Today is the last day of November and I've been blogging on SA for just over six months. So, I was thinking it might be time to share some things about me that most people do not know. I've read similar lists on Koppur's and baselle's blogs and found them interesting. So I've posted my list on my sidebar. I'd love to read your list if you are willing to share.
Archive for November, 2008
Today I spoke to two of my cousins in different parts of the world... DC1 is a first cousin who lives in El Salvador. She is my age and like another sister to me. We had a nice chat to catch up on family news. Before I knew it, 45 minutes had elapsed. In San Salvador there is a two-hour difference from CA time, so we usually find each other at home on a weekend afternoon. I can't wait to see her in a few weeks when we travel to ES.
A few minutes after speaking to DC1, her brother, my DC2, called me from Geneva, where he has lived for the last 25 years. He and I had a nice long chat, too. It was 11:45 p.m. in Geneva and snowing very hard. I love updates on how DC2's children are doing in college. What a very talented group they are. It is impressive that my DC2's three children are fluent in English (their mother is American), French (the language of Geneva), German (the other prominent language in Switzerland), and Spanish (my cousin's first language). He is also multilingual, like most of the Swiss.
Did I mention that both of my calls were free? This is why I love using Skype. Not only are we able to communicate for free, we get to see each other on our computer's videocam.
I came across this interesting article on Market Watch over my morning coffee... very timely just before the "Black Friday" kickoff to holiday spending.
I was surprised at how much the "average" person spends on holiday shopping. The article, "Recession-proof your finances," offers some good tips for saving money. How much do you plan to spend on your holiday shopping and are you doing anything differently this year?
Why 59? Well, I decided I would have one for each year of my life and I will be 59 in 2009. When I started brainstorming, I had more than 59, but pared down my list to those that were most important (to me), including some that will be a challenge (losing weight) and others that I tend to procrastinate completing (eye/hearing exams). I removed my gardening goal because I love to spend time tending my container garden anyway, so it would be too easy. Exercising? Now that is a different story. And, yes, some goals are ambitious but I've always liked to set the bar high (e.g., save 15% of my retirement income). I created a page for my goals on my sidebar so I can refer to them frequently. As far as reviewing my 2008 goals... sadly, I didn't commit them to paper but my #1 goal was: Retire. Status: Accomplished!
This was the question a friend asked me recently, and I'm not surprised. Every day the media has commentary about the fate of those about to retire or recently retired. The calamitous state of the economy has ruined many a retirement plan and has had a negative impact on the quality of life of many retirees.
Well, I didn't even have to stop and think... my answer was a resounding "NO!!" Then I explained to my friend that my retirement was planned over a long period of time; it wasn't a decision made on the spur of the moment. But I've always believed that even the best-laid retirement plans have to take into account future economic challenges, and it is naive to think that situations like the current recession won't recur again in the future. Retirees have to be prepared for the best of times and the worst of times.
My friend asked what I'd done to help me prepare for retirement, so I shared some strategies that I think played a key role in helping me be ready to retire and that should help me weather fluctuations in the economy after retirement. And, while it is crucial to save money in one's retirement accounts, there is far more that can be done to be solidly prepared. So, what did I do that made possible my goal of early retirement?
1) I live below my means. When I worked, I lived below my means, and now in retirement, I will continue to live below my means. And while it's good to at least live within your means, living below your means will allow you to be more successful saving money. Another benefit of living below your means: you can more easily avoid debt.
2) Saving by "paying myself first" is a habit. Starting at 16 when I got my first job, I saved some money every month. It could be more or less depending on the circumstances, but I have to say that in the last 40+ years, it has been a rare month when I have not been able to save something, even if it was only $20.
3) Saving for retirement was a focused effort. From my early 20s, my savings included "untouchable" money: my retirement accounts. I opened my first IRA at age 22 and saved something for retirement every paycheck. As soon as I could, I would increase the contributions and in later years, it evolved to sheltering the maximum allowed in both my 403b and 457 Plan. And if eligible for a Roth IRA, I would contribute to that as well. (This is "doable" if you have mastered living below your means and do not have to use all your earnings to make ends meet).
4) I try to separate "wants vs. needs." From the time I was 19 and lived on my own, I learned to be a careful shopper and have always tried to avoid impulse purchases. Over the years I've had a few slip-ups, and though guilty of some regrettable impulse buys, I can honestly say these never prevented me from meeting my financial responsibilities (because I had savings...). As I've gotten older and wiser, I've gotten better at asking: "Is this a want or a need?" Other questions I ask when I see something I think I need: "Do I love it? Do I have something like it already?" It keeps me from buying things that I really can do without, like ANOTHER pair of black pants.
5) I educated my children about finances. My two DDs were raised frugally and were taught life lessons about money: people and experiences come before things. It was a necessity because I became a single mom when they were 7 and remained single until they started college. My DDs had no problem wearing hand-me-downs or bargain fashions. Both worked from age 16 on, saved money, and helped pay their college (along with scholarships, some student loans, and what I contributed). One DD has a BS in Nursing, the other a BS in Wildlife Biology. Now as adults, they are financially independent, frugal young women. And why is this important? Well, aside from my obvious pride, my DDs are not a financial burden on me, unlike the adult children of some of my friends.
So, do I regret retiring last August? Absolutely not, but it doesn't mean I don't worry about the economy or that I will not continue to live frugally. I do and I will. In fact, frugality is so ingrained in me that it's become a character trait, one that has helped get me where I am today and one that will help me survive in the current turbulent economy. As a retiree, I will not "live high off the hog," but instead will "live low off the bacon" *smile*... that is, I will live with the help of what I've systematically set aside for this season of my life... and it will be more likely to last because I have planned and prepared. And although I am careful with money, I do not live a deprived existence. On the contrary, my life is rich in terms of pursuing the interests that call to me and in traveling to continue life-long learning and seeking new adventures.
This morning I read a thought-provoking article that predicts a second Great Depression by 2011. I like to think of myself as a positive person and try not to fixate on doom and gloom. But, I do believe this article addresses some of the issues that are contributing to the general instability of the economy. And, apparently at least 1,665+ people were compelled to comment after reading it. How I hope Paul Farrell is wrong this time.
When I retired, I vowed I would never go to Costco on a Saturday again... it's just too busy and hectic, at least in our city. DH and I always go together but today he was out of town on business, so I decided to go on my own to beat the holiday crowd. I thought this might also result in saving money since we tend to spend more when he's along.
Well, even though I went early, Costco was as busy and crowed as a weekend day... I guess I didn't beat the holiday shoppers after all. I ended up spending $192 after using $10 worth of coupons. It sure doesn't seem as if I saved any less than when DH goes with me. The good news is I won't have to go back for at least a month and I stocked up on:
* organic cereal (2 boxes)
* Propel (2 cases)
* pesto sauce
* ravioli ~ double pack, for 2 dinners and leftovers (coupon item)
* water-packed tuna (12 - for casseroles and sandwiches)
* Pam spray (coupon item)
* Pepper Jack cheese
* Splenda (coupon item)
* fresh asparagus, green beans, romaine, mushrooms, peppers
* 2 bottles BV cabernet
* fresh tilapia (enough for 6 dinners)
* fresh lean pork chops (enough for 6 dinners)
* 3#s raw almonds
* baked pita chips (coupon item)
Some items will last well beyond a month (e.g., tuna, Pam, Splenda, Propel). I'm getting better at sticking to my list, using the coupons, and shopping with menus in mind (I have more than two weeks of dinners if you count the tuna casseroles). I will augment from the freezer and the pantry, so I don't have to buy meat but will go to Lucky's for fresh produce and bread. I also filled up for only $1.99 a gallon, lower than I've paid in a very long while.
Everyone I know, myself included, is doing the happy dance over the falling gas prices. Here in northern CA we are paying ~ $2.15 a gallon, down from the high of at least double that just a few months ago. This is a good thing, right?
Well, not necessarily. This morning I read an article on CNN.com about the negative impact of falling consumer prices. WT heck??? Yesterday we were worried about inflation and today it's deflation. Consumers are happy, but economists are not. Go figure.
I've posted before that our townhouse complex is being invaded by a flock of wild turkeys. Our unit backs up to a common area frequented by deer, songbirds, and other wildlife, including turkeys. Being a peace-loving and tolerant individual, I'm trying to share my tiny patio with them. Maybe they will go away after Thanksgiving and I can resume sitting under the pergola without fear of being bombarded by... well, let's just leave it at that.
Now they are even roosting on the roof. I will not call the HOA for fear the turkeys will be "relocated" the same way the wild pigs were (to someone's freezer, we think). So, I wait patiently, trying to maintain my sense of humor... Warning: funny turkey story ahead (sent to me via email)
A young man named Victor received a parrot as a gift. The parrot had a bad attitude and an even worse vocabulary. Every word out of the bird's mouth was rude, obnoxious and laced with profanity.
Victor tried and tried to change the bird's attitude by consistently saying only polite words, playing soft music and anything else he could think of to "clean up" the bird's vocabulary.
Finally, Victor was so fed up he yelled at the parrot. The parrot yelled back. Victor shook the parrot and the parrot got angry and even ruder. Victor, in desperation, threw up his hands, grabbed the bird and put him in the freezer.
For a few minutes the parrot squawked, kicked, screamed, and used language as foul as anything Victor had ever heard. Then suddenly there was total quiet. Not a peep was heard for over a minute. Fearing he'd hurt the parrot, Victor quickly opened the freezer door.
The parrot calmly stepped out onto Victor's outstretched arms and said, "I believe I may have offended you with my rude language and actions. I'm sincerely remorseful for my inappropriate transgressions and I fully intend to do everything I can to correct my rude and unforgivable behavior."
Victor was stunned at the change in the bird's attitude. As he was about to ask the parrot what had made such a dramatic change in his behavior, the bird continued, "May I ask what the turkey did?"
And now, compliments of a former student, some "corny" turkey jokes for the kids: *groan*
What did the mama turkey say to her naughty son?
Answer: If your papa could see you now, he'd turn over in his gravy!
What did the turkeys sing on Thanksgiving Day?
Answer: God save the kin.
Why did the turkey cross the road?
Answer: It was the chicken's day off.
Why was the turkey sent to the principal's office?
Answer: He used "fowl" language!
What did the little turkey say to the big turkey?
Answer: "Peck" on someone your own size!
My $20 Challenge goal was to save $2,500 extra by December 31st. Although I am retired, my part-time income has been greater than I expected, something for which I am grateful. Since my last update on October 18, here is my progress:
Balance Forward = $1124.84
Gas Reimbursement - $124.12
November Part-time work income - $673.28
November 1099 Income - $739.12
NSDs (12) and NDDs (10) - $76
New Balance = $2737.36
This morning I was reading an article about a strategy to prevent impulse buying and I reflected on some of my worst impulse buys over the years. At the top of the list is the $325 Hermes scarf I bought at the airport in Paris, minutes before departing for the US.
I am a scarf lover. Those who know me are used to frequently seeing me in a scarf, almost daily when I worked. Scarves are one of my favorite accessories. But a $325 scarf? It was a stupid, impulsive buy. I made the mistake of going into the duty-free shop and was immediately seduced by this exquisitely crafted scarf. The reality is I can buy a great scarf for less than $50 and wearing a $325 scarf would not make me look any better. And, obviously, it was impossible to return this scarf.
The truly sad thing is that my Hermes scarf has never left its pretty box... I have never ONCE worn it. In the back of my mind, maybe I am thinking I might sell it on eBay, but in the meantime it sits in the cedar chest. What probably will happen when I die is that my DDs will donate it to the Goodwill and some smart and lucky frugal person will buy this great scarf for 50 cents. Hmmm, well, maybe I will wear it one of these days, after all.
It's a small consolation that my impulse buys haven't prevented me from meeting my financial obligations, but I can think of much better ways to spend $325. Had I followed the strategy in the article, I would not have made the purchase. Live and learn.
Yesterday I stocked up on staples and sale items at Lucky's (formerly Albertson's) and spent $99.42. It was reduced to $90.42 after I used $9 of "Lucky's Bucks." The best part is that I got a FREE 14.5 lb. turkey because I spent $99. It was a surprise.
The clerk asked me if I wanted a "turkey breast or a whole turkey." I said, "Oh, that's OK, I don't need anything else." He looked at me as if I had two heads. "Madam, there are no strings attached... you are entitled to a free turkey because you spent $99!" I asked for a whole turkey and he went and brought me back one that was 14.5 pounds @ $1.19 per pound.
We are going to have Thanksgiving with my DS and BIL, and they always cook a HUGE turkey (Birdzilla), so I may end up donating this turkey to the food bank, but it was great to get it free.
Yesterday we invited my DS and BIL to the football game for the team of the university where DH works. The dean had given DH four VIP tickets that gave us access to the pregame social event that included music, food, wine and beer... all free, including the parking that would normally be $20. Plus, we had great seats on the 50-yard line in the VIP section.
Well, our team got shut out, and to make matters worse, in the 4th quarter the sky suddenly opened up and we had a monsoon-like downpour. It was not supposed to rain, but wary of the dark clouds, I had gone prepared with my raincoat and boots. DS had a short rain jacket, but DH and BIL quickly got soaked. When the rain started, the home crowd jumped and dispersed as if they'd been sprayed by a fire hose. All but the diehards started to leave. With only 7 minutes left and the bleak score (21-0), we decided to head home, too.
Once back home, I turned on the gas fireplace because DH and BIL were cold and wet, and DS's pants were wet from the thighs down, and she said she was "freezing." So, we are officially out of the "no-heat" contest. We still saved a lot by participating in it though (thanks for motivating us Fern), and it was fun. We will continue to monitor our use and try to be more frugal than we were last year. The forced air heater has yet to come on, but no doubt it will happen soon with the weather getting colder each day
What a week it's been, especially on the historical front. The election is finally over, and the promise of change for a better America lingers. My wish for President Obama is that he will have the wisdom and the support necessary to lead our nation with distinction in the coming years. Obama's been called a transformational leader, and as such he has the power to make fundamental changes for the better. No one can argue he has inherited a clean up job of unprecedented proportion.
The stock market is back on its erratic track and most of us do not even want to check our accounts... it's too ugly. But life goes on, and the economy will recover, although not likely any time soon. To better monitor my 403b, IRA, and 457 retirement accounts, this week I set up a new spreadsheet that I'm very happy with. It projects growth based on guaranteed values until age 70 1/2, when I have to begin RMD. My 457 Plan administrator came to my house yesterday and we discussed the terms of the account. It's keyed to the S&P and guarantees a whopping 1.95% on 90% of the balance. This is better than the 0% I thought I was getting. We will make some changes in January after the annual interest is posted.
The week has been mostly very quiet and relaxing... I feel as if I'm on vacation. On Monday afternoon, I taught my seminar which I conduct every other Monday. It focuses on topics relevant to the student teachers I supervise and who are required to attend. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday (and possibly today) were NSDs and NDDs that I thoroughly enjoyed. One of the delights of being retired is having the freedom to enjoy leisurely days without a set agenda.
The weather has been getting colder and the leaves on most of the deciduous trees in the neighborhood have turned beautiful shades of gold and orange. I've been able to go on daily walks that have been good for my health and just plain fun. So far, DH and I have not turned on the heat but it's cold enough that we need to bundle up with sweaters in the morning. It has gotten as cold as 49 degrees at night, but our home is well-insulated and cozy. Our goal is to hold off turning on the heat until Thanksgiving.
I've had a chance to catch up on some projects I put on the back burner this summer. I pulled out my sewing machine and finished several "dish towel" aprons that I will use as hostess gifts over the holidays. These are easy to make and very inexpensive: Pre-wash two new dishtowels and iron. One is placed horizontally, the other vertically with a fold about 12 inches from the top that serves as a pocket. Stitch together and finish with twill tape. These can be made in about 30 minutes. The cost for one apron:
Twill Tape $1.19
D-rings $ .39
Total $4.07 + tax
I also made several other aprons as "just because" gifts for my DDs, DS, and some DFs. These require a pattern and 1 5/8 yard of fabric, but are still easy to make and inexpensive at around $7-$12, depending on the fabric. Needless to say, I buy fabric only when it's on sale. Fabrics are chosen based on the interests of the recipients. For example, DD1 is an equestrian, so she gets a pattern with horses. DD2 is a wildlife biologist who works with fish populations, so she will get a fish pattern. The best part is that these projects are fun to make and are always appreciated by those who receive them.
And finally, a few weeks ago I signed up as a volunteer translator for Kiva (Spanish to English). Yesterday they sent me their "translating test" which I completed in about 40 minutes (they said it should take about an hour). It was an easy piece and is supposed to be representative of future assignments. This will be a terrific way to volunteer without leaving the house. I also sent Kiva another $25 to invest in a Peruvian retail coop.