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Archive for September, 2014

Ah, it feels good to spend again

September 27th, 2014 at 01:07 am

Am I like the drunk stumbling around in a room full of teetotalers when I say that? I know most people here are trying to save money or get a handle on their finances.

I am, too, of course, but for the past 5 years I've lived on very little, so with a pretty well-paying job, I am feeling like a newly liberated shopper.

I did my monthly expense report a few days early this morning, and I see that year-to-date, I've saved $19,744. That's not counting any appreciation of my investments; it's just a strict accounting of income minus expenses from January through today. So I feel I can relax my frugal ways just a bit.

I'm not out of control, but I did just now spend $96 on some things at JC Penney. They're having a pretty good sale this weekend. I picked out a sheet and comforter/sham set plus some bath and hand towels. I chose to pick up at the store in a few days to avoid a delivery charge.

I also got a 30% off coupon for Kohl's, so I may go there for clothes, although i don't like their stuff nearly as much as I like Macy's. It would be tempting to hit the mall too, but I fear I may go overboard there. Smile

This is going to be our last summer weekend with temps up in the low 80s. And perfect sunny days.

Today was pay day. I automatically have $1555 of pre-tax money going to my 401k each month. That's about 22% of my pay. I also paid about $1200 for both my homeowners and car insurance. That was charged to my credit card so I can at least score some bonus points.

I'm in a spendy mood. Usually I contain it by directing to to mostly food. But I'm looking forward to the new comforter and towels (an indigo blue) and sure wish I could pick them up this weekend.

My handyman Billy did a good job with the concrete filling in some cracks in my front landing and step. He only charged $80 for his labor and supplies. Even handymen around here want to charge you $100 just to show up, so I didn't mind paying him that at all.

I hope to hit a tag sale and a church craft fair this weekend, talk to my mother about her IRA RMD, plant some tulip bulbs and do a hundred other things. But hey! It's the WEEKEND!!!!

Spending my Sunday cooking

September 21st, 2014 at 07:41 pm

I picked up a pile of fresh produce from my farm CSA. They frequently have extras of certain things where you can help yourself, so in addition to my regular haul, which today featured kale, beets, eggplant, apples, acorn squash, and peppers, I was able to help myself to some freebies that maybe my mother could use (2 Japanese eggplant, more red bell peppers, a small watermelon and a head of celery).

I blanched and froze the celery leaves from another head of celery for winter use. They couldn't have been more fresh, and I didn't want to just let it sit in the cooler drawer for a week before I got around to doing something with it. I also blanched and froze some kale. But now I have another bunch of kale!

I made a big pot of vegetable soup for the coming work week lunches. After it cooled, I ladled it into 5 different glass lunch containers. Last night I was also making another batch of baba ganoush with some eggplant which is good slightly warmed with pita bread wedges.

It's all I can do to keep up with the fresh produce and not let any go bad. There was one handful of pole beans I had to throw away but I think that's it. I am getting awfully tired of beets, which are so messy to peel, along with the kale and eggplant.

Yesterday I went to the town's health fair and had my cholesterol checked. Total was 182 but my HDL (the good cholesterol) was very high, at 85 and the triglycerides were in the normal range. So the largely vegetarian diet is paying off. Although to be honest, I have never had high cholesterol.

After that I went and picked up 2 lunches at Boston Market and brought them over to my mom's. A non-vegetarian meal, but I am fond of Boston Market. Because I used my Discover card on a $15 tab, I'll get $3 back as a statement credit. I didn't even know about that deal, but they sent me an email. (I did know about a different deal that earned me a $5 credit after using my Amex card at Walmart, which is where I always buy my cat food.

I'm beginning to see that it's really worth my while to be aware of the various deals they make available. With Amex, you have to "select" the deal you plan to take advantage of. I never bothered to do this before and was content to just earn my upfront bonuses of $100 or whatever it was.

I helped my mother with some more bills. She had 3 more ambulance bills (from when she called 911 this past spring!) Oh, I called the senior center and they told me i don't have to pay them, my mother said. Well, umm, that is true if you fill out the coupon on the back of the bill with your Medicare number and mail it in so they can, umm, process it.

My mother had to sign each one. Along with the signature was a date line. She could not remember what year it is. Her memory is totally shot. I worry about her living alone all the time, but she doesn't want an aide or anyone, mainly becus she doesn't want to spend the money. She did grow up during the Depression. It's sad, but I'll have to wait for a health crisis to make some changes.

Last night while I was making my baba ganouch, a friend of mine called. I hadn't talked to him since the start of the summer; we had reconnected after probably 10 years apart, and we had agreed to do all sorts of fun things this summer, but then after spending some time with him, i didn't hear back from him, even after I invited him to do something. I kept thinking about it and assumed he decided he didn't want to spend time together anymore and that maybe it was something I said. The last time I saw him we picked up a bunch of koi fish to restock his pond, and I remember I was worrying about the fish staying cool in the hot car while we went to lunch and maybe I mentioned it a few times too many. I can't help it, I'm an animal lover.

So anyway, he called last night and it wasn't that. The reason why I hadn't heard from him is becus he has a recurring and persistent digestive problem where he can't leave the house with diarrhea and cramping, etc. He's had this for years and estimates he's spent $15,000 trying to figure out with his doctors what it is. He had told me of this before, but I got the impression it was all behind him and not an issue anymore.

I was glad he wasn't mad at me about the koi. I thought I had lost a friend. But felt very bad becus this definitely affects his lifestyle in a very big way.

Years ago he and the people from the bike group he organized were planning a trip to Amsterdam and he had to cancel out at the last minute, losing several thousand dollars for the airfare, etc.

So I encouraged him to 1. start taking probiotics every day and 2. make an appointment with a naturopath. He seems to have exhausted every other avenue so he has nothing to lose. In the past his doctor felt he had some sort of bacterial bug, so what does he do? He puts him on antibiotics, twice. It didn't make sense to me since antibiotics wipe out everything. Without restoring balance to the digestive tract.

I took down screens in 3 windows and cleaned the windows so I have a much nicer view all winter long. Put the screens in the basement for storage. They'll need a good cleaning come spring. (I don't usually really clean them before putting them up.)

Today's a very warm, humid and damp day. I would like to get out and do some yardwork, but am not really feeling motivated.

Catching up

September 19th, 2014 at 11:31 pm

Good evening, all my fellow SAers. And happy Friday.

A friend at work was raving about how wonderful homemade, or handmade pasta is. So i stopped in at the local Villarina's which specializes in all things pasta.

I bought a frozen entree, eggplant rollatini, and some garlic raviolis, which came to $24. I suppose each entree could serve 2 not-too-hungry people.

I tried the rollatini tonight. It was ok, but nothing to rave about. It was essentially a frozen dinner. I won't likely go back to that place.

I had a very trying afternoon at work over something that only a writer/editor would get upset about. The lawyers at our bank love to capitalize Every Other Word in a letter, and frankly, it looks ridiculous. In some corners, it's known as "vanity capitalization." It's designed to say, we're so important, we cap every other word. You know, that's how they write legal briefs. Well these are customer letters that I write, not legal briefs. It seems the legal people at the bank always assert their whims and preferences. It doesn't matter to them whether it's correct or not. I've never worked for an organization before where lawyers dictate grammar and punctuation and such.

With my pushing and prodding (to a point, these are senior level bank colleagues) my group did make some progress in establishing some reason when it comes to capping. We are, after all, writing to everyday people, not JDs. But they are still capping certain Key Terms, which is driving me nuts.

This silly little problem was hiked all the way up to a very senior level guy who said there are no legal risks involved over not capping these words, but they later squeezed in a few exceptions anyway and becus he had more important things to worry about that day, he said "fine" and they got their way.

Just annoying, but in the grand scheme of things, who cares, as long as I get my paycheck.

In other news, a raccoon or some other unknown animal discovered the basketball-sized hornet nest hanging low in a rhododendron here and demolished the nest. Apparently, hornets make for a tasty treat. I was going to harvest that nest after the first hard frost, but so much for that idea.

The cats have already caught 3 mice here since the nights are getting very cool, and I'm really tired of having to chase a mouse around the house with a box and broom with the cats pitching in. And then they want to snuggle in bed with me. Yuck.

Tomorrow I'm going to my town's annual health fair. I consider it a civic duty to maximize any benefits I can from my high property taxes. I want to get the free cholesterol check to see if my having gone largely vegan has greatly reduced my cholesterol, or not. Or maybe I haven't been as vegan as I thought I was.

After calling a half dozen outfits to try to get started on my front entry door replacement, I finally got a local handyman I've known for years to come and do measurements, but he measured the door, not the "rough opening," and so I still don't know if the door featured on Lowe's website will fit my opening. I have to wait to talk to my guy again, who is also doing some concrete stoop repair for a very reasonable $100 for me next week.

Laying bare my lifetime earnings for all to see

September 12th, 2014 at 04:57 pm

It may not occur to you to consider your Social Security earnings records as a snapshot of your financial history, but looking at my own records sure reveals a lot about where I stood at various times during the past 37 years, or all of my working life.

It also goes to show that you don't need to have a high income to retire comfortably.

Below is a list of my gross income for each year since I started working part-time at a local insurance agency in high school.

You might say my income, for a college-educated woman who has always lived in the Northeast, has tended to be on the low side, with less than $2,000 earned in high school and college to a high in one singular year (1999) of $128,000. But if you exclude p/t student jobs and the one year I lucked out with the sale of some stock options in 1999, you'll see my income ranged from a low of about $4,000 to $7,500 in the first few years after college (when I somehow survived on that income as a newspaper reporter) to a high in 1998 when I grossed $71,464 writing for a mutual fund and annuity marketing company.

(I guess you should keep in mind that my actual earnings were probably at least 15% higher than shown here since in most years I maxed out my 401k contributions, which reduced my taxable earnings. I also mostly contributed to a traditional IRA.)

If you exclude my school years and the stock option year in 1999, my average income over the course of 30 years was just $37,742! That number is low on account of the 5-year period of underemployment I just went through from 2009-2013, plus another yearlong period of unemployment in 1992 during another recessionary period.

If you add back in an average 15% that I faithfully contributed to traditional IRAs and 401ks most years...though there were some years i contributed after tax monies to a Roth, and there were some age 50+ catch-up contributions I made....my average annual earnings is still a low $43,403.

Pretty amazing, isn't it? And still, I've done pretty well for myself.

The Social Security Administration tells me if I begin collecting benefits at the minimum age, 62, I'll get $1,432 a month; if I wait til age 66 and 10 months ("full retirement age"), I'll earn $2,033 a month. If I could somehow wait til age 70, I'd get the maximum benefit of $2,549.

I base all my retirement calculations on the age 62 benefit amount, but in truth I plan to try to wait til age 66 and 10 months to begin collecting. I don't see the point in holding out til age 70, an age when I might be too old to really enjoy the extra income.

I know the SSA calculates benefits based on the 35 highest income years of your work history. I now have 37 years of earned income, but since as you can see from the chart below, I had so many LOW income years of under $1,000, I'm eager to start adding some much higher earning years now with my new job so these new years are added into the 35-year average, effectively bumping out those lowest earning work years of 1976, 1977, 1978, 1981 and 1992, which are pulling down my average considerably. So I hope to boost those 3 magic numbers, quoted above, about what I could to expect from the SSA at age 62, 66/10 months and age 70.

How about you? Have you ever studied your SS earnings records to see what you could glean from it?

2014 $80,000, new job at bank!!
2013 $32,923 Got the bank job as a contractor in Oct.
2012 $13,992 Under employed freelancer
2011 $11,550 Under employed freelancer
2010 $30,575 Under employed freelancer
2009 $66,445 Laid off in September...uh oh
2008 $67,766
2007 $60,847 Layoff, then new job as a website writer
2006 $54,059
2005 $56,019
2004 $43,173 New job at a PR agency for the next 3.5 yrs
2003 $26,831
2002 $37,941 Consulting
2001 $64,688 New job in financial services start-up but laid off after it goes under
2000 $53,517 New job in financial services followed by layoff 9 mths later shortly after 9/11
1999 $128,835
1998 $71,464
1997 $65,132
1996 $55,042
1995 $50,707
1994 $46,118
1993 $49,182 Financial services job that lasted til 1999
1992 $1,109 Unemployed
1991 $40,160 Crime bureau job, then layoff after company goes thru merger and relocation
1990 $29,397 Crime bureau job
1989 $20,794 Real estate copywriting
1988 $22,561 Low-paying non-profit job
1987 $20,395 Undiagnosed MS symptoms; moved to CT
1986 $16,076 News reporter in VT
1985 $4,008 Law school dropout
1984 $7,030 Entered law school in MA
1983 $9,296 News reporter in MA
1982 $7,499 News reporter in MA
1981 $401 College
1980 $1,518 College
1979 $1,420 College
1978 $911 College
1977 $726 High school
1976 $740 High school

Pulled my hamstring

September 10th, 2014 at 11:29 pm

From what I can tell from my reading, it's mostly athletes who pull a hamstring with some kind of sudden start or acceleration, such as when someone might start sprinting.

I'm no athlete, but I'm 99% sure I've pulled my hamstring, simply by walking up the stairs.

I've been walking up 5 stories (that's 10 sets of 12 steps each set) for the past month or so, ever since I got stuck in the garage elevator at work and the doors wouldn't open to let me out. But I also thought I'd walk the stairs to squeeze some more exercise into my workday.

Here's what I think happened: as I placed my right foot on the step above, I only put the ball (front) of my foot on the step; my heel was hanging off the step. So when I lifted up and put all my weight on that foot, it pushed down on my unsupported heel and stretched my hamstring, the group of muscles that run from the butt down to ankle, in the back of the leg.

This painful sensation, in a much more mild variety, happened to me twice before after walking up those stairs. Each time i said to myself boy, I'm out of shape, and thought nothing more of it. Didn't really even know much about hamstrings, but I put 2 and 2 together only because a friend of mine at work severed her hamstring when she was knocked over by a wave in the ocean while she was on her vacation. She had to have surgery to reattach it and is now home convalescing.

When it happened before, I didn't start feeling sore until the next day, but it cleared up after a day or two.

This time, I think I did more damage as I must've pulled it on Friday but didn't really start feeling it til Monday, and it hasn't improved. In fact, my little toe on that foot and the side of my foot are numb. I read that's a common occurrence in pulled hamstrings.

I'll be seeing a doctor on Friday morning but also working at home tomorrow and Friday, as I'm not quit sure if I should be "resting" the leg as much as possible or doing "gentle exercise" to avoid muscle atrophy and loss of range of motion. I did try icing it once, and I know I'm also supposed to elevate it, to the extent possible.

I don't think it's a major, major thing, but if I see the orthopedist, i imagine he'll want to do an MRI to assess where the pull is and how inflamed it its. He's also a surgeon, which worries me as I don't want a hard sell on surgery or anything. It just may take a while to heal, and I don't really have a while. For instance, I need to mow tomorrow night.

Walking in smaller baby steps and keeping my leg bent are best, but i can feel the muscle in the back of the knee pulling if i take longer strides or even just stand or straighten my leg out. Then I feel it cramping up and contracting, which is very painful.

At least I'll be home tomorrow. Smile

And it sure is nice to know I have a good health insurance plan and even a "Benny" card, an easy way to pay for the co-pay which is automatically deducted from my flex savings acct payroll deductions.

As the world turns

September 6th, 2014 at 05:31 pm

It's hot as heck today. As it was yesterday. The humidity is way, way high. We're supposed to get thunderstorms this afternoon, and then tomorrow should feel much better.

I got a small editing job from a former freelance client. I've edited two of her self-published books. I gave her a price to edit the third over 6 months ago and she kept promising I could start on the book "in a few weeks," "next month," etc. I learned a long time ago not to take her at her word. It's a little annoying, but at least now, I really don't need the work.

She finally got a job so her money problems have improved, but then she informed me she was trying to get an agent and if she got one, they would handle the editing. So the small job is simply editing the 1st 15-20 pages of her manuscript, which she will send along to agents with a query.

Her character is a sexy, independent woman living in the 1960s, so she encouraged me to listen to "These Boots Are Made for Walking" by Nancy Sinatra before I began editing. I found it on You Tube and it was quite amusing to watch.

I went to Marshall's today and nearly bought a $70 quilt/coverlet with pillow shams. It was pretty, but I don't really need it, and I'm trying too keep my center linen closet from becoming overflowing with stuff again. It was very hard to walk away from that purchase. I'm not used to doing that. I have lately been feeling the urge to spend, mainly because I can now afford to. Trying my best not to do that as I'd rather spend on bigger home improvements like a new entry door or a new kitchen or a generator or... or... or...there are so many things I could spend on.

I also stopped in at a local garden nursery that had advertised its "Open House" this weekend. I'm pretty sure it was their effort to attract more customers at a time of year when no one really feels like gardening. As far as I could tell, it was a day like any other day except that 1. A man offered me a hot dog from the grill near the entrance and 2. They had a raffle for a few items, which I would have liked to have entered, but since there was no indication whether you had to buy the tickets and there was a line at the cash register, I didn't hang around to find out.

Too much stuff to do this weekend which I know I won't get to.

The guy I found on Angie's List, well, I've given up on. We've played "phone tag" all week, which was totally unnecessary since I left him my work and home phone numbers and told him i work 9 to 5. Yet he continued to leave messages for me at home. If he doesn't have the time or motivation to figure it out, I guess he doesn't really need the job. Next.

Tomorrow's my next pickup of produce from the farm, yet i still have a bunch of kale left over from last week, plus some pole beans. I whipped up a (raw) kale salad for lunch with walnuts, dried cranberries, diced onion and grated carrot with a dressing of maple syrup, Dijon mustard, olive oil and lemon.

Delicious. A very healthy power lunch.

Met my dad and sister for dinner Thursday night. He'd come up to pick up the rest of the firewood I had for him. My sister gave me a 2 pound tomato from her garden. Well, I haven't weighed it yet; that's what my dad called it.

Next week there's an arts festival in town. I may go. Any kind of fair or festival with an admission fee was something I stopped doing years ago. This is the first one in a very long time. Again, I can afford it. I may invite a friend to join me.