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.