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Archive for December, 2011

Net Worth, 12/31/11

December 31st, 2011 at 10:46 am

I went to update my net worth on NetWorthIQ.com but I'm getting a weird message that they can't validate their credentials, so I'm afraid to log in there.

So I'll update my net worth here.

As of 12/31/11, it's $461,436, not including the house.

Compared to a year ago at this time, I'm DOWN $24,866. Bummer. I have to chalk that up to withdrawing $13,000 for vinyl siding last summer and withdrawing another $17,000 to throw at my dwindling mortgage balance. The rest of the difference must be attributable to the vagaries of the stock market. Normally, I'd be investing part of my income to compensate for this.

But compared to 2 years ago at this time (2009), I'm UP $146,210. (I guess that's when the stock market was still in a deep trough.)

If you include my home value, based on the most recent Zillow estimate, which gets emailed to me regularly, my net worth is $747,652.

Happy New Year, from the boys

December 30th, 2011 at 07:33 pm

Here's looking at you, kittens.

So what's everyone doing for New Year's?

December 30th, 2011 at 05:44 pm

Just curious what you're doing...

Today was another relatively mild day here in CT, and supposed to be like that through the weekend. I still have a half tank of oil left, which should get me through January.

I hauled some more cut up tree logs and brush to the driveway. I think I have close to a cord stacked now.

Didn't do much else today. I have at least 3 unfinished projects around the house, off the top of my head, but no inclination to tackle any of them. A half painted spare bedroom. A half wallpapered bathroom. Ugh.

So nice to see my mortgage balance in 4 figures for the first time ever! The countdown begins!!

I changed my electricity provider (not the first time) for the coming year. The state has a website where you can compare the cost of about 20 different companies. Why would anyone go with a company offering less than the lowest rate?? I just don't get it. There's no fee to switch, and no fee to cancel, which you can do at any time. It's a no-brainer.

So I switched from ConEd, who last year offered the lowest price, at 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour, to 7.98 cents were kilowatt hour with Dominion.

You might say, what a teensy difference, why bother? Well, if you consider that you use electricity every hour of the day, 24 hours a day, then it's really worth investigating. Becus it really adds up.

I switched out all my bulbs to CFLs years ago and still I noticed my 2011 electrical costs were 4% cheaper than the year before. I have to think it's becus I shaved off a few cents last year switching electricity providers and that made a difference. Let's see if I can do it again in 2012.

A little extra something for Xmas

December 29th, 2011 at 02:54 pm

I participate in an online forum hosted by a major credit card company. Each month you continue to participate, you get $15 or $20 in amazon gift certificates. And then I participated in another limited time forum by the same company and got $25 from that, so I discovered today I had $40 worth of Amazon gift codes to use. Smile Smile Smile

I always opt for cold, hard cash when that's an option, but it wasn't here, so I got to browse Amazon and try to figure out how to best spend the money.

I didn't want to buy anything that required tons of postage, becus of course that would have to come out of the gift card. And I didn't want to get something that I could more, or just as cheaply, by going to a local store.

I have been wanting a new pair of slip on, laceless sneakers which I haven't been able to find locally. I found a pair of Grasshoppers on amazon that was exactly what I wanted. Navy blue and even a wide width. I had some money left over and bought 2 packages of edamame vegetable seeds for next year's garden. I had .43 left over and part of the order qualified for free shipping.

I felt so happy getting this stuff for free. Especially since I've steered clear of most discretionary spending for most of the past two years. The online surveys and forums, with their small rewards, do serve a purpose; kind of like a pressure release valve that keeps me from feeling totally deprived.

I'm waiting to receive another $65 in cash from the surveys, and I've built up $60 worth of points with Toluna; I'll wait til the New Year to redeem them. Last fall, I'd reached the point of having earned $600 in income from Toluna surveys alone, so they wanted my SS number so they could issue me a 1099. I decided to just stop doing surveys this year to avoid that, and I'll pick it up again next month.

Next year's garden, by the way, will be a back to basics garden that's highly geared toward pricey produce:

1. Edamame: i love these shelled in a cold salad with corn, black beans and chopped tomato and onion with a little Goddess salad dressing from Trader Joe's. Delish and so nutritious. And they're EXPENSIVE in the store. AND, as a legume,they actually improve my garden soil, which is already incredibly loamy and fertile, if I do say so myself.
2. Tomatoes: Of course, can't have a summer garden without these. Will grow both cherries and beefsteak.
3. Cucumbers: To go with the tomatoes!
4. Salad greens

Had a good talk with dad today. He wants to come up after the new year for all the firewood I've stacked in my driveway (from the October snowstorm). I'm betting he'll want to hit the German restaurant for dinner with his two favorite gals (me and my sister)!

Thanks for all the well wishes about the potential job. I am crossing my fingers and toes to hear some positive news on Tuesday.

I would really like to see Meryl Streep in Iron Lady.

Interviewed for a Survival Job

December 28th, 2011 at 02:24 pm

I interviewed today for what I would call a "survival" job. Meaning, it's not my field and not what I'd want to be doing for the long term, but it would do just fine for right now and the foreseeable future. Until the job market opens up again.

I came across it yesterday on Craig's List, emailed them and got a quick note back from someone saying when can you come in. I said how about tomorrow (meaning, today), and that's how it happened.

It's just a lowly transcriptionist job. Their client base is interesting - they do transcriptions for network TV shows.

I met with one of the owners of the company, who was very nice. The job offers several pluses. The hours sound very flexible. I could work days,nights, weekends, or skip some time, if I wanted to do my freelance writing.

They had me do a bunch of typing tests and they showed that I type about 90 words a minute (!!) with an accuracy rate of about 90%. He said "I like what I see, I like what I see." They pay by the word, and while he didn't tell me the exact rate, he said if I typed, say, 60 words per minute and was very diligent, I should be able to make between $16 and $18 an hour.

Like I said, it's not my dream job, but it will pay the bills, and these days, my goals are very humble. Just want to survive, pay the bills and keep myself going until the job market opens up a little and I get a regular, salaried job with the all-important benefits.

I can continue paying thru the nose for COBRA all through 2012, and through June of 2013, I think. Sometime before June 2013, I MUST find a job with benefits.

It's also casual dress, so I could wear jeans, if I wanted. It's about a 40-minute drive, right off the highway. To keep my gas costs down, it sounds like I could probably work 4 10-hour days if I wanted, rather than drive in for 5. I'm still not sure how much work there would be. He said it pretty much works out to be an average of 40 hours a week, but becus of the way the work comes in, there will be days I don't work, and certain "breaks." Not sure how long those breaks are, but I think I'd welcome them so I can attend to my freelance work, etc.

The other plus is that they would put me on payroll and deduct taxes from my check. I feel that's a plus, becus I just feel like I'm paying higher taxes (self-employment taxes) as a sole proprietor. This way, I don't have to worry about making estimated quarterly tax payments to the IRS. And when you're on payroll, it's something the Dept of Labor recognizes and gives you credit for (should I need benefits again down the road) When you do 1099 work, in the Dept of Labor's eyes, it's as if you didn't work at all.

He said he'd call me right after New Year's. They are hiring 4 transcriptionists. He has to interview 20 more people, he said. Down the road, I could possibly work at home, but not starting out. I'd have to buy my own transcription equipment, which he said costs about $300, but then I could work for anyone with it. (Truth be told, I don't plan on being there long enough for that to occur, but you never know.)

So, I would be very grateful if I got the job. In the past, I would've considered it "beneath me," but now I have absolutely no problem doing anything, just to earn some money. Once you leave the salaried corporate world, it can be hard to find any part-time job that pays over $10 an hour.

My ranked 2011 Income, All Sources

December 27th, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I already posted a breakdown of my 2011 expenses. Here's my modest income for the year, ranked from highest to lowest amounts.

Net unemployment $18,092
Contract job #1(April-May) $5576
Freelance writing (9 clients total, but most of this was from 2 clients) $5525
Contract job (this was my final check from contract employer from 4th quarter of 2010) $2,375
IRS refund $1,937
Contract job #2 (Nov-Dec) $1485
Online surveys $803
In-person surveys, focus groups, product testing $605
Academic research studies (Yale and UConn) $548
Credit card rewards (Chase, Citi, Amex) $425
Other (1 day as a poll worker, Xmas cash, etc) $405
State tax refund $39
Manufacturer rebates $31
Found money $11
Craig’s List sale $10

Total $37,867

If you exclude the nearly $14,000 I spent on vinyl siding this year, my net income exceeded expenses by $3,434.

One interesting thing of note: I made roughly the same amount of money from my freelance work, done all year long at about $50 an hour, as I did from a 2-month contract job, working full-time at just $20 an hour.

It just goes to show you how steady full-time work at a modest hourly rate will help your earnings grow much faster than intermittent work that pays more than double your rate at the full-time job!

The good, the bad & the ugly: My 2011 expenses

December 27th, 2011 at 11:53 am

Some of you may know I keep meticulous track of my expenses, all year long. Income too, of course.

Here is the big reveal of my ranked expenses for the year, a few days ahead of schedule, along with a few side notes:

1. Mortgage/taxes: $14,177
This doesn't include a lump sum payment of $17k I took from savings.

2. Vinyl siding: $13,789
Even going with the lowest bid last summer, the results of which I'm very happy with, this was still enormously expensive. This also came out savings.

Something needed to be done as the house was peeling again and it's difficult to prep asbestos shingles the way you should when paint is already peeling, so I opted to remove it once and for all and go with vinyl. The 1/2 inch foam insulation was well worth it, IMO, as I've noticed it helps muffle outdoor noises and I feel pretty comfortable with indoor temps of 62 days/57 nights, which in the past would be on the chilly side.

3. COBRA and out of pocket medical expenses: $6,807
This figure just makes me cringe. It represents a 64% increase over what my medical expenses were last year. That's because last year I enjoyed the federal COBRA subsidy, which went away in 2011.

$835 of this is for out-of-pocket co-pays. One thing I've learned is that when an insurer tells you "it's 100% covered," it's really not. This was all routine check-ups except for a stubborn yeast infection and Lyme Disease that had to be treated.

4. Food: $2,591
On the plus side, I spent just about the same amount on food last year. This works out to an average $215 a month for a single person. I'd like to do better, given that it's my #4 expense, but when the average person goes grocery shopping at least 52 times a year, it's hard to shop smart each and every time.

5. Heating oil: $1,117
This represents a 20% decrease compared to last year, but I think most of the savings can be attributed to the fact that I skipped my annual furnace tune-up this year.

6. Home maintenance: $959
I regret forking over $360 to a couple of guys who removed a foot of snow off the roof of my house after one heavy snowstorm. Everyone was doing it after the news repeatedly showed the shallow-pitched roofs and the roofs of old barns caving in from the weight of the heavy, wet snow. Another big chunk of this was miscellaneous small handyman jobs I had someone do, part of it related to damaged caused by the ice dams in the gutters from the same storm.

I have since purchased a snow rake and intend to get out and use it as soon as there's more than a few inches on the roof so the same thing doesn't happen again, especially since I also spent money getting paneling in 2 closets damaged by the melting ice.

7. Cats: $837
This just boggles my mind, considering neither of my 2 cats had any health problems this year, except I did take Waldo in for what turned out to be allergies. The vet is enormously expensive. Still, this figure represents a 40% decrease from last year, when I think there were more trips to the vet. On the plus side, i purchased an extra YEAR'S worth of cat litter at Costco this year because I won't be renewing my Costco membership, and they have very cheap cat litter.

I love my cats dearly, but I don't think I would again adopt a 2nd cat so lightly.

8. Household: $827
I was shocked that this figure includes $350 spent on an upholstered chaise lounge for my sun room. I remember that I'd been wanting to get something comfortable for the room once it was finished 2 summers ago, but I haven't been working f/t for 2 years. Then I remembered that my work at Big Company was in the last quarter of 2010, so no doubt I was feeling "flush" with cash and decided to indulge. And there was a time when I was quite sure I was going to get an offer for a permanent position there, since they let the other 2 contract writers go and kept me to the end, and I kept getting good feedback. But it didn't work out that way.

9. Electricity: $744
Connecticut is known for having some of the highest electric rates in the country. Remember, I use oil to heat my house. Fortunately, I'm signed up to receive a $100 to $200 credit on next year's electric bills, compliments of CL&P after most of us went without power for 7 days during Irene in August and the snowstorm in October. The exact amount depends on how many people sign up for it. Why we should have to sign up, I don't know. The power company knows who was out of power, so why make it contingent on someone hearing about the credit or not?

10. Sewers: $738
This is high because it includes ongoing usage fees as well as payments on a mandatory $9,900 loan residents in certain neighborhoods had to take out to pay their share for a new sewer treatment plant. I should be through paying off that stupid (2%) loan in another 5 years.

Those are my top 10 expenses, ladies and gentlemen.

Then there's the:
Homeowners insurance: $691
(reflects $5,000 deductible)
Paneling 2 closets: $644
Phone and Internet: $586
Gas for car: $571
This represents a 31% decrease from last year. I've been successful in consolidating errand trips! Plus, I guess prices have come down.
Washing machine: $514
Auto insurance: $447
It keeps creeping up despite a 12-year old car with no collision and a perfect driving record!
Car tax and AAA membership: $280
Water: $196
Car upkeep: $195
Borough taxes: $165
Dining out: $82
Dump sticker: $80
Cable TV: $62 (cancelled it entirely in August)
Clothing: $62
Haircuts: $58
Gardening: $47
Vacations: $46 (this was cost of gas to visit dad on Jersey shore)
Gifts: $29 (Yup, that's all I spent on Christmas this year)
Bird feeding: $15
Subscriptions: $10 This was a special they had on a year's worth of Sunday newspapers. I thought I could recoup the cost from grocery coupons. Don't think it was worth it.
Entertainment: $6 This was 3 movies I saw at the $2 movie theater.

Total Expenses: $48,222
Not including the vinyl siding: $34,433

Next: My income, analyzed

Nice enough

December 26th, 2011 at 01:26 pm

Christmas was nice enough.

We had a ham dinner and i brought my slow cooker over with a cranberry rice pudding, as well as chocolate/walnut/cranberry cookies.

The gift giving was very simple this year. My mother gave my and my sister money, figuring we could use it. (yes.) My sister gave us each a bag containing several jars of homegrown and homemade strawberry and kiwi jam as well as cocoa dried pear rings.

My sister surprised us both by telling us she'd had hip replacement surgery 2 weeks ago! She's only 2 years older than me and very anti-medicine in general, so this was quite a shock. But she had been hobbling around for the past year or two and refusing to talk about it becus she doesn't like my mother asking questions and acting all worried. Anyway, I'm glad she had it done; I know she was in a lot of pain becus she's into herbs and natural supplements and stuff like that but doesn't trust doctors. She has extreme views which are frankly ridiculous.

It looks like a friend will be coming up here for a visit tomorrow night. I haven't seen him in 3 years or so but we talk frequently on the phone, almost daily. He's just a friend, and frankly gets on my nerves at times. Guess we'll have to see how it goes. I sort of have mixed feelings about seeing him.

I'm sort of stalling on buying a new dryer. I just don't want to spend the money. I came out about $600 ahead for the month of December, and I keep thinking about the next oil tank fill-up that will likely come toward the end of next month. I haven't checked oil prices lately, but I'm thinking it'll be in the $500 to $600 range. So I know I'll have to get a new dryer at some point, but for now, not working, I can air-dry my laundry in the dry air of the house. There's always the iron if I need to go somewhere for a job interview.

Monkey mama had suggested getting a used dryer. I suppose I could go that route, but I don't really feel comfortable buying a used dryer from a stranger, cus I'd have no way of knowing whether it was a decent dryer or not. I might as well get a new one where delivery and set-up are included...just not right away.

I've got a beef stew with orange zest going in the slow cooker.

I went way overboard with groceries this month. Spent $280. That's way more than I like to spend. Not sure what to attribute it to.

I spent my Xmas eve applying to a bunch of p/t jobs I saw on Craig's List which seemed like they could be interesting. Even a single regular p/t job would do wonders for my budget.

I spent an hour or so this afternoon tromping around in the brush perimeter of my backyard, where the downed trees were cut up, and rolling some of the smaller logs down the hill, which I then carted in my wheelbarrow to stack in the driveway. They're in the bramble patch, and come spring, that whole area will be impenetrable, so this is the time to get that firewood. There's also a lot of smaller tree branches that aren't burnable, so I've been stacking them in several piles, which make great cover for the birds here.

It was good to get out and get some fresh air on a relatively mild (low 40s) winter day.

I forgot to mention that when I finished up the nutrition study, I got the results of my 2 DEXA scans, which check for bone mineral density. (Or maybe I did?) Anyway, my bone density is slightly better than the average bone density of a 20 to 40 year old, and even better than other women my age. I also have greater hand strength than other women my age. Presumably, I'm stronger in general due to my yard work, but the testing involved things like hand grip, how long I could balance on one leg, how quickly I could run up and down 3 flights of stairs and stuff like that.

The dryer's gone kaput

December 24th, 2011 at 02:27 pm

Inexplicably, it just stopped running in the middle of a load of laundry I was drying. I guess it had a major coronary cus now it won't run at all.

I made a half-hearted attempt to rule out the obvious stuff, but i'm not very mechanical and truth be told, it's 16 years old.

Funny, how it went out just a few months after the washing machine did. I bought them both at the same time, both Whirlpools that I bought when I moved into the house.

I GUESS i got my money's worth,though a dryer is pretty much a dryer and I don't want to spend a nickel if I don't have to.

The most affordable dryer I found was a GE with pretty good reviews for $300, delivered, from Home Depot. the offer for free delivery lasts through January, I think.

I don't know, I may hold off ordering it in the hope that I come across some huge sale somewhere. I occasionally dry my clothes in the house in the winter months by draping them over everything! Actually, they dry pretty well becus the heat in here is so dry.

The day before Christmas....

December 24th, 2011 at 11:17 am

It may be the day before Christmas, but the holidays aren't usually as idyllic as they portray on It's a Wonderful Life. In my world, anyway.

Just got a call from my dad's girlfriend. It's the time of year when a lot of old friends call around the holidays. She's having a tough time with a lot of health issues. She just had surgery to remove her thyroid, cancer, and now there's an issue with something they saw on her mammogram. She's had breast cancer before. And she's got her mother down for about a week or so, and they don't get along too well. If I lived closer and didn't have my own family up here, I'd go down and spend time with her to break up the one on one stuff with her mother. (She has no siblings.) My dad will be spending tonight at his brother-in-law's place. (His second wife passed away years ago.) I know, it gets complicated.

I had invited my neighbor over tonight for some brie and crackers, but she's having trouble with her hip and doesn't want to do my stairs. She's overdue for hip surgery. Had the knee done last summer. I was debating whether or not to suggest we go out driving with a thermos of hot chocolate and look at all the Christmas lights on the houses, but maybe I'll just stay inside.

I'm still editing emails for the IT director at the Yeshiva school in NYC. He must always be in hot water with his boss, the rabbi/principal, becus in many of the letters he's apologizing for certain things going wrong. I get the feeling this rabbi is not the easiest person to work for.

I did spend a nice afternoon at The Author's yesterday. I got to see her beautiful home. She is an interior designer, after all. Some neat hand-painted rugs on a wood floor,crystal chandeliers and lots of moldings and trim on the walls. And every interior door in her downstairs was a French door, to let the light in, she said.

A while ago I offered to go thru her book again to scan it for any final errors that might jump out at me. i planned to spend maybe a few hours doing that, and I told her it was on me, no charge.

Well, she had gone in and made some changes to the copy, here, there and everywhere. When she was done, she gave it to me for my final look and it was riddled with errors. Missing punctuation, the wrong punctuation, random words that didn't belong,misspellings....It really forced me to go through the entire book again, line by line.

So I regret saying I would do this at no pay. I must've spent about 24 hours on it already. Oh well. I know she'll be giving me her next book to edit. It's half the size of this one. Book 3 is also ready to go.

I made some chocolate/walnut/cranberry cookies, put them in a Christmas tin and picked up a pretty butterfly tree ornament at a local gift shop,and that was my gift to her. She also gave me a gift, a butterfly necklace and matching earrings! The butterfly figured prominently in her book.

On Thursday I finished up with the nutrition study and got my final payment. I also got the results of my 2 DEXA exams, which were part of the study. The good news is, according to the scans, my bone density is slightly higher than the average 20 to 40-year old. (I'm 52.) I believe you have peak bone density when you are 30. I'm not at all surprised at my good results, because I do a ton of yard work and lawn mowing that most women my age don't do. Heck, if I were married, i wouldn't be doing it either!

But the tests also showed that I lost a half inch in height in the 6 months between the 2 exams. The grad student who I've been working with and I both wondered if that's becus someone else, another student, took my first height measurement and she took my second. Given how good my bone density is, it's a little hard to believe that I lost a half inch in height in such a short time. Maybe the guy who measured me just didn't put the metal thing flat against my head or something. I don't think I'll worry about it, but I will bring the test results to show my PCP at my next physical to see if I can learn any more about the results.

Ah, well, another year is almost over. One can only hope that 2012 will be better. I hope everyone enjoys their holiday.

How to create an easy winter woodland under glass

December 20th, 2011 at 06:51 pm

I got some holiday cheer today, finally. And so I set about putting out a few more Christmas decorations.

I created this lovely bird nest scene in a glass bowl I bought for a dollar at a tag sale a few years ago. It was so easy to do. I got the idea from Better Homes & Garden magazine.

After selecting a glass container like this, dust it with confectionate sugar on the bottom for the "snow." then insert the bird's nest. (I dusted the bird's nest too.) I used a real one here I collected years ago, but you can find something similar at your local craft store. I went outside and cut a few sprigs of hemlock and used one of the birds from my Christmas decor, as well as a few small ornaments for the "eggs." And voila. I think it's kind of cute.

Today was my product testing venture. I was convinced I wouldn't qualify because one of the questions on the screening survey online was, "Do you have a lot of moles/freckles on your arms? I sort of do. But happily, they accepted me. I overheard the women at the lab saying there were a lot of cancellations, so maybe they were running short on subjects. The product was a body wash. So I'll get a check for $40 in early January.

I've been thinking about my marketing plans for 2012. My freelance business, I mean. Last year, I emailed a whole bunch of realtors, got a few queries, but no work. This time, I want to contact office sales managers only, and if I can find the equivalent of the new construction VP, my oldest client, at other real estate firms, that would be where the work would be....new subdivisions or condos. Office sales managers will happily spend company money on PR or marketing, while individual realtors generally don't, unless they're top producers.

I know that 2 of 3 big clients of mine about 6 years ago at one brokerage have since gone on to other brokerages. I want to target all 3 brokerages in 2012. To make better inroads, I decided to email the 3 I did a lot of work for, and who really liked me, just to ask them if I could use their name as a reference should an interested sales manager inquire. Normally, I would use their name without bothering to ask, but I plan to be contacting LOTS of people and I don't want the 3 to be inundated with queries without knowing in advance what it's all about.

I heard back from one already and she said she'd be happy to write a testimonial. I hadn't really asked her to write anything, just to serve as a reference. I think she may have read my email too quickly. Five minutes after that, she'd send me a 2-sentence testimonial that really made me sound great. So then I figured, heck, this is too good NOT to use. So I asked her if she could put it on my Linked In page, which she did.

Its real power would be if I used it in a marketing flyer I sent to sales managers at her company (a big one), but that's difficult to do because if you go to their website, they don't provide their work email addresses anymore; if you want to email them, you fill out one of those forms online. It would seem a little odd to include the quote in that kind of format.

Phone calls cost money and half the time you'll get voice mail. If you get the person on the phone, they won't remember half of what you said, unlike a flyer they can look at more than once. Mailed flyers, of course, also cost money. So email is the way to go. I just wish I could get around the online message form on the website, which is not conducive to a nicely-designed flyer. Tempted to ask the woman who sang my praises for a list of sales manager email addresses at her company, but don't want to push my luck.

Well, I still have time to mull over the details. But I'm planning on starting right after New Year's with my email campaign.

I have a sizable pile of firewood growing in the driveway form the October storm. I happened to call my dad last night. He expressed interest in the wood. (I don't have a fireplace.) I said sure, but then said gee, you might not want it, it's cut but not split. My dad is 78 and really sedentary. But he told me he'd just bought a splitter. Which would be perfect. So I said ok, next time you're up.

This a little tabletop tree I won in a silent auction a number of years ago. I like it becus it has little red and green bows and came with some miniature lights on it. There's nothing to disassemble. I just store it in the attic.

Tomorrow and Thursday are the last legs of my nutrition study, thankfully. I'm ready to move on to other things.

Since I have to stay home to do the urine collection aspect of the study, I think I may start baking Christmas cookies. I'll start with the super duper easy chocolate/walnut/dried cranberry concoction and then go from there.

Money Well Spent!

December 17th, 2011 at 09:58 am

The freak October snowstorm here in the Northeast left me with half a full-grown sugar maple that crashed into the top of a lovely crabapple tree and the other half of the sugar maple still standing.

There are several trees I'd like to take down in the yard, but the sugar maple wasn't really high up on my radar until I finally got around to examining the wound where half of it ripped off, close to the ground.

There was a large amount of brown, fibrous material inside the tree. I can only guess that it was a type of moss that was growing there. Perhaps there was a crotch in the tree trunk where the rainwater collected and it had begun to rot undetected, causing the limb to break off in the storm.

So I became a little worried that the tree could be blown down by the next windy snowstorm, perhaps even hitting the house. It would be a close call if it fell in the wrong direction. And of course there was the part of the tree that had already come down. I hadn't planned on dealing with that til spring, or until I came into some more money.

But I called a local guy just to get a price. He told me $500, which I actually thought was pretty reasonable. It wouldn't include them hauling the wood away or chipping it, just cutting it up for me.

Then I called the guy my neighbors recommended, an illegal alien from Guatemala. Maybe he's not supposed to be here, but I don't care. I needed to get the tree taken care of and he was willing to do it for $25 an hour. So I hired him. His English was terrible but we figured it out. I actually went online to an English to Spanish translator and wrote down some key phrases I wanted to tell him, like: "Be careful," and "Try not to hit the other trees."

He told me he understands English much better than he can speak it.

So in four hours he got the maple down. He worked alone, which made me incredibly nervous, especially as I watched him shinny up the tree and use the chain saw from about 15 feet up.

He cut that all up, cut up the other branch that was in the crab and also got a much smaller branch off the roof of my tool shed. There was more I would have loved to have him do, but I didn't want to spend much more right now. $100 I can more or less absorb as an expense, but that's it.

If I get a decent tax refund, I may call him back, but I also planned for the tax refund to help pay for my mid-winter oil tank fill-up. And provide with me with a greater cushion of savings just for ongoing bills. So I have to make my spending choices very, very carefully.

I thanked my neighbor again for giving me his name. He asked me not to refer him to anyone else becus he needs him to do a lot of work at his place and he doesn't want to share him. Hmmm.

My neighbor put on a huge new addition to his house and now has 4 fireplaces. He said if I want to get rid of the wood, he'll take it. I'd like to see if i can sell it on Craig's List next fall first, I think. I did sell one batch of firewood once before. Everyone burns wood around here, it seems. I'm an oddball becus my house doesn't have a fireplace.

Without that huge sugar maple in back now, I think I will actually have a bit of a view looking out in the back yard. It's all still woods, but you'll be able to see further into the forest. Also, there is a group of three younger evergreens, maybe 8 feet high, that should receive quite a bit more sunlight now, so I hope they thrive.

A good friend of mine does accounting for a small garden nursery in town. She told me he's got a number of small trees and stuff he wants to get rid of. She mentioned a crab apple. So I could possibly replace the one I'll have to take down. I have to call him and see what else he has, and whether he'd deliver to my house, becus it's huge. I'm not sure I could handle it myself.

An early sneak peak at my 2011 income

December 16th, 2011 at 09:53 am


With just 2 weeks left to go in the year, that's my latest and most accurate calculation of my gross income this year, from all sources.

Gone are the days when I could count on my salary for 100% of my income. As an underemployed soul, I scratch and claw for my income from a wide variety of sources.

About 52% of my income in 2011 came from rapidly dwindling unemployment benefits. The remaining 48% was what I earned from a piecemeal, crazy quilt collection of often unusual income sources, ranked here from greatest to least:

1. Freelance writing: About $6,000
2. Contract job #1 (April-May), @ 6 weeks at $25/hr for a total of $4,475. Mostly work at home.
3. Investment dividends and capital gains: $2,189
4. Contract job #2 (Nov-Dec), @ 3 weeks at $15/hr. Grossed about $1,500. Mostly work at home.
5. Online surveys: $919
6. Academic research studies, $550
7. Credit card rewards: $425
8. Market research focus groups: $375
9. Product testing: $245

Let's take a closer look at each line item.

Freelance writing: When I'm working for my normal, longtime real estate clients, I make very good money, around $50 an hour. But there are some clients where I make much less and it's difficult to pin down just what exactly I'm making since the book editing and the email editing gigs are things I do whenever I have free time and I have not tracked time too closely. I had 8 clients this year; I really need to make finding new clients a central goal.

Contract work: The contract jobs netted some nice chunk sums becus they were assignments lasting several weeks. Finding more contract work should also be a key focus for 2012.

Online surveys: While $919 seems an impressive sum for the online survey income, keep in mind this is a year-long, indeed, daily effort that probably works out to about $1.26 to $1.68 an hour! I do online surveys when I have nothing else to do and I'm guessing I may spend 1.5 to 2 hours a day doing them. So I averaged $76 a month in income; butt that's based on 45 to 60 hours of my time. I will continue doing this but need to remind myself it should come dead last on the priority list.

One thing I DO like about it is that 1. I don't have to drive anywhere so no extra costs involved, and 2. I can do it anytime, even 3 am if I feel like it.

You might say that since giving up my cable TV last summer, my newly found free time in the evenings is now largely spent doing these surveys (or watching Hulu).

Academic studies: It was nice to earn $550 from academic research studies this year (largely UConn) but that also involved a fair amount of driving, either 40 minutes and back (at least 4 trips) to a meeting point to exchange supplies and logs or 1.5 hours and back to UConn itself (4 trips total), for testing. So even with a fuel-efficient car, I figure I netted about $390.

Credit card rewards: This was the easiest $425 I ever earned. There was no additional gas/driving involved as there was for the various focus groups and academic studies I've done, so this was 100% profit. I may be running out of cards to pick from that give cash back rewards in the $150 or $200 range. I'll keep doing it, though, as long as my credit score remains unaffected.

Focus groups, product testing: This didn't account for huge sums of money and did involve driving to various locations up to an hour away, but I will still continue to do it.

In another week or two, I'll have a complete breakdown of my 2011 expenses. Oh, boy!

A little of everything...

December 15th, 2011 at 06:54 am

I've been invited for "tea" at The Author's place next week. I'm betting she'll have some small Xmas gift for me. I have to think of something thoughtful, yet inexpensive, to get her.

I had been thinking of a subscription to Savannah magazine, since the book I edited for her takes place in Savannah, but that's really just the first book, so maybe not quite right. Maybe a really pretty coffee mug? I don't want to spend more than $20.

I've begun charging up my pretty new Discover card, the one with the daisy on it against a sky blue background. I swear, just the image makes me want to take it out and flash it.

There's no doubt that opening 3 new credit cards in the past year has IMPROVED my credit score, something I find incredibly amusing. I'm wondering if there's an upper threshold for how many new cards can help, and I think I will be testing that as I continue to search for cash back cards for my, uh, collection. So far, I haven't cancelled any cards. I don't know, I'm starting to develop a soft spot for them. Well, eventually I will, although I think I will keep Chase Freedom as they seem to have the most generous terms for earning more points.

I'm in a lull in my contract work after having turned in the latest batch of work yesterday afternoon. It's possible I'm done, I'm still waiting to hear back from them.

I went to a nice MS dinner last night at a local hotel. Usually, they get a full house, but this one was rather sparsely attended. Maybe everyone was doing their holiday Christmas shopping. Anyway, I enjoyed the chicken in mushroom sauce, rice, string beans/carrots, salad, tea and brownies for dessert. Smile

I have just 1 more week of keeping a food diary of everything I eat and keeping my protein intake to 54 grams daily. I'm really getting tired of having to do this and can't wait for my final trip to UConn for a batch of testing and my final $150 payment.

Tuesday I have product testing at Unilever, but I'm betting I'll be disqualified at this particular screening becus I have too many moles on my arms. But I'll still get $15, $40 if I qualify.

More work (that's a good thing)

December 12th, 2011 at 01:47 pm

I keep thinking I'm pretty much done with this contract job and then they surprise me and say there's more if you want to pick it up.

I scooted over to the publisher's this afternoon and was even successful opening the Quark document she emailed me which I had to copy onto a flash drive on my Dell, which has no Quark, and then put it in the Mac, where I could open it. Phew. It gets a little complicated at times, PC to Mac and back again, but I'm getting the hang of it.

I count 47 more listings so I figure that's good for another 3 days worth of work, maybe not quite full-time.

This morning I edited an email for the IT director ($10) and then addressed 3 rounds of revisions on a real estate sales brochure I wrote. The revisions are very unusual, but instead of working directly for the marketing director, I'm working with 2 realtors and a builder who have their own ideas. No problem. ($240).

Tomorrow first thing I'm heading to the landfill with several sawed up logs from the storm in my teeny trunk. I hope I can get them out without getting dirt all over me. It was a little hard getting them in there.

After that, I'm heading to the town of S. (a 40-minute drive) to rendezvous with the nutrition study research assistant. I need to hand in my diary and exercise logs, along with the actograph, and she's to give me some urine jugs for the next phase of the study.

When I come home from that, I'll settle in to start the latest batch of contract work.

I got my new Discover card in the mail today. Unlike the other cards I've gotten, they share my FICO score with me. I know some of my individual credit scores by going on CreditSesame or CreditKarma, but not my FICO.

I couldn't believe it, but it's 842, out of a perfect score of 850. I think the key thing is that while I've opened 3 credit cards in as many months, I'm still utilizing a very teeny fraction of what I could be spending. That ratio is what they like to see, i.e., that you COULD charge up lots of money, but choose not to. Doesn't seem completely logical to me, but they made up the rules, not me.

My job now is to charge up $1,000 in the next 3 months to earn a $150 cash reward.

Last spring, I found a website developer on Craig's List who was looking for a writer to team up with on a website he was redesigning for a chemical distributor in my area. He and I met with the owner of the company in May and I later asked the web developer what the deadline for the copy was. He said well, there really isn't any deadline, but the sooner the better. So, wanting to make a good impression so as to earn more assignments down the road, I worked all through the Memorial Day holiday weekend (we met the owner on a Friday) and turned in the copy that Monday.

I kept checking the website periodically to see when the newly re-designed version (and my copy) would be up, but it still wasn't there. i emailed the web developer several times and he usually just had vague answers for me. I'd basically given up, figuring something must have happened, maybe the web developer lost the job or somebody died, but lo and behold, SEVEN MONTHS after I did my part, the new website is live on the web. Geez.

I got paid when I did the work, but I still would be curious to know what happened. I sent the guy a short note saying the site looked great (again, hoping for more work) but he hasn't responded.

Upward and onward

Done! (I think)

December 10th, 2011 at 06:20 pm

I had just a few final listings to update for this contract job. Well, 29 to be exact, so I worked 9 hours between yesterday and today.

I think that about wraps up this job. Looks like I wrote up about 300 listings in the directory (out of 1,850 total) and grossed about $1300. But I'll have to wait to hear back from them on Monday. If so, then I have to return their Mac to them.

Now I've cleared my plate for a relaxing (if I want it to be) Sunday.

I need to get groceries at some point. Maybe try out that Sweet Potato/Black Bean chili. Or the parsnip pea soup. Call me crazy, but maybe I'll have a go at some more downed tree branches with my bow saw.

Went to a pottery show today at the library. I saw a lot of stuff I liked, but the prices seemed a bit high to me. (Well, everything seems high when you don't have money.) In the back of my mind, I was thinking they'd have seconds (imperfect pieces) at reduced prices, but since this was their big Xmas show, I guess they wanted to jack up the prices. I didn't buy anything, of course.

After I returned my DVDs, I sat in one of the lovely old reading rooms with old, Victorian furniture, a fireplace and various items of local historical interest to read the local newspaper, whose subscription I cancelled a while ago. It's sooo relaxing when I do this. I love my local library. For some reason, it reminds me of my college. I guess becus everything is old and genteel.

I finally got around to putting out a few Xmas decorations which instantly brought back so many memories. I think of a lot of people who aren't around anymore. I have a lot of vintage tree ornaments that I like to put in bowls in lieu of a full-sized tree, homemade ornaments that my mother made, an ornament from a penpal in Russia I used to have and so much more. Maybe I'll get up in the attic tomorrow to get the rest of it, plus my table-top trees. I'm a little reluctant to go full hog becus it's just me living here and it's a pain to put it all away again.

That time of year

December 9th, 2011 at 07:17 pm

Well, it's that time of year when my thoughts turn toward my personal end-of-year expense reporting and analysis,one of my favorite things to do. Soon, I'll be posting my ranked 2011 expenses for all the world to see.

I also enjoy goal-setting for the coming year, and enjoy reading others' goals, too. However, my financial goals are not very substantial for 2012, seeing as how I'm not working. Every penny I make must go into the checking account to pay for everyday living expenses. Retirement savings has been on hold for a while now.

I think I've already proven I'm pretty good at cutting expenses, but there's really not much of anything left to cut, unless I go live in a hut with the aborigines or decide I don't need running water anymore. The last significant thing I cut entirely was cable TV.

Perhaps a worthy goal would be really working harder to increase my freelance jobs. Like setting a goal of doing 3 things each week in pursuit of more freelance work. I tend to get a little lazy about it. I'm always browsing Craig's List, where I find a lot of different stuff, but I sort of consider that passively looking. I need to take more aggressive steps to market myself.

Let's take a look at 2011 freelance/contract work:

1. My one real estate client is pretty steady with giving me work, either PR or marketing copywriting. But there are times when I go weeks without hearing from them. I make about $50 to $60 an hour with them but it's not steady.

2. I worked f/t for about 6 weeks in April/May (contract job) for a start-up news website. $25/hr. It was nice while it lasted.

3. I spent most of the summer and into the fall editing a 346-page first novel for someone in my free time. $1,000.

4. I'll make another $1,000 or so on this current contract job updating an annual directory that's very much like the Writer's Market listings.

5. I've been editing more emails for the guy I found on Craig's List, but this is small potatoes, pay-wise. Maybe $20 a week. But it's ongoing. But, hey. If I could make $80 a month from him, it's no longer small potatoes. That could easily pay two utility bills, like electric and water. Or phone/Internet and sewer.

6. I did other miscellaneous freelance writing jobs for a local investment manager and a chemical distributorship website (both found via Craig's List), and 2 other people in the real estate business.

Well, anyway, aside from freelance writing, I'll also be reporting in a few weeks on $ I made from assorted product testing, focus groups, online surveys and academic research studies. There were not insignificant sources of income, as you'll see. Oh, and of course the credit card cash rewards. Smile

I had a real scare last night and into this morning. Without warning, my Dell computer just froze up on me. When I rebooted, I got the b/w screen and some words, partially cut off, in the top left corner of the screen flashed in front of me. It read, "something board failure."

Now that could be a keyboard failure, which is no big deal, although my wireless keyboard/mouse is only 2 years old. OR, it could mean a motherboard failure, which would be a very big deal indeed.

Being out of work, minimizing expenses is always uppermost in my mind. When I bought the wireless keyboard for my new computer 2 years ago, I ended up with 2 perfectly good wired keyboards. One from the new computer, and one from my older computer which still worked fine. I vaguely remembered giving one to my mother, but she gave it back later,and I said, oh I don't need a spare, keyboards never give out. So I recycled them both at the landfill after trying unsuccessfully to sell them on Craig's List. Another example of how my anti-clutter nature sometimes trips me up.

So my mother mentioned she had an extra Gateway keyboard I could try out to see if it was just the keyboard. so this a.m. first thing I ran down there, picked it up and returned, only to find out that the darned thing is so old the plugs don't fit my newish computer. I should have known better.

So that was a wasted trip. And then I had to go right back to that same area so I could pick up a cheapie keyboard/mouse at Wal-Mart, still hoping it was just the keyboard, not a motherboard issue.

Spent just $23 for a Logitech keyboard and mouse and lo and behold,things started up just fine. Thank GOD. I'm still tempted to fiddle with the wireless keyboard. I did try changing the batteries in the back of it, of course, but I'm not sure the batteries I had on hand were completely charged. It might be worth it getting brand new batteries and trying it, just to see.

Anyway, I'm so relieved to have my computer running again and not freaking out about how much data I could lose. Although actually, most of my freelance work I could find and save again by going in the Sent folder of my yahoo email account since I always email my work to clients. All my photos would be on the memory card of my camera and I could download them all again if I had to. And older documents from 2 years ago and earlier would still be on the disk I saved stuff to when I bought my new computer 2 years ago and wanted to transfer it all over to the new computer. So it wouldn't have been a total loss.

A mouse in the house

December 8th, 2011 at 02:06 pm

Luther and Waldo caught a mouse last night. Well, Luther did. He was so bored for so long, I bet that mouse was just the ticket to perk up his spirits. Smile He had brought it upstairs to play with, and then it apparently escaped behind a large wood cabinet in the dining room. Eventually, he got hold of it again, and as soon as I saw him carrying it upstairs, I got him back in the basement and blocked access through the cat door so he wouldn't bring it back up again.

I knew it would keep him busy for a while and then when he was ready, he'd be scratching at the door. Yeah, that's just what happened, so at 1 a.m. I had to get out of my warm bed and go downstairs to let him up from the basement.

Between that and a much stronger than expected rainstorm, I didn't sleep much at all last night. The wind was so gusty, it always makes me a nervous wreck about trees coming down on the house or taking power out again.

This morning dawned bright and sunny, but much colder than it's been. I don't know what happened to the mouse. I looked around for a carcass, but saw none. It either escaped, probably to die, poor thing, or it's somewhere dead where I can't see it. Sigh.

I've been remiss in failing to set any mousetraps in the garage this season.

Did about 5 hours worth of work on the contract job, and plan to do another hour or 2 tonight. I am getting positive feedback from them, mostly based on my usual speedy work habits. She also gave me another 25 listings to do, so right now I've got work to keep me busy probably into Saturday.

I got my first paycheck from them today. Not a ton of money, but it's something.

My mother sent me an email that said, this is for real, do you want to go with me if i get tickets. I read the email and it was from "Mrs. Michelle Obama" and asked for $3 to attend some dinner. Scam!!

I was really perturbed with my mother for being so gullible and i have to admit I let her know that. Mom, do you really think the president's wife would send you a blank email and ask you for $3 to go to dinner with her? Well, I didn't take the time to read the bottom of the email. It appeared to be a clever fundraising thing. $3 i guess wins you a CHANCE to have dinner with the Obamas. It's for his re-election campaign.

I haven't barely given a thought to Christmas,and I'm not sure when I will. I'm just so focused on earning income. There's nary a holiday decoration out. I did already buy just 1 small gift each for my mother and sister; that's what we agreed on. Maybe I'll try to do some cards this weekend.

There's also a local pottery show I want to go to. I've always had a soft spot for pottery, though much of it doesn't appeal to me because they fire with such boring colors. Dark browns and that kind of thing. I have a small collection of very turquoise nice pottery, purchased some 25 years ago at the Woodstock Crafts Festival in Vermont. I still love those little pots. Smile

So, OK, here's my things to do this weekend list.

1. Put out a few selected Xmas decorations that make me happy.
2. Address some Christmas cards using up existing stock from last 5 years.
3. Continue contract job and bill them on Saturday.
4. Check out the pottery show at the library.
5. Set mousetraps.

Not a whole heck of a lot to report

December 7th, 2011 at 06:45 pm

I put in about 5 hours of work on the contract job at home today.

I should be getting my new Discover card ($150 cash reward). This will be my 3rd one. Smile

I watched a very good foreign film tonight called The Crime of Padre Amaro, about the hypocrisy of Catholic priests in a small Mexican village.

I also got around to seeing The Help yesterday for $2. It was okay, but soooo Hollywood. So many scenes were so, well, scripted, you could see it coming a mile away.

I also rented Eat, Pray Love in the past week. Julia Roberts is not a great actress, IMO. Call me a cinema snob, but I think this one was also a little over-hyped.

My cats have been very bored, even with me being home all the time. Cus I don't have time to play with them all the time, and even when I do, we all lose interest in The String and the Crumpled Wad of Paper eventually. Sigh. Is it my purpose in life to entertain them?

I registered to get a credit from our electric company for having been without power for a week. It'll be between $100 and $200 and appear on my Feb 2012 bill. Less if more people sign up, more, if fewer do. Sort of the way a class action lawsuit works. Just so much money in the kitty.

It was annoying that we even had to "register." I mean, they know who was out of power for a week or more. And for those who were out just 3-4 days, they likely lost their food as much as someone out a week or more, so i guess they just lose out? Doesn't seem right.

It's been rainy all day and it's supposed to turn to snow overnight, although we've enjoyed a string of mild days for December. In the 50s. And all I can think about is how much that's helped preserve the oil in the tank! I should be able to get through the whole month of January before my next fill-up. Let's cross our fingers for a mild winter.

Well, I'm running out of things to say. Adieu.

Yay, for a different reason

December 5th, 2011 at 12:56 pm

I just got my check for $200 from Citi Dividend Card.

Well, you know what that means.

I applied for and was accepted for the Discover More card, which offers a $150 bonus after spending $1,000 in 3 months. Plus I got to pick a pretty daisy design.

It's all good.

My mundane life & boring stuff i did today

December 2nd, 2011 at 07:17 pm

Yesterday I emailed my contact at the publisher's to tell her i was done, and did they have more work for me. She emailed me back this a.m. and said I'll let you know. Haven't heard back from her since. This, on a project they're supposedly so behind on.

I suspect she knows very well whether there's more work or not for me but that her boss, the editor in chief, probably directed her to spend some time in reviewing the work I've done so far before they decide whether or not to keep me on.

So I still don't know. But sort of welcome the breather. So far I worked there 7 days and grossed about $830. Wondering if I should send in another estimated tax payment to IRS or risk a small penalty. I find it soooo difficult to determine what taxes I owe when I do contract work. Plus I sold a lot of mutual funds this year for the vinyl siding and prepaying the mortgage.

Today I ventured out and hit Costco (mainly for milk), Wal-Mart (mainly for cat food), the bank and the local newspaper (free 2012 calendar that I like to get each year, sort of an old-fashioned, retro look to it).

I must admit to buying an unnecessary item at Wal-Mart that I can hardly afford, given my situation. I spent $16 on a chocolate brown hoodie. I liked it becus it had a soft, warm, ecru fur lining inside.

I also saw some nice slippers there, just what my mother described wanting. They were a good brand, Dearfoam, I think. So i got a pair for my mother for Xmas.

When I got home, I decided to vacuum out my car, particularly the trunk which was filled with old, dried pine needles and stuff from all the tree branches I'd brought to the landfill.

Then, since I was already outside, I pulled the lawn mower out to mulch up some leaves on one area of the lawn, but it didn't do a good job cus the leaves were sort of embedded in layers on the ground. So I ended up raking them.

Then I said, what the heck, I really should clean up the garage a bit before it gets too cold. There were a bunch of leaves that had blown in on the floor, so I swept all that up. And I brought some stuff inside to the basement for winter storage, to make room for my car to fit.

I called my health insurer about my COBRA rate for next year and was relieved to hear the plan doesn't change til June, so I have time before what I'm sure will be another rate increase. God willing, I'll have a job by then. Or not.

I did as many online surveys today as I could. I was happy to see I got paid via Paypal ($15) by the guy who I edit emails for. Strange but true. Found him on Craig's List. He's an IT Director at a private prep school and I'm guessing he either has dyslexia or is ADHD so for the past month or so I edit the occasional email from him. Amazingly, I've always been at my computer when he sends an email. He always needs it done right away. The last one he sent was round 10:40 pm. Sometimes he sends them on Sundays. Hey, every little bit helps. I've made about $45 from him so far. Cus I only charge $20/hr for an email, and his are pretty short, so maybe 5 or 10 minutes. So I have to do a bunch before it amounts to anything.

I'm feeling like I need to do something for myself and I'm not sure what to do. My one friend usually goes shopping on Saturdays with her other friend, and altho I'm always invited, i don't usually go as i don't enjoy shopping like they do and they usually make it an all-day affair, running here, running there. I find it tiring.

I have another friend coming over on Sunday to help me with a garage door that doesn't close right.

Maybe tomorrow I'll go the library and pick out a DVD or 2. It's always such a pleasant place to go and doesn't cost me any money.

Maybe I'll bake a quick bread. Get some groceries. I haven't taken a real walk in a while. Take my camera with me.

A lull in the action

December 1st, 2011 at 02:37 pm

I've put in about 35 hours already this week for that contract job. Now I've finished and am waiting to hear back if they have more work or not. They had originally said the work would last through year's end, but that was before they decided to hire 2 of us to do the job. So I don't know.

Tomorrow I thought I would treat myself to running some very ordinary errands. Costco, the bank, Trader Joe's and Wal-Mart. And to pick up a free calendar for next year, from the local newspaper.

Not a whole lot else going on.

Wish there was something interesting to make for supper.