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Archive for March, 2010

Taking Stock

March 30th, 2010 at 06:55 pm

Today I decided to analyze my stock portfolio, something I haven't done in over a year. Here is the lowdown:

1. The portfolio has now surpassed the high of October 2007;

2. It's gained 95% since the low of February 2009;

3. Overall gain since inception has averaged ~7% a year;

4. I have not bought or sold any stocks or mutual funds in years;

5. My portfolio consists of 90% individual stocks and 10% mutual funds;

6. My best performing stocks in terms of gain over purchase price are: AAPL, SBUX, PG, WMT, ABT, HPQ, AMZN;

7. I buy stocks based on liking/using a company's product, not on a high-level analysis. (Note: I DO NOT recommend this approach!) For example, I bought AAPL at $6 a share in 1996, because I'd used Mac computers since they first came out in 1985. I was lucky... AAPL has split twice and has had outstanding gain;

8. Most (but not all) stocks I bought outperformed mutual funds I bought (VFINX, SNXFX, SWPPX);

9. When I decide to buy a stock, I will buy between 100-500 shares;

10. As much as I'm interested in personal finance, I just haven't gotten into educating myself about the stock market, but maybe this is an area to explore. I still feel like a rookie.

I've always thought of my stocks as an asset I'd probably leave to my children or a charity and had not counted on these funds for retirement, but it's a good backup option. On the other hand, my retirement accounts (403b, IRAs, 457), some of which are invested in mutual funds, are entrusted to a professional financial manager.

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In other news, dh and I have been in ID for the last two weeks, enjoying some special time with my daughters and SILs. The weather's been colder than CA, but nothing unbearable. Dh has a new interest: photographing birds and wildlife, so we've spent hours at local parks and wildlife preserves. Idaho has abundant wildlife and beautiful landscapes, so there are endless photo ops. Dh just spent a small fortune upgrading to a better camera (Canon EOS 7D) but saved money on taxes (ID is 6% vs. CA @ 9.25%).

At the end of the week, we'll drive back to CA (with TC the cat) to spend Easter with family and friends. I'm looking forward to seeing my sister, niece, grandniece, and grandnephew. I love how the kids get excited about their Easter egg hunt and we'll all have a wonderful brunch with close friends and family.

Then in mid-April, dh and I are off to Mexico for a few weeks to explore some major archeological ruins in the states of Tabasco and Yucatan. From our base in Villahermosa, we will go to La Venta and Palenque. Then we'll fly to Merida, and will go to Uxmal and Chichen-Itza from there.


Cancel Your Credit Cards Before You Die

March 23rd, 2010 at 03:00 am

A friend sent me the following and it so funny, I just had to share. He swears it's true but even if it's not, it's good for a laugh:

Cancel your credit card before you die...

Be sure and cancel your credit cards before you die.

This is so priceless, and so, so easy to see happening, customer service being what it is today.

A lady died this past January, and Citibank billed her for February and March for their annual service charges on her credit card, and added late fees and interest on the monthly charge. The balance had been $0.00 when she died, but now somewhere around $60.00. A family member placed a call to Citibank.

Here is the exchange:

Family Member: "I am calling to tell you she died back in January."

Citibank: "The account was never closed and the late fees and charges still apply."

Family Member: "Maybe, you should turn it over to collections."

Citibank: "Since it is two months past due, it already has been."

Family Member: "So, what will they do when they find out she is dead?"

Citibank: "Either report her account to frauds division or report her to the credit bureau, maybe both!"

Family Member: "Do you think God will be mad at her?"

Citibank: "Excuse me?"

Family Member: "Did you just get what I was telling you - the part about her being dead?"

Citibank: "Sir, you'll have to speak to my supervisor."

Supervisor gets on the phone...

Family Member: "I'm calling to tell you, she died back in January with a $0 balance."

Citibank: "The account was never closed and late fees and charges still apply."

Family Member: "You mean you want to collect from her estate?"

Citibank: (Stammer) "Are you her lawyer?"

Family Member: "No, I'm her great nephew." (Lawyer info was given)

Citibank: "Could you fax us a certificate of death?"

Family Member: "Sure." (Fax number was given)

After they get the fax...

Citibank: "Our system just isn't setup for death. I don't know what more I can do to help."

Family Member: "Well, if you figure it out, great! If not, you could just keep billing her. She won't care."

Citibank: "Well, the late fees and charges will still apply."

(What is wrong with these people?!?)

Family Member: "Would you like her new billing address?"

Citibank: "That might help..."

Family Member: "Odessa Memorial Cemetery, Highway 129, Plot Number 69."

Citibank: "Sir, that's a cemetery!"

Family Member: "And what do you do with dead people on your planet???!!"

(Priceless!!)

You wondered why Citi is going broke and need the feds to bail them out!!

No Penalties due to Safe Harbor

March 14th, 2010 at 07:22 am

We went to our CPA today to have our taxes done. 2009 was an unusual year in that dh worked full-time and also received his pension for 6 months as part of a faculty early retirement program. I also worked part-time as a consultant and for the university. So the visit confirmed we owe a BIG chunk to both IRS and the Franchise Tax Board. We were not able to use any of the rentals as a write off due to income limits.

Because of safe harbor tax rules, we are exempt from an underpayment penalty because we withheld more than 110% than in 2008. Phew! In 2010, our income will drop but we still need to increase our withholding according to our CPA. I am learning that we will have very little we can itemize now that we're retired: property taxes, mortgage interest, charitable donations... and that's about it.

In 2010, we increased charitable contributions to include a large donation to a Guatemala school to be used for scholarships. But just as we thought, the CPA says it is not deductible because the school in Guatemala is not affiliated with a US charity. Back in January, we decided to donate to the school even though it might not be deductible, but it sure would have been nice.

Our FL trip: the good, bad, and the ugly

March 9th, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Well, we're back from two weeks in Orlando and overall we had a great time.

The Good
~ A side-trip to the Everglades... awesome! You can read more about the Everglades on my travel blog if you're interested in the flora and fauna of this immense area. I took some great pictures of gators and birds.

~ Disney World... we visited the four parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom) and Magic Kingdom twice. I bought our tickets from a discounter at Denny's at a good savings, paying $418 (including tax) for two adults for 5 days, single park per day option. I researched the best days to attend and we never had to wait more than 5 minutes for any of the rides.

~ Floridays Resort - For Week 1, we had a lovely two-bedroom apartment with all the amenities including free Internet, W/D, and a full kitchen. We got a good deal through Expedia and our accommodations came to ~$105 a night including the surcharge added upon checkout. It was located close to everything, but it was way more space than we needed. Two people do not need a two-bedroom apartment with three TVs but this was the smallest unit available. We probably could have saved a little more by shopping around (maybe ~$85 a day) but it was a last-minute trip. This is a great unit for 4-6 people and the resort is beautiful.

~ St. Augustine - This was an easy day-trip from Orlando. What a great, historic city with so much to see. In retrospect, we should have planned to stay several days. We used dh's senior pass, good at any national park, to get in free to the Castillo de San Marcos. Here I am at the city gates.


~ Our rental car from Alamo was a good deal... the pick up and delivery was easy, and we saved ~25% though Costco plus got a free day. This was a good investment because it gave us flexibility to go to the attractions or anywhere else without having to follow shuttle bus schedules. We were able to go to Tampa Bay, Daytona Beach, Miami, St. Augustine, the Everglades, and more.

~ Arabian Nights... this was a good dinner and an amazing performance featuring beautiful horses. We paid only $13 for the two of us to get in and had great seats. I'll explain more later.

The Bad
~ We went over budget on meals by ~ $9 a day... so not too bad. We just couldn't resist those snacks at Disney World, and they are not cheap. For example, a Haagen Daz bar was $3.75. I also had not budgeted $14 a day for parking at the Disney resorts, but it was well worth it to have the flexibility. But as much as I love to save and always have a budget, our travel account is padded so we can absorb going over budget without causing any distress.

~ The weather was COLD... even colder than back home in Silicon Valley, but we dealt with it by layering and it didn't dampen our spirits. It did mean no swimming or sunning, though.

~ I got sick... a serious sinus infection sidelined me for a day and required going to urgent care, but I was soon on the mend. The visit and 2 prescriptions were only $40, thanks to our good health insurance.

~ Westgate Lakes... Week 2 was at this resort and it was a timeshare exchange that cost only $139 for the week. That being said, I won't get too nit-picky, but let's just say we won't be staying there again if we can help it. Mostly, it has to do with the management and not the facilities which are older. We were given wrong information about basic things such as the location of the laundry facilities, the "free" breakfast, the housekeeping service, etc. At check-in, before giving your room key, they pressure guests into considering a timeshare sales pitch, which leads me to...

The Ugly
~ We decided to sit through their 90-minute timeshare sales pitch in order to get our almost-free tickets to Arabian Nights (normally ~$64 per person). We did not want to buy another timeshare and once they figured that out, they were rude and ugly. But they did "dismiss" us before the 90 minutes was up and we still got our tickets.

~ My dh actually went on two "scary" rides with me. After riding DINOSAUR at Animal Kingdom, I took a photo of the photo they try to sell you when you get off. We are the two on the right in the very back. Yeah... we are a pretty ugly sight, for sure. He also went on Thunder Mountain, so I'm proud of him, but I had to go on Space Mountain by myself.