Sunday, December 30, 2007

Why I'm Sticking with a Traditional 401 (k)

This is the time of year to set up my 401 (k) for 2008.

During 2007, I had a pre-tax $1000 per month going into it. My plan was to raise that by the amount of whatever raise I got for 2008. Well, surprise! No raise. Nonetheless, in the spirit of good financial management, I'm going to increase my contribution by $25 a month.

The bigger question is whether to put my contributions into a Roth IRA or the pre-tax 401 (k). For the first time, my employer is offering both options. My employer does not match my contributions, but does contribute an amount equal to 6% of my income into my 401 (k)--no choice there--it cannot go into a Roth. The dollars I contribute can go into either.

After looking at all the numbers, as well as making some predictions about my future plans to retire in 11 years, I've decided to stick with my current 401 (k).


Well, first of all, I need available cash to pay down debts. Given my short time line to retirement, I have to both fund that retirement AND get rid of my indebtedness. Funding a 401 (k) with pre-tax dollars gives me a stronger immediate cash flow which allows me to do both.

But is that at the cost of less money during retirement? I'm betting not.

Right now, I'm in the 25% federal tax bracket, creeping up toward the 28% bracket. But when I retire, I will most likely be in the 15% tax bracket. My house will be paid off, leaving me only with taxes and insurance to pay each year. I live in a city with a great transit system, so will not need a vehicle. My retirement date is well after Medicare kicks in, which will help with my insurance needs. Even with the anticipated expense of supplementary health insurance and long-term care insurance, I expect to need $3000 a month, maybe less. Social Security will make up around $1600 of that, based upon current projections. The remainder will come from retirement savings, but will be less than the $32,550 line dividing those in the 15% bracket from their brethren (sisteren?) in the 25% bracket.

When I help my friends analyze whether they should use pre-tax or after-tax dollars for their retirement funds, I find that in most cases, the Roth is the better choice.

But there's always an exception. That would be Grace.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Reading, Writing and (I Hope) Arithmetic

I'm working on my New Year's Resolutions.

Some are the same every year.

One of those is to write and market my science fiction short stories. I've always listed it as a personal goal, but this year, I'm putting it under my financial goals. And I'm making it public. We'll see if it makes a difference.

It's no secret that unless you're Norman Mailer (in which case, you're dead), Danielle Steele or J.K. Rowling, you're not going to become wealthy as a writer. On the other hand, there really IS a paying market out there for science fiction and fantasy short fiction, unlike the more literary markets where one is supposed to be satisfied with copies of prestigious but usually non-paying Reviews.

I've been reading science fiction since I was fourteen. I started writing it during graduate school. Occasionally, I've sent out my work to various magazines, and even more occasionally, some of it has been published. With that comes a check, usually somewhere between $200 and $600. NOT enough to give up my day job but a nice little bonus for doing something that I love.

So this year's resolution is to stop being a dilettante and start being a REAL writer. Along with that, I hope, comes some REAL money that can be applied to REAL debts.

And you, Dear Reader? Any hobbies that done with more focus and more energy could help increase the cash flow?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Killer Week Before the New Year

Am I the only one who finds the week between Christmas and New Year's Day to be a financial black hole?

The truth is, I spent all my money for Christmas. Christmas is close enough to my next payday (December 31) that I didn't pay close attention to the fact that there are 5--count'em, FIVE--whole days before that paycheck arrives. My daughter still thinks I should feed her during those five days. Actually, since she's on her Christmas break, she's of the opinion I should also cover movies, take her to lunch and otherwise help her occupy her time in ways that financially impinge.

So yes, I stayed within my Christmas budget. But--um--no, I'm not exactly within my monthly budget.

C'mon, 2008! Get here quickly!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and All That!

What the title says!

If you're still on the computer (and just WHY would you be on the computer on Christmas Eve? A good question that I mean to ask myself later!) take a look at this week's Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted by The Digerati Life. It comes complete with Christmas ornaments.

You'll find a post of mine near the bottom.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

What Small Thing Would Make You Feel Rich?

Forget the manse on the hill or the beemer in the garage. What small thing would make you feel rich?

As I was yelling at my kids to please close all the doors (to the upstairs, to the basement, to the bathroom) before turning on the heat this morning, I realized that being wealthy, to me, would be turning on the heat and neither worrying nor caring if it "got wasted." Given that my two-story 1929 house has an oil furnace, being wealthy would also mean never worrying that the tank would run dry--something that happens to me at least once every year, clogs up the lines, and costs me an extra $90 to put back into operation.

For my long-deceased mother, it would have meant using each teabag only once. As it was, she never got over her depression-era habit of using each teabag at least twice before discarding. I still can't see a saucer with a used teabag sitting on the counter without thinking of her.

My oldest daughter told me that being wealthy would mean that she could fill her car up with gas, rather than getting it $10 at a time; Her husband said he'd know he had it made when he could purchase a woodworking tool without concern that there would not be enough in the bank account to last until the end of the month.

One of my colleagues at work said he'd be wealthy when he could go through the local bookstore and pick up whatever he wanted instead of weighing how much he wanted a particular book against the amount of time he was willing to wait for it to become available at the library.

Another colleague felt that wealth would be hers when she no longer felt compelled to buy generic breakfast cereal and frozen orange juice.

So what about my readers? What minor change would make you feel richer than you are now?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Joys of Christmas Shopping

I'm still within my Christmas budget!

This may not sound worthy of an exclamation point, given that my budget is relatively large compared to many of my readers--I have $1845 set aside. That's to cover gifts for 12 people, Christmas dinner, one round trip to a town 5 hours away to deliver gifts to some of the grandkids, one round trip to a town 2 hours north to deliver gifts to other grandkids, the tree, the greens for the house and door, the charitable contributions, and the collection plate at Christmas Mass.

But I don't recall that I've ever gotten within 15 days of Christmas and still not used my credit cards, at least not since I've been an adult.

Although it makes me anxious, I have used Ebay more than usual this Christmas. My largest expenditure was $236 for a Cricut Complete--some kind of scrapbooking device that my oldest daughter wants. I'm paying half and her sisters are contributing to the other half. It hasn't arrived yet, but I tried to keep all the safety measures in mind--paid through Paypal, bought from someone with a longish sales history, checked out the feedback, etc.

I also bought computer peripherals through Ebay. I purchased an 8 MB memory card that sells for $20+ around town for $11, including shipping. I got a 4G flashdrive for my granddaughter for $28 including shipping, when the cheapest I could find it at Circuit City or Best Buy was $34.

The tree ($20) is sitting on my porch, awaiting trimming which will happen tomorrow. The door swag ($17) is on the door. Many of the dinner supplies have been purchased. For reasons I don't understand, turkeys that sold for 19 cents a pound during Thanksgiving will be closer to 99 cents a pound at Christmas, but Christmas turkeys are a family tradition around my home. It would have been smart to buy two turkeys at Thanksgiving and save one. Unfortunately, my freezer had no room for it.

As I count up what I still have left to buy, it looks like I will actually stay within my budget.

If I can stay on target, that will be Grace's Christmas present to Grace!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Planning for 2008--Part I

The first part of any plan is knowing what one will be making. Since I am a union member, and part of our collective bargaining team, I now know exactly what I'll be making in 2008: precisely the same amount I made in 2007!

However, I will be getting a lump sum in January, 2008. That's the good news. The semi-bad news is that in January, I owe both my daughter's private school tuition and tuition and books for my granddaughter in community college. The lump sum plus another couple of hundred will just about cover both.

Of course, I would owe all that tuition whether or not I get a lump sum, so getting the money is better than not getting it.

But it would have been nice if I could actually see, smell, touch even an extra dollar!

Sadly, it is not to be.

Friday, November 30, 2007


One of those things Dave Ramsey is always saying is "Give every dollar a name" when budgeting. I'm working on my December budget with this in mind. But a mistake I've made in the past is naming every dollar so minutely that I'm not prepared for unexpected expenses that don't fall into my carefully-crafted catagories.

For example, in November, the following expenses cropped up: (1) My high-school senior needed $13 to go on a class outing to see Beowulf (they couldn't just read the book?); (2) My five year old granddaughter who still wears pull-ups at night left hers at home when she came for Thanksgiving--who knew that the smallest package costs $12?; (3) No one could find the corkscrew for the Thanksgiving wine and none of my neighbors had one--six unbudgeted dollars(and dang if I didn't find my old one when I was putting the turkey roaster away two days later!); (4)There were two baby showers and one retirement party in my office in November--exit $60; and (5) A friend invited me to a cocktail party--I knew she was running for state attorney general but I didn't realize the party was a fundraiser--another $25 gone, though I will recover it when I file my state income taxes.

SO--$116 dollars that had no name but still had to come from somewhere.

That's what I really hate about budgeting. How, exactly, could I have predicted any of those expenses? And none of them qualifies as an emergency expense.

So, I'm now adding a budget entry for miscellaneous. But it's just a guess as to how much to put in it. For December, I'm making it $75 and keeping my fingers crossed.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

6th Month Anniversary & November wrap-up

Six months of blogging. Feels like it has been longer. I mean that in a good way!

I'll wait until the end of the year to see what my overall financial picture is like but in the meantime, November went relatively well. My indebtedness is down $993.26 counting my mortgage. If I leave the mortgage out, my debt is down $410.12--not a lot, but better than I managed to do in October.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Getting Scary Out There

I remember advising, many posts back, that one NOT keep checking one's retirement fund balance, particularly in a market as unstable as we are now experiencing. However, since I don't always take my own advice, I have peeked. Big mistake. My funds are down 10% or $17,000. I am closing my eyes, continuing to contribute, and keeping my fingers crossed that in the eleven years I have left until retirement, this will all work itself out. It had better--I have no good recipes for dogfood casserole

Thursday, November 22, 2007

And a Happy Thanksgiving to All

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday--kinda like Christmas, without the expense, the hype, or the planning. For Christmas dinner, I invite only family. But Thanksgiving is for everyone--my sister from New York, my best friend of 30+ years, the Russian woman I work with who wants to experience an American Thanksgiving, one daughter's new boyfriend, one daughter's old boyfriend who still shows up every Thanksgiving for reasons no one understands, my grandkids who range from age 19 down to age 4, the neighbor who expected to fly to California but broke her leg and can't travel, and various and sundry others.

I buy and prepare the twenty-two pound turkey. I provide the TV set--two of them, actually. One for the football games and one for the playstation.

Everyone else brings the rest of the food, and my family can generally live on the leftovers for several days.

I catch up on the gossip, my adult children who are scattered up and down the coast come together and compare notes, the grandchildren play hide and seek all over over the house--and at least three people always volunteer to do dishes because "Grace did all that work making the turkey." Lemme tell ya--offering to do the turkey is the biggest scam around. It's the easiest part of a Thanksgiving dinner and barely qualifies as cooking.

For one glorious day, I'm not even thinking about money--I'm thinking how much I enjoy just hanging out with my friends, my family and all those other interesting people who happened to come by for dinner.

D'ya suppose that's why they call it Thanksgiving?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Maxed Out is an In Movie

I'm a tad behind the curve on this one. "Maxed out" is a documentary that has been around for awhile. In my usual timely fashion, I finally watched it last night. But in the best frugal condition, I waited until it came out on DVD, and then I reserved it at my local library. So, there was Grace, two of her adult kids, and a gigantic bowl of popcorn.

The movie is laugh out loud funny. But it's the kind of movie that makes me uncomfortable even as I'm laughing. How funny is it, really, to see a 44 year old retarded man who can only write his name when he is copying from printed letters, get a credit card? Do I want to see kids enter college where they get free T-shirts by signing up for credit cards, and where, in two of the saddest cases, they commit suicide over their debt? Why am I laughing when Bush appoints a disgraced banker to head a watchdog agency, when I should be throwing shoes at the television set?

Like many documentaries with a political agenda, "Maxed Out" makes no pretense of fairness--in fact it deliberately juxtaposes scenes and comments to get easy laughs.

But in the end, it is an utterly maddening movie. How dare the credit card and lending industries talk about personal responsibility when they deliberately exploit the most financially vulnerable among us.

The movie ends with the passage of bankruptcy reform and the spectre of possible sub-prime mortgage failures. From the vantage point of another year, we now know that bankruptcy reform did not harm the poor as much as we thought it might, and it did harm the credit card industry far more than they predicted. Some crows come home to roost in exactly the right place!

As for the possibility of subprime mortgage issues? How many ways can one say "Duh?"

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Holidays in GRACEland

I kinda blur everything from Thanksgiving through Christmas altogether--the resulting assault on my finances gives me a whopping headache.

And therein, lies my greatest discontent. How can I enjoy the holidays when I am always worried about its impact on my finances? If the true joy of the holidays is in family warmth, why are my kids and grandkids less than amused if all they get from me is socks and underwear?

Both Thanksgiving and Christmas take place at my home. My kids bring side dishes, but I'm the one buying and preparing the turkey and any other main dishes.

I'm the one who buys the "big" gifts for my children and grandchildren.

I am determined that this year will be different. I am determined to pay attention to my finances and NOT to use my credit cards.

I have a budget for the holidays. It is $1845, with a leeway of $300 due to a check that will come in December 31st.

You'd think that would be enough, but my guess is that it will be close.

Part of the reason is that at least $400 will be earmarked for gifts for my sister. Why my sister, you might well ask? Well, since our parents died, she and I are the only ones who really remember each other's birthdays, and carry on our parent's tradition of lots of nice presents under the Christmas tree. My sister has no children, and a six figure income. I may spend $400 on her, but I know that she will spend over a thousand on me. My lime-green couch, my lifetime Tivo, the sink in the upstairs bathroom are all courtesy of my sister, not to mention the Coach bag that shows up with my name on it every year. I am seriously going to ask her for a dishwasher this year! So, within the framework of my finances, I take good care of my sister at Christmas.

Then, there's my FIVE children (what WAS I thinking?) and their SIX children--ELEVEN folks who are expecting wonderful (read that: expensive) things from mom or grandma.

Plus, there are the hangers on--the boyfriends and spouses who will show up, and for whom there needs to a little something under tree.

Oh, and there's the tree ($20) and the wreath for the door ($17) and something for the Salvation Army bellringers ($20) and. . .


My plan, for the moment, is budget $150 apiece for my adult children, $50 for each of my youngest grandchildren, $75 for the two older grandkids, and $25 for several miscellaneous folks.

I'm curious how this compares to the rest of the world. Too much? Not enough?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Surprising Money Saves

I spent much of this weekend at a local literary festival. I budgeted the $5 per day to get in, counted on getting a lot of free pens, bookmarks and other do-dads, determined not to buy any books, and looked forward to seeing a number of my favorite authors in person.

All of the above happened as planned. I even managed not to buy any books, which--trust me on this one--took some definite intestinal fortitude.

But, big surprise for me, I also saved some money.

The local daily newspaper was one of the exhibitors. They couldn't sell me a subscription since I have been a subscriber for over 30 years. But, by promising to save me $2 per month, they did pursuade me to have the monthly costs taken directly out of my checking account. And to sweeten the deal, they threw in a $5 grocery card at a store I frequent.

I would have enjoyed this festival at any rate, but combine it with the money savings, and what's not to like?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Adoption on the Cheap

November is National Adoption month.

Given that this is a personal finance blog, and given that I adopted five daughters without spending a dime for the adoptions, I think it is time to dispense with some of the financial myths surrounding adoption expenses.

The biggest myth is that adoption is prohibitively expensive. It can be, of course. Adopting.Org reports that a private adoption of a healthy, white infant can cost anywhere from $8000 to $30,000. International adoption runs a close second, from $7,000 to $25,000.

But I adopted each of my children from state foster care. Not only did I not pay anything for the adoptions, the state reimbursed me for the travel costs involved in meeting with my children and their social workers, and continues to give me an adoption assistance payment each month. Each child was also covered by Medicaid until age 18. (I put my kids on my own insurance plan when they came into my home, but having them on Medicaid meant I never had co-pays.) Health insurance companies are required to put your adopted children onto the policy as of the date of placement in your home, even if the adoption itself doesn't take place until later. Also, healthcare providers that don't routinely take Medicaid usually will make an exception when your family is already being treated through your employer's policy.

A number of employers (not mine, unfortunately) offer adoption benefits that are much like FLEX plans. Specific adoption expenses come out of pre-tax income. If your employer does not have such a program, it may well be worth your time to check this benefit out and present it to your employer as something they might like to offer. The big selling point is that because the employer will not have to pay FICA on pre-tax income, and because those FICA payments are usually more than what private FLEX firms charge to administer plans, the benefit is revenue-neutral for the employer. If your company already offers FLEX medical and childcare, call the administrator to see if they can handle adoption benefits as well.

There are also substantial tax benefits to adoption. These are available for all adoptions, whether domestic or international, but they are higher and better for anyone adopting out of foster care. Check out the IRS website for Forms and Instructions (Form 8839) to claim the tax credit. For one child, it is currently $10,960. It can be spread over more than one year. If the adoption is international, the credit cannot be claimed until the adoption is finalized. However, for a domestic adoption, there doesn't even have to be an adoption as a final result, provided the expenses were incurred as part of an adoption process.

For the adoption of a special needs child (and keep in mind that a "special need" can be as minor as a child being African-American, or over six years old, or part of a sibling group, or having a family history of mental or inheritable physical illness), one does not even need to have incurred that much in expenses to take the credit.

That's right--at least on the front end, one can actually make a profit on the adoption.

With my usual stellar timing, I adopted for the final time the year before that particular provision of the tax code was passed. So, no profit for Grace, unless you count the addition of five very special girls to my family as a profit.

Come to think of it, I do consider that a profit. And a blessing.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Monthly Scorecard

Thank God October is over. Between private school tuition for my 17-year-old (who attends a school for learning disabled students), various crises, getting oil for the winter, and all the niggling little expenses for my grand-daughter in her first year of college, I was barely hanging in there.

My total debt reduction for the month was a miserly $341.73. Still, it's a reduction, for which I am grateful.

And last night, I didn't have as many trick or treaters as I expected, so I have half a bag of miniature Snickers left over. I'm grateful for that, too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Festival of Frugality is Up

Yes, it is. Being Frugal is the host, and my post about online-surveys is there among many others.

Speaking of being frugal, yesterday, I got $30 from Lightspeed Panel and 2 $10 Starbucks giftcards. I should save the latter for stocking stuffers, but an overwhelming urge for a grande coffee and a cranberry orange scone overtook me this morning, so, um, NO to that idea!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Keep Those Dollars Trickling In

Even before I write this, I suspect I'm going to get responses that tell me this is a waste of time. Nonetheless, along with similar penny ante financial activities like cutting out and using coupons, I mine simple online activities for money or gift cards. There are many sources out there, but these are the ones I use, along with my comments:

My Points: My number one favorite site for giftcards that are easy to earn. I can earn points by buying things through this site, but over the course of three years, the only thing I've ever bought is the Entertainment Book for my city. And I don't buy it until they offer the book with free shipping (or this year, $1 shipping) and a $25 restaurant card and 1000 MyPoints. However, I can also earn points just for reading the ads. This consists of opening an e-mail, clicking on the "act now" button which takes me to the advertiser's website, and then closing the website and the e-mail. Basically two clicks and I've earned 5 points. Other points are earned for surveys, including dorky 2-question surveys like "Do you have life insurance? Yes/No; Are you interested in purchasing life insurance? Yes/No." For me, that's a yes on the first and a no on the second question, at which point I earn 10 points. Then, there's signing up for newsletters, such as Viking River, a travel agency. 50 points and I never even open the ensuing e-mails. God bless the delete button. After a month or so, I terminate the subscription.

The best deals with one's MyPoints are $10 gift cards from Barnes & Noble, Old Navy, Gap, Red Lobster or various other trendy places for 1400 points. But $5 cards are available for as little as 750 points.

If I don't get the Barnes & Noble card, I spring for the $10 Starbucks card for 1450 points.

If all this sounds like too much work for too little reward, all I can say is that it's not. In my work, I get a lot of e-mail, so I don't mind opening a few extra that will give me something back over the long run.

My Survey: my favorite survey site with lots of ten point surveys, and a surprising number of longer ones. For the record, no "twenty minute" survey actually takes more than ten minutes to complete. Most surveys are worth 75 or 150 points. The points can be traded for money or gifts. At $10 per 1000 points, I usually opt for the money.

Another good survey site is Lightspeed Surveys. This one also pays $10 per 1000 points, with the points especially easy to earn.

One thing about all the survey sites is that they really don't want to hear from us older folks--I note that young women and, particularly, young men have many more surveys available to them. If one is African American or Hispanic, that will also increase the chances of a survey being available.

One way past this overt discrimination is to have a teenager in the house. Most survey sites will let your teenager earn points under your account. My daughter likes taking the surveys. Fortunately, she hasn't asked about the points or what I do with them.

There is one thing, common to bloggers, that I do not do. That is, I don't have any paid advertising on this site. I may change my mind about that in the future, but for the time being, I want this site to be all Grace, all the time, with no advertising to distract either me or the reader.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Spoonful of Sugar

Let's start with the fact that it was all my fault.

I knew I had online payments to make on the 15th. It was a Monday, I got busy, and next thing ya know, I'd missed the cut-off time (3:00 p.m. ET, which is, unfortunately, noon for me on the west coast).

So I was looking at late payment fees on three credit cards that ranged from $22 to $39.

I lamented the loss to a co-worker who said "Call them up and ask them to rescind the charges. Be nice."

I was fine with the calling up piece, but I am not known for always being nice. However, it was worth a try.

I only called two places. The third was handled entirely by e-mail. I was so nice, and so apologetic, it's lucky I didn't go into a diabetic coma

Dang if it didn't work.

I told everyone who responded, including "Robert" with the suspiciously heavy Indian accent, that I knew I was in the wrong and that I had, in fact, made a late payment. Since I was only one day late, and it hadn't happened in the past, and I was a good customer (here, I had my fingers crossed that they looked only at my balances and payment history without noticing that I hadn't charged anything in almost a year), could they please just this once help me out.

When they did help me out, I thanked them profusely.

I saved myself $78.

Of course, I wouldn't have had those charges in the first place if I'd been a tad more prompt with my payments

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Toilet Paper Economics

Big Sigh.

Kimberly-Clark has announced it will be raising toilet paper prices in January, 2008.

Is there any better indication of creeping inflation?

The problem for those of us already practicing frugality is that there is nowhere to go to avoid these price increases. Well, I guess that's not entirely true--one could always move from 2-ply to 1-ply, but there is a limit to the sacrifices I'm willing to make to save a dollar.

When we already buy generic products, check for the lowest prices, and generally use it up, wear it out or don't buy in the first place, what happens when the lowest prices rise?

This, of course, is the curse always visited upon the poor. There are some items, like toilet paper, that one must buy. And if one's income does not increase at a rate commensurate with what one must buy--well, no wonder the poor keep getting poorer. And the frugal wind up saving less.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

No Easy Answers, but the Advice Seems Questionable

The Boston Globe presents a money makeover for a 55 year old single school teacher with a son who is a junior in college.

As a single parent in my late '50's I'm drawn to these stories. I wind up measuring my progress against others in my age/financial bracket with similar life circumstances.

Diane's financial situation is serious, but I wonder at some of the advice the counselor is giving her. Initially, he suggests foreclosure on her condominium as a viable option. Really? While it is certainly an option, it appears to me that it would be among Diane's worst choices. Her credit rating is already trashed due to payments she missed while waiting to get on a professional debt-reduction plan. Fortunately, she refuses to consider a foreclosure. Good for her.

Then the financial "expert" suggests that she retire from teaching in order to access her pension funds. He says she can get some other job. This strikes me as crazy. While teachers are in demand, it takes awhile to "grow into" one's position at any given school. I assume she would have to change school districts and possibly even states in order to access the pension if she intends to teach somewhere else. At age 55, I also assume she enjoys teaching as a career. How emotionally healthy would it be to change careers at her age, even if she wanted to? What about health insurance? She would have 18 months of health insurance coverage under COBRA, but only if she can afford the monthly costs. Given that teachers tend to have unusually good health benefits at unusually high costs (for the employer, not the employee), COBRA may be too expensive an option for her.

In the end, the "expert" does give Diane enough ammunition to approach her lenders and secure a two-year moratorium on an interest/payment reset. This is temporary, of course, but in two years, her son will be through with college. One hopes he would be employed and able to help out on any remaining loan payments. At the least, she will have had two years to build up equity in her condominium in the event she has to sell it.

I am no personal finance expert. Part of the reason I read as much in the field as I do, and all of the reasons for having this blog center around the expertise of others. It bothers me to read advice such as that given to Diane--so much of it appears to me to be downright harmful.

How does one wade through it? How does one know who to trust? How does anyone in crisis figure out what the next step is for them?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

I Should Be Where? At What Age?

Hazzard, at Everybody Loves Your Money has a nifty chart of what your net worth should be at every age from 21 to 64. As long as we're talking about net worth, it works for me. I'm only a few thousand behind. But I suspect it's really savings Hazzard is talking about. In that case, I'm way off the mark. I should have $580,781 accumulated. Instead, as of this morning, I have $172,009. If I count my rental home, which could be liquidated, that only brings the total up to $309,605.


Sunday, September 30, 2007

Quarterly/Monthly Review

Hmm--maybe I should just stick with the quarterly review this time.

My net worth is up $4483.26 to $559,930.46. This is due primarily to the rally in the stock market this past week [though my 401(K) has not fully recovered to its highest point] and the fact that, according to Zillow, my residence has continued to increase in value. This is puzzling given the static market in my city right now, but since my home is in the $300,000 range, it may be that these homes are still affordable and therefore still in demand.

So, hey! I'm doing good, right?

Umm--well, there IS my monthly financial review. Quarterly, I'm fine. Monthly, not so much.

In spite of putting money toward debt reduction, I put much more onto my HELOCC, with a net result of now being an additional $7562.35 in debt. And, I'm back over $100,000 in total debt, which includes my mortgage. Again.

My goals for the next quarter are to get that debt down to under $100,000, survive Christmas and three daughterly birthdays, and to pay the property taxes on my rental in full (which, if I manage it, will come as a pleasant surprise to the tax department).

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Where's the Middle in Middle Class?

Bluebird, over at Hedonic Adjustment has an interesting post on retirement savings (or lack thereof) by middle class folks like me.

Or not.

Bluebird thinks that his is a typical middle-class family. He's 45 and makes around $100,000. I dunno about that. Maybe it's because he lives on the east coast, where family homes sell for $400,000. But while he's middle-class, I don't think his income is typical.

I reside in the Pacific Northwest. Housing prices have soared here, as they have everywhere else. But no one I know considers $400,000 a median price for a family home. If we wanted to pay that much, we'd move to California!

Personally, I'd say that most middle income families around here are making about $60,000 a year, and that's often with two incomes. Is this just my working-class roots showing? Or am I running with a low-income crowd?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Carnivals for Mean Folks

That last post of mine shows up in two carnivals, this week, The Carnival of Personal Finance and The Carnival of Debt Reduction.

There are a lot of nice people there, too, with posts that are well worth reading.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mean Ole Grace

Although I've tried to convey a portrait of myself as a sweet, kind middle-aged spendthrift trying hard to reform, there's another darker side to Grace.

It all started with my second daughter.

As I explained in an earlier post, I have a 31 year old emotionally disturbed child. She has never been employed for longer than two weeks, and receives SSI. She does live on her own and has since she turned 18.

Now why any creditor in his or her right mind would give this child a credit card boggles the mind. But they have. Over and over.

Credit card companies send solicitations. My daughter responds. Voila! She has a card which she then uses to the max. What she doesn't do is pay the bills. Ever.

Because she moves a lot and switches phone numbers a lot, she has a tendency to give my telephone number as her contact number. The end result is a number of telephone calls to my landline from various debt collectors.

In the beginning, it was annoying. Debt collectors start calling right after 8:00 a.m. and call into the evening. They are particularly fond of the dinner hours.

But then my youngest daughter started having some fun with it, and dang, if I didn't join her.

At first, if the collector asked for my errant adult daughter, we'd say "Just a moment," put the phone down and walk away.

Then, my youngest child got good at a plausible but totally made up foreign language where she appeared to be giving the caller another number to reach their quarry. "Vey, Vey, Vey,..." "Is that three, three, three?" "Nikto! Vey, Vey, Vey. . ." "Um, do you mean two, two, two?" "Nikto! Vey, Vey, Vey. . ."

My specialty is the phony mechanical voice. A large number of calls begin with a pre-recorded message: "Please stay on the line for an important call." So I wait, and when a human being finally picks up, I say, in my best disembodied voice: "Please stay on the line for an important call." I repeat this a couple of times, and then start singing "Memories." Badly.

That led one collector to start laughing. Since then, our goal has been to make all the collectors laugh. Most don't--they just sound confused and then they hang up. Although one said to someone else apparently in the next cubicle, "Come listen to this--it's the weirdest thing!"

My daughter's new favorite is to pretend she's looking for the debtor as well, because the debtor stole her boyfriend. She gets very aggressive, demanding that the caller tell her any addresses or phone number the caller might have for "that slut." The last time she tried it, the caller patiently told her for the Nth time that she couldn't give out the address, and that this was the only number they had. But then ended the conversation with "Honey, you can find yourself a better guy than that. Just let it go."

My daughter thinks we'd have even more fun if I'd let her swear. But I told her that wasn't fair to the minimum wage employees sitting in a cubicle making call after futile call. I suppose our jokes aren't fair either, but by this time, I figure they deserve it. We tried telling them my older child wasn't at this number, but because I was unwilling to give them a better number, they never stop calling.

And this middle aged lady has to get her kicks wherever she can find them!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Maybe a Banker Could Explain This to Me?

Perhaps it is because I don't understand the world of high (or low, for that matter) finance, but Bank of America does something that I don't understand: The tellers refuse to cash or deposit any third-party checks (the kind that are written to someone else, that someone else signs it over to me, and we both sign the back of the check). Yet, if I leave the bank, go outside to their ATM machine and deposit the same check, Bank of America accepts it, credits it to my account and doesn't give me any grief.

My 22 year old daughter doesn't have a local bank account so, for the time being, she signs her checks over to me. I write her a check on my account (which B of A will cash for her) and then I deposit the "third party" check.

Today, I was conducting a number of financial transactions at Bank of America, and momentarily forgot the teller wouldn't take the third party check. Sure enough, he wouldn't even though I pointed out that they did accept them through the ATM.

He shrugged.

So I completed the other transactions, walked over to their ATM and deposited the third party check.

It's not that much trouble to do, but tell me again how this makes any sense?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Budget Shot to HELOC


Well, I knew it was coming. The windows on my rental house have now all been replaced, to the tune of $6800.

So there goes all that nice debt reduction over the past few months. When I reconcile everything at the end of September, I'm going to be deeper in the debt-hole.

The money will come out of my HELOC. Two years ago, I got a $30,000 line of credit for repairs to both of my homes. Reroofing my residence, waterproofing the basement and making other deferred-maintenance repairs used up $20,000 of that line. I'm now about to tap most of the rest.

The one good thing is that this will not affect my cash flow each month since the monthly payment of $280 per month remains the same, whatever amount I owe. I suppose it is also good that the line of credit has a fixed interest rate of 6.75%.

Still. . .

One moment I'm focused on taking a vacation, and the next, I'm going deeper in debt.

I don't have to make a decision on the vacation until after January. So I'm putting it on hold to see how my finances hold up through Christmas and what my income tax refund is likely to be. (I guess that's another "plus." I won't have income from the rental this year and I will be able to take the loss as a deduction.)

Sunday, September 16, 2007

To V(acation) or Not to V

Usually my vacations are spur-of-the moment, last-minute decisions. And usually, they wind up being to places my kids want to go. This would explain why I've been to Disneyland four times in the past ten years. Or we go to the beach. And, of course, I dig out my handy-dandy credit cards and charge air fare, motels, restaurants, etc.

Now a different opportunity has arisen, and I have enough advance notice to actually think about it, plan for it, and save toward it: My best friend of over 30 years wants to go to Japan in October, 2008. More than than, she's got frequent flyer miles she is willing to donate to my cause, and because she is Japanese-American, she has numerous relatives in Japan with whom we can stay.

Back in my college days, I took Japanese language courses for three years. I barely remember any of it now, but the fascination for things Japanese has stayed with me.

SO--I figure I will need around $2000 for this vacation, and I now have a year to save for it.

OTOH, $2000 would go a long way toward my credit card debt.

Add to that, my concern that although I've been reducing my debt for the past several months, that may not be possible every month. In fact, there is a good chance that repairs to my rental home will have to come out of my HELOCC, which will wind up increasing my debt. Since my tenant and his father are making the repairs as their time permits, I have been able, so far, to pay as they go. But when the new windows go in or the bathroom is gutted, both of which need to happen in the near future, I'll have to tap the HELOCC.

Then again, I usually get $3,000 to $4,000 back income tax refunds in March of each year. I could save vacation money out of that, and put the rest toward the debts.

Or, I could just not go to Japan!

This is not my favorite option. All of my excuses center on the "once in a lifetime" nature of this particular opportunity. If it had come up suddenly, my answer would definitely be not to go.

But I've got a year. . .

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Do Not Let This be ME!

Women in Red, an ongoing MSN series/blog, today has a story that is my personal nightmare--pretty close to the one where I become a baglady with all my belongings in a shopping cart.

Jane is a 52 year old single mother of two (barely) adult children. She earns $1800+ per month. Her mortgage and condo fees are in excess of $1400 per month, which leaves little room for anything else, certainly not the $400 per month she pays for food. The latter figure seems high to me. For myself and my 17 year old daughter, I budget $400 per month but that's always where the wiggle-room is in my budget. If I make do with less take-out and more home-cooking (thank god, Papa Murphy's Take and Bake Pizza counts in my house as "home-cooking"), I can get by for less than that.

Jane's condo has significant equity, and she could use that to pay off all her debts, including a large one that comes due in 18 months. But it's not clear what rents are in her area or if she'd have a monthly savings by liquidating the condo.

The scariest part is that Jane has only $5000 in retirement funds. At age 52, she's a long way from where she needs to be.

There are message boards and comments at the end of the article. Those were interesting to read as well.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sneaky Little Devils

Oh, those credit card companies!

I have a Bank of America credit card that is part of my checking account overdraft protection. That card resides with several others in a block of ice at the back of my freezer. I haven't used it in two years and there is no balance on it.

Today, they made me an offer that I probably won't refuse. If I pay any one of a number of utility bills (Comcast, electric, telephone, for examples) one time with the B of A credit card, they will send me a free $10 Union/Texaco gas card.

$10 free gas is $10 free gas, so I will likely pay my telephone bill with the credit card, then pay the card in full when I get the credit card bill.

But they are so hoping that I won't do that--that I'll run short when the credit card bill comes in and just pay the minimum. Actually, from the advertising material they sent along, they are hoping I will sign up to pay my utility bills every month by credit card.

I think it's a bet that often pays off for Bank of America. More than that, I'm sure I've fallen prey to similar tactics in the past.

Just to make certain I won't this time (and given my need to put aside my less-pressing bills this month to pay my granddaughter's college tuition, there is always the chance that B of A's tactics might work), I've decided to place an amount equal to the electric bill in a separate savings account to await the coming of the Bank of America credit card bill.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Tony's Personal Economy is Far from His Spin on the National Economy

EMF at Engineering My Finances pointed me toward this story on Tony Snow. Tony, a spinmeister for Bush and the president's policies, both at home and abroad, has a lot in common with me: namely, procrastination. Both of us were late to get on the 401(K)bandwagon.

But the big difference between Tony and myself (beyond the fact that he makes 2.2 times per year what I make) is that he is battling cancer for the second time. It appears that he is not hoping for a cure. Instead, the goal is to turn his cancer into a chronic but treatable illness.

He DOES have decent health care. So do I.

But a whole lot of people in this country don't. And for those that do, the costs have skyrocketed.

I doubt the irony of his boss' policies on health care is lost on Tony. But good and dutiful employee that he is, he's toeing the party line regarding any form of universal health care.

Still, he's getting out the job. He's leaving others to put a happy spin on the prez while he goes back to making even more money because that 401(K) still needs filling.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Flying Without a Net

Today I have to come up with just under a thousand dollars for my granddaughter's first semester tuition and books for college. While this is a far cry from the $40,000 the folks in my last post are paying for their daughter (God bless community colleges!), I am finding it annoyingly difficult to cobble together these funds.

And therein lies what I hate most about (relative) poverty.

It's not like I don't have assets. Or a sufficient income. Or even lines of credit or credit cards that I could access (provided, with the latter, that I unfreeze the block of ice where I currently keep them). But the debts I carry make sure that my cash flow often doesn't flow like it should.

Writing an $800 check for tuition or $180 for books should NOT be that big of a deal! And yet it is.

I'm trying to gather up the college funds without looting my $1000 emergency fund or adding additional debt. That means raiding other parts of my budget. The most flexible budgetary lines are, of course, those pertaining to food and entertainment. Unfortunately, I've already cut them about as far as I really want to--without resorting to Dave Ramsey's "beans & rice" diet. So I am figuring out which bills I can carry another month without damaging my credit rating. Comcast doesn't report payments less than 30 days late, so they can wait. The newspaper will let me go a couple of months before I get rather gently worded reminders to pay. The garbage company gives me a free ride for an extra thirty days. The water company? Forget it! They start adding fees if I'm even five days late. And the credit cards? Don't ask.

All of this means that next month, I'll have to pay double on several bills. But at least I won't have to worry about the tuition again until late January. Maybe, by then, college will have its own line item in my budget.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Gotta Luv the Pension Plan

The San Diego Union Tribute profiles a fairly typical boomer retiring couple. He's 64 and ending 32 years as a firefighter. She's 58 and a teacher's aide. They have what I think are adequate savings ($400,000+) but they also have an eighteen year old daughter about to enter an expensive college. (I consider any college that will cost more than $40,000 per year darn expensive.)

Crucial to their retirement plan is the $5850 per month Mr. Campbell will receive as his pension. That's only $15,000 less than he makes working full time in a very dangerous occupation. He will also get an additional $600 per month from Social Security, which is perplexing. Shouldn't it be considerably more than that, say closer to $1500?

At any rate, there will be no pension for me. Unlike my father, a disabled longshoreman who made 65% of his prior salary in pension benefits, or my mother, who received $85 per month for the 14 years she had worked for the phone company before marrying my father, I cannot depend on the employer largesse that my parents considered their due.

I have no problem with Mr. Campbell getting his pension. There's much to admire about anyone who has been protecting my property (analagously speaking, since he lives in San Diego and I don't) for the past 32 years. I just feel badly that pensions in general are going the way of the Dodo bird.

Paying for college right around retirement seems like a boomer right of passage. Many of us had a lot of fun in our twenties and thirties, delaying our families until we were in our forties. Nothing wrong with that except that one day we wake up and we're age-sixty with age-forty-something financial issues.

The advice the Campbells are given is predictible: They cannot afford to retire. Mr. Cambell may not want to continue as a firefighter, but he's going to have to work at something. The planner suggests he find a position that pays at least $50,000 a year, and that he work until he's 70.

I'm guessing that's not quite what these boomers had in mind.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Ebay for the Cheap & Nervous

Ah, Ebay! I love it, but I'm scared to use it.

So I browse.

But over the years, I've never bought anything that cost me more than $20. Somehow, I just can't get used to the idea of trusting some stranger to send me quality merchandise. Maybe it's the distances involved, because I do use Craigslist on a regular basis. (I especially love their free listings--check them out on Sundays to find all the stuff that didn't sell at the Saturday garage sales. I've gotten bookcases, dressers, and prom dresses, all for free.)

Back to Ebay--what I buy most often are magazine subscriptions and phone cards.

I subscribe to Oprah, Vanity Fair and Money. If I could find Real Simple (which could more accurately be titled Real Expensive) at my price, I would get that one, too. My price for any subscription, however, is $10 max.

In the five years or so that I've been purchasing magazine subscriptions from Ebay, I've been burned twice. It's easy enough for a seller to do since it usually takes around 60 days for the subscription to begin--and 60 days is too long to get any money back even if you pay through Paypal, which I do. In both cases, I used sellers with strong reputations and positive feedback. In both cases, I was one of many people scammed and it happened at Christmas time, apparently one of the more dangerous times to buy in terms of potential fraud.

Since we're talking about a total of $20 lost in five years, the risk hasn't been all that bad. Right now, I have a three year subscription to Money that I bought for $28 on Ebay as well as a 1 year subscription to Oprah that cost me $10 and a 1 year subscription to Vanity Fair I got for $6.50.

The other item I purchase regularly on Ebay is prepaid minutes for my Tracfone. (I'll post later why I use Tracfone as opposed to all the cheaper plans out there.) In the meantime, Tracfone minutes, purchased at retail, cost 34 cents a minute. If there is a bonus code, it is usually for an additional 30 minutes, which drives the price down to 22 cents a minute--still not a bargain.

On Ebay, I can purchase 60 minute cards with 60 to 90 minute bonuses from $12.50 to $17.00. Depending on how lucky I am, I then pay 8 to 14 cents a minute. I've never had a problem buying Tracfone minutes from Ebay sellers.

Another nice thing about both magazine subscriptions and prepaid cell phone cards is that there is no shipping charge.

It's the End of the Month, So How am I Doing?

I'm winding up August with a total debt reduction of $1021.34. As always, much of that ($740.71) is mortgage reduction, which leaves only $280.63 in reduced credit card debt. But down is down, so I'm satisfied. August is a tough month, financially, in the best of times, given the need for school clothes, entertaining the grandchildren, etc.

September looks to be even worse since I've got to come up with my granddaughter's college tuition, and start work on some repairs to my rental house.

At least I don't have to check my retirement funds or the value of my home. I do my net worth quarterly, so the stock market and housing market has another thirty days to get up there!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Topic du Jour

Interestingly, I'm not the only one thinking about Thrift or Theft. There are a number of related posts in this week's Festival of Frugality hosted by FILAM Personal Finance. Along with my post on the subject, check out Money, Matter and More Musings wherein one finds an account of a woman with a drawer full of ketchup packages that she spends hours cutting open and spooning into a full-size ketchup jar.

There is also a more puzzling reflection on whether or not one should take those small soaps and trial size shampoo/conditioners that hotels provide. Personally, I don't consider it theft to take those, especially if I've used some but not all of the shampoo--it's not like the staff can leave it in the room for the next guest.

I find myself in complete agreement with SVB at Digerati Life as she comments on the habits of the cheap and infamous. Some are savvy, many are foolish, and some are just plain crooked.

One last concession to the topic of Carnivals, not to mention self-promotion--The Carnival of Personal Finance is up and contains many fine posts, including my blog about blogs.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Not-so-expert Expert Advice

There's a "money make-over" story in today's Kansas City Star featuring a Lenexa family. No, I don't regularly read the Kansas City Star, but I do read Boston Gal's Open Wallet, where I found the link to the story. I found myself disagreeing with virtually every aspect of the "expert's" advice.

The Riesters have an annual income of $85,000 for themselves and their two pre-teen sons. They owe over $62,000 in credit card debt and are looking at school loans that will come due in another two years.

Initially, they followed Dave Ramsey's Debt Snowball plan. But, according to the article,"the snowball rolled slowly, the Riesters found. One weakness in plans such as Ramsey’s is that they often overlook the growing interest costs accumulating on the biggest balances at the end of the line."

Say what? If one is making minimum payments, there should be no "growing interest costs." Minimum payments on my credit cards pay all of the interest for that month plus a few dollars towards the principal. The balance goes down slowly, but it DOES go down. In fact, if one is paying only the minimum, that minimum also goes down, if only by a dollar or two.

So what exactly are the Riesters accumulating?

The answer may be in this statement: "For the Riesters, this combination of unplanned costs plus compounding interest on their unpaid balances swelled their $43,000 balance due to more than $62,000."

Why do I have the sneaking suspicion that it is the former rather than the latter than caused that $19,000 increase?

Then, the expert hired by the paper tells them to "use a significant part of their household savings and future increased income to build an emergency fund of at least $10,000 before ramping up future debt payments."

Keep in mind that they have already put aside the Dave Ramsey emergency fund of $1000. And that they have an unbudgeted $285 per month at their disposal to put toward debts.

I just don't get it. They will soon owe $45,000 in deferred school loans. But the financial expert thinks they can pay $62,000 in credit card debt in two years? On his plan?

The math makes no sense to me.

But then, neither does much of anything else in this article.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Thrift or Theft?

I regularly read the AOL tightwadding boards. It's not all about how to crochet popcan rings into a heating pad or throwing every leftover crust of bread into a freezer bag to later grind up for crumbs (although the latter DOES work!). Right now, the discussion is about what mutual funds are best in today's roller-coaster market.

But one issue comes up often. Someone will ask for the "best tightwadding tips" and there will be a score of replies that are less about saving money and more about stealing it.

Most common will be the suggestion to buy one small drink at a fast food restaurant and have everyone share it via the free refills. Another is to ask for water cups but fill them with soda. Considering that one generally goes to fast food restaurants with children, how is this a good idea? Do we really want our children to see theft as an option?

My daughter is a manager at a mall multi-plex. One of her duties is chasing down the folks that pay for one movie, but attempt to stay in the theatre all day watching a number of movies. When they are caught, the culprits are seldom apologetic. They point to the high price of the tickets as though that excuses their theft of services.

Then again, I am not exactly blameless on the movie front--my daughter gets me in free, so I feel obligated to pay for my poporn. But in my younger years, I was often guilty of hiding candy and soda in my purse in order to avoid the theatre's high prices. I can't say exactly why, but this still feels less like theft to me than some of my prior examples.

There is a certain thrill to frugality--a sense of being smarter than those poor schmucks who paid more for the same product or service.

But the line between thrift and theft is thin and easily crossed. I stay precariously on the thrift side, trying not to fall over onto the theft side.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Look Out for Traffic

I check Sitemeter daily to see how many people read (or at least click on) my blog. Generally, about 30 people a day check it.

Then yesterday, that number quadrupled!

It turns out that JLP at All Matters Financial highlighted my blog along with a couple of others. Hence the new readers checking me out.

The more, the merrier. If you're new to GRACEful Retirement and haven't gotten the full story on me, click here.

Feel free to comment along the way.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

PF Blogs I Read, and Why

I am very new at Personal Finance blogging. Heck, I'm very new at paying attention to my finances.

Before I started my own blog, I was reading many others. I know my list of favorites will change over time, but I think it may be instructive to see how that happens--as in, what I read now, and what I am reading later on. Will I become more sophisticated? Will I just add to my blog list, or will I start dropping some of them along the way? Who knows? But here are the blogs I currently enjoy the most, along with my own highly subjective comments:

1. Get Rich Slowly. This was one of the first PF blogs I found online, and it turns out the author lives in my neck of the woods. He's indefatigable, often posting several times a day. He covers not only his own finances, but the finance world in general as it impacts him.

2. Boston Gal's Open Wallet. She would be my favorite blogger were it not for the fact that I'm so dang jealous of this 30-something woman who is well on her way to financial security. I forgive her for being financially smart because her eclectic blog includes lots of extraneous side information such as posts about the fate of the Meyer Lemon tree she bought awhile back, and links to numerous free samples, all of which I have ordered. She's another one that posts more than once per day--and that's another reason I remain jealous!

3.The Wastrel Show, My Journey to Eliminate Debt, Need To Be Debt Free, and Engineering My Finances. These are all very individual blogs from middle-aged adults looking toward retirement and wanting to get their financial houses in order. The journey is not easy, and these bloggers are honest about the roadblocks thrown up by life in general and their own issues specifically. EMF at Engineering My Finances tends to be a bit more general and way more math-oriented. I read him, but I don't always understand him! Bare Bones Living belongs on this list as well, though I wish she would post more often. It makes me cranky to click on a blog daily only to find the last post was written weeks ago. You'd think I'd be a bit more sympathetic since I'm lucky if I post three posts a week, but no. Do as I say, not as I do! (Courtesy of Aesop)

4. Mapgirl's Fiscal Challenge, My Money Blog, We're In Debt, Gasping for Breathe, and Blogging Away Debt. These are all baby bloggers in their early thirties or younger who will be in so much better financial shape when they reach my age, than I am.

5. No Credit Needed, and The Simple Dollar. Two great blogs by folks who have been there and done that, but, having gotten rid of the debt, are sticking around to give out great advice. No Credit Needed will even let you monitor your decreasing debt on his website. Simple Dollar is particularly good for relevant book reviews.

6. And finally, for the minutiae of every day spending, I like to read Lucky Robin's Blog because she blogs about every cent she saves. Think I'm kidding? She found three pennies in her couch, added them to her savings jar, and gave us the new total!

I actually read more blogs than this, but these are the ones I never miss.

I think I'll do this again in a year, and see how the list varies.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Festival of Frugality

Rock at Happy Rock is hosting this week's Festival of Frugality . I've got a post in there, as do 39 other bloggers.

My Personal favorite is Graham's Flexible Spending Accounts, an often-overlooked way to substantially reduce child care, medical care and transportation costs. Graham doesn't talk about transportation costs, but a Flex plan can be used for parking or public transportation expenses. There's a bit of paperwork involved, but paying for those things with before-tax dollars is absolutely worth the savings.

One other thing: If your employer doesn't do Flex, talk to the bookkeeper or Human Resources person. There are companies out there who will handle everything except the monthly paycheck reductions. Although these companies charge a fee, the employer usually comes out ahead because the employer's share of the FICA expenses are also reduced.

Monday, August 20, 2007

It's All in my Head

When it comes to being financially responsible, there is danger all around.

Most of it begins in my head--that niggling feeling that I am giving up too much pleasure now, sacrificing too much personal comfort for a goal I may not even live to reach.

Of course, it is not just 58 year old white ladies who feel this way. DH, a young black woman who blogs about her finances at Debt Hater covers this very issue.

It is so easy to simply give up saving, give up reducing debt, give up financial responsibility. Every time I slip, (and I do slip, often) I find myself saying why not stop for awhile. Take a rest. Have some fun. SPEND SOME MONEY!!

What I am trying to figure out is: When did having fun become synonymous with spending money?

DH talks about buying clothes. For her, retail therapy is a response to frustration. Not me. But calling up friends and getting them to come with me to try out some new, expensive gourmet restaurant, is. My city is something of a foodie haven--there is always a new gourmet restaurant in town.

More telling is when DH says the following: "I think I was pissed that I was still in debt anyway. I read so many other blogs or articles about people in more debt paying it off much faster. I had all these posts boasting about how I'd be done so much sooner than I thought and how great I was for getting it together."

Oh my, YES! I listen to Dave Ramsey on Fridays, and I hear all those folks calling in to say how they paid of $122,000 in 11 months. Do I feel good for them? Do I want to congratulate them? Heck no! I want to reach through the phone and strangle them. But before that, I want to know how in the world they managed to do it. And I do NOT want to hear that they sold the Mercedes or that they make $200,000 a year!

So, here I stand, warts and all. I've laid out my wallet for the blogging community to see. I hope that by keeping my finances open and honest, I'll also become honest with myself.

To again quote DH: "Then, of course, it's embarrassing to put that out in cyberspace. Hi, I'm a pf blogger whose finances are sucking."

DH, I hear ya! My goal these days is to have finances that suck less than they have in the past. The heart is willing. The head is running hard to catch up.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Why I Have Two Houses

I have in my possession every single piece of real property I have ever owned.

Which is to say, I own a two bedroom, 900 square foot, single family residence in a dying coastal timber town four hours away from the urban center where I've lived for the past 16 years. And I own (OK, I'm buying) the home in which I've resided for the past 14 years.

The coastal home is paid for. It is tax assessed at $136,000. I could probably get a little more for it because it is in a good neighborhood. However, since I've been renting it out and taking depreciation for the past 14 years, the capital gains will be substantial. It was my first home, purchased in 1976 at age 28 for the huge sum of $ 16,900. I had to assume the first mortgage and come up with a second one just to cover the down payment. I recall struggling with the question of home ownership and whether it was worth that kind of expense.

In 1990, with both parents now deceased (they lived just blocks from my home) and children who needed more than the small town school system could offer, I moved to the big city. My mother's death had left me with a small inheritance, which I used two years later as a down payment on the home in which I now live.

So, I hung onto my first home. It is easily rented. I've had four renters in 16 years, and every time one left, they brought me the next tenant. My current tenant is the son of the previous tenant, who was the best friend of the tenant before that. They have all been handy and willing to make repairs as needed.

This year, and probably part of next year, I'll be running into some expenses. The tub and enclosure in the bathroom needs to be replaced, as do most of the windows in the home. The exterior needs painting. I'm probably looking at about $10,000 to cover everything. The rent definitely will not cover that--in fact, the rent will not cover half that once I pay for taxes and insurance for the year. I intend to free up as much money as I can to pay these costs on an as-needed basis. Yet, realistically, at some point, I will have to access my HELOCC. That means my debt is going to go up.

So why keep the home? NCN of No Credit Needed asked me that question when I first started this blog. (Read his comment here.) I have no real answer. Or rather, I have answers but they are all emotional. I love that house. It was not only my first home, but it was and remains perfect--small, well-planned, energy efficient.

When I first moved, I was unsure of my new job, unsure if I'd like living permanently in a city, unsure how it would be for my children. Then I was seduced by urban living.

Now, it's just that I like knowing that I have a fallback position should my world suddenly go crazy. I can live mortgage free in that house if I have to. I don't imagine my life will ever come to that, but I find it hard to give up the safety net.

The house itself is not going down in value. The town's timber industry may be dying, but tourists to the coast are driving up prices everywhere.

I'm the kind of person who saved all the dolls I played with as a child, and have journals going back to fourth grade. Why can't I save my houses, too?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Waiting Till Wednesday

I get paid twice a month, on the 15th and on the last day of the month. August 15th is tomorrow--Wednesday.

Unfortunately for me, I outran my budget Saturday night.

So, rather than charge anything or move any money from savings, I decided to see if I could just wait till Wednesday to spend any money.

It's Tuesday, and so far, so good.

My car's gas tank is on empty but both my daughter and I have bus passes.

I craved dessert, so I made chocolate chip cookies. (Mama can cook, but the repertoire is limited!). There were frozen chicken breasts, packaged burritos and corn dogs in the refrigerator. My 17 year old pointed out that there was no sour cream or salsa. True. But hey, where is her pioneer spirit?

We ran out of bread, but peanut butter and jelly works OK, if not great, on tortillas. My daughter sneered, and stayed with cheese on hers.

The toilet paper is running low--we're being VERY careful in how much we use.

My daughter ran out of hair gel--a tragedy of epic proportions for a spikey-haired teen; She solved it by rounding up every soda can in the house, and even a couple she found out on the street. She got $3.40 for the recycled cans and doom was thereby averted.

I used up all the dryer sheets, but the laundry detergent held out and there's still enough for another load tonight. I decided we would tough it out with rough towels for a day or two. Nobody really noticed.

It has been an interesting experiment, and one that definitely saved me money.

Tomorrow, I buy gas, toilet paper and groceries. Yes, my darling daughter--Mama will get sour cream, salsa, and orange juice.

I doubt I'll bother with dryer sheets!

And maybe we'll take the bus to the grocery store!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Why Yes, I Do Have a Coupon

Coupons are so declasse. They conjure up pictures of stay-at-home moms spending hours cutting up newspapers, organizing with recipe boxes, and then clogging up the check-out line at the supermarket with a zillion 20-cents-off coupons.

Better to stand back, adopt an air of weary superiority, and say "It's just not worth the minor savings to do all that work to collect on a coupon."

The only thing wrong with that picture is that it is totally, completely, financially WRONG!!!

Yes, I do coupons. Some weeks, only one or two; Other weeks, I become fanatical, matching coupons to menus and saving every penny I can. Either way, I do save money.

In my home city, the biggest mid-level supermarkets are Safeway, Albertson's, Fred Meyer's (Kroger's), WinCo and Food4Less. (I'm leaving out New Seasons, Wild Oats and Whole Foods, all of which have wonderful food and cost a fortune.)

At least once a month, Safeway publishes a "$10 off any purchase of $50 or more" coupon in the local give-away newspaper. A 20% reduction in grocery costs is nothing to sneer at, particularly when it can be combined with double coupons and sales. The trick to getting full value is to buy as close to exactly $50 in merchandise as possible.

Albertsons cleverly piggybacks onto Safeway ads by agreeing to honor any Safeway coupon. Voila! Two stores where the "double coupon" or the 20% reduction can be used.

The double coupons only double up to the first 50 cents. But even so, for items my family routinely uses, they are a great savings. As an example, my daughter and I both like Aquafresh's Extreme Clean toothpaste. The Sunday newspaper usually includes $1.00 off coupons for it. My only job is to figure out if $1.50 off Safeway/Albertson's price is more or less than $1.00 off Wal-Mart's. Wal-Mart doesn't double coupons, but sometimes their prices are so low that it is still cheaper just to use the coupon there.

Walgreen's coupons are great, while their regular prices are not. I shop at Walgreen's regularly, but only for coupon items.

It is ludicrous to suggest that cutting out coupons takes too much time. I do it while I'm watching TV. (Um, yeah--while I'm watching the news or the occasional documentary. And by the way, if you believe that, I've got a bridge in NY I could sell you!). I stuff them into an envelope that I leave in my car. No, they are not sorted by catagory--I don't hang on to that many extras.

Let's just say, I have decided I cannot afford be a coupon snob--they save me too much money that I'd rather save for other stuff, like, say reducing my debt. That's a GOOD thing!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

No Peeking!

When I started this blog two short months ago, I had $170,000 in accumulated 401 (k) funds. Today, I have $165,000, which is better than two days ago, when I had $162,000. The roller coaster that is our stock market (I am 100% invested in stock mutual funds) is making me dizzy.

The answer, of course, is NOT to abandon the stock market, but to stop looking at my funds! This is harder than it sounds.

All my funds are listed with Financial Engines. All I have to do is log on, and there are all my funds, complete with updated figures. This works fine as long as everything is going up. But the past month has been, alternately, barely OK or really depressing.

It is especially distressing because I know that my employer is depositing $500 of my hard-earned money every 15 days. Silly me--but when my money is going in, I want the totals to go up at least that much!

I know what I have to do. I have to stop taking a daily look at my account. I have to trust that over time, stock markets do go up. (I have to try NOT to think of the Japanese stock market--which apparently is unaware of that "going up over time" rule.)

My new resolution is to check my accounts once a quarter when I update my net worth. Period. Only then.

Anyone want to take bets on how long this resolution lasts?

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Financial Headgames and Grandkids

This is a follow-up post to my previous post of July 1st. The grandkids have come and gone and I made the following discoveries about them and about myself:

1. There are only so many library storytimes a 4 year old is willing to do. OTOH, both a 4 year old and a 5 year old are willing to spend 45 minutes running up and down the grand three story marble stairway in the library.

2. The "Baby Room" at the local Museum of Science and Industry is endlessly fascinating and can be visited daily without boredom--thank God for the annual pass I bought last March. It cost $125 to cover myself, my one minor child and all of my grandchildren.

3. The free lunch for children 18 and younger that is served in the city parks on weekdays during the summer is wonderful for my budget. The lunches were surprisingly healthy even with the mystery meat and cheese sandwiches. Vegetables and fruits were included. It turns out none of my grandchildren had eaten kiwis before--they were charmed by the idea of a hairy fruit that tasted like strawberries.

4. Summer concerts with picnics in the park work only if there's a playground nearby.

5. Kids will swim anywhere, in any temperature, for as long as you will let them.

6. The budget can be kissed good-bye.

I wound up spending more than I had budgeted for the grandkids' visit. But I worked very hard to avoid the sense that once I overran my budget, I should just forget about it and spend whatever I wanted. Instead, I struggled to make up for the overruns elsewhere.

For the past two weeks I have had coffee at home in the morning. As a general rule, I do this only two days a week. On the other days, I spend anywhere from $3.50 to $4.65 for morning cofee and pastries. Not these past two weeks, however!

I used public transportation as much as possible. I have an annual transit pass and the youngest grandkids could ride free. My grandkids are from small towns--they think train rides, and especially arial tram rides are special.

The grocery budget and school clothing budgets were trimmed to meet some of the expenses. Walgreens has sugarfree popsicles (the kind that you freeze when you get home) for $1 a box which contains 12 popsicles. All of my grandkids lived on these for their entire vacation. I was the coupon queen the whole time, as well. I use coupons but usually, sporadically. This time, I was fanatical.

The end result was still a budget overrun, but it was not nearly as bad as it would have been had I simply given up until the kids left.

Now that Grandma has her house back, and I can reflect on the financial aspects of grandparenting, I realize that the lesson I have to learn and relearn is that even as my budget is falling apart, I need to make every effort to control as many aspects of it as I can. Giving up, taking out the credit cards, just not worrying about the finances is way too easy. And way too expensive!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

July End-of-Month Report

Hmm--not the world's best month in terms of debt reduction. My total indebtedness is down by $703.39, which sounds good. Unfortunately, most of that is mortgage reduction. If I just stick to my consumer debt, I'm only down $132.71.

Still, down is the right direction. If only I were moving at a faster speed!

Friday, July 27, 2007

A Calculating Look at Retirement

I am such a sucker for calculators that purport to tell me if I'm going to have a comfortable retirement.

Or not.

It would be nice if the calculators agreed among themselves.

They don't.

Andrea Coombes at the Wall Street Journal reports on Calculating Your Retirement Nest Egg . She runs one scenario through several different calculators and comes up with several different results.

JLP at All Matters Financial goes her one better and lists a number of additional calculators.

I, of course, tried them all. My favorite is is the Nationwide Calculator which says I'm well on my way to a comfortable retirement, while the AARP Calculator thinks I'll fall short by several hundred thousand dollars.

Maybe I should do less calculating and more saving!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Grown-Up Kid Conundrum

JW, on Need to be Debtfree (scroll down to the beginning of the July posts), has been dealing with financial issues caused by his desire to help out his adult daughter and her family. Ultimately, I think, (with a strong shove from his wife!) he reached the right decision as to where to draw the line on how much help he was willing to give.

But a lot of the comments focused on the issue of "enabling," and were fairly harsh in terms of suggesting that JW not give any help while his immediate family is still struggling with financial issues. Those kinds of comments are why I started this blog, by a middle-aged person facing middle aged issues. However kindly meant, I don't think childless posters, or posters with young children quite get the issues facing those of us with adult children, especially adult children in need.

And I think memories are short!

The truth is, my parents, when they were alive (my father died 18 years ago, my mother 16 years ago) helped me out financially. This was true even when I was making more money than they were. From the money they sent me while I was in college to the family meals at a local restaurant to the occasional $20 bill slipped into my purse to the down payment on my car when it was totaled but I was upside down on the financing, my parents gave me money with no strings attached. It is a testament to their ability to manage their money (not a trait that is apparently inherited) that they could do so without damage to their own financial stability.

My children are 39, 31, 25, 22 and 17. The 25 year old is living with me temporarily in order to save money to get her own apartment. She's been here four months and will (please, God!) be moving out in September. The financial impact is minimal--I provide some food and the bedroom, but that's it. She pays "rent" by cleaning my house once a week--actually a terrific service that I will miss when she leaves.

In the past, I have paid for Montessori pre-school for certain grandchildren; I have paid to have the lights turned back on when one of my kids got behind in her utility payments; I have covered auto insurance when it appeared to me that one of my daughters didn't understand just how important it was to be insured.

Right now, the big issue is my oldest grandchild. She is enrolling in college this fall. This granddaughter is the child of my oldest adopted daughter. That daughter is a wonder--she came to me at age 11, diagnosed with attachment issues and Fetal Alcohol Effects. From an angry, disturbed teenager, she evolved into a hardworking, conscientious adult and a good mother. But her limited intellect means that her earning capacity has reached the ceiling at about $30,000 a year. She is in no position to provide college funds for her child.

Enter grandma.

Enabling? Maybe. Can I afford it? Maybe not--but I don't think I can afford not to assist. I know my parents would have done it for me, and for my children.

More, later, on exactly how I intend to do this.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Assumptions, ASSumptions

Money Magazine has an article telling readers how to tell if you're
On Track for Retirement. It's a good article but personally I'm put off by the tone of Part I.

The author, Walter Updegrave, says "A 401(k) gives you the biggest bang for every buck you save, so if you are not making maximum use of yours, you're not really serious about retirement."

I agree with the first half of that statement, but I think the second part is both untrue and unduly harsh. Some of us who are "serious about retirement" are also serious about rearing our children, serious about paying off debt, serious about meeting our medical needs and seriously underpaid. Actually, I don't count myself as being underpaid, but I don't have the financial wherewithal right now to max out my 401 (k) contributions. For the majority of Americans who make even less than I do, being serious about today is every bit as important as being serious about tomorrow.

I took the little "savings quiz" on the Money site, and learned that I should be saving 30% of my salary in order to retire. I currently save 16% and my employer contributes another 6% of my salary. But then I read this: "Savings percentages are rounded figures. Assumes retirement age of 65, annual inflation of 2.5%, that Social Security and savings will replace 80% of pre-retirement salary after deducting annual amount saved and that savings are invested in a portfolio that gradually shifts from 91% stocks, 9% bonds to 46% stocks, 54% bonds by retirement date. At retirement, funds are invested in an inflation-adjusted lifetime immediate annuity."

Well, there ya go! My assumptions are very different from Money's assumptions.

I won't be retiring at age 65. I'd like to retire at 67 but age 69 is also OK by me.

I won't be needing 80% of my pre-retirement salary. My home will be paid for, and I have a second home that can be sold to meet extraordinary expenses, should they occur after retirement.

Most of all, I will definitely NOT be investing in a portfolio of 46% stock and 54% bonds during retirement. I've never understood this rush into bonds--which, over time, lower returns without providing the kind of safety they advertise. I don't intend to be fully vested in stocks as I am now, but the majority of my post-retirement funds will stay in them.

I may or may not invest in an inflation-adjusted lifetime immediate annuity, though I know this author greatly favors them. So far, I see them as too expensive for the benefit they provide. They may change, or I may change my mind about annuitites by the time I retire but right now, this is another assumption I don't make.

As always, one-size-fits-all calculators and assumptions don't fit me.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Bring on the Carnivals!

I'm in three carnivals this week, though one, for some reason is missing in action. You've already read my post (I hope), but check out the many others in the Carnival of Personal Finance at 109th Carnival of Personal Finance.

Then Moneywalks hosts the Festival of Frugality.

Finally, Terry at Thoughts and Opinions from the Unknown is supposed to be hosting the Carnival of Debt Reduction . It hasn't shown up yet this week, but when it does, my post will be in there.

I love these weekly aggregations of financial posts and find good information as well as new blogs to read all the time.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Free, Really Free, Credit Scores

So maybe everyone but me already knows this? I've had a My Points VISA card through Washington Mutual for two years. I originally got it because it had a 12 month "0% on balance transers" option which I used to pay down my credit card balances more quickly. I have used the card only occasionally since, and then just to earn My Points ( Whenever I have a balance on the card now, I pay it off within 30 days.

All of which means, I don't give much attention to the monthly statement from VISA. I do go online to pay the bill when there is one. I've seen the link for "Credit Score" but always assumed it was going to forward me to some kind of expensive service to check my credit score. Since I am not in the market for more credit, my credit score is not high on my financial radar.

However, I was listening to Clark Howard's radio show ( this week-end, and he mentioned that those of us with credit cards through Washington Mutual, have free access to our monthly-updated credit scores.

Who knew?

I immediately went online to check it out. Sure enough--my online statement not only shows my current credit score but also the scores for the past six months. My score has been rising slowly but steadily and now stands at 748.

This is not a service for which I'd ever pay. But I certainly don't object to getting a free look at my credit score.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Pudding Index? Mine Hasn't Quite Jelled Yet!

Boston Gal (see her link to the right under "Personal Finance Blogs I Read") refers today's readers to something called "The Pudding Index." Apparently it measures where you are financially with where you should be, in terms of retirement savings. The idea is to score around 100.

Boston Gal's score is 104.

Mine is 43.

Hmm--definitely something wrong with this picture!

Try it out for yourself at

I'm Makin' a List & Checkin' it Twice

I'm making several lists, actually.

These are my "road to debt reduction" lists: (1) Things to eliminate forever; (2) Things to eliminate until I can really afford them; and (3) Things that are not crucial but will make my life miserable if I don't have.

My lists are personal and highly subjective. There are things on that third list that others will look at and say "You're kidding! You can live without that!" I could, but I don't intend to. On the other hand, the second list is my most important one--the things I can give up for the short term in order to get my finances in line.

The trick is to make sure that the first and second lists are longer and include more money than the third list. It does me no good if I think I must have everything right now or if I find that I can't cut any items.

So what's on my list? Cable TV, for one thing. The premium channels are on List #1. I can get the movies just as easily from Netflix or Blockbuster or my local library. But the next two tiers of "digital classic" channels through Comcast are on List #2. As I whined in an earlier post, I've given up Bravo channel for the sake of my debt reduction. But I'm letting "Project Runway" and "Top Chef" back into my life just as soon as I get my credit cards paid off!

Same with house cleaning, a major List #2 item. I used to pay $30 twice a month for a cleaner. That's gone for the time being, but it will be one of the first things I put back into the budget when my debts are history.

Still, my lawn and garden service, at $40 per month is on List #3. A luxury? Sure. Something I could do for myself? Maybe, though I'd have to buy equipment first. Something I don't want to do without? You bet. I want my home to look presentable. I want my neighbors to be happy. And I know myself well enough to know that even with the right equipment, the chances of me edging and mowing my lawn on a regular basis and keeping the flower beds weeded are not high.

I gave up my health club membership easily. It's a List #1 item for me. But I have friends that would sooner give up one of their children than their daily work-out. My thought is that I can exercise at home. My friends point out that I don't. They're right. And that's why gym membership belongs on their List #3.

It helps me to put most of my budget cuts on List #2--I can cut back on most things for a finite period, so long as I don't see myself deprived forever.

If, along the way, I find that I don't need some of items on List #2 after all, so much the better. My List #1 will get bigger.

I can live with that.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Frugality, Morality & Harry Potter

Being a Harry Potter fan from the first book, I will be one of those readers who gets a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows on the first day it comes out. It's even a line item in my July budget for the full price of $34.99.

So how did Harry get to be an ethical dilemma?

Well, it turns out that the very cheapest place I can buy the book is Wal-Mart. In fact, Wal-Mart, at $17.87, beats out Amazon by 12 cents.

For $24.99, I could support the large but independent bookseller in my town. Or, for full price, I could support the local feminist bookstore that I've loved for years (though, oddly, I seldom actually purchase books there--I tend not to purchase new books at all, preferring my city's excellent local libraries and garage sales).

What to do? What to do?

I know that Wal-Mart exploits its employees. I've watched the lawsuits regarding discrimination against women and African-Americans, with interest. I deplore Wal-Mart's anti-union stance. Yet, in the name of all that's frugal, how do I get around the fact that for many of the every day items I use, Wal-Mart is the cheapest place in town?

At least this time around, the decision is a bit easier. For a 12 cent savings, do I really want to support Wal-Mart? Ok, that's a pretty simple "No."

Amazon? Nothing particularly wrong with them, but shouldn't I be supporting the local folks? My city is home to one of the world's largest independent bookstores--a place I and every one else loves to go and hang out, the first stop for many visitors to our fair city. If everyone shopped Amazon, where would this store be? Don't I owe them something? Besides, I'd still save $10.00 off the full price.

But then there's the feminist bookstore--going into its fourth decade, run collectively, and always on a shoestring. I admire the women who run it, I support their politics, why not cough up the full price for them?

When I shop at Wal-Mart, I do so in spite of what I see as the immorality of its business. It's not like I think it would be immoral to buy from Amazon.

But would it be the RIGHT thing to do?

I'm still working on that one.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Social Insecurity

There is an interesting article in the Boston Globe by John Wasik, a reporter who has just turned 50. Read it at
Like so many of us in this generation, he still has children at home. (I'm 58, with a 17 year old, the youngest of five daughters, still in high school.) He says that the average American at age 50 has less than $100,000 in retirement savings--a disheartening statistic, if true. Unfortunately, that certainly would have included me at age 50. Even now, I only have $167,000 in my 401 (k). I currently save 16% of my income plus my employer pays another 6%. But this is a very new development.

How much easier it would have been, and how much more money I would have now if I'd been saving regularly since my twenties, even if it had been only 2 or 3% of my income.

My 25 year old daughter (with a big push from her mother) has started her 401 (k). She saves just enough to get a complete employer match--3%. As a theatre manager who works less than 40 hours per week, we're talking about savings of around $40 per month plus the employer match of another $12. But time is on her side, an advantage I no longer have.

I do have to say that I found Mr. Wasik far too pessimistic when it comes to Social Security. He seems convinced that it will no longer be around by the time he retires. I don't buy that for a minute. There are too many sensible ways to fund Social Security that have yet to be tried. One example would be to remove the limitation on withholding Social Security only for wages under $100,000. Frankly, the political ramifications of letting the Social Security system go under are so huge that I cannot see any public body allowing that to happen.

But in the meantime, I keep (albeit belatedly!) saving, saving, saving.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Another Day, Another Carnival

The Festival of Frugality is up at

Lots of good ideas for saving money (including my post on grandchildren) and spending carefully.