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Archive for June, 2008

A Spendy Month for Gifts

June 30th, 2008 at 03:12 pm

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.

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

A Week of R & R

June 29th, 2008 at 03:15 pm

Today we woke up in beautiful, scenic Idaho. DH and I made the 12-hour drive yesterday, although we usually fly. We’ve owned our second home in ID, where my two DDs live, since 2006. We’re grateful that DD2 and SIL keep an eye on the house for us since their home is nearby. During the growing season, they mow a small patch of lawn in the front and back. Everything else is automated (sprinklers, heating/cooling, lights). SIL and DD2 do a great job as caretakers and best of all, they do it willingly. We’ll be here about a week, and then drive back to our main home in CA to get ready for our NYC trip.

We love the slower, more relaxed pace here… not to mention it’s more affordable, especially food, gas, and utilities. There’s an abundance of outdoor activities and cultural events, so we never run out of fun things to do. Most importantly, we are near family and that is why we chose this location. In about 5-6 years (maybe less), the plan is to sell our townhouse in CA and relocate permanently to this lovely state. The move will depend on when DH decides to retire from the university teaching job he loves.

Our Idaho home has an appealing “Craftsman cottage” feel to it… it is one-story with high ceilings, shutters on the windows, lots of natural light, low maintenance landscaping, and a garage you access from an alleyway in the back. It is located in a family-oriented, safe neighborhood where every house is unique in a design that must adhere to the CCRs (e.g., 1400 sq. ft. minimum, rock/brick on façade, one or two large trees on front lawn, etc.). There is a small park and a greenbelt nearby. Our house is one of the smallest in the subdivision, but we like its compact footprint and lower-cost maintenance.

This is the first house we’ve ever owned that no one’s lived in before us, and it was affordable enough that we were able to pay for it in cash. The monthly upkeep including property taxes, insurance, HOA dues, and utilities, has been consistently under $400 a month. Of course, utilities are low right now because the house is vacant about 85% of the time… and we know these will increase once we live here year round. But, we’ll also save money because Idaho gives a great homeowner’s tax credit that will lower our property taxes when we make it our primary residence and are able to claim the exemption.

Here are some of our "neighbors" enjoying the green belt.

My Pet Sitter is Awesome

June 27th, 2008 at 10:39 pm

LN has been my pet-sitter for about 8 years and without her help, traveling would be more complicated. It’s important to me that my pets are able to remain in their familiar environment and do not have to suffer the stress of being placed in a kennel cage. The first time any of my pets have met LN, they've warmed right up to her, showing me she is a genuine "animal person." LN really seems to enjoy her job and has always been trustworthy and reliable.

Currently, LN charges $22 to come to our home once a day to take care of our two cats (now it’s just TC since MC passed away). She feeds, provides clean water, cleans the kitty commode, takes in the mail, waters the plants/patio, and plays with the cats. Her fee is just $4 more than the boarding facility (vet clinic). Actually, to board would cost $18 per cat, so we saved money when we had two cats. LN leaves detailed notes that I enjoy reading and sends regular email updates on the pets. I’ve referred LN to several other people and they agree she is the best.

A very sad day...

June 25th, 2008 at 01:36 pm

Yesterday was a very, very sad day for me… I had to have my beloved 18-year-old kitty, MC, put to sleep. MC was like a member of the family. He was a dear little companion and friend who has been through many ups and downs with me for almost two decades, and in my life longer than my DH. I will forever miss his gentle spirit and sweet disposition.

MC – February 1, 1990 - June 24, 2008

$20 Challenge Update

June 23rd, 2008 at 02:10 pm

Summary of my $20 Challenge for last week:

Balance Forward = $54.04

Drove Prius 3 days = $6.39

NSD (4) = $12

New Balance = $72.43

My $20 Challenge is looking very sad right now. If I earn any 1099 income in my retirement, I will add the entire amount to this category. I am currently negotiating a consulting contract with my soon-to-be former employer, but I am not sure I will accept the assignment. This is the great thing about having CHOICES. The project will have to really appeal to me, otherwise I will pass.

Is this a realistic vacation budget for NYC?

June 22nd, 2008 at 03:38 pm

DH and I are off to NYC in early July for a family wedding and are excited to be visiting for the first time. Our challenge will be to stick to a vacation budget for the entire week. The budget does not include air fare and hotels as these are already paid for. We are spending 5 nights in Hotel 1, and then changing to another hotel because Hotel 1 would cost more than $400 a night if we had to actually pay for it. (We paid w/points but only had enough for 5 nights.) Hotel 2 is a smaller boutique hotel that is “only” about $215 a night but includes a free breakfast and like Hotel 1, is in the heart of Manhattan. We know NYC is expensive, so I’ve tried to plan accordingly.

Expenses so far:
Air Fare - Paid with “miles” (saved $1000+)
Hotel 1 - Paid with “points” (saved $2100+)
Hotel 2 - Paid from vacation “reserve fund” (cost $439.58+)

Daily Spending Budget (average):
Meals for 2 - $80
Taxis, subway, entrance fees, etc. - $70

Budget for entire week: $1,500

My questions:
Any recommendations for “must see” sites in NYC?
Is our “daily spending budget” realistic?
Any frugal travel tips?

All feedback is appreciated. Thanks!


June 21st, 2008 at 03:41 pm

When I decided to retire, the hardest part was to tell my staff and my community. After 8 years as principal of a large, culturally and linguistically diverse urban school, I have made many wonderful friends, have had many challenges, and many successes. Over the years, my school has been the recipient of several national and state awards, in part because we are a community that has learned to work well together.

Some people may think that I chose to retire because I didn�t like my job, or my health was bad, or I was moving�. Actually, it was none of these. Even though I had a job I LOVED and that paid very well, its very nature created more stress in my life than I was willing to live with at this point in my life. With over 800 students and 65 staff members, the pace was fast, the problems and issues constant. I chose to leave on my terms: while my school was thriving and I still had enough energy to tackle other projects and plans.

So, in late-May, on the day I informed my staff of my retirement, there were many tears, good wishes, thanks, and laughter. I did not want a lot of fanfare � it is not my style. I just wanted to go quietly. Nonetheless, I agreed to a �dinner� in my honor, hosted by my staff at a local restaurant.

To my surprise, this dinner was actually an elaborate retirement party attended by about 85 people, friends and colleagues from the last 15 years. There were videos, surprise VIP guests, entertainment, memory books, great food, orchids galore, and more. It was a wonderful celebration that I will never forget. Some �regrets� I have: because the party was planned in less than two weeks, some people at previous schools were not invited (obviously, I did not control this), and I feel badly that there are some hurt feelings. Also, I would have insisted on NO GIFTS (had I known). All in all, it was a lovely and memorable evening and I feel honored to be recognized in this way.

Sad Credit Card Story

June 18th, 2008 at 04:30 am

Today I was at a workshop for teachers. Although I'm a soon-to-be-retired administrator, I will continue to work a few days in the fall as a consultant, focusing on supporting new teachers.

At lunch I sat with a group of first year teachers and the conversation turned to vacation plans. One young teacher, XX, shared that she and her husband were taking their three-year-old son to Disneyland… a very nice plan, I thought, until XX shared that they were charging the whole trip because they had no savings AT ALL. However, she said they “deserved a great vacation” because they had worked hard all year.

A few minutes later, XX confided to me that she was concerned about how much they owed on their credit cards (“four figures and growing daily”). She didn’t know where it would stop but she knows it has to since they want to buy their first house. XX was proud that each month they paid a “far more than the minimum payment but the balance never seems to go down.”

I told XX to consider connecting to SA as there are many people in her situation who have succeeded in doing exactly what she wants… getting out of debt and taking control of their finances. Sometimes, what we need is moral support to get out of the cycle of digging deeper into debt. She seemed interested and said she would “check it out.”

Coincidentally, I just saw a piece on about ten success stories of families who “cut bad plastic habits.” Here’s the link:

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Supersize Me Not!!

June 17th, 2008 at 03:01 am

Have you noticed how HUGE the portions at many restaurants have gotten? Yesterday DH and I went to one of our favorite restaurants for dinner. We each ordered a drink and dinner, and as we seem to end up doing more and more lately, we took home half of it. This will be our dinner tonight. With drinks but no dessert, our tab came to $62 including a 15% tip. This is more than we usually like spend for a dinner out, but it was a special celebration since it was Father’s Day and DH had just returned after three weeks in Central America. I wish more restaurants would lower their prices in exchange for smaller portions. Not only would it help the budget, but would also help those without the willpower to stop eating when they are full. Thankfully, we have gotten better about this in the last few years. Sometimes it’s hard, though, especially if you are someone like me who was raised to “clean your plate.”

And we think inflation in the USA is bad?

June 15th, 2008 at 02:31 pm

DH is back from Central America, where he spends three weeks every year with some of his graduate students. He is amazed at how in one year, the cost of living has skyrocketed. DH enjoys being immersed in the culture and likes to talk to the locals (DH and I are both fluent Spanish-speakers). The wages of the typical worker (hotel and restaurant workers, drivers, etc.) have remained the same. However, food, clothing, and many basic necessities (e.g., bus fares, taxis, and tuk-tuks) have increased in some cases by more than 20% from a year ago. The minimum wage is about $175 a month. In the bilingual school where DH and his students worked, local Spanish-speaking teachers are paid $250 a month; English-speaking teachers (typically from USA, New Zealand, or Australia) are paid $500 monthly, double the salary albeit still very low by our standards. In my opinion, it is unfair to have this double-standard but they cannot get native English speakers to work otherwise.

On a brighter note, here is a link to a good article from Money Magazine,
18 Ways to Beat Inflation:

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Slow Going, But At Least It's Going

June 14th, 2008 at 02:37 pm

Well, my $20 Challenge is off to a slow start. Here is a recap of the past 5 days:

Balance Forward = $47.65

Drove Prius 3 days = $6.39

New Balance = $54.04

Another way to look at it is that even small steps toward a goal are important.

My retirement paperwork...

June 12th, 2008 at 01:40 pm

was completed yesterday. Now I just have to take a form to HR to sign off on the information about the number of sick leave days I have accrued. I learned I have enough days that it gives me an additional year of credit. This is good because since I am taking early retirement, my defined benefit amount will be reduced by 33% of what it would have been in three years. Still, it is WORTH IT considering the amount of stress I am leaving behind. I have seen too many people work longer just to hold out for a higher pension, only to die within a year of retiring. Last year, two of my coworkers died before even being able to retire. By saving and planning in the early years of my career, I now have more choices.

Don't you hate it when...

June 8th, 2008 at 02:40 pm

you could have gotten a discount if only the business had informed you of it? Yesterday I learned from a friend that the vet we both use gives a 10% discount for clients over 55. I called, and sure enough, they said they would apply it for all “future” services/meds. I did not feel like arguing with the young lady who works in the front office on Saturdays but I will definitely speak to MC’s vet next week to see if they can go back to April to apply the discount. Poor old MC has kidney failure and I have spent over $2,000 on him since April.

I think they should post information about a senior discount in a visible place in the office.. and trust me, it is NOT that I don’t look 55.

$20 Challenge
Balance forward: $41.65
NSD: $3
Did not drive: $3
New total: $47.65

I Figured Out My $20 Challenge

June 7th, 2008 at 04:21 pm

I've wanted to participate in the $20 Challenge for a while, but was at a loss as how to structure it. I see that my SA blogmates have many different ways of doing their challenge. This is what makes it fun. I didn’t want my savings to be “hypothetical.” In my case, I want it represent actual realized savings that are not part of the regular monthly savings that I incorporate in my budget. So here is what I decided:

No drive day = $4 (from my $150 monthly gas budget)

No spend day = $3 (from my “$100 monthly allowance”)

Drive the Prius to work (20 mi. RT) = $2.13 per day @ $4.25 per gallon


1099 Income (if I work PT after I retire)

Under budget in any category

My goal by December 31, 2008: $2,500.

Here is what I have so far:

$20 to start
$10.65 - drove Prius to work 5 days last week
$6 – 2 “no-spend days”
$5 – rebate check received yesterday
Total: $41.65

Well, I have a long road ahead of me but I am hopeful.

I Won!!

June 6th, 2008 at 02:02 pm

This morning, the local radio station I've listened to for the last 15 years, had a "contest" about tomorrow's date. If listeners could guess what was special about it, they would win a prize. I called in and said that tomorrow was special because it was: 06-07-08. That was it! I won a 30 day pass to a local spa, just in time to enjoy it in my retirement. I was asked how I figured it out and I said, "I've always been good with numbers." So, this was a small payoff for all those years of figuring out my budgets and studying my spreadsheets... it does exercise the mind.

Last Ditch Effort to Max Out the Tax Shelters

June 4th, 2008 at 02:00 pm

I have three more paychecks before I retire: June, July, and a smaller one is August. Due to my retirement, I will not be able to contribute to my 457 or 403b after August, thus falling short of the maximum allowed contributions for the calendar year.

To remedy this, yesterday I arranged with the payroll department to deduct more from my last three paychecks so that I will meet the maximum allowances for the calendar year. This will result in much smaller paychecks but I will make up the shortfall by eliminating any deposits to my regular savings, and if need be, making withdrawals from my savings.

Most of my tax-sheltered accounts will earn interest until I am 70 ½ and then I will have to begin mandatory withdrawals. One investment is a Roth and another is a non-qualified annuity, and these can continue to earn interest without concern about mandatory withdrawals. One of my goals in retirement will be to monitor these accounts more closely to ensure I get the best interest rates available to me.

Health Insurance Happiness

June 3rd, 2008 at 03:33 am

Today my HR department confirmed that when I retire in August, my employer will continue to pay for my health insurance (and that of my spouse) until I am 65. Then when Medicare kicks in, my employer will pay for a supplemental health insurance policy for the rest of my life. One of the reasons I am able to retire early is that I will not have to pay for health insurance premiums. At over $900 a month for our HMO, it would be a big drag on our budget. Only employees who are at least 55 and have worked a minimum of 15 years are eligible. I feel very blessed to have this benefit and wish it were available to all our employees. Currently, only certificated employees are eligible (teachers, administrators).

The Spice of Life

June 3rd, 2008 at 02:01 am

Yesterday the weather was delightful and I spent some time on my patio enjoying the sun, the birds at the feeder, and marveling at how quickly things grow when the weather cooperates.

Since my patio is small, my garden is a collection of containers. In addition to the plants that are solely for the enjoyment of their beauty, I also like to grow edible plants. So far, I have planted pots with:
~ four types of mint (for tea, garnishes, salads, and mojitos)
~ basil (for salads, marinades, and pesto)
~ oregano and thyme (for marinades, sauces, rubs)
~ Fresno peppers (grilling, stuffing, salsa)

These are fun and easy to grow and do not require lots of water. The herbs are much more economical than buying fresh bunches at the store. I just snip what I need for my recipe.

The basil is ready to begin harvesting. It will grow all summer long.

The mint and thyme are ready to use but we will have to wait until July for the peppers.

Just for the beauty...these are a couple of my favorites. Million bells are easy to grow and they resist bud worms. These are planted in a pot I brought back from a trip to Mexico.

This stag horn fern is happy to just hang on a piece of bark nailed to my fence.

Sometimes It Pays to Complain

June 1st, 2008 at 03:42 pm

By nature, I do not usually complain over trivial things. However, I will not hesitate to express my concerns over an injustice or something serious or dangerous. I am not a pushover by any means. This is NOT one of those times.

Yesterday afternoon DS, BIL, and I went to the movies. I insisted it be my treat since they had driven 45 minutes to come to my house. We got to the local theater early enough to get a cup of coffee before going in and getting three good seats. After a while the theater filled up and soon the previews started.

About five minutes into the featured movie, a little boy of about 4 who was seated behind us began to yell...very loud... every few minutes. Then he alternated with kicks to the back of our seats. His baby sibling also joined in from time to time with loud, fussy cries.

What AMAZED me is that the parents never tried to quiet their child. A woman sitting next to me kept mumbling under her breath about the x!@# kids and this was almost as annoying. Finally, I turned around and asked politely, “Excuse me sir, can you please keep your child quiet? We are trying to enjoy the movie.” The man just looked right through me, did not say a word, and said nothing to his child. He ignored all the people who kept glaring, especially after particularly loud shrieks. Not once did he attempt to quiet his child.

The movie was crowded and there were no other seats available or we would have moved. The flow of the movie was interrupted not only by this child, but by the obvious annoyance of those around us. Sadly, with the exception of my comment to the father, no one said or did a thing. We suffered in silence… well not in silence, but we suffered.

I don’t get it… why do parents of small children bring them to a movie that is not appropriate? Why are they so insensitive to the other patrons? When the movie ended, this family almost flew out of the theater. Maybe it was because they knew people around them were upset, but who knows?

On the way out, I looked for the manager, and finally found him. I asked him (calmly and politely) to provide me with an address because I wanted to lodge a complaint about our experience. He said his company’s policy was that they do not turn anyone away just because they have small children, even if the movie was clearly not G rated. He asked why I had not sought his help during the movie.

I explained that I had not because I didn’t want to miss any more of the movie than I already had, nor did I want to cause a commotion that would further impact the enjoyment of the patrons. I personally do not think people should be turned away just because they have children, but if those children are ruining the experience for the rest, then they should be asked to leave.

After explaining myself, the manager offered me three free tickets if I would forget the complaint. I was only too happy to take them because the reality is that my complaint would likely not change a thing. We will probably go back to see the movie again, but definitely not to a matinee.