Uncategorized

A Cyber Hiatus.

landscape photography of white mountain
Photo by Julius Silver

If not observed, you could waste your whole life away in front of a screen, no matter what the device.  You could miss the people you value the most, who are right in front of you.  I realized that I was spending far too much time in front of the screen.  So, for 31 days there will be no more blogs, vlogs, or Instagrams.  I’m taking a cyber hiatus.

I will be back August 1st to tell you how it went.

Have a great July!

Budgeting, saving money

Dumping Amazon Prime, and saving lots of money in the process.

woman holding card while operating silver laptop
Photo by Bruce Mars

It’s taken me a couple of years to actually pull the plug, but I’m finally doing it.

5 Reasons I’m dumping Amazon Prime

  1. HIGHER PRICES.  Amazon is no longer the least expensive retailer online for all products.  Recently I started checking other company websites and was shocked at how much less expensive things are outside of Amazon.  When I was looking for a specific item for my son for his birthday, I checked Amazon.  The item was $300, which was a bit more than I wanted to spend.  I researched the item and found it on another website, Academy Sports for $199.  It also came with a 20% coupon code.  Add with the 6% I received on Ebates, PLUS free shipping, I ended up saving over 60%.
  2. TARGET (and other online stores).  Other companies are starting to compete with Amazon, and I’m taking notice.  Specifically Target Online.  Recently I wanted to purchase some books.  Habitually, I searched Amazon first.  (That’s where you buy books, right?)  But then I decided to check Target.  Target not only had the books at the same price, but because I had the RedCard (no membership fee), I received 5% off and free shipping.  I also earned 1% in Ebates, so total savings was 6%. A WIN for me. 🙂  (Target RedCard comes in the form of a debit card if you’ve sworn off credit cards, FYI.    Not sponsored, I just like the savings.)
  3. HIGH MEMBERSHIP FEE. When I first signed up for Amazon Prime, the membership fee seemed minimal. I would make that up in the first couple of shipments.  Now the fee is $12.99/mos. or $155.88.  If I chose to pay for it all at once (which I have) it’s $119.00.  I understand that Amazon Prime isn’t just for free shipping.  They offer movies, books and ‘special offers’.  Honestly, I’ve rarely taken advantage of it.
  4. SUBPAR DELIVERY SERVICE. Delivery from Amazon is subpar, at best.  (UPS is a close 2nd in deplorable delivery practices.)  Packages were being thrown on our porch (we have the RING Security System and see everything!).  Also, we do not have a covered porch, so packages were getting soaked in the rain.  And, on several occasions, packages went ‘missing’ and we had to contact customer service.
  5. DEPLORABLE CUSTOMER SERVICE.  In the past, I’ve had decent service.  However, my last two dealings with Amazon ‘customer service’ have left me scratching my head.  Let me just preface this by saying I’m very careful about ordering products that I may have to return.  i.e. clothing.  I choose Amazon Prime, Free Returns every.single.time.  And, as I had anticipated, I had to return clothing items that did not fit.  After taking 15 minutes to find Amazon’s customer service number (1(888)280-4331 – you’re welcome. 😉 ), I had to argue with the rep because they said it was from an outside vendor and there would be a charge to return it.  It was very clear on website that it was free returns.  In the end I had to contact the specific vendor personally, and ended up losing 50% of the cost of my purchase. 😦

To be clear, I will still use Amazon from time to time.   I just won’t be paying the membership fee to do so.  I have a feeling that I’ll be saving much more than the membership fee.  It’s time to allow other companies compete for my business.   Sorry Jeff Bezos.  But I’m sure you’ll get over it.

How often do you check prices online?  Do you automatically go to Amazon?

Retirement, Retirement Journey, Social Security

62 or 67? The $188,000.00 Question.

Social Security Age-1.png

$188,000.00 is the amount of money that we would leave on the proverbial table if we waited until our retirement age of 67 to take Social Security.  By quickly calculating the difference in the amount we would receive, it would take 12 years for us to break even.

Waiting until 67 allows the benefit to ‘grow’ 8% each year, which financial advisors will tell you is a great rate.  (But you all know how I feel about financial advisors However, the 8%  incentive is only good if you live well beyond 74.  The operative word being ‘live’.  All of the social security benefit goes away when you die.  Since we don’t know when we are going to die, it remains the one thing that makes this decision a gamble either way.

I will have to make a similar decision on a pension that I expect to receive in five years.  Based on the numbers at this time, I can either take $600 a month for life, or a lump sum of $137,000.  If I live another 30 years, the monthly payment would be $216,000.00 in total pay outs but would end upon my death, whenever that may be.   However, if I take the lump sum, invest it conservatively (earning 4-5%) while taking $600 a month, after 30 years I would still have $64,000.00.  It can continue to grow and be given to my heirs even after I’m gone.

Screenshot_2019-06-14 How long will my money last with systematic withdrawals Calculators by CalcXML

 

This seems very similar to the decision with Social Security.

If we never spent the monthly checks from social security from 62-67, the $188,000 could be invested (conservatively at 4-5%) until 67.  At 67, we would have

$216,000.00

Now let’s say I started taking the extra $1,200 a month I would have gotten if I waited until 67, from that investment still earning 4-5% a year.  I would be able to pull that money out for another 25 years.  If I die before the 25 years is up, that money can go to my heirs as well.

Screenshot_2019-06-14 How long will my money last with systematic withdrawals Calculators by CalcXML(1)

I’ve accounted for taxes and low investment yields.  It seems like a no brainer to me.  I should take the money the earliest it is offered.

Okay all you math nerds…am I missing something?

 

 

financial advisor, Retirement

Our first meeting with a financial advisor.

photo of person holding black pen
Photo by rawpixel.com

Since retirement is now  4.5 – 5 years away, Joe and I thought it might be time to consult with a financial advisor to find out if we are on the right track with our money.

We started the search for an advisor on Google, and found a fee only advisor in our area.  Although his rate was a hefty $300/hr., he did offer a free initial consultation.  We made an appointment.

Joe and I felt prepared for the meeting.  Armed with a solid base of personal finance knowledge and a list of questions, we anticipated a productive meeting.  As it turned out,  the meeting was quite a disappointment.  Most of the questions we had didn’t get answered, and several other factors led us to the conclusion that this particular advisor was not for us.

  1. His credentials.   He was a CPA with Bear Stearns before he became a financial advisor seven years ago.  He told us most of his clients were his family.  Red flag No. 1.
  2. He was ULTRA conservative (and I don’t mean politically).  We told him we had one investment that we didn’t need to withdraw from for at least 12 years. We felt confident, based on historical data, that it could average 8% as long as we left it moderately invested.  He looked at us and laughed.  He told us we were being way too optimistic.  He believed, at best, we could earn 4%.   (Hmmm, I’m not sure, but I would bet he got burned big time at Bear Stearns We told him we had already been averaging 8-10% over the past 15 years (which included 2008), and we felt we were already investing conservatively.   He told us we were the exception to the rule, and it was hard for him to believe that it would continue.  (Looking at the chart below, you can see the actual returns over the last 13 years.) 
    NASDAQ Composite – Historical Annual Data
    Year Average
    Closing Price
    Year Open Year High Year Low Year Close Annual
    % Change
    2019 7,575.92 6,665.94 8,164.00 6,463.50 7,742.10 16.68%
    2018 7,425.96 7,006.90 8,109.69 6,192.92 6,635.28 -3.88%
    2017 6,235.30 5,429.08 6,994.76 5,429.08 6,903.39 28.24%
    2016 4,987.79 4,903.09 5,487.44 4,266.84 5,383.12 7.50%
    2015 4,945.55 4,726.81 5,218.86 4,506.49 5,007.41 5.73%
    2014 4,375.10 4,143.07 4,806.91 3,996.96 4,736.05 13.40%
    2013 3,541.29 3,112.26 4,176.59 3,091.81 4,176.59 38.32%
    2012 2,965.74 2,648.72 3,183.95 2,648.36 3,019.51 15.91%
    2011 2,677.44 2,691.52 2,873.54 2,335.83 2,605.15 -1.80%
    2010 2,349.89 2,308.42 2,671.48 2,091.79 2,652.87 16.91%
    2009 1,845.39 1,632.21 2,291.28 1,268.64 2,269.15 43.89%
    2008 2,161.68 2,609.63 2,609.63 1,316.12 1,577.03 -40.54%
    2007 2,578.47 2,423.16 2,859.12 2,340.68 2,652.28 9.81%

    ***We didn’t realize how conservative we were investing until 2008, when we lost -12% instead of the -40.54%.  It had more than recovered one year later, and we have subsequently taken on a little more risk.

  3. He was upselling multiple services.  Besides offering to manage our portfolio (with an upcharge of 1% to do it) he felt we needed an attorney to handle our estate.  He had “partnered” with one, and would be more than happy to set up the appointment.  Besides his fee of $1,000 to change all of our investments to only realize a 4% gain (3% if we use his services), we could pay another $1,500, to have the attorney ‘dot our i’s and cross our t’s’.  Really?
  4. Lastly, he was condescending.  This advisor questioned everything we have done to prepare for retirement.  And not in the way one questions a person to gather information.  He challenged everything we did or are planning on doing as though we have no clue.  The best one? “Why would you want to retire so young??”   Suffice it to say, I was having none of it, and we will not be calling him back.

    adult blur boss business
    Photo by energepic.com

Although this first advisor meeting was a bust, we will continue to meet with different advisors (as long as the initial consultation is free).  But, if we can’t find one we like, we will continue to read, study and learn all about our own investments, and figure it out for ourselves.  After all, you are your best advocate when it comes to your money, right?

If you use a financial advisor or have in the past, please share your experience.  I’m all ears. 🙂

 

P.S. Thank you to all that add valuable information in the comments.  Several comments have led me to change my mind on certain things that I was not aware of.  If you haven’t already, go back and read some of the comments.  There are golden nuggets of information there too!

Minimalism; decluttering, Paper

7 Tips to Minimalize Paper Clutter.

turned on silver imac
Photo by rawpixel.com

Ah paper.  I love and hate it at the same time.  I love writing in paper planners and notebooks, but when it comes to other kinds of paper — bills, insurance policies, advertising flyers?  Not so much.  One area of my home that has been tough to keep de-cluttered is my home office.  Piles of paper would accumulate on my desk, and it always weighed heavy on me when I saw it.   Most of the time it would sit there for days until I had the resolve chance to deal with it.  However, I think I’ve finally come up with some tips and tricks to keep the paper that flows into my home to a minimum, and I hope you find them useful as well.

7 Tips to Minimize Paper Clutter

  1.  STOP the ‘unsolicited’ mail from invading your mailbox in the first place.  Most of the mail that gets delivered to my mail box is junk — i.e. advertising flyers, solicitations for insurance premiums, etc.  There are two websites that stop the nonsense.  http://www.optoutprescreen.com stops solicitation mail from consumer reporting agencies (which is usually insurance information).  To stop mail from direct marketers (the obnoxious stuff), go to http://www.dmachoice.org.  There is a $2 processing fee for a 10-year period.  If you are interested in doing the same, and want more information, you can find it at the Federal Trade Commission’s website.

    brown envelopes in mail box
    Photo by rawpixel.com
  2. OPT OUT of paper copy bills.   I have always liked having the paper copy, but recently I have made the switch to paperless.  My budget and bills have become so streamlined with the help of my budgeting software, YNAB* that I find it unnecessary to have the physical paper.  However, if I should need a paper copy, I could just print it out from my computer.  If you have a computer and a handle on when your bills are do, opt out of the paper copies for your monthly bills.  However, if you never read your emails and have no clue when bills are due, this option may not work for you.

    person using smartphone while facing laptop computer
    Photo by rawpixel.com
  3. Invest in a shredder.  Even if you opt out of paper bills, there will always be some sort of mail that arrives with sensitive information on it.  Social security numbers, credit card numbers, addresses, birth dates, medical information — whatever information that could be potentially dangerous in the hands of the wrong person.  Keep a mini shredder by your desk, or where you keep your paperwork and shred as you go.  Identity theft has been a huge problem over the years, and this will help keep your information safe.

  4. Handle the paperwork as soon as you receive it.  I’ve created two folders that help me organize paper as it comes in:  (a)  Bills to be paid/or invitations to be calendared  (b) General info that I need to keep that needs to be filed.  Yep, that’s it.  Other paper can be shredded or recycled.  I have (6) categories for filing:  Health records, tax records, car maintenance records, insurance, travel and pay stubs (one year only).  I keep merchandise receipts in an envelope and shred after several months.  I have a scanner, however, and will eventually scan my paper files to my hard drive and get rid of all paper. 🙂

    depth of field photography of file arrangement
    Photo by Mike
  5. Don’t hold on to paper for more than a year  (See exceptions #6).  Store for 1 year: regular statements, pay stubs.  Then SHRED.  Keep for 1 month: utility bills, deposit and withdrawal records. Then SHRED.  Of course if you opted out of paper copies, you don’t have to worry about this. 😉
  6. Keep a fire safe for all of the documents you need to keep forever.   The following documents fall into this category:
    • Academic records: Diplomas, transcripts, and any portfolio work that may be used in the future when applying for a job.
    • Adoption papers
    • Baptismal certificates
    • Birth certificates
    • Death certificates: May be needed for tax purposes.
    • Copies of Driver’s licenses
    • Employment records: Any clauses, agreements, disciplinary files, and performance reviews.
    • Marriage certificates
    • Medical records
    • Military records
    • Passports
    • Retirement and pension records
    • Social Security cards
    • Wills

      person holding diploma
      Photo by Ekrulila
  7. Keep a memory box for the sentimental papers.  I have been blessed to receive lovely birthday cards, anniversary cards and letters over the years.  I love each and every one, but I couldn’t possibly keep them all.   I have recycled most of the cards, but have kept the cards or letters that had a handwritten sentiment or note that I knew I would want to re-read.  I have been storing them in a simple memory box I purchased from Michael’s .  It’s not full yet, but when the box does get full, I will decide which cards get recycled, take a quick picture of the sentiment and let the physical card go.  One memory box truly is enough. 🙂
white painted papers
Photo by Pixabay

These tips have kept my paper clutter at bay.  However, I will still need to tackle the multiple planners, notebooks and other paper I still have scattered in my office — but that will have to be for another post. 😉

How do you handle your paper clutter?

 

*YNAB is an affiliate link (and the only one in this post).   I will never offer an affiliate link for a product or service I don’t use or 100% endorse.

Budgeting, Retirement, saving money

Tracking my money…how I saved an extra $1,000 in May!

photography of one us dollar banknotes
Photo by Burst

Do you know how much money actually flows into your life on a daily, weekly or monthly basis?  Recently I started watching a YouTube channel, Enjoying Life’s Journey, specifically for her weekly budgeting videos.  I often pick up one or two golden nuggets from these types of videos, and this one was no exception.  What struck me about this particular channel and her budgeting videos (and there are a ton of them out there) is the fact that Jackie tracks every last penny that comes in and out of her life.  I mean every penny.

This past month, I decided to create my own excel spreadsheet and track every penny that came in and went out.  I thought I was already doing this, but it appears I’ve been letting money slip out of our budget, especially if it makes its way to me in cash.  In the past, I only budgeted the incoming paychecks.  I was shocked to see what actually came in, and what I was able to keep.  

Here is the extra money that came in May, 2019:

  • Interest in Ally Bank:  $10.59
  • Sold items: $275.00 (Facebook Marketplace)
  • Cell phone reimbursement from my husband’s firm: $60.00 (2 mos).
  • Chase Cash Back rewards: $117.50
  • Ebates: $37.50  (If you are an online shopper, this is amazing.  If you click on the link and sign up, we both get $25.00.  This is REAL money.  It took me a long time to sign up, but over the past 6 mos I’ve received $97 back.)
  • Medical Reimbursement check: $23.25
  • Anniversary gift from my incredibly generous parents: $500.00

Total ‘extra’ money for May: $1,023.84!!!

Normally, I wouldn’t track it and somehow it would be gone.  This month every last penny went into my savings account.

Keeping track of every penny allowed me to save an extra $1,000+.  I realize not every month will be as lucrative as this month, but I’m sure there will be something every month, and I will be tracking it going forward.

How much money is flowing into your life?

 

*Ebates is an affiliate link, and is the only affiliate link in this post.  Please know that I will never have an affiliate link that I don’t use or 100% endorse.

 

 

Minimalism; decluttering

Why this baby boomer is going minimal.

white flowers in bloom
Photo by Louis

What minimalism is really all about is reassessment of your priorites so that you can strip away the excess stuff- the possessions and ideas and relationships and activities that don’t bring value to your life. – Colin Wright

Over the past several years, I’ve been slowly getting rid of excess stuff and clearing off counters.  I’ve never been a fan of clutter, but this new found love of clear spaces has been life changing.

I did another de-clutter over the long weekend.  It’s been easier knowing I could actually sell some of the stuff.  There is always that guilt when you know you’ve spent good money on an item you are de-cluttering.  However, after playing the minimalism ‘game’ twice this year, it’s getting a bit harder to find things to get rid of and I’m finally getting to that place of enough.

However, as Colin Wright points out, minimalism is much more than just de-cluttering stuff.  It’s about keeping those things, experiences, and people in your life that add value.

man and woman holding hands walking on seashore during sunrise
Photo by Asad Photo Maldives

As a late baby boomer, I’ve experienced the height of consumerism both in 80’s and 90’s.  I spent more time and money on buying bigger and better everything. And I had the credit card debt and loans to prove it.  It had locked us in to the 9-5, leaving no choice to do anything else.

It’s taken me a couple of decades to figure out that having bigger and better doesn’t equate to happiness.  Besides stuff, I’ve been able to let go of toxic relationships, activities that do not bring joy and the fear of missing out. (FOMO, yes, it’s a thing).  What I’ve come to realize is that the time and experiences spent with the ones I love bring me the most joy.

And, as I say goodbye to my excess stuff, I realize that the only regret I have is that it has taken me this long to realize that less really is more.