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Archive for February, 2010

Loose change

February 28th, 2010 at 12:45 pm

I've never been one to search out loose change on the ground, and I'm amazed at how much money you all seem to find. I guess it has to do with actually looking for money instead of going through your day in a distracted daze, like me.

Anyway, i thought i would share with you a place to find spare change that none of you has ever mentioned, surprisingly.

I walked to the supermarket to see if they had Pert Plus for Men with the special "Try Me Free" sticker on it. They did indeed, so I went to purchase a bottle becus they have a free after rebate deal. (Download the form from their website.)

I went to the self check-out line, which I rarely do, but i had only the one item. I fed a $10 bill into the machine and was supposed to get back $6.24 in change, meaning a $5 bill, a $1 bill and .24 in coins. There was actually .96 in coins in the little coin slot; someone else apparently didn't care about getting their change, or forgot.

I kinda felt like I'd just hit the jackpot at a pinball machine.

After that, i walked to the library and read my local paper. Then i met my mother to catch It's Complicated at our $2 movie theater. We loved it, Couldn't decide who I like best, Steve Martin or Alec Baldwin. (I'm thinking Steve, only becus i didn't like what I heard about Alex Baldwin a ways back when he was fighting with his daughter...he sounded disturbed, although i must admit he was very appealing in this movie.)And Meryl Streep is, of course, incomparable. I've never seen an actress who can smile and laugh for as long and as naturally as she can. It was nice to see a type of love story with older actors, for a change.

I had some Trader Joe's pumpkin pancakes for breakfast this morning (yum) and I'm only now starting to get a wee bit hungry, at nearly 4 pm!

Another Craig's List sale victory

February 25th, 2010 at 03:29 pm


I've sold a number of items on Craig's List in the past 5 months, but there were plenty of things that didn't sell. I was feeling particularly discouraged when none of my postings the week before Christmas attracted any interest, but after reading recently of someone's success here after several attempts selling the same items, I posted mine again.

Am pleased to report I sold 2 Made in Russia die-cast toy cars today for $35. I had a Russian penpal for years, and she sent them to me. I really had no use for them and aside from the interesting Russian writing and photos on the boxes, they weren't anything I felt like keeping.

One was a taxi and the other was a rather nondescript family sedan.

They're rather obscure items, but you only need one person with an offbeat hobby to see it, and that's exactly what happened. For my safety, I decided to suggest we meet at a nearby Starbucks; he thought I was simply being helpful when I really didn't want to invite a stranger into my house.

Turns out he's collected both die-
cast toy cars and Pez candy dispensers for years. His license plate says "Pez Man." He has several hundred cars in his collection from all over the world, but these were among the first Russian ones he's gotten as they're hard to find, he explained. When he said I "made his day," I beamed inside.

When I posted these cars before, I listed them at $40. I have a feeling that there's no need to reduce the price in successive ads, because it seems that if someone decides they want it, price isn't really a factor, as long as it's in the realm of reason.

I also find it interesting that most of my sales have all been to men. Who says that women are the shoppers??

So it was gratifying to sell my stuff to someone who really valued the items. He gave me 2 $20 bills and said if i didn't have the change, don't worry about it! (I did.) He even offered twice to buy me a coffee, since we were at Starbucks.

Otherwise, not much new. Was turned down for what would have been a lucrative, steady online freelance job writing on a subject I have a lot of background in. They said they hired someone else. At least they let me know, but I was bummed nonetheless. When will I catch a break?

Raining all day today and will be turning to snow tonight and then won't stop until Saturday. I rescheduled a haircut from tomorrow to Tuesday. Seemed the prudent thing to do.

I had some leftover spinach from another recipe so i went on www.recipezaar.com to look for other recipes using spinach. I decided to try the "comfort soup" with chicken broth, spinach and meatballs. It was not bad, but i would make some changes should i make the recipe again. It's your basic, what do you call it, wedding soup?

A new electric utility company i've signed up with has a website with all sort of shopping discounts, and they give you a free $500 when you switch over to them, so basically, i can get 2 for 1 deals at lots of local delis and fast food joints, among other things, for the next decade or so.

Feeling glum today. Don't see any light at the end of the unemployment tunnel yet and it's getting discouraging.

Great month for surveys!

February 22nd, 2010 at 12:26 pm

February has been a great month for surveys. I earned $69. That's $9 from Pinecone and $60 from Greenfield/Toluna.

I've done surveys for several years for both groups, though because I was working, I didn't get to them right away, and being even a few days late in getting to a survey really seemed to increase the chances the survey quota had been met.

Now, being out of work, I usually get to whatever available surveys there are on the same day I receive them. I still get disqualified from a fair number of them, but have managed to earn an average $40 a month from Toluna. So a $69 survey month is something to crow about!

I've earned 21 points for the February home cooking challenge, month to date. (Meaning, I ate out one time this month!)

I got another freelance assignment today, so I'm a happy camper.

I'm still undecided about whether to pursue the AFC certification. It would cost $850, not including CE credits and annual membership fees each year down the road to keep it active. I don't think the test would be terribly hard since I already have some background in this area, however, I'm also not sure this would make a huge difference in the types of jobs I could attract. It certainly wouldn't hurt, and I might just decide to do it because I have an interest in this area. The thing is, jobwise, the type of job I could get with this certification would be, for example, working at a credit counseling bureau. But I have a feeling the salary range in that field, and especially starting out with no work experience, would be quite a bit less than what I'd earning now as a writer. When I'm employed, that is. So, to be honest, I don't have too much motivation to do a career change. This might just be a "career enhancement."

One big "duh, what an idiot" moment and mulling major career move

February 20th, 2010 at 09:08 am

I got up this morning looking forward to attending a half day medical conference about a half hour away.

It's the only "community" where I have an automatic, honorary membership simply because I have a chronic illness. It's a place where I know I'll be welcomed unconditionally with smiles and friendship, although I haven't had much chance to do this over the years since I've always been working.

So I drove down to the Marriott and asked at the desk where the conference was. She seemed puzzled, and spent a few minutes with someone on the phone going over the list of conferences before we both realized my conference was March 20, not February 20.

Duh!!!

Oh, well. I stopped at the bank and picked up some groceries on the way home.

I think I'll vacuum out my car in a while since the weather's so nice.

I was thinking yesterday of studying for the AFC designation. That's Accredited Financial Counselor. I've always had an interest in personal finance and, if nothing else, it would look nice to see those three letters, AFC, following my signature, and on my resume. It should enhance my employability, although it's entirely possible my next writing job will NOT be with a financial services company. I'm not a one trick pony, but this is the field where I have the most experience.

I might even look into a career change into financial counseling with some small firm in my area, who knows. That would be weird to even think about, because i've felt all my life that my only employable skill is writing.

If nothing else, it would give me a good answer to give should some future prospective employer ask what I did with all that time I had while I was unemployed. To be able to say I earned my AFC accreditation would be impressive.

It's a designation i hadn't really been familiar with until reading Fern's interview of a Denver-based financial counselor. She seemed like she had a very interesting job. She speaks to employees at companies about debt management a lot.

I guess the idea was percolating in my head for a while without my really thinking about it consciously.

I began thinking about doing it more after getting a phone call yesterday from someone who was laid off at the same time I was, same company. He found a job.

After I hung up with him, I was thinking, why keep waiting around for some employer to "rescue" me from unemployment? Who knows if or when that might happen? I'm tired of depending on others to determine my fate or the next direction my career will take. And try as I might, I couldn't really visualize in my mind the type of company I would want to work for, partly because i dislike office politics and the whole office culture.

That was an exercise the leader of my job networking group had suggested, identifying on paper which companies in my area I'd like to work for. You're supposed to research it, obviously, but I couldn't even say what types of companies really appealed to me. That's an unsettling thought, to realize that you have no idea where the next job might be coming from, and being in a wholly reactionary mode.

I was thinking I might enjoy financial counseling, because while I don't think I'm a strong presence in a group setting, I do much better when I'm working with someone one-on-one. I think I would enjoy taking a personal interest in my clients and advising them on financial matters.

I briefly looked into what's involved with becoming a Certified Financial Planner, but that, apparently, is a 2-day marathon (10-hour exam) with a pass rate of only 49%. It's a little intimidating, and really, I have no interest in advising what investments to purchase; my interest is in looking more holistically and broadly at a client's financial lifestyle.

For these reasons, the AFC designation would seem a more doable venture. I believe the website of the association that administers the designation said it would cost between $1,000 and $2,000, not including the annual license fee and continuing education credits you'd need to earn every 2 years to keep your license active.

Initially, it didn't appear that I would qualify to sit for the exam because one of the requirements is that you have at least 2,000 hours of work under your belt as a financial counselor or educator.

I emailed the group for clarification, and she told me they had recently broadened eligibility requirements so that I could, indeed, sit for the exam because i have worked as a personal finance writer, and that would be considered "educational." So that's great!

I need to spend more time, hopefully today, to see what the coursework would be like and if I felt i could manage it. (Math, you see, is not my strong point, though I can muddle through the basics.)

Now, granted, if i got a job with a financial services firm, they often will pay for your tuition. At one company I worked for, they also paid me bonuses when I studied for and passed the Series 6 and 63 exams. But studying for these exams while working f/t is a little tough. I'd much rather do it now while i have all this free time, even if I have to pay for it myself.

If i got a job before i took the exam, well, I'd just have to manage both. It's a self-study course (they mail you the course materials after you apply and pay upfront) and when you decide you're ready to take the exam, you tell the association what college you want to take the test at and they arrange a professor/proctor to administer the exam to you on their premises. There is a time frame in which you have to take the exam, but they give you plenty of time to do so. I'd opt not to stretch it out but to draw up a study schedule so I could do it in a fairly condensed period of time.

I'm actually very excited about this. It IS a lot of money, so i need to spend some time studying the coursework and other details before committing myself to apply.

Any thoughts?

How I may divvy up my tax refund

February 17th, 2010 at 05:03 am

So, still mulling over, what, if anything, I should do with the $4,100 I expect get back from the IRS.

What I would really like to do is take $2,550 of it and apply it toward my mortgage. That figure, $2,550, would represent 6 months worth of $425 monthly prepayments that I haven't been able to make since losing my job last fall.

Not being able to continue my accelerated mortgage prepayment schedule was one of my biggest regrets about my job loss. Meaning, that it would put me behind schedule in my goal of paying off the whole darn thing in just 6 more years.

Granted, I likely will remain unemployed for longer, but at least this one-time payment would help put me back on my original track.

That would leave me with $1,550 to add to my reserve fund or perhaps think about doing some essential home repairs, like fixing some large cracks that have developed in my front walkway. Leaving it alone would allow the walkway to break up further, and i spent too much money on it maybe 10 years ago to allow that to happen.

Toy Guy, if you're reading this, or anyone for that matter, do you know anything about concrete repairs? I would do it myself but when i did one of these cracks last fall, i tried to reseal the crack with new, fast setting concrete mix and obviously it didn't work at all, since one of the cracks that showed up this winter was the same one i tried to fix last fall.

Up to my old (sleepless) habits

February 16th, 2010 at 12:42 am

If you stop by here on occasion, chances are you've heard mention of my recurrent insomnia. Four years ago, I discovered sleeping pills and became dependent on them, but even then, I'd often awaken in the wee hours of the early morning,any time between, say, 3 and 5 am, unable to return to sleep.

Not liking the idea of being dependent on pills, and since they didn't guarantee a good night's sleep anyway, I resolved about a year ago (?) to kick them completely. It wasn't too hard to do, although my sleep cycle was ransacked. I noticed, though, that no matter how crappy a night's sleep I got, I could still get through a day at work. I just pushed through it, night after night.

Then, i don't even remember when, exactly, i started sleeping more restfully. Until now, i honestly didn't even think about it. It's like an ache in some part of your body; while it's there, you're very much aware of it, but once it's gone, you don't even notice its absence.

Surprisingly, my restful sleep even continued through my unemployment of the last 5 months. That is, until 4 or 5 nights ago when i noticed i was waking up early in the a.m. again.

And that's how you find me typing this post at 3:39 a.m. Can't sleep.

Could underlying worry about my job situation finally be catching up with me? Perhaps. I try to push the worry and anxiety away into the recesses of my mind because nothing good can come from worry.

I sure hope this return to fitful sleep isn't here to stay. It makes you tired at odd times during the day, makes you tired early in the evening and generally messes up your day. Even if you have no job to go to.

Home Cooking Challenge points, month-to-date: 14

Dead mouse smell

February 15th, 2010 at 11:27 am

Several days ago, I noticed a distinct bad smell in my upstairs hallway and office. This happened once before, and the smell was actually rising up through the house from the basement, where I tracked it down to a dead mouse caught in a mousetrap.

However, I've scoured the basement, not to mention my office, just in case, and can't find any dead mouse. Perhaps it died somewhere inaccessible.



It stinks! It's disgusting!! I'm wondering which will come first, spring, when i can at least open the windows for ventilation, or total mummification of the dead mouse.

Yesterday morning i spent several hours adapting a handout someone i met at my job networking group used for my own purposes. I'm pretty happy with the way it looks. It's meant to supplement my resume. While my resume is organized by the job and emphasizes my function at each job, this handout is organized by skills and emphasizes the same skills listed on my resume, but here it leaves out all the company-specific stuff. It's also a lot easier to read and fits on 1 page.

I'm going to bring it to the next job networking group meeting to show them how you can adapt someone else's stuff to suit your own needs. I think they'll be impressed. Now if i could just find an employer to impress....

I had committed to wallpapering the bathroom today, but found myself stalling, so to avoid doing absolutely nothing today, i headed out the door to buy $77 worth of cat food (the 2 boys go through 5 cans daily, so it goes more quickly than you realize), then Costco, where I got 3 gallons of milk (i freeze some) and had some yummy free samples (dark chocolate-covered pomegranate!!) and Petco, where I was able to exchange some Natural Balance that the boys don't like for some dry food and snacks.

Fighting my usual mid-afternoon fatigue, i can either spend the afternoon finishing pruning The World's Largest Burning Bush, OR do some of that wallpapering.

Sunday blahs (job-related)

February 14th, 2010 at 05:56 am



I was in a kind of down mood yesterday, and I wasn't sure I could pinpoint why. I think it had to with the job networking group meeting i attended yesterday morning.

It's a very small group. This is a plus, in that you get a fair amount of individualized attention, but also a disadvantage, since you don't have the benefit of rubbing shoulders with a wide swath of unemployed people.

Everyone else aside from the co-leaders, a husband and wife team, were male and over 45 with fairly senior level job histories.

I usually pick up a few nuggets of useful info at these sessions, even though others' career paths can be radically different from mine.

I think I was feeling disheartened because many of the others that spoke that day seemed to have some activity to report, whether it was coming in second in a job interview process or some impressive consulting work. I had to compare it to my own practically non-existent job search where I've seen no "perfect match" jobs for many weeks. (There was one guy there, a newcomer, who readily admitted that he's done basically no job searching for the past 6 months and had something of a bad attitude. I secretly related to him.)

On top of that, one of the co-leaders said the reason why attendance at these meetings has dropped off lately is becus she believed more people have found jobs. Nothing like that to make you feel like a loser.

I did get a copy of something someone else there used to supplement his resume and which he presented at the job interview. It was a more visual way to organize his work skills, plus a listing of 30-day deliverables and 60- to 90-day deliverables.

It's pretty tough to come up with credible deliverables before you've even gone on the job interview. You have to know to a fairly accurate degree what the job will entail. Still, he said the people he showed it to seemed very impressed, and he felt it helped him stand out compared to other job candidates.

So I'm going to try to adapt his stuff to my own situation. It will use his handout only as a springboard and be mostly different from what he did. I think I can make mine more meaningful.

Basically, I'm going to create a visual chart that organizes my background, not by the job, as my resume does, but by grouping key skill sets in 3 or 4 major categories. It could, perhaps, make the info more readable for someone who dislikes wading through dense resumes like mine. (Some people who may have job-hopped a little too much over the years prefer to do their resume in this way because it camouflages gaps or short-term job stints, although I think most employers prefer the traditional job-by-job format.)

That's not really what the guy at the job meeting did; he worked at the same Fortune 500 for 18 years and simply created 4 ascending vertical columns for each job title at that company, then listed by bullets the different key skills he used. To me, his version was a little redundant with what likely appeared on his resume. It was like a reshuffling of the same info.

It will take me a while to come up with my 3 or 4 key categories, I think, because I'll want to broaden my skill sets as much as possible.

The big question which I face all the time is, should i make this focus on my financial services, real estate and Internet marketing background primarily, or should i broaden it to include marketing in general, in case I get an interview with a non-financial services or real estate company? My work experience is rather heavily concentrated in financial services and real estate, which is helpful in establishing me as an "expert," but it also narrows the field.

I suppose once i get one version of this done, it would be easier to adapt it to specific jobs, just as i do now, to a certain extent, with my resume.

The boys

February 11th, 2010 at 02:56 pm

These long days of winter pass by effortlessly for some...


...who spend their days mock-fighting,


...even though they're best buds now.


Note the long tufts of fur growing between Luther's toes. He could survive in the arctic!


Which end is up? I'm not sure, but Luther loves to wrestle.

Home Cooking Challenge points, mtd: 10.

The many ways I can spend my money

February 10th, 2010 at 06:06 am

Lots of the white stuff expected. It's going to snow all day today. I guess I'll get out there sometime this afternoon to clear some of it with the snow blower before it gets too high to use it.

In the meantime, I'm still sitting here at the computer in my red jammies.

I had a hard workout Tuesday at the gym and burned 300 calories doing cardio. The workout was hard because it came right after my Monday workout. I wasn't supposed to have another workout until today, but because of the expected snow storm, my trainer rescheduled that workout for yesterday.

My final workout (the last of the 3 free weeks) is this Friday, when we'll do the "weigh in" and see if I've lost any body fat. I'm very upset that not only haven't i lost any weight, but i gained 4 pounds in these past 3 weeks, part of a gradual increase in weight I haven't been able to control! My trainer said it was probably weight gain due to muscle gain. I hope we can find that out for sure on Friday becus, never having been really heavy in my life, it's very distressing to me.

I know the trainer is going to try to get me to sign up for membership at the Friday weigh-in and I've already decided that much as I would LOVE to do so, I don't feel I can justify spending $35 a month while I'm not working. (I have already decided that I WILL spend $18 every six weeks to maintain my new (short) haircut, so I guess it's all about choices.) I hope she doesn't try to pressure me too much. It's ironic, because right now, I have the time to do it but not the money; if i got a job, I'd have the money but probably not the time!

Yesterday, I also arranged to bring my neighbor to the surgical center for her knee surgery. It was orthoscopic, but we were both surprised by how good she felt, with no pain, not only immediately after the surgery but also later that night, when i called to check up on her.

After this one heals completely, she has to have knee replacement surgery done on the other knee, and that will be a longer recovery period. It's essential that she does it, though, because she's in danger of becoming an invalid without it, having more and more trouble walking, etc.

When I dropped her off at the surgical center around 11:30 a.m. yesterday, she said I could pick her up around 2:30 or 3 pm. I figured that was too long a gap in between to find ways to kill time in that city, so I decided to just do my grocery shopping at the nearby Shop Rite and then go home.

I had picked my neighbor up right from the gym and I was very tired from that workout. After each workout, I go home and usually end up collapsed on the bed for at least an hour, feeling utterly tired and sore. It's been a while since I had this much exercise, but I DO need it and am glad to take advantage of the chance to do so.

But anyway, I dropped H. off, fought the mob at Shop Rite (everyone stocking up before the storm) and then got home, looking forward to resting from that workout. I walked in the door just in time to get a phone call from the surgical center saying I could pick H. up now. Grrr.

I make an effort to help her out, partly because she's estranged from her own daughter and wouldn't have too many other people to ask, and partly because, should i ever need a similar helping hand, i want to feel comfortable asking her for help. One hand washes the other, as my dear
grandmother used to say.

Eagerly waiting for my $4,000+ tax refund, but it'll be a few weeks at least. Still wondering what, if anything I should do with that money. The smart thing would be to simply sit on it in the event i need it to pay for living expenses during my extended unemployment.

By living very simply (something I do anyway) I've been able to get through 5 months of unemployment using my unemployment benefits plus a relatively small amount of freelance and survey work so I haven't spent any of my savings.

Between my checking account and an online money market, I have about $10,000 in liquid money, if I should need to tap that, but I think it would help to bank the tax refund money too. I have to think about painting the house again this summer as the lousy job the painters did 4 years ago is really showing. (My small claims case against them last year came to naught as the guy left the country and went back to his native Brazil.)

I know i shouldn't be thinking of this, but there's one home improvement project I've been LONGING to do, although it's completely cosmetic and not cheap.

The builder who did my sun room did such a nice job of putting a stone facade on the exterior of the sun room that i had the brilliant idea of having him extend the stone on the 2 walls of my attached 1 car garage. Stone walls already surround the driveway and i have a lovely set of stone stairs leading to the backyard. (My "Stairway to Heaven.") I get comments from people already that my place looks like an English country house, and stone around the garage, which is the first thing you see when you come up the driveway, would really enhance that look.


The Stairway to Heaven

My builder said last summer he could do it but that it'd be fairly expensive due to the cost of materials. (It would include the side of the garage, but there's a door and a large window on the side that take up space, and then of course, the front of the garage, but the garage door takes up most of that space. It would also include a small concrete wall to the right of the garage door.)

I don't really know (at all) how much we're talking, so I'm tempted to have Ralph come over and price it out for me so at least I know what I'm dealing with. If I had to guess, I'd say between $2500 and $3,000 tops, but i don't really know. I thought Ralph was pretty reasonably priced when it came to the sun room, so maybe it'd be less.

Would it be smart to spend that kind of cash when I'm not working full-time? No, i guess not, but I am a gal addicted to beautifying her home. There are other smaller projects I'd love to do this year: 1. install a ceiling fan in the newly done sun room; it gets stifling hot there in the heat of summer. 2. have a plumber fix the downstairs toilet. Now that i've started wallpapering in there, it could become a functioning bathroom again, which it should be, since i already spent money putting in a new window and new lighting and 3. aforementioned painting of house exterior.

There was a time i talked a lot about selling this place and buying a condo that didn't require all the outdoor maintenance, but if i do home improvements like the stone facade, i kind of commit myself to staying here for as much as another 10 years, so as to enjoy those improvements! While I like the maintenance-free aspects of condo life, every time I think about having to give up 1. my vegetable garden, 2. my clothesline and 3. my bird feeding, I don't know how I'd ever adjust to a condo.

Maybe what i should really do is move to a smaller, more manageable house with a smaller, more manageable yard (one-third acre would be fine.) But then i think, would it be worth the trouble of moving for just a slightly smaller home and property, especially when I'd probably feel compelled to make all sorts of updates to a new home and considering that I have many/most of the things I want right here in this house?

It's an old debate I've had with myself for years. I'll probably end up staying here a good while longer since chances are that if i moved, it would put me further away from area job centers, not closer. It would make sense to defer any move until I'm ready to retire. That's still 10 years away.

Have I used this time productively?

February 9th, 2010 at 05:11 am

I feel like I've wasted a lot of time, but not entirely. Here's how I've spent the past 5 months of unemployment.

Jobwise:
I applied for a bunch of jobs, both permanent f/t and p/t, started attending a job networking group, created Job Alerts at about a dozen job boards, enhanced both my resume and Linked In profile, took advantage of career counseling which was part of my severance package, met other laid off colleagues a few times, met with a recruiting agency, and took the census exam in hopes of being hired as a temporary worker this spring. I also contacted all my old freelance contacts and told them I was "open for business." I had just 1 job interview.

Budgeting:
Pared down all expenses to bare minimum. Cancelled Netflix, let all subscriptions expire without renewal, started getting DVDs from the library and reading my weekly paper there. Stopped mortgage prepayments.Avoided getting sick so no doctor's visits these past 5 months.

In addition to unemployment benefits, I earned $1,035 from freelance work, plus about $170 from surveys. I made about $255 selling stuff on Craig's List. Sold a gold necklace for another $225. All of this has allowed me to live and pay the bills without spending anything from savings.

Personal:
I visited my dad out-of-state both Thanksgiving and Xmas; I wouldn't have been able to do both had I been working.

I cut my hair for the first time in 10 years, short.

I gained weight and joined a gym, but only for 3 weeks (free). Did a lot of walking.

A friend helped me install a new wall sconce in my bedroom, and I've started wallpapering the bathroom.

I read 4 books.

I did a lot of much-needed winter pruning, with a lot more to go. (Waiting for a good weather day.)

I maintained my blogs with at least twice weekly posts.

Attended 3 health-related lectures that included a free dinner.

Saw 2 or 3 $2 matinees.

Helping Others:

Was able to take both my mother and neighbor to appointments they had for surgery.

Did some volunteer work for 2 local environmental groups.

That's about the extent of it. After reading Fern's latest post on how others have used their time, I hope to do a better job of spending my time productively instead of vegging out.

Tax talk, a fireplace contest, family issues

February 7th, 2010 at 12:52 pm

I am oh-so-thrilled to 1) have finished my federal and state tax return and 2) have learned that, combined, I'll be getting back $4,100!!!!!!!

That's probably a record for me, made possible by a combination of factors, including having a much lower income from having been laid off, $900 in tax credits from installing energy-efficient windows, having a portion of my unemployment benefits be tax-free and the Make Work Pay tax credit.

Although my brokerage gives me free Turbo Tax each year, I prefer to do mine the old-fashioned way, using the IRS maze-like instructions ("Is the amount on Line 17 lower than the amount on Line 18? If so, skip to question 20; if not, fill out the worksheet on page 59....")and a sharpened pencil. I'll be mailing it off tomorrow; the state return i filed electronically, cus it was free.

I also entered an essay contest a local hearth and home type store is holding to give away a brand new fireplace installed, or, if you already have one, an updated fireplace, value up to $5,000.

The selection of the winner is March 5.

My house is unusual in that it doesn't have a fireplace and I always thought a stove or fireplace would go far in improving my ability to enjoy the first floor during the winter. As it stands now, I mostly live in the upstairs, save for time spent cooking and cleaning up in the kitchen.

I learned, with some sadness, that K. is moving out from my dad's house after 4 years there and buying her own home in the area. It stems from relationship issues they're having that have to do with my two half brothers. I think their relationship will continue afterwards, perhaps even improve, but things will be different, to be sure. I always had some peace of mind knowing they were together, should either one, both of whom have had their share of health problems, fall ill. Now, each will be on their own.

Home Cooking Challenge, MTD: 7 points!

Seeing red over $5 dispute

February 3rd, 2010 at 01:05 pm

I've had both my homeowners and car insurance policies with MetLife for 14 years now. In all that time, I've maintained a clean driving record and have never filed a claim on either policy. I figure they've made a lot of money off me for basically shuffling some papers around and issuing me a bill every now and then.


So, after paying for my car insurance last month, I was surprised to receive what looked like another bill from them today. It was a bill for a $5 "processing fee."

Now if you know anything about me, you know i can't stand nickel and dime processing fees. Most poor saps don't have the time or energy to challenge them, and so banks, credit card companies and yes, insurance companies, reap millions in petty fees, most with no legitimate reason.

Like most insurance companies, MetLife offers you a choice: you can either pay for the next 6 months of insurance in full, or you can pay in four smaller, equal installments. If you choose the installments, though, a $5 processing fee will be tacked on to each payment, effectively increasing your premium by $40 over the course of the year.

In other words, those people who can least afford it get victimized with additional fees.

But back to my case. Why, I wondered, were they trying to charge me an extra $5 when I paid my car insurance in full last month, as I have done for the past 14 years?

I got on the phone and argued with a customer service rep with a funny accent who didn't offer much insight but kept insisting I must pay the processing fee.

It was only after I escalated it to her supervisor that I got to the bottom of it. You see, I always take MetLife's safe driver discount course. Once you pass, you get 10% off your car insurance for 3 consecutive years. When those 3 years are up, you can repeat the exam and continue to enjoy the discount.

So when I got my bill for the car insurance last December, I quickly saw that the amount was higher than what I was used to paying, and I realized that was becus my 3 years of discounted insurance due to the safe driver course had passed. Since the bill wasn't due for another 4 weeks, I quickly called to order the safe driver course ($25), which is sold by another company that works with MetLife to administer the exam. The booklet came in the mail, I took the exam that day and mailed it in immediately. About a week later, I received a certificate in the mail saying I'd passed the course.

I then called Met Life to doublecheck what the amount of my premium would be after the safe driver discount was applied. She confirmed it for me, even though MetLife had increased my premium, and the premiums for all those who live in my state, despite my perfect driving record. (Grit teeth here.) I then said, is it ok if i mail in a copy of the certificate along with my payment for the car insurance? She said, do you have a fax machine, cus you can fax it. I said no, I don't have a fax machine. She said, OK, then you can mail it with your check.

It wasn't until speaking with MetLife's conflict resolution specialist today that I learned that the reason for the $5 processing fee was becus the safe driver certificate needs to go to one place for processing, while my payment for the insurance went to another location. That's why they assessed the $5 processing fee.

(She also gave me some baloney about my account having the option of installment payments checked off, despite my never having used that option, or being asked whether I wanted that option. I'm sure it's the software program's default option.)

I argued with the conflict resolution specialist further, becus fact is, when i spoke with the MetLife rep back in December, she didn't say it was necessary to mail the safe driver discount certificate to a different location. She said it was fine to mail it with my check.

So becus of the stink I raised and my threat to sever my relationship with them over a stupid $5 fee, the conflict resolution specialist said she'd remove the $5 processing fee.

I guess they figure that 90% of customers would never bother to dispute a $5 extra fee, and even if the 10% who do like me cause a big headache for the unfortunate rep being paid a low salary and who has to deal with them, the corporation is still making big profits on those who let it slide and continues to reward its upper echelon executives with fat bonuses, you know, those people who never have to deal with an angry customer/

That's corporate America for you. The kind of thing that burns me up. The whole paperwork thing was all automatically computer-generated, I'm sure, and a thinking human being didn't actually look at the situation to consider whether it was fair or correct to charge this customer a $5 fee, so i had to stress myself out to win that small battle.

Wallpapering is not a job for perfectionists

February 2nd, 2010 at 04:07 pm

I decided to open a SEP-IRA finally. Anyone who has any kind of income from self-employment can do it. If you're a "sole proprietor" like me, you can contribute up to 20% of your profit before self-employment tax and overhead is deducted. (Correct me if I'm wrong MonkeyMama, I know you're reading this.)

It's not that i make that much from freelance; this past year, for instance, I only grossed about $1,000, so that means I can contribute $221 for the entire year of 2009. Still, if I had gotten around to doing this 10 years ago, i would've had a tidy little nest egg by now. There was at least one year when i grossed about $5,000. The more money you can put in a tax-deferred account like this, the better. That way, it's not taxed every single freakin' year, plus it reduces your taxable income in the year that you make the contribution.

So I filled out all the paperwork and am mailing it off tomorrow, with my little check.

I was fairly busy with freelance work today, 1 press release after a phone consult with the client (let's hope 3rd time's the charm) and then got a signoff on a blog post i wrote for another client and got go-ahead to start work on the next 2 assignments for that same client for February and March. So this keeps me happy cus I feel like I'm EARNING Money (i say this as i type by flashlight.)

I also am feeling especially accomplished today becus LO AND BEHOLD, I started wallpapering my downstairs bathroom!!!! You know, the project that's been on hold for roughly 2 years becus mid-project i suddenly appeared to have lost all taste for messy wallpapering jobs. (That hasn't changed, I can assure you.)

So i did about one quarter of the bathroom (it's pretty small) in about 2.5 hours. There's measuring involved, which I'm not good at, and once you wet the wallpaper backing, it's quite slippery to handle and glue gets everywhere, and you have to work fairly quickly or the backing gets tacky and it won't stick, and you have to make sure to smooth all the bubbles out. OMG. What I got up on the wall is by no means perfect, but it'll do. I hadn't bothered to line up the pattern when laying side by side paper becus the pattern is a stone-look design and i didn't think I'd need to, but i do see that yes, i need to. Depending on how often the pattern repeats, you can waste a lot of wallpaper that way, so I'll have to be careful to maximize every inch of that wallpaper. I bought is several years ago and if it ends up i need another roll, for all i know it could have been discontinued, which seems to happen a lot in the wallpaper world.

The most difficult parts are yet to come, namely, behind the toilet, The tank actually touches the wall, so i HAVE to remove the tank to do the wallpaper. I've had the water turned off for a while now becus there was/is a leak that i haven't wanted to spend money to have a plumber over to fix, so i think at least the tank is empty. I just have to see if you just lift the tank off, or what. Does anyone know?

The other hard part will be around the mirror and new light fixture above the mirror. I'm not going to take either one down so am hoping the wallpaper will slide in under both. The light fixture has a round base that attaches to the wall; i will most surely mess that part up. (wish me luck)

I skipped going to the gym in order to start on the bathroom. It was worth it; i can't go to the gym every day like i did last week.

I went over to my mom's for lunch yesterday. (I really enjoy the unemployed lifestyle, that is, if it weren't for the lack of money) She made my favorite dish, soft as butter Brussels sprouts in the pressure cooker, and cream of broccoli soup and very good bread.

I agreed to help her install her next art show at a local library 3/31, assuming I'm still out of work.

I called the census bureau today to find out if they'll be calling me soon to offer me a temporary job since i took their exam back in November and scored 89. Responding to my questions, she said yes, they usually have more applicants than they have a need for, but that with my score of 89, I should be hired, altho she didn't say that in those very terms, that was the gist of it. She said to expect a call late February/early March. So that would be great to have several weeks of f/t employment.

So last week i worked out at the gym and spent about a half hour each time on the stair stepper, burning between 200 and 310 calories each time. I had hoped that would be enough to tip the scale (down) but i was very discouraged to see my scale did not agree with me. I haven't lost anything.

So since this is week 2 of my 3 free weeks at the gym, i had already decided to kick it up a notch and work out on the stair stepper 45 minutes each time I'm there. It really is a sweat inducing workout and i get my heart rate up to about 90% of maximum capacity, which is roughly 150 beats a minute.

Then, of course, my mother had to tell me about her neighbor's son, my age, who had a heart attack and died while working out at the gym 3 years ago. Sort of got me nervous. How do I know how much plaque i might have built up in my arteries?

I did some laundry the other day and let the clothes dry indoors, which worked fine.

I have earned 2 points for the Feb. home cooking challenge MTD.

Next week i'm driving my neighbor to the doctor's to have the first of 2 knee replacement surgeries. I told her take advantage of my free time while I'm still not working! So she scheduled it quickly cus i don't know who else she would have called.

That's about it.

Tomorrow I'm going to the dump and will be able to get rid of some items i culled during the January Purge 30 in 30 challenge. An old electric sander, a non-working cordless drill, a rusting toilet snake. Since they all have metal parts, I'll put in the metal section where they can recycle some of it. I'll put a note on the sander, "Take me, I work fine." Offered it on CL but no takers. The drill's lithium batteries I'll hold to drop off at the Household Hazardous Waste pickup day in May.