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Archive for March, 2012

Back to the half-million mark...i feel better now

March 31st, 2012 at 01:04 pm

What a strange mix of emotions at feeling both impoverished (given my underemployment and general lack of here-and-now money) and wealthy. My net worth bumped up by $6,000 in March, bringing up the value of my total investments excluding the house to $500,033.

Compare that to:

March 31, 2011: $512,337
March 31, 2010: $468,696
March 31, 2009: $352,753

Yeah, my assets incrreased by over $100,000 from 2009 to 2010, but they increased less from 2010 to 2011, and that's because I didn't contribute a nickel to a 401k plan since my layoff.

I just need a job now and all my worries will be gone!!

Universe! Do you hear me?

Getting back to my roots: another job interview

March 30th, 2012 at 06:08 am

I've lined up yet another job interview for this Tuesday with the publisher of a local weekly newspaper covering about 10 towns in my area.

It would definitely be getting back to my roots, because newspaper reporting is what I did for the first three years after I graduated college. But it was very low paying, even then, so I later went on to law school and better paying jobs in marketing.

However, I look back fondly on my newspaper days. I met a lot of people and knew a lot about what was going on in the towns I was covering. These were local papers, not those with a national audience, so I wrote a lot of special interest features and attended lots of late night planning and zoning meetings, always toting a camera.

It was a difficult job at times for me to do because I'm your basic introvert and sometimes dislike having to go up and talk to strangers about not always so pleasant topics, like, so, you're getting sued, how do you feel about that?

Well, I exaggerate a little, but you get the idea.

The job also often entailed late night meetings with early morning deadlines and lots of running around on the weekends to various events. For a single 20-something, it was ok, but doing that now full-time? I'm not sure.

So I saw the ad in a paper here and it actually said you could call about the job. So I applied on Friday and decided to call today to follow up. I got patched right through to the publisher and had a brief conversation with him. It's a family-owned newspaper and they actually have two openings: one for a full-time reporter covering one town with blue-collar roots, and another for a part-time reporter (who can work up to 40 hours) covering a different town that's more upscale and is known as an antiques town, has various horse farms, etc. I presume the f/t job has benefits.

Both towns would be a good half-hour drive, although the newspaper office is about 15 minutes away.

I expect the pay for etiher will be EXTREMELY low, quite possibly too low for me to consider f/t, but it could possibly make sense to take the p/t one to supplement my current p/t job and freelance.

So sometime this weekend I will once again assemble a portfolio, this time dragging out old newspaper clips that I'd otherwise be embarrassed to ever show, but which I feel would be important to include just to prove I did in fact work at two other newspapers. Both newspapers have since gone under.

I'm not necessarily expecting much becus it probably won't pay enough to even be worthwhile, but it's worth exploring and these days, I'm leaving no stone unturned. I consider it an "exploratory" interview.

March: A great $$ month

March 29th, 2012 at 05:20 pm

March turned out to be a great money month for me.

Freelance: $1,190
My p/t job: $1325
Unemployment: $503
Credit card rewards: $200
Online surveys: $127
3 rebates: $$34
Product research $30
Total: $3,491

That freelance work was all done all at once in February. It's mostly my one real estate client, with a little bit from my new legal client and also a little from editing the emails of the IT director.

The bad news is, I have no billables outstanding now. That's the problem: the freelance work comes in spurts. The $127 in online surveys is what I'd like to see myself make every month, but sometimes it's as little as $50. I'm so tired of waiting over 6 weeks to get a $25 gift card in the mail. It takes forever, and they often ignore your emails asking where it is. I will be so happy to throw in the towel on those things some day.

I had no major calamities this month expense-wise, and right now, my total March expenses come to $2,094, so my net will be positive $1397 or so. It also helped that March was the second consecutive month where I paid $0 for electricity, part of the deal the state worked out with CL& P for botching up storm recovery of power, twice.

Tomorrow's my work at home day, and in the afternoon, I'll quit early to run down to do another product study. I can wrap up my work on Saturday. On the way home, I'll get another load of free wood chips at the landfill, do a bank deposit of all those checks I got and stop at a good will store to pick up some cheap glass vases so i can play paint a vase as noted in an earlier post. Also want to stop at Staples to get some free-after-rebate batteries, which I mostly use in my digital camera and a few clocks.

I want to buy a $35 water fountain for the cats. It recycles the water and makes it a bit more appetizing to drink than stale water in a bowl. I've had a bit of a scare with Waldo; I thought he might have cystitis after I found he left 2 drops of urine on the bed on 2 separate occasions. He wasn't running to the litterbox and seems fine, but I gave him some apple cider vinegar mixed in tuna juice last night, which he really seemed to like. I tried to give him more again today and tonight when I got home from work, just 1/2 t. mixed in tuna juice and then in his food, and he turned up his nose. I'm going to get tinned sardines at Stop and Shop tomorrow on the way home from the product study to further try to camouflage the apple cider vinegar. But it's going to have to wait a few weeks cus I already blew $27 on black licorice last week (hmmm) and I'll have to wait to save up more Amazon gift certificates.

More thinking outside the box - retirement and estate planning

March 27th, 2012 at 12:49 pm

I had a thought recently that might be an option in supplementing my retirement income or simply creating an income stream to help me get by. Now, later or down the road.

I won't likely act on it right away, but it bears consideration and is maybe something I would do in eight years or so.

I'm thinking "creatively."

Now I'm sure most of you are familiar with the way a reverse mortgage works. You sign over your house to a lender and in return you get lifetime possession and a monthly stream of income that gradually sucks the equity out of your home. Your heirs get nothing.

Now while I probably wouldn't consider a reverse mortgage because of their very high fees, I thought of something recently that seems to work very similarly to a reverse mortgage.

Is anyone familiar with a charitable remainder trust, aka charitable gift annuity?

I know a teensy bit about CRTs because I used to write sales literature for them way back when for a previous employer. But that was a long time ago and I'm sure the product has evolved.

As I understand, you make a gift to a charity in the form of cash, securities or real estate. My gift would be my house. In return, you get an annuitized income stream for life, a tax deduction (not sure based on what) and of course when you die, your heirs get nothing, because the asset no longer belongs to you.

I'm fine with that. I have already named a number of charitable groups as my beneficiaries in my mutual fund investments. In my will, I have named my parents and my 3 siblings. But as you may know, should the named beneficiaries in your will and investments conflict, your investment beneficiaries take precedence. So in my case, should I die, my family would actually get nothing except my house and material possessions. And I'm thinking of changing that by possibly using a charitable gift annuity as described above.

While I would want to leave $$ to my parents, I think it's safe to assume I'll outlive them. And my father doesn't really need the money. If I willed it to him, he'd probably just save it and then when he died, the money would wind up going to my two half-brothers.

We didn't grow up together and aren't really close at all, although my one brother did recently just have a daughter. Still, he doesn't seem to need the money either and I don't have a special desire to leave either of them money so they can buy some new living room furniture or take a really cool vacation somewhere. I want my money, which I worked so hard for, to do something purposeful and meaningful.

I have been a lifelong environmentalist and would very much like to see my assets benefit certain groups that are trying to preserve our open space, protect wildlife habitat and so on. So the idea of a charitable remainder trust really appeals to me. Even more so because my house represents a huge portion of my net worth that is illiquid and would otherwise not be accessible to me and would really only benefit me by serving as a place for me to live.

The kind of trust described above would enable me to draw some benefit from an illiquid asset and achieve some good at the same time.

Of course, I would have to think very, very carefully about doing this, becus forming such a trust is an irrevocable act, meaning, that once you decide to do it, you CANNOT undo it down the road if you change your mind.

I suppose if all I was after was some extra ongoing income, I could simply sell my house when the market recovered, buy a little condo and then enjoy the extra profit I'd make from the sale of the home. Which i might still do.

I happened to get my Nature Conservancy magazine in today's mail, and according to their little chart, if you donated $10,000 to them at age 60, you'd get a $440 annual payment and a $2,231 tax deduction. My house today is worth about $290K, so my annual payment, should I give them my house, would be in the neighborhood of $13,200, or $1100 a month, at least the way I interpret their chart.

What do you think? Am I overlooking something big here? Cus this sounds pretty good. Dido, MM? What say you?

Scored mulch!

March 27th, 2012 at 10:39 am

I called the landfill this morning and asked if they had plans for the huge mountain of mulch growing there. We had a ton of tree damage from freak storms this fall and winter. They said no, you can't take from that pile, it belongs to someone else, but you can help yourself to some mulch down by the (adjacent) dog pound.

Hmp. I had never noticed another pile of much by the dog pound. Wasn't sure how much of it I would find.

So I filled my car with all the buckets I could collect from the garage, plus my recycling bin. At the landfill, there was indeed one very long and high pile of mulch, pretty clean looking, so i got to work with my shovel. When I got home, I wasn't feeling particularly energetic, but I decided to just transfer it all to my wheelbarrow and the next thing you know I'm applying the mulch, along with some newspaper underneath to two of my perennial beds. I saw that I was able to bring home two-and-a-half full wheelbarrows in one trip.

I made a second trip as well and figure I can keep returning as I move along to each bed, weeding as I go. I also used more newspaper underneath it, which I think will make this mulch even more effective.



Another view:


A creamy white variety:


And here are some with an orangey center:


Yes, I like daffodils!

Here is the really cool thing I did with an idea in Country Living magazine.



At left is what these containers looked like before: just ordinary clear glass vases, for the most part. I took some latex paint (it was free to me and picked it up just a few months ago via Craig's List) and you pour some paint INSIDE the container and swirl it around the inside only. Pour out and let drip any excess, then let dry. It's that easy. Only thing is, you can no longer use these as water-filled vases, as the water will make the paint come up. but you can use dried flowers.

I happen to LOVE LOVE LOVE this color. It's pretty close to my all-time favorite color. It reminds of me of the color of the sea. I could see my bedroom painted this color.

Anyway, back to the mulch.

I'm so tickled (!) that I was able to get this for FREE. I spent a lot of time the last few weeks trying to figure out how to get some at minimal cost, because I simply can't justify any discretionary expense these days.

Agway had a good deal on you-pick-up mulch at $40 a yard. (For several years, I had a yard of mulch delivered to my driveway at about $100 each time. What a ripoff!!!! Never a again!) The Agway deal was good, but I don't have a truck. I thought of getting my father to come up and go with me, but even though they dump it in the truck for you, you have to shovel it out yourself, and I don't want to put my father to work anymore.

I did also place myself on a waiting list with a local tree cutting place (another great idea, I thought) although it remains to be seen how long I might wait for it. I would probably still take some if they ever do call with a load, mainly becus it's delivered. I can get mulch now at the landfill, but it's a fair amount of work to shovel it into my teensy containers and then unload it when I get home.

However, my goal was to 1. Get mulch and 2. Do so at minimal cost. And I did achieve both objectives. Cus while cash is something I'm pretty short on these days, I have plenty of 1. Time and 2. Elbow grease.

I loved the whole process of creative thinking, outside the box, to get something I really needed without spending money. and you guys helped me do it.

I made my own pizza for lunch today. Boboli's pizza crust was on 1/2 price sale, so I got the whole wheat. I like their crusts, but they're ridiculously expensive...over $4, normally. That's more than an entire loaf of bread, for gosh sakes! I used an ENTIRE head of garlic, sauteed with mushrooms and onions, and piled that on top of sauce, then added
crumbled feta cheese. Yum.

Now I am kind of pooped and will hang out inside for the rest of the day.

This a.m. I was able to register to work for the 2nd year in my town's referendum as a poll worker, usually held in late April. It's a very long workday, from about 5 am to 8 pm, but I did paid $175 for it.

Short-term looking a LITTLE brighter

March 26th, 2012 at 06:11 am

I am in the countdown phase of my dwindling unemployment benefits and am uber-concerned about making ends meet once that's gone.

My immediate goal has been to prolong unemployment benefits for as long as possible (by doing more freelance work, which reduces your unemployment benefit proportionately) so that I would have a lower mortgage balance left when I run out of benefits.

My strategy will be to then cash out my one remaining taxable mutual fund (see my balances in my sidebar) to pay off whatever the mortgage balance is at the time I run out of unemployment benefits. I figure at that point, it doesn't make sense to keep paying 6% interest on my mortgage when I can just pay it of with savings. But I don't want to do the big lump sum payoff if I don't have to because the fund I would use to pay it off (the only taxable fund I have left) happens to be an international stock fund, which has lost a lot of money over the whole European banking crisis thing.

So...I checked my "balance" with the Dept. of Labor and my remaining benefits stand at $3,245. I calculated that the three days a week I work at my part-time job represents 60% of the maximum weekly benefit, so I'm able to figure out that I have roughly 10.6 weeks of unemployment benefits I can count on, assuming I don't have any more freelance income.

I have about $750 of freelance income pending in the form of already-billed work, and it's unlikely I'd do NO freelance work in April, May or June. So I figure the $750 is good for prolonging unemployment benefits for two more weeks, which takes me to 3rd week of June, and I should be able to do SOME additional freelance work in 2nd quarter, so I think, conservatively, I should be able to make it to July 1 without running out of unemployment. (I originally forecast I'd run out in March/April so I'm thrilled with this.)

So what does this mean, exactly? It means that I know I have at least 4 more mortgage payments I can make (March thru June), which means my mortgage balance should be down to $5,000 or less when I'm cut off from unemployment benefits.

If ONLY I could string this out a FEW more months, it might not be necessary at all to dig into personal savings to pay off my mortgage.

That would be great, because that $72,000 I have left in my one taxable account is what I may be living on, supplemented by part-time work and freelance, for a while.

I mean, I remember Dido said she had 5 interviews in the past month. I stopped keeping track of interviews I've had becus it's too depressing to think about.

Of course, my $6500 annual property taxes aren't going away, and I can expect my COBRA to increase this June from the $468/month I'm currently paying, so it WON'T be a cakewalk. But once the mortgage is gone, it will mean that's $700 a month less I have to worry about paying., and my bare minimum monthly expenses will fall from the current $2,374 to about $1,800. My monthly net from my part-time job is $1,438, so after the mortgage is gone, that would leave just $400 I'd have to come up with monthly through freelance writing to meet bare minimum expenses.

Of course, come June 2013, the cards get shuffled again, because that's when my ability to buy COBRA insurance disappears. Without a job, bumped from COBRA and with a pre-existing condition, it could be difficult to get health insurance. I'm not sure I want to take the risk of going 6 months with no insurance so that I would then be eligible for the state's pool of i don't know what they call it, but it's an affordable plan but you have to go 6 months with no insurance. Anyway, if i get a f/t job with benefits before June 2013, it won't be a problem, but I'm 52 now and wondering if my older age is not helping in the job search.

Also, as a homeowner, I know that any one of dozens of things could go at any time. The water heater, the furnace, who knows what. So I'd like to somehow build up my reserves to cover myself in such an event without having to sell off mutual funds.

I guess that's why, as I wrote out my mortgage payment this morning, I resisted the temptation to add an extra $100 to the payment.

I also toyed with the idea of selling some of those taxable mutual funds to fund either my 2011 Roth IRA and/or my 2012 Roth IRA, but it's probably not a good idea given how thin my income/assets are spread right now. I have so many ambitious money plans and it's killin' me not to be able to make any headway toward achieving them.

A small indulgence - woof!

March 25th, 2012 at 06:11 pm



I had accumulated about $35 worth of amazon gift certificates in small denominations ($5 to $15) from participating in an online forum, and while I have a dire need for mole deterrent and mulch this spring, I couldn't think of anything I "needed" at Amazon.

So I started browsing and spent way too much time trying to decide how best to spend these gift certificates. I liked the idea of getting food, since I need to eat anyway, but wanted to get something that was a bit of a treat that I wouldn't ordinarily buy on my spartan budget. So, umm, I ended up buying 5 pounds of black licorice in the shape of Scottish terriers.

Now in fairness, it's NOT my fault that amazon only sells candy and stuff in bulk sizes. so this was a $27 purchase, which I'm sure will raise some eyebrows. But I'll have plenty to share and satisfy my licorice cravings for quite some time to come. Smile

This is just the prelude to my much bigger gift certificates I'm excitedly working toward, $250, with my new citi card.

I heard back from my legal editing client and she said it's unusual for her to get this many cases all at once, so I guess she isn't destined to become a big money-making client for me. More like a periodic money-maker. Smile

I also saw that Agway had what I would consider an unusually low price for mulch. Now that I have mulch on the brain. I recall in the past when I had a yard of mulch delivered, it cost about $100. That was the cedar mulch, which is probably more expensive than other stuff. But anyway, Agway by me is advertising a yard of "bulk brown mulch" for just $40. I'm guessing delivery would be extra, but how would you otherwise get the stuff? Oh yeah, I think you just drive up with your pickup and have them dump it in, so i guess that rules me out.

I will call some local nurseries tomorrow and then on Tuesday I'll call the landfill about their mulch.

Thank god i got up the verve to go for a late afternoon walk around 5 today. 50 minutes. I have really noticed, with some alarm, a growing inclination to pass on the exercise. I was always a big walker, since my college days. Walking, hiking, these were always big things with me, year-round, in all kinds of weather. Now, if it's a little too chilly out or the sun is too hot, I really have to push myself. I don't want to lose my lifelong habit. There's absolutely no excuse for it since I'm not even working f/t.

The day's accomplishments

March 24th, 2012 at 06:12 pm

1. Finished up my part-time job work this morning, for the week. Now I feel "free."

2. Promptly settled into legal editing of a 19-page document for someone and was able to finish that. Problem is, I priced this job way too low.

I don't want to bill her for higher than my estimate (although it's called an estimate for a reason), so I am hoping when I'm done with these 3 initial jobs she'll mention more work on an ongoing basis. When she does, I need to tell her I underestimated my time spent on these projects. and I'm charging her less than my usual amount, becus I really wanted the work. I'm charging her $35/hr. I estimated 2 hours on the one job, and I spent 4 hours on it.

So, um, i don't know how she'll react to it, and I'm not sure exactly who is paying my bill. It comes from her, but it could be her employer that's exactly footing it.

After that, I did tidy up the north side of the house, mainly by weeding (a stupid invasive weed that takes over) and sweeping up a footpath running from front to back of house.

I also managed to roll 2 very large cut up logs from the sugar maple that was cut up, and rolled them down from backyard to driveway for eventual pick-up by someone with a fireplace.

Yesterday I continued fiddling with my veggie garden fence. I wanted to move the whole thing over by two feet or so to allow a suddenly thriving service berry tree to grow without its branches hanging over the six-foot-high fence. I also enlarged the garden a bit overall, I think. But I can't seem to get the posts in a straight line and everything looks a bit topsy turvey. I need a MAN for this.

Maybe tomorrow I'll do a seed inventory and see what I've got and what I need.

The grass seed that I planted a week ago never sprouted, despite quite warm temps here. The seed is left over from last year, possibly the year before, so I don't know if grass seed is one of those things that won't germinate well if it's old. I often get years old veggie seeds to grow.

I spent some time on Craig's List hoping to find someone either giving away free cedar mulch or willing to barter it away. I found neither. I really, really need mulch for my many perennial beds which will be rapidly taken over by weeds without it.

But being underemployed and very much living paycheck to paycheck, I hate to plunk down $100 or a bit more on a yard of mulch. Buying it by the bag would not be economical becus I need so much. I am working now to spend $2,000 with my Citi Thank You card and will get $250 in gift cards for it next month hopefully, and could possible get a gift card for Lowes or Home Depot, where I could buy bagged mulch. But again, it would be much more economical to have it truck-delivered here by the yard. Just hate to spend the extra $$.

The other thing I REALLY need this spring is some sort of mole deterrent. There are a variety of applications you can spray on the lawn. Again, hate to spend the money, but moles/voles have been tearing up my lawn for years, and it's getting much worse. They must be doing a lot of subterranean procreation becus all I see is their tunnels.

I also spent time on Craig's List looking for the elusive 3rd part-time job (after my publishing job 3 days a week and my freelance writing) for 1 to 2 days, must be local and pay $15/hr. It's A LOT harder to find something like that than you might think.

I heard back from the commercial real estate appraisal company saying they hired someone else for the job, and while I still haven't heard from the other place i interviewed at, I saw they are back to advertising the position online.

When I returned my DVDs at the library yesterday, I scored the March issue of Money magazine on the bench. The bench near the back door is where people leave assorted books or magazines for others. It's going to be my Saturday night entertainment.

I got my $200 check from Citi rewards and also a $30 check from a Unilever hair product study. Cool. I have a product test or something (not sure exactly what) coming up on Friday for $30; it's hardly worth it to drive out there, but I agreed. I guess I will net $20 after gas.

I signed up for a class on vegetable container garden at a local nursery and puts on a large variety of free classes each spring. Of course, they want you to buy something, but you don't have to. It's been a while since I grew edibles in containers, but I'd like to see what else would work well. I've grown tomatoes and eggplant in containers, and I know people grow potatoes in garbage cans. It could make sense since I have a very sunny driveway and they could be lined up there against the stone wall, protected from deer or woodchucks that wouldn't venture onto asphalt.

Bingo

March 19th, 2012 at 05:34 am

Despite the zillions of times I fear my resume has been lost amid the shuffle of hundreds of applications, there are other times when a close match results in an instant response.

Just 10 minutes ago, i saw an ad on Craig's List for a writer for a commercial real estate appraisal company. I sent in my resume, a writing sample and a brief letter highlighting my real estate background. Then, 5 minutes later, a principal from the firm emailed me and asked when I'd be available to come in.

Bingo!

The job sounds interesting but i can't tell from the ad whether it's full-time, part-time or contract work. It states the salary is $25-$50K. That would be very nice work for a contract job, not so nice for a full-time job, although I'd consider it if it was at the very top of that range with benefits.

In the ad it does say that some regional travel would be necessary, so use of a car and flexible work schedule is essential. I don't think they'd say flexible work schedule if it was full-time, right? Yet they do post the compensation above as if it's an annual salary. Maybe it's ongoing contract work.

That other local publishing job is still a possibility.

Just heard back from the appraisal firm. We're on for tomorrow at 9 a.m. He said call me when you get to the building, we're hard to find. Umm, I don't want to tell him I gave up my cell phone ages ago. I guess I'll just have to allow extra time in the a.m. to find them once I get there. How hard could it be?

My reward....

March 17th, 2012 at 04:07 pm

for cleaning mom's carpets...

I got to pick out what I wanted from her art. Here's what I chose:



Today I went to an equine and pet show. I had a coupon, so admission was free. I'd wanted to check it out last year, but ended up not going. It's a fairly new event. I suspected there would be pet food giveaways. I got samples of two premium healthy pet food brands direct from the manufacturers: 2 cups of dried and 4 small cans of a new cat canned food which my Waldo loved. They're not the kind I could afford to buy right now, except as an occasional treat.

They had two enormous workhorses at the show, maybe Belgians, and if all the little kids hadn't been fawning over them, I would have liked to have done so myself. Smile Reminder to self: Bring carrots next year.Smile

Picked up another week's worth of DVDs from the library, deposited $1,000 in assorted checks at the bank and enjoyed the warm afternoon sun in the sun room with the boys.

Waldo was just purring for no special reason, other than that he'd just eaten some yummy mackerel canned food, felt the breeze on his whiskers, watched the noisy house finches at the bird feeder and felt the sun warm on his back. Ahh, life is good.

I saw a clever but simple craft idea I want to try in Country Living magazine. Gather together whatever clear glass vases you may have. You know, like the ones you kept from when you got flowers, or something like that. You use ordinary latex paint and pour a small amount INSIDE the glass, then swish it around until the entire inside of the glass is coated. Pour out any excess onto a tray lined with tinfoil, then let it dry, sitting upside down.

The color of the paint turns a plain glass vase into something pretty. You only put the paint inside, not outside. It looks like so-called milk glass. Provided you have a nice color latex paint. Something pale like lavender or blue would be nice. Can't wait to try this. I have like a zillion different half used paints in various colors, and just picked up another 10 gallons of half used paint a few months ago via Craig's List. You can't put water in the vase afterwards, though, or it may start peeling. Dried flowers would be fine.

I called that place where I interviewed a week ago. She said they're still not done doing the first round of interviews, but said I could back again next week. Which I will do. I must be a contender, becus I don't think they'd tell everyone to call back, but I don't know.

Pinecone sent me two rolls of product (paper towels) to try out. It comes in handy.

While I was out, I also dropped a big container of some lentil/barley/carrot stew I made at my neighbor's,who just got home after having hip replacement surgery. I called her but she didn't answer, so I just rang the doorbell (no answer) and left it on her stoop. When I got to my mom's, I called her again (no answer) to let her know I left her some food so she wouldn't have to cook. When I came home after running all my errands, I looked over at her house, and she still hadn't picked up the food from the front stoop. I hope she's ok. I'm not sure that lying around is the best thing to do after hip replacement surgery.

In one fell swoop (credit card activity)

March 13th, 2012 at 08:31 am

I logged online to see that I had now earned $200 cash back from Citi so I redeemed that with a simple phone call. Check in the mail in about 10 days. Yippee!

After some online research for my next card, I'm finding the cash back rewards are a bit more slim pickings. Because of my pared down spending and budget in general, I'm only comfortable getting a card that requires spending of $2,000 in the first 3 months. Most of my recurring bills are not with companies that accept credit card payments without charging you for the convenience, although I have paid my phone/Internet bill and my homeowners insurance this way. There are one or two cards that reward handsomely for spending $3,000 in the first 3 months, but I'm a little afraid I might not definitely hit that target.

So, with cash back rewards now mostly in the $100 range, I decided to go with a card that rewards $250 in gift cards, the Citi Thank You Preferred card. Depending on the choice of retailers, I can make at least some of those gift cards non-frivolous in nature if I buy groceries at Target or vegetable seedlings for my garden at Home Depot, for instance.

I had to call them to complete the application because I didn't remember the secret word I'd apparently made up at some point. But anyway, since I had them on the line, I decided to close my Citi Master Card at the same time, and that was no problem. The application was approved and I should get the card in about 10 days.

I intend to keep applying for new cards for as long as they keep offering cash back or gift card credit cards and as long as they keep approving my application. I imagine at some point my application will be rejected becus I simply have applied for too many cards or something, but that hasn't happened yet, surprisingly. (Hence my eagerness to close at least one card.)

The 2 cards I will never use again, or extremely sparingly, are an Amex card and an USAA card. the Amex doesn't have very good rewards at all, and the USAA card has no rewards. However, these are my 2 oldest cards, so for that reason, I must hold on to them.

I am finding myself somewhat "attached" to 2 of my newer cards...the Discover card with its bright and colorful daisy on it and the Chase Freedom card, i guess becus of the word "Freedom." The remaining 2 Citi cards I have are completely disposable and I will give them the ax when the time comes.

Major anxiety dream

March 13th, 2012 at 06:13 am

Usually my anxiety dreams take a familiar form and follow a familiar plot, but last night's dream really showed my brain's creativity when it comes to expressing my general anxiety.

I dreamed I was getting married in two days. And I wasn't ready at all. And my fiance was the President of the United States. Yes, my beloved was none other than William Jefferson Clinton.

I was meeting with about 20 of his inner circle and I had to tell them that I wasn't ready for the wedding to take place. I hadn't mailed out the invitations. I hadn't picked out my dress. I wasn't even sure I should go through with it, I confided to the woman sitting closest to me.

In fact, I'd been looking for Bill all day and he was nowhere to be found.

I had a great feeling of angst, unease and impending doom. I was only about 60% sure the marriage was going to work. As for the wedding dress, due to my older age, I wasn't going to go with a traditional white wedding dress but was going to go with something in the "casually elegant" category. I wondered privately if I could find a dress at Macy's or elsewhere in time. And I wondered at the possible embarrassment to the nation I would cause if I bowed out of the marriage.

Waking up, I felt somewhat relieved to return to the more ordinary challenges of my life but the dream was pretty funny nonetheless.

Oh, what a beautiful day...

March 12th, 2012 at 02:48 pm

It got into the upper 60s today and all this week it will 60s and 70s.

Spring seems to be here about a month ahead of schedule. I opened up my sun room and spent some time out there enjoying a warm breeze through the windows with the boys.

I also swept the driveway and started deadheading a whole lot of perennials and sedums, using my wheelbarrow to cart them down to the brush perimeter of the property where i dump them.

I am very conscious of being out of shape, because it wasn't that much work but it felt very tiring. This seems to be somewhat typical after a long winter of largely inactive indoor living, but it seems to be getting harder to get done things I want to get done with my various aches and pains.

I still vacillate between deciding to stay here in my home for the long term or selling the house and buying a more manageable condo. I just worry that I wouldn't be happy in a condo since puttering around gardening, my veggie garden, feeding the birds, are all things I enjoy. Not to mention the privacy I have here.

If I stayed, I would want to invest in a rider mower, after 16 summers of pushing a walk-behind mower around here. It's exhausting, and really not looking forward to another summer of that. But those things cost about $2,000 and I'd hate to spend it and then decide to move. So I vacillate.

I found a woman's purse, or large wallet, hidden under the plastic flap of a grocery cart at Shop Rite. I could see how someone would forget it was there. It was in the parking lot, very close to my car. I looked inside and there was a small amount of money plus gift cards, her license, bank card, health insurance ID, you name it. I looked at her license, just a high school kid. I drove over to the address shown on her license and left it on the door. I thought about just dropping it in a mailbox, but I couldn't feel assured it would get to her if I did that. Let's call it my good deed for the day. Hopefully I'll get some good karma from it. Smile

I finished up a realtor's bio last night and sent it to her. Today I called the place where I interviewed a week ago, as they had told me to, but had to leave a message on someone's machine and no one's gotten back to me. Hate that.

If I get an offer, I'll accept it, but you know what? Despite being out of work for so long, I am loathe to return to work, largely because my time will no longer be my own. I've always hated the structured work day. It makes me feel trapped in the office.

I am hoping to get that small editing job from the mental health advocate soon, maybe tomorrow. I figure by then she'll have gotten the non-disclosure form I had to sign and mail her.

Tomorrow I hope to do some more yardwork. Gradually getting back into some form of regular exercise will be really helpful. There was some interesting news on public radio tonight that a new study shows that people who eat a lot of red meat have a significantly greater risk of cancer and premature death. Now this I knew already based on a book I read about a dietary study of Seventh Day Adventists. They also said that processed meats in particular are really bad. Like hot dogs and bacon. The researchers said while they felt that very moderate amounts of red meat were ok, like 2-3 1/2 servings a week, and that they themselves would still eat red meat, the researcher being interviewed said he had eliminated processed meats from his diet. Like I've done. It's been hard, becus I LOVE kielbasa and also hot dogs.

Pooped, but lovin' the daylight savings time

March 11th, 2012 at 03:40 pm

Yes, I'm a bit tired. I spent a few hours this afternoon steam cleaning the carpeting at my mom's while she went off to an art gallery exhibit with a friend of hers.

Actually, steam cleaning is a bit of a misnomer, as there's really no steam involved, just hot water.

I just did the bedroom and her hallways. I THINK it looks better. The water sure was dirty. But then toward the end the machine lost its suction and wasn't dispensing detergent either, when i pulled the trigger. All it said in the manual was that either the recovery tank or the detergent tank was not seated properly on the machine, but I checked it multiple times, so I don't know. I sure hope it's not broken. This is probably just the 2nd or 3rd time I've used the machine.

It's going to be in the 60s and even 70s ALL THIS WEEK. I'm so excited. I have Monday/Tuesday to myself, so will try to roll more cut up trees/firewood down from my backyard into the driveway (for eventual hauling away by my dad).

Heck, I could even start getting the vegetable garden ready. I want to slightly move the fencing over by about a foot or two because a serviceberry tree is growing faster than I thought and its branches are hanging over the fencing and shading some of my veggies. It will be a pain to do, especially as I have no one to help me, but I want to adjust it and also enlarge it a bit. I have another 10 feet or so of the fencing, the last of the roll, sitting in the garage, and I figure I may as well put it to use.

I have some freelance work to do. And 2 new clients, which is always GREAT. One is a referral, a realtor bio I want to write tonight, or otherwise, tomorrow a.m. The other is a mental health advocate who gets involved with legal proceedings and she needs me to edit a 16-page court document. She has two more shorter documents to follow.



Oh, what fun... ("shopping")

March 6th, 2012 at 08:15 am

I've been saving up my $15 Amazon gift certificates which I earn each month from an online forum I participate in with a major credit card company.

With the $10 GC i got today, I had $40 saved up. There was something I'd seen elsewhere, at Home Decorators and Ballard's Design, that I really liked. Just on a hunch, i typed it in the search bar at Amazon, and they had the same product, supplied by Home Decorators, which was the lower of the two prices I'd seen.

So I ordered a nickel hanging pendant light converter kit. It's meant for use in a recessed lighting fixture. I have one, located above the kitchen sink and window. I thought a hanging fixture there would look nice. The length is totally adjustable. You don't need any tools, you simply screw it into the existing fixture light like a light bulb and voila, you have a hanging pendant light with a base that goes over the recessed opening.



Nice, huh?

In other news, I'm pleased to see that what I'd estimated to be my net biweekly paycheck from the p/t job was off. I'm actually netting over $40 more every 2 weeks, and I figure this is due to the payroll tax break Congress decided to extend through the year. So hurray for me.

I also slightly goofed in estimating when my unemployment benefits would finally peter out. I originally figured it would be end of April, but I miscalculated and it should be more like end of May, due to the p/t job. Hurray for me again.

Big carpet cleaning project

March 5th, 2012 at 05:00 pm

All winter long, my mom's been blowing her nose constantly inside her condo. The windows are shut tight. So you know it's an allergy issue.

Every spring, if I open the windows on nice warm days, I can actually see a fine green dust on everything, which has to be dusted and cleaned off. Well, you don't actually see the GREEN until you use a white cloth to dust, and then it's really obvious. So I imagine my mother's got the same pollen that wafts in through the screens.

I think she's got pollen and god know what else embedded in her wall to wall carpeting. She keeps vacillating between ripping up some of the carpeting and replacing it with linoleum to improve her allergy issues. She can't afford to do the whole unit, though. She'd do her bedroom and the hallways and kitchen, which is old vinyl.

She's not sure that will fix things, and I suggested she let me clean her carpets with my Hoover first and see if there's any improvement. It's the cheapest and easiest solution.

So I'm going over there Sunday.

I had only one condition: 1. She MUST vacate the premises while I do the work. My mother hovers over you whenever you try to do anything, like lifting something she thinks is heavy. To her, 5 pounds is "heavy."

At first, she didn't want to leave, but now she has agreed to go to a gallery opening.

I told her she needs to vacuum first and get up off the floor any small objects she can manage. I'll do the rest. There's wall to wall furniture that I won't be moving. But once she leaves, I would like to try to heave up the queen-sized mattress on its side and rest it against the closet. (Can't tell her that, or she'll protest.)

I'm just doing the bedroom and hallways and see how it goes. LR, DR and stairs could be another time. Then she's got her loom room and a studio, but both are packed with stuff. I anticipate going over the same areas in the bedroom multiple times because I know the carpets are filthy dirty.

This Hoover I have got rave reviews at Amazon. I've been re-reading the manual tonight becus it's been a year or two since I used it.

The good thing is, the unit below her is vacant. I say that because this carpet cleaner is VERY, VERY loud. So loud, that I'm bringing air plugs, and maybe even my big muffler thingies. I hope the neighbor adjacent to her doesn't find it too noisy. Does noise travel sideways?

So I stayed for lunch at my mom's while my windshield wipers were getting fixed. After she dropped me off to pick up my car, I stopped to deposit a paycheck and also 5 DVDs from the library to satisfy my TV addiction.

I also sent a thank-you note to the president of the company I interviewed at last Friday. And did a bunch of online surveys.

Windshield wiper cheap fix

March 5th, 2012 at 10:25 am

Just back from getting those windshield wipers with a life of their own fixed.

The dealer told me on the phone it sounded like the motor would need to be replaced at a tune of $350 to $400.

I brought it to my mother's mechanic, a Portuguese man who has worked solo on a busy corner of downtown for many years. I doubt the dealer would have tried tinkering with it, and would have just gone ahead and replaced it, but this mechanic was willing to do so and it's working fine now.

Cost: $60.

He couldn't tell me why it was running non-stop before and said he couldn't guarantee that the problem would not reoccur, and that if it did, the motor would then definitely need to be replaced. (Although his price for replacing the motor would be $230, still far cheaper than the dealer.)

But for now, it's fine, and I sure hope it lasts!

Stuff

March 3rd, 2012 at 05:05 pm

So, I managed to put in 5 hours of work at home today for the p/t publishing job. I usually work all day Friday, but yesterday was tied up with the job interview and The Author's birthday.

Tomorrow I'll need to work 4 more hours, and then that's it for this week. 25 hours a week.

I'm starting to get nervous about the bill for the windshield wipers. The dealer said it sounded like the motor, which would need to be replaced, and that it if were just a fuse, I'd have trouble turning it on, not turning it off. Seems he has a point.

I was out there today trying to pull fuses out, but was unable to do it. I have an appt. with a mechanic for Monday a.m. and am really hoping he can fix it cheaper than the dealer, who said $350 to $400! Thing is, wipers aren't something you can do without, but you also can't have them going constantly, either. Either way, it's one of those things you want to get fixed right away.

Somebody emailed me today who I had responded to back in January about some Craig's List editing job. She asked me about my rates, but I can't for the life of me remember what this job was about (something legal) and while i print out and save every CL ad I respond to, I didn't have this one. I'd love to do the job, though, but I will need to be careful and get complete contact info so I can try to avoid what happened with Century 21.

The prospect of getting that f/t job is doing wonders to keep my mood generally upbeat. I keep finding myself daydreaming here and there about how nice it would be to have some surplus cash to do so many different things with, like prepay the mortgage again, fund my Roth IRA and stuff. And how nice it would be to have a 10-minute commute.
home.

It's sort of nice to have all of next week to think about it and really study their publications.

So, once I realized I couldn't fix my wipers by pulling a fuse, I never made it to the landfill, library or bank. It can wait. I did refill the wiper fluid. It was completely empty, so if I'd driven anywhere else with those wipers going, i would have run dry. I can't even seem to pull the fuse. it's hard to access and i can't identify or pull out the fuse puller Honda supplies you.

Yeah, the stock market's really come back and so has my portfolio. It makes me feel less poor. Which I know I'm not, but my self-imposed standard of living does make me feel very poor. But I also keep hearing really positive things about the housing market, that the rental market is heating up with higher prices, and that always precedes a rise in home prices.

Job interview went pretty well...

March 3rd, 2012 at 07:20 am

I had that interview yesterday.

The company is a small publisher with websites, monthly publications and catalogs serving the wholesale/retail merchandise industry.

I'd be in charge of writing content for 1 website and 1 monthly publication, including loading the stories and blog posts. Also would be recruiting contributing writers (they can't pay them) and editing their stuff. These are all things I did in my last job, except I'm a little weak in HTML stuff...i don't know HTML coding at all, really. And this industry would be entirely new to me.

The companies who advertise in their monthly publication are wholesalers, manufacturers, etc. The readers are retail store owners who buy their stuff to get inventory for their stores. I would be doing a lot of interviews of small business owners and manufacturers about their products, reporting on new shopping trends in online/brick and mortar retail business and the like.

It was casual dress there, though now that i think of it, it may only have been becus it was Friday. It's like 10 minutes from my home.

However, for the publ/website I'd be responsible for, it's a bit of a niche, geared toward the flea market and swap meet business.

Anyway, I met with the president, who i actually kind of liked, and he seemed to like me. He said he was very impressed with my resume. He knows someone I used to work for (a real etate CEO). He had me show him how to use Track Changes in MS Word, after mentioning he never knew how to use it but that his attorney always uses it. So I walked around to his side of the desk and showed him.

He kept a lot of my writing samples and said the next step, after I met with their technology person, would be to meet with the head of editorial.

The tech person asked me what I'd done in the past to drive traffic to my site (I answered that by talking about my guest blogging on other sites, doing some PR), talked about using keywords, but i had to tell her i don't know the HTML coding but of course would be willing to learn. Luckily, I can use both a PC and Mac and I see they use huge Macs. I feel a little weak generally on the tech end of things. She asked if i knew how to re-size a photo, which i don't. This is the thing. At a small company, they want you to do it all, even though one can certainly learn new things. My last employer was larger, and so we had designers who did things like photo re-sizing and coding wasn't considered part of the editorial function.

The Prez will be away all next week but tech person said if you don't hear from us by 3/12, call us on the status of the job. This was nice...you rarely, if ever, have a prospective employer tell you to call them. Usually they don't want you pestering them as to job status. The other thing i liked is that no one asked me how much money i wanted to make. I'd rather they just make me an offer. I also REALLY liked it when the president said that quality of the writing was very important. At so many places these days, it's all about quantity, cus so many websites are sprouting up and they're all racing to get tons of content up there. But pres even said it was a pet peeve of his, bad writing, so i was thrilled to hear that. Becus as a professional writer, sometimes you can be working at a job and always putting in a lot of effort and it doesn't always seem to be appreciated at the top.

This is a small business, maybe 25-30 people? The head of editorial is the president's brother. I learned that they hired someone else for the job and that person just up and quit. So of course I'm wondering why. It looked like there was a lot of sharing of office space there.

Prez said business is doing very well and they barely noticed the impact of the recession, becus of course the recession is causing more people to shop at flea markets and that sort of thing.

The funny thing is, I applied for this or similar jobs at this company at least 2or 3 times and never heard a peep from them. I'm guessing that's because my resume just got overlooked among the hundreds they most surely got. In fact, since I hadn't had luck in the past, I nearly skipped applying this time. But then I decided to write a very pointed cover letter addressing each of the qualifications they were seeking, one by one by one. It's possible that whatever program they use to winnow down the resumes and select those with the most matching words selected mine for that reason. (Even though I had all those same words in my resume.)

My windshield wipers won't stop

March 2nd, 2012 at 06:46 am

So yesterday I'm heading home from work and it was a bit drizzly, so I turned them on. Then it stopped raining and I put them on intermittent. I noticed they weren't doing 1 wipe, 1 rest, 1 wipe, 1 rest, as they usually do. They were doing 2 wipes, rest, 1 wipe, rest, 3 wipes, etc.

Then I turned them off entirely and guess what? They kept on going, this time with no intermittent!

The only way to get them to stop is to turn the car off!

So on top of everything else going on right now, I've got to make time to bring the car in to service station, and that won't be able to happen til Monday.

This a.m. is my job interview, and right after that, I have to run home, pick up a birthday cake for friend, and get ready for 2 friends to come over at 3 pm. So that will kill the rest of the day.

I've been fiendishly cleaning the house and prepping for the job interview at the time, assembling my portfolio, etc.

Tomorrow I will spend the day working my p/t job (at home) since I won't have time to do that today.

Hopefully, aside from the job interview and grocery store run, I won't need to drive anywhere else until Monday. I hope it's not expensive to fix, and I kind of wish it were raining today so i don't look like an idiot. I'll have to keep squirting the cleaner fluid so the wipers don't damage my windshield, or themselves.

How quickly net worth can grow....

March 1st, 2012 at 04:19 pm

Here are some surprising figures I just uncovered as I sat down to do my monthly investment statement.

On March 1, 2009, my total invested assets were just $321,065.

I was still working then. That was about 6 months before my layoff from my last job. Life was good, even though we were in the peak of the recession.

Then my layoff happened in September 2009.

Fast forward exactly 3 years later.

March 1, 2012 total invested assets: $493,398

So in just three years, my assets have increased 35%, even despite the fact I haven't added much of anything to them during this time and that for 2.5 of those 3 years, I haven't even worked full-time.

It's kind of amazing what compounding returns can do and how a stock market recovery can float all ships.