Sunday, August 31, 2008

August Wraps Me Up!

I am NOT going to post my total indebtedness for August.

NOT gonna do it!

And you can't make me!

But suffice to say, there was not only no reduction this month, there was an increase. I'm going back over my expenditures to figure out exactly how that happened. I do have a general idea, but my general idea was in smaller figures than the reality--isn't that always the way?

The only good news is that there will be some extra money coming in for September, all of which I intend to put on my debts.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Second Thoughts from Early Retirees

Thanks (maybe!) to Boston Gal for steering me toward this article from USA Today titled Some Early Retirees Have Second Thoughts.

I would think that anyone considering imminent retirement might postpone those plans for a year or two to see if the economy recovers, or at least move to part-time employment rather than give up one's income entirely. But what about those who retired a few years ago? Especially, what about those who retired prior to eligibility for Social Security or Medicare?

It is unrealistic to think that there won't be downturns or even recessions after retirement. We can choose not to retire during one of these times (provided our health or a job loss hasn't dictated our retirement) but we will still have to face them at some point during our retirement years.

I haven't completely thought out what I will do. Obviously, I will try to keep my draw from my 401(k) to 3% or less during the lean years. But the catch there is the cost of health care. I was shocked to find that one couple cited in the article is paying in excess of $1300 per month for medical coverage. I haven't done much research, but in my fantasy retirement budget, I've always used the figure of $1,000 and secretly assumed that that was too high and I'd probably get by for less.

Oops! Maybe not.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The 167th Carnival of Personal Finance is Up

My last post, "Money Isn't Everything" is one of the many posts listed in the 167th Carnival of Personal Finance.

Broke Grad Student uses an Olympics theme to separate out the selections. I do wish that instead of just listing titles, he would have given us the name of the blog and, maybe, a little bit about the posts, but given the large number of submissions, that may have been too much work. Notice that Grace submits to carnivals, but you don't see her volunteering to run one!

I particularly liked Hazzard's thoughts on What are my Options for Retirement? from Everybody Loves Your Money. Though, once again, I can't help wondering why people spend their lives in jobs they find only so-so. No work is all fun all the time. But given how long our work lives are, why would one choose to spend so much time hungering for retirement day?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Money Isn't Everything

Two recent news items have left me both depressed and thoughtful about the loss of financial security and the subsequent impact on one's mental health.

The first was the death of 53 year old Carlene Balderrama who could not face the debt she had hidden from her family nor the impending foreclosure on their 4-year old home.

The second and most recent was adoptive mother, Sylvia Sieferman, age 60, in Minnesota. She not only tried to kill herself, but her two 11 year old Chinese daughters as well.

Sylvia's story struck me the hardest. She is closer to my age, she has adopted children, she is a single parent, and she is participating in an age-discrimination lawsuit against her former employer. She was having trouble finding a new job, her home was in foreclosure and she was severely depressed. It was a lot for one woman to bear.

And yet. . .

Maybe it's me or maybe it's because I was reared in a working class family that toppled into poverty whenever work was not available, but I just can't imagine getting suicidal if I were suddenly poor.

Frustrated? Sure.

Depressed? You bet.

But suicidal? Or worse yet, homicidal?

How did money ever get to be more important than life itself?

It's not that I would want to lose my job or lose my home. But if I had to, I could work at McDonald's. I could be a greeter at Wal-Mart. I could live in an apartment. I could move in with one of my kids--oh, on second thought, scratch that one. I could live in a shelter.

I might be poor, but I don't think I would consider that enough of a reason to check out of life.

Shouldn't there be more to our imprint on this world than the money we make in it? Shouldn't we have some level of satisfaction in our lives that is not dependent on whether we have money?

For Carlene and Sylvia, weren't their families enough? Wasn't life, itself, enough?

And if not, why not?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Love Them Class Actions

Not that I understand much about class actions, but I sure as heck understand unexpected checks that arrive in my mailbox, courtesy of someone else's class action lawsuit.

Yesterday, I was sent a copy of a legal settlement, and informed that I would soon be receiving a check for $327.38. Unless, of course, I objected. Say what? Grace is not about to object to getting $327.38.

As it turns out, back in 2003, my state got the not-so-hot idea of cutting back adoption assistance payment by 7.5% in order to help balance a budget shortfall--nothing like saving money on the backs of foster children or children adopted from foster care. To whom are they going to complain? Foster parents and adoptive parents were given a choice--(1) sign papers "voluntarily" allowing the reduction; or (2) lose their entire adoption subsidy or foster care payment.

Gee--that was some choice! So I signed. Most families did.

But several braver families sued instead.

First, they lost.

Then, they appealed.

Then they won.

Then the state appealed.

Then the state lost.

Then the state appealed to the US Supreme Court.

Then the Supreme Court said "We've got better things to do, so go away."

Ergo--five years later, Grace will get back money for the nine months her payments were reduced.

Actually, this isn't the first time I've taken advantage of someone else's class action. Back in the '70s, I bought a prep course put out by Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich to study for my licensing exam. For reasons I never understood, HBJ was sued. I was offered a choice of $12 cash or two books from their inventory. This is how Alice Walker's "The Color Purple," and "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens" wound up on my book shelf.

And Qwest gave me a $5.50 cent credit on my phone bill for four months as part of another class action settlement.

Gotta love it!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Life is Kidding, Right? MORE Murphy

Actually, this will probably NOT turn out to be as bad as it sounds.

But I was awakened by a neighbor pounding on my door, yelling "Fire!" When I opened the door, he said, "Do you know your garage is on fire?"

Um--NO! But I could certainly smell the smoke by that time.

Fortunately, it is a free-standing garage. I don't even use it for my car, which I park on the sidewalk in front of my home. And, also fortunately, I do have homeowner's insurance.

So I provided the community excitement, and got to see an assortment of nightclothes on various neighbors, since all of this occurred just after 3:30 in the morning. I also got the benefit of sirens, two fire engines and an assortment of very cute firefighters. Is there a rule somewhere that firefighters must be young and good-looking?

Now, some ten hours later, I have an alleyway full of melted TV's, soggy mattresses and blackened surplus furniture that was being stored in the garage. Included in that was my deceased father's huge 1983 stereo (those were the days when the bigger the speaker, the better the sound) and his vinyl record collection. I think he owned every Connie Francis album ever made. I was keeping them because I couldn't bear to throw out things that meant so much to my dad. But other than that, I didn't lose anything important to me.

I now have a burned out garage that, maybe, can be salvaged. The building was reroofed two years ago, and appears to still be in shape. All the wood in the walls burned, but the building itself is stucco.

It looks like the cause may be teens smoking in the garage (one of the windows appeared to have been opened).

So I guess you know where Grace will be spending her Monday--on the telephone with insurance agents and appraisers!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

When it Rains, It Pours, and No One Believes Us

Personally, I have no trouble believing all of life's little tragedies that befall JW and family on the Need to Be Debt-Free blog. But according to the comments, his voluble and judgmental readership sure does.

Once again, I am reminded that most personal finance bloggers are still in their twenties and thirties. They think they know life, but many of us who are coming from ten or twenty or (ahem) even thirty more years of financial experience than that, may be experiencing a slightly different take.

We don't just have one child, usually young. We have teenagers, or we have adult children. Or we have both. We have grandchildren. We have cars that we hope will limp along just one more year. We have houses upon which we have deferred maintainance. We have appliances that implode with regularity, and why not, since all of them are more than ten years old.

We have retirement funds that demand a whole lot more than $100 a paycheck if we're going to have any kind of life after work.

Mostly, though, we have had a lot more time to screw up our finances, accumulate debt, and rear families that impact our spending in large ways and small.

JW tithes--something that seems to set many of his readers' teeth on edge. I'm not that religious so tithes aren't an issue for me, but I do finance community college for my children and grandchildren. There are lots of reasons why JW would have more money available if he didn't tithe, and I could contribute more to my debt reduction if I didn't have quarterly tuition bills to handle.

Somewhere along the way, certain expenses have become non-negotiable for both JW and myself. I think we both have personal commitments to honor. And I think that's fine.


Which is not to say that life doesn't hand out financially destructive, random events that make me want to scream.

The whole point of blogging, at least for me, is to get all these financial issues out in the open where not only I can see them for myself, but others who may be in a similar financial place can see that they are not alone. Or maybe others can see that they are a lot better off than I am and advise me as I struggle to get to where they are.

Maybe it will turn out that JW is a fake, but I wouldn't predict that on the basis of his posts so far--he's just blogging real life. Into which a fair amount of rain has fallen.

Believe it!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Could Murphy PLEASE Leave the Building

First, there was the good news.

I posted a few months ago that one way I planned to earn extra money was to write and market my science fiction short stories. So I did, and Voila! I got a check for $350.

Feeling like I should take care of some unfinished business, I dropped into my local car care clinic to see why my front passenger tire needed air every few days. The mechanic pointed out that the tread on the tire was so threadbare, it was too dangerous to even check for holes. And then (who knew?) I was told that it is better to purchase tires in pairs. So there went $142.

I'm putting the remaining $208 into my emergency savings account.

Murphy is spending entirely too much time in my life!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Ye Olde Credit Card Shuffle

My credit union VISA made me an offer I couldn't refuse: No balance transfer fees and a rate of 1.99% for 12 months after a balance transfer.

That works!

My credit line on this particular VISA is over $5000 but all I currently owe (having paid it down like a good girl) is $600. So I promptly zeroed out two of my cards, one with a 21.8% interest rate and the other with a 15.5% rate. That means that the highest interest I'm now paying on any of my cards (and it is my card with the lowest balance, so it is next in line to be paid off) is 11.99%.

It's just another small savings, but I'm hoping they will all add up one day.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Small Stuff

Not that this will equal the out-go for kitchen stove repairs, but I was particularly proud of myself yesterday. Not only did I put $100 in my pathetic baby-steps emergency account (bringing it up to a not-so-astounding $145!), but I fed myself and my daughter for 99 cents.

And how did I do that, you might ask?

First, I had two coupons for free Jamba Juice smoothies from last Sunday's newspaper. Then I had a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for Wetzel's Pretzels from my Entertainment book. Both my daughter and I are fond of Wetzel's Pretzel Dogs (hotdogs wrapped in soft pretzel dough).

Life being what it is, we didn't manage to get to the mall for dinner until 8:30 p.m., just half an hour before the mall closed. That turned out to be good news, since apparently Wetzel's puts everything in their food case on sale for 99 cents during the last half hour.

Ergo--dinner for two for a mere 99 cents!

And, since we were late to the mall, we didn't have time to be distracted by the on-going sales at any of the other stores!