Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September 2009 Quarterly Update

On a quarterly basis, things are definitely looking up--13% up as movement on my home values and my 401(K) funds gives my net worth an increase of $66,542.21. This means I now have a total net worth of $573,722.21.

Not bad. Not up to the June, 2008 high of almost $600,000, but still fine by me.

On the monthly side of things, it's much less exciting. In fact, after all is said and done, I reduced my total indebtedness this month by a decidedly anemic $66.37.

However, I do have my excuses! September is when I have to pay in full for my transit pass, which I then recover from my flex funds over the next six pay periods. I also pay in full for my secretary, who pays me back out of her flex funds. We save several hundred dollars a year by doing it this way, but it does temporarily impact my debt reduction.

I'm going to track my spending down to the penny in October--I want to see where I'm dribbling away my funds. [Yeah, I could make some good guesses, but nothing like a few facts to make me face my own spending habits.]

Monday, September 28, 2009

More From the Social Security Administration

I'm not one of the doomsayers who believes in the imminent or eventual collapse of Social Security. Nor is this story from Wallet Pop intended to panic anyone.

There IS money to cover the deficit, and no eligible retiree will go unserved or unpaid. Not for the first time, Social Security's income will be exceeded by its outgo--a rerun from the '80's. As happened then, the current shortage will be covered within a year or two.

But in the meantime, the Social Security Administration is doublely hammered--job losses equal less money from FICA while increased early retirements mean more demand for their funds.

What saddens me the most are the human stories behind the surge of early retirements.

It's one thing to retire by choice.

Another to have to retire due to disability or the need to care for a loved one.

By far the worst is to be capable mentally and physically of working, to WANT to work, and yet to have nothing available.

I suppose that folks 62 and over are lucky to have the choice to retire, given the large numbers of youthful and middle-aged jobseekers out there. But I doubt it feels very lucky to those taking their retirement years before they needed to, wanted to or ever intended to do so.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Scammed & Crammed

I got my telephone bill online yesterday and nearly fell off my chair.

My landline costs $27 a month give or take the occasional call to directory assistance. My latest bill was for $67! Excuuuuse me???

When I checked the billing, there were my usual monthly charges plus two $19.99 charges by Transaction Clearing ETS for Access Voice, some sort of answering service. Since I already have an answering machine, I would hardly be signing up for voicemail.

And in fact, I hadn't.

When I called my telephone carrier, they agreed to remove the charges, though they said they had had no choice but to initially add them to my bill. (Clark Howard says this is entirely incorrect.)

I also called Transaction Clearing ETS where a cheerful operator agreed to remove the charges. She asked so few questions, and was so immediately willing to help that I asked if this happened often. "Oh Yes," she replied. "We're told to take off the charges for Access Voice whenever anyone complains."

The Rip-Off Report says I'm hardly the first consumer to be targeted by Access Voice.

OK, my problem is solved. But I'm the kind of person who checks every bill. What if I wasn't? What if I was used to much higher bills, such that an extra $40 wouldn't surprise me? What if I was a business person and just automatically paid every bill as it came in?

It must be easy money for these crooks.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Today's Carnival

Emily at Taking Charge handled this week's Carnival of Personal Finance. Grace is there, with the post about Bernie Madoff. Lots of other good reading as well.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Naming Names

Dave Ramsey famously tells us to "give every dollar a name" when we budget.

I tried that this month.

My problem is that other names kept intruding into my budget.

Which makes me want to use a lot of names that one shouldn't in a family-oriented blog!

I went the extra mile to delineate every expense I could think of--the "every six weeks" haircut, a grandchild's birthday, stamps, etc.

I even hauled out my envelopes to carefully keep all the expenses separate.

Good plan, except there was no envelope when my 16 year old grandson called to say he failed his driver's license exam and needed $20 to take it again. I failed to name the dollars needed to buy a baby shower gift for a colleague at work--heck, I didn't even know she was pregnant. And why is it that water bills are handed out quarterly, not monthly, so that I'm always surprised when the bill comes? Neither a name nor an envelope for that, either.

So, of course, I purloined the named dollars from the food budget and the gas budget, all of which explains why I'm pretty much out of names but the month still has another 9 days till payday.

Expect some major whining to ensue!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Childfree, Childless, or Children Everywhere

I graduated high school in 1967.

I feel like I'm part of the first generation that didn't automatically assume that becoming a parent was the be-all, end-all purpose of our lives. Whether it was the feminist movement that suggested there was more out there for women than being mothers, the advent of free love that brought with it STDs which impacted our ability to give birth, or hedonistic boomer lifestyles that made children a burden as much as a blessing, it was suddenly OK not to want or have children. In fact, in some circles, it was environmentally correct to not add to the population bomb.

I'm sixty. My sister is 59. Neither of us has given birth. However, I did become a parent to five wonderful daughters through adoption.

At some point I discovered that when I initially said I didn't want children, what I really meant was that I didn't want babies and I had no particular desire to give birth. As far as passing my genes along, there are already enough chubby white women in the pool. But over time, I realized I really did want to parent. So I found a way.

Still, let there be no equivocation about the financial consequences of my decision. Even with Medicaid and monthly Adoption Assistance (all five of my adoptions were through the state foster care system), KIDS ARE EXPENSIVE! And it doesn't end with childhood. All five of my children are now adults. Adults who continue to cost their mother money!

There's an interesting discussion going on over at Voluntary Simplicity on this subject. The comments include a great deal of ambivalence as well as accusations of selfishness (though, interestingly, both lifestyles with and without children, are described as selfish).

Having children has greatly impacted my finances. Yet I don't regret my decision to parent.

Then, again, neither does my sister regret her decision to remain childfree.

Monday, September 14, 2009

A Fool By Any Other Name. . .

I had lunch on Saturday with a couple, two longtime friends from the east coast. We hadn't gotten together in over five years but at one point in our lives, we had been very close. It's the kind of friendship where even after five years, no subject is taboo. So after catching up, we started talking finances. She works in fashion; he's a research physician. Both of them were caught up in the Bernie Madoff scandal, and both of them were furious at the havoc wrecked upon their finances by Madoff.

The last time we got together, five years ago, we had laughed hysterically at the small town city council in my state who had actually used city funds to participate in what turned out to be a Nigerian scam. We marveled at idiots who were foolish enough to put their faith in an e-mail that promised them millions.

But my friends weren't laughing about Madoff. They "lost" over $600,000 in Bernie's New York version of Nigeria. I put quotations around the words "lost" because they didn't actually invest that much, but they understood that the investments they HAD made were increasing rapidly. Sadly, when the dust cleared, they were out $600,000 they thought they could count on, plus the hit that their other funds took during the current recession.

They just could not believe that people of their caliber could be scammed. The physician acknowledged that the most successful large-scale cons were usually aimed at doctors, actors, and Mormons. But though he is a physician, he's in research. Plus, he's not a member of the Latter Day Saints; he's Jewish. Plus, he's really, really smart, as is his wife.

Somehow, he expected that all of those traits would protect him from the Madoffs of this world.

I have to wonder if those attributes actually made him more vulnerable--that he felt so protected by his intelligence that he didn't question where his wonderful returns were coming from. Why was everyone else hurting as the economy slid into recession but Bernie kept their money coming?

My friends are hardly out on the street though neither one will be retiring quite as soon as they had hoped. They got rid of their Manhattan co-op (bringing a check for $22,000 to the table to do so) and moved to Park Slope. For folks familiar with NYC real estate, Park Slope is not exactly the poor side of town.

But the greatest damage was done to their sense of their innate ability to manage their money. They would never have fallen prey to the e-mail plea of a Nigerian general's widow but when the scammer comes clothed in your own religion, speaks your language and projects an air of financial sophistication?

Then, almost everyone is capable of playing the fool.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Law of Unintended Consequences hits Young Workers

Who'a thunk that MY saving money in my 401(k) would work to the detriment of young workers?

As Catherine Rampell and Matthew Saltmarsh write in Thursday's New York Times, the losses that prospective retirees see in their 401(k)s are keeping them on the job longer, which means fewer positions opening to new employees.

This is less true in other recession-hit countries (those with--OH NO!--SOCIALIST agendas!) where government pensions ARE intended to cover all costs, unlike the United States, where Social Security is intended merely to supplement employer pensions (which are, of course, going the way of the Dodo!) and employee savings. According to the article, last year in the United States, almost a third of people ages 65 to 69 were still in the labor force; in France, just 4 percent of people this age were still working or looking for work.

This is the point where some folks sneer "Then, move to France if you want to!" Or they correctly point out the higher taxes that French citizens pay. I wonder why we can't take some lessons from countries who are handling issues like health care and retirement more effectively than we do in the US. I wonder why, instead, we so often resort to jingoistic responses that get nothing changed, and nothing solved.

As it happens, I will NOT have an employer-paid pension when I retire. As it also happens, I really like my current job. So Grace is definitely one of the old geezers standing in the way of recent college grads. I can't afford to retire "on time," (for me, age 65 and four months) But I probably wouldn't, anyway.