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Stranger in a Strange Land

February 20th, 2019 at 04:24 pm

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.

Ruminations follow

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....

Surprise - you're going to Disney (WDW)

September 29th, 2018 at 04:42 pm

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....

Still alive - Still saving.

July 21st, 2018 at 04:15 pm

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....

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Finances
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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.

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Frugality
==================================
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.

==================================
Ebay-ing
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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.

==================================
Relationship
==================================
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.

==================================
Health
==================================
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.

==================================
Job
==================================
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?

Teamwork helps

March 13th, 2018 at 07:36 pm

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.

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Finances
====================================
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.

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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.

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More Finances
====================================

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????

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Frugality
====================================
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.

Crazy cheap electronics

December 13th, 2017 at 08:42 pm

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.

Florida vacation expense analysis

November 16th, 2017 at 05:32 pm

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. Smile

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 Smile ).

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.

The Power of Differences in Style

June 10th, 2017 at 05:07 pm

The SG-GF and I like to go to yard sales and estate sales (probably too much, but whatcha going to do?) but when we go together you can see we have a very different way of going about it. She likes to
peruse every item, talk with the sellers, and just enjoy the experience. Me... I go in, view items very quickly, only stopping at things that really catch my eye, and talking as little as possible.

As you might imagine, this can make for a frustrating time for the two of us when we are together. We've had to compromise quite a bit to make this work for us. I often take a book along and when I am done will return to the car and sit and read until she comes back.

That said, there is another difference we have that I think works for us. She is more of a price haggler where I am not. If I don't like the price, I will put it back, thank them, and move on. Usually that means she can at times get a better price than me, but I am not always worried about getting the absolute lowest price, since the prices are usually so good anyway.

That said, my way works too. Sometimes sellers will deal better with people that don't hassle them about every little thing. Case in point was a local estate sale a few weeks ago (NOT run by an estate company)
where I bought a few items and actually chatted some with the seller. (Yeah, I stretched myself there) I then went and got more things,and for a good chunk of it she just let me take the stuff for free. Not everything, but I could tell she appreciated I didn't haggle with her, especially as the prices were very good.

Come to this weekend, and she was there again still emptying the place out. She remembered me, and while I could only find a few things to get, she just told me to take them and not worry about it.

Not sure where I am going with this other than it is interesting that different techniques can work the best at times. Still... its nice to know I can ask the SG-GF to haggle on something and she is always
up for the challenge.

Never ending soap bar redux

February 10th, 2017 at 12:21 pm

In the past I pointed out it seemed like I would never have to pay for soap again. I had built up quite a stockpile from CVS when they were having freebie sales some years ago, and since then I had been finding more ways to get soap for free that my stockpile barely budged. Well that hasn't stopped since I wrote on this last time. Last year that didn't stop as I got soap for free from various places (in free boxes at estate sales / yard sales usually) as well as a large cake of soap used by someone for "soapmaking" along with a book on how to do it - it was the end of the day and she just wanted it gone. Also going through the SG-GF's items we found more bars of soap she wasn't going to use, so that added to the lot. And then whenever we go on trips, we get soap bars wherever we stay. So by the end of the year I think I had more soap than at the beginning of the year.

A new year and it has re-started already. Someone cleared out their desk at work, and left out for anyone travel bars of soap and shampoos. Well now I am stocked up with another month or two of supplies before I have to start on my original stash. Who knows when the next lot will fall into my lap - it seems like it always happens.

Yeah, it probably doesn't save a ton of money, but my stocks of soap, shampoo, deodorant, even dish detergent, have barely budged since I don't know when. But it all counts - waste not want not - and that extra money helps to bulk up my savings for a rainy day (or to use with the SG-GF for various enjoyments in life).

Helping Friends for the win

February 7th, 2017 at 11:13 am

I have a friend at work I try to be extra friendly with (ok, not overbearing or anything, but I can be a bit aloof, so being friendly is above and beyond for me). If he needs help, a ride, whatever, I try to do it for him. Nothing extraordinary, but I do what I can. I will often find something cheap at yard sales for a fun Christmas present for him (usually no more than $3 or so). This year he even commented how he likes mine the best, that anything else he gets is usually boring.

Anyway... come up to last week just before the Super Bowl. I have joked in the past about how old & small my TVs are and I don't care. I would rather save money than get the latest gadgets. So he comes up to me and says would I be interested in a new TV (as long as I don't sell it). Ummmm.... well... sure I guess (Ok, most conversations don't start out this way so I am intrigued). Turns out he bought something before the holidays (not sure what, I wasn't concentrating on that part of the story), and as part of the store's "sale" the buyer would get a free 32" super duper does everything imaginable LCD flat screen TV. Somehow he ended up with two of them ... but... he already has fancier and larger TVs and these would be downgrades for him. (He is always amazed at how much I have saved, and then buys expensive electronics, new cars, and well you get the idea)

So the unopened TV made it home last week and I set it up Sunday. Turned out my old tv was 20", so this was a major upgrade. I spent the day setting up various functions on it, and even one channel that would not come in with the old digital converter box now comes in great with this digital ready TV. Go figure.

So now I have a great TV out of the blue. Not saying I did the things I do for him expecting any payback, but its nice to think I was appreciated (or pitied for my poor existence - take your choice Smile ) and its great to upgrade for $0.

2016 Final Numbers & '17 Roth IRA Funded

January 7th, 2017 at 04:11 pm

Well 2017 is here and the numbers are doing well.

I won't list the 2016 numbers as they are basically the same I had listed in my prior posting. As it stated, my overall ROI was in the 16% range, so I am very happy with the year. The market wavered all over the place, and basically ended where they were at mid December when I posted. I have added some to the numbers in the "About Me" section, though I do keep them a bit low as I expect there to be a little pull back in the future and I don't want to feel too bad about it when it happens (silly I know, but it is what it is).

One quickie note: I just got the monthly report from the 457 plan provider, and I see the yearly numbers for the two small-cap funds that have probably 40% of my overall 457 funds had returns for the year of 18% and 27%. I think I see now why my 457 numbers were so great for the year!

As for 2017 I already put in my Roth IRA money ($6500). Also got my first paycheck with my 457 money taken out. Now my paycheck is less than half of what it was in December (yikes!). Oh well, with the higher amount I will almost be done with my yearly contributions by the end of July so I should be happy about that.

As for the year coming up, I need to invest my cash in the IRA & brokerage in something, question is which stock.

On a frugal note (I figure I should include one) I got a backup shaver at the Goodwill outlet two weeks ago (by weight it cost maybe $1.50?). Its an expensive Norelco and a twin to what I currently have. It only needed new blade heads, so online I found I could get a new set for $9. But for another $7 I could get a second set, so I am upgrading both shavers to give me a like new shave for $17.50 for two shavers (costs about $70 for a new shaver). So lets hear it for the GW outlet. (PS: Why do I have two shavers? I keep one in my car to use on the drive in each work day, as I have a car adapter for it!)

Hey, lets have a great year everyone!