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More than halfway thru Q4

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.

Last Day of Q3

October 1st, 2020 at 12:58 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.

Uh Oh Home Repairs

August 29th, 2020 at 09:07 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.

Back to a Debt Low since buying my house

August 16th, 2020 at 08:45 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.

The last 4 months

July 18th, 2020 at 04:54 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.

Surreal

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.



Fiscal year end 2019

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.

Mortgage milestone

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.

January review

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!!!