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The BH Death Star strikes again

June 27th, 2013 at 12:37 pm

BH = Berkshire Hathaway (or for those that don't know, think Warren Buffett). Three years ago BH swooped in and bought out my position in BNSF in my Roth IRA (though I used that money to buy stocks that have done exceptionally well). Now they hit my DRIPs, taking out Heinz and taking it private. Due to this attack, today I am depositing a check for over $3,500 for the privilege of "allowing" them to take my stock. :P

I guess I shouldn't complain, as I am ending up with almost double what I have put in over the past 6 years I had the stock, but still... having someone come in and take away a favorite dividend paying stock is a royal pain. Its like the kid that says "its my ball, you can't play". I wish they would consider that there are other people that are trying to retire on stocks, did they have to take everything? Hopefully I can put that money to work well again like the last time the death star struck.

Free food and free money - Gotta luv it.

June 2nd, 2013 at 07:08 pm

You may remember (or not?) that a number of years ago many of the credit card banks would send out free "checks" for $15 - $25. Probably in the 2007 - 2009 time frame. The catch to the checks was if you cashed the checks you would be automatically enrolled in a job loss protection plan that would allow you to not pay while unemployed. The additional catch was whatever your monthly ending balance was you would be charged something (usually 0.89%) That comes out to a yearly rate of 10%, and it didn't even pay off the card, only allowed you to wait to pay until you had a job!!! I did this for credit cards I never used, that way I got the money, but never got charged. Smile

With that in mind, about two years ago (March 2011 to be exact), I got 4 postcards saying there was a class action suit dealing with this now long-disbanded "service". (One postcard for each check I cashed.) Apparently some people banded together saying the service was confusing (well duh!) and were setting up a class action suit to get some relief. OK, I filed online for the 4 cards, figuring I might get $10 at most. But hey, free money is free money, right?

Fast forward to this past week and an letter appears and it says it was a payment dealing with that suit. I see there is a check, and on it is over $150. Oh my my. Smile Well that sure wasn't expected. Free money works for me, especially at levels like that.

=================================================================

On the food front, the mulberry tree has started producing fruit like crazy. To wit, I have collected the berries, and already made over 2 gallons of jam, and there is plenty more on the tree, and plenty more in the fridge yet! I had stocked up on jars last year, but already I am starting to wonder (not if but) when I am going to run out!

As for the garden, this year is an experiment year. The girlfriend's potting soil certainly helped - I should have known to do that! So far the garden looks so-so, with the string beans, peas, tomatoes, and cucumber plants looking OK. The carrots, watermelon, and lettuce... we'll have to see if they survive. Based on the results... I will adjust my garden going forward. I did go out and get some Miracle Gro, so maybe that'll do the trick.

=====================================================================

Finally, on the financial front, I have already put in over $21,000 in the 457 & Roth accounts, and they have risen about $60,000 since the beginning of the year. This savings rate is hard at times, as I have taken home only $12,000 so far this year (and put $6,000 of that into the Roth IRA!) - not having a mortgage sure helps. Oh well, it'll do me well in the long run I'm sure.

Freebies and a good first quarter

April 5th, 2013 at 12:42 pm

First let me start with freebies I picked up recently. The best was from a single Craigslist listing. I had been looking on the free listings for items I could use with a (hopefully) to be built raised garden. I found someone with yard fencing I though could work well and on the way home from work. No one asked for their items, so I could get whatever I wanted, so I went there and found lots more than just fencing for free. I got over a gallon of "simple green" cleaner, a gallon of bathtub cleaner, a large pick-axe, two fence mouted flower baskets, an electric corner sander (works great), an electric sidewalk edger, a hardwood floor cleaner set (new in the box), and some painting supplies. ... and I had to leave some interesting items behind!

Then I picked up 2x8's from an old deck for free just down the street to make the raised garden.

I already have excess deck screws out in my shed, and I know where to get some free dirt, so if only I could get free seeds I would be able to have a totally free garden.

========================================================

Well... the first quarter of 2013 is over so perhaps its a good time to review the financial year (so far).

First I used up the remaining medical flex spending account money from 2012 (I have lots of bandages & thermacare to last for years now!).

On the hobby collectables front, I've picked up lots of classic kitchenware in these 3 months - the girlfriend keeps saying she can't break up with me, as she won't want to lose access to my kitchenware. Ah, there is a method to my madness Wink We've been selling some of my excess things and some of my girlfriends excess scrapbooking items this quarter - we have brought in ... oh I don't know... maybe $700 so far? We still have lots more to go through! Maybe I should keep track (probably won't bother), but I hope we can hit $2,000 in sales by year end.

My investments this quarter have done well. My 457 & Roth IRA combo has gone from 279k to 319k (up $40,000), and when you add in my (savings / brokerage / DRIPs / saving bonds) the overall total has increased $46,000. Since I had an increase of $60,000 for all of 2012, I'm not expecting great results from here on out (the market can't keep going up like this). Even so, you can't complain when your investments are earning this type of money.

I've also been helping the girlfriend with her investments. So far so good, but hopefully when there is a correction (and there probably will be) she will understand this comes with the territory.

(Not financial but...) I've been able to keep up my exercise regimen. My girlfriend says she can see the difference from even 3 months ago. Some days I wake up sore and tired, but its a good tired. I also saw doctors to use up my FSA money, and got some lingering issues taken care of, so now I'm ... not new, but improved!

On a good deed front, I sent out to someone on Craigslist some baby formula coupons I have gotten in the mail for some reason ($35 worth). They did send the stamped envelopes, so its not like I
spent money to do it. Oh well, hope its used well.

To retire or not to retire, that is the question.

March 3rd, 2013 at 04:40 pm

Actually I am not considering retiring, at least not any time in the near future, but still... the question came up in comments on a prior posting, and it really is something that goes through my mind from time to time. Everyone's needs are different, but still, when is it time to say "I have enough, I'll do fine with what I have for the long haul."?

======= Major Ruminating Ahead ==========

For me, if I were to cut out every expense I can think of, (and yes that includes dropping health insurance), I could live just fine on less than the 4% safe withdrawal rate (SWR) that is considered the benchmark for a secure retirement where funds don't run out. And on top of that I would get SS (of some sort) and a pension (currently ~20% of my salary), with both kicking in at the normal retirement age (in 17 years). Those two extra fund sources would cover ... hmmm.... well look at that they would cover all my needs.

Now, for the moment I am fairly healthy, and working out to stay that way. Still, you just never know. Going without health insurance, while I did that for a year when I was younger, is just not a safe way to go at my age in the US. I don't know what it would cost to insure myself, but I bet my expenses would double due to that alone.

Soooo.... back to work I go. The work is not bad (mostly), and it gives me a routine that I think I still need, though that need is certainly shrinking. And really I would prefer a much bigger margin of safety, as leaving it at 4% wouldn't give me much left over. When my next financial target date is reached (the end of 2015) if I do reach my goals for that date this question won't have such an obvious resolution. And then a new question will be more pressing "Since I can retire with a full pension in 7 years (when I'm 60), how I can quit now with that type of money on the table?"

Maybe I just analyze this too much???

Sticking to your guns & luck

February 24th, 2013 at 04:02 pm

In certain situations sticking to what you believe can be a good thing, sometimes it can be a mistake, and sometimes it can be a mistake *and* a good thing (that's what we call "LUCKY" Smile ).

=== WARNING: Stock buying discussion coming up - may bore some to death Wink ====

I tend to try and not to play a lot of buying & selling in my Roth IRA (and will follow this philosophy in my brokerage). I try to buy stocks I feel confident will hold value for the long run for me. Not only that, I try to pick a price that I think I can get a stock where I will be happy, and do my darn-est to get it at that price. I use limit orders in the IRA once I target a stock and let the order sit and wait for the stock price to come to me. Once previously that ended up getting me a great discount on a stock that suffered a mid day flash crash, & I got it for 5% less (in 2011). Its been one of my best performers since.

Anyhow, I put a limit order in for a stock at the beginning of February, (AYR if you want to know) and for a price it had been at the previous month, but was about 1% below where it was sitting now. With the market's wild swings, it had to come down to that price fairly soon, right? Well... no sooner do I do that than the stock goes on a run leaving my order in the dust. Well, the order is good 'til the end of the month, and stubborn me, I leave it there knowing there's no way its coming back down to this price. But I just couldn't admit I missed out on the run up.

This past Friday comes, and I check the account, and mysteriously my order disappeared. I check and see that I got the stock at the price I was asking for. Did something terrible happen to the company? I do research and find the company reported earnings, beat estimates (and by a wide margin), and then the stock dropped 5% in minutes, just brushing the price I had my order in for. (This makes no sense to me, and to others that have commented online - looks like some big players mave have been messing with the stock - but I'll leave my thoughts on this for another time.) The price I paid is low enough that the dividend will be an effective 5%! And now I see the next date of ownership for the upcoming dividend is this Thursday, meaning I will be getting an additional 1.25% immediately for buying the stock. I swear, its better to be lucky than good (though being both sure is nice too).

Year in Review and New Long Term Goals

January 9th, 2013 at 07:57 pm

A review of my last year's financial highlights:

I haven't been writing much as my finances are so streamlined right now, I don't see how I can make them much better (Not bragging, it is what it is, and its taken a long time to get here too!) The new year has started, and my retirment plan (457) deductions have started again for the new year. They are taken out at a pace that I will max out the $23,000 limit by mid September. It makes my current paychecks relatively small, but that can't be helped, and yet I am still able to have my liquid savings grow at this time (so no complaints here - for the moment!).

I am trying to keep my expenses very low. Before my complementary warehouse club membership ended, I got enough brown rice and workout whey protein to last me until at least June of this year. Also got enough chicken (cleaned and frozen already!) at Aldi's to hold me through April. I still have plenty of home made jams in the fridge (mullberry, plum, pear) and I use them with peanut butter for breakfast with almond milk (better for me and less expensive than cereal). My last heating bill was less than $50, at worst it shouldn't hit $100 for any month. I just cancelled (today) my Sirius XM subscription (they were going to up my rate this weekend!)

Some other areas of minimal expenses are:
My phone (cell and computer based phone) is costing me about $140 / year, no cable, and no trash pickup (reuse / recycle / compost - what's left is near zero). Last year the total utils (phones, internet, electricity, nat. gas) came in at about $1500. And last year I made about $1,500 from credit card bonus sign ups. (Actually I am sure it was more, but I didn't keep exact records on them - maybe $1,700?) And that doesn't include cash back, maybe another $200 there.

My investment returns I was happy with. (I calculated them as Nov. '11 through Nov. '12 since I didn't have Dec. '11 numbers to compare against.)
457 plan: +14.8%
Roth IRA: +23.7% (Was I lucky or smart?)
(Compare to Dow Jones Ind. Avg: +13.7%)

Looking Forward:

For goals, I have decided that a year long goal isn't helpful at this time, since I have my debts paid off. Instead my goals need to look further in the future as they will deal with my investments, and the market can go haywire for a year just messing me up.

So with that said here are my goals for at the end of 2015 (3 years time...)

* My retirement plan (457) + Roth IRA will make it to $400k - Currently they are around $280k (Barring a meltdown, I think this is reasonable)

* My dividend income from Roth IRA, brokerage, & DRIPs will be at an annual $5,000 - this year was about $1,700 (This is going to be hard!)

* Physical goals: None really - if I can be in no worse shape than I am today I will be happy. I currently do the following at lunch on workdays: a 20 min. workout on the cross trainer elliptical, then do abdomen work (lots of crunches - basically a P90X workout), then do 50 pushups, then lift weights for another 20 minutes. I just need to keep it up.

* Personal life: Super happy with my girlfriend. She's brought some chaos into my life, but a lot of happiness too, and she is helping me expand my horizons. Currently I am helping her with decluttering her old life so she can move in with me, hopefully long before those 3 years are up! Part of the decluttering is selling her excess on ebay, and its looking like we may be making some serious money there as well! Again, I want to keep this in great shape too!

The time has come to talk of many things

October 13th, 2012 at 02:29 pm

But not of shoes, ships, nor sealing-wax (google it if you need a refresher on that reference), but instead on my goal set up so many years ago (3 years ago I think) for when I turned 50. Well, for good or bad, cross the 50 year mark I did. Do I feel 50? Well yes I do, but only because of the seriously bad chest cold that hit last weekend and am still recovering from. Easily the worst I felt in about 4 years, though having the girl friend with me last weekend to spoil me some helped tremendously.

As for my goal, it was to have $250,000 in my retirement accounts at this time, without having any outstanding debts. Three years ago I had maybe $35,000 left on the mortgage, and probably $140,000 in my retirement accounts. Man, that was a large goal to accomplish, now that I look at it. So did I make it? Well the stock market didn't tank between writing that and now (it was just starting to come out of the crater at that point), so that sure helped. And I used $10,000 in maturing CDs to help on the mortgage. But still, given those qualifications, I am very happy with myself at this point. I have $271,000 in my retirement accounts ($215k + $56k) and a paid off car and house, so I am very happy with the results, and yes I did make it with a little room to spare.

My other savings are finally starting to inflate (about time), so soon the time will come to see if I need any new goals. For now its time to relax (and recover).

I'm in a credit card state of mind

August 13th, 2012 at 07:46 pm

At least it must seem that way to the credit card companies. Tonight when I came home and got the mail outta the mail box, there was a nice pile of letters. Coming inside I went through the pile. Of the non-credit card variety there were 3 advertisements, and one info-letter about my FSA being changed.

Next I come to the credit card pile. There is not one, not two, not three letters. (wait, there's more!) There are not four, not five, not six letters. (ok, hang in there) There are not seven, not eight, but nine, yes, nine letters from credit card companies.

To wit, we have...:
* 2 with "convenince" checks with absurd fees (dream on)
* 3 discussing how I can earn 5% for the next 45 days (sorry, I already have this offer with another card)
* 1 informing me of a credit limit change (don't care - already knew about it)
* 1 saying if I spend $3,000 (!!!!) per month for four straight months I can get a $500 bonus (DREAM ON - times Four!)
* One with convenience checks and decent fees (ok, I'll hold onto this one)
* Lastly one with my new credit card (spend $1000 in 3 months and get a $500 bonus - this is more my speed!)

This reminds me of an old Dilbert comic where he tries to get as much junk mail as possible so he can use it to feed his house's furnace. Gawd, what a pile of papers!

========================================

On the finance front, today I have a $7 book sale on Half.com (bought for $0.25), a ebay sale of some tin toy items I got as a throw-in as part of a $10 purchase a few weeks ago (I didn't know they were worth much, but they sold for $50), and a pair of old pre-war plates sold on ebay for $6 (I got for free along with some really nice depression era glassware - I'm keeping the good stuff!). Picking up the free glassware was a long drive, but this sale will pay for the gas I used and then some.

Long term goal has been met -

July 31st, 2012 at 05:43 pm

The past month has been terribly busy with GF staying for 3 weeks, son for 2 weeks, air flights, lots of travel, lots of amusement parks, lots (and lots!) of swimming, so other than my automatic retirement saving, the rest of my money seems to have flittered away this past month. Oh well, this is the one month of the year it happens, and it will hopefully be the last major expenses for the remainder of the year.

Given that, as I am coming up on 50 yrs old, it was time to see if I was making my ultimate long term goal. That is:

I want to have $250,000 in my retirement accounts before my 50th birthday.

I came up with that goal 3 years ago, and today I went into my accounts to check on their status. 457 plan => $203k. Roth IRA => $52k. Add them up and I get $255,000+ in my accounts. I have other savings too, but I wanted just them to make up my quarter million, and they have done it. Of course with market swings they could go down again, but they were there at least for one day.

I came up with that amount because even if I don't save more that amount should double by the time I want to retire (12 years), and at that time I will have a pension (~ 40% of my final income), Social Security (~ 25% of my current income), and a safe withdrawl rate of 4% (~ 20% of my final income) so between the three of them (~ 85-90% of normal income) I will be able to get by just fine, especially with no debts.

Time to go celebrate (or at least to take a nap!)

Plums, On the Grid, and Working Towards Independence on Independence Day

July 4th, 2012 at 10:10 am

OK, where to start. First, I survived the power outages here on the East Coast - thankfully I was without power for *only* 30 hours. In 100 degree temps - ugh! Couldn't this have happened on a weekday? If it had, at least I could have gone in to work and enjoyed the A/C there! I did go to the mall, and every available outlet was filled with someone's phone charger!

My plum jam experiments have been interesting. One batch came out with a sweet/tart flavor, the others were fairly sweet. My girlfriend tried making plum bread (so/so to my taste), so I modified it in the past week and did two more loaves. The first one was great, the last one not as good. But in any case, doing this has kept my food costs down, as I haven't been buying as much at the grocery store. There are still more plums in the fridge - I'm not sure if I want to experiment more at this point, or toss out what's left. Hmmmm....

=== Frugality Items ===

Yard sales have been interesting. I haven't gotten as many things this year, but I *have* gotten some great items for me, my girlfriend, some relatives, and for resale. Two weeks ago I bought a small lot of ViewMaster reels for $1. So far I've listed about half on ebay for minimum bids of $30. From prior yard sale finds I sold a DVD set I got for $1.25 for $12 on Half.com as well as a few other books (for a few dollars). My online sales have been paying for everthing I have gotten at yard sales so far - gotta love it.

For myself I've been finding various classic Pyrex dishes lately. Not that I am into cooking (my jam experiements not counting), but I like the retro look, and go with my "retro" (so to speak) hobbies. It's funny, my girlfriend jokes that she won't be able to ever break up with me because it would be a shock to her system to lose access to all the great cookware I have. There *IS* a method to my madness Smile.

Also last weekend I found some classic toy trains (one of my hobbies) at a great price (yeah I was shocked). I am selling the pieces I don't want for what I paid, which will allow me to keep what I want and pay $0. Yep, that'll work!

Yesterday I went to CVS and got 4 2-liter Coke bottles for $2.20 (sale & coupon). I then got more coupons on my receipt, so with a little online research to find more coupons I was able to put together the following purchase...

For a grand total of $10.09 today I got:
* Large Crest Toothpaste
* 4 bottles of Coke
* 2 bottles of Physician Formula Anti Wrinkle creme (ok, maybe not that important for a guy, but if I can get it for free... why not?)
* 2 Old Spice Deodorant
* Bottle of Dawn dish detergent
* $10 gas gift card

Basically I got everything except the gift card for free. Hey, its Independence Day - this will help me towards my financial independence.

=== On the financial front ===

Speaking of independence, my Roth IRA is now up over $50,000 which I think is great. While not everything in it are dividend producers, I checked this quarter and the annual dividend rate is now running at about $1,100 in the Roth. While I won't be able to retire off of what my Roth will be producing, if I can get it to produce $2,500 by the time I *do* retire that will be a nice tax free cash flow.

I went to the dentist office last week and they agreed with my calculations and are supposed to be sending me a $300 refund from overpayments. I live a mile away and no check has appeared though. Ugh. If it doesn't show up soon I may need to make another trip there. Grrr...

=== Lastly --- For My Health ===

My daily workouts have continued. The girlfriend thinks I am losing weight, but really I am just redistributing it. It is nice to feel healthy, though I do have some aches from the weightlifting.

The good, the bad, and the hopefully not ugly.

June 17th, 2012 at 07:05 pm

June has been a month of contrasts for me so far.

In the good category, yards sales are going "pedal to the metal" now. I generally don't buy too much as I have so little I need, but I still find some nice bits and pieces every week. In the last few weeks I have been able to pick up more DVDs (and Blue Rays!) to sell ($0.25 each), books to sell (including one that was $0.25 - sold 3 days later for $25), bicycle hangers for my garage (they work great!), storage bins for my hobbies (@ about 25% of store price), some classic Pyrex for the girlfriend (cleaned up & look like new - unfortunately they're not pink which are her favorites), and other bric-a-brac. As for the good finances my Roth has lots of dividend producers, however they mostly pay in the 3rd month of the quarter. Well its the 3rd month, and the dividends are pouring in (happy - happy).

For my ugly, I had a dentist bill me for almost $600 for some work (based on their estimate of insurance (end of May). Ok, that amount will be reimbursed by the FSA, but the sucky part (besides the large expense) is that the insurance paid much more than the dentist office was saying (try $300 more). So now its off to the dentist office and see if I can get them to straighten this out (they'll probably give me some song and dance saying I need to come back another time because its "not in their system" or some such). They always insist they know how much the insurance pays, but every time they're not even close. They're lucky I like them (and are close), otherwise I wouldn't put up with this. And then I have had other expenses with paying for upcoming vacations, so this month has taken all my free money - no additions to investments for me this month (Boooo).

Finally for the "I hope it ain't ugly" part, I am getting lots of small plums from a tree out back. I'm hoping to make something from them (butter, bread, oh I don't know...). With my girlfriend coming this coming weekend and enthusiatic about trying some things, this should be interesting! If we can make something I like, this will be a great home made food year (mulberry jam came in at over a gallon for this year).

Free electricity and jam (well... sorta)

May 23rd, 2012 at 05:01 pm

Its hard to write anything when you're in a (good) groove, but I have two recent items that are now sorta free.

First, I got my latest electricity bill. I went and added that to the prior two bills. Admittedly these are the lowest usage months of the year, but the total was $94.15 for the last 3 months. And then I checked the dividend I got for the last quarter from my stock in the company - $94.35. It was more than my bills for the last three months! Of course Uncle Sugar is taking a 15% skim from my dividend, but still... its nice to see that my dividend "covered" my electricity usage (sorta - you know what I mean).

The past week the mulberry tree at the corner of the property has started to produce quite a bit of fruit. Unfortunately this fruit can't be kept fresh for long (maybe a week or two max). It always bothered me that it mostly went to waste, so I decided to try making jam and canning it. I've made two batches of jam (using that fruit pectin thickener you can buy) so far, making 2.5 quarts of the stuff. It tastes excellent, though I think I will grow tired of it long before I run out. To do this I had to buy jars, lids, sugar, and the thickener. Its costing me about $1 per jar, but if I had the jars it should be half of that. Quite the learning experience, and relatively easy to do. I already gave a jar to a coworker (he's into organic everything, so this is up his alley). The GF is ready to try it this weekend.

And on a financial note, I just put in $300 for more Heinz stock (one of my DRIPs). With no major expenses now my savings / DRIPs / brokerage should start to grow, though with the market going south lately my retirement accounts are sagging badly.

The end is near (actually it arrives tomorrow)

April 23rd, 2012 at 07:42 pm

Well ... the end of my debts arrives tomorrow. Admittedly I've had enough free cash to pay it off for a few months now, but tomorrow its official - my last outstanding debt balance goes buh-bye. My free cash has been dropping slowly the past few months as I've paid this off before the 0% promotion runs out, but next month its going to start building back up. Debt burning par-tay anyone?

On other financial news and notes, this past month I went and swapped my homeowner's insurance. The difference was amazing, the change saved me 50% with no change in coverage. They had been raising the rate the last few years, but I had enough this go-around. I guess they figure people don't want to change, so they up it whenever you renew. Ugh.

I have here a letter from Bank of America for one of my (many) credit cards. Apparently they felt that sending me all of these "offers" where they send "courtesy" checks wasn't enough. Now they sent a four page letter where they itemize every single offer previously sent, each listing the promotion codes, start and end dates, and APRs involved before and after the end dates. I guess my cutting up these checks and burning them wasn't good enough to indicate my feelings about them. Oh, and how many offers do they show? Try 17. Hey guys - here's a thought - if you're not making enough money on me, how about stop wasting your money on these mailings. No wonder these banks aren't making money - .

Oh, and lastly - yard sales are starting up. I didn't get much for me last weekend. A pair of sneakers that once I steam cleaned at home look like new was my main purchase at $2 - Amazon has them for $50. I did make a better score for the girlfriend. She asked about finding a reel mower a few weeks back. I found one used once (yes it was dusty and looks brand new) for $20 - Amazon price is $140 - so she's a happy camper now.

Enjoy the summer (once this cold front moves out of the area!)

After one year, its time to DRIP it.

April 6th, 2012 at 07:32 pm

On the way home tonight I realized its now been over a year using the Magicjack for my phone service, saving me a little over $200 for the past year on phone charges. The last time I made that type of an ongoing savings (dropping my unneeded trash pickup a number of years ago...) I decided I needed to start investing the saved money.

Now with the phone savings, I decided its time to add it to the trash pickup savings. Tonight I've changed my monthly DRIP amount to account for the phone savings. It will now be titled the Phone-Trash DRIP account (aka, the PTDRIP). With this extra money, it should start growing at a nice clip.

Also a few days ago I got to see my 457 plan amount cross the $200k barrier, though now its dropped down below it again. Frown

And finally, this is it - the month will be the last payment to wipe out the credit card balance that was used for the car purchase. When that's done, no more debts, unofficial or otherwise.

Now its time to go celebrate, or at least check out this week's yard sales.

Just who am I working for?

March 16th, 2012 at 08:24 pm

This might sound like a silly question, but it is what came to mind as I drove about one night a few weeks ago. Once you have your home paid for, as well as having a decent amount of retirement savings, (and assuming you're single) then - at least for me - the urgency of working just seems to go to the wayside.

Now I spend more time looking at what I am working on and thinking about how much sense this makes (or often *doesn't), instead of just doing the work. And often it feels like I am there for just the paycheck (which is true - well that plus the health insurance).

So far this year I have gotten a combination of statement credits, bonuses, and gift cards (from credit card sign ups, brokerage sign ups, and banking sign ups) of a little over $1,000. Add to that ebay profits of about $250 to this point. When I compare that to my recurring expenses (house gas, electric, water, phone, internet, food, car gas) of about $800 so far - my bonuses are paying for all my basic expenses. The ongoing expenses the bonuses haven't covered are insurance (car & home), property taxes. If I stopped working I could cut the car insurance down by 1/3, as well 1/3 of my current gas bill - saving maybe $100 / mo. The only thing the above doesn't cover is health insurance that is mostly paid by my employer. OK, it would be a spartan life (just living off freebie bonuses), and I'm not going to go that route, but I'm just saying it could be done. It makes 'ya wonder.

If I could get my insurance free or cheap.... then I would really have to start asking myself just why am I working. I don't know... I know I have expenses coming up (replace floor in house, cut down a tree or two, replace driveway, maybe even replace the furnace), but once those are paid... its going to be hard to justify to myself why I go to work some days. I think for now the structure of getting up every day, and working out at lunch time is something I need, but long term I may start questioning this rationale.

I still have $100 in unused gift certificates and $125 in unused CC statement credits, and at the rate I am buying things (about $0 outside of the grocery store) this could take a while to burn off.

*** Random thought ***

I got a CC statement from CITI (I've since stopped using it since I did enough for my latest $100 bonus) and on the payment coupon it has the credit card showing in the format "****-***-9999". It shows they are concious of security, right??? Well right above it on the coupon is a long line of numbers used to scan the coupon in by their computer - and in the middle is the complete CC number. They call this security???? I am not surprised they needed gov't money to stay afloat if this is their idea of security (what idiots). Oh well, I've already made $200 from them this winter, perhaps they'll be kind enough to send me another offer.

Sharebuilder rates a big "FAIL"

February 3rd, 2012 at 04:20 pm

After my very good and professional dealings with Scottrade I figured other stock trading companies would have similar (if not same) abilities and professional web sites. So when I went to setup a brokerage account, I decided to "play the field" and check out other companies, as it wouldn't make a big difference, right? Sheesh, have I found out wrong.

** Rant follows **

It all started a month ago when I signed up with Sharebuilder to take advantage of their sign up bonus. That worked like a charm, money went in, the web site showed the funds, and then showed the bonus money. Then I found out their "$4 trades" (originally a big selling point with me) are ... ummm... like what one poster said... "like a weekly blue light special available for a short time". Otherwise you pay more for your trade than you do with brokers that have manned offices. Not very impressive.

Next I find out they have bonus codes for free trades (of the cheapo variety). OK, I can live with that. I put in the codes, and sure enough, I get emails stating all of these free trades my account has accumulated (about a dozen). So what to do? Lets make a trade or two...

Or so I thought. I go onto the site, log in, and no where are the free trades listed. So thinking they show up automatically when you order, I go to setup a trade. When I get to the point where the final cost is listed, there is nothing about free trades, just their $10 charge. Here I cancel the order, and do some research. I look about the site more, and find absolutely nothing.

OK, well lets see... ok, there is a big help FAQ section. OK, nothing related to my issue (big shock there), but there is a place to write with your questions. So I write there, asking where I can determine my free trade balance, and... for good measure I copy along one of the emails from them indicating my account number along with the free trades I should have.

Today I get a email with a canned message cheerily directing me to the place to find this information listed. I was pretty sure I checked there, but I go again. Yep, they didn't bother to check, and there is still nothing showing right where they said it would show.

OK, so now I need to decide....

Either I go with company that has a web site that misses things, they only have canned help, and the trades are expensive

-- OR --

Start over with a company that has a site that has worked great with my Roth IRAs for years that shows up to the second balances, they have people (locally!) I can talk to for help (only happened twice), and less expensive trades.

I don't know... this could be a hard decision. (OK, maybe not :P) BTW, I should be able to get the money out no problem, so I'm not sweating this, but they have pretty much lost a customer with this fiasco.

Decluttering is good for the mind and pocketbook

January 30th, 2012 at 08:47 pm

So often I read how people want to declutter and how good it is to do that, and lord knows I'm no different. I shan't go into the details, other than to say that ebay and craigslist are my friends. Extra space and extra money to invest (or spend on hobbies), who can complain about that?

Anyway, I have decided to see how much I can "earn" this year from credit card (and savings account) sign up bonuses. The decluttering comes in as I need to start to kill off some unused credit cards so I have more "need" for credit. Once your credit lines grow large they start to stop giving you new cards (boooo). While I got a new credit card this week (as listed below) I was told I was nearing a limit on what they would give on the credit cards, so I need to start pruning back my collection.

In the past four months I have gotten 50,000 miles for signing up for a Southwest Airlines card (good for $500 in gift cards), $100 bonus from Capital One (arrived today in the mail), $100 balance credit from Citi (fullfilled that by buying Exxon gift cards that gave me bonus gift cards!), and now I just signed up for another Citi credit card with another $100 sign up bonus. Now if I can trim off some unused CCs (especially from Chase), maybe I can get another bonus or two in the next few months.

And locally I can get a $100 bonus for signing up for a checking account at a regional bank (hmmm... I see myself visiting the local branch this Saturday). Keep a $500 balance for 3 months - yeah I think I can do that.

OK, that gives me $900 in less than half a year, I need to see if I can keep it going.

I love it when a plan comes together

January 20th, 2012 at 04:34 pm

Getting freebies is nice. Saving money is great. Converting freebies into money by combining both techniques - priceless.

With that said, here's the plan.

Step 1) I was able to sign up for a credit card associated with an airlines rewards program that gave me 50,000 miles for making my first purchase. Well I have the card, made the purchase, and now have the miles. Most of the things you can buy with the program are terribly overpriced, but you can get gift cards. OK, I shop about as much as the pope swears, but if I cash out that way I can get $500 worth of gift cards, which seems like the best bang for the buck (or in this case - mile).

Step 2) I have signed up at work for the flexible spending account (FSA) for medical expenses for years now. Usually in the past I have spent as much as I saved in this program, usually less than $1,000, so no problem. Its a nice tax saver, to say the least. This past year I ended up with over $400 still to spend. (BTW, my work gives you a grace period through 3/15 the following year). So I have spent some of the $400 getting needed glasses (at WalMart), and so now I still need to spend almost $300. Hmmmm, what to do?

Step 3) Here's where 1+1=3. I would love to get cash, not gift cards from the rewards program (cash always beats gift cards). And for my FSA I need to spend money, probably on more glasses (it seems like the best way to burn off the remainder). And it dawns on me --- Combine these together! The rewards program allows cashing out in WalMart gift cards. I need to check, but I should be able to use gift cards to get my glasses. If so I (1) get the glasses, (2) submit the receipts to the FSA, and (3) get paid back in cash. Voila! I turn gift cards into coin of the realm.

Yes, I love it when a plan comes together.

Maximizing the season

December 22nd, 2011 at 06:49 pm

This year for the holidays it seems like all I can do is make money / figure out ways to save money. Its odd how this is working out. (ok, maybe bragging a bit)

A few weeks ago I decided to try and get rid of some of my excess hobby items (mostly electric trains). No sense in keeping them if I know I really don't want them, and in fact have better versions. So Craigslist here I come. In the past month I have sold: 4 HO (small) electric train sets, 2 Thomas Tank Engine lots, a large scale electric train, a large scale battery ran train, 5 books on Half.com, and a 40 year old football game(large). I brought in over $250 and probably made over $150 profit - and I cleared out space! On top of that money I won $45 in gift cards for Best Buy at work. I never go there, so this should be a new experience.

And now for something everyone can use.... I just bought $200 in Exxon/Mobil gift cards. Why??? If you do that by the end of this year and register them online, they will send you a $10 gift card for each $100 you buy. I'm already notified that they will be sending out my $20 GC soon. An effective 9% discount on gas never hurts.

However, I set it up better. I got a new credit card with the promotion of $100 back on your first $500 in purchases (if done in the first 3 months). I used this card to buy my $200 in gift cards. And now I will buy another $200 of the gift cards for me, but register them for my girl friend so she gets $20 in GCs, and after that I will only need to buy another $100. One or two utility bills on that credit card and I'm golden.

If I go back another month I see I sold my old car ($1000 thank you very much & save $300 on car insurance & now I can park my good car in my garage), and the warm weather of late has my utility bills coming in at about 1/2 of normal.

Finally a superior at work connected me with a local real estate agent / broker that is looking for someone that can upgrade his specialized software. We've talked and it sounds promising. It shouldn't take too long to do, but who knows, maybe I can make another $500+??? That would look good added to a dividend producing stock portfolio (ok, I need to start an account at a broker this year! I guess that's my resolution for the upcoming year.)

Life on the other side

December 8th, 2011 at 11:12 am

Once you hit the point of no mortgage payments life is so.... Oh I don't know.... relaxed. Oh I still have property taxes (boooo!), income taxes, and yes - I have yet to pay off a nice 2010 used car I bought this summer. Still, not sending out that big chunk of money every month still is so odd. Its like I work for me now, instead of others. What a concept!

This hit home when I left for a week's vacation to near DisneyWorld. Yes, I paid my mother to use her timeshare, but that was almost all of the expenses for the trip. There was gas (using gift cards I earned, the balance put on my credit card was about $100), food ($40 @ Aldi's in the Orlando area), eating out was nothing (used gift cards I got for free for Subway and Burger King), and the parks were free (excess tickets my mother had that she gave me and my girlfriend). And then when I returned home there were no bills, just a regular paycheck from work. I even had the power off for the week, so no expenses at all! Only bad part was returning to the office on Monday.

Yes, there will be expenses coming down the road (take down some trees, replace the driveway, replace the flooring in the house, and I'm sure there'll be more), but when you know you don't have to keep running on that hamster wheel you can live life in the moment so much easier - it's great.

Oh, and to make this a finance posting --- If you get to the point I am (no mortgage), seriously consider an umbrella insurance policy. I hate paying money for this but.... intellectually I know its a good idea, and for about $10/mo. its not going to kill me.

I'll take "Flash Crash" for 100 Alex

July 29th, 2011 at 04:35 pm

With all the uncertainty in the market, last week I decided it was the time to put some money in my Roth IRA for this year and see if I could get something on the cheap. Yeah, I know, the market could crater, but if it does it probably won't matter where my money is. And with the mortgage paid, its not like I will be thrown out on the street if I make a bad bet. So this Monday $2500 was put in.

In my efforts to be a more economical investor I have stopped using market orders, and instead have started using limit purchase orders, and Tuesday I put in two of them. One for an industrial company I heard good things about, and one for a REIT (Real Estate Investment Trust). 100 shares each, which took all but $20 of my free cash. For each I put in for a price I felt was really, really low, but plausable if the market had a major hissy fit.

Today I got home and found to my surprise one of the two executed today. Apparently there was a mini "flash crash" in the REIT market, and my selected stock just got low enough for one minute to execute my purchase order. Its back up to almost where it ended yesterday, so I got the stock at a 6% discount. And at this lower price my effective dividend rate is over 17% (assuming no decreases in dividends, which could happen of course). And long term, it could still go lower, so this euphoria may be short lived. Still... 17% return in a Roth with no tax hit, can you say Yahtzee?!!

I had a shock looking at my Roth acct. tonight

July 1st, 2011 at 07:46 pm

I decided to make a quick check of my ROTH IRA accounts for an end of the month checkup, and at first I didn't notice it because it was sooooo far off, it just didn't register. Finally I noticed my account was a few thousand off what it should be. One stock I owned had dropped dramatically (say 40%!) in one day, and I had no idea what happened. (BTW, it is MRO) At first I thought it was a glitch, but I quickly saw it wasn't. After some research I found out they spun off part of the business and I should be getting some stock of the new company. So far my account isn't showing the new stock, so I added in what I should get for the new company, and my overall account went up slightly.

Man, I just don't need shocks to my system like that.

Thats it, no more big expenses (I hope)

June 25th, 2011 at 06:35 pm

Whew, it feels like I broke the bank. I went out to buy a used car this weekend, went to a number of places, and finally settled on one (2010 Hyundai Accent). Another 0% credit card check was used to pay (mostly) for it. Sorta hurts to see the credit card debt increase, but now I know I have no more large purchases until next year (and maybe not even then!), and almost no monthly bills any more (just CC's and utilities).

Hmmm, lets see, if I add in the CD maturing in August, I will have more than enough to pay everything off by December. I have a paid for one week vacation for November set up already, another 2 week one ready to go in July, and I have $10,000 in CDs maturing next January.

Yard sales were good today as well. The visiting girl friend spent most of the money, but she is psyched about her purchases. And she was a big help in getting the car (Can anyone say good cop / bad cop in car negotiations???) Not sure if we got the best price we could, but if not it was pretty close. Man, I'm so glad that's over with! Now just 10 days until vacation starts.

Now its paid off (honest) & this and that.

June 18th, 2011 at 06:27 pm

I can go online now and see that as of Friday, the mortgage balance is now $0. For course they had to tack on some type of documentation fee of $65. Errrr, really??? Someone always has their hand grabbing for your money, don't they?

On my mystery medical bill, the doctor's billing person said it wasn't done right, and they will fix that, after I fax them the bill (which I did). Hmmmm, I suspect I'll have to contact them again - it never goes away that easy.

Today was nice weather, yet yard sales were sparse, to put it mildly. Is there a holiday I wasn't told about? I spent $2, yet I found a dollar bill near my car, so total outlay was $1. Yeah, I can afford that.

Went to the car dealership today, but they didn't have the cars they said they had in stock online. Almost felt like a bait & switch. Seriously, the lot out front looked half empty. I went to do a test drive on a used car, and as the saleman got the car to the side of the showroom for me to get in, another saleman comes out and says that car was just sold. WTF??!! Is this the new reality with car sales? BTW, this was a Hyundai dealership, so I'm not sure the Japanese problems should have any effect on them.

The $40 gas gift card arrived today. Unfortunately I needed gas yesterday (I was on fumes), so this will have to wait to be used for a week or two.

Oh well, if this is the worst of my complaints on life, I should be happy. Right?

Yard sale-ing was different this week

June 5th, 2011 at 09:24 am

... and not for what I found. This was the first time I had my girlfriend along, and she loves yard sale-ing like I do. I found very little for me (booo), but she found some nice items she had wanted, so that made up for me not getting very much. I did get a Pyrex cobalt blue pie plate and a Pyrex 1 quart measuring cup (all for $3). I had no idea measuring cups got that big.

After making me dinner, my girlfriend said how great that measuring/mixing cup was. She could measure and then mix in the same bowl. Very convenient.

On the finance front, I just got my first paycheck after (almost) paying off my mortgage. Its cool looking at the checking balance, and not wondering if I will have enough for my next payment. Of course now my retirement accounts dropped more than my paycheck - I guess I need to realize its just a temporary pullback.

Well, its done (sorta)

June 1st, 2011 at 07:40 pm

Well the mortgage has hit the dust (more or less). I left a few hundred in to pay this coming month, so I would have time to contact the credit union and get from them the list of what paperwork I should be able to expect from them, and to know if I need to go there in person to get anything. I figure that late payment will cost me less than $2, so I can live with that.

What to do with the excess funds? Next month (July) I have the half year property taxes due, which if they are similar to last year... will be about $1,500. But I get 3 paydays in July, so that should make up for that expense.

And other news...

Markets look to be going haywire today. Shame I don't have a ton of money to put into a Roth IRA today, although I guess it would be a day until the funds cleared, and who knows, the market may go flying back up tomorrow.

Looks like summer has finally hit in the past week. I've been feeling drained most days by the afternoon, I guess my body hasn't gotten used to the hotter temps yet.

And lastly I changed the contributions to my 457 plan. Since they now have the option to have a Roth 457, I have split my contributions 2/3 traditional, 1/3 Roth. I want to see how much of a tax hit that causes, then I will adjust until I hit a comfortable split between the two. I figure I'll probably do a 50/50 split when its all said and done, but for now this is an initial test.

My mortgage rate just hit 0%

May 10th, 2011 at 01:03 pm

And nope, that's not a typo. I just got a 0% rate, $0 transfer fee offer in the mail from one of my credit cards. In fact I don't even have to transfer the money from another card, they sent me checks I can write to myself. Hmmmm, lets see... they are limiting it to $7,000, I have a mortgage balance of $8,850... you know, I think I can do this. In fact I *KNOW* I can do this.

The offer says I have to pay it back by April 2012, I have over $10,000 in CDs maturing between now and then, soooo.... pay off the mortgage this month, pay maybe $800 per month on the credit card until the CDs mature and then pay the balance at that time. Yep, that sounds like a plan.

Woohoo, more ways to save money. YESssss, I like it.

Medical mysteries & garage doors

April 30th, 2011 at 04:20 pm

Sorry, the two subject items are not related (certainly would be interesting if they were).

I may as well start with the mystery. Its not medical, in that I am not sick, but the more common one now a days. That is: What the F*** is this bill I got from a hospital I never went to? Seriously, what is someone to think when they get a bill from a hospital they didn't go to, for a service that comes under the name of "Pathol/Hystol"? Actually, I have an idea what this is about, though it really is a surprise. On the "day of service", I had a cyst removed at a doctor's office about 30 miles away from the hospital. Could this be some test of what was removed? Perhaps, but the doctor didn't tell me that was going to be done, they never informed me of any results from this mystery test, and the hospital never informed me of any results of this mystery test. I won't get into my opinion of having these mystery providers bill you seperately instead of through who you went to see in the first place. I have a number to call if I have questions (and I *WILL* be calling).

Assuming what I am guessing above is correct, would I be out of line to insist getting a copy of the results otherwise not paying? This is why I want to stay in the best shape possible - crazy F bills appearing out of nowhere for who the F*** knows what. GRRRRrrrr.

I can afford it, but thats not the point. Are people supposed to pay every crazy bill that appears when there is no explanation for the bill? Sorry, but my brain doesn't work like that.

=====================================================

As for the garage door, I can't open it right now. I don't know about you, but I see that as a bit of a problem. (Thankfully my car was outside the garage when this happened) My door has these extra large springs to give an assist when opening - well one broke this week. It was probably the 1960 issue door spring that came with the door. The door is solid wood and super heavy. Oh boy. I know they sell replacements (I should go tonight and get it), but raising and keeping the door up by myself is going to be a challenge (I know - I had to repair the pulley system 2 years ago)

=====================================================

Another house payment is in the books. Now the total in my savings (not CDs, just savings and checking) is a match to my mortgage balance. I would pay it off, but I have car insurance payment this month, then a property tax payment in July, so its better if I keep some money liquid for a few more months. Still, its crazy to my mind when I compare my savings to my mortgage. Its like there is a mistake, it can't be right.

=====================================================

Participated at a local church / community yard sale today. It was very disappointing - I probably brought in $60 for the day. I've done better doing it in my own driveway, and the prep work was much less. At least it was a wonderful day weather wise.

=====================================================

And last (and in no way least) my relationship is still going great (ergo the change in my personal info). There have been a few rough spots, but each time we seem to work it out and make things even better. This is the part that is truly encouraging. The communication has been great, both of us have been trying to not let anything slide, but instead we let each other know what we're thinking about absolutely anything. That was something I never could get out of my ex, and it is really refreshing. We don't always agree, but we make sure to resolve it by communicating.

Hmmmm, I should go get that garage spring (and use my coupons that expire today at the grocery store). OK, gotta go!

Life is getting so much better

April 12th, 2011 at 06:44 pm

I never knew it was so hard to blog when things were going well. Nothing to complain about, no struggles, I kinda like this. Having nothing to struggle with makes any post boring. Sorry.

With that said, what has happened in the past month?

I have scheduled another large mortgage payment for the end of April. After this one my balance will dive under $10,000, and my savings after that payment will be a close match. It'll be so weird without that taking a huge chunk of my earnings every month.

Yard sales have finally started. Last Saturday I was going to go buy a lawn mower after my rounds, instead I found a nice walk-behind mower. A couple of years old, it was a bit of a mess when I got it home. I needed to tighten all the bolts holding the wheels (they were wobbling awful) and the handle was at a height for someone under 5 ft. tall (really, what was the deal with that?). Once I figured out that reinstalling the handle backwards would fix this, it was a 5 minute fix. Self propelled craftsman model (not that I care), runs nice, all for $30. Nice score.

I got another $5 gift card (for Burger King) from the local phone company. All I had to do was call and listen to them for 5 minutes. I love easy free money.

Two of my stocks in my Roth IRA had huge jumps (~40% each) this past month after earnings were reported. Super cool! Of course the others are basically flat (but nice dividends!), at least overall they're going up.

And my biggest (and nicest) shock is I reconnected with an old flame from college, and we've gone from just talking to a relationship that is way better now than it was then. I'm trying to keep my expectations in check, but this had made me believe in life again.

And not that this is my ultimate goal, but I've increased my daily workouts and I'm down to "fighting weight", if you will. Basically a match to what I weighed in HS, only now there is lots more muscle. I don't cringe when I look in the mirror any more.

Life ain't perfect I suppose, but it almost feels that way right now. I really have nothing to complain about (ok, I need a new car, but I can survive my current one for a little while longer). And spring is here.

Life is good.

Really? 8%? Who knew?

March 24th, 2011 at 06:20 pm

I was checking the retirement account website tonight (yeah, I probably go there too much), and I saw something that caught my attention. With all the "sturm und drang" in the financial markets the past three years, all the talking heads have said forget about 8% returns in the markets, that the with the new normal we would be lucky to get 6%. So what do I see for what they have computed for my "return since inception" (2003 in my case)? 7.75%

The majority of my deposits have been in the past 4 years too (basically during all the chaos). Not sure what this means, if anything. I'm a good and steady investor? I was smart enough not to bail when the market tanked? I lucked out on the right funds? I'm just average? Hard to say. Even at this rate I won't get rich, but with a pension and SSI, I think I will survive just fine. Anyway, I thought this was an interesting counterpoint to all the market gloom on the news the past years.


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