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Archive for July, 2008

Free Books With MyPoints

July 20th, 2008 at 02:59 pm

Yesterday, the books I ordered using MyPoints arrived:

1) Living More With Less by Doris Janzen Longacre
2) The Frugal Senior by Rich Gray
3) Your Money or Your Life (new edition) by Joe Dominguez and Vickie Robin

Once I read #1 and #2, I will offer my thoughts in a subsequent blog.

Of the three books, I had already read Your Money or Your Life about 10 years ago and really liked it. It was a library copy, but now I want to own a copy so that I can refer to it and also share it with certain family members that need to get a grip on their financial lives. After I re-read it I’ll first pass on my copy to DSD for her to read/reflect about her relationship with money.

The nine steps outlined by the authors provide compelling insights about the emotional impact of money in our lives. I especially like Step 9: Managing Your Finances. The section about the three pillars of financial independence (Capital, Cushion, and Cache) is very validating for me. This is a must read IMHO.

Finally, $ to Add to the Challenge

July 18th, 2008 at 09:18 am

Yesterday was finally a NSD! We went to see Journey to the Center of the Earth, but we used gift cards and drove the Prius. I am also adding the $80 we saved from our vacation budget.

Balance Forward = $72.43

NSD = $3

Under budget vacation = $80

New Balance = $155.43

New York! New York!

July 18th, 2008 at 12:09 am

We are back from a week in NYC and what a great week it was. For the first five nights we stayed at a very nice hotel that connected to Grand Central Terminal, so it was very convenient to get anywhere in Manhattan. For the last two nights, we stayed in a “boutique” hotel with tiny rooms in the Murray Hill area on the east side. Manhattan is alive with an energy that resonates day and night. Although NYC is very expensive, it is an exciting, fast-paced city that has much to offer.

NYC attracts tourists from around the world, and we heard many different languages everywhere we went. New Yorkers were very friendly and I noticed that people walk everywhere…something very healthy. It also seemed that a lot of people smoke…not so healthy… but it could have been that some of these were visitors, although some were obviously New Yorkers. Since we have family in Manhattan, we had reliable information on good places to eat and interesting things to do.

The subway and buses were convenient, inexpensive, and almost always crowded. On a few occasions, we used taxis and we thought these were inexpensive compared to those in our home city. We packed in a lot of activities in one week and these are some of my favorites:
~ The Metropolitan Museum of Art
~ The Guggenheim Museum
~ The Museum of Modern Art
~ The Museum of Natural History
~ A two-hour cruise on the Hudson and East Rivers
~ The Empire State Building (we paid $15 extra to go to 102nd floor)
~ The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island
~ Central Park (Zoo, Lake, Boat House, free Philharmonic concert)
~ Grand Central Terminal
~ Rockefeller Plaza
~ Times Square at night
~ The hot pastrami sandwiches from Katz’s Deli on Houston
~ Cannoli from Veniero's in the East Village

Food and drink can be VERY expensive in NYC. For example, one glass of Cabernet and a beer cost us over $25 at the bar in our first hotel… we did that only once. However, we came in $80 under budget, not great but it still was under budget.

We saved money by buying:
~ a City Pass that paid for all the museums and the cruise, saving a bundle ($74 PP; thanks, scfr, for the tip)
~ Metro cards for the subway and buses
~ breakfast and lunch at small delis and groceries
~ our drinking water at Rite Aid or Whole Foods instead of the street vendors (59¢ vs. $3 per bottle)
~ salads from the Whole Foods salad bar for our picnic in Central Park
~ decent CA wine for $9 a bottle at a wine shop and enjoying in our hotel room
~ walking to places that were within 10-20 blocks

We also saved money by not shopping… DH and I just enjoyed the sites and being with our family. My DS, BIL, their children and grandchildren, my DD1, and several of our friends were with us, so we had even more fun.

Our $150 a day budget included:
~ City Passes/extra tour fees
~ Two lunches and three dinners at more “upscale” restaurants (expensive)
~ Breakfast, lunch, fruit, coffee, snacks at small places like the Metro Café
~ Meals at airport
~ Metro cards and taxis
~ Shuttles to and from the airport
~ Tips
~ One souvenir for me (a $25 scarf from the Met Museum)
~ Buying items forgotten @ hotel (e.g., sunscreen)

Our airfare was free with miles, the five days at first hotel were paid with points, and the two nights at second hotel were prepaid in March.

All in all, it was a great trip and I look forward to going back some day soon. Here is a view from the Empire State Building.


Central Park is lovely, safe, and well-cared for.


Here is one reason why mass transit is so popular. It can be very costly to park your car in NYC.

Back in Smoky CA/ Counting Change

July 7th, 2008 at 10:47 pm

We are back in CA after a relaxing week in Idaho. Since today was a workday for me, we were pressed to get home yesterday. The drive took much longer than usual due to horrendous traffic conditions that can be attributed to normal holiday traffic plus slowdowns due to the wild fires. The air was very thick with smoke and the traffic bumper-to-bumper for miles on end.

On the way home, we stopped for breakfast at a busy café and while we waited in line to pay our tab, I observed something that I am seeing more and more and it concerns me. The computer was down, so the young cashier had to count out the change on her own. Normally, the computerized cash register tells the cashier exactly how much change to give. It was sad to see how complicated this process turned out to be for the cashier (about age 18-20). After several attempts, the young woman gave back too much change to the woman ahead of us. The woman then said, “You gave me too much change,” and very patiently demonstrated to the cashier how to count back change from the $50 bill she had paid with. Years ago, I remember teaching my 6th graders how to count change and now it seems that we are relying on the computer to do it for us.

10 things that helped me to...

July 7th, 2008 at 10:18 pm

10 things that helped me to decide about retiring:

1) I listened to my doctor who said stress was ruining my health;
2) I took a class offered by my retirement system to help me understand all options;
3) I learned by reading and researching information on all aspects of retirement (financial, emotional, health care, etc.);
4) I calculated my defined benefit pension amount plus income from other sources (TSA, 457, IRAs);
5) I developed a realistic retirement budget that includes saving at least 15%;
6) I "practiced" living on my retirement budget for six months, using my lower pension amount instead of my monthly pay;
7) I made a list of monthly "retirement enjoyment" activities and their cost (factored into #5) and estimated the cost of annual travel since this will be an important activity;
8) I got input from my family (encouragement), my accountant (tax consequences), and my financial planner (analysis of investments);
9) I talked to as many retired people as I could about life after retirement (the majority said they have no regrets);
10) I made a list of the "pros" and "cons" of retiring, and, the "pros" won by a huge margin.

While I won't be officially retired until late August, I look forward to retirement as a stage in my life where I have more time, less stress, and better health. After 30 years of working in education, I still feel the need to continue teaching and learning. So, I will definitely keep learning by participating in experiences such as those offered by Elderhostel or by taking or teaching classes. It will be interesting to see how I feel about retirement a year from now.

Money, Sex, and Children

July 5th, 2008 at 03:41 pm

I read somewhere that couples most frequently argue about money, sex, and children. Well, I know from personal experience, and I’m sure some will agree, that money definitely can be a point of contention in a relationship. I have a confession… I am married to a man who is very relaxed about how he manages his finances, although he has tremendously improved in the 15 years we’ve been together. DH earns a good living, is always responsible for paying his debts, but fairly passive about saving and investing. Sometimes I think that if it were not for the fact that we have always kept our finances separate, we might have landed in divorce court by now.

When we married, my attorney recommended a pre-nup because I had more assets and needed to protect my sole and separate property for my daughters. Thus, I established my “Sole and Separate Property Trust” and DH and I established our “Community Property Trust.” These trusts articulate the disposition of assets that were mine before marriage and those we have accrued during our marriage. DH and I found we had to make compromises if we were to live (and love) in harmony… this is what works for us.

In the framework articulated in the Millionaire Mind, I am Balance Sheet Affluent (2.13) and DH is not (1.01). Thanks, scfr, for the formula: Age x .112 x Total Annual Realized Income = Expected Net Worth. If you are 2 times your expected net worth, you are "Balance Sheet Affluent." Throughout my life, my philosophy and values about money shaped and influenced my financial position today and the same is true for DH. We are an example of how seemingly financially incompatible couples CAN live in harmony if they understand how they are different and can communicate respectfully and openly about what must happen for the relationship to work.

One example of a “minor” difference between us: DH frequently indulges in buying books, LOTS of books. Granted, he is a professor, so some of the books he uses or refers to in his classes. However, he is an avid reader who will buy books to read for pleasure instead of checking them out from the library. He likes to collects books… as only a true bibliophile will do. When we downsized, DH donated boxes and boxes and boxes of books to a local library because we simply had no room for them in our small townhouse. He spends hundreds on books every year.

An example of a bigger difference: DH has no idea how much he earns, does not track his spending, and NEVER ever balances his checkbook. When he receives a CC bill, DH pays it immediately, even though his money could earn interest for a while longer. When he makes an ATM withdrawal, he checks the balance to get an idea of how much is in his account. DH hasn’t the faintest idea of his net worth. (BTW, I know DH’s net worth and will review it with him whenever he asks and sometimes even if he doesn’t). I, on the other hand, know exactly how much I make, how much I can tax shelter, and my net worth. I use Quicken and the Internet as tools to carefully track expenditures, deposits, investments, and savings.

It helps that each of us makes a good salary, so we are able to contribute equally to our household. (Actually since I make 28% more than DH, I do pay a greater proportionate share of taxes). Each month I give DH an accounting of his 50% share of the joint household expenses. I pay all the joint household bills and set aside funds in “reserve accounts” for expenses that arise periodically (e.g., property taxes, insurance, etc.). We each pay our own gas, personal care, work lunches, professional expenses, gifts to friends or family, donations, etc. DH is very happy to delegate the majority of the financial responsibilities to me.

While I think I positively influence DH many aspects of frugal living, it is still a “work in progress.” Now, he saves regularly through an auto savings plan and contributes the maximum to his retirement account. Perhaps the area where we have the major difference: the values our adult children have learned about money. My two daughters and DH’s son and daughter are diametric opposites in the financial department, but that’s a topic for a future post.

Sent 1099 Income to Kiva

July 1st, 2008 at 04:40 pm

Today when I checked my bank account I saw that I'd received the $125 payment for a ½ day consulting job I did about a month ago on a Saturday. I’d forgotten about it, so it was a pleasant surprise. I decided to send the entire amount to Kiva, www.kiva.org/ to help a women’s weaving cooperative in Guatemala. Once I am officially retired (August 2008), I will add any subsequent 1099 income to my $20 Challenge.

I love the intricate detail and beauty of Guatemalan weavings. Here is an example of a table runner I have on the dining table in Idaho.