Monday, November 19, 2012

Congratulations! It's a Boy!

Well, changes keep happening--emotionally, financially, and within my family.

Somewhere in the middle of it, I became the parent of a bouncing nine-year-old boy! He is legally my grandson, but with a mother in prison for the next 14 years and an unknown father, he is in desperate need of a mother. A placement with half-siblings did not work out, through no fault of his. So enter, Grace!

In keeping with the fact that this is a financial blog, I'm going to pretty much stick with reporting the financial repercussions of adding a fourth grader to one's family.

First is the frantic shopping to set up a boy's bedroom. I reared five daughters. What do I know about boys? Apparently young male decor consists of posters (cars, The Avengers, and monster trucks). Two hundred dollars and several posters, bedspreads, curtains and rugs later, he has a 'boy's room.'

Then there is the eight-hour round trip to go get him, meet with caseworkers, teachers and foster parents, stay overnight at a motel with an indoor pool (It's November in the Pacific NW--of course it is raining!) so he can share a fun activity with his half-siblings, and dinner for fourteen people (I was the only one with money, so guess who paid.)

But I did have some financial luck. Orbitz had sent me 10% off coupon if I booked through them. I not only did that, but I signed on to Orbitz using the My Points website so I picked up points there. Then my age worked in my favor because the motel had a senior rate. And gas prices are coming down. It's sad to think that $3.29 a gallon looks cheap to me, but it does. This will be a foster care placement in the beginning, so I will get foster care payments. This is a darn good thing because virtually all of it will go to after-school/summer daycare.

Not only are the times a-changing, but so is my budget.

I'm also having to rethink my retirement plans.

I will be 71 when he turns 18. My goal was to retire at age 69. I'm sticking with that for the moment, but it will not be a surprise if changes are in store for the plan.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween Finances--A Definitely Scary Story

I am back on track reducing my total indebtedness after a slight slip-up last month wherein I actually increased my debts by $5.97. But even subtracting out that $5.97, I managed to lessen my debts by $606.18.

Still, the rest of the year is going to be tricky--I have property tax payments, birthdays for three kids, not to mention Thanksgiving and Christmas all coming up in the next two months.

Halloween is not nearly as scary as my finances!

Thursday, October 18, 2012


Ah, the cushy life of a blogger, even a non-monetized blogger like Grace. We write our gems and put them out into the blogosphere where we wait to see what comments we get back from our reading public.

So why is it that far too many of those comments are in languages most of us don't speak or in gibberish that no one understands? And why do all of them contain links that are entirely unrelated to the blog post itself? (My personal favorites are the links to fashionista websites--obviously these folks have no idea what a middle-class, overweight 63-year-old wears, especially Grace!)

It's not a new question. Bob at Satisfying Retirement asked the same thing awhile ago. His issue was moderation. I long ago realized that I was going to have to moderate the comments coming into my blog. This wasn't necessarily to prevent nasty comments. (Not that I've gotten those, anyway. Disagreement is always fine by me.)

But I find myself wondering what the spam is supposed to accomplish. I can't imagine that anyone would click on a link buried in a lot of nonsense words.

In searching for the answers, I learned a lot--more, actually, than I wanted to know--about comment-spam. Apparently there IS a reason for it, especially for those who monetize their blogs and want to attract traffic. Since I'm not blogging for money, I don't particularly care how or where my blog comes up in a search though I do want potential readers to find me. Sure, I like knowing who comes to my blog, but I don't worry about my numbers--I'm not looking to be first in any search engine exploration.

Still, when Google or some other search engine, decides which websites to place at the top of a list of search results, one of the factors it considers is the number of links pointing to the site. A page that has many inbound links from other places on the web generally ranks higher in the search results than a page that has only a few links. As far as Google can tell, web pages with many inbound links are more popular, so Google concludes that those pages are more likely to have the information that a user is looking for.

Ergo, spammers don't really care if readers of GRACEful Retirement read the comment, click on the links or buy anything. The simple fact of getting the comment published creates a link that a search engine will count. That's also why a lot of the comments are on posts from the past rather than current ones--maybe we bloggers won't notice a new spam comment in an old post and it will be more likely to remain there untouched.

Even more amazing to me was the discovery that there are people, particularly in third world countries who will sit around and comment for seriously small amounts of money, as low as $1.11 an hour. I guess, for that kind of money, a decent command of the language in which the blog is written is not necessary.

On the flip side, there is software that allows you and I to send out random spam with a link to our blog to everyone else, so we can say a lot of folks out there linked back to us, and, we hope, get us up to the top of search engine lists.

See how wonderful technology is! And it must be getting better because I have seen an increase in the number of spam comments to my blog--fortunately, mostly caught by my spam filter, but still. . .

I personally found most of the explanations of spam and why we have it, way too technical. But here is one of the more succinct and helpful posts on the subject.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Pizza, Beer & The Queen of Versailles

Some things have definitely improved over time, one of which is the movie-going experience. While I have no memories of the screen palaces of old, I grew up in small-town theaters replete with sticky floors, screaming kids and spilled popcorn. Over time, and yes, even in my very small hometown, I watched theaters morph into small-screened cineplexes which might as well be home television sets for all the thrill they gave me.

But somewhere along the way, movies theaters continued to change, and this time in a really good way--with couches, alcohol,big screens and adults-only showings. What's not to like about sharing a couch, a pizza and a pitcher of beer with friends while watching a (albeit, second-run) movie?

And thus, my friends, is how Grace came to be watching the documentary "Queen of Versailles" last week-end.

Ya gotta see this movie!

It is, by turns, funny and thought-provoking and even a bit sad. It is also maddening--I dare you to see it with someone and not come out of the theater arguing.

Briefly, this is a documentary that was intended to show a billionaire family throwing money around on, among other things, a 90,000 square foot home in Florida. But part way into the filming, enter the recession. Money tightened up and disaster beckoned.

Let's face it. Disaster for a billionaire's family is NOT like disaster for you and me. Having to travel by commercial airline because the family jets have been sold is SO not an issue for me. Nor have I ever asked the bewildered clerk at a Rent-A-Car outlet, "What's the name of the driver?"

David Siegal, now in his '70's, made his money in timeshares. To be specific, he made it by encouraging middle and lower-class families to spend money they didn't have for vacations they couldn't afford and probably wouldn't use even if they could afford them. His sales staff encouraged prospects to "stretch" their financing to come up with money for his products. In the meantime, he did a lot of 'stretching' of his own to finance his ever-expanding global empire. That is, until the time came when banks refused to be 'stretched' any further.

His third wife, the much-younger Jackie, has impressive boobs as befits the trophy wife that she is. But she defies stereotypes. She has an engineering degree that she threw over when modeling proved more lucrative. She has seven children by David and is raising an eighth child, a teen-age niece. From the evidence onscreen, the children have a surprising amount of common sense. When Jackie says she'd live in an apartment if it comes to that, one believes her, even while imagining a lot of unintentional laughs along the way.

The financial choices made by this couple as they tighten their belts made me wince. Private schools for the kids were out, but limo trips to McDonald's remained, as did their commitment to their monstrosity of a new home. Never mind that they were already living in a 23-room Orlando mansion. David gets pouty because no one turns off the lights. Yet the amazing amount of money he is spending in a futile attempt to keep control of one Las Vegas skyscraper doesn't seem to faze him.

They went from a staff of 19 household workers to 4, and still the dog poop never gets cleaned up from the floors? Go figure.

The rich, at least the superrich, really ARE a lot different from the rest of us.

At any rate, it's a great movie. Made even better in a great theater with lots of beer and pizza.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

September Wrap-Up

My quarterly Net Worth statement is way up--$23,708 up to be exact. Everything contributed. My 401(k) is up by $19,000. My home value is up by $4000. Even my coastal rental is up--OK, so only $300 but hey, it's the right direction.

My net worth is now at 646,801, about which I am feeling very good.

I can't say the same for my monthly debt reduction.

Probably because there wasn't any for September.

In fact, my overall debt increased by $5.97. School clothes, grandchildren's college tuitions and chimney repairs were the cause. Actually, I feel good that the damage wasn't worse.

Onward through October!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Too Late for Early Retirement

First of all, let me admit that I'm envious of Syd at Retirement: A Fulltime Job. That's not just because she sends a lot of readers my way, though she does.

Let's face it, I'd be jealous of anyone who gets to retire in their forties with enough resources to travel, a cute & loving partner to travel with, and their health intact.

A young friend of mine, an auto mechanic who is in his late thirties, is busy buying up rental real estate, desperate to leave the work world behind by age 50. He doesn't want to spend the rest of his life under cars, nor does he want to retrain for some other career. If he has to work, he tells me, then fixing autos is the way to go. But he believes that fixing up and maintaining rentals will suit him better and leave him with more time to pursue the hiking and rock climbing that he also loves.

I sort of envy him as well (except for the repairing rentals, hiking and rock climbing part!).

But would I have retired in my forties, even if it had been financially feasible? And assuming I hadn't been busy adding children to my family during that time?

Somehow, I suspect not.

The decision to retire, when not dictated by job loss or health concerns, is so very personal.

It seems to me that some people, like Syd and my mechanic friend, do leisure well. I don't count myself in that number. Left to my own devices, I tend to hole up with my books, the remote control and a full supply of Ben & Jerry's. I don't even bother to answer the phone much of the time when I'm home alone.

Work provides structure and social interaction, whether we need it or want it. People like me need both. In fact, as I plan for my eventual retirement, part of my plans involve thinking of ways to maintain structure and interaction (while still managing to sleep in on weekdays, travel, read, and hit movie matinees).

When I retire, I want to RETIRE--all caps! I don't want to change careers--I love the one I have; I don't want to become an entrepreneur--contrary to the Dave Ramsay mantra, not everyone is cut out for self-employment. I know I'm not.

But I also don't want to vegetate into a hermit. I want to volunteer; I want to travel; I want to have way more time for myself.

And of course, I want to be in a financial position to do all of the above.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I'm Going to Live How Long?

Whenever I (or anyone, for that matter) estimate how much money will be needed in retirement, the bigger question is "How many years will I need the money" or, put more succinctly, "How long am I going to live?"

Good question, but a vexing one as well, given the rapid advances being made in medicine. My mother died at age 78 during a heart by-pass operation. I had a by-pass at age 60 and came through it with flying colors. My father died at age 68, seven months after a stroke. I've been treated for high blood pressure since I was in my 40's. With medication, my blood pressure has been stable and normal for years.

I don't smoke and I drink only occasionally. That's good. I don't really exercise much, so that's bad. My parental history is against me, but I have grandparents that lived into their 90's.

What does any of this mean for my retirement?

Or for my life?

These questions explain why, on this lovely late-summer Sunday afternoon, I was busy running life expectancy calculations.

I started with the Social Security Calculator which simply compares me with the general American population. According to the Social Security Administration, on average, I should make it to 85.7 years of age.

Naturally, I don't think of myself as 'average' so I looked around for a calculator that would get more specific.

That may have been a mistake.

This Calculator asked a lot of lifestyle questions and promptly reduced the estimate to 84 years.

The Wharton School has even worse news. Their calculator thinks I'll be lucky to make it to 82 years, seven months.

Fortunately, there is another calculator that bounces me back up to age 85.

Still, I'm hanging onto the memory of my maternal grandparents who were in their 90's when they died.

I wanna be like them!

Financially, I'd better assume that I will. I don't want to be 90 and broke.

Monday, September 10, 2012

When Buying Quality Doesn't Make Sense

It rained this morning. In fact, it poured. In doing so, it rinsed away the 90 degree temperatures of the past week, and felt more like the glorious Pacific NW that I love.

Time to buy an umbrella.

Time for my umpteenth argument with my sister as to what sort of umbrella to buy. She is the kind of person who buys expensive, spring-loaded folding umbrellas that open and close smoothly with nary a pinched finger, with sturdy ribs that won't turn inside out in the wind, that fits neatly into her purse.

I get mine at the dollar store. That's right, for a dollar. Usually, I get two or three at once.

Here's the thing--I am notorious for leaving umbrellas wherever I go. On the bus. At the office. At someone else's office. And that's only when I can actually track the umbrella down. Many have disappeared into black holes of the universe, never to be seen again.

I lose expensive umbrellas just as easily as my el cheapo ones.

So in my financially astute opinion, it makes no sense for me to shop around for a "great" umbrella when the cheap one keeps me dry, is easily replaced, and only turns inside out in the worst windstorms.

My sister has taken to putting a good umbrella into my Christmas stocking (Yes, we exchange stockings each year. We'll stop when we grow up. In the meantime, I love it--both the giving and the getting.) In 2012, I hung onto mine almost to Valentine's day.

Somewhere out there in the city, a bus driver has a really nice, expensive umbrella.

In the meantime, Grace has had four or five of the dollar variety.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

August? Who Needs August, Anyway!

Hmm--the summer kinda got away from me. That's what having six grandkids, ranging from 2 to 15 will do, especially when back in May, I made the silly statement: "Sure! I'd love to have the grandkids! August is good."

Dang, if the parents didn't take me up on that!

But I did survive.

Sort of.

Emotionally, it was fun. Financially, not so much.

But the good news is, notwithstanding six voracious mouths to feed for most of the month (and don't even talk to me about school clothes), I still managed to reduce my overall debt by $560.13 during August. For that, I am grateful.

Just another $84,370.37 to go!

I did take a look at my blogroll (especially after I got eliminated from "Blogging Away Debt" for just a one-month hiatus. Really?? ONE month away, and I'm history?). I'm hanging in there with most folks, but Judy seems to have finally left the building, so I removed "Finally Frugal." "Budgeting with the Bushmans" ended just as I discovered their blog. I took that one off, too.

If you know of a good financial blog I'm missing, let me know.

I think of September as a month in which to 'start over.' That's probably a left-over from my mommy-years when September marked the beginning of a new school year. But no sooner had I made all kinds of financial resolutions when I remembered that this is the month I need to buy heating oil. Then my twenty-two year old daughter was hospitalized for a week (she's fine, and her stay was mostly covered under my medical insurance--Thank you Obamacare) which ran out my medical FLEX program so now I have to make all the co-pays with after-tax dollars until next March. Then my grandson decided to join his sister in community college so that's TWO tuition payments to make. The end result is, my resolutions are fast fading away.

But I'm back, and I promise to be more attentive.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two Summer Months Down, One to go

OK, Grace is on a roll, here!

In June, I put a net amount of $704.39 against my debt (net because the previous month I'd actually increased my indebtedness).

July has been even better. My debts are down another $1489.96.

I now owe a grand total of $84,930.50 which is a lot, but it's coming down.

August will be harder because I will be having four of my grandkids for the month, but I've got every free children's event in my city calendared.

I can't wait until my house is paid off (1.5 years) so I can throw my entire mortgage payment at the rest of the debt. That's when real progress will be made!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Geezer Tech

I read an interesting article on U.S. News' "Planning To Retire" blog regarding how seniors use technology.

The most entertaining finding (and one that is certainly true for me) is that seniors are less likely to use the internet (53% of us compared to 82% of younger adults). But once we get with the program, 70% of us are on the internet on any given day.

Yep! Definitely moi! If my house caught on fire, I'd grab my computer first.

As seniors, we are also late to the cell phone party. I suspect (based not on any studies, but on my own use) that we are less likely to have fancy smart-phones. I still use a tracfone, which works just fine, and costs me a lot less than the cells my daughters insist on using. But I do feel safer having access to mobile technology and at this point, I wouldn't want to be without it. On the other hand, I haven't given up my landline.

I was surprised to see that seniors are less likely to use e-readers. Personally, I love my Kindle Fire. It hasn't replaced books in my home by any means, but it works great for commuting to and from work. Plus, there's the ever-addictive "Angry Birds!"

But I fit right in with my age group in that Facebook isn't really my thing. I check out my daughters' pages, and those of my grandchildren. Yet I rarely check my own page and the only updates tend to come from pictures my kids share.

I think the bottom line is not that most seniors are anti-technology, but we are less likely to need all the new toys the day they come out. That could explain why so many of us are still on our desktops instead of laptops or tablets.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

When Your Retirement Plan Depends on Your Parents Dying

One of my colleagues (she's an attorney married to a chef) admitted to me that her retirement plan consists solely of expected inheritances from both her and her husband's family. I was a bit taken aback, but when I've told that story to other people, they have been less shocked. And some have admitted that their parents' money figures heavily into their own retirement plans.

Maybe I'm just jealous--both of my parents are deceased. They never thought of themselves as poor, especially in their comfortable retirement. Upon our mother's death, my sister and I split the $95,000 (including the family home) estate. I'm grateful for what I got, especially since it became the down payment on my current residence. It also saved me from having to sell my first home, which has been paid off for years and which I now use as a rental. But retire on $47,500? Even with 26 more years to grow it? I think not! I wouldn't have done it then even without foreknowledge of the recession to follow. I can't imagine doing it now.

I wonder if my colleagues have read the latest issue of Money Magazine, which reports that only 14% of baby boomers' parents--down from 22% in 2005--even believe they owe their children an inheritance. Most are intent on spending the money they have acquired, some for health care and many for "good times." It's their money, and it is not up to us to begrudge our parents' use of what belongs to them.

Money Magazine advises boomers to substantially lower their expectations. While around 50% of parents do plan to leave at least $100,000 to their adult children (not exactly enough for a well-funded retirement), life may intervene. Not just market returns, but extended long-term care could make a mockery of good intentions.

For myself, I do plan to leave money for my five children. It's certainly NOT going to be enough to fund a retirement plan, but I'd like to get their retirement monies off the ground. Then again, I won't be around to direct how they spend whatever I DO leave them.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Life As a Cheapskate

I picked up Jeff Yeager's "The Cheapskate Next Door" at a library book sale a couple of months ago. I finally got around to reading it this week. The author would have been proud of me even if I did him out of his royalties on the $12.99 original price. While I am far from the kind of person he describes fondly as a cheapskate, I do have my miserly tendencies. Not paying full price for a book is just one of them.

Yeager's book was published in 2010, and the material is clearly informed by our ongoing recession. The book is modeled on "The Millionaire Next Door" though without the rigorous research to back it up. What this means for the reader is that the book is less about savings tips and more about the lifestyle and personal biases of the "average" cheapskate. I found this fascinating, even if it proves to me yet again that I may be broke and trying to recover but I don't qualify as a genuine cheapskate.

Yeager's cheapskates have a lot in common with the true millionaires Thomas J.Danko and William D. Stanley studied (meaning, people who really have a million, not just stuff and debts). To some extent, being a cheapskate appears to be a trait that begins in childhood. It has more to do with one's inner sense of self, one's self-reliance, and one's immunity to desiring what their neighbor has. At base, it comes down to getting the job done rather than worrying about what one looks like doing the job.

Most of the cheapskates Yeager interviewed are not adverse to comfort nor do they forgo quality when they make a purchase. But neither do they see the point in upgrading if what they already have works fine. They don't all drive junkers, but they do drive their vehicles until the cars are no longer safe. The millionaires tended to do the same. Both the cheapskates and the millionaires live in homes that are smaller than what they can afford and both are usually still with their first spouses.

It appears to me that both Yeager's cheapskates and the millionaires in the Danko/Stanley book have a degree of ingenuity and self-confidence that many of us lack. I know I don't have these particular traits. While I like the idea of making do, of saving, of always searching for the best value, there are times (way too many times!) when I am tired, cranky, impatient or envious, all of which lead me spend money NOW rather than waiting.

Ultimately, that's the average cheapskate's point: delayed gratification and the ability to adopt that as a mantra leads to cheaper products, more money and a better all-round life.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Rich: Disinterested in the Rest of Us or Just Plain Mean

I haven't lived in New York City since 1977, but it's a measure of that city's impact on me that I still (and continuously) have subscribed to New York Magazine.

An article in their most recent issue caught my eye. It asks the all important question, "Are the Rich Meaner Than The Rest of Us?" It's a long and fascinating article, which seems to conclude that the rich are not necessarily meaner but they are not much interested in the plight of the rest of us. We recede into the background and take a distant second to the main concern of the rich--which is maintaining and increasing their wealth.

In my workplace, we once had a daylong workshop presented by Dr. Donna M. Beegle, author of "See Poverty. Be the Difference." Part of the book details her personal struggles as a poor white woman, teen mom, and eventual Ph.D candidate. She also speaks of the characteristics of those mired in poverty that are admirable but ultimately less than helpful as one moves out poverty. She is clear that many, many of her relatives and friends who had little themselves gave generously as she worked and studied her way into the middle class. But she also writes about how hard it is for her to now save money, when that is not a shared value. In fact, it is expected that she will "give back" by loaning or giving money to others in her family/community. The poor, she writes, don't always see the value of saving money over time. And her need to save now that she is in the middle class makes her seem unkind and ungrateful in her former community.

I am discouraged by the research outlined in the New York article. I'd like to think that if I had more money, I'd give more, and I'd be happier doing it.

Apparently, NOT.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Second Quarter, 2012

In spite of last month's upward blip in debt, my finances straightened out in June. I ended the month having reduced my indebtedness by $1511, which, after I adjust for May's increase, reduces my total debt by $704.

I always recalculate my net worth quarterly.

Here, the results are even more dramatic.

Thanks to the debt reduction, and small increases in the value of my home and my rental as well as my 401Ks, my net worth is now $623,093, up $13,134 from the first quarter.

So, all in all, (and except for the weather!) June went just fine.

Onward to July

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Sometimes You Get Sanity Where You Least Expect It

This isn't a political blog, which is probably a good thing, since if it were, it would be from the perspective of a knee-jerk liberal. (Some of my best friends are conservative--I like them as people, so I forgive their political persuasions. I consider forgiveness and tolerance to be liberal traits!)

But is there any issue with more impact on the budge than healthcare?

I am lucky to have always worked in fields where my employers provided medical benefits.

My adult children have not been so fortunate. Only two of the five have employer-provided coverage. One is covered under Obamacare because she is 22 and I can carry her on my insurance until she is 26.

As of today, I can stop worrying about my youngest child because she will continue to have coverage under my insurance plan. And if the two older, uncovered girls can hold out more-or-less-healthily until 2014, they will have insurance as well.

Then there's my clientele (I work for a non-profit that provides services to folks who earn less than the federal poverty guidelines) who win big-time. I'm in a state that provides pretty good insurance to people on Medicaid, but for those who are not handicapped or do not have children (thus, aren't eligible for Medicaid), it's either no medical care or the very expensive emergency room visit. Neither of those options are any good.

I cannot tell you how relieved I am (not to mention, surprised!) by the Supreme Court decision upholding Obamacare. I've just never understood the political animosity directed at what should be a fundamental right of our citizens to adequate health care.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

No Dearth of Opinions

The Oregonian, the newspaper for most of Oregon, ran this article about a Portland couple in financial trouble. I enjoyed (although that's not quite the word I mean) reading about the Carters because they have handled their finances in ways both right and wrong, and because they are drawing near retirement age.

They have saved for retirement, and have not raided their 401(k) to keep themselves afloat during the past two years that the husband has been out of work. They do not have credit card debt. They are helping out their pregnant married daughter and her husband.

On the less positive side, they have used their modest home as a piggy bank, and now, in their mid-fifties, still have 25 years to go on an increasingly non-viable mortgage. If they are not upside down, they are near to it.

The husband is retraining, but he rightly fears his age will be against him in the workplace, both in his prior work as an insurance adjuster and his new degree for medical billing. My question is why he waited two years to start the retraining. In retrospect, he needed to be working at least part-time at any job he could get or he needed to start school sooner. I'm guessing he didn't because he hoped to find work in his field, and it never occurred to him that it would be two years and he still wouldn't be employed.

In fact, I suspect the whole family thought his job loss was just a temporary set-back, not a major lifestyle change. This would explain their continued reliance on expensive meals eaten out and their unwillingness to stop shopping at one of Oregon's great, local and costly markets, New Seasons.

The comments section is enlightening as well, (123 posts at last count), though there's a fair amount of political nonsense to be waded through. The advice varies from the terrible (Cash in the 401K) to more thoughtful commentary on how to live on a reduced income. I admit to a bit of surprise that some posters felt it was somehow "unfair" of this couple to take advantage of a federal mortgage-suspension program. Personally, I think it makes no sense NOT to take advantage of any available program that would help the couple get back on their financial feet.

The comments were also interesting regarding the presence of the couple's daughter and son-in-law. Clearly the young couple needs to increase the 'rent' they currently pay, but if they're going to pay market rent (as some posters feel they should) why would they bother to stay with their in-laws? I assume the idea is to help both families--giving Mom and Dad some much needed cash while allowing the kids reduced housing expenses.

Too many of the comments focused on the mistakes that have already been made (and were highly judgmental in ways that suggested to me that the posters had never truly experienced any of the life experiences this couple had had) without offering suggestions for the here and now.

But I am in total agreement with those who suggested that the couple accept that their situation is NOT temporary and adjust accordingly. Should their earning power go up in the future, more power to them. But it may not. $39,000 a year (which is what they will have when the husband's unemployment insurance runs out) is a comedown from their past lifestyle, but it's not impossible for a two-person family to live comfortably, if not richly, on that amount.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Not As Bad As It Could Have Been

It's time for an end-of-the-month look at my finances. Surprisingly, it's not nearly as bad as I feared.

First I had a $3500 emergency (I will spare you the details, but let's just say one of my children will not be around for quite awhile, but not as long as it might have been had she not had a very competent attorney). Then, my baby-steps emergency fund, which is supposed to contain $1000 has more like $200 in it.

So I wound up using a line of credit at my credit union to pay the bill. I've had that line for nearly a decade but haven't used it for the past three years. Just what I need--more debt!

Still, the good news is that by the end of May, I was able to throw money at my other debts such that I wound up the month only increasing my total indebtedness by $806.99. Admittedly, that's going in the wrong direction, but I was worried that the damage would be much worse. I chose not to pay back more than a minimum payment on the line of credit because it has a 7.99% interest rate while my credit cards have higher rates.

All in all, I'm glad to see May in the rearview mirror, but I'm grateful I didn't dig my hole any deeper.

Onward to June, which looks to be a much better month, God and Murphy willing!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Shouldn't I Have Done Better Than This By Now?

Warning! If you don't like whines, you should stop reading now.

I just had a $3500 emergency come up (at a time when I have less than $200 in my emergency account), so I know that my end-of-the-month wrap-up will not be a pretty sight. But more than that, also coming up is my 5-year anniversary of my very first post.

You'd think that five years would be more than enough time to get rid of debt, increase retirement savings, and generally be in fine shape, wouldn't you? Even with a recession smack in the middle, at least the debt should have come down, right? Well, it did come down some, but not nearly as much as it should have over a five year span. My total indebtedness has reduced only by $2105 per year, for a grand total of $10529. Likewise, my retirement savings have increased, but again, not as much as I would have predicted. I currently have $69,000 more in my 401(k) than I had in 2007, thanks to pre-tax deductions from my pay (which pay has not gone up at all in five years!). I will say that I'm glad I did not stop my retirement contributions to make increased payments on my debts--I know myself well enough to think that I would have found excuses to use that money elsewhere, in which case, my retirement fund would be seriously short about now.

So what has been my problem? Well, life did not stand still during the past five years. There was college for a child and grandchild; a new roof, replacement windows and a new furnace for the rental property; my only vehicle that died and had to be replaced; the comings and goings from my home of various adult children and grandchildren; etc. But none of these were unusual life events. These expenses could have and should have been part of my budget. If only I could get far enough ahead of current expenses to actually budget for visits from Murphy.

I'll probably be in a better mood tomorrow, but in the meantime, the whine wins!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What's a Carnival and Why Would I Want to be in One?

I have a post this week in the Carnival of Personal Finance which is being hosted by One Cent At A Time.

My post is joined by a great many other relevant posts, plus an extended (and funny) post by the Grumpies, Nicole and Maggie, on how to properly wash dishes. Why exactly that last one is part of a personal finance carnival is open to question, but at least you'll know what to do when the dishwasher is broken.

In general terms, a carnival is a collection of posts gathered over the past week or so and presented all in one place.

When I first started blogging, I thought the blog hosts simply surfed the blogosphere and picked out the most worthy writing.

Umm--not so much.

The reality is that blog hosts sit back, eat bon-bons, and wait for individual bloggers to fling their authorial contributions into the vast void. If they like what flies by, or if they are just in a good mood, or nothing better appeared in their mailbox that week, your post will become part of the carnival.

Most carnival hosts are good about sending e-mails telling you whether you made it in or not. Unfortunately, these e-mails are sent out the same day the carnival appears online so if you're the kind of blogger who is organized and sent in your contribution a week earlier (you know this is NOT Grace, right?) then you just have to wait. OTOH, if you contributed 2 hours prior to the deadline (Yep! That would be moi!), you get the information relatively soon.

The general thought is that having one's post find its way into a Carnival will increase blog traffic. It does, particularly if your contribution is highlighted in some special way, but many carnivals, like the Carnival of Personal Finance, are huge. My experience is that my post appears in a long list of others, and tends to get lost.

However, a better way to use a Carnival to generate traffic to your blog is to actually host a carnival. The carnival websites have sign up lists to do that. I couldn't tell you how it works or how much time it entails because I've never volunteered. It seems to require an ability to have a clever theme and to post cool pictures--both of which are more than I can manage.

Still, I do contribute. That's because I really like reading the Carnivals, where I often discover financial blogs that I would otherwise miss, or come across old friends whose sites I haven't recently visited.

My personal favorites are the Carnival of Personal Finance and the Festival of Frugality. You can view the latest Festival here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Enough About the Death of Social Security Already!

Every time I turn around, another article, news story, discussion or diatribe about Social Security pops up on the radar.

When a person is my age, and the prospect of Social Security is just around the corner (give or take six years), these articles, news stories, etc. take on new meaning.

And raise new fears.

If we read or listen to TV or surf the internet we all 'know' the Social Security system is a shambles, can't be repaired, and will be lucky to cover MY retirement, never mind that of my kids.

The recent 2012 Report from the Social Security Trustees brought another spate of scare stories.

In the report, the trustees projected that, largely because of changed economic conditions, Social Security would be able to pay full benefits only for 21 years, and 75 percent of the benefits after that assuming no changes were made.

The reaction to the report, and the media storm around it make one question the actual literacy of the press. Somehow, the news stories missed the parts of the report that refer to the shortfall (a shortfall that will exist ONLY if Congress does NOTHING to secure more funds) as "manageable." More than that, many of the news stories talked about Social Security running out of money in the forseeable future. Again, that's NOT what the report says. It says if NOTHING is done, the payouts will be reduced by one-quarter AFTER another two decades. I am not all that great at math, but even I know that three-quarters of a pay-out is not ZERO payout.

The Columbia Journalism Review has a very snarky 'review' of the press coverage.

As dysfunctional as our current congress is, I don't think the members (or their replacements in the next twenty years) are politically suicidal enough to allow Social Security to reduce payments by 25%, much less become bankrupt.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I Can't Explain It. I Just Have to Spend It!

I love my readers, and I especially love it when they comment on some of my dumber statements.

If you've read the comments to my April Update, then you've met Mike. Mike, politely but emphatically, thinks I'm making a mistake spending a lot of money on my sister's birthday gifts when that money could better be spent reducing my considerable debts. My woefully inadequate response is that "I can't explain it, but I do have to do this." Mike's heard that one before and he's not buying it.

Let's get one thing straight: Mike is right and Grace is wrong.

That doesn't mean I'm not going to spend the money on my sister, because I am. But he's right that I shouldn't.

By way of apology, I used to have a much longer lists of things I 'had' to have or money I 'had' to spend. I had to have expanded cable--how else to watch new movies and catch every chapter of "Game of Thrones?" I had to buy books--reading is important when I commute by bus, and then, there's my Kindle Fire that my sister gave me for Christmas. I had to buy coffee and pastries every morning--it set the pace for the rest of my day.

Over time, I have managed to reduce most of these 'have to haves.' The public library solves a lot of the problems. They have DVD's and if I can't get the new movie fast enough through them, there's always Redbox. The library has the whole first season of "Game of Thrones" and it's more fun to watch all the episodes back-to-back, The library even has books for my kindle. Buying coffee beans and bringing coffee to the office has saved me a bundle, and who knew that Toaster Strudel travels just fine in a briefcase, especially when the office kitchen has a toaster? It's not free but it's a lot cheaper than the $4.25 a morning I used to spend.

I find that working around a 'want' is easier for me than giving something up completely.

I used to have an annual pass to my city's art museum. These days, I still see all the exhibits, but I do it the first weekend of each month when I can flash my Bank of America checking account and get in for free.

I still love to eat out, but I've discovered Happy Hour can substitute for dinner and gives me access to the great dishes my foodie city is known for. (Then there are the food carts that are all over this city, including across the street from my office. A fair number of chefs here have started with a food cart.)

My sister is a different kind of problem. I adore her, though it was not always that way. When we were growing up, she was the pretty, popular kid while I was the smart bookworm. She went to MY senior prom while I stayed home and cried. But growing up helps a lot of relationships and it certainly helped ours. She is my best friend even though she lives on the East Coast and I'm here on the West Coast. We have a tradition of extravagant gifts to each other on birthdays and at Christmas. I have definitely cut back on my level of extravagance, but I'm not willing to eliminate it.

And no, I can't really explain it.

But there it is!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

April Update

April was a surprisingly good month on the debt-reduction front. I managed to reduce what I owe by $1017.91.

May will probably not be as good because I have property tax payments to make, along with my sister's birthday. As longtime readers know, my baby sister (a retired East Coast banker) always comes through for me financially, so I go all out for her birthday and Christmas presents. Of course, all out for Grace is considerably less than what she spends on me!

On a more depressing front, My Retirement Blog reports that by age 55, 60% of us have saved $100,000 or less for our retirement. I guess I should be glad that I finally hit the $250,000 mark (albeit at age 63, NOT age 55) but since I feel like $400,000 is a more reasonable figure for me to feel comfortable in retirement, I'm not feeling good for myself, and I'm truly appalled for those even less prepared.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Diane Weighs in on Condos v. Houses

Diane Crowley tried to leave a comment on my recent post about Condos v. Houses. It was a great comment but too long for Blogger's comment section.


I'm reprinting it here in full:

Hi Grace,
Boy, do I have a lot to say on this subject. I have owned two houses and two condos. I still have one of each so perhaps this makes me qualified to chime in on the subject of condos.

First and foremost, make sure any condo association you're considering has fully funded reserves. Don't buy in one that's not or you will be facing higher dues and assessments. A high level of foreclosures in the development is a red flag, as people stop paying their condo dues first, which strains the association's budget. Another negative is a high percentage of rentals. Banks don't want to see more than 30% renters. Even if you're paying cash, it's an excellent rule of thumb. Attend a board meeting before you buy. Find out who the management company is and speak with them. Most of these companies manage multiple HOA's and can tell you who the good ones are. Make sure the complex has no signs of deferred maintenance. Walk the complex early in the morning and talk to the people who are out walking their dogs. Get a history of dues and assessments. If there were assessments in the past ten years, find out what they were for.

"The Board" is a group of your neighbors, not some evil empire. Many people complain about "The Board", but refuse to attend a meeting. Don't be one of them. If you buy a condo, plan on attending meetings until you are asked to join the board. If you're not willing to do this, don't buy a condo. Same for the rules. Read them first. If you don't like them or find them onerous, don't buy there. The rules are clearly spelled out before the purchase and shockingly few people bother to read them. They then complain vociferously about "The Board" and "The Rules".

I've been in my present home for nearly eleven years and on the board most of that time. Our meetings are rarely over one hour and everyone works together to lighten the load. We are fairly conservative and frugal. To save money, we have a team of volunteers who deliver our newsletters and anything else that doesn't require a postmark. As a result, we kept our dues at $275 for three years. Last year, we reduced the dues to $260, as our reserves are 100% funded and we had a surplus. The rate will stay the same this year. Our dues include care and feeding of three pools and lush, mature landscaping, so we are getting a lot of bang for our hard-earned bucks. The only assessment was over twenty years ago, due to insufficient reserves. We make sure to keep the reserves fully funded and do not anticipate any assessments in the future. In your discernment process, always ask about assessments. They generally loom on the horizon long before notices go out. Get a copy of and actually read the minutes from at least a year's worth of meetings. If there is an assessment coming, it will be in the minutes.

When I went shopping for my current home, I knew I wanted my own driveway, no speed bumps, and a place that looked the same whether I was home or not. I got all of this and great neighbors to boot. My unit is attached to two others. The dog-walking neighbor places our newspapers on our porches every morning. On trash day, the one who is home when the cans are emptied brings everyone's up from the curb. We watch out for each other in lots of other ways, big and small. Last year, we had a neighborhood food drive and collected over 650 pounds of food for the local food bank.

Here's a story about the value of being on the board: When my first condo board announced that there would be an assessment equivalent to 1.5 month's mortgage to replace the roofs, I asked if it was necessary to replace all six roofs at once. We had them inspected and photographed. It was determined that we could do two buildings per year and avoid the assessment completely.

Obviously, I vote for a condo, but it must be the right one for your needs. It's not hard to find if your goals are clear and you do your homework. One myth I'd like to bust is that of taxes. As a renter, you are still paying taxes indirectly. They are included in your rent. Your landlord is paying them with your money. That's part of why rents always go up, roughly on pace with inflation. If you have a fixed rate mortgage, or none at all, your taxes may increase, but it's generally a much smaller percentage of your total budget.

Whew! That was a long one. It's hard to proofread in the tiny comment box, so I hope I've explained things clearly enough to help you with your decision.

Your blog has helped me in so many ways. I hope I can return the favor.
Kind regards,

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Looking for Cheap Therapy? Become a Blogger

I've added new blogger, Jessie, to my blogroll. She's a forty-something newly-minted real estate agent wondering if her new career is worth continuing. (At least she lives in Texas, cuz given the real estate market everywhere else, the answer would have to be "Are you kidding?")

I like the ambiguous title of her blog, Fumbling At Joy.

In Jessie's welcoming message, she mentions that one reason for opening a blog is that it is cheaper than therapy.

Got that right, and therapy is something I know a whole lot about. Having adopted five daughters as older children over a twenty year period, I practically had therapists on retainer. As I often said about one particularly difficult daughter, the counselor didn't do much for my child, but her therapy was the reason I survived that kid's adolescence.

There are as many reasons for blogging as there are bloggers. Working out one's issues on an anonymous yet public stage seems to me to be a good one.

I started my blog nearly five years ago (Sheesh! Has it really been that long? And I STILL have all this debt?) to keep myself honest as I move financially and emotionally toward retirement. As with the recent post on condos, I tend to do much of my thinking out loud. It helps me sort out what's important, as do the responses, which range from supportive to "You did WHAT??" Most of all, I appreciate hearing what others have done in similar circumstances and how it is working (or not) for them.

Good thing I can blog, since the one thing I cannot currently afford is a good therapist.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Condo v. House

One of the decisions I will need to make someday is whether to keep my house, downsize to a smaller place or move to a condo.

I've pretty much decided to eliminate the middle choice. I like my current home a lot, even though it is old (built in 1929), large, and has too many stairs and too much yard.

Need I say that ranch-style bred moi first fell in love with the house BECAUSE of the stairs and the yard and its age?

I live only ten minutes from city center (20 minutes if I'm traveling by bus).

But I am very attracted to life in the middle of my city--the sheer walkability, the restaurants, the magnificent library, how close the cultural institutions are.

I've never minded apartment life, and I certainly would not mind NOT having to worry about upkeep. I refer to my yardcare as 'Darwinian.' I have the lawn moved and the flower beds weeded, but whatever grows is what survived the rainy season. Nothing is planned, so I'm always as surprised as the next person to see what comes up when.

So, in general terms, I think I'm the ideal condo-dweller.

BUT, I worry a lot about monthly condo fees and how unpredictable they are. Isn't the point of paying off my mortgage prior to retirement, NOT to have more monthly fees? At least with a home, I make a personal decision as to what I want fixed or updated. It's scary to think of a condo board making those decisions for me, possibly at a cost that I could not afford.

Then, too, I wonder if I'm ready or ever will be for the rules and regulations that come with owning a condo. I've never been part of an HOA nor wanted to be. I prefer eccentricity to cookie-cutter houses.

Finally, at some level, I am concerned that condos are seldom good buys--the recession hit their market far harder than the housing market, which was bad enough.

I'm starting to read up on the advantages/disadvantages of condos versus homes See here and here--read the comments as well.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Debt in One's Last Decades

The May issue of Money magazine arrived today. As usual, I devoured it in one sitting.

But that doesn't mean it was without its depressing moments. One of the first articles talks about the increasing debt loads carried by people older than 65. I'd link to the piece, but it's not yet up at the Money site.

Apparently, in the United States, a third of those age 65 or older still have a mortgage--up from 20% in the 1990's. The median amount owed is $56,000.

Worse, seniors owe an average of $10,235 on credit cards.

I will likely be among those with some remaining credit card debt when I turn 65 though I don't plan to retire until I get rid of it.

But my mortgage will be paid by the time I turn 65. The article's statistics are scary and do not describe a group I want to be part of.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Why Grace Didn't Win Mega Millions

The easy answer?

I didn't buy a lottery ticket.

Before anyone starts telling me how smart that was, let me say that I thoroughly intended to buy one but I forgot.

Who knows if that $2 could have solved all of my financial problems--now I'll never find out. At least until the next $100+ million dollar lottery.

I read somewhere (and, of course, can find no reference to it now) that one's chances of winning, while witheringly slim, are somewhat better if the jackpot goes over $100 million. So when it does, and if I remember, I buy ONE ticket.

That's right. I blow $2 on a virtual impossibility.

Donna at Surviving and Thriving knows whereof I write. She even admits to buying a lottery ticket or two or six over the course of a year.

I never win lotteries, not even local ones. When my youngest daughter's school put on a fundraising dinner/auction each year and requested (more like demanded!) that each child sell 10 raffle tickets at $25 a piece, I couldn't bear the thought of hitting up my friends, so I bought all the tickets myself (which seemed fair to me because the raffle funded scholarships, and my daughter was getting a significant reduction in her tuition as a result). Over the course of four years, I had 40 chances to win, and never came close.

But like Donna, I don't think $2 is too much to spend for the chance to dream of winning millions. It's a lovely exercise to mentally spend all of that money on myself, my children, my charities, my world.

In a good year, I've spent, at most, $20 on the lottery. It's money I haven't spent on nail salons, super-fancy coffee drinks, or jewelry. (I have nothing against any of those, they just aren't my particular vices.)

Donna quotes one financial guru as calling the lottery "a tax on people who can't do math."

Yep. That would be Grace. Bad at math. Good at dreaming.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Quarterly Net Worth Going UP!

For once--a good Quarterly Net Worth statement.

I'm now at my highest ever amount--$609,959.24

Not only are my retirement funds getting larger but both my primary residence and my rental have increased equity. Maybe the Pacific Northwest is coming out of its real estate funk? I can only hope so.

This is all particularly good news since things seem to be getting tighter on the day-to-day front. Every month that I think I'll have more money to throw at my debt, something happens.

Why do I think Murphy is sitting on my shoulder with a score pad?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Catching Up

OK, I got some great suggestions for additions to my blogroll. Plus I realized that I've been reading some cool blogs that I hadn't yet put onto my site. For example, LC often comments here. I'd been reading her Retirement Daze for some time when all of a sudden, she had a stroke. Instead of putting her blog on hold, she has been writing her way through her treatment and continued recovery. I'm so sorry the stroke happened to her, but I'm still fascinated by her posts. (Just for the record, there is a serious history of strokes in my family going back three generations on both sides--I should probably be taking notes!)

Also check out I'm Losing It Here, Tessie's Awesome Blog, and Last Third of Our Life.

For those looking for Judy at "Finally Frugal," she is apparently on a temporary hiatus. Why that means she took the blog away with her, I don't know. But she says she will be back shortly, so I'll leave the link up for a bit longer.

March was the month in which I turned 63 though it was something of a non-event. However, I did get a new microwave from my sister, which I've been coveting for awhile but was too cheap to replace the old (but working!) model I've had for more than 10 years.

March was also a good month on the debt front--I paid down $1,694.55. Of course part of it came from my meager $300+ tax refund, but no matter--I love seeing the figures reduce. I now owe $88,142.76 on everything, including my house.

And, in some very good news, my retirement funds recently topped $250,000, which should mean that by the time I retire at age 69, I will have more than $400,000 in my 401(k).

So in spite of the fact that it is storming outside, March is leaving like a financial lamb.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

They Went Which-A-Way?

Here's the thing about blogs--I love writing mine, but even more, I love reading the blogs of others. I am offered interesting, if brief and narrow, glimpses into the lives of those very different from myself--people who are younger, richer, older, more settled, well-traveled, less sensible, much smarter, of different genders and races, whatever.

So, I take it badly when writer leaves the blogosphere. I want more!

Sadly, not everyone cares what Grace wants.

Hence--a new clean-up of my Blogroll.

I have trouble believing that Morrison can actually stay away for long, but I have eliminated "All Doors Considered" until she changes her mind.

Julie from "Beside Still Waters" has left for the second time. Too bad. I like the perspective of someone forced into retirement too early who is struggling with the financial consequences.

Karissa from "Keeping It Seriously Simple" has the best reason to stop blogging--she paid off all of her debt, which was the reason she started her blog in the first place. You go, Girl!

"Blogging Away Debt" is here, but with a new blogger, Claire. Her financial situation is different from Beks, but still compelling.

"Living Almost Large" is gone, though its author still comments on various financial blogs. Ditto Dog from "The Dog Ate My Finances."

Master Po from "The Po File" has posted what he says is his final post. He has, however, left his blog up, which I appreciate. I'm curious why other folks don't. Still, unless I hear he's coming back, I'm deleting him from blogroll.

Judy, formerly of "Poor But Happy" got hacked, but is back at a different location with a new name, "Finally Frugal and Happy."

Some bloggers definitely seem to be losing steam. One of the first blogs I found was Jane Dough's "Boston Gal's Open Wallet" but her posts have become increasingly sporadic. Her most recent post was last November. Still that puts her ahead of "Debt Hater", who was all set to get married and hasn't blogged since. Shouldn't the honeymoon be over by now? And what about "Sistah Ant"? She became a lawyer, got married, and found a job. Shouldn't that give her enough to blog about, but her last post was in September.

Neither "M Is For Money" nor "Oh, My Aching Debts" have posted in over six months, so off my list they go.

Hmm--Now I need replacements.

Suggestions, anyone?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Never Too Late To Do What You Always Wanted to Do.

Mother Martina Roy died

I never knew her though friends of mine did.

There were a lot of things important in her life--like her marriage and her four children.

There were things that wentwrong in her life--the marriage didn't work out and one child pre-deceased her.

But here's the part I find the most interesting: her earliest dream-career was to be a nun. Her family was against that, and real life intervened. After her divorce, she was the sole support of all of her children.

Once her children were grown, she took positions as housemother at various fraternities. At age 72, when she decided to once again pursue that dream of becoming a nun, she not only knew how to handle rowdy college boys, but thanks to them, she was up on all the latest technology.

She was the United States' (and maybe the world's) oldest postulant both when she entered the convent at age 72 and when she took her final vows at age 84.

She was in her mid-ninties and had suffered from dementia for the past few years before she recently died. Her last years were spent among the nuns on Shaw Island, WA.

Those that knew her described her as funny, social, physically active, and a true delight.

There's definitely a lesson here--and not just for Catholics.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

February Wrap-Up--Back on Track

I finally feel like I can breathe financially.

February is always hard because that's when property taxes and various insurance policies are due.

I not only managed to get everything paid, I did it without incurring more debt. In fact, I once again reduced my debt below $90,000 (including my house)--albeit just below, at $89,837.31. That is a monthly reduction of $996.69, though given the increase in debt in January, the net reduction is $204.69.

My retirement funds hit new highs in February, which also feels good. My general goal is to have at least $400,000 in my retirement 401(K)s when I retire in six years.

So I'm feeling pretty fine right now, and I'm hoping the rest of the year works out as well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Story for Valentine's Day

Today is Valentine's Day, and do I have a romantic story for you!

Last Saturday I received a wedding invitation from a college dormmate. The wedding will take place on the east coast in August.

What makes it special is not only do I know both parties, I'm the one who introduced them.

Picture Grace as Cupid.

The introduction took place 38 years ago, and to say that these folks were slow to get with the program is an understatement.

L. lived across the hall in the graduate dormitory.

C. was a cute, bright but very shy law student I'd met in the library.

It just seemed to me that they would be a good couple.

So I introduced them.

They went on a couple of dates but nothing clicked.

OK, so Grace isn't the world's swiftest Cupid.

L. married, had children, then lost her husband three years ago to cancer.

C. married, divorced, and kept working his way up the corporate ladder.

I kept in touch with L. but lost contact with C.

Two years ago, he found me through our alumni association and we renewed our friendship. He casually mentioned L. and asked if I knew what had happened to her. Indeed I did so I passed on her e-mail address.

As they say, the rest is history. And part of that history will be made in August when the two of them finally get married.

I am definitely planning to be there.

Let's see. Am I ready? Wings? Check. Arrows? Check.

Grace/Cupid is now on her game!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

City/Small Town/Country

Morrison at "All Doors Considered" has an interesting post about taking a trial run at retirement. But aside from the main points in her post, I was struck by one sentence where she posits that it is better (and certainly less expensive) to live in a small town rather than a big city. In her case, the big city is New York City, and the small town is in Rhode Island.

I agree that it is less expensive to retire to a small town, but you won't see Grace doing that.

Frankly, moving to the largest city in my state 20 years ago is one of the smartest and most soul-satisfying things I've ever done.

I didn't know how it would turn out, so I kept (and still have) my home in the much smaller coastal town where I grew up, reared two of my five children, and worked for 18 years.

I have good memories from that town, but I have better ones from the big city.

More to the point, I have better access to quality healthcare, public transportation (I'm something of a menace when I drive now--I can't imagine that it won't get worse as I get older), an amazing library system, local universities, not to mention great restaurants and an active cultural life. Not all of these things are more costly--I scout out all the freebies, which are more numerous here than they were in my hometown.

I've never quite understood the retirement dream of moving to a small town. A friend of mine did that a couple of years ago. He retired as a university professor (not from my city but from the second-largest city in the state) and moved to the beach. Financially, it was a success--but socially, not so much. He just moved back to his college-town and bought a condo. These days, if he wants to go to the beach, he drives the two hours there and gets a motel.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

January 2012 Wrap-Up

1. Moving quickly through the financial update (because I don't want anyone paying too close attention!) my Christmas spending caught up with me. I added $792 to my outstanding indebtedness and am now back up over $90,000. But my promise to myself is that this is the last time I will have to say that. My plan is that every month from here on out will have some kind of a reduction. Let's hope Murphy isn't reading this blog!

2. I cancelled my US Bank credit card. I haven't used it in years so it's no big loss. US Bank apparently felt the same way because they sent me a letter saying that beginning in April, they were going to charge me an annual fee of $39. Hmm--I think NOT! There's never been a fee before and I don't intend to pay one now. When I called them to cancel, the sweet young thang who answered the phone didn't even try to talk me out of it. I guess the financially frugal are not part of US Bank's target consumer base. I'm curious to see if the cancellation will negatively impact my credit rating.

3. The November, 2011 US Housing Report came out. My city showed greater losses in housing values for October/November than almost any other urban area. Oddly, Detroit showed the largest uptick--I'm guessing because there wasn't much further for their values to fall. I occasionally go through the Detroit listings just to see the amazing values to be had in their market. In mine, sellers are holding onto their homes in hopes that prices will raise in the future, leaving foreclosures as the hottest part of our market.

4. January is the month I schedule all my health check-ups. All turned out well. I may not have much money, but at least I have my health. And my health insurance! I cannot stress too much how grateful I am to be fully covered by my employer. If there is one thing I think is wrong in this country (which I love dearly), it is the lack of universal health care. No one, at any income, should have to worry about the cost of taking care of their personal health.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Blogging, Books, Writing and Age

As longtime readers know, in my other other life (you know, the one apart from being mom to five adult kids, working full time and worrying about my finances if and when I ever get to retire) I love to read. Even more than that, I love to write, and I occasionally find a market for my science fiction short stories--not that I'm giving up my day job any time soon.

But my dream is to one day have a novel published. Over the years, that dream has gotten pushed farther and farther back, until now it is on my To Do list in retirement.

Which brings me to this list of late-blooming authors. For the longest time, I held onto Ursula Le Guin as a role model since she didn't start publishing science fiction until she was 37. But as my thirties (and forties) slipped by, I latched onto Harriet Doerr--not only was "Stones for Ibarra" a wonderful book, but the lady was 73 when it was published! Go Harriet!

It's not that I'm doing nothing right now to further that novel-writing dream. I've attended a monthly professional science fiction workshop for the past 30 years. I do write, albeit at an excruciatingly slow pace. I keep my hand in until life gives me some clear blocks of time to actively pursue this particular dream.

Oh, and I am constantly seduced by journals, blank books and the other accoutrements of writing. Which is probably why I like these blogs: "Notebook Stories" and "Make A Book A Day." (With regard to the latter, I am unfortunately NOT a crafty person. But I admire many of this blogger's products. Wouldn't it be fun to fill some of these blank books up with stories?)

Dreams are good. Keeping Harriet in mind, I've got another 11 years to achieve the reality.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sometimes You Just Have to Hold Your Breath & Jump

I mentioned back in November that a friend of mine was moving her family to the Pacific NW from California and would be living with me while she looked for work and housing.

It worked out very well for both of us. She now has a job in her field, a house in my neighborhood, and a new lease on life. She's been working for the past month, and will move to the rental this coming week-end.

I bring up my friend's case because she has been talking about moving here for years. It took the loss of a job she'd held for more than twenty years in California to give her the impetus to finally move. In doing so, she left the city she'd been in for quarter of a century, the state where she was born and her family still lives, and her home which was underwater (and being short-saled). She brought with her two children who were not at all sure about their mother's new "whim."

But here they are, two months later, and everything is different.

After suffering a massive ego-tromping when she got fired, my friend wasn't even sure she'd be employable in her field. But this isn't California. People with her credentials and experience are harder to find here, and it helped that she was used to commuting in California traffic, such that a 20 minute drive to her new job didn't phase her. In fact, her new job, which was offered to her the same day she handed them her resume, makes even better use of her skills than the position she held for some twenty years. She's still learning the ropes, but she can already tell that this employment is less stressful and more fulfilling than her previous job.

She hasn't quite adjusted to the weather, though I keep telling her that one does get used to the rain. I haven't the heart to let her know that so far, this has been an especially dry winter.

But she's found the neighborhoods and schools more integrated (her children are African-American) and much safer than those she left behind. Even rent (which I consider outrageous) appears reasonable to her, based upon similar housing in California.

Right now, she trying out the local churches to see where her family fits in, and expanding her circle of friends beyond those two or three (including myself) she knew before she got here.

It took courage and a lot of planning to make such a drastic change in her life. It probably would not have happened had her job situation not been so traumatic.

But the real point of this story is that not every financial setback is a tragedy--with the right attitude and a willingness to take risks, it can be the start of something much brighter.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Fifteen Good Years?

I read this post from Super Saver with some consternation. Not to mention some recognition.

My father had a heart attack at age 58 and died from a stroke at 68. My mother died during heart bypass surgery at age 78. This does not bode well for Grace.

While I do think I take better care of my personal health than my parents did at this age, genetics can be a bummer.

Thanks Dad! Mom!

So thinking about the next fifteen years, maybe I should consider the possibility that they are the remaining 'good' years I have left.

Does that make a difference in my future financial plans? Right now, the plan is to get everything (residence, car, credit cards) paid off by (or, more likely, during) age 65, then spend four years saving for fun stuff like travel, and then retiring at age 69.

But would it make more sense to spend now for the things I want to do that will require relatively good health? I'd like to take a major car trip across the US--not so much to be outdoors (I don't like sunburns or mosquitos) but to spend time in all the cities I've missed: San Diego, Taos, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, New Orleans, to name just a few. Can I put that off for another 7 years or is the time to do it now?

If there's just 15 'good' years left, do I really want to spend half of them paying down debt or saving money? Would I really have to? If my last years of retirement are likely to be sedentary, and given that TV and the internet are not all that expensive, wouldn't that be the time to concentrate on debt reduction?

But I have no track record as a seer. I could get hit by a car tomorrow, or live into my '90's' (I'd say 'hundreds,' but I think that's pushing it!)

What I do have is anxiety. Letting my debt follow me into retirement produces more anxiety than I'm willing to have, particularly if those retirement daysare going to be among the best of my life.

I guess I'm stuck with just plugging away.

And pushing out the boundaries of that 'fifteen good years.'

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

If You Could Hit the Reset Button

Bob Lowery, over at "Satisfying Retirement," has a most provocative post. What if you could do some parts of your life over? Would your choices be different the second time? Do you regret some of the decisions you made the first time around?

This particular exercise is only for those of us over fifty, because only then do we have the distance and experience to see the consequences of our earlier decisions.

Personally, I have often felt that I didn't so much make decisions as allow life to carry me along. I regret not taking charge a bit more.

But hey! Let's go way back. My first big regret is not paying closer attention to Tommy S. I took him to my 9th grade Sadie Hawkins Dance and he took me to the Sophomore prom. We were both losers who felt sorry for each other. Who knew he'd grow another foot and a half, clear up the acne, and start riding motorcycles in college?

I regret not working harder at writing science fiction--I've been in the same writer's workshop for thirty years. I've sold maybe twenty stories over that time while many of my fellow workshoppers have written books and some even make their living as writers. I keep thinking that I will write more NEXT year without realizing that NOW was the time.

I would love to go back and redo aspects of my parenting. I feel like my first two daughters had to grow up along with their mother. By child #5, I had a much better sense of what I was doing.

I wonder what my life might have been if I'd remained in New York City to practice my profession instead of returning to my hometown. I don't regret that choice so much as speculate about what might have been.

Then there's always the question of marriage. Would my life be more financially secure if I had married? Or would a divorce have cut even deeper into my finances? (Never mind that I cannot think of one person I've met with whom I'd really want to spend my life!)

Enough of my regrets.