Friday, December 31, 2010

2010--The Final Wrap-Up

The last quarter of 2010 made the rest of the year finally look good. My net worth is up $10,921. This is primarily due to my 401(k) which is still stock-heavy, increasing over $20,000 in three months. It is certainly not due to the real estate market in the Pacific NorthWest--both my home and my rental have decreased in value for the fourth straight quarter. But my rental is paid for, and my residence will be in three and half years.

So, my current net worth is $565,851.

I do love the sound of that--Hey there! Grace is worth over half a million!

Of course, Grace still has much too much debt and not enough in her retirement funds.

I managed to stick to my Christmas budget so I also managed some minor debt reduction during December.

Hmm, minor, indeed! A whole $317! But at least it was moving in the correct, downward direction.

As for 2011--I've made the usual resolutions, and I'm hoping for better than usual results.

I want to reduce my debt by at least $10,000;

I want to increase my savings, both for retirement and my emergency fund.

Speaking of which, I'd like 2011 to be the year I actually keep a baby emergency fund. Right now, it's there, but contains only $700.

Here's Grace, raising her cup to all of you, and wishing everyone a truly great and enriching (in every sense of the word) new year.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Some Thoughts on the Christmas Season

Christmas was quiet but pleasant this year. The best part was that I stayed within my budget.

1. My very best Christmas bargain was at The Body Shop. First, I purchased a $40 Groupon for $20. Then, when I went to the store, they were having a special promotion. If I donated $5 to their "Stop Sex Trafficking" charity, they gave me a small bag. Anything I put in the bag was 50% off. The end result was that I purchased $70 worth of stocking stuffers AND donated $5 to a worthy charity, all for a grand total of $20. That may be the best deal I got all year.

2. I broke with the "Grandma provides Christmas dinner and feeds everyone" tradition. This year, I made a ham rather than a turkey, and set up a buffet. Family could come by whenever they wanted. It went so well, I may do it again next year.

3. There are so many free events and things to do during the Christmas season. I made a special effort with my grandkids to check these out. We drove around looking at 'over the top' Christmas decorations. We went to the Zoo to ride the Zoo Train and look at all the lights they put out (free with my annual pass). We hit every church Christmas concert within half a mile of my home. I did get a tad overdosed on frosted sugar cookies, but the kids and I had a blast.

4. I caught a post-Christmas cold from one of my grandkids. You'd think that was the bad news, but it has allowed me to stay on my couch, away from work and away from people, watching all the bad television I want. Rather a nice Christmas present actually!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Retiring with Debt

The Christmas season is probably NOT the best time to bring this up (or maybe, it's the perfect time!) but a surprising number of seniors are retiring notwithstanding the fact that they have not paid off their credit cards. In fact, according to this article in USA Today, some seniors are accumulating debt during retirement that they have no way or intention of paying.

I do find this shocking.

My general scenario (barring job loss or crippling health issues) is that one pays off the house, credit cards, etc. BEFORE retiring.

It's not like retirement is likely to bring in EXTRA income--that pie we spent our working lives accumulating is being sliced into ever-smaller pieces once we retire.

I will say that the part of the article I don't have a lot of sympathy with is the failure of retirees to leave an inheritance for their children. While I want to give my children something, and do expect to, it is NOT my children's right to expect that I will. My retirement funds are meant to fund MY retirement, not anyone else's.

Right now, working is important to me, both emotionally and financially. I could not fund my current lifestyle (meaning, my current debt payments!) on what I will have during retirement even counting Social Security and my 401(k). In fact, I've always wondered about folks who expect to rent throughout their retirement. Having my mortgage paid off (which it will be in 3.5 years) is a major factor in my ability to retire.

I wonder if this has to do with being a Baby Boomer? Do we just consider credit cards and credit card payments and mortgages part of life--that lasts until we die?

And beyond?

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What to Give the Person You Love But Don't Like

Suppose there is someone--a family member, or, maybe, a longtime friend--with whom you've had a strong and loving relationship and to whom you have to give Christmas gifts.

Then suppose that for some valid reason--addiction, mental illness, criminal behavior--it's become impossible to like this person even though you still love them.

What IS the perfect gift for the person you care about, but no longer care for?

Sadly, some of us get to contemplate that question this year.

My second daughter, whom I adopted when she was 11, has had a chaotic life. Too many truly evil things happened to her in her first 10 years to make the next 25 years easy. In addition to a high level of continued emotional disturbance, 2010 was the year she turned to methamphetamines. That led to the state removing her children and placing them with their fathers.

She has yet to address her addictions.

Right now, she is angry at the judicial system, angry at the world in general, and, in particular, angry at me.

Needless to say, I'm not very happy with her, either.

But she IS my daughter. And I've never NOT given my children Christmas presents.

So--what to give her?

She could use a good pair of shoes, but the last time I bought her a pair of Nikes, she turned around and sold them. Ditto for any electronics.

I could save my money and skip the gifts for her.

Or I could be snarky and donate money in her name to some treatment program.

In the end, I got her socks, underwear, pajamas and a robe. My thought was that these were quintessential 'mother' gifts, having the requisite intimacy that befits a loved family member without spending a fortune or making it easy for her to come up with money for drugs.

Next year I hope to do better for her. But first, she has to do better herself.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Asking How You Feel May Not Give You the Right Answer

Three months ago, after being on diabetic medications for eleven years, I moved to insulin. Instantly, my glucose numbers went down--which is good. But the question I most often get is "Do you feel better?" Well, given that I didn't feel particularly bad when the numbers were high, and given that there hasn't been much of a change in my vision and some mild neuropathy, the truthful answer is "No, I don't feel any better." That's how I feel. But medically, things are much, much better for me. That's the real truth, never mind how I feel.

I was thinking of this while reading PoltiFact's take on President Obama and the state of the economy. I love these folks, and their 'plague on both your houses' approach to monitoring what politicians tell us for the truth (or NOT!) in their statements. Democrats and Republicans are equally irresponsible when it comes to saying what's on (in?) their minds, notwithstanding the actual facts.

Questions like "Are you doing better this year than last?" seem simple enough, but like questions about my diabetes, the answer is more complicated. Yes, I'm doing better, but No, I can't really tell that I am. I don't FEEL any better financially this year than last. I don't FEEL like the economy is getting better.

Yet, in significant ways, it is. While housing and jobs lag, the economy IS growing. That's not clear if one listens to the 'Obama is the devil-incarnate and nothing he says or does will ever be right' types.

Sometimes, it's good to remind ourselves to take a good look at the facts, and not just let our personal feelings be the gauge of what is actually happening.

That's true when it comes to our personal lives, and our financial lives, not to mention our political lives.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

This Post is for ME, Not YOU

OK, I admit it. I love journals and writing books of all kind. The prospect of getting a Daycraft journal for free from Notebook Stories just by posting this on my blog was entirely too enticing to pass up.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed till Friday.

Hmm--which does make keyboarding a tad harder!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Best Presents Ever

I mean real ones--NOT some sappy "the smile in my darling child's eyes' kind of presents.

My sister spent a week over Thanksgiving with me, and at one point, we talked about the best Christmas gifts we ever received.

My sister remembered the Kodak Swinger camera she got when she was in high school in the '60's. I remember that one, too, because I was SO jealous. It was a Polaroid camera that allowed us to see the (small, black and white) pictures immediately after she took them. It was quite the process--take the picture, lay it out flat, rub it all over with this tube of gunk, then sit back and bask in the admiration of all her friends. I know it doesn't sound like much in this age of camera phones, but you have to trust me--it was a really big deal and a wonderful gift.

I can think of two gifts I've received in the past ten years that I love and still use--one is a very slender 4 cup Nissen thermos bottle. It fits in my briefcase and has saved me untold amounts of money that would otherwise be spent in coffee shops.

Another is a pair of YakTrax. These are essentially chains for one's shoes. They fit over the bottom of boots or shoes and keep me upright on icy sidewalks. (The picture shows them being used over heavy shoes, but I've worn them on the bottoms of my work flats.) I'm a large and clumsy woman at the best of times--if it gets icy outside, forget it! But I've never fallen, never even slipped, while wearing these great contraptions.

I've asked a bunch of folks over the past week about their best-remembered gifts. Funny how none of the responses were about big-ticket items.

One woman treasures the (umm, can you say UGLY? I can because I saw it!) Christmas pin that her then-four year old son bought her one year. He's 35 now, and still sends her, among other presents, one ugly Christmas pin per year--that collection has made her laugh for two decades.

Another woman is still using the one-cup Chem-Ex coffee-maker her two step-sons bought her nearly twenty years ago--she says she thinks about those kids every morning when she uses their gift.

But the best gift I think is the magnifying glass an old friend of mine got from her big brother one Christmas. He really wanted it for himself, but he bought it for her. Up to that point, she was a girly-girl, and, in fact, I first met her when she offered my doll a ride in her doll's baby buggy when we were both five years old. But that one little gift opened up a world of science to her at at time when most girls didn't go there. She's been a biologist her entire adult life. Three weeks ago, she retired from a mid-west University.

Yes, she still has the magnifying glass. These days, she uses it to read the daily paper.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Managing the Many Moods of Christmas

Maybe it's just me, but I seem to have so many different moods when it comes to Christmas spending.

I was thrilled to pick up two Christmas ornaments at Hallmark for 95 cents each using two $5 off coupons that were in my local newspaper. (I traditionally put a new ornament in each daughter's Christmas stocking.) Then I turned right around and paid full price ($99)for a Wii FIT for my oldest daughter even though I've seen it on sale for $20 and $30 less.

Obviously this makes no fiscal sense.

At various points during the Christmas frenzy, I get tired and just want to get the shopping done, never mind the cost.

The other day, I could not locate the one document I needed for a $30 rebate on a telephone for one of my kids. I was ready to say "Forget it," when calmer heads prevailed and I did, indeed, manage to locate the errant barcode.

But it is SO easy to just let things go, pay the full price, and move on.

I'm still within my budget this Christmas, but I'd better get a handle on my moods or that may not remain true.

Some days, I'm with Scrooge!

Bah Humbug, indeed!