Author Archives: -N-

Monday 111: Taking a Day (or Two) Off

Monday, 22 May 2017

After a crazy week at work, I decided to kick back and do nothing too hard.  Instead, I am spending it with family and friends, doing things I enjoy, and not thinking overly hard about frugality and its place in life.  The weekend will be filled with cheap and / or free thrills that won’t be impinge upon the finances more than a couple of bucks!

Monday 112: Looking At Retirement Numbers

Monday, 15 May 2017

This weekend I took an online class that is required to set up an appointment with a representative from my retirement program, a public employees retirement system (PERS).  The course is actually very worthwhile as it opened my eyes to all the wonderful things available to me through it:  different levels of retirement pay, depending on how I choose to disburse it; health care which includes medical, dental, vision; long-term care.  There are other things, too, which make me so grateful I am a member of this group – something which I did not appreciate until recently.  On top of it, I have been paying social security ever since I began working at 17, and can expect to collect a tidy sum there.  The question is whether or not I will be affected by the WEP (Windfall Eliminations Provision) or not.  I will be making a visit to a local Social Security office to start learning about this as well as Medicare sign-up.

Getting ready ahead of time is really important to me, not just for retirement economics, but overall.  Sadly, I haven’t done well in the financial department, though it is getting better.  With retirement two years out, I figure my time to learn about what I can hope for on the financial scene is now, not later.  I really admire all the younger bloggers who have their acts together.  Planning for my retirement means getting my financial house in order by June 30, 2019, my estimated date of the last of 182 Mondays!

Car expenses were awful this month – but cheaper than buying another car!  Mr. 182’s car is an Acura RSX S Type, from 2003.  It’s in good shape, but like with any car, it needs maintenance and repair.  While the oil is changed regularly, things can happen.  What happened was the air conditioner went out.  In cooler months, this is okay to not need, but in hot summer months, it is another story.  Fortunately, we have a good mechanic who is into economical repairs, and does things piecemeal, checks, and continues.  We had hoped it would have been a $400 repair, but after that, it came to the point of having to pull out the dashboard to get to other parts of the system.  The evaporator was corroded – common, it turns out – in this car and model.  So, the final cost was $1680.30 – but we had the cash, thanks to saving every month!  And, we can still save $1000.00 this month, so we will replace most of what we spent.

Planning ahead saves money.  It makes some people really happy to do this, while others are more for living in the moment.  Whatever you are, some self-discipline and self-denial are necessary.  Having a “pay myself first” attitude builds wealth.  Not buying things when you cannot afford them works, too – unless you are quick to pull out the credit card, which has been our past habit.

Everything in life changes.  Planning ahead helps lighten financial shocks, such as extensive car repairs.  Saving money is akin to saving yourself in many ways.

Monday 113: Carrots & Sticks

Monday, 8 May 2017

Motivation comes from the potential of a reward, or the threat of punishment.  Sometimes the latter has a more immediate effect, but the former has, I would think, better long-term effects.

With the desire to retire getting stronger – especially as I find myself more excited about my daily life – it is so easy to want immediate gratification than stay the course to debt reduction and increased financial independence.  At times, this endurance becomes tiresome.  Where is the pleasure in life without new things?  What, no fun?  It really shows how far we have yet to go in changing our mindsets, but astonishingly, we are getting there.  Slowly.

Here is an example:  the other day, we were both getting over physical ailments, like stomach upsets and migraine-like headaches.  Just the thought of cooking felt exhausting.  I suggested sending out for pizza.  Mr. 182 said,

“Since we are trying to cut back on spending money, let’s just do grilled chicken.”

Not wanting to ruin the moment, with my usual sarcastic humor (sarcastic to others, humorous to me), I simply agreed.  Inside, I was thrilled as he became a bit of a carrot for me!

What is a motivating factor?  Sometimes it has to be a short-term motivator, and sometimes it has to be a long-term motivator.  Saving money by grilling chicken was an immediate solution to a presenting problem.  But, there are times when the long-term has lost its appeal simply because it l-l-o-o-n-n-g-g.

Short-term appeal sometimes is the better motivator.  For instance, I wrote a bit back about wanting to increase our savings to $2,000.00 / month.  This means that debt reduction will slow down.  There are two reasons for this decision.  The first, and true short-term motivator, is our planned vacation in the first few weeks of next August.  It is an important vacation as we are traveling with Mr. 182’s parents on a somewhat historical family road trip.  I want to have more than enough money for it, and be able to come home without a big dent in our savings plan.  The second reason is the unspoken one:  I want us to quit spending extra money even more than before!  We need to (keep) get(ting) our thrift on.

Additionally, this month, we have a potential $1000.00 car repair, for which we have planned and saved.  After this car repair, we have no other scheduled “big” payments, such as insurance or taxes, until next December.  I would like to see our savings account better equipped to handle these expenses than in the past, which, by the way, have improved from 2016.  I’d like them to be even better than they were in 2017 for 2018, and so on.

When motivation wanes, it has to be re-stimulated.  Focus needs to be refocused.  Finding new ways to stay focused is creative, and necessary, because the road ahead for us is a long slog.

Our habits of years are still struggling to dominate, and perhaps spending is our addiction.  Perhaps that addiction “gene” is not one that is gonna ever go away.  Controlling it may be all we can hope to do, which may sound defeatist, but that may be our reality.

We have to acknowledge our desire to spend much as an alcoholic has to admit to being an alcoholic to get onto the path, straight and narrow as it may be, as restricting and unpleasant as it may be, as challenging as it may be.  We are our own worst enemies, and our own salvation.

Monday 114: Writing as a Side Hustle?

Monday, 1 May 2017

A lot of people talk about “side hustles.”  I have never been inclined to get one, mostly because my days are long and I like my time not working.  That’s when I get to do what I want, not what I am supposed to do.  The way I see it, a side hustle is part-time work to make more money, and there is nothing too delightful-sounding about that.

In my search for finding a way to be creative and find more pleasure in my daily life, I’ve been writing.  Writing is something that comes readily to me, and I’ve used it throughout my career, for reports or papers, for accrediting committees, to send off an opinion or a thank you.  Over the past couple of years I’ve taken to creative writing in the form of short stories, and suddenly it seems as if the light bulb lit up:  Maybe I could publish via Amazon Kindle Unlimited Select.  Or whatever it is called.  I’m not sure how much money I could make, and in a way don’t care, but I can see using my skills at writing to generate a side income in a way I enjoy.

I’ve also been thinking about retirement – what will entertain me during the day when I don’t have to be somewhere?  Writing, for sure.

This seems to be a very real possibility.  What would I write about?  A friend of mine published a rather good novel on Amazon, one which I enjoyed.  There are other things to write, too, such as short fiction and fantasy in many different genres.

I guess it’s time to start exploring to see what is out there.

My little efforts won’t bring in millions, but they may bring some change, and, more importantly, give me a sense of direction and excitement in a creative way.

Monday 115: April is the Cruelest Month!

Monday, 24 April 2017

This is the first line of T. S. Eliot’s poem “The Waste Land.”  Given this is all about spending money and tax season, and waste, it seems appropriate!

April is the month when our taxes are due – federal, state, and property.  It is also the month when our specialized insurance is due, for things like floods and such.  We also had extra bills to pay – dental and veterinary.  Altogether, if we had not been prepared for the known bills, and if we had not saved, we could have been really up the proverbial creek!  All told, between all these, the costs came to $5000.00 for April alone . . . we had already paid the state taxes, so!

The bad is the fact we had to pay for needed dental work and vet bills!  They weren’t on the budget!  How dare they show up!

The good is that because we have been saving, and paying off bills, our cash on hand could take the $700.00 hit for the dental and vet bills.  Not happily, of course, but necessarily.  While we are far from having F-You money, we certainly are at a point where we don’t get F’d!  A year ago it would have been a different story.

Future plans at the moment are deciding how much we want to save over the next four or five months.  I want to increase our rate of savings, but that means we will slow down our debt reduction.  Right now, it feels a bit more important to have more cash on hand.  We have a vacation coming up, and I don’t want any surprises.  I also think I want to have a 10K amount in the bank, even with the vacation.  As well, one of our cars needs some work, to the tune of about $1000, which I want to do in May.  The air conditioner is out in the Acura (14 year old car).   Then it is clear sailing until December.  Unless, of course, Murphy decides to visit.

Revisiting Dave Ramsey is also on the agenda.  It is so important to keep frugality and debt reduction in the forefront of daily activities.  As a result, I am listening to his show, and his YouTube presentations.  Even a year or so into our debt reduction, it is easy to slide back – we do like to spend money and it is so important to continue to work on changing this (natural?) tendency.

A year of hard work is showing results, even if it seems eternally slow.  We can meet financial emergencies more readily, as well as not feel stressed by large annual expenses, such as insurance premiums and taxes.

Monday 116: Researching the Retirement Puzzle

Monday, 17 April 2017

With the idea of retirement in a couple of years, my focus is on our finances in the form of paying off bills, but it is also on preparing for the economics of retirement.  Specifically:  How much retirement income can I expect?  To get to the point where I can sit down with my retirement fund representatives, I need to take a class that is all about the requirements and benefits and so many other things.  That is on the agenda over the next several weeks.  I will do the one online rather than a group class as it fits my schedule better.

Unlike many people, I have good retirement available to me, but in my own lifetime, I have seen the benefits begin to decrease.  I have fewer benefits than people who began before me, and those coming after have even less.

It is really important to know what lies ahead in the retirement world.  How much income?  What kind of health benefits?  Medicare costs?  Time lines?  The fact is, retirement in the US is a costly and complex process, and for many, it means a drop into instant poverty.

With women still making less than men, it is especially important for women to look ahead, and to plan ahead.  I had an auntie, born in 1903, who died at 90.  She planned.  When she died, she had $500,000.00 in the bank and a ton of stock in GE, where she had worked since the 1920s.  This is a woman who did plan ahead, and she did well considering her education stopped at the end of the 8th grade.

So, that is my research over the next few months – finding out about my retirement plan, my social security, and when I need to enroll in Medicare, even if I won’t need it since I will be under Mr. 182’s insurance.

Planning ahead requires doing research, coming up with plans, and deciding what to do.  Having alternate plans is also strategically important because everything is subject to change without notice!

 

 

Monday 117: Lettuce Soup, Anyone?

Monday, 10 April 2017

Last month we replenished our food stores by buying bulk amounts of meat, coffee, and other staples, such as flour and beans.  Because we seldom eat out, we like to eat well at home.  There are times when we eat stuff just because we are too busy to do anything too elegant.  That is when a grilled hamburger takes its place at the dinner table.

Other times, we have more freedom in our lives to make meals, and that is when our stores come to good use, as well as making large amounts of a fancier meal so we can add to the frozen food supply.  As the internet is full of great recipes, it is an excellent resource for recipes using stores on hand, fresh or frozen.

At times, leftover vegetables become something of an issue.  This is where soups step in.  All you need are vegetables and water and herbs at a minimum, but other goodies, such as chicken broth (home-made from leftover chicken, or a box from Trader Joe’s), cream, butter, onions, garlic, herbs, lemon, tomatoes, and grains or pasta add to the mix.  I’ve made soups from wilting lettuce and leftover sweet potato fries.

My standard approach to making a soup is to survey the vegetables in the refrigerator.  Is the lettuce ok?  Do I have a small amount of cooked vegetables that are too small to make a serving for anyone?  What do I have on hand, what do I need to go buy?  Most importantly, what do I need to use up????

All these are considered.

Let me give you an example of my thoughts for today’s soup:

Sweet Potato Fries Soup

-Leftover sweet potato fries (made by roasting fingers of sweet potatoes in olive oil and pepper for about 45 minutes @ 350 F)
-Chicken stock
-Cream / yogurt
-Butter

Combine leftover fries with some chicken stock; use immersion blender to puree. Add more stock and cream to serve amount of people being fed. Add a few blobs of butter as it warms up. Sprinkle with hot chili powder; garnish with fresh parsley and a dollop of kefir cheese or sour cream.

I have also made lettuce soup, though not recently.  It’s easy!  Same principles as above apply.

Leftover Lettuce Soup

-Old lettuce that is not spoilt
-Broth
-Seasoning of your choice

Saute an onion with some garlic in a sauce pan. Blend some broth and lettuce in a blender till smooth. Add to onion and garlic. Heat, serve, eat. Season to your preferences.

A leftover lettuce soup is green and tasty. Heck, add other vegetables, like corn, carrots, broccoli. Whatever.

The whole point is to not waste food – just put it into new and edible forms. Making soups is often quick and easy.  You can freeze them, too, for those days when you could use them – or just freeze them to get them out of the way so you can move onto the next meal.

Creative usage of leftovers and not-so-fresh produce is a great way to save money as well as stock up your frozen food supplies.