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Archive for January, 2018

Wheels are in motion, and it's scary

January 29th, 2018 at 05:32 pm

I had the weekend to finalize the wording of an email I've been planning to send to my manager today. Yet I hemmed and hawed when I got into the office, feeling very nervous about the whole thing because so much is riding on it...like my subsidized health insurance.

And if my manager said NO flat out, then what?

I finally sent the email around 2 today, and not long after that, we talked. He's receptive to letting me work 3 days a week, provided he can find someone interested in working part-time (about 16 hours). He has already reached out to my friend the recruiter and another recruiter.

He said he hasn't had much luck in the past finding people who want to work p/t, and that everyone wants to work f/t. Surely there are some moms or others out there who for various reasons would love a steady, but very p/t job?

There is still much to be done. He would have to contact the agency that hired me and put me on the company's payroll. I would still be paid by the hour, but I'd be a W2 employee, and they would need to make me an offer. I expect to get what I'm earning now. I need to talk to him about vacation time; I've heard from others that they only provide 1 week of unpaid leave; I really want to have at least 2 weeks.

I told him I'd continue working f/t for another 2 weeks, or until they found someone. I told him I could be more flexible about when my day ended if I was only working 3 days a week, and he understood that, but he also tossed out the idea of having me work from noon to 6 pm daily. Now that happens to be 6 hours, not 5, so that would be a 30-hour week. I'd really like to work 25 hours. I'm not sure if he was suggesting that as a compromise in case they can't find another part-timer?

A 30-hour week would be problematic for me, mainly because at my current rate of pay, I would gross $48,960. The maximum income you can earn and still qualify for the ACA subsidies is $47,520. I could make $6500 in traditional IRA contributions this year, reducing my pay to $42,460, but then for 2017, for instance, I have about $3,000 worth of interest, dividends and cap gains, so that would bump up my AGI uncomfortably close to the ACA income break-off for subsidies.

I would rather work the 25 hours weekly, which would end up putting me somewhere closer to $40K, well below the ACA subsidy threshold and toward year's end, I could possibly even make my contribution to a Roth IRA (my preference).

Just thinking this through, I'd probably want to wait til December to do that, because if one of the galleries that has my mother's work sells something, that could be another thousand in taxable income. So I'll have to be careful. And also remember I've been working f/t for January and will do so for the early part of February. I'm going to have to track my YTD income.

Can't imagine what I'd do if anything happened to the ACA. What a mess that would be.

Anyway, it feels a little premature to feel "excited," but I am...this could be the start of a whole new chapter of my life; let's call it "semi-retired." It's something I have daydreamed about for YEARS.

Social Security earnings and a question

January 28th, 2018 at 09:04 am

I was looking over my reported Social Security earnings today and noticed they only counted 1 of the 2 contract jobs I had in 2017. I'm guessing it's simply a matter of their not having received the earnings report from my current employer, but I'm going to call the Social Security Administration tomorrow anyway.

Higher reported earnings help boost your Social Security benefits in retirement. (Note that they do not count unemployment benefits for purposes of calculating your retirement benefits.)

The SSA calculates your benefit based on the average of your top 35 years' worth of earnings, so I've been aware that retiring early could negatively impact my 35-year average.

I'm happy to see that with each passing year of work, I've been able to eliminate some very low-earning years from the 35-year group. This includes my later high school years and college years when I worked part time, making at most $1,500 in a given year.

Currently, 7 of my lowest earning years are not being counted, and I can see that my overall average will gradually become higher the longer I work; I still have a total of 4 years in my work history (all in my 20s) when I made less than $10,000.

For example, the next lowest low-earning year I'd like to eliminate (at the end of 2018) will be 1985, a year when I entered law school and earned just $4,008.

So here's a worst case scenario type of question: Let's say my current employer doesn't want to let me work p/t. I leave that position but can't find another W2 employer in 2018. I convert $20K worth of traditional IRAs into Roth IRAs and pay the taxes due, mainly to ensure I remain eligible for ACA health insurance (not Medicaid).

I'm guessing SSA would not consider the $20K as earned income, to be used in their benefit calculations? Or would it?

Wowza

January 27th, 2018 at 12:11 pm

I got clobbered with unusually high expenses in January, which hasn't made for a great start to the New Year:

* $405 for heating oil (unavoidable, of course, but combined with the other expenses shown here, it adds up)
* Out of pocket medical: $745. My new eyeglasses were $400, no bargain there, and the rest was 7 copays and med costs for my scratched cornea. Which by the way is still not better. I may have to go back to the doctor.
* Electrical work was $200, which is not in itself painful, but combined with everything else...
* Umm, groceries were way more than I care to spend in a month: $362. I blame this on 2 BJs trips. After stocking up on cat litter, walnuts and frozen fruit, I will drop membership, which expires in February. I already have about a 6 mth supply of the cat litter, and I'd like to have a full year's supply. Smile It's such a bargain.

So total expenses for the month were $3455; total income was $3200, so I'm in the hole $256 for the 1st month of January. Not exactly confidence-building as I prepare to approach my boss Monday about reducing my work hours.

I also keep thinking of all the home improvements I want to do. Sigh. I'll still be able to do them, but maybe not all at once. I've allowed for $5,000 this year for home improvements.

So this is where the "WOWZA" comes in. I just did my February investment report a few days early and my fairly conservative portfolio mix is up over $26,000 compared to the previous month.

This means, my friends, my net worth excluding the house is $993,984. I am very, very close to being a you-know-what. Barring a correction, I expect that will happen by March 1.

This is something I have literally been saving for, for decades. I am at the doorstep of FI, or financial independence. Which to me means not being tied to a 9 to 5 job.

When I look at my records that show my net worth (sans house) in January, 2009, it was just $315,226. In 9 years, my net worth tripled. It was a combination of making large contributions (made possible since I paid off the mortgage), my mother's inheritance and the bull stock market.

This boggles my mind. Especially considering my current portfolio mix is only 45% stocks, with 45% bonds and 10% cash. I won't go lower than that. And of that 45% stock, only 35% of it is US stock; the other 10% is international stock.

For the 2nd time, I clogged my vacuum cleaner with the very fine diatamaceous earth powder I sprinkled on carpets when Luther had fleas. I shook out all my rugs except one large rug in my bedroom, and the family room wall to wall carpeting. I don't know how I will vacuum these rugs in the future without ruining my vacuum! Would a shop vac do any better?

I dropped off the vacuum at the repair place this morning.

Barclay's just increased their online saving rate

January 25th, 2018 at 05:02 am

It used to be 1.30% interest for their online money market; now it's 1.50%. It's welcome news....every little bit counts.

I never had much interest in bank deposit accounts (either CDs, money markets or savings accounts), but as you get older, these definitely have a greater place in your portfolio. I think of it as "ballast" for the riskier portions of my investments.

Today's pay day. I only worked 30 hours last week, so I netted $738 for the week.

It's about 20 degrees outside so I guess I'll work in a walk this morning before leaving for work. Strangely, the cold no longer bothers my ears. Used to be (for many years) I found it difficult to walk or spend time outside when temps dropped much below 30 degrees, because without ear protection, the cold hurt my ears. Now I don't really notice it.

I'm going to return a sonic jewelry/eyeglass cleaner to Amazon for a $28 refund. I bought these as kind of a last resort thing to help me better clean my old eyeglasses. I had scratched them so much (using those little cloths they give you) that I thought just dunking them in the cleaner for a minute might be a good alternative. Eh, I wasn't impressed, and the cleaner took up valuable space on my bathroom countertop.

The woman at Target Optical advised against using the sonic cleaner as it might mess up the anti-glare coating on the lenses. Luckily I thought to do this before the deadline for returns, just 5 days away.

This morning...1 day after telling the eye doc my eye felt 100% better.....my eye has felt some pain 2 or 3 times when I shifted my eye in various directions. This is really upsetting me because I thought I was healed and done. Now I'm wondering if I should continue 3 more days of tapering down off both the antibiotic and the prednisone as doc advised.

I guess I'll monitor the situation today and see what happens. I really want to be done with this. PLEASE.

A free afternoon

January 24th, 2018 at 02:27 pm

This week's been very slow at work; most of the senior level people are out at meetings.

So I left the office at 1:30 pm and decided to head directly for Target to pick up my new glasses. Wow, what an improvement over my old glasses. The real test will be at work tomorrow seeing how well I can read the computer monitor. I'm pretty happy with them though.

After Target, I called my eye doc's office just to see if they might have an opening today so I wouldn't have to arrive late to work tomorrow morning. Turns out, they did, but not til 3:45 pm, but that gave me enough time to fill up the gas tank and buy a few things at BJs.

The eye doc said my eye looks fine but wants to see me AGAIN in a month! I protested. Gosh, this is my 7th visit. She said they just want to make sure it's fine, that sometimes it can open up again, etc. I'm not sure if I'll go. I mean, certainly I'll go if it starts feeling sore again, but I'm not sure what the point of going again is when it looks and feels fine now.

I still have to continue both meds for 4 more days so I can taper down on the steroid.

Anyway, I'm glad I had an unexpected free afternoon, which allowed me to take care of some chores I would otherwise have to do on Saturday.

Things change, and I don't like it

January 23rd, 2018 at 05:00 am

The other day, while leaving a morning eye doctor appointment and heading to work, I passed by my mother's car mechanic's place. I wanted him to put in a new battery for me.

Except now it's a car dealership. Say what?????

I spent quite a bit of time googling the mechanic to see if I could figure out what happened to him. He was a few years older than me, so I figure he probably retired. He was one of those rare people with next to no Internet presence. I did discover he used to live in a very nice house which was sold in 2016. So I suspect he retired and then moved, possibly back to the old country. Which would be Portugal.

It made me inordinately sad, though truth be told he only worked on my car 3 or 4 times, mainly because it was inconvenient for me to leave my car there, and he didn't have the posh customer waiting room the Honda dealership has. My mother liked and trusted him, and so I used him too. Once I brought him tomatoes from my garden. I guess it's the loss of that link that makes me so sad. Another person who knew my mother is now out of my life more or less permanently.

The demise of the teacup
Between Christmas and New Year's my father and cousin came over one day and I entertained them in the dining room. I wanted to use the darling little dessert plates and teacups I inherited from my grandmother.



I love these dishes but rarely use them. It occurred to me that the dainty little teacups were so quaint and old-fashioned. No one drinks out of them anymore. Still, I love them. The set was made in Bavaria, though my grandmother was Czech. The pattern on each is different.

There are some changes I welcome. Like, my eyes are 100% better. One more trip to the eye doc on Thursday, just to be sure. I'm tempted to skip it and thus save the final $40 copay, but I suppose I should go.

And then there's GPS. I love it, though it's not 100% reliable, and the time it takes to "recalculate" a route means I'm probably skipping past the next turn. A few times it just indicates an approaching road, but doesn't explicitly say "Turn!" so I drive past it and then it recalculates. What the ????

It is raining hard and very dark for 8 am. I guess I won't be walking this morning. I'm anxious to get back on my regular walking schedule, an hour a day.

I have the potential of 2 dates this weekend. Yes, sneaky Patient Saver has let her profile linger on a singles dating site for many months, largely a waste of time, and now 2 dates this weekend.

I don't even pay for it; I went to remove my profile and the site offered to keep my profile up there another year, gratis. Guess they like to hold onto females.

One guy is an eager retired lawyer 9 years older than me (pushing past my age preference limits) and the other a working car mechanic, a year younger than me, bruised from a divorce, who emphasizes he is looking for a friend. Both live nearby. I'm trying to keep an open mind, and really, a friend only would be fine.

I took a quick peak at my investments, given this extraordinary market, and saw that my balances are now up to $985,000, just $15K away from the Big One. Which is all the more amazing considering I've lowed my US stock exposure to 35%. Of course, a correction could erase that quite quickly, too.

Weekend: Done, done & done

January 21st, 2018 at 02:48 pm

I got a ton of stuff done this weekend. Or at least it feels like it. Still, although I made an effort to do errands before the weekend, when possible, I still had so much to do I didn't really just chill, which I like to do on occasion.

Saturday
1. Saw dad for lunch yesterday.
2. Had my electrician over and he installed 3 lights. I really like how the exterior lights look when on.

Sunday
1. Washed the car.
2. Put my mother's handmade window shade back up on a window in dining room. I took it down last spring (!) when I had the built-in shelving done. I had to saw off about an inch on the wood block base and readjust some other things, but the shade is up and now looks great. I admire what a good job she did on these shades and could not throw them away.
3. I shredded or tossed a pile of my mother's old paperwork from decades ago, to make some room in a cabinet.
4. Did a load of laundry and hung-dried it in the house without using the dryer.
5. I changed my whole house humidifier filter, a chore I procrastinated about because I have to read my directions for doing so each time since I only change it once a season. It's really very simple but I'm a klutz, so it takes more time.
6. I vacuumed, and realized I have again messed up my vacuum by picking up the very fine diatamateous powder still in my bedroom rug. I regret ever using the stuff. Will have to bring back to repair place, which is very cheap, but it takes them weeks to do it.

6. I calculated that if I COULD work just 25 hours weekly at my present job, assuming current rate of pay which it likely won't be (but I have no way of knowing what they'd offer me once I got off the payroll of the recruiting agency and onto my employer's payroll), my weekly net would be $630 a week, or $26,25 a month.

$2,625 would cover most of my typical monthly expenses, so this would be very nice. To work just 3 days a week and cover most expenses. I could do this indefinitely.

7. Just as it was getting dark tonight, I got a call from Target telling me my eyeglasses were ready for pickup. Excitedly, I ran out the door a few minutes later and drove 10 minutes to Target, only to find the iron security gate down in front of the optical center. The woman was there but she told me she couldn't "dispense" once the system was down. I was really disappointed as I would have loved to have gotten my new glasses. It was probably 5:10 pm and they closed at 5 pm.

They don't open til 10 am weekdays, so I guess I'm stuck waiting til Thursday morning after I go to my final eye doctor appointment.

Also am thinking that a good strategy for lowering my taxable income, if need be, is contributing to a traditional IRA instead of a Roth.

So for this reason, I'm going to hold off making my 2018 IRA contribution til I know what's going on. So many balls up in the air right now.

Putting the transition into motion

January 20th, 2018 at 03:16 pm

Upcoming talk with boss
When my boss returns from travel the week after next, I plan to request a sit-down to discuss my status. I will send him an email briefly outlining my desires so he has some time to think about it before we meet to discuss.

i'll request 1. A reduction of hours to 25 hours weekly (ideally, 3 days a week), and 2. Fixed hours, so I know exactly when I'm leaving at day's end.

I'd like to get both items, but will settle for just #1, since it will be easier to deal with if I'm only working 3 days a week.

I really don't know if he'll go for it since it will require him to do some work to make that happen. Namely, finding and breaking in a new proofreader.

To otherwise prepare for my transition to semi-retirement, I've also done the following:

1. Recalculated my "Retirement Readiness Score" via T. Rowe Price's Future Path software.

Retiring now, taking $45,000 in income annually, buying a new car in 4 years and dying at age 95, my score is a 94. This measures how likely I will hit my goals.

2. Perhaps more importantly, I also decided to recalculate my annual projected expenses.

Now I could simply average out my last 5 years of annual expenses and see that my average is $37,316. But from one year to the next, these expenses are all over the map. One year they're fairly high, another year, very low. Partly because when I'm not working steadily, I tend to really tighten my belt and rein in discretionary spending. I tend to loosen the purse strings when I have a steady job.

The other big factor is how much I spend on capital home improvements, which I define as any purchase for the home/property over $500. One year it was over $12,000 when I got new vinyl siding; in 2016 it was roughly the same amount when I got a new driveway with the lovely paver "courtyard," but in 2014 it was pretty low, at $2,617, when cap improvements included a tree take-down, a new dishwasher and a plumbing repair.

In the past, whenever I was laid off, I would calculate my absolutely minimum necessary expenses; I would eliminate things like dining out, entertainment, clothing and such.

Now, for the first time, I want to create a new "budget" with what I believe are reasonably comfortable monthly expenses in retirement. Not a tightening-my-belt-as-much-as-I-can-and-still-breathe austerity budget, but one that allows for some fun.

I began by taking my average 2017 monthly expenses for all my different spending categories and then making adjustments up or down as I believe they will vary during life in retirement.

I was pleasantly surprised by my totals. My typical month of living in retirement should require just $2,620 a month, or $31,440 annually. This is far below the $45,000 I've used most recently in retirement projections with T. Rowe Price, for instance. So I have plenty of breathing room for unexpected expenses and unforeseen costs.

So, for example, things like food ($273) and electricity ($70/mth) won't change much in retirement, so these budgetary line items are based strictly on what expenses I incurred last year.

But other line items will change. I chose to increase my budget for heating oil by 25% ($81/mth) since I will be staying home more and not lowering the thermostat when I leave for work. (Hope this is enough of an increase.)

Gas for my car was adjusted down by 25% to $41 a month since I won't be commuting daily. I may be taking more pleasure trips, but it won't be on a daily basis.

My budget for entertainment was adjusted up by 25% and my clothing allotment was adjusted down by 33%.

I'm allowing $5,000 annually for capital home improvements and I'm adding a brand new line item of $1,000 annually for travel, for now. I certainly wouldn't hesitate to increase it if an opportunity arose to go abroad. But at least this way, it's factored into my budget.

Not every expense will increase in retirement.

In 2024 I'll be able to take advantage of a substantial senior property tax refund program. As long as I keep my total income under $45,000, I'll qualify for the maximum refund of $2,525. Which is pretty darn good for my #1 biggest expense.

If I made between $45,000 and $55,000 in income in retirement, I would still qualify for a small discount of $1,750. In either case, I would have to reapply for the refund every year.

This is just my town's program, intended to keep seniors from leaving the state due to high taxes. I understand there is also a state program offering smaller discounts.

I'll also qualify for a small $10 discount on my dump sticker/permit when I turn 65.

The budget I developed is really just a working budget for 2018; in future years, I may want to budget more for anticipated car repairs or dental work or any sort of thing. But this does help put things in perspective and assures me I will likely be okay when I leave full-time work.

If a horrendous correction did occur, I would go on auto-pilot and put myself on an austerity budget for a year or more, if necessary, to minimize withdrawals from brokerage accounts when prices were low. Actually, I would probably start withdrawing from my bank accounts (either maturing CDs or my money markets), which aren't affected by market fluctuations. Right now I've got about $60K there, with about $28K readily accessible now in money markets and about $18,000 in CDs maturing in 2018.

3. I also went back on CT's healthcare exchange a few nights ago and saw that with a subsidy, I could get on a Silver plan for about $375/mth. I wanted to check those costs exactly when calculating my expenses, but their website is down for the moment.

4. Finally, I got in touch with my friend the recruiter, who got me my current job, and told him my latest plan to pursue p/t work more local to where I live. He actually has something in nearby city (would cut commute in half), has to do with writing internal communications and pays better ($40+ an hour compared to my current $32/hr). However, it's a contract job that could last just 3 months or a year. Perhaps I would gamble on it despite the uncertainty since the stakes for me aren't really quite so high.

Because my T. Rowe Price calculation did not factor in any further income, period. So whatever I can make will be icing on the cake. I just have to make sure I make at least $17K annually so I don't get stuck with Medicaid for health insurance. Or as I think Monkey Mama pointed out, if I saw toward year's end I hadn't made $17K, let's say I made $10K for the year, I could always cash out $7,000 from a taxable brokerage account, which would then be counted as taxable income. If I withdrew $$ from a taxable money market, would that also be recognized as taxable income?

I hope I'm not forgetting anything.

When the healthcare exchange website is back online, I want to try to pick an HSA-eligible policy to take advantage of tax-free contributions.

Feeling the urge to purge

January 17th, 2018 at 04:56 pm

What is it about the dead of winter that makes one want to purge, clean and declutter?

I had a thoroughly enjoyable day at home today and part of it did involve purging.

It was snowing steadily when I awoke, and to be honest, I just didn't feel like driving to work in it, especially knowing I'd have to leave early anyway for my eye doc appointment.

And my eye had been positively killing me most of yesterday, which was really frustrating since doctor #1 told me yesterday it was "90% healed." It sure didn't feel that way.

When I went to doc #2 today, she said yes, it is healing, and the reason you're still feeling pain is this: think of an open wound on your hand and what it would feel like, and how long it would take to heal, if you were brushing your hand over it every few seconds, the way you do when you blink your eye.

OK, got it.... Now they've added a steroid to the mix; am still taking the antibiotic drops 4x daily. I've created a spreadsheet to ensure I don't skip doses.

On the way home from doc office, I stopped at Aldi's, dropped off a donation at the library and picked up my new med.

Here in my office, I spent my time at the computer or watching my new office TV (so convenient) to keep an eye on the weather.

I shoveled the driveway and later began going through a small cabinet containing my mother's old papers. When I was cleaning out her condo, I threw out a ton of paperwork I knew wouldn't be needed for anything, and this is basically what's left. I have a lot of records related to sales of properties (homes, condos and a coop) literally decades ago, so those I will shred.

I came across an old photo of the house in NJ when we purchased it, the MLS listing, actually, and that I will hold onto for sentimental purposes. I also found my grandfather's death certificate, which I never found on Ancestry but will be helpful in my family research.

I also found a sweet poem my mother had written to the realtor who helped her find the last condo she lived in. In the poem, she offered them a piece of art as her way of saying thank you for all their help. This I will keep. I know the realtors; they became friends of my mother's, and the wife of the husband/wife team also helped me buy my house.

Then there are quite a few of her old tax returns. If I'm really ambitious this weekend, I'd like to scan them and save them to a computer disk, then shred the hard copies.

My electrician is coming this weekend to hook up 2 new exterior light fixtures and 1 inside; there is more work I want him to do, but I doubt he'll get to it this weekend.

The eye worsens, and job questionable job strategies

January 16th, 2018 at 05:35 am

Ugh. I learned yesterday at eye doc's that I do now have a "small infection" in the eye with the abrasion. So they switched my medication and want to watch it closely.

I am feeling a little anxious about this and just want to get this under control. Infections in the eye can't be good, and they seemed a bit concerned as well.

So I'm going back today. Totally necessary, of course, but I'm wondering what my final tab will be. So far I've paid $160 in copays for 4 visits, plus $40 for the new med. Since I haven't paid my 2018 deductible, I'm guessing this will cost me at LEAST several hundred dollars. At least the deductible (on a COBRA plan I'll be losing next month) is just $500.

Update: Well, I'll be. I just check my Cigna account online and the 1st 2 of the 4 visits were there, and I don't owe anything beyond the copay I already paid. This is a mystery but I'll take it. (I will miss this health plan.)

So far, then, $200 out of pocket, and I'm sure there will be at least 2 more visits beyond today's. I will never take my eyes for granted again. Interesting how kind of a fluke medical event can put things in disarray.

Once I get on the high deductible healthcare exchange plan next month ($5,685 deductible), I would love to open an HSA. I guess I would fund it myself and the contributions would not come from my employer, and I can get a tax deduction at tax time? Never had one of these before but I imagine I can do it with a Vanguard money market account? I can easily transfer cash from one of my online money markets.

We're expecting 2 to 4 inches of snow tomorrow morning. Not a lot of snow by New England measures, but certainly enough to make the morning commute a mess. I will work at home tomorrow. It's just not worth the risk of an accident to be a hero and get to the office.

There may be some benefits to being a somewhat older employee, because I've already established that I don't drive in snowstorms, regardless of what fellow employees do. Used to be, this kind of decision would just stress me out; now i feel there's not as much at stake here so I'll make these kinds of decisions myself.

I will also hopefully avoid having to go back to eye doc tomorrow and having to drive in the bad weather. I will learn that at today's appointment.

My friend keeps urging me to be sure not to quit my job or I'll lose the opportunity for unemployment benefits. I don't see how that's possible if I tell manager I want to scale back hours and work part-time and he says absolutely no, we need you f/t and it would be too much hassle to find another part-time person.

My friend says, let them fire you if need be, but don't quit.

I still have this week to think about it but I'm inclined to just have a talk with manager, tell him I would very much like to continue working there but that I want to have more time with my elderly dad and I want to scale back my hours to about 25 hours a week, or 3 full days, preferably.

If he says no can do, I would probably then just say I'm sorry it won't work out then, and that I would probably start looking for a part-time opportunity elsewhere, although it may take me some time to find the right fit.

Truth be told, I HAVE been looking all this time and not found anything.

And if he then says, fine, and finds someone new to replace me, I again don't think I'd qualify for unemployment since I said I wanted to reduce hours. So I'd sacrifice 6 months of income that would be nice to have, but not much I can do about that.

I could not bring myself to do something stupid enough to get myself fired, either.

The writing on the wall, a fork in the road

January 14th, 2018 at 03:08 am

It's 5 am. Once again, my best thinking takes place in the early morning hours, at a time I'm not even aware I'm "thinking." Thoughts just appear.

And these are my thoughts.

In the next 5 years, I am going to suffer some pretty significant losses. I am concerned about how I will cope, and the toll these losses will take on my emotional health, but at the same time, I want to be there for those who are important to me. For someone who has no spouse or children, what is most important? Close friends and extended family.

My oldest and closest friend R. has advanced prostate cancer. It's been a long journey, but last night he told me, after wrestling with a choice between starting chemo and entering a clinical trial, that he's going with the chemo, ASAP.

He has spent much of the last few years preparing for his death and over this time, he's divested himself of much of his material wealth, probably giving about $200,000 to his younger niece. He's rearranged his condo so his bedroom is on the first floor, prepaid for his funeral and has gotten his ex-wife to agree to nurse him toward the end and look after his dog when he dies.

In short, he has done what he does best: plan and prepare.

I know I will take his death hard, for though our relationship has always been rocky, we've stuck with each other since I met him in my late 20s. He probably knows me better than anyone else, and I know him pretty well too.

The prostate cancer, which he has talked about often, has been a part of his life for years, but maybe it never seemed real to me because outwardly, it didn't affect his life too much; he takes various drugs that kept it at bay. But now, things are getting real. The cancer has progressed. They have found little tumors all over his body. Hence the chemo.

Still, in recent conversations, R. always wants to know what's happening with me, and what my trials and tribulations are. He's ended the call with encouraging words; he's always been good at reminding me of things I have to be grateful for, my accomplishments, and what I've done well in my life.

Then there's my father, who will turn 85 in a few months. His health is stable now, but he has a variety of health challenges, and anything could happen in the next few years.

And finally, there is my cousin J. J. has 2 things in common with my friend R: they are the same age (70), and they both have prostate cancer. J. is still in the phase where the medications he takes keep the cancer at bay, so he is not as far along as my friend.

J., too, is dealing with his prostate cancer (and other health issues), but instead of preparing for death, he is preparing for the best life he can have in what time he has left. He is doing this by getting serious about his health. He told me he wants to get back in as great shape as possible, thru diet and exercise, so that his quality of life is as best it can be and then he hopes for a quick, not lingering, decline leading to death.

He lost 20 pounds in recent months; part of it is, I think, that he wants to look attractive for the 20-something with baby he plans to marry soon. He, too, is grabbing the bull by the horns, pursuing a relationship with a young woman most would think is foolish, doomed or even disgusting. But for a man who stuck it out with an unhappy marriage to an alcoholic for much of his adult life (he was asking my father for advice not long after my own parents split up, and that was when I was 6), I understand his desire to wring some enjoyment and happiness out of life before he goes, and this is what he wants.

He told me last night a probation officer was scheduled to do a home visit of his house prior to the release of the woman from jail, which could be in as little as 2 months time (she was arrested/jailed for drug possession and resisting arrest). Two of the conditions for the home inspection are no alcohol, and no firearms.

So my cousin spent this weekend emptying his house of guns and ammo. He's a huge gun enthusiast and owns many extremely valuable weapons. (Something I personally abhor but I just overlook it for the sake of our friendship, which I enjoy.) He and his friend brought them all over to his friend's house, but after seeing how much space they took up in his friend's garage, they then moved all of it to a storage locker. My cousin estimates he has some 15,000 rounds of ammunition.

This brings us back to "the writing on the wall." I see that I will probably lose 3 very important people in my life in the next few years. I want to enjoy these people while they are still capable of doing so and are still here. I want to spend more time with them and lend as much support as I can when they the going gets tough.

Because they are the most important thing in my life.

I also want to build a stronger social network. While I'm working these crazy hours, I don't feel I can do that. I always pictured myself getting more involved in the many clubs and groups in my adopted hometown community, but I just don't have the time or energy to do that while I'm working full-time.

I want to build that stronger network to help prop myself up after I lose 3 key people in my life.

Which leads me to thinking about leaving my current job, at least in the form it exists now.

Last night I did another quick check of where I stand with retirement savings. I used the T. Rowe Price calculator, which reassured me I should be in reasonably good shape, whether I stopped working now or in 2 years time, whether or not I collected Social Security at 62 or later.

So I'm thinking of telling my boss I don't want to work full-time anymore. I've been there for about 4 months and haven't really been happy, mainly because I don't have control over the length of my workdays.

I'd been planning to talk to him about my future there, hopefully next week, after they return from some national sales meetings our company has been planning for, for months. My plan was to grit my teeth and tell him I wanted to become a "permanent freelancer," which would mean they'd make me an offer *right now the headhunting agency is still writing my paychecks) and pick up half my health insurance premiums on a healthcare exchange plan. And then I would stick it out for 2 years and see how I felt about retirement, or not, after that.

But now the probable short time remaining for some of those close to me has me rethinking things a little. Of not working for 2 more years, because I'm not sure my father, cousin and friend will still be in good shape by then, or even alive.

This is one reason why I've worked so hard to save for retirement (aka, "freedom"). To be able to make decisions that truly are best for me. Now yes, my financial well-being may also be "what's best for me." I do still hesitate a little bit, mainly due to the uncertainty about high health insurance costs until I can get on Medicare in 7 years time.

I'm also feeling a little pressured to make a decision very quickly, because ideally, I would make up my mind about what to do before committing to anything like the arrangement i described at my company, unless i was really going to stick with them. And I'll need to decide that quickly because my COBRA ends Feb. 28 and I'll need to know when I choose a healthcare exchange plan whether I'll qualify for subsidies or not.

When I used the T. Rowe Price calculator, i factored in health insurance costs based on 2018 premiums on the healthcare exchange of about $775 a month, leaving full-time work at age 59 (the software wouldn't allow me to set it at my current age) and making just $16,000 a year. (Presumably I could make at least that at some kind of part-time work.)

I DO want to have some kind of part-time work to lend structure and balance and a sense of productivity to my life while at the same time not allowing work to dominate my life, as it does for most people.

I keep thinking about this one woman at my office who has been there since the company started, around 2009. She's just 2 years younger than me, married with no kids. My guess is that because she told me once her husband works 2nd shift, he is not home when she gets home, usually around 10 pm, and so she must
figure, why not work late at the office since she's going home to an empty house anyway?

It just seems to me she's essentially sacrificed much of her personal life for this job. And I think others have too, which made me understand better why they mostly seem willing to regularly work very long hours, because casual friends have probably dropped by the wayside a long time ago and so their only real "friends" are the people they work with. I noticed this in observing how much they seem to enjoy each other, and how, whereas I generally love to bolt out the door when I know I can, many of them tend to hang around talking and having extended conversations with others before they leave, or on their way out the door.

Anyway, that's just a side note. My experience has been that you usually end up losing friends after leaving a job; it's just too hard to maintain friendships with someone who may not live near you, and with most people being busy raising kids, etc. So I never wanted to rely so much on workplace friendships, because they seemed ephemeral to me.

These are just some of the thoughts swirling around in my head. I think I would do alright, financially, if I left full-time work now. My hope would be that if I told my boss my desire to scale back to a strictly part-time role, he would make that happen, while having to hire another person to pick up the slack. That's what I would hope.

I would pay for my own health insurance, continue a frugal lifestyle, work part-time somewhere, if not where I am currently, and spend a lot more time with family and friends. Not to mention, enjoying my own life more and feeling more relaxed.

What do you think? Would you still stick it out with work for a while longer? I could do that. I just wonder if it would be the right decision.

Knit jeans and other apparel wonders

January 13th, 2018 at 02:14 pm

I hit a home run with a recent class action lawsuit. I subscribe to a newsletter that consolidates all the class action lawsuits and periodically scan and/or file a claim for items I may have purchased.

Usually the check you receive is a few dollars. This time, because not as many people filed claims, more $$ was distributed to those who did. It was the Blue Buffalo lawsuit, and I got a check for $81!!

I am quite pleased with that.

A jean that fools the eye
OK, I admit it...I like to watch TV shopping channels while I'm making dinner or something. I recently bought some boot-cut pants for $21, which includes shipping. They are super comfy pull-on KNIT pants even though they look like JEANS with a regular zipper and button and the same pocket/styling as a regular blue jean. It's almost like trompe l'oeil, especially with the ones that look like blue denim.

I liked the one pair I got in the mail today, so I ordered them in another color. I am always looking for comfortable clothes to wear to work since I sit all day. These pants feel like a sweat pant but are lighter weight, and they should wash well as a knit.

(If you are looking for a skinny pant, you won't like these, because they don't hug the leg.)

Don't ripen bananas in the microwave
Just so you know...it doesn't work.

I had 2 bunches of bananas purchased from Aldi's that were quite green. I do not like to eat mushy bananas. But these were hard as a rock and would NOT ripen after 2 weeks of sitting around. I read online you could zap them in the microwave for about 30 seconds after stabbing them with a fork a few times. Didn't work.

Putting them inside a paper bag also did not work.

I have finally gotten success (slowly) but putting them in a warm area, upstairs, near a heat vent.

I'm on track for retirement
I used T. Rowe Price's retirement calculator to gauge where I stand. If I make no further savings/retirement contributions, retire in 2 years and include Social Security income starting at age 62 (I plan to defer) and based on my estimated monthly needs of $3300 (I could get by with less, but I added a cushion for expensive health insurance), T. Rowe calculates I should have an income from my current investments/savings of $4,560 a month until I'm age 95.

If I include NO Social Security, I would still have a monthly income of $3,130, which also makes me happy since that tells me I should be able to defer taking SS until full retirement age of 66, for a higher subsequent monthly payout.

Eyeglass frame prices and more

January 13th, 2018 at 09:24 am

So far with my scratched retina I've spent $120 on 3 office visit co-pays and all of $1.12 for the generic antibiotic drops.

But I haven't paid my $500 deductible for this year so I expect to see more bills coming my way. I'll also be incurring another $40 co-pay when I return to doc Monday to hopefully get this thing out of my eye, which is uncomfortable. Two more days and nights to go til then.

I was really looking forward to the weekend but was asked late Friday afternoon if I could work on some hot project that "had to be done" this weekend. It's kind of hard to say no when the owner of the company and my manager are standing there looking at me. At least I can work at home. It's just that I don't know when I'll get the work so, umm, I can't go off hitchhiking to Utah or anything.

Next week many people will be at the meetings we've all been preparing for, for months, so the office should be relatively quiet and maybe I could even leave on time.

This morning I went to local optician to look at eyeglass frames. Only because Cigna said they participate in their Healthy Rewards program that offers discounts on frames. Turns out they don't. It still came out to just under or over $400. .

The markup on eyeglass frames seems to be similar to the amount some people for mattresses...meaning, a lot, and way in excess of what it's actually worth. Just my opinion.

I decided to try Target, and found a better selection of frames there. I chose one and again the price was about $400. I supposedly "saved" $160 with my Cigna Healthy Rewards, .

I didn't really feel like investing more time in eyeglass shopping, so I bit the bullet and ordered a pair. Depending on how they work (they're progressives), I may wind up getting another pair just for use with the computer, because that's what I'm having trouble seeing right now. I keep having to use the lowest portion of my current glasses to read, and even then, my vision's not great. They are quite scratched up, too and I never liked the frames much. (Got them at BJs 5 years ago.)

So I'm really looking forward to the new pair of glasses, which I should have in 1-2 weeks. If I do get the 2nd pair of computer glasses, I will definitely try an online place like Zenni Optical. Seems like it would be harder to mess up a single strength lens.

And the weekend is nearly here!

January 12th, 2018 at 04:23 am

Heating oil price mysteries
I've been checking oil prices daily on my usual go-to heating oil delivery company website. When temps are warmer, prices drop, and vice versa. The worst possible time to order heating oil is when it's exceptionally cold.

I've got about a quarter tank left; this is when I like to reorder, because there's usually a lag time of at least 3 days before they can deliver. So this week I've been waiting for the extreme cold temps to pass and was hoping to snag a lower price today, as temps will rise to 50. (They will drop again tomorrow to more seasonal temps, so today was my slim window of opportunity.)

The price did fall yesterday, but today remained the same. The advertised price on their website Was $2.83 a gallon, considerably higher than this time a year ago when it was $2.05 a gallon. (Yes, I track oil prices all year long, looking for patterns.)

Once, over a year ago, I came to them with a lower price from another company, and so they gave me a .05 "price match" discount. I thought this was a one-time deal, but surprisingly, they haven given me this .05 discount ever since.

Yet for some reason, today they gave me a price of $2.75, which is .08 cheaper than their standard offer. I didn't want to question it in case they got it wrong!

And then I learned that if I paid by check, I'd save another .05 a gallon, or $7.50. Hey, it's something. So I will get my 150 gallons for $2.70 a gallon. Note to self: Always pay by check.

My eye issues
The pain from my scratched retina has eased somewhat as the antibiotic drops have kicked in, but it's still feeling uncomfortable since my doctor inserted a "shield," much like a contact lense, to protect the eye. I can feel the edges of this thing in my eye, and I have to sleep with it and keep it in my eye til I return to the doctor's on Monday.

I wasn't even sure I'd be able to sleep with it in last night, but thankfully, I did.

So when I went to see doc yesterday morning, he had another doctor, a dry eye specialist, look at my eye. I asked her if it was a very deep scratch and she said no, it was not, but it was fairly large, and that's why I was feeling as uncomfortable as I was. Yet I am not allowed to keep doing the eye drops for pain that my regular doctor gave me.

On top of that, the shield thing they inserted in my eye causes my vision to be blurry. You can imagine how difficult it is to perform my job as a one-eyed editor. I had a good laugh about that with someone I work with at the office.

I sure will be glad to put all this behind me, soon. It's amazing how much we take simple things like our vision for granted, until something goes wrong.

We're expecting lots of rain today. Instead of my morning walk before work, I may go out there with a shovel instead and try to shovel away snow from my foundation to avoid a wet basement.

TGIF!

Fun new survey program

January 11th, 2018 at 05:07 am

My local hometown bank, the one I just switched my checking account to, sent me an interesting offer, which I've taken them up on.

It's a kind of mystery shopper program where they'll pay me $10 a survey, up to 3 surveys a month, where I answer questions about my contact with the bank; I have to visit the bank once a month, which I usually end up doing anyway.

The programs will last for 12 months, so there's potential for me to make an extra $360! This will be a nice addition to my long ongoing Communispace credit card surveys, where I usually earn $20 a month.

Headed to my eye doctor in about 10 minutes to check on my eye. I'm not sure the pain eye drops are doing much, but for now, the eye feels "ok." Thank god for drugs, when you need them.

I hope I can do my job without too much trouble. When I woke up, I did not even feel like going in, to be honest. My eye was all filmy/smeary from all the drops I put in and it made me think my vision had gone blurry before I realized it was all the drops

Hurt my eye

January 10th, 2018 at 02:25 pm

OK, I have very dry eyes to begin with. It often feels like I have something in my eye, and I don't.

I woke up this morning with my right eye feeling very sore. I found an eyelash in my eye, which I promptly removed. I'm guessing it was in my eye all night. Normally, your eye would wash it away, but with my eyes being so dry, that didn't happen. It no doubt just stuck there, causing irritation all night long while I slept.

I applied some drops (free samples from eye doc from last week's visit) and off to work I went. Eye started feeling really sore now, almost intolerable. At lunchtime, went to buy more drops. (The pricey pharmacy in the town where I worked charged me $16 for the tiny bottle, and only after I used it did I notice it was 8 months past its expiration. (I will be returning this for a refund.)

Now my eye felt even worse. I called my eye doctor; he had one appointment time available at 3:05 pm. I flew out there with hurried explanations to 2 coworkers since my manager was in a meeting.

I was 20 minutes late but did see the doctor, who confirmed I have an abrasion on the lens. He gave me eye drops for pain and for antibiotics and I have to see him again tomorrow morning, before I go into work, to make sure there is no infection.

I expected the pain meds to work, but they have not, and I am still in a considerable amount of discomfort. It hurts to close my eyes. It hurts to open my eyes. It hurts to move my eyeball in any direction. I can only apply 1 drop of the pain med a day.

Sunday activities

January 7th, 2018 at 01:56 pm

1. Made a batch of granola, which should last about 2 weeks.

2. My turmeric capsules were running low, so I filled another month or so's worth by filling them myself with organic turmeric I bought in bulk and store in the freezer.

3. My new Samsung TV is now fully working, both with the antenna and Roku, though I still get just 2 channels with the antenna. The room it's in faces north and east, and that just isn't the right place, I guess. Come warmer weather, I'll likely move the TV down to my family room, which is closed off now for winter.

4. I donated $25 toward the purchase of 30 farmland acres in town that will be developed for housing if $600,000 isn't raised by mid-January. It's a scenic area with an old farm I've hiked past many times.

They have only slightly surpassed the $300,000 point, so it seems doubtful they will reach the goal unless some angel contributor steps forward. This is actually why I delayed contributing til now...they were so far behind.

I did grocery shopping at Aldi's, BJs and Big Y, stocking up At BJs on 2 heavy boxes of cat litter. I'll get as much as I can before my membership ends Feb 28.

Filled up the gas tank.
Stopped at Tractor Supply for some birdseed.

Tidied up, here and there.

Tomorrow it's back to my normal work routine. I hope to raise the subject of my future work status with manager some time this week. I need to know, if only so I know whether or not to claim subsidies.

Time for new eyeglasses

January 5th, 2018 at 01:20 pm

Has anyone had success buying eyeglasses from somewhere other than a typical retail optical center and saving money?

I'm not a Costco member so can't go there. I confirmed that. I used BJs last time around and don't feel there were much of any savings. (I wear progressive lenses.)

There's a frame shop associated with my eye doctor that had nice frames at $180. More than I'd like to spend but I am truly sick of the glasses I've worn now for 5 years.

The frame shop is having a special package deal where the lenses and frames are $350, but I don't know yet if they'll offer frames I like for that deal. That deal doesn't start til end of January. I do also have a $50 off coupon for them; not sure if I can use the coupon on their package deal, but I would try.

I'm tempted to try an online place, but I'm worried if the glasses aren't quite right, I can't very well have someone adjust them for me. So I don't know.

I may return to the optical place tomorrow and see if I can find any frames cheaper than $180.

Next up: Replace car battery?
Today I stayed at home to work again for a 2nd day. I tucked the car in the garage as I was worried these frigid temps might make it hard to start the car. It hasn't yet, but I realized recently i still have the original battery in my 2013 Honda, and it should be replaced soon rather than waiting for something to happen.

I'm now a 3-TV household
I bought a new TV (26" or so) to replace the one in the kitchen as I wanted to hook up an HD digital antenna to it so I could watch local news/weather stations on it. I did this successfully with the Samsung in my bedroom.

Unfortunately, while I measured to make the sure the total length of the TV would fit under a kitchen cabinet, I neglected to check the height, and the TV is in fact just 1 inch too high to fit under there. No way, no how.

That stinks. Dumb mistake. So this means the older Sanyo (2005) I had in the kitchen will stay there and I won't get local stations.

So I put the new Samsung (identical to the Samsung in the bedroom) in my office. But interestingly, while the bedroom digital antenna, which faces south, picks up an extra 13 stations, the antenna in my office, which faces east and north, only picks up 2 channels, and reception for those are iffy.

Wondering if it might be worth trying a different HD digital antenna.

I also programmed the Roku for the office TV but now after viewing the 2 over-the-air channels, i can't get back to Roku. So I'll have to call Samsung or Roku for assistance. Frustrating.

Car needs a wash
My car is so filthy from road salt. I had hoped to wash it last weekend, then this weekend, but that won't happen due to the extreme cold. I'm too frugal (cheap?) to pay for a car wash. So I'll wait another week.

Running low on heating oil
I have a little more than a quarter tank of heating oil left. I noticed oil prices jumped to $2.85 where I usually buy it, so I'll wait til mid-week next week, when temps should moderate and hope prices drop again. Otherwise, I'll just have to bite the bullet and pay the going rate.

I need to declutter
I'm looking around here and still feel stifled by so much "stuff," my mother's stuff. I need to begin again to focus on either disposing of things or finding the right place for them because I'm constantly walking over or around things for which I have no room. I have to start "letting go" of more stuff.

The first item will be a handful of wood weaving tools which I will never use. I know a weaver in town who would probably like them. Still, it's hard to let them go. I may keep the 2 hand-hewn sticks to display on my shelves and let go the rest.

Weekend plans
Aside from routine grocery and gas errands this weekend, and lunch with dad, I also hope to change my furnace humidifier filter, stop at the eyeglass frame shop and put away Xmas decorations.

My prayers go out to Thriftorama.

Snowstorm, working from home

January 4th, 2018 at 04:50 am

We're expecting 8 to 12 inches from today's storm.

I told my manager yesterday toward day's end that I was concerned about the weather and would like to work at home. He said fine. They are actually paying for hotel rooms for 5 or 6 others, who live further away than me, to spend the night! They don't feel they can easily do their work from home, though some I've talked to disagree.

I am glad he didn't ask me to do that. I have a cat to feed and besides, it would be icky not to have a change of clothes, etc.

I have too much stuff in my garage so just left the car outside. It will just take a little more time to clear it off. I brought my car brush and snow shovel indoors for easy access, have made sure my heat will stay on at 67 all day in case there's an outage, and now I have my kerosene heater which will at least keep the pipes from freezing.

The super cold temps will return when the storm dies down and it will be frigid through Sunday, so this would be the worst time to lose power, kerosene heater or not.

Due to having a few days off for the holidays, my paycheck today was only $518 for the week.

My manager wanted me to edit something for him first thing this morning, and I wanted him to see how capable I am of working at home efficiently. Naturally, I couldn't get into our company email remotely with a PW I last used 4 months ago. I had to email him for help, and he in turn emailed the vendor firm they use fir IT stuff; that was nearly an hour ago and I'm still waiting for them to respond. Sigh.

I hope to order new eyeglasses this weekend, assuming doc office manages to mail me my prescription.

New Year's Day Adventures

January 1st, 2018 at 01:40 pm

Tired of being cooped up by cold weather, I decided to go for a short walk. I bundled up in:

* A hat
* 2 layers of mittens, plus hand warmers
* Long underwear and pants
* A turtleneck, sweatshirt and coat
* Thick socks
* A scarf wrapped around my face from nose down.

The only exposed skin was around my eyes. I was comfortable, but only walked for 20 minutes due to a certain area of neighborhood where neighbors always burn wood, and the smell is thick in the air. The Northeast already has the worst air quality in the nation, so no need to breathe the stuff in. I turned around.

Earlier in the day, I posted a barely used pressure cooker for sale on Facebook with several accessory pots that nest inside it for steaming and so forth.

I got over 45 responses. The first person was a no-show. I met the 2nd person at the library, but she questioned me about the part that goes on top of the lid, which I didn't have. I searched high and low for it and tore apart my kitchen without finding it, and finally concluded that it possibly never existed. I thought maybe the pressure relief valve was somehow built in.

I looked online but the Manttra website kept giving me warnings that my info could be pfished, so I didn't go further there, and found no user manuals for my particular model.

She bought it anyway, and then when I returned home, of course that's when I found the top, on the top kitchen shelf inside a cabinet, all the way in the back. Even though I had looked in there before.

So I called her back and drove to meet her, though she was half the way home. She was glad to get it. I felt it was good karma to do this on New Year's Day. Sort of sets the tone for the year ahead.

I made a big pot of tomato vegetable soup today for the workweek lunches. Did a load of laundry which is now drying on racks. Decided to wait til next weekend, for warmer weather, before doing another test drive with the kerosene heater again.

Back to reality tomorrow.