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Archive for February, 2010

Hoping for the Best, Preparing for the Worst

February 16th, 2010 at 09:05 am


Maybe somewhere deep down I'm a pessimist, but most of the time I'm a woman who thinks the glass is half-full. But when it came to financial planning and retirement, I covered all the bases.

I am one of the lucky ones who retired with a state teacher's pension. This is touted as "safe" and provides an annual 2% COLA. Participants in this pension system are not eligible for Social Security, however.

But being ever so wary of what could go wrong, and always wanting to be prepared for left curves life throws at us, I also did the following:

1) Contributed annually to my 403b accounts and also to Roth IRAs when I was eligible. So far, I have not had to touch this money;

2) Invested in the stock market. The "star" of my portfolio is AAPL which I bought at ~$6 a share in 1996. I stopped investing in stocks years ago, but I have fun tracking this asset. I don't know if I will ever sell any of it, but it's there if I need it;

3) I also have a stash of cash... some in CDs, some in ING, and some barely earning any interest elsewhere. It would help me survive for several years if my pension dried up.

4) I have avoided debt like the plague, except for a small mortgage.

So, why I am writing about this? Well, yesterday a good friend...also an educator... called and lamented she may have to work until she's 64 or 65. You see, her teacher's pension just won't be enough for living in retirement if she retires any sooner. And even when she does retire, she'll have to make "drastic cuts" to her lifestyle (like no more travel).

Don't feel too sorry for her. Most Americans have to work until 66 or 67, but many teachers we know like to retire around 60 or 62. My friend, though, never saved for retirement because she figured her pension would be enough. And in reality, it should/could be. And it is "safe." But what if...


Black Card

February 12th, 2010 at 08:39 am

We get solicitations for credit cards on a weekly basis and usually I just shred them without bothering to review the details. Yesterday we received another solicitation for a Visa Black Card and curiosity got the best of me so I read the details. Thanks, but no thanks. H*ll would have to freeze over before I ever get one of these cards.

To start with, there is a hefty annual fee of $495 for the main cardholder and $195 for additional members. In return the member is entitled to the services of a 24-hour concierge, VIP lounge access at airports worldwide, and other travel perks. Oh, and there is an "exclusive rewards program," too... 1 point her dollar spent, redeemable on LUXURY items, whatever those might be. Whoop-dee-do! I'd have to spend at least $50,000 just to recoup the annual fee.

Although Visa touts the card as "the world's most prestigious and versatile card," I'm not impressed. I don't care a whit we are "pre-qualified" nor that that membership is limited to "only 1% of US residents."

I rolled my eyes at the last line of the solicitation: "Made with carbon, the Visa Black Card is guaranteed to get you noticed." Are there really people out there that need to be noticed that badly? I am just the opposite... I like being discreet, especially when it comes to spending money in public places.

Getting Creative With Coffee Filters

February 11th, 2010 at 11:06 am


A friend sent me an email with these tips on using coffee filters and I thought it would be worth passing along.

Who knew! And you can buy 1,000 at the Dollar Tree for almost nothing, even the large ones.

1. Cover bowls or dishes when cooking in the microwave... coffee filters make excellent covers.

2. Clean windows, mirrors, and chrome... Coffee filters are lint-free so they'll leave windows sparkling.

3. Protect China by separating your good dishes with a coffee filter between each dish.

4. Filter broken cork from wine. If you break the cork when opening a wine bottle, filter the wine through a coffee filter.

5. Protect a cast-iron skillet. Place a coffee filter in the skillet to absorb moisture and prevent rust.

6. Apply shoe polish. Ball up a lint-free coffee filter.

7. Recycle frying oil. After frying, strain oil through a sieve lined with a coffee filter.

8. Weigh chopped foods. Place chopped ingredients in a coffee filter on a kitchen scale.

9. Hold tacos. Coffee filters make convenient wrappers for messy foods.

10. Stop the soil from leaking out of a plant pot. Line a plant pot with a coffee filter to prevent the soil from going through the drainage holes.

11. Prevent a Popsicle from dripping. Poke one or two holes as needed in a coffee filter.

12. Don't use expensive strips to wax eyebrows... use strips of coffee filters.

13. Put a few in a plate and put your fried bacon, French fries, chicken fingers, etc. on them. It soaks out all the grease.

14. Keep in the bathroom. They make great "razor nick fixers."

15. As a sewing backing. Use a filter as an easy-to-tear backing for embroidering or appliqueing soft fabrics.

16. Put baking soda into a coffee filter and insert into shoes or a closet to absorb or prevent odors.

17. Use them to strain soup stock and to tie fresh herbs in to put in soups and stews.

18. Use a coffee filter to prevent spilling when you add fluids to your car.

19. Use them as a spoon rest while cooking and clean up small counter spills.

20. Can use to hold dry ingredients when baking or when cutting a piece of fruit or veggies. Saves on having extra bowls to wash.

21. Use them to wrap Christmas ornaments for storage.

22. Use them to remove fingernail polish when out of cotton balls.

23. Use them to sprout seeds. Simply dampen the coffee filter, place seeds inside, fold it and place it into a plastic baggie until they sprout.

24. Use coffee filters as blotting paper for pressed flowers. Place the flowers between two coffee filters and put the coffee filters in phone book.

25. Use as a disposable "snack bowl" for popcorn, chips, etc.

OH YEAH THEY ARE GREAT TO USE IN YOUR COFFEE MAKERS, TOO.

Change of Plans, Part 2

February 10th, 2010 at 11:56 am

Our trip to Peru in February was canceled due to torrential rains and ensuing floods that washed away the railroad tracks, but we have rescheduled for October. We've been looking forward to the trip for months and the cancellation was a letdown that left us itching to go somewhere, anywhere. Fortunately, our 2010 travel savings has enough to allow some "unscheduled" travel, so I researched "last minute" deals. Unable to resist the bargains, we decided on two weeks in Orlando, Florida. Our itinerary includes St. Augustine, Miami and the Everglades, and the Disney World parks.

Some things that saved money:

~ The first week was booked through Expedia as a package that included airfare, so we saved over $500 (another condo with a kitchen);

~ The second week was booked through our timeshare (Interval International) and will cost $139 for the entire week (studio condo with kitchen);

~ The day-long excursion to Miami and the Everglades was booked using a discount coupon;

~ The car rental was booked through Costco Travel at a 25% savings plus one free day;

~ We will prepare one or two meals each day at the condo, a healthy option that will save money.

We are set to leave next week. Now, if only I could talk dh into going on the "scary" rides with me at Disney World...

Change of Plans

February 4th, 2010 at 10:13 pm

Long before retiring, dh and I saved and planned for a trip to Peru, primarily to see Machu Picchu, the ancient city of the Incas. We've been looking forward to the nearly month-long trip that was scheduled for mid-February. But it is not to be. Yesterday our tour company informed us our excursion was canceled.

Due to the worst torrential rains in 15 years, the railroad that takes visitors to Aguas Calientes, the town closest to the ruins, has been shut down... the tracks were swept away by floods. About 3,000 tourists were evacuated by helicopter and at least 10 lives were lost.

Our "problem" is insignificant compared to what others have suffered. Thousands of Peruvians have lost their homes and businesses, especially around Cusco and Aguas Calientes. From one account, Machu Picchu will be inaccessible for at least three weeks. This is a major disaster that is wreaking havoc on the Peruvian economy. Fortunately, we will adapt and have already rescheduled the trip for early October.

Things I am grateful for:
1. We can still go, it'll just be later in the year (and it's paid for);
2. I paid $64 for the optional travel insurance which means we will get a complete refund for the air fare ($900);
3. The tour company will pay up to $250 each if the air fare is more in October than the cost of the original tickets;
4. I now have more time to continue my conditioning so I can hike in the Andes without getting altitude sickness.