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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.

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.

Roof job. Also, cats.

October 27th, 2019 at 09:08 pm

I live in a house with a flat roof. The realtor suggested when I moved in that I should have the roof silver-coated every few years to protect it plus make it more energy-efficient. I have been faithful about having it done every 3-4 years. The warranty on the roof itself expired about 5 years ago now, but I have read that you can pretty much double the time on the warranty by taking good care of the roof, so I have.

The last time I had the roof coated was in 2015. Costs at that time were up from the amount I paid the first time I had it done, but only by a little bit more than inflation.

This time, the estimate was quite different. Every time I've had it done in the past, I was provided with one option: a fiber + aluminum coating. This time I was given three options, with different warranties depending on the product used.

The baseline fiber + aluminum coating was way more expensive than in 2015, more than doubling in price. The other two options were more expensive in total, but when adjusted on a "cost-per-year" basis, the 10-year option was cheapest. This is a new product called "Acrylabs," which is an energy-star rated "fluid-applied membrane."

It's more expensive than I had planned on, but doing this now is significantly cheaper than replacing the roof. (The last time I had the roof coated, I also had an estimate done for a roof replacement.) I am planning on moving out of this house in about 7 or 8 years, so the next owner can tackle the replacement. I'll also have to replace the side-porch roof, which is sloped and shingled, but the roofer said that he thought that roof had about 3 more years on it.

This is temporarily adding to my debt, but even after the job is done and fully paid for, I'll still have less debt than I did at year-end 2018.

This will be the biggest home maintenance project that I've done in the 14 years I've been in the house. The other big jobs were a couple of plumbing projects, replacing four windows, the gutters, and the water heater. Before I leave this house, I expect also to replace the range, refrigerator, washer and dryer, and front and rear doors, and have the stained yellow countertop in the kitchen replaced at the very least, plus I'll have the house painted and the floors done when I put it on the market, but I'll leave any major cosmetic or functional upgrades to the next owner. The furnace may also have to be replaced--but, as with the roof, I have it maintained annually in hopes that it will outlast its warranty. I like my house, but I really hate the stress of being a homeowner since I feel completely unprepared for it, and I'm not at all motivated to spend my mental energy learning what I really should know.

As a note, everyone's entries from mid-April until October were hacked. I had about half a dozen entries, but I can't recall what they were about, other than one in May documenting a day trip to meet up with "Fern" a/k/a "PatientSaver," and several in June documenting big expenses for my cat Buffy, who was hospitalized for a week and then fed at home via a feeding tube for two weeks, and who still sees the vet about once a month for testing as we try to find a medication regime that keeps her steady.

I finally got Buffy's sister Bridget to the vet on Friday. The last time I took Bridget to the vet's office, it took 3 vet techs to manage her, but with an herbal calming tablet, Feliway, and a vet tech who was fore-warned on what to expect, the visit went off surprisingly well. Bridget's kidney values and her white blood cell count are a bit off. I still have to talk to the vet about this, but hopefully I can keep both kitties going for another year or two. Bridget just turned 15 and Buffy is 14 1/2, so I suspect I'll lose them in the not-too-distant future, but I also pray I can keep them going for a while yet.

Day off

April 11th, 2019 at 10:24 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 02:38 pm

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

Year End (late recap)

January 3rd, 2019 at 11:46 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 31st, 2018 at 12:38 am

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 27th, 2018 at 12:26 am

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 08:52 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!