<< Back to all Blogs
Login or Create your own free blog
Layout:
Home > Category: Mindset
 

Viewing the 'Mindset' Category

Whipsawed, but in a good way

November 1st, 2008 at 08:21 am

I hardly know where to begin. A few weeks ago, I was actually in tears because of money worries and now I'm trying to figure out how to divvy up a 45% increase in our cash flow. I just found out that my boss really went to bat for me, and got approval for me to go full-time with benefits! Not only is it more hours and free insurance, but also an increase in my hourly rate. Things sure can change fast, down or up.

I've been very worried about how we'd cope when DH's Cobra coverage ran out. That's a big part of the reason I went ahead and sold the rest of the ETFs I had in my IRA. I didn't want to raid the IRA to pay for health insurance, but I wanted to have the option if it came to that. If the stock market kept tanking, I couldn't be sure of how much I'd have available.

I've been trying really hard, running around to to buy things on sale, using coupons and rebates again, and had our freezer pretty well filled up.

One night DH got out some pizza and left the door open about an inch. In the morning, I heard it running like mad and discovered it. That's when I finally broke down and cried, fearing that all the food was ruined and money wasted. (We've been using the food up as fast as we can, with no ill effects so far.)

DH started looking for work, and finally signed up with a rather cheesy temp agency out of desperation. You can read about them here, and either be forewarned or just see how the bottom half lives:

Text is http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2002/03/street_inc.html and Link is
http://www.motherjones.com/news/feature/2002/03/street_inc.h...

I even went so far as to tell my mother I couldn't chip in the tip anymore when she took us out for a meal. It was really embarrassing, but felt I had to do it.

She likes to get out to restaurants, but is housebound now and needs one of us to drive her. She pays for the meal, and we've been paying the tips. But what with gas prices, I didn't feel I could keep shelling out more money on tips than we could have made the whole meal for at home.

Now, amazingly, the tide seems to have turned. Instead of feeling stunned and unsure because of all the bad economic news, I'm now feeling stunned and unsure about how to handle this good fortune.

I really, really, don't want to blow it.




Asset allocation--any ideas?

October 5th, 2008 at 11:54 am

Hi, and hugs to everyone who left a comment for me last week.

SCFR mentioned how some older folks may be in trouble because they never changed their asset allocation as their situation changed:

Text is http://scfr.savingadvice.com/2008/10/02/still-around_43742/ and Link is
http://scfr.savingadvice.com/2008/10/02/still-around_43742/

I think that hits the nail on the head for me, also. When we had two incomes, a higher total income, and cheaper health insurance, it wouldn't have been so painful to see the balance in my IRA drop over $800 in one day. I could have just saved harder for a couple of months and made up the loss. But the way things are right now, it could take me a year or more of scrimping to make it up, if it's possible to do at all.

Maybe it isn't just fear that makes me want to lessen my exposure to stocks, but good common sense. I've heard you shouldn't invest what you can't afford to lose--and right now I don't feel like we can afford to lose ANY of it.

Here's our asset allocation right now,
roughly:

Cash 46%
Bonds 36%
Stocks 17%

Only $6487 is easily accessible, i.e., cash and not in IRAs. Most of the bonds are non-IRA, but it's not like I can count on the values holding up if I needed to sell them. I have a GMAC thing that's lost 2/3 of its original value, although it's still paying me interest.

Honestly, I think I could sleep a lot better at night if I cashed it all in and just paid off our house!

Even if I sold the rest of the stock, it still wouldn't be accessible because it's all in my IRA. But at least I'd know for sure how much I had. I did sell my S&P 500 index fund last week, and I don't regret it. It only went down from where I sold it, and then I read that more S&P 500 companies cut their dividends in Sept. than ever before. That doesn't bode well.

Any thoughts?

When poor folks have better crap than you

May 21st, 2008 at 06:41 pm

"It's bad enough trying to keep up with the Jones; when you have trouble keeping up with the guy living on the wrong side of the tracks, it's a source of constant aggravation." -- from an old blog entry by a fellow named Philip Brewer

Text is www.wisebread.com/when-poor-folks-have-better-crap-than-you and Link is
www.wisebread.com/when-poor-folks-have-better-crap-than-you

There have been a lot of sob stories in the media lately, revolving around high gas and food prices and the mortgage mess. The one people are discussing in the forums happens to be about food stamp recipients. When you're feeling stressed about your own finances, it can be really irritating when you're asked to feel sorry for someone else who's made dumb choices yet still enjoys luxuries you don't have, or has walked out on the kind of responsibility you are fulfilling, or is getting help you aren't getting. I know I've gotten riled up at times.

But Mr. Brewer says something I hope I can remember:

"When people around you make unwise choices the appropriate emotion to feel is compassion, not ire. When you find yourself wishing for better crap the appropriate emotion to feel is gratitude for the crap you've got, not envy for someone else's."

He says it's the Buddhist perspective. All I know is, I'd rather learn to think that way than have my blood pressure spike up!

He also has a good piece on how voluntary frugality and poverty are two different things--even if the poor person and the frugal person are living on the same budget.

Text is www.wisebread.com/voluntary-simplicity-versus-poverty and Link is
www.wisebread.com/voluntary-simplicity-versus-poverty

Death in the family

February 19th, 2008 at 06:02 am

One day we got a call that my MIL had a stroke, but not to worry because it appeared to be mild. A week later we were hundreds of miles from home, attending her viewing. I can't believe everything happened so fast. She was 90, so it shouldn't have been a surprise, but it was. She was still driving til the end, and had just cooked a big dinner the night before the stroke.

Since this is a financial blog, I'll try to write about things from that perspective.

First of all, when you're in a crisis situation like this, you can't always do things the cheapest way. We took Amtrak, which probably cost a bit more than driving would have been. But we didn't want to drive that far in wintry weather, on roads we weren't familiar with. We could have gotten a AAA discount if we could have made our reservations sooner, but we didn't know the date of the viewing and funeral til after the discount deadline. I also just found out we could have gotten a discount on one return fare with a coupon code, but I didn't have time to search for codes beforehand.

I'm glad that we still had a credit card, and I hadn't closed it out as per Dave Ramsey. It was nice to be able to charge the train fare, reserve the rooms, buy DH some clothes and pay for the local obituary FAST. I had enough to do without running around, getting extra money into the account that has the debit card and waiting for the deposit to clear. OTOH, I'm glad we had some money in the Emergency Fund so we can pay the bill off right away.

It's a good idea to always have suitable clothes on hand for a funeral (or wedding), and sufficient traveling gear. We hadn't traveled in years, and had gotten rid of some crummy old luggage without replacing it. I had to run out and buy a cheap set of suitcases at the last minute. (Nope, I didn't have the time to check where they were made!) Luckily, I'd bought DH some dress shoes on sale awhile back, even though he rarely needs them. He also still had a suit that fit. But he needed a new shirt, and a coat to wear over the suit. His old bomber jacket would have just looked embarrassing. It would have been a lot less stressful if we'd had all of this stuff on hand to begin with.

My oldest BIL is executor, and when we last saw him he was having trouble even finding my MIL's social security number. He hadn't really been involved with her paperwork over the years, and lives at a distance, so he's going to have quite a job finding and making sense of things. I'm more determined than ever to arrange things so DH can manage if something happens to me. He doesn't do computers at all, so this will mean converting back to paper in a lot of ways.

Finally, and most importantly, my MIL's eulogy reminded me to spend less time on finances and more time on enjoying life. The contrast with my own mother is marked. MIL didn't end up with a fortune, but she had a lot of travel and other fun under her belt. She enjoyed trying new things when she had the chance. My own mother has been very careful about money and everything else over the years. Rather than trying new things, she's apt to wonder "why would anyone want to do that?" She's a worrier from way back. So I've been thinking about how I'd rather hear my life summed up, at the end.



Of Memory Banks and Banking Memories

December 19th, 2007 at 06:57 am

I've been a Quicken enthusiast for 15 years, but I'm getting very close to giving up on it. Working on this blog entry has been a way to think it through...

128 MB. That's how much memory my computer has--and that was supposed to be the minimum requirement for running Quicken 2008 Deluxe. Well, actually running turned out to be an exaggeration--limping, crawling, or stumbling maybe. (FYI--I started using Quicken on my first computer, back in 1992. That old Quicken version had all the features I needed and worked just fine on 4 MB.)

I decided I was willing to live with the slowness and the quirks because I really wanted to play with the Savings Goal feature. But after installing a security update, it got even worse--now it won't open up and run at all.

I've put in many hours of troubleshooting already, and have another list of things to try from my new email friend, seemingly located in India. Why did I start using it in the first place, what problems did it solve, and do I still need it now? Is it worth putting in even more time trying to get it to work?

Era # 1 - No need for Quicken. Or even a calculator!

In high school and college, my finances were simple. I used a passbook savings account, a Christmas Club, and cash. With passbook savings accounts, you could see exactly what was in your account at any time by looking in the book. With the Christmas Club, you also knew exactly where you stood at all times. You could tell the balance by the number of coupons that were already taken out. And the bank always had a little display out showing what week the Club was on. If it was Week 10 and you were only paid up to Week 8, you knew you had some catching up to do.

Note, the bank provided the only tracking tools I needed.


Era # 2 - Chaos

For roughly 15 years, maybe 1977 to 1992, I could have used something like Quicken if it had existed and if I'd had a computer. I started to keep a checking account, started opening charge accounts and credit cards, and bought some savings bonds. The passbook savings accounts started to disappear, replaced by Statement Savings. The Christmas Club books started to disappear, and now worked like Statement Savings. Note the key here is the word Statement. Without the passbooks and coupon books, I now had to keep track on my own, between statements.

My tracking tools were a paper check register, deposit receipts, a pencil, and a calculator. Eventually I added two more tools--duplicate checks, and teller-provided printouts of recent transactions. They both helped me catch things I forgot to record in the register. My writing is rather large, and I've always had trouble writing in check registers. And even with a calculator I had a terrible time balancing the checkbook when the statement came. I really had no system at all for keeping track of credit card balances.

The first years DH and I were married, we lurched from one financial crisis to the next. It got so bad I was getting cash advances on one credit card to pay the minimum payment on another one. Low income, overspending, and chaotic record keeping all contributed. If payday loans had been invented yet, we might have been sucked into that. My best AND my worst purchase back then might have been that first computer I bought--for $2,000, financed on our Sears card.


Erica # 3 - Golden Age of Quicken

For the next 15 years, 1992 to 2007, I really came to rely on Quicken. It came on that first computer, so I gave it a try. It was intimidating, but the first time I went through the checkbook balancing process with it, I was sold. SO much better than doing it on paper. It seemed like a miracle. I really got into setting up categories and classes and fiddling with the budget feature.

Our financial life got more complicated. Credit union account with several subaccounts, IRAs, stock DRIP plans, more savings bonds. I opened even more credit cards for bonuses and 0% offers. I bought gift cards at a discount and had to track the remaining balances. I started selling books online, and tracked all the business income and expenses in Quicken, too.

But even with all that tracking, we've still had more unpleasant financial surprises than I would have liked--mostly due to counting on Quicken's budget feature. As I've written before, it doesn't take into account the timing of paychecks and bills. It will indicate a surplus for an upcoming month overall, without warning you that you'll go negative for a day because a big bill is due just before a paycheck. It gave me a false sense of security about spending money. So I'm no longer using it for budgeting, and I've spent a lot of time entering expected transactions months in advance, just so I can make sure we won't be going into the red at any point.

And I think our finances got so complicated partly BECAUSE of Quicken. If I'd had to deal with it all on paper, I would have kept things simpler. It seemed so easy to just keep adding accounts and categories in Quicken, til it suddenly became overwhelming.

Lately I've streamlined things. I don't have the bookselling business anymore. We don't own stocks outside of our IRAs. I'm not doing the gift card thing. Practically every transaction in and out of our accounts is predictible, if not automated. Direct deposit of paychecks, automatic transfers to savings, automatic bill payment. We still have two credit cards, but hardly ever use them. I'm trying to use cash instead of the debit card whenever possible.

There just isn't as much to track. And once again, the bank is providing the main tool I need--not in the form of passbooks and coupon books, but through online banking. Maintaining a complete written or Quicken register on my own between monthly statements just isn't as important. The headache of reconciling the account once a month when the statement comes isn't really necessary if I've been keeping up with things online.

The way I'm feeling now is, the computer is a great tool for managing finances. I wouldn't want to go back to pencil and paper. But maybe Quicken was only necessary during that period where banks were pretty much leaving us on our own, without the tools to track thngs between statements. Now with online banking, maybe the Quicken era is ending. I'm pretty sure it is for me.

The Thrift Club, or, Saving in the Great Depression (large image)

October 2nd, 2007 at 06:03 pm

DMom and I were looking through my uncle's 1932 yearbook today, before she gives it to the local historical society.

I got a kick out of this page showing the Thrift Club, and was also quite impressed.



In the depths of the Depression, the students managed to add $2,500 in deposits to the school bank. In today's dollars, that equals $37,500!

Text is http://www.minneapolisfed.org/research/data/us/calc/ and Link is
http://www.minneapolisfed.org/research/data/us/calc/

There were only a few hundred students at most, and it wasn't an affluent area. My grandfather had his hours cut to half-time, and felt lucky to have that. The culture of saving back then must have been really strong. Can you imagine 100% of a home room participating in a savings program today?

DH quitting job, with nothing else lined up

September 5th, 2007 at 07:18 am

Vent Alert! Guess what the D stands for today?

I'm about as angry and frustrated and scared as I've been since I started writing this blog. DH told me the end of last week, and it sounds like he actually gave his notice at work a week before that--without even mentioning it to me beforehand.

I started out with a sense of calm, because I finally knew what was going on. See entry here: http://stressless.savingadvice.com/2007/07/27/fud_28650/

I know he hasn't been crazy about the job for some time, and it does sound like it may be getting harder. So I can understand it. I immediately got on the stick and started cancelling automatic transfers to savings, figuring out how much more I can get in take-home by adjusting my W-4, and looking up how much individual health insurance might cost. I've done a lot of thinking about how I can reduce the food budget more, and what else we can cut. My Weight Watchers membership, perhaps?

Then this morning, DH started picking at me about the state of the house, and how I should be spending my vacation week. A vacation week I scheduled out of desperation because I was already feeling exhausted and frazzled before he hit me with this news.

All of a sudden I'm not feeling like such a team player. He's still spending money on discretionary stuff, and hasn't applied for any other jobs yet. While I'm doing my financial fiddling, he's happily watching tv or sleeping. I've been trying to be cooperative, and then he has the gall to start browbeating me.

Right at this moment, I'm feeling like I shouldn't have to give anything else up. I've been working hard at getting our expenses down over the past few years. I'm not willing to go any further. I still need to lose weight. With him at home, it's going to be hard to find time to myself, and WW meetings would be a good escape. So that stays. I need clothes, and I already have money set aside. He's still spending money on books and cigarettes. AND I'M NOT THE ONE QUITTING A JOB! So today, I'm going clothes shopping as planned, dammit.

Oh, and to top it off I found out today the car insurance bill has gone up 26%.

Whistling in the dark

July 28th, 2007 at 06:31 pm

Thanks for the comments about my health insurance worries. The support here is always great. Smile

I spent the best part of a day worrying about it, and have at least a month to go before we really have any answers. And it's not the only thing I'm worrying about right now, so..

At this point, I'm looking for ways to distract myself for the duration that 1) won't cost extra money, and 2) won't undermine my weight loss project. It's so easy to fall back into bad habits when under stress.

So, here's what I've come up with so far:

--Writing to a library that might have info on an author I've become interested in
--Getting back on track with housekeeping stuff
--Watching lots of movies
--Taking walks, exercising
--Reading
--Taking quiet time in the morning to relax, maybe write affirmations
--Listening to podcasts
--Playing Bookworm
--Closing out another credit card account, as an act of confidence in the future
--Getting to an extra WW meeting each week
--Going back to recording every penny in Quicken, and doing the 4-week reports again




FUD

July 27th, 2007 at 05:53 am

That would be Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Wikipedia says it's an advertising term, but what I'm feeling is about DH's job and our finances.

His company has been sold, and so far DH and his coworkers have good feelings about the change. They are encouraging all employees to stay, and they have more generous sick and vacation policies. However, I'm antsy to know what the health insurance situation is going to be.

They have several Blue Cross plans to choose from, but not the cheap High Deductible/Health Savings Plan combo we have now. DH has no idea yet whether it's fully paid for by the company, or whether he has to kick in, and how much.

We could be looking at substantially higher or lower take-home pay. It could mean moving ahead on goals faster than we'd thought, or having to cut our Emergency Fund and New Car Fund savings down to a trickle. As it is, we really need to buy some life insurance on him, as the new company-provided policy will be half what it was.

I'm glad it looks like he still has a job. I'm glad we have no cc debt left. I'm glad we have enough in the HSA to cover the dental work DH is in the middle of. But I still can't help being nervous!

90th birthday dilemma, partly about money

June 30th, 2007 at 06:17 am

Warning - Long!

Got a message from a family friend, asking if we were doing anything special for my mother's 90th birthday.

Back when DMom was 80, we did have a fairly large party--and now that I remember it, it was at the instigation of this same family friend. We dug out old photos and things, and put them on display. It was a nice group of guests, a mix of family and friends, and overall a very nice memory for everyone. But it also cost several hundred dollars at a time when I was using credit cards and spending money like water. This family friend whose idea it was did make a nice memory book, but didn't contribute to the cost of the party. She just made me feel like I ought to do it, if I were any kind of daughter.

So here we are 10 years later. I was planning on keeping things small, for a myriad of reasons.

My MIL turns 90 the same month, and we probably won't even be seeing her. We'll send her a larger gift than usual, and talk to her on the phone, but that will probably be it. It doesn't seem fair to go overboard for my mother if we don't do it for both.

Many of the people who attended the 80th birthday party have died, or have moved away to live with or near their children. Or they're in assisted living. Also, there really aren't many blood relatives of my mother to invite. I'd end up spending hundreds of dollars to feed distant relatives like my cousins' grandchildren on my father's side, so that other older relatives would have a ride to the event.

If I were still spending money like I used to, I might not think twice about it. (And if I weren't already devoting a fair amount of time and mental energy to my mother and her situation, maybe I'd be more willing, too.)

But right now my gut answer is "No, I'm not doing anything special for my mother's 90th birthday. If you'd like to do something yourself, feel free."

It makes me feel kind of guilty and cheap, but I just don't want to be roped into trying to recreate an event that should stay a nice memory. Or spending money because someone else thinks I ought to. (Someone, by the way, who is much better fixed than we are! And who is retired and has a lot more free time.)