Thursday, July 29, 2010

July 2010 Update

July was a good month for me. In spite of some extra expenses for my annual Zoo pass renewal and the impending birth of my first great-grandchild (wherein great-grandma was seduced by the multitude of cute outfits for baby girls, not to mention the combination baby carrier/stroller/bassinette that apparently every newborn must have--whatever happened to putting the kid in a dresser drawer?), I ended the month $21 under budget.

Better yet, I lowered my debt by $1072.17.

Of course, the roofing bill for my rental house hasn't come in yet.

But so far, so good.

Friday, July 23, 2010

It's a Matter of Perspective.

Morrison at All Doors Considered has a particularly poignant post today wherein her financials are discouraging, and she doesn't see it getting a lot better, either for her family or for the country.

She especially does not want to be told that there is upside to managing in the current economy.

But while I understand her position, I also disagree with her. Sometimes there IS an upside to deprivation.

For example:

One family Thanksgiving decades ago when my family got together, my sister and I reminisced about the good times we'd had as children. We both agreed as to the best summer of our lives--we were preteens and our parents took us to a local lake nearly every day. We stayed all day, picnicked for lunch and dinner, hung out with other families, learned to water ski (or fall off the skis in my case!) from a neighbor who had a boat, found out all the words to "Louie, Louie" and why they were considered dirty, and, after a month or so, saw our mother venture into the water for the first time. It was the one and only summer I actually got a tan.

Our parents were stunned.

They, too, remembered that summer but their memories were a lot less rosy.

My father was a longshoreman and that summer, he was on strike for three months. There was no Unemployment Compensation and they had little savings. They had to ask my mother's parents for mortgage money. They literally fed us oatmeal, deviled meat (from Abundant Foods, the predecessor to Food Stamps) and hot dogs all summer because it was what they could afford. Their car was paid for, and the lake was nearby, so their one small extravagance was the gas to get there.

My sister and I didn't recall that we had eaten the same cheap foods for lunch and dinner. We just remember going on the picnics and how much fun it was at the lake with our friends and our parents.

My point is that my parents were financially stressed to the max but still they managed to put their free time, if not money, to good use. Growing up in the fifties and sixties, it always appeared to me that my sister and I had a closer relationship to our father than most of our friends had with theirs. I trace it to that magical summer when he was available to us and willing to talk with us on any subject.

Did my parents ever want to repeat that summer? Not in a million years.

Would my sister and I go there again under the same circumstances? In a split second!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dancing the Credit Card Shuffle. Again!

If you were reading me a year ago, you know that I jumped at a credit card offer to transfer one of my $8200 credit card balances to a 0%-for-nine-months new card. The cost of the balance transfer was $50.

Well, I've done it again!

I got an offer from HBSC (where I have my emergency account stashed) for a 0%-for-12-months-balance-transfer.

There are some downsides to this: (1) the transfer fee is $246 (3% of the amount transferred); and (2) the new card has a credit limit of $10,500 so my "credit used to credit available" ratio may impact my credit rating.

BUT the reason I went forward is that my net savings over 12 months will be $813. The card from which I'm tranferring the balance charges 15.99% interest, by far the highest interest credit card I have.

These kind of financial transactions always strike me as tricky and generally make me nervous. But the card, when it arrives, is going in the freezer with the rest of my credit cards.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Retirement Blues

Sydney Lagier has written a thought-provoking article over at US News & World Report on 10 Retirement Let-downs. (You may know the author better as "Retired Syd" who blogs at Retirement: A Fulltime Job.)

I freely admit that several of the items on her list are my main non-financial worries about my own retirement--never mind that retirement for me is 8 years off.

I recognize my personal capacity to become a hermit. And I also realize that I have a restless nature that is not likely to be happy about that. I do believe that maintaining relationships is important but I also know that death and job loss contribute to the loss of relationships as we become older. Where are the articles on how to make new friends when one is past age 60?

Not all of the concerns Syd listed are ones I share. Take it from me, Grace will NOT be moving to the country when she retires. I love my urban environment, access to good public transportation and the plain excitement of city living. Right now I live ten minutes from the downtown core--but one of the things I'm going to seriously consider when I retire, is moving to the center of my city.

Nor do I have a Mr. Grace to consider. Sounds like Syd thinks that's all to the good.

At any rate, as her article shows, there are a lot more than just financial considerations to be given to thoughts of one's retirement.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cheapskate on Vacation

I've been on vacation the past week, and if I do say so myself (which I DO!), I very successfully cheapskated my way through it.

It started with airfare. The roundtrip flight was $179 but I used a $100 credit from Travelocity to get the cost down to a reasonable $79.

Then I met up with friends who had a timeshare at Lake Tahoe. I know what a bad investment timeshares are, but I'm not at all adverse to using those owned by my less financially savvy friends. (To be fair, this particular friend's family has owned the timeshare for over 15 years and use it a lot, so maybe it wasn't a bad investment for them.) The timeshare was at a resort that provided unlimited use of various spas, hot tubs, pools, and tennis courts. It also provided two free movies per day and "get acquainted" Margarita nights.

Since there were six of us, and we had a kitchen, my share of the food bill (which included copius amounts of Ben & Jerry's, and Mike's Hard Lemonade) came to $37.00. Plus the guys got into a grilling competition so we primarily ate dinners in. (Feed me good food, and I'll willingly do the dishes!)

For the most part, I hung around the hot tubs and pools, read books I'd brought from the library, and once, for $20 and 45 minutes, went to a casino. I apparently don't have what it takes to become a gambler--I thought the slot machines were silly (i.e. took no skill beyond pushing a button and watching the pictures roll), and Blackjack, boring.

But having a week away from home and office was, indeed, priceless.

Okay, not exactly priceless, but spending less than $300 for 8 days constitutes a true cheapskate vacation in my book!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Vindication--Thanks to Someone Else

Over the years, I have purchased several computers from Best Buy. While I don't appreciate their hardsell when it comes to warranties I don't need or set-ups I can do by myself, I have found their sales to be the best, at least for lower-end laptops and desktops.

A few years ago, I got really ticked off when the credit card I used to purchase a desktop, was charged $21.95 for MSN Online. Apparently I was given a free trial period with MSN when I purchased the computer. I never used it because I had AOL. But when I didn't cancel it after the free trial period, my credit card was charged the monthly user fees. I called Best Buy and I called MSN. While the membership was cancelled, I never got anyone to remove that one-month charge.

I was not happy, but, for me, it ended there. I paid the money and life went on.

Someone Else who got similarly scammed was less sanguine. Someone Else got a lawyer. Someone Else sued. As a benefit for Grace, they sued for class action certification.

And guess what?

Best Buy settled.

Shafting Grace cost me $21.95.

But shafting Someone Else cost Best Buy over a million dollars.

I will get my $21.95 back. Someone Else will get his or her money back plus an additional $2500. The real winners, of course, are the attorneys who will get a quarter of a million dollars.

I am glad that someone pursued Best Buy over this issue. I am a bit ashamed that it never occurred to me to check with an attorney. I just accepted that I should have read the small print more carefully when I bought my computer.

Let's hear it for Someone Else. From the bottom of my pocketbook, thank you!