Monday, May 13, 2024

The FIRE is Still Burning

Reading the retirement issue of the New York Times Magazine this weekend reminded me that I still have things to say on these topics, despite the lack of posting! The "FIRE" acronym has been around for years, but now, beyond just "Financial Independence Retire Early," there are subgroups like Fat-FIRE for people who retire early and have luxurious lifestyles, and Lean-FIRE for people who are managing their early retirement by being extremely frugal. Coast-FIRE means you save a lot early on so you can kick back later. Barista-FIRE means you are sort of retired but working part time in some sort of job to get health insurance.

Now I feel like I'm at the supermarket looking at all the different types of yogurt. I guess it wouldn't be America if we didn't figure out a way to expand every concept into a million different flavors!

I guess my FIRE flavor is a bit of a smorgasbord. I'm probably least aligned with the Lean people. While I have always valued fragility and spent many years trying to live well below my means, I've never felt really hard core about that approach, as I allowed myself plenty of little splurges. Coast sounds a lot like me: I wouldn't be in my current financial position if I hadn't saved big chunks of my earnings starting in my 20s and 30s. Barista doesn't seem like quite the right word for my current work status, but I do feel like I'm off the career track, working rather lightly so I can feel productive and get benefits. 

How about Fat? I've never felt particularly fat. But now there's that pandemic and perimenopausal weight gain that has forced me to buy more new clothes than usual in the last few years. I'm NOT enjoying THAT kind of fat. But I'm feeling a little chubby in the other way too, in terms of living well. In the last couple of years, I've felt secure enough to start spending more money. Some of those new clothes were at price ranges I never would have even imagined before. If I told my 35-year old self I'd someday spend $350 on a scarf, she'd have been horrified. But I did, and it's a gorgeous and unique scarf that goes with everything and elevates any outfit and I wear it a lot and feel like it's worth every penny for how happy it makes me. Maybe it even makes me look thinner??? 

And Sweetie and I have decided that when we do our next big trip, hopefully to Asia sometime next year, we're going to stop torturing our bodies and fly business class. We're also going to upgrade one of our cars sometime soon-- not to a Maserati or anything, but something with more comfortable, power-adjustable seats for both driver and passenger. It's shocking how hard it is to find a sub-compact SUV with a power-adjustable passenger seat-- many brands just don't offer it, even in the top-level models. So it looks like an Audi, BMW, Lexus or Volvo is in our future, for probably somewhere between $40,000-50,000. This feels so splurgy to me, but then I found out that my sister and her husband have two new (bigger) cars that have each cost more than that, all while they have two kids in college who will be graduating with some big debts, it sounds like. Auntie X will try to reserve some funds to help the kiddos out, of course, but I'm prioritizing my spinal health for the moment! Being able to do this feels like true luxury to me. But I don't think I'll ever quite fit in with the true Fat-FIRE adherents, as they seem to mainly be Silicon Valley entrepreneur types who cash out of a start-up and have more extreme lifestyle goals. (Or else, as one person in the NY Times article points out, they are people who are raising kids in expensive places like San Francisco, and therefore have huge budgets for lifestyles that might seem not that fancy elsewhere.) I still have a lot of Lean moments of watching for what's on sale in the supermarket, using coupons, and picking up coins whenever I spot them!

Anyway, that is my little flicker of FIRE for today! I haven't posted in forever but life is good! I continually resolve to dump all my money thoughts in this blog where they belong, so maybe one of these days I'll start posting more again. Thank you to those of you who still stop by and leave comments!

Friday, March 17, 2023

Duplicated Securities in Quicken

When I was working on reporting my net worth to you the other day, I was surprised to see that it was about $3.3 million! I immediately knew I shouldn't get too excited, though. It wasn't the first time I'd had Quicken duplicate the securities in my 401k account, thereby artificially inflating my account value.

It's a very annoying problem to have-- Quicken has a "merge securities" feature that lets you combine the assorted versions of a security that have been downloaded under different names. But sometimes the problem is that you still end up with the wrong number of shares for each security-- usually double what you really have. I did a little online searching for solutions but didn't find much. I tried just deleting one version of a security, but Quicken wouldn't let me do that, since both versions were active. I probably should have just removed all the shares for the duplicate securities, but from what little I did see online, it looked like merging the securities would be the best way to go.

Merging the securities was a little complicated. The securities in Quicken don't all have 5-letter symbols, and even ones that did have those symbols had been downloaded under various names, so my security list was looking rather cluttered. A few others seemed to have changed ticker symbols.(The downside to just letting Quicken add all these transactions automatically is that I don't pay as much attention to what's going on. But my old method of entering them manually was a big drag.)

As I was merging the securities, I noticed that it might be duplicating the number of shares, but I figured I'd just have to adjust that afterwards. Once the security list was cleaned up, I went through my 401k statement to check the true number of shares vs. what was showing in Quicken, and then entered some "remove shares" transactions to correct the balance. And voila, I'm back to being $1.5 million poorer! 

The really annoying thing was that the inflated numbers somehow populated my past years' net worths in Quicken. I'd never really played around with restoring from a backup in this version of Quicken, but I decided to try it and see if I might be able to correct the past years. To make a long story short, I ended up restoring an older backup, having more problems, then going back to the more recent version I'd fixed, then having doubts, then installing a Quicken update, and doing a couple more rounds of adjusting transactions, merging securities, etc. What a mess. At this point, I do have the past years fixed and my current share counts are pretty accurate, but my most recent 401k contribution seems to be missing 3 mutual fund purchases, so something still isn't working right. UGH! I'm going to sit on it for a bit and see what happens when my next contribution goes through and whether my balances and share counts match my next statement.

The main thing that came out of this is that I'm going to be more vigilant about recording my net worth at the end of every year in a separate spreadsheet, and probably on paper somewhere too! Just in case.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

2022 Income and Year-End Net Worth

In a previous post, I gave a run-down on all my 2022 expenses, in the form of a total for Sweetie and me. It's a more accurate way to do it, otherwise it might look like my food budget was shockingly high, or some other expense shockingly low because Sweetie paid for it.

As for income, I don't have all Sweetie's numbers handy, so you're going to have to settle for just mine!

I earned $82,660 in gross salary from my job. I also got $4,058 in 401k matching contributions.

I earned $575 from website stuff. (Amazon affiliate commissions and Google Ads)

I received cash gifts of $400. ($200 for my birthday and $200 for Christmas, from my mom.)

I earned $317 in interest on cash in bank accounts.

And I received $77,204 in assorted dividends and capital gains in my various investment accounts, including retirement and non-retirement accounts.

So that's a total of $165,217.

I'm always kind of amazed at how the investment income has become so large-- almost half the total this year. In 2021, it was even larger! About $150,560 vs. $80,116 for all the other income. But that was an extraordinary year.

Either way, it shows the power of all those early years of saving and investing. That snowball effect is really happening now, especially when the markets are doing well. Though it also looks more significant because my salary is less than half of what it was before I retired, down-shifted, took a sabbatical, or whatever you want to call it. With all the craziness of the past 3 years, I have to say I'm really glad I'm working again. I feel more secure knowing I have income covering my expenses, and decent healthcare coverage.

As for my net worth:

This was a bit annoying to figure out. I've just had some annoying Quicken problems where various securities were duplicated, and even though I've now fixed everything, the errors somehow are going backwards and throwing off my net worth for year-end 2022, and even back through earlier years as well. Luckily, I did post on this site that my 2021 year-end my net worth was $2,232,684. 

Unfortunately, 2022 was not kind to my investments. I ended the year at $1,779,292, which is the biggest net worth decline I've ever had in one year. In percentage terms, it's even worse than I did back in 2008 during the financial crisis. But I have a lot more money in the markets now, and I had some pretty big gains in 2021 and 2020. With my lower salary, I also can't save as much as I used to, which would have helped offset some investment losses. But luckily, I'm still ahead of where I was at the beginning of 2020.

It's a bit weird to realize that I'm basically saying "Yeah, I lost half a million dollars in a year, but no big whoop!" Part of me is really freaked out by that! But this is what investing is all about, risk and return, ups and downs. I will take a look at all my investments a bit more closely to make sure I still feel comfortable with how they're allocated and whether I should maybe be a little more conservative since I'm getting closer to traditional retirement age. I'll keep controlling what I can control, like spending, and try not to freak out about the rest. 

My net worth is at $1,857,838 as of this writing, so I'm riding some pretty big waves. I still feel good about where I am, especially given that I had a couple years when I had to spend down some savings while I had no income from a job. As shown in my last post, my expenses aren't exactly bare bones frugality, but I'm living within my means, and my shared means with Sweetie. But 2023 isn't looking all that promising, so I don't even know how to guess at a goal for the end of the year. Let's say $2 million. We'll see...

Friday, March 10, 2023

2022 Expenses

The commenters have been clamoring! I know I've been delinquent, I keep meaning to post here more often and for some reason always put it off. But yes, I'm still alive and still earning and spending money! So let's talk about that. 

This year I thought I'd share the total household expenses that Sweetie and I share. Throughout the year one or the other of us will always pay for certain things, but at the end of the year, I do a reconciliation of all our expenses, break out what is truly individual vs. shared, and then make sure the shared expenses are shared equally. Usually it works out pretty well, but if not, we'll pay each other back as needed.
Here's the combined breakdown. 

CategoryTOTAL 2021TOTAL 2022var %
Bank Charge-$395-$63360%
Gifts Given-$3,897-$5,68646%
Gym & Fitness-$1,380-$1,248-10%
Hair and Personal care-$2,136-$2,2606%
Household & Garden-$11,354-$4,994-56%
Housing -$8,873-$8,103-9%
Cable TV & Internet-$1,704-$1,672-2%
Propane Gas-$1,560-$1,90022%

  • Auto: we have 2 cars, both fully paid off, so this is just gas and maintenance. 
  • Charity: I don't know why our charitable giving went down so much-- oversight, I guess, or maybe some things that were last minute and ended up in 2023 on our credit cards.
  • Clothing: I've been buying my favorite jeans on eBay, and investing in foot comfort with some expensive Hoka sneakers. But otherwise, working from home makes me so much less concerned about my wardrobe.
  • Dining: we don't eat in restaurants very often, and order takeout even less frequently now that we're not in the city. This line includes all meals, groceries and liquor. We do enjoy our wine, but have been cutting back in recent months.
  • Entertainment: this includes books, Netflix, and things like museums and concerts.
  • Gifts: this was high due to one of our nieces graduating from high school.
  • Household: in 2021 we still had some "settling in" expenses of furniture, etc. This line includes getting the gutters cleaned, some small tools, cleaning supplies (at least any that don't end up combined with a grocery bill), gardening supplies, and a new electric lawn mower that Sweetie just loves! I've been growing a nice little crop of herbs and tomatoes each summer, and invested in a raised planter so as not to have to do as much weeding down on my knees.
  • Housing: we have no mortgage, just property taxes and HOA fee.
  • Medical: we're both covered under insurance from my job, so this reflects those premiums and a few co-pays. I'm surprised it wasn't higher in 2022 as I was doing physical therapy for several months due to back problems.
  • Misc: this is very high for 2022 due to a few one-off things like a new iPhone for Sweetie, and a painting that I fell in love with, which cost just under $2,000. I've never spent that kind of money on art before! But the painting makes me really happy. I actually had been interested in a different piece by that artist that turned out to be priced at $20,000! It would not have made me ten times happier, so I'm glad I chose what I did.
  • Subscriptions: I still love getting a physical newspaper but I cut back to 4 days a week delivery. I also subscribe to several magazines.
  • Taxes: neither of us was working in 2020, so we owed very little in taxes at the beginning of 2021. But then 2021 was such a huge year for the stock market, we both had some significant capital gains taxes, and I was also paying estimated quarterly taxes.
  • Travel: we finally got on a plane for our first real vacation since COVID! Now we're itching to do more traveling again.

Everything else basically reflects our existence as creatures of habit living in a world with some inflation.
I'll share more details in another post soon!

Sunday, January 02, 2022

2021 Year-End Update

What a year... as I write this, I'm on the mend from my own mild case of COVID, having been finally been hit by Omicron despite being vaccinated and boosted. (I got it from extended indoor, unmasked contact with a family member who turned out to have been not as "careful" as they thought they had been.) I know a lot of people are in the same boat. It is disheartening to have such a huge spike in cases after feeling optimistic over the summer, but I am trying to focus on the lower hospitalization and death rates. If vaccinations mean COVID becomes something that has less serious long-term health risks, like the regular flu, that is good news.

I've been using this low-energy post-holiday time to start getting year-end accounting in order. A few facts and figures:

The investments I manage for my mother had returns of about 20% this year.

My year-end net worth was $2,232,684.

My income from investments was approximately $145,000, while my income from work was approximately $72,000.

My spending on "Arts," a new category I started breaking out last year for museums and concerts, was up from about $100 in 2020 to over $1,000 in 2021 because I was so excited to enjoy live music with the reopening of local venues. (Most of the concerts I went to were outdoors, but a couple were indoors, with masks required.)

Sweetie and I had let our gym membership expire during the height of the pandemic, but we re-joined this fall, at a cost of about $1,100 for a year. I also spent about $250 on some apps and equipment to try to get myself to exercise more at home.

My travel expenses were an all-time (or all recent memory, anyway) low of $356 in 2021. All we did was visit family using our own car. 2020 would have been almost as low but for an international trip for a wedding early in the year, before the pandemic blew up.

I spend about $1,800 on clothes in 2021, vs a little over $800 in 2020. I bought a couple of expensive fleeces from Patagonia and expensive Hoka One One sneakers since they are the only shoes I can really walk in anymore, but otherwise much of my spending was on very inexpensive jeans and shirts on eBay, some of which were for Sweetie. I love working from home and being able to prioritize comfort!

When I did my 2020 taxes with my accountant and she heard I was working again, she suggested that I not do pre-tax 401k contributions anymore. She did a quick calculation of how my savings might be likely to grow over the next 15 or so years and said "you're going to have a lot of money when you retire! Your tax bracket is likely to be higher then, so you should probably focus on Roth IRA contributions now." So I immediately switched to doing Roth 401k contributions in my employer's plan.

I'm still enjoying working again. During the summer, I did find myself missing the freedom I had the last couple of years, and Sweetie is itching to travel again when the pandemic subsides. I'm hoping there will be an opportunity to scale back my hours. Occasionally it has crossed my mind that I could get a better-paying job that would still allow me to work from home, now that my entire industry has become more flexible about remote work and is likely to stay that way. But I'm not feeling greedy about the money. My current salary has more than stabilized my cash flow. I could cut back my hours somewhat and still get benefits, so that is a plan that is in the back of my mind for whenever it makes sense.

Thank you to anyone who still checks back in and reads these posts. I wish you all a very happy and healthy New Year! Onwards and upwards in 2022 (as long as we're not talking about COVID hospitalization rates!)

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Things I Thought I'd Write About

 I was going through a notebook that I've been keeping for the past couple of years that has a page in it where I jotted notes about things to write blog posts about. Obviously there is a lot I didn't get around to! But here's the list so you'll have at least some cryptic idea about things that struck me as being interesting from a money perspective:

Babbitt (the book)

The Manticore p 21-22 (a rather fascinating book, with some interesting observations about wealth)

p.154 Murder Must Advertise (another book! I don't remember what the money connection was, exactly)

Elizabeth White Faking Normal (I haven't read the book but saw something on TV about her, I think. A 55 year old woman talks about how she hid her financial problems.)

HDFC coops

"Hard Work"

Social Security projections

XX Finance advice (this related to a friend of mine who invested an inheritance with a financial advisor who had been recommended by some other friends. They put the money in a ton of different funds and did a lot of trading, and then the market went down. XX freaked out and ended up pulling out all her money and taking a loss. She then used the money to pay off her mortgage instead. The whole thing was just a series of mistakes in my view. XX couldn't handle the idea of risk and waiting for longer term results. The advisors were not investing her money efficiently, I don't think. I kept telling XX she could just put her money in Vanguard funds and do better but she was more comfortable playing it safe, even though her mortgage interest rate wasn't that high and she didn't have much of a savings cushion left after paying it off.)

Musicians, $600 (a friend of ours performed in a club, a big career step for him. But he had to pay backup musicians. The club was slow in paying his share of the ticket proceeds, the musicians wanted their cash, and he ended up borrowing $600 from Sweetie to close the gap. Sweetie never got the $600 back, though the friend more than made up for it in other ways later. But it just got me thinking about how many musicians seem to live on a thin edge financially. And that was way before the pandemic.)

Fred Bass $25 mil estate (this was the owner of the Strand bookstore in NYC, who amassed quite a bit of wealth. More recently his daughter caught some flak over her appeal for people to buy books from them during the pandemic, which some people took as a wealthy woman crying poverty.)

Wild (again, the book.)

Baby shower (someone I know spent an insane amount on a fancy baby shower party)

Near misses (__layoffs, __ layoffs, could have changed my luck) (I've worked a few places where other people got laid off and I somehow didn't, at a point where my finances weren't really solid enough to handle it. There but for the grace... etc.)

Investment results

Optimism vs pessimism/distrust

Healthcare, mom's $3k meds, medicare (yikes. now I can't even remember what those $3k meds were!)

Gala (a swanky fundraiser I went to, where the ratio of expense to benefit was probably questionable)

Mom's apartment move


That's the whole list. At some point I'll elaborate more on some of those later items, perhaps! Or maybe I'll just keep accumulating notes and sketchy comments! 

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Another 2020 Update

 I have been so checked out on blogging and hadn't even seen the comments on my last post until just now. It is good to hear updates from longtime readers-- some sad news, unfortunately, but also some positive news. Deaths and births and life ongoing, as everyone adjusts to the pandemic.

I lost a dear friend this past week, to old age and unrelated to COVID, but it made me think about how much I value spending time with loved ones, which has been difficult these past months. I saw this friend a few times this year, always a bit worried about the risk to her of any outing, even a tiny, socially distant, mostly outdoor, or at least well-ventilated gathering. She had lived a very long life, and wanted to keep living it fully as best she could. We went to a museum together a few months ago, and she came to my house for Thanksgiving. She was hoping to visit Paris again when travel resumed. She was 94 years old.

On a more positive note, the pandemic has had a silver lining for me. I got a job! I used to sometimes hear from friends in my industry who thought I might be interested in certain openings, but when I said I didn't want to commute into NYC at all, things fell apart. But now that everyone is working remotely for the near future, that all changed! The perfect job kind of fell into my lap-- a more junior, less stressful position than I've had in a while, with a flexible schedule and decent benefits. I can work from home permanently. I wasn't sure I wanted a "real" job again, but I feel like this is something where I can be useful. It doesn't pay much in comparison to my past jobs, but it's more than enough to cover the costs of my current lifestyle and put me back into the mode of saving money instead of depleting my resources. And I figured with everything pretty much shut down because of the pandemic, I had nothing better to do anyway! Sweetie is a little bored while I'm working away upstairs, but when the time comes that we want to travel again and do other things, I'll see what I can work out in terms of reduced hours. So far I am happy enough that I think I'd like to continue part-time work for the longer term, but if that isn't possible, I can always just retire again, and be in a better financial position than the last time I tried to retire. One thing I've realized is that I am very good at working, but not very good at managing my own time in a productive and creative way. I need some kind of project to organize-- for a while it was moving, and home renovations, but once those things were past, I was getting bored again and COVID left me feeling even more aimless. So even if it's not quite the post-retirement plan I'd envisioned, I'm in a good place.

I have lots more money stuff to talk about-- how much I invested in home office ergonomics, Sweetie's new car, my mom, my investments, and a recap of my 2020 budget and net worth. I'll try to get to it before summer! Happy New Year everyone! Wishing you all a joyous and healthy 2021.