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Christmas Gift Planning

November 12th, 2017 at 08:22 am

This year, I am giving Christmas gifts to only 4 family members. I expect to spend a total of $270-275. As always, I'm looking for ways to reasonably stretch my dollars while giving things that will hopefully be useful and appreciated by the recipients.

For Mom, 3 separate orders of fireplace logs will be sent during the time leading up to the holidays. The 1st has already been delivered. Due to age and mobility issues, Mom can't handle bringing home a full case from the store, and appreciates the home delivery. I stagger the deliveries so she doesn't have to deal with more than she can handle at one time. I'm taking advantage of Target's free shipping during the holidays, and getting a 5% discount with my Target Red Card.

For brother, I will give cash for his travel fund. Travel is one of his greatest joys, and he likes to take a trip every couple of years but has a low income. Cash is cash, so there is no way for me to stretch my dollars on this one, but if he's happy then I'm happy.

For my niece, I will contribute to her college fund. Also, so she has something to open on Christmas day, brother and I went in on the Harry Potter items recently launched by Williams-Sonoma. This is the first time I have given her something that I think she will continue to use after she moves out of my sister's place and is on her own (well, other than the college funds of course). I like knowing that it will have some long-term utility. These are already ordered. I registered my Email and got a 15% discount as it was my first order from W-S. I also ordered on a day when they were offering free monogramming on the apron. By helping brother stretch his dollars, that leaves a few extra bucks for his travel fund. Sister will wrap them up for me (in my family no one expects anyone else to pay the ridiculously high prices for wrapping when ordering on-line, thank goodness).

For my nephew, I will contribute to his college fund. For his "open Christmas morning" gift he will get a Barnes & Noble gift card. I am not sure yet how I will purchase that to best stretch my dollars. I will be keeping an eye out for Black Friday specials. If there are none, maybe Gift Card Granny?

DH needs some new underwear and I thought about buying him some and wrapping it up for fun, but I'm not going to commit to buying that before Christmas. I'll just keep an eye out and wait until I find a great bargain, whether it's Black Friday or post-holiday clearance. We stopped exchanging gifts early in our marriage when we realized we'd rather pay off the mortgage, and the tradition has continued even though the mortgage is long gone.

There will be a White Elephant gift exchange at work (my part-time job), and I will "shop my closets" for that. Last year, my first holiday season there, I noticed that several people gave small gifts. I am thinking that I may bake some cookies and put them in cello bags in a basket so that people who want to can indulge. In an effort to keep it unique, I may make a couple recipes from DH's culture (probably different from anything they have tried before and definitely lower in sugar than the typical American Christmas cookie ... most of them are game for trying new things). As soon as I post this, I am going to schedule this on my calendar so it doesn't fall through the cracks.

I am not buying or spending a lot, but it still helps me to have a plan and start early.

Back from Vacation

February 2nd, 2017 at 06:42 pm

I'm just back from spending 4 days with family, helping my brother celebrate his birthday. I had a fantastic time. I spent $236. Used DH's airline miles for the ticket and stayed at my mom's house. I spent on a pro basketball game + meal at the stadium (took my brother), a movie, hostess/host gifts, the airline fee, a souvenir treat to share with my work colleagues, and getting to & from the airport.

It was worth every penny. Hooray for family time.

Turbo Tax On-Line

January 7th, 2017 at 12:53 pm

We can't use the free tax version. We use the Turbo Tax Self-Employed edition, which is the most expensive one.

I just comparison shopped through every place I could think of (financial institutions, AAA, Geico, etc) and found the best price a tie at PenFed credit union and T.Rowe Price. The T.Rowe price web site even says you don't have to be a member, that visitors get the same price.

Today I also finished up the (hopefully) very last piece of business related to moving our HSA.

And I ordered some old-fashioned checks. It has been a long time since I ordered checks! We don't go through them very quickly, and we used to get them for free from our bank (but don't any more).

Next financial tasks?
- Pay bills
- Move funds in advance of upcoming quarterly estimated tax payment day which is soon followed by annual property tax day (we have no mortgage so no escrow)
- Search for a coupon for a discount on annual vehicle inspection (sticker renewal due in Feb).


December 23rd, 2016 at 06:07 pm

DH's father passed away 2 weeks ago. DH has been overseas helping his mom, but will return just in time for Christmas. (We don't do much but it will be nice to have him home all the same.) He's been a really big help to his mom (getting death certificates, contacting government agencies and probate court, taking her out to eat, etc., etc.), and I feel so proud of him.

There will be more changes to come. His mom will probably move back to where she used to live, to be closer to friends, family, and her religious group.

DH & I will probably have another discussion about whether a move to be closer to MIL is feasible, necessary, and/or desirable. If we are going to move, I'd rather do it sooner rather than later . . . for many reasons, the main one having to do with work and my age.

If we do decide to move, I'll have to start a new blog section: "relocating to a high cost part of the USA" - ha

This and That

November 27th, 2016 at 10:52 am

1. Mom: Following a collapse-type fall (meaning no broken bones) from which she could not get up, caused by weakness from an infection, my mom was hospitalized for several days and is now housebound. So DH & I are now fully in the "helping care for elderly parents" stage of our life. Unlike my FIL who has not yet been able to move from his hospital to hospice due to his fragile state, my mom is expected to regain most of her functioning. But I know from experience with my own grandparents, and hearing from others like Patient Saver, it's not like she is going to get all better and go on with her life. Mom needing help is going to be a recurring thing.
Right now she is getting PT, OT, and bathing assistance at home. She has church friends who have delivered some meals. My brother lives with her and is able to provide some physical assistance. I've been pleasantly surprised with what I've been able to help her with from over 2,000 miles away, thanks to the internet and telephone. I've ordered delivery of groceries (signed up for a trial membership in Amazon Prime since Mom lives in a Prime Now delivery area), ordered fireplace logs, sent flowers, researched personal emergency response devices, notified family members, reminded Mom of the deadline for open-enrollment Medicare selection, discussed mail delivery of prescriptions, and just been a sounding board to help her problem-solve and provide emotional support. Thank goodness for modern technology.

2. Taxes and Investment Planning: DH and I talked on the phone with Vanguard CFPs regarding our investments and taxes. Regarding taxes, the "good news" is that other than investing in munis or deferred annuities (no thanks), we will be doing all we can do legally to reduce our taxes once DH has established a solo 401K. And the "bad news" is that other than investing in munis or deferred annuities (no thanks), we are doing all we can do legally to reduce our taxes. ha...ha...ha - that's meant to represent a "funny but not really funny" laughing sound. Regarding investments, we did not dig deep in to the discussion. It felt like the person we spoke to was mostly interested in selling Vanguard's newish Personal-Advisor-For-A-Fee service or throwing out cookie-cutter statements like "at your age and years from retirement we recommend a higher percentage in equities" and I did not get the sense that we would get far by getting in to a deep discussion about how the "stock" in DH's business factors in to the equation, or how our percentage of publicly traded equities compares to other entrepreneurial types (we are pretty typical when you look at that smaller subset of the investing population). These discussions did result in a couple very helpful answers to specific questions regarding solo 401Ks, and one helpful suggestion for a fund that we will likely choose for DH's solo 401K that we did not choose for his SEP IRA. So the conversations were worth our time. They also reinforced our belief that it is helpful to get advice from experts, but that we are still the ones best equipped to make our own investing decisions.

3. The Endless Bank Shuffle: This morning I moved funds around to maximize interest earnings on savings. I won't bore you with all the details. I'll just say that this has become a repetitive exercise and I WILL continue to fight the good fight. It's part of my job as household CFO.

4. Holidays: I'm done with my shopping (it's not much), and mailed off the few gifts that needed to be mailed on Friday. I was just feeling the need to be ahead of schedule where I could, to leave room for unexpected demands on my time. I've completed my regular, big holiday-season volunteer project and have started a second, new one (one that is smaller, more flexible, and a balm for my soul).

Life goes on . . . sometimes with the same challenges over and over, and sometimes with new ones. I think I'm ready.

Oh, Mirror in the Sky, what is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?
(from "Landslide" by Stevie Nicks)

FIL Update

November 4th, 2016 at 01:15 pm

FIL has finally agreed to move to hospice and has stopped insisting to go back home. He will have a private room for 2-3 months. He would like to have an electric wheelchair for some degree of independence so DH & I are planning to rent one for him.

Halloween Spending

October 25th, 2016 at 06:00 pm

Treats: $21 (There will be no leftovers. I buy what I buy and when I run out I go inside. I have enough for 108 kids.)

Costume accessories: $11-12 (My newish job is at a place where everyone dresses up in costumes with a coordinated theme. I think it will be fun!)

Update - NOT buying a new car (for now)

September 4th, 2016 at 06:30 am

When I posted my 2-year "big spending" goals, I had 5 items on the list. Now we're down to 3.

For the time being, we are not buying a new vehicle for DH. He has decided to keep his 17 year old golden chariot (KBB is $500) a little while longer. Yesterday he spent $141 (after rebates) on new tires. The car needed new tires, so that forced him to make a decision.

Given the low value of the vehicle, if it had a major breakdown we would not pay to repair it, we would just buy a new one. And if a fantastic deal became available on a vehicle we were really interested in came up, we would jump on it. So we still could end up buying in the next 2 years but the plan is to wait longer than that.

Still on the 2-year spending goals list: 1) Continue to maximize 401(k) and IRA contributions. 2) Replace some carpeted areas in the house with tile. 3) 25-year anniversary trip.

Hanjin Bankruptcy

September 2nd, 2016 at 06:48 pm

Well this was a news story that certainly got my attention.


I'm sure this is causing headaches for manufacturers, retailers, and transportation-related companies. What will the ripple effects be throughout the holiday season and beyond?

Korean Airlines is part of the Hanjin conglomerate. I wonder if the airline will be affected? (Anyone holding Korean Airlines miles? Are you more likely to try to use them up quick?)

Container Gardening Successes and Failures

August 25th, 2016 at 01:02 pm

It's no secret that I am NOT a gardening whiz.
It's also no secret that I believe in focusing on both the big AND small things when it comes to my personal finances. Here's an update on a small thing - my attempts at container gardening.

The soil in my yard will NOT grow veggies. To amend the soil or build raised garden beds is, for me with my brown thumb and gardening laziness, an absurd thought.

In the spring I planted 4 items in containers. 2 were dismal failures. The containers were not nearly big enough to grow daikon (what was I thinking?) and the cherry tomato plants yielded only a handful of fruit.
But, the sweet basil starter plants have been a success (still yielding). My biggest success by far was green onions grown from seed. DH & I have been enjoying piles of fresh green onions, and I only planted half of the packet. Since we live in a hot climate (Texas), I will plant the second half of the packet in a week or two for fall / early winter harvesting.

Next spring I'll plant green onions again (they are so expensive at the grocery store and have proven so easy to grow - definitely worth it), and will try basil from seed instead of from starter plants so that I can (hopefully) get a lot more. I'll probably experiment and try one other item as well.I'm going to look through my "Healthy Mind Cookbook" to come up with some ideas. I want it to be something easy to grow in containers, expensive to buy in stores, and beneficial. Something that I can get 2 plantings out of would be nice too. Hey! Maybe I'll even try something new this fall. Why not?

I'm open to suggestions if anyone reading this has any.

Update - NOT buying a condo for in-laws

August 24th, 2016 at 09:07 am

FIL's health is in rapid decline. His doctor says that he may live another year, or he could die before 2016 year-end. The doctor has given approval for FIL to move in to a hospital to live out the rest of his life, but FIL will not go . . . at least not yet. DH's opinion is "He has no choice. He has to go." and will try to convince him thus when he visits next month. DH sees it as necessary to save MIL's health and sanity. We'll see.

A move (other than to a hospital) is out of the question right now.

Also, DH has been consulting with his BFF who is knowledgeable about the local real estate market and has concluded that buying a condo is not a good idea, because they think the RE market in DH's home country is in for a lengthy decline with no bottom in sight. It would make more sense to just provide some sort of monetary subsidy.

For the time being, MIL & FIL will stay where they are. After FIL passes, MIL's options will be wide open. She will probably move back to her old neighborhood (where we had planned to purchase the condo and which is near family), but there is also a slight chance she may move in with her sister in another city, or try something different. When the time comes, and she's ready to make the decision, I know she'll talk things over with DH. She always does.

FrugalTexan had asked if it was an option for them to move to the USA near us. At this time it is not. When we relocated to Austin, FIL & MIL applied for a visa so that they could move near us but were denied. US citizens aren't allowed to sponsor in-laws, so I can't. DH would only be able to sponsor MIL if he got US citizenship. He has looked in to citizenship, but so far has decided against it because dual citizenship isn't an option. He's willing to be a US citizen, but not yet ready to give up the citizenship he has had all of his life. I understand that.

SecretarySaving asked about home delivery of groceries, which is a great idea. I mentioned that to DH and he likes the idea. MIL does not have a computer or use the internet, so DH is going to look into it when he visits next month. Perhaps they could set up some sort of regular delivery, or he could order for her from here in the US? He'll check to see if that's feasible.

(Now that I think about it, while writing this out it dawns on me that giving some money to DH's BFF and asking him to place the orders might also work. The guy is a peach. He's 100% responsible and trustworthy, and has been DH's friend through thick and thin since elementary school. I'll throw that out to DH as an option.)

On a positive note, FIL has started going to adult day care one or two days a week. He tried it in the past and didn't like it so stopped going. Now he is willing because he is getting some essential care (specifically bathing) when he is at day care, so that takes some of the load off of MIL.

I'm going to put together a deluxe assortment of chocolates for DH to bring to FIL when he visits next month. FIL loves chocolates, and we always send some, but this time it will be an extra special lot. I will also send a bit of cash for MIL to use as she sees fit.

As far as what sort of assistance we will provide down the road, that remains to be seen. At the very least, there will be more overseas trips in DH's future and some form of financial assistance to MIL. I won't be surprised to see years of flat household net worth, and that will be just fine.

"People first, then money, then things." - Suze Orman

2 Year Spending Goals Update Number 3 - Condo For In-Laws

August 2nd, 2016 at 11:10 am

I've struggled with how much I want to share about this. My decision is to share only some of the background info. DH's parents (who live in another country) are going through a tough time. FIL just turned 80 and has serious health issues. MIL is healthy but worn out from caring for him. Due to a major financial setback that occurred shortly before retirement, after they retired they moved to an inexpensive rental in a semi-rural area which was initially very charming but has become increasingly undesirable (far from family, limited medical resources, and a burden on MIL when running errands because she does not drive). FIL is rather stubborn about accepting assistance from non-family. Yes, this exacerbates the problem (especially for poor MIL), but at 80 years of age he is not going to change his ways.

DH and I want to help - because they are family, and because their negative financial situation is largely due to bad luck. No, they haven't managed their finances perfectly. (Who has?) But they haven't been grossly irresponsible either. And more than anything we know that MIL needs relief!

Because we live so far away, there are limits to the amount of hands-on assistance we can provide. DH visits twice a year and chauffers MIL around so that she can get things done and takes her out to eat.

In the spring we gave them a small cash gift. But we knew we needed to do more. After talking and thinking about it, almost simultaneously DH and I came up with the idea of perhaps purchasing a condo for them - someplace near family, with better medical resources, and with easy access to public transportation.

Before I go any further, I should say that this is NOT a "done deal." DH is going to fly overseas and go condo shopping in the fall to see what the options and prices really are in the two specific areas he has in mind. And we need to research a few legal questions regarding a foreigner (in this case, that would be me) owning and/or inheriting property in DH's home country. Only after we have decided that this is a feasible option for us, then DH will approach the in-laws with our proposal.

This is how we see the "deal" being structured:
- DH & I would buy the condo
- DH & I would pay the property taxes
- FIL & MIL would pay the HOA dues
- FIL & MIL would pay the utilities

The idea is to find a place where the HOA dues plus the utilities are less than their current rent. It would also need to be a place that MIL could afford on her own after FIL passes (her retirement benefits will decrease). MIL would be welcome to live there for as long as she is able; we estimate she'll be there 20-25 years. DH would stay with them when he travels to that part of the country on business, saving him a little bit on hotel expenses.

After MIL passes, we would sell the condo and use the proceeds in our later years.

Financially speaking, this will not make life easier for DH & I. We'll have the added expense of the property tax on the condo (I've been told much lower than here in the US), we'll be exposed to currency risk (by purchasing an asset in foreign currency), and we'll have more of our net worth tied up in non-financial assets. But it won't be an unbearable burden either. Financially speaking, we feel it is a better option than just giving the in-laws cash on a regular basis. And for MIL and FIL, we think that it would make their lives much, much easier (especially MIL) and we hope this form of assistance will be easy to accept.

This is a pretty big goal. And not one that we had ever imagined until just a few months ago. When you are young you cannot imagine how your financial goals may change over time and when you might need those "extra" savings.

Sidebar Update

July 17th, 2016 at 07:36 am

I've changed my blog colors to what I think are pretty, summery ones. Hope you like them!

I've also updated my sidebar, including the addition of 2 web site links. Hope that these new links will be helpful to some of you.

Asset Builder Knowledge Center: This site includes articles by Scott Burns (who writes an excellent newspaper column on personal finance), Andrew Hallum (author of The Millionaire Teacher), and others. Recent articles that I've found especially informative include "To Live Well, You Need Lots of Money" and "The Torpedo Tax and the Middle Class."

Doctor of Credit: The title may be a bit misleading. I've used this site to find some nice snowflakes including bank and credit card bonuses, and a free gift card.


2 Year Spending Goals Update Number 2 - New Vehicle

July 11th, 2016 at 03:10 pm

The more we research, the more we lean towards getting an electric vehicle.

Because auto makers are rapidly making technology advancements on electric cars, it makes sense to try to wait another year or more before purchasing. The biggest improvements are in the driving ranges(without a range extender). For example, the Nissan Leaf has an estimated range of 84 miles but the Chevy Bolt coming out in 2017 has an estimated range of over 200 miles. That's a big difference!

So, the current plan is to get new tires for the old car (total cost with tax $226) but let the repair go (it's still drive-able) and coax another year or so out of it. If the car happens to die before we are ready to pull the trigger on an electric car, we'll manage fine with one vehicle for awhile.

As we ponder purchasing an electric vehicle, knowing we'll be using more electricity, we are also compelled to think more seriously about installing a solar power system on our home. Tomorrow evening friends with a solar system are entertaining us at their home so we'll certainly be asking lots of questions!

P.S. - A friend just purchased a new SUV. He offered to sell his old one to us for what he could get from the dealer at trade-in, which was about $4K lower than KBB Private Party sales value. While we were very appreciative of the offer and realized that he was offering us a great deal (we know how he maintains his cars, he treats them like babies, and takes them only to the dealer for every single maintenance and repair), we only considered accepting his offer for about 15 minutes. As soon as I did an internet search and found out that the gas mileage is 12 MPG, we had to say thanks but no thanks!

2 Year Spending Goals Update Number 1 - 25th Anniversary Trip

July 10th, 2016 at 08:38 am

My how things change as time passes. When we were in our 30's we started talking about what we'd do for our 25th anniversary. We quickly decided that we'd take a "big trip." For a very long time we thought we wanted to ride the Blue Train in South Africa. Other itineraries we fantasized about included touring the British Isles, soaking up jazz and mojitos in Cuba, or taking a Crystal Cruise.

And now that the time is approaching all we want is a relaxing, fairly economical little getaway that can include the dog!

Due to the hoopla over the 100th Anniversary of the National Parks System, I've been reading about our National Parks and developed an interest in visiting more of them. Because we want to drive so we can take the dog, the "big deal" parks (Grand Canyon, Acadia, Smokey Mountains) are not practical due to the distance. The nearest National Park that interests us, and the one we are planning to make our 25th anniversary destination, happens to be the smallest one --- Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.

Our plan is to take a 3 day / 2 night trip (in about a year and a half). Our budget is $1,000 for 2 adults and 1 dog.

Mileage (IRS Business Rate): $600
Hotel (Pet Fee & Taxes): $75
Admissions & Tickets: $100
Mineral Baths: $75
Food & Drink: $120
Misc (Souvenirs, Photo Development, etc): $30

We plan on using points for "free" hotel stay but will have to pay a pet fee and taxes.

Regarding Mileage: Mileage is 60% of our budget. I practice steely-eyed realism when it comes to budgets. To say that the only driving-related expense is gas would be cheating. So I'm going to use the IRS business rate for mileage. Will our actual driving expenses be less than $600? Oh, probably. I drive a Toyota Prius. But isn't it better to have a higher number in the budget and wind up with "extra" money in the bank than to cheat on the budget and wonder where the money went?

Possible mini-goal: Because the park is centered around the natural hot springs and the bathhouses, "taking the waters" is a big part of the experience. My current budget includes one mineral bath treatment. It might be nice to indulge in an extra spa treatment (massage, pedicure, etc). I am cooking up a little scheme for earning "spa splurge snowflakes." Will post more details later if it materializes.

Don't Just Do Something, Stand There!

June 28th, 2016 at 11:42 am

Over the weekend I visited Costco for the first time since they stopped accepting AmEx and started taking Visa only. DH has an airline rewards Visa that I borrowed.

Our AmEx Blue Cash pays 6% cash back on groceries and 1% cash back on everything else. We use it for groceries and we used to use it at Costco. For everything else, we use our Citi Double Cash back card (2% cash back on everything). On our latest AmEx Blue Cash Preferred statement, there was a notice that the annual fee is increasing from $75 to $95.

So, it was time to research credit cards and think about changing things up.

I pulled up our 2015 spending totals on the AmEx card. Assuming our spending patterns for 2016 are similar to what they were in 2015, we are still around $100 "ahead" by keeping the AmEx, using it for groceries only, and paying the $95 annual fee. So we're keeping it instead of cancelling.

As far as Costco, we need to decide between continuing to use DH's airline reward fee or getting the new Costco Visa (which pays 2% cash back on Costco purchases. DH is our household's "mileage guy" so I'm going to let him make that call. He asked for one day to think about it.

Looking Ahead At the Next 2 Years

June 19th, 2016 at 10:56 am

It looks like the next 2 years are going to involve some kind of big financial moves, and will involve quite a bit of spending, so I've decided to briefly document my top 5 financial goals from now through the end of June 2018.

1. Continue to maximize tax-deferred contributions to 401Ks and IRAs. This is not new, but must remain the number 1 priority above all others.

2. Purchase condominium for in-laws? I ended the preceding sentence with a question mark because it is something that we are going to look in to but have not yet decided on for sure. For over a year we have known we want and "need"to do something to help out the in-laws (and have already made one small cash contribution), but it's only recently that we hit on this idea as a possible solution.

3. Purchase replacement vehicle for DH. At 17 years old and with a needed repair that would cost more than its value, this one has moved from an "if and when" to a "when and with what" question.

4. Replace carpet in main living areas with tile.

5. 25th Anniversary Trip: Due to items 2 & 4 on this list, plans for this trip may be revised from a cruise or "overseas other than DH's homeland" trip to a nearby weekend getaway while the tile is being installed plus a condo-buying overseas trip for DH.

Updates Big and Small

March 26th, 2016 at 02:41 pm

Job Situation: I landed my "dream job" . . . sort of. It's only part-time, so I am staying on at my old job. My boss at my old job has been really great (so far) about letting me work a flexible schedule around the new job. Of course I hope that the PT dream job will some day become full-time. My job search lasted 7 months, no doubt elongated because I'm in my 50's (and therefore not first on many hiring managers' lists), but also because I was still working and therefore not just applying for anything but being somewhat selective. I've given up on the "side gig" I was working . . . two jobs is plenty, thank you very much! (The side gig is something that I could pick up again later if I want or need to.)

Solo 401(k): DH is self-employed. He used to have a Keogh plan. Then he changed to a SEP IRA. In 2016, he's going to open a Solo 401(k). We're a year late; I wish we'd done it for 2015 but I realized a solo 401k was the way to go after finishing up our 2015 tax return. Getting the paperwork for the 401(k) completed is at the top of my list of financial tasks.

Potential Snowflake Alert - Doctor of Credit Web
Site: I tried to add this to my list of favorite sites on my sidebar but wasn't able to. The web address is www.doctorofcredit.com The tag line for this web site is "your prescription for healthy credit" but it's much more than that. I use it (in addition to the Deposit Accounts web site) to look for bank account bonuses. I also scored a $50 gift card thanks to this site. Hope this info helps some of you who like to pursue snowflakes, bank bonuses, etc.

Bank Bonuses / Overbanked Consumer: So far in 2016, I've signed up for two bank accounts that offer bonuses. I've also discovered a new term: the "Overbanked Consumer." Here is a link to the article I read: http://thefinancialbrand.com/57550/overbanked-consumer-banki... That's me! Apparently the banking industry considers me a disruptive force and is unprepared for me. They don't know what I want. It's really very simple! I want the highest possible return on my savings!

Jane Bryant Quinn's New Book: I've shared in the past about the positive impact that Ms. Quinn's book "Making the Most of Your Money" had on my financial life. She has a new book out, "How to Make Your Money Last: The Indispensable Retirement Guide." I'm only 2/3 done but am finding it pretty helpful. As the title indicates, the scope is narrower than her previous books. For those of us who do a lot of reading about PF, it contains quite a bit of information that we already know. But it offers some fresh perspectives. And as usual, Ms. Quinn has really drilled down in to the subject matter, and it contains a lot of practical information. I'd recommend it for anyone 45-50+ who is thinking seriously about retirement.

Yard / Garden: DH finally finished the yard re-vamping. He greatly reduced the amount of water-gobbling grass and replaced it with rocks. And I'm taking a stab at container gardening again this year. I scored some free containers through a neighborhood swap page, and got one of those upside-down tomato growers on clearance at Tuesday Morning last winter. I'm growing cherry tomatoes, sweet basil, green onions, and daikon (Japanese radish). I'm already using the basil and love it.

2015 Year-End Results = Gratitude

January 3rd, 2016 at 05:56 pm

I already posted our year-end results on the forums, but will repeat them here with a bit of editing:

2015 was a very "ho-hum" year financially speaking.

Overall net worth increased by only 4%, our smallest increase since 2008.

Financial assets, on which our rate of return was an unimpressive 1.6%, make up 86% of our net worth.

Non-financial assets, on which our rate of return was was -0.4%, make up 14% of our net worth.

We have no liabilities.

Most of that 4% NW increase came from new savings.

Although our net worth did not grow by as much as I would have liked, I will take a year with a little progress over a year where we had no progress or went backwards. We have our health, we have our new dog, and we lived to see 2016.

I think the most exciting development for 2016 is that a retirement plan is starting to become clear. I think that we will be able to use an initial withdrawal rate of 2.5%, which will cover our very basic needs. Social Security income will be used for wants (travel, hobbies, gifts, clothes, eating out, donations . . . anything but the most basic needs). What that means is that even if SS goes bankrupt, we will be barely OK. We are very close to having enough to cover our current basic costs at 2.5% withdrawal, with 10+ years to go to retirement unless we retire early, but now DH would like to relocate to a super HCOLA. If we do move, our expenses will go up, requiring a larger nest egg.

My biggest challenge going in to 2016 is my work situation. I still have my job, but many at my branch have been laid off and most of us who remain have had our hours cut drastically. My hours and income really fell off at the end of the year. The writing is on the wall - eventually I may lose my job or at the very least lose my benefits - so I have been job searching. As those of you who have been there know, job searching when you're in your 50's has its challenges. Fortunately I already landed an "occasional side gig" which is replacing some of my lost income, but it's not a permanent solution. I am really grateful that I'm entering this somewhat challenging time not scrambling to play catch up.

If you're still young and healthy and making a decent income, save as much as you can while you can. And if you're still young and healthy and making only a modest income, save as much as you can while you can!

Happy New Year everyone!

45-cent-plus Breakfast of Champions

January 3rd, 2016 at 08:19 am

This morning I made myself an open face sandwich: 1 slice of whole wheat bread + organic cheddar cheese + 1 sliced small avocado. 12-cents for the bread (regular price, store brand) + 0-cents for the cheese (had a cash register coupon for free cheese) + 33-cents for the avocado (they were on ad at 3/$1).

I had coffee with milk as well but am not able to calculate the cost of that very easily. I'm definitely under $1 even with the electricity & water costs for prep and cleanup.

Now that I am fueled up, I am going to start on my year-end and year-to-year review. I'm just getting around to it today because on the 1st we hit the Dillard's New Year's Day sale followed by 2 parties (with potluck prep for 1 of those parties), and yesterday I was job hunting and emotionally needed to just chill in the evening.

I'll check in later when the numbers have all been checked and run.

Banking Doldrums

August 21st, 2015 at 05:51 pm

I now have rewards pending at only 1 bank. And the last time I opened a CD was in Jan 2014 when PenFed CU was offering 5 years at 3%. I would like to get some more Series EE bonds but DH wants to hold off until after the FOMC meets Sept 15-16. This is all a bit of a bummer and feels too NON-proactive for my taste.

Hopefully I can find a nice juicy bank promo soon!

Gourmet Dinner Today

August 18th, 2015 at 03:44 pm

I splurged at the grocery store yesterday and purchased 2 prepared hatch chile salmon patties from the seafood case ($5 for 2). We will have those for dinner tonight with homemade cream of vegetable soup which contains five different vegetables including leeks, also a splurge at $2.97 a bunch!

The soup will last for several days, and is supposed to be good cold.

Registered for a Study

August 4th, 2015 at 07:51 am

Called this morning to register for a university study that is paying $50, then asked DH if he wanted to do it too and he said yes. We have back-to-back appointments so we can drive together, and will receive a total of $100. This is one item that was on my "unemployment action list" and even though I have an "unemployment reprieve" I decided to just go ahead and do it anyway!

Random Stuff

August 2nd, 2015 at 08:34 am

Sorry about the random nature of this post.

1. Work Situation - Reprieve: I've been asked to work on another project. It's small and short, but it means work through early-September. When I knew it was very much possible that I'd be out of work at the end of July I gathered some information and started mentally coming up with my plan. Although I now have a reprieve, I went ahead and started a fresh notebook titled "Unemployment" and wrote up a 1-page "action plan" on the first page incorporating what I had learned and thought about. The notebook is sitting on the shelving next to my desk at home. When/if I get no more work, I know what my next steps will be.

2. Another TIPS matured: A TIPS that I owned in my Treasury Direct account matured on July 15th. In recent years I've owned fewer and fewer TIPS (the old ones mature and I've not purchased any new ones for several years) but more Savings Bonds. I have been purchasing Treasuries for 18 years and although the types of Treasuries I buy changes, I will probably own some sort of Treasury until the day I die. In fact, I already own a TIPS that won't mature until 2041 and I'll be an old woman then!

3. Short Term Savings: I've pursued every banking bonus that I can & want to, but now that DH's peak business season is over he's starting to go after some. The banking bonuses seem to be getting fewer and farther between, and I've accepted that 1% interest is what I'm going to be getting on my short term savings for the foreseeable future.

4. Relocation to HCOLA: There have been no concrete plans made. It's on the back burner for the time being, but I've done some on-line browsing of properties, reconsidered the "how much of my net worth am I willing to have tied up in my primary residence?" question, and contemplated having to pay a lot more than what I am used to. Moving to a place that is much more expensive seems so counter-intuitive from a financial standpoint, and will require a major mental shift. But moving some place where my husband will feel more at ease and better able to provide assistance to his elderly parents makes the decision much easier.

5. What Things "Go For": On our local FB garage sale page, someone posted some collectibles a few days ago. Someone chimed in that they thought they had priced too low because a similar item was "going for much more money" and then posted a link to an eBay listing. But of course it was an ACTIVE listing, not a sold listing, which means that the collectibles really have NOT gone for that. It just means that the eBay seller is HOPING to get that much. Stuff is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it.

6. Happy Spending: It has been 5 weeks since we adopted our new dog. The benefits are so much greater than the costs associated with having her in our lives (vet visit, monthly preventatives, food & treats, toys, bed, grooming). We love having her in our life, and she seems pretty darn happy with her change of circumstances. Life is good, for all of us.

I Guess I'm Really Old

July 5th, 2015 at 10:20 am

I saw a job posting that said that employees must adhere to the strict office policy about not using social media during work hours. I assume the company had problems with this in the past or they wouldn't have felt a need to include it in their job listing.

I guess I'm really old and/or old-fashioned because I can't imagine using my work time for any personal "business" unless it was of a true emergency nature (and then I'd tell my boss and co-workers so they knew what was going on). I keep my cell phone on mute at work and check it only at the end of the day or on my break, never on company time. I'm on Facebook but only check it from home.

I have noticed that people are sneaking peeks at their cell phones more often at work. And when I used to go in to people's homes for my work I would often notice the cleaning crews chatting on their phones.

I feel sorry for employers who feel they must be the "Twitter police."

Note to employers: This is one area where you probably won't have to babysit the 50+ crowd . . . yet another reason to give us a shot at that job!

How's Your EF?

June 30th, 2015 at 06:59 am

The home of an acquaintance of DH's burned to the ground. Very, very sad but thankfully the family is all fine.

The older I get the more I appreciate the value of an EF. Disasters takes such an emotional toll on us humans. If you are able to take the financial aftermath in stride you are able to heal so much more quickly.

How is your EF?
If you don't feel that you are fully ready to financially handle a huge disaster, can you add just a little bit to the EF next payday? Do it for the people you love (which hopefully includes yourself).


June 26th, 2015 at 10:31 am

There have been quite a few big finance-related things going on in my life since I last posted. Here's a quick rundown.

1. 401K Catch Up Contributions: I decided to start making catch up contributions to my 401K. I still don't much like the investment options in my 401K, but I'm doing it for the tax savings plain & simple.

2. My Work Situation Up in the Air: My employer lost the contract that makes up the bulk of my work, effective the end of July. My work situation is even more up in the air than usual.

3. New 4-Legged Family Member Addition Pending: We are very close to finalizing the adoption of a dog. Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), I'm thrilled. Pets are a financial responsibility, and worth every penny.

4. End of the Road for DH's Big Dream: DH has decided that he is not going to try out for the Champions (aka senior golf) tour. He has dreamed of going pro since he was in college and has never stopped working toward it. He'll continue to be a passionate and very talented amateur golfer. Being the awesome & responsible guy that he is, he has never allowed his pursuit of the dream to jeopardize our financial stability, and was willing to throw in the towel when he realized it wasn't going to happen. This frees up the "Big Dream Fund" money. Did you know it costs a lot of money to go pro? Paying for Q school is just the tip of the iceberg. Pro golfers have ZERO guaranteed income and must cover some pretty hefty expenses (travel, caddy pay, etc). It's one of the reasons we have lived so far below our means and saved so aggressively for decades, so that the money would be there if DH reached the skill level where he could go for it.

5. Another Move May Be In Our Future: We are seriously thinking about another move, this time to a high cost of living area. We're still just in the thinking stage, not yet planning. Our next door neighbors just listed their house for sale, and since it is comparable to ours we will be keeping a close eye on how long it takes to sell and the sales price.

Many other small things going on, but I just wanted to get the big stuff down.

P.S. LOL - I forgot to mention that our house got hammered by a hail storm awhile back and we have to get a new roof, gutters, window, screens, etc. We haven't replaced anything yet because we're waiting until storm season is over and more contractors are freed up. Funny that I forgot to include this in my original post. Of course we have insurance, but we have to pay the deductible. Thank goodness for the EF.

American Airlines Award CC update

April 9th, 2015 at 03:03 pm

Spending $3K in 3 months is going to be easy. I have already charged the following bills: annual homeowner's insurance, quarterly trash, and monthly propane. We also charged 3 yards of river rock to be delivered for our DIY re-landscaping project. We're now at just a little under $1K charged; over half of that was the homeowner's insurance.

We don't have a mortgage so we pay homeowner's insurance once a year instead of as part of our monthly mortgage payment.

Going for this bonus is showing me how many bills I could have paid by c.c. for rewards instead of using on-line bill pay (or check). Nothing I have charged has a service fee associated with using a c.c.

To borrow a page from creditcardfee's book, I must caution that using credit cards for the bonuses is a good idea only if you have the money to pay the balance in full each month, and if you use the card only to pay for things that you would have been paying for or buying anyway.

American Airlines 50K Miles Bonus CC

March 29th, 2015 at 02:52 pm

I decided to get an American Airlines cc for a 50K miles bonus. I'll have to spend $3K in 3 months which is going to mean pre-paying some expenses in order to hit that number. In a typical month, we don't charge $1K. It will also mean forgoing our cash back bonuses since I'll be charging everything on the AA card.

But it will be worth it. DH travels overseas at least twice a year so I will transfer my bonus miles to him to use.

I'll close the account before I hit one year to avoid the $95 annual fee.

I have a file folder labelled and am ready to start tracking.

DIY Landscaping

March 14th, 2015 at 02:43 pm

Instead of hiring someone to re-landscape our yard, we are taking the DIY approach. This weekend we are cleaning out the backyard bed, pushing it out a bit (to reduce the amount of grass, something I really want to do to reduce our water consumption), and creating a border using free bricks left over from our home's construction. Next we'll put in a few low plants (or annuals or perennials, we haven't decided yet but there will definitely be some milkweed for the monarch butterflies) in the pushed out area and spread mulch.

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