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Archive for December, 2010

Analyzing my 2010 Grocery Expenses

December 31st, 2010 at 07:17 am

Well, since I already go to the trouble of tracking all my expenses, including groceries, I decided this year to also make a note of where I shop.

I tend to watch the sales circulars and I also try to shop at grocery stores which I pass by when I'm going somewhere else, to reduce the number of trips I make. So there are 5 different grocery stores I shop at more or less regularly.

Of the $2,642 I spent on groceries this year (see earlier post of all expenses), here's where i spent it, ranked from most to least:

Shop Rite: $976.27
This is my grocery store of choice. They have the best prices. There's not one in my town, but there are 2 within a 15-minute radius of me, and I'll usually be able to hit one or the other depending on what my other shopping errands are.

Stop & Shop: $450.69
This used to be my store of choice (there's one in my hometown) but I no longer prefer to go there as their prices are definitely not the lowest, though as you'll see, they're not the highest either.

Costco: $434.56
I maintain my membership mainly to take advantage of their great price on cat litter ($6.99 for a 40-lb. box) as well as milk and bananas. I use these 3 items regularly and Costco prices are quite a bit lower than any of the other grocery stores. I think the savings on cat litter alone pays for the cost of my $40 membership

Xpect Discounts: $154.24
This is a regional chain with about a half dozen stores in CT. It used to be the place where mostly Latinos shopped, but now the secret's out, a lot of people like me shop there and it's no longer as cheap as it was.

Trader Joe's:$144.89
Trader Joe's is more out of the way than any other grocery store, and that's probably the main reason why I go there infrequently. I see I made 6 trips there in 2010.

Big Y: $89.72
This is my least favorite grocery store, but I use it when I need some missing ingredient, becus the store's just around the corner from where I live. They are the highest priced, though, and I can't stand their sentimental commercials, which unabashedly play on your emotions with lot of American flags and young children. I also don't trust their "buy 1, get 1 free" sales because I suspect they just jack up the price on the one you're buying.

WalMart: $58.54
Given how low their prices are, I should try to buy more food here. It's just not a destination of mine when I think food; I usually just pick up a few things when I'm there for something else. But when it comes to generic prices for many items, they're FAR lower.

Big Lot: $26.06
There's not one near me but I remember stopping here when I was doing the medical research studies at Yale. I bought exactly 2 things here: Pepperidge Farm bread near or past the expiration, and Prego pasta sauce.

Caraluzzi's: $24.06
This is a family-owned grocer that just opened up a 3rd store, in my town. Nice food, nice atmosphere but higher prices on a par with Big Y.

Farmer's Market: $20
I enjoyed the high-priced bread here a few times.

Target: $13.60

Chamomile: $4.26
This is a health food store and a source of wheat berries.

Another thing my analysis revealed is how many freakin' trips I made to the grocery store...any grocery store. I counted 97 individual trips! As I said earlier, I TRY to consolidate trips, and I know there were many times I hit more than one grocery store in a day due to different sales, but I see that when I was mostly underemployed for 2010, I averaged two grocery trips a week! Hmmmm.

Lo and behold, job interview materializes for new job at same company

December 30th, 2010 at 04:22 pm

Today was my last day temping at the job I started in September. I got a few hugs and some kind words that cheered me up a little, like: "I have a feeling you'll be back here...." Maybe they were just being kind, but after driving home and feeling more than a little sad, I checked my personal email and found an email request from HR at the same company wanting to schedule a phone interview with me for the other job I applied for!

So it's set for Tuesday. I don't think I'm a 100% match for the job, but I'm hoping that with the power of an internal referral and 4 months at the company as a temp worker under my belt, I'll have a better chance at it.

You can bet i will be over-prepared for the interview, as always.

Becus tomorrow is a company holiday, I'd been planning on working long hours Monday thru Thursday to attempt to squeeze in 40 hours, all the more important knowing this was my last week. Then we had the snowstorm on Monday. We got 15" here. I decided to brave the roads at about 11 am against my mother's pleas, and I made it in OK but found just 1 person there with plans to leave within the hour! I ended up staying for just 3.5 hours and left while it was still light outside in case of black ice. So between losing most of the day Monday and all of tomorrow, I was just able to complete 31 hours this week, even after arriving at work at 7:45 am and leaving at 6:30 pm. Que sera sera.

Anyway, looking forward to some downtime (not too much tho) so i can clean my house, walk and do grocery shopping.

My 2011 goals

December 27th, 2010 at 04:24 pm

I've added my 2011 financial goals to my profile at left. I decided to post two scenarios, because depending on whether I find full-time work or not, my financial goals will be very different.

I already know my goals frontwards, backwards and sideways, but what I like about posting them here is that I can "motivate" myself by checking off each month as an indication that I met the goal (or not).

Because I have taxable savings, it will be easy to fully fund my Roth IRA this year. It's just a matter of transferring money from a taxable mutual fund to the Roth IRA fund.

As you can see, my biggest goal right now is working toward paying off the mortgage. Yet I'll have to keep this on the backburner for as long as I don't work. Just paying current bills will be the priority in that case.

We got 15 inches of snow today but I decided to head in around noon, expecting to see at least half the staff there. Turns out there was just one guy there and he left less than an hour after I arrived. Not supposed to be there on my own, but the guy who left said it was ok with him and I kept in chat message contact with another employee who was working from home. I put in just 3.5 hours and figured it would be a good idea to head home in daylight in case there was any black ice.

The ride home was fine, the ride in, a little messy.

A full day tomorrow. Just 3 more days to go.

Blizzzard conditions & a foot of snow

December 27th, 2010 at 05:08 am

Everyone from Delaware to Maine up the east coast is getting slammed with a good 'ol fashioned blizzard.

My plan for my last work week was to work as close to 4 10-hour days as possible, to make up for Friday, which is a company holiday and a day I won't be able to work. Now we have the blizzard making the likelihood of my getting in even 35 hours rather unlikely.

Last night, as I listened to weather forecasts and as the storm began to grow in intensity, I had hoped to just get in to work 2 hours later, but now I'm not sure I'll be able to get in at all. I learned in various conversations with people at work that when there's snow or the weather is bad, many people work from home. As a contract worker, I'm not allowed to do that, and I'm also not supposed to be in the office when a staff employee isn't there, so not even sure I should try to get in. The guy I report to on a daily basis is off this week, so I called and left a message for someone else there.


This is one side of my backyard, with my little tool shed on the right.

I shoveled the driveway twice last night to get a "head start." I think I did about 4 inches each time, and now of course it's covered.


This is the driveway! I took the photo through the glass and screen, and you can actually see a reflection of the window sill in the upper part of the center of the photo. It sort of looks like some big building with a tall chimney,but I assure you, I live in a suburban area. It's just my window.

Didn't hear a plow all night and just praying these wind gusts don't take down any power lines or trees, becus the chance of getting heat back in any kind of timely manner must be low. No vehicles on the road at all.

A Medley of Income Sources in 2010

December 26th, 2010 at 08:36 am

Now that I've shared a breakdown of my 2010 expenses in an earlier post, it's time to take a peek at my creative efforts to generate some cash during 2010.

Here's the breakdown, ranked from highest to lowest income:

Temporary contract work Sept - Dec): $16,319
I'll be getting one more paycheck the 1st week of January, so my total net is actually a little more. So sorry this lucrative assignment is ending!!

Net unemployment benefits: $13,818

Census Bureau net income: $5,338
This mostly part-time work ran from late April through early August.

2009 IRS tax refund: $3,968
I don't usually get a refund, so this was very helpful, being out of work.

Freelance writing: $1,925
I know I could make more than this in 2011 if I made a greater effort.

Focus groups: $575

Online surveys: $427
The breakdown, if you're interested, is $87 from Pinecone (plus all those fun product samples) and $340 from Toluna.

Interesting, I made just a little less doing the online surveys than I did doing the focus groups. The online surveys are very time-consuming and tedious to do, but at least you can do them at home, whenever you like. I think I prefer the quick cash from doing the focus groups, though.

Medical research studies at Yale: $249
I would have done more of these but I soon found that finding a place to park was a hassle, and you had to pay the meters. Plus the drive made many of the lesser paying studies not worth it.

State tax refund: $141

Gifts: $125

Craig's List sales: $110
I have a few more things I can try selling, but this is a hit or miss kind of thing.

Manufacturers' rebates, discounts: $48

A friend's tag sale: $27
I made a few bucks by bringing some of my own items to a friend's tag sale I was helping out at, plus she gave me a nice bedspread, a bird statue, a glass I liked, a napkin holder and odds and ends like that.

Class-action lawsuits:$22
Just got some notices in the mail that prompted me to fill out a form online.

Jury duty: $20

So total income for 2010 actually came to $43,279, exceeding my radically pared down expenses by $8,600! So I was actually able to save money while being "underemployed."

The sleigh is loaded up & I'm ready to go

December 25th, 2010 at 07:45 am

Merry Christmas, frugal friends. I hope you all have a nice holiday.

I enjoyed a quiet Christmas eve dinner at my neighbor's house. A simple beef stew, I brought a side of broccoli and we had pound cake with a marmalade/cranberry spread and whipped cream on top.

This morning I'm headed to mom's, the sleigh-car is loaded with gifts and I just have to finish making my delicious cranberry/red grape relish.

I'm looking forward to the new year ahead and hoping that, financially speaking, it will be better than 2010.

Onward and upward, Donner and Blitzen!

The story of my 2010 (and a few confessions), as told by the numbers...

December 24th, 2010 at 09:29 am

I've tallied up my 2010 income and expenses, down to the penny.

I spent a total of $34,712 in 2010. I consider that a big accomplishment (necessitated by unemployment), since my annual spending has been:

2009: $40,500
2008: $44,100
2007: $43,000
2006: $44,100
2005: $44,900
2004: $43,000

Of my 31 expense categories, I saw price increases in 6 areas, including 2 of this year's top 7 expenses (clothing and fuel oil). Ten expenses stayed about the same, while 4, including one expense in my top 7 expenses (my 2 cats), fell.

Here's the raw data and ranked expenses (highest to lowest), along with pertinent side notes.

(Keep in mind I was unemployed except for part-time Census work April - early August, and full-time work mid-Sept. through Dec. 31, 2010, and a small amount of freelance writing.)

Mortgage/property taxes: $15,626 / 45% of total spending
This figure includes an extra $2,000 in prepayments. This one expense represents 45% of total spending, by far the single biggest expense I have.

Food: $2,642 / 8% of total spending
First, I want to correct something I said in reply to someone's comment on my expenses in another post. My cat food is NOT included in my food bill; it's kept in a separate category for cat expenses. So this comes out to an average of $220 a month, which is higher than I'd like. This is an area I still need to work on. I spent about the same amount last year.

Health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket: $2,435 / 7% of my total spending
Interestingly, this is about the same amount as what I spent in 2009, but the difference is that in 2009 I worked the 1st 9 months of the year and was out of work the last 3 months, while this year, I was out of work (for the most part) the 1st 9 months of the year and only worked full-time the last 3 months. I managed this by paying for health care but not using it! I expect to see a big increase in my healthcare costs for 2011 becus my COBRA will increase by 57%.

Clothing: $1,678 / 5% of total spending
OK, guilty as charged. This represents a whopping 900% increase over my 2009 clothing spending ($170). What happened? When I got my temporary job in September, they didn't have a business casual dress code, plus I have gained a good 15 pounds since my layoff. I really needed an entire new wardrobe to look presentable. So yes, i got slacks, blouses, sweaters, undergarments, boots, shoes, coats, the whole 9 yards. I do hereby pledge not to spend .01 on clothing of any sort while I remain out of work. Absolutely no need to.

Household: $1,664 / 5% of total spending
This is really the only expense category I have that sort of ends up being a dumping ground for expenses that don't neatly fit into other categories. I try to limit using this category because the effect is that it "hides" spending. For the most part, it's stuff for the house that does not include maintenance. Like, the $200 air purifier I bought would end up in this category.

Cats: $1,405 / 4% of total spending
As you can see, routine costs for two cats is pretty expensive. This includes 3 things primarily: 1. cat food: Fancy Feast. They go thru 5 cans a day which, at .50 a can from Wal-Mart, totals $2.50 daily, or $75 a month. I supplement with some dry food, which is cheaper. 2. Cat litter: I get a 40-lb. box at Costco for $6.99, and this alone is a good reason to keep my $40 annual membership there, I think. 3. Vet bills. Veterinary care around here is RIDICULOUS. A recent ear infection that Waldo had ended up costing me over $400.

Fuel oil & cleaning: $1,399 / 4% of total spending
The annual furnace cleaning costs about $100 and since I skipped it last year, I figured I really should do it this year, since it supposedly keeps things running "efficiently." This expense was 34% higher than last year,mainly due to higher heating oil prices and the fact that I'm keeping the house noticeably warmer this season (67 when I'm home, 64 at night and when I'm gone) just to keep my sanity.

Those are my top 7 expenses for this year.

My remaining expenses are as follows. I think you'll find most of them quite spartan:

Gas: $825 / 2% of total spending
This is 16% higher than last year, but that's because I had a commute during the 4th quarter.

Electric: $778 / 2% of total spending
Despite my having switched electrical suppliers in January, this bill was about the same as last year. I just switched suppliers again last week. Let's see if, this time, the lower price doesn't creep up.

Sewers (loan and usage): $738 / 2% of total spending
There's not much getting around this big bill. The loan portion of it was a mandatory loan that homeowners in different parts of my town had to take out 15 years ago to pay for a sewer treatment plant. I have 5 more years left on payments at 2% interest.

Homeowners insurance: $726 / 2% of total spending
This bill, very irritatingly, rises every year by about 9% despite the fact I've never filed a claim. So i raised my deductible a 2nd time, from $2,500 to $5,000.

Home maintenance: $717 / 2% of total spending
ACJ#$$%!! This represents a 76% over what I spent last year. I looked up my monthly expense statements to see how I incurred this and saw it was because I had to have a plumber over here twice to fix a leaking well water pump and clogged kitchen sink.

Major purchases over $500: $700 / 2% of total spending
I like to keep a separate category for what I consider "major" purchases, and I arbitrarily decided that anything over $500 I would consider "major." This was for the purchase of a new computer, badly needed, in August.

Phone/Internet: $651 / 2% of total spending
About the same as I paid last year.

Car insurance $434 / 1% of total spending
Here's another one, same insurer, MetLife, that keeps raising my rates despite a lack of any claims by me. I know it's a good price, but it makes me crazy they keep raising it. This is 13% higher than what I paid last year.

Gardening: $319

IRS: $250
I don't include various taxes that are deducted from my paycheck since I figure my budget using net income,not gross, but this was additional federal taxes I paid on account of my freelance writing, which amounted to about $1,700 in extra income.

Cable TV: $239
I am prepared once again to cancel this entirely. It was $25 a month for a long time, then when I went to cancel they said they'd make it $14/month for a year, but after just 3 months, they raised rates again and it's up to $18.

Dining out: $230
I love eating out but it adds up so quickly I try to avoid it when I can't afford it, like now.

Gifts: $228
This was mostly Xmas gifts.

Water: $172

Town taxes: $165
I hate these extra taxes becus it's really an extra layer of government we don't need. We don't get anything extra for this.

Car: $164
This was the best budget surprise of the year. My spending here, essentially oil and filter changes, represents a 88% decrease in spending from last year! It just seems that every year I spend about $1000 due to one thing or another needing replacement. This year, I got lucky.

Jewelery: $133
What business do I have buying myself jewelry when I'm out of work? None. This was 4 rings I bought when I was working f/t as a treat for myself. Sort of like a release valve, I needed to splurge, what can I say.

Haircuts: $110

Car tax/registration/license: $90

Dump sticker: $80

Subscriptions: $36
I let all my various subscriptions lapse when I wasn't working, but when I got the full-time job, I renewed my beloved weekly paper subscription, $36 for the year.

Entertainment: $33
Some people spend thousands in this category, but I can find ways to have fun without spending oodles. This was mostly Netflix and $2 movies at the town hall theater.

Birds: $23
This was for birdseed and suet.

Vacations: $22
I haven't had a real vacation of at least a week for about 4 years now. This figure represents what it cost me to go down to see my dad in NJ for an overnight visit.

And there you have it...how to spend nearly $35,000 without really trying!

You're going to be hearing a lot more from me very soon...

December 23rd, 2010 at 04:48 pm

Cus I learned this week my temporary job won't extend past next Thursday, Dec. 30. Which means....back to being jobless.

I spent 2 days feeling depressed about it all over again, just becus now I know for sure the temp job won't last.

Weirdly, the head of the dept., the one who could hire me if she chose, came over to wish me happy holidays and feigned ignorance about when my last day was and then even hugged me and said let us know if there's anything we can do. Meanwhile, I'm thinking, hire me, dammit!

So next week will be my last week. Since the person who gives me my assignments is out all next week on vacation, he loaded me up with work today to keep me busy all next week. Kind of a funny situation, I'll be more or less unsupervised, and next week i expect staffing will be light, but I just want to get in as close to 40 hours as possible in my remaining 4 days (New Yr's eve is a company holiday of course, and I can't work it.)

So he agreed to act as a reference for me, also agreed to write a little recommendation on my Linked In profile page, even tho the company tells employees not to do that and promised to follow up with the gal looking to fill another spot at the company that I applied for. perhaps something will develop there, but it will likely take a few weeks at least, so of course I'll be looking elsewhere too.

With so many job-related things on my mind, my focus really hasn't been on Christmas. I've been having a bit of a pity party because at the office, everyone on the staff has been in high spirits, what with extra time off and no doubt, big bonuses handed out. me, on the other hand, can look forward to no more work and scrounging for freelance stuff again. What a contrast.

I've already been making lists of things to do in the very near future. Among them:

1. File to restart unemployment benefits Jan 3
2. Call my contact to see if there are any focus groups I qualify for
3. FINISH WALLPAPERING THE BATHROOM
4. EXERCISE and start getting back in shape!
5. File for 2 financial writer jobs in a city over an hour from home, but maybe i could work out a partial telecommute deal.
6. Write up 2 different flyers promoting my freelance work and availability for perm work to area financial services company. Yeah, we're talking a blind mass resume send. The pros never recommend doing that, but I did in fact get a job that way once, just hitting a company at the right time after they decided they needed a communications mgr but before they advertised, and the director of this trade organization decided he liked me enough to hire me without looking all over. Very unusual.
7. Contact my oldest client and see if I can start working on the January blog post.
8. Cancel the Netflix once I return the movie i currently have.
9. Possibly cancel cable if my unemployment benefits are less than what i got before.
10. Don't renew my prepaid cell phone package ($100 a year) and go back to using calling cards for the occasional long-distance calls.
11. Don't renew my AAA membership since i won't be driving much anyway.
12. Email the employment agency and tell them they need to mail me proof of termination, which i'll need to get my unemployment claim going.
13. Look around for a few more agencies to register with, preferably those that specialize in creative talent.

Anyway, that's plenty to keep me busy for the first half of January.

Tomorrow, Xmas eve, i'm going to my neighbor's for dinner. She made a beef stew so it'll actually be leftovers, but i really don't care. I'm bringing over some broccoli au gratin.

A Close Call With Luther

December 19th, 2010 at 02:14 pm

I had a mini heart attack today. (Not a real one.)

Earlier in the day, I was wrapping Xmas presents on the dining room table. This year's theme is "organic" and "natural," so I am using plain brown paper wrapping and dressing it up with fern seed fronds I collected from the yard as well as oats (which I also grow), and a few bows.

I had a piece of plain white string, the kind you use for household stuff. I had cut it and was dangling it in front of Luther, who loves to play whenever, however. He leapt at it,and then I remembered I had some name tags upstairs, so I dropped the string to Luther, who has at least 3 other assorted strings laying around the house, while I went upstairs. I came back down in less than a minute, JUST IN TIME TO SEE LUTHER LICKING HIS CHOPS, the way he does when he's just eating something really good.

The string. I looked all around. Could not find it. It was a mighty long string. That's why I hadn't imagined he would actually swallow it. It had to be at least 15 inches in length.

I began freaking. The thought occurred to me that he might need surgery becus the string could become an obstruction or get all tangled up in his bowels. I went online and began looking for information, imagining the many hundreds I'd spend when I don't have the budget for this. Somewhere I read that others had given their cats laxatives daily until the cat passed it, but sometimes they didn't and they had to rush their pets to emergency surgery when the cat stopped eating in a day or two.

I gave Luther the laxative treats, which he loves. They don't call him "Hoover" for nothing!

A little later, i went down to the basement to do a load of laundry and I noticed either cat poop or vomit on the concrete floor. I went to clean it up with a paper towel and I saw that it was vomit.

Lo and behold, an early Christmas miracle...there was the long piece of white string covered with some cat food and a few of those laxative treats.

I feel SO relieved. I immediately threw away 2 of the strings I had laying around the house.


That's him, on the right.

In other news...
Got together with my friend and we drove down to a neighboring town to check out a brand new health food store. They had a huge selection of everything. Now while I'm used to health food store prices, this store was way too expensive for me to consider visiting with any kind of regularity. They did, however, have lots of free samples of stuff, everything from cereal to lip balm to organic raisins to vitamin supplements, so i grabbed one of everything Smile

After that, we hit a gift shop for holiday browsing and then, after debating whether to grab a bite at a cheap diner somewhere when i really didn't want to spend the $$, she invited me over her house and we had a cup of tea and caught up. I gave her her Xmas present early (a collection of chocolates from Trader Joe's) and we broke into a Peruvian chocolate, which was pretty good.

Then, becus I desperately need the exercise, I walked home from her house, about a 15-minute walk, right before dark. It was cold, but I'm so glad I did it.

Last night i watched a good netflix movie, As Far as My Feet Will Carry Me. It was a WWII movie about a German soldier who landed in a Russian concentration camp, escaped the camp and walked 8,000 miles across Siberia back to Germany. It took him 3 years and is based on a true story.

Unemployment the 2nd time around: lots of unanswered questions

December 18th, 2010 at 01:11 pm

aarghhh.

It's almost too much to wrap my head around now.

When I learned earlier this week that I may not get an offer of a permanent job (still no decision from the company, but they've changed the job description, which no longer fits me to a T), I started getting very anxious. The thought of returning to a long bout of being broke and out of work was not a comforting one. So I did what I do best. I set to work taking another look at my tightest of Tightwad Budgets, looking to see what my current expenses are, what could be minimized, etc. Because the more in control of my situation I am, the less fearful I feel.

I called my homeowner's insurance carrier and increased the deductible again, this time from $2,500 to $5,000, which saved me about $60.

I went online and checked current electric prices and switched again, from Public Power to ConEd, reducing my price per kilowatt from .0999 to .0849. Perhaps it will make some noticeable difference. The lower price is locked in for a year.

I learned how sneaky electric suppliers can be after switching the 1st time. When I switched to Public Power, they had a lower price than the default supplier, but that lower price only held for 3 months, and then they bumped me to a higher price, counting on the fact that most people won't take the trouble to switch electric suppliers more than once. Even though there's no charge to do so. Well, I took the trouble!

So my total monthly minimum expenses seem to be in the range of $2,291. I mean, that's REALLY minimum. Yes, that includes my mortgage and property taxes. Compare this to my more normal monthly expenses of $3,600.

Here is my ranked list of estimated 2011 minimal monthly expenses, based on current data:

Mortgage and property taxes: $1,146
COBRA $444
Food $219
Electricity: $66
Heating oil: $65
Sewer (usage and loan): $60
Gas for car: $57
Homeowners insurance: $56
Phone and Internet: $44
Car maintenance $38
Car insurance $35
Cable TV: $18
Water: $15
Borough taxes $14
Car tax: $7
Dump sticker: $7

Not covered: Health care out of pocket, home maintenance, chimney cleaning, furnace cleaning, mortgage prepayments, retirement savings, dining out, entertainment, clothing, Netflix, gifts, bird seed.

It's totally ironic that I'll be paying $444 a month for health insurance, yet I DON'T INTEND to use it at all. Why? Becus the plan has a $1500 deductible, so if I used it for a few doctor's visits or whatever, I'd be paying the whole bill anyway for most of the year. If I end up being out of work for say, another 6 months, paying the deductible would all be for nothing becus then I'd probably have to satisfy a whole new deductible with a brand new plan. So my strategy is, don't use it at all.

But keeping the health insurance accomplishes 3 important things I can't do without:

1. It ensures that when I do get a permanent job, the health insurer can't refuse to cover my pre-existing health problem (MS) for a year, or charge exorbitant fees to do so. Chalk this convoluted way things are to our screwed-up health insurance system.

2. It provides coverage in the event of unexpected, catastrophic health problem like surgery or something that would cost much, much more if I were uninsured.

3. It ensures that I can continue to fill my one prescription, the med I take for the MS.

Yesterday I called the employment agency that's paying my paychecks now and asked them what the monthly bill would be for my health care under COBRA. You might say I was pleasantly surprised, because since the agency is too cheap to contribute anything to employees' health care and I pay the full expense already ($425 a month), there would be no increase for COBRA, save for a 2% administration charge.

Still, that's a lot more than the $178 I was paying with the COBRA subsidy.

So, after doing all this number-crunching I felt like things were still "doable," even with the spike in my health insurance costs.

That is, until I reexamined my state's formula for calculating unemployment benefits. I have 2 key questions in my mind about which of 2 formulas would apply to me; maybe I'll call the dept of labor next week to try to get some answers.

Question 1: If I was collecting unemployment in September and then started this temporary job, worked the temp job (full-time) for 3.5 months and now it looks like the job will end 12/31 and I want to apply for unemployment again, do they just reopen my old claim, since I hadn't used up all the money, or will it be considered a new claim?

Dido, I actually think it would be much better if they considered it reopening the existing claim, because then I could expect to get the weekly benefit I got before, about $544 a week. (CT is an expensive place to live.) I already know I could live on that, even with the higher health insurance costs.

But if they treat it as a new claim, then my Question #2 is, Which formula would they use to calculate my weekly benefit rate?

I see from the DOL website there is the "standard" formula which takes the highest average earnings from the 1st 4 of 5 calendar quarters prior to the quarter you file the claim in. In other words, if I file the claim sometime in January, I can't use earnings from the 4th quarter of 2010 to calculate my benefit. I have to use the 4th quarter of 09 and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2010. You'd calculate the average of the 2 highest earning quarters, then divide by 26.

The problem with this is that I didn't work at all in the 4th quarter of 09 or 1st quarter of 2010. I worked for the census burea in the 2nd quarter and then for the census bureau AND the temporary job in the 3rd quarter. But the census was a p/t job and it all works out to a weekly benefit of just $162 a week.

However, the website says that when you can't establish eligibility using the basic formula, you are then allowed to use their alternate formula, which is using the 4 calendar quarters immediately preceding the quarter you file a claim. This would make a HUGE difference in my case becus it was in the 4th quarter that I worked this temp job making very good money, and my weekly benefit would be $554, not $162.

I am feeling very, very nervous about this.

As for the 2nd job I learned about at the company I'm working at now, I did apply but haven't heard anything yet. The guy i work with who told me about it did put in a good word for me, I know.

There was another option that occurred to me. If the company cannot find a candidate who has both the skills they're looking for (strong writer with technical background) and if they liked me, but didn't think they'd have enough work to keep me busy on a full-time basis, I was thinking I could suggest maybe we could work out a 20 or 30 hour work week with commensurately lower pay.

There's 2 problems with that. One, I think the 1st thought they'd have is oh, she wouldn't want to stay here long at the lower pay and as soon as she had an opportunity, she'd find something else. And two, i don't want them to think I'm just desperate for a job, because that would be a turnoff to the employer.

Taking a lower salary of say $40 or 60K would be a lot less than I'd get f/t, but heck, if i can make it work on unemployment benefits i can make $40K or $60K work, for a time.

So I don't know if i should suggest this or not. I know i can't just freelance for them as needed, becus i had to sign an agreement with the employment agency saying I wouldn't work for the company for one year. This is standard, of course.

Boy, the rain is really coming down

December 12th, 2010 at 09:40 am



It's just as well I'm staying inside all day, due to my cold, but I am getting just a wee bit stir crazy, since this is Day 3 of doing so.

It's coming down in sheets and the rain is blowing mightily. They said to expect 2 to 4 inches, and I'm just praying my caulking job on my 2 leaky windows hold. So far, they are. This is certainly the ultimate test.

I wrapped up my Xmas shopping online today. My sister's so difficult to buy for, doesn't give us any ideas and since she hasn't invited my mother or i to her home in at least 5 years, it's really hard to tell what her tastes are like these days.

But i found an interesting website (uncommongoods.com) and ordered a pair of dangle earrings made out of vegetables. I got the beet and mango version, 2 round disks, one smaller than the other and laid on top of the larger one. They dry the vegetables, slice it paper thin and then layer that on top of a copper disk. Very interesting.

I also got her 2 books she wanted, plus a collection of dark chocolate from all over the world. For my mom, I got flannel sheets, a cotton jacket and a new pressure cooker. I got my dad a slow cooker cookbook, but not sure when I'll give it to him. I guess if I don't get a job January 1, I can make a trip down there to Jersey and give it to him then. I also got my friend H. the same packet of dark chocolates, as she's a chocolate lover.

I'm still kind of sick, though feeling better. Maybe I'll have the energy to wrap a few presents on the dining room table.

I managed to do a new freelance assignment I got. I made myself do it becus i may very well need the $ given my current job uncertainty, plus, this is a new client and she'll pay me cash, $100 for an hour or so of work.

I also made my SEP-IRA contribution for this year. It's just for my freelance work and never amounts to much, though of course if I had thought to open it 15 years ago when I started doing freelance, it would have really amounted to something. But anyway, this is just year 2 and I transferred $300 from checking into it. The more tax-deferred investments, the better.

Holed up in the house...talked to my mother, talked to friend N., talked to friend H. Last night for dinner I dethawed a big bag of zucchini chunks from last summer's garden, pureed it in the blender, and added it to a Trader Joe's cream of tomato/red pepper soup, along with sauteed onions and garlic and some leftover brussel sprouts I had. Pretty good.

My plan for next week is to work an extra half hour each day so i can leave work Friday at 3 pm without losing any pay for doing so. Then I'll head to Ikea, which is a lot closer to my work than my home is. I want to browse the lower level; i hardly ever shop there due to its location an hour from home, but it occurred to me that would be a good place to shop for Xmas, altho i'm basically done. I have to say, the renewed job worries really take all the fun out of Xmas shopping. I can't really splurge as much as I'd like after several years of frugal Xmases.

Patient Saver is sick/Further job complications

December 11th, 2010 at 11:59 am

...just a bad cold, but I hate being sick!

I finally had to take off Friday from work, which meant I lost $400, but oh well. I only plan on taking the Monday after Xmas off, and that's it.

I had been feeling relatively positive about my chances of getting this job on a perm basis. After all, I've gotten positive feedback from several avenues, and the 2 other temp writers hired have also left.

But they still wanted to advertise the job. I guess from a due diligence standpoint, they couldn't just say we want Patient Saver. They wanted to see who else was out there. But I learned recently that when they weren't happy with the quality of the candidates that the employment agency was sending them (they chose not to interview any of them), they decided to rewrite the job description and repost it. The problem is, they CHANGED the job description so that instead of it being a 100% writing job, which I'm well qualified for, they're now looking for someone with strong writing skills PLUS the technical expertise, ie, someone who can use this software program (Camtasia) and actually build out the tutorials they produce.

I don't have the technical background, though I could certainly learn it. They know that, but i guess they're looking for the "perfect" job candidate, if indeed someone exists with both the writing skills and the technical skills. Usually, people are good at one or the other. Maybe that's why most companies I've worked for have one or more dedicated writers, and several designers, but not people who do both. You're just using different sides of the brain.

So i was really crushed when i learned they changed the job description. I was told i'm still considered a candidate, but you would tend to think if they wanted me, they'd know right off; if they're still looking for someone better, i doubt they'd change their mind and come back to me.

So, the guy i report to on a daily basis was very kind to give me a printout from the company's careers website with a job he thought i should apply for. Even better, he said he knows the hiring manager and can put in a good word for me. I asked him if he knew something i didn't, that maybe i'd been ruled out for the original job (working with him) and he said no, but he confirmed there was now greater emphasis on the technical skills, and he didn't think i should put all my eggs in one basket. It's not his decision, but I'm sure he has input.

Anyway, i was very grateful that he was trying to help. (He would get a $1K referral bonus if I were hired.) He said, "I'd hate to lose you, but if this doesn't work out, it'd be better for you to move to a different job in this company rather than go outside the company. I certainly agree! He mentioned that the salary range for the 2nd job was the same as the job he has, whereas the original job was one step lower. I need to find out what that range is.

The thought of possibly going back to collecting unemployment is incredibly discouraging. I hadn't really considered that a possibility these past few months. Although you've probably heard that Congress extended unemployment for a year, my situation going back to unemployment would be much worse due to the lack of the COBRA subsidy. I was able to live on unemployment by cutting way back on expenses, and so I avoided spending any of my own savings for an entire year, no small feat. But with the lack of the COBRA subsidy, that wouldn't be possible, becus i'd be going from paying $178 a month for health insurance (for one), to probably well over $500 a month.

So what happens in the next few weeks is incredibly important and depending on the outcome, will mean a huge difference in my life. What a contrast. Scrounging again on unemployment, searching for work again for who knows how long, or landing a great job with a global leader and cushy salary that will help me accelerate my long-term goals of paying off the mortgage and building my retirement nest egg so i can retire earlier than age 60 (possibly). Such a stark contrast.

The mall was a zoo....

December 4th, 2010 at 01:17 pm



I didn't really have to go there, but I did. It was packed with holiday shoppers. I hit Macy's, Sears and JC Penny. I also enjoyed browsing Pottery Barn and William Somona, but come on! They're so freakin' expensive! As usual, Pottery Barn sets such a lovely table.

I find that Sears is the best value for clothes, although I often find things I like at Macy's when I have a coupon. I got my mother a nice cotton ivory jacket with hood that i think she'll like. I have to say my mom always looks so put together, she's good at layering and matching beaded necklaces to clothes and all that. I rarely buy her clothes for Christmas (always thought I didn't know her taste) but after she mentioned several times how much she enjoyed going through my own castoff clothing that I outgrew, I figured she deserves something new. Believe me, most of my castoff clothing was nothing much to look at.

At Wal-Mart I picked up some flannel sheets; they were such a good buy ($15 per set) that I got one for me and one for mom. I LOVE sleeping in flannel.

At Trader Joe's, I got a really cute stacked pack of organic dark chocolates from all over South America (the chocolates were the size of coasters, not rectangular), tied with a little ribbon and labeled with the countries they were from. Cute, just $10, and I think my sister will like them. She's so fussy and hard to shop for. I also got my mom some dark chocolate with hazelnut, and will use the chocolate bar as part of the gift wrapping on another gift.

I was looking for sleeveless turtlenecks for myself, to replace some stretched out "dickies" i got years ago at Wal-Mart. Couldn't find them. I know Dress Barn has them, but i don't care for the pleating they have below the turtleneck, which looks odd to me.

Last Tuesday was the last work day for the other temp writer. I was very sorry to see her go. We talked a lot and it made the day more enjoyable. We actually have a lot in common. She's back to being unemployed, this after just signing a one-year lease on her rented apartment and buying a new car with loan payments. There is a new writer, a "Dr." and a man, who starts on Monday. I was hoping for a woman I could befriend. I still don't know the status of my job, i.e., will they offer me a perm position by month's end?

I am trying to keep my Sundays sacrosanct, meaning no running around beyond my hometown. It just seems more sane to me, and the day lasts much longer. I don't get much time to just hang around and enjoy my home these days.

Maybe I'll make a lamb stew tomorrow. I'm getting bored with my food choices these days. I like to make a big Sunday dinner so i have some leftovers for the coming workweek.