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)
Auto (gas, maintenance, insurance, registration)
Personal Allowance (includes clothing)
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.
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.
Hope everyone is having a great summer. Ours has been busy. We are back in Idaho after spending two weeks in Hawaii and then two weeks in our CA condo. The Hawaii trip was planned to help my DS and BIL celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. My dh had never been to Hawaii and he liked it so much he wants to go back... I LOVE Hawaii, especially the weather, so we will go back in 2011.
We spent the first week on a cruise circling the islands of Maui, Hawaii, and Kauai, and the second week we spent in a timeshare condo on Oahu that I exchanged through Interval International. Here is a view from our room:
One of my favorite memories is of the spectacular Naapali cliffs in Kauai:
Back in Idaho, the landscape contractor completed our patio project. I love the low maintenance aspect of our new patio. Our back yard is very small and faces an alley that gets very little traffic. BEFORE all we had was a patch of lawn and a concrete patio:
Now we have pavers and rock planters with excellent soil and an automatic watering system. Dh and I spent the last two days planting. The planters contain perennials and I also have 8 large pots with annuals. Here is a picture AFTER the project was completed:
Yesterday morning we had the vents to our forced air heating and cooling system cleaned and the process was a nightmare. Why? We chose a company based on a coupon we received in the mail, and they had a hidden agenda. We get coupons all the time but I chose this company because they gave a "15% senior citizen discount." All the coupons charged about $65 for the service which included "free" dryer vent cleaning.
So why was it a scam? Well, the minute the two men started the job, one got busy working while the other, Leo, said their "service" included a free inspection of our furnace. Hmmm... first red flag.
After the inspection, Leo began a high pressure sales pitch trying to sell equipment and services ranging from $850 to $150. Leo began by telling us our furnace needed cleaning and the air in our house was 70% more polluted than the outside air.
First of all, a few months back PGE came out and inspected our furnace and said all was OK. We said no to the $150 furnace cleaning. Then Leo wanted to sell us a UV Cleanser... $850 but we would get a special price of "only $499." Again, we said NO. I told him I don't spend that kind of money without researching it first.
Then Leo insulted me by asking, "Are you Jewish?" I responded, "Are you suggesting that I do not want to spend money because I'm Jewish? It's very insulting to make remarks like that about any group of people, and it's none of your business..." I would not be ashamed to be Jewish but I was angry because it projected a pejorative attitude. When Leo saw how angry I was, he said, "Oh, I'm Jewish" and he walked away.
Next, Leo tried to sell us a washable filter for $150. We already use high quality disposable filters (~$20 each) and it had recently been replaced, so we said no. Leo then said he (Leo) could not believe my dh would not spend money to have clean air in the house, especially since I have allergies (something my husband shared when Leo asked why we were having the vents professionally cleaned).
Then we found out the service did not include cleaning the cold air return vent... that was $35 more. I said OK on that only because they had the grill off and hanging and it's located in a place that is too high for our only ladder to reach. Since moving to this condo, we've given away most of our tools and equipment.
Next, Leo told my husband we had holes in the vent off the heater and poked his finger through one to show him. But wait, for $200 he would duct tape it. By now my husband was fed up and told Leo to just go. So we ended up paying $65 + $35 minus 15% discount. My dh later patched the vent holes... he said he couldn't prove it but thought Leo purposely made the holes.
I had planned to pay by CC to get points but ended up paying cash because the invoice required me to put my CC number and CVC code. Leo was such a hustler that there is no way I would let him have this information. I later called the company and told them I would be filing a complaint with the BBB and explained why. They offered to return 50% of the cost.
So the lesson learned from all of this is that next time I decide to have our vents cleaned, I will ask some questions before booking the appointment:
~ Will you try to sell me other services or equipment?
~ Does the service include cleaning ALL the vents, including the cold air return?
~ Is the technician named Leo? :-
Now that we're retired and free to move about the world without the encumbrance of jobs, we've been contemplating what to do with our condo in CA. Here is what we have discussed so far:
No more PITI, HOA fees, and utilities;
We could invest the equity or use it for something else, TBD.
The real estate market's just starting to improve here, so it might be prudent to wait;
We might owe taxes since we would not be buying a replacement property.
The rent would cover all or almost all expenses (PITI/HOA/Management);
We could save or invest what we now pay in PITI/HOA;
We know a good property manager.
Renting can be a disaster with the wrong tenants;
Renting won't help us tax-wise due to income limits.
So, back to the question: rent or sell? After much thought and discussion, we've decided to do neither. We're going to keep the condo and look at things again in a year or so. This way, we will have a place to stay whenever we're in CA, and we will be spending about 4 months here in 2010. Dh, as an Emeritus Professor, still has access to the campus library and other resources and he wants to do some research/writing (with no stress or deadlines, just for enjoyment). We'll keep the Prius parked in the garage for wheels and thankfully, not have to deal with packing and moving dh's office just yet.
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:
ID - $320
CA - $578 (changed carriers)
Registration for my car (2007 Murano):
ID - $74
CA - $376
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.
It's been a while since I last posted to my blog. April has been a busy and expensive month. I say expensive because of all the taxes we paid... Thankfully, we had savings to cover our bigger-than-expected Federal and State tax underpayment. Then there were also property taxes due on our CA home. So glad that's behind us!
In mid-April we spent two weeks in Mexico, mainly to visit the World Heritage archeological sites near Villahermosa and Merida. These are both very safe cities but I especially loved Merida, a beautiful colonial city with a rich history.
Giant Olmec stone head in La Venta Park near Villahermosa. These are as big as a room:
The Museum of Anthropology in Merida is worth a visit:
The archeological site at Uxmal:
One day, we drove to mangrove forests of Celestun on the coast. Dh had a blast bird-watching. Celestun is the feeding ground for thousands of flamingos:
The Yucatan is riddled with sinkholes, called "cenotes." These are usually filled with clean water and are popular as cool, underground pools and for cave diving. These limestone cenotes are connected by a vast underground river system:
About the trip:
~ We didn't get sick;
~ We had great accommodations through our timeshare (Hyatt Regency in both cities);
~ While in Merida, we saved money and had more flexibility by hiring a private driver for the day instead of going on a group tour. We were able to see and do much more for less than $60 a day;
~ We went over on our food budget because we invited our driver to eat with us each day, but he was knowledgeable and helpful;
~ The weather was good... some days actually a little too hot (over 100 degrees) but after Florida, we welcomed it;
~ Speaking Spanish really helped us get around.
One thing that really "gets" to me when we travel in Third World countries is to learn how LOW the minimum wage is in some countries. At ~$5 USD a day Mexico has a minimum wage even lower than EL Salvador, where I was born. I don't know how people live on this, but they do.
It also distresses me to see so many stray dogs that look like they're starving. They wander the streets looking so pathetic, but what can you do? There is no SPCA that I know of and people are mostly indifferent to these poor creatures. If you try to feed them, people look at you as if you are crazy.
At La Venta Park, people do feed the coatimundis... it's the local practice. These raccoon-like animals can be quite aggressive, and even chase you if they think you have food.
And, yeah, they caught me!
In the next few days I will be posting more on the World Heritage sites on my travel blog, in case you are interested.
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.
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.
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???!!"
You wondered why Citi is going broke and need the feds to bail them out!!
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.
Well, we're back from two weeks in Orlando and overall we had a great time.
~ 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.
~ 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...
~ 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.
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...
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.
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.
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...
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.
It's the last day of January and looking back, the month has flown by. We were in Idaho for the first week then drove back to CA. Since weather conditions were very icy, we opted to break up the trip by spending the night in Reno instead of making the 12-hour drive in one day. We stayed at La Quinta, a "pet friendly" hotel that was clean and reasonable (~$63). The hotel didn't charge extra for TC the cat and provided a free continental breakfast in the morning (with choice of warm oatmeal, cold cereal, juice, coffee, yogurt, toasted bagels/cream cheese, hard-boiled eggs, and more).
A few days after arriving back in CA, dh's colleagues honored him at a brunch at the Dolce Hayes Mansion. My DDs flew out from ID for the event, in honor of his retirement and almost 30 years of distinguished service. The day before the celebration, we took the girls whale watching on the coast. This is something I've always wanted to do, but never had. The excursion was reasonably-priced, very successful and one we'll do again. Some of the best experiences are in our own back yard.
We saw an abundance of migrating gray whales... this one flashing its beautiful tail.
We encountered a school of Risso's dolphins. Here a calf is sheltered between two adults.
These California Sea Lions like to pile up on the jetty.
Mid-January, I took off to NYC with my DS. There are some great fares to be had from SFO to NY, even cheaper than flying to Boise. After spending a week with my sister, I realized how much fun it is to have our "girls only" time. Well, we did have a little man with us... my grandnephew who just turned one. One of the reasons DS and I went to NYC was so my grandnephew's parents could take a much-needed vacation. So DS and I enjoyed being grandma and great-auntie for a week. Fortunately, the baby was happy and easy to care for. We enjoyed decent weather... very little rain, and clear but cold (low 30s and high 20s).
Staying in my nephew's apartment was an interesting experience. Their apartment is one of ~22,000 (not a typo) in an East Side complex known as Stuyvesant Town. The apartment is ~700 square feet and they pay ~$2,500 in rent that includes heat, electricity, water, and garbage. I guess this is average rent for NYC.
It struck me as odd that they cannot regulate the heat in their apartment. For my taste, the apartment was frequently too warm, so much that I'd wake in the middle of the night. When I did, I'd look out the window and see many apartments with the lights on and windows cracked open. What a waste of energy, and especially alarming since Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town are having economic woes.
I stayed well below budget on this trip. We saved money by shopping at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and in Chinatown for produce, all within walking distance. Dinners were home-cooked gourmet meals but we did eat lunch out several times. The thin-crust NY pizza is yummy but my favorite is Bon-Chon chicken.
In Chinatown, a good place for bargains, I bought dried mushrooms and ginger at reasonable prices for my CA pantry.
On many street corners you can find small "bodegas" that sell groceries and fresh flowers.
One of the most entertaining things to do in NYC is "people watching." This professional dog-walker has her hands full. New Yorkers love dogs.
And for those who want to save time...
Thanks to Fern, I joined the January "Purge 30 in 30" challenge. I am pleased to report I have exceeded my goal, but decided not to keep track of the points because there are already many far ahead of me. But nonetheless, the "contest" motivated me and has been very productive.
At our Idaho home:
~ Sold 7 books to Hastings for store credit ($32. 47);
~ Donated 31 books to the library.
At our CA home:
~ Donated two blankets and a jacket to a drive at a local school;
~ Donated a box of household items to Goodwill (mugs, vases, frames, and 2 small throw rugs);
~ "Donated" a wool pantsuit, 2 sweaters, vest, and 3 blouses to a friend (good work clothes);
~ Donated a box of office supplies, a printer, and two file cabinets to some of dh's former colleagues (he just retired and these were items in his work office not supplied by the university);
~ Donated at least 88 professional books to dh's colleagues and his niece.
Yay for us!
In June, we hired a property manager who promptly evicted the tenants at one of our rentals. Back in August I posted about how the evicted tenants had trashed the house. I am happy to report that the property is FINALLY back to normal and it has been rented effective January 1. It was expensive to renovate and if it were not for the sad state of the real estate market in ID, we would sell it in a heartbeat. We are finding that rentals require far more work than we have the energy for.
One of the mistakes we made was hiring a property manager who wanted to do all the work himself. In the long run, he cost us more money because he has a full-time job apart from his rental management business, and he did the work when he had time. He is a hard-working, honest man, but it took him way too long to complete the repairs. And since we were in CA most of the time, it was "out of sight, out of mind." But we are grateful he was able to evict the tenants who had stopped paying rent.
So, more than $15,000 later, here is where the money went:
~ Six PITI payments @ $835 each
~ New linoleum and carpets
~ Two coats of KILZ on the subfloor
~ New paint throughout
~ New blinds on all windows
~ New backyard landscaping (top soil, lawn, sprinkler system)
~ New DW and micro-vent
~ Electrical outlet repairs
~ Trash hauling and cleaning (it was utterly unbelievable)
~ Utilities, including the $329 water bill of former tenants
As it was, the house would not have been ready to rent by January 1 if it had not been for my DDs and SILs who spent the day after Christmas helping us finish up the cleaning and repairing the front and back doors. The property manager was out of town on a family visit and dh and I were determined to get it ready.
You may be wondering if the evicted tenants vandalized the house. They did not! This was the result of four years of living in a house without ever cleaning it. We made the mistake of not having a property manager for several years and not bothering to do an annual inspection. So, most of this is our own fault for being lax about an investment and "assuming" all was well. We paid dearly for our mistakes and learned something about human nature through this experience.
There are people who are simply not clean... they think nothing of fouling their own nest, worse than animals. I have a hard time understanding what would compel a human being to live with animals and their feces... how do they present a semblance of normalcy outside the home? In my career as a school principal, I saw youngsters removed for "neglect" from filthy homes that were cleaner than this one.
And, no, we will not try to recover anything from the former tenants. It would be like trying to get blood out of a turnip. They apparently lost their jobs and like many people living on the edge, were only a heartbeat from being homeless. I feel sorry for these people, especially the children in this family.
New paint, carpets, and blinds:
Sparkling clean kitchen with new micro-vent:
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.
December is almost over and what a busy month it's been. I've enjoyed reading the SA blogs I follow and posting to my travel blog, but I don't have much "financial" news to write about. We did come in under budget on our recent trip, so that's good news. In the near future, I will be reviewing my 2009 goals and developing new ones for 2010.
After our trip through the Panama Canal, we returned to CA for only one day. Then we hit the road for the 12-hour drive to ID with TC. I did not want to leave her alone for another 2-3 weeks after she'd been cared for by our cat sitter for almost two weeks. She did remarkably well in the car and has adjusted beautifully to our ID home.
We are currently in ID... we enjoyed a quiet Christmas dinner with our DDs and SILs. There was some snow on the ground when we arrived, but we have had fairly good weather. Last night a storm came in and left ~3 inches of snow. This morning, dh went out to shovel the walkway (and also the neighbor's), more for the exercise than because it needed to be done.
I am still trying to get over a cold that started on my last day in Acapulco, so I am taking it easy and just enjoying some quiet time reading and relaxing.
The day after I retired in August 2008, I took a part-time job at a local university supervising student teachers. Then my dh decided to retire in July 2009 from the same university. But he went back to work full-time for the Fall 2009 semester under a program allowing retired faculty to work 50% for up to five years.
My part-time work brought me full-circle... I began my career as a teacher and I ended it as a teacher. In between, I spent more than 15 years as an administrator but teaching has always been my passion. The most enjoyable aspect of my "retirement job" was working with my students, a dedicated and passionate group eager to begin their teaching careers. And while the job helped me transition from intense full-time work to retirement, it also prevented me from doing some things I really want to do.
So, when my dh decided to opt-out after just one year in his post-retirement program, it was my cue to bow out too. Now it's official... as of yesterday, we both are completely work-free and 100% retired. Our goal is to take time for some serious traveling so we can decompress, regroup, and reflect about what we want to do for the next 20 years or more.
So now we are free to travel the world without the encumbrance of jobs, and we have made plans. At various times in the next year we will be somewhere else: Panama, New York, Peru, Mexico, Hawaii, Bryce Canyon, Brazil, the Amazon... and maybe other places not yet dreamed of. So far, 120 days are scheduled. Some trips will be on our own, some will be cruises, and the Peru trip will be with Exploritas, a travel program formerly known as Elderhostel. We are also looking into a volunteer trip to Latin America through Habitat for Humanity, if the dates work around other commitments.
Some people don't like to travel at all, but it's always appealed to us on many levels. We learn about other cultures and people, and in the process we learn more about ourselves. And, although it's the perfect escape for some people, we're not the types to spend all our time sipping margaritas under a palapa on a beautiful beach somewhere. Well, maybe I could handle it for a day or two, but that hedonistic life would eventually get old. We especially want to see places that are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
So how will we pay for all of this, especially now that we're retired? We didn't hit the lottery or inherit money. Travel in retirement is NOT as difficult as one might think... it's about choices, planning, saving, and of course, dreaming. We've gotten into the habit of saving something every month, plus any extra money that comes our way in our travel savings, so our 2010 trips are fully funded and then some. Our frugal lifestyle helps... we live comfortably, but below our means and saving is easier because we are debt free (except for a small mortgage).
To keep in touch with family and friends, I've started a blog that focuses on different aspects of travel, including some money-related topics. I'm encouraging dh to blog along with me, and he seems open to the idea. If you're interested in reading our travel blog or if you'd like to write a guest post about one of your trips, share photos or travel tips, please visit Sage Travelers. My last post was about the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
The other day I was visiting my 93-year-old friend who loves to reminisce about her youth. My DF said she didn't realize how poor her family was until she was in about third grade. That's when some classmates started teasing about her threadbare, hand-me-down dresses. A lot of folks were poor back then, but it seems that with a large family, they were very poor. Her simple lunches consisted of rice with a few vegetables and sometimes a hard-cooked egg and a piece of fruit, taken to school in a little tin pail... an actual pail, not an insulated lunchbox.
Her mother prepared nutritious but economical meals that my DF loves to this day. Of course, now she knows the ingredients were more affordable for her family back then: rice, beans, oatmeal, potatoes, fruits and vegetables grown in the backyard garden, and bread baked at home. They ate a lot of soups, stews, and casseroles. Meat was a luxury and they ate very little of it.
My DF shared that her parents taught her to take care of her belongings and appreciate what she had, not covet what others had. And, in the midst of the Great Depression, they had very little. In the evenings, her parents read to their children, played cards, or the family listened to the radio. They seemed to focus on spending time together and enjoying being together as a family. All the kids had chores and if the older ones worked, they contributed most of their earnings to the family coffers.
I admire that my DF's parents raised their children to feel happy and positive about their lives, even though they were poor. While it's good parenting to educate children about money, it should not be done in a way that makes them anxious about "being poor." After all, a child is powerless to impact the family's finances. Kids thrive when they feel loved and safe, and it does not cost to provide these things. My DF is a prime example... not only did she thrive, she is a resilient and remarkable lady.
This is probably one of the easiest years for my Christmas shopping. By mutual agreement, adult family that we exchange with wanted an honorary donation to their favorite charity in lieu of a gift. So, early this morning I made donations to:
~ Habitat for Humanity
~ Second Harvest Food Bank
~ Heifer International
~ Susan Koman for the Cure
Not only are we helping others, we can deduct these donations on our taxes. And because I used my CC, it will generate miles. These charges will be paid in full when the bill comes, so we are not creating debt.
The only exceptions are my grandniece (10) and grandnephews (6 and 11 months). I completed their shopping a few weeks ago, but it was easy to buy just for three. I do give gifts to the lady who cleans our house and my pet sitter, but their gifts are easy, too: a large box of Sees candy and money (a nice tip). So, yipee... I am done and it is only December 1!!
A good source of free eBooks is through Barnes & Noble. First you have to download their free reader. It can be installed on your PC, Mac, or cell phone. I've installed it on both my Mac and my iPhone.
Once you've completed the reader download and installation, you will be able to access from a large collection of free eBooks. Or, you can also buy others. So far, I have gotten the following free books:
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Hide in Plain Sight by Marta Perry (this is a "Harlequin Romance"-type novel, not classic literature, but hey... it's free)
Merriam Webster's Pocket Dictionary
To download the free eBooks, you have to create a B & N account (it's free) and enter a CC number. The CC is NOT charged but you will later need to enter the card # to "unlock" any books you've downloaded. Your eBooks, free or purchased, are archived on the B & N website under "My eBooks Library."
The B & N Reader lets you go into full-screen mode and has other handy features. For example, you can "highlight" passages or view the eBook in single or two-page mode.
With Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, I was reflecting about all I am profoundly grateful for and decided to make a list of my Top Ten:
1. My husband - He is second to none. It's great to live with a man who tells you he loves you every day, and you know it's true... tells you are beautiful, even though you know it's not true. My dh is my best friend who supports me in every way, except financially. In this regard, I support myself... but he supports himself financially, too, and this is how we make the financial part of our relationship work for us.
2. My daughters - When I got pregnant, I fervently prayed for a daughter. Well, it worked! Five days before my baby was born, I learned I was having twins... and it was TWO daughters! They are equally beautiful inside and out, my pride and joy. When I "kick the proverbial bucket," I will have left the world a better place by having produced two intelligent, caring, and socially responsible human beings. My best work ever.
3. My sister - She is my only sibling, older by twelve months, and my other best friend. She and I have lived through joy and sorrow, bonded by blood and experiences only we share. We are very close and she is always there for me, no matter what. Everyone should be as lucky as I am.
4. Friends/assorted other family - The friends in my life who are near and dear to my heart are a blessing, yet I count them on two hands... not many, but very special. And then there are my other family members: my niece, nephew, grandniece, grandnephews, BIL, SILs, aunts, uncle, and many cousins... I cherish having them in my life.
5. My health - Although not perfect, it's "good" and some days just "good enough." It's not a big deal to have a chronic condition or two when you're over 50... so, having a good health plan and access to excellent medical care is something else I give thanks for every day.
6. My cat - I've had a cat as far back as I can remember, since about the age of three. I am a cat person. My current cat is Antonieta, AKA Toni or TC (Toni Cat, The Cat, The Critter, Trouble Cat, Terrific Cat...) and a host of other secret cat names that only she knows. TC's silly antics keep me in stitches and it's good for my BP. Too bad she doesn't like walking on a leash, then she'd be good for my fitness challenge, too.
7. A "job" I can't get fired from - The greatest thing about being retired... I am my own boss and I can't get fired! Of course, it only took 30 years of working, planning, and saving to get here. But I am here, nonetheless, and it's great. Yep, "I am the boss of me!"
8. Our homes, humble as they may be - When so many are struggling to keep afloat and their homes are under water, we are blessed. Our small condo in Silicon Valley and our cottage in Idaho are perfect for us. We chose to scale down our habitats because we realized it gave us more financial freedom. No regrets.
9. Curiosity about the world - I've always had a sense of adventure and ever since I was a child, I've loved to see new places and learn about other cultures. Traveling is a great way to learn, to grow, to expand our worldview, and I do this with gusto (and with my dh!). And I am grateful to have the wherewithal to travel.
10. Living in the USA - I was born in a country people have fled due to political persecution. And as much as I love to travel and see other countries around the world, there is no place like the USA, where our freedom is sometimes taken for granted. I am grateful I became a naturalized citizen and take my right and responsibility to vote seriously. I am proud to be an American... sounds corny but it's true for me.
There are many, many other things that I am grateful for... being debt-free, having food in the pantry and freezer, having my blogs and other hobbies, but my Top Ten are, well, my top ten. What are your top ten?
I'll never forget these words from my Political Science professor when I was in college. He was a passionate teacher and kept us debating his often radical points-of-view about the American government and politics in general. Of course, this was back in the 70s and it was a radical time.
My poli-sci professor argued that we could never really own property in the USA, and in fact, home ownership was a myth. "You don't own your house... the bank and the government own your house," he would say provoking a debate. He maintained that even if our home was paid for, we would always continue RENT our property from the government and the rent is called "property taxes." "Just stop paying your taxes to see how long you will stay in your house," he asserted. Yeah, I think he was on to something here.
I got my ID property tax bill today expecting a reduction in my taxes. After all, our property value dropped almost 13% last year. But guess what? The local government raised the levy... the tax rate used to calculate taxes... so my taxes actually stayed the same. Well, maybe not exactly the same... they're ~$12 less. So yes, when you read in the local paper that taxes went down, it's technically true. And yes, I guess your landlord has the power to raise your rent, especially when you have no lease.
About a month ago, I took an online "IQ Test" and when I got to the end, I was asked to enter my cell phone number to get a PIN for the "results." Although I hesitated, curiosity got the best of me and I bit. I was texted a PIN, I entered it in on the website and got my IQ number.
So yesterday when I got my ATT bill I noticed it was about $30 higher than usual. After carefully reviewing it, I saw I was being charged for some "mobile purchase downloads." Turns out when I entered my phone number, somewhere in the fine print gobbledygook, I was SUBSCRIBING to Flycell. When they send you a text with a PIN, unless you text them back "STOP," you are subscribed!
I got on the phone with ATT and learned a lot. First of all, I had a block put on my line that prevents any download purchases without a PIN. It's free and part of the "parental controls" option (and we don't even have kids at home!). I further learned that unauthorized phone charges from third-parties is getting to be very common. There is a website gathering complaints for a class-action suit.
ATT was great... they reversed the charges and explained how dangerous it is to provide your phone number online... it could be a phishing scam, like the IQ test I took. So much for having a genius IQ... what a joke!.
I'm glad I check my bills as soon as I get an email alert they're available. Some of the stories I read about on the class-action website told about getting charged for months and months before they noticed.
Yesterday I met with my student teachers for the last seminar of the semester and led a discussion on interviewing strategies. Over the years as an administrator, I hired about 90-100 teachers, served on countless interview panels for other positions, and recruited for the district teaching pool. It was good to share information from my experience that will hopefully help them land jobs.
In CA, this is possibly one of the worst times to secure a teaching job. Due to state budget woes, school districts are laying off or cutting back their teaching staff. Getting a job in education is extremely competitive and thus it's necessary for candidates to stand out in a sea of applicants. During the last week of November, I will meet with each student to debrief and verify that all program requirements have been satisfied, then they will be ready to apply for jobs.
Work is really winding down for us. After December 4, we are completely and utterly free... me from my part-time job and dh from his full-time position. Then we will begin some serious adventures. I will be posting about our travels on my new blog. I welcome any guest posts if you are inclined to share your travel stories or photos.
As far as the weekend, things look good. Last night was a dismal and drizzly and I was concerned it would continue into the weekend. Today the sun is out and the weather is beautiful. Later today, we are heading to the Stanford stadium (with DS and BIL) for the big game... The Cardinal vs. Golden Bears. Stanford does not have an official mascot which I find odd. They are known as "The Cardinal" as in the color, not the cleric. They used to be the Indians but that is no longer PC and then there's a tree but it's not really a mascot. Strange. Hope it's an exciting game.
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.
Today I enjoyed going to the American Girl Fashion Show, a benefit for the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital. This is the third year I've attended this special event, always as the guest of my niece who is one of the volunteers.
My 10 year-old grandniece also participated as a model... this year her costume was Felicity, a girl who grew up during the American Revolution. It's refreshing to see these adorable little girls modeling the attire of various historical periods. They looked very happy and wholesome, the way little girls should, and it was a good experience for them to learn about the daily lives of girls during different eras of American history.
My grandniece is the cutie on the right.
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