Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Financial Doldrums & April Update

So I've been blogging about my finances since mid-2007. The general idea has been to self-monitor my debts and, one hopes, watch the indebtedness dwindle. The debts have indeed dwindled, but at an alarmingly slow pace. Here I am, almost two years later, and I've only dented the indebtedness by a total of $4900. Even that hasn't a steady drop--more like a series of rises and falls as life and Murphy keep intervening.

Right now I feel like I'm in the financial doldrums--the fiscal version of the depressing calm that beset sailors in olden times. It's not that anything terrible is happening to me financially. But it's also not like I'm making any great progress on debt reduction, either.

Case in point: For the month of April, I managed to reduce my total indebtedness by a whopping $88.41!

I gotta do better than this if I plan to ever retire debt-free.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Five Thoughts for A Friday

A bunch of small things on my mind on this beautiful Friday (The weatherman is promising a nice week-end as well, but he's fickle and untrustworthy.):

1. A fair number of bloggers are getting burned out worrying about their finances. KemKem, at Life As I know It, and Karissa at Keeping It Seriously Simple are both having a bad case of the "Blahs." I know these thoughts only too well. Some might suggest just ignoring the feeling and soldiering on. But I think it is a sign of frugal fatigue and should be combatted by a small amount of personal, fun spending. One nice meal out or a single overnight getaway won't break the bank, and may well help get someone who is suffering back on the frugal track. At least, if we don't do it every week!

2. Earth day came, and Grace came up short, as usual. But I am making one new concession to greening the planet--I am using (mostly, when I remember--currently, I have remembered during two of my last three trips to the grocery store) one of those ubiquitous canvas shopping bags.

3. Mighty Bargain Hunter has a lovely post about help given to a homeless woman. While I could not (or maybe, would not) have charged $55 as easily as he did, I greatly admire his deed.

4. I never thought I would consider an annuity. In fact, they have always seemed to me to be an expensive and not very effective retirement option. But this article from the Wall Street Journal has gotten me thinking.

5. And finally, for those who have e-mailed me to ask--I am feeling great. According to my doctor, whom I saw yesterday, I am the poster child for anyone recovering from heart surgery. I've lost 11 pounds and I'm walking every day--something I should have been doing over the past year. Too bad it took this wake-up call to get me serious about weight loss and exercise!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Parking Ticket Rant


Never mind that I deserved what I got. Never mind that I have no excuses. None of that will prevent me from ranting about parking tickets.

First, I hardly ever take my car to work. I am a firm believer in mass transit; my office subsidizes annual bus passes; I love riding the bus because it gives me uninterrupted reading time.

BUT--part of the fallout from heart surgery is the necessity of doctor's appointments. For whatever reason, all of my appointments have been scheduled mid-day. This means I can't economically use the parking lots near my office because none of them allow "in and out" access. Going in and out twice in the same day is prohibitively expensive.

So I park on the street. At 1.5 hour meters. Which I then sometimes forget about.

That particular brand of forgetfulness costs me $24 a ticket.

Today, I got my 4th ticket in a month.

A total (so far!) of $96!

Money that could have gone to debt reduction. Money that I would much rather have wasted some other way!

May I just say again: ARRGH!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Healthy Health Insurance

For obvious reasons (like, say, quadruple bypass heart surgery!) I am grateful that I have health insurance. Mine is through Kaiser. So far, the costs of the initial testing and subsequent surgery total $47,458.12.

My personal costs? $20 in co-pays for two office visits plus another $30 for additional medications.

I went back to work full-time yesterday, exactly four weeks and two days after the surgery.

Health insurance is on my mind because a colleague submitted her resignation in my absence, and I can't help but think she's making a terrible mistake. She's not happy with her supervisor, but the two of them have worked together for over 25 years. What would another couple of years matter?

More importantly, she's only 62. She can get social security, but she won't be eligible for Medicare for another three years. Unfortunately, even if she can afford COBRA (and I'm not sure she can) it will only cover the first 18 months after she leaves. That means she will be uninsured for another 18 months until Medicare kicks in.

Her response? "I'll just go to the emergency room. Besides, I'm healthy."

Umm--Hello? Didn't my experience teach you anything? I thought I was healthy, too. Instead, I've been a walking time bomb for years.

Who wants to risk a $47,000+ debt hanging over their retirement?

Not me, that's for sure. Now if I could just persuade my colleague.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Finances of Friendship

Miss M has a new post about friendships and how they are impacted by economic status. I don't disagree with her conclusion that we tend to keep our closest friendships with those who are also close to our class.

But it does cause me to reflect on my closest friendship.

L and I met in graduate school thirty-five years ago. We are both loners. Neither of us married. Depending on where we were living (currently we're in the same city, but we've been as much as 2000 miles apart), the closeness of our relationship has ebbed and flowed.

We discovered early on that we travel well together, so we've always taken vacations with one another. She is the friend I went with to Japan last October.

Since my heart surgery, and after my daughter returned home to her family, L has been dropping by for dinner four nights a week. She has also provided me with transportation since I'm still not released to drive.

We're a lot alike. But NOT financially.

She is quite wealthy and always has been. Not only does she come from a wealthy family, but she has taken private sector jobs that pay very well.

We have worked hard over the years to keep money from being an issue.

We both like to eat out. In general, we take turns paying. When I'm paying, we're likely to hit the local Thai restaurant. When she craves something more exciting and more expensive, she pays. We don't try to keep the money even--just the number of times each of us pays.

On vacations, we tend to agree as to the quality of the lodgings we want--we both want a certain level of comfort, but she never insists on top-drawer accommodations. We both like to play tourist, so I make sure in advance that I can afford the museums and other attraction costs. We both agree to fly coach. Actually, she flies a lot in her job, and she takes coach, then, too.

Shopping has always been a joke between us. She is an inveterate shopper and she loves it. I'm not. I accompany her with a book in hand, and I head for the nearest chair while she scouts out her "must-have" purchases. She comes home from our vacations with at least one extra suitcase of new stuff while I tend to be happy with a couple of bookmarks or coin purses.

But in spite of our class differences and the variance in our financial status, we have remained friends all this time. I would hate to think that something like money could ever change that.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Retirement Practice

Even though the damage to my heart turned out to be worse than expected (a quadruple by-pass as opposed to a triple), my recovery could not have been smoother. I've had surprisingly little pain, more energy than I expected, and WAY too much free time on my hands. I won't be allowed to drive for another week and a half, which keeps me at home.

So I'm looking at this as retirement practice.

It is frustratingly clear to me that between now and the time I actually do retire (which, according to my schedule is in 9 years), I'd better have serious plans in place.

Getting up late, reading a lot, and watching daytime television is already getting old and I've only been doing it for three weeks.

I am so BORED!

Part of it, of course, is that my close friends are still working so they are not available to play with me during the day. Also, a "real" retirement would include volunteer activities, writing, travel, and, probably, a car. That latter is a bit iffy since I'm not the world's greatest driver, and who knows how much worse I'll be in another decade.

I am less able to structure my time than I expected--something that will have to change once I retire.

Still, it's been an interesting exercise--and proof to me that I am, in no way, ready to retire right now.