Saturday, October 31, 2009

October Update and Happy Halloween

One thing about having 6 and 7 year old live-in grandkids--you discover that Halloween is a MAJOR holiday. The costume planning has been going on for days as have elaborate discussions of the best neighborhoods to hit up for candy. It's been a long time since I've had kids at home who went trick or treating, but I'm enjoying it. We have instituted the "Grandma gets all the Tootsie Rolls" rule, so I'm planning to receive my share of treats as well.

In the meantime, October proved to be a better month for debt reduction than I anticipated.

Altogether, I brought my debt down by $801.99.

It would take a miracle to do the same for November or December--I'm just hoping I don't further into debt during those months.

Friday, October 23, 2009

We, Bloggers

Did you ever wonder who we, bloggers, collectively are?

According to a recent Technorati report, we're highly educated youngish males who make over $75,000 a year.

Hmm? Doesn't exactly describe me.

68% of us have been blogging for about two years. (Grace's blog is officially 2.25 years old.) 72% of us are hobbyists. (Count Grace in that number.)

What do we blog about? The general answer is "anything I can think of," as these statistics, also from Technorati's survey show. About 7% of the hobbyists have personal finance blogs.

I find that book blogs, Science Fiction blogs, cooking blogs (which is a laugh given the low level of culinary skill I possess) and personal finance blogs are the ones I am most likely to read, though I also tune in daily for two local political blogs.

Speaking of politics, I found some interesting facts among all the statistics. 50% of personal bloggers allow politics to color their particular topics while only 37% of professional bloggers allow it. Frankly, I don't know how one can discuss most topics outside of one's immediate family without at least touching on politics. Certainly, it's hard not to bring up the subject when it comes to personal finance blogging.

Like 70% of the responders in the Technorati survey, I blog for personal pleasure (and in an attempt to exercise some personal financial discipline!) but I was surprised at the number of folks who are in it for the money--not that overall, they are making that much from their blogs.

At this point in time, I don't have advertising on my blog. I'm not opposed to it but I've never quite figured out exactly how to do it or whether it would be worth it.

Maybe I should ask one of those young, well-educated men out there?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Now They Want to Gore Grace's Ox!

Yep! Now the Center for Science in the Public Interest has come out with a proposal to tax soda. President Obama has said it's not a bad idea so far as he is concerned.

If such a tax ever passes, I'll definitely feel the pinch because I drink more than my fair share of Diet Pepsi (or Diet Coke or Diet Store Brand Cola if it's cheaper).

But, you know what?

I'm OK with this tax.

It might hurt financially. I might have to cut down on my soda consumption. I might gripe some about the nanny-state. (OK, I'll probably gripe a LOT!)
But I do know that cola drinks are, in no way, necessary to my diet or my budget. They are a luxury. If I'm not willing to give them up, it shouldn't kill me to pay a little more for them, particularly if it will go to providing needed public services.

For the same reasons, I don't mind taxes on cigarettes or alcoholic beverages. Of course that's easier for me to say because I don't smoke and I drink only occasionally.

As one might expect, The American Beverage Association strongly disfavors the tax proposal, never mind that several states already have one in place.

The American Beverage Association is only interested in our constitutional rights, and has no personal interest in the proposal (and, um, could I interest you in some beachfront property in Arizona?) To quote them:

"This kind of thinking is exactly why Americans
don't want government using the tax code to tell
them what to eat or drink. Furthermore, there
couldn't be a worse time to raise taxes on people.
In an economy like this, the last thing government
should be doing is raising taxes on the middle-class."

When it comes to raising revenue, I tend to oppose taxes that impact the poor and middle class more than any other.

So gas taxes bother me, even though I would like to see the auto industry become more environmentally sound, and our citizenry use public transportation to a greater extent. Unless one lives in an urban area, cars are a necessity for rich and poor alike.

Taxes on food generally gall me. Nothing strikes the poor more unfairly.

Taxes on soda? Not so much. I don't know if taxing sugary drinks (or even the diet ones, which aren't good for us, either) would truly make a dent in obesity, but it's a fast, easy, not very onerous way to raise revenue on an item none of us have any actual use for.

So do it!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What Should be Going Down Isn't

I don't pretend to understand the politics or finances of big oil.

I know only that I drive a car (so I use gas) and I have a furnace, (so I use heating oil).

But we're talking about petroleum-based products in both scenarios, right?

So why is gasoline coming down in price over the last two weeks but heating oil costs went up?

Am I being paranoid to think that the oil companies know that those of us who heat with oil must have it during the winter months?

All I really know is that at the first of October, I could get 100 gallons of oil for $229. Yet by the time I actually bought it, on October 16th, it cost me $253.

But during the same period, regular gas was decreasing in price. It went from $2.62 per gallon to $2.55.

Go figure.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

More Real Life Curves

At least it's NOT health-related.

But life-changing? Oh yeah!

I've written before about my five adopted daughters. All but one came to me with significant emotional issues. Over time, some of those issues resolved. Some didn't. But resolved or not, eventually all five girls left home to make their way in the world as adults.

My most seriously-disturbed daughter has always had a sad and chaotic life. Unfortunately, she has four children who share in that life. Last week, the chaos became too great and the state stepped in.

The end result is that two children went with one father and two others went with another.

But one of those fathers was not in a residential setting conducive to rearing children.

Which explains how Grace, after finally living all by herself and loving it, now has a six year old and a seven year old, along with their father, sharing her home.

It IS an adjustment!

And it DOES affect my finances.

The heating bills are going up. The food expenses are increasing. And I'd forgotten all those niggling school costs that hit you every time you turn around--school lunches, PTA, Gift wrap and cookie sales, field trips, birthday parties, etc.

One one hand, I love having my grandchildren around, and knowing that they are safe. On the other hand, I get to kiss my free time and savings good-by.

I'm not sure how long this is going to last, but several months at least.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Early Retiree Follow-Up

Today's article on MSN Money by Liz Pulliam Weston Retired By 50. Where Are They Now? is an interesting follow-up on four couples she's profiled in September, 2007.

It's a good read and inspirational in terms of where frugality, savings and good planning will take you.

However, it's a bit of a cheat to say that these folks RETIRED.

Most just left their prior jobs, (some with a pension, some without) and moved on to different careers. That's hardly my definition of retirement.

Some downshifted to less stressful lives, moved onto a houseboat, cool things like that. But again, that's NOT retirement. It may just be changing to a better lifestyle.

As it turns out, only one couple truly is retired. They are living off of investments and doing well even during the recession, which is reassuring.

I don't understand Liz' definition of retirement. If I leave the job I'm currently in to, say, open a bookstore (one of those impossible dreams that always sounds better as a fantasy than it plays out in real life), I haven't retired. I've just changed fields. If I move to a cabin in the woods to write books, I haven't retired if I intend to make my living doing so.

At least to me, retirement means not working or at least not working fulltime and not working at anything particularly remunerative. It means volunteering. It means traveling. It may even mean writing books, but having tried that in the past (the publishing world was unmoved!), I would never expect to live on those royalties.

In Grace's world, retired means RETIRED!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Mom, Dad & Money

I'm a little behind on my blog reading, but when I dropped by Sunflower's blog, The Debt Chronicles, her comments about her father really got me to thinking.

I grew up in a working class family that seldom discussed finances. As children, my sister and I would ask for things or ask for money, and the answer was either yes or no, and that was it. It was only as an adult that I realized our family was always teetering on the edge of poverty. Still, because that was the same for most of the families in our small town, I never felt particuarly poor.

However, I was determined that money would not be a taboo subject with my kids. I wanted them to know the general state of my finances (which were tight while I was rearing them) so I did talk money with the children. Now I wonder if I did so too frankly.

Sunflower says that her father's comments ruined her family vacations.

I well remember one Disneyland vacation with three of my daughters where I ran out of money and we ate peanut butter sandwiches the entire two days it took us to drive home. I know that I spent those two days obsessing out loud about the money we'd spent and whether I had enough to buy gas to get us back.

Now, I'm wishing I hadn't done that. Too much information? At the expense of their pleasure in the vacation?

Not that I think my parents were necessarily correct either--it might have done me good to know the sacrifices they made to give my sister and I everything we needed and much of what we wanted.

But I don't think that reminding children of the pain of every single expenditure is the way to go. Once the decision is made to spend the money, then that should be it. Whatever is done with it should be enjoyed to the fullest--otherwise what is the point? If that enjoyment comes at the price of foregoing some other pleasure down the road, so be it. Say "no" to the new expenditure. Say why that is so. And move on.

I think I'll ask my adult kids how they now feel about the way I talked about money when they were living at home.

I wonder if I'll appreciate the answers.