Long time … No write …
With all due respect to Robert Heinlein (from where this title came from) I felt like a stranger in a strange land during my visit last week to nearby shopping mall.
Last week I ended up going to a local shopping mall. How often do I go to any shopping mall. Maybe once or twice a year any more. Now I am not one of those that shops online or on TV, I'm lucky if I spend a few hundred a year any more, but I just have no need to go to the mall.
Now why did I go there? Well I had a ticket for a free movie at the attached theaters, and I had over an hour to burn, so walking I went. And as I looked around it seemed like 50% of the stores were clothes (mostly women's), 20% shoes, 10% department stores, and the rest some type of specialty store or personal service (massage anyone?). And everyone looked so excited to be there (little kids that wanted nothing to do with it being the exception). But for me it was just boring. There was just nothing I wanted and the stores mostly looked alike. At least the Disney Store was interesting, but only for maybe 10 minutes of browsing.
I dunno, have I just gotten to the age shopping has no appeal? Is it I have everything I want, and by not watching TV (and not even getting magazines now) I don't get mesmerized into wanting more and more? Is this just the new "thing" and it will pass?
I admit I feel happier this way, but walking in those crowds I just feel like I can't even understand what I am seeing any more. I guess I'll just stay in my bubble for now....
Long time … No write …
No this isn't about winning a free vacation (I wish), nor a relative taking us there, and it *is* about saving money, so bear with me for a bit...
Since the beginning of the decade me and the SG-GF have been taking vacations to Florida in November due to using my mother's time share (near Disney). She has a set week to use at that time, and at first I paid for the use, and now it is free as a payment for my re-roofing her house. Our trips to FL had, for a time alternated between Disney visits and Universal Studio visits.
So last year we did a crazy two week FL vacation by using the time share and matching up free time share stays with time share tours. And then we got 7 day Disney tickets, and basically did Death by Disney (as compared to Death by Chocolate - see my entry from last year about that). It was great (two weeks, cost a little over $1,000 for both of us and seven days at WDW, yeah that was a hell of a deal), but I think we both had enough of Disney for a while.
Which leads to today. The SG-GF was about to pre-purchase our tickets this week. As she is a DoD employee she can buy tickets on base and at a discount. For Disney, the discount was almost zero to other ways to buy, but for other attractions, such as Universal Studios, there was a good discount on tickets. And as this year was to be our year to go to Universal, that meant we would be having a less expensive trip to Florida. And really, it has been 4 years since we were at Universal (One year instead of Universal we hit other less major FL attractions, which accounts for the long time), so we were psyched and ready to go there.
Well..... not so fast!!!! Disney has had a very, very nice discount offer for active military for some time, but not for DoD employees. Soooo... wassup??? Disney just extended the discount offer for tickets to DoD employees starting in the middle of September (we hadn't heard about it) but only thru the end of the year. A "one time offer", they say. I sorta think it has to do with Star Wars Land coming to WDW next year and people are waiting to go to Disney for next year, and therefore attendance is dropping somewhat. I have no proof of this, but it makes sense.
Anywho.... with the much lower price, WDW tickets are now very comparable with Universal Studio prices. The time frame for us is perfect. And these are "Plus" tickets, which also allows us to go to their water parks, Disney World of Sports, free miniature golf (SG-GF thinks I am nuts about doing miniature golf, but I say we should try it once so we know what its like there).
We would have bought tickets earlier this summer, but we waited to make sure the SG-GF was feeling up to going to the parks (she had some physical problems this summer - she's much better now). So by waiting to buy the tickets, we will save money by seeing WDW again this year, and hitting Universal next year instead at lower prices. We figure this will be perfect, as with Star Wars Land opening next summer WDW will probably be overrun with tourists next November, so going to Universal then will be the smart choice anyway.
I love it when a plan accidentally falls together. Bwah-hah-hah....
Hard to make posts when most everything is going well. Maybe not hard, but at least interesting. Anywho... everything is going well if you ignore the job. And relationship wise too. The job... well that's another story. Lots of boring info follows, but I wasn't up to making these separate entries, so they all get packed into one.
And away we go....
I don't have the dollar amounts here, but I did do a half year analysis back at the end of June, and the return on my investments was - UGH. Maybe 2-3%. I forget exactly - probably just trying to forget. (Its gone up some percentages in the past month - so go me). My investments have been growing though as I have been putting money in faithfully. In fact....
... I have only $800 more to contribute before I hit the limit for this year. And that means next paycheck goes up maybe $700 and then the rest of the year goes up $1,300. Hurrah, I survived another year of retirement plan contributions. And I put in the Roth IRA money at the beginning of the year. And I have already paid property taxes for the year. And made all of my major purchases for the year. And I got a 4% raise that will show up in my next paycheck. 4% is not bad in today's economy. So I'm looking at large saving numbers for the remaining 5 months.
Well I got the lawn mower from the SG-GF working and it was / is much better than mine was, so I was able to sell off my 10 year old clunker. I may have had it longer - all I remember is I got it at a yard sale long long ago for $20. I sold it this spring for $10, so I figure I was able to use it for $1/year. Not toooooo shabby! I've been keeping my expenses extra low. Maybe $25/week for food, $20/week for auto gas, electricity for the past year was maybe $500, same for natural gas, and internet now costs about that as well. Phone (cell & MagicJack) is around $125/year. No cable. So utilities are not much.
This has been going very well, though it comes and goes in spurts. For the year I already have well over $1,000 in sales, probably close to $1,200. A few things were for the SG-GF, but still... I like it. As usual I still think I need to pick up the sale pace. Not sure how, lower the prices perhaps? Also had one Craigslist sale for $100 for wooden train stuff I pick up here and there - probably cost me $20 for the lot.
The relationship with the SG-GF is going great. In fact she is retiring at the end of the year and moving in with me after that. OMG, that means we need to condense our lives and get rid of lots of stuff. I think in the end it will be great, but its going to be stressful for a while until we are settled.
No major problems so far this year. Though it does seem like small things crop up that never would when I was younger. Growing old #@$%!@$%!!!. I have kept up the extra workouts at work, so muscle definition is doing great now. Makes me wonder how I could have turned out if I was this dedicated to working out when I was in my 20s. Oh well, better late than never.
Left this for last. Oh man, there have been days and weeks and... where I have really (and I mean REALLY) hated this job. It was never like this, in fact I sorta liked it before, until I got put on the PFH (shorthand for Project From Hell) a year or two ago. No one thing is horrendous about it (ok, I can think of a few), but there are so many ways this was set up awful, it just added up to Gawd Awful. I'm sorta dealing with PTSD now. Even when the day is good, any little thing I get dealing with it just rattles me.
Good news is I did get the 4% raise, and my annual leave starts accumulating an extra 6 days / year starting this fall. I am gonna need it.
So life is doing good. Could be better, but sure could be worse too. How long until a pension kicks in? Four years, eight months. Is this what it feels like waiting to get out of prison? Who do I talk to to get a pardon?
Since I haven't written for a while, there is a lot here, and I have them categorized for ease of reading. Can you say I have worked on a computer for too long? I knew you could.
Been a while since I posted anything here. Life has been going well, no major issues, watching my money go into my 457 plan and being overwhelmed by the drop in value from the markets going down some. Ooops, I just checked, and it is only a few thousand from the high value I saw in mid February, so I guess that's still doing well too.
Making extra money
Been doing well selling on ebay lately. So far this year the total is over $500 and that's not shabby considering I am just trying to get rid of things now. Which brings me to my help.
I was talking with the SG-GF a few months ago about everything I was finding as I dug through closets, and pointed out I had a number of unopened Mary Kay items from my EX sitting here and would she know someone that I could give them to. She quickly set me straight (that is - helped me) - I might be sitting on a gold mine of no longer produced products that still have demand. To me it was junk, what did I know? Well I checked on ebay and sure enough, these items do sell. Not sure if they sell for more then originally sold for, but still.... nice getting these out the door and getting a good chunk of money back. I am down to my last six bottles/tubes (I sold two more today), so I'm not getting rich, but this is working great.
My next area of concentration is going to be my toy trains. I probably have 200% of what I really need, so half of them need to go. Biggest problem is figuring out what to sell, and how much to ask for. Oh well, I will make it work one way or another.
On the credit card front I just got two new credit cards to get the bonus money/points. These are my first ones since the middle of last year. Each one was "use it for $500, get $100 worth of points". Already used one on this year's home insurance (just a smidge over $500), and the other one will be used on either car insurance or a plane ticket for my son, probably both as neither is $500 by itself.
And now with my Real Estate taxes pre-paid for the year, and these items out of the way.... not sure where I will need to spend any serious money until... maybe my vacation to Florida in November????
I had gotten a Sam's club membership on sale last year (in Feb.), and mostly used it for discounted gas. I got their credit card to get a bonus there too. Really wasn't worth that much for me, but still cheaper gas worked out nice. However, I found out about the gotcha last month. Turns out they don't give any cash back (on the credit card) unless you are a member of the club. And since they only give you cash back after your anniversary with the club.... well you need to sign up (or in my case - they just billed it to my credit card with them!!!) for the next year to get your cash back from the prior year. Those sneaky devils. Ok, so I didn't complain, and got my cash back (they make you do it at their store!). But as I researched it, I found the way to make this work for me.
The membership says you can get all your membership cost back any time for the year you are on. Soooooo.... if I don't use their credit card to buy things, I can use their membership for free for a year, and then cancel and get the last year's membership back, and not lose the cash back on their credit card. AH-HA, I see a work around that will do fine for me. I just need to remember to cancel sometime next January. OK, discounted gas for free, yeah I will take that just fine, thank you very much.
In a blast from the past (In particularthis entry) I mused on whether participating in "Prosper" or other lending club web site would be a good choice. I never wrote more on it as I never tried it. Don't know if it was fear of the unknown, inertia, or just what, but I passed on it, and then just forgot it. I guess other things were on my mind then (like getting divorced!).
Anywho, this was brought back to me today as I was reading personal finance forums and there was a long thread on Lending Club, Prospr, and the like. From what most people wrote, it turned out that while they did make money with the sites, it was not nearly as much as they hoped, and that over time the payback tended to get worse and worse, and now most people were just cashing out and wouldn't bother with it any more. And their returns in the past years had usually been less than 10%, often only a few percent a year. Now they were saying how they lost out on having that money in the market in the run up of the past years.
I suspect the first couple of years would have done well, but with interest rates so low only the desperate would use these sites any more. And it turns out they do a very bad job (or no job) of getting the outstanding debts.
Turns out most fads are just passing fads and a waste of time and money. I guess the lending club model (at least here in USA) was a passing fad I'm glad I passed on.
OK, as a follow up to last year's End of Year Financial Status, I have put together a 2017 version...
*** 2017 Year End Financial Roundup ***
OK, so where do I start? First these numbers are rounded to get approximate performance. OK, so how about looking at my different savings vehicles and see how they performed? OK, lets start there...
*My 457 plan (401k equivalent): Started the year at $460k now, and is now $563k. I put in $24k, that leaves $79k growth - almost 17% growth after backing out contributions. Overall that is a 22% increase.
* My ROTH IRA: Started the year over $113k, ended the year a little under $139k. I put in $6.5k, leaving growth of $20k. That's almost 17.7% growth and an overall 23% increase.
* My Brokerage: I Started the year at $57500, now $80600. I put in $14,300, leaving growth of $8800 - 15.3% growth, and overall 40% increase.
* HSA Account: New this year, it ended up at $4400
* Loan: New this year, an outstanding loan to the SG-GF. Current balance of about $5000.
So maybe a ~16% growth for the year. And overall a 25.6% increase. (Yes, I didn't work out my DRIP numbers as I don't have numbers for them (they're around $50k), plus I wasn't adding anything to them this year - except for my trash DRIP). I really need to get stock certificates from them so I can transfer them to my brokerage (or sell them - not sure which makes sense).
Sooo.... how about my savings rate? The percentages are similar to last year
Well the early tax payment has been made (see my prior entry for details). Turns out the county doesn't care how much you pay early, they will just keep applying the amounts from the pre-payment until it runs out. Since the further in the future the less likely it will benefit me, I hedged my bets. I paid enough for this coming year, plus some of 2019's bill. Assuming you can use these payments (and according to everyone that reads the laws there is no reason you can't) for itemizing taxes, I will be saving $1,250 this year on my fed taxes (& maybe a hundred or two for the state). And if for some reason I can't use it for taxes, its not a major loss anyway. The money was just sitting in my savings account not doing much.
Today was a nice day financially in other ways too. I went into Paypal and requested another $150 out of the account. I checked for the year, and I pulled out over $1,500. Now some of that is sales for the SG-GF, but even so I probably netted near $1,000 for my sales. Nice to see I can make some money with this stuff, but I think I need to be more proactive on some of my sales. I may need to lower the price on some things that just aren't selling. I want the stuff outta here - soon.
Also went to the credit union to deposit my latest electric company dividend check - $144. For the year that makes $570 in dividends, and totaling up my last 12 electric bills came to only $385. Now of course I get taxed on the $570 (boooo...), and my natural gas bill for the year is probably in the $300-$400 range, but still... nice to see another year come and go where I get dividends that more than pay for my electricity. Nice.
Now I need to work up my year end numbers for 2017. They're crazy good, almost too good to be true. Hmmmmmm..... And also get ready to put my 2018 money into my Roth IRA. Yikes my checking account balance is shrinking fast.
As you may know, there is a new tax law in the U.S. starting next year. Being a wage whore (errr I mean slave) there isn't usually much I can do to affect my taxes (other than using IRAs etc...). But it looks like this year there is a way to save serious money. But to do it you have to live in the right locale (looks like I do), and have free cash to do this (again I do), and have the right tax situation (again yes!).
It goes like this. If you currently itemize deductions but will fall below the new standard deduction going forward , if you pay next years taxes now you can pay fewer taxes based on your current marginal tax rate (25% for me), and next year you will not lose any tax deduction since you will take a standard deduction. Only problem is you need the cash to do this, and live somewhere that you can prepay (not everywhere allows this).
According to a newspaper article this can be done where I live. I have free cash, and I work very close to the tax office. Sooooooo... Tuesday morning I plan on going there and seeing if I can make it so.
Prepay for less than a year and save about $1000 on taxes?? Where do I sign up???
The other day as I was sitting on the bed watching NFL games I looked and saw I had with me a smart phone I just got back 10 months ago. I also had with me a Fire tablet I read books on or surf the web. And I was watching on my new-ish TV (32 inch smart TV). And I started thinking how crazy having these items is for me. Why? Because The cost of my electronics now is almost zero.
My TV was free (& new) from a friend last Christmas, the DVD player with it he also gave me maybe 3 years ago (still works great), the tablet I got as part of an award I got at work this summer (anything up to $50 on an awards site, and this 7 inch Kindle Fire was among the items I could get), and my smart phone was part of a QVC sale for $80 with a year of service (and I was about to renew for a year for $80, so I was able to get it for $0 more). And now I am sitting downstairs typing this up, and there is another flat screen TV I got for free, and hooked up is a Blue Ray player I got for $5 at a yard sale.
My only other high tech are this lap top I am using and the ink jet printer for it, and both are at least 8 years old. Since its been so long ago, its like they're free now as well.
Not sure where I am going with this, except that I need to get a new laptop as this one has been slowly dying for 3 years. And when I do, no matter how cheap I can get one, its going to be a shock to the system. I haven't had to pay for electronics for so long now, its like I have forgotten this stuff costs real money. Hard to believe I had to buy a 386 processor computer 25 years ago to help me get through my Master's degree in computer science, and it cost over $2,500!!!! And I thought I did well to not spend even more!
My how times have changed. Not always for the better, but when it comes to high tech, yeah, the prices are sure better.
Time for my after Florida vacation expense analysis. Every year is different, especially in the cost. I had one year where the costs were almost zero, depending on how you calculate, whereas others were..... well not expensive, but certainly more than zero.
This year was different. Main reason was it was a two week vacation the first I have had with a significant other in many many years. Certainly the first with the SG-GF in Florida.
So what did we do? We spent one week at my mother's time share (as part of the payment for my work on her roof). The rest... one day at a hotel paid by the GF, three days at a time share paid by the GF with money and a time share "tour". The other three days were by me at a hotel paid for with $50 and a time share presentation. Yep, that's right, we both did time share presentations. Oooh, wasn't that fun.
But what else? Well we each bought 7-day Disney World tickets. Yes, we went to the parks for 7 days. If there is "Death By Disney" I think we did it. It was fun, but I think it is safe to say we will skip Disney next year (go to Universal probably), we got our fill of Disney for now.
And what else? Well that was a bout it. We needed days to travel there and back, days to recover from the parks, went to yard sales for 2 Saturdays (by now we know a ton of the community yard sales in the area). We each burned a half day at a presentation (don't believe them when they say it takes two hours, budget for 3.5 minimum!). And we got to say "No" A LOT. But its cool, I enjoyed it, but the SG-GF not so much (the presentation and sales pitch – that is). She is not used to saying No so much.
So with all of that out of the way, what was the financial hit? Lets see (below is what I paid only – doesn't include what SG-GF paid)....
* Disney Ticket - $400
* Disney Parking - $140
* Gas - $32 ($72 less $40 I would have paid for two weeks of gas going to work anyway)
* Hotel - $83 (Had to pay $50 + tax on "value" of stay – ugh)
* Eating out - $40
* Park lunches - $95 --- Oh, as an aside, food at Disney would be lots more expensive but we would take in some food each day. Not tons, but enough to get us through the day if we would buy a lunch at the park. Also we now know you can get ice water for free at all locations inside, so that cut down the cost of drinking tremendously.
OK, that totals.... ummm.... $790. Now I didn't include some expenses for various reasons. Those include buying groceries at Aldi's (about the same as I would have paid for two weeks of groceries anyway), Disney figurines I bought ($60 – that was really discretionary and I could have done without I think), and a few dollars at Dollar Tree to stock up on items I just ran out of on trip and brought back home with me. And I'm not including all the extras I brought back with me (enough soap, shampoo, dish detergent, and laundry detergent to supply me for a few months at a minimum ).
And then I get paid bi-weekly and I had a nice paycheck waiting for me when I returned. So all in all pretty good. I hear of people paying many thousands for a week down there, so not bad at all.
Probably won't do that again, as moving in and out of 4 places over two weeks was a challenge. But hey, its like we say, it was an experience. Yes, it sure was. A great one.