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Archive for May, 2014

$100 cash bonus card

May 31st, 2014 at 05:35 am

Today I completed my $500 credit card spend with the BankAmericard cash rewards card. I did it in the first month of having gotten the card, so when I get my bill in another few days, I should be able to collect the $100 bonus pronto. I love these offers.

I see from My Money Blog that Chase Freedom is offering a $200 bonus after just $500 in spending. I may call and see if I can do the offer after having done it once before and then cancelling the card. I hear this can be done.

Take back our site

May 31st, 2014 at 04:34 am

Let's talk finances and not let spammers make the site useless.

Please help get rid of the spam

May 31st, 2014 at 04:12 am

A note to legitimate bloggers here: please post an entry...on any little thing...to push out the spam entries.

Vital statistics for the month of May

May 30th, 2014 at 05:15 pm

I'm happy to report the following vital stats for the month of May:

My total expenses: $1451
My total income: $5529

It was a five-week work month, so my net from my bank job was $4,900. I also made $174 in mileage reimbursement for a meeting in Massachusetts that cost me roughly $35 in gas, $32 in credit card rewards, $202 from freelance writing and $206 from selling plants from my garden.

Net monthly savings: $4,078
I've saved $13,500 for the year!

(I had to adjust this figure downward from $15,000 because the accounts i use to hold my taxable retirement savings are also a parking place for my property tax payments and so i forgot to deduct the $550 I put aside each month for my twice-a-year property tax payments.)

My net worth is now $630,667 and I've already exceeded my net worth goal of $623K for year end. (See sidebar for details.)

Not a bad month all the way around.

Taking over my mother's bills...someday you may have to do this too

May 25th, 2014 at 03:59 am

I am making tiny progress in my attempt to take over managing my mother's finances.

My mother is 80, and she is having a great deal of problems making sense of her bills and keeping on top of them. She has been basically driving me crazy with frequent phone calls asking me to troubleshoot individual issues, and of course without having the bill in front of me to look at, it's practically impossible to figure out what is wrong.

I have offered several times to manage ALL her bills if she would put my name on her checking account, making it a joint checking account. She was very reluctant to do that, but yet she kept calling me for help in figuring things out.

Finally, last week, she agreed to let me do it because it's just beyond her and it causes her a great deal of stress. She always complains about her "paperwork" and "catching up."

So we agreed I would go over there this weekend to set things up. I created a simple spreadsheet with all her individual bills and months left in this year, to show her how I'd fill in the amount of each expense. Once we went the bank to turn her account into a joint account, and got myself a set of checks with both our names, I would then contact each utility company, her car and homeowner's insurance providers, etc. etc. to ask them to start sending her bills to my address. I would also create online accounts to pay everything that way, and an online account to monitor her checking account as I would need to know when her Social Security deposits were made, and in what amount, so I can make sure to balance her checkbook, which has been another extremely trying thing for my mother.

I was over there yesterday and it was as if we never had the earlier conversation. (I suspect my mother has dementia.) There was another protracted conversation about it. The frustration nearly drove me to tears. She trusts me to manage her bills, but what was keeping her from agreeing is embarrassment that people that "know her" at the bank or elsewhere would think she has dementia (a word I have never used with her in conversation). She also did not want me to pay her common charges for the same reason and felt that people would look at her funny if they knew her daughter was paying her bills.

I finally got her to agree to my plan but by the time we got to that point, it was noon. I called the bank, which was about to close, and asked what was required to turn my mother's account into a joint checking account. She said you just need to come with your mother to sign the signature card, and bring your power of attorney paperwork with you. So, because I don't want to lose pay by taking time off from work, we'll have to wait til next Saturday morning to do that.

Once that is done (and I sure hope my mother will remember why we're there next week) then I can start the other part of the process, contacting billing companies to mail me the bills, and setting up the online accounts.

There are 2 bills I'm concerned about that I actually left for her to handle because they are current bills and I knew I wouldn't be able to start paying her bills for probably a few weeks.

One is her electric bill, where she owes as I recall around $1,000. The problem i think is that she's on a budget plan where they bill you a fixed (same) amount every month, but it obscures the true cost of the electricity you're using. We had a very cold winter here and my mother had her electric heat up to her usual 72 or so degrees, not realizing how much she was running up.

The other big bills include 3 bills from private ambulance companies from when she called 911 to go to the hospital. She's done this multiple times before because she has atrial fibrillation and she panics when her heart starts fluttering. For some reason, now she's getting these big bills, and I'm worrying that I should have taken down info on them so I could call to inquire about them on her behalf, but i honestly was feeling so overwhelmed and emotionally drained from just having to convince my mother I need to step in, etc., that I instructed her to just pay the current bills.

She said they had greatly reduced the amount owed of one of those ambulance bills and i think she is expected that to happen with the others, although she hasn't spoken to them and doesn't know why she's gotten these bills. I may have to intervene. I have such limited time.

And of course there's her checking account, where her balance differs from the bank's by about $2,000, she said, although the difference is in her favor. Still, it should be balanced, and I'm looking at her checkbook and seeing a zillion different notations and notes of her. It could be impossible to "balance" and maybe not worth the aggravation. But if I decide to just go with the balance the bank says it has, then she's going to want an explanation as to WHY or where did she make a mistake or whatever.

I did 2 other things while I was at my mother's: I started helping sort through her "paperwork," which includes several large piles on the floor around her desk. In the past when I've tried to throw things out,she protests and says she wants to read that but hasn't had the time. Well, half this "paperwork" was junk mail or articles on nutrition or other matters she has an interest in. I threw a lot of it away, knowing that she likely will never get around to reading it.

The other thing I did, and you may disapprove of my tactics, is I saw my mother's password written down on a sticky on her monitor, and I wrote it down.

When I got home, I was able to log in and delete over a hundred junky emails in her inbox. These emails tend to paralyze her. Many of them were spam emails that resulted after she went online and clicked on a political ad. She's an Obama supporter, and so she gets dozen's of these emails every week asking for money to support the campaign.

I had to laugh because when she got these personalized emails from the President or Michelle Obama, she really believed they were coming from them personally, and she wrote them rather lengthy letters as if they were really being read by someone, explaining that she was a self-employed artist and couldn't afford more than a $5 donation.

I unsubscribed her from as many of these as I could. I hope I did not overdo it, but I do feel that minimizing her junk mail and clearing through some of the piles at her desk will help lower her level of stress and anxiety.

My level of stress and anxiety is another matter. I had all sorts of errands planned for after I left my mother's, but I felt so drained, i really had to push myself to do a few of them. Eventually, I hope that managing my mother's bills will be more or less routine, but right now, it's been like pulling teeth even to get this far, and really, I have yet to set anything up.

I do have an older sister but she doesn't want to be "involved" with dealing with my mother so it basically falls into my lap. My sister's way of dealing with my mother is to avoid contact as much as possible.

I recently purchased a book on Amazon written by a longtime cartoonist for the New Yorker. The book is filled with cartoons that delve into the author's own experiences caring for her aging parents before they died. One of them had Alzheimer's. As a cartoonist, she was able to to inject some humor into all these trying situations, and I really got some chuckles out of some of them already, which I can relate to.

I think the title of the book is something her parents would always say (like my mother) whenever she brought up certain topics: "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?"

Thank god, my father does not have any mental issues. While my parents have been divorced since I was 6, I have talked to my father a few times about my concerns about my mother, because since my sister is not helpful, my dad is really the only person I can talk to who truly understands the situation and can offer advice. I think I will call him today to see if he has any suggestions.

This was NEVER something that was on my radar, but I think caring for my mother as she ages is going to be a huge part of my life moving forward. It's scary. It's practically a full-time job. Not having had kids, I haven't ever experienced really taking care of another human being; i was always just responsible for myself, and I've been fully independent of anyone else, financially and otherwise, since I was 21.

There are many things I still want to do with my life, namely, travel. I am determined to still be able to do things like this but my mother's slowly increasing dependence on me is definitely a complicating factor.

Another challenge to deal with down the nearby road is getting her to start paying for occasional housekeepers. I have done the vacuuming and dusting in the past, but working f/t, i can't do this anymore. Right in her complex is a woman who cleans houses, and I urged her to start with her first because she knows her, and to find out what she charges. But that hasn't happened. Getting my mother to do things is very difficult. I have my hands full right now.

Once I get her bills in order, I may just call someone, but I also worry about having a stranger in the place alone with my mother and I might feel the need to be there while she cleans.

I worry about theft, mainly. Yesterday I returned to my mother a nice bracelet she'd been wearing Mother's day and which slipped off her wrist onto my car seat. She hadn't realized it was missing. That's the kind of thing i worry about should strangers come in the house and wander through the rooms without her constant supervision. It would be too easy to take something.

In other news...
The Las Vegas author paid me the final balance ($145) she owed me for editing her manuscript.

And the other author finally got a job! She's very excited becus it pays $20/hr and she said she'll finally be able to give me 2 more books to start editing by end of June. Of course, she's changed the start date more times than I can count, but it would be nice to have a new project to work on.

In addition to that, looks like I'll have something else "big" to edit for another client who is an IT director at a private Jewish school in New York City. He's written a new software program that he wants to launch. I've been editing his work emails for several years now and he really likes my editing, but often times i have difficulty understanding what he's trying to say and the subject matter is not something I know much about. Guess we'll see how it goes. He has trouble organizing his thoughts; that's why I edit his work emails...he said he's mailing me a document his lawyer drew up and wants me to sign so I'll have to review it carefully as i don't plan to hire a lawyer myself. I expect it's mainly aimed at keeping me from talking about his new software program.

A little thing that has me so excited

May 21st, 2014 at 04:07 pm

Okay, probably a lot of you cannot relate to the fact that I've had to give myself a daily self-injection for every day since Jan. 1,2000. That's 14 YEARS, for my MS.

I just got off the phone from ordering my first delivery of the same medication, but they recently came out with a new form of the med with a higher dose but you only have to inject three times a week.

I am so excited. I am really looking forward to giving my body a break from all the injections. They often leave a lump that takes a very long time to go away. You're not supposed to inject in the same spot twice.

Anyway, this is one of those little things that is going to make my life much better. What's more, the co-pay for this with Aetna, my new insurer, will be ZERO. Nada. Nothing.

I was concerned that switching from my regular med to the new 3-day-a-week regimen might cost something, but with the pharmaceutical company's patient assistance program, the $450 I'd normally pay in the co-pay for a 3-month supply is $0. Phew.

I'm now into my nearly 8th month at this contract bank job. I am so grateful for everything this job has done for me. It's not just relieved my money pressures, but since becoming eligible (after 6 months) to enroll in the recruiter agency's health plan, it's saving me several hundred dollars a month on premium costs and now even my MS med copay is nothing.

I am so appreciative and feel like I've been down to the bottom of the well in recent years and now I'm back up and doing well. If I can just hold onto this bank job beyond the original term (September 2, 2014). All the other contractors I know are having their terms renewed repeatedly, but for just 3 months at a time.

My plant sales

May 19th, 2014 at 05:32 pm

One more woman came by after work tonight to buy some plants, pushing the total I made from selling the extras that seem to proliferate here to over $200.

Not sure if I'll keep posting my ad on our Patch site here or Craig's list as having to hang around the house can get in the way of other things I like to do.

We'll see. It's hard to resist making a few extra dollars on the side. Smile

Yesterday I wrapped up editing a 200-page manuscript, and the woman's initial impression was very positive. She said she'd be mailing off the $145 balance tomorrow. Smile And she's already into her 2nd book, 2o pages into it and wants me to edit that. She seems similar in that regard to The Author, except that this person seems to have the funds needed to pay me, whereas The Author is still broke.

Another weekend, flown by

May 18th, 2014 at 04:08 pm

I got so much done.

1. Planted onions, spinach, peas, marigolds and sunflowers.

2. Mowed the front and back lawns.

3. My friend Dave came over. He helped me install a brand new Andersen door handle on my front storm door. The old one was over 20 years old and totally crappy looking...this one looks great!

4. Although he tried to pay anyway, i treated him to lunch at the local Chinese place, as a thank you.

5. I FINISHED editing the life coach's manuscript....finally. It seemed like it was taking forever. 200 pages edited, now she owes me a balance of $140.

I had 3 more people come over to buy perennials I dug up from an old garden and made another $61. Total made from selling plants in my yard this weekend and last is $181. Not bad!

6. I picked up a few groceries and went to the landfill.

7. I also vacuumed the whole house. It really needed it.

I feel so happy to have gotten the garden planted (although there's more I still have to dig up) AND also to have that door handle installed. I bought the new one a YEAR ago and it's been sitting on my kitchen counter all that time.

Heavy, drenching late night rains

May 16th, 2014 at 08:36 pm

It was wet all day and now the heaviest rains are here. It's raining so hard that even though I went to bed a little after 10 am, I now can't sleep as the rain pelts the windows. It's about 11:30 p.m.

So glad the end of the work week is here again.It was another long week. I had to drive up to Dedham, Mass. on Wednesday for a meeting, then drive back home again same day, about 5 hours of driving in all. So that was very tiring.

This weekend I'm getting together with a former biking friend. We'll probably go to lunch and maybe do something else. I seriously need some me time. Also on Sunday I have more people (3) coming over to buy perennials from me. As mentioned earlier, I made $120 from selling perennials I dug up from my garden. The 3 that are coming Sunday are very conveniently all expressing an interest in different things, so maybe I can sell the bulk of what I have to them all. One wants gooseberry and lamb's ears, the other wants astilbe and solomon's seal and the other wants hosta and spreading groundcovers.

One of my two old real estate clients contacted me tonight, wanting to know if I still wasn't able to freelance for them becus I'm busy with the bank job. I hadn't told him that a big part of the reason why i don't want to work for them anymore is because by the time all the taxes are deducted, i really don't wind up with much. But I can't tell him that since there's nothing he can do about it unless he's willing to accept higher fees from me, but i don't think they'd want to pay as much as I want to make!

Certainly now, working f/t at the bank, and doing other freelance on the side, I don't need to work any more. I really have to consciously carve out time on my weekends to do fun stuff, otherwise, i allow myself to get all bogged down in the usual chores and before you know it, weekend's done.

Amex data breach & the office soap opera

May 10th, 2014 at 04:52 am

Yesterday I received a letter in the mail informing me that my personal information was "recovered" during an investigation by law enforcement and Amex.

What does this mean, in bank-speak? That my card information was hacked and stolen by ID thieves.

I had to laugh, because these are exactly the kinds of customer communications letters I write in my new(ish) bank job.

But I was surprised that Amex not only didn't offer to issue me a new card with a new account number, but they didn't even offer credit monitoring services, which is pretty routine these days.

They did supply with the letter a laundry list of things I could do myself, like check my credit report, "be vigilant," yadda yadda yadda.

I called them up to request a new card and account number, and they agreed. They also said they'd transfer over all my points and credit card history so that my credit wouldn't suffer by closing out one of my oldest credit cards. But I had to ask for all this specifically; it wasn't proactively offered.

Since I had them on the phone, I did ask about the new propel card and would I be eligible to earn those rewards if i already had another amex card, since they denied me rewards once before based on that fact. I don't think the rep understood my question and i didn't want to get into it at the office, so i let it go as I'm not quite ready to go for that card. I'd like to wait til later in the year when my car and homeowner's insurance are due, as that's an easy $1,000 of spending right there.

But I would urge anyone who already has an AMEX card to double-check with them first before going for their new card to avoid being severely disappointed when they don't give you the up front bonus!

In other news, yesterday's payday was the first of 2 monthly deductions for health insurance. At $87 per deduction, or $175 a month, I will realize a monthly savings of $229 (compared to what i was paying with my Obamacare plan) without doing a thing. Love it. I've arrived at Reasonable Cost Land and don't ever want to return to Downward Unemployed Spiral of Escalating Costs.

In my last post, I happily reported having made an easy $100 from selling perennials growing in my yard as I work to return a very large but unkempt/overgrown bed to lawn. I decided to repost the Craig's List ad for these plants because I still have quite a few things left that I could either make some decent money on or throw in the compost heap. So there are 2 more people who have expressed interest (and 2 still who expressed interest earlier) but it's doubtful it will happen this weekend since today it's raining and tomorrow is Mother's Day. I would squeeze someone in if they wanted to come, but don't think it will happen.

Next week I have another trip to Boston area for another daylong meeting. I can look forward to 5 hours of drive time round trip. They're all meeting for drinks afterwards, and i feel some subtle pressure to at least pop my head in there, but considering i don't like to drink and certainly don't want to drink before facing a 2.5 hour ride home, I don't plan to go to that at all. I'd just as soon get on the road as soon as the meeting ends.

However, a while back i asked my boss if there was any way they could move back the start time of the meeting to better accommodate those of us who were driving in from out of state. My friend said they'd never do it and didn't really care whether it was a hardship to get up at 5 to get up there in time and then drive back home, making it a very long day. Lo and behold, they did move back the start time to 11 a.m., so i can leave around 8 am, which seems almost civil. I'm allowing an extra half hour for traffic, which may not be enough, but that's all i'm allowing.

Otherwise, work is fine though there is plenty of drama with one of the women, B., who sits next to me. She seems to be a Teflon contract worker who has ingratiated herself with our boss and thus seems to be impervious to anything bad happening even though she goofs off for the majority of her day, has gotten away with not showing up at the office numerous times, even missing a conference call because she was busy making vacation plans for Labor Day weekend. She has ZERO work ethic. Everyone seems to be aware of what's going on except our boss.

Then, finally, another woman, M, who sits in my area, complained that this woman's frequent emotional breakdowns were too distracting to deal with and asked to be moved to another location. Although B. was spoken to by our boss, she now simply spends more time texting rather than talking on the phone because she knows someone complained. But now she's hell bent on finding out who complained to the boss about her.

She IM'd me and asked me point blank and I told her no, it wasn't me, although I've known all along it was M. who complained, and I was fully prepared to support what M. said should our manager ask me, but she never did. You would think the boss would want to get to the bottom of it. M. and I are the only two who sit near B., so you would think our manager would want to talk to me to see if i corroborated what M. said, but that never happened.

B. doesn't suspect M. AT ALL, because M. is very pleasant to her. So B. was taking to M. yesterday saying how upsetting it was to know that someone ratted her out, and M. proceeded to try to give her advice and told her to forget about it and move on. M. must have been feeling very nervous because I had already told M. the day before that I'm not going to lie to B., and that while I won't volunteer information, I will tell her if she asks me any specifics.

After talking to her husband about it, M. was feeling very nervous about letting B. know it was her who complained because she she thinks B. is unstable and doesn't want a confrontation, but it was extremely awkward hearing her talk to B. about it. It's possible B. may still suspect me since I'm the one who can be cool with her because she's such an emotional yo-yo and can be annoying so I vacillate between trying to help her (she's beyond help) and trying to steer clear of her as much as that's possible when i sit next to her and do work with her.

Ahh, the pleasures of being back in an office environment.

Exhausted with a capital

May 3rd, 2014 at 06:11 pm

I feel like I accomplished a lot today, but I am extremely wiped out.

My Guatemalan guy who was here 2 weeks ago and who STARTED dismantling my picket fence never called me back to confirm he was coming, and in fact he did not show up. I don't think it was a language thing; I mentioned "lots of digging" and I have a feeling he'd prefer to cut trees down to digging in the dirt.

So I was left to soldier on by myself. I worked on and off in the fenced garden all day, in between taking rest breaks and greeting 4 or 5 different people who showed up to buy plants from me.

I made $100 cash(!) by selling some gooseberry bushes and assorted perennials. One very nice woman works at a certain company I'm familiar with and said she could pass my resume on to her boss, who is looking for writers. I also sold gooseberry plants to no less than 3 people. One guy said he had fond memories of growing gooseberries when he was growing up in Romania. The other guy was a transplant from Ukraine and said gooseberries are hard to find here, so he was excited to see my ad. He was perfectly happy to dig up my big bushes, but as he drove off, he stopped short because the bush had fallen out of his pick-up!

I may give my resume to the woman, just to see if I get an interview, although I would much rather stay at the bank if i get a perm offer since I already know that job pretty well.

So, back to the fenced garden plot, it is so large, about 10 x 25 feet long, that I chose to mentally divide it into thirds, just to make it more imaginable. I was digging out clumps of wild oats, which were hard to dig out, as well as invasive pachysandra and other stuff. At the same time, I was digging up valuable perennials to either move them elsewhere in the yard (more digging to plant them) or putting them in pots in the hopes I could sell some. At the same time, I was also pulling up bricks with my shovel. Years ago I had a brick walkway in there; I started carting the bricks in my wheelbarrow to the driveway; perhaps I can sell them too, cheaply; if not, they'll go the dump.

It just was a ton of work. I can't say I completely cleared the area, but I think if I throw grass seed down and get grass to grow, I can just mow the grass, as well as anything else that manages to still grow there. The idea is not to have a perfect lawn, but to "tame" this land and keep it under control so it doesn't look so unkempt and wild-looking. (Speaking of which, I surprised a garter snake in that area and he slithered on.)

Tomorrow I will mow the back lawn as well as the other 2/3 of this fenced area that I have yet to dig up. I just want to mow it to tame the growth.

I also completely removed the foliage that was shrouding one entry hole of the woodchuck, so I'm hoping this will be enough to finally encourage the animal to find somewhere else to live. Although I don't know where the 2nd entry hole is, exactly. It's usually within 20 feet of the other hole.

So tomorrow I will plant grass seed where I dug. I also want to get the veggie garden going and possibly get a haircut. I have onions to plant too.

Today after digging all day and playing plant lady i ran to Lowes to get the grass seed (and some cilantro and parsley for the garden), filled up the gas tank, bought a tarp to cover my firewood with and got groceries at Trader Joe's.

The wild kingdom around my yard

May 3rd, 2014 at 04:12 am


Blue milkweed, ready to bloom.


Lungwort

Last night was the first mowing of the season. So that's why I was in the vicinity of one of my bluebird boxes. Sadly, as I walked by with the mower, I saw three small blue eggs at the base of the box. Each one of them had been intentionally pierced and then thrown out of the box by a house wren.

Breaks my heart. Bluebirds rarely get a chance to nest in the boxes, because the much more aggressive wrens will destroy their eggs, as described above. Then they will build their own nest in the box.

I cleaned out the box of the completely built nest of pine needles, picked it up out of the ground and have moved it to a location closer to where I can monitor it. Not that I can do much to prevent wrens from doing the same thing again. It just takes a few minutes for them to pierce bluebird eggs. It's really upsetting.

Last week I welcomed the return of hummingbirds. They were at the sugar water feeder I put up every spring. It is said hummingbirds faithfully return from Central America to the very same location up north, so I always want to put out the welcome mat when they get here. The males arrive first, ahead of the females. It is truly a miracle they make that journey of thousands of miles at all.

As I may have mentioned, I have begun the process of dismantling a large (roughly 10 x 20 feet) fenced in perennial garden on the north side of my house. I just don't have time to maintain it and when it gets overgrown, it becomes an eyesore.

I want to clear it out of valuable plants and then plant it in grass, which I can at least mow to keep tidy looking.

So last night I posted about a half dozen plants on Craig's List for sale. I've got about six different people coming today to buy them!

Everyone knows that not everything is dug up, and hopefully most know that the plants don't look like the pictures (taken in summer) I posted with the ad. I explained in great detail to a few, in case they are novice gardeners, that most plants are just now beginning to emerge from the ground, but when they are dormant is a good time to transplant.

I did dig up a number of plants and they don't look like much now in the pots. People may not want to buy them as i think so many are conditioned to expect gorgeous annuals in bloom, for instance. They may not be willing to take a bet on something just poking out of the soil, even with my assurances.

I'm selling everything cheaply to make it worth their while to come, so $5 for most plants and $10 for a tray of certain groundcovers. The pachysandra is free!

I have two different men interested in my gooseberry plants. One is taking 4 smaller plants and the other is willing to dig up 2 full size plants. Gooseberries are delicious in a pie but truth be told, I rarely picked mine. Mostly, the birds got them, just as they got the tiny cherries on my dwarf cherry trees and the blueberries and the strawberries. Unless you have large areas on which to grow these things,the casual home gardener shouldn't plan on getting a whole lot of fruit for the effort.

I spoke to Sergio Thursday about coming back today to continue dismantling the fence,and to dig up the sol in advance of sowing grass seed. His English is so bad, but he said he would call me back, I think, although I did not hear from him. In a way i feel i'll have my hands full with people coming throughout the day, and I'd have to be careful that Sergio didn't trample the plants still in the ground while doing his work. So in a way, it'd be better to dig up and sell the most valuable plants first, although things grow quickly around here and if I don't wrestle control of this plot quickly, it'll become totally overgrown and I won't want to go in there from fear of ticks. So time is of the essence.

It's going to be a very busy day.