Week 85: Selling and Donating to Downsize

Monday, 13 November 2017

Whew!  Have we been busy! This has been a weekend of getting rid of things – specifically, books and yarn.  Some items sold, some to be donated.

Two or three weeks ago I called a good used bookstore about 30 miles from our house (on the other side of the county) and asked if they would be interested in looking at our books.  They gave us the email of the manager, and we set up a time for him to come out.  Being the collectors we are, we had some miniature libraries.  And because we respect our books – even textbooks – we don’t underline.  As a result, many of our books were in great condition – and for our labors, we netted $450.00.  Mr. 182 thought we would be lucky to get $75.00, and I thought about $200.00.  Altogether, we got rid of 10 office boxes of books.

About a week ago, I decided it was time to go through the yarn stash.  Mr. 182’s mom is a knitter, so she was offered first dibs on any yarn I wasn’t going to keep.  What to do with the remainder?  Throw it away?  Not what I would like to do.  The local Goodwill was another choice, but I was wondering if there were any organizations which would like a donation . . . yep, the Senior Center a few miles from my house!  So, after we go through the yarn, the remainder will be put into trash bags, and delivered to the Center, where they make charitable items, or just use the yarn in classes.  This feels like a very worthwhile cause.

Mr. 182 counted the boxes, which included fleece for handspinning.  From 45 boxes, we are down to about 20 that are being kept (nothing like planning for retirement!).  We probably got rid of 400 or more books.  A few books were set aside for others.  We also plan to check with the local library.  They could keep or sell them – a good cause, we think, to help our local library.  We can also donate them to the Goodwill, which is an amazing organization – they even recycle mattresses!  Better to recycle than to put in a landfill.

Interests and hobbies are important to us, and honestly, we do get a bit nuts when we develop an interest.  We become acquisitive.  And we acquire.  We learn about things by experiencing things – and so we acquire.  That is a very bad habit when it becomes too much – too much more than is realistically needed.  That element in our interests is one which easily gets out of hand.

We are also people who use computers a lot.  Mr. 182 has been involved in IT as a profession for over 20 years.  I have been using PCs since the late 80s.  As with things that get used, computers get break down and become out-of-date and obsolete.  With out electronics, we work to make them last – we don’t buy every new toy.  However, we also don’t just throw them out.  In about an hour, Mr. 182 will be taking some old computers, printers, and an antique fax machine to an electronics recycling center  . . . this local company recycles the e-waste and provides scholarships to the local high schools.

We still have more to be gotten through.  The garbage can is full, with more bags to add to it – or to our neighbor’s, who uses ours when necessary, and who let’s us use his when necessary.  Even though we have rid ourselves of a lot of our acquisitions, we have a long way to go.  

We made the decision to sell some of our possessions rather than just donate.  To sell to a bookstore that is one of the best in the area was a choice based on wanting our books to go to new homes where they would be appreciated.  Family, too, with interests which could use some of our items were notified.  Finally, charities and organizations which can profit from our items are on our list.  Rather than just throw things away and let the trash man cart off, we want our items to be useful to others, as they were once useful to us.

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Week 86: Death by Acquisition

Monday, 6 November 2017

This week we are getting ready to downsize our library.  We have massive quantities of books.  Science fiction.  New age.  Textbooks.  Career.  Psychology.  Rubber stamping.  Art.  Fiction – good, bad, pulp.  Other weird stuff. And there is dust everywhere as we vacuum and wipe things off.

A representative from a local book shop is coming out to see what we have.  If we clear a few hundred, that would be great; even if we don’t, we know that this bookstore is popular and our books will be used by someone later on.  Some downsizing is on the way.  We still have yarn and fabric and other books, long buried in the garage.  Time to excavate, extricate, and divest.

Besides getting rid of stuff, this past month, I have been tracking a few things that are shifting in our economics.  First, our net worth this month has increased by about $7500.  That’s good.  Our food expenses have increased – maybe it’s just because we have been making a lot of fancy dishes, or we have just been feeling rather nuts.  Health issues are probably behind the increased costs – about $300 more than usual – because of the need to do something other than cook from scratch.  Health costs ran about $1000 over the last 4-6 weeks, but are all paid up.  Our savings account is up.  Since the beginning of the year, we have paid off about $65,000 of debt, including the mortgage, since the first of the year, with the mortgage being the biggest portion of it.

While I look at what we have in order to get rid of it – stuff and debt – I see we are like so many other people.  We have too much stuff.  As young adults, we accrued.  Books, cars, toys, houses.  Now, as we get older, we are paying the price with a lack of space and a lack of money.  We are more in the clear than a couple of years ago, but we still need to continue our progress, and it will take a bit longer than I had hoped.

Just that last fact – it is going to take a bit longer than I had hoped – is rather depressing, but it is also an eye-opener.  There are times when we are good at this, and times when we could be better.  Personally, I choose to see the cup as half-full, but know, too, that re-evaluation and reflection is a good thing.  Reading The Recovering Spender, by Lauren Greutman made me realize we are spenders, and this is not pretty to admit.  I don’t think we are out of control, but Amazon is a habit that needs to be nipped in the bud for anything other than needs.

So, what to focus on?  That really is the point behind all this blithering – a need to get back on track, and consciously and conscientiously on track.  So, a few changes to the budget and household activities:

  • Increase food to $400.00 / month
  • Increase savings for awhile to create a better emergency fund. This means we may not meet our desired credit card reductions, but we will certainly be paying more than the minimum on them.
  • Call in an arborist to discuss our tree problem. We have 18 trees in the backyard, and need to get rid of probably all but one of them.
  • Take out between 2-6 trees, depending on costs.
  • Continue to clean out the garage, and try to empty it out by the end of the year of unnecessary / unwanted stuff.

In view of all of this, I think this is our way of getting ourselves under control in different ways.  Our financial situation is continually improving – the slope is upward as far as net worth, and downward as far as debt.  We will begin to free ourselves of possessions and gain space and simplicity in exchange.  “Less is more” really is true.

Purgatory it is!  Purging, yes . . . but we still enjoy the things we always gravitate to:  our hobbies.  Photography, painting, brewing, rocketry.  Our hobby stocks are pretty full right now, so no big expenses there. It is the excess, the peripheral, and the unnecessary that are crowding our lives and our minds.

I wonder what will happen when we have a cleaner garage . . .

Week 87: Retirement = Isolation, Loneliness, Death?

Monday, 30 October 2017

With tomorrow being Halloween, and having spent the last two weeks focused on a project, my social life and getting out of the house came to a screeching halt.  Because I was doing things at home, I didn’t get out to do things like go to the local trails to hike and take pictures.  Today, I did, and it is only then that I realized how isolated I had become.  Yes, I had Mr. 182 to hang with, and people at work, but I didn’t take time out to do the things which I enjoy the most – being outdoors!  And with Halloween tomorrow, I wonder if I could become an isolated old witch . . .

And this makes me think about retirement even more seriously.  By nature, I am not an extrovert, so I need to make sure that I do things outside the house.  I enjoy the solitude of walking and taking photos, but I know I will need more than that.  There will be a need to do things with other people, be involved.  Mr. 182 will still be working, the student has flown the coop, and I do not want to sit around to wait for others to make a play date!

A fact about aging:  people around you die.  It’s terrible, but true.  Peers die.  Friends die.  Mr. 182’s grandmother lived in a “senior” community which made her so depressed – everyone kept dying.  No little kids, no teenagers, no adults with families.  That sounds pretty grim to me.

I have to make sure I have a life – an active life – outside of my house.  Today’s little foray reminded me how important the outside world is – even if it seems like the world is going to hell with the current political situation in the US and problems worldwide.  I am looking into local groups, such as art groups.  I started a meetup group.  I may teach part-time once I have settled into retirement – if I want to.  I don’t intend to volunteer at a hospital as a “pink lady” – I’ve spent a lot of my career working in them.

Will I travel?  If I do, alone, with a group, such as a painting group in Provence?  I don’t know.  But, I do know, if I retire and I become isolated and alone, loneliness is a big killer, and a lack of outward interests can add to it.  For an extrovert, this is easy, but for an introvert, it requires will power at times to do it.  With Mr. 182 continuing to work, I cannot stay home (he works at home) and expect him to meet all my needs.

 

Week 88: Falling Off the Financial Wagon

Monday, 23 October 2017

When I find myself somewhat tumbling off the financial wagon and not staying focused, I need something to motivate me to get back onto the wagon.  It helps to re-read Dave Ramsey’s classic, The Total Money Makeover, but it is also important to read other authors – other issues, other perspectives, other ideas.  So, I’ve been re-reading Lauren Greutman’s book, The Recovering Spender.

I can relate a lot to Lauren – especially when I was younger.  I spent money to feel good – for a few minutes.  Then the realizations and guilt hit.  The truth that I had spent money wasn’t as awful as feeling as if I were a failure in my family’s eyes, especially my mother’s.

I was the “bad” child and that applied to money especially.  There were criticisms, some realistic and some unrealistic, about how much I spent on things, such as clothing or eye glasses.  My mother’s concepts of the cost of things were caught up in the prices of the 1930s through the 1950s.  She forgot that time moves on, and prices of things increase.  Rather than ask questions, she would just make comments that didn’t help at all.  In later years, once I left home, she could be generous, so I think a lot of her complaints were because she was surrounded by oodles of children she had to raise.

Moving forward, it took awhile to realize that my spending was an addiction, and it was necessary to break that cycle.  Part of it came with better income.  Part of it came with just being done with the misery of debt and realizing the pain of debt was not worth it.  Both my husband and I were in that same addictive cycle, and not good at all in facing our issue as we both tend to avoid confrontation – and thus avoid problem solving.  I tend to be more decisive and action-oriented than Mr. 182, so I started making decisions about how we spend our money and what we do with it.  He came along unwillingly, but now is much more on board as he sees our progress.

We both see we are in a better place financially than 18 months ago.  Our debt ratio has gone down, and our net worth has increased.  We have also come to discuss how we value our money – what we want to do with it.  Mostly, we want to be done with debt, but we also value saving and spending it on things we enjoy – primarily, our hobbies.  For Mr. 182, it is mostly for brewing, but also for rocketry.  I vary in what I do, and while I was involved in photography a lot over the past 10 years, I am now returning to watercolor painting and drawing.  There is outlay for both hobbies, varying in season as well as how supplies are running.  We need to buy things like hops and grain, film, paper, and paint, to name a few.  However, while all need to be renewed, the renewal rate varies, and is seldom very expensive all at once.  We seldom travel, but those costs are saved for as well.

Leading a satisfying life is largely dependent on what you choose.  By this I mean that you must make conscious choices and think about what you value.  We value our time to be able to do what we enjoy, and thus we need to plan for those expenses.  For example, we have $200 allocated to a grain purchase in November.  When I returned to watercolor, I needed to inventory supplies.  These were determined as October hobby expenses.  Old paints needed replacing, some new brushes purchased, paper, and other small supplies,  Once these big expenses are cleared, the replacements will come later, as big cost purchases once or twice a year, or slow ones, such as a tube of paint needing to be replaced if it gets used up.

As Greutman points out in her book, choosing your values and aligning them with your spending makes sense, and it makes you feel much better.  It helps prioritize decisions.  It returns the locus of control from the external to the internal:  “I can’t control myself!” moves to “I can do this!”

Self-control is a form of self-denial, but it doesn’t have a punitive feeling to it.  It is freeing emotionally, and given that money is emotional, positive emotions are much more pleasant than unpleasant ones, such as the voice of an angry parent.  You are now your own parent.  YOU are in charge.

 

 

Week 89: Social Security Preparations

Monday, 16 October 2017

This past week has been busy – birthday time!  Cake, breakfast, cake, pie, pad thai, dinner, cake, and birthday party.  Considering all the festivities, I only gained 2 pounds.  It’s been so much fun!  And, after talking with a family member during a party, I came to the realization that some of us are in total avoidance about our futures, even more than I realized.

I was always the person who, like Scarlett O’Hara, always said, “Tomorrow is another day.”  It’s true – tomorrow is always another day.  But tomorrow needs to be acknowledged and planned for.  There are some things we can control – like how much we spend and on what – and there are other things we can prepare for – such as natural disasters and old age.  Natural disasters can occur any time, but old age follows a logical sequence, like 1, 2, 3.  It’s the “tomorrow” syndrome that catches up with us.

In the US, one makes an appointment, or does it online, for Medicare.  There are multiple stages for Medicare.  The first one to sign up for, if you are still working, is Part A, which is hospitalization.  It’s completely free.  If you are still working, then it works in conjunction with your hospital coverage and your private insurance (if you have it).  Later, when you know when you plan to retire, you apply for Part B, for which there is a co-pay.  This is for office visits and, I think, prescriptions.  In order to get it after 66, without a 10% penalty, you must show evidence of employer-based insurance.  For me, this means through my job, or through my husband’s job.  It is not through retirement-sponsored healthcare.

My understanding is that you must apply for Medicare Part A three months on either side of your 65th birthday.  I made an appointment on August 18th at the local Social Security office, and by mid-September, my card arrived.  A 30-minute appointment.  I got a print out of everything, and now it is in a file drawer.  (Aside, I probably should digitize it.)

At my birthday party this weekend, I found out that another family member, also just 65 in July, did not apply for Medicare Part A.  Not at all . . . why?  That is the big question.  What is it that kept him from doing this?  Denial?  A dislike of the government?  Avoidance?  Eventually his wife made him do it online, I think within the required time frame, but he never got a card . . . so what happened?  Too late?  Digital issues?

Regardless, this was a serious issue in my eyes.  The irresponsibility of it all is what I see.  And from that, I had to look inward.  We have been irresponsible in many ways, but are on the road to fixing that through efforts that seem like the labors of Hercules at times.  It is this sense of being young forever that keeps many of us in denial.  I also think it is a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness, too – a sense of having no control.

Being frugal means thinking ahead, giving up the present to work for the future.  Our parents can lay a foundation, or not lay a foundation.  It is us – me – the individual – who has to make the choice to be frugal and debt-free.  Being married to a frugal partner helps, but not having one creates challenges financially and personally.  Many marriages suffer because of money.  Ours certainly did – and at times still does – but the big picture is showing payoff as we move along the time line of working off our debts.  Our net worth has increased, our debt has decreased.  At times we feel like we are in limbo.  But we still move forward on our journey – not evenly – but steadily.

Now that I am closer to retirement, in hindsight, I wish I had done more planning.  Like my family member, I was in denial.  If I hadn’t taken the reins awhile ago, we would be in worse shape, always waiting for tomorrow, planning to do it tomorrow.  Tomorrow is now today.  Luckily, I am not in as bad as shape as others.

 

Week 91: Reflections

Monday, 2 October 2017

I am getting less patient with my job and more impatient to retire.  Medicare Part A began yesterday for me.  I pretty much know what I am going to take home for my Social Security if I were to start it next year.  I am thinking . . . do I quit at the end of next year and take my pension as well, or do take my Social Security and continue to work.  Questions to be answered next year.  I still need to schedule an appointment to discuss my pension, what to expect, and the health benefit options available, or should I go on my husband’s insurance?

The big issue is really just an unknown:  what will my income be if I were to retire at the end of 2018 from pension and Social Security?  How much debt will we have paid off?

If I were to collect my Social Security and continue to work until June 2019, as originally planned, that could really bring our debt down to where I want it.  I am not really where I would like to see us – in part us, in part because of life, in part because of the payroll fiasco last June.

On January of this year, I created a spread sheet to track our progress.  I didn’t do a good job of tracking things in June and July, but when I look at our net worth, it has increased by $106,239.00 from January to the end of September.  This is from home equity, 401K, pension equity, and IRAs.

I am still unsure as to what I should do.  I know what I would like to do – just quit my job! – but that is not a viable option today or tomorrow (but soon!).  I need to collect numbers and then ponder . . . taking time for these decisions is a good thing, and knowing in advance allows me to consider many possibilities before taking the plunge.