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Archive for May, 2008

Portfolio Update

May 31st, 2008 at 02:41 pm

Yesterday I analyzed my portfolio, which consists mostly of individual stocks and a few mutual funds. So far for 2008, I am seriously in the red:

January = down - $25,676
February = down - $7,764
March = up + $7,109
April = up + $11,674
May = up + $6,817

Calendar YTD = down - $7,840

I bought most of my stocks around 1996-2000 and then stopped when the market started going haywire. To date, I’ve never sold anything but know I should do some culling... if only I had more understanding and confidence about what to do and why.

Since January of ‘06, when I started keeping a spreadsheet I update on the last day of the month, my portfolio increased by 9.37% a year. I’m not sure how this compares to indices like the Dow or Nasdaq… all I know is that my portfolio’s produced a better return than anything I’ve gotten from a CD or money fund. To be honest, I do not review my statements from Schwab that are available online. I like to keep track using my own spreadsheet.

While the mutual funds have done OK overall, I have tech stocks that dropped significantly, have never recovered, and possibly never will. Some of these dropped as much as 50-60%, yet I hang on to them. I did get lucky with a couple of stocks bought solely because I liked/used their products or did business with the company (e.g., Apple and Walmart).

My plan is to educate myself more about intelligent investment strategies once I retire and actually have more time, but I’ll probably stick to mutual funds…and maybe I’ll even sell some of my dogs of the Dow. Can anyone recommend a good book/web site on mutual fund investing or portfolio management? I want to get more actively involved in managing my portfolio but don't want to obsess over it, either. There's got to be a better strategy than "ignore and check once a month."

$5 a gallon for gas!?

May 30th, 2008 at 02:08 pm

This morning I heard on the radio that gas is expected to go to $5 a gallon in our area within a few weeks. Wow…for some reason, $5 just hit me. I wonder where it will stop? No doubt, it is just a matter of time before rising gas costs will have an impact food prices and other goods that have to be transported, as well as on the cost of travel. And yes, I really want to whine about it, but I won’t. It won’t change a thing. So, I will focus on what I can change and control.


We don’t have adequate public transportation where we live, so driving is a necessity. I will try to drive more efficiently and less frequently when possible. I figure I’ll be spending between $35-$40 more a month if gas goes to $5, so my challenge will be to see how I can creatively save elsewhere, something I want to do anyway. DH and I are still planning to take our road trip to Sedona this summer (with my DS and BIL), but we are taking one car instead of two. We will just pack lighter and make it work.

A friend sent me these links that have tips for saving gas:

www.howtoadvice.com/savinggas


www.howtoadvice.com/ReduceGasBills

The gas savings tips were interesting. Some of these I’d heard about before and some were new to me.

Note: I did not like the “Making Money” link on the sidebar of gas saving tips web page… seemed a little "scammy" to me. (Yeah, I couldn’t resist, so I clicked.)

Skyping With DH

May 29th, 2008 at 01:44 pm

DH is in Central America with a group of graduate students and has been keeping me updated via email. This morning, I was able to have a nice long chat with him via Skype. Even though DH is thousands of miles away, it was great to see him “in person.” (It sure is fun to have web cams on our computers!) So far, the trip has been uneventful, except for one student who exceeded the baggage weight limit, so she had to pay an extra $50 (ouch!) for her suitcase. DH says his 15 students are now fully immersed in teaching elementary students in the hosting bilingual school.

The posada (inn) where they are staying is Spartan, but clean and affordable. Most of the rooms cost about $25 per night, have a small private bathroom, but no phone or TV. It does, however, have wireless internet available free to all guests. DH’s group has access to a communal kitchen where they will prepare and share some meals together.

About Skype: With Skype, you can make free calls over the internet to other people on Skype for as long as you like, to wherever you like. It is free to download.

I’ve been using Skype to call relatives in England, Switzerland, and Central America for more than two years. My laptop always goes with me, so I use Skype to call the US when I travel out of the country. This is a great way to make free international calls. If the computers of both Skye users have web cams, you can see each other while you are speaking. Otherwise, you will just hear each other… and it sounds as if you are on “speaker phone.”

If you want to learn more, here is the link:

www.skype.com/getconnected

Downsizing...

May 28th, 2008 at 02:02 pm

two years ago brought a lot of stress, the good, the bad, and the ugly. In anticipation of retirement, we sold our family home and moved into a smaller two-bedroom townhouse in the same city.

The good: it was a financially sound move because we cut our housing expenses in half. DH and I are a blended family… I have two daughters and he has a son and a daughter from previous marriages, all of them now grown and gone. We had bought the family home when we married (his children were still in school and mine were in college by then). Once the nest was empty, we wanted out of the expensive upkeep of a five-bedroom house with its large “high maintenance” back yard. Our timing was good because the house sold quickly, and currently homes are not selling at all in our area.

The bad: we had way too much stuff! Some people by nature can be packrats, but I could not believe what we had accumulated over the last 20+ years. I still had income tax returns from 1983 and cancelled checks from 1969! DD1 tipped us about using a professional shredding service (hospitals routinely use them), so for $5 per banker’s box, we safely got rid of obsolete financial and personal papers. Condensing 11 rooms into 5 smaller ones was a challenge. We gave away our extra furniture to friend who had just bought her first house in exchange for help with sorting and packing. We donated 25 boxes clothing and household items to Goodwill and our collection of children’s literature to the library. Although friends suggested a garage or yard sale, we simply did not have time because of the escrow deadline. A yard/garage sale would have been a moneymaker, though, and I would not hesitate to do it in the future.

The ugly: DH wanted to rent a moving van and move with the help of friends and family, but fearing for his back, I insisted on hiring professionals. The movers I found online, and who seemed very reputable, ended up charging us 50% more than the quote… they justified it by re-shrink wrapping all the furniture we had already prepared for moving. They charged an exorbitant amount for the materials and held our furniture hostage until we paid them. So, a move of less than 10-miles cost much more than it should have because I didn’t do my homework and didn’t ask the right questions. If we hadn’t already moved all the items we could transport by car, it would have cost even more.

Although I occasionally miss my roses (I had 50+ bushes that bloomed until November), my tiny patio is just the right size for me to easily maintain. MC, my 18-year- old kitty, formerly an indoor/outdoor cat, at first had some adjustment problems to an indoor-only life but he eventually settled in. We love living in our smaller, cozy townhouse that will give us the freedom to travel more in our retirement.


MC always finds the best seat in the house, er...patio.

Web communities and blogs…

May 27th, 2008 at 08:34 pm

are recognized as an important source of support and information in all aspects of spending and saving. This is according to an article, “Five Basics to Building a Solid Financial Future” that appeared in today’s New York Times online:

www.nytimes.com/2008/05/17/business/yourmoney/17money.html?p...

This is an interesting article that gives “food for thought…”

Why Using a Credit Card Saves Me Money

May 27th, 2008 at 06:18 am

Each of us seeks to manage our finances in the best, most effective way that works for us. For some, like Ima Saver and Pennywise Meanderings, using cash and envelopes is a successful system for paying bills. For me, it is using a credit card. However, the key is that I use my CC to save money as I will discuss later, and I always pay it in full each month to avoid finance charges. My method requires discipline, both to carefully monitor expenses (I use Quicken) and to charge only what I will pay in full each month.

There was a time I had credit card debt… I was a single mom and emergencies happened that depleted my emergency fund (auto, medical, etc.). I paid as much as possible each month until I was debt free. About fifteen years ago, when DD1 moved out of state for college (and never moved back), I started using a credit card primarily to buy airline tickets to visit her. It was convenient to purchase the tickets with a CC (back then, it was over the phone and now, it’s online). Another “benefit” is that the CC company I use provides life-insurance in case of a plane crash (hey, you never know…).

Now, still debt-free (except for a small mortgage), I pay for EVERYTING I can with a credit card. Why? Because I like to use my reward miles (that never expire, BTW) to save money. For example:
~ DH and took a great vacation to France in 2004 with free tickets ($2,100 saved)
~ We are going to NYC this summer with free tickets ($1052 saved)
~ We visit DD1 and DD2 several times a year, and our airfare is usually purchased or reduced using reward miles. (Savings > $1,000 annually)

I use the CC to pay for routine expenses that I’d normally pay by check or ATM card:
~ Utility bills
~ Phone and Internet
~ Prescriptions and medical co-pays
~ Vet bills
~ Groceries
~ Gas/auto expenses
~ Entertainment/ meals out
~ Insurance
~ HOA Dues
~ Donations
~ Personal care (e.g., haircuts)

I also use the CC to pay for periodic expenses such as auto maintenance, gifts, clothing, carpet cleaning, vacations, etc. and large planned purchases (new refrigerator, new carpets, shutters, etc.). However, I always write a check if there is a fee involved for paying with a CC (e.g., property taxes). The miles add up quickly.

Another advantage: I save time and $$ on stamps, because I pay only one bill online. The money used to pay the CC stays in my interest-earning savings account until I make a transfer to my checking account to cover the payment. So, this is the system that works for me, but I recommend it only for those disciplined enough to pay the account in full each month to avoid finance charges and remain debt-free.

Share This With Your Grandchildren

May 26th, 2008 at 03:58 pm

One of my friends forwarded this to me via email. It boggled my mind! What do you think?

The year is 1908.
One hundred years ago.
What a difference a century makes!
Here are some statistics for the Year 1908:
************ ********* ********* ******

The average life expectancy was 47 years.

Only 14 percent of the homes had a bathtub.

Only 8 percent of the homes had a telephone.

There were only 8,000 cars and only 144 miles of paved roads.

The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph.

The tallest structure in the world was the EiffelTower

The average wage in 1908 was 22 cents per hour.

The average worker made between $200 and $400 per year .

A competent accountant could expect to earn $2000 per year, a dentist $2,500 per year, a veterinarian between $1,500 and $4,000 per year, and a mechanical engineer about $5,000 per year.

More than 95 percent of all births took place at HOME.

Ninety percent of all doctors had NO COLLEGE EDUCATION! Instead, they attended so-called medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press AND the government as 'substandard. '

Sugar cost four cents a pound.

Eggs were fourteen cents a dozen.

Coffee was fifteen cents a pound.

Most women only washed their hair once a month, and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo.

Canada passed a law that prohibited poor people from entering into their country for any reason.

Five leading causes of death were:
1. Pneumonia and influenza
2. Tuberculosis
3. Diarrhea
4. Heart disease
5. Stroke

The American flag had 45 stars.

The population of Las Vegas, Nevada, was only 30!!!!

Crossword puzzles, canned beer, and ice tea hadn't been invented yet.

There was no Mother's Day or Father's Day.

Two out of every 10 adults couldn't read or write. Only 6 percent of all Americans had graduated from high school.

Marijuana, heroin, and morphine were all available over the counter at the local corner drugstores. Back then pharmacists said, 'Heroin clears the complexion, gives buoyancy to the mind, regulates the stomach and bowels, and is, in fact, a perfect guardian of health.'( Shocking? DUH! )

Eighteen percent of households had at least one full-time servant or domestic help.

There were about 230 reported murders in the ENTIRE U.S.A.!

Now we can forward this from someone else without typing it, and send it on to others all over Canada & U.S., and possibly the world, in a matter of seconds!

Try to imagine what it may be like in another 100 years.
IT STAGGERS THE MIND!!!!!!!!!!!

Real Women Can BBQ

May 26th, 2008 at 08:17 am

It’s been a fun and relaxing Memorial Day weekend. On Saturday, I went to see a “chick-flick,” What Happens in Vegas, with two friends. It is definitely not a film my DH would have been eager to see. My friend, FE, is also an about-to-be retired school administrator, and KM has three more years to go. With our “over 55 senior discount,” we paid $6.50 to get in (regular price is $9.50). Afterwards, we went to a favorite restaurant for appetizers and a drink ($12 each). It was an inexpensive afternoon spent in the company of good friends.

On Sunday my one-and-only, wonderful sister and “best friend,” came over with her DH. They live 45 minutes away and we try to get together at least twice a month. DS and I went to the local nursery to buy plants for my patio planters. The nursery was having a Memorial Day sale, so I saved 20% on my plants.

When DS and I finished the planting project, I started up my Cobb BBQ for a healthy dinner of grilled tilapia with homemade mango salsa. Delicious! I love using my Cobb BBQ. It’s simple and inexpensive to use, all the parts go into the dishwasher for easy clean up, and it’s great for small spaces like my patio. The Cobb originated in South Africa, and I found mine online two years ago ($69). I use it all year long, even in winter (Note: it must be used outdoors!). I’ve become the gourmet BBQ chef in our family. Here is a link if you want to learn more about the Cobb:

www.cobbq.com

Monday will be a working day for me…I need to catch up on paperwork. Can’t wait to retire. Only 84 more days!

Thanks, fellow bloggers...

May 25th, 2008 at 08:05 am

for the tips, validation, and things I’ve learned from you in just a few short months:
1) I’m not only one out there who picks up change, even a penny, whenever I spot it (thanks, baselle);
2) I’m intrigued enough to want to learn more about DRIP stock accounts (thanks again, baselle);
3) There are people out there who love their pets as much as I love mine, and will spend $ to keep them healthy even when the budget is tight (thanks, Carolina Bound);
4) Preparing to retire can be an adventure, involves planning and taking risks, but it’s worth it (thanks again, Carolina Bound);
5) In some families, one of you might be more adept at managing the finances but everyone benefits when you take the lead (thanks, CeeJay74);
6) I finally opened an ING account with one of the “free” $25 coupons I get in the mail all the time (thanks, Princess Perky);
7) I’ve joined “My Points” and have already earned enough to redeem some points to get free books from barnes&noble.com (thanks, Amber);
8) I’ll review and check out from the library some interesting-sounding books for summer reading (thanks, Retire @ 50);
9) Rebates can be very rewarding and I need get better at having my purchases work for me (thanks, Ima Saver);
10) I tried Marmite for the first time and learned a new recipe (thanks, Tightwad Kitty);
11) I will try saving money and eating healthier by creating weekly menus (thanks again, Tightwad Kitty);
12) As I read about the day-to-day lives and financial challenges of those in other countries, I feel connected by common themes (thanks, miclason from El Salvador and Tightwad Kitty from Australia).

These are just a few that come to mind…there are so many more of you not mentioned who make this forum one of the best.

I'll Be Saving $$$ on Gas

May 24th, 2008 at 03:22 pm

Due to living where public transportation is limited, and having jobs that require driving to meetings within the workday, we are a two-car family. DH does the most driving, so he is the primary driver of the Prius. We've had it since 2003 and it has been a good investment. When we first bought this car, people made fun of us; now they envy us. DH is away for the next three weeks, so I will be driving the Prius. I should save about $100 in gas in the next three weeks.

Here is a link to a site that helps consumers identify the best gas prices by Zip Code:
www.gasbuddy.com

Little Indulgences

May 23rd, 2008 at 03:31 am

Early tomorrow morning DH leaves for a three-week trip to Central America where he will be supervising 15 graduate students from his university as they complete their student teaching in a bilingual primary school. This international program allows students to immerse themselves in another culture to broaden their skills working with diverse populations. The group will stay in a “posada” with a communal kitchen and DH will be cooking many of his own meals. Since DH is diabetic, I went to Trader Joe’s today to buy him a few of his favorites things to take along: low-carb dark chocolate bars to satisfy his sweet tooth, unsalted dry roasted almonds, a bottle of Environné Fruit & Vegetable Wash, a small bottle of pesto to serve over low-carb pasta, and some Airborne. I spent just under $25 for items that cost about $19 just a few months ago. Food is definitely getting more and more expensive! Now, if only we can keep his two check-in bags under 50 pounds. This will be a challenge since he’s taking school supplies and a small HP printer to donate to the hosting school which has very meager resources.

My cat likes to hide in boxes...

May 22nd, 2008 at 01:47 pm

and is a creature of simple tastes and classic beauty. This seemingly ordinary 8-month-old brown tabby wandered into my school last December and adopted me. None of our students had seen her before; she was emaciated and starving and probably abandoned by someone who moved. The office staff named her and TC, a polite and well-socialized little lady, gratefully ate and drank for a week until I could stand it no longer.

I took her to the vet down the street for a physical, had her checked for FIV (negative), had her vaccinated, then took her to my house until I could find her a permanent home. A few days later, I had her spayed at the low-cost clinic thinking it would help her adoptability. All in all, this stray kitty set me back $289, but it was necessary in order to bring her home to MC, my 18-year-old cat (yes, 18- this is not a typo).

TC has turned out to be a playful companion to MC who is home alone for hours on end. To TC, a bottle cap or wadded paper make great toys, but she adores MC's long-abandoned toys, too. You have probably figured out that TC's temporary stay is now permanent. As I said earlier, she adopted me.

So, we are back to being a two-cat household. Between poor old MC, whose kidneys are failing, and now TC, we have spent more on vet bills so far this year than on our own medical expenses. Thankfully, our budget has a flex item for this type of thing (I call it the "Fudge-Factor").

My new little cutie-pie.

New Goals

May 22nd, 2008 at 03:55 am

Preparing for retirement required setting financial goals and monitoring them periodically. One of my goals was to have at least 80% of my net working income in retirement. Through careful planning this will be accomplished. Now as retirement gets closer, I decided to set new goals in retirement. These are not in any particular order:

1) Spend the equivalent of one day a week doing volunteer work;

2) Spend more “quality” time with family and friends;

3) Focus on getting healthier: lose 20 pounds and prepare more nutritious meals;

4) Continue to save 15-20% of my retirement income. This fund will be used for big-ticket items such as vacations, replacement car or appliances, etc. and would be used before the “Emergency Fund” is tapped;

5) Consider doing some part-time consultant work IF the work interests me AND I have too much time on my hands;

6) Continue learning… take classes, read more, get involved in causes;

7) Each year, travel to one of the places on my list of “Places to Visit Before I Die”;

8) Spend more time enjoying container gardening in my patio;

9) Get involved in online forums that appeal to me;

10) Write that mystery/suspense book that’s been lurking in the creative recesses of my mind for years.

For those of you already retired, do you have words of wisdom to share? What were some challenges? Any regrets or advice?

The road to retirement...

May 21st, 2008 at 12:04 am

did have bumps and potholes along the way but nonetheless, I always kept an eye on the destination. Now, my philosophy has changed… the “destination” (retirement) is really just a fork in the road and journey continues but on my terms. While I have made many mistakes (and hopefully learned from them), I will share a few things that have had a positive impact in the overall scheme of things:

1) Paid myself first. No matter how little I was earning, I always made it a habit to put a few dollars in my savings each payday. This was part of my monthly budget. I didn’t touch this money unless I had a dire emergency (but it was there when I needed it);

2) Began to plan for my retirement at a very early age. I started my first IRA when I was 22, later added a Roth IRA, a 403b, and a 457 plan. Now, at the end stage of my formal working career, I am able to deposit the maximum allowed into these accounts;

3) Asked is this a want or a need? Years ago, as the single mother of two young daughters, resources were limited, so I researched big purchases (e.g., new car, TV, computer), lived frugally, and managed the family budget carefully. I looked for bargains and sales whenever possible (still do) and always asked, “Is this a need or a want? Do I love it? Do I need it now or can it wait?” Delayed gratification builds will power and helps cut impulse buying (most of the time).

4) Taught my daughters to be financially responsible. They always received a small allowance to help them learn money management and I required 25% to go into their savings. They had many chores and responsibilities at home, but these were not connected to receiving an allowance. It was how they contributed as members of the family… chores were done whether they received an allowance or not. Now, as adults, they are financially solid, one is an ICU nurse, the other a biologist, and both, along with their DHs are well on their way to financial freedom with their own retirement and savings accounts. I will not have to worry about supporting or subsidizing adult children in my retirement years.

Well, there is more but I will save it for another day as this post is long enough! I much appreciate the supportive comments and know that I am in good company here.

I'm Rewiring!

May 20th, 2008 at 02:12 am

I have been following this blog since January '08 and am very excited to be joining this interesting group of like-minded frugalites. After almost 30 years in education, I decided to retire... three years short of the "optimum" time. The decision came after much reflection that focused on questions such as: How long can I survive all this stress? How much $$ do I really need to live a decent life in retirement? What other options do I have? THIS BLOG helped me to make one of the most important decisions of my life: I will be officially retired in August of 2008. My hope is that through this forum, I can learn and share tips to maximize resources in retirement. One thing I'd like to share today is a very good book I recently read: Don't Retire, Rewire! by Jeri Sedlar and Rick Miners. It is a must read for anyone seriously considering retiring soon but is looking to stay connected to work about which you are passionate.