Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Quarterly Networth & June 2010 Update

The financial news from Grace's house is so-so, both for the month of June, and for the quarter ending June 30th.

I reduced my total indebtedness by $819.55 (YAY!!) but a new roof for my rental home awaits (BOO! HISS!). That expense should hit sometime in July or August.

For the quarter, my net worth is down $4,464.75, but I'm still over the half-million mark at $557,635. The loss is a result of lower amounts as of this A.M. in my 401(k) and the static housing market in my Pacific Northwest city. I'm not so sure about the latter, however. I use values from Zillow which show my home to be worth $324,000. But that same website shows the house across the street to be worth $355,000 when, in fact, it sold this past week for $374,000. So my net worth may be higher than I think.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Financial Failure Can Happen to Anyone

AOL highlighted author Jacqueline Mitchard's financial plight in today's news. But I had read about it last December when the highly regarded author wrote of it in Parade magazine.

There are so many parts of Mitchard's life that I admire, even envy--the wonderful books she has written, the fact that she and her husband have adopted children, the movies that have been made from her novels. She's only a few years younger than myself, and I would trade places in a heartbeat.

But being warm, personable, bright and educated does NOT protect one from financial scams. Some time ago, I wrote about a doctor friend who got caught up in Bernie Madoff's money games.

Mitchard points up two aspects of being a victim--one is the shame of it. Where, she wonders, are the books and newspaper articles highlighting the victims? Instead they remain in the shadows cast by the spotlight shone on the scammers. Others write about them in passing but the victims seldom seem to tell their own stories. Who wants to admit they could be in that position.

Mitchard talks about the well-meaning friends who say they feel sorry for her, but also feel like it could never happen to them. Really? What makes them so smart and so special that a con artist could never get past them?

The only reason I feel safe is that I've never had enough to invest that would interest a Madoff or his clones. I certainly don't think it is innate intelligence. That might protect me from the widows of Nigerian Generals and Lottery officials from Ireland (really? I didn't even have to buy a lottery ticket?) but the best scammers are a lot closer to home.

Saddest of all is the label of GREED that is attached to many victims which allows those of us who were not taken to somehow feel superior. Yet, as Mitchard's situation makes clear, greed had nothing to do with it. A steady rate of return and a decent retirement was all she and her family were looking for.

They are still looking.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bad Financial Planning and Good Financial Advice

Fran Tunno Mills has (probably) $176,000 coming to her from the sale of her California home, which makes her feel financially okay. Her financial advisor, provided by the LA Times as part of their money make-over series is less sanguine--she thinks Fran is in a financial pit and will have serious problems climbing out. As this article makes clear, the financial advisor is almost certainly correct.

Fran is 54 years old, newly divorced (the house was sold and the proceeds divided as a result of divorce), and does voice-over work on contract, which garners her approximately $40,000 a year. [Another thing I can't tell from the article is if she gets child support for her two children or if that is included in the $40,000.]

She has saved only $29,000 toward her retirement, and has $39,500 in debt.

To her credit, Fran knew she needed help figuring out where to go next. But Fran was wondering whether to buy a house or a condo. Her financial advisor was thinking Fran can't afford Domino's pizza, much less a home.

Clearly, living in Southern California is part of the problem. It appears that Fran is considering a move to a small town in Pennsylvania to be near her father, though the article doesn't say whether she can continue her recording contracts from that distance.

On one hand, Fran contributes $300 a month toward her children's college funds, but on the other hand, she uses credit cards to maintain her standard of living. Neither of those can continue.

I have a lot of empathy for Fran's position. I was roughly her age before I saw the necessity of putting money away for retirement. And, like her, I still had teenagers at home during my fifties. I know that if anyone had dropped $176,000 into my lap, I would have felt like I was home free. And I probably would have looked around for new housing.

I think she was fortunate to have a savvy financial advisor to set her straight. The housing proceeds will come in very handy, but just to get her back to zero. She still has to make a lot of plans for her financial future that will entail a number of cutbacks in her family's current lifestyle.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

New Blogroll Stuff

Anonymous asked me to add The Boxcar Kids to my blogroll, which seemed fair since I not only read that blog, I often reference it in my own blog.

While I was doing that, I decided to check out the rest of the links. Big mistake! I wound up fixing a bunch of previous link errors, adding some new-to-me blogs, and removing those bloggers who haven't posted in the last six months. (But I'd be happy to put those bloggers back if they'd start up again. Bluebird, KemKem, and Immer--that would be YOU! And "Fighting Foreclosure--Getting Nine Hundred," you're getting perilously close to my six month mark!)

Check out "$647,000 in Debt and Unemployed," which is the no-longer-accurately-titled blog of a young Iraq vet who got caught up disastrously in the world of real estate speculation and is slowly working his way out. Dealing with life, school and bi-polar disorder isn't making it any easier, but this raw blog is actually quite inspiring.

Also, stop by the Donna Freedman (who famously wrote an article about living on $12,000 a year) blog at "Surviving and Thriving." She relays tips on frugality and gives away Godiva Chocolate--what better combination?

I've also added a couple of blogs I've been reading for awhile now--I don't know why they weren't on my blogroll already: "M is for Money" and "Always the Planner."

Finally, I added "Tough Money Love" and "The Po File" to my list since both of these gentlemen often comment here. Both have posts that are generally contrary to mine, but are still provocative and thoughtful.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Unemployment for the Unenlightened

Wow! Some days I read a post that really says it all.

That's how I felt when I checked out this post on Unemployment at The Boxcar Kids blog.

I work with those living below the federal poverty line--some of whom are, just as the critics fear, not all that interested in working.

But they are the exception.

These days, in this economy, I am getting more and more clients who never expected to be in my office. The simple act of getting food stamps and Medicaid embarrasses them. Unemployment, less so, because at least there's a sense that those benefits were earned and that getting Unemployment Compensation proves that there was a time when they were gainfully employed.

I share the blog author's dismay at those who carp about extensions of unemployment compensation, as though it's an unwarranted suck at the public trough.

Are the critics really so set financially that they cannot conceive of being laid off? Of experiencing age discrimination? Of not getting back into the work arena easily?

Or is it a certain smugness brought on by class?

I dunno. But as someone who is just one job away from financial disaster, you won't find Grace complaining about extensions to Unemployment Compensation.

Just don't ask me about all the forms of corporate welfare!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Blogging the Bad Along With the Good

So Shevy, at Shevy's Miscellaneous Life has been hiding out rather than blog about the downturn in her financial progress. I want to tell her to let it all out rather than stop posting.

Responding as a reader, I very much want to hear about the downs as well as the ups in one's finances.

So in my blog, I don't have a problem talking about the car that stopped precipitously and had to be replaced, the clothes dryer that bit the dust and the various times Murphy seems camped out in my living room.

But I'm a bit more circumspect as to other financial issues--you know, the ones where it is MY mismanagement, MY inability to delay gratification, MY poor financial decisions that are causing setbacks.

Who wants to trumpet their failures in public?

Yet how else are we to measure our progress against that of others? How else are we to know that we're not alone slogging through the financial mud?

One of the more interesting blogs that I read is Our Debt Blog.

It should come with a warning label that reads "Do NOT Try This at Home!"

Name a mistake, and the writer of this blog has made it and is continuing to make it.

BUT, he's at least aware of the issues, and, sporadically, making an effort to control his debt. Most importantly, he blogs it all--the foolish mistakes, the debts paid off, the new debt taken on.

There are times I want to reach through the blogosphere and strangle the guy on the spot. Well, that or shake him till his teeth rattle!

But in some odd way, it does make me feel better to read his real-life examples.

Wouldn't it be nice if debt reduction happened in a straight line? If we all made financially responsible moves all the time?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Welcoming a Childless Summer

I almost have my house to myself for the summer. My two live-in grandkids are back with their mother (my daughter) where they will stay for at least the summer. We'll see how she does before making decisions about next year so the children's absence may or may not be temporary.

In the meantime, there should be a major impact on my finances.

Since both of the kids are bedwetters, my washer and dryer were in constant use. In the week since they've been gone, I've done exactly one load of laundry.

When I turn lights off and close doors, the lights stay off and the doors stay closed. More utility savings.

No more running the kids to activities all over town. I've got a bus pass which I use for commuting, but it was such a hassle to take two youngsters on the bus that I would wind up using the car when running errands.

This is not to say that I don't miss having the little kids around.

But my wallet is happier now that they're gone.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Re-Training, But for What? And at What Expense?

For someone who believes her current job to be secure (knocking wood furiously), I am obsessed with articles about folks over 50 who have watched their positions and their income fade away.

One suggestion is to retrain. Apparently enrollment is up at community colleges as people do just that.

But retrain to do what?

How does one even know what jobs are available out in the real world.

Two of my daughters have their CNA certification. This allows them work in nursing homes and as care providers for private patients. Theoretically, their field is wide open given an aging population. But the reality is a bit different. Both of my daughters are paid by the state to provide home care to handicapped individuals (usually but not always elderly) who get so-many hours per week of assistance.

Unfortunately, our state, like many others, is in fiscal crisis. So the number of hours available are being cut back.

Nursing homes are similarly cutting back as government subsidies are decreased.

So getting the CNA certification, which should have been a good plan (and actually has been for my children) is not so great at the moment.

Jayme, who writes the Boxcar Kids blog, is looking at retraining in her environmental field but the cost is $1600. If it would lead to a guaranteed job, it would no doubt be worth it. But there are no guarantees in this economy.

Ask 57 year old Rick Moran who has twice sought out more education (as a corrections officer and an auto-parts designer) and more certification, but has yet to find a job since being laid off from a design job with Chrysler 2.5 years ago.

I have absolutely no clue what I would do if I could not work in my current field. Nor do I know how I'd figure out if retraining was worth it--assuming, of course, if I even knew what other fields I should be looking at.