Week 81: Prepare for Catastrophe

Monday, 11 December 2017

This country has been through several hurricanes this year.  Now, the west coast is burning a second time.  In October, fires raced through northern California, destroying homes (8900) and wineries and wildlife and businesses.  Now, in southern California, fires are racing throughout, from the middle of the state to the Mexican border.  At times, the east coast faces horrible weather in winter, as does the south and midwest.  In face of this, what are some of the things people do to prepare for such potential catastrophes?

A quick web search reveals multiple sites which are helpful.  Depending on the needs of the area, suggestions vary.  These include:

  • Stock up on emergency supplies, such as water, non-perishable food, medications, first aid, cleaning supplies for yourself and your things, tools, pet supplies, and a generator.
  • A family emergency plan to include discussions about contacting each other and what to do for injuries.  In other words, talk about it and make decisions.
  • Secure your property by making sure locks work on doors and windows, bring in furniture and plants.  Think about what you have outdoors – can something you don’t bring in be used to break in to your property?
  • Know what you are likely to expect.  Hurricane?  Tornado?  Blizzard?  Fire?  Flood?  Earthquake?  Prepare accordingly.
  • Have emergency names and numbers on hand and be sure everyone knows who to get in touch with in case of separation.  Know who you can contact in your neighborhood – who you can trust.
  • Check your insurance policies.  Are they up to date?  Can you increase coverage in case of a natural disaster?  Will a natural disaster become an “act of God” and be denied by your carrier?

To tell the truth, most of us don’t want to talk about emergencies and their potential consequences.  It’s scary.  Preparing for disasters costs money.  That is a fact, and for those who are cash-strapped, it is an additional burden.

Financial planning and responsibility requires an eye to catastrophe.  This is why it is recommended as a primary goal in debt reduction to have an emergency fund.  Ramsey suggests $1000.00.  Others suggest enough cash to survive 6 months.  Everyone needs one, and it will vary with your needs.  I also suggest a monthly investment in emergency supplies or changes to your environment.  This may mean including money to buy bottled water or dehydrated food.  It also means finding a place to store these items so you can get to them.  How they are stored is also important.   It seems that no one discusses where to store these things . . .

Catastrophes and emergencies happen.  We forget about them because we are generally not living in survivalist mode, meaning worrying daily about food, shelter, clothing, and water.  Think about them – your survival may ultimately depend on preparations you make today.


Week 82: November Recap

Last month was a typical month as far as expenses go in all areas that we normally expect.  What was especially nice was we were able to put $2000 into savings, and the month before we able to put in $2700.  That is helpful as this month, December, property taxes are due, and that we can pay for out of our paychecks.  There is money for back up in the savings account!  More than last year, and certainly more than the year before – our hard work is paying off in small ways, but when we need the cash, it’s far easier to come by.  I have made a small policy shift to increase our emergency funds to $10,000.

Food in both November and December can become a bit more simply because of the holidays.  Thanksgiving and Christmas usually mean an uptick in the cooking.  Final figures showed we spent $163.12 for our holiday meals, one hosted, and one as a guest for Thanksgiving.  December may be less expensive, but we haven’t gotten to the planning stages of that yet.  We won’t be hosting anything big, but maybe a small gathering of family.

We sold some books and made $450 from them – we have a lot of books!  The result is we cleaned up a lot of area in the house and in the garage.  Simplifying?  I don’t know about that because now we have room to rearrange things . . . like a lot of boxes in the garage.  Yesterday, we began moving things around in the garage, from the “small” garage to the “big” garage (our garage is partitioned into two areas).  Empty bookshelves in the garage have household supplies once piled on the floor.

Ahead, in December, there may be some interesting expense differences in food, or none at all.  Because of some dietary issues, our food bill may go up.  That is going to be interesting to watch.  It’s nothing radical, but will require a focus on different foods and different ways to cook things.  From my vantage point today, it doesn’t seem likely to be a big change at all.  Dog food costs will be increasing as we had to change brands after seeing that one puppy was not doing as well as hoped (allergies!).

Expenses for November:

  • Electricity:  $200.00
  • Household gas:  $21.77
  • Gardener:  $100.00
  • Trash:  $60.02
  • Fuel:  $37.40
  • Groceries:  $479.41
  • Holiday Groceries:  $163.12
  • Alcohol:  $27.33
  • Chromebook:  $119.00
  • Books:  $10.70
  • Mr. 182 Hobby:  $86.66
  • Software:  $79.00
  • Household Expenses & Personal Supplies:  $154.30
  • Dog Food:  $30.02

Of course, all the usual expenses of mortgage and insurance and credit card payments continue on their steady course, and are moving in a downward direction.  Savings continues to increase.  December will be a break-even month because of property taxes.  Life continues, and we are enjoying it a lot!


Week 83: The Holiday Budget – Make It, Don’t Break It!

Monday, 27 November 2017

Thanksgiving is always a rather big deal in our family.  Usually, we have two of them – one on the specific date (4th Thursday in November) and then another one on the Saturday after so all the rest of the family can connect.  When you have members in the health professions and in the news casting industry, days off are not necessarily the holiday news.  We cycle through who hosts the holiday, and this year we did the “big one” at our house.

Did we eat the traditional turkey?  No, but we did buy two and froze them.  Instead, we had chicken, roasted veggies, tabbouleh, saffron rice, tzatziki, and a few other things, including the dishes our guests brought.  There are, of course, a lot of leftovers, and that is when Thanksgiving is really fun.  We get to eat the leftovers for a few days – and then again when we defrost them!

We set a budget for the Thanksgiving, and stayed within it.  Initially, I had chosen $100, but after remembering we were doing two, I upped it to $150.00.  Altogether, we fed 15 people, so that estimate averaged $10.00 / person, but we really spent $148.43 based on the recorded expenditures.  I expect it was a bit more with cash spent on this or that forgotten item, but even if was $200.00, that is still only $13.33 / person.  We shopped at Costco and at a really cool market that caters to the Middle Eastern, Asian, and Hispanic populations, and with really great prices and variety of products.

There are benefits to tracking money, especially during the holiday season.  Nowadays we are both aware of where our pennies and dollars go.  I (usually) think twice before spending.  I look at the food in the fridge and figure out how to use it up.  Admittedly, we still do waste food, but not like we used to.  Our red meat consumption is down, and our healthy eating choices are up.  This alone has shifted our food bill into lower costs.  It also helps us rethink how much to allow for holiday spending, and in this area we are considerably more frugal than we were early in our marriage, or even two years ago.  It feels good to limit expenditures, and it feels good think more carefully about a gift for a family member.  Good gifts do not need to be expensive, nor do they need to be material.  Memories are often the best gifts.

Holidays can be expensive, and certainly the consume-consume-consume advertising pushes the message.  However, holidays are not about spending.  Instead, they are times to reflect, to rejoice, to enjoy – not spend, spend, spend.

Thanksgiving is over and kept within budget.  Now time to consider the Christmas season and its budget.  Always, always another budget!

Week 84: Thanksgiving!

Monday, 20 November 2017

The holiday is upon us, and we both have the whole week off!  We are visiting relatives on Thursday, but having the immediate family over on the Saturday afterwards – various family members work, and so this is our compromise.

Thanksgiving is a strange holiday in some ways, and in other ways it is one of the best.  There is no one person to be celebrated, as on a birthday, nor any religious connotations.  Instead, it is a holiday which includes all.  To remember with gratitude the good things in life – health, family, friends, love, peace – and realize that little is needed in reality – is a good thing.  It reminds us to be humble and grateful.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone!

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.

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.