It's the last day of the month, so I did my monthly expense and investment report. Thanks to saving and a rebounding stock market, my assets hit an all-time high:
I had been stuck in the $500s for what seemed like forever. (Since 2011, my records show).
Archive for February, 2014
It's the last day of the month, so I did my monthly expense and investment report. Thanks to saving and a rebounding stock market, my assets hit an all-time high:
Today I'm working from home. Nirvana. I have an eye doc appointment toward the end of the day and I lose less time at the office if I can simply work from home; luckily, I have an accommodating boss.
The eye doc appointment is a field vision test, which basically tests your peripheral vision where you push the button whenever you see flashing specks of light in all areas of a black field.
They're doing this because probably 2 years ago after a routine exam with an optometrist, she said my eye pressure is on the high side of normal. This had been flagged by another optometrist years earlier, but his tack was to watch and monitor. This one recommended I see an ophthalmologist, which I did. High eye pressure is a red flag for glaucoma. Doesn't mean I definitely have it; I could just have somewhat higher eye pressure than most. But the field test will establish a baseline for me I guess. Believe it or not, glaucoma can be treated with eye drops, although it's symptomless, so it's important to get your eyes checked regularly.
While I certainly want to make sure my eyes are ok, this does sort of remind me of other encounters I've had with the medical establishment which wind up costing a lot of time and money for no real benefit.
That was pretty much the case about 5 years ago when I wound up having an ovary removed. Although I had no symptoms, my gyno said the "mass" she felt around one of my ovaries had gotten a little bigger. She had mentioned a "cyst" in the past, and so I never became that alarmed until for some reason she got my attention when she said it had gotten bigger. Her approach was also to keep an eye on it, but I was concerned enough to seek a 2nd opinion, from an oncologist at Yale, which was basically my undoing, because OF COURSE he was going to recommend surgery, that's how he makes his money. He said there was no way to tell if this "growth" was malignant or not until they cut me open. So now the fear of a cancerous growth made me undergo a totally (in hindsight) unnecessary major surgery. Let me tell you, abdominal surgery is not an easy recovery, and not only that, the surgery messed up the smooth and rounded appearance of my lower belly. I have a scar that runs 6 inches down from my belly button.
I'm just bringing this up because it seems to me there's a lot doctors don't know, and their tools seem to be largely limited to 1. surgery and 2. powerful medications that often do more harm than good. If you mention something like good nutrition and antioxidants, they smile politely and move on.
I hadn't really planned on this being the focus of my post today, but I suspect the whole glaucoma scare may be along a similar vein. I guess it's better to be safe than sorry, and perhaps the doctor's desire to avoid malpractice suits spurs him to be more thorough than perhaps is really warranted. At least I have insurance. This is the sorry state of our health insurance system in America today.
I always look forward to the end of the month because I enjoy (!) doing my end of month expense and investment reports. I also get to make my first of the month transfer to savings, and since I'm not tracking these savings on a special 5-year spreadsheet, I can literally see my long-term progress, which is highly motivating to me.
That being said, I can tell you that as of now I have a ways to go to meet my end of 2014 savings balance. At the growth rate cited above and with my regular contributions, my balance should be $623,000; as of end of January (see profile at left), my balance was just $571,000. a shortfall of $52,000. So I have 10 months to make up that shortfall! I GUESS it could be done, even though my minimum contributions for the rest of the year may only be $8,000 ($800 a month).
I just don't know if 6.5% overall return is doable. Here's an interesting report about 2014 markets: http://www.russell.com/documents/corporate/2014-global-annual-outlook.pdf
I was thankful to have finally gotten my mail delivered again yesterday after a week of suspension because the mailman couldn't reach my mailbox due to all the snow along the roadside. I am expecting the first of 3 installment payments from a new client.
All told, there are 3 new freelance projects that could start any day now for me; two of them are big jobs while there's one involving editing a legal report, I could knock out in a weekend.
I'm also anxiously awaiting my IRS refund of about $1,000. I filed real paper forms that I mailed. I prefer to do the taxes myself, and all the free software programs they make available on their website seem to take charge and walk you through the whole return, but not in the way the return is laid out in the IRS forms and booklet, and having already filled out those forms, I would have liked to do the same online, but none of those other companies offering tax return services seem to do that. They want to do the calculations FOR you, and I'd rather do it myself, thank you. I did file my state tax form online and already got the small refund ($119) associated with it.
Today since I'm home I plan to call the woman who is part of the close-knit hiking group the man I'm dating belongs to. I haven't spoken to her in several years so I'm sure she'll be surprised to hear from me, but she does live right here in town and there was a time we were friendly. I'd like to hear more about what she thinks of...oh heck, it's tiresome to keep referring to him in other ways, so let's just call him by his real name....MIKE.
We had another lunch for our second date. There's not always a ton of stuff you can do. We ate at a very good restaurant in his town that' s well-known for its healthy food and interesting rotating art on the walls. (My mother's exhibited there.) I had a yummy kale salad with chopped up beets, gorgonzola cheese and some other things that I'm going to analyze later (i brought home leftovers) so I can recreate it myself.
After lunch, we didn't really want the date to end, so we decided to take a walk. We ended up walking 3 or 4 miles; I wasn't wearing the best shoes for walking and now I feel the start of a blister, but oh, the things we do for love. I think we both just wanted to spend more time together.
And in the course of talking, I was describing a friend of mine and he said, do you know so and so? He had guessed the person I'd been describing and not only that, he knows her very well because they are part of the small, close-knit group of people who for years have been doing frequent hikes and overnight hiking trips together.
Talk about "small world." Maybe 7 years ago I used to cat sit for her when she went on these trips and I even remember seeing photos of the hiking group posing together. I guess the man I've been dating was in those very photos. Little did I know I'd be meeting him myself.
I guess I've lost some confidence at some point because after each date I find myself asking what he sees in me. Not that I don't think I have anything to offer, but he seems much more outdoorsy/active (the way I was in my 30s, but he's 57) and also much more outgoing. I'm more introverted and am perfectly content to spend long periods of time alone, or with one other person, at most.
So for that reason I'm not sure what long-term potential we may have, but we have already been talking about another get-together, and definitely another walk/hike, when the weather's better and I have better shoes on.
On the way home, I stopped at Shop Rite to pick up 3 cans Amy's Tuscan White Bean soup, which will have to do for my workday lunches this week. That and the leftover kale salad and to round things off, some nuts, fresh apples and a square of dark chocolate.
After coming THIS close to letting my BJs membership lapse without renewing, I wound up renewing it for another year after my mother said she would again split the fee ($50) with me. All because she loves their macadamian nuts and Costco doesn't have anything like it.
So for $25, I guess it's worth it.
It's currently 3:41 am in Connecticut. For some reason, there was a passing snow plow that woke me up, even though it's not snowing and the roads are clear. At least, it sure sounded like a snow plow but I didn't actually get up to look out the window.
After fruitlessly tossing and turning and trying to get back to sleep, I'm "up" and at the computer until I get tired again.
Wrapped up another busy week (and another paycheck) at work. The "honeymoon" period there is over, in that I don't have nearly as much time on my hands as I did the first three months. That's mostly a good thing, as it that can make for a very long day.
Tomorrow ....er...today, first thing I have to go to the post office to collect my mail and a small Amazon package. They stopped delivering my mail about a week ago without bothering to tell me, but I know it's because the snowpack on the plowed road, which still extends out from the curb a good 2 or 3 feet, prevents the mail man from leaning across the snow to put mail in my mailbox. I guess they don't want to waste time driving up my drive, which is also mostly clear (though still narrow).
Most of my bills I now get an email notice for, although I am expecting a first installment check from a new freelance client, but that will come in today's mail or Monday's mail,neither of which I will be able to get today, and I suspect the mailman still won't deliver mail to my box after today. The warmer temps in low 40s have melted a lot, but still not enough, and then we're in for another cold spell after the weekend. I'm "done" with snow shoveling and will not shovel the street! They want you to shovel an "approach" to the box of 15 or 20 feet so the mail truck can just pull alongside the curb up to the box.
After that it's lunch at my mother's and main reason for going over there is to try to help her with her mounting piles of "paperwork," which she constantly complains about. I suspect my mother has dementia because she is increasingly unable to deal with things like this and her memory is terrible. She will be 80 next weekend.
Then I'm doing my last shop at BJs, before my membership expires end of February. I decided I didn't want to pay the $50 renewal fee, partly because there are a limited number of things I buy there and partly because I bought into the organic farm CSA program this year.
So the stocking up part of it will be focused on things I know are good buys or are favorite foods I can't get elsewhere, like the 44 lb boxes of cat litter for $9. One box lasts about a month for 2 cats and I believe I have 5 boxes in the basement, so the goal is to get another 7 boxes so I'm good for a year, by which time I may wish to rejoin BJSs. I'll also get more nuts, raisins, Paul Newman's salad dressing (huge savings there), Truvia and bean burritos.
The only thing I'll miss saving on, on an ongoing basis, is the huge clamshell boxes of organic salad greens and their low-priced gas. I may occasionally ask my mother to go with me to Costco, where she has a membership.
I got my Discover $150 reward promptly deposited to my checking account shortly after I paid off the 2nd statement, after I'd met the spend target. Nice. I also billed another client for a small amount and see that he already paid me thru PayPal. Thanks Andy.
Sunday it's a 2nd lunch date with The Bachelor. We rescheduled from last weekend because I had too much freelance work to do and also had cold feet (even though he seems incredibly nice). Maybe we'll do a casual walk in the area if it's warmish, which it's supposed to be.
This has happened to me before with AT&T, but it bears repeating.
For some time, I've had AT&T UVerse Internet ($15 a month) and phone ($31). Apparently, the Internet price was "promotional" and would have expired next month, at which time my price for both would jump from $40 (before fees and taxes) to $66.
That's a bigger jump than I'd like. So I went on hold, waiting for AT&T's customer service for about 40 minutes til I got a rep on the line. I asked her nicely if there was anything I could do to avoid that fee increase and she said there was nothing she could offer me at this time but suggested I call back after the price increase went into effect. I didn't want to wait til then and I casually mentioned I'd probably be preparing to get either Magic Jack or Ooma.
Truth be told, I'm lazy and would rather not have to do that, but mentioning my plan to switch was like saying "Open Sesame." She transferred me to another department, where, after another 30-minute wait on hold, another rep quickly told me he could keep the same price intact for another full year AND he would upgrade my Internet speed from 3mb to 6mb, no charge.
The only catch to keeping the $15 Internet price is that if I chose to end UVerse Internet before the one year was up then I'd have to a pay an early termination penalty equal to $15 a month for each month I'd gotten the renewed $15/mth price. If I ended it becus i moved to a location where UVerse was not available, then they would not charge me the early termination fee.
So I'm very happy to have averted the price increase. I realize I could save even more more by going ahead and switching to something like Magic Jack, but I'm not a techie person and always worry I can't set it up right and I don't really have anyone nearby I can ask for help with that. Compared to what I've seen other people here pay for phone and/or Internet, I think this is a pretty good price.
The thing to remember is, if you just whine or complain about the price, that won't be enough. You have to specifically say you'll switch plans and go with someone else.
I am working at home again today...it was snowing ferociously this morning, right around commute time, though now it appears to have stopped, altho they say it will not finally end til around 4 or 5 p.m.
The snow, that is.
To recap: We had a 24-hour snowstorm Thursday, which ended Friday morning. I worked from home both days, finally shoveling out Saturday morning. It snowed another inch or two on Saturday. More shoveling, because if I don't clear it off the driveway, the sun will melt it and then it will refreeze at night. Yesterday afternoon I was out there chipping softened ice on the hilly section of my driveway with a metal hoe. This morning, there was a dusting of snow on my car. Tomorrow, it will snow another 3 to 6 inches.
Enough already!!!! I guess I'm working at home again tomorrow. Not trying to take advantage, but the snow will be widespread by 8 am and I don't like to take chances.
Today I am "going to the birds." Meaning, I'm making some tasty treats to help our feathered friends get through this harsh weather.
It's a fun way to occupy some kids. Go out and collect some pinecones (or use what you have on hand), then use a butter knife to slather peanut butter in between all the crevices. Then roll the pinecones in a tray of loose bird seed.
Attach a string to the stem of the pinecone and hang outside. The birds will love them!
I decided today it was time to cancel another credit card. Actually, I wound up cancelling two. I have a bit of a hard time canceling cards just a few months after opening them solely for the purpose of earning rewards bonuses after you hit certain spend targets. So I hang onto them for a bit longer.
I'm sure they could care less (unless all of America began treating their accounts in this way). But anyway, I do feel a little sheepish having to talk to an acct rep who will inquire as to why I want to close the acct. I usually tell them, truthfully, that I have more cards than I need and don't really use this particular one all that much. Which is true, as far as it goes.
Plus, after cancelling my Barclaycard today, I count 10 cards still remaining in my wallet! That means that any rewards points I earn will be diluted among 10 different cards and I could more quickly earn meaningful points if I was using fewer cards.
It's interesting to me that, despite being an intelligent dollars and sense person, that I get inordinately attached to certain cards, simply because of the pretty picture on certain cards that I was able to choose. This is the case for my two Capital One cards (a starfish on the beach on one and a closeup of a peacock feather on the other) as well as my World Wildlife Fund with its tiger design. I also like that a tiny portion of each dollar I spend goes to support that organization. I'm surprised that more credit card companies haven't caught on to this psychological angle or done study groups to reveal this.
I would like to cancel one of my 2 BankAmericards, but I see I have about $5 worth of points earned; every time I cancel a card, I lose those points entirely. OK, so I just cancelled a second card today, my Chase Freedom card.
I know my credit score will take a hit with these 2 cancellations, but it's temporary and since I have no need for further credit or loans anyway, I'm fine with that.
That leaves me with 8 cards. Still too many. Two of these cards have very minimal rewards programs, but I will keep them forever since they are much older than the slew of new cards I've acquired in the past 2 years. To make sure they don't get closed on me, I try to make one small purchase on each every month or so, though it's hard to keep track. I've had my USAA Visa and Amex cash card for many years.
The next card to go will probably be my Bankamericard cash rewards card, which is actually a pretty good little card. But I may wait til I can cash out those rewards.
I should be able to redeem my $150 from my new Discover It card next week. I may like low after that for a while; I'll map out when I'll be getting some big bills. (October I pay both car and homeowners insurance so that's a no-brainer for opening a new rewards card prior to that.)
After doing this for 2+ years, a $100 reward doesn't seem like all that much (!) and I'd like to hold out for larger rewards, although I'm just one person, a frugal one at that, so I'm not usually a big spender.
This morning I belatedly cleared my driveway of snow. My arms are exhausted. I can't believe I still do this at my age, but that's another story.
Now I have a long, 3-day weekend ahead of me and as usual, not sure what to do with it.
I have sort of been in the mood to go to Ikea, which I usually do maybe 3 times a year. They're in a city about an hour's drive, though, so that's part of the problem. It would be much easier to go there right after work, cutting the drive in half, but then, who feels like doing that after a long workday, in the dark? I never do.
Do I NEED anything there? No, not really. They had a great deal on duvets, though, one for $10, although I never cared for their strange prints and patterns. Must be something about the Scandinavian sense of design; just doesn't appeal. I do love to wander through there, even just poking around at the ground level floor through the small stuff.
I am excited to see my cancelled check for the CSA cleared, proof that I'm accepted into this season's harvest share. I won't start pickup up of my weekly produce each Sunday til June 29, but it goes til Nov 16. I know how to cook most of what they're growing, but I'm less familiar with using Swiss chard, fresh beets, bok choi and eggplant. I will learn! If anyone has some fantastic recipes using any of the above, let me know.
I'm so happy that February is halfway over. Underneath the foot of snow on the ground are an slowly spreading mound of snowdrops waiting to bloom. Always the first sign of spring, long before the daffodils or other bulbs.
We're going to get another 3 inches or so of fresh snow this afternoon. Enough is enough.
It started snowing early Thursday morning and finally ended mid-morning today. It was, as they said, a 24-hour event. I worked from home both days; it was quite busy, and since I was working, I didn't have much chance to shovel out my driveway.
I shoveled for an hour last night after my work day ended, in the middle of the storm, getting about 3/4 cleared but leaving the hardest part still to do: the part down by the road where the snow plow packs in the snow. Seeing as how we got about 11 inches, there's a waist-high pile at the bottom of the drive. And then of course it snowed on top of the part I shoveled.
I was also able to complete a 1,000-word article for Connecticut Builder Magazine that I'm ghost-writing. It's DONE. Thank God. It's always a lot of work (I've written at least 8 of these articles before, usually every quarter) and he kept sending me more articles, like around 20, to read and absorb and somehow weave into the story, which is about the outlook for the state's housing market. It's always very data-heavy and involves interpreting a lot of numbers. Anyway, it's done.
Next up was a little two-page sample edit I did for a possible new freelance client, a motivational speaker in Las Vegas who was referred to me by a local author (aka The Author) whose books I've edited.
I finished the sample edit and emailed that just a little while ago. If she likes it I'll quote her a price for her entire book/manuscript.
I have also heard from The Author that she is just about ready to send me her third book, another novel and the sequel to books #1 and #2, for editing.
When it rains, it pours.
Last weekend, I did my taxes and between state and federal should get back a refund of $1100.
I was excited to learn recently that in April I will be eligible to enroll in the health plan of the recruitment agency that hired me for my bank contract job. I was vaguely aware that they had some sort of health plan but hadn't really focused on it since 1. you're not eligible to enroll until you've worked on the job for 6 months and 2) I was doing so much research on the plans available through the Affordable Care Act. They say in the handbook that they pay 50% of the monthly premiums, which sounds pretty good. Usually health plans offered by employment agencies are sub-par.
I had thought I was all set with the new plan I enrolled in via the Affordable Care Act, however, if the agency's plan proves to be cheaper, which I think it must be if they pay 50% of the premium (compared to the $404/mth I'm paying now thru Affordable Care Act), then I will switch plans and then I don't have to worry about whether my income in 2014 will eventually exceed the income cut-off point for the subsidy if the job gets extended past July. If it did, then I'd lose the subsidy (and possibly have to pay back the subsidy I got up to that point).
It would be really nice not to have to worry about the subsidy at all, actually. The ACA plans certainly offer better choices than what was available before to a self-employed or independent contractor employee. If the bank job does eventually end, I will then have a choice between continuing on that plan through COBRA for a while or switching back to a different plan under the Affordable Care Act.
My health insurance has never been so topsy-turvy!
So anyway, after doing an amazing amount of work these last 2 days, all I have to worry about tomorrow is shoveling out my driveway. And buying groceries.
I see that wethesavers.com finally finished my winning post. I wasn't bothered too much by the delay since they already paid me my $100. If you've been reading my posts here, you're familiar with the story, I'm sure, but if you're curious to read it, you can head on over there.
On my lunch break at work Friday, I went to the federal courthouse across the street; there's an IRS office in there so I wanted to get as many tax forms as I could, plus the booklet. My friend warned me security would have you lift up your pants legs, but instead of doing that, I had to remove my belt.
This morning I went to see Gravity with Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. I was using a $25 gift card I got from the agency that hired me, a Xmas present, but because it was an Imax movie, I had to pay $12.75!
It was a good movie. Sandra has to be about my age but she has the perfect body. (I'm assuming that's really her body in the movie.) The 3D was really something with all the pieces of space debris flying right at you.
After that I decided to head down to Whole Foods; it was a zoo but I did spend $27 and I hit the salad bar again....so many goodies. I loved the roasted brussels sprouts. I probably won't make a habit of going there, except for the salad bar, as it's so overpriced.
I love the bright green seaweed salad I get at the Japanese restaurant, but why is it unappetizing dark green at Whole Foods? Do they cook it? Is the bright green dyed?
Another contractor at work, a friend I walk with, learned that her job, which she thought was going to end this month, has been extended yet again, til end of May. So she has a reprieve during which she's going to save, save, save. She said they are only renewing contracts 3 months at a time now, due to the continued restructuring of the company this year.
Of course, I'd like my own contract extended past July, but if it is, I'll lose my $350 a month healthcare subsidy and will likely have to pay it back. Of course, I'll maker more at the job than I'll save with the healthcare subsidy, but that subsidy is worth about $4,000 for the whole year, not chump change.
Lately it seems I've run across so many crazy drivers on the roads. Or is it I'm getting more impatient as I continue to commute? Some lunatic insisted on passing me on the right before 2 lanes turned into one, and he nearly lost control on the snowy road after muscling in front of me. After just a few miles, he turned in at Starbucks. Was it worth it to cause an accident just for a cup of freakin' coffee you a******?
I got some really nice compliments from someone I've been working with a lot lately, and so i couldn't resist passing his email on to my boss for brownie points. She then complimented me as well and said the job, and more specifically me, is working out very well, and she plans to tell her new boss. So all's well on the job front.
Meanwhile the gal who sits in front of me, the one who finally got her Jamaican husband a visa so he could live here with her in the states, learned she is now pregnant. Her job ends in March. Her husband can't exactly support her as he doesn't know how to read or write and has only lived in this country since the day before Christmas. Her parents, who I am pretty sure bought her the condo she lives in, will now have 3 people to bale out, financially speaking.
She used to take time off before she got her husband here, claiming she was totally stressed by the whole process. Now no doubt she'll use her pregnancy as an excuse to stay home more. The day she told me the big news, she claimed she had a migraine and went home. I've never met anyone who takes such advantage, and gets away with it.
Ugh, More snow. CB took the words right out of my mouth. I started doing the driveway, but it was just that. A start. I will have to go out in a little while again to do some more. I am not even sure I can finish it before tomorrow. There's a waist-high wall of snow packed in at the bottom by the snow plow.
I headed out yesterday to meet another bank employee at a commute parking lot. To my surprise, she was alone. The other 3 people who were supposed to go bailed out due to the weather. The roads were perfectly clear at that point, but one person's driveway was still snowed in,another was getting over a sinus infection and the other, well, she always bails out at the first opportunity.
So I got to meet some people I've only known through email and phone, which was fun. I am envious of these offices, which are in a big shopping center with upscale shops, a movie theater, restaurants and a WHOLE FOODS. So for lunch I checked out Whole Foods for the first time. There is one sort of near me, but I never made it there. I got a great healthy lunch for $7, which I thought reasonable. I will definitely visit their salad bar again.
We left work there early to meet at a nearby restaurant to say good by to the head guy who was laid off. I thought it odd that everyone was talking shop, while he must have felt weird about it since he was leaving. I didn't really get to talk to him, but I was introduced. I did talk to a few other people in my larger group who were super nice.
We finally headed for home around 6:45 pm and I got home at about 9:30 pm. Tiring day.
Got to work at home today, of course, since the snow began falling a few hours after I arrived home and has yet to stop, really.