I did my monthly expense and investment report a few days early and am pleased to see that I'm just $20,000 short of $1 million in total assets. I currently stand at $980,006.
That includes my home value but the rest is savings and investments. My investments for the month of April were up $16,000 from the previous month, and the current value of my investments alone is $699,727.
While this is all very nice, the REAL milestone for me will be when I hit $1 million in investments alone, not including the house value, which I think is cheating a little since you have to live somewhere.
I recently rejiggered my asset allocation to be a tad less aggressive, given I'm approaching my 56th birthday.
My current allocation is:
Total stocks: 58% (Domestic: 43%/Intl: 15%)
In the domestic stock category, I also reduced my small cap exposure to just 5% as I keep hearing volatility will increase this year. I may also increase my international exposure as the Street says domestic stocks will be very mediocre compared to abroad.
That's the nice thing about having money in IRAs; you can move things around among IRA accounts without tax consequences.
Archive for April, 2015
I did my monthly expense and investment report a few days early and am pleased to see that I'm just $20,000 short of $1 million in total assets. I currently stand at $980,006.
I had a productive day today, and the nice part was, I didn't have any special plans.
1. Loaded and hauled another 3 or 4 wheelbarrows full of bricks from north side of house, where an old garden path is obliterated by weeds, to the driveway. The goal is to eventually plant grass seed from the overgrown area I'm hauling bricks out of.
2. Changed the hummingbird water.
3. Dropped off donated food at the animal shelter.
4. Took a 35-minute walk.
5. Did a load of laundry.
6. Filled the bird feeder.
7. Made a mason bee nest using a bunch of paper straws. This is the time to put these out as they finish laying their eggs end of May/early June.
8. Spent lots of quality time with Waldo, aka Purr Machine.
9. Dropped off some donated books at the library.
10. Made an edamame, corn, black bean and tomato salad for my lunches this week.
11. Made plans to get together Wednesday after work with someone I recently met online. He lives in the town I work in, so that's convenient. He seems very nice on the phone. He worked as a labor lawyer for 20 years and then 8 years ago after being let go he got into teaching, which he seems to have a passion for. The city I work in is known for its drug and crime issues. I'm feeling nervous already.
12. Fenced some peonies just now emerging from the ground so the new lawn mowers don't run over them.
13. Checked on the area of my veggie garden that I reseeded with grass a week ago; i think it's been too cold for it to germinate and not a sign of grass yet. Wondering if using grass seed leftover from last year will work okay. It's so expensive.
Yesterday I brought my car in for an oil and filter change. Note to self: Don't ever bring the car in to the dealer again. They're now charging $50 for an oil and filter change. The only reason I bring it there is because I always have to wait around while they do it, and they have a comfortable lounge area. Plus, I had wanted them to sync up the Bluetooth in my car with my new smart phone. Turns out the car was already connected to the phone, but i still have to figure out how to add contacts and then download the contacts to Bluetooth in the car. It's all a little confusing and I can't think of anyone I know well enough that I could lean on to help me with it. So ONE of these days I will actually sit down and read the car owner's manual. A painful process.
After escaping the dealer's I went to my mother's to see if her new door lock was really not working properly, or if it was my mother. It was my mother. The only difference between this lock and the one she had was that with this one, you use one key (with a special notch in it) on the top lock, and a 2nd key on the bottom lock. Before, my mother used one key for both locks, and this extra complexity is really, really difficult for her to understand.
I tried suggesting she just focus on using the 1 dead bolt lock and forget the other, but she won't remove the 2nd key on her key chain, so it will likely still throw her off. She took detailed notes about using the lock. Put key in vertical position. Turn left, Turn right. And so on. When she did the exact same thing with her old lock, but now that she has to think about it, it's a problem.
I got a new set of keys made for myself and also bought those little colored plastic caps you put on the top half of the key. I'm hoping that will help her remember which key goes in the lock. I had labeled the dead bolt key "Top" so she knows it goes in the top lock, but that label will probably rub off in no time. So the colored plastic might work better. It's exhausting having to spend so much time on such small details, especially the explaining of things over and over and over again. And then she gets upset when I lose my patience.
After that I went home and found that my handyman had already come and gone. He had cut and then nailed strips of vinyl wainscoting on the underside of a small roof that is over my front entry, supported by 2 columns. I was very pleased with myself for having found this wainscoting at Home Depot, as I wasn't familiar with what products might exist and what would be bendable enough to deal with the arc of the roof. Woodpeckers drilled 2 golf ball-sized holes in the old wood wainscoting and I was so happy that the new material looks pretty good because it has a scored surface just like real wainscoting. People apparently use this stuff for interior jobs, like a bathroom, but I thought it would be perfect for outside. As long as it doesn't sag or anything over time.
So the materials were about $72 and $50 for his labor. Next up: getting him to install new rubber treads on the basement stairs. I bought the contact cement and he needs to cut the treads lengthwise and depthwise, unfortunately.
Mid-afternoon I got an unexpected visit from my British neighbor, who seemed like he just wanted to talk. I was reluctant to invite him in becus my place gets so messy but he's had me over at his showplace home numerous times, so what the heck. We talked at the kitchen table for about an hour. He is still extremely money-challenged as he tries to get his toy business off the ground, deal with investors, one of whom (falsely) tried to sue him for embezzlement. Can't pay their taxes. And they are so tight on money he had to find another job, so he's training for a bus driver position. Their cow miscarried so still no milk and their overly food-oriented pig continues to torment them both.
After he left, my handyman returned and I was able to pay him and talk about the stair treads. Then he left, and I got in the car to head back to my mother's house since I knew she was going out to an art reception down the road. I wanted to take this opportunity to clear out a portion of the many piles of junk mail, 5-year old catalogs and publisher's clearing house pitches and so on littering her narrow little walkways. She won't even notice some of it is gone. Tough love, as so many people have told me.
I quickly filled up a single double bag of stuff. She gets too many solicitations for every non-profit in the world looking for donations, and my mother can't afford that. So I grabbed as many of those as I could find. I have to do this a little at a time.
After that, I headed to Trader Joe's and finally got home again around 6 pm. Watched another episode of the Sopranos in season 3. It was so long ago that I watched it that it all seems new, although I think I saw most of it except for the final season.
I am still working on charging $3500 on my US Bank card in 4 months. I am nearly at the 1-month mark and have already charged $1420 on it so I'm ahead of where I should be. For my trouble, I'll get $200 in gift cards.
As soon as I'm done with this one I want to try the Citi Thank You Premier card which has a much better offer. I think I had that card before, but it's been a long enough time that I would qualify again, I believe.
I took my friend out for lunch at work on Friday, a late birthday treat. I have to rein in the eating out spending; this month it came to $127, way more than I feel comfortable with. Under $50 a month would be more more reasonable. I tend to be overly generous when treating friends and dining out, I guess because I generally don't eat out that much or get together with friends, so when I do, I'm happy to do so.
Lots to do today but at least I'll have Tuesday to catch up on whatever I don't get done today as I'm working at home due to doc appointment. Seeing my neurologist for my annual MS checkup (annual as long as I don't have issues) and to see if I'm going to have to live with 3 numb toes on my one foot for the rest of my life due to nerve damage after a pulled hamstring (a real freak accident, climbing stairs) or what.
At this point in my life, I have a pretty good handle on what my strengths and weaknesses are. One of my weaknesses has always been fear of public speaking. When I had to speak in front of the class in high school, my face would turn beet red. I'm sure you knew someone like that in your own classroom.
As a writer, I've avoided most public speaking during the course of my career and have no intentions to go to Toastmasters to overcome this particular shortcoming, just as I have no interest in jumping out of an airplane with a parachute or white water rafting down the Colorado River.
At my annual performance review, I was supposed to come up with several goals to enhance/build my skill set. My boss suggested, among other things, a course on public speaking, but I declined and she didn't push it, because she is not the confrontational type. I mean, I was hired as a writer and do a very good job of it; why must employers try to force you to do things you feel uncomfortable doing, especially if it's not a part of your job?
If, for instance, my boss's boss attempted to force me to present in front of our entire group, which numbers about 40, I would actually rather QUIT MY JOB than do that. I am being dead honest about that. And with just a few more years to go until I take an early retirement, I have no interest in advancing my career or getting a promotion. I'm in it purely for the money.
At work my more immediate "team" of about 10 people meets weekly to discuss what everyone's doing. Because we work out of two different locations, these meetings always take place as a conference call. My boss has a new boss, and the new boss naturally wants to do things differently so she can feel she's making a contribution. Each week she picks on someone different to make some sort of presentation for the following week to the rest of the group. This past week she mentioned she wanted me to go next.
I guess it's not really that big a deal because I will be speaking into the phone at my desk, not in front of a live group of people who will be watching how much I sweat. Still, I'm a tad nervous. Silly, I know.
The other difficulty is talking about anything that will be remotely relevant to this group of people. I'm the only writer out of the bunch; heck, I'm the only writer in my location with about 200 employees. I don't know why I was lumped in with this particular group of people, but they had to put me somewhere, I guess. But I have felt like a fish out of water for a long time; when they discuss their jobs, I have NO IDEA what they're talking about. They couldn't be more different than my job.
The rest of my team is in product marketing, yes, but they are more or less like project managers who are responsible for shepherding each communications project, be it a letter, a statement insert, an email or whatever we use to communicate with our customers, through the various rounds of approvals and then producing and mailing it, working with one of our vendor partners.
They know all about the logistics of mailing something to 1 million customers using various specialized/proprietary software to do it, but learning how to write a regulatory letter or apply our brand is not part of their realm of experience.
So I guess my boss is supposed to discuss the subject of my presentation with me in the near future. She was out for the latter half of last week. I already created a 20-slide PowerPoint but it seems a little lightweight to me although it may be somewhat entertaining because I inserted some quotes by Aristotle, Warren Buffet and former SEC Chair Arthur Leavitt about the importance of writing clearly, as well as a cute baby photo.
My mother's new aide seems to be working out fine. From all accounts, she's doing a lot of housekeeping and going on lots of walks around the condo with my mom.
This is really just a stopgap measure but I do hope it will buy us some time before a bigger change...a move...is required to keep my mother safe.
As it is, every SINGLE conversation with my mother shows noticeable forgetfulness and her ability to grasp things is really affected. I am sure that anyone who interacts with her will see it. Even with the aide, or increasing her days/hours, I'm not sure how well my mother can continue living alone.
I gave her a $50 Target gift card for Christmas and I kept asking if she'd used it. She hadn't, and it became more and more apparent that she was confused about how to use it so I've finally decided I will give her the money and take the card and use it myself, to keep things simple.
She wanted to exhibit her work in a spring show at a nearby art and frame shop/gallery. I decided to help her bring her art there today, since this is a very local shop and she has given up other shows further afield.
Tomorrow is my "me" day and I hope to be going for a 20-mile bike ride with a friend on a nice paved bike trail in New York state. It's 10 miles up to a cutesy little town, where we can do lunch, and then 10 miles back. I need to call him to confirm that though.
I got the ok from my boss to work at home all last week so I could select and set up a home care agency to have an aide come in and look after my mother on a regular basis.
We had an in-home visit with the agency head and the aide they selected for us. It seemed to go well enough and she is scheduled to start this week on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
So I feel like I accomplished a lot.
I'm hoping this makes my mother feel less anxious about things and less inclined to call me every time she has a thought.
This past weekend, I took her to a memorial service for a friend of hers who died just short of her 100th birthday. Shortly after I got home after dropping her off, I get a message on my machine from my mother saying can you please help set up the new answering machine I bought for my phone. Pull my hair out time. It's always something, and no matter how much time I spend helping her with stuff, there's always more.
I suggested this is the kind of thing the aide can do. I arranged for the plumber's return visit to coincide with the time the aide will be there tomorrow as well so my mother won't have to deal with the plumber alone.
I tried to get my mother to move her many little jewelery boxes from out of plain site on her bedroom dressers to somewhere hidden. I said I'm sure her aide was honest and trustworthy, but there's no need to put a temptation in front of them. My mother said she doesn't like to assume the worst in people and didn't want to move her jewelry boxes. I did get her to pick out a few of her more valuable items and we hid them together under some clothing in a drawer.
I must confess that when she wasn't looking, I fished out a few more items I know to be valuable and took them home for safekeeping. Hopefully we can fully trust the aide, but if we can't, we would otherwise learn the hard way and the items would never be recovered, so why take a chance? I actually wish I could take more jewelery home for safekeeping as my mother has some lovely pieces, but I'm afraid my mother might notice and say something. As it is, I doubt she will notice the missing items I have taken, which just goes to prove my point: if the aide did ever take anything, she's never know it and that would be that.
Then today my mother tells me about some letter she has concerning property tax relief, which says you have until May to file, yada yada yada. I told her to save it for me til I could read it myself. She's filed in the past and you have to refile every 2 years. This is a big deal as it saves her a lot of money. After I hang up from her I check my emails and I find one from her outlining what the form says. In it she wrote that the filing deadline was May of 2014. So who knows if my mother took care of this...last year....or not. Yet another thing I have to look into, in addition to getting a grab bar installed in her shower and replacing the broken lower lock on her entry door.
Sunday was a day I had all to myself. I enjoyed it very much as it was a gorgeous day and I spent several hours gardening, doing general cleanup in the yard. So nice, and soon the daffodils and tulips will bloom.
Today I walked 40 minutes at lunch and another 25 minutes after work, as a stress reliever.
Luther has discovered a new basket on top of my dresser.
I finally decided on a lawn mowing company and got him to agree to $42.75 a week instead of $45. (I reminded him about their 5% Angie's List discount AFTER he gave me his price.
There was someone else here a few weeks ago who said "$40 or $45," but wanted to come back when the snow melted. I called him on Friday and again today to let him know all the snow is melted and could he come back, but never heard from him, so he must not have been needing the work that badly.
I don't think I could have gotten it for much lower than $40, and quite honestly, I don't have any time to debate prices on this any longer, so I'm prepared to live with $42.75 and I doubt that after this year, I'll ever want to go back to mowing myself.
I also had a good long talk with the agency recommended to me by a coworker, to come in and spend some time with my mother twice a week. Just having someone check on her and provide some companionship and perhaps someone to walk with will satisfy me; if they can manage to do one chore each day they're there, that will be icing on the cake.
He's going to get back to me with a final price (it will be $18 or $20 an hour) and when someone can come for the first time, as I'd like to be there.
I am also anxious to finalize the price, starting date and other details for the redo of my front walkway. I promise to take lots of pix so you can see the progress! He's supposed to let me know tonight when this week he'll be returning with his dad.
After work I got some laundry done and even spent about an hour clipping dead flowerheads off my sedums in the front yard. Soooo much yardwork to do to spruce up for spring. Of course the lawn guy wanted to help me with that but I can't go crazy with the spending.
Tomorrow I hope to start cutting back all the dead branches from my 5 or so butterfly bushes. The daffodils are beginning to come up.
Waldo does this funny thing. I call it "the toe hook." He likes to hook his one toe on whatever he's laying on (sometimes my lap) and he stretches it out so his toes are stretched way apart.
Every fall, ladybugs crawl through my bathroom window and lay their eggs. For whatever reason, the eggs this year hatched way too early, in February, and I've been co-existing with a dozen or so ladybugs in the sunny bathroom for weeks.
They eventually expire, but I didn't have the heart to brush them outside while temps were dipping below freezing at night.
I've check the extended weather forecast and it seems there are no freezing temps in the near future, so I've been catch and releasing them all to the wild blue yonder.
I doubt their favorite food, aphids, are out and about now, but at least they'll enjoy their freedom in the Great Outdoors, where they belong.
This is absolutely not money-related.
Here's a recap of my 2015 new year's resolutions, taken from my sidebar:
1. Save $34,000. ($23,000 of this is on auto pilot via 401k contributions; the remaining $11K I will save in taxable accounts.)
2. Become more involved in my community thru book club, historical society, genealogy group, Alzheimers support group.
3. Cultivate a greater consciousness of how I spend my money and the degree to which any particular purchase enhances the quality of my life.
#1. Save $34,000. This is not a random number. It syncs up with my 5-year "Countdown to Retirement" plan that I've summarized toward the very bottom of my sidebar here.
I am not sure I will be able to save $34,000 this year. It was a very ambitious goal. The $23,000 that's automatically deducted from my paycheck for my Roth 401k and Roth 401k catch-up is doing fine. But I was hoping to save another $11,000 in after-tax savings, based on what I saved the previous year.
YTD, I've saved $2400 in after-tax savings, which puts me "roughly" on track to save $11,000 except for the fact that I plan to spend those savings and then some on a home improvement project, the redo of the front walkway, landing, stone walls. (See earlier post today.)
My Year 1 target savings amount is $723,000; as of April 1 my investments total $683,722, which leaves me with $39,747 to save in the next 7 months. I'm not sure how realistic that is, particularly if anything bad happens in the stock market.
#2 goal: Become more involved in community....
I haven't done this at all. No time, between work and trying to look after my mother. However, I am still very much on the lookout for meetings I want to attend.
$3 goal Become more aware of my spending. This i think I have done fairly well. After a rocky spending start where I was still spending a little too freely, an after-effect of having lived hand to mouth for so long, I think I've reeled in my shopping demons. There's really not much I am dying to shop for, although home improvements are another matter.
Well, obviously I can't do everything and I only have so much $$ to spread around. I have already chosen to proceed with the front walkway project because my old stone walls are not in great shape, some of the bluestone steps are cracked, the stairs are too steep and so on. The redo should really enhance things with much wider steps (4 1/2 feet wide instead of 3 feet) and the circular paver pattern at the top will be pleasing to look at, adding more charm to my already charming home!
I really like the idea of adding what they call "brick lights" to one side of the to-be-rebuilt stone wall on one side of the stairs. This area is always very dark at night, even with the lights at my front door and down on the garage.
However, there's the added expense of an electrician to hook these up; i have calls out for bids now, just to get a rough idea.
A cheaper way to go, and my friend at work gave me this great idea, is to have the mason drill round holes in some of the stairs along the side. I'm thinking 2 would do it as it's 9 stairs total. Into these holes I could stick a few of my outdoor solar lights, the kind attached to a stake about 1 inch diameter. I could make sure they fit perfectly into the holes and there I go..instant light, without an expensive electrician. Since the stairs will be 4 and a half feet wide, there's ample room, say 6 inches, for these solar lights, without impeding the walkway.
Clever idea, don't you think? The only possible hitch is that these solar lights might not be fully charged by the sunlight while on this staircase. Since the stairs have stone walls to either side of them, it is somewhat shaded except for when the sun rolls around to the south. I'm guessing the sun hits those stairs for a few hours before it turns to shade. In winter, I suppose the lack of sun would be more apparent. I could always move the lights to a sunny location nearby in my yard, but having to do that regularly would of course be a nuisance.
This was a very trying week.
Both my parents have been having medical issues; my dad, physical ones and my mom, mental ones.
It would be too lengthy and involved to get into the details here, but it was bad enough that I asked my boss to let me work from home today, and all of next week, so I could make the kind of highly personal phone calls I need to make (related to getting care for my mother) from the privacy of home, not my cube where 10 people would hear everything.
My boss is very accommodating, and agreed. I'm pretty sure that when I asked her to meet with me privately in a meeting room at work that she thought I was going to give notice and quit. So when I merely said I wanted to work at home for a week, she readily agreed and was no doubt relieved. I also got out of having to go to a quarterly "team" meeting out-of-state, a real pain in the butt because this time I would have to rent a car just to make a 3-hour trip up there, and then drive another 3 hours home. Due to the start time of the meeting, it would mean a very early start, and driving home at rush hour. I was stressing about it and just not wanting to go when I had so many other things on my mind, so she made it easy on me and didn't make a fuss about it.
I like my boss. I can't say I know her very well, as far as her personal life, but over the past year-and-a-half we've developed a kind of rapport and an understanding that seems to work well. She's learned she can rely on me to get a quality job done, quickly.
I wasn't able to make much progress on stuff related to my mother, though, because a lot of places are closed becus it's Good Friday.
Aside from those quarterly meetings, which I disliked from the start, I am enjoying my job. Lately I've been writing marketing collateral for the bank to talk up our student loans. Marketing is my background and so doing this all came very naturally to me; it adds some nice variety to my customer communications writing, which is probably 70% letters, 20% emails and 10% online banking messaging, statement stuffer messaging, statement stuffer inserts and that sort of thing.
I did have a lawn guy come out to give me a price on weekly mowings. I've done it for 19 years myself, but it's getting too much for me. He said the best he could do was $45, which includes trimming and blowing. Still, over the course of 26 weeks from mid-April thru October, that's over $1,000.
I had another guy here a week ago, when there was still too much snow on the ground,and he said "$40 or $45." But he wanted to return to look at the terrain when the snow melted, which it mostly has. If I can get him back here and agree to $40, I'll go with him. It's a pretty big new expense just for lawn mowings, but not only would I be GLAD to not have to have this particular physically challenging exercise, but it will save me SO much time better spent doing other things. So the money will be WELL worth it, although I will try to get it for the least amount of money possible. I am actually kind of excited at the thought that I could enjoy a summer without having to worry about lawn mowing.
I'm also still mulling over my 3 quotes for the redo of my front stairs, landing and stone retaining walls, plus a new, 8-foot diameter, circular landing done in pavers which should be very attractive and really enhance curb appeal as you approach the front door. I'm mainly negotiating with one of them and he plans to bring his father over again next week to doublecheck his measurements and give me his final best price. I know he wants the job and I believe they can do a good job, but I want to get the price below $10,000. After he gives me his very best price, I'm going to ask if he could discount further if I pay in hard, cold cash. This often works.
I will likely get it done sometime in April or perhaps early May, although this worries me as I have a lot of spring flowering bulbs that I will have to relocate at the worst possible time, during their bloom or imminent bloom. There is a fairly large azaela (well, about 2.5 feet wide and high) that could be saved, but I'm not sure if I want to as there's vinca and poison ivy tangled up under it. There are also 2 small mountain laurels that could be sacrificed if need be, as the deer nibble them to death and they don't look like much. But I also have a pile of perennials, mainly my prized autumn joy sedums, that will need to be dug up, temporarily stored under the shade to left of garage, until the work is done and I can put them back where they were.
Yet another "project" is my mother's heat system/heat pump, which plumber says needs some parts replaced to tune of $450. My mother wanted me to look around for someone who would do it cheaper, but quite honestly, for $450, I don't have time. It's bad enough I have to schedule these things for her and even possibly arrange to be there when he arrives. I'm not sure how long I can keep this up. I JUST DON"T HAVE TIME to chase prices on everything.
On the agenda this weekend, I'll be using $5 in Kohl's cash on something that doesn't get me to spend more when I don't really need anything. So a pair of socks will do.
I also redeemed $75 in wellness incentive rewards from my health insurance provider, Cigna, on $40 gift card at Whole Foods and $35 for Red Lobster, where I plan to take my mother. After signing up for Red Lobster email, I also earned a free appetizer or drink, which we can use when we do lunch there sometime soon.
Easter will probably be just the two of us. After an argument with my sister where I asked her not to come to family get-togethers with her bad attitude, she said she just wouldn't come, period. I doubt that after all these years she could change her attitude even if she tried, so I didn't bother to argue about it. So I'm just planning on picking up a whole chicken and some sides at Boston Market and that will be our Easter dinner. Afterwards, I might take my mother to Whole Foods, since she expressed an interest after I took her there once, a year ago, and I have that gift card now to use. I don't shop there regularly due to their prices, but if I see an opportunity to treat myself, like with my wellness incentive redemption, I will. Being vegan, I find very little at to buy at standard supermarkets.
I was excited to see that my local GP's office has added an acupuncturist to their roster. It was this same GP practice, basically 1 doctor and the APRN, who sent out surveys to their customers not once, but twice, attempting to gauge interest in a practice where you pay a whole lot of money upfront so you have 24/7 access to the doctor himself. This is a really elitist kind of practice that you see in affluent areas.
Apparently enough people who responded dissuaded him from pursuing that route, and I was happy to see that later, they added 2 more docs to their practice that enabled them to offer evening hours. And now they've got the acupuncturist. I was thinking how great it would be to see the acupuncturist for a possible 5 for 1 combo treatment: anxiety, depression, stress, insomnia and hot flashes, but unfortunately, I checked with my insurer and they don't cover acupuncture at all.
After work, I vacuumed the house.