeks of the year--the other was back in May and that was all work-related.

This week was a mix..

Personal: I met with the endocrinologist. The thyroid biopsy results indicated no cancer yet but showed cells with abnormalities and a genetic assay indicated a 50% possibility of developing cancer. I need to research more. What I know at this point is that there are four types of thyroid cancer and that my risk is for the one that has the best prognosis. I will be meeting with the primary care physician I finally set up an appointment with and a surgeon and probably will look for another endocrinologist for a second opinion. My endocrinologist said that, if it were him, he'd want it out, but I'm not yet sure. There's a 50% chance they could take out half my thyroid and it would prove not to be cancerous at all. I really need to research more. That is what is frustrating about doctor's appointments--although my doctor says he left a message that I never received. I didn't ask all the questions that I should/could have at the appointment and will need to follow up. Haven't even really BEGUN to process this because of the other stuff this week. If I have surgery, it wouldn't be until January, so there's time.

Cats: Tuesday began with Buffy throwing up. She ate breakfast but threw it up and when I got home in the evening, she was throwing up again. Wednesday she just lay in bed and had no interest in food so on Thursday I brought her into the vet. The good news is that the bloodwork was good, just slightly elevated neutraphils indicating a possible infection. She also had an x-ray and that was ok, so the working hypothesis became a UTI. They couldn't get a urine sample so I brought her back on Friday so they could give her fluids and try again for the urine sample. So far the culture seems ok but they need 3 full days to fully assess. In the meantime, Bridget started with the same set of symptoms starting Thursday night. So now the hypothesis is either a GI virus or food. I think the virus is the more likely. After a few worrisome days, the cats finally seemed to have turned the corner this morning, with their usual appetites finally back (thanks in part to appetite stimulation meds).

The vet I've been using for the cats is located closer to where I lived 13 years ago before I bought my house. I got these cats from the vet, who had promised their previous owner that he would find them a good home when she died. He was their vet since they were kittens, and because I have had a 20-year relationship with the practice, I've kept going back. But the drive takes a minimum of 25 minutes, and when it is trafficky, as it was Friday evening when I picked Buffy up, it can take up to 50 minutes. In the interim, there has been a vet that opened a practice in my neighborhood. It's been about 5 years now and so far her online ratings are good. I learned this week that the original owner of the practice sold it, and while the vet who is there now is fine, they are down from 3 full-time vets to a full-time vet, a part-time vet, and rotating on-call vets while they try to find another full-timer, so I've decided from here on in to take the cats to the vet in my neighborhood. I went in yesterday and set an appointment for early next March for Buffy to have her annual senior wellness exam with the new vet. Anything else that goes on with this episode will be with the old vet, and hopefully there won't be anything else that requires vet help in the next couple of months until I get all the cats records and transfer them over to the new practice.

Then there was the car. The day before Thanksgiving, the windshield washer indicator came on on the dash. I thought that was funny since I had just put more fluid in the previous weekend. When I added more, I saw it flowing down the sidewalk as I poured. I had first an appointment for a diagnosis (since it could have just been a hose that detached or a lose washer), but the reservoir had a hole and needed to be replaced. An inspection revealed that it was time for new front brakes and rotors, new spark plugs, etc, so I left my car for the day to have everything done. Then on Thursday--while I was taking Buffy to the vet--the low pressure light came on on the dash. I have a history of letting air OUT of tires every time I try to add it, so I brought the car to a service station and had them add it (something I had done just 3 weeks earlier--with this car, I get a signal every year with the first cold snap). But unlike the last time, when the indicator light went off after driving the car about a mile, the indicator light didn't go off (which added to the stress of driving the cat to and from the vet). I brought it in to the dealer's "express service" on Saturday and they found a faulty indicator light and replaced it. (THey actually told me that, since the light was blinking on and off, that it was probably a faulty indicator and I didn't need to replace it, but I couldn't live with the extra layer of anxiety that having a blinking yellow light on my dashboard would entail).

The car repairs totaled about $1,400 and the vet visits another $825. My health insurance plan turned over December 1, so I'm back to paying my deductible (I have to check, I think it's $1,500 on my HDHP/HSA plan this year), so the recent and upcoming doctor's visits will come out of pocket until that is satisfied. Thankfully, I've got just about that amount left in my HSA.

Work: It was one of the extra-busy, 6 meeting weeks (normal is 2-4). Fortunately at year-end, we are focused on tax planning, and that is my strength, so it wasn’t as stressful as it could have been. I am the only CPA in our PA office, so I also help out with other planner’s projections, plus I worked with a CPA in our VA office to do a training session for the firm on how to use the software.

Then I had my annual evaluation, which was just a tiny bit anxiety-provoking leading up to it. I wasn’t very worried, but the very first job I had, for 7 years, had super-stressful annual evaluations and consequently even when I think I’m doing well, the process is worrisome. Thankfully it went as well as I expected, not perfect but with an improvement from last year. The evaluation comes from my supervisors but information about any raise, personal bonus, or firm-wide profit-sharing bonus comes from our COO the last week of the year.

So that is some good news, at least.

It looks like next week will be stressful again, since I just checked my email and learned that one of the clients I work with passed away. I’m sad because I liked him, and mentally adding my work to what needs to get done this week--and weekend. I’d had his latest estate documents and tax return sitting on my desk, planning to review them during the quieter last two weeks of the year, but I guess I will go in and start working on that today.

I do have an afternoon yoga class coming up, so at least that will buffer the stress.

Update

December 1st, 2018 at 04:17 pm

I haven't been here since my birthday this summer, so I thought I'd check in before the year-end updates.

Health: I might be back later this week depending on what I learn at my doctor's appointment on Thursday. I had a biopsy done on my thyroid and will learn the results. (I learned I had a nodule earlier this year, had one biopsy shortly thereafter that gave indeterminate results, so had a second biopsy, so praying it checks out as benign). I guess, having said this much, I'll make sure to post something in either case, either the bad news or the good. In the meantime, I've been trying not to think about it, but this does mean I need to put a lot more focus on my physical health as a goal for 2019. For one thing, I don't have a primary care physician. I had one whom I liked who I had been with for over a decade, and she died the same week that I started my current job, which is now over 2 years ago. I've gone to my ob-gyn annually, and she connected me with the endocrinologist, so I've had basic bloodwork and such. But it's high time to have a physician I trust whom I can turn to to coordinate results from any specialists I might see.

Plus I need to get back on the exercise bandwagon. That's been another thing that I became very inconsistent with after starting my current job. At my last job, I earned about 20% more and had about 20% less work, which gave me the money and the time to belong to a nice gym. Right now I can't afford that, but I do have home equipment and need to get more consistent with using that--plus there's a $25/month gym nearby that isn't too bad, for use of the cardio and weight equipment for some variety. I'll probably see what kind of new year's special they have and join that gym then. In the meantime, I had my neighbor install some wall mounts for resistance bands and am starting to do some exercises using those (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drXN_xIbv8Q). Actually, my home equipment would be enough if I just had the discipline and motivation to use it consistently! I need to find a new walking buddy, but will wait until the weather warms up again and then post an ad on the Next Door app to see if I can find someone.

I was good at intermittent fasting from 5/24 to 11/3 and I lost about 12 pounds, but feel off the bandwagon during a business trip and have had a hard time getting back to it with the colder weather. I gained about 4 pounds back during November and now that it's a new month, I will try again. Breakfast is so much more appealing in cold weather than it is the rest of the year!

Kitties: I am very happy at the moment. My older kitty, Bridget, now 14, started having some problems in the middle of her 13th year, losing weight and hair and having chronic loose stools. She is incredibly terrified of the vet (it takes multiple people to handle her and she screams), but I did manage to get bloodwork done for her in March and it looked good. We tried a different diet and that helped a little but not much, and she is soooo stressed out by the vet that I didn't want to put her through more vet work. But recently, I found a food online that is a more natural food (smalls for smalls). They had a trial offer for one week of food for half price. I tried it and even using just 50% the old vet prescription food and 50% the new diet, I could start to see improvements, so I've been transitioning both cats on to it. Bridget's stools have firmed up a lot and I'm hopeful that with a diet that agrees with her more, she'll gain back a little weight and hair too. Buffy likes this food better than her own prescription food (which is just a weight loss food--she needs grain-free for her diabetes but as long as the food is grain-free, her diabetes is controlled), and I can feed both cats the same thing, which is great. For the past year, I was trying to monitor two cats with two different prescriptions who each preferred the OTHER cat's food. Each cat ended up eating some of the diet that was prescribed for her and some of the diet that wasn't, and it was stressful trying to monitor them constantly. This food costs a bit more, but since they were on prescription food anyways, it's not massively more costly, and better health for two senior kitties is worth it, since the girls are now at the ages (14 & 13.5) where I lost my two previous cats (who were both on dry food for most of their lives and who both died of kidney disease, probably as a result of that diet). So the current kitties eat canned food but do get dried treats. I would love it if the girls lived into their later teens.

Social Life: I've continued, generally, to attend rehearsals of the orchestra I joined in August, and I've been in 3 concerts so far (usually at senior living facilities). The last 6 weeks are the busiest time of the year at work, so I've skipped the last two rehearsals (next concert is in mid-January), but I do plan to be back regularly after the new year. I've kept up with my friends, but I've seen them a bit less than I used to since I started this job, but still fairly regularly.

Work: Work is busy but generally good. I have my annual evaluation meeting this coming Tuesday, and hopefully, their assessment of me is as positive as my own. I know places I can make improvements but also places where I am particularly an asset, and I enjoy my co-workers and being part of a team.

CFP exam: I've not made progress since July on studying for the CFP exam. But I did complete two courses, Insurance and Estate Planning, back in the first half of the year, and both courses have been very helpful. I have 3 more courses to go and I have 10 months left to complete them, so I know I should be able to complete the courses and I have some incentive to do so. This probably means that I won't take the CFP exam until March 2020, however. As long as I complete the coursework in 2019!

Although this time of the year is overall busy, my personal schedule was not booked up with meetings for the last two weeks of the year (it's mostly the last week of November and the first two weeks of December that are overloaded), so I'm taking a week off at year end and hopefully will make some progress on other goals during that time (maybe get 20% of the Retirement & Employee Benefits class done and do a little decluttering and make calls to find a primary care doctor)

Finances: Well, after my last post in August saying that my retirement accounts had broken the half-million mark, the market had a correction. So I'm going to have to build up to that mark again. Right now my retirement accounts are pretty much where they were at year-end 2017, and with depreciation on the car and a little bit of a decline on Zillow's home value estimate, my total assets are 3K down from the beginning of the year. My debts, however, are down about 6k--which includes my mortgage now being more than half paid off from its original starting value. I will be restructuring some of my debt in the new year after I see whether I get a bonus and if so, how big it is, and I feel like I have a good shot at getting the total debt down to at least 80K, with 70% of that being the mortgage. As long as we don't have more market losses in December, that will put my debt at less than 15% of my net worth.

I'm finally admitting to myself that, given the exigencies of life, it will probably take me longer to get rid of the non-mortgage debt than I would like (for example, I have about $1,300 of car repairs that I've been advised to make, and I need to replace my oven and will replace my refrigerator at the same time, early next year, so that's about another $1,200), but my mortgage paydown acceleration is on track (just 56K left as of today!), so if it takes me a couple more years to get the debt paid off than I'd planned, that's fine, as long as I am working! I still feel that I am on target to have the debt paid off by retirement, just so long as I can work until my mid-60s.

I'll check back in next weekend and report back on the thyroid biopsy results, and other than that, I'll be back the last week of the year to wrap up the year and set up some goals for 2019.