-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).
Viewing the 'Goals' Category
Debt down 8.3k since 12/31/18 (the biggest push of the year because of when I get my bonus). I am going to try to manage 1k down in debt per month for the rest of the year. Since I'm now at roughly 83k total, that would bring me to 74k at year end. (By the way, the January numbers that I post in my sidebar are the numbers AFTER getting and applying my annual bonus to the debt. Timing of our bonus payout will change next year to March.)
If you look at my side-bar, ALL of these numbers are the lowest I've posted since starting to blog here in 2006, so that feels good. If I make it to 600k net worth and 10% (60k) total debt (which would be mostly mortgage) by the time I am 60, that will be a good place to build on for my last decade of work (I am planning to retire at 70, but hope to spend the last five years working part rather than full-time and want to be financially prepared to be able to retire before then if necessary. The "need" could be either job loss (but as long as I'm healthy, I feel confident that I'll at least be able to add to my income by working tax season) or health (in which case I would expect my longevity and financial need to be lower, and I have multiple disability insurance policies and long-term care insurance in that case).
I finished one of the 3 classes I am trying to complete this year so am on track to complete 3 by 9/30, when my online course access expires. Just two more classes and then the big exam next March stand between me and the goal I set for myself way back in 2004 to become a certified financial planner. I have been *working* as a financial planner since the end of 2014,u but I'm an employee of a firm, in essence, a sub-advisor. Getting certified would give me the ability to go out on my own, not that I have any desire to do so, as I am approaching 60. If I'd made the career change at 40, that would have been a possibility, but at 58 1/2, I'm perfectly content to be an employee for my entire career!
Still, certifications and the "stamp of approval," as well as making sure that my knowledge base is reasonably complete for the job I do is important to me. I've certainly learned a lot in this coursework about things such as educational funding, insurance, estate planning, and the various types of retirement plans that are out there and which type of plan is suitable for which business concerns.
The last "substantive" course that I start tomorrow is Investments, and then Q3, I will take the Capstone course which reviews and applies all the previous course content to case studies. I took a couple of finance classes as electives back when I was studying accounting, but it's been more than a decade and all of those equations look a bit intimidating now! Hopefully, they will come back quickly.
So, after being a veritable slug this winter. I am making movement and exercise a priority this spring. In fact, ever since I started my current job, my exercise goals have taken a low priority, in part because of the Hashimoto's related fatigue. In 2017, I was so exhausted, all I did was work and sleep. I spent 6 months going to a functional medicine practitioner and I have been somewhat less fatigued since then by taking the supplements he recommended, but I still have 2-4 days a month where going home, feeding the cats, and crawling into bed at 6:30 or 7 pm is all I can do. Confounded with all of this is that I went through menopause during the same time frame.
Back the end of last year, I was diagnosed with a thyroid nodule (common for people with Hashi's) and a biopsy led to an indeterminate diagnosis, but the recommendation was to have half of my thyroid removed just because of the size of the nodule because of the risk of cancer. But only 5% of the thyroid nodules that are removed prove to be cancerous--this is one of those areas of overdiagnosis.
I opted back in January after consulting with the surgeon to take a "watch and wait" strategy instead and have myself re-assessed every six months. If it IS cancerous, it is most likely to be a slow-growing cancer, and I am not in a rush to remove an organ that affects every other cell in my body. The doctors blithely asset that you just take Synthroid and you'll be fine, and while that IS true of the majority, I did some digging in the research literature, and 18% who have a thyroidectomy or lobectomy never really feel the same again, and that is not a risk I am willing to take at the moment. If the nodule grows or I start feeling the effects of it (hoarseness or trouble swallowing), I would go ahead with the surgery, but I resolved back in January to have this risk serve as a motivator to take even better care of myself. With the busyness of tax season and the cold weather, that has been difficult, but I'm making it more of a priority for Q3, especially as I have my 6-month followup on June 24.
As a matter of synchronicity, a gym about a mile from home had a $1 joining fee special this weekend. I'd actually belonged to this gym before, but that was when their membership was $50 a month and included everything--towel service, classes, etc. Since I left, they've come up with a multi-tier membership model. All I really need is access to their equipment and the chance to be in an environment where "the thing to do" is to exercise. To join and just be able to use their equipment (and the sauna) will cost me just $15 a month, much more reasonable.
Even though I have a good deal of fitness equipment at home, I don't tend to use it very much. I work out at home more than I would without the equipment, but certainly not on a regular basis. One of my friends is a member at this gym and works out there, and another pair of acquaintances regularly use the gym at around 7:30 in the morning, so just the incentive of possibly seeing people I know and having a chance to chat should motivate me to go. And at least once I get out of the house and away from my book and coffee cup, it will be easier to work out.
I still think I'll spend about 6 weeks this spring or summer working out with a personal trainer to improve my form while doing exercises, but I'll figure that out in May. Right now my goal is just to build a base of regular movement and to work on mobility so that I don't end up in PT again. I have a DailyOm course that I bought to guide me with mobility exercises, and for right now, I'll focus on doing regular cardio and using the machines for strength. Later on, I'll ramp up the strength training with a personal trainer and eventually, once I'm moving regularly, I'll work on ramping up the intensity by adding some metabolic training. My mistake in the past, which has landed me in PT a couple of times, is to take metabolic training classes before my body has been ready for it.
I'm also kind of targeting walking a half marathon as a goal. I've walked two in the past, but that was back about 15 years ago. I'm lucky enough to live on the route for the Runner's World half-marathon, which is one of those I walked previously. These days they no longer allow walkers (and the registration fee is now $87!) but I have the route already mapped out for me. There's also a local women's only running group that has two 13-week sessions a year, each culminating with a 5-k race. The spring session just started and will culminate in a race on June 5. Then the summer/fall session starts on July 30 and culminates in a race on Oct 5, so my goal for the moment is to get myself into shape to START the "couch to 5k" type training the end of July, try to jog the 5k on October 5 and be able to walk the half marathon route on October 19th (the day before the actual race). Then it will be the busy season again and the CFP exam final preparation will be looming, but as long as I can build up some fitness now and at least do some basic maintenance from next October through next March (when I'll finally take the CFP exam), then when I get back to focusing on fitness again a year from now post-exam, hopefully I'll be starting off at a higher level then than I am now after two years of slug-dom!
1. Total debt balance is just under 83k (82,997) as of today. After the 3/31 paycheck hits, I'll get close to 82k with additional debt payments. I'm feeling confident about getting down to 75k total the end of the year, possibly even down to 72k, depending on whether or not there are big expenses with house/car/cats or just routine maintenance. Much better than the nearly 90k that I started 2018 with.
2. I finished another one of my online CFP courses today! Just two more to go, one per quarter, and then I'll start the CFP review process. I expect to be taking the exam a year from now, which will wrap up for now the process of getting financial certifications (CPA exam finished in 2010, Enrolled Agent 2013, then CFP hopefully in 2020). I started my career change path in 2004 so that will be 16 years of pretty continuously being enrolled in SOME kind of course. After that, I'll just do my annual professional education and will try to branch out and do more hobbies and business development/networking kinds of activities.
3. On the subject of networking, I was invited to join the Finance Committee of our city's public library. It's been hinted to me that I could later be invited to become a full-fledged Board of Directors member as a result of this service.
4. This next week is another super-busy week, with five client meetings, but I am delighted to see no more than two meetings per week so far scheduled on my calendar for April. That could change, but it looks like we are moving from the extra-busy time of year to the "business as usual" time of year, which is much less stressful. I'm planning a long weekend in mid-April to focus on doing some spring cleaning, as I noted this week that the last time I saw the actual top of my dining room table was around Thanksgiving!
5. I went out last night with two friends to dinner and a movie ("Gloria Bell"), the first time I've done anything sociable since February 15.
6. I walked to the office today and now that the weather is changing, hope to start walking more regularly. It was nice to see the snowdrops, crocuses, and even a few daffodils in bloom already. Ramping up the exercise and working with a physical trainer for 4-6 weeks to master some exercises is a Q2 goal, but now thru April is just for getting my blood pumping and myself moving much more regularly than I have been. I've only had 10 10,000 step days so far this year, and I'd like to get that number to about 40 by the end of April--in other words, work a lot harder on getting there almost every day.
This is certainly busy season for CPAs, and even though I'm no longer doing tax prep, it's busy season for me as well as I'm still in an affiliated industry (I work for a Registered Investment Advisor as a financial planner). So right now there are a lot of tax questions to answer for clients as well as making sure that each client's tax preparer has the information needed to do the returns. That layer of work lies on top of the ordinary work of preparing to meet with clients.
The client meetings side of things for me depends a lot on my boss's schedule. I have 3 advisors I work for, two of whom who are housed in the same office as me, and the third who generally comes into town for about 3 days each month. When that advisor is in town, that just means more meetings on top of the meetings scheduled by the home office. With that advisor in town twice in March and then at the end of February, that means I'm having more overly busy weeks in close proximity.
I did take a day off on Friday, after having two jam-packed weeks in a row, but I used the day (the whole weekend, actually) to work on my current CFP course. I'm 75% of the way through that one and am trying to finish it by the 24th.
Both of the major advisors are off at the same time in early April; I may take those two days off as well to take some real R&R time.
I'm optimistic that I will actually complete the CFP coursework this year, after having started it back the beginning of 2016. I changed jobs that year, so I only completed one course (the intro course) in 2016. Then in 2017, I was learning how my new firm worked, so I only managed one course that year as well (taxation). In 2018, I completed the two courses where I had the least amount of knowledge going in (insurance and estate planning). This year, I'm 75% done with retirement, will take the investments course Q2, and the capstone Q3. I have a financial incentive to keep with this schedule as my course access expires 9/30! THen Q4 this year and Q1 I'll be doing a review course, and I'll be taking the exam a year from now. After that, I'll look forward to having more different types of opportunities come back into my life after having worked to earn 3 designations in just over a decade.
I had my quarterly review today and discussed this with my supervisor. I also had a chance to mention the unreimbursed business expenses again, and I'm hopeful after today's discussion that I'll finally get some of those covered, which will help with cutting down on the debt.
I've been enjoying the later sunsets and slightly warmer weather, but my sleep schedule hasn't yet adjusted to the time change. I'm hoping tomorrow to get up early enough to be able to walk to work, after having intended but failed to do so the past two days.
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.
Time for a periodic check-in on my goals (listed in the side bar).
1. Job/CFP coursework: I am still working on getting timelier but I have made some progress. As far as the CFP coursework, I should complete my second course for the year today (I just have to take the final exam). I am hoping to complete at least one more of the 7 courses by the end of the year, which still leaves 2 more courses and the exam, which I'll take in 2019--most likely next July. In addition, I also did some writing for the firm including 4 articles on our company blog, one article for the local business journal, and one article in a professional journal. (The writing has interfered with becoming timelier and with making more progress on the CFP coursework, and I've now gotten an agreement that they won't push me to write until I'm done with the CFP exam...it's been hard to do the job, the writing, and studying for the CFP all at once).
2. Taking care of myself: I am back to intermittent fasting as of 5/24 and am down about 10 pounds using an "easy" fasting schedule of 16:8 to 18:6. Also did a half price trial at a local gym which I liked very much as I was working mostly one on one with a trainer; trying to figure out how to afford a couple of more months at their full rate.
3. Creating a peaceful home environment. Slow progress here; did one 3 hour session with a personal organizer and made some progress on the kitchen; will try to make a bit more progress this year but will push on this after the CFP exam.
4. Reducing debt by 10.5K--about 8K down, although the next couple of months with professional expenses and planning vacation are the most expensive of the year, so may backslide.
This goal was originally to increase net worth, but I changed it after the markets were kind of wonky in February & March. But I saw CJ's post about increasing retirement balances, so I tracked mine in a similar format:
2011: 137K (+17k)
2012: 335K (+198K, of which 171K was from my mom's estate)
2013: 353K (+18K)
2014: 393K (+40K)
2015: 407K (+10K)
2016: 436K (+29K)
2017: 485K (+49K)
7/18: 492K (+7K) Hoping to break 500K by EOY
My Net Worth in total broke 550K as of 7/31. I think it will reach 600K in 2020 barring a big recession.
5. Maintain my social life: Have done that. As far as expanding, I have attended one rehearsal of a community orchestra that 3 friends belong to and went for drinks with some after, so this is promising.
6. Taking more time off: Doing slightly better here. This is actually really hard for me to do. So far this year I've taken 8 days off (of the 20 total PTO days I have at my disposal); last year by this time I had taken 7. I took 13 days of my 20 in 2017. If I try to take 2 days each month that would be 18, but I don't know that I'll do it. Still struggling with whether I am going to go to my 40-year high school reunion in October. That's across country so it would be an expensive trip--for a one-night dinner. It would be fun to see people, but I tend to hate these group situations; I much more enjoy talking with people one-on-one. I'm not the person that people will go out of their way to make time to talk to. So far I have reserved time on my calendar at work for the trip but I haven't made reservations. Also kind of loathe to spend the money--it's probably a thousand dollar trip in total. I really should decide soon, though.
My January 31 paycheck used the updated withholding tables, so I compared the Federal withholding on that check with the withholding on January 15 and found more than a $60 difference. I played around with the calculation in 1% (of gross salary) increments and figured that I could increase my retirement contributions by about $45 per pay period and still have an extra $15 per paycheck in my take-home pay, so I arranged for that change to occur starting this month. Over the course of the rest of the year, that's nearly an extra $2,000 in retirement savings, a $2,000 decrease in federally taxable income (which at the marginal 22% bracket means $435 less tax due next April, and an extra $330 in my pocket to spend. Win/win all around!
I also posted a blog post about this on our company's website at http://www.joycepaynepartners.com/client-insights/the-new-tax-law.