Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Old Year in Numbers

2011 is almost gone, so here's how it all wound up financially:

My overall debt decreased by $7,258 over the course of the past year.

My retirement funds in my 401(K)increased by $10,616.

My net worth decreased by $7648--a function of NW housing prices which have gone down steadily for the past two years. I'm not feeling too bad about this since I own my rental outright, and my current home will be paid off in 2.25 years. I'm still over the half-million mark which sounds fine to me.

I did not meet my 2011 goal which was a desired debt reduction of $10,000.

But hey! There's whole new year coming up!

New Year but same old goals because I am still determined to lower my debt by at least $10,000 a year.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

A Few Great Gifts

A funny thing happened on the way to Christmas Day--my sister and my friend/roommate of the past two months ganged up to buy me all the things they think my home is missing. Which is how I wound up with a full-length mirror (which I used to have before a running grandchild accidentally collided with it two years ago), silicone spoon rests (thereby retiring the pottery ones I got from my great-aunt thirty years ago that were shaped like apples, but the stems had all gotten broken), a new set of dishes (to replace the remains of four separate sets I'd acquired over the past twenty years), linen dish towels (because I think hand towels are uselessly small for the bath, so I hang them in my kitchen) and a set of silverware for 12 (Really? Silverware is supposed to match? Who knew!).

And then, my wonderful sister bought me three new bras. (Guys, you can skip this paragraph. The women know whereof I speak!) In 62 years, I've never actually had a fitting session before purchasing a bra. And I've certainly NEVER spent $65 for a bra. But my sister took me for just such a fitting, and in the package under the tree were THREE, count-em, THREE brand new, well-fitted bras. BTW, I read somewhere that most women wear bras that are one size too large around the back and one cup size too small--that turned out to be exactly true for Grace.

All in all, Grace did very well this Christmas.

I hope yours was good, too.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

God REST Ye Merry Grace

So much for plans to get all my shopping done ahead, and be ready for Christmas.

Here it is Christmas Eve and I still have shopping to do and presents to wrap.

I've been listening to Christmas carols and scrambling to clean house before the kids and grandkids descend upon me. Every time I hear "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen," I wonder where the 'rest' part will come in for me.

I'm thinking this month's financial report will not be good, but it will have to wait until I can breathe agains. Which, of course, is all too common with Christmas budgets--at the end, the budgeting goes out the window and I'm just trying to get everything done.

I hope you all have a peaceful Christmas and a financially better new year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Grace: An Ungrateful Recipient

I started thinking about charitable giving in response to this post at "Grumpy Rumblings of the Untenured." Nicole and Maggie listed their favorite Christmas charities.

The point being, these were THEIR charities.

So far, so good.

Grace is not so much of a scrooge that she begrudges anyone for lobbying for their favored cause, especially at Christmas when pocketbooks are likely to be open.

But I draw the line at sending donations to MY charities in the name of other people to whom I feel obligated to give a gift.

Case in point: this year a relative of mine who usually sends small gifts to my family gave cards saying that she was not gifting this year. Instead, she made a donation on our behalf to a local animal-rescue project. Now there's nothing wrong with that particular charity; it does good work. But it is SO NOT a charity to which Grace would make a donation. (Sadly, Grace is a bit of a scrooge when it comes to animals--I don't have pets, don't want pets, and have never quite gotten the "dogs and cats are just like our children" people, even though I number those types among my friends.)

It doesn't feel like a gift at all. In fact, I would rather my relative had sent a card and said she wasn't sending gifts this year--given the economy, that would have been understandable. Instead she makes unwarranted assumptions about the charities I care to support. To put it another way, I wouldn't be making contributions to Planned Parenthood in the names of certain friends of mine who I know support Right To Life.

Nicole and Maggi think I should get over it--any donation beats an ugly sweater or a bath set. (I agree about the sweater, but I happen to like bath sets!)

The truth is, I won't confront my relative. I know she means well.

But, hey! This is what blogs are for. I can at least warn YOU about my feelings on the subject.

And I don't think I'm alone.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Great Giftcard Controversy

A few years ago, I gave my sister a giftcard from Eddie Bauer. I knew she liked their products; I needed to find another $50 item for her; and my daughter who was working at Eddie Bauer for the Christmas season could use her 20% discount to get the card for me.

Win-Win, right?

Omigod! You would have thought I'd given my sister a lump of coal.

She let me know in no uncertain terms that a giftcard is thoughtless, a lazy shopper's way out and no way for loving sisters to exchange gifts.

So, lesson learned.

Except that this year, when I queried my children and grandchildren about gifts they'd like to see under the Christmas tree, a surprisingly large number WANTED gift cards--cards to Victoria's Secret, IKEA,, Starbuck's and Nordstrom's.

I can understand, given my somewhat eccentric tastes, why some of my family might NOT want Grace picking out individual gifts but cards bother me a little since it then becomes clear to everyone exactly how much I'm spending on them for Christmas.

Also, how many ways can one wrap a giftcard so that it is any kind of surprise?

Finally, I worry that some of my adult children will spend the giftcards for regular living expenses, not something special for Christmas.

But is that any of my business? If one of my daughters wants to use the giftcard for her boyfriend, should it matter to me? If one uses the giftcard for groceries instead of the clothes I wanted her to buy, what of it?

I'm not a person who particularly likes to shop. Giving giftcards makes it very easy for me, and in many ways, I appreciate that.

In the end, I probably will give cards to those who requested them.

But NOT to my sister!

NEVER again, to my sister!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November Recap

OK--so far, so good for a start to the holiday season.

My total indebtedness has receded by $347.76 to $89,772.44. Not great (though I'm glad to get out of the 90 thousands into the 80's), but I'm not sure it will be even that good for December. Time (and Christmas) will tell.

In the meantime, having three new people living with me has meant increased utility costs but it's so nice to just hand over the bill and have my roommate pay her fair share. How come it never worked that way when my adult children lived here?

It's been easier and nicer than I thought to have my friend and her two children around the house. She cooks meals for her kids and includes me--I had forgotten that Diet Pepsi and nachos do not a meal make. How wonderful to come home to a warm home and a free meal.

Thanksgiving was the usual family madness but somewhat quieter than normal. My sister who lives in New York spent the week with me which is always fun. She comes with a list of restaurants she wants to try. Since it's at her expense, I joined her as much as possible.

We also got up at 5:00 a.m. to hit the local Black Friday half-price "socks and towels" sale. I don't get why people are proud of avoiding Black Friday, but then again, I don't get up at midnight to get the two flat-screen TV's some store is putting out either. Socks and towels are more my speed--no one is going to get killed over either of them.

Forward to Christmas!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Holiday Black Hole

I was reminded by this post at Always the Planner about the week-long black hole that follows Thansksgiving and Christmas. For whatever reason, the intense build-up to each of those holidays makes me think that's when the month ends.

But no!

I still have another week to go, and invariably, I am already out of money.

I may be able to make changes prior to Christmas, but it's too late for November.

Notwithstanding the lack of funds, Thanksgiving is shaping up nicely. My sister flies in from New York today, and, as always, Grace is hosting Thanksgiving dinner. While I like my Christmas to be small, Thanksgiving is an 'all comers' affair with my children and grandchildren free to invite anyone they want.

I do have a bit of a scam going. I sigh mightily and say in a forlorn voice that I will handle the turkey, but that means the family must come up with all the sides and desserts. As any good cook knows (which lets out most of MY kids!) the turkey takes half an hour of furious work, and then hours of doing nothing much. But it's been years and no one has caught on to me yet.

I hope your holiday goes well. Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ya think? Time to Rethink Retirement?

Thanks to Mark's post at his blog, Go To Retirement, I came across this article from Businss Week.

The point is how people are having to rethink their retirement strategies.

Working longer is the main one. Of course there's nothing to rethink for those of us who already planned to work longer. My current goal is 69, but I could hold out for a year beyond that. But even longer? Hey, I want to enjoy some level of retirement so I have NO plans to work past age 70.

What I found disconcerting was the suggestion to forego the 4% rule--you know, the rule where drawing 4% of one's investments per year guarantees that we won't outlive our money? Apparently that rule no longer applies and the authors suggest that 3% would be a better model.

And I don't know what to make of the suggestion that we stop saving towards our retirment and spend the money now on travel or other things we might otherwise put off to a time when we might wind up unable to actually accomplish them. I understand the point, but for those of us who didn't start to seriously save until we were 50, there's no way we can put those savings on hold.

"Rethinking" is giving Grace a major headache.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Dumpster

Here's the thing about dumpsters--they are such a great metaphor for any number of things. Life for one. If you're an optimist, you can see a massive clean-up as a good thing. Or, if you're a tad more cynical, you can think of the dumpster itself as life. While there is undeniable pleasure at simplifying one's life, there are also a lot of memories that wind up that huge metal can.

I thought I was going overboard when I got a 10-yard drop box--it holds 2000 pounds and it takes up most of my back yard. How would I ever fill it?

Fast forward two days, and that sucker is filled to the brim. Why exactly I was storing a broken pink desk is beyond me. Ditto the miscellaneous mattresses, all with various urine stains. And the two vacuum cleaners that throw sparks when turned on. Not to mention boxes of outdated clothing and toys, most of which wound up mildewed and were no longer usable.

Oh and then there's nearly 300 VHS tapes, which recycling centers no longer take--these were movies I copied, and since I mostly did that more than 20 years ago, the movies now resemble a Seurat painting--besides which I can't find my VHS player. But mixed among the home-videoed movies was the tape of my oldest daughter's wedding--it, too now just a mass of pixels.

A couple of my kids who were helping me clean things out got irritated when it turned out I had not taken close enough care of items they'd left behind as they moved into their adult lives. I don't recall promising to take care of their boxes, though I probably meant to. But a damp basement is a damp basement--and damage ensues. And when it does, into the dumptster the 'saved' items go.

So what am I learning from my dumpster? Cleaning house is every bit as hard as cleaning up one's finances.

Friday, November 4, 2011

They are Coming

The 'They' in question are a good friend, her two children, and their two pets.

Where they are coming, is to my state and, specifically, to my home. Our agreement is for a maximum six-month stay--less if my friend finds a job and a rental before then.

My friend was terminated from her position with the state of California after 20+ years on the job. 20 of those years were without any complaints, but a single misstep that would have resulted in a reprimand in the past landed her without a job. To make it worse, the state has contested her Unemployment Compensation in an effort to stop her from getting any benefits. She's not alone--eleven people in her department were similarly and summarily dismissed.

So now she's making the move to the pacific northwest.

Overall, this should work to my financial benefit in that I will have someone reliable to share utility expenses and upkeep. (Fortunately, my friend does have a savings account to cover her bills while she looks for work. Also, since living expenses are considerably less in my state than in California, she doesn't need to find work that pays what she used to make.)

BUT, the preparations are expensive.

First, I had to clean house. Sounds easy, but in reality, it takes not only a lot of time, but I wound up renting a dumpster. Second, I had to make my basement habitable--which means painting, steam cleaning the carpets, and paying my adult kids to help me wash down the walls and move furniture.

Then I had to fix up my kitchen. The truth is, when it's just me, I don't cook all that much. But my friend is a good cook and her children are used to home-made meals. Again, I'm looking forward to this,but that means I have to take a look around my kitchen and get it back in shape for actual use.

Oh, and I had to get more heating oil. Does anyone besides me find $3.79 a gallon on the outrageous side? Gas prices are going down, but apparently the heating oil market has yet to notice.

The family arrives on Veteran's Day. I've got less than a week to be ready. Can I start tearing my hair out yet?

Friday, October 28, 2011

Punch Drunk Finances

I'm up!

I'm down!

Mostly, I am very, very confused.

My October update is good. I decreased my total indebtedness by $1,574.80. But since I had INCREASED my debt in September, the net decrease is not quite that high--$1141.80.

Still, I'm glad to be back on track and to have the debt once again heading downward.

It's been a roller coaster watching my retirement funds--up, down, up, down, down, down, and now in the last couple of days, on the way up again.

I moved a couple of credit card balances around when Chase Slate offered no-charge balance transfers, and a 3.99 interest rate for the next year and a quarter. I make sure that I never go over 50% of my credit limits on any one card. For reasons I don't quite understand (personally, I'd never lend to me!) most of my cards have limits of $15,000 or more. The good news is that now the card with the highest interest is only 8.95% and most of my debt is either still on the introductory zero-interest or 2.99% or 3.99%. More of my hard-earned money is going toward the debt, not the interest.

So much for October. November and December are always expensive months but I do have a Christmas fund, which, with any luck, will cover my holiday expenses and allow me to keep reducing my total debt.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Drop in Lifestyle Is Not Necessarily A Drop Into Poverty

I'm feeling a tad unsympathetic.

A good friend of mine, who has been earning over $200,000 a year as the head of a public relations firm saw her business go belly up a couple of months ago when her two best clients decided they could no longer afford PR services.

So she's going from $200,000 to zero, right?

As it happens, not exactly.

She brushed off her resume and five weeks later, has landed a position in another firm.

BUT (trust me, this BUT is bigger for her than it is for me), the new job pays $115,000 per year.

She hasn't stopped whining about it since.

Hmm--but maybe she has a lot of debt? Maybe she can't afford a pay cut?

Guess again. She paid off her student loans years ago; her two sons are grown, educated and on their own; Her home is paid for (though her beach house isn't); So are her two vehicles. Not to mention retirement funds that are in excess of two million (except maybe in the last month).

So what is the problem?

It's her lifestyle.

It's a two hundred thousand dollars a year lifestyle and she's ticked off to think that she must now muddle through on a mere $115,000. It's not that she can't live without her personal trainer and her beach house and her part-time chef (I am NOT kidding!) but that she REALLY doesn't want to. And she resents that she will not end her career as the head of her own agency, but as the 'underpaid' employee of someone else.

We've had our "everyone loses in a recession" talks, but I'm not in mood to equate her circumstances with those of my more truly poverty-stricken clients, any five of whom would gladly share that $115,000 per year that she now finds insufficient.

I think what I most resent is the apocalyptic tenor of our conversations. She believes her life is over. I think it's just in for a downsizing. Actually, since she's just 54, I think she still has time to take over her new firm! And who knows how much she might be making then.

But in the meantime, can we just agree that though her income is greatly reduced, she is not exactly a baglady? Puhleeeeez!

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The REAL Way to Stick It To Bank Of America

I've been a Bank of America customer for over thirty years. It happened by accident, when I first opened a checking account as I headed off to college. That first account was at a local bank that got swallowed up by a regional bank that eventually was taken over by Bank of America. The names changed, but my account continued on.

When Bank of America announced they plan to charge $5 per month for debit card use beginning in early 2012, I figured our relationship was over--that I'd take my checking account, my two savings account and my credit card and go elsewhere.

For some reason, I thought that would show 'em!

But my retired banker sister has set me straight.

The truth is, Bank of America doesn't want me as a customer in the first place. I don't have $5000 in any of my accounts. In fact, I don't have $5000 even if you combine all three accounts. My mortgage is within 2.5 years of being paid off. More to the point, it's at a different bank. So that's the bottom line--Bank of America would be happy to see me go.

Forget that! I'm not in a mood to make Bank of America happy.

So--what to do?

It turns out the answer is easy. My account at Bank of America is free because I have a direct deposit from my employer made to it. I can continue that, but I can also easily transfer part of that money (the part that I refer to as my 'walking around money') to another bank--a credit union that does not plan to charge for debit card use. In the meantime, I can keep using the online bill pay that Bank of America provides for free, as well as the free savings accounts.

And if Bank of America doesn't like this?

Too bad. So sad.

I do recognize that some day the bank may figure out a way to get rid of me.

But that debit card charge won't be enough to do it.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Making Frugality Permanent. Or NOT.

Morrison at All Doors Considered has a post wherein she posits that our forced frugality of the moment may and should become a permanent mindset.

I'm not so sure about that.

I recently commented on of Sharon's posts in Musings of a Midlife Mom--telling her, quite accurately, that the moment I get my debts paid off, I intend to rehire a weekly housekeeper. Actually, I have a mental list of non-frugal items I intend to add back into my life, including two-ply toilet paper and non-generic English Muffins (Thomas, here I come!).

Some days, that list is what keeps me going.

Still, I expect that Morrison is right about some things--I don't see myself giving up the bargain hunting or the coupons. I've learned to rely on my local library for books, movies, and audio CD's. Even when I become able to purchase these items, for the sake of my very cluttered home, I don't plan to.

The biggest lesson I hope to take away is to stick with cash and give up the credit cards. Having been down the debt road for the majority of my working life, and now learning to live without it (OK, without incurring MORE of it), I see the ways in which I hope the new frugality becomes a permanent way of life.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Seniors, Health & Lessons to be Learned

It appears to me that when one reads about seniors and health, it's either dire (cancer, heart attacks, limited mobility and even more limited health coverage) or unealistically optimistic ("84-year-old climbs Mt. Everest"). I hardly ever see myself in these stories, even though I suspect I'm pretty normal when it comes to my health care needs.

I'm 62. I feel fine. I tend to rate my health as "good" but when I look at my health history, it may be that it is more in the "fair" range. I had a quadruple by-pass 2.5 years ago. I'm diabetic and have been for 12 years. The only reason I don't have high cholesterol or elevated blood pressure is that I religiously take medications that keep both within normal ranges. Ten months ago, I bowed to pressure from my nurse-practitioner and started to use insulin. It was a very good decision that has dramatically decreased my glucose levels, and, as it turned out, those who told me that the shots wouldn't physically hurt, were correct. That, too, is a good thing since I'm an utter weenie when it comes to injections.

I find myself surprised by those my age who are somehow proud of themselves for NOT taking cholesterol or blood pressure medications--as though admitting the need for them is, in itself, a failure. (Obviously, I'm talking about those of us who do have elevated numbers, not those fortunate enough not to need any medications.) This goes triple for diabetics moving from medications to insulin. I understand the latter since I, too, felt like taking insulin was an admission that I wasn't able to control my diet. Duh! I WASN'T able to control my diet. Call it what you will--lack of willpower, whatever. While I was ditzing around, promising to get my diet on track, my glucose numbers were ever-increasing. Insulin takes care of the problem. It could have taken care of the problem years before when the medications began to lose effectiveness (as they usually do after 6 to 8 years of use).

All of which leads me to Grace's Lesson for the Day--if what you're doing isn't working, FIND ANOTHER WAY!

I have a sneaking suspicion that this is a lesson that would work in my financial life as well as for my health.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Variety of Thoughts

1. The End of the Month financial report is not good. Instead of a deficit reduction, I actually increased my debt by $433. My excuses are many and pathetic--one granddaughter's college tuition; another adult child's counselling (Trust me, this is a GOOD expense meeting a need that has existed for a long time!); Co-pays on TWO (Count'em, TWO) auto crashes, neither of them my fault. The first, which I mentioned in an earlier post, occurred during my June vacation when someone sideswiped my parked van. Four weeks later, a suicidal deer jumped in front of the same van. Each time I had to pay the deductible so there went $500. OK, so my total debt, including my mortgage is $91,695.

2. My quarterly net worth didn't fair any better--it's down $12,637 from last quarter (which had gone up almost that exact amount from the first quarter of the year, meaning I'm back where I started in January) But at $550,117, and given the vagaries of the real estate market, not to mention the stock market, I'm OK with that.

3. Bob Lowery often comments on this blog, and I have had his Satisfying Retirement blog in my blogroll for some time. But these days, he and his family can be found gracing Money Magazine as well.

4. Speaking of blogrolls, I regretfully removed Mein Taglich Brot from the list because Julie called it quits only a year and five months into it. Too bad because I enjoyed her perspective as a woman my age forced into an earlier retirement than anticipated as well as a bankruptcy.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why Grace Shoulda been a Luddite

I love Science Fiction which you'd think would put me on the cutting edge of technology. But without the funds to buy into all the new technology, I've been content to wait until at least the second generation.

Maybe my electronics know they are second best?

Because all at once, they have bought the farm. Or at least vital parts of them have.

First my power cord to my laptop bent, then broke off--goodbye battery power!

Second, my Kindle, the casing of which I'd managed to crack during the first month I had it (over two years ago) suddenly wouldn't allow its power cord to charge the machine.

And finally, my landline which I get through my Comcast internet account stopped working.

Buying a power cord for the laptop was a trip. Locally, it would cost me at least $60. But on Amazon the range is from $2.99 to $80. Wow! $2.99? Well, maybe not, since the reviews kept mentioning how that particular adaptor caught on fire!

Ultimately, I spent $19 for an adaptor that included a 1 year warranty and generally acceptable reviews.

The telephone is still up in the air--meaning Comcast is sending out a repairer to figure out what's wrong and whether it is my fault or theirs. I'm thinking it's theirs, since I tried a couple of different phones, including a corded one, with no better results. If I'm wrong, it will be $60 for the house call.

And the Kindle?

Apparently no one repairs a Kindle. Which is a shame because I love my e-Reader. I may call in one of my daughters who, as a child, used to haunt garage sales, buy electronics and take them apart for fun. She still has a good record of 'figuring out how to fix things.' I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Saving & Budgeting--Two Entirely Different Things

I had a bit of an epiphany as I was setting out new goals for myself (because, as I said before, September always feels like the beginning of a new year to me). For the first time, I realized that I cannot 'budget' my savings. To do so is to virtually guarantee that I will fail to save anything.

Usually, I try to 'give every dollar a name' as Dave Ramsey famously tells us
when following his budget instructions. I set out all my expenses and whatever is left over is labeled 'Savings.' The trouble is, somewhere between paying the bills, putting money into the envelopes and seeing what remains, those remains, the 'savings' portion, gets smaller and smaller.

But I do know there's a better way.

Two years ago, as a way to get a 'free' savings account from Bank of America (by which I mean, an account that does not need to have any particular minimum balance in it to avoid an annoying $3 per month charge), I agreed to have $50 a month transferred from my checking account into the savings account.

There was no penalty for immediately transferring the money back to checking, so I figured this was a no-brainer method to get a fee-free savings account. But a funny thing happened on my way to transferring the money back--I often forgot to do it. $50 was a small enough amount that I didn't really miss it in my budget, yet it was a large enough amount to give me $600 a year for my Christmas account.

So Grace's particular epiphany? The way to save money is to take it off the top and get it out of my checking account. If it stays in my checking account it WILL get spent, and that's irrespective of all my good intentions NOT to spend it. The surprise is that once I do get the money out of my checking account, a certain inertia sets in, and even though I could easily move the money back, I tend not to.

So my first September resolution is to up that transfer to $75. It may be a mind game but for me, it's one that works.

Friday, September 2, 2011

EOM Miscellaney

1. I reduced my total debt by only $253.90 in August. To make myself feel better, I went back and checked how much I've knocked off my indebtedness since the first of the year: $6091.48. There! I feel better already!

2. I have a post (the one about mothers, daughters and money) in the current Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted by Stumble Forward (love that name for a financial blog!). Does anybody besides me actually read the Carnival? I do because I find new-to-me blogs through it. But in checking my Sitemeter stats, I don't see that being in the carnival has brought me even one reader.

3. Chase Flexible Rewards is offering free balance transfers and a 2.99% interest rate through 1/31/2013. So Grace joined the credit card shuffle, moving balances from cards charging 13.24% and 12.24% interest. It doesn't exactly save me money each month, but it does ensure that more of my payment goes toward balance reduction.

4. For whatever reason, and notwithstanding that its been 34 years since I was last in school, Labor Day always seems like the beginning of the year for me, and a time when I'm up for making new resolutions. Sadly, however, and much like the resolutions made in January, they don't always last. But never one to give up, I'll be spending the week-end working on them anyway.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Still on the topic of Mothers and Children

Just when I thought there was nothing more to say about the financial relationships between parents and kids, there's this story about "bad mothering."

Judging from the appellate court decision the mom in question is not going to win any parenting awards but gimme a break! Sending a birthday card (which I thought sounded both cute and funny) with NO MONEY in it is "outrageous conduct?" Refusing to buy a teen age girl acne medicine results in "acute emotional trauma?" And paying for the limo but not the prom dress (never mind demanding that the little darling be home by midnight and calling her when she doesn't arrive) is "inapproriate parental behavior?" Where are these two spoiled brats coming from?

And what kind of father actively participates in a lawsuit like this? Well, except for a father who is not only a lawyer, but a bitter divorced parent. What's weird is that it looks like Dad 'won' the divorce, in that he got physical custody of both kids. That wasn't enough for him or the children?

I guess Morrison and Terry and I are all lucky our daughters didn't find themselves lawyers.

The saddest financial aspect of this story is that the otherwise very reasonable judge who dismissed this case did NOT award the mother her court costs or attorney fees. I think these kids SHOULD have had some financial consequences for filing a case like this.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mothers, Daughters & Money

Is there any relationship more fraught with drama than that of mothers and their daughters?

I say this as the mother of five daughters. Of course, if I'd had any male children, I might have a different story. Then again, maybe not.

Two of my favorite bloggers have been grappling with the intersection between finances and adult daughters. Morrison, at All Doors Considered, is in the mood to cut her daughter off. Terry, at A Little Bit About Everything is more conflicted.

Grace? She can relate to both of these mothers.

On one hand, my daughters do need financial help from me. On the other hand, they expect me to step in entirely too often. And on the third hand (something every mother has!) I am acutely aware that saving for my retirement has to be my highest priority.

All of the above leaves out the most important issue--the emotional one.

When I provide money to my daughters, I try to make it without strings. But the emotional binds are still there. Don't they owe me something, at least respect, for getting them through their tough times?

From their point of view, am I trying to buy that respect from them? If they need what I freely give, do they then owe me?

If I don't get the level of respect and financial understanding that I want or expect, should I then cut them off entirely?

I don't have any answers. Like Morrison and Terry, I'm just now learning to ask the questions.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Counting Pennies--Literally

I had to laugh when I read Meg's latest post at World of Wealth. Unlike myself, an older struggling woman trying to get her retirement in order, Meg is a young upper-income banker well on her way to financial success.

But that doesn't mean we don't get some of the same thrills just counting up our change!

At a post-Christmas sale at Walgreen's last year, I bought a child's toy bank--actually just a jar with a battery-operated lid that counted all the change inserted into the jar. It was 75% off and priced at $2.54. Never one to pass up a deal, I sprang for the purchase.

I must be easily pleased, because it really is a thrill to insert dimes and nickels and the occasional quarter and watch it all add up. I've emptied the jar twice so far, so it now stands pretty empty, with $12.90 in it.

I don't bother rolling the coins, but I fully understand Meg's delight in the process. Somehow it feels like found money.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Living With Bad Managerial Decisions

It's my blog and I'll cry if I want to (with apologies to Leslie Gore).

I spent my week-end at my employer's Board of Directors meeting trying to head off impending lay-offs. Although the majority of union members showed up and offered to take wage freezes, furlough days and pension contribution cuts in order to save jobs and continue client service through the end of 2012 at no increased cost to the organization, our Board, in its infinite wisdom decided that lay-offs were the way to go.

Why? Because that's easier for a Board that meets only four times a year to handle. Never mind that they are laying off folks in the middle of an economic downturn. Never mind that the needs of our poverty-level clientele has never been greater.

I am just so saddened by these actions which strike me as short-sighted. Having worked in my field for the past 38 years, and having weathered four serious financial crises before this one, I know that predicting our organizations's finances three to five years down the road is a fool's errand.

So here's the kicker! On a personal level, the Board's decision works well for me. I am not one of those in danger of being laid off. Now, my wages won't be frozen, I won't have to take any furlough days (resulting in a 4% pay reduction) and all the current employer contributions to my 401(k) will continue to be made.

I should be happy, right?

Then why am I feeling so darn frustrated?

And depressed?

Friday, July 29, 2011

EOM Wrap-Up and Misc.

1. I lowered my total debt (including my mortgage) by $1093.97 during July. Pretty good for a summer month. August is the month I worry most about--not only do I have my grandkids visiting during that month, but the little darlings need school clothes, supplies and shoes. So, my total indebtedness right now (again, including my mortgage) is $91,516.35.

2. Am I the only one really tired of people comparing our country's fiscal crisis to our family budgets? I don't pretend to understand the financial or political ramifications surrounding the debt ceiling, but I'm pretty sure it's a tad more complicated than my personal finances. Everything in life is NOT simple nor has simplistic answers. I say this without reference to the respective culpability of Republicans or Democrats for the current mess.

3. I'm doing more work on my blogroll. Mapgirl seems to have disappeared (or at least not renewed her website), which is a shame. Hers was one of the first financial blogs I started reading. Shevy at Shevy's Miscellaneous Blog also appears to have left the blogosphere. I will miss her orthodox Jewish perspective on personal finance. On the other hand, I've also been reading Mutant Supermodel for quite awhile, so I'm not quite sure why she wasn't already on my list. Another addition is Yes, I am Cheap. Two of my favorite retirement bloggers are retiring from blogging as well, so farewell to For The First Time: Feminist Women Entering Retirement but I'm leaving Retirement: A Fulltime Job up for awhile to see if Syd decides to keep blogging after all. In the meantime, I'm adding Bob Lowry's Satisfying Retirement to my blogroll. Am I missing some other great blogs? Let me know.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Job Losses are a Bummer, Even When It Isn't My Job

Our agency is facing a major budget crunch. While my position is safe, those of nearly a quarter of our staff are at risk. Lay-off notices go out in mid-August.

Since I'm president of our white-collar union, I'm the one getting the panicked phone calls, the tears, the concerns of those staff members worried about their jobs and the concerns of other staff members who will have to pick up the slack--not an easy thing when we're all working at maximum capacity as it is.

So right now we are negotiating with management to see if we can cut back the number of affected employees by giving up certain financial rights we union members gained by tough bargaining two years ago. The truth is, I and most of my fellow workers WILL give up time and money to keep as many people employed here as possible.

But we differ on what we think it is reasonable to give up. Our time (and as a result a reduction in pay)? A wage freeze? A percentage or two of our pension payments? A lesser contribution toward health care? All of the above?

Some of us have budgets so tight now that any reduction in pay is going to hurt.

I'm hearing from folks who are the only employed member of their household; from people with serious chronic illnesses who are dependent upon our health benefits (which will be paid for four months after the lay-off notices, but after that, only the very expensive COBRA benefits will be available); from folks concerned about losing their homes or their vehicles.

In short, I'm learning much more than I ever wanted to know about the personal financial circumstances of the people I work with. Hardly any of these people have spent their money foolishly. But a number of them truly are only a paycheck away from disaster. This is especially true for the single parents among us.

Can you tell that I hate this?

Friday, July 15, 2011

College Ain't What it Used to Be

I started my undergraduate college in 1967. It was a revelation, and I can honestly say it opened my eyes to a whole new world outside of the small, homogenous, working class coastal town I'd grown up in. I was the first one in my family to even consider higher education. Heck, my mother was the only one who finished high school.

Thanks to scholarships, my college education cost me $54 a term.

But clearly it's a different world out there now.

This article from CNN just makes me sad.

Sad and angry--especially angry that an education could possibly cost anyone that much money, and sad that anyone would really think it is worth it to incur that level of debt.

I have five daughters, only two of whom have yet tried college. One started at age 30 and put herself through three years with Pell grants and her own earnings. She quit when a summer internship led her to the job of her dreams with the state. Another went for one semester, borrowing a small amount to supplement what her mother (Ahem! That would be Grace!) had saved for her. Had she not dropped out to be with her boyfriend (a whole other story, and needless to say, the boyfriend was history shortly thereafter!), I was prepared to sell my rental property in order to keep her in school.

But to incur $50,000+ in student loans? Or $100,000? Wow! Where were the parents? Didn't they offer any money or advice along the way? Where did these young people think their loan payments were going to come from?

I can't help it. I'm just shaking my head.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Age or Stress or Both?

Although I sometimes take issue with her answers, there's no doubting that Morrison at "All Doors Considered" often asks the right questions. In this post, she talks about juggling bank accounts and making mistakes. What she wants to know is if the mistakes are related to age or to financial stress.

First of all, let me raise my hand when it comes to making mistakes when using more than one bank account.

Two months ago, in order to score a free $125, I opened a Chase Bank checking account. To make sure that there are no monthly fees, I had to have a direct deposit of at least $500 per month. That didn't appear to be a problem because I have my primary mortgage with Chase, so my plan was to deposit enough money in the account once per month to cover the mortgage payment. Unfortunately, my employer insists that the same amount come out of each of my two paychecks to go into whatever bank accounts I direct. This is the trade-off for being allowed to direct deposits into two different accounts.

Bottom line? I now have to decide which bills come out of which account. It's not rocket science, but for some reason, my age-addled brain has been having problems figuring this out.

So it's my age, right?

Or could it be stress, because the REAL bottom line is that there isn't quite enough in either account to fully cover all of my bills plus my WAM (Walking Around Money, which includes my food budget and gas for the car).

Still, if I had to bet, I'd bet it's mostly about my age, and not my stress level.

I so often find myself groping for a name or a word, even though I have always prided myself on my memory. I know this is a function of being 62, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it.

I dislike crossword puzzles, but I make myself do the New York Times Crossword daily because someone told me it was a way to prevent memory loss. Yet more and more, I find that I cannot complete the puzzle in one setting. I have to put it aside and come back to it at least an hour later, at which point I can somehow put together the words that failed me the first time.

If it weren't that the alternatives are worse, I'd really hate getting older!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The First Years of Retirement

I've been a fan of Sylvia Bereskin's blog For The First Time: Feminist Women Retiring with Gusto since she first started it. It's never been a financial blog, but rather, a meditation on how retirement changes (or doesn't change) one's life.

Sylvia is giving up her blog, but not without first wrapping up the fears, joys and valid concerns about retirement as she experienced them during the first two years.

It's a fascinating list, and I find myself in some of her descriptions-- does the word 'workaholic' sound familiar? I have been defined by my work for the past 38 years and it scares me a little to think about putting it aside. Not that I would ever give it up entirely--there are still numerous volunteer opportunities in my field. But so much of my life has been planned around my job or my family. The family is grown and, more or less, on their own now.

The work remains constant. What will it feel like to walk away from that?

But reading Sylvia's take on it makes me feel better. We are still making progress even when we leave a huge chunk of our previous life behind. And the adjustments, both positive and negative, can be suprising.

Surprises! My favorite part of life.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Quarterly Net Worth

My net worth is up this 2nd quarter of the year from last quarter by nearly $12,550, due largely to increases in value for my home and my rental. This brings my current net worth to $562,755. Before I start celebrating, I need to keep in mind that this is still some $2000 less than what I had in December, 2010.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 2011 Wind-Up

OK--vacation's over and now it's back to real life, with no lobster or lazy mornings in sight.

Overall, I stayed within my vacation budget, thanks to my friends who traveled with me and my sister who covered my transportation and housing expenses.

I did decrease my overall debt by another $835.79, which is less than last month, but pretty good considering that it is summer. That leaves my total debt, including mortgage, as $92,610.32.

Onward to July!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Murphy Can Find You--Vacation or Not

Why I thought Murphy would be content to leave me alone while I am on vacation, I'll never know.

The disasters at home (some 3000 miles away!) range from minor (The toilet handle broke so, according to my daughter who is staying a the house while I'm gone, one has to lift off the top of the toilet and flush it by hand--an easy fix that can wait until I get home) to the seriously annoying (someone sideswiped my van parked in front of my home, knocking the front passenger wheel off--my insurance adjuster [thank God for e-mail] has already sent someone out to take pictures and will loan me a free rental car for the repairs when I return) to the crazy-making (As Union president, I was officially notified that our agency will be laying off up to 22% of the staff. While I have too much seniority to be laid off, it is likely we will negotiate an alternative plan for union-wide furloughs, which has a very direct effect on my wages).

Dang! Why couldn't Murphy wait until I get home?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Vacation On The Cheap

I've been hanging out on Maine coast for the past week, with another week to go.

The trip was possible due to the largesse of my baby sister who has a summer home in Maine.

There's a lot to be said for free airfare (courtesy of my sister's airline miles) not to mention a free (and lovely) home in a picturesque New England town.

Of course, even a free vacation comes with expenses. I rented a car. Fortunately, I am traveling with my sister and another couple we both like. So I split the cost of a vehicle with our guests. We've cooked a fair number of meals which has cut down expenses, but grocery stores don't give the food away. And we're in Maine. Which means lobster! Which means more expense.

Surprisingly, the most famous lobster place we've eaten so far, Red's Eats, turned out to be a disappointment. Lots of ice-cold, tough lobster meat piled on a hot dog bun. We ate better and more cheaply at the local lobster pound.

I did go to L. L. Bean, but I managed to resist their lure. My friends have hit every antique store within a 50 mile radius but I stayed back and read books (Four so far, including Willa Cather's "My Antonia" and "Cutting for Stone.")

I've also been playing tourist, hitting the Farnsworth Museum to see the Wyeth paintings and drawings, along with Louise Nevelson's works. Today, we went to Portland to tour the Wadsworth-Longfellow House. Both times, I was hoping for a senior discount, but on the east coast, to be a senior seems to require at least 65 years of life.

Mostly this vacation is for relaxation, and I'm making the most of it. Good food, good books, good friends, and lots of good times--what more could I ask for?

Especially when it isn't costing me all that much.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Respect & Debt Collections--That's a concept?

Every time I hear someone (including my own adult kids) say "I'd never work in fast food," I wonder why not? It's not that I'd love asking "Do you want fries with that?" but if that was the only job out there, you can bet Grace would take it.

Still, that begs the real question, which is, 'Are there jobs Grace could handle but would never take?" Sure there are--and becoming a debt collector is chief among them.

Now the New York Times reports that debt collectors want more respect.

Say what?

Did they just use 'respect' and 'debt collector' in the same sentence?

I don't think anyone should have to face profanity or threats over the phone, even people deliberately calling at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning or during the evening dinner hour. But my advice would be the same for the collector in that instance as it is for the person being dunned--HANG UP THE PHONE! What would be lost? Is it at all likely that a debtor threatening to cut off the collector's arms, legs, or more intimate parts has the money to pay the debt?

Am I supposed to be sad for the collector who has trouble getting cell phone numbers for those they are trying to chase down? Do they really think getting access to debtors' e-mail accounts would get the bills paid more quickly? Personally, I think e-mail collections would be fine--isn't that why spam filters and the delete button were invented?

I get a lot of collection calls on my landline since I've had it over twenty years and several of my children use that number on their (unfortunately, delinquent) accounts. Thanks to Caller ID, I seldom bother to pick up any of these calls. But in addition to the robocalls (does anyone really stay on the line when mechanically told "Please hold for an important call?"), lately I've gotten calls left on the answering machine whereby the mechanical voice says "Because you didn't hang up, we can assume that you are [X, the debtor]" and goes on to reveal details of the owed debt that collectors are forbidden to given to third parties.

Hence the lawsuits that the debt collection businesses find so annoying.

Pardon me if I'm not sympathetic.


It never occurred to you anyone other than the debtor would listen to answering machine messages?

A few years ago, my youngest daughter and I got our kicks harrassing the collectors back, but now I let the answering machine pick up.

I still wouldn't work for a debt collector.

I'd rather sell used cars!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

May Miscellany

1. Back to the subject of health care, I was appalled to read this Politifact article wherein it turns out that Newt Gingrich was correct in pointing out that a substantial number of folks making at least $75,000 a year (21% of all Americans with no health insurance) nonetheless do not have health coverage. Notwithstanding the families like the Dubinskys who cannot get health insurance (or, at least, cannot get it easily), that still leaves a whole lotta folks who don't see health coverage as a primary budget need. What planet are they on?

2. I've got a post in this week's Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted by My Personal Finance Journey. Lots of good reading, and a glimpse into some hotel rooms where Grace will NOT be staying any time soon!

3. It's Memorial Day week-end coming up, so the likelihood of me making another post before next week is not high. I hope everyone enjoys the holiday.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

May Wrap-Up--Lookin' Good

In terms of paying off debt, May is my best month so far this year. A grand total of $1845.09 bit the dust. Of course, this means that there is still $93,446.11 (including my first and second mortgages on my residence) remaining, but I'm feeling very good about this.

With summer on the horizon (not that you would know it from all the rain we're having in the Pacific NW), the chances are not high that June will look as good.

But for now, I'm enjoying the feeling!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Not-So-Extreme Couponing

This has been a financially tight week me.

For one glorious day last week-end I had over a hundred extra dollars.

Then, on Monday, I discovered I'd somehow forgotten to make my $162.00 car payment. It was, at that point, two days overdue with attendant late charges.

I was once again, behind on my budget. When that happens, the only two places to make up the difference are with the gas money or the food money. We all know the story about gas prices, so I was looking forlornly at my food budget and wondering if now was the time to start a starvation diet.

But then I hauled out my coupon stash, stuffed not-so-neatly into an ecologically correct but seldom used reusable grocery bag.

Therein, I found salvation.

For readers who never let fast food darken their palate--STOP READING NOW!

As it happened, my bag held a coupon for a free Arby's chicken salad sandwich and another for a free McDonald's frozen Strawberry Lemonade. Great! They took care of one night's dinner. And isn't it lucky that my neighborhood Arby's is next to the McDonald's?

My handy Entertainment Book had a Jack in the Box coupon for two free tacos. And the newspaper insert was giving away free Lara bars. As it happens, my neighbor always gives me her coupons from the Wednesday paper, so make that TWO free Lara bars. Voila! Another balanced meal!

I was signed up for a two-day educational conference, which took care of breakfast and lunch both days, and, in fact, provided extras for yet another dinner. But wait! There's more! Included in our materials were two coupons for free Starbucks drinks.

So while I don't have shelves full of couponed freebies hidden in my garage, I'm still proud of how I managed to both eat and not spend money this past week. Though maybe next time, I'll just keep a closer eye on that car payment!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Healthcare in Retirement? What Are We Thinking?

There's an interesting new study out from Sun Life Financial that looks at how we currently think about healthcare during retirement.

The study doesn't pretend to give us answers. Its purpose is to see what or how we're approaching retirement healthcare issues.

At least we ARE thinking about it, or at least those of us coming up on retirement are.

But I have to admit, with my retirement date 7.5 years away, the only things I know for sure are that I will be eligible for Medicare (since I expect to retire at age 69, well beyond the date Medicare kicks in, at age 65) and I will have to pay for some level of additional coverage.

I'm not sure that qualifies as a "plan."

While I am lucky to have pretty good health benefits from my current employer, there will be no pension and no continued employer-paid healthcare when I leave. I will have Social Security, Medicare, and my 401 (k). Period.

Where I am fortunate is that I'm not among the 9% of the study responders who have already raided their retirement savings to cover unanticipated medical costs. As longtime readers know, my $47,000 quadruple by-pass surgery two years ago cost me a mere $50 in out-of-pocket medications and follow-up office visits.

At some point, I need to assign a dollar figure to what I will need and what I can get in additional health insurance coverage. To me, that's the point at which I will have a genuine plan.

I did find the study interesting when it posited that 53% of those responding are changing their lifestyle in more positive directions. I believe that, but I'm not sure I believe it is because these people are concerned about future health care costs.

For myself, I'm trying to get healthier because I can't stop getting older, and I'd like to stave off death as long as possible!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Grace and the Gas Monster

The rising price of gasoline is wreaking havoc on my finances. I budget $60 every 15 days. That used to buy me a full tank with ten or more dollars left over. Nowadays, it won't even completely fill the tank. I currently pay $3.83 a gallon.

According to Gas Buddy, there is one station a long way from me that charges 10 cents per gallon less but otherwise, my neighborhood Arco station is among the least expensive places to go. Supposedly, we may see some relief around Memorial Day week-end, at last according to the LA Times. That would be nice, but I'm not counting on it.

The frustrating thing is that I do live in a city with excellent public transportation, and I have an annual pass that is heavily subsidized by my employer. So I don't quite know where all my mileage is going.

Last week, I made a concerted effort NOT to use my car. It did not go well. It was my week to shop for groceries, which took me to three different stores, not one close to the other. I could have taken the bus, but since I shop for a month, I didn't want to be lugging bags of groceries by bus. Then one of my daughters needed help moving so it was Mom's minivan to the rescue. And then, and then . . . [many excuses later] I was riding around with a gas gauge that was perilously close to empty.

I'm going to try this experiment again this next week--we'll see.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mother's Day is Every Day

Revanche, at A Gai Shan Life, has been writing for awhile about her need to financially support her parents and her disgust at her brother continuing to take adavantage of them. But buried in the heart of her posts is puzzlement that her parents are so vulnerable to her brother's needs while taking her help for granted.

I hear her, loud and clear.

I do wonder, sometimes, how my children see my entirely inconsistent financial assistance to them and if they harbor ill will either to me or to their sibings, as a result.

I have five daughters, each of them special to me in her own way, I adopted them as older children, and each was reared largely as an only child or, at most, with one other child in the home. All have special needs ranging from organic brain damage to severe emotional disturbance. I was warned that two of them might never be able to function on their own as adults. But they are all adults now, and they all do live outside my home.

I contribute, in various ways and amounts to all of my daughters and to their children. It rather shocked me to add everything up and discover that it comes to $653 a month.

Whenever I bring my expenses for my children and grandchildren up in this blog, I can count on (largely anonymous) responses about "enabling," and suggestions that my children will never learn good money management unless I stop helping them.

But most of my daughters are doing well, given their handicaps. They have jobs, they pay taxes, they care for their children. To demand that they also do a good job of managing their money is ignoring their intellectual and emotional limitations.

So I step in.

When I can't convince one daughter that auto insurance should be at the top of her list of expenses (instead of the first one eliminated when things get tight for her), I pay it. When one grandchild wants to go to college and is intellectually able to do so in spite of her more limited parents, I pay the tuition. When one child's health insurance does not cover dental, I tell her to go anyway and I pay the bill.

I buy monthly bus passes for two of my daughters, neither of whom can or should drive, both of whom have jobs.

And sadly, each month I deposit money for one of my daughters, whose behavior and addiction has landed her in jail. Jails, as I have discovered, charge for underwear, writing materials and stamps, all at exorbitant prices. And no, I can't just send those materials to her.

But it is this latter child who is most jealous of the amounts of money that go to her sisters. She normally gets SSI but once a person is in jail for more than 30 days, SSI payments are suspended. She feels like I should give money equally to each of my kids, which would increase the money I deposit for her.

I don't.

I don't treat my daughters equally. The amounts I spend are flexible though I've done it for so long now that most of the expenses are fixed.

When I get the 'enabling' responses, I do heed them. But then I think that these posters cannot know the mechanics of my family nor the issues my daughters struggle with on a daily basis.

What will happen when I die? Good question. My most seriously disturbed child (the one currently in jail) will have any money I leave her managed by a local foundation for special needs children. The others? I'm still working out the details. I may use the foundation for them, too, though they function at a much higher social level than the one receiving SSI. I do have a will, and at this point, they will be in charge of their own money once I die. But I may have to rethink that position.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

They Come; They Go; Sometimes They Come 'Round Again

I write a post like this every six months or so--bemoaning those folks who have folded their blogosphere tents and gone home, or have simply stopped posting for more than half a year.

I do appreciate those who write a 'last post,' but since I'm still here, I kinda expect that all of you other bloggers will stick around as well. I get cranky when you don't, and that goes even for those who give me a heads up before they leave.

So the latest to give notice that she's packing it in is the author of "The Boxcar Kids' Blog."

I'm going to leave her link up for awhile to see if she changes her mind. The reason she gives is that she'll just wind up saying the same old things over again--something that never bothers me, whether I do it myself or read it in someone else's blog.

Let's face it, life is cyclical. Finances are cyclical. Heck, my emotions are cyclical. If what you want to read is new and exciting financial stuff, you've got the wrong blogger in Grace!

"Connecticut Mom" has disappeared as well. In fact, she's taken her blog with her, which is too bad because I like the video she posted of the "Hallelujah Chorus" flash mob she joined at the local mall last December.

Of course, not everyone disappears forever. Florence at "Ruminations" left 'for good' in early February and didn't last more than two months before she was writing again. So she's back on my blogroll. Ditto the blogger at "Always the Planner who has now returned.

But I miss Dawn at "Getting Nine Hundred" and Betty at "Bouncing Back From Bankruptcy" who left a post saying she would be posting again, but never has.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

April 2011 Wrap-Up

Spring has yet to be sprung, but apparently time really does go on. Yes, April is now history.

And, thankfully, so is $792.62 of my debt.

The general plan is to do better in the future, but I am grateful I managed to at least do this much.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Money Went Where?

It creeps up!

Last year this time, I was meeting my monthly expenses.

This year, not quite.

And it took me awhile to figure out why.

First, my car insurance went up--nearly doubled, in fact, raising from $56 a month to $93. But I did it because if I bought my car insurance from State Farm, they would deign to insure my home for a thousand less dollars per year than any other insurance company. As longtime readers may recall, my homeowner's insurance took a skyhigh leap after the garage fire three years ago.

Then, I started paying $50 per month on my granddaughter's Sallie Mae loan.

Then my two-year great Comcast bundled deal wherein my cable, internet and telephone (complete with all sorts of bells and whistles I didn't have before, like caller ID--which I love--call waiting and long distance) turned out NOT to cost the advertised $99 per month, but is more like $128 per month.

And then, the biggest budget-breaker of all, gas prices went through the ceiling. I budget $30 a week for gas. My minivan is not great for mileage, but I used to have some money left over from my gasoline line item. NOT any more! It now costs me $62 to fill up, and I consider myself lucky if I can make a tank and a half last the whole two weeks.

All of this is leaving me with too much month at the end of my money.


Back to the budget for some major over-hauling!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Once Upon A Boring Week-end

So I had no particular plans this week-end, except to make a four hour round trip to a monthly writer's workshop I've been attending for thirty years. It is run by an 84 year old science fiction and mystery writer. Her latest novel just came out and she's working on the next one.

Guess who I want to be when I'm 84!!!

But first, I woke up to sunshine.

No big deal, you say? Hah! That means you haven't spent the wettest month in two decades in the Pacific Northwest. It's not that we, who live here, don't know to expect rain. Just NOT the amount of rain we've had, and NOT every dang day of March!

So, it's looking like a good day from the moment I get up on Saturday. Then, on my way out of town, I see that one of the cities I will be passing through is having a used book sale to support their local library.

But I'm late getting on the road, and I arrive at the book sale during it's final hour.

Sounds bad, you say? Again, Hah! It turns out that since they still have a lot of books left and don't feel like hauling them all away, we latecomers can have the books for $2 for whatever we can put in a very large shopping bag.

I come away with a load of paperback mysteries, a bunch of CD's including a number of Christmas Albums that I'm always too cheap to buy during the holidays, some young adult books for my grandkids, two lovely garden books that I'll read even if I'll probably never plant a garden, and a bunch of maps I intend to use to paper my laundry room. Not bad for two bucks!

Then I arrive at my writer's group to find that one of the participants has landed a book deal, and insists on taking us all out to dinner on his dime. Which means I can hang onto the money I intended to spend for dinner.

On Sunday, a friend invites me to the local art museum, which is having a "bring a guest for free" day for its members.

She and I go out to dinner at a fast food restaurant that is famous for its use of locally-sourced products and its rotating meals that tend to correspond to what is in season. I've known for years that they have the best fresh strawberry milkshakes in the world--well, at least in my part of the world. But one can get them only for a month or so, twice a year. Luckily for me, April is one of those months.

So, while nothing truly special happened this week-end, I had good times with good friends, ate good food, and saved some money.

Pretty darn good, I'd say!

Monday, April 4, 2011

When It Doesn't Pay to Be a Saver

I adopted my oldest daughter in 1979. Because her birthmother had died, and because her birthmother had a work history, this child received Social Security. For the first couple of years I invested the social security payments in CD's every month. What I remember the most strongly was being disappointed when the interest rate fell below 10%. It just didn't seem fair!

I was reminded of those glorious interest rates (carefully forgetting the double digit inflations rates also in effect in the early '80's) when I read this article from the Wall Street Journal. (Thanks to Boston Gal for the link.)

While the feds have necessarily held the line on interest rates for the good of the general economy, that line has not been at all kind to savers, particularly retired savers who were counting on interest rates to provide income without invading principal. These days, one feels good if interest rates break 1%, and mostly, they don't.

Boston Gal wondered why some of those interviewed didn't consider working, at least part time. That hardly seems like an option for the 91 year old retiree with whom the article opened. But I'm guessing that most of the folks in the two Florida retirement centers came there from somewhere else, and that employment opportunities are not as available as they might have been had they stayed in the communities where they were formerly employed.

It's my understanding that, as a whole, we are all saving more these days. But I didn't realize that these statistics include debt reduction as a form of saving. It is, but that doesn't mean anyone's bank account now has more cash in it.

On a very personal level, I ran the Socal Security calculator to see what I could expect. From Social Security alone, I would get $1398 right now if I retired. Not only is that not enough, but I'd have to pay for health insurance to cover me until Medicare kicks in in three years. If I wait until age 66, I'd have approximately $1962 per month and access to Medicare. And if I wait until my projected retirement date when I'm 69, I should get around $2700 per month.

Right now, I live on approximately $3600 per month since I put away over $1000 a month into my 401(k).

Financial Engines projects that I will have $404,000 in my 401(k) by the time I'm age 69. At 1% interest, that will add $336 a month to my income. At 4% (which is the figure most retirement calculators use for regular withdrawals), I would have an additional $1347 a month.

With that kind of income plus the sale of my rental home to provide the basis of a travel/entertainment fund, I should be fine.

But then, the retirees in the article thought they'd be fine as well. Having had the foresight to save on a regular basis, they are now feeling punished. Not only does this have political repercussions (because retirees vote more often than the general populace, particularly when they are unhappy) but it discourages saving among younger citizens. As the authors of the article note, low interest rates "also penalize people of any age hoping to build up funds for the future, and discourage rainy-day savings that could make U.S. consumers more resilient to job losses and other financial jolts."

Friday, April 1, 2011

Secret Spending Vices

No, not the big expenses. Not the laptop computer you decided you had to have. Not the credit card kept hidden from one's spouse. Not even the desire to dine out at a gourmet restaurant at least once a week.

What I'm talking about are the inexpensive but irresistable 'gotta-haves' that bring us joy.

Imelda had shoes.

Grace has books and notebooks.

Back in my college days, when my dormitory was in walking distance of a number of great thrift stores, I was seduced by used books. I arbitrarily set a spending limit that I honor to this day: the book or notebook must not cost me more than a dollar.

Of course, this rule would work better if I didn't find such great deals: the last time I went to a Friends of the Library Book Sale, I came across 27 such bargains!

I also love blank notebooks. I've kept a diary since 4th grade. Lately, I've branched out into 'subject specific' diaries, which is why I have a financial journal, a journal for each of my children, and, most recently, a journal in which I explore the patterns that have shown up in my life's journey.

But that still leaves me with a pile of unused blank books.

There's a great charity locally that would take donations--they run writing workshops for disadvantaged people such as the mentally ill, folks in domestic violence shelters, and the homeless. But I have such a hard time letting go of my treasures.

The dollar limit is seductive as well--after all, it's just a dollar. I can usually dig one of those up.

And it does save on home decorating costs--put up a bookshelf, cover the wall.

So, am I the only one with a secret spending vice?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Monthly and Quarterly Updates

My quarterly net worth is down by $15,565. This is due entirely to falling housing values. My primary residence lost $19,000 in value over the last quarter, and my coastal rental lost $14,000. Since I'm not selling either of these homes in the near future, this doesn't worry me too much. (It helps that I purchased them 18 year ago and 36 years ago for MUCH LESS than they are now worth, notwithstanding the recession.)

On the brighter side, my 401(k) is up $16,000, of which only $3200 is from my contributions.

My total net worth is now $550,286.

On the monthly side of things, I managed to reduce my total indebtedness by only $392.70. I'm going to have to move a lot faster to meet my minimal goal of reducing debt by $6000 in 2011.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Age 62--Beginning of a New Era?

I have just turned 62.

Officially, I could, should I desire to, retire on my Social Security.

Funny how the very thought is comforting.

My job seems relatively safe. But should it suddenly and arbitrarily cease, I would have a guaranteed income. Never mind that the income would cover my mortgage and utilities but NOT my credit cards--at least I can count on it from this moment forward.

It feels like a weight has been lifted. I have no intention of retiring now but I like knowing that I can if I have to.

In a non-financial sense, now is also when I begin planning in earnest for my second adulthood. That's not my term; it belongs to Mary Catherine Bateson who writes about adults in retirement in "Composing a Further Life." Back in 1989, she wrote the best-seller "Composing a Life" about the stages of life women go through and how it was impacted by feminist thought in the '70s. Now she extends her discussion into the years after retirement (it's not an accident that she wrote this book at age 68 after retiring from years in academia) and includes men in the discussion. I thought the inclusion of both sexes was important because 'second adulthood' is a new phenomenen and neither men nor women have any template for the lives they are now creating and living.

For people between ages 55 and 80, most relatively healthy and used to being intellectually and physically active (well, for this couch potato, maybe less about the latter!), this is a whole new life phase, one for which there is no roadmap.

Many people that Bateson interviewed reverted to some long-forgotten interest that now moved into the forefront of their lives, and this time, that interest was unemcumbered by the need to make a living at it. One man started and nurtured a journal on race relations, deliberately keeping it away from university affiliation so that his writers could comment on academia without fear of repercussions or closure of the journal. Another who repaired boats his entire working life turned a gift for teaching others into a jewelry-crafting option in the desert.

For me, the most interesting part of the book was an examination of each persons life story, looking for the patterns--what decisions did people actively make for themselves; what decisions were made for them; where did they take charge and where did they allow life to happen, and, most importantly, how satisfied were they with course their life took.

I think it's time to take a look at my life narrative.

Knowing where I've been and both the whys and hows of getting there is a first step.

The big next step is figuring out where I want to go from here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Mental State of My Finances

Fortunately, I am an optimistic person--at least in most aspects of my personality.

But financially?

Financially, I'm definitely bi-polar. And these days, I'm on the down side of manic-depression.

I don't know if it's the weather (RAIN!). Or the bills (HIGH!). Or the sense that I am just marching in place and getting nowhere (ALL THE TIME!)

I am getting tired of thinking about every little purchase: It's a first-run movie; maybe I should wait until it's on Netflix. Can I go out to lunch with my colleagues; this would be the second time this week. Yes that pair of shoes is a steal but do I really need another pair of shoes.

At the non-profit when I work, we are constantly on the look-out for "compassion fatigue." Now I'm wondering about "frugal fatigue."

And yet, what is the alternative?

Run my credit cards up to the max?

And then what?

I'd be 'fatigued' for good at that point! With far less options and way more debt.

So, I guess I'll stick around for the mania portion of my bipolar finances.

But expect some whining along the way.

It's my blog and I'll whine if I want to! (With apologies to Leslie Gore.)

Monday, February 28, 2011

February Wind Up & Other Small Stuff

1. My total indebtedness went down $822.48 in February. Considering that it only went down $55 in January, I'm pretty satisfied with this month's results.

2. I've now received both my state and federal tax refunds, a little over $1700. So I should be in good shape and set to pay off a bunch of debts, right? Dream on! I spent $359 for 100 gallons of heating oil. I spent $350 for pest control. (Yep, not only have ants discovered my kitchen but at least two rats have as well. I probably should be embarrassed about that, but it turns out that the rats are a neighborhood problem. So the neighbors are banding together to attack the problem both in our homes and outdoors.) I also brought my baby-steps emergency fund up to $1000 by depositing $226. And I paid the homeowner's insurance for my rental. Then there were birthdays for three grandkids--makes me wonder what it is about that leads to all these February births. Or is it just my family?

Good-bye $1700! I hardly knew ye!

3. The 298th Carnival of Personal Finance is up at Savings to Invest. My post on being a "Go To Person" is there, as are a number of great posts covering many aspects of personal finance.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Notes on Being the "Go To" Person

Linda P. left a note on my last blog post about the money I expect to need in retirement. The part of her comment that really caught my attention was this: "We were also the go-to people for our extended family when life dealt them financial blows. . . A fragile family member depends on our financial stability, so we must provide not only for ourselves but provide some backup for that other family member."


I relate to Linda only too well.

I am the "Go-To" person in my family. I am not the only one with a job, but I am the only one with any financial savvy. (THAT speaks volumes! When Grace is considered financially savvy, the family in definitely in trouble!)

I have five adult children, all adopted as older children from foster care, most of whom have permanent organic or emotional disorders that get in the way of education, employment, and (sometimes) common sense.

I am the person they all turn to when they run into problems, especially money problems.

I, in turn, use my newly-retired sister as my "Go-To" person. But unlike my children, I hesitate to hit my sister up for cash unless it's an emergency. (My darling kids would tell you the same thing about themselves, but with them, it's ALWAYS an emergency!)

A close friend of mine with a n'er to well son has actually borrowed money to have it available for him. I have never done that nor can I see myself doing it. But I do understand where she's coming from.

I have learned over time to set certain limits. My kids have figured out that they are better off asking me to directly pay bills rather than give them cash--they get more that way. The two daughters with children discovered early on that asking me to pay for things for my grandchilren (books, clothes, pre-school, college) was a sure bet.

If all of this sounds like a whine, it's not intended to. I am a grown-up, and I can turn off the money spigot any time I want.

It's just different when it's family.

I have no better explanation.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Exaggerated Cost of Retirement

It really IS in how one looks at things.

Take, for example, the statistical data compiled by the Federal Reserve and analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College for The Wall Street Journal in this article on Boomer retirement.

The statistics themselves are not encouraging:

The median 401(k) plan for folks ages 60 or 61 holds only $149,400, including plans from previous jobs. To figure the annual income from that level of savings, analysts looked at what the family would get from a fixed annuity. They found that $149,400 would generate just $9,073 a year.

The median income for the folks surveyed was $87,700.

Wow! And I thought I was behind!

In fact, the survey found that only 8% of near-retirees had saved the $636,673 necessary to generate 85% of their prior income that the analysts thought necessary for a comfortable retirement.

But that's where I part company with the analysts.

I agree with Morrison at All Doors Considered, who first brought this survey to my attention. I just don't see that I or most other retirees will really need 85% of their prior income.

I know, for myself, that I currently pay for a mortgage, and I put away a third of my income in my 401(k) as part of a belated attempt to pump up my retirement savings. Both of these expenses will be gone by the time I retire.

I also note that the analysts posit that folks will have to retire later, whereas I wonder if that is more of a "want to" than a "have to." Again, for myself, my work is an important part of who I am. Right now I do have to work until age 69 to attain the savings I think I will need. But I strongly suspect I would stay employed at least part-time past age 62 or 65 even if I didn't have to.

Morrison thinks retirees won't travel as much as they believe they might in the first days after retirement. I don't know that I fully agree, but I do know that as a retiree, I'll be able to take advantage of last-minute discounts that I currently cannot as a working woman with an employer who wants to know well in advance as to when and how long I'll be gone.

One place where she's wrong is when she says seniors willingly give up their gourmet coffee. NOT THIS SENIOR! But I do buy the coffee in bulk and make it at home most days.

There are a ton of interesting comments made on Wall Street site--good reading.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Class of One's Own

Morrison has an interesting post regarding the appearance of wealth on her blog "All Doors Considered."

I admire her skill at maintaining her family's appearance of having money while living on a limited income. I also agree that often that appearance can be enhanced due more to careful shopping and a high degree of cleanliness than an actual expenditure of dollars. As Morrison herself put it, she has done a remarkable job of marketing her family.

I guess my question comes down to "market to whom?" and ultimately, "Why?"

I am reminded that most of the millionaires interviewed for Thomas Stanley and William Danko's book, "The Millionaire Next Door" didn't worry nearly so much about the appearance they projected. They wore clothes off the rack and drove mid-range vehicles.

I think it comes down to the 'why'--if one is a fashionista, then buying a pair of expensive Italian shoes on sale in Milan and taking good care of them for years makes sense. It goes to one's confidence, and the image one wants to project.

But if the only point is to impress in-laws that one rarely sees? I don't quite get that.

Then again, I'm the last person to talk about style. Let's just say that when the fashion genes were handed out, my sister got my share. (In fact, if you see me wearing anything the least bit fashionable, it's a good bet it was a gift from my sister.)

Still, I enjoy many activities that appear to be aimed at the wealthy--I go to the local Art Museum; I attend the symphony and the opera; I love the various lecture series offered throughout my city. It's just that I never buy season tickets. Instead I'm dependent on friends (Always make friends with doctors' spouses--they have season tickets to everything and their spouses are often unavailable to go.) and Groupon and waiting in lines for last minute empty seats. Once I'm sitting in the audience, no one really knows how (cheaply!) I got there.

Morrison's final observation is that "It is better to look good than to feel good."

I can't relate to that one either. I'm much more attracted to the idea of feeling good, whether it's about clothes, money, or lifestyle.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


1. It's time to say Good-bye to Sra. Dog (at The Dog Ate My Finances) and Florence at Ruminations. I've removed them both from my bloglist but please, if either of you starts a new blog, let me know. In the meantime, I'm glad you each made a final post--I get so annoyed at blogs that just peter out and fall off the radar (hmm--two cliches in the same sentence--not bad!)

2. I've rarely met a contest I didn't like, particularly when the prizes involve writing materials. Hence this note about a journal giveaway at Notebook Stories. These are elegant promotional books produced by Brandbook-de, and I want to win one of them. If you go to the website, it helps if you read German!

In four years of blogging and entering blogger giveaways, I've won exactly twice, once a book on finance and once a book from the Orange Prize list. But both were terrific, so I keep entering.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Are Women STUPID?

I came of professional age in the early '70's. I have always proudly identified myself as a feminist. I have worked and supported myself and my family for the past 38 years.

So, no, I don't generally think of women as stupid.

That is, until I read an article like this one. Where on earth did Wells Fargo find these women?

Even my eighth grade algebra (in which class I got a D+--that plus being for perfect attendance!) tells me that one cannot withdraw 11% a year from one's retirement accounts and expect it to last any time at all.

I'm a little more forgiving of women who think $200,000 in retirement savings is the minimum needed for a comfortable standard of living, though I fall squarely in the men's camp because my minimum goal has always been $400,000. (I'm a little over half way there, but I've also got another 8 years to accumulate funds.)

What IS encouraging is that women are more likely to ask for help. (What is it about that Y chromosone that makes men think they don't need to ask for assistance with anything, including driving directions?)

What I wonder is if we're going to take the advice when we get it.

My hope is that women are simply uneducated financially, NOT that they are less bright than men.

But honestly?

Who, in their right mind, thinks they can reduce their assets by 11% (never mind the 30% that a few posited!) a year?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Tax Time--For Me If Not For the IRS

I was so proud of myself--I got my taxes done and e-filed by January 31st (a personal speed record for me, even knowing that I was getting money back). Furthermore, I went with TaxAct, which allowed free preparation and filing with no income restrictions. (Most of the sytems that let one prepare and file for free have a top income level of $58,000.)

And just to sweeten the pot, I entered TaxAct through My Points and got an additional 400 points.

Mine is not a complicated tax return, but I do itemize my deductions, and I have to file a Schedule E for my rental income. Not a problem for TaxAct.

But the IRS is apparently having some issues.

I just got a notice that my return won't actually be e-filed until February 14th because the IRS isn't sure how certain tax reforms will affect returns. ARRGH! None of the reforms affect me, so I would like it if they would just go ahead and give me back my money.

Which, by the way, is some $1500 this year. (I am a tad confused by that since my income and deductions are pretty much the same this year as last, and yet I got only $500+ back last year--not, mind you, that I'm arguing with that!)

How come the one year I get my act together early is the one year the IRS is late????

Good thing I'm not a conspiracy theorist!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Frugality: Temporary, Tenuous, and Not Really Our Style

The folks at The Hartman Group, a consulting and reseach firm out of Washington state that monitors consumer spending with a jaundiced eye, aren't impressd with our collective rush to frugality. In fact, they already see us moving away from it as economic times get better. [A synopsis of their report is here. There's also a link to download the entire report.]

I wish I could disagree with them. I would certainly like to think that the consumer spending lessons I'm learning now because I have to will hold over in more stable times.

Alas, these consultants don't believe it.

And for good reason. As they so succinctly wrap it up:

"We knew it was coming. It always does.

With the start of every recession comes
a deluge of media and analyst reports
highlighting the American consumer's
sudden conversion from foolish, Godless
consumer to wise spendthrift.

They always call it the "New Frugality."

The report is dry and academic but contains flashes of humor, as when one researcher notes a Time magazine article on newfound frugality he came across during his research. "The Simple Life: Goodbye to Having It All," was published in March 1991. That, of course, preceded the era of excess in which consumers spent with wild abandon, turning to their homes' equity for cash when the credit cards maxed out.

I'm scrimping and saving right now. But with more economic stability (and less debt) I can scrimp more, save more, and feel the effects less. This is my goal, but as history (both this country's history and my personal history) can attest, learning from experience doesn't always work that way.

Friday, January 28, 2011

More Miscellany

1. I refuse to do an end-of-the-month report this January. Because if I did, I would have to admit that I have reduced my overall debt by a mere $55. January is always an impossible month--not only are there Christmas bills to catch up with, but my homeowner's insurance comes due on both my residence and my rental, as do my property tax payments. In my state, there is no sales tax (YAY!) but we get hit hard with property taxes (OUCH!). I feel lucky to have had any debt reduction at all.

2. My 401(k) has hit an all-time high of $216,000. Financial Engines says it is "very likely" that when I retire, I will have an annual income of $57,000 per year (including Social Security). I feel good about that. Although my current income is higher, I live on less than $57,000 a year because I pay $1050 per month (pre-tax) into my retirement funds.

3. I'm in love with my new, very cheap Tracfone. It cost me a whopping $9.99 and came with free "Double Minutes." The double minutes card usually sells for $49.99 though it is currently on sale for $19.99. Either way, I got quite the bargain at less than ten bucks. Then, it turns out that promo codes still work, so with the 200 minute card my sister put in my Christmas stocking, I got a total of 460 minutes. I figure that will last me all year. I don't like talking on cell phones, so I use mine just to check in with my kids, when I'm running late, and for the feeling of safety it gives me to know that I can summon help if I need to. Of course my kids laugh at me because my phone is just a phone--I can call or text. But there's no e-mail, there's no camera, and it doesn't make my morning coffee. For $9.99, I'm not complaining, especially when I see THEIR cellphone bills!

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Carnival of Personal Finance is Up

I've got a post in The Carnival of Personal Finance, hosted this week by "My Personal Finance Journey."

Lots of good financial information in this carnival, along with envy-producing photos of how some of the richest folks in the world live.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


Small stuff to report:

1. My monthly housing payments are going down by $79 a month beginning February. Yay! I'm making immediate arrangements to apply that money automatically to my debt snowball. (The reason is a reduction in my homeowner's insurance, which has been skyhigh since my garage fire 2.5 years ago--this should keep going down annually for the next couple of years.)

2. Is there something wrong with my math? I am a member of My Points and periodically redeem the points for gift cards. Usually I get a $10 Starbucks card in trade for 1550 points. But when, as I did over Christmas, I accumulate a lot of points, I spring for a $25 Starbucks giftcard for 3600 points on the assumption I'm getting a better deal.

But guess what? The math doesn't work!

It turns out that, by a minute fraction, it is actually cheaper to keep getting $10 cards. (.00645 cents per point for the $10 card, and .00694 cents per point for the $25 card.)

Who'd've thunk?

3. There's a good article on how to prepare for retirement as a single woman. Thanks to Rhea at Boomer Chronicles for calling it to my attention.