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Archive for December, 2018

Income and expense breakdown, 2018

December 30th, 2018 at 06:38 pm

Earlier this year, I wanted to downsize my job from full-time to part-time, and I wanted to see if I could cover most or all of my ongoing living expenses working part-time.

The answer is YES, I covered 96% of my expenses, which this year totaled just $38,822. There was a shortfall of about $1,600.

UPDATE: The agency paid me my last paycheck for 2018 on 12/31; the paycheck was late because my boss failed to sign off on my timesheet on time with the holidays and all. So that added an extra $897 to my income, and bottom line, my 2018 expenses now exceeded income by only $690, not $1,600. So I actually covered 98% of expenses!!

I didn't start this little experiment until March, so my income this year had the benefit of 2 months (January and February) of full-time income. So I anticipate that in 2019 it will be harder, unless I rein in my spending some.

Of my Top 10 Expenses:

7 increased from last year (property taxes, food, out-of-pocket medical/dental, lawn & garden, maintenance, heating oil and gas for the car).

1 category stayed about the same ("Household").

1 category (health insurance) decreased by 35%. This is my 3rd largest expense, so I'm happy about this!

Here's a rundown of my Top 10 biggest expenses this year with some extra analysis thrown in:

1. Stone patio, $9,200: It's beautiful, and something needed to be done in back, although yeah, awfully expensive. I had a party last summer to celebrate it and hope to enjoy it more this summer with various friends and family. This was a one-time capital improvement, and the most expensive one on my radar, so not having this one expense could by itself fix my current income/expense disconnect.

2. Property taxes: $6,294. Not much I can do about this unless I move.

3. Health insurance, $4,098. I'm happy to say that this is a 35% decrease from what I spent in 2017, when I was still paying for COBRA.

4. Food, $3,900: This is 16% more than I spent in 2017. I had hoped to wrestle this number lower, but truth be told, I feel that eating quality, wholesome, organic food is important.

5. Out-of-pocket medical/dental, $1,722: This represents 69% more than I spent in 2017, and it was mostly due to about $745 incurred in doctor visits when I scratched the cornea of my eye. Because I have dry eyes, I am much more careful to not sleep if I think there's something in my eye. And to use eye drops more often than I do now.

6. Lawn & garden, $1,547: This is 43% more than I spent in 2017, and I'm unhappy with this number! I thought I could keep it down by having my mower do the lawn for every other week, but I also spent some money on these neat little acrylic shelves with suction cups I bought for my growing cacti/succulent collection. I also had to spend $200 to have someone clean up a crab apple tree that was damaged by a storm.

This year I'll continue bartering with my neighbor to do some yard work I can't do, in exchange for my editing services.

7. Household, $1,394: This is my one "catch-all" category for items I don't know where to put; usually, routine things for the house fall in this category.

8. Maintenance, $1,303: This included some new outlets in the garage, new ceiling fixtures wired indoors and new fixtures on either side of the garage.

9. Heating oil and furnace cleanings, $1,236: It is what it is....heating oil prices really fluctuate. I was able to take advantage of one promotion where if you wrote a review on the oil company's Facebook page, the 1st 50 people got .10 off per gallon.

10. Gas for car, $1,025.

Oh, crap, I fell in love

December 21st, 2018 at 11:18 pm

So I heard about a promotion Hyundai was running where they pay you a $50 visa or amazon gift card if you take one of their vehicles for a test drive.

Why not, I thought.

I fell in love with their IONIQ SEL, a hybrid hatchback that gets 58 mpg with heated seats, heated side mirrors, blind spot assist, LED headlights and various other things. I really like the cargo space, which is much more practical/usable than my small Honda Civic trunk, which my bike no longer fits inside becus they shrunk the hole between the trunk and folded down seats. As a result, I haven't done much bike riding in the last 5 years.

Hyundai also offer LIFETIME replacement of the battery (as long as you get your servicing done at the dealer); as some of you may know, the battery would likely need replacement after 200,000 miles and costs several thousand dollars, so it's not an insignificant expense. They also provide free oil changes and the price of this car after the $1,000 rebate was around $21,000, which, compared to any other hybrid, is fantastic.

I was basically regretting I purchased another sedan ever since buying it in 2013, and I wished I'd taken a little more time to research it and get a Prius instead.

Not long after I came home, my dad called and told me he wanted to stop by, which he did. We chit-chatted, and I told him in detail about the car I'd just test-driven. After I had finished, he said, well maybe this will help you make up your mind about it and he handed me a check for $5k. Talk about timing!

My dad is not in the habit of giving Xmas presents, and this is the first time I've received one from him in probably 15 years. So I was quite surprised. (My 3 siblings will also get the same thing.)

He encouraged me to get the car because, he said, I'd mentioned a few times now how the sedan didn't really fit my needs. And he likes to trade in his vehicles after about 5 years' time.

But, after feeling excited about the whole idea, I've pretty much chosen to just rein in my impulses. (And I recall how in 2013, before I bought the Civic, I also "fell in love" with a Ford Fiesta and even signed the purchase contract which I was fortunately able to undo the next day.) My current car runs perfectly and has just 60K miles on it, and I typically keep my cars for 10 or 12 years.

I suppose the IONIQ will still be around in another 5 years' time. The dealer did also say they'll be introducing a hybrid SUV in 2019, and the big appeal there is that it will have all-wheel drive, though with a substantially higher price tag I am sure.

So I just deposited dad's check and will let it sit there for the time being. There are probably better uses for that check. And I have to say that my expenses have exceed my income this year by just about....wait for it....$5,000. So by banking the money (or most of it), I should be in the black, or close to it.

After my boss asked me a few weeks ago if i would be willing to work full-time through early January, things have not been all that busy. I did work an extra 6 hours this past week, but that will pretty much be wiped out next week since Christmas falls on a Tuesday and the office is also scheduled to be closed Monday, which is also one of my scheduled work days. So next week if I get no extra work hours, I'll get all of 4 hours of work.

But just now someone at the office called and wanted to know if I could work TOMORROW...Saturday. Very late notice, but that's how it usually works around there. I had some things planned but I could use the work so will have to drive to the office tomorrow; she said i could expect to get in close to a full day.

I asked her how the Christmas dinner was last night, which I didn't go to. She said she heard it was nice. I said oh, you hadn't planned on going? She told me 3 or 4 of them had to stay back and work in the office while everyone else went to dinner!

I had a UPS delivery of my meds scheduled for today, which I guess because of the Christmas rush, has now been scheduled for tomorrow. In summer, I like to be home when they arrive so they're not sitting out in the sun all day (they're packed with ice paks) but in winter I also don't want it to freeze, either. It's inside a styrofoam container so I sure hope it will be ok.

I wanted to go to yoga tomorrow but now with work I can't. Every Saturday there is something that prevents me from going.

After going over my YTD income again today, I went ahead and did a Roth IRA (back door) conversion for $7,000. I could have done quite a bit more, but I was concerned that if I converted too much, it could boost my taxable income enough that I could end up paying a penalty for under-withholding.

For lunch today I made a big pot of pea soup, which I'll bring to work with me tomorrow.

A party and a funeral

December 16th, 2018 at 09:35 pm

It was a strange week, one that started with a funeral and ended with a party.

The funeral, well, I got through it. I went alone and wound up sitting with my friend R.'s best friend, who gave a great eulogy, one that brought many smiles to my face because he so accurately depicted the R. that I knew. I also said hello to many other lifetime friends of R.'s that I haven't seen in 30 years, along with the woman who ran the driving school where R. taught kids how to drive, and a bunch of people from the helicopter museum where he volunteered. I think he would have been very pleased at the turnout.

Another female friend of R.'s approached me at the funeral; I had seen her last at R.s wedding 3 decades ago, and she reminded me that a year or two ago, R. had tried to orchestrate a dinner with the 4 of us (me, R., she and her husband) but it never happened because she said that's when R. got sick. We briefly talked about possibly doing that dinner now, after the fact.

R. wrote his own obituary, which started with the announcement, "R. XXX kicked the bucket on (date). He had an irreverent sense of humor. He also prepaid for a pizza lunch for everyone after the burial.

I would have liked to go, but I had told my boss I'd be in to work right after the funeral.

So it was an emotional day.

I am still wondering if R.'s niece is going to contact me about doing something R. asked me to handle: clean out his condo and work with a realtor to get it sold, so his family wouldn't have to. I know he talked to his niece about it.

I had readily agreed at the time because I wanted to help R., but now that he's gone, it does feel a little funny that the family wouldn't take care of that themselves. It is not a small thing, and his condo is 40 minutes away from here.

Well, it is their decision. I am still prepared to do it.

And the very next day after the funeral, my cousin from PA arrived for a 5-day visit. My dad and I took him out to a great dinner that night at a new, trendy restaurant which we all enjoyed. The next day, we hung around my home for the afternoon with a great chili, cornbread and salad I made, with an apple crumble dessert.

The next day I drove us out to the northeastern-most town in the state of PA as we wanted to show him it was possible to move much closer to us here in CT (cutting his drive time by more than half) but remain a PA resident, thereby still enjoying state tax-free IRA distributions and Social Security (unlike here in CT).

It's actually a cute little town in the Poconos, a little touristy, but with the short daylight hours, we couldn't stay long because while I was driving, I didn't want either of them driving back to dad's place in the dark after I drove us all to my home. They both have vision issues. (My cousin took a wrong turn each time he's come out to visit, which added 2 hours to his trip this time around.) So the drive to Milford was 1.75 hours each way, and we had just enough time to have a nice lunch, poke about in 2 shops and do a quick drive through the downtown area. And plenty of time to talk in the car. We can always return in the summer, I guess.

Yesterday morning after breakfast we did our gift exchange. He gave me a very nice set of 3 ceramic knives, along with a sharpener for non-ceramic knives. He had asked for (and got) an atomic clock.

Last night I went to my friend, walking partner and neighbor's party around the block, and since my neighbors behind me were also invited, they picked me up and I rode with them.

There were about 10 people there and it was a pleasant few hours. I'll be returning there on Christmas day for lunch; I must be one of several "orphan" friends she has with no particular place to go on Christmas. My dad travels to NJ for an overnight stay at his brother-in-law's house (from his 2nd marriage) so I don't usually see him. So thank goodness for the Xmas lunch; my only other plan that day is to open presents with another NJ cousin over the phone together.

The "busy" time at my office has started, and they called me yesterday to see if I'd be able to do some work this morning for them. It was from home, so it was a pretty painless 4 hours ($138).

I decided to skip the office Christmas dinner at a restaurant we went to last year. Part of the reason is that it takes place on one of my days off this week, and it's a 50-minute drive.

I happily remembered recently that the agency I work for offers a 401k to its long-time employees, and you're eligible to participate if you've logged at least 1,000 hours in a year. I checked my last paycheck and I logged 1,019 hours, so I just barely qualify!

The benefits person hasn't returned my call yet, but I'd like to find out some details about the plan. I highly doubt my employment agency (technically my employer) offers any kind of match, and I'm wondering what the fees are.

It might not be a slam-dunk decision, but I'm also thinking it might be smart to contribute part of my pay to a tax-deferred account and then draw from some of my taxable accounts to pay ongoing living expenses. Not a good time to draw from taxable mutual funds, given the market, but I do have $21,000 in online money markets with another $25,000 in taxable CDs maturing at different times within the next 4 years. However, this essentially serves as the bulk of my emergency stash, so maybe I'll have to limit any 401k contributions.

Farewell to a friend, and a special visitor next week

December 9th, 2018 at 10:03 pm

Today was a pretty productive day. I'm preparing for a very busy and somewhat stressful week ahead.

My friend R.'s funeral is Tuesday. I hope I didn't make a mistake by telling my boss I'd be into work right afterwards, but this is their busy time and he just asked me to work full time for the rest of December and early January. I couldn't really say no since I just got a raise.

I'm sure the funeral is going to be very upsetting. I knew all of R.'s close friends and family, and just seeing them all as upset as I am, is going to be too much. His best friend asked me to say a few words in the eulogy, but I chose to decline.

The next day after the funeral, my cousin J. is traveling from PA to visit for 4 days. I didn't want to defer his visit because the weather will soon be getting dicey and it could be hard to find a relatively benign weather pattern soon. Christmas traffic should also be better now than later, and I think it might be good to be distracted from thinking about R. for at least a little while.

So today I put some green garland around both the columns outside at the front entry, and it looks pretty good. I always wanted to do this but never got around to it.

I also vacuumed and cleaned the downstairs, did some laundry, dusted, and went grocery shopping for everything I need except a few things I'll buy Wednesday, and decided on a menu for one of the days he'll be visiting. We'll also be taking him out to eat at a new restaurant my father and I discovered, and I reserved the private room with fireplace. Smile

This was a butternut squash and feta cheese flatbread I had there that was very good.

I wanted to make something easy so I decided to use both my slow cookers: a chili in the big one (it's one of J.'s favorite meals) and an apple pumpkin crumble in the small one. Also will make some cornbread and a salad. I'll have to get the chili going by 8 am at the latest, and then the dessert, but after that I can "relax."

I have all my Christmas shopping done. I really just had 4 people to shop for, and J.'s gifts are wrapped so he can take them home with him. He's also getting a calendar.

He'll be leaving Sunday, but I'll be saying goodbye to him Saturday as I have a Christmas party to go to at my neighbor's and walking partner's home. And she's also having a Christmas lunch on Christmas day that I'll be attending.

A casual friend of mine wanted to stop by Saturday night as they were going to a party in my town, but I was busy prepping for my other visitor, so I told her I'd have her and her husband over another time during the holiday. Now that the house is decorated, I'd like to entertain, and she is Filipino so the whole American Christmas experience is no doubt fascinating to her.

I also recently heard from R., a different old boyfriend, with whom I share an unusual similarity: we both had a parent who was a professional artist. While my mother achieved success, R.'s father was on a whole different level, and was actually one of the most prolific equestrian artists in the country. He's in the process of selling and gifting an even larger inventory of work than my mother had, and he offered me a choice of several signed prints, so although I have absolutely no wall space left, I am happy to get one of his father's works, as it kind of reminds me of my boyfriend as well. I'm not sure when he'll be coming up to drop it off, but hopefully around the holidays.

So I actually have quite a full plate of visitors and places to go in the upcoming weeks.

I went against my dad's wishes and bought him something for Christmas, but it's not a "thing," it's an experience, so that's my excuse. Smile It's an hour-long massage. He had one a while ago and he really liked it, so that's what gave me the idea.

After dinner, I think I'll spend some time reading, which is something I rarely do at home and feels like a real luxury. I always have other, more pressing things to do.

My boss gave me a rather expensive bottle of wine for the holidays, so I'm looking forward to cracking that open with my cousin and father. I also bought a very cheap but great-tasting bottle of wine my friend shared with me, so we'll play a little game and see if my guests can figure out which is the expensive wine and which is the cheap wine.

A candle extinguished

December 5th, 2018 at 01:52 am

Me and Ron, Luzern, Switzerland, 1987, in front of the famous Lion of Luzern.

Today around 5 pm I got a phone call on my cell, but since so few people have my number, I mostly don't answer, because it's spammers, usually.

Then I saw it was my friend's niece. I called her back, thinking that my friend R. had been in really tough shape when I saw him Friday.

She told me he died. The rest of what she said was a blur; I'm not even sure if it was today or yesterday. I guess it was the pneumonia, not the cancer, because he was having a lot of trouble breathing, even with the oxygen tube.

I feel very sad that in the end, a nurse held his hand in the hospital. None of his family was there.

He was one of those larger-than-life people, and he had such a big impact on my life; that's why it came as such a shock that he died. Even though he's been fighting metastatic prostate cancer since his diagnosis in 2008, I thought he would pull off a recovery and hang around a while longer.

He was always the one to take charge, run the show, step up to the plate, organize the day or a trip to Paris. Intelligent, witty, a great conversationalist with a soft spot for old people and his one and only dog, he spent much of his time in retirement volunteering at a helicopter museum and teaching kids how to drive. He spoke fluent German, which really came in handy during our trips abroad. Once, when we were disembarking from the plane and headed for the terminal, fatigued and glad to be on US soil again, he broke out singing God Bless America, creating ripples of laughter among the other passengers. He could wow a crowd with an impromptu stint at the piano.

Years ago, when he picked me up one day for a date, he suggested picking up my grandmother and taking her out for a drive in the country and an ice cream cone. She loved him for it, and so did I. More recently, he organized several day-long road trips with my dad to show him what Connecticut looks like after dad moved up here from New Jersey to be closer to me and my sister. During one of those road trips, he thoughtfully arranged a stop at a summer German festival where we enjoyed schnitzel and sauerkraut while watching the polka dances.

We often clashed and had disagreements, but we always found a way to tell each other "Friends forever." And so we were.

Such luck

December 4th, 2018 at 12:51 pm

So, with the year's end approaching, I've been carefully tracking my gross income YTD, for a couple of reasons.

My income has tracked a bit lower than anticipated, and so my gross income from the job as of Dec 1 is only $32,000 with 1 more month to go. My gross would have been $,6500 higher, but I already made a traditional (tax-deductible) IRA contribution.

This is significant, since if I kept my total income (which also includes dividends, capital gains and interest) below $38,600, I will pay 0% on long-term capital gains tax and fall into the 12% federal tax bracket!

My hope was that by mid-December, with just 1 or 2 more weekly paychecks to go, I could have a pretty certain feel for whether I'd be far enough below that $38,600 figure, so that I could also do a small Roth IRA conversion which would not exceed the $38,000.

But alas, to muddy the waters, my boss today approached me and asked if I'd be willing to consider working close to full time starting probably next week through early January as we have a lot of work coming down the pike and he wants me to do quality control.

I'd really rather not, for the reasons just stated above and becus I value my free time, but it's kind of hard to say no when you just got a raise, so I tentatively agreed, provided I could carve out some blackout dates for things I've already planned.

Hopefully it will all work out. It's only a few weeks. If I have to, the first thing I'd forfeit is the Roth IRA conversion, but I'm still hoping I can remain in the 12% tax bracket and pay $0 capital gains. What a nice Christmas present to myself.

My cousin from Pennsylvania is coming out for a visit next week for a few days, weather contingent.(His trip was one of my blackout dates.) It's been about 6 or 7 months since we saw him and hopefully we can squeeze in this visit before the snow really starts to fly.