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Archive for December, 2011

Net Worth, 12/31/11

December 31st, 2011 at 06:46 pm

I went to update my net worth on but I'm getting a weird message that they can't validate their credentials, so I'm afraid to log in there.

So I'll update my net worth here.

As of 12/31/11, it's $461,436, not including the house.

Compared to a year ago at this time, I'm DOWN $24,866. Bummer. I have to chalk that up to withdrawing $13,000 for vinyl siding last summer and withdrawing another $17,000 to throw at my dwindling mortgage balance. The rest of the difference must be attributable to the vagaries of the stock market. Normally, I'd be investing part of my income to compensate for this.

But compared to 2 years ago at this time (2009), I'm UP $146,210. (I guess that's when the stock market was still in a deep trough.)

If you include my home value, based on the most recent Zillow estimate, which gets emailed to me regularly, my net worth is $747,652.

Happy New Year, from the boys

December 31st, 2011 at 03:33 am

Here's looking at you, kittens.

So what's everyone doing for New Year's?

December 31st, 2011 at 01:44 am

Just curious what you're doing...

Today was another relatively mild day here in CT, and supposed to be like that through the weekend. I still have a half tank of oil left, which should get me through January.

I hauled some more cut up tree logs and brush to the driveway. I think I have close to a cord stacked now.

Didn't do much else today. I have at least 3 unfinished projects around the house, off the top of my head, but no inclination to tackle any of them. A half painted spare bedroom. A half wallpapered bathroom. Ugh.

So nice to see my mortgage balance in 4 figures for the first time ever! The countdown begins!!

I changed my electricity provider (not the first time) for the coming year. The state has a website where you can compare the cost of about 20 different companies. Why would anyone go with a company offering less than the lowest rate?? I just don't get it. There's no fee to switch, and no fee to cancel, which you can do at any time. It's a no-brainer.

So I switched from ConEd, who last year offered the lowest price, at 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour, to 7.98 cents were kilowatt hour with Dominion.

You might say, what a teensy difference, why bother? Well, if you consider that you use electricity every hour of the day, 24 hours a day, then it's really worth investigating. Becus it really adds up.

I switched out all my bulbs to CFLs years ago and still I noticed my 2011 electrical costs were 4% cheaper than the year before. I have to think it's becus I shaved off a few cents last year switching electricity providers and that made a difference. Let's see if I can do it again in 2012.

A little extra something for Xmas

December 29th, 2011 at 10:54 pm

I participate in an online forum hosted by a major credit card company. Each month you continue to participate, you get $15 or $20 in amazon gift certificates. And then I participated in another limited time forum by the same company and got $25 from that, so I discovered today I had $40 worth of Amazon gift codes to use. Smile Smile Smile

I always opt for cold, hard cash when that's an option, but it wasn't here, so I got to browse Amazon and try to figure out how to best spend the money.

I didn't want to buy anything that required tons of postage, becus of course that would have to come out of the gift card. And I didn't want to get something that I could more, or just as cheaply, by going to a local store.

I have been wanting a new pair of slip on, laceless sneakers which I haven't been able to find locally. I found a pair of Grasshoppers on amazon that was exactly what I wanted. Navy blue and even a wide width. I had some money left over and bought 2 packages of edamame vegetable seeds for next year's garden. I had .43 left over and part of the order qualified for free shipping.

I felt so happy getting this stuff for free. Especially since I've steered clear of most discretionary spending for most of the past two years. The online surveys and forums, with their small rewards, do serve a purpose; kind of like a pressure release valve that keeps me from feeling totally deprived.

I'm waiting to receive another $65 in cash from the surveys, and I've built up $60 worth of points with Toluna; I'll wait til the New Year to redeem them. Last fall, I'd reached the point of having earned $600 in income from Toluna surveys alone, so they wanted my SS number so they could issue me a 1099. I decided to just stop doing surveys this year to avoid that, and I'll pick it up again next month.

Next year's garden, by the way, will be a back to basics garden that's highly geared toward pricey produce:

1. Edamame: i love these shelled in a cold salad with corn, black beans and chopped tomato and onion with a little Goddess salad dressing from Trader Joe's. Delish and so nutritious. And they're EXPENSIVE in the store. AND, as a legume,they actually improve my garden soil, which is already incredibly loamy and fertile, if I do say so myself.
2. Tomatoes: Of course, can't have a summer garden without these. Will grow both cherries and beefsteak.
3. Cucumbers: To go with the tomatoes!
4. Salad greens

Had a good talk with dad today. He wants to come up after the new year for all the firewood I've stacked in my driveway (from the October snowstorm). I'm betting he'll want to hit the German restaurant for dinner with his two favorite gals (me and my sister)!

Thanks for all the well wishes about the potential job. I am crossing my fingers and toes to hear some positive news on Tuesday.

I would really like to see Meryl Streep in Iron Lady.

Interviewed for a Survival Job

December 28th, 2011 at 10:24 pm

I interviewed today for what I would call a "survival" job. Meaning, it's not my field and not what I'd want to be doing for the long term, but it would do just fine for right now and the foreseeable future. Until the job market opens up again.

I came across it yesterday on Craig's List, emailed them and got a quick note back from someone saying when can you come in. I said how about tomorrow (meaning, today), and that's how it happened.

It's just a lowly transcriptionist job. Their client base is interesting - they do transcriptions for network TV shows.

I met with one of the owners of the company, who was very nice. The job offers several pluses. The hours sound very flexible. I could work days,nights, weekends, or skip some time, if I wanted to do my freelance writing.

They had me do a bunch of typing tests and they showed that I type about 90 words a minute (!!) with an accuracy rate of about 90%. He said "I like what I see, I like what I see." They pay by the word, and while he didn't tell me the exact rate, he said if I typed, say, 60 words per minute and was very diligent, I should be able to make between $16 and $18 an hour.

Like I said, it's not my dream job, but it will pay the bills, and these days, my goals are very humble. Just want to survive, pay the bills and keep myself going until the job market opens up a little and I get a regular, salaried job with the all-important benefits.

I can continue paying thru the nose for COBRA all through 2012, and through June of 2013, I think. Sometime before June 2013, I MUST find a job with benefits.

It's also casual dress, so I could wear jeans, if I wanted. It's about a 40-minute drive, right off the highway. To keep my gas costs down, it sounds like I could probably work 4 10-hour days if I wanted, rather than drive in for 5. I'm still not sure how much work there would be. He said it pretty much works out to be an average of 40 hours a week, but becus of the way the work comes in, there will be days I don't work, and certain "breaks." Not sure how long those breaks are, but I think I'd welcome them so I can attend to my freelance work, etc.

The other plus is that they would put me on payroll and deduct taxes from my check. I feel that's a plus, becus I just feel like I'm paying higher taxes (self-employment taxes) as a sole proprietor. This way, I don't have to worry about making estimated quarterly tax payments to the IRS. And when you're on payroll, it's something the Dept of Labor recognizes and gives you credit for (should I need benefits again down the road) When you do 1099 work, in the Dept of Labor's eyes, it's as if you didn't work at all.

He said he'd call me right after New Year's. They are hiring 4 transcriptionists. He has to interview 20 more people, he said. Down the road, I could possibly work at home, but not starting out. I'd have to buy my own transcription equipment, which he said costs about $300, but then I could work for anyone with it. (Truth be told, I don't plan on being there long enough for that to occur, but you never know.)

So, I would be very grateful if I got the job. In the past, I would've considered it "beneath me," but now I have absolutely no problem doing anything, just to earn some money. Once you leave the salaried corporate world, it can be hard to find any part-time job that pays over $10 an hour.

My ranked 2011 Income, All Sources

December 27th, 2011 at 08:40 pm

I already posted a breakdown of my 2011 expenses. Here's my modest income for the year, ranked from highest to lowest amounts.

Net unemployment $18,092
Contract job #1(April-May) $5576
Freelance writing (9 clients total, but most of this was from 2 clients) $5525
Contract job (this was my final check from contract employer from 4th quarter of 2010) $2,375
IRS refund $1,937
Contract job #2 (Nov-Dec) $1485
Online surveys $803
In-person surveys, focus groups, product testing $605
Academic research studies (Yale and UConn) $548
Credit card rewards (Chase, Citi, Amex) $425
Other (1 day as a poll worker, Xmas cash, etc) $405
State tax refund $39
Manufacturer rebates $31
Found money $11
Craig’s List sale $10

Total $37,867

If you exclude the nearly $14,000 I spent on vinyl siding this year, my net income exceeded expenses by $3,434.

One interesting thing of note: I made roughly the same amount of money from my freelance work, done all year long at about $50 an hour, as I did from a 2-month contract job, working full-time at just $20 an hour.

It just goes to show you how steady full-time work at a modest hourly rate will help your earnings grow much faster than intermittent work that pays more than double your rate at the full-time job!

The good, the bad & the ugly: My 2011 expenses

December 27th, 2011 at 07:53 pm

Some of you may know I keep meticulous track of my expenses, all year long. Income too, of course.

Here is the big reveal of my ranked expenses for the year, a few days ahead of schedule, along with a few side notes:

1. Mortgage/taxes: $14,177
This doesn't include a lump sum payment of $17k I took from savings.

2. Vinyl siding: $13,789
Even going with the lowest bid last summer, the results of which I'm very happy with, this was still enormously expensive. This also came out savings.

Something needed to be done as the house was peeling again and it's difficult to prep asbestos shingles the way you should when paint is already peeling, so I opted to remove it once and for all and go with vinyl. The 1/2 inch foam insulation was well worth it, IMO, as I've noticed it helps muffle outdoor noises and I feel pretty comfortable with indoor temps of 62 days/57 nights, which in the past would be on the chilly side.

3. COBRA and out of pocket medical expenses: $6,807
This figure just makes me cringe. It represents a 64% increase over what my medical expenses were last year. That's because last year I enjoyed the federal COBRA subsidy, which went away in 2011.

$835 of this is for out-of-pocket co-pays. One thing I've learned is that when an insurer tells you "it's 100% covered," it's really not. This was all routine check-ups except for a stubborn yeast infection and Lyme Disease that had to be treated.

4. Food: $2,591
On the plus side, I spent just about the same amount on food last year. This works out to an average $215 a month for a single person. I'd like to do better, given that it's my #4 expense, but when the average person goes grocery shopping at least 52 times a year, it's hard to shop smart each and every time.

5. Heating oil: $1,117
This represents a 20% decrease compared to last year, but I think most of the savings can be attributed to the fact that I skipped my annual furnace tune-up this year.

6. Home maintenance: $959
I regret forking over $360 to a couple of guys who removed a foot of snow off the roof of my house after one heavy snowstorm. Everyone was doing it after the news repeatedly showed the shallow-pitched roofs and the roofs of old barns caving in from the weight of the heavy, wet snow. Another big chunk of this was miscellaneous small handyman jobs I had someone do, part of it related to damaged caused by the ice dams in the gutters from the same storm.

I have since purchased a snow rake and intend to get out and use it as soon as there's more than a few inches on the roof so the same thing doesn't happen again, especially since I also spent money getting paneling in 2 closets damaged by the melting ice.

7. Cats: $837
This just boggles my mind, considering neither of my 2 cats had any health problems this year, except I did take Waldo in for what turned out to be allergies. The vet is enormously expensive. Still, this figure represents a 40% decrease from last year, when I think there were more trips to the vet. On the plus side, i purchased an extra YEAR'S worth of cat litter at Costco this year because I won't be renewing my Costco membership, and they have very cheap cat litter.

I love my cats dearly, but I don't think I would again adopt a 2nd cat so lightly.

8. Household: $827
I was shocked that this figure includes $350 spent on an upholstered chaise lounge for my sun room. I remember that I'd been wanting to get something comfortable for the room once it was finished 2 summers ago, but I haven't been working f/t for 2 years. Then I remembered that my work at Big Company was in the last quarter of 2010, so no doubt I was feeling "flush" with cash and decided to indulge. And there was a time when I was quite sure I was going to get an offer for a permanent position there, since they let the other 2 contract writers go and kept me to the end, and I kept getting good feedback. But it didn't work out that way.

9. Electricity: $744
Connecticut is known for having some of the highest electric rates in the country. Remember, I use oil to heat my house. Fortunately, I'm signed up to receive a $100 to $200 credit on next year's electric bills, compliments of CL&P after most of us went without power for 7 days during Irene in August and the snowstorm in October. The exact amount depends on how many people sign up for it. Why we should have to sign up, I don't know. The power company knows who was out of power, so why make it contingent on someone hearing about the credit or not?

10. Sewers: $738
This is high because it includes ongoing usage fees as well as payments on a mandatory $9,900 loan residents in certain neighborhoods had to take out to pay their share for a new sewer treatment plant. I should be through paying off that stupid (2%) loan in another 5 years.

Those are my top 10 expenses, ladies and gentlemen.

Then there's the:
Homeowners insurance: $691
(reflects $5,000 deductible)
Paneling 2 closets: $644
Phone and Internet: $586
Gas for car: $571
This represents a 31% decrease from last year. I've been successful in consolidating errand trips! Plus, I guess prices have come down.
Washing machine: $514
Auto insurance: $447
It keeps creeping up despite a 12-year old car with no collision and a perfect driving record!
Car tax and AAA membership: $280
Water: $196
Car upkeep: $195
Borough taxes: $165
Dining out: $82
Dump sticker: $80
Cable TV: $62 (cancelled it entirely in August)
Clothing: $62
Haircuts: $58
Gardening: $47
Vacations: $46 (this was cost of gas to visit dad on Jersey shore)
Gifts: $29 (Yup, that's all I spent on Christmas this year)
Bird feeding: $15
Subscriptions: $10 This was a special they had on a year's worth of Sunday newspapers. I thought I could recoup the cost from grocery coupons. Don't think it was worth it.
Entertainment: $6 This was 3 movies I saw at the $2 movie theater.

Total Expenses: $48,222
Not including the vinyl siding: $34,433

Next: My income, analyzed

Nice enough

December 26th, 2011 at 09:26 pm

Christmas was nice enough.

We had a ham dinner and i brought my slow cooker over with a cranberry rice pudding, as well as chocolate/walnut/cranberry cookies.

The gift giving was very simple this year. My mother gave my and my sister money, figuring we could use it. (yes.) My sister gave us each a bag containing several jars of homegrown and homemade strawberry and kiwi jam as well as cocoa dried pear rings.

My sister surprised us both by telling us she'd had hip replacement surgery 2 weeks ago! She's only 2 years older than me and very anti-medicine in general, so this was quite a shock. But she had been hobbling around for the past year or two and refusing to talk about it becus she doesn't like my mother asking questions and acting all worried. Anyway, I'm glad she had it done; I know she was in a lot of pain becus she's into herbs and natural supplements and stuff like that but doesn't trust doctors. She has extreme views which are frankly ridiculous.

It looks like a friend will be coming up here for a visit tomorrow night. I haven't seen him in 3 years or so but we talk frequently on the phone, almost daily. He's just a friend, and frankly gets on my nerves at times. Guess we'll have to see how it goes. I sort of have mixed feelings about seeing him.

I'm sort of stalling on buying a new dryer. I just don't want to spend the money. I came out about $600 ahead for the month of December, and I keep thinking about the next oil tank fill-up that will likely come toward the end of next month. I haven't checked oil prices lately, but I'm thinking it'll be in the $500 to $600 range. So I know I'll have to get a new dryer at some point, but for now, not working, I can air-dry my laundry in the dry air of the house. There's always the iron if I need to go somewhere for a job interview.

Monkey mama had suggested getting a used dryer. I suppose I could go that route, but I don't really feel comfortable buying a used dryer from a stranger, cus I'd have no way of knowing whether it was a decent dryer or not. I might as well get a new one where delivery and set-up are included...just not right away.

I've got a beef stew with orange zest going in the slow cooker.

I went way overboard with groceries this month. Spent $280. That's way more than I like to spend. Not sure what to attribute it to.

I spent my Xmas eve applying to a bunch of p/t jobs I saw on Craig's List which seemed like they could be interesting. Even a single regular p/t job would do wonders for my budget.

I spent an hour or so this afternoon tromping around in the brush perimeter of my backyard, where the downed trees were cut up, and rolling some of the smaller logs down the hill, which I then carted in my wheelbarrow to stack in the driveway. They're in the bramble patch, and come spring, that whole area will be impenetrable, so this is the time to get that firewood. There's also a lot of smaller tree branches that aren't burnable, so I've been stacking them in several piles, which make great cover for the birds here.

It was good to get out and get some fresh air on a relatively mild (low 40s) winter day.

I forgot to mention that when I finished up the nutrition study, I got the results of my 2 DEXA scans, which check for bone mineral density. (Or maybe I did?) Anyway, my bone density is slightly better than the average bone density of a 20 to 40 year old, and even better than other women my age. I also have greater hand strength than other women my age. Presumably, I'm stronger in general due to my yard work, but the testing involved things like hand grip, how long I could balance on one leg, how quickly I could run up and down 3 flights of stairs and stuff like that.

The dryer's gone kaput

December 24th, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Inexplicably, it just stopped running in the middle of a load of laundry I was drying. I guess it had a major coronary cus now it won't run at all.

I made a half-hearted attempt to rule out the obvious stuff, but i'm not very mechanical and truth be told, it's 16 years old.

Funny, how it went out just a few months after the washing machine did. I bought them both at the same time, both Whirlpools that I bought when I moved into the house.

I GUESS i got my money's worth,though a dryer is pretty much a dryer and I don't want to spend a nickel if I don't have to.

The most affordable dryer I found was a GE with pretty good reviews for $300, delivered, from Home Depot. the offer for free delivery lasts through January, I think.

I don't know, I may hold off ordering it in the hope that I come across some huge sale somewhere. I occasionally dry my clothes in the house in the winter months by draping them over everything! Actually, they dry pretty well becus the heat in here is so dry.

The day before Christmas....

December 24th, 2011 at 07:17 pm

It may be the day before Christmas, but the holidays aren't usually as idyllic as they portray on It's a Wonderful Life. In my world, anyway.

Just got a call from my dad's girlfriend. It's the time of year when a lot of old friends call around the holidays. She's having a tough time with a lot of health issues. She just had surgery to remove her thyroid, cancer, and now there's an issue with something they saw on her mammogram. She's had breast cancer before. And she's got her mother down for about a week or so, and they don't get along too well. If I lived closer and didn't have my own family up here, I'd go down and spend time with her to break up the one on one stuff with her mother. (She has no siblings.) My dad will be spending tonight at his brother-in-law's place. (His second wife passed away years ago.) I know, it gets complicated.

I had invited my neighbor over tonight for some brie and crackers, but she's having trouble with her hip and doesn't want to do my stairs. She's overdue for hip surgery. Had the knee done last summer. I was debating whether or not to suggest we go out driving with a thermos of hot chocolate and look at all the Christmas lights on the houses, but maybe I'll just stay inside.

I'm still editing emails for the IT director at the Yeshiva school in NYC. He must always be in hot water with his boss, the rabbi/principal, becus in many of the letters he's apologizing for certain things going wrong. I get the feeling this rabbi is not the easiest person to work for.

I did spend a nice afternoon at The Author's yesterday. I got to see her beautiful home. She is an interior designer, after all. Some neat hand-painted rugs on a wood floor,crystal chandeliers and lots of moldings and trim on the walls. And every interior door in her downstairs was a French door, to let the light in, she said.

A while ago I offered to go thru her book again to scan it for any final errors that might jump out at me. i planned to spend maybe a few hours doing that, and I told her it was on me, no charge.

Well, she had gone in and made some changes to the copy, here, there and everywhere. When she was done, she gave it to me for my final look and it was riddled with errors. Missing punctuation, the wrong punctuation, random words that didn't belong,misspellings....It really forced me to go through the entire book again, line by line.

So I regret saying I would do this at no pay. I must've spent about 24 hours on it already. Oh well. I know she'll be giving me her next book to edit. It's half the size of this one. Book 3 is also ready to go.

I made some chocolate/walnut/cranberry cookies, put them in a Christmas tin and picked up a pretty butterfly tree ornament at a local gift shop,and that was my gift to her. She also gave me a gift, a butterfly necklace and matching earrings! The butterfly figured prominently in her book.

On Thursday I finished up with the nutrition study and got my final payment. I also got the results of my 2 DEXA exams, which were part of the study. The good news is, according to the scans, my bone density is slightly higher than the average 20 to 40-year old. (I'm 52.) I believe you have peak bone density when you are 30. I'm not at all surprised at my good results, because I do a ton of yard work and lawn mowing that most women my age don't do. Heck, if I were married, i wouldn't be doing it either!

But the tests also showed that I lost a half inch in height in the 6 months between the 2 exams. The grad student who I've been working with and I both wondered if that's becus someone else, another student, took my first height measurement and she took my second. Given how good my bone density is, it's a little hard to believe that I lost a half inch in height in such a short time. Maybe the guy who measured me just didn't put the metal thing flat against my head or something. I don't think I'll worry about it, but I will bring the test results to show my PCP at my next physical to see if I can learn any more about the results.

Ah, well, another year is almost over. One can only hope that 2012 will be better. I hope everyone enjoys their holiday.

How to create an easy winter woodland under glass

December 21st, 2011 at 02:51 am

I got some holiday cheer today, finally. And so I set about putting out a few more Christmas decorations.

I created this lovely bird nest scene in a glass bowl I bought for a dollar at a tag sale a few years ago. It was so easy to do. I got the idea from Better Homes & Garden magazine.

After selecting a glass container like this, dust it with confectionate sugar on the bottom for the "snow." then insert the bird's nest. (I dusted the bird's nest too.) I used a real one here I collected years ago, but you can find something similar at your local craft store. I went outside and cut a few sprigs of hemlock and used one of the birds from my Christmas decor, as well as a few small ornaments for the "eggs." And voila. I think it's kind of cute.

Today was my product testing venture. I was convinced I wouldn't qualify because one of the questions on the screening survey online was, "Do you have a lot of moles/freckles on your arms? I sort of do. But happily, they accepted me. I overheard the women at the lab saying there were a lot of cancellations, so maybe they were running short on subjects. The product was a body wash. So I'll get a check for $40 in early January.

I've been thinking about my marketing plans for 2012. My freelance business, I mean. Last year, I emailed a whole bunch of realtors, got a few queries, but no work. This time, I want to contact office sales managers only, and if I can find the equivalent of the new construction VP, my oldest client, at other real estate firms, that would be where the work would subdivisions or condos. Office sales managers will happily spend company money on PR or marketing, while individual realtors generally don't, unless they're top producers.

I know that 2 of 3 big clients of mine about 6 years ago at one brokerage have since gone on to other brokerages. I want to target all 3 brokerages in 2012. To make better inroads, I decided to email the 3 I did a lot of work for, and who really liked me, just to ask them if I could use their name as a reference should an interested sales manager inquire. Normally, I would use their name without bothering to ask, but I plan to be contacting LOTS of people and I don't want the 3 to be inundated with queries without knowing in advance what it's all about.

I heard back from one already and she said she'd be happy to write a testimonial. I hadn't really asked her to write anything, just to serve as a reference. I think she may have read my email too quickly. Five minutes after that, she'd send me a 2-sentence testimonial that really made me sound great. So then I figured, heck, this is too good NOT to use. So I asked her if she could put it on my Linked In page, which she did.

Its real power would be if I used it in a marketing flyer I sent to sales managers at her company (a big one), but that's difficult to do because if you go to their website, they don't provide their work email addresses anymore; if you want to email them, you fill out one of those forms online. It would seem a little odd to include the quote in that kind of format.

Phone calls cost money and half the time you'll get voice mail. If you get the person on the phone, they won't remember half of what you said, unlike a flyer they can look at more than once. Mailed flyers, of course, also cost money. So email is the way to go. I just wish I could get around the online message form on the website, which is not conducive to a nicely-designed flyer. Tempted to ask the woman who sang my praises for a list of sales manager email addresses at her company, but don't want to push my luck.

Well, I still have time to mull over the details. But I'm planning on starting right after New Year's with my email campaign.

I have a sizable pile of firewood growing in the driveway form the October storm. I happened to call my dad last night. He expressed interest in the wood. (I don't have a fireplace.) I said sure, but then said gee, you might not want it, it's cut but not split. My dad is 78 and really sedentary. But he told me he'd just bought a splitter. Which would be perfect. So I said ok, next time you're up.

This a little tabletop tree I won in a silent auction a number of years ago. I like it becus it has little red and green bows and came with some miniature lights on it. There's nothing to disassemble. I just store it in the attic.

Tomorrow and Thursday are the last legs of my nutrition study, thankfully. I'm ready to move on to other things.

Since I have to stay home to do the urine collection aspect of the study, I think I may start baking Christmas cookies. I'll start with the super duper easy chocolate/walnut/dried cranberry concoction and then go from there.