Home > Archive: July, 2011

Archive for July, 2011


July 31st, 2011 at 01:31 pm

OK, everyone, let's play "Design-a-Budget."

In this game, Patient Saver gets a Job Offer and then begins to wonder how she'll divvy up her small pot of gold her employer gives her.

Below, she lists her monthly net income and monthly expenses. Note that her expenses are grouped according to whether they are ESSENTIAL or discretionary.

There's a small amount of discretionary money available at the end of each month, and the amount depends in part on what exact salary Patient Saver (PS) can negotiate, but it will likely only be a difference of $4,000 at most.

If you can picture about 20 individual boxes, each labeled with one of my expenses, and consider my meager paycheck as Monopoly money, would you divvy it up about the same? How would you tweak where the money goes?

Remember, these are monthly expenses, so if I had an expense that happened once a year, like a $150 furnace cleaning, I would divide that number by 12 to get the monthly cost.

Net Monthly Income
They told me the salary would be "low 40s," so I'm making my calculations here based on a low of $40,000 and a high of $44,000.

Using an online paycheck calculator, I came up with the following:
$40K a year with 5% deducted for 401k contributions: my monthly net would be $2492.

$44K a year with 5% deducted for 401k contributions: my monthly net would be $2717.

Monthly Expenses, Fixed and Essential:
(Note: All essential monthly expenses are based on recent historical data becus PS keeps meticulous records of how she spends, so these numbers are pretty accurate.)

Mortgage and property taxes: $1146
COBRA: $165 (this is estimated based on what HR told me the company pays for your health coverage)
Food: $200
Electricity: $66
Heating oil: $65
Sewer (usage fee and loan): $60
Homeowners insurance:$56
Gas for car: $45
Phone and Internet: $44
Car insurance: $35
Water: $15
Borough taxes: $14
Car tax: $7
Dump sticker: $7
Minimal car maintenance: $3
Total: $1928

Not essential, but still important expenses I want to budget for:
Healthcare out of pocket: $37 (mostly routine co-pays but leaving a few hundred extra for something unforeseen)
Furnace cleaning: $12.50
Chimney cleaning: $12.50

Grand total so far: $1990

With a $40K salary, I'd have $502 left over each month; with $44K, I'd have $727 left over each month.

Here's how I'd like to use a bit more of that money:

Put $200 a month into mortgage prepayments.
Set aside $30 a month for dining out/entertainment. This could allow me to eat lunch out twice a month with a friend, or perhaps one lunch out and several movies. Or any other combo adding up to $30 a month.

That still leaves me with between $272 and $497 left over each month. At this point, I probably wouldn't try to budget any further. I suspect that I will go over my $200 a month allocation for food, for instance, and there are always expenses that don't fit neatly into my categories. Like, I like to buy bird seed to feed the birds, especially in winter. From time to time I need to buy ink cartridges for my printer. A small amount of clothing, like undergarments. And stuff like that.

But I'm just curious, if you've followed me this far and you had limited funds to spend, would you make your allocations any differently? Would you, for instance, do away with the 401k contributions entirely? Or the mortgage prepayments? Or put money aside for some non-discretionary item I haven't listed?

What Ifs About the Job

July 31st, 2011 at 07:31 am

I've been thinking about what kinds of changes, if any, I would make if I were to get that job I interviewed for. I'm trying not to get too overly focused on this, because I may not get it.

But I think there's a decent chance I will. Why?

1. They didn't advertise it online, only in 2 local weekly papers, as far as I can tell.

2. Because for most people with my level of experience, they will walk away because of the low salary. They may have some younger people willing to grab the job, but they would have less experience and expertise.

3. So of the smaller pool of experienced people who, like me, would consider it due to extended unemployment, I think only those who lived nearby would be willing to go for it. Because if you're going to take a low-paying job, I think most people would say, low-paying jobs are more plentiful than high-paying jobs and thus should be easier to find, so if I'm going to take one, I might as well take one closer to home with less commute. Only better paying jobs make the longer commute worthwhile. So I'm hoping both the low salary and the commute factor will eliminate a lot of other otherwise experienced job candidates.

But anyway, if I were to get the job, I've already been thinking of little changes I'd be making to both my lifestyle and my finances. For instance, should I reintroduce Netflix or cable TV back into my life? It would be tempting, but since I've managed thus far, I might want to just keep going without. I absolutely hate the thought of reintroducing regularly recurring bills back into my life. It has a way of just creeping up on you. So I don't know about those those. I might still cave when the cold weather comes.

Then there's the question about how much, if anything, I would be able to save. For me, savings is really about 2 things, mainly. Saving for retirement and prepaying the mortgage. Also, I will need a new car in a few years, prefer to buy new and pay in cash and would rather not take the whole amount out of savings, which is really retirement savings, altho some of that is in taxable accounts.

I suppose that paying off that mortgage must come first. It's my only debt. When I was working in town here and making $50K, I did manage to prepay the mortgage with an extra $425 a month and max out my 401k. But with $10,000 less, I would likely have to scale that back. Cus there wasn't much left over. I've been tentatively thinking I could continue prepayments, but to the tune of $200 or $250 a month, not $425. And I would still aim to max out the 401k. They do have an employer match.

Beyond that, I have no particular plans. I'm really glad I'm getting the vinyl siding done on the house. I will be forever rid of the too frequent chore of painting every few years. The roof and the driveway are 2 other big ticket items coming down the pike at some point.

But just having a regular income coming in would be reassuring I wouldn't have to dig into principal for day to day living.

I just have to steel myself for the tiny little paycheck I'd be getting. Worst case scenario would be $40K, which comes out to $769 gross per week! God! Nothing! Best case scenario would be $44K a year, coming out to $846K gross.

I'll have to be super careful, because take a look at my total annual expenses the last 5 years (see, tracking my expenses does come in handy for references like this):

2010: $34,712 (This is low only becus I was unemployed and forced to cut way back)

2009: $40,500

2008: $44,100

2007: $43,000

2006: $44,100

2005: $44,900

Granted, these totals included lots of mortgage prepayments, which is not ESSENTIAL, plus usually 1 or 2 home improvements. The vinyl siding this year, 2 years ago it was my sun room conversion, sometimes it was house painting, a new refrigerator, etc.

While I don't plan to make any more major home improvements along the lines of the sun room conversion ($5,000) or vinyl ($12,000) there will ALWAYS be other things coming up. My hot water heater probably doesn't have much life in it. Maybe a well pump would go, or the garage door opener. Etc. Etc.

Just thinking of these things reminds me that taking such a low-paying job would really only be wise for someone like me who has fairly substantial personal savings, because I know I could still cover myself in the event of some unexpected expense. So living on a low salary doesn't seem like quite the risk it could be for someone already living close to the edge, financially.

That's enough for my 3:31 a.m. ramblings. I guess I won't be able to indulge my insomnia if I get that job. There will be consequences.

Check out the progress on my house...

July 30th, 2011 at 04:34 pm

Day 1: The house is stripped bare of those nasty asbestos shingles! These boards have not seen the light of day since "circa 1930."

This is the back of the house. To my relief, there weren't gaping holes in the sub-board, nor huge infestations of ants. Or dead bodies.

Here is the vapor barrier. On top of this is the 1/2 inch foam insulation (R2 value).

Day 2:
Beautiful! The first side (the front of house) of vinyl siding is on. I swear, it looks like a much newer house.

Day 3: They've now moved to the north side of the house.

I was able to make significant progress writing my test assignment from the job interview. Early, early this a.m. I knew these vinyl guys would be here early.

I just liked the looks of this onion.

My first acorn squash growing on the vine.

How the job interview went!!

July 29th, 2011 at 05:34 pm

I had my job interview, as scheduled, this morning. I met briefly with the HR person alone, and then with a senior analyst who's been with the company for several decades.

I was a little surprised when, after a very rapid description of their publication process, the HR person launched into specifics of benefits. Not that I minded at all, it's just that usually they don't get into details unless an offer is made. She told me about vacation, and from what i can remember, it starts low, like 1 week, plus 6 personal days, but then doubles each year for the first few years anyway. They have a medical plan that covers 65% of premiums (is that better than average?) if you're single, like I am, plus a dental plan and you can purchase short and long-term disability. And they have a 401k plan with a match.

Work hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 pm with an hour for lunch and no cars are left in the parking lot after 4:30 pm. There's no overtime, and no evening or weekend work. I asked how this all came about, was it the philosophy of the CEO, and she said yes, he thinks work/life balance is important.

So the benefits seem decent, what you'd want to see, and i especially liked the work hours, which are essentially a 7-hour day/35-hour week. Most companies these days, if they give you an hour for lunch, require you to work an extra hour in the afternoon to make up for it. Like my last perm job, we got an hour for lunch, but your hours were 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 pm, not 4:30 pm. So this is quite nice.

It's casual dress only on Fridays.

So after telling me all this, she called in the senior analyst and he asked me a few specific questions I hadn't been expecting. I really didn't know much about the type of writing, after all. He asked me if I'd done much travel, or if I ever lived abroad. Because they report on countries and economies all over the world, and I think having more than a US-centric perspective helps in this job.

He also asked me what news publications I read, and I wish I had been able to mention a few more non-US ones.

So the company has 53 employees, quite small. Alternative energies would be a new division and there would be several writers working together on one of their reports, each doing a separate section. He said it's definitely the kind of job you grow into, that there are certain things I'd get pretty quickly,and other things that would take quite long to understand.

Still, I think they liked me. They've emailed me a writing test I have a week to do. It consists of a 60-page report which I have to scan and summarize; additional research on my part may be needed. He's already told me that 90% of what's in the report is irrelevant. They want to see if I can pick out the important parts and write about it intelligently. It's a Bangladesh budget speech.

This is all rather exciting to me. I love the idea of immersing myself in a given subject matter and then becoming an expert in it. I've done that before in several jobs, having come into it with no prior background.

I was feeling comfortable enough to ask them why they weren't looking for someone with a PhD in solar or something. In other words, there are many people far more qualified than me to do this job, and that's what I couldn't figure out.

They basically said they do have some people like that applying for the job, but they live elsewhere, don't want to move, and being at the forefront of the industry, don't have much time. I was wondering if that was the full story; maybe they just can't afford to pay the higher salaries these people would command. (Cus they already told me low 40s)

The foreman on my vinyl siding job informed me they're planning on working Saturday, so no break from the noise yet. I hope maybe they take a break on Sunday. I'd like some quiet time to delve into the Bangladesh report.

All hell breaking loose

July 28th, 2011 at 09:37 pm

Today the vinyl siding project on my house began.

I was a little perturbed because after 3 guys and a van showed up to unload a s***load of ladders/scaffolding, 2 left and there was just 1 guy left working all by himself for most of the morning.

At this rate, I thought, it's going to take forever to get done. However, the others returned around noon, and they've been on a tear ever since. After a full day of work, they're now on the last and final side of the house, the front.

And the banging is LOUD. They're banging so hard, taking off the asbestos shingles, that I had 2 small shelves in the kitchen fall to the floor. They were holding 2 little teapots. Luckily, the ceramic one that I liked fell onto a cushioned chair. What luck that it was perfectly positioned to catch it. The other tea kettle was tin, so no biggy there. I also had a mini shade come out of the bracket and fall in the upstairs bathroom.

As a precaution, I took down ALL my framed pictures, a large clock, small shelves and other items hanging on the outer walls.

The cats have mostly stayed in the basement although both cats were upstairs for a while. Even Waldo ventured up for a bit, which surprised me, becus he usually runs to the basement when someone even knocks on the door. He's very timid.

I think they are also putting up the Dow wrap and the 3/4 inch foam insulation as they go. Or at least they started to. The vinyl will come tomorrow. The contractor assured me they would have the walls covered before they left tonight, as it might rain.

I'm very excited to see this job done. It's going to look like a new house when they're done. I hope my plants survive. I hope they do a good job with cleanup.

However, the timing could have been better. I'm preparing for my job interview tomorrow, pulling my portfolio together, etc. and it's very difficult to think with all this racket.

I also ended up going to the doctor's because of that tick bite I had. I've been a little headachey, so don't want to take any chances just to save a few bucks. I'll start on 3 weeks of antibiotics tonight and I also ordered $80 worth of special herbs online as a follow-up. It was herbs that cured my Lyme last time after antibiotics failed to completely do the trick.

Job Interview!! Happy Dance!!

July 27th, 2011 at 04:24 pm

Yee haw! Got a job interview set for this Friday morning.

Once again, it pays to prowl the local newspaper help wanted section. There seem to be a number of businesses that prefer to avoid the onslaught of applicants that an online help wanted ad would generate.

This wasn't even a daily was my local hometown newspaper. The company that advertised is based right here!!! Wouldn't it be great to once again have no commute??

The job is a research and writing job, though the title is Analyst.

It's a small, but well-respected market intelligence provider that does research in certain industries and sells that information. It started out serving mainly the defense and aeronautics industry but looks to be expanding into energy/power and airlines.

What do I know about those industries? Absolutely nothing. But the ads also said nothing about being an expert in those fields.

Since it was so local, I hand-delivered my resume with some writing samples they hadn't asked for directly to the company this past Monday. I had taken a lot of care to write a tailored cover letter seeking to compensate for my lack of specific industry knowledge by talking about how good I am at writing about complex subject matter, like certain financial investments. I had also years back done website copy for one alternative energy company, so that was one of the writing samples I left with them.

Now I had applied for a writing job with this company years ago, like maybe 10 years ago. At the time, I remember this same woman had called me and told me their salary range, which was so low at the time i couldn't consider it.

So I was prepared when she brought up salary again. She asked me what my range was and i hemmed and hawed and she said well if i told you our range was in the low 40s would you still be interested?

I said yes, definitely, and told her I was very close to paying off my mortgage, and that doing so would really free me up to look at jobs that truly interested me, and that quality of life issues, like an easy commute, were important to me.

So she said well let's continue this conversation, but in person. So we're set for Friday. I may be meeting one other person but she's not sure.

I'm psyched. Low 40s is exactly HALF of what I could expect to make at many jobs in lower Fairfield County. However, I have passed many job postings up becus they were just too far away. I just don't want to schlep an hour to work every day, and back. I feel like it's giving up too much of my time, and I'm at a point in my life where I want to slow things down a little and not return to such a frenetic lifestyle.

Now I know I can survive, more or less, on unemployment, though I've deferred a lot of expenses, and that comes to about $28,000 a year. And I know when I worked at another local job, I made it work on $50,000 a year, starting out, and even then I insisted on contributing the max to my 401(k). (Although with such a small salary my 15% contributions didn't add up to so much.) AND I was still prepaying my mortgage an extra $400 a month!

All I really need is a job that will pay my current bills. Based on various retirement calculators, my $500K nestegg should grow to a million by the time I'm 65. Of course, I will still contribute as much as i can, that's just the way i am, but it seems large enough at this point that i could partly put it on auto-pilot.

I'm psyched.

My new neighbors

July 26th, 2011 at 10:42 pm

I was excited to see a mama raccoon and her three youngsters passing through the yard. I had been weeding here and there, but had been forced indoors by a sudden rain shower. There was a doe snorting impatiently at me while I was out there; I knew she wanted me to leave so she could do the daily feed on the fallen green apples from the tree. I see her there every single day, since the apples began falling. Even in summer, she is still quite lean, and you can see her ribs.

Relaxing in the sun room, Luther spotted them first. He growled. They nonchalantly climbed the Stairway to Heaven (aka, the stairs to my backyard) and disappeared into a row of forsythia.

You've seen the Stairway to Heaven before, but somehow it seems fitting to show it again in winter.

Anyway, they were awfully cute. I see practically everything here but for some reason, no raccoons in 15 years. Until this year. I knew they'd already ransacked a bag of cracked corn I had in the garage. My own carelessness, since I have a bad habit of leaving the garage door open.

In other news, I have an extremely sore backside. It feels exactly as if I bumped into something hard and caused a bruise, except that I didn't bump into anything that I remember. It's a bone near the top of my butt, to the right of my spine. It's very, very sore. Strange.

I met a friend at an MS luncheon at the Courtyard Marriott today. I like to go to these; it's a chance to talk with other MSers, meet new doctors and get a nice (free) meal. This one was a refresher course on proper injection techniques. Not the most uplifting topic, but still important as you can do a number of your skin if you keep injecting into the same spot day after day.

The really big news is that the guy I hired to do my vinyl siding is ready to start this week, probably Thursday or Friday. I'm not looking forward to the 1-2 weeks of inconvenience, mess and lack of privacy, nor the bill, but I definitely want to have it done.

I had originally hoped it would be done in June, but the bad weather and a tornado that damaged the builder's house set him back by a month or so.

I started hauling my many potted annuals and herbs into the garage, where they will safely remain for the duration of the project. Since they'll be tearing asbestos shingles off the house, I don't want any dust floating onto my basil.

I also pulled up a few solar walkway lights and some low border fencing so they don't trip over it. I'm most worried about my in-ground perennials being trampled and crushed. They all look so healthy, but it would be impossible to, say, put boxes over each to protect them becus there are just too many all around the house.

Tomorrow night I'm going to an author's presentation on getting your book published. I'm going out of personal interest, but also I'll be with the author whose book I'm editing. There will be a bunch of writers there. My author told me to bring my business cards; maybe I can drum up some business there.

Gross, Found a tick on me....

July 22nd, 2011 at 01:47 pm

I think I was getting a little too complacent after having had my yard perimeter sprayed with either an insecticide or water. It's part of a Yale tick study; I was thinking positively that it was the spray because I've noticed an obvious lack of carpenter ants this year and I read that the insecticide that kills ticks also kills ants.

But anyway, I've been berry picking in the backyard on pretty much a daily basis. I think I got too careless, even while sweating my butt off wearing the hip boots at times (!) because this early a.m. I was still in bed and noticed a very itchy spot on my finger. I figured a spider or mosquito had bitten me. When I got up and looked, there was a tiny, tiny black speck in between my 2 fingers. I scraped it with my fingernail and watched it. It moved. I freaked.

I put it in the toilet bowl and flushed.

I've had Lyme disease twice in the last 5 years. Luckily no lasting effects, just 3 weeks on antibiotics and avoiding the sun. I know they have to be attached to you for at least 24 hours before they can transmit Lyme, assuming they are positive for carrying the virus (at least half of them are).

I don't want to pay a $30 copay + the cost of meds if I don't need to. So I will watch for symptoms but not run to the doctor unless I notice any symptoms, which for me has always been persistent headaches.

I also have some leftover herbs (Andrographis is one) from last time I had Lyme and the antibiotics didn't seem to work. I had read a book about treating it with various herbs, and about 4 weeks on them after 2 rounds of antibiotics, 3 weeks apiece, in fact did the trick.

Don't assume that just because they're herbs, they aren't heavy-duty. I had taken too much of the Andrographus last time (you're supposed to ramp up gradually) and I broke out in horrible hives/rash. So it is potent stuff. It's anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial. And according to the book author, who I corresponded with, the herbs can also be used as a preventative, not just after the fact.

Isn't this a pretty pot of marigolds? I did not plant flowers, nor seeds. They all sprang up in different pots I had last year where the dried up flower blooms had reseeded themselves. I carefully transplanted them all to this one pot and they've done wonderfully. They're so cheerful!

Here's a window box on the side of my garage. It gets the full brunt of the southward-facing sun, and most annuals fry in this location. You just can't water enough to keep them looking healthy. So I decided to try succulents,and they've exceeded my expectations. You can see here a large hen and chick along with some creeping red sedums. (There's also a few pots of strawberries below, on the driveway.)

In the center there's a round rock, one of about a dozen I took as a "souvenir" from a beach somewhere in northeastern Canada. I remember that a Border Patrol agent yelled at me when he inspected our trunk as we returned to the States, but he didn't take them from me. I still use those exceedingly round rocks in various Asian style rock formations around my yard. I really like them.

So a few weeks ago the Honda dealer replaced the rear right wheel drum because it was rusting and bits of metal that had flaked off were getting inside the wheel and making a noise when I drove. I had to bring it back a 2nd time becus afterwards, it made a funny noise when I applied the brake. They had to file down the wheel becus it's possible it was warped, he said.

Then I had to bring it back a 3rd time and it seemed fine. But then I look at the drum yesterday, which you can easily see thru my rims, and the drum is all rusty. Just got it a few days ago. I'm guessing it rusted while sitting around a warehouse for who knows how long, but I'm not sure I should be paying $160 for a rusty drum. Called the dealer, he confirmed it was a new part, and said i could bring it by and he'd take a look. Which I will do this afternoon, after I meet with grad student to get supplies for the nutrition study.

So for those of you who followed by heat challenge yesterday, I ended up turning off the AC around 9 pm although it was still 80 degrees outside. I took a cold shower and slept in my upstairs bedroom where it is most comfortable. It was 88 degrees all night long and by the time I woke at 4:45 a.m., the downstairs was a muggy 80 while the outdoor temp was now down to about 75. So I flung open every window in the house, but had the AC going again around 7 a.m. It's that hot.

So the downstairs, set at 80, is comfortable, but not much to do down there! My kitchen is there and i can listen to the radio. But my upstairs office is still hot. Oh well.

I noticed mold growing on both my toilet bowls.

For anyone who is still reading at this point, I mentioned earlier a noticeable absence of those disgusting carpenter ants this year. I really think that spray is the reason why. But now I'm battling the tiny sugar ants. They're small in size but not in number. I actually had one rather large population attempt to colonize my living space as I discovered a trail, coming in from the corner of the front storm door, continuing along the front wall of the living room, then down the length of an Indian area rug, down along the fringe of a small Moroccan rug, along to the kitchen, past the cat food bowls, up the cabinets and along the bottom of the counter where they finally ended up on the counter where I'd been killing them and not knowing where they were coming from.

I deccimated that group, but i was still getting ants in the kitchen near the sink area. AFter doing some caulking of cracks, I FINALLY figured out they were coming in from behind 2 different wall outlet switches! I sealed them both up with extra wide packaging tape and thought I had licked the problem, but i'm still getting ants and STILL don't know where they're coming from. Unless you're staring directly at possible openings/crevices/cracks, you can't tell for sure because they just seem to wander aimlessley. It's very frustrating.

I have some ant bait and will have to sprinkle that outside around the house but i'm not sure they go for it as much as carpenter ants do. I need to get some pure boric acid, but not sure where to get it.

Didn't think I could do it, but I did,and it feels SOO much better

July 21st, 2011 at 06:47 pm

OK, I caved.

Meaning, my 1 small AC window unit is in my downstairs dining room window and blasting relief. Together with just 2 box fans, I've cooled off the downstairs core of the house (about 725 sf) to 78 degrees and it feels tolerable. I did close off the family room and sunroom, which get very hot.

I have one of the box fans in the basement at the foot of the stairs, blowing the much cooler air of the basement right up the stairwell into the kitchen. It's working pretty well, I must say.

I'm rather surprised that 1 small unit I have (an Energy Star unit, thankfully), which I bought years ago at Costco for $99, is doing the downstairs pretty well. As you ascend to near the top of the stairs to the 2nd floor, it gets noticeably hotter and more humid. Wonder how I'll sleep tonight. Well for now, my cooling "system" is working.

I didn't want to put any more holes in the window sills to hold that AC unit in place. It's quite heavy. But I put it in the window with no screws, closed the window on top of it, and on the outside, I put a metal folding chair with a 2 x something to prop up the AC unit on its back end.

I got the idea from my author, who I met for iced tea this a.m. in a very warm coffee shop. We chit-chatted for 2 hours, mostly about her various books. But there are some funny coincidences here.

After living in town for 15 years, I still know just a handful of people in my adopted hometown. Cus normally when I work f/t, it's somewhere else and I don't have much free time to get around here.

But I was referred to D. by my neighbor who was taking D.'s painting class at the senior center. Then a while back I discovered that D. and I both use the same handyman. Then today, I learned that the guy she had mentioned whose bathroom she was redesigning, and who had said he'd help her publicize the book via radio/TV when she's ready, well, I discovered that man was my old boss when I worked at a TV/radio PR agency 2004-2007! She couldn't have picked a better person to do it. He really knows his stuff and all the right people. We both got laid off at the same time and from what she tells me, he's still doing the same kind of work but for himself this time. It's just so funny that we know the same people, considering that I know so few here!