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A visit with a fellow blogger

May 12th, 2019 at 04:57 pm

Yesterday, I had a chance to visit with Patient Saver, the fourth time, I believe, we have met in person. We've both been on the site since 2006, and met in person first back in 2011, when a trip to a family wedding took me near where she lives. Last year I drove to visit her. This year, we opted to meet in the middle for a day trip. We live about 3 hours apart, so each of us had a quite reasonable 1.5 hour drive each way.

We met in a small town near where PA, NJ, and NY converge. First we went for a hike to waterfalls that are part of the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. Then we had brunch at an historic 1800s Hotel. We stopped at the visitor center and I bought a brochure for a walking tour of some architectural highlights of the town. Then we did the tour. There was a museum along the way that we had hoped to stop in at, but it was closed despite the sign on the door saying that it opened at 1 pm on Saturdays. We each got our 10,000 steps in! After a stop for ice cream, we parted ways and I got home around 5.

Definitely a nice change of pace after being all but chained to my desk the past month, and we lucked out on having gorgeous weather--it's gray and rainy today, but yesterday was perfect!

Day off & A couple of financial moves

April 19th, 2019 at 05:00 pm

It's a holiday but I'm not feeling very celebratory. Not bad, just tired and burnt out. I was supposed to be at a Passover seder tonight but I didn't go--it's rainy and I'm just a wee bit grumpy and needing some time to myself. There's another seder tomorrow night (different group, though).

I spent the day puttering. It was a work holiday since the markets are closed. I went over this morning to the university campus (where I once taught), and found that the building that I used to teach in is being renovated and the whole thing is fenced and boarded off. I went to the library instead and spent some time reading, then went to my current office and puttered online.

I made a couple of financial moves online while I was puttering. In my last "Day off" post, I mentioned the new bank account I opened at a reputable local bank. The $50 bonus has been received, and I set up automatic $50 deposits from my current main bank to the new bank for purposes of growing an emergency fund. A lack of "liquid funds" has been a problem because I've either been saving or paying off debt with my discretionary funds (I'm now up to 15% per pay to my 401k).

I also have my eye on my two 0% balance transfer credit cards. Both of the 0% balance transfers are over in September. For the smaller one, I'm moving it over to another 0% balance transfer, and I applied to increase the credit line on that card--not because I have any intent of using the additional credit, but because one factor in your credit rating is keeping the balances on your credit cards at 30% of the credit limit. I want to transfer $4,500 from one card to the other, so I had to increase my credit limit on the card where I am moving it to from 10k to 15k (since 30% of 15k is $4,500).

Tomorrow I am going to a "squat workshop" at the Physical Therapy center where I have gone to for PT 3 times now (most recently in January & February for a shoulder issue). I'm working my way up to getting back into the gym--I've set a new goal for myself to get out of the house and take a walk within 30 minutes of waking up, and I managed that five mornings during the past week. Then I hope to get some studying done for the next CFP class--I've been having problems getting going studying again what with the busyness of the end of tax season.

Last night was a fundraiser for the public library. Since I'm on the finance committee, I felt that I should attend, so I did and paid for a friend to go along too, so I'd be sure to know someone there. It was a good chance to do some networking (which I did), but probably is why I'm in a bit of an anti-social mood today. This introvert can be out there only so much.

Day off

April 11th, 2019 at 03:24 pm

I have been pushing very hard non-stop for the past few weeks (other than taking last weekend off and spending much of it in bed because I felt like I was coming down with a cold; fortunately the extra rest has seemed to forestall that illness, knock on wood!). So today and tomorrow, with both of the major lead advisors that I report to out of town, I decided to take some personal time off.

I was working until 10 pm last night finishing a tax estimate that one advisor had promised to a client, and with that behind me, I was able to take off with a free conscience.

First on the docket was an annual doctor's exam. I hadn't known when I scheduled it a year ago that I would be taking the day off, but that worked out nicely.

Then I went out to breakfast and then over to the local mall to do a little bit of clothes shopping because I have been feeling the need for a bit of a wardrobe update. Picked up 3 pieces priced at over $300 for about $195 that will be good office wear.

Then I went to one of our local banks. I had received a postcard from them promising a bonus $50 for establishing a new checking account with at least $1,000 that stays in the account for at least a week. This particular local bank has an excellent reputation for service and a commitment to stay local, so I've been meaning to establish a relationship with them for a while. Checking is free for life with no monthly maintenance fees and their rates are competitive. At the moment, all of my other banking relationships are with Wells Fargo, whose reputation I have been dissatisfied with (although personally, things have been fine). What I would like to do once my schedule calms down is to transfer my main relationships over to this bank--set up direct deposit for the paycheck, establish a savings account as well, and then move the mortgage and HELOC (balance $0) and safety deposit box over as well. They have a long-running special that does a refinance with closing costs of $525. They promise not to sell your mortgage. My current mortgage is a 20-year (in year 9) at 4% and I could refinance to a 10-year (cuts one year off) at 3.625%. I will probably do that in another month or so. The only pain will be that they don't handle the escrowing of the tax and homeowner's insurance bills, which I'll have to handle myself anyways after to mortgage is paid off. (I'm still feeling good that it will be paid off by December 2025 at the 20-year mark.) I'll probably keep at least one small checking and savings account open at Wells Fargo as well, just because Wells Fargo has a branch just down the block from where I work and they also have lots of branches in Los Angeles, where I am from and where I still visit occasionally.

Those few things were the main accomplishments of the day. I also handled a couple of emails at work and listened to an online professional educational webinar for an hour.

Tomorrow I need to make a dentist appointment because I broke a small piece off a tooth last night--it's not painful but the sharp edges are annoying. Then I need to finish my own taxes--I drafted them back in February in order to figure out my IRA contribution, but now I need to dot all the i's and cross all the t's and submit.

Then I'll work on getting a bit more organized at home--there are too many piles of paper on the dining room table, on the desk, on the coffee table, and on the dog crate, and I need to toss some and file the rest. Being able to see the tabletops will make me feel more relaxed here at home and I'll buy some flowers to put in a vase on the dining room table when it is clear again (which it has not been since Thanksgiving).

I'll also be working on my next CFP class over the weekend and I'd like to take a drive out to a coffee shop I like that sits on the banks of the Delaware. I visited there at least monthly over the summer but haven't been back since September. This is just a weekend to catch my breath and recapture some sense of spaciousness or margin in my life than a weekend where I will really "do" anything. Just getting a chance to spend some more time reading will be a pleasure.

I'm supposed to be attending an orchestra rehearsal in an hour. I should go since I have slacked off during tax season but part of me wants no more commitments today. Whether or not I go, I'll end the day by watching one or two episodes of "Boston Legal." I was delighted to find that it is once again free to wach on Amazon Prime, after having been available only with a charge previously. This was one of my favorite series so I am enjoying re-watching it. I like James Spader and it is nice to see him in his prime. He seems to have aged a lot lately. He's about my age so seeing recent pictures of him makes me feel my own age more acutely. I'd like to think I am aging better than he is! But then, so much of our first impression of faces is about the hair and he has gone semi-bald recently. This is one reason I find it worthwhile to pay to have my hair colored! I grew up believing in substance over form and that image didn't matter so much, but while I still believe strongly in substance, the real world and my education taught me that appearances matter a lot, too!


Old content is still visible in Control Panel--so just a technical glitch

January 20th, 2019 at 06:38 am

Thanks to Patient Saver for pointing this out to me via email

Year End (late recap)

January 3rd, 2019 at 03:46 pm

12/31/2018 Net Worth: $515,242. Down about 20k from last year due to market losses.

Debt on 12/31/2018: $91,282. Of this, $55,975 was mortgage debt.

As of the new year, of course there's been another mortgage payment, getting the balance to $55,600 (I always throw a little extra at it to get the balance to an even number). I'm going to throw another $600 at it from savings this week to get to $55k. I'm still confident that I can pay this off by the beginning of 2026, when I'll be 65, paying it off in just about 20 years.

I also took some savings to pay down my HELOC balance, and I'll make some more payments over the next couple of days to get the debt to 85k (55k mortgage and 30 non-mortgage), which will be the lowest debt total since I bought my house in 2005. I hate having the non-mortgage debt, but with the HELOC paid off, the highest interest rate on any of it is a bit over 4%, so the interest is not horrendous, and the large majority of it is on 0% credit card balance transfers. Much of this stems from the 7 months I was unemployed during 2014. That's when I racked up the additional debt (as well as accruing some in 2010-2012 when I was changing careers and working very low-wage jobs while my mother was dying on the opposite coast, so I had lots of cross-country travel.)

I'll update my goals for 2019 this weekend.

Brief recap on goal progress for 2018:
1. I completed two more of the CFP courses; 3 more still to go. 2019 will be the year, I pray!
2. Health: ate pretty well except too much eating out at restaurants; did not exercise consistently, meditated consistently for the first 2/3s of the year, then fell off the bandwagon.
3. Home: had one session with an organizer and organized part of my kitchen; other than that, no progress.
4. Debt progress--once I get it to 85k, I'll be just shy of my 10k goal.
5. Social life: maintained plus joined a community orchestra so expanded as well.
6. Vacations: Two overnight trips away from home, and I only have two PTO days from last year to use up this month (before they are lost, although I may lose them to medical issues rather than vacation--thyroid saga is outstanding and I have a surgical consult tomorrow, though I am wavering--will write about this separately and later).

2018 Financial Wins & Falls

December 30th, 2018 at 04:38 pm

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

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

Bonus & Raise

December 26th, 2018 at 04:26 pm

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

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

Only 1.5 working days left this year!

December 19th, 2018 at 12:52 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

But for now, happy holidays!

long overdue mini-victory

July 2nd, 2018 at 12:05 pm

My city does not provide trash hauling service, although they do recycle--something that's different from every other place I've ever lived. Every other place it was either a city that provided both trash and recycling, or rural, where you paid for an annual tag at the local "transfer station" and hauled your trash and recycling there yourself. I've been thinking about changing my trash hauling service for over a year, ever since they added a $5/quarter "administrative fee" for the cost of billing us (and the bills aren't even mailed; they're sent online). But it was a low-level, out-of-sight irritation so I didn't act until now, spurred by a $45 charge for an unpaid bill that led them to temporarily cancel my service.

I've seen some discussions during the past six months on the "Next Door" app when new city residents would ask advice about who to use for hauling. Although there were a few services recommended, one in particular seemed to get more kudos than anyone else.

That service also offers a month of free service if you pay your bill annually rather than quarterly, so I just signed up for a year of trash hauling for $253 ($23/month), and canceled the other service that was charging me at last invoice over $144 a quarter--$33 a month PLUS that administrative fee PLUS a fuel and environment fee PLUS a regulatory cost recovery fee. That's 44% of the cost, and now I don't have to think about that bill again until NEXT July. And in addition, the new service is locally owned and operated while the service I canceled is a national company that operates in the lower 48 states, so I feel good about supporting local business as well. Woo-hoo!

June: Social events, big car repair, organizing, health scare

June 29th, 2018 at 04:50 pm

June was one of my most social months of the year, with a visit to Patient Saver and my annual visit from a friend who is now a snowbird. It was lovely to socialize, and I also look forward to some time to myself during July and August to catch up on other projects.

I also took my annual summer arts & culture class offered as a fundraiser for the local charter arts high school. This summer’s series was on outsider art and was a lot of fun, concluding with a tour of the local “secret art park” designed by our course instructor along with artist Mr. Imagination and a reception and showing of a private collection at the instructor’s home. There still may be a field trip to NYC later this summer.

I went finally to hear a concert by a community orchestra which three friends of mine participate in. I am planning on joining them next Thursday for the rest of the summer at least. I also went to the theatre twice and will go one or possibly two more times during July.

One surprise event during the month was that my car failed an oil consumption test and Subaru replaced the “short block,” a major component of the engine, for free since the car is (just barely!) still under warranty. The part itself costs nearly 6K not to speak of labor, so thank god for the warranty or I’d be car hunting right now. As it is, I will look into renewing the warranty this month. I really enjoyed driving the Forester they gave me as a loaner (my previous car was a Forester and when I bought the current car, I bought an Impreza). If I had any sort of real commute, I would seriously consider trading in my car, but I have lived a mile from where I work for 3 years so upgrading the car is kind of ridiculous. That drive from PA to CT to visit PS is the furthest I’ve driven in a few years. In any case, they said to treat the car as if it had a new engine in terms of the oil change, because in essence, it does--and a new engine for free on a 6-year old car is certainly a good thing!

Right now in terms of work goals, I am working on catch up. I still have a lot to do and hopefully will make more progress in July than I did in June. I also need to work more on studying for the CFP, although I am proud to note that I *finally* understand the basics of A-B trust planning, something which I’ve struggled over for years.

I’m doing very well this year in terms of debt reduction—down about 8.2K for the year and my mortgage will be at 58K even after the July payment hits, something which I should easily pay off in 7-8 years as long as I keep my current job. 7.5 years would make the total payoff an even 20 years.

I actually finally! even made some progress on the “peaceful home environment” goal. I have an acquaintance/friend who is a personal organizer, and I have referred clients to her who have benefitted from her services. Last month as thanks for the business, she gave me a gift certificate for a free 3-hour consultation, which I had today. My work doesn’t allow me to accept the gift, so I paid her her normal fee at the end of our time together, but we organized all my food storage and developed a plan for much of the rest of the organizing work, to be done in bits and pieces this year and next.

The last big issue that will continue on during the month has to do with my thyroid. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis 4 years ago by a chiropractor. Most MD endocrinologists, unfortunately, don’t believe in “treating” the thyroid: their presumption is that diet and lifestyle have no effect and they will just monitor your thyroid levels until they fall and then put you on Synthroid (and I have heard this from at least six MDs). But I figured I should at some point get an assessment from an MD and I did see an endocrinologist this month, who sent me for an ultrasound which reveals that in addition to the Hashimoto's, I have a large nodule on the right half of my thyroid (5.7 cm). I asked about the “watch or wait” approach and my doctor said that, if the nodule were under 2 cm he would be ok with that, but since mine is nearly 3x that size, he very strongly encouraged a biopsy, which I will go in for on the 16th. There’s an 85-90% chance that it will be non-cancerous and we’ll just watch and wait and track it, but there’s also a 10-15% that it could be cancerous and I’d need to have the gland removed, which I am praying doesn’t happen. My followup appointment to get the biopsy results is on July 30th, so if you have some spare prayers between now and then, I’d appreciate them!