Monday, January 05, 2015

Happy New Year!

I can't believe it's 2015, and 3 months have gone by since I last posted. Resolution #1 is to get back in the habit of writing more! I fixed some problems with the site template that had been bothering me for a while, so maybe that will encourage me to stop by more often. So what's new? Here's a few broad strokes. My mom has her house on the market. After a few months, she hasn't had any bites. She missed the best time of year last spring when families would have had a chance to close the deal in time to get their kids in the local school by the start of the fall. Also, the house is probably overpriced. It's a strange market with not too many good comps in her price range, but I think what it comes down to is that it's a small, crummy house even if it's been nicely decorated and has a big yard. It's not the kind of house families want nowadays. So I am trying not to say "I told you so" about all my mom's renovations that she swore would increase the value of the house. She probably would have been better off selling it as a tear-down. But she has at least gotten a few years of enjoyment out of the work she's had done. And from what I could tell from snooping around on my last visit, she isn't running up any credit card debt yet, though I worry that will start to happen soon since I think most of the savings are gone. I continue to save my own pennies and did pretty well this year. I first hit the million dollar net worth milestone back in June and despite fluctuations in the stock market, have managed to keep my net worth at or above that level every month since except for one, when it dipped to $999,827 in September. As of the end of 2014, my net worth was $1,027,750. One interesting thing I noticed was that I made more from dividends and capital gains distributions from investments this year than I was making in salary about 15 years ago-- around $50,000! And my net savings for the year were over $90,000. I spent more in some areas than the previous year (food), but cut back in others (travel). But it's hard to gauge my spending accurately against previous years because Sweetie and I keep adjusting how we share expenses. I'm paying for Sweetie's health insurance now too. Sweetie hasn't worked in over a year and is just living off savings. It's fine for now, and it's been more of a voluntary sabbatical than actually trying and failing to find a job, but that will most likely change in the coming year-- by which I mean I hope it changes to employment, rather than a desperate and unsuccessful search for employment! I've been happy to support my Sweetie in this endeavor and we are extremely fortunate in not having to have made too many lifestyle adjustments, at least not yet, but I must confess I kind of preferred how it was before when we felt even more secure and relaxed about the occasional luxury! It will be interesting to see how things go once Sweetie gets serious about looking for a new job... There's so much more to write about-- thoughts about my own job history, the economy, friends and family, books I've read, catching up on long-past things like selling my condo! I will try to tackle them soon. But in the meantime, I am grateful to everyone who continues to check in here, and I feel incredibly fortunate that my own financial story continues to be a happy one despite so much difficulty in the world around me.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Spending in a Fog

I went to Home Depot the other day to buy a plant as a gift for someone. I figured I could find something inexpensive but cheerful there. But I have been very leery of Home Depot since hearing about their credit card data breach, and the questionable cyber-security practices that led up to it, so I went there fully intending to pay cash for whatever I bought, and wondered if I would see other customers doing the same. 

I browsed the plant section a bit, and took note of various prices, but then started to focus more on the kind of care the plants needed and whether the leaves were in good shape. I ended up deciding to buy a plant for myself in addition to the gift, and headed for the register. As I waited to pay, I did see people using credit cards, surprisingly, but I was then distracted from my observations by a lady in front of me who asked where I had found my plants. I told her, and then she asked how much they cost. I felt so stupid having to admit that I had no idea! I knew the range of costs for plants I had considered was about $10 up to $40, and was pretty sure I hadn't picked the $40 ones, but other than that, I was stumped. There is something very embarrassing to me about being perceived as someone who would just obliviously spend money with no sense of the value of things, so I was just mortified. When I paid, it turned out that my total was about $42 for two plants, which was more than I had been expecting. 
Sometimes there can be a bit of embarrassment to asking how much something costs-- that snobby "if you have to ask, you can't afford it" thing. And then there's the opposite experience, which I had in an airport recently-- I bought a small bottle of water and the cashier said "those are $4.25, do you still want it?" Again I had been oblivious, and suddenly that seemed an outrageous price for water! And I guess the cashier asked because she was used to people being outraged. But when I said "which water brand is cheapest," and she told me it was only about 25 cents less, it didn't seem worth walking back across the store to make the switch. Apparently water sales are the only thing that keeps airport stores in business these days, and if you want to stay well-hydrated you'll just have to deal with some degree of outrage! ( or bring your own bottle to fill if you can find a fountain.)

Ah psychology...

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Quicken for Mac 2015

Finally, Quicken has released an update for Mac users! This is meant to be a full version to replace Quicken for Mac 2007, with more functionality than Quicken Essentials for Mac. Unfortunately, it sounds like Intuit has failed once again to keep Mac users happy. The new software is getting pretty terrible reviews on Amazon. And it's not cheap! $74.95! Even against my better judgment, I was curious to try it because it will sync with a new Quicken iphone app, but I'd be resigning myself to more manual data entry because the Quicken for Mac 2015 doesn't allow import of QIF files, which is all that some of my accounts offer for downloading transactions.

As long-time readers of this site may remember, being able to enter transactions in a PDA or smartphone and sync with a desktop app has always been a big priority for me. It's a big part of how I track my finances, and I think tracking my finances down to the last penny is a big part of how I stay on track with my savings goals. I used to use a few different Palm apps, including Pocket Quicken. When I moved to the iPhone, I started using PocketMoney, which was the only app I could find that would "sync" with Quicken. I say that in quotation marks because the process is not a one-click sync, it's a rather complicated back and forth process, where you transfer a QIF file of recent transactions from iPhone to desktop, and then transfer a full restore of your updated accounts, transactions and balances back to the iPhone via another QIF file. But even if a bit time-consuming, it worked quite well... until now.

I finally upgraded my iPhone OS to iOS7. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming, because I preferred the look of iOS6 and was afraid a new OS would slow down my phone, but eventually, so many of my apps started to be incompatible that I figured I might as well do it. Fortunately my phone is working fine, but PocketMoney is now much more prone to crashing and has some weird issues, such as the keyboard covering fields where you'd want to read what you're typing. It still functions, though it's somewhat annoying to have to scroll to where you can see what you're entering. And the crashes make me worry that I'll lose data. Unfortunately the original developer of PocketMoney died a while ago, and his successors at the company don't seem to be keeping the software up to date. It's a shame, as there still doesn't seem to be any real alternative for my situation!

It's a shame-- I was all excited about a new version of Quicken, and then so disappointed when I saw the scathing reviews. Check it out on Amazon.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Airline Seating Prices

Travel is just designed to piss people off nowadays. They charge you for food. They charge you for baggage. They charge you for extra legroom. And now they are stooping to a new low: they charge you extra to not be in a middle seat!! To me, this is truly obnoxious. (I am not sure how many airlines are doing this,  but KLM is, and I'm sure others will soon catch on.)

If you travel internationally, you will notice that almost half of the total ticket price is a "carrier-imposed international surcharge." I used to travel frequently to London for only $300-400 round trip in the off season. The last time I went to London, in February, the price was about $900!

I just booked a trip to Amsterdam and the prices made me grumpy. But I ended up opting to pay even more-- I coughed up $123 for the best economy seat with extra legroom and incline, and so Sweetie and I could sit in a pair of seats by ourselves rather than having to share a 3-seat row with someone else. It is an overnight flight and I always have a terrible time sleeping on planes. On top of that, I've had some excruciating back problems recently, so it seemed worth it to add 10% to the price of the ticket in exchange for a little more comfort. 

I am really looking forward to the trip, now that I am past the annoyance of booking those pricy tickets! We'll be staying with friends, so that part will be cheap, and I am excited to add a new country to my world explorations, especially one with such a rich history of art and culture, not to mention the birth of global trade. But no World Cup final to add to their glory this year... 

Friday, July 04, 2014

Financial Independence Day

Today is the day-- a cold and wet and dreary July 4th, when I should be celebrating the birth of our nation by sunning myself and eating hot dogs but am instead huddled indoors catching up on my finances. And because today is the day I decided to pay attention to 6 months' worth of investment transactions, today is the day I became a millionaire. In truth, it probably happened on a different day, but today is the day I first saw it in my net worth report in Quicken:

So I am celebrating financial independence today. Of course, by "financial independence" I don't mean I never have to work again, or that I can stop saving money, or even stop worrying about money. One million dollars is an arbitrary number, but there is something symbolic about it. To me, it symbolizes having succeeded in one of my financial goals, and it means that I'm on the right track. I have about 20 years to go before I hit retirement age, so if I'm lucky enough to keep myself in a good job, keep my expenses in line, stay healthy, and not have any major catastrophes in my personal finances or in the stock market and economy as a whole, I should be able to be financially independent for the rest of my life, in terms of not needing to be a burden on anyone else in my old age.

It looks like the sky is starting to lighten up a bit, so maybe it's finally time to turn off the laptop and start celebrating July 4th in a more typical way! Happy Independence Day, everyone!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

How to Invest My Cash

For the last few months, I have had a very pleasant problem: approximately $150,000 in cash sitting in my savings account. Most of this is from the proceeds of selling my condo, plus a little growth from savings and interest. I have been holding off on any big investment decisions for a while, partly out of pure laziness and partly because there are some possibilities floating around for how to use the money. 

One thing I might do is buy all or part of some real estate Sweetie owns, as since Sweetie isn't working and I am, there could be some tax benefit to me being the one with the mortgage. 
Another possibility is going into business with some friends who want to invest in rental real estate upstate. There are some college towns where the investment return on properties is quite attractive. Though I didn't want to be an active, hands-on landlord, I don't mind doing some occasional work and otherwise being a passive investor, and trust the friends involved, one of whom has hands-on experience as a real estate agent and property manager.
And then there's just the stock market. I just bought $20,000 more in mutual funds to add to my E*Trade portfolio. I am tempted to put even more in, figuring I could sell some of my earlier investments if I need to free up cash later. 
There's no easy answers, but again, this is a good problem that I am glad to have!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Great Aunt Minnie Keeps on Giving

At a family party recently, one of my aunts took me aside to say she had something very important to give to my sister and me. This was the aunt for was the executor of Great Aunt Minnie's estate. And sure enough, there turned out to be some additional inheritance funds coming to us! My aunt had finally rolled all the coins that Minnie had kept in a jar, and after taking them to the bank, there must have been about $30. My aunt handed me a little envelope with my sister's and my name on it, and inside there were two silver dollars (the old ones with JFK in them) and 3 dollar bills. My sister and I each kept 1 coin, and I let her have 2 of the dollar bills, since neither of us had change... And, well, she's got a family to support and all...

I have the envelope in my underwear drawer at the moment-- not that there's any particular reason to keep it there, but it happened to be where Sweetie put it to get it out of the way one day. It makes me smile when I see it every morning, thinking about my wonderful great aunt, who would have turned 100 just a few days ago...
More on my inheritance from Great Aunt Minnie in his post: