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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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Machu_Picchu and take a Hawaiian cruise, so I'm starting to plan and save for those already. Retirement travel is possible because we live a simple life with no debt (except for a small mortgage) and we carefully plan and save for each trip. We've always said travel would be a priority in our retirement and we definitely want to make hay while the sun shines.

Carbon Footprint Update

July 7th, 2009 at 07:16 pm

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch! A $254 mistake...

July 3rd, 2009 at 11:29 am

I pay the majority of our bills via auto-payments that are easy to manage online and ensure bills get paid on time. One exception is our property taxes. Our Idaho taxes were due in June and I mailed the check well before the due date. When we returned from our vacation, the payment had been returned due to a .02 shortage on the postage. Two cents!! I guess I was in la-la land when postage rates were raised to 44 cents in early May. So, my 2-cent mistake resulted in a $254.49 late fee.

So, I mailed the tax payment again, along with the late fee and included the envelope that showed the original postmark. Then I called the Ada County Treasurer's office to explain the "check was in the mail." To my surprise, they informed me I will not be charged the late fee because the original postmarked envelope proves it had been mailed by the due date. Instead, they will return my check. Lessons learned: 1) Not all government agencies are unreasonable; 2) From now on, I will only buy the "Forever" stamps.

Can You Really Save 50% on Groceries?

May 6th, 2009 at 08:38 am

On the news last night, they featured a young SAH mother who routinely cuts coupons and saves 50% on the family grocery bills. She does it by using the http://mygrocerydeals.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=site.dspHome website. I was intrigued and checked it out... You do have to register but once you do, it searches out all the deals at the stores you select by zip code. I tried it this morning and got a HUGE list of coupons and specials at my closest supermarkets (Lucky's and Trader Joe's). On top of being very convenient, features I like are that you can add an item to your shopping list and also get the nutritional value. This could be helpful saving me time and money. We'll see.

An Uplifting Shopping Trip

April 19th, 2009 at 04:55 pm

Male readers be warned: you will want to skip this post.

JC Penney had a sale today where everything in the store was 20% off, even if items were already on sale. So, I trekked to the mall and bought two bras, normally $35, on sale for $17.99 minus an additional 20% off. Then I paid for the purchase with the $25 gift card I received from My Points, so the bottom line for me was: $6.44. I love savings like this... more then $50!

But I made up for it with my next purchase, although I still got 20% off. I bought some adorable, girlie clothes for the newest member of the family, a baby girl born Friday to my cousin and his wife who live in El Salvador. This baby is truly a miracle... they have been married for 14 years, and both are 41. They had given up on ever having children even though they wanted them badly. So, as you can see, this baby was a big surprise, and as my cousin said in his email to me, "a gift from God."

The Happy Minimalist

April 17th, 2009 at 10:03 am

Yesterday's local paper had an http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_12152510?IADID=Search-www.mer... about a 44-year-old man, Peter Lawrence, who retired early from his job as an HP manager... a very good thing. But what is different about this fellow is that he now lives a life of EXTREME minimalism. And I do mean extreme.

His condo is bare, except for a simple folding chair and an ironing board. He sleeps on the floor in a sleeping bag, uses the ironing board as his "desk," and owns very little clothing. His laptop is his photo album, electronic filing cabinet, TV, CD and DVD player. He says he can pack all his worldly possessions in one suitcase.

Lawrence self-published a book called The Happy Minimalist that describes his lifestyle and the philosophy that motivates him to live this way. According to Lawrence, his extreme lifestyle is not at all about frugality, being a cheapskate, or deprivation. It's about making calibrated choices, consuming less, and preserving resources. Lawrence says he lives "well below his means."

I don't know... this would be a very difficult lifestyle for most people, and certainly for me, but to each his own. However, I'd rather see someone living like this extreme (albeit eccentric) minimalist over someone living a life of extreme excess, well above their means. And I certainly know my share of people that fit into the latter category.

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.

Our Carbon Footprint is Shrinking

March 19th, 2009 at 12:32 pm

I'm making very good progress on my goal of reducing our http://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx by saving energy. Here is the analysis of our PGE bill (gas and electric) for the last three months compared to last year:

1/2008 $165.17
1/2009 $154.07
~7% less

2/2008 $186.94
2/2009 $151.70
~19% less

3/2008 $109.03
3/2009 $ 72.77
~33% less

I was pleasantly surprised at the savings in February, especially since I am home more now that I'm retired. But the reduction in March was even better, so my challenge is paying off. Here are a few things we've done or are doing that have helped:

~ Switched out all the incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent;
~ Lowered the thermostat on our FA heater;
~ Unplug appliances/computers that are not in use;
~ Grab a sweater when it's chilly instead of turning on the heater.

Eco-Friendly Sandwich Wrapper

March 13th, 2009 at 08:00 am

Yesterday the https://www.wrap-n-mat.com/index.php?osCsid=3e7c2f83ad1705a... I bought came in the mail. While we're in Guatemala later this year, we'll have to pack a sandwich for lunch to work every day so my motivation to buy them was related to this foreseen need. I like these little contraptions because they're a reusable wrap and also create a "place mat" for eating. They're made of food-safe materials (free of lead, BPA, and Phthalate), have a liner that is easily cleaned, and it stays secure with a small Velcro strap. These will come in handy whenever we travel and pack a picnic lunch. Best of all, we can reduce of use of plastic lunch bags that take over 1,000 years to decompose in landfills!

Want to hulu?

March 2nd, 2009 at 01:12 pm

Today I finally got around to checking out http://www.hulu.com/ and was pleasantly surprised. If you have the software requirements (e.g., OS X on my computer), you can watch TV programs and movies free on your computer. Now I can watch my favorites TV programs or movies on my computer (using headphones) while dh watches his on the big screen (and vice versa). What will they think of next?!

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.

Confessions of a Secret Piggy Banker

February 21st, 2009 at 08:46 am

Ever since I was a kid, I've had a piggy bank. I don't know how many adults keep piggy banks of some sort, but I suspect there are others like me out there. On my kitchen counter I have a piggy bank that I use for spare change, and in my bedroom I have a piggy-bank cat that's chock full of quarters... so full I can't get another one into it. In my underwear drawer, I have a red makeup bag that does double duty as a bank (CYA has a literal meaning here). My most prized coins are some I've had since ~1968, a gift from my father. I keep them in a small blue bag in a secret place. I'm not the only one in the family who is involved in this practice. Dh keeps a gallon jar of coins, mostly pennies, in our closet.

Well, it had been a couple of years since I'd forced myself to roll coins, so early this morning I decided it was time to deal with some of these stashes. But since I HATE counting and wrapping coins, I took most of them to the http://www.coinstar.com/us/html/A-home machine at Lucky's. I recently learned that by donating the money to one of their non-profit partners or by getting gift cards, there is no fee for using Coinstar. The kitchen piggy and the red bag produced $197.39 that I donated to http://feedingamerica.org/default.aspx . The piggy-bank cat produced $134.50 that I used for Starbuck's and AMC gift cards.

As far as my little blue bag of old coins, these may be worth more than their face value because they are silver dollars, quarters, and dimes, so they definitely won't get fed to the Coinstar machine... I'm not quite sure how to go about unloading these, but I'll figure it out. And the penny jar... well, it's destined for Coinstar if dh is willing, but not until he can help with it. It's too heavy for me to carry.