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Halfway point for 2014 - how am I doing so far?

July 7th, 2014 at 08:51 pm

Just a financial update here for the half year mark....

After backing out contributions so far this year, my retirement accounts have gone up ~$34,600. If you add in my contributions, they would be up ~$57,500. Add in increases in savings accounts and brokerage, and I will be near ~$62k. Even with this sorta flat year in the market, this is great considering I have taken home only around $14,000. With all this talk about a bubble occurring, it makes me wonder if this increase is just funny money, or the real deal. Hopefully I will be able to keep it long term. We'll just have to wait and see.

Keep on investing...

A weeklong vacation for $0???

June 23rd, 2014 at 01:58 pm

This fall the SG-GF (Single Guy Girlfriend) and I are going on our yearly weeklong vacation to Florida. After this spring/summer of working on my mother's roof, my mother is going to let me use the timeshare for free this year (and hopefully some future years - yet to be negotiated!). As the SG-GF has started with the credit card signup bonuses (following my lead), she proposed an interesting idea to me this weekend.

Her idea is this... Since we have the timeshare to use this year, perhaps we can make this a weeklong vacation costing $0. At first I thought this was a nice idea to cut down our expenses on the trip, but I am now thinking this might be a possibility. Here is what I see as our expenses and how we could cover each for free.

* Lodging: Already covered above.

* Amusement parks: SG-GF pointed out we could sign up for Disney branded CCs that would give bonuses to use at Disney parks. I'm not sure how much this would cover, but it could cover a majority of that expense. I still need to research this.

* Transportation: We're driving, and the SG-GF is a big Swagbucks user. She thinks we can cover the cost of gas with gas branded gift cards we can get from there. I don't remember the prior years' exact costs, but $200-$300 seemed to cover our gas purchases, and I know she can get lots of gas cards, so this may be doable as well.

* Food: I have some restaurant gift cards from prior CC sign ups, so those should cover any eating out while we are there.

* Miscellaneous: I know we can get money from the time share by going through one of their sales presentations. I'm thinking it was $50, but I may be wrong there. In any case, it should cover a lot of our random expenses.

Hmmmm... could we make this work? I am thinking it could happen. If nothing else I will have to track our expenses closely this year and see just how well it works out. Free vacations... I like it Big Grin.

Is it 3/4 full or 3/4 empty?

May 2nd, 2014 at 09:49 pm

After spending the past week barely in the office (6 hrs in one day and another day teleworking) due to a bad flu (for a while I thought they might have to put me down), today is pay day. Nothing too special there, but it gets you to think. I would like to retire early, and I certainly haven't changed that attitude, but being out sick, moping about the house, and just feeling like you could die at times.... and yet now I am getting better and know I will get paid for these days just like if I had gone in to work. It makes me appreciate having that office just a (little) more then I did a week ago. So that office job, is it a 3/4 full or 3/4 empty situation? Hopefully it can stay on the 3/4 full side.

PS: My apologies for those that don't get paid sick leave at your jobs - I know that sucks big time. BT-DT.

Saving money can be painful

April 21st, 2014 at 01:54 pm

Last summer my mother looked into getting her roof replaced. Her home is only one story high, and the roof is relatively flat, yet the estimates came in from $13,000 to $18,000 (!). And this wasn't for new plywood or even new roofing felt, just putting new shingles on. I told her that amount was crazy as while the roof is large, its very safe and easy to get up on. So I offered to do the work, if she helped as she could.

So last fall the shingles were delivered and put onto her roof (lifted with a boom, and I placed them on the roof).

Jump ahead to this spring and I have spent two of the last three weekends working on her roof. Ugh. While its easy to get up and stay up, that is still a ton of work. Well, with her help we are about 40% completed, and the parts we did were the harder sections. The rest should be more straightforward (thankfully). Of course my body is all sore and will take a few days to recover, but at least my exercising is coming in handy.

Who knew saving money could be so painful?

I'm a Half-a-Millionaire!

April 1st, 2014 at 02:25 pm

Just like the famous Horace Vandergelder, today after adding up all my investments, retirement plans, savings, bonds, etc.., (and not including house, car, other physical items) I'm now a "Half-a-Millionaire", at least for a day!. (Ok, for those that are wondering of what I speak... look up Hello Dolly!)

My look at my retirement accounts is encouraging. According to what I read, the various indicies went up 0.5% - 2% for the first quarter of this year. After backing out my contributions to date, my 457 plan went up 3.9%, and my Roth IRA went up 4.7%. As before, am I lucky or smart? Hmmmmmmm.

Expenses are doing well, I just got paid for an other ebay sale (phone bought for $0.50, sold for $23, will probably net $20). I have interest in a classic coffee mug I bought for $1 on Saturday, and am looking to sell for $15, so hopefully that will sell too. Now I just need to list more items for sale, lord knows I have enough.

And after a rediculous cold winter, has spring finally arrived? I sure hope so, I am certainly primed to get out to yard sales. And to plant items in the garden. I have lots of plants growing inside just ready and raring to get outside and get lots of sun.

Things are good (until I try to do my taxes this coming weekend!!!)

When the debts are gone, what do you use to keep yourself pushing forward?

February 20th, 2014 at 09:51 pm

The title is probably a question most people wish they had, but as I was looking at my latest paycheck, I realized I don't have the pleasure I once did when it came to seeing each paycheck, taking the numbers and entering them into my custom spreadsheet, and watching myself come closer to, and then passing, each goal.

I don't remember each one, but here are some I worked towards, and kept me motivated to keep coming into work.

* Get to where more of my mortgage payment went to principal instead of to interest
* Build up $20,000 in CDs (that was good only when CD gave you real money)
* Have more in my retirement accounts & savings than all my debts (mortgage / car / whatever)
* Have more in my retirement accounts than my mortgage
* Have more in my savings than my mortgage balance (I sense a trend here)
* Have all my debts paid off
* Have more than $400k in my retirement accounts (That was for late 2015 and I already passed it!)
* Have more in all my savings and liquid accounts (brokerage / DRIPs / etc...) than my yearly take home amount (I realized today I was past that as well)

Now I am at the point of "now what?". Any financial goal I make now really is long term. Dividends come to mind. Watching my dividends grow is soooo slow (It takes $10,000 to add just $400 to a yearly dividend amount - assuming 4% dividend which isn't likely). So using dividends as a short term goal isn't the best.

So I don't know. Not complaining (how can I?), but I don't want to be doing the same thing "just because". Intellectionally I know this is probably the best thing to keep going forward at the job for now (and probably until I can retire with a pension).

But still having something short term to work on knocking out would be a help. Do I want to make it "I want to have more than two years of take home pay"? That seems sort of arbitrary. "Have enough to buy XYZ car"? Well... I'm not a car guy, so that's no incentive. "Have enough for a cross country trip"? While that sounds interesting, that's a nebulous amount, and anyway I doubt neither I nor my girlfriend can take enough time off to make that happen. So for those that have gotten past the owing money point, what short term goals do you use, if any?

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Just some run-on items for the year to date:
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On non-financial areas so far this year:
* I have been able to easily take time off to take care of my girlfriend during medical issues
* My car is running well
* I'm keeping up with my daily exercises.
* I had physical exams so far this year for people over 50 and everything came out great (you can fill in the blanks there!).
* We even spent a couple of days in Florida in January having a good time.

In other financial areas I have:
* Sold on ebay over $150 this year. Half of the sales were hers, mine probably gave me a profit of $50 after expenses.
* Another $20 of Half.com sales, and $50 of sales on Craigslist. So I'm getting items out of here I don't need (though there is plenty more of that).
* Shoot, I even upgraded some of my clothes for cheap already this year (great estate sale three weeks ago).
* And we've been getting great things for extra cheap at Goodwill outlet stores this year. (and already resold some)

A new year, but the same old

January 14th, 2014 at 04:09 pm

The first paycheck has come and gone (so to speak), and here I am back in the time of year where much more of my paycheck is going to the retirement accounts than to my wallet, so to speak. 40% of my gross earnings are going to the 457 plan (1/2 Roth, 1/2 pre-tax), 5% to my pension plan, and after taxes / insurance I get to take home only 32% of my pay. Sigh. Oh well... its good for me, right? Its not like I am short of money or anything.

I've already put in the limit for my Roth IRA for 2014 ($6,500), and I put in for three limit orders to spend that money. One has struck so far, we'll see if the market forces these other companies down to my price.

Already got the $100 CC bonus from a card I signed up for last year, now I'm finishing up the Discover spending for that bonus, then its onto the Chase/Amtrak CC and its bonus.

And life goes on (but a good life, right?).

A fast 2013 financial review

January 1st, 2014 at 04:02 pm

Time for a quickie review of my finances at the end of 2013. This was another crazy year when it came to investments as the market is going crazy up of late. You have to wonder if it can even hold its own for the coming years. Hmmmm.... I'm not worried, at least not yet (though more than this time last year). Anywho... here are some numbers that I quickly put together this morning...

Retirement (457) / Roth IRA / Brokerage / DRIPS total: ~$445,000 (an increase of $128,000 from the end of 2012)

Other savings (CDs / checking / savings / saving bonds) Total: ~$34,000 (an increase of $15,000)

Gadzooks, that is crazy, the increase ($143k) is much more than my salary, way more than I spend in a year (now without a mortgage try 4-5 years!) And my pension is looking better too. Not much to say other than here's to a good 2014.

Pre-Christmas treasure finds for $0

December 27th, 2013 at 09:50 pm

For my Christmas visit with the GF we stopped at a local Goodwill outlet just to pass a little time. In the past we have found some interesting things, but this time... really nice stuff for real cheap.

I ended up with up some nice Corelle dishes, some hobby items for me (2 toy trains - pretty much complete), some electronic cabling (USB cabling and some cables for the LCD TV I inherited). While I waited for her to finish, I searched the books and got a few I thought might be sellable.

Instead of waiting until I got back home I quickly listed two of them online that night (half.com). Next morning I got up and checked my email, and here one book already sold for more than I paid for everything from the thrift store.

Dang I love it when I can get something I like (my hobbies), and have it all paid for. If only everything in life worked that well.

Getting paid to be entertained for the evening - Priceless

December 2nd, 2013 at 03:34 am

After dropping off my son at the airport Black Friday morning, and waiting 3 hours for my girl friend to pick me up (long story, but not her fault), we went to Baltimore for a museum visit. That was a great time (thanks to my GF!), on the way back she describes to me her time at the mall trying to buy the latest phones for her kids for Christmas. But one item caught my attention, the mall has a casino right next to it. Now I never to go a casino. That is a wonderful way to lose money.

She tells me that the employee where she bought the phones said that there was an offer where you could take your receipts to the casino and get "free money" to play the slots. Intrigued, I asked if she was interested in going there to find out more about it, since it would be a long time before we came back that way. On a whim, we decide to try it. Oh, what an adventure.

The mall parking was insane, but the casino had a 7 level parking garage. After about 15 minutes in mall traffic we were parked on the top level. Once we found our way to the casino entrance, we got in and asked where to go for the offer. After she signed up, we got $50(!) in slot play money.

This was new to us. Apparently we got something like a credit card that we could slip into a slot machine. Well this place had 100's, if not over a thousand, slot machines. After wandering around dazed at the lights and noise, we sat down at a slot machine and spent 5 minutes trying to figure out how to use it (yep, we were clueless at first). Finally figuring it out, we made a few plays and "won" some money, maybe $2 worth. However the machine would just add your winnings to your balance on the machine. This was confusing to us, and at this point we didn't know what to do, so we decided to go to another machine. We found that the machine would return the un-played free slot money to your card, but not your winnings. That money you had to "cash out". Cashing out would give you a winnings voucher.

I quickly realized what the machines were setup to do. By not showing your winnings total, most people would keep playing until all the money was spent, including your winnings. The trick was to play only as much as you pulled off of your card onto the machine, but no more. At that point you should do a "cash out" to get the winnings, and roll any un-played free slot money back onto the card and go to the next machine.

We then went from machine to machine, playing $5 worth of spins at each machine, cashing out, then moving on. At the end of our free slot money we stopped and went to the cashier to get our winnings. We ended up with just over $25. So we got about 2 hours of "adventure" and ended up with $25 for the effort. Priceless Big Grin

Freebees at just the right time - priceless

November 19th, 2013 at 12:21 am

Previously I had XM radio in my car, at their lowest rate for 6 months, usually to coincide with long trips (FL & relatives). This year, since we were using my girlfriend's car for the FL trip, I skipped on the XM radio. I can get decent channels near where I live.

Last Friday I received a letter from them saying they were setting me up for 2 weeks free starting this Wednesday. Just so happens I am travelling all next week to relatives, so this is perrrrrrrfect Smile. About the only time I would want to have it all year, and they're giving it to me for free right then.

I love it when things work like that. Big Grin

Back from the yearly road trip

November 15th, 2013 at 09:46 pm

Well the trip to FL ended this past Monday (literally, I finished driving at 3:00 AM Monday) and we survived (physically and mentally). The total for me and the SG girlfriend was probably $1,800 ($730 for the timeshare, $490 for 3 day disney tickets, ~$300 for gas, and well... a little here and a little there). We survived some near misses (people trying to play dodge'em with our car, a gated community's gate that swung towards our car, not to the sides {yikes, put it in reverse now!}, the 3 egrets that tried walking in through the open door in our time share, almost getting lost in Tampa). My girlfriend showed her new found courage to go on some "scary" rides. OK, not so scary to me, but I know she was considering turning back more than once. Her fortitude was really appreciated - it helped to make a great time in Florida.

We also did our (or mine anyway) first timeshare presentation (at the location we were staying). I think our presentation was the shortest of any in our group (maybe 20 groups). We didn't lie to the guys (there was first guy, and then the "closer"), but I think they thought we were a little nuts. OK, that may be true, but hey, if it works, go with it. Right? That got us about $65 off our tickets for a little over an hour of time (plus we got some nice OJ and coffee). Not sure if we could have done better elsewhere (probably), but this is supposed to be low pressure, so it was probably just as well we went there. I forget the exact numbers (they wouldn't let us take the numbers with us), but I think they started at $30,000, then $12,000, and finally a reduced value package for $5,000. Since its not a real "time share" any more, but some convoluted point system, they can offer all levels of packages. Basically looks like pre-paying your vacations, though more flexible (in some ways!) than with old style time share systems. And I think I realized what is going on. Using a point system, they can over-sell facilities, knowing that not everyone will use their points, or will only buy when prices are high. Its like planes where they over book. An easy way to make even more money. Gawd, if that ain't easy money for them, I don't know what is.

On the trip I used my gas gift card, along with a Subway gift card she had. That helped with the expenses. And today I get my two-week paycheck, more than enough for the whole trip plus more. Yep, it was a good trip.

On the road again...

November 1st, 2013 at 02:39 pm

... can't wait to get back on the road again... Yes, it has arrived, the last day before I head off on a week long vacation. And its a good day in other ways. I got my super-sized paycheck today (instead of a raise, we are getting a 1% bonus, all of it paid today), I sent off two ebay sales this morning, and I have four more to get sent out. Thankfully they aren't big, I can easily take them with me if they don't pay tonight. I probably made $100 on this week's sales (the best is a lot of toy cars I paid $2 for and I am getting $40 for Smile).

The gas gift card arrived yesterday. Perfect timing. It's only good for one brand of gas, but still... we'll just check prices each time we stop, and if the prices are the same we'll use the gift card. Otherwise we'll go to the cheaper gas and put the purchase on my new credit card so I buy enough to get my latest CC reward ($200) Big Grin.

I also have another $5 gift card ready to give my girl friend. So that's good.

I'm leaving with my fridge stocked up with apples and pears. They both seem to last a long time, so a week away shouldn't make a difference to them. The yard is a mess with leaves, but that can't be helped at this time of year.

And finally everything from work is working smoothly today. No stress, just some boredom until I leave. Yep, can't wait to get back on the road again.

Freebee golf

October 29th, 2013 at 02:02 pm

Ok, freebees, but no golf (unless we do frisbee or minature golf!). In the week before heading off to golf courses and amusement parks (no, not California, but Florida) for a week of relaxation, I was able to get some more freebees at CVS.

This week I got in a single purchase the following: bottle of laundry detergent, 1 liter mouthwash, bottle dish detergent, and a "Pro-Health" toothpaste - all for $1.39. I needed to use some coupons before they expired, and ended up with as many "extra bucks" as when I started. Free cleaning materials => always good. By now I am stocked for more than a year on all these items, maybe many more years!

Yesterday I got my first check for mystery shopper work in many years. In September I did one for Salvation Army Thrift stores, and for an hour or two of work I got $15 + reimbursement for items I bought and got to keep (some nice dishes and glasses).

Finally, my retirement 457 plan went over $300k this month. Geeze, it seems like not that long ago I was thrilled it went over $100k, while owing only $50k on my mortgage (it was probably 2008). Now I have triple that and a paid off house - I luv it.

Why did I delay?

October 24th, 2013 at 07:01 pm

I was discussing two weeks ago with the SG girlfriend about my credit card bonuses, and mentioned that I had earned one I that I did the required purchases, but never redeemed because the bank's web site made it hard to register online (and I had already closed the bank account, but kept the credit card). She looked surprised that I would let something like this go, as that wasn't how I would normally do it.

Well, on Monday I got a letter from the bank promoting the benefits of using the card, and that finally got me off of my duff to take care of it yesterday. About 10 minutes of online work, and now I should be getting a $100 gas gift card in the mail. Hopefully it will arrive before my departure date for our Florida trip as it would be nice to keep the expenses down further. If not, we'll live; the gift card can always be used locally as well.

Sometimes you need someone else to give you that push to get things done. Geeze, 10 minutes to get $100, why did I delay?

Warning and a Teachable Moment

October 8th, 2013 at 07:28 pm

I love to talk about how well things are going financially (OK brag) but this is a half rant / half warning for those that read this. (You have been warned)

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When you save money you are of course working towards having the money available for your needs (and wants). Optimally however you will have money that not only gives you everything you reasonably want over your lifetime, but beyond that the money can give your descendants (or whomever you designate) money that can help them pay bills, have a down payment on a house, get a reliable car, or just whatever makes sense. If the money goes to someone else, it can be to appreciate what all they did in life, or help an organization that does things you believe in. The point is, it is common in our society to allow you, in fact I would say it is a given, that as the person owning the money you get to decide what will happen with your money (and other items as well) when you pass away. Yes, if your estate is large enough, the government will stick its hand in for a share, but otherwise you are free to distribute as you see fit.

Unfortunately, there are those that feel that the deceased's wishes can be ignored, and often can get away with it. A few years ago in dealing with my father's estate I came up against this first hand. An object from his items, that was specifically indicated as to go to me, was all of a sudden said that it would stay with his wife because she "needed" it. Yes, she could use it, just as much as I could have used it. It wasn't worth a lot, probably would cost ~$600 to get new which I could afford, but that wasn't the point. Everyone there knew, and said as such, that my father said it was for me. But her answer was that "I'll give it to you when I die." Yeah sure. Perhaps today I would have fought it, but at that point I was disgusted and just wanted to get away from her and that place, as that was the best for my mental health. Lets just say I didn't like the way she treated him for some time, and that was the push I needed to never ever want to go back there.

A week ago similar issues started with my girlfriend. This time the estate of her mother was being split, which went as well as could be expected, given 5 daughters, with the multitude of dislikes between various sisters. Then the final split was to be done, where the instructions given were that the remaining liquid funds should be split equally between all grandchildren (The exact words I think were "All remaining cash is to be distributed in equal shares to all grandchildren", but it may have been slightly different). With all previous disbursements of IRAs and stock investments, the executor was very deliberate and checked with the sisters before finalizing the various distributions. This time however no check was done with the sisters, but a brusque email indicating that the final liquid dollar amount ($X) would be destributed among the grandchildren (#Y) but that however each grandchild would not be receiving $X/Y (call it $Z). Instead she has decreed that since her mother indicated that the grandchildren will get the same money, but since two grandchildren got a life insurance policy benefit of $5,000 (basically a investment that was made 15 years ago with the grandmother paying for it over 12 months), she would only give ($Z-$5,000) to those two grandchildren (my girlfriend's children), and take that money and give it to the other grandchildren. When we pointed out the mistake she made (the life insurance was not part of the estate), she indicated that she "knew" what her mother wanted, and that my girlfriend should shut up otherwise she would stop payment on the check she did send. I won't go into it further, but the explanations have been contradictory, illogical, and when she was backed up by another sister (lets just say the one that really doesn't like my girlfriend) that sister's story was implausable for a number of reasons. My disgust with their behavior was palpable and I wrote to let them know just what they did wrong and how I felt about it - which of course was dismissed out of hand (which I am sure didn't help, but really do you even want people around you that will steal from children in the family?).

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To wit, this, which I could easily rant about more, is a warning and teachable moment.

Teachable in that this whole escapade has been shown to her children how people can behave. It shows that people that can say they care about them, and then turn around and treat them as second class family members (and that's being generous here). And then behave like they are the victim at that.

And this is a warning to everyone that reads this. If you have wishes for your money, you need to be very, very explicit about how it is to be executed. More so, if you have any sizable amount of money (I would guess over $50,000). If you want it done right, pay for a lawyer, or make sure the person in charge has impeccable ethics. An executor is given very wide latitude in their actions, and can easily use the opportunity to enrich themselves, or just to curry favor with those they feel the closest to. Lawyers will follow the instructions, so you know what will be done, no doubting will be needed.

The Never Ending Soap Bar

September 30th, 2013 at 07:19 pm

Using small savings adds up over time. I believe I previously commented that I had enough soap to last me until I retired. Well... for over the past year I have done even better as my cleaning supplies have actually increased for no cost at all.

Due to gifts of excess soap stocks from my girlfriend (saved from work related travel stays), as well as free soap I get at yard sales (I even picked up 4 Big Grin bars for free at an estate sale on Saturday) my collection of soap and shampoo has actually increased in the past 15 months. And even my dish detergent supplies have increased, as I have been able to get deals from stores like CVS where I got this past week (using coupons and other deals) the following for $2 (2 bags of snickers, large bottle of dish detergent, bag of honey pretzels - my favorite pretzels, and 2 bottles of skin lotion). And then I went back with more coupons on Sunday night and picked up a bottle of clothes detergent, 2 more bottles of dish detergent (as well as a can of shaving cream and a bottle of mouthwash) for only $0.63. This doesn't save much in a week, but over time it really starts to add up.

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On other financial news...

My trash savings (I recycle and compost most everything) have been plowed into a DRIP for the past 6 years - its now over $3,000 and growing. The latest dividend was over $22 and it grows about $1 / quarter.

My yearly trip to Florida is paid for ... well that is other than the gas to get there, and the tickets for the parks while we are there. It will also be nice to leave and come back to a paycheck awaiting me. Smile

On day to day finances I'm not sure what to say. Everything is on autopilot right now. I made two apple pies this week - given the free apples I have, the rest of the ingredients cost maybe $1. My monthly food comes in around $100 - maybe $125 if I am honest (too many pizzas!).

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Interesting Note....

Looking back 3 years, my salary less taxes and deductions (insurance & pension basically) I estimate at around $225k. Now in those same three years my net worth excluding the house went up near $200k. But if you include the house, where I paid off the last $26k on my house, that would total around $225k, the same as what I obtained to cover living expenses and savings. And this includes a time where I bought my low mileage used car, had vacation trips to Florida each year, travelled lots to be with (and do things with) my girlfriend, and had other experiences (that I am not itemizing here!). So I am very, very pleased, even with a job with no raises, life is working out oh so well. Smile Smile Smile

The yearly slog comes to an end

August 15th, 2013 at 08:39 pm

Yes, the slog of putting money in my work 457 retirement plan is finally coming to an end for this year. My next paycheck is the last with retirement deductions - I will be hitting the $23,000 max I can contribute this year. Woohoo.... 4 months (Sep - Dec) with no retirement deductions, no mortgage and no expenses (almost!). I won't know how to react to all this extra money showing up in my paycheck! (I'll figure out something!)

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Some other financial news & notes (year to date updates mostly):
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In my retirement accounts I am up $80,000 year to date. I have put in ~ $26,000, so the remaining $54,000 is the current increase in value (of course I think it lost $1,500 today alone!!!)

This year my electric has totalled $240 for 7 months (less than $35/mo). However, my electric co. stock dividends are currently about $105/ qtr, or $35/mo. - Hey they match! Big Grin Of course I pay taxes on the dividends, but still that's great for this point in the year.

My CC rewards have only added up to about $700 this year so far - maybe I can pick it up later?

As for dividends... For the first 6 months, the Roth IRA had $860, the DRIPs returned $350, and the brokerage has had a single quarterly dividend of $73. Take those together out to a full year, and you have about $2600. Not enough to retire on yet, but its about $900 more than last year, so I'm happy about it.

I made maybe $400 profit from online sales so far this year, which is pretty pitiful, but that has slowed as I have other things ongoing in my life taking up my time. Hopefully I can pick up the pace - I currently have a dozen items for sale, 3 with bids ($120 there)

Finally I earned about $40 in Amazon gift cards (gave those to my great GF)

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Some fun holidays and larger paychecks for the remainder of the year. Yeehaw!

The BH Death Star strikes again

June 27th, 2013 at 07:37 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 3rd, 2013 at 02:08 am

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.

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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 07:42 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.

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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 4th, 2013 at 12:40 am

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 25th, 2013 at 12:02 am

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 10th, 2013 at 03:57 am

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 09:29 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 14th, 2012 at 02:46 am

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!

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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.

New math to the rescue?

August 4th, 2012 at 11:34 pm

I was out at the yard sales this morning, and they were few and far between for the second weekend in a row. What's up with that? Is there something going on I don't know about? I found things at only one sale on my normal route, and only for $.50, so as I ended my normal loop very early I decided to go onward.

On the way to a flea market I heard about for the first time, I stopped at an "estate sale". I put that in quotes as while they were selling most everything in the house, the people selling it didn't strike me as the professional type. Not bad pricing, just not very organized to say the least.

As I'm going through the place I hear that everything is now 1/2 off the marked prices. My guess was this was a one day sale and they were basing this discount on the time of day(?).

After hearing this, I decide to get a few things I had passed previously. One was old pyrex custard cups. They were marked as 2 for $1 and I decided to get 4 of them. As I go to pay the woman at the table looks at the price on the cups and says "hmmm... 2 for a dollar. Ok, half price would be 4 for $.50" I didn't say anything, but in my mind I went "Huh?".

I wasn't major extra money saved, but still... can't people do basic math anymore?

Long term goal has been met -

August 1st, 2012 at 12:43 am

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 05:10 pm

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 18th, 2012 at 02:05 am

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).


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