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Archive for December, 2014

New Year's Eve stuff

December 31st, 2014 at 07:48 am

I am working from home today and Friday.

I missed out on some Amex rewards for Petco and Walmart purchases I made in-store instead of online. Stupid me, I have to READ those offers more carefully.

I rarely make online purchases at stores that are in my area, since who wants to pay shipping fees?

Tomorrow is pay day. It's also weigh-in day for my weight loss resolution. And of course, it's the new year.

A friend at work yesterday invited me to her New Year's Even get-together and while I would like to go to cultivate our friendship (this would be the first time we socialized outside of work) I'm not really crazy about New Year's Eve stuff, preferring to stay warm and cozy at home. So I will probably call her today to let her know I won't be coming.

Since my workday today only goes til 3 pm, I'm thinking of getting out and over to BJs. They're open til 6 so i have 3 hours. Wondering if it will be quiet or mobbed?

I want to make some orange/date muffins today using a recipe where you use the entire orange, rind and all, for an especially flavorful muffin. Of course I'll use an organic orange for this purpose. I bought a bag of organic oranges, and I think I will plan on zesting each orange when I eat it and then freezing the zest for later use in recipes. The zest is also very flavorful to use in salads or baked goods.

Hoping to get my AARP credit card in the mail soon so I can start earning the $100 bonus.

Credit card and other financial housekeeping

December 29th, 2014 at 01:09 pm

How many times have I typed an entry and forgotten to copy it before hitting "Publish," only to lose it? I hate that....

Today I closed my Chase Amazon card account. I'd only acquired it a few months ago for the upfront bonus, and credit cards seem to freely procreate in my wallet. (Doesn't seem to be hurting my credit score any...my FICO score has been flirting with 800 for a while.)

I have 9 cards now, plus another, the AARP card, on the way. I'll get back $100 after charging $500 in the 1st 3 months.

My total credit limit on all the cards is an incredible $67,500! Enough for a house down payment, for gosh sakes. I am sure they are all just hoping I will not pay in full eventually, but that ain't about to happen. I need to cancel another card or two.

It was only because of my longstanding habit of tracking my expenses that I recently realized I'd never gotten or paid the 4th quarterly sewer bill of the year. I called the town and sure enough, they mailed it in November and it's due this Friday. To avoid a late payment fee, I hand-delivered it since I'm off work today. I inquired about the charge itself, which is higher, and yes, the fee went up. Oh, it was mentioned in a story in the local paper, she said. Well, not everyone in town subscribes to the local paper; you'd think they'd send out some sort of notification about rising fees, but no.

After paying the fee, I walked on the nearby trail for about 35 minutes.

Today I also made a pear/oatmeal thingy in the slow cooker.

I'm also making a split pea soup now with carrots, parsnips and celery, so I'll have plenty of food for work week lunches. It will be a short work week, just 3 days, thank God.

In other doings, I moved $27,000 from some Vanguard stock funds to some bond funds. I was over-weighted in mostly large cap stocks by about 5 percentage points and sought to reduce volatility in my portfolio. Counting all domestic, foreign and REIT stock funds, my stock exposure was 65%, rather high for someone in their mid-50s, and I worry that the hammer will come down sometime in 2015 after such a long bull market. The transfer I did today should get my stock exposure down to about 60%, I believe, and my ongoing 401k contributions will continue to tilt my portfolio more toward bonds than stocks. I'd like to have about 45 or 50% stock exposure.

I also went online to direct future 401k contributions into a Roth 401k instead of traditional 401k and set new contribution amounts for the 27 pay period deductions in 2015.

A Look at My 2014 Income

December 27th, 2014 at 04:07 pm

So my NET income in 2014 was $48,773...it sure doesn't sound like much, and in fact, it's only $8,000 more than I netted in 2013. However, let's remember I'm contributing the max to my 401(k). More about that later.

Here's a breakdown of my 2014 income.

My job at the bank: $43,543 (net of taxes and deductions)
Freelance work: $1,975
2013 IRS refund: $977
Credit card rewards: $565
Manufacturer rebates, discounts, etc: $210
Sale of plants from my yard: $206
CT tax refund: $119
Online surveys/forums: $58
Other: $1,021

Also, I can tell by looking at my income and expense reports that in addition to maxing out my 401k and the over age 50 extra contribution, I somehow managed to save an additional $19,855. I'm pretty happy with that, and of course a roaring stock market has only furthered my gains.

Looking ahead... All in all, I'm pretty happy with my financial picture in 2014, and mainly just want to lower my Dining Out expenses and maybe cut them in half. I also want to reel in my Household expenses. If I make the various repairs to this place in preparation for someday selling it, then my "Major purchases of $500+" category will also go up.

My 2014 Expenses, the BIG picture

December 27th, 2014 at 03:54 pm

I spent a total of $28,918 in 2014; this was actually $8,889 less than in 2013, namely because in 2013 I got a $5,800 roof and paid off my sewer loan.

Probably the most notable thing about the list below is the absence of the 2 largest expenses most people have: a mortgage and car payments. Once you get these two expenses out of the way, you can live quite comfortably on a surprisingly small amount of money. I'm now very confident that I can live on $30,000 or less in retirement without feeling deprived in any way.

Here's a review of my expenses, ranked from highest to lowest:

Property taxes:$5,856

Food: $3,748, a 12% increase from 2013. I've been freely spending on quality food (many organics) and don't really plan to stop.

Household: $2,371, a 48% increase from 2013. This is the only catch-all category I maintain. Household purchases could mean anything from a new dishtowel to a new sofa. Basically, it means somewhat durable goods of $500 or less that are not "used up" like cat litter or food. $500+ is a separate category so that big expenses aren't buried in the Household category. It's not surprising that my expenses here are way up as I'm aware I've been buying lots of "stuff" for the house since my job went perm.

Health insurance: $2,333, a 58% decrease from 2013. I'm happy to finally see this big drop in healthcare costs, now that I'm getting health insurance from my employer and not the open market. Huge difference in premiums.

Fuel oil: $1,529, a 35% increase from 2013. Unfortunately, I ordered a tankful of oil last summer, when prices usually are at their lowest; this year was different as that was near its high. When I fill up in January I will see a big price drop so the savings will be reflected in my 2015 expense report.

Ailanthus tree take-down: $1,500. I separately report any big ticket, one-time expenses over $500, and this was one of them.

Gas for car: $1,254, a 33% increase from 2013. I suppose this isn't too surprising since I worked all year at the new job, which I didn't start doing in 2013 until October.

Maintenance: $1,159, about the same as 2013. This includes work spent on various repairs around the house.

Out of pocket medical: $1,155, a 33% drop from 2013. Like my health insurance premiums, this drop reflects just all around better co-pays and such on my employer's plan. Also, i spent over $400 on 2 pairs of glasses in 2014 while I was still a contract worker and did not benefit from any kind of insurance-covered contribution toward the cost as I didn't have vision coverage then.

Cats: $909, a 26% increase from 2013. I guess I've been spending a bit more here and there on premium-type catfoods, as an occasional treat for the boys. I only do it since I can afford it.

Dining out: $882, an 81% increase from 2013. I am most unhappy about this; the big increase in spending was largely due to usually a day or two each week, sometimes more, when I didn't have time to make my own lunch and so I went down to the cafe and paid for it. It's just so darn convenient! It really adds up, and it's just lunch, so I'm sorry to see how much I spent. Another big chunk was paying for my mother and a friend and myself at Thanksgiving, to the tune of about $140. Eating out is SOOO expensive.

Car insurance: $701, a decrease of 12% from 2013. As I'm sure you've experienced, my car and homeowners insurance inexorably increase each year, whether or not you've made any claims. (I haven't.) The only reason why this cost decreased is because I hiked the deductible again.

Electric: $660, about a 5% increase from 2013.

Phone/Internet: $626, about the same as 2013.

Clothing: $624, a 15% decrease from 2013. Wow, I'm surprised.

New dishwasher: $592. It made more sense to get a more energy-efficient dishwasher rather than replace the old one when it broke. I got another Whirlpool.

Homeowner's insurance: $565, about the same as last year.

Septic pipe replacement: $525. Pretty much an unavoidable expense. I did lower the price by collecting several bids on it and using Angie's List.

Car tax: $451. For those of you who live pretty much anywhere outside of Connecticut, feel lucky you don't have to pay a car tax! It's highest when you buy a new car and then the cost gradually comes down. I was paying about $121 on my 13-year-old Honda before I bought this new one, to give you an idea.

Gifts: $320, about the same as last year.

Gardening: $213

Water: $190, 19% more than 2013 but it's such a small overall expense it doesn't really matter.

Entertainment:$156, or 58% more than 2013.

Borough taxes:$153, about the same as last year.

Car upkeep: $119. It's low because I bought it new in 2013.

Dump sticker:$85

Haircuts:$65

Subscriptions:$52

Birds: $7 (This is largely suet as I had birdseed left over from the prior year.)

So, just looking at my top 10 expenses, my expenses rose in 6 categories (property taxes, food, household, heating oil, gas for the car and my cats) and dropped in just 2 categories (health insurance and out of pocket medical expenses).

Getting through Christmas

December 26th, 2014 at 02:40 pm

Christmas this year was somewhat low key, there being just the 3 of us. I hauled my assorted dishes to my mother's, along with the presents, and there was the usual flurry of gift opening hastened by my sister's announcement that it was getting dark and she had to leave soon to put the chickens in.

My mother was NOT supposed to cook anything, and in fact, I wanted to make sure my sister and I covered everything between us. But my mother insisted she could pick up a cooked chicken from Costco. OK, fine. But then the day before Xmas it was supposed to be raining hard and we agreed it might be best if she not go all the way down to Costco in the rain; instead, she said she would pick up the bird at Stop & Shop, right down the road. But lo and behold, she got an uncooked turkey and so Xmas morning she's calling me needing help in using the controls on the stove. This is why I didn't want her to cook; and then in a casual conversation she mentioned she was doing pumpkin pie and had to tell her NO, I am making pumpkin pie, and remind her once again she was not to cook anything.

Today I met a friend in a neighboring town and we drove together to his niece's house, where he'd spent Christmas with his now smaller family of 5. (His parents are now both gone.) I've known his family for many years, since we dated and were pretty serious when I was 28 and he was 40, and they have always welcomed me into their home.

My friend, who has terminal prostate cancer and probably just a few more years to live (I think he's around 67 now) gave his niece $100,000 of his retirement money so she could buy a new home free and clear and not have to worry about her ex trying to get half the house in their ongoing divorce proceedings. So my friend bought the house in his name, and 3 weeks after the divorce was final, turned it over to his niece.

In addition to the house, he also paid for a whole house generator for her ($7,000), a home security system, a new SUV to replace one with 180,000 miles on it and probably a few other things. She's a school teacher and makes a modest income with 2 little girls. He's been very generous and has freely admitted he has a sort of "rescue" mentality to help women in distress. He did the same sort of thing (less money involved) with his ex-wife, who unfortunately left him twice and then tried to squeeze as much undeserved $$ from him in acrimonious divorce proceedings as she could.

His other niece is an accountant who married an accountant, so they are doing quite well in Maryland, money-wise.

I had mixed feelings about his giving so much to his niece (she's 35 now....how will she ever learn to manage money if everything is given to her?) but what really bothered me is how he pressured and basically coerced his sister (his nieces' mother) into chipping in another $50,000 toward the house purchase. His sister was divorced herself, around the time her 2 daughters were born, and she has worked long and hard to raise them and send them to college. She never remarried.

My friend felt his sister could afford to chip in since she had paid off her own home finally and makes good money working many hours at 2 hospitals as some sort of lab tech. Still, it's not his decision, is it?

My friend is EXTREMELY pushy, with them, me, anything and everything. He means well but this is one of the reasons we split up way back when. He also tried getting his other niece, the accountant, to chip in money for the younger niece as well, and the older one refused and now doesn't speak to my friend (her uncle) for being so d*** pushy.

He reviewed the whole saga with me and still sees nothing wrong with what he did. In fact, he was looking for kudos from me again, and although I've long known how the whole story goes, he wanted to tell it all to me again. Sigh. He thinks he knows best about everything.

My friend's mother had Alzheimer's before she died, and of course my friend's sister is telling me "It's going to get worse, It's going to get a lot worse, it could last for 10 years," etc etc. I know all this. It just makes it all the more depressing when my hands are mostly tied because my mother rejects all help. So we'll have to wait for a fall, a car accident, god knows what, and then that will land her in the hospital and force our hands, meaning, the hospital won't allow her to return home with any kind of serious injury since she has a long flight of stairs leading to her living area, and so that will be the time I will have to put her in assisted living, and after her money runs out in 4 or 5 years, then we'll have to put her in a nursing home. And she will hate my guts because she thinks she is perfectly fine when she is not. I mean, she already went ballistic when I read the doctor's note to her insisting that she take a safe driving test or he would have DMV pull her license.

So much tension and anxiety. When she called me the other morning, even tho there was no crisis per se, it just stressed me out and it took me most of the day to get back to equilibrium. I am not good at this. We've had a problematic relationship off and on all my life, which makes it harder.

All that being said, perhaps you will understand that it was a relief to simply get through Christmas more or less intact. I am very happy to put it behind me.

Found a new bonus credit card offer

December 23rd, 2014 at 07:08 am


Gimme, gimme some lovin...

I'd mostly stopped doing all the bonus credit card offers, mainly because I've pretty much done every one offering bonuses of $100 to $250. I think there was maybe one for $500 that I did. I haven't done the business credit card offers since the required spend for the 1st 3 months is just too high. And since I don't fly much, I don't do those that only offer airline miles. I usually go for gift cards, a statement credit, or cash back.

I occasionally peruse sites like creditcards.com to see if there are any new offers, and there usually aren't.

However, I came across an AARP card on the AARP website where you get $100 after spending $500 in the 1st 3 months. It's a Chase card, and I was approved, so to me, that's easy money for doing what I would be doing anyway. Smile

There was another similar $100 offer for getting a Discover card on the Amazon site. I would have liked to do that one too, but I already have that Discover card. So I guess I would be rejected if I applied for a 2nd one.

Yesterday I got my hair cut for $6.99 + tip. (Note to self: Skip the online check-in at Great Clips in the future. It indicated a 0 minute wait but when i got there, I waited about 15 minutes. Plus I hate giving all my personal info away if I don't have to). I also did most of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe's and TRIED to fill up my gas tank at BJs. Each pump had cars waiting 3 deep but I guess becus of the high usage or something, all the people trying to fill up were saying they couldn't get gas. Perhaps a computer malfunction? I took off and will try again at some point. The price was just $2.53/gallon. The traffic was pretty bad in the expected areas.

Today's mission is to stop at the landfill, maybe check out the antique/collectible place (they're having a sale). I would like to get gas, but the BJs is in the worst possible location, traffic-wise, so I guess my one-third tank will last me til after Christmas.

I don't know why, but I made 2 different soups in the last few days and I have tons of soup left around here. I guess I'll need to freeze some. I made a sweet potato soup and then a vegetable chowder soup; both were new recipes and both are a little watery tasting. Hmm.

Tomorrow is the real cooking day for Christmas. I'm probably overdoing it, but I plan to make 2 pumpkin pies (1 for me at home becus i love pumpkin pie) and using coconut/almond milk instead of cream. Also stuffing, baba ghanoush as an appetizer with some pretzel crackers i have and a carrot/curry soup. Also cranberry orange muffins. I've been doing nothing but wash dishes! Got to remember to use my new dishwasher!!

Joint New Year's Resolution: You & Me

December 21st, 2014 at 04:56 pm

If there's one New Year's resolution I'd like to achieve, it's losing 10 lbs.

I don't usually do too well with resolutions, but if I had someone to be accountable to, it could make a difference. So I was thinking, is there anyone out there who would like to join me in a weight loss resolution?

Here's what we would do:

1. On New Year's Day, weigh yourself and put it in a post entitled New Year's Resolution. Along with your starting weight, describe as specifically as you can how you plan to lose the weight and the deadline by which you want to lose it by.

Speaking for myself, I would like to lose 10 lbs. by March 31. That's a reasonable time period, I would say.

2. Then, every Saturday, weight yourself and put that weight in a blog post with extra info if you can, describing your successes.

I haven't done a group diet with others before, but I'm sort of hoping that with that extra little nudge from others who might join me that this will be enough to keep me motivated to eat right and exercise.

So how about it? Is anyone interested? If so, let me know and on Jan. 1 let's all get started!

Hooray, Next Week OFF, So Psyched

December 19th, 2014 at 02:59 pm

My holiday vacay is HERE. Hooray!!!!!

Now that I am totally chocolated out, maybe I can fit in some meaningful exercise during the coming week.

I got so much candy and chocolate little gifts at the office; I am a dark chocolate snob, so all the milk chocolate and white chocolate junk I will offer up to guests, but I don't expect many of them here. Another wasted office gift I got was a big tube of "body butter" with the usual assortment of unhealthy ingredients. I've also gotten particular about skin lotions and things that stay on my skin (as opposed to soap or shampoo, which is rinsed off). I mostly stick to Burt's Bees products now.

Hope to get together with 2 different friends, maybe take my mother to the movies and do my usual running around here and there, get my humidifier serviced, all before Christmas. Christmas eve day I figure I'll be cooking/baking.

I was able to wrap up my self-evaluation for my January performance review. Since I've only been perm since July, I won't be eligible for any raise, and I don't know if there will be any raises anyway, since I'm told there weren't for the past 2 years.

I'll also be wrapping up my own expense and income analysis for the 2014 year, one of the highlights of each December. Smile I know I've spent way more than previous years since getting this job, but I can afford it and so it goes. Just yesterday I impulsively spent $60 on a pair of turquoise Foo dogs from "no refund" One Kings Lane. I like the variety of stuff they sell but feel uncomfortable with their no returns policy. Plus, their online descriptions are very brief. This will be my 2nd purchase from them so I'll see how it goes.

I plan to eventually redo my family room decor, and the new colors will be gray, turquoise, silver and white. The biggest expenses will be replacing the sofa (I bought a used sofa for $400 about 16 years ago) but I don't really want to do it now and risk the cats scratching the new one. Don't think I want to wait 10+ years before they pass on, so I don't know exactly what the timing will be. I also want to get rid of the stained and rather old wall to wall carpet in there too and either leave the floors bare wood (problem is the wood is painted and I don't know if lead paint was used or not, have to figure out when that addition was built) and either put an area rug down or new wall to wall in gray.

Sunday stuff

December 14th, 2014 at 11:39 am

I noticed in the local paper they were offering free 15-minute chair massages at the Resiliency Center today. I have never had a professional massage, so this seemed like the perfect time to do it.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I walked in. There were several dozen people in a very cozy, homey space sitting around talking, eating. They were extraordinarily nice and welcoming. This is their mission, after all, to help Newtowners heal from the 12/14 shootings. You may be surprised this is still going on 2 years after the event, but there are quite a lot of activities in town related to that, including the beginning of a new park and memorial (my own handyman is building a bench), along with construction of a new school after razing the old one, and lots of kid-friendly activities all over the place.

I had to wait a while til the masseuse was free and the other people there, mostly women, were friendly and chatted with me a bit.

The massage was GREAT and really did relax me, although her mellow flute music was drowned out by the beating of drums as they were starting a drumming session downstairs.

I feel a little funny about disrobing for a massage, but I would happily do another chair massage like this one with my shirt on. They charge about $90 for an hour at spas around here.

I'm doing laundry today (2 loads) and I also washed the road salt off my car. I also filled the bird feeder and vacuumed both floors.

Still waiting for delivery of my Amazon shipment; it was supposed to arrive here yesterday. Most of my gifts are wrapped.

Talked to my friend M. His contract job ended a week ago so he is back to the job search. But at least he no longer has to commute from Connecticut to Hoboken, NJ., one heck of a train ride.

Also talked to my friend D. last night. I told him I was looking for fun things to do Christmas week, which I have off, and he suggested a few days on the Cape. That's a bit more of a trip than I planned; I'm really just looking for little day trip destinations. I may just let him take me out to dinner. Smile

I wrote out all my Christmas cards and they're ready to mail.

A sad day for the people of Newtown

December 13th, 2014 at 07:15 am

...and for others affected by gun violence.


http://action.sandyhookpromise.org/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=15290&track=documentary_shp_e&utm_source=shp&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20141212_documentary&utm_content=1305386

Resolutions

December 6th, 2014 at 05:49 am

What are yours?

I honestly don't have any financial resolutions. Everything is on auto pilot now, and as long as this job continues, I don't feel I have to worry about it too much. I am saving over 30% of income with ample funds left over for home improvements and fun.

I am still ruminating on personal resolutions that have to do with cultivating more patience with my mother and seeking out more opportunities to volunteer, possibly, or get more involved in my town.

Today, for example, I aim to go to a rare Saturday meeting on opening up a large (over 1,000 acres) parcel of land in the center of town to multi-family housing.


Looking up at the ceiling of one of the original state mental hospital buildings that was rehabbed and now serves as our beautiful municipal offices. The origami doves were one of several given to the town following the school shootings, one dove for each child or educator killed.


A closeup


One of many buildings on campus that will either be rehabbed or torn down.

The property, a former state mental hospital, campus style, was given to the town by the state over 10 years ago and the town has very slowly been redeveloping it by tearing down selected buildings deemed too far gone to rehab, creating lovely walking trails in the woods and meadows, new ballfields and relocating municipal offices there, along with a huge sports complex and a new ambulance facility.

After the 2012 school shootings, GE gave the town quite a lot of money toward construction of a new facility that would serve both seniors and teens...it will be located somewhere on this same property. This is where our Victory Garden is, where volunteers grow food that goes to the food pantry. It's also a great place to have road races and our arts festival, not to mention various events for dog lovers. I walk there often myself.

I have to say that when this town builds or develops anything, it is done in a very classy way. However, the townspeople have been surveyed and polled several times before and each time said no to more housing. Now they're asking again becus developers are breathing down their backs and promising lower taxes, which we all know never happens. We the people want to keep this rare parcel of open space for active/passive recreation and for town needs, not for developers who want to make money off rentals and yet more stores.

They must be expecting a big crowd becus the venue is the intermediate school gym. I hope that preparations for the upcoming holiday, just a few weeks away, don't keep people from showing up.

Saved a lot of money on the plumber

December 5th, 2014 at 09:15 am


I recently posted about an old, iron, rusty, leaking septic pipe in my basement. It needed to be addressed but I'd been procrastinating becus plumbers are so freakin' expensive.

I called a plumber I've used before, and after I sent him pictures, he quoted me a price of "probably $700 or $800." You know when they give you a range that it never comes in at the low end of the range.

But since I'm making good money and know I can afford it, I was feeling lazy and wasn't going to bother calling other plumbers. I scheduled the job for the next day off I had, later in December on Xmas week.

But then my sister and friend urged me to call around after I told them what the problem was during Thanksgiving dinner, and the quoted price.

I'd forgotten I paid for an Angie's List membership so I went online and found a guy in my area who got a zillion positive reviews. I sent him the same pix and his guys just left here after replacing the pipe for $525, saving me $175 to $275.

When I called the first plumber to cancel the scheduled repair, I made a point to tell him why I was cancelling and that I found another plumber to do the job for a much more reasonable price. Maybe he won't be so greedy next time when he's quoting a job to a customer.

Note to self: Being lazy can cost you!

In other news:

My 1 year promo rate for voice/phone with AT&T Uverse expired Nov. 30. AT&T sold all its UVerse accounts to Frontier, so I had to negotiate new rates with them. I didn't get it any lower, but I pretty much the same rate for another year; then in years 2 and 3 it will go up by $50, she said. Who knows what will happen at that point. I may go with some other carrier.