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Just Slightly Over 463 Weeks

December 28th, 2014 at 03:33 pm

That's how long until our target retirement date!
I don't think retirement will mean that we never work again, but it will mean "work optional." I think I'll continue to work, but whether it is volunteer work or part-time paid work or some combination of both is TBD.

Austin ranked #3 on the most recent "top 25 places to retire" list from Forbes and was one of the bigger cities on the list. We like it here. So relocating after retirement may not be something that we even need to think about. We envision some day moving to a condo, and that would be the logical time to think about whether we want to stay in Austin or relocate. Because it is a single-story, our current home should be fine for at least the first several years of retirement and maybe longer.

Sneakers On The Ground

May 9th, 2010 at 08:41 am

Tho I've not been around SA much lately, I am still actively involved in my household's personal finances on a daily basis.

I started this blog to chronicle our relocation to a lower cost part of the country (plus join the $20 Challenge), and now that we are firmly established in our adopted home of Austin, I just haven't been blogging as much.

In a nutshell, these are the major PF-related things that have been happening:

1. Wills Re-Done: Finalized (witnessed & notarized, including Affidavits, copy sent to Personal Representative) in early-March. I bought the NOLO book & used their software & created the Wills myself. I would have preferred to use an attorney (DH was not willing to pay the fees to have an attorney prepare our estate documents), but I am happy with NOLO and did the best job I could. The book was clearly written and I got quite a bit of helpful information from it. For me, the way the book was laid-out seemed very organized, and was a great way to think and work through the process. I recommend it for anyone else thinking of doing a DIY Will. I made an effort to keep things simple, in order to minimize the risk of making a mistake. For example, I decided not attempt to create a Trust myself. I also read up on Special Needs Trusts (I have a brother who is developmentally disabled who is a major part of my estate planning), but found out that he does not need one because he does not collect Social Security Disability Insurance.

2. Second Car Purchased: We finally bought a 2nd car. Paid cash. New car. We have owned both new & used, and I believe both are reasonable ways to go (I'm not a believer in "one size fits all" when it comes to PF). Based on how we have owned previous cars and how we feel about cars, I realize that for DH & I, Jonathan Pond's motto of "buy used if you love cars, buy new if you hate cars" is the way to go. In other words, if you are a "car person" and like to change cars frequently, go for used cars. But if you are NOT a car person (like DH & I), keep your cars forever, and do not necessarily like the car-buying process (but put a lot of time & research & mental anguish in to the decision-making), then buy new. Only once did we buy and sell a car within a short period of time, and that was a special scenario. Other than that, we have owned our cars for very long periods of time (our current "first car" is a 1999 model that we bought new, has almost 150K miles and we expect it to last for at least another 50K). We bought a Prius, at the height of the "anti-Prius hysteria." We had looked at the Prius for a couple years, but felt they were overpriced. For a very brief period Toyota offered a $1K Customer Loyalty rebate (if you blinked you missed it), and one dealer in our area offered previously-unheard-of discounts on a couple stock vehicles. On top of that, I was getting ready to restart my full-time seasonal job & we had been sharing one car for several years, so while it definitely wasn't "the best car deal ever" it was enough of a deal and the timing was perfect so we jumped off the fence and wrote a check (plus $5K on the Am-Ex ... for the points ... paid off when the bill came in). Boy that dealership was dead at that time; the salesman said we were his only sale that month.

3. Still Studying the Possibility of Buying a Vacation Rental + Looking at a Self-Directed IRA: At the turn of the new year, I had looked in to buying a 2nd home in our area to use as a vacation rental, then put it on hold because the real estate market in was firming up (didn't think we could get a very good deal). But now that the New Homebuyer's Tax Credit has expired, I think there may be another dip, so we continue to keep a close eye on the market. I am reading "How to Rent Vacation Properties By Owner" by Christine Hrib Karpinski, and that got me thinking about establishing a Self-Directed IRA. I had been wondering if an IRA could own an investment property, and it turns out that a Self-Directed IRA can. Also, I have been perturbed thinking that I could not own individual Treasuries in an IRA (can't see paying a fee to a mutual fund company to buy something I can buy myself through my Treasury Direct, but a Self-Directed IRA may be a way to do just that. These are my current "Big PF projects" ... learning more about vacation properties & self-directed IRAs.

4. Sneakers On the Ground: For some reason, I often ponder "big PF questions" while out walking the dog. On one walk recently, I was thinking about our investment style. While our MF investments are very conservative, we have made bold & risky moves such as DH quitting his job & starting his own business, me starting a small business, relocating to a lower cost part of the country, and now thinking about buying an investment property. I don't think you can categorize us as "risk-takers" or "conservative." I think the military expression about "Boots on the Ground" is fitting ... We like to be very hands-on, looking & observing & participating in what we are investing in; we willing to take risks as long as we have quite a bit of control over those risks and know exactly what is going on.

5. And Speaking of Sneakers: OK, this is not a "major PF thing" by a long stretch, but I did want to point out that everyone, no matter how firmly they have their personal finances under control, struggles with temptation. While it was definitely NOT the case in my younger years, I do feel that my DH & I do a pretty good job overall of managing our finances. But the "consumer bug" still bites from time to time. It's a constant job to keep things in balance. Right now I am hearing the siren song from those "Shapeup" sneakers by Skeechers. Just love the idea of getting extra toning (and maybe some health benefits) while walking just by wearing a certain pair of sneakers! But the rational side of my brain can't see spending $100 for them. So I've decided that if I ever see a pair for $50, I will buy them. I'm hoping they will come out with some awful color scheme that no one wants and they will put them on clearance (I won't care about the color), or maybe it's just a matter of waiting for the market to become more saturated. I will allow myself to indulge in a pair, but only if the price comes down by half.

Hope everyone here has been doing well ... I have stopped by to read folks blogs from time to time, but feel I am out of touch.

Be It Ever So Humble ...

June 8th, 2009 at 09:06 pm

Since my last post, guess what DH & I did? We closed on our new house and moved!

For anyone who doesn't know the story, this has been a long time coming. We sold our house in the Seattle area over 3 years ago, and have been living in rentals both in Seattle and in Austin ever since, waiting for what felt like the right time in the market and the right house.

I can't tell you how nice it is to be back in a place that we own!

The first time we drove by the house it was literally one of those "Honey - Stop the Car!" moments that you hear about.


Is it possible to be in love with a room? If so, I may be in love with our new kitchen:


This picture is rather stark without any furniture or pictures, but I wanted to show the curved walk-throughs, which is one feature I really like. (I like soft curved things rather than just hard corners.)



These are old pictures that we took when househunting. I would have liked to have posted some newer ones, but my camera is still in a box. Smile

At one point in the process (just before signing off on our contract), DH started getting a bit of cold feet. There are homes in the same neighborhood that are built by lower quality builders that of course sell for less per square foot. DH started thinking we should go for "lowest cost per square foot" and get a bigger house, but at that point I really put my foot down and rather insisted that quality was much more important. It may be a "smaller" house (at least compared to the others), but I know we will save not only money but also time & aggravation in the long run. It's an Energy Star and green built certified home, so we will save on our energy bills. With the quality of the materials, we should end up needing to repair or replace things much later. I hope Ima Saver will be proud of me for insisting on quality! (I'm not saying it's the quality of a custom home that Ima's husband would build ... it's not, not by a long stretch!)

Closing was a dream. Took all of 30 minutes.

The first thing I did after getting home from the closing was file our property tax appeal. The deadline to file was June 1st so procrastination was not an option!

Moving was fine, but boy were DH & I tired by the time we were done! I have told DH in no uncertain terms that this is absolutely the LAST DIY move for us. Fortunately, there really wasn't a lot of furniture (just our bed and a couple chairs and a small dressers & side tables). If we ever move again, we will just have to hire movers. Honestly, I wouldn't mind if this were our last move EVER (until we move to the retirement center or wherever we end up in our old age).

We continue to stimulate the economy with house related purchases. In addition to the appliances blogged about previously (fridge, washer & dryer), we have purchased a carpet cleaner, a lawn mower, and garage floor liner. I've also ordered a shower caddy & a sofa.

Bless Discover's fraud department --- Usually I only buy gas on that card, so when the garage floor liner was purchased, they immediately called me about "suspicious activity." Nice to know someone's looking out for me!

We Are Switching to OTA ("Free") TV

May 10th, 2009 at 10:08 am

OTA = Over The Airwaves
This is the "free" TV that is available to anyone with an antenna. This is the type of TV anyone my age or older grew up watching.

A move is such a great way to re-evaluate lots of things in your life. In addition to evaluating what things we really want to keep (as in, "Do I really want to lug this ratty object to the new place, or is it time to ditch it?"), you also start evaluating services and weighing the costs vs. benefits.

When it came time to order utility hookups at our new house, I really started evaluating our "need" for cable TV. In our apartment, cable is included, so we have not been paying seperately for it for 1-1/2 years. When we lived in the Seattle area, we used to have a semi-expensive cable package, because that was the only way for DH to add channels from his native country. Since his country's channels are not available where we live now, he started looking for other ways to watch TV, and now subscribes to a service where he watches TV from his homeland over the internet.

Other than a bit of CNN & CNBC (with a smattering of Animal Planet), the only TV I watch is major networks. So I started thinking that cable was not really necessary. I did some research, and the more I learned the more I liked the idea of living without cable.

In addition to loving the idea of not having to pay a monthly cable bill on top of the $25 we're paying for DH's internet viewing, I really like the idea of better reception. I learned that picture quality is better if you DON'T have cable, and this will especially be true once the switch is made to digital TV (June 12).

DH has been patiently waiting to buy a big screen flat panel TV. I asked him to wait until we had our new house and prices have come down. Once we're in our place, I'll give him the green light to go ahead and buy his big toy. I'll have him get an integrated HDTV one; that means it will already have an HDTV tuner built in, so we won't have to buy a seperate tuner. All we need is an antenna.

I ordered this antenna today: [url]http://www.crutchfield.com/p_209TV55/Terk-TV55.html?o=v&search=antenna+indoor&searchdisplay=antenna%2bindoor&tp=1185[/url]
With shipping, it came to $68.

DH will be installing it in our attic. According to on-line reviews I read, it is fairly easy to install. (It's an indoor/outdoor antenna. I knew an outdoor antenna would not go over well with the neighbors.) I don't know if we will have to buy any hardware for mounting, or if we have all of the tools we need, but even if we do have to run to Home Depot and buy something small, I figure we'll come in at $75 or less total. With cable at $49+tax, we will have recouped the antenna cost in 1-1/2 months or less!

If anyone else is interested in making the switch to OTA TV (and with the digital conversion coming up, can you think of a better time?), these were the sites I found most helpful in researching:

[url]http://www.crutchfield.com/S-IOdgy2Geib8/learn/learningcenter/home/antenna.html[/url]

[url]http://www.antennaweb.org/aw/welcome.aspx[/url]

Once we're settled in to our new place, I'll let you know how we like our "new" (actually retro) way of watching TV.

Appliances Ordered

May 4th, 2009 at 03:46 pm

We've ordered the appliances for our new house. We looked for appliances that were highly-rated by Consumer Reports, that were very energy-efficient, that fit nicely in their designated spaces, and that had features we liked. We chose "mid-range" items ... neither super expensive nor super cheap. Then we looked for the best deals we could find.

Got our washer & dryer (Fisher & Paykel) from the "Dent & Scratch" section of a discount appliance warehouse. They are new, but have some cosmetic damage ... Who cares?

Got our fridge (Kenmore Elite) from Sears last night ... they had one of their quarterly "VIP Evenings" where all Kenmore & Kenmore Elite appliances are 20% off and then 10% additional off of that ... so, 28% off.

This means we've purchased 3 BIG items in the last week. I certainly hope the ripple effects of our personal economic stimulus spending spree will reach you wherever you are. Smile

As I know most of you are, we're pretty studious shoppers when it comes to major purchases; we put a lot of time & energy in to it. So if feels good to be done. We now have all of the "necessary" items for the house. We haven't purchased any furniture yet, but we've yet to find any screaming deals, and we can get by with what we have for the time being.

Sorry I've not been around. I've been getting lots of overtime at work (for which I am very grateful), still have my volunteer work to keep up on, and have the upcoming move.

One of these days I will update my badly outdated sidebar! Cheers.

Came Close to Making an Offer

January 10th, 2009 at 08:43 pm

We've had a couple of days of marathon house-hunting. Came pretty close to making an offer on one house, but didn't. Went so far as to bring blank contract papers home with us. Of the *gazillion* (only a slight exaggeration) houses we have looked at, it is the one we have liked the most ... and we both like it equally. Very pretty house, nice size, perfect number of rooms. It is also a pretty good deal. Problem is, we're only lukewarm on the area (DH kind of likes it, I kind of don't). That's why we decided to hold off.

We had put our Austin househunting on hold when we were leaning towards San Diego (which is still a possibility BTW), and so when we started looking around here again after many months off we were pleasantly surprised to see that the builders have started taking serious price cuts. The "Oh ... the Austin market isn't affected by the national housing downturn and won't be" arrogance that we had run in to previously is GONE. Another thing that we are noticing is that some builders are starting to build NICE, smaller houses, which is a change here in the "Everything is bigger in" state and one that we welcome.

The other housing market tidbit is anecdotal evidence that the housing market bailout may be working in some instances. Months ago, we looked at a short sale home. At that time, the owners had moved out. We contacted the listing agent and found out that after receiving several lowball offers, the bank decided to work with the owners and they have moved back in to the house.

I'm tired. For me personally, househunting gets exhausting because it is so intense. Do you guys feel the same way? The last 2 nights we were so tired we did not want to cook and ended up going out to dinner. Thank goodness for the Olive Garden gift card we got for Christmas and the BOGO coupon to IHOP ... And to Ms. Koppur who gave me the idea of IHOP for dinner! (We learned that IHOP for dinner is great because there is hardly anyone there.)


First 3 Financial Decisions of the Year

January 6th, 2009 at 07:01 pm

1. Today's 10-yr TIPS Auction (first of the new year, and one of only a couple for 2009): We decided not to participate. I sort of wanted to, DH did not want to, and I was not sure enough that it was a good idea to try to persuade DH. (I am starting to think that if DH was single, all his money would just be sitting in the bank. I'm the one who brings up things like TIPS and mutual funds, and sometimes I have to push to get any sort of investing done.) Since my crystal ball has not yet been delivered, I of course have no way of knowing what will happen in the next ten years. Best guess? A period of deflation (due to constriction in consumer spending) followed by soaring inflation caused by the pent-up pressure of the presses at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing running overtime during a deflationary period? Auction results were published at www.treasurydirect.gov and the yield was 2.245%. I suppose it would have been fine if we had participated in the auction, but it's not the end of the world that we did not. (If, 7 years from now, we are in a prolonged period of double-digit inflation, please remind me what an idiot I was.)

2. New Bank Account for Bonus: We decided to open up a new checking account just to get a $100 bonus (we had received a promotional coupon in the mail). We have to keep the account open for 6 months, and there is no minimum balance requirement. I do wish that banks would just offer better interest rates rather than offering these bonuses, because it is a bit of a hassle to open and close accounts ... But I suppose that is why they do it the way they do ... There are lots of folks out there who can't be bothered to open & close accounts, but for $100, I sure can!

3. We Decided to Buy a Specific House (it didn't pan out, so don't get too excited): While at a party on Saturday, DH received a semi-cryptic message from a builder's sales rep saying "I sure hope you're still in the market for a house. Call me." DH got up early Sunday morning and checked the builder's web site, and saw that on one house in particular they had taken a BIG-TIME price drop. He came in and woke me up all excited like a kid on Christmas morning. I checked it out and got very excited myself. I said "Let's buy it!" and DH agreed 100%. It was truly a screaming deal. We were ready to go out to the house and sign a contract on the spot, for the asking price. (It is in one of our favorite areas of Austin, we know and like the builder, and DH had visited that particular house and had liked it very much and explained it to me in a way that I knew I would like it too.) We had to wait several hours until the sales office opened for the day, but I got my checkbook out and put it in my purse so we could head out there and write them a check. While waiting, I was doing chores around the house and DH was on the computer Zillowing, etc. Before too long, it started dawning on both of us that something was not right, that it was just too good to be true. Gradually we came to the realization that there had to be a mistake, perhaps a mis-typing when the new price was inputted. It felt like the air slowly going out of a balloon. When the sales office opened for the day, I called them to check on the price, and as we expected the price posted on the web site was wrong. In fact, the actual asking price was more than double! Oops!

Poor DH looked so let down, but I wanted to end the whole experience on a positive note for him so I high-fived him and told him that he has a great eye for a bargain (he does).

What I learned from the experience is that we are 100% ready & willing to buy a house when the right deal comes along, and that we are capable of making a VERY quick decision if need be.

----------------------------------------

Our 4th financial decision of the year will probably be made very soon, and it will involve our apartment lease. We had wanted to move to a larger apartment back in December, but the management of our complex kept dragging their feet. Our lease is coming up for renewal very soon, and it's time for us to make a decision about what we want to do. We have new rent rates on our current unit, and information on a possible larger unit. Today I went out and checked out several other complexes for comparison purposes. We are now leaning towards going to a month-to-month lease. That will give us more flexibility. We're looking at Sept or Oct as possibly a good time to buy, but if we find a great deal (like the one we found over the weekend, but "for real") sooner than that, it will be nice to not have to break a lease. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that I would be a "month-to-month lease" type of person, and certainly not at age 40-something. To me, month-to-month leases are for people who don't know where they will be a month (much less a year) from now. And guess what? Right now, that's me.

Out With The Old, In With The New

January 2nd, 2009 at 08:32 pm

1. Year End Net Worth Calculation: We ended up a leeeetle bit for the year. And when I say "leeeetle" I really mean it! 2%. Considering that ROR on mutual fund investments was -25.2% for the year, we can live with that. It means we retained enough of our earnings to ever-so-slightly more than offset our losses. Just like so many of you guys, living below our means was what saved us from being down for the year.

2. DH's Business (2008 results & 2009 outlook): DH's business for the year was down slightly (compared to his annual average). He had started the year off with a bang and we expected it to be an up year, but it didn't end up that way. In 2009, we expect business to be down more. There are a couple big factors working against us (one of them of course is the overall state of the economy), and a couple working in our favor. We will be satisfied with a year that is "just moderately bad to okay." And we know we will be fine even if it is really bad.

3. New Year's Resolutions: I don't make formal resolutions. My goals are created as the need arises, or as I am inspired by something, or learn something new that makes me realize there is something I should be working on. The ones I am working on right now are continuations of things I was already working on Dec. 31st.

While it's not a resolution, I did buy a special book for the new year ... "The Intellectual Devotional" ... I will be reading my way through that this year. Since it is formatted to be read starting on a Monday, I started it on Dec. 29th.

Again, while not a resolution, the one thing I was becoming dissatisfied with towards the end of 2008 was not using my time effectively. So, since the "devotional" (it is not a religious book BTW) is meant to be read one page each day, and since I am reading it in the evening, I stuck a post-it note to myself on the inside cover asking myself: "Am I satisfied with what I have to show for how I spent my time today?" So far, that has been a help. I hope it will continue to be.

4. In-Laws & Plans for the New Year: My FIL finally did it ... after much dragging-out, he got things wrapped up with his business and is now officially retired! I have mentioned before that DH & I want to give them something special such as a trip to commemorate their retirements (my MIL worked part-time at my FIL's business, so both of them retired). The gift is now in the planning stage! When we called to wish them happy holiday, we asked him where he would like to travel. He said he wants to come to the USA. And then he started listing the places he wants to visit. You'd think it would be something like "San Francisco, LA, and San Diego" or "Philadelphia, NYC, and Washington DC" right? But no! He said, "I want to go to Denver ... and Atlanta ... and Boston" ... LOL! That's so cute. (Places can seem so close to each other when you are looking on a map.) They want to come for 3-4 weeks, so I think we could actually make that itinerary work. We know this will be his last trip here, if indeed he is even able to make it this time. He has had some serious medical issues over the past few years, including a couple times he was rushed to the hospital for life-saving procedures ... Not the sort of thing that could be dealt with easily on a 13-hour plane ride. First he has to talk things over with his doctor, figure out what the risks are, and then decide if he wants to take them. DH & I have talked about it, and if the trip is a no-go, we are going to give them a cash gift and tell them to use it on anything that would make them happy. I mentioned that it might seem impersonal to give cash, but DH reminded me that in his culture it is perfectly acceptable, so that is what we will do.

5. Party: We got our first formal party invite since moving here to Austin. It's a "wrap up the holiday season" party. Isn't that a nice idea for a party, having it the weekend after New Year's? We did not have to worry about being out with the drunk drivers, we were able to stay home and calm our dog when the fireworks went off, and (most important for us old folks) no need to worry about staying up until midnight. Should be fun, and should be especially nice for DH, since part of the problem he has been having with Austin is feeling "out of the loop" socially.

So Much To Think About

December 16th, 2008 at 07:33 pm

Since returning from our house hunting trip to San Diego, DH & I have been doing a bit of house hunting ... in Austin! The Austin real estate market had been holding up pretty well, but some builders seem to have "seen the light" and have taken some pretty significant price drops.

So, Austin seems to be "back in play." So much to think about ... Austin? San Diego? When to acutally buy? And what to do about the apartment lease that is coming up very very soon?

What are San Diego's advantages? Paradise on Earth: Mild climate, and drop-dead gorgeous scenery. DH can be more comfortable & happy there. Housing prices have already dropped quite a bit.

What are Austin's advantages?
Financially, very comfortable. Low cost of living (emphasis on low taxes and low cost of housing). I have work here. The housing market is showing signs that it has weakened and we may finally be able to "drive a bargain."

It almost seems like a "head vs. heart" decision, with Austin being the head and San Diego being the heart. I've been toying with ideas of how we could get both, such as staying here in Austin but planning on vacationing 2-3 weeks each year in S.D. (We've never had a "regular vacation spot." We've always enjoyed visiting new places. But maybe it's time to change that ... at least for a few years, until we get the itch to try some new places again.) I'm also looking in to a couple things that might make DH more comfortable & happier here.

So much to think about.....