October 19th, 2021 at 01:00 am
Checking in here, I see that I have been trying to transfer my cell phone number to a new smart phone for OVER 6 weeks now! I started by ordering an iPhone SE from Tracfone, my original provider, on 9/4. By 9/23, after having received an iphone with the SIM card not installed and not being able to get any help from Tracfone (I found their online instructions incomprehensible), I returned the iPhone to Tracfone and ordered the same phone from Consumer Cellular for $50 more than Tracfone charged--but oh well, at least you can talk to people at Consumer Cellular.
But since 9/23 I have been trying to get my phone number ported over from Tracfone to Consumer Cellular and it STILL isn't done. And while Consumer Cellular answered right away before I had signed up with them, I now find myself waiting on hold for 25-45 minutes every time I call. I don't always have time to do that, so it can be a week between calls if I am too busy or tired.
Consumer Cellular claims that this is Tracfone making things difficult. I finally DID get Tracfone to get someone to give me a call and he said that the number would be ported over, but that was about 3 phone calls ago
At least Consumer Cellular gave me a number direct to their "porting department" rather than making me go through the general customer service for my next call, which I hope to make tomorrow. Too tired/busy to tackle it today.
Can I just put it out there?: I HATE CELL PHONES!!! They are a device of the Devil himself as far as I am concerned! G-D- electronic leashes. UGH! the only thing I like about them is having a phone in hand when I am driving, and I will like having a GPS once the iPhone is hooked up. My old cell phone is a dumb phone so I haven't had that.
First world problem though. Frustrating nonetheless. Since this so far (knock on wood!!) is my biggest problem of the year (other than poor kitty Bridget passing away in April), I am overall quite blessed.
September 24th, 2021 at 02:57 am
Well, Tracfone has proven to be a miserable experience with getting the new smartphone set up. They sent a phone without a SIM card installed and I could not understand the instructions for inserting it....they had a web page with pictures but my brain does not process that kind of information well and there was no way to actually speak to a person to ask a couple of questions.....so I gave up and called Consumer Cellular and ordered an iPhone from them instead. They will ship it with the SIM card installed and best of all, you can TALK to a real person (based in the US) when you have a question. I am having to spend a lot of time online with Tracfone anyways to transfer the service over, but I will be glad to be done with them. A decade ago when I started with them, you talked to a person when you had questions, but no longer. The only way to actually talk to a human being is to book a service call. I do have one of those set up for 11:30 am tomorrow.
The Consumer Cellular phone should arrive by Monday at the latest and then it will take a couple of days to ensure that my phone number is ported over and then I will be able to cancel with Tracfone for good. I'll lose at least a hundred dollars all told in pre-paid service that I won't be using plus the same phone purchased from Consumer Cellular costs $50 more, but it's worth it to me to call up and speak to a human being.
September 4th, 2021 at 03:33 pm
I purchased an iPhone SE, 64 GB. I paid $4.95 for shipping (rather than the free 2-day option) so hopefully it arrives tomorrow and I can get it activated and play around with it over the long weekend. I decided to stay with Tracfone for now with the prepaid plan since that gives me flexibility. I started off with a $25 for 30 day plan, which includes 2GB of data, but I can move to a $15/month ($14.25 with autorefill) plan if i am not using much data.
I also realized that having the smartphone will allow me to use my fitness app, OpenFit, for outdoor walks as well. I've been using OpenFit since mid-July and their interactive "Easy Step" walking program has been a real motivator, keeping me much more consistent with my daily step count (except when work gets overly busy, as it did last week). I've been walking indoors in the A/C so far, but now that the weather is beginning to cool, I look forward to resuming outdoor walks along with their program. So there's another benefit besides GPS that I will get from having cell phone service rather than sticking only to WiFi access.
I also stayed with Tracfone because they will give me credit for my existing service, which is good until February of 2023, and the unused data can roll over month to month. That savings alone would save me compared to the 5% AARP discount I would get if I switched to Consumer Cellular. Also my primary network will be Verizon, so that's good. They also have contracts with ATT & T-Mobile so I should be covered whereever.
Coming into the 21st century at long last!
September 3rd, 2021 at 03:08 am
I've been using a basically "dumb" cell phone on a prepaid plan with Tracfone for over a decade. In the past few years, I've coupled the dumb-phone with an iPod Touch, which has allowed me to access various apps as long as I am connected to WiFi.
I have been thinking of a while now of upgrading to a "real" cell phone and a monthly service plan, rather than the prepaid phone that I have now. I got a kick in the pants about doing this today when Tracfone messaged me that my phone is no longer supported on their networks and that I can expect to start seeing my calls dropped or unable to go through progressively more often.
I need the phone for my job (especially once we are out and about more; we still have 2/3s of our client meetings over Zoom), but I've never researched cell phone plans. Since I'm used to the iPod Touch, I'm planning to go with an iPhone, but I'd be curious to hear about what cell service plans people have and like and especially *why* you like --or dislike-- your plan.
It's just me, so I won't get any benefit from any family plan.
Any thoughts you care to share are appreciated!
August 29th, 2021 at 02:53 am
My birthday was this past week. It was a pleasant enough day. Everyone at my office knew and wished me a happy birthday when I arrived at work. I have a couple of friends who have promised to take me out for a meal, but since my birthday fell mid-week, I didn't have any plans for the day itself. Rather than being upset at being alone on my birthday, I decided to treat myself to a dinner at a nice restaurant in town that I've always wanted to try, but one that is more upscale than I would pick for a meal that a friend was treating me to. The dinner was very nice; I was seated at a window overlooking our local extremely quaint historic district. (The restaurant was the 1741 Terrace, so that gives you an idea of how old our local history is!) I used the opportunity to do some reflection over my life to date. Since I just completed the CFP(r) and have spent a good chunk of the last 20 years focused on changing careers, it was a good opportunity to reflect over what I will want out of the *next* 20 years.
And I still have two meals with friends to look forward to during the next month. (Hopefully by then, the current wave of COVID cases will have peaked and be on the downswing again....I did read that if our pattern in the US follows what happened in the UK, Labor Day should be the peak of the current outbreak).
August 6th, 2021 at 11:41 pm
I took the day off work today and headed north into the Poconos about 90 minutes to meet up with fellow SA blogger Patient Saver. This is about the fifth or so F2F get-together we have had. We both started on SA around the same time in 2006, and met in person for the first time a decade ago when I was driving to New England for a cousin's wedding and realized that I would be driving by where PS lived. That first visit was a meet-up and walk as a break on my drive back to PA from New England, but since then I have visited and stayed over at PS's house, and once we booked rooms at the same B&B in the Poconos. In recent years as we both have older kitties with health problems, we opted to meet for day at a town near where PA, NJ, and NY converge.
The last time we did this was in 2019, and we took a hike to a nearby water fall, did a walking tour downtown and had lunch at a restaurant in town that had been originally opened by a chef from Delmonico's in NYC. This time, with PS having an injured knee, we rented bicycles and headed out to the trail that runs along the Delaware River. I will confess that I was VERY nervous about this, as I had not been on a bike in over a decade, and I'm even more out of shape than usual since I've spent so much time in recent months hunkered down studying for the CFP exam. We didn't get tremendously far (certainly not the 7 or so miles the guy at the bike store estimated we would be able to do before hitting a construction point where the trail is currently blocked), but we did a few miles and I survived and even re-mastered shifting on the bike (which was a 7-speed; my own bike is a 21-speed). I know that PS was up to go further, and I am grateful that she was gracious about my limitations. Maybe after getting back on my own bike and getting much more in shape than I am currently, I'll be able to manage the longer ride.
I'm ridiculously proud of myself for having done this even at the same time as I am embarrassed at my abysmal performance. If you don't push yourself outside your comfort zone, it will just continue to shrink. I know my comfort zone shrank during the pandemic when I spent over a year not driving further than 12 miles from home. So even a 90 minute drive is still more of a challenge than it used to be, when I wouldn't think twice about it. This time, I took my car to the shop and had my annual safety inspection done beforehand "just in case."
After the bike ride, we ate lunch at a nearby seafood restaurant, blissfully uncrowded and blissfully air-conditioned. We both treated ourselves to dessert after our exertions. Then we went and explored some antique stores, which reminded me a lot of my grandparents, both because many of the contents were from the era of the contents in my grandparents' home and because my grandfather owned a stall in an indoor antique-mart for about a decade as a retirement career, and I thus spent a lot of time roaming around antique stores as a child.
It was good to catch up with PS in person and I'm glad that she pushed me outside my comfort zone even if I whined and complained a lot!
August 2nd, 2021 at 07:52 pm
I paid my mortgage down to an even $42,000 this morning (it was just about an extra hundred dollars beyond the usual payment to get down to this amount). That is an amount that feels do-able before retirement (I will turn 61 this month and plan to work at least until my full retirement age per SS of 67). I now own approximately 3/4s of my home's value.
The rate on my original 30-year mortgage, taken out in 2005, was 5.875%. I refinanced in 2012 to 4% and a 20-year mortgage. I've been paying extra on the mortgage monthly for years. While officially there's 8.3 years remaining on my current mortgage, I'm aiming to pay it off by the end of 2027 at the latest.
My bank sent me a notice offering me a 2.5% rate on a 10-year mortgage. I think I'm going to take it. The monthly payment will decrease by about a hundred, which either I can use to pay down principal or which I can use to pay down some of the non-mortgage debt, which never really seems to go down.
As a home owner now almost 16 years into home ownership, I've hit the point at which repairs, maintenance, and replacements are beginning to take their toll. So far this year, I've replaced the washing machine, A/C, and hot water tank, and had a couple of costly plumbing repairs. Yesterday the neighbor approached me about redoing the concrete stairs. My house is a twin, so it really makes sense to redo my stairs at the same time she does hers. A neighbor has been patching them yearly for the past several years, but they really do need to be replaced. They also will probably no longer squeak by city code--they're too steep and we will have to add an additional step to meet code. But that will have to be done in any case--and it will be nice to no longer worry whether my older friends can make it up my steps! There have been times when I have had to let older friends in through the bathroom that has a door out to the back porch, since there are fewer and less steep stairs if you go in that way. That job will not be cheap, but it's also something that should be done.
I had actually approached the former owner of the twin next door about replacing those stairs a couple of years ago, but he wasn't interested in doing it. I'm glad the current owner is. When you live in a twin, cooperation and good neighbor relations are important!
July 24th, 2021 at 05:10 pm
I have a friend who has traveled to visit me virtually every year since I moved back to Pennsylvania from Vermont in 1999 (with two exceptions: last year due to COVID and 10 years ago, the year my mother died). We met because we taught at the same small (now-defunct) college in Vermont, she as an English professor with a special interest in the medevial period and me as a Psychology professor, and both of us owners of Basset Hounds. A local college sponsors an annual Shakespeare Festival with a mix of equity actors and students, and each year we have gone to a production at the festival as well as had time to catch up with each other and what has been going on in our lives.
So this week was my friend's annual visit, from Thursday afternoon to Saturday morning. Her visit prompted me to actually do greater cleaning and decluttering of several areas of my house than I have done since her last visit in 2019. I can actually see my dining room table top for the first time since March of 2020! Once we entered the COVID shut-down in mid-March 2020, my dining room table became my work station as well as my CFP exam study area, with extra piles for mail that needed to be dealt with.
The decluttering was only superficial--there are ten banker's boxes in the living room with papers cleared from the dining room and other assorted surfaces. Some of it will be kept, much of it will be recycled; at least it is now coralled to be dealt with gradually.
Thursday after she arrived, we spent an hour on the porch chatting over glasses of iced tea. The performance at the Shakespeare festival ("A Midsummer Night's Dream") was outdoors. It started at 6:30 and ended just as dusk was starting. One of the chores I had not had time for before my friend's arrival was grocery shopping, so we ate out beforehand at a Greek restaurant that we have previously eaten at. That restaurant had had a fire in June of 2017 and had been closed since then, finally reopening last December. We had missed being able to eat there in 2018 and 2019, so it was nice to get back to our usual pre-theatre restaurant.
Friday morning I was able to run out to the grocery store before my friend woke up. I had pulled together a list of local activities we could do and my friend chose to go to the arts trail in the next town over. We walked the trail, stopped for an ice cream at the small upscale mall/condo area where we had parked, then drove over to the local indoor Farmer's Market and browsed around there. We got home around 1:45 pm, had some sandwiches for lunch, then headed back out to explore the shops on Main Street in my town. By the time we got home, the Achilles tendon I injured a couple of months ago was throbbing, so we took an hour for me to ice my tendon while my friend worked some puzzles on her iPhone. Then I pulled out the sous-vide machine I bought myself last month and my trusty Instant Pot and made dinner (zucchini-fennel soup, salmon, potatoes, green beans and mushrooms, with chocolate truffles from a store at the Farmer's Market for dessert, as well as Sauvignon Blanc with dinner).
This morning, we went out to breakfast at a local cafe before my friend got on the road to drive back to upstate New York.
It was great to catch up and have some real time to spend with someone.
In general, I still am very much "unwinding" and refocusing my perspective after having been laser-focused on the CFP exam since last October. Today, I may go back to an old favorite coffee shop along the Delaware River, which I have not visited since pre-pandemic. They have tables outdoors along the canal towpath, which provide a nice place to sit and write. That is, I'll go there if I can summon the nerve. I have driven so little since March of 2020 that this undertaking is a real endeavor. (Actually, when I took the CFP exam, I had to take it in King of Prussia, outside of Philly, and I was actually more nervous about doing the 55-mile drive down and back than I was about the exam.) Other than my trip to take the CFP exam, I haven't been more than 12 miles from home since sometime in 2019.
Now that my "goal #1" for 2021 (on my sidebar) has mostly been achieved (though I am still working on timeliness of meeting preparations), I am turning my major focus for the rest of the 3rd quarter to Goal #2 and building/rebuilding (new) habits to better support my health. I also want to continue with the home decluttering--now that the surfaces are cleared and the excess coralled, I want to sort through and winnow down what is in those boxes. I have a nearly-empty file cabinet sitting in my living room that I inherited from work when we went paperless and I have a general file system structure that I developed with the help of an organizational consultant a few years ago. Now I just need #1 systems and routines for better dealing with incoming material as it comes in (and systems and routines for maintaining my health) and #2, a chance to deal with the backlog.
"Refining systems and routines" is really my focus for the rest of Q3.
May 30th, 2021 at 09:28 pm
Bank accounts: up 22% but balance is still too low. I've been putting $$ in retirement and paying down debt rather than adding to my bank account balances lately.
I try to keep a few thousand in cash/CDs in my Roth IRA rather than investing it. That cash serves as a potential emergency fund since I can pull it tax-free if needed, and if not needed, it adds to the Roth IRA balance. I'll do this for another year or so while I try to aggressively reduce debt and then invest the cash inside the Roth. (You can take contributions but not earnings tax-free from a Roth as long as the account has been around for at least 5 years. I'm now over 59.5 so I don't need to worry about taking the earnings--under 59.5, you have to worry about taxes and a 10% penalty.) About 1/3 of the total Roth IRA is in cash, the other 2/3s IS currently invested.
Retirement accounts: up 6.2%. I currently contribute 22%, get a match of 3% plus a profit-sharing plan contribution, which comes in early in the year.
Use assets (home + car): up 12.8% due to living in a relatively hot real estate market. With the coronavirus, people living in NYC have flocked to eastern Pennsylvania, where I live. Houses that go on the market here typically sell within a few days and often at above-asking price.
Overall asset increase YTD = 7.6%.
Debt: down 7% YTD
Net total: up 9.4% YTD
May 16th, 2021 at 08:27 pm
Finally submitted my tax return. I had a recovery rebate credit based on my 2020 income being less than my 2019 income. I've heard that having this credit might slow refunds down; hopefully my refund will come in a reasonable amount of time. The amount of my refund will cover both my new washing machine and my new air conditioner. Hopefully I will receive the refund before the credit card bill is due.
The new washer and A/C arrived Friday. The new washer is more powerful than the old one, and revealed a plumbing problem that needs to be dealt with before I can actually use the new machine. The plumber comes Tuesday morning. What with COVID, I didn't call the plumber all year last year and a number of non-emergency issues arose--my list of things for the plumber to check totals 5, just one of which is the washing machine issue. I don't know that I can afford to get everything done that needs to be done, but I will deal with the most pressing stuff and possibly defer the things that can get let go, in particular fixing the outdoor spigot connection inside the basement. I don't really use my backyard at all; I just have a gardener mow the grass and I pull out the biggest weeds in the beds. But *next* year I'd like to do a little gardening, so if need be I can put that one repair, at least, on hold until 2022.
53 days until my exam!
May 10th, 2021 at 10:32 pm
I moved into my house in 2005. The house itself is 106 years old, but the last owner had done a good job of keeping things up to date. Now that I've been there 15 & a half years, "durable goods" are starting to reach the end of their lifespans.
Prior to last year, the only real upgrades I had done were to replace the gutters. There have also been periodic large plumbing jobs along the way (two so far, and I'm worried that I may have another issue this year.)
I've also kept up with the roof. It's a flat roof that needs periodic coating. I have done that more often than suggested. The last time I did it, there was a new product out that had a 10-year warranty, so I chose that option. I'll still have to get someone to get on the roof and check it every year or so, though.
Then last fall I had a roof leak where the back porch joined the main house. This led to replacing the two porch roofs.
Now this year, so far, I have had to replace the hot water heater, a window A/C, and (today) the washing machine. Plus I need four new tires on my car by the summer, and I'm worried that there may be another plumbing issue.
So far the dryer is fine. The range died about two years ago but so far I haven't replaced it. (I do all my cooking in the Instant Pot and Air Fryer, and I boil water in a coffee maker and reheat in the microwave, so I get by.) I'm hoping that the refrigerator will last another couple of years but with my luck it will die this year. I am hoping that I can have it last until I am ready to do a kitchen refresh (new appliances, countertop, floor, backsplash, and resurface but not replace the cabinets), but that won't be for a copule of years, so I'll probably have to replace it before then. Hopefully not this year tho!
Also, knock on wood that the furnace lasts another few years. That's another thing that was replaced by the last owner. I see that furnaces can last 15 to 30 years; I do have my maintained every year, so I hope to eek another decade out of it--it's close to 20 years old right now.
The piper is finally having me pay his due.
May 1st, 2021 at 09:45 pm
I get a message about an "invalid page URL" when I log in, so I had been thinking for the past 3 or so months that I wasn't able to post--but then I discovered that, even if I get that message, if I just go to the blog page, I am indeed logged in. So this is just a quick catchup for March and April of 2021.
-Work has been busy, as it always is this time of year. Busy is good, but I am looking forward to things slowing down a bit over the summer.
-I am now deep into reviewing for my CFP exam, scheduled for July 8th. I take a review course that starts June 11, and there's about a thousand pages of "pre-study" material that you are supposed to get through before the live review. I'm currently about 400 pages in. I started meeting (virtually) with a group of half a dozen other people preparing to take the exam at the same time, and that meeting starts off my Saturdays and usually gets me into the mood to dig deep and study for most of the weekend. Not today, though.
-The biggest news is that my beautiful cat Bridget passed away on April 14th. She was my quiet kitty and generally the one in better health. I noticed in late March that she had developed a cough and that her appetite had decreased. I took her for a vet appointment and they took x-rays and diagnosed possible pneumonia, possible pancreatitis, and some worry about possible cancers in both areas. I opted to treat her with antibiotics for a week first to see what that did. Her cough decreased, but so did her appetite, so I scheduled her for an ultrasound to get better diagnostic information. I was thinking that I would get more information about what was going on and, assuming she had some kind of cancer, learn what the prognosis was and then baby her and keep her as comfortable as possible and have her euthanized after a weekend, a week, or a month. But she passed there in the parking lot of the veterinary clinic while I was waiting for them to come out and get her (covid restrictions). Bridget hated going to the vet with a passion, so she avoided her last visit. The house seems strangely empty with just one cat rather than two. But with all Buffy's health woes, I won't adopt another cat until she too is gone, for fear that the stress of a new companion would be worse than the stress of spending more time alone.
-I am now fully vaccinated (as of this past Wednesday) and will be going to dinner at a friend's house for the first time in over a year. I also had dinner at another friend's on Monday, and braved going into an actual store for the first time since last summer. I'm also planning to start walking more regularly with a friend who is a "snowbird" and who just came back up to PA from her winter digs in Florida. And I can start going back to grocery shopping in person after having had them delivered for an entire year!
-Financially the year is off to a good start: assets up about 7% (including savings as well as income and capital appreciation), debt down nearly 9% (though I am worried about having to potentially replace the washing machine and about having a potentially expensive plumbing repair this month), and overall net worth currently up nearly 60k since the beginning of the year.
-Have to finish filing my taxes. I drafted them last weekend but need to review the recovery rebate credit calculation. Once those are done, I stand to receive about a $1,500 refund.
I wish I remembered how to add a picture since I would love to add one of Bridget.
February 21st, 2021 at 07:01 pm
Wow, we're getting towards the end of February already. Tempus fugit!
The year to date has been busy, as the first and fourth quarters typically are at my firm. I've basically been working at home again since Thanksgiving (I was at home mid-March to mid-June 2020, then back in the office from mid-June until Thanksgiving). The COVID rates in my area are finally getting back to what they were back in October, so I am gradually beginning to go back into the office again, depending on who else is there. While I'm technically eligible for a vaccine now because of a health condition, I haven't yet found an available appointment slot. One of our clients pressed redial 137 consecutive times in order to get an appointment! Not being retired, I don't have that kind of time or patience, so I'm hoping availability opens up more by the end of March.
Other than work, I've been working on my CFP review--a self-study review that I am trying to finish in the next two weeks, having started it back in October (and I am pretty much on target for being able to do that), then signing up for the exam itself and a second review program that my firm will pay for (I paid for the first). The exam will be in July and I am targeting July 6th or 7th for taking the exam. I have also found a group of accountability partners off a CFP Board candidates board and we are meeting every Saturday morning to check in with each other, set goals for the coming week and report progress on the past week, and, eventually, go over tough review questions together. So far there are five of us in the group and we are all planning to use the same review provider, which means we will have the same study materials.
Other than that, I've spent a lot of time digging out from snowstorms the past month and I haven't spent very much time outdoors. I've had a couple of emergency expenses--my water heater went in January, and my car battery died Friday night when I stopped at a restaurant to pick up some take-out. Fortunately the restaurant was only 8 blocks from home, so I left my car and walked. Then yesterday, it took a good chunk out of my day to walk back to the restaurant, call road service and wait for them to respond, then drive my car around to let the alternator continue to charge the battery, then take the car for a battery test and replacement. But, the restaurant owner saw me pop the hood on my car and let me wait inside where it was warm, so it was really just a minor hassle on a Saturday when I have the time.
And thank goodness and knock on wood that so far there haven't been any veterinary emergencies yet this year. Both kitties are still holding stable, thank goodness. Buffy turns 16 on March 30th and Bridget will be 16.5 on March 26th, so they are getting up there. I pray I can keep them going for some time longer, since they certainly keep ME going.
December 31st, 2020 at 11:37 pm
Assets up 14%
Debts down 6%
Net Worth Up 17% -- and just under 100k in one year, which is amazing to me. At age 60, I'm at long last seeing the real benefits of compounding.
What a crazy year in the markets -- and in life!
Right now I have one more chapter of my self-study CFP review studying that I want to complete before 9 pm, which will put me having completed 4 out of 6 of the review booklets, leaving the Investments book for January and the Taxation book for February. Then I'll sign up through my company for a second CFP review program in March, in order to take the exam in July. I want to feel very confident as I go into the exam that I'll pass. Then after the exam is done--I'll think more about what ELSE I want to do in life. But having the CFP studying has been a good way to make productive use of time during COVID.
I'll probably come back tomorrow to blog about other goals. Meanwhile--Happy New Year (and GOOD RIDDANCE, 2020!)
December 18th, 2020 at 05:51 pm
I'm taking the day off today (and the whole last week of the year off, too), so I decided to do some catch-up on my records.
My retirement savings hit a new hundred-thousand mark, only 7 months after hitting the last hundred-thousand dollar benchmark. At this rate, I'll have a million by the time I am 65.5, but I'm not counting on that. I'm expecting we'll have another recession to dig out of that will slow things down, but I'm optimistic in the long term for Wall Street if not Main Street. There are literally trillions of cash dollars that have been sitting on the side since the pandemic and with low interest rates, they are coming back more into the stock market as bond rates are not as attractive. Main Street will take longer to recover, but the new administration gives me hope that they will help this part of the recovery. This is one of Janet Yellin's focus areas so I'm glad she will be in charge of Treasury. Less income inequality helps all!
Today was supposed to be our holiday party at work, but with the COVID surge, we've canceled the regular holiday lunch. Usually we have two holiday celebrations: one in early December, when the company President is in town (he visits our office about 10x/year for about 3 days each time); that is always a dinner event at a relatively posh restaurant. Then we have the in-house lunch for the local staff. For the first 3 years I was with the company, that was accomplished by catering from a local grocery store (which I always found disappointing as a meal, but the point was the celebration, not the food); then last year, we started catering from local restaurants. We had this year's catering scheduled too, until the recent surge. This is the day when we do our two gift-exchanges: we all draw one person's name from a hat and buy a gift of no more than $25 for that person, plus we do a "white elephant" exchange of gag gifts costing no more than $5. I'll send my giftee her present as an Amazon gift card via email today, and if anything's been left for me, it will be on my desk the next time I go in. So this part of the celebration is emotionally unsatisfying but physically safe, which I'd druther.
I seem to have missed out on Chanukkah altogether--really no point in lighting a menorah all by oneself--and all the less so when your dining room table has been transmogrified into your desk. My congregation had a Zoom get-together for the final night last night, but I forgot and missed it. As far as Christmas, since I'm Jewish, it's never a big day anyways. My congregation will have a dinner get-together and Shabbat service on Friday evening. As a single person, the holidays have always been more of a pain to get through than a celebration anyways, although I really do enjoy looking at my city during the holidays--we ARE the Christmas City, and downtown is always a very cheery place during the holiday.
I have been catching up with some friends over the holiday season via phone, and that is very nice. Other than that, I've picked up my knitting again for the first time in a decade, and *my* big ritual this time of year is always doing an annual review and some goal planning for the new year. That--and some decluttering, and some CFP review--are what I will work on during my week off at year end.
November 21st, 2020 at 08:54 pm
Last time I stopped by, it was the beginning of my buisiest time of year. Almost through! Once I get to December 4, things calm down a lot and I will actually have an unbelievable TEN DAYS OFF, from Christmas through the January 2, since the holidays are on Fridays this year.
I literally cannot remember the last time I had ten days off--other than being unemployed, which is not at all the same thing.
I have so many goal-related things I want to do, but I also need to schedule something FUN, inasmuch as that is possible in this pandemic day and age. I really have forgotten what fun is and I'm afraid I will fritter the time away on things that occupy my time and attention without providing greater dividends.
At least I'll have the four-day weekend over Thanksgiving to ponder this!
Other updates: since I last checked in, I've had most of the home stuff done--the two porch roofs replaced, the arbor vitae trimmed, the furnace cleaned and checked for the winter, both cats to the vet. The furnace check indicated that the expansion tank needs to be replaced, a job which will require draining all the water from the upper stories and which will cost an additional $700 or so. Buffy is still holding her own but the imaging showed some progress of her disease so her meds have been increased and she'll be going back to the vet again on December 1.
I have been working in our office since mid-June, since we have a large workspace and few people--I sit in a room that is about 30 x 40 feet and usually there are two other people at other corners of the room. But to be extra-cautious, the two weeks after Thanksgiving I will stay at home.
In preparation for more work at home time, I've upgraded all my technology--replacing my Chromebook (went from 2GB Ram to 8), router, iPod (which I use instead of a phone for our log-in apps) and upgrading my connection speed.
For Thanksgiving, the past several years, I have gone to a friend's house. This year, Elizabeth is still cooking, but we have all ordered what we want via email and will pick it up from her house the day before, then we'll come together for an hour or so on Zoom. Plus I'll need to spend some time connecting on video with my sister, who lives across the country. Hopefully the weather will be nice enough to go out and take some walks.
Other than that, my free time is still spent studying for the CFP exam (at a low level, just trying to keep the material fresh until I really start studying in March in preparation for a July exam), reading Amish romances (and mysteries, at the moment), taking the occasional walk, and cleaning or cooking.
The pandemic finally broke me of my eating out habit; I don't even do take-out very often. With all the home/tech purchases/vet costs debt is temporarily up 4k but net worth is still up about 31k from the end of Q3 due to the strong performance on the markets. My goal is to be debt free in five more years and as long as I am able to keep working, it is do-able.
October 1st, 2020 at 01:58 am
Year to date, assets are up nearly 40k; debt is down about 13.5k. That includes a downpayment on the roof replacement, which is happening tomorrow, so the balance of $2,600 will come due. Also, Buffy is due for an ultrasound and tests tomorrow so there will be a vet bill of $800 or so, and I have a contract to have my trees trimmed this month for nearly $700. So after all of that, I'll only be ahead about 9k. Still, progress.
Something else to report this quarter: I decided to start actually investing money into my brokerage account. I've had one for a while, but so far, it has just been a pass-through account, where money came into the account when I took money from an inherited IRA, then transferred the money into my checking account (and sometimes then, ideally, into my own IRA). But with my "big birthday" last month and working for a wealth management firm, I decided to take $500 and invest in individual stocks--mostly high dividend payers, some for growth. I did that around my birthday which was near the peak, so currently I have a small loss in that account.
Work is getting busy--September has been busy, October and November and the first half of December will be busier yet. Then a couple of calm weeks at the holidays and back to busy time for Q1 of next year.
Work is good but I have been struggling some with fatigue. Without being willing to travel anywhere, when I DO take days off, I am not finding them particularly restful since I'm not getting out and about anywhere. Oh well, at least, knock on wood, I am reasonably healthy, the kitties are holding stable, and work is generally good.
Last item to report: I enrolled in a program this month called "Data Driven fasting" that involves measuring your blood glucose several times a day and learning how your hunger sensations correlate to your blood glucose levels. The focus is on your pre-meal BG levels; you try not to eat until your BG is below a personalized trigger that gradually ratchets down based on your average pre-meal scores over the past week. It's been pretty successful for me--I've lost 8 pounds this month and my waking blood glucose, which was creeping up to the pre-diabetic range, is down too. And while I'm still intermittent fasting, I'm tying it more to my blood glucose than to the clock, so my fasts have been somewhat shorter with somewhat less hunger and struggle than when I'm just going by the clock. So I'll keep this up. I was very happy when my morning weight hit a major "along-the-way" milestone this morning. Still I have weight to lose but I'm happy with my progress--in total down 18 pounds over 4 months.
August 29th, 2020 at 10:07 pm
My house was built in 1915 and has very solid masonry construction.
A half-bath was added on to the back of the house at some point, probably 50 years ago.
A couple of weeks when Tropical Storm Isaias came through, most of my neighbors had water in their basements, but I was lucky; my basement stayed dry.
What I did have was water coming through the door frame in between the main house and the add-on. I put a pail underneath and checked the next day; once the pail went down, the floor on both sides of the door seemed dry, so I closed the door and didn't think anything of it.
I don't really use that room except as a storage closet for household supplies, so I didn't go in the room again until last Saturday when I needed a battery.
My nose noticed a smell first, and I looked up and saw mold on the ceiling.
My neighbor came by on Monday and painted over the ceiling with mold killer.
My other neighbor is in the process of selling his house and had a friend over who is a roofer who was doing some patching for him and did some patchwork on my roof too but he also told me that I should replace that roof.
So I am now in the process of gathering estimates. The first estimate was done this morning; $800 for the back porch roof only; and $1800 if I get the front porch roof done at the same time (a $200 discount from having the two projects done at different times). (The roofer who seal-coated my main roof last summer said that the front porch roof should be replaced in 3-5 years.) I'm getting two more estimates this week.
The last thing to figure out is addressing whether there is any mold growing in the space under the roof and over the ceiling. I'm just not sure about that. There is a drywall person who lives at the corner who the neighbor who applied the mold killer was going to talk to.
I always feel so completely helpless when there are home repairs but so far this one is reasonably in control, Still a bit nervous about the mold though. Not sure if it could get through from the attached structure into the main structure. And I just never know who to ask.
August 16th, 2020 at 09:45 pm
I bought my house 15 years ago this October. Before that, I had had no long-term debt for well over a decade, only credit cards that were paid off monthly. The initial mortgage was $92,800, and, until this year, I had never gotten my debt total below $90k for more than a couple of months. A career change involving periods of unemployment, and the illnesses/deaths of several pets as well as my mother, meant that the debt would creep up and came to include some non-mortgage debt--a couple of low-interest loans (about 4%) and credit cards, typically with 0% balance transfer offers. This year I decided to get serious about paying down the debt.
I was able to get my debt below 80k for a brief period in February, when I got my 2019 bonus--but then the pandemic hit and I did some purchasing of some food and household stores, and it crept back over. I've been working it back down again, and it finally looks like it's below 80k for good, barring any major pet health, car, or home repair emergencies (knock on wood and prayers!). I'm aiming to get it to 70k by year's end and I think I'll be able to do it. I'm aiming to lop off 10k a year, more if possible (which basically means when I get a bonus at work). The mortgage is down to 47.5k now, close to half its starting balance (should be more than 50% paid off by October 1).
The mortgage payoff is steady, $400 a month (I round up the payment each month to make it that even number). In any case it will be paid off by the end of 2027 (22 years after purchase) and if I get a couple of bonuses between now and then, I should be able to make my goal of paying it off by the end of 2025. But first the non-mortgage debt! I am finally making progress there. Again, we'll see what the year has in store, as the best-laid plans go oft awry. In any case, it is satisfying that never this year has my total debt balance gone over 90k and now it looks to be firmly below 80k. After nearly 15 years of having debt over 90k, this feels like progress.
Net Worth is progressing too; up 6.75% despite the pandemic since the retirement accounts are now net positive for the year.
The house next door to me (other half of my twin) is in the process of being sold and the price was good, which only helps my home value. Another single woman is the purchaser, and I hope that we get along well. I'll be curious to meet her, probably next month. The closing date hasn't been set yet but I know they are aiming for the end of August.
July 18th, 2020 at 05:54 pm
The last time I blogged here, we had just been put on shut-down orders.
I've now been back at the office for a month, although I'm working around the person whose desk is nearest mine. That's still 10' away, so not too scary. Her son works at a grocery store, though, so I worry that she is the likeliest person in our office to have an asymptomatic exposure. Over the summer she is part-time, so she works at the office 1 day a week and I'm in the other 4. Once school starts in another 5 weeks, I'll have to work with her there. Hopefully the case numbers will be going down again by then.
We're just beginning to do client meetings in person, but so far I am able to participate in those by Zoom, and as a business centered around client meetings, I imagine that we will see some of our clients who prefer to meet that way all or most of the time going forward.
The stay-at-home orders did lead to a bit of weight gain after about 2 months, so I went back to intermittent fasting as of 5/28 and lost the weight I had gained and then some. I'm hoping to make IF a permanent lifestyle. We'll see how I feel about that in the fall when the weather cools. I first tried IF in 2016 and again in 2017 and in 2018, each time falling off the wagon in the winter. My appetite seems to roar back in the mornings in cold weather. So we'll see what happens this year. I really do want to make it long term and continue to lose weight. I turn 60 next month and have a certain goal weight I want to make it to by then. I've plateaued the past week, which is frustrating since I was making steady progress until then. Anyways, if I can keep this going as a permanent lifestyle change, I would get to my ideal weight next year and then just focus on keeping it there.
Speaking of weight, the pandemic has certainly led to a change in my eating habits. I've long gone out for meals 2-4 times a week, and out to the grocery store weekly. Now the last time I set foot in a restaurant was March 8th and into a grocery store March 19th. I've had a couple of months where I didn't do take-out; now I do it occasionally but not more than once a week. And instead of the grocery store, I'm mostly relying on one of the meal delivery services, Hungryroot, for my shopping. I like this service more than most meal deliveries because they are delivering to you *prepared ingredients* (pre-cooked meats, pre-chopped veggies, prepared sauces) that you then mix and heat for a meal. The "recipes" (if you can call them that) take about 5 minutes, and the cooked meats don't seem to have a lot of chemicals and the sauces often have a chickpea based since the company started out as vegetarian only. Then I supplement this with extra veggies from farmers I know who usually sell to NYC restaurants; they started an online store when the NYC restaurants shut down and so far have maintained it. There's also a home milk delivery service that I use about once a month to get cheese, yogurt, cream, and some additional meats. So I've avoided stepping inside anywhere except home and the office since 3/19. I haven't even driven more than a mile from my house since then!
One thing that's been hurt by the pandemic is my exercise routine. I had joined a gym that I really like with a one-year commitment for over $100 a month. The gym has been very good about providing online classes even after they were allowed to re-open. I, however, just am not at all good at participating in online classes. I need the weight of social expectations in order to complete a full workout The few times I've tried the online workouts, I get 15 or 20 minutes into it and quit--which is what I'd do at the gym, too, except for the eyes of others upon me. Still working this one out. Right now the thing that works best is finding audiobooks and reserving certain books to listen to only when I walk. I'm currently "reading" Mary Trump's book this way. So that helps with keeping generally active but doesn't build strength, endurance, or flexibility.
In other news, some successes: my Net Worth hit 600k this month, 3 years after first hitting 500k; my debt is down 10.8k from year-end; and, after 4.5 years, I finally completed the CFP coursework. I still have the exam to do. I'm probably waiting until next July to take it since otherwise I would have to get into study mode right away for the September exam (which is the July 2020 exam deferred for COVID--first they deferred it and then finally this week they allowed for remote proctoring rather than having to go into a Prometric Center. If they had had the Remote Proctoring option back at the end of June when I made this decision, I might have opted to dive right into studying for the September exam, but now I'd be behind the 8-ball. I'm going to take a practice exam this weekend and decide--if it's just a few pockets of things that I really need to work on (the investment calculations and the rules, costs, and benefits of all the various retirement plans being known areas of weakness), then I might decide to go for the September exam, but if I just need improvement all around, I'll wait until next year.
March 15th, 2020 at 09:52 pm
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.
February 28th, 2020 at 01:31 am
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.
February 16th, 2020 at 02:08 am
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.
February 2nd, 2020 at 10:26 pm
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!!!