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Gave Myself a $400+ Raise

September 25th, 2012 at 02:06 am

Well, the truth is it feels like a raise. Today I signed the papers for refinancing two rentals that are my sole and separate property. I have been thinking about it for several years but dragged my feet, mainly because I didn't want to deal with B of A (the current lender), and home values had dropped dramatically. But values are finally creeping up again.

I remembered the name of the loan broker I used when I bought the houses. He used to be with Countrywide (now B of A) but is now w/ a small mortgage company. He was able to get a rate of 3.625% locked in with no points. This is an excellent rate for investment property. I also decided to have impounds because it makes life easier for me. I will no longer have to deal with tax bills or annual insurance premiums... only HOA fees.

It will take about 15 months to recover the closing costs but after that I will have about $447 a month net, after paying for property management and reserving funds for HOA fees to be paid twice a year. Wish I'd done it sooner, especially since I've had a negative cash flow of ~$65 a month.

The cash flow will come in handy... we are expecting out first grandchild (a boy) early next year and I will want to start a college savings account. It's never too early!

So what do you do all day?

April 3rd, 2012 at 02:43 am

Yikes! Has it really been 3 months since I last posted? I am alive and well living happily ever after in retirement. 2012 is the first year we've had only one house to deal with, so our life has gotten simpler (and cheaper). It was a good financial move to sell the CA condo last fall. A question that sometimes comes up from family and friends who work: What do you do all day? Well, we manage to keep busy, and at times busier than when we worked.

My volunteer time with the American Red Cross has been a rewarding experience so far. In between travel, I am on-call as a member of the Disaster Assessment Team. Dh is also a volunteer and sometimes goes with me on calls. In the last month I've had 7 calls, all of them in response to house fires in my city and some neighboring cities. I'm getting to know other volunteers and making new friends, another benefit of belonging to this group.

More and more, we're adapting to the colder climate and enjoying spending more time in this beautiful part of the country. But now when the weather gets TOO cold, since we can no longer escape to CA, we plan getaway trips to warmer areas. We're still not ready to be snowbirds in one particular place so we've been migrating all over the globe. January and February took us to Florida and Caribbean for about a month, an experience that was mostly good.

Our trip included a two-week cruise on the Crown Princess, the ship that made the news because over 500 passengers and crew got sick with norovirus. We thought we'd escaped the epidemic but dh and I both got sick the day we disembarked. We were sick enough to visit the ER and we spent the good part of a week recuperating at our timeshare condo. So the last week was not so good, but the other weeks were wonderful. We've taken many cruises and this was the first bad experience, so we're taking a break from cruising for a while but not for good.

The weather at home has been nice enough that I've worked in the garden a few days. I won't plant my annuals until mid-May, but the perennials are starting to sprout and in need of thinning and pruning. We're having the exterior of our house painted and it will happen this week if the weather cooperates. It's been a fairly mild winter but with some strange weather. One day it's in the 70s... the next day it may snow. If the painting doesn't happen this week, it will have to wait until mid-May when we return from our next trip.

Next week we'll leave for Guatemala, where we'll spend about a month. We'll start with a ten-day Caravan.com tour that begins in Guatemala City but we are going a few days in advance. We think Caravan's prices are reasonable and we enjoyed the Costa Rica tour we took with them last year. After the tour we'll be in Antigua with friends and end with a week at a hotel/resort, also in Antigua. We will visit the schools where we used to train our SJSU student teachers and spend time with students we are sponsoring. We have planned a side trip to the Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, during the latter part of the trip.

The only thing I can share related to saving money is I got a very good deal on our tickets to Guatemala. We are flying first class for about $100 less than the price of an economy class ticket. I did it by using award miles combined with purchased miles to complete the transaction. Also, we are staying at a lovely resort in Antigua for only $159 a week by booking it through our timeshare exchange program.

I do have one financial goal for 2012 that supports my philosophy of giving. This year I would like to make my contributions through a donor-advised charitable fund. So far, I am leaning toward the Schwab Charitable Fund. My plan is to use appreciated stock to establish the fund and use future contributions to support my non-profits of choice. I want to proceed in the most-cost effective and tax-friendly manner. A charitable fund seems simpler than establishing a foundation that involves lots of paperwork and requires management.

Well, I haven't been blogging much because our financial life is really pretty boring these days. I guess it's better than having drama related to money (or lack of). The years of focused planning and saving have paid off in terms of providing a comfortable and secure retirement, and for that I am grateful. We planned for the future and now we are living it. Life is good.

Happy Easter to all! I took this picture of lilies at our hotel last time we were in Guatemala.

2009 Net Worth Analysis

January 5th, 2010 at 02:34 am

Once a year I analyze our net worth to get a current picture of our financial position. For the sake of simplicity, I don't include the value of autos or personal property, and I use the assessed values of real estate, minus mortgages, to determine equity.

I was surprised our net worth actually grew by 3.44% in 2009. It would have been significantly more except that real estate values continued to drop in CA and ID. Nonetheless, I am grateful for the positive growth, far better than in 2008 when our net worth shrunk by 5.6%.

My goal for 2010 is a 5% gain. It will be a challenge now that we're both retired, our income is lower, and we can no longer contribute to tax-sheltered accounts as we have done in the past. CD interest rates at 2-3% are not much help, but if all goes as planned, we will save about 20-25% of our net income. We'll see where things stand a year from now. Check out the page on my sidebar for my 2009 Net Worth Analysis if you're interested in more details.

If you're curious how your own net worth stacks up against other folks in the same age/income bracket, use this calculator to compare. I did, and I learned our net worth is above the median for people in both our age and income brackets.

My Fitness Challenge

September 28th, 2009 at 04:31 pm



One part of my fitness challenge is that I've finally joined the gym. I did so in mid-August and here I am at the end of September and I have been THREE times... not three times a week as was my original plan, but just three times. The gym seems like a waste money for me at the moment, but I will try it until the end of the year and make a better effort to actually GO. Lucky for me it is only $29 a month and I can quit at any time without a penalty. The usual $100 membership fee cost me only $8 because of an August promotion.

I've also started taking a yoga class on Monday nights through a wellness program offered by my HMO. The classes are held at the HMO's hospital and I pay $85 for 8 sessions (non-members pay $160). The class is small, about 12 students and most of us are novices. The best part of my class is the instructor, Bob. He is my new role model. Why? Well, at age 78, he proves that age is just a number. Yep... 78, limber, kind, funny, and wise. This is Bob. And here I am, ~20 years younger, and I feel like what I used to think a 78 year-old should feel like.

Tonight I'll go to my third session. At the first meeting, I took a towel to use as a mat and found it did not suit the purpose mainly because it did not grip the floor. So I invested in a yoga mat and bag Target... It came to about ~$44 with tax. I haven't been to Target for a while because I was surprised when I paid with a CC, that they didn't have me sign the receipt. When I questioned it, I was told Target does not ask for a signature if the purchase is less than $50. I DO NOT like this because I think it makes it easier for a thief to use a stolen card.

So what is the challenge? I've decided that every time I go to the gym, yoga class, or walk for at least 45 minutes, I will "pay myself" $5. What will I do with this money? I am not sure... but I am leaning toward donating it to the March of Dimes or using it to sponsor my grandniece in her school's annual run-a-thon. So here is what I have so far for September:

Yoga - 3 sessions = $15
Gym - 3 sessions = $15
Walking - 6 times = $30

TOTAL: $60


Making Travel a Reality in Retirement

August 3rd, 2009 at 11:53 pm

When I decided to retire a year ago, I knew we could live more frugally in some ways but I also knew that travel would be a bigger expense, given that we'd have more time for it. And, after years of working hard and looking forward to retirement, it would be disappointing to have to limit travel due to lack of funds. So, to what extent would we be able to afford retirement travel? To figure this out, prior to retiring I analyzed our projected monthly expenses in relation to our retirement income. I included "travel" as a monthly expense.

For us, travel planning begins with reviewing our calendar and discussing where we'd like to go in the coming year. We take into account visits with family, work/volunteer schedules, other financial obligations, and timeshare options. In 2009, our travel plans have included Carmel, San Antonio, an Alaskan cruise, and a trip to Payette Lake in McCall, ID. Once we know when and where, I estimate expenses for airfare, hotels, meals, and excursions. That amount is prorated and I deposit a monthly amount to the savings account that holds travel funds.

Then I challenge myself to reduce the cost of our planned travel as much as possible. For example, our hotels in Carmel, San Antonio, and McCall were reserved through our timeshare, so aside from the annual dues, there was no hotel expense. The airfare for San Antonio was purchased with miles, so we paid only the airport taxes (~$20). The airfare to Seattle (departure port for cruise) was 50% off because I used my mileage card rewards.

For the Alaskan cruise, we received a "military discount" available to anyone who has ever served in the military, no matter when. We were eligible for the discount due to dh's service during the Vietnam War and this saved ~$500. A few days before the final payment was due, I called the cruise line and negotiated an additional savings of $240 plus $100 onboard credit. A few days before departure the cruise line called to see if we were interested in upgrading to a suite for a reasonable price and we did.

The effort to systematically save and reduce travel costs pays off because the travel fund is growing. I usually deposit any "windfalls" into this account. In 2010, we want to go to Machu Picchu and take a Hawaiian cruise, so I'm starting to plan and save for those already. Retirement travel is possible because we live a simple life with no debt (except for a small mortgage) and we carefully plan and save for each trip. We've always said travel would be a priority in our retirement and we definitely want to make hay while the sun shines.

Carbon Footprint Update

July 8th, 2009 at 02:16 am

I'm happy to report that we continue to make good progress on the goal of reducing our carbon footprint by saving energy. Here is the analysis of our PGE bill (gas and electric) for the last three months compared to last year:

4/2008 $116.63
4/2009 $76.87
~35% less

5/2008 $94.53
5/2009 $80.31
~16% less

6/2008 $84.45
6/2009 $ 36.59
~56% less

The June figures are somewhat skewed because we were gone for several weeks, but I am still pleased that our usage has been lower each month in comparison to the previous year.

Carbon Footprint Update

January 25th, 2009 at 06:51 pm

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.

Home Again

January 1st, 2009 at 11:04 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.

Our Carbon Footprint

December 8th, 2008 at 03:47 pm

One of my 2009 goals is to reduce our carbon footprint (see sidebar). There are quite a few calculators on the web, but the one I like gives me a good grasp on "doable" ways we can reduce our footprint. For our 2-person household, DH and I produce 16.44 tonnes (metric tons) of CO2 emissions. This is below the US average of 20.40 tonnes for a 2-person household. The average for the world's industrial nations is 11 tonnes, so we have lots of room for improvement. The worldwide target to combat climate change is 2 tonnes.

One way to reduce our carbon footprint is to become more efficient with our energy consumption (electricity, natural gas, gasoline). Another of my 2009 goals is connected to my carbon footprint: to reduce our gas/electric bill by 10%. Not only will it save us money, but also will have a positive impact on the environment.

59 Goals for 2009

November 26th, 2008 at 05:17 pm

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!