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Archive for January, 2009

My Points

January 29th, 2009 at 05:34 pm

I've participated in My Points program for about a year now. Most of my points have been earned doing surveys or checking out "clickthru" ads that come via email... very easy. So far, I've used the points I've earned to get a $25 B & N gift card and now I have enough to get a $50 GC. I'm thinking about Kohl's.

The most points I've earned at one time was 1,000 to try out Netflix which we really like and were thinking about getting anyway. A few days ago I earned another 1,000 points by buying the 2009 Entertainment Book ($19.50). I've wanted to try it because there are several featured restaurants near us that we already go to. I figured that using coupons twice would recoup the $19.50. Has anyone else tried the entertainment.com book and do you think it's worth the cost?

New Netbook

January 28th, 2009 at 10:08 am

I've been a Mac user for over 20 years but I am now breaking into the world of the PC. I recently bought an Acer Aspire One netbook, primarily to access email and the Internet when I travel. With an 8.9-inch screen, it weighs just 2.2 pounds and is ultra portable... it fits right into my purse so I don't have to carry a computer bag. It's wireless, has a built-in webcam for Skyping, a 6-cell battery for about 5+ hours of use when not plugged in, a 160 MB hard drive, and 1MB RAM.

The netbook came with Windows XP Home and so far, it's got me on a learning curve. To me, it doesn't seem as user-friendly as the Mac, but it's getting easier every day. The right and left click is different from the Mac. The keyboard is very small so I have to focus or I end up making lots of typos. It's not a bad thing to be on a learning curve... gives my boomer brain some exercise.

For creating documents, I downloaded OpenOffice, a free productivity program that includes a word-processor, database, spreadsheet, and presentation program. It lets me save files in various formats including MS Office, so they can be read on my Mac. So now when I travel, I'll take along the netbook and leave my bigger MacBook Pro at home. The cost was ~$379, including tax and free shipping.

Earned 0% interest and grateful!

January 27th, 2009 at 09:50 am

Monday I received the annual statement for one of my retirement accounts, a 457 plan. In 2008, I received no interest... nothing, zip, zero, zilch, nada, not one red cent. So why am I grateful for this? Well, I did not lose any principal, either, and this is better than many others have fared.

I've heard of people whose retirement accounts have dropped anywhere from 25-40% including a loss of principal. Although my 457 account is tied to the S & P index, the principal is guaranteed to never decrease. But since the interest rate is keyed to the performance of the S & P, the account earned 0% in 2008. Yet, it could have been much worse.

If cash is king...

January 26th, 2009 at 09:25 am

do we still need credit cards? This article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal caught my eye. It is thought provoking, although I don't agree with the premise that it's impossible to live without a credit card because sometimes you HAVE TO use a one (like when you buy a "$10,000 home entertainment center"). People who want to pay cash would do so by writing a check or using their ATM card. Only a fool would carry around $10,000 in cash.

I think if you really wanted to, you could get by without a credit card, a good idea for people who tend to spend more than they earn and want to get out of debt. But, then again, maybe I'm not seeing the whole picture, since I use a credit card for everything. But, I pay off my balance each month and I love taking advantage of the reward miles that never expire.

The video clip that's part of the article was interesting to me because it discusses how closing a credit card account can hurt your credit score. It suggests some alternatives in lieu of closing accounts that have been paid off. It definitely is making me reconsider my plan to close some credit card accounts I haven't used in years.

Carbon Footprint Update

January 25th, 2009 at 10:51 am

So far I am on track with the goal to reduce our carbon footprint by saving energy. Here is the analysis of our PGE bill (gas and electric) for the last two months:

12/2007 $193.68
12/2008 $116.99
~40% less

1/2008 $165.17
1/2009 $154.07
~7% less

I have also been buying more organic foods but haven't determined the cost impact yet. Sometimes the organic produce at the store I shop most frequently looks pretty sad, so I have to pass and go for the non-organic.

A New Beginning

January 24th, 2009 at 10:40 am

Wednesday marked the start of the spring semester and with it, some changes. I accepted another part-time contract to supervise student teachers, an assignment that means working about one or two days a week but only a few hours each day. This assignment is special in that I might be able to follow the group for a whole year while they complete both semesters of student teaching. The fall 2009 term would be more intense. The job pays very little, but the extra money is appreciated and I plan to funnel most of it to the travel savings.

My dh, who works at the same university, has decided to retire in June of 2009 (he just turned 63). He plans to participate in a special "early retirement" program that would allow him to collect his pension but also teach one semester (for regular pay). He would be eligible to do this for up to five years although I am hoping he doesn't go that long as he would be 68!

Unlike me, who was very ready to retire last fall, my dh loves his job and seems to have very little stress. He is popular with students and his classes are always filled to capacity and beyond. Sometimes I worry he is retiring to please me. But after 30 years of teaching, he does agree it is time to slow down. We have had many talks... about choosing retirement because he is ready and not because I am already retired.

Well, this morning he told me he is submitting his paperwork next week, but I will believe it when I see it. If he retires, he would work the fall term (late August to early December), then we would be free for the next nine months. It would give us time to travel and just enjoy a more relaxed pace. One concern: once dh retires, will so much "together time" be as pleasant as it sounds? Hmmm...

Coupon Resource

January 23rd, 2009 at 07:39 am

Since retiring I have been trying to get better at using coupons to save $$ on groceries. The problem is many of the coupons that come my way or that I find online are for pre-packaged processed food or products I don't use. One of my health and fitness goals for 2009 is to buy more organic and fresh food and cook healthier meals.

Recently I found Mambo Sprouts, a website that promotes "Free Printable Health, Natural & Organic Grocery Coupons." So far, I like it because it also has recipes, eco house tips, and freebies. I also found some $1 coupons at Organic Valley.

Socks Galore!

January 22nd, 2009 at 09:42 am

Yesterday, on a lark, I decided to go to Macy's to check out their sales. I was in search of new socks to wear with trousers and jeans, especially in winter. Knowing Macy's can be high-priced, I was not too hopeful, but I have hit some great sales there in the past.

Well, to my surprise, socks were on sale... they had been marked down 50%, then the sale offered another 50% off, and with my coupon, I got an additional 20% off. Bottom line: socks that are normally ~$6.00 a pair, I got for only $1.19! So now I'm set for a while and will recycle my old socks to the rag bin to use for polishing. Amount saved = > $57.

Later, I found a pair of much-needed rain/snow boots @ 50% off at the Bass shoe store. These will come in handy when I go to see my DDs in ID in a few weeks. Amount saved = $38.

TC approves of my new socks.

The Renewing Sea

January 21st, 2009 at 09:15 am

The majestic power of the sea has always attracted and fascinated me. I could spend hours soaking in the beauty and marveling at the abundance of life that emanates from the sea. During our recent long weekend at Carmel (on the Monterey Peninsula), dh and I were fortunate to have perfect weather that hovered in the 70s. It was spring weather in the middle of winter. As always, the sea renews me, in spirit and in body... there is nothing like breathing fresh, clean sea air and meditating to the sound of the sea breaking on the rocks.

Some of the best memories of the weekend were taking our picnic lunch to the Point Lobos State Reserve where we were entertained by the resident colony of sea otters, watched the frolicking sea lions, and observed the migration of the gray whales, gentle giants that allow the whale-watching boats to get very close. Dh and I decided we would come back soon for whale watching, a fairly reasonably priced experience at ~$35 per person. Monterey is only about an hour from our home so we could easily make it a day trip.

The powerful waves along the California coast can be treacherous. Although the gull in the photo seems unfazed, people have been swept off the rocks, so one must be on-guard at all times.


Here you can see two sea lions playing in the crystal blue water.


Sunsets like this one brought closure to perfect days.

An Honest Man

January 21st, 2009 at 12:08 am

I previously posted about having to repair our gas fireplace. It cost $122 to have someone come just to "diagnose the problem" which was determined to be a malfunctioning part. So, we paid $122 for the house call plus $33 (10% of the $329 part that had to be ordered).

Well, late Tuesday afternoon the repairman came to install the new part. He removed the old part and replaced it with the new, but the fireplace still didn't work... it would not light. Then he started systematically checking other things and finally got it to work.

What astounded me is that the repairman then told me the original part was working "perfectly well"... that it was not broken. The problem was that the system had to be reset. That was all... a very simple fix. The nice man then showed dh how to reset it in case it happens again (it was not something we would have figured out).

The best part of this story is that the repairman said there would be "no charge" for the visit, that he would take back the part that had been ordered, and the company would refund us the 10% we had paid to order the part. I couldn't believe it!

So, even though the original visit cost $122, we saved $329 on the replacement part and we now have a fireplace that works. We are so grateful that this honest technician told us the truth. He could have replaced the old part, reset the system and charged us... and we would not have been the wiser. His actions have reinforced my faith in the basic honesty of people.

Refi Update

January 16th, 2009 at 09:47 am

I posted previously we had applied for a refinance based on getting a rate of 4.875%. We finally closed escrow four days after the lock-in period expired due to a delay by our HOA in getting a report to the lender. And this for a loan that was supposed to be "fast-track" or low paperwork. However, Countrywide honored the lock-in and we were able to close with the loan amount covering all closing costs. We even received a "proceeds" check yesterday for $271.09. The best part is that our payment has gone down $225.82 a month. BTW, the thing that got the ball rolling on our refi was a post by monkeymama, proof of how participating in SA can help our financial well-being.

Carmel-by-the-Sea

January 15th, 2009 at 09:58 pm

To celebrate dh's birthday I've planned a four-day weekend at one of our favorite places, Carmel-by-the-Sea. The timing is good, just before the start of the spring semester. I am able to do this through a timeshare we've had for a few years. If we don't use the time, we would eventually lose it. So, Carmel, here we come... four days in a luxurious one-bedroom suite at the Highland's Inn, complete with an ocean view, a massive fireplace, a spa tub, and a kitchenette in our unit.

Our timeshare works like a "pre-paid" vacation in a sense. The annual dues are now up to ~ $1,000 a year, but through the exchange process, we can leverage our week to give us 2 or 3 weeks depending on the season, but at a different resort. Or, we can use the time for a week at the resort we purchased, including a split week. I checked online and the condo we are using is $635 a night. But here is the thing... we would NEVER pay this much for a hotel room because we like to economize when we travel. So when it's not connected to the timeshare, we usually stay in modest digs. But the timeshare makes staying in luxury condos more affordable.

Of course, there are pros and cons to timeshare ownership, and to be frank, I am not sure there is a HUGE money-saving advantage. First of all, you have to pay the initial purchase price and then annual maintenance fees. And if you want to exchange, you also pay a small fee. But it comes out about the same or slightly less than if we were staying at budget hotels. Timeshares are typically apartment-like in that they have kitchens and sleeping space for additional visitors. Cooking some our own meals saves money and is healthier than constantly eating out, and we often invite friends to join us part of the time.

One good thing about owning a timeshare is that it's motivated us to travel to different parts of the USA and the world. So from that standpoint, it has been great. When dh and I are both retired, we'll have more options for traveling during the "low" season and the timeshare should pay off even more.

Thank Goodness for the Reserve Account

January 13th, 2009 at 09:28 am

We have lived in our small condo for almost three years, since downsizing in the spring of 2006. All in all we've been pretty lucky regarding any needed inside repairs until now. The HOA takes care of all the outside repairs. We do, however, pay $240 in monthly HOA fees that cover all outside maintenance, insurance, and garbage collection. The complex has several swimming pools, greenbelts, and common areas, so I don't think our HOA fee is exorbitant. In fact, we have friends who live in a nearby gated complex requiring a 24/7 guard and their fees are three times higher.

Our unit has a gas fireplace we turn on with a switch. We love the way it heats up the room quickly, not to mention the lovely atmosphere it provides. But it suddenly stopped working in early December. I called the power company to see if maybe the pilot light had gone out and I learned that it doesn't even have a pilot. But the service call was free and the technician said the problem was a bad spark ignition module. The next step was to get referrals and call around. Then I scheduled a service call with the longest-established company whose fees were in line with others.

Well, the repairman came early this morning. The company charged $122 to just walk through the door. Then after a 10-minute inspection, we were told the part that needs replacement would cost an additional $329 and it has to be ordered. Thank goodness for the household reserve savings, where we have $$ stashed for this kind of situation. If it takes care of the problem, I will be happy, although I am still surprised at the high cost of the service call.

Network for Good

January 12th, 2009 at 07:20 am

For Christmas dh and I asked our family to donate to our favorite local food bank in lieu of getting us a gift. My DDs, nephew, and my niece donated to the food bank via Network for Good rather than through the food bank's own website. I found out about NFG when I received emails about donations made in our honor.

I've had a chance to explore the NFG website and I am so impressed that I decided to share. Network for Good allows donors to access THOUSANDS of non-profit organizations/charities across the USA or to explore volunteer opportunities. It provides research and profiles about the charities, tax tips and resources, and much more. I even found Kiva Microfunds, one of my favorite non-profits that I support as a donor/lender and a volunteer.

Savings "Buckets"

January 11th, 2009 at 08:48 am

Not too long ago BA posted a graphic about savings buckets and it made me think about mine. "Pay myself first" has long been my motto and a deposit to my savings is always the first "bill" to get paid each month. Over the years, to manage my savings, I've experimented with different strategies and eventually settled on keeping separate accounts (buckets) for different purposes. Some people might think it's a lot to keep track of, but it works for me and that's what matters. To eliminate paper clutter, I access my statements online.

Here is the current situation with my savings buckets:

Reserve Account #1: Used for periodic expenses such as taxes, insurance, HOA and timeshare dues, ID home expenses, etc. I deposit a predetermined amount from our income (my pension and dh's job) to this account each month. I use a "moneylink" feature that enables easy transfers to and from my checking account.

Reserve Account #2: Used for rental property expenses. I deposit a small amount to this account monthly in addition to a small but consistent net rental income. The savings account is linked to a dedicated checking account used only for rental expenses. The purpose is to have a reserve to offset any vacancies and to pay for maintenance and repairs.

Emergency Fund: This account contains ~2 years of "no-frills" living expenses, to be used in the unlikely event that a major economic meltdown results in our state teachers' pension funds being frozen, reduced, or eliminated. In this economy, you just can't count on anything being constant, so I believe in being prepared. These funds are in staggered CDs earning 3.75-4.17%.

Tax Sheltered Retirement Accounts: Now that I'm retired I can no longer contribute to these accounts, but dh will contribute to his until he retires in June, 2009. I am not sure when we will draw from these, but we'd like to hold off until the mandatory age of 70 1/2. The financial planner I've used for many years has invested my 403b and IRA funds in various products that preserve the principal and earn a return of 2-5%. I have always opted for a "conservative" approach with my retirement funds, even when we've been in a bull market, something I'm now happy about given the state of the economy.

Personal Savings: Dh and I each have our own personal savings account that is our sole and separate property. Mine is with WAMU/Chase and his is with a credit union. We are free to use these funds as we please. For example, we draw from these accounts when we need to subsidize travel, a new laptop, or anything else. We each deposit equal amounts into these accounts each month, ~15-20% of our income.

My Fun Fund: Dh and I have a goal of traveling more in our retirement. So, I've decided to dedicate my small ING savings account for travel. The money saved in this travel account will include net earnings from consulting or part-time work and other misc. sources (e.g., recycling, rebates, etc.). Travel can be expensive, so having this dedicated account will motivated me to save in small ways that add up over time.

So, not including the retirement accounts, I have two "reserve" accounts, an emergency fund, our two personal savings accounts, and the ING Fun Fund, for a total of SIX accounts. It is a lot to track, but going online for balances and using a spreadsheet fore record-keeping makes the management easy. Especially now that I am retired, my savings gives me peace of mind, not to mention some welcome passive income.

Note: Stock dividends also provide passive income, but it is automatically reinvested. I don't consider the brokerage account as a "savings" account but rather an investment account that is liquid.

Browser Question

January 10th, 2009 at 04:01 pm

On my Mac, I use Firefox as my preferred browser. But, depending on the web-based program I am accessing, I occasionally have to use Safari or Explorer. Today, while using Explorer, I meandered over to SA and noticed that some blogs, including mine, do not show all of the widgets that appear when I use Firefox or Safari. Does anyone know why this happens?

MacWorld

January 8th, 2009 at 08:20 pm

Yesterday afternoon, dh and I went to the MacWorld Conference and Expo in SF. We wanted to go see all the newest gadgets in the exhibit halls and were able to get in free because of our work with the university (it's $25 per person just to get in to the exhibit halls). Then, while we were in line waiting pay for lunch, a very nice lady came up to us and gave us a coupon for $15 off. Our lunch was only $12.25 so it was completely free. One of our friends came with us and he insisted on paying for the parking ($13) since dh drove, so it was a pretty inexpensive outing.

I did spend $40 on a set of Tweakers from Grandmax. These are small, portable speakers I can use with both my computer and my iPhone (for the iTunes feature). I tried out at least five different types of portable speakers, and selected these for the clear, powerful sound that is just incredible. They are reasonably priced (especially compared to some of the others) and will be perfect for travel... they even come with a sturdy pouch.

Tweakers are not widely available yet, but I think that once the word gets out, they will be a hit. My friend also bought some and now dh wishes he had bought a set to use when he needs to project sound from his computer during some of his presentations. Even TC the cat is fascinated with them!

10 Rules for the Good Life

January 8th, 2009 at 02:38 pm

Today I came across Thomas Jefferson's Ten Rules for a Good Life and thought it was worth sharing. IMO, these "rules" are still applicable 180+ years after he died:

1. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.

2. Never trouble another for what you can do yourself.

3. Never spend your money before you have it.

4. Never buy what you do not want because it is cheap; it will never be dear to you.

5. Pride costs us more than hunger, thirst, and cold.

6. Never repent of having eaten too little.

7. Nothing is troublesome that we do willingly.

8. Don't let the evils which have never happened cost you pain.

9. Always take things by their smooth handle.

10. When angry, count to ten before you speak; if very angry, count to one hundred.

One More Casualty

January 7th, 2009 at 08:02 am

Yesterday afternoon dh had to drop off some papers at the university and invited me to go along for the ride. Instead, I asked him to drop me off at my favorite Travelsmith outlet store that is close to where he was heading. He did and drove away. Lo and behold, the store was GONE... windows papered over, no sign of life. I called dh who came right back, then I called Travelsmith. Yep, they closed the Palo Alto store due to declining sales. Now the only outlet on the west coast is in Berkeley.

It's alarming to see the growing number of stores and businesses that have closed or are closing due to the recession. I see new ones all the time. The really sad thing is that people worked there... people whose lives have been impacted negatively. How is it in your neck of the woods? Are you seeing the same thing?

$143,600

January 6th, 2009 at 10:02 am

Yikes!!! I am shocked at how much I could theoretically buy on credit. Today, out of curiosity after reading monkeymama's post I decided to add up the credit lines on my credit cards, something I've never done before. I recently had a card closed by Cabela's because of non-use, so it also makes me wonder if I should close some accounts before another CC company decides it does not want/need me as a customer.

I only carry cards #1 and #2 with me, the rest are in the safe-deposit box. Since I pay off the cc bills monthly to avoid finance charges, I don't pay attention to the limits. And, I manage bills online, so I do not get any paper statements. Card #1 has a fee, the rest are "free."

I can see why it is so easy for people to sink into CC debt, especially if a financial crisis arises in one's life. Having this much credit could be very dangerous:

CC#1 - Airline Visa $35,000 LOC (most frequently used card, has a fee)
CC#2 - AmEx $27,800 LOC (used for Costco)
CC#3 - MBNA MC -$14,800 LOC (no longer used, opened 25 years ago)
CC#4 - LLB Visa $5,500 LOC (provides free shipping, rarely used)
CC#5 - Amazon Visa $12,500 LOC (provides free shipping, rarely used)
CC#6 - Chase Visa $8,000 LOC (provides gas rebate, rarely used)
CC#7 - Capitol One Visa $20,000 LOC (provides miles, rarely used)
CC#8 - Schwab Visa $20,000 LOC (rarely used, came with the account)
CC#9 - Macy's - Unable to determine LOC limit (rarely used)

I use the Macy's card occasionally when they have an additional 15% off promotion if you use the card (then pay it off when the bill comes). The LL Bean card gives free shipping and monogramming and this is nice at Christmas so I may keep it.

Apparently having all these cards has not hurt my FICO credit score but it still may be time to close some of them. First I have to investigate if there is an disadvantage to closing these accounts vs. keeping them open, even if I am not using them. I am not sure about the impact of closing accounts on your credit score. Does anyone know about this?

BTW, these numbers do not include dh's cards. He has 3 or 4 but only keeps one in his wallet and he uses it regularly for the rewards, but also pays it off each month.

Weird Money Story

January 5th, 2009 at 12:19 pm

Yesterday dh invited my DSS (31) and DSD (29) to lunch at one of their favorites restaurants which happens to be a national chain. It was not very busy so we were seated promptly in a private booth. The hostess gave us our menus and told us someone would soon be back to take our order. When my DSD opened her menu, she gasped... inside the menu was a $100 bill! Of course, we were all stunned. We even looked around to see if maybe we were on Candid Camera. (We weren't!)

We began a debate about how a $100 bill had gotten in the menu to begin with, and what to do about it. I suggested asking the manager if anyone had lost any $$, but not mentioning an amount... or that DSD could just give the $$ to the manager and let its disposition be on his/her conscience. DSD felt the $$ couldn't possibly be traced to anyone and that she should keep it because she had "found it." DSS adamantly agreed with DSD and dh agreed the decision should be my DSD's. Both DSD and DSS felt it was a "finder's keeper's" situation.

I suggested that DSD think about it and decide what to do after we ate lunch. Well, after lunch she made the decision to keep the $$ rather than turning it in "for someone else to keep." I wasn't comfortable with her decision and dh was no help ("It's up to her."). In the end, I decided not to fight the battle as I've had friction in the past with my DSD over her spending habits and I wanted to avoid conflict related to money. What would you have done?

A Land of Contrasts

January 4th, 2009 at 05:50 pm

In December we traveled to El Salvador to celebrate my aunt and uncle's 50th wedding anniversary. The best part of the trip was getting to know some family members I do not see very frequently, and of course, spending time with my "tios" (aunt, uncle). It had been two years since my last visit to El Salvador, the smallest yet most densely populated country in Central America. It is also the country of my birth.

I sometimes wonder how differently my life might have been had it not been for the devastating earthquake in 1951 that prompted my family to immigrate to the US where my sister and I grew up. Although we later became naturalized citizens, I continue to feel a bond to this unique and beautiful country, the source of many memories. As a child, we traveled to El Salvador every year or so. The visits became less frequent when I married, and then, the civil war began in 1980 making it more difficult to travel.

El Salvador is a country that continues to develop after the 12-year civil war that ended in 1992. In many ways, I see the influence of the USA. One of the most notable is the adoption of the American dollar as the national currency. It makes it easy for Americans to travel... no worry about currency exchange here.

The geography of El Salvador amazing: it is a land of beautiful volcanoes, lush rain forests, and compelling landscapes. You can travel from the mountains to the sea in a matter of hours.


One of my cousins has a house at the beach and it can be reached in less than an hour from their home in the city of San Salvador. The water is warm and the beach clean. A comfortable ocean-front home can be had for under $200,000, something unheard of in the USA. When I say ocean-front, I mean open the back gate and step onto the beach ocean-front.


We feasted on freshly caught oysters, shrimp, and fish. The house at the beach was one of my favorite places.


El Salvador's beaches are great for surfing, a popular sport. This is the view from the back deck of the house.


Tourism is a growing industry. El Salvador sometimes gets bad press regarding crime and danger to travelers, but we felt completely safe at all times. Of course, we were always escorted by a family member or a "motorista," familiar with the city and the traffic patterns. Rush hour in San Salvador can be just as ugly as it is in Silicon Valley or LA.

A favorite place we visited was La Palma, is a city known for its unique artistic style that features vivid colors and motifs from rural life. The buildings and even the light posts show off the unique art style.


That is my 80-year-old aunt in the green top... she is an amazing lady who has boundless energy. My dh is on the left. You can see wall paintings in the "La Palma" style on the right.


From my aunt's home, we can look down to the American Embassy, the largest in the Americas, situated in an area called Antiguo Cuscatlan. It is rumored that the building is built like a fortress, ready to house Americans in case of an emergency. There are many Americans living in El Salvador, and I think the number will increase because the American dollar goes much farther in El Salvador, making it attractive for retirees.

Some contrasts and comparisons with middle-class life in the USA:
-Many housing complexes, large and small, have 24 hour guards who monitor the premises and screen visitors;

-Homes are often built like "mini-fortresses" in that they have bars on the windows, heavy doors protecting the parking area through which you can usually access the front door. High concrete walls topped with concertina wire impede access through garden areas and back patios;

-Most homes that would be considered at least middle-class have an area called a "servicio" which is used by household help (e.g., nannies, maids);

-Homes are usually built without heaters... there is no need due to the mild climate;

-All banks and many businesses employ armed guards;

-Some food is more expensive or about the same as in the USA (canned goods, imported items) but some, such as fresh fruit, is far cheaper;

-Gas is currently ~ $2.25 a gallon, higher than it is where we live in CA;

-The cost of meals at many restaurants we visited (Caliche's, La Pampa, Hunan, Tony Roma's, Black Angus, etc.) is about the same as in the USA but beer and mixed drinks are much cheaper;

-American fast food is very popular (Pizza Hut, Burger King, McDonald's, etc.), especially with the younger crowd;

-Go to a shopping mall such as Galerias or La Gran Via and you will think you are in the USA... no difference, right down to the Christmas carols in English, Santa, and large trees with all the trimmings;

-In El Salvador, Costco is called PriceSmart and is a considered a good place to get bargains... membership required, just like in the US;

-Internet access is becoming more commonplace... we even had high-speed wireless where we stayed;

-Household help is very affordable by US measures: you can hire a full-time, live-in maid, motorista (chauffer), nanny, or cook for minimum wage that is about $175 a month. (One sobering thought: how does one live on $175 a month, especially when food can be as expensive as it is in the USA?)

And finally, one of my favorite things about El Salvador is the cuisine. If you ever get a chance to eat in a Salvadoran restaurant, be sure to try the pupusas which are small stuffed corn tortillas. I also love the red beans with cream (frijoles con crema), fried plantains (platanos fritos), and the variety of fresh cheeses available. Now, I've made myself hungry.

That's me at the Club Tecleno, on the day of the anniversary party.

2008 Net Worth Analysis

January 1st, 2009 at 06:28 pm

Once a year, I analyze our net worth to get a current picture of our financial position. To keep things simple, I don't include the value of autos or personal property. I use information from end-of-year statements and assessed values for real estate.

At the moment, fluctuations in our net worth do not have a significant impact on our lives. It helps that we live below our means and our income provides for our needs. In the future we will need to use assets to generate some income, but for now we are able to hold off. For example, we will draw from our assets if our pensions fail to keep pace with inflation (likely) or some other unexpected life event requires it. At 70 1/2 we will begin the mandatory Required Minimum Distributions from the tax-sheltered accounts.

Now that I've completed our net worth analysis for 2008, I know my goal of increasing our net worth by 5% in 2009 is very ambitious (see sidebar). Factors that could help: if real estate values bottom out and interest rates start to creep up... both possible, albeit not likely until the latter part of 2009, if at all. So we will see how things stand a year from now. Check out the page on my sidebar for my 2008 Net Worth Analysis if you are interested.

If you're curious how your own net worth stacks up against others your age and income bracket, use this calculator to compare. I did, and I learned our net worth is above the median for people our age and income bracket... reassuring given that our net worth took a drop in 2008.

Here's another interesting idea: net worth vs. wealth. According to the calculator from The Millionaire Next Door, I am a PAW and my dh is an AAW. Authors Stanley and Danko argue that total net worth alone does not tell a good enough picture of one's wealth. What matters is how much worth you can accumulate on your income considering your own age. Therefore, a 30 year old making $25,000 who has a net worth of $80,000 has more relative wealth than a 50 year-old doctor making $200,000 a year who is only worth $500,000.

Both of the above calculators were borrowed from the Millionaire Mommy Next Door blog. She has a post with 110 calculators... a very handy resource.

Home Again

January 1st, 2009 at 03:04 pm

Happy New Year everyone! We arrived home late yesterday afternoon from our trip to El Salvador... I will post highlights and pictures at a later date. While we thoroughly enjoyed our time there, it is great to be back home.

We brought in the new year quietly... just dh and I, and TC the cat who is delighted to have us home. Today has been a day to catch up on the snail mail, email, and my favorites blogs while I recover from a slight case of jet lag.

Later today I will spend some time on finances, particularly on calculating our net worth. One of my financial goals for 2009 is to increase our net worth by 5%. I plan to carefully review the monthly budget to identify some ways to achieve this. More on this later.