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Archive for December, 2013

Saturday stuff

December 29th, 2013 at 01:02 am

Nothing momentous today, but enjoyable all the same to have all this time off from work.

I went down to Barnes & Noble to use a $20 gift card and, strangely, had the hardest time trying to find something to spend it on. Maybe because I already got 4 books for Christmas? I wound up buying 2 crossword puzzle books. I got in the habit of doing these at night after watching Hulu for a while, and without having cable TV anymore.

I also bought a quilt at Christmas Tree Shop. It's so thin, one could hardly call it a real quilt, but they were just $20 for every size, so I bought a king size for my queen bed. I also bought 4 green bowls because they were half price (.99 ea) and I am so hooked on vivid, saturated green colors.

I meant to next check out an Indian spice shop but there was awful backed up traffic on the other side of the highway so I decided to skip it.

I came home and made a very good chili using unsweetened cocoa in it as well as ground allspice, cumin, oregano, turmeric, chile powder and a few other spices.

Tomorrow is my Asian brush painting class and perhaps a few groceries in town.

I saw an online job posting for a marketing manager. It is clearly my employer (they listed the 2 addresses where the job could be located). It is also clear this new position (a contract job like mine) would supervise me as they reference that in the write-up.

I guess the reason why they are looking to hire this position is not because they think I need better supervision, because as I mentioned, they listed the job location as being either here in CT where I work or in Massachusetts, where one of our other offices is.

I like my current boss and would rather not have to report to someone new, but she clearly is overloaded and has very little time to work with me in any way. But it is curious to me that both my position and now my new prospective manager's position are both contract positions. It doesn't really give me any insight as to what their plans might be next July, when my initial contract is up.

I'm continuing to get a LOT of use out of a free month of Netflix, which expires mid-January. Nearly every night since starting it, I watch Netflix rather than Hulu and avoid all the commercials. A friend had recommended 3 or 4 movies, but none of them were available on Netflix streaming, though.

I am anxious for the New Year so I can make my $6500 IRA contribution. I sold some taxable mutual funds and the money is now sitting in my checking account.

A look at my 2013 income

December 28th, 2013 at 12:26 am

In my last post, I looked at the details of my 2013 expenses, which totaled $37,807.

Now I'll look at my income.

The grand total is much higher than I thought it would be, but after working no less than three contract jobs, one part-time job, doing my freelance work and all the smaller miscellaneous money-makers, it was hard to keep track of.

My total gross income was: $48,761 and my net after taxes, which is what I actually lived on, was about $40,000.

Net wages from the five jobs mentioned above, plus partial unemployment when I worked part-time, came out to about $35,000, while the rest of my income was earned from many and varied sources, including:

Credit card rewards: $1324 (This doesn't include another $94 in earned in credit card gift cards).

Focus groups, product testing: $340

Manufacturers' rebates, promos: $191

Online surveys and forums: $117 (This doesn't include $519 in mostly Amazon gift cards I earned throughout the year.)

Garage sale: $101

We the Savers blog contest: $100 (I got paid for this today, but the blog won't post til next month, I'm told.)

Housecleaning chores done for family and friends: $384

So, all told, looks like I saved about $2,665 for the year. Not bad, considering I worked full-time for only 3.5 months of the year.

So of my net $40,000, about $5,500 of that was non-wage, unconventional income. So when I think about how hard it would have been to live on $34,500 without that extra $5,500, it helps motivate me to keep up all of the little diddly things I did to earn a hundred here or $50 there. At a higher income in the 70s or 80s, that little bit of extra money probably wouldn't matter so much, but at this income level it made a huge difference in livability and comfort.

The credit card rewards, I can clearly see, were the most lucrative among these things and took very little work, other than tracking my spending. Each time I think I've pretty much gotten to the end of bonus reward credit cards I can exploit, I come across a new one.

My 2013 expenses, under a microscope

December 26th, 2013 at 05:08 pm

I spent a total of $37,807. That's just $2,000 more than 2012, which I consider very good.

Let's take a look at my ranked expenditures up close and personal:

2013 Honda Civic: $19,976. This represents 34.5% of my total spending for the year. (I'm not including it in my total spend referenced above because it's such a large, one-time expense and it would really skew things.)

New roof: $5,800, or 15% of total spending for the year.

Health insurance: $5597, or 14.8% of total spending. This is actually 12% lower than what I spent last year, but only because I skipped paying premiums for 2 months (and took a chance) when I switched from my COBRA, which was expiring, to the state plan of last resort.

Property taxes: $5,368, or 14.1% of total annual spending. I have seen for a while now that, excluding big ticket special expenses like certain home improvements, health insurance and property taxes vie for the #1 and 2 expenses each year.

Food: $3,277, or 8.6% of total spending, This is 13% more than 2012. While I don't eat a lot of meat, I do tend to indulge in certain pricey food items and organic foods.

Sewers: $3,033. This includes both the payoff of the loan as well as usage fees. In 2014, with the loan out of the way, this figure should be way, way down on my ranked list of expenses.

Healthcare out of pocket: $1,739, or 4.5%. This was 32% higher than what I spent last year, all due to spending hundreds on diagnostic tests and doc visits to determine the cause of 2 unexplained (and unrelated) symptoms: a cough and headaches. Never did figure out the cause of either one. Doc thought cough was due to post nasal drip but tried 3 different sprays and they did nothing. As for the headaches, they started in June and finally resolved by end of November, on their own. I chalk it up now to stress.

If i combine my out-of-pocket expenses with premiums, that is a whopping $7,336, or 19.4% of my total annual spending. I sure hope that with my new Obamacare plan, my expenses here moderate in 2014.

Household: $1224. Don't like using this category much as it camouflages what exactly I spent on. It's sort of a catch-all for certain items that don't neatly fit into some other category.

Home maintenance: $1,200. .

Heating oil: $986. This was the first of 2 pleasant surprises. I actually spent 19% less than I did last year. Since I took no special additional conservation measures, I can only attribute the lower spending to lower fuel prices.

Gas: $840. This was down 7% from last year, again due to lower energy costs, not any change in driving.

New computer/monitor: $834

Car insurance: $795

Clothing: $733. This is something I kick myself for. I tend to spend on clothing before starting a new job. Really not needed, and I can't justify this level of spending when my income has been so unstable.

New hot water heater: $723

Cats: $667. A 31% increase over last year! This was mostly food and litter, though it also included one trip to vet when Luther jumped out of a second story window. But I've also gotten into the bad habit of regularly buying expensive, $3 a can cat food as a "treat" for the cats a little too often. Half the time they don't like the new foods anyway, so I have decided to stick with the lower priced cat foods, which are still far and away better for cats' health than dry food, according to vets.

IRS: $665. These are quarterly IRS tax payments for my freelance writing.

Electric: $625. Rates will jump 20% in 2014.

Phone/Internet: $625. I'm hoping that with my switch to AT&T UVerse I'll save money and not need to buy additional cell phone minutes anymore since I'll now have 4 hours of free talk time each month.

Homeowners insurance: $584

New furnace humidifier: $520 Worth the expense. No more static electricity when I pet the cats and it's fairly comfortable indoors at 64 degrees, the highest I set it at.

Car repairs: $496, mostly for my 14-year-old Honda. It should be less next year with the new car.

Car tax/registration/license: $366

Gifts: $296

Dining out: $164, all fast food here and there

Borough taxes: $156

Water: $153

Gardening: $138

Dump sticker: $85

Entertainment: $69 (very frugal here)

Haircuts: $51. Managed to spend less this year than last by using Great Clips coupons, even though each year I got 4 haircuts.

Bird suet: $5

Next up: Tomorrow, I'll analyze my income!

Good time had by all

December 26th, 2013 at 01:09 pm

My mother doesn't like driving in the dark anymore (it's the blinding headlights of other drivers on secondary roads that is the issue), so I picked up my mother yesterday and then we drove together to my sister's house. We were a small group of five: myself, my mother, my father, sister and her boyfriend. As mentioned earlier, this was the first time I can ever recall sharing a meal with both my parents, together, so it was very nice.

My father, up from New Jersey, was spending the night at my sister's after having spent Christmas eve with my half brother and his family.

They must have felt a little awkward at first, but it's been so many years since their divorce, I don't think it really mattered. My sister made both salmon and prime rib, and wouldn't you know that even among the three of us who are mostly vegan, all of us chose the prime rib!

My chocolate cheesecake and walnut/pecan/hazlenut pies were a huge hit. I left the remains at my sister's but took my mother's mostly untouched pumpkin bread for myself.

CeeJay the gentle Rottweiler was also with us. A very gentle rescue dog who likes to have her belly rubbed.

I got a lot of books I'd asked for this year, 5, to be exact, all related to nutrition and health. I've started reading the first one, Healing Spices. I also got a very cool feeder for Baltimore Orioles. It is a vertical wire hanger with little spears that will hold three orange halves in place. Can't wait to try it, as I have seen Orioles around here in summer, although not regularly. I also got some clothing, gardening gloves and a very nice copper pot, also a pair of two cordless phones. Also my sister made me a batch of tulsa tea (homegrown) which is supposed to be good for stress, which I've been having a lot of lately.

This weekend's plans call for seeing a matinee with a friend on Saturday (I got $25 worth of AMC movie gift cards from my recruiter agency) and possibly driving my mother to Litchfield to collect some old unsold art from a gallery.

For my own entertainment, today I may go to Barnes & Noble to spend another gift card, do some grocery shopping and run a few other errands. I still need to work on charging up my Discover card for rewards.

Once I get my final paycheck tomorrow, I can finalize all my year-end expense and income numbers and post them here.

Merry Christmas from Connecticut

December 25th, 2013 at 02:28 pm

Merry Christmas, one and all,
Hope you and yours have a ball.

Just don't eat too much turkey,
Or others may think you're a little bit jerky.

Sadly I am not a poet, but the intention is good!

Random last minute Xmas stuff

December 22nd, 2013 at 08:32 pm



I was officially "done" with Christmas shopping 2 weeks ago, but you know how you feel right before the holiday when you just have an urge to go into a pretty little shop to browse for some small little perfect gift?

That's how I felt today, so while I didn't really have to, I went down to a garden nursery nearby where it's always fun to browse among the pointsettias and evergreen garlands, table centerpieces and trees of every size.

I ended up getting up a little bee house for my father, who's hard to shop for. The bee house hangs outside in the garden, and bees will lay their larvae in the cylindrical tubes, where they will eventually hatch and become the next generation of pollinators. I have one my sister gave me years ago and yes, they do indeed plug up the holes with their eggs.

I also stopped in at the local grocer and picked up coleslaw and a cold beet salad for my lunch on the 2 days I'm working this week: Monday and Tuesday.

I decided on impulse to make some yummy treats for the other people who have decided to work this week. (There won't be many.)

If you like chocolate, you MUST try this easy-as-can-be recipe for chocolate/nut/fruit clusters.

1 cup chocolate chips (I used dark, but you can whatever kind you prefer)

Melt the chips in a glass or microwave-safe bowl in microwave for 1 minute. Stir, then heat for another 45 seconds. Stir and make sure all the chips are melted.

Add to them a half cup of walnuts or pecans, chopped coarsely. (If you toast them beforehand, it really brings out the flavor.)

Also add a half cup of dried cranberries.

Stir well to combine, then drop onto a cookie sheet with a spoon. Refrigerate for 3o minutes until they harden.

That's it. They're delicious.

I debated making a swag for my front door using evergreen branches and some lovely cedar branches with the little blue berries. (I also have those pink beauty berries.)

I may not get to it, out of lack of motivation. Even though it's close to 60 degrees here today. At 3:20 pm, it already seems darkish.



I bought some very inexpensive picture frames to give as gifts to 2 friends at work. They were $2 each but look like they should be around $10 or $15. I also got a bag of assorted, individually wrapped Ghiardelli chocolates. While I'll eat the dark chocolate ones, I don't care for the milk chocolate/caramel ones, so I picked those out and put them in a pretty little drawstring bag for the garage parking lot attendant at work. I was wanting to get her something, but not wanting to spend a lot of money, so this worked out perfectly.

I planted the amaryllis bulb that I got as a gift from my boss. Love to watch how quickly these grow.

That's about it. Tomorrow I'll try to straighten out my overdone SEP IRA contribution and see if T. Rowe can correct it so I don't get in trouble.

I planned to make both a chocolate cheesecake and my famous three nut pie (similar to a pecan pie) for Xmas, but I just realized I only have one crust. I'll stop at Stop & Shop after work tomorrow, but don't know if I can find the crust I like there.

Holidy stuff

December 21st, 2013 at 08:37 pm

So I managed to get in a 40-hour work week this past week, but by Friday, the place was really quiet as half the people seem to have lots of PTO.

I got a few nice unexpected gifts from people, including an amaryllis bulb from my boss, an ornament filled with loose tea and a $5 Dunkin' Donuts gift card, as well as a bag of holiday chocolates.

At the office party Secret Santa, I got a $20 barnes & noble gift card...perfect.

Today I had a long list of errands to make and did most of them before the craziness of the traffic and other shoppers got to me. I washed off most of the road salt from my car.

I'm working Monday and Tuesday of next week (it will be dead) and then will have off til the following Monday.

There is an interesting workshop in town I'd like to do during the time I'm off from work....it's an introductory workshop on Chinese and Korean style brushwork. Just a $5 fee and you learn to paint four classic plants: bamboo, orchid, cherry blossom and chrysanthemum. Being held at the church on my street....how convenient is that?

I decided to make a chocolate cheese cake and three nut pie for Xmas dinner.

I was feeling kind of dizzy for a while so just lay in bed and read the paper. Got through the one-year anniversary of 12/14 okay. There are so many groups doing healing things in town. The arts workshop mentioned above is just one example.

This is why I hate big banks

December 21st, 2013 at 12:54 am

From American Banker magazine....

Mississippi AG Sues JPMorgan Chase Over Debt Collections

JPMorgan Chase (JPM) pressured customers to repay debts they did not owe, sold collections agencies rights to credit card accounts that had been extinguished in bankruptcy and tolerated frequent errors by its third-party collections attorneys, according to a lawsuit filed by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood on Tuesday.

The state's complaint is, despite significant redactions, the most detailed and potentially damning attack so far on JPMorgan Chase's credit card debt collections operation, which the bank has shut down.

JPMorgan Chase declined to comment on the Mississippi complaint through a spokesman.

The bank ceased filing suits to collect consumer debt in the spring of 2011, following a probe by the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency into the legitimacy of its collections lawsuits. That probe ended in September, when the OCC ordered the bank to repay customers and reform its collections department.

JPMorgan Chase disbanded the group tasked with suing to collect delinquent accounts entirely the following month, leaving the future of its debt collection operation unclear. Its decision to shutter the litigation group, an apparent acknowledgement that further collections suits could be fraught with legal and regulatory risk, may also suggest that the company was bracing for a wave of lawsuits from state attorneys general.

The Mississippi attorney general's complaint, filed in the Chancery Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, Miss., alleges "egregious" lapses at every stage of JPMorgan Chase's collections process — from violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to Microsoft Excel errors that compromised $600 million dollars in defaulted customer account records.

Bank executives were allegedly aware of many of the problems with the collections unit, where employees referred to one of JPMorgan Chase's outside legal providers as an "outhouse" firm. Nevertheless, the bank continued to churn out faulty lawsuits in the hope of obtaining uncontested judgments, the complaint says. Robo-signing of legal documents, sloppy legal work and reliance on inadequate recordkeeping persisted even after the bank was rebuked for similar errors in handling defaulted mortgages, it claims.

"Chase pursued Mississippi consumers for debt that they had paid or settled, did not owe, or had discharged in bankruptcy. Consumers' paychecks were garnished and their credit damaged, making it harder for them to refinance their homes, take out a car or student loans, or even get jobs," Hood said in a written statement. "We have tried for months to resolve our concerns cooperatively, but have been forced into litigation."

If accurate, the state's allegations threaten to escalate JPMorgan Chase's consumer debt collection woes, which have already resulted in a consent order with the OCC, a civil suit filed by California, and investigations by 14 states including Iowa and Massachusetts. Mississippi Attorney General Hood alleges that Chase sought to collect debts from customers who had already paid them and may have similarly mishandled car and student loans.


JPMorgan Chase's control failures date back as far as 2007 but increased as the debt collection operation struggled to keep up with the wave of credit card defaults during the recent recession, the Mississippi complaint says. The bank's consumer-debt recoveries grew more than tenfold during the previous decade, to $1.2 billion in credit-card recoveries in 2009 from $130 million in 2000, the complaint states.

To meet this frantic pace of recoveries, the bank allegedly set collections quotas for employees and fired those who failed to meet them. It used outmoded recordkeeping systems for customer accounts, and its different systems often suffered from discrepancies in basic customer information, the complaint says. These problems were worse with accounts JPMorgan Chase acquired from other financial institutions, including Washington Mutual, BankOne and the card issuer Providian.

For Chase, the main cost of its problems so far has been the substantial revenue it failed to collect during the OCC's two-year investigation. Attorney General Hood is seeking up to $10,000 from the bank for every violation of the Mississippi's Consumer Protection Act, plus compensation for the state's legal costs of pursuing the case. The complaint lists 18 types of alleged violations. Among them: quoting inaccurate debt figures to customers, failing to investigate credit-bureau disputes and selling compromised accounts to debt buyers who then initiated their own collections efforts.

By seeking to hold JPMorgan Chase responsible for misconduct by law firms and collections agencies it hired, the Mississippi lawsuit could serve as a warning to other banks that outsource collections to outside vendors.

The suit alleges widespread violations by Couch, Conville & Blitt, a New Orleans, La., law firm that the bank used for collections litigation beginning in 2009, and Mann Bracken LLP, a defunct law firm which the bank used for arbitration claims through mid-2009. The complaint also names NCO Financial Systems among the collections agencies whose misconduct JPMorgan Chase failed to check.

"Chase engaged these firms to handle official legal proceedings against its customers and let them engage in widespread deception, with no supervision and no repercussions," the complaint states.

Operating through the outside firms, JPMorgan Chase "filed complaints purely as a strategy to obtain default judgments," submitting claims backed by "no evidence whatsoever" in the hopes that borrowers would not respond and the bank would be awarded default judgments, the complaint claims. When borrowers fought the claims, Chase would typically abandon its efforts, it adds.

Couch, Conville & Blitt "failed to conduct any meaningful review of the alleged debt to verify the customer information" and "did not even review documents before they were filed in court," the Mississippi complaint states. Despite spending little effort on the suits, JPMorgan Chase and the law firm would then seek awards for "exorbitant" attorney's fees that ranged up to one-quarter of the total amounts demanded, it says.

Mann Bracken's recordkeeping problems were so widespread prior to its demise that JPMorgan Chase employees referred to the firm as "Mann Broken," the Mississippi lawsuit says. The law firm's customer-account data did not match Chase's about 15% of the time in 2009, it says.

These recordkeeping problems prompted a group of JPMorgan Chase employees to try to fire Mann Bracken in 2008, but top Chase executives blocked the efforts, the complaint states. The bank kept using Mann Bracken until mid-2009, just prior to its closure amid a Congressional investigation.

JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Jamie Dimon acknowledged vender-oversight problems in a letter to employees in September, writing that the management of third-party firms was an area where the company needed to improve.

SEP IRA contribution oops

December 21st, 2013 at 12:50 am

I just realized that a week or so ago I accidentally contributed more than I should have to my SEP IRA. You can contribute up to 20% of what you earned, and I contributed 25% ($1100 vs. $887). This is for my freelance work, what I've managed to do in 2013 when I'm not working my other job.

Do you think the IRS will catch this on my low income tax return, perhaps by some automated system? I'm wondering if i should go to the trouble of trying to undo it, or having to file some special form possibly to do so.

Ugh.

Tidying up the credit cards

December 17th, 2013 at 07:04 pm

So, okay, I've always opted to get snail mail credit card statements on all my credit cards even though I also get online notices which I pay online immediately. I liked to get the follow-up statements in the mail in case I lost power for an extended period of time or otherwise could not access my computer.

But with, I don't know, maybe 10 different cards at any given time, it gets complicated to pay online, and then check the paper statement again, just to make doubly sure I already paid it. I seem to be getting notices every other day, so I finally took the plunge and eliminated all of my paper statements. It SHOULD be okay, although I'm always a little paranoid about missing a payment.

I should really whittle down my cards more, but I DO get attached to some of them after a while, especially the "design-your-own" cards. And since I paid off my mortgage last year, my only installment debt, I wonder if having a heaping serving of credit cards, aka revolving debt, might partially compensate for the lack of installment debt.

Here's what I have right now:
USAA visa and Amex green cash card: The USAA card has no rewards program and the amex card has very minimal rewards, but I'm committed to keeping both of these (and charging on them once in a blue moon) because they are my oldest cards and hence benefit my credit score. I think it must be like 20 years or something. So they will stay.

All the other cards I've got were acquired in the past 2 years. These include Chase Freedom, Citi Forward, Discover It, Capital One Cash Rewards (benefits the World Wildlife Fund so I will keep this one), Capital One Platinum, Barclaycard Platinum MC, Capital One Platinum Visa (a different one!), and BankAmericard Cash Rewards. Any strong opinions which I hold and which I should fold?

I always feel kind of sheepish when I call in to cancel becus I'm sure they can see when I got the card and read between the lines....oh, another lady just trying to get the bonus. Hmph!

I'm working at home today due to the snow. Just 2 to 4 inches expected, but hey, they supply everyone with a laptop, including us contractors, so i guess that's what they're there for.

As a writer, I don't like using the laptop much though. It's very convenient in that you can set up whereever you want, but the screen is so tiny it doesn't lend itself to what i often do, placing 2 or more documents side by side and having multiple windows open.

So I have the laptop open but emailed some documents to my personal email so I could do the actual writing on my much larger personal monitor, and then when i was done, I just emailed them back to my work email address. Seemed to work pretty well.

I sent off my $404 payment for a Gold health insurance plan.

Tomorrow is my company Xmas party, at 3 pm. So as not to lose yet more work hours, I am working an extra half hour each of the remaining 4 days this week to account for the 2 hours (3-5 pm) of the party. My boss already told me not to bother coming in to work on the 2 days after Christmas, which was disappointing, cus again, so much time lost to holidays. Christmas week I'll only be able to log 16 hours. Not good for the pocketbook.

I did get a nice little gift from the agency that hired me for the bank job. I got a $25 movie theater gift card, plus $5 for concession snacks. I LOVE the movies but rarely go, but already invited a movie-loving friend to see something right after Xmas, now that I have the time off. (Compare that gift to what I got from an agency around the holidays in 2010...a small (not even full size) box of 4 chocolate truffles.)

I'm still waiting for the We the Savers website to post my blog, and of course, to receive payment for winning their monthly essay contest. Also expecting payment any day now from my #1 freelance client....they owe me about $600.

I've decided (with input from Dido) to sell $6500 worth of taxable mutual funds this month (right after they declare distributions) to fund my 2014 traditional IRA contribution.

By selling those taxable mutual funds this year, that $6500 will be reported as 2013 income on my tax return, and I want to keep my 2014 income as low as possible to ensure I don't exceed about $46,000, the cut-off amount at which you don't qualify for a subsidy if you're getting onto an Obamacare healthplan. It's going to mean a pretty big tax bill for me in 2013, as earlier this year I already cashed out about $26,000 from the same one taxable fund, partially to pay for my new car.

I am feeling pretty broke right now cus I just sent off that $404 for my first month on my new health plan, then my $3,000 of property taxes must be paid in about a week. After that, I can finally start SAVING, not spending. Of course, I'll have to think about refilling the heating oil tank sometime in January. That's usually good for $500+. Sigh.

Working on charging up the Discover card with $750 of purchases, but so far I've done just $15 as I'm done with all my Christmas shopping and don't really need anything just yet. No worries, still 2 more months to go.

The really good news is, the issuer of my new health insurance, which happens to be a new non-profit issuer on the CT healthcare exchange, said they will begin letting you charge your premiums in mid-January!! As long as there's no fee for doing so, that would be awesome for all my credit card charging schemes. Assuming I have some offer I'm working on at the time. Otherwise, it would be just more or less normal points of 3% or whatever.

My Countdown to Retirement Savings Plan

December 14th, 2013 at 03:45 pm

I spent a few hours yesterday playing with one of those retirement calculators which tells you how long your savings will last. If you tinker with any one of the variables, like years in retirement, age upon retirement and your income needs for each year, of course, all the numbers will change.

I'm determined to retire early, in 6 or 7 years time, and I need my savings to last until age 95, by which time, I'll promptly keel over. (Just kidding, but we should all find some humor in retirement planning, right?)

Oh, when I say "retire," I mean I want to retire from full-time work, but I'm quite sure I'll want to work part-time, and/or continue my freelance work, for some time. I'm not even bothering to factor that in.

I also figure that about $48,000 in annual retirement income sounds about right. It should leave room for some travel and various comforts without being so much that I can never reach my goal, yet it's not so low that I'd have to skimp or pay much attention to budgeting in retirement (although it's sort of a hobby of mine anyway).

That figure of $48,000 also includes Social Security benefits and assumes I'd start collecting at 62, which IS NOT something I plan to do, but there are a few things like this you can't adjust in the calculator. (I actually plan to hold off collecting SS benefits for as long as possible, up to my full retirement age of 66, since each year you defer your benefit amount increases by 8%.)

So I determined that in order to have $48,000 a year in retirement starting in 6 or 7 years time, and assuming a rather conservative investment growth rate of 6.5% pre-retirement and 5% in retirement, I calculate I need to save a total of $908,278. (As you can see from my sidebar, I'm already up to about $585,000.)

By tinkering with the calculator, I determined that I can do this in the 6 or 7 years before my planned retirement by saving $800 a month, every month from now til then. (I'm not even factoring in the growth of my existing investments, just to play it safe...course, I'm not factoring in any lossss, either.)

It's actually pretty easy to do this working the bank job I have now. Remember, I don't have a mortgage anymore. The job pays about $72K, which is not the most I've ever made, but it's not bad money, either.

So for at least the first 7 months in 2014, I feel confident I can contribute $800, or actually more, to stick to this plan. If the contract job ends in July as it is now scheduled to do, then I will have to revise my savings plan, but I am really sort of hoping I will either get a perm offer or figure something else out.

So for now, instead of just settling for $800 a month contributions, I have already figured I can actually contribute as much as $2,000 toward savings a month. That is 2.5 times more, so I figure it is the equivalent of paying $800 for 17.5 months, not 7, so that is like making contributions into June 2015. Hopefully by that time I will have found other work if need be.

I always make mistakes when it comes to math (!) but I THINK all those calculations are correct. Smile Maybe a good reason not to consider doing other people's tax returns, Dido, but I love the idea!

5-Year Growth in Net Worth

December 14th, 2013 at 03:14 pm

This is the time of year I love, when I get to fiddle around with my income and expenditures for the past year and see how I did.

While I haven't gotten to my micro spending analysis yet, I did create a new chart tracking the growth in my net worth for the 5-year period from January 2009 through January 2014 (I'm actually using my Dec. 1 2013 figure for now to represent January 2014.)

Sorry I can't show you the chart, which I made using Word. It's very interesting to read but can't seem to transfer it here intact.

But here are my net worth figures for each year:

Jan 2009: $315,226
Jan 2010: $434,872
Jan 2011: $486,302
Jan 2012: $461,436
Jan 2013: $519,228
Jan 2014: $582,124

Assuming the December figure I used doesn't change much between now and Dec. 31, I will have increased my net worth by 84% in 5 years. This amazes me.

I started this analysis in 2009 because September 2009 was when I lost my job, and I wanted to see how badly I was hurt by both a substantial loss of income as well as the nosediving stock market. Remember, during this entire period, I was not contributing to long-term savings at all.

In fact, I withdrew from savings at a few key junctures in the past 5 years. All for good reasons, I think, but these all worked to reduce my nest egg and presumably slow its growth:

2009: Sunroom/garage windows: $6,176
2011: Vinyl siding: $14,000, Mortgage prepayment: $17,000.
2013: Sewer loan payoff: $2900, New car, $20,000, new roof: $5800

So in addition to all my normal bills, I also withdrew from savings a whopping $65,876 in big, non-recurring expenses for either home improvements or loan prepayments.

This excites me. It's spurred me to put in writing a new savings plan, fueled largely by optimism while working a full-time 10-month contract job. More to come on that in a bit....


Guess What? I won a contest!

December 12th, 2013 at 11:04 pm

Hey, guess what? I won a contest!

Maybe a month ago I came across a personal finance site I hadn't seen before....wethesavers.com. It's a website created by Capital One credit cards. They feature a monthly essay contest with a different finance-related question each month.

The question for the month of November was, when do you plan to retire (at what age) and how will you get there?

So I wrote something up....nothing really new to you guys since I post about my post-2009 circumstances all the time.... but I won the November contest! I get $100 and my post will be published on their site. I just had to fill out a bunch of paperwork giving them permission to do so. It'll be first name only and I prefer no picture, which I think is ok since I've seen earlier winners do it the same way.

It's funny, because I was just thinking about that contest yesterday, and in fact I went to the site to see if they had announced a winner yet, and I saw they hadn't.

I love earning money!

Family, friends, credit cards and such

December 12th, 2013 at 09:07 pm

I'm working from home today. Bliss.

Did I tell you I'm all done with my Christmas shopping? Ahh, relief.

Spoke to my good friend R. His dad is now receiving hospice care. Ninety-six-years-old and dropping weight, now down to 107 lbs i believe. He's also dealing with his own prostate cancer and new lower left jaw pain they picked up on the scan. Not good. It could be either cancer, an imminent heart attack or maybe just plain old TMJ, although that's not confined to one side.

My mother's all messed up with her computer and email again. This happens on a weekly basis and then she calls me to fix it magically, to troubleshoot over the phone with her.

My sister's announced she's doing Christmas dinner for the first time in at least 10 years, and not only that, she's inviting both my mother and my father. I have no living memory of ever sharing a meal with both parents at the same time, as they divorced when I was six. This should be interesting. She said she was tired of always having to decide how (and with whom) she was going to spend Christmas. The last time my parents met was at my mother's mother's wake, I believe. They'll get along, I'm sure, but it will still be weird.

Got my new Discover card ($150 bonus waiting in the wings) and am ready to start charging everything exclusively to the card to hit the spend goal ($750) asap.

My total credit card rewards for 2013 was $1400. Not bad, huh? Hard to believe, but I recorded only $371 in credit card rewards income in 2012. I thought I'd done much more.

A new credit card booster site

December 10th, 2013 at 12:00 am

For those of you who love to pursue rewards for new credit cards, you should love this site: www.rewardboost.com.

I've posted about it before.... It's a neat little site where you can open an account and then enter the names of all the credit cards you currently own. Then you can enter in the approximate amount of money you spend monthly on different categories of expenses, and the site will tell you which of your many credit cards offer the highest % points for any given expense category.

Yeah, you could figure this out by looking it up on the card website, but if you collect cards like I do, a site like this is really helpful in fine-tuning your credit charges so as to maximize your points.

They also have a nice little blog that summarizes the pros and cons of various rewards credit cards. I've opened (and closed) so many in the last few years, it's tough to find one I don't know about. One blog post contained some helpful advice about how to meet the upfront spending target if you're having trouble doing so, and the advice will probably be familiar to some of you, like buying gift cards for things you know you'll spend on eventually, or charging your car insurance and what not. I added another idea I had used: getting close friends to let me charge and pay for everything when we got together, and then having them reimburse me in cash....this evolved into letting me charge for larger purchases they planned to make, just to wrack up the charges on the card. With a very close friend you trust, or family, this is not too difficult.

I got my $108 bonus from Bank of America World Wildlife Fund card as well as my new Discover card, which offers a $150 bonus. It also provides your credit score....789 at Equifax. Here we spend again!

Missed the Christmas party

December 9th, 2013 at 03:57 pm

The season's first real weather event (a combination of overnight and early morning ice and freezing rain), has caused me to miss out on the holiday party I'd planned on going to today.

We were to head up to Boston today and then come back tonight. The other three women who I was driving with are all still going, as far as I know. I spoke to the one who's driving and told her I didn't feel comfortable going. I could clearly see a layer of ice on my lower roof, walkway and drive. Of course they treat the roads but temps were still 29 in my area at 6:30 am, which is when I was supposed to leave to meet them at 8 am. The rest of them live on the shoreline, where temps are higher.

It would have been an hour driving to meet the others at a designated spot, then another 2 hours drive together. An already long day I'm sure would have been really long.

I colored my hair last night and laid out the clothes I thought I'd be wearing, got up at 5:30 am, had wrapped my Secret Santa gift, etc.

I called my manager this a.m. to let her know I wouldn't be there and she said she was sure I wouldn't be the only one bowing out. She had arrived sometime over the weekend, and she said what is normally a half hour drive from where she's staying just outside of Boston turned into 2 hours. So I think I made the right choice, although with slowly rising temps, the ice should melt by noon today.

I had been looking forward to meeting many of the people I work with (on the phone) in person for the first time since I started in October, but guess that's not going to happen now. Perhaps at some later date. I'm a little disappointed, as we were having a holiday brunch, gift exchange and volunteer gig, but at the same time I'm relieved not to have to deal with the long drive back and forth, especially with possible black ice.

Unfortunately, although i have my work laptop with me at home, I have nothing to do, so I'm going to have to call this a non-workday, just at a time when I'm trying to start building up savings (now that I've gotten the new roof on).

I've also had to ask manager if i can work from home Thursday since i have an important doc appt middle of the day and sure don't want to lose any more work time.

Oh well.

I saw another really good documentary yesterday on free Hulu called Milk? I think it's a play on the famous milk ad, Got Milk? If you want to know what goes into a purportedly healthy beverage that many people drink every day, you might want to watch it. Filmed in 2012, so it's pretty new.

Trying to shift gears here to make my unexpected Monday at home productive. I'm thinking I may venture out around noon. Today's the perfect opportunity to hand deliver a small food gift I got for the insurance agent who was so helpful in getting me signed up for an obamacare health plan.

There will be no other time to deliver it since his office closes before i get home from work, and i didn't want to waste money mailing it via the post office when it's just a mile down the road from me. So I can do that today, and also pick up a few food items, including bread so I can make some sandwiches for this week's lunches.

I'm pretty much done with my Christmas shopping, and everything else is also wrapped. I started decorating the house, but since I now know I won't be hosting the holiday dinner (sis is) it seems a little less necessary. Sometimes I don't really get into the spirit of it all until right before the day, and at that point, it's like, why bother when you'll have to out all the stuff away again.

Ever more credit card bonuses and my roof

December 7th, 2013 at 02:03 pm

OK, before I forget (and since I tried at least 3 times to mention this but the SA system here kept deleting my posts).....most of you probably have heard of No Impact Man, right? The New York City guy who, with his family, lived for a year without contributing to environmental damage, which meant no electricity, buying only locally grown food, not using the elevator in his high rise, etc.

I came across the No Impact Man documentary on free Hulu last week and I must say it was pretty interesting, though I already knew the story. Your first reaction may be, well, i already know I can't do without toilet paper, so I won't try..... Yet it's interesting to see someone push the boundaries of what's possible, and I think it's an important thing, whether your priority is frugality for its own sake or protecting the environment.

Next up...
My roof is done. Looks pretty good. Roofer coming here in a half hour to do a walk-around with me and collect his check. He finished on Tuesday, but seeing as how I have no time in the a.m. to really check it out thoroughly and it's pitch black when I get home, the final inspection had to wait til today.

I did go up in the attic with some flashlights after some rain we had to make sure there are no leaks. I didn't see any. I did do a quick walk-around earlier, and told the roofer I wasn't happy to see a number of black smudges on my 2-year-old vinyl siding, caused by roofers carelessly dropping the old asphalt shingles straight off the roof. He told me they'd be using tarps to protect landscaping, but I know they didn't do that....the crew had already arrived on the a.m. of the 2nd day when I was still here. As I walked out the front door, a roofer let drop a big loose roll of tar paper, and it fell straight down just a few feet from where I stood. He saw me looking up at him as I was getting into my car, and i think that was the only reason he made an effort to throw something else he had in his hand away from the house. But judging from the smudges on the vinyl siding and all the grit on the window sills, they weren't doing that regularly, if at all.

When i brought this to his attention, he said oh, but we haven't finished the clean-up process yet. We always go around and do the "fine clean-up" Uh huh. Maybe, but maybe he was just saying that to cover himself. One of my two front entry columns also got scratched up, though truth be told it was peeling paint anyway and will need to be repainted regardless.

I asked him to remove those smudges because I shouldn't have to hire a power washer to get it off, and I sure don't feel like climbing on ladders. That's already been done, although I haven't looked at it since.

So no real damage I don't think. The roof looks very good with sort of a three-dimensional shingle. He did take some pix of the progress also so I could see how the underlying sheathing looked, etc. So I guess I'm glad I got it done. It will be good when I sell the house.

He said while I will still get ice dams, the water should not get inside the wall like it did last winter. I sure hope he's right. He replaced the snow and ice shield that extended 3 feet up from the eaves with a barrier that extends 6 feet up from the eaves, plus he added that same barrier all along the gable sides of the roof and i think also around the chimney. He'll walk me through what they did when he gets here.

Contrary to what another roofer told me in 2011, a guy i thought seemed very trustworthy, honest and straight-talking, the sheathing underneath was in very good condition except for 2 small spots of rot which they replaced. The other roofer in 2011 had said oh yeah, that sheathing underneath is so old and soft, I'm not sure it would hold a nail. So your new roof will cost $8,000. (I got it done for $5800.)

You can't trust ANYONE! How they present themselves, their mannerisms, friendliness, etc means nothing as far as judging their honesty!!!!

And, that first roofer was recommended to me by a friend. So a referral from someone you know means absolutely nothing. They are all one and the same...out to make as much money as they can.

On Monday I'm headed to Boston with three co-workers for a Christmas party with the rest of our team up there. One woman has rented an SUV and we're all supposed to meet at a certain commuter parking lot. It's going to be a very long day, with a three hour drive to get there and 3 hours back. The day will consist of the secret Santa gift exchange, a brunch and then a mandatory volunteer gig at a homeless shelter where we're more or less required to wear my employer's logoed t-shirt.

I don't mind doing volunteer work, and have done so on my own in the past, but I dislike it being something I "have" to do as part of my job. I also feel we could have much more easily met our co-workers at a location mid-way between Boston and CT, ie, Rhode Island. It would have cut our drive in half, from 6 hours to probably 3.

We may have freezing rain Monday morning, so it's possible the trip will be cancelled. I brought my laptop home with me just in case. Smile

Today I'm getting a haircut and then going over to my mother's to help her place some Amazon Xmas orders. I think my mother may have dementia because little things like this that she used to be able to do, get her all messed up.

I have a ton of stuff to do this weekend, mostly holiday related. Last night I was able to squeeze in 2 hours of freelance work developing some value propositions for a company. $100 earned for some Friday night work, not bad.

Just when I thought I was through with all the good credit card deals (I just redeemed a $100 bonus from a Capital One World Wildlife Fund card), I saw an offer on My Money Blog for a $150 bonus from the Discover card. I used to have a Discover card but canceled it maybe a year ago. Even though I had just cancelled my Chase Sapphire card (just too many cards, i don't need that one) and knew my credit score would temporarily dip slightly as a result, I immediately applied for the Discover card and was approved, so should see that in the mail next week. This is the card that provides you with your credit score for free on your statements, so that will be nice.

Sunday doings

December 1st, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Accomplished the following:

1. Vacuumed the upstairs (badly needed, with all that cat hair)
2. Went for a walk
3. Made a lentil/tomato soup for lunch and put the rest into containers so I have 2 days worth of lunch, at any rate
4. Made a double batch of granola, which I plan to bring in to feed a group of 12 on Thursday. (I'll also be bringing OJ, bagels with cream cheese, muffins, plain yogurt to go with the granola and fresh fruit.) In return, I'll get a free breakfast once a week for another 3 months before it's my turn to do it again.
5. It was a pretty mild, albeit cloudy day, so I swept up some leaves to get them off the driveway, raked some pine needles off the lawn and erected some winter fencing around two viburnums so the deer don't destroy them. I already saw damage to one, around the trunk, but oh well. I have one that's unprotected but I've run out of fencing and don't plan to buy more. I also swept the garage of leaves that had blown in there and planted a cedar seedling that had already lived one winter in a pot, so figured it was time to plant. Also watered it, now it's on its own.
6. Two loads of laundry.
7. Made 4 blueberry cheese rolls, using those refrigerated crescent rolls, but there's a brand called Immaculate that doesn't contain hydrogenated oils. Very easy, filled with cream cheese and frozen wild blueberries. Will serve as my breakfast the next few days, just for a switch.

Now that lawn mowing season is over, i was sort of thinking how nice it would be to get the Sunday New York Times in the a.m. and just luxuriate with it all day indoors. I pretty much ran out of time to do that but perhaps in the near future. It's been years since I've read the Sunday Times and I used to enjoy it.

The only thing I didn't get done was the priming and painting of the back upstairs closet wall. I hope I can muster up the enthusiasm next weekend or all my folded up sheets and such are going to start getting dusty.