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Archive for June, 2023

Mid-Year Expense Overload

June 30th, 2023 at 08:44 pm

Exactly mid-year is always a time of big expenses for me.

- Homeowners insurance
- Car insurance
- Half of my annual property taxes

And I filled up the oil tank for the coming winter season a bit earlier than usual since I read that Saudi Arabia is cutting production effective July 1. I didn't want to wait and see if prices spiked. As it is, they are lower than this time last year by a significant margin.

Even though I got 3 paychecks this month instead of the usual 2, I only managed to break even for June on income vs. expenses.

On top of that, I've been thinking, once again, of getting a new vehicle. My 10-year-old Honda is running perfectly fine and has just 97,000 miles on it. But I'm thinking of splurging (for me, anyway) on a new Toyota Corolla Cross SUV Hybrid with AWD. Retail is about $32,000, quite a bit more than I've ever paid for a vehicle since I've mostly driven boring compact sedans, but I knew shortly after I purchased my 2013 Honda that it was no longer the right car for me. After owning I think 4 Hondas in a row.

Why? Well, mileage sucks, at least for a Honda. I do mostly in-town driving, not highway, where this car does excel, so now i'm getting just 32 mpg. The Toyota mentioned above gets 45/38. Plus, the storage capacity on my car is absymal, and I always seem to be hauling stuff, or wanting to haul stuff, that simply doesn't fit in the tiny trunk, made tinier with the 2013 model when they shrunk the size of the opening between the trunk and the back seat, so while in theory you could put some long things in through there, it mostly is worthless. It also meant I could no longer fit my bike in the trunk after taking off the front tire....what??

I also want an AWD so I can have more confidence driving in bad weather. Safety is a big thing with me. My dad says I don't need it because I'm pretty cautious as it is and if the weather's bad, I just won't go out. But there is always the chance of some little emergency when you MUST go out.

So, my 3 priorities are 1. gas mileage 2. an SUV where you sit up high (no blinding headlights in your eyes, better visuals in general and it would be much easier for my elderly father to get in and out of the vehicle) and better storage with a hatchback type opening, and 3. AWD.

This model was actually the only one I found that had all 3. I thought the Kia Sportage Hybrid LX fit the bill except its mileage is just 38 city/highway with the AWD; it's 42/44 without the AWD. I also was thinking seriously about the Toyota Prius, but it doesn't sit up high and I think that's what I want.

All the other bells and whistles, while nice to have, are just icing on the cake for me.

I need someone to accompany me to the dealer. No rush at all, but would like to do this sumer. Would like to do a test drive as I'm not used to driving big hulks. I'm thinking of bringing my cousin with me when he comes for a visit for a few days sometime in July from PA.

Finally, just looking ahead in the  not-too-distant future, I see myself taking a series of road trips of some distance, all coincidentally to the great state of Pennyslvania (to visit Dido, for instance, a friend in the Erie area and my cousin south of Harrisburg), and I'd feel better driving a newer car than a 10+ year old car. Just sayin'.

With the onset of these humid, hot days, all my productive yard work days have abruptly stopped. I keep thinking of all the things I want to do, but really find it hard to do them, especially also since the ticks are real bad this year. The big ones, sure, you can spot pretty easily, but I found 2 tiny, tiny nymph ticks (about the size of a sesame seed), and one was on its way to becoming attached in my bicep. Thank god it itched and i saw it and pulled it out. That was a close call. I've gone back to soaking in the tub after yard work as an added precaution to suiting up head to toe in white.


The Best Thing About Retirement

June 23rd, 2023 at 03:07 pm

The best thing about retirement, IMO,  is that each day is different.

I have no fixed schedule, although I do have a few things I do every week, like working out at the gym (2x a week), walking (nearly every day), seeing my father for lunch and my Kiva volunteer work. But my days are so much more flexible now than they were when I worked full time. I love that!

I think the thing I hated the most when I worked was the rigidness of the 9 to 5 regimen, the idea that you were "locked" onto the workplace premises (this is before COVID) and could only "escape" for a half-hour or hour-long lunch break. I don't know why, but I always chafed against that.  It's not that I didn't like my work...I did...but after a few hours of writing, I would become restless and feel like I needed to change my surroundings. And with my usually long commutes, I often spent time trying to figure out how I was going to do all the things I needed to do at home. Perhaps it would have been different had I been married....

Although there is no shortage of things to do around here, I find I have more time to do these things right instead of just trying to squeeeze them in as time allows. For instance, I just spent about 30 minutes researching home heating oil price trends this summer and through year's end in order to determine whether I should fill up my tank now, or wait. (I knew that Saudi Arabia voted to limit production, efffective July 1, and I was worried prices might rise later in the summer, so I decided to spring for a fill-up now.) Heating oil can be very pricy.

I do like a certain degree of structure in my weekly routine, but dislike having everything pinned down for every single hour. Pretty much how I feel about me, the ideal vacation is loosely scheduled, like these 2 nights we're staying here, but affords ample opportunity to just let things happen and if you absolutely fall in love with some area, you could spend an extra night, no big deal.


Welcome to the 21st century

June 21st, 2023 at 02:18 pm

How many times have you spent good money on some appliance for the home, only to have it crap out in a few weeks' time, or simply not perform as advertised?

Well, that's happened plenty of times to me, but recently I've had some very good experiences with upgrades: one in lawn and garden equipment, and the other in the kitchen.

Years ago I bought a Black & Decker weed trimmer from WalMart. It lasted quite a while, but this year I noticed that it didn't have enough power to trim anything, even when fully charged. It was an older model where you needed to cradle to entire trimmer in a bracket thing that was supposed to be mounted on the wall as it charged for easy storage when not in use.

I don't really have room in my garage to hang it as I have a long workbench on one wall and 3 shelving units on the other. So it was a nuisance to lean it up against my workbench cradled on the charger. It was sometimes knocked down.

I decided to get a new B&D trimmer and the new one has some really nice upgrades that I really do appreciate. First, you can easily adjust the height of the trimmer as you desire. Second, it's much LIGHTER than my old trimmer...a big plus! Third, the charger uses the same small charger I use with my other B&D appliances (a mower, a hedge trimmer and a blower) and that can rest easily on the counter top. So much better! Then I can store the trimmer itself elsewhere where it's not in the way. The new model has a built in molded plastic wedge on it that makes grasping hold of the trimmer with your 2nd hand much easier.

I haven't tried the built-in edger yet but hope to soon.

Next up: I finally got my new stainless steel sink and new Moen faucet in. LOVE them both! The sink is a drop-in sink, not the kind I originally wanted where the sink is undermounted and there is no seam on the counter top, so cleanup is a matter of just sweeping the sponge toward and off that sink. I couldn't get that kind of sink since I decided to keep my laminate counter. (I decided that for $5,000, the cost of a quartz counter, I could live with the laminate, though I have to be very careful about stains. Blueberry juice, for instance.) 

This new sink has such a minimal edge, especially compared to the big fat lip of my old cast iron/enamel sink, that I am fine with that. The new sink drain is noticeably deeper than my old drain, maybe 3 inches deep. Why is that important? Because if you have a lot of gunk/food bits you want to rinse into the drain, it all won't wash out and swirl around if too much water is  coming out the faucet. It actually does settle in the sink and stay there.

The only bit of a downside with the stainless steel sink is discovering, after reading the fine print, that to protect the sink finish, I should avoid using steel wool to clean it, avoid anything abrasive to clean it, avoid bleach to clean it and even buff dry with a chamois cloth once in a while. And avoid letting anything, even dish soap, dry on the surface as additives may damage it. So it requires a bit of babying. It did come with a nice grill that sits a half-inch from the bottom; this protects the sink from scratches as your dirty dishes don't sit on the sink itself.

What I really love is the pull-down faucet. Wow, what an improvement over what I had. I can easily pull it down and use either the stream or wonderful spray function to spray anywhere I want in the sink; again, very helpful for cleaning purposes. I like the liquid soap dispenser, too, which eliminates the need for one ugly bottle near the sink.

This design has been around for a while, I know, but Patient Saver only upgrades stuff when needed, so it's been a while. At least 10 years?

I paid the plumber more for his labor in installing the above than the cost of the sink and faucet.  And unfortunately, the outdoor patio faucet DOES have a leak; it didn't leak when he was here, so now I don't want to call him back just for the faucet since he charges $165/hr, and they charge by the full hour. Sigh.

A few years ago now I bought a cordless stick vacuum off Amazon. Orfeld, made in China. I like it cus it's cordless and lightweight, and it's good enough to pick up stuff off bare floors (though NOT on carpet). I really liked the light it had becus it was very helpful to see where there was dust or whatever in dark corners. But now that light is not working; it comes on momentarily when I turn it on, but goes off a few seconds later. I finally found the user manual but it says absolutely nothing about the light. Very disappointing. I may try to write them and see if they have a fix.

Otherwise, life goes on...I feel like I am 90% retired, though this little job I have covers my expenses to a degree that's disproportionate to what time I devote to it. Most of my time is spent, ranked in order of the most time spent first, on: gardening and yard work, volunteer work (I joined a new committee that fights knotweed and I'm now in my 4th year as a volunteer editor at kiva, the global micro-loan nonprofit), socializing (with garden club members and personal friends), home improvement/maintenance catch-up and freelance writing comes in dead last, time-wise. Still see my 90-year-old father each week for lunch, etc. and am working out at the gym twice a week and walking in the neighborhood at least a half-hour on most days. I feel like I have a full schedule.

I would like to increase time spent on volunteer work and expand my friend network and maybe spend less time in the yard, but this is growing season and I have lots of invasives. Plus, we'll have a bit of a heat wave, rain and higher humidity for a good week starting tomorrow, so once it starts raining I'll have to abandon the yard work. A good incentive for me to get out there today to continue a project I started yesterday, cutting back bittersweet and Virginia creeper from overtaking a trio of mountain laurel near my driveway. Happens every year but it's so densely vegetative in there I can't actually remove/dig out the bittersweet vines. I may dab the cut stem with roundup and see what that does. The whole area is in a huge, mature pachysandra bed, so even with my boots, the pachysandra comes almost to the top of the boot, which makes me worry about ticks.

I'm enjoying a bumper crop of snow peas and lettuce. Gave some to a friend. I expect the lettuce may bolt and shut down production on the snow peas with the heat this weekend.


Catching Up

June 10th, 2023 at 02:36 pm

Thought I'd check in with you on how my new semi-retirement arrangement is working out. As you may remember, I sprung for a single premium immediate annuity  back in March, and I also took Dido's advice to redirect dividends to my checking account instead of reinvesting as I've always done. And then I'm still writing 2 stories a month for the university.

These 3 things produce the following monthly income, net of taxes:

Annuity: $933

Dividends: $708 (from 3 funds)

Job: $1,220

Total: $2,861

This covers a good portion of my typical expenses, although lately I've been trying to knock off a variety of deferred home improvements and maintenance. 

What I still haven't managed to do yet is assure myself all will be fine (financially speaking) in retirement. I still feel like I'm overspending when I look at monthly income vs expenses, and in fact, from that perspective, my spending has already exceeded income by $10,000 and we're only into June!

I'd just as soon stop working entirely, but I hope to keep it up for another year and 2 months, when I turn 65 and pick up Medicare. Continuing to work helps slow the money drain from all the home maintenance projects and I'm always delighted to see the direct deposit in my account, but I do have to push myself to focus on the next story.

Actually, writing the story is not a big deal, and they pay me well for it, but she often wants me to quote someone from the university, and that' s where the delays/hassle occur because their spokespeople are slow to respond, prefer to respond via email rather than a real conversation and give me boring, generic quotes to work with.

The above-mentioned home improvements include:

- Instead of a new lightening rod, which I was told is kind of obsolete, my electrician recommended a (very affordable) whole house surge protector, which I got.

- The kitchen cabinets were refinished and look much better. I've got a drop-in, stainless steel sink ordered and appointment scheduled for plumber to install that and the new faucet I already purchased. My original plan was to replace the laminate counter-top, too, but knowing now just a quartz counter would cost $, it's not that important to me. The laminate is in almost perfect shape. My main complaint is the challenge in keeping it clean, since it's white and shows every speck. If I planned to move, i'd be more motivated to do it but since i plan to stay put, it's personally a little less compelling.

The sink/faucet replacement, on the other hand, is something I'm really looking forward to. I've grown to hate the cast iron sink, which has a very thick lip on it where dirt collects and it just looks gross. Very hard to clean. The faucet is corroding and has a drip so that's overdue.

- The plumber was already here and did replace the shut-off valve on my washing machine in the basement. I'd discovered the old valve just didn't work, and water poured through it even when shut off. I'm in the habit of shutting off that valve whenever I'm not using the washing machine (memories of my sister's basement flood), so I want to make sure it's in working order.

- The plumber told me of an easy fix to my outdoor patio faucet dilemma. The old faucet back there sits maybe 2 inches above the patio (patio was raised when redone) and it's hard to attach a hose to it. Instead of the very expensive idea of having him attach a pipe to it and then install a shut-off valve in the basement so the pipe didn't freeze in winter, he gave me a link for what's called a 90 degree elbow pipe, so i could attach the hose from the spigot pointing sideways instead of straight down. It's a $10 item and he said I could do it myself. (We'll see.) I already ordered it. Since he's coming here to do the sink and faucet, I can have him do the pipe if I encounter any problems with it.

- My other guy was here this week to make some general repairs to a basement window looking out on the back patio. He removed all the rotted wood and replaced with pressure-treated, repaired the screen mice had chewed with stainless steel screen, and redid some mortar, etc. He just needs to caulk and then at summer's end, after the mortar has cured, I can prime and paint the wood frame.

- Earlier, he made some repairs to my side garage window, which has a sill where rain water would collect, rotting the wood. He replaced the rotting wood and using trim fixed the angle of the sill so rain would drain off.

- His next job is replacing the 2 Leaning Tower of Pisa concrete footers supporting the lower half of my tool shed, built by my father 28 years ago. The whole tool shed is listing forward and in danger of sliding off those pillars. He's dropping off a bunch of cinder blocks today.

- A month or so ago the electrician replaced two upstairs ceiling fixtures and installed a digital thermostat in my family room. I had an old rotary knob thing in there before which did not supply an exact temperature in the room.

Each of these jobs seems small, but I'm paying quite a bit for them. The cost of labor is not cheap.

Still to come, I'd like to do something about 2 different doors on the house. That may well be it for the year because my bigger projects, like fence replacement, are way more expensive.

I joined some friends of mine last night for what sounded like a fun softball game about 50 minutes away. The deal included a free hot dog, chips, drink and t-shirt.  This is a couple I met through the MS dinner lectures, and she has often made overtures of friendship to me. I drove down to their house and we then drove up together, hitting on and off thunderstorms (and a rainbow) of more than one kind on the way. A married couple, they bickered constantly. It was really too much. Not relaxing. I have to fault her for being constantly on his case and telling him what to do or questioning what he was doing every step of the way.

When we arrived, we learned they cancelled the game, which was a big disappointment. We hadn't even left the stadium when she was asking me to stay and watch a movie with them once we got back, or take a walk. We did the latter, but I was relieved to be on my way and leave the pettiness behind.

I have a garden party coming up with my Facebook garden group, and after volunteering a few times doing litter pickups, the Lions Club tried to recruit me as a member, but ultimately I decided against it. I agreed to meet the membership guy for coffee, but the impression I got was that they really want a strong commitment to their activities, and I would be concerned about taking on more than I could handle with my limited free time. They want members to join more than one committee, sell as many tickets for their 2 major fundraiser events as possible (I hate doing that sort of thing as I don't like being pressured to buy anything) and attend their twice monthly ($30 a meal) dinners each month to socialize at the country club. (If you don't go, you're charged $8 per missed dinner). The membership fee is $92 a year.

I already agreed to serve on a new committee elsewhere seeking to combat the growing infestation of knotweed in town, and on their agenda is trying to get the town to set aside funds to spray certain targeted areas. This is the one invasive plant that really doesn't respond to any other measure. Our first meeting is Monday and I have some reading up to do beforehand.

I have read a few other blogs here and understand others are going through some tough times here. I do hope things improve for you all; please know you are in my thoughts.