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A Year of Splendid Retirement

January 1st, 2012 at 10:20 am

Yesterday dh and I were discussing how quickly 2011 flew by. After all, we are retired... shouldn't life seem a little slower? So where did the year go? And how are we doing financially... where did our money go?

January - Our "National Geographic Experience"
We started the year on an Amazon River cruise where we spent 4 weeks visiting everything from remote villages to the industrial city of Manaus. Our trip back to the USA took us to Devil's Island and several Caribbean countries. It was amazing and we learned so much about the flora, fauna, people and cultures of the Amazon Basin!

February - Family Time
Spring in Idaho was quiet and restful. We took a road trip to our condo in Silicon Valley, stopping to see family in Oregon along the way.

March - Time for Family and Friends
Went to Newport and Gleneden on the Oregon Coast for a week with dh to enjoy bird watching and the ocean. Later I took a "girls only" trip to Las Vegas to celebrate a friend's 70th birthday. Dh and I ended the month with a week in Cabo San Lucas for our niece's renewal of vows.

April - From NYC to the Rain Forest
The first week was spent with my sister from CA in NYC visiting my grandnephew (her grandson). Later that month, we were in El Salvador to see family for a week, followed by 10 days in Costa Rica on a Caravan.com tour, one of the best travel bargains around.

May - R & R
Had thyroid surgery... prognosis is good despite some unexpected news. Appreciated being home to rest and recuperate, and my daughters and dh were wonderful during this time. Prepared my garden for planting.

June - Home Sweet Home in ID
The garden is starting to bloom, I volunteered for the Red Cross, and took a four-day trip with dh to beautiful Yellowstone. We decided to sell CA condo... we just don't use it enough to justify expense of keeping it.

July - Cutting Ties to CA
The best part was that my sister and BIL from CA came to visit us in ID for a week of fun. We got an offer on the condo... drove back to CA. It was wonderful to spend time with CA family, including dh's family reunion in Soledad. Cleared out CA condo in expectation of closing escrow in August. Rented a storage locker in ID and hired movers to help us with items we are keeping.

August - Summer in the City of Trees
So happy with our beautiful flower garden in ID... annuals and perennials galore! Volunteered some more and enjoyed a relaxing summer in this beautiful city of trees (that is the meaning of Boise), biking on the greenbelt, and going to the fair, museums, parks and the zoo.

September - European Adventure Begins
We FINALLY closed escrow on our CA condo! Left on September 25 to celebrate with newly retired friends in for Barcelona, Spain, the gateway for our next adventure.

October - Wow... what a month!
We were in Europe most of October, exploring 8 different countries... an amazing experience. The best part: four days with my favorite cousin and his delightful family in Switzerland. Did some volunteer work for the Red Cross when we returned to ID.

November - So Much to be Thankful For
My DSS came home from Iraq, safe and sound after one year working as a medic with his National Guard unit in a particularly dangerous area. Thanksgiving in Idaho was lovely, hosted by DD1. After Thanksgiving, dh and I left for Cabo San Lucas, one of our favorite SUNNY and WARM places.

December - Escaping the Cold
Went to Cabo San Lucas for three weeks. Came home in time to celebrate happy holidays with 3 of our 4 adult children. DSS want to relocate to ID. We decorated the house and put up our tree. It was wonderful! I especially love the ornaments we've collected from our world travels.

On the Financial Front... where did our money go?
I spend less time on things financial now that we're retired. It's not that I care any less about personal finance... it's more that we are on autopilot. We have a property manager handling the rentals, so I do not get involved much. The financial planner I've used for 25+ years does a good job with the tax-deferred investments, so I don't worry about those. Our income is fixed and direct deposited to the bank, and most bills are on auto-pay. Life is simpler now.

I track our retirement income in four basic categories. "Living" is everything we spend that is not travel, giving, or saving: medical, property taxes, food, entertainment, clothes, auto, etc. I was surprised our net worth grew 4.87%, excluding real estate (I expected less). This represents the growth (averaged) of taxable accounts, tax-deferred accounts (to be tapped at 70 1/2), and stocks/mutual funds. I adjusted figures to exclude cash generated from the sale of the CA condo.

Distribution of our 2011 net income is as follows:
~ Living 32%
~ Giving 12%
~ Savings 31%
~ Travel 25%

We spend a lot on travel, made possible by diligent pre-retirement planning and saving. Our expenses are low, our income is fixed (~30% goes to taxes), we save almost one-third of our net income, and we are in relatively good health. This is the "go-go" stage of our retirement. The "slow-go" and the "no-go" stages will follow, but for now we are actively crossing items off our bucket list. 2011 was a good year!

Happy New Year to All at SA!

Making the Decision to Retire

August 18th, 2010 at 11:09 pm

How much money will I need to retire comfortably? This was the burning question I pondered for several years before retiring. My retirement planning involved some specific steps to answer this question and it helped me feel confident in my decision to retire. Even though I retired two years ago when the economy was imploding, I have not regretted it for a moment.

Here is what I did to come up with my answer:

1. I determined the annual income I would need in today's dollars. This involved creating a budget that allows for unexpected expenses and also a healthy amount for travel. My basic budget categories are:

Housing (includes expenses for second home)
Utilities (includes phone)
Food/Misc.
Auto (gas, maintenance, insurance, registration)
Medical
Charitable Donations/Gifts
Personal Allowance (includes clothing)
Insurance
Entertainment
Travel Savings
Regular Savings
Taxes

2. I chose my planned retirement date: August 19, 2008.

3. With input from my accountant and financial planner, I analyzed the market value of my investments. These included both taxable (cash, stocks, real estate) and tax sheltered accounts (IRAs, 457 and 403b). Taking into account a conservative rate of return on these investments (2%), we projected values at 70 1/2, when Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) kicks in.

4. I requested a benefit estimate from my state teacher's pension plan. In my case, I knew the exact amount of my pension and that it is supposed to have a guaranteed 2% annual COLA.

5. I calculated the withholding on my pensions at approximately 25%.

6. I determined my pension WOULD NOT keep pace with inflation (using a 4% lifetime average inflation rate). In the future it would mean saving less and/or drawing from my retirement accounts to supplement my pension income (definitely will need to do so by age 70 1/2).

I put all this data on a spreadsheet and saw that I could afford to retire on my chosen date, even though waiting three more years would have provided a significantly higher income. In my case, the additional money was not worth the stress generated by my work. My job as an elementary school principal was taking a toll on my health (e.g., high BP) and I wanted to retire on a high note, rather than after I'd burned out.

These are the steps I took to "crunch the numbers." There are plenty of calculators available online, some of them very useful. However, I just used a simple Excel spreadsheet. I did this exercise at least once a year for about 4-5 years before retiring. I knew it was time to retire when I began to review my retirement spreadsheet every month!

My husband retired in 2009 so we are now both able to enjoy a completely different life. People sometimes ask what we do to keep busy now that we're retired. The reality is that we are always busy, but what we do to keep busy is our choice. It's wonderful to have so much control over our lives. We love to travel and have documented some of our adventures on our travel blog.

In addition to retirement income planning, we downsized in 2006 to a condo in Silicon Valley. This was a good move because we sold our big house when prices were high and we were able to move to the condo that we had bought in 2003 but had rented out. We used profits from the downsize to buy our Idaho home for cash, so there is no mortgage. So now here we are in beautiful Boise where we have relocated. We still have the CA condo, but it is now our second home.

We're Moving

May 17th, 2010 at 09:06 pm

A few months back dh and I decided it was time to make Idaho our legal residence... we plan to spend more than 50% of our time there, and it makes sense from a financial standpoint. We bought our ID home in 2006. We will definitely save on some basic expenses:

Homeowner’s insurance:
ID - $320
CA - $578 (changed carriers)

Registration for my car (2007 Murano):
ID - $74
CA - $376

Auto Insurance:
ID - $1067
CA - $1459 (two cars)

State Income Tax:
ID - 7.8%
CA - 9.55%

State Sales Tax:
ID - 6%
CA - 9.25%

Property Tax Homeowner's Exemption Savings:
ID - $1,005
CA - $70

When I use Sperling's cost of living comparison calculator, it's 42% cheaper to live in Idaho than our city in California. We've been in Idaho for about two weeks now and I definitely notice the savings at the grocery store and the gas pump.

We will keep the CA condo in Silicon Valley, at least for a few years. We have family and friends in the Bay Area that we will visit frequently so the condo will be used regularly. And, when it gets too cold in Idaho, or if we have to fly out of SFO or SJC for one of our trips, we have a nice place to stay. The Prius will remain at the condo for use while we're in CA.

In other news, I am scheduling some landscaping work in our back yard using Basalite pavers/stones. Right now, the back yard is a patch of grass with a small concrete patio... that's it. My vision is to create an "outdoor room" with pavers and stone planter boxes to be filled with perennials and annuals. We will also plant a tall, narrow tree for privacy in one corner. The work is scheduled to be done in June. Before and after pictures to be posted when the work is done.

Using the "B" Word

November 19th, 2009 at 04:29 pm

I have to chuckle about a conversation I recently had with a friend I go walking with. She shared she wants to retire in the next five years (she is 55, ~two years younger than I was when I retired). My DF is VERY tired of working but wants to repaint her house before she retires and says she needs to save up for it. I asked if she had used any of the online retirement calculators and she said she had not.

"You might want to check some out..." I told her... "A calculator can help you analyze your budget in relation to your retirement income, so you have a good handle on when you can retire. There are lots of calculators available online..."

"Budget? Oh, I don't have a budget. Except for the mortgage, I like to pay cash, and when I make an ATM withdrawal, as long as there's a decent balance in my account, I'm good. I think having a budget is too much trouble, so I don't bother. I'd never be able to stick to it anyway. I know where I am financially, more or less."

"Hmm. Okay... well, good luck with your retirement plans..." I say no more. What's the point? Yes, some people definitely have simplified view of retirement planning. Now I wish I had asked what she considers a "decent balance" in her checking account.

Chase Me Away as a Customer

November 12th, 2009 at 10:32 am

I am finding more and more, that it pays to check your credit card and bank accounts online DAILY if you can. Here in CA, WAMU fully transitioned to Chase Bank at the end of August. Good thing I've been checking my account daily because I caught TWO huge errors:

1) Through "Bill Pay" I send a monthly amount to a trust account at another Chase branch. The amount was deducted from my checking account on October 27. As of November 10, it still had not arrived at the other Chase branch (it normally takes up to 3 days).

It took two hours on the phone to resolve it. I had to place a stop payment on the check and set up a Quick Pay account with the Trustee. It was a nightmare. In case you're wondering, WAMU had required this to be done through Bill Pay instead of a transfer because I am not the owner of the Trust Account.

2) Also through Bill Pay, I noticed that my house payment was deducted and sent on November 6. Then, they deducted it a second time on November 12. The worst part of this was the customer service rep insinuating I did this deliberately.

Rep: "Well, this is how you set it up."

Me: "Umm, no. Why in the world would I want my house payment paid TWICE!? I haven't changed a thing since the WAMU transition to Chase."

Rep: "Well, we didn't change anything, either."

Me: "Something is wrong, and I did not do it. Looking at the scheduled payments link, I see that my December payment is scheduled to go through twice... Please put me through to your supervisor." Arghhh!

The supervisor was not much better, like dealing with dumb and dumber. An hour later, it was resolved, but not before I seriously considered getting a new mattress with a secret compartment.

Budget Graph

August 20th, 2009 at 10:57 am

Thanks to gamecock for the idea, I used ChartTool to get a "visual" of our monthly expenses. Taxes are not included in this graph because it reflects how we spend our net income.

The "Misc." category includes:
~ spending allowance
~ clothing
~ prescriptions
~ entertainment
~ personal care
~ house cleaner
~ gifts
~ incidentals
~ anything and everything not accounted for elsewhere

The "Housing" and "Utilities" categories include expenses for both our CA condo and second home in ID. The "Travel Savings" category includes timeshare dues, prorated expenses for planned trips, airfare to ID, etc. Eating out about once or twice a week is included in "Groceries."

Funds needed for emergencies, home maintenance, eventual replacement of cars or appliances, repairs to rentals, etc., are taken from the "Savings" category. I like to keep this account padded because emergencies are as sure to come up as the daffodils in spring.

Making Travel a Reality in Retirement

August 3rd, 2009 at 04:53 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.

Managing April Budget Crunch

April 6th, 2009 at 07:24 pm

April is always a taxing month for us, budget-wise (pun intended, hehe). Our CA property taxes are due, we usually have some additional state or federal income taxes to pay, along with a hefty fee to our accountant, and our annual auto and house homeowner's premiums are due in April. Although no one is happy about paying taxes, at least I don't stress about it because we are ready for these extra expenses.

Each month I set aside a predetermined amount that is deposited in a "reserve" account where the funds earn interest until they are withdrawn. At 1.5%, these funds earn ~$300 in the course of the year. Whenever possible, I put expenses on my rewards credit card first, then pay off the balance when it's due with reserve account funds, further leveraging funds to earn interest a little longer and provide miles used for travel savings.

Some folks let the bank impound tax and insurance payments, but I prefer to earn the interest in exchange for the responsibility of managing it myself. The reserve fund pays bills that are due several times during the year (e.g., taxes, auto/HO insurance, HOA dues, timeshare dues, accountant, etc.). However, it's critical to stay on top of due dates to avoid late penalties.

Big Haul at Costco

February 28th, 2009 at 10:06 pm

Today dh and I went to Costco, even though I swore I'd never again go on a weekend once I retired... so I had to eat my words! Actually, we had not been in over a month and our Am Ex rebate check for $294.41 was in the mail yesterday when we got home from a business trip. And, since the frig was pretty bare, we stocked up... now the pantry and freezer are full, and we have cleaning supplies and paper products to last at least 6 months.

Our cart totaled $354.80 but we paid only $60.39. This was on top of getting $38 off for products that had coupons (e.g., Brita filters, Skinny Cow, vitamins, etc.). I found out Costco now automatically deducts the coupon amount when the cashier rings up, so I wasted a lot of time cutting coupons this morning. But I really can't complain... the savings are nice no matter how you get them.

I usually budget ~$200 a month for Costco where I buy our meat, soy milk, organic cereal, cheese, coffee, tea, canned tomatoes, Skinny Cow, pasta, cat litter, vitamins, dried blueberries, Romaine, some fruits/vegetables, and cleaning and paper products (some items are bought every few months). I always pay with the Am Ex card and then pay the balance in full each month. I like the tiered rebates: 3% for gas and restaurants, 2% for travel, and 1% everywhere else... and the card has no fees, other than the Costco membership that is required.

Dining Out on Overdrive

February 8th, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Dh and I have eaten out every day since last Thursday when I got back in town. This is unusual for us, because we have actually been eating out less now that I'm retired. But, dh wanted to go out, and it was fine with me because we used a couple of the entertainment.com coupons by going to new restaurants (new to us).

Thursday dinner ~ at our favorite Mexican place: $20.19
Friday dinner ~ at local "fast food" Mongolian grill at food court (we were going to a movie): $16.57
Saturday lunch ~ new restaurant, used coupon (saved $10): $12.75
Sunday breakfast ~ new restaurant, used coupon (saved $8): $18.29

Total spent: $67.80. This took a bite from our February "dining out" budget and it's only the 8th. We did take home some leftovers, enough for 2 lunches, so that was nice.

We'll be eating at home for the rest of the week, or at least dh will. I'll be going out of town again in a few days for a family visit, and this will mean more dining out for me, at least some of the time.

But for tonight I made wild mushroom penne with EV olive oil, garlic, red pepper, and pine nuts, served with asparagus and whole wheat French bread. I also made a split pea soup that will be part of tomorrow's dinner and then some.

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.

Saving $$ on Groceries

October 16th, 2008 at 11:36 am

Today I calculated that since retiring in late August, my grocery bill is averaging between $100 and $115 a week, not including household items such as paper towels, soap, etc. It also does not include dining out. Before I retired, our average grocery bill was at around $575-600 a month plus we spent about $200 dining out. While I am definitely spending less than when I worked, I don't know if my spending is high, average, or low for two people.

What have I done differently that has resulted in savings? To start with, in September, I took an inventory of the pantry and freezer. Unfortunately, I had to throw out a few expired cans and some items in the freezer that were freezer burned. I used some food before it expired, so this was a savings, but then I replaced them and stocked up on staples.

Another money saver is that I now make weekly menus. The impact? We are not only saving money, we are also eating healthier. I am buying more fresh vegetables and fruits and have reduced our consumption of red meat. At least once a week, I try to make a hearty soup and this provides leftovers for lunch, too. It helps that I like to cook and have fun creating menus, using some items already in my pantry.

My shopping trips are now far more efficient than when I worked. I go to the store less frequently and I always take a list. So far, I am keeping Costco runs to about once a month and trips to the grocery store to about every 10 days. When I worked, I'd hit the store on the way home and buy things I already had at home (but didn't know it). I also frequently shopped when I was hungry or tired... not a good idea.

When I worked, we ate out about 3 times a week, mostly because I was too tired to cook at the end of a hectic day. It was about convenience. Now we might dine out once a week, if that. Since I have time to cook, and I enjoy it, I am only too happy to do so. Lately, it seems dining out is mostly brunch or lunch on weekends, either before or after we go to the movies or some other activity.

My next challenge is to learn how to get better at using coupons to save money, much like Retire@50 does. I definitely can improve in this area, and I think I can still reduce our grocery bill some. But I am very happy with my savings so far. I am curious... what do you spend on groceries and for how many people?

September Budget

September 3rd, 2008 at 06:29 pm

Yesterday afternoon I took care of September transfers and bills. The way I manage our monthly finances might seem odd to some people, but it works for me. The interesting thing is that I didn’t write a single check and the entire process online took about 30 minutes. September’s budget total is $12,152 and includes:

Payments Scheduled:
• CC1 payment ($4882.27) due 9/10
• CC2 payment ($1266.15) due 9/12

CC1 and CC2 are paid in full each month.
CC1 was higher than usual due to a homeowner’s insurance payment for the ID house and my new laptop.
CC2 included gas and expenses for our Sedona road trip in late July and all groceries.


Transfers Scheduled:
• $500 to CA Household Reserve account
• $500 to ID Household Reserve account
• $100 to Rental Reserve account
• $1,500 to regular savings (cache fund)
• $1,000 to Schwab Account (investment)

The reserve accounts collect funds to be used for periodic expenses as they come up (e.g., taxes, insurance, etc.). Not included here is DH's contribution to his 403b since it is $$ deducted by his employer and I do not have to manage the payments. (I am no longer able to contribute to my 403b/457 since I have retired.)


Other:
Mortgage payment for CA home, water bill, Direct TV, and HOA fees are on auto payment, so I don’t have to schedule payments but these expenses are part of the monthly budget of $12,152 spent. Utilities for the ID house are on auto payment and are taken from the ID Household Reserve account.


Also scheduled but not payable until October:
• utility bill payment for CA house ($99.57) on CC1;
• phone bill payment (Internet, cell, and land-line = $244.08) on CC1 and it includes DH’s iPhone charges.


Extra Deposits to Checking Account to offset expenses:
From household reserve account:
• $543 for HO insurance
• $114 for timeshare dues

From my savings account:
• $2491 for my new laptop

Whew! That's a lot of money to move around… but I love the ease of managing everything online and using the CCs to earn miles. Best of all, the mortgage for the CA house is our only debt.

Catch Up Day

August 3rd, 2008 at 05:14 pm

Because of family commitments and out-of-town visitors since last Thursday, I had not paid my August bills until this morning. I love the ease of using my computer while enjoying a good cup of coffee. I did the following online in less than 30 minutes:

~ scheduled utility bill payment ($83.42) on CC1, next cycle
~ scheduled phone bill payment (Internet, cell, and land-line, $183.45) on CC1, next cycle
~ paid CC1 ($2459.11) due 8/10
~ paid CC2 ($2286.57) due 8/12
~ paid auto license renewal for my car ($258) due 8/20
~ purchased two air fare tickets for March ’09 San Antonio trip ($20, using partner miles)
~ transferred $500 to Household Reserve account
~ transferred $100 to Rental Reserve account
~ transferred $500 to ID Household Reserve account
~ transferred $50 to ING
~ transferred $1,100 to regular savings

Both CC1 and CC2 are always paid in full each month, but were higher than usual.
CC1 had a large auto insurance payment on it, and also the last of the vet bills for MC, who passed away in late June and was cremated. I also had purchased gifts for several events (a graduation, 2 birthdays).

Extra expenses on CC2 included gas for a 1400 miles road trip to ID, and NYC vacation expenses. This is also the CC I use for groceries.

The reserve accounts collect funds to be used for period expenses as they come up (e.g., taxes, insurance, etc.).

The mortgage payment, water bill, Direct TV, and HOA fees are on auto payment, so I don’t have to schedule payments for them.

It is great to be able to do most of my household business online. The only check I write on a regular monthly basis is the one for the house cleaner who comes twice a month. At $150, it is my favorite splurge and worth it because I am very allergic to dust.

This afternoon, we went to see The Mummy... it was just OK; I liked the first two better. Well, now I guess I'll go catch up on the laundry.

A Spendy Month for Gifts

June 30th, 2008 at 08:12 am

As I look back on June, it’s been atypical in the amount of money I’ve spent on “extras.” Most of this has been on gifts for staff I’ve worked with for the past 8 years. I always give them a small “thank you” gift at the end of the school year, but since I am retiring before the start of the new school year, I did spend more than usual. When the CC bill arrives, I will take this out of my personal “Fudge Factor” reserve account.

Gifts:
Thank you gifts for my office staff (3): $198
Thank you gift for my Assistant Principal (gift card): $75
Birthday gift for my secretary: $47
Birthday gift for my assistant: $47
Graduation gift for friend’s daughter (Macy’s gift card): $50
SIL2 Birthday (gift card): $100

Misc. expenses:
Potluck lunch contribution (from favorite restaurant): $53
Vet bills: $477
Pet sitter (includes tip): $179