Nothing momentous today, but enjoyable all the same to have all this time off from work.
I went down to Barnes & Noble to use a $20 gift card and, strangely, had the hardest time trying to find something to spend it on. Maybe because I already got 4 books for Christmas? I wound up buying 2 crossword puzzle books. I got in the habit of doing these at night after watching Hulu for a while, and without having cable TV anymore.
I also bought a quilt at Christmas Tree Shop. It's so thin, one could hardly call it a real quilt, but they were just $20 for every size, so I bought a king size for my queen bed. I also bought 4 green bowls because they were half price (.99 ea) and I am so hooked on vivid, saturated green colors.
I meant to next check out an Indian spice shop but there was awful backed up traffic on the other side of the highway so I decided to skip it.
I came home and made a very good chili using unsweetened cocoa in it as well as ground allspice, cumin, oregano, turmeric, chile powder and a few other spices.
Tomorrow is my Asian brush painting class and perhaps a few groceries in town.
I saw an online job posting for a marketing manager. It is clearly my employer (they listed the 2 addresses where the job could be located). It is also clear this new position (a contract job like mine) would supervise me as they reference that in the write-up.
I guess the reason why they are looking to hire this position is not because they think I need better supervision, because as I mentioned, they listed the job location as being either here in CT where I work or in Massachusetts, where one of our other offices is.
I like my current boss and would rather not have to report to someone new, but she clearly is overloaded and has very little time to work with me in any way. But it is curious to me that both my position and now my new prospective manager's position are both contract positions. It doesn't really give me any insight as to what their plans might be next July, when my initial contract is up.
I'm continuing to get a LOT of use out of a free month of Netflix, which expires mid-January. Nearly every night since starting it, I watch Netflix rather than Hulu and avoid all the commercials. A friend had recommended 3 or 4 movies, but none of them were available on Netflix streaming, though.
I am anxious for the New Year so I can make my $6500 IRA contribution. I sold some taxable mutual funds and the money is now sitting in my checking account.
Archive for December, 2013
Nothing momentous today, but enjoyable all the same to have all this time off from work.
In my last post, I looked at the details of my 2013 expenses, which totaled $37,807.
Now I'll look at my income.
The grand total is much higher than I thought it would be, but after working no less than three contract jobs, one part-time job, doing my freelance work and all the smaller miscellaneous money-makers, it was hard to keep track of.
My total gross income was: $48,761 and my net after taxes, which is what I actually lived on, was about $40,000.
Net wages from the five jobs mentioned above, plus partial unemployment when I worked part-time, came out to about $35,000, while the rest of my income was earned from many and varied sources, including:
Credit card rewards: $1324 (This doesn't include another $94 in earned in credit card gift cards).
Focus groups, product testing: $340
Manufacturers' rebates, promos: $191
Online surveys and forums: $117 (This doesn't include $519 in mostly Amazon gift cards I earned throughout the year.)
Garage sale: $101
We the Savers blog contest: $100 (I got paid for this today, but the blog won't post til next month, I'm told.)
Housecleaning chores done for family and friends: $384
So, all told, looks like I saved about $2,665 for the year. Not bad, considering I worked full-time for only 3.5 months of the year.
So of my net $40,000, about $5,500 of that was non-wage, unconventional income. So when I think about how hard it would have been to live on $34,500 without that extra $5,500, it helps motivate me to keep up all of the little diddly things I did to earn a hundred here or $50 there. At a higher income in the 70s or 80s, that little bit of extra money probably wouldn't matter so much, but at this income level it made a huge difference in livability and comfort.
The credit card rewards, I can clearly see, were the most lucrative among these things and took very little work, other than tracking my spending. Each time I think I've pretty much gotten to the end of bonus reward credit cards I can exploit, I come across a new one.
I spent a total of $37,807. That's just $2,000 more than 2012, which I consider very good.
Let's take a look at my ranked expenditures up close and personal:
2013 Honda Civic: $19,976. This represents 34.5% of my total spending for the year. (I'm not including it in my total spend referenced above because it's such a large, one-time expense and it would really skew things.)
New roof: $5,800, or 15% of total spending for the year.
Health insurance: $5597, or 14.8% of total spending. This is actually 12% lower than what I spent last year, but only because I skipped paying premiums for 2 months (and took a chance) when I switched from my COBRA, which was expiring, to the state plan of last resort.
Property taxes: $5,368, or 14.1% of total annual spending. I have seen for a while now that, excluding big ticket special expenses like certain home improvements, health insurance and property taxes vie for the #1 and 2 expenses each year.
Food: $3,277, or 8.6% of total spending, This is 13% more than 2012. While I don't eat a lot of meat, I do tend to indulge in certain pricey food items and organic foods.
Sewers: $3,033. This includes both the payoff of the loan as well as usage fees. In 2014, with the loan out of the way, this figure should be way, way down on my ranked list of expenses.
Healthcare out of pocket: $1,739, or 4.5%. This was 32% higher than what I spent last year, all due to spending hundreds on diagnostic tests and doc visits to determine the cause of 2 unexplained (and unrelated) symptoms: a cough and headaches. Never did figure out the cause of either one. Doc thought cough was due to post nasal drip but tried 3 different sprays and they did nothing. As for the headaches, they started in June and finally resolved by end of November, on their own. I chalk it up now to stress.
If i combine my out-of-pocket expenses with premiums, that is a whopping $7,336, or 19.4% of my total annual spending. I sure hope that with my new Obamacare plan, my expenses here moderate in 2014.
Household: $1224. Don't like using this category much as it camouflages what exactly I spent on. It's sort of a catch-all for certain items that don't neatly fit into some other category.
Home maintenance: $1,200. .
Heating oil: $986. This was the first of 2 pleasant surprises. I actually spent 19% less than I did last year. Since I took no special additional conservation measures, I can only attribute the lower spending to lower fuel prices.
Gas: $840. This was down 7% from last year, again due to lower energy costs, not any change in driving.
New computer/monitor: $834
Car insurance: $795
Clothing: $733. This is something I kick myself for. I tend to spend on clothing before starting a new job. Really not needed, and I can't justify this level of spending when my income has been so unstable.
New hot water heater: $723
Cats: $667. A 31% increase over last year! This was mostly food and litter, though it also included one trip to vet when Luther jumped out of a second story window. But I've also gotten into the bad habit of regularly buying expensive, $3 a can cat food as a "treat" for the cats a little too often. Half the time they don't like the new foods anyway, so I have decided to stick with the lower priced cat foods, which are still far and away better for cats' health than dry food, according to vets.
IRS: $665. These are quarterly IRS tax payments for my freelance writing.
Electric: $625. Rates will jump 20% in 2014.
Phone/Internet: $625. I'm hoping that with my switch to AT&T UVerse I'll save money and not need to buy additional cell phone minutes anymore since I'll now have 4 hours of free talk time each month.
Homeowners insurance: $584
New furnace humidifier: $520 Worth the expense. No more static electricity when I pet the cats and it's fairly comfortable indoors at 64 degrees, the highest I set it at.
Car repairs: $496, mostly for my 14-year-old Honda. It should be less next year with the new car.
Car tax/registration/license: $366
Dining out: $164, all fast food here and there
Borough taxes: $156
Dump sticker: $85
Entertainment: $69 (very frugal here)
Haircuts: $51. Managed to spend less this year than last by using Great Clips coupons, even though each year I got 4 haircuts.
Bird suet: $5
Next up: Tomorrow, I'll analyze my income!
My mother doesn't like driving in the dark anymore (it's the blinding headlights of other drivers on secondary roads that is the issue), so I picked up my mother yesterday and then we drove together to my sister's house. We were a small group of five: myself, my mother, my father, sister and her boyfriend. As mentioned earlier, this was the first time I can ever recall sharing a meal with both my parents, together, so it was very nice.
My father, up from New Jersey, was spending the night at my sister's after having spent Christmas eve with my half brother and his family.
They must have felt a little awkward at first, but it's been so many years since their divorce, I don't think it really mattered. My sister made both salmon and prime rib, and wouldn't you know that even among the three of us who are mostly vegan, all of us chose the prime rib!
My chocolate cheesecake and walnut/pecan/hazlenut pies were a huge hit. I left the remains at my sister's but took my mother's mostly untouched pumpkin bread for myself.
CeeJay the gentle Rottweiler was also with us. A very gentle rescue dog who likes to have her belly rubbed.
I got a lot of books I'd asked for this year, 5, to be exact, all related to nutrition and health. I've started reading the first one, Healing Spices. I also got a very cool feeder for Baltimore Orioles. It is a vertical wire hanger with little spears that will hold three orange halves in place. Can't wait to try it, as I have seen Orioles around here in summer, although not regularly. I also got some clothing, gardening gloves and a very nice copper pot, also a pair of two cordless phones. Also my sister made me a batch of tulsa tea (homegrown) which is supposed to be good for stress, which I've been having a lot of lately.
This weekend's plans call for seeing a matinee with a friend on Saturday (I got $25 worth of AMC movie gift cards from my recruiter agency) and possibly driving my mother to Litchfield to collect some old unsold art from a gallery.
For my own entertainment, today I may go to Barnes & Noble to spend another gift card, do some grocery shopping and run a few other errands. I still need to work on charging up my Discover card for rewards.
Once I get my final paycheck tomorrow, I can finalize all my year-end expense and income numbers and post them here.
Merry Christmas, one and all,
Hope you and yours have a ball.
Just don't eat too much turkey,
Or others may think you're a little bit jerky.
Sadly I am not a poet, but the intention is good!
I was officially "done" with Christmas shopping 2 weeks ago, but you know how you feel right before the holiday when you just have an urge to go into a pretty little shop to browse for some small little perfect gift?
That's how I felt today, so while I didn't really have to, I went down to a garden nursery nearby where it's always fun to browse among the pointsettias and evergreen garlands, table centerpieces and trees of every size.
I ended up getting up a little bee house for my father, who's hard to shop for. The bee house hangs outside in the garden, and bees will lay their larvae in the cylindrical tubes, where they will eventually hatch and become the next generation of pollinators. I have one my sister gave me years ago and yes, they do indeed plug up the holes with their eggs.
I also stopped in at the local grocer and picked up coleslaw and a cold beet salad for my lunch on the 2 days I'm working this week: Monday and Tuesday.
I decided on impulse to make some yummy treats for the other people who have decided to work this week. (There won't be many.)
If you like chocolate, you MUST try this easy-as-can-be recipe for chocolate/nut/fruit clusters.
1 cup chocolate chips (I used dark, but you can whatever kind you prefer)
Melt the chips in a glass or microwave-safe bowl in microwave for 1 minute. Stir, then heat for another 45 seconds. Stir and make sure all the chips are melted.
Add to them a half cup of walnuts or pecans, chopped coarsely. (If you toast them beforehand, it really brings out the flavor.)
Also add a half cup of dried cranberries.
Stir well to combine, then drop onto a cookie sheet with a spoon. Refrigerate for 3o minutes until they harden.
That's it. They're delicious.
I debated making a swag for my front door using evergreen branches and some lovely cedar branches with the little blue berries. (I also have those pink beauty berries.)
I may not get to it, out of lack of motivation. Even though it's close to 60 degrees here today. At 3:20 pm, it already seems darkish.
I bought some very inexpensive picture frames to give as gifts to 2 friends at work. They were $2 each but look like they should be around $10 or $15. I also got a bag of assorted, individually wrapped Ghiardelli chocolates. While I'll eat the dark chocolate ones, I don't care for the milk chocolate/caramel ones, so I picked those out and put them in a pretty little drawstring bag for the garage parking lot attendant at work. I was wanting to get her something, but not wanting to spend a lot of money, so this worked out perfectly.
I planted the amaryllis bulb that I got as a gift from my boss. Love to watch how quickly these grow.
That's about it. Tomorrow I'll try to straighten out my overdone SEP IRA contribution and see if T. Rowe can correct it so I don't get in trouble.
I planned to make both a chocolate cheesecake and my famous three nut pie (similar to a pecan pie) for Xmas, but I just realized I only have one crust. I'll stop at Stop & Shop after work tomorrow, but don't know if I can find the crust I like there.
So I managed to get in a 40-hour work week this past week, but by Friday, the place was really quiet as half the people seem to have lots of PTO.
I got a few nice unexpected gifts from people, including an amaryllis bulb from my boss, an ornament filled with loose tea and a $5 Dunkin' Donuts gift card, as well as a bag of holiday chocolates.
At the office party Secret Santa, I got a $20 barnes & noble gift card...perfect.
Today I had a long list of errands to make and did most of them before the craziness of the traffic and other shoppers got to me. I washed off most of the road salt from my car.
I'm working Monday and Tuesday of next week (it will be dead) and then will have off til the following Monday.
There is an interesting workshop in town I'd like to do during the time I'm off from work....it's an introductory workshop on Chinese and Korean style brushwork. Just a $5 fee and you learn to paint four classic plants: bamboo, orchid, cherry blossom and chrysanthemum. Being held at the church on my street....how convenient is that?
I decided to make a chocolate cheese cake and three nut pie for Xmas dinner.
I was feeling kind of dizzy for a while so just lay in bed and read the paper. Got through the one-year anniversary of 12/14 okay. There are so many groups doing healing things in town. The arts workshop mentioned above is just one example.
From American Banker magazine....
Mississippi AG Sues JPMorgan Chase Over Debt Collections
JPMorgan Chase (JPM) pressured customers to repay debts they did not owe, sold collections agencies rights to credit card accounts that had been extinguished in bankruptcy and tolerated frequent errors by its third-party collections attorneys, according to a lawsuit filed by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood on Tuesday.
The state's complaint is, despite significant redactions, the most detailed and potentially damning attack so far on JPMorgan Chase's credit card debt collections operation, which the bank has shut down.
JPMorgan Chase declined to comment on the Mississippi complaint through a spokesman.
The bank ceased filing suits to collect consumer debt in the spring of 2011, following a probe by the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency into the legitimacy of its collections lawsuits. That probe ended in September, when the OCC ordered the bank to repay customers and reform its collections department.
JPMorgan Chase disbanded the group tasked with suing to collect delinquent accounts entirely the following month, leaving the future of its debt collection operation unclear. Its decision to shutter the litigation group, an apparent acknowledgement that further collections suits could be fraught with legal and regulatory risk, may also suggest that the company was bracing for a wave of lawsuits from state attorneys general.
The Mississippi attorney general's complaint, filed in the Chancery Court of the First Judicial District of Hinds County, Miss., alleges "egregious" lapses at every stage of JPMorgan Chase's collections process — from violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act to Microsoft Excel errors that compromised $600 million dollars in defaulted customer account records.
Bank executives were allegedly aware of many of the problems with the collections unit, where employees referred to one of JPMorgan Chase's outside legal providers as an "outhouse" firm. Nevertheless, the bank continued to churn out faulty lawsuits in the hope of obtaining uncontested judgments, the complaint says. Robo-signing of legal documents, sloppy legal work and reliance on inadequate recordkeeping persisted even after the bank was rebuked for similar errors in handling defaulted mortgages, it claims.
"Chase pursued Mississippi consumers for debt that they had paid or settled, did not owe, or had discharged in bankruptcy. Consumers' paychecks were garnished and their credit damaged, making it harder for them to refinance their homes, take out a car or student loans, or even get jobs," Hood said in a written statement. "We have tried for months to resolve our concerns cooperatively, but have been forced into litigation."
If accurate, the state's allegations threaten to escalate JPMorgan Chase's consumer debt collection woes, which have already resulted in a consent order with the OCC, a civil suit filed by California, and investigations by 14 states including Iowa and Massachusetts. Mississippi Attorney General Hood alleges that Chase sought to collect debts from customers who had already paid them and may have similarly mishandled car and student loans.
JPMorgan Chase's control failures date back as far as 2007 but increased as the debt collection operation struggled to keep up with the wave of credit card defaults during the recent recession, the Mississippi complaint says. The bank's consumer-debt recoveries grew more than tenfold during the previous decade, to $1.2 billion in credit-card recoveries in 2009 from $130 million in 2000, the complaint states.
To meet this frantic pace of recoveries, the bank allegedly set collections quotas for employees and fired those who failed to meet them. It used outmoded recordkeeping systems for customer accounts, and its different systems often suffered from discrepancies in basic customer information, the complaint says. These problems were worse with accounts JPMorgan Chase acquired from other financial institutions, including Washington Mutual, BankOne and the card issuer Providian.
For Chase, the main cost of its problems so far has been the substantial revenue it failed to collect during the OCC's two-year investigation. Attorney General Hood is seeking up to $10,000 from the bank for every violation of the Mississippi's Consumer Protection Act, plus compensation for the state's legal costs of pursuing the case. The complaint lists 18 types of alleged violations. Among them: quoting inaccurate debt figures to customers, failing to investigate credit-bureau disputes and selling compromised accounts to debt buyers who then initiated their own collections efforts.
By seeking to hold JPMorgan Chase responsible for misconduct by law firms and collections agencies it hired, the Mississippi lawsuit could serve as a warning to other banks that outsource collections to outside vendors.
The suit alleges widespread violations by Couch, Conville & Blitt, a New Orleans, La., law firm that the bank used for collections litigation beginning in 2009, and Mann Bracken LLP, a defunct law firm which the bank used for arbitration claims through mid-2009. The complaint also names NCO Financial Systems among the collections agencies whose misconduct JPMorgan Chase failed to check.
"Chase engaged these firms to handle official legal proceedings against its customers and let them engage in widespread deception, with no supervision and no repercussions," the complaint states.
Operating through the outside firms, JPMorgan Chase "filed complaints purely as a strategy to obtain default judgments," submitting claims backed by "no evidence whatsoever" in the hopes that borrowers would not respond and the bank would be awarded default judgments, the complaint claims. When borrowers fought the claims, Chase would typically abandon its efforts, it adds.
Couch, Conville & Blitt "failed to conduct any meaningful review of the alleged debt to verify the customer information" and "did not even review documents before they were filed in court," the Mississippi complaint states. Despite spending little effort on the suits, JPMorgan Chase and the law firm would then seek awards for "exorbitant" attorney's fees that ranged up to one-quarter of the total amounts demanded, it says.
Mann Bracken's recordkeeping problems were so widespread prior to its demise that JPMorgan Chase employees referred to the firm as "Mann Broken," the Mississippi lawsuit says. The law firm's customer-account data did not match Chase's about 15% of the time in 2009, it says.
These recordkeeping problems prompted a group of JPMorgan Chase employees to try to fire Mann Bracken in 2008, but top Chase executives blocked the efforts, the complaint states. The bank kept using Mann Bracken until mid-2009, just prior to its closure amid a Congressional investigation.
JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Jamie Dimon acknowledged vender-oversight problems in a letter to employees in September, writing that the management of third-party firms was an area where the company needed to improve.
I just realized that a week or so ago I accidentally contributed more than I should have to my SEP IRA. You can contribute up to 20% of what you earned, and I contributed 25% ($1100 vs. $887). This is for my freelance work, what I've managed to do in 2013 when I'm not working my other job.
Do you think the IRS will catch this on my low income tax return, perhaps by some automated system? I'm wondering if i should go to the trouble of trying to undo it, or having to file some special form possibly to do so.
So, okay, I've always opted to get snail mail credit card statements on all my credit cards even though I also get online notices which I pay online immediately. I liked to get the follow-up statements in the mail in case I lost power for an extended period of time or otherwise could not access my computer.
But with, I don't know, maybe 10 different cards at any given time, it gets complicated to pay online, and then check the paper statement again, just to make doubly sure I already paid it. I seem to be getting notices every other day, so I finally took the plunge and eliminated all of my paper statements. It SHOULD be okay, although I'm always a little paranoid about missing a payment.
I should really whittle down my cards more, but I DO get attached to some of them after a while, especially the "design-your-own" cards. And since I paid off my mortgage last year, my only installment debt, I wonder if having a heaping serving of credit cards, aka revolving debt, might partially compensate for the lack of installment debt.
Here's what I have right now:
USAA visa and Amex green cash card: The USAA card has no rewards program and the amex card has very minimal rewards, but I'm committed to keeping both of these (and charging on them once in a blue moon) because they are my oldest cards and hence benefit my credit score. I think it must be like 20 years or something. So they will stay.
All the other cards I've got were acquired in the past 2 years. These include Chase Freedom, Citi Forward, Discover It, Capital One Cash Rewards (benefits the World Wildlife Fund so I will keep this one), Capital One Platinum, Barclaycard Platinum MC, Capital One Platinum Visa (a different one!), and BankAmericard Cash Rewards. Any strong opinions which I hold and which I should fold?
I always feel kind of sheepish when I call in to cancel becus I'm sure they can see when I got the card and read between the lines....oh, another lady just trying to get the bonus. Hmph!
I'm working at home today due to the snow. Just 2 to 4 inches expected, but hey, they supply everyone with a laptop, including us contractors, so i guess that's what they're there for.
As a writer, I don't like using the laptop much though. It's very convenient in that you can set up whereever you want, but the screen is so tiny it doesn't lend itself to what i often do, placing 2 or more documents side by side and having multiple windows open.
So I have the laptop open but emailed some documents to my personal email so I could do the actual writing on my much larger personal monitor, and then when i was done, I just emailed them back to my work email address. Seemed to work pretty well.
I sent off my $404 payment for a Gold health insurance plan.
Tomorrow is my company Xmas party, at 3 pm. So as not to lose yet more work hours, I am working an extra half hour each of the remaining 4 days this week to account for the 2 hours (3-5 pm) of the party. My boss already told me not to bother coming in to work on the 2 days after Christmas, which was disappointing, cus again, so much time lost to holidays. Christmas week I'll only be able to log 16 hours. Not good for the pocketbook.
I did get a nice little gift from the agency that hired me for the bank job. I got a $25 movie theater gift card, plus $5 for concession snacks. I LOVE the movies but rarely go, but already invited a movie-loving friend to see something right after Xmas, now that I have the time off. (Compare that gift to what I got from an agency around the holidays in 2010...a small (not even full size) box of 4 chocolate truffles.)
I'm still waiting for the We the Savers website to post my blog, and of course, to receive payment for winning their monthly essay contest. Also expecting payment any day now from my #1 freelance client....they owe me about $600.
I've decided (with input from Dido) to sell $6500 worth of taxable mutual funds this month (right after they declare distributions) to fund my 2014 traditional IRA contribution.
By selling those taxable mutual funds this year, that $6500 will be reported as 2013 income on my tax return, and I want to keep my 2014 income as low as possible to ensure I don't exceed about $46,000, the cut-off amount at which you don't qualify for a subsidy if you're getting onto an Obamacare healthplan. It's going to mean a pretty big tax bill for me in 2013, as earlier this year I already cashed out about $26,000 from the same one taxable fund, partially to pay for my new car.
I am feeling pretty broke right now cus I just sent off that $404 for my first month on my new health plan, then my $3,000 of property taxes must be paid in about a week. After that, I can finally start SAVING, not spending. Of course, I'll have to think about refilling the heating oil tank sometime in January. That's usually good for $500+. Sigh.
Working on charging up the Discover card with $750 of purchases, but so far I've done just $15 as I'm done with all my Christmas shopping and don't really need anything just yet. No worries, still 2 more months to go.
The really good news is, the issuer of my new health insurance, which happens to be a new non-profit issuer on the CT healthcare exchange, said they will begin letting you charge your premiums in mid-January!! As long as there's no fee for doing so, that would be awesome for all my credit card charging schemes. Assuming I have some offer I'm working on at the time. Otherwise, it would be just more or less normal points of 3% or whatever.