Thursday, December 31, 2009

Final 2009 Net Worth Report

My net worth is now $563,743. Oddly, given that my 401(k) is increasing quite well, the total figure is $9979 less than that of the quarter ending September 30,2009.

The culprit is my home, which slid in value by nearly $25,000. I'm assuming that's the result of decreased sales during the winter, and the fact that residences in the Pacific Northwest held their value longer than other parts of the country, but now lag behind in the recovery.

However, my minivan purchase actually helped my net worth in that it is worth more than I paid for it. And, of course, the rest of my indebtedness has gone down slightly.

So, overall, I'm pleased. My net worth increased 8% over the course of 2009.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Mr. ToughMoneyLove Got No Love for Grace

ToughMoneyLove, which is a blog I regularly read, and which will appear on my blogroll when I get around to updating it later this week, is feeling less than loving about the way I handle money, especially when it comes to family members.

I wish I had some pithy response, but then I'd have to pretend I didn't agree with him.

He got a few things wrong:

I buy for my sister, NOT for her family (which consists of a husband and two cats). I tend to spend what is a lot of money for me, on her gifts, because she spends so much more on me. Witness the fact that I gave her presents totalling about $450, including that ridiculously expensive shipping charge, whereas she gave me a trip to Paris. And let us not forget from whence came the downpayment for my minivan.

Then he characterizes my current retirement savings as "pathetic" whereas Financial Engines tells me that my current $169,572 and annual contibutions of $17,000 give me an 80% chance of retiring with an income of $40,000 a year, more in take-home terms than I'm living on now.

But I have to agree that I'm no role model for how to live one's financial life. If any of my readers are looking to Grace for money answers, they are seriously deluded.

I don't write this blog, looking for cheerleaders. Still, it helps enormously to know that I am not alone in my struggle to get on a stronger financial footing. I do appreciate the support I get from my readers, and, yes, it helps to know that I'm not the only person to engage in financial idiocy from time to time.

Primarily, I write to help keep myself on the right path.

I fall off that path.


Such is life.

Which is why I write my blog.

And why I enjoy reading about the journeys of others on their paths.

What Grace Got for Christmas

Since this is my week for whining and goalsetting (both more closely intertwined than one might think!), I almost forgot to say what I got for Christmas.

Yep--my rich sister came through in a big, big way.

She's taking me to PARIS!

Soon! The last week of January, in fact!

As it turns out, this was to have been my 60th birthday present, but given that I spent my 60th recovering from open heart surgery, it was not to be. In the meantime, she had her own medical problems.

But both of us are now healthy, and we're looking forward to a much better 2010.

We're going to France with two other women, one a banker friend of my sister's and the other, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef who is already planning which restaurants we will visit in Paris.

I suppose it might have been more useful if my sister had gotten me appliances or paid to have the interior of my house painted, as she has in the past. But I am SO ready for a vacation. And I'm SO grateful to be going to Paris with one of my favorite people in the whole world.

Au Revoir!

Monday, December 28, 2009


For this last week of the decade, and the end of the year 2009, I will be assessing my finances and weighing the damage that various decisions (both those I made, and those forced upon me) have wrought. From out of that wreckage will come my goals for 2010 and the ensuing decade.

But first--the damage!

I started 2009 with a total debt, including my mortgage, of $100,879.22.

I ended the year owing 99,535.06.

Hmm--so I actually reduced my total indebtedness by an astounding $1344.16 or $112.01 per month. Funny--it hurt more than that while I was doing it!

My used Caravan was the obvious budget-killer. Without it, I would have reduced my debts by more than $10,000 over the course of 2009. Then, again, I'd be walking!

I started the year with a goal of reducing my credit card/loan debt by $6000. I would have come close to making it, except for the vehicle. (I suspect I'll be using the words "except for the vehicle" a lot this week!)

So my most obvious goal for next year will be NOT to make a major purchase during 2010. Been there. Done that. Used up the money!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hard Times for the Hard Liquor Industry

So, what to make of this story from the LA Times? Spirits Not So Bright This Holiday Season.

I am not at all against drinking, and I admit to a fondness for creative cocktails when I dine out, not to mention cold beers on hot days.

But it's hard to feel sorry for the purveyors of expensive alcohol, when I think it's one of the first things that could be eliminated in a down economy.

Apparently other consumers agree with me.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

save, save, SPEND, save, save

I don't regret my recent vehicle purchase, but after an entire year of trying to get my debt down, not much annual saving will show up in my year-end report due to that purchase.

Likewise, I've been diligent this Christmas about saving money wherever I can. As one example, a local department store gives a 10% senior discount on Tuesdays. I had two GameBox 360 Elite's to buy, and they haven't gone on sale anywhere that I could find. But thanks to being over 55, I got $30 knocked off the price of each of them.

But then, I blew some of that good work by failing to watch my dates closely. Somehow, I thought I had until Saturday to send my sister's Christmas package to New York at regular postal rates.



Instead of $15+, it cost me $43 to guarantee that her gifts and her stocking would arrive before Christmas. These weren't even the expensive gifts, which I ordered and had sent directly from online sources. The whole package contained around $100 in gifts.

I get so annoyed with myself when I make mistakes like this.

It usually happens when I'm tired, when I'm stressed, or when I'm in a rush. All three conditions lead me to make financial misteps.

Hence, one of my New Year's Resolutions: Slow down, think about what I'm buying, and pay attention to dates!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Taken At the Movies

At the risk of sounding like just another cranky oldster, I do want to complain about movie prices.

This past week, I took two of my daughters upon two separate occasions to local cineplexes. At one, my 28 year old daughter and I saw "Precious." At the other, my 19 year old daughter and I watched "Blindside."

Both movies were quite good. Plus, there's a finance connection in that "Blindside" is based on a book by financial writer, Michael Lewis.

The mother-daughter bonding time was also good.

The cost of these outings? Too darn much!

The truth is, I hardly ever watch movies in a theatre when they are first released. For two years, one of my daughters was employed as a manager at a mall cineplex, so I had access to free movies. She's moved on to retail sales, and I've been happy to stay at home with Netflix, Redbox, and the local library ever since.

I took my daughters to matinees--supposedly cheaper. Not that I get how $8.25 per person is cheaper!

Then, I paid for a small popcorn and a small drink for each of us. It was 7.50 a person!

So, for two hours of afternoon entertainment, I spent $31.50.

How is this worth it?

I can go to a local theater/brewpub, sit on a couch, watch a second-run movie for $3, drink beer, eat pizza, and still spend far less than that. (The only drawback is that I can't take my 19 year old to the evening shows because there is an "over age 21" requirement.)

I hear that movies have not been greatly impacted by the recession. I have to say that surprises me. My past two outings to the movies have definitely impacted me! I can't say when I will bother to go again.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Grace Gets Wheels

Thank you for all your comments and help.

I took everything into consideration, and I did take much of your advice.

For example, I asked for and got a Carfax report. I had a mechanic check it out. I did a lot of internet searching before I went to a dealer.

I bought on a three year contract.

In the end I did get another Dodge Caravan.

I found it (and several other Caravans) on Craigslist.

Why not a smaller car?

There appears to be some liklihood that I may wind up with my daughter's two older children (who currently live with their father four hours away) as well as the two who live with me and their father now. If that happens, a sedan just won't cut it.

Plus, I admit it--while I like the idea of a small, fuel efficient car, I LOVE driving a minivan.

And you should see the one I got!

Unlike the very basic model I bought new ten years ago, this baby is loaded! It's a 2005 one-owner minivan with 62,000 miles on it, and every power option known to man. It has cruise control, a tilt wheel and a radio that tells me what song and what artist is playing. It has a casette player (so I don't have to throw away my oldies collection or all the grandkid's "Wee Sing" tapes, though some days, if I have to listen to another chorus of "This Old Man," I am dearly tempted!) and a CD player. It even has a computer to tell me how many miles I have left to go before I run out of gas.

I'm pretty excited, though one of my daughters pointed out that those options are on most vehicles these days.

How did my budget fare? The vehicle lists in Kelly Blue Book for $9700. I got my minivanfor exactly $8000 after paying the licensing fees. I tried but failed to dicker. The dealer said the price had been reduced because it had been on the lot for more than 90 days and it was now as low at they could go. Is that true? Who knows. It felt like a good deal to me. My mechanic said it was clean and looked to be in good shape. He pointed out that the water pump had been replaced (which I knew because the Carfax report noted it) and there was a new battery (which the dealership said they had put in a week ago when I asked).

I resisted all the service contracts, theft insurance (What? Some errant soccer mom will try to steal my mini-van?) and various add-ons the salesman assured me would be wonderful things to have. And I financed at 4.49% through my credit union.

The payments will be $161 a month for 36 months and my debt load has increased considerably.

Along the way, I discovered I have a Beacon Score of 770 though I am not quite sure just what a Beacon score is.

First thing on my agenda now that I have wheels? Get a Christmas tree and try out that dazzling roof rack!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

It's Dead, Jim!

Well, my 1999 Dodge Caravan, with a mere 168,000 miles to its speedometer, has finally bitten the dust. First the brakes gave out, and then the bearings. I nursed it to the airport to deliver my sister to her flight back to the Big Apple, nursed it back home, and there it gave up the ghost. (D'ya think I coulda crammed in any more cliches into one paragraph?)

This does make me wish I hadn't put the $500+ into it a couple of months back, but it doesn't matter. The car is dead.

Onward to the expense of getting another vehicle.

I hate this part--not just the expense, but the actual searching for the right car. I know zilch about cars. All I really know to do is check Kelly Blue Book for prices. But how do I evaluate the condition of the engine?

And what make and model would be most appropriate?

I would really like a small, fuel-efficient vehicle. But with the two grandkids living with me, another minivan would probably be the best option.

I need another payment like I need a hole in the head (Sheesh! Enough of the cliches already!)

Obviously, if I have to have payments, a three year plan is better than a five year plan. But would it be better to go with the lowered payments of a five year loan just in case I have trouble making higher payments? I could always double up on the payments and get it paid off sooner.

I'm thinking of getting a car in the $6000 to $8000 price range. My sister is giving me $1200 for the down payment.

Arrgh! Did I say I hate this?