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Archive for October, 2015

Post-trip entry

October 29th, 2015 at 02:54 pm

It's been a busy week! What with planning for the 10/31 Halloween party AND for starting NaNoWriMo on 11/1, I haven't sat down to write a blog entry since I got back.

As I mentioned a couple posts ago, I went on an impromptu trip to Va. to see my mom. My sister had mentioned her declining health and I was worried.

The good news is, it wasn't a stark change. She barely got up and walked around last time I saw her; this time I never saw her get up. (She did mention going to the bathroom once but it was when I was asleep.) She has spent most of her time on the couch for the past decade, so it's only a slight change that she spent ALL her time there.

She has trouble using her arms and legs and doesn't have much of an appetite.(That said, I think I got her to eat a fair bit while I was there!) And her hearing is going, so I had to really raise my voice for her to understand me. But her personality is the same -- sweet, social, gossipy, mundane -- so if she's in a lot of pain, she's some kind of zen master at managing it.

That said, I don't see her getting any better, so I can see why my sister thought I should visit.

It was a good trip overall, though getting to the airport was insanely stressful because the carshare had a flat, then NT couldn't get into the 2nd carshare because he'd unknowingly deactivated his fob by asking to switch car access to his bus pass. My neighbor got me an Uber, but then I had to run this poor driver all over finding the kids, and I lost sight of my DRIVER at one point when I picked AA up from kindergarten, and I was staring into windows until he finally rolled his down and told me he was my driver. Stupid face blindness! But we got to the airport about half an hour before boarding and the flight was fine.

I was flying Spirit, so I packed super light. It was actually freeing to not have to worry about heavy bags! Me and the kids had backpacks and I had 2 booster seats for car rides.

Since my ticket was $200 less than the next cheapest, and I knew my family would provide most of my meals, I splurged on drinks for me and the kids the way there, and on snacks and drinks the way home.

While in Va. I also got to see one sister, two nieces and a boyfriend, AS's mom, and my dad.

AS suggested I get together with her mom since she hardly ever gets to see the kids. She doesn't have a car right now so my dad took me to pick her up and drop her off so she could hang out at my parents' house for a couple hours. I think she was over the moon; she doesn't have family in the area so it was nice for her to feel part of a big family group. And AA & SL are her only grandkids, so that's a big deal. She was getting on her phone and telling her sister and others, trying to get the kids to talk to them. She even made ME talk to her sister in Connecticut, whom I've never met or spoken to! LOL. She wanted me to come in her apartment and see some upholstering and other furniture rehab she was doing, so I took pics to show AS. Her electricity was out and she said it was just because she messed up the online billing. I hope that's all it was, because we just sent her $700 last month!

My dad is doing great; he was planning a road trip to Ohio to see his brother, see a guy he's editing a basketball book with, and meet a distant cousin who was related to this old-time baseball player we're related to. (My dad wrote a book about that guy and wants to do an updated edition.) He's showing his age, for sure, but he's also super active (walked a 5k before he came to get me from my sister's on Saturday!) and has lots of projects.

My mom seemed happy to have a bustling house full of people Saturday. She raised 5 kids and babysat tons of kids for decades, so she's used to a big noisy group. After everyone left/went to bed, we stayed up and chatted, and I learned some new things about her childhood (little anecdotes) that I hadn't heard or at least didn't remember hearing.

On the way home, Spirit had a CC offer where if you applied, you got some bonus points automatically and got to count that trip's miles. And if you got accepted and made one purchase, you got more bonus miles. Supposedly, you get the equivalent of 4 one-way trips. So I'm hoping I could visit my mom again in December and have the kids' tickets paid for by this offer and only have to buy one round-trip ticket. We'll see. I'm still waiting to get anything since I filled the application out.

Another payment to NT's mum

October 21st, 2015 at 09:18 pm

I almost forgot to note this. I sent another payment to NT's mum this week: just 150 pounds because we also had to pay the twice-yearly management fee on our UK rental property.

That takes us to 1250 paid, 850 still owing. If nothing unforeseen happens, we'll pay about half of the remaining amount in November and the other half in December. Then we can start saving up spending money for the July trip to England!

Tinkering with 401(k)s

October 21st, 2015 at 04:16 pm

NT and I both have 401(k)s through our jobs. For both of them, after watching the Frontline documentary on retirement plan costs, I went in and switched from a target-date fund to a customized mix of the lowest-cost options.

NT's job doesn't offer any really cheap options; the best prices are in the .9% to 1.1% range. I picked from each type of investment and did 20% in each of five options. Mine, when I initially switched a year or two ago, actually had three Vanguard funds available, so I did something like a 40%-40%-20% blend.

When you have your own mix, of course, there's no automatic rebalancing. I hadn't really thought much about going in and rebalancing myself, until the guy from our 401(k) provider did a talk in our office. Most of what he said was either nonsense or stuff I already knew, but he did bring up the fact that rebalancing is a way to follow the common wisdom of selling high and buying low.

Well, I'd been mulling that off and on for the past couple weeks, and finally I decided to see if I could figure out how to rebalance our portfolios myself.

When I went into mine, I was pleased to see we now have FIVE Vanguard funds available. So first I changed my future contributions to divide more evenly among five funds vs. three. I did smaller amounts to the two that had grown the least over the past 10 years and larger amounts to the three better-performing ones.

Then I discovered that there's a button you can press to have them move funds around to make your current holdings match your allocations. Sweet!

Then I discovered ANOTHER function that lets you enroll in automatic quarterly rebalancing even if you don't have a target-date fund. Even sweeter!

So now I have greater diversity in my work 401(k) AND I have automatic rebalancing set up so I can sell high and buy low without even doing anything.

I'm working on NT's now. He still doesn't have any cheap options, and I discovered he still had about $6 in a target-date fund which prevented me from rebalancing. But I set up a transfer of the remaining funds out of that target-date fund, and as soon as that's done I should be able to rebalance his, and maybe even set it up for automatic rebalancing in the future!

Lots of updates -- home improvements, money, and family

October 19th, 2015 at 07:30 pm

Very eventful weekend.

We finally heard back from our contractor about the basement bathroom. Just to get it up to code, it would be $4300. To cap it off and make it unusable, would be $1000-$2000. The getting it up to code wouldn't fix the walls or floor when they're done, though the shower walls and floor would be fixed. To get walls and floor refinished would take us up to $6000 or $7000

We spoke with our downstairs neighbors and they agreed we should do the basic up-to-code work for $4300, and that we'll attempt the floor and walls as a DIY tiling project. It'll be a good practice one because the basement bathroom isn't one we're worried about, looks-wise; we just want it functional for guests.

Since we're planning on the shared-ownership thing eventually, the neighbors want to pay two-fifths of it, which will be our division of expenses (mortgage, utilities) when we get everything straightened out. So our share of this project is going to be $2850.

That's good news, since we only had $4000 set aside for the basement bathroom issues.

We got the radiator covers in the living room and dining room! Hand-made by a guy who lives just three blocks away, really beautiful, and he finished them less than two weeks after we ordered them! Only $1100 for all three (already figured in to the decorating costs I listed a couple blog posts ago).

My sister visited this weekend, so we dipped even more into our UK airfare savings to buy a few meals out. Only about $200, plus about $50 for wine for the house, so not too bad.

The first day here she started talking about how I should go visit my parents. I started making excuses because we already saw them this summer at the family reunion, and now we're saving up to see the other grandparents in England next year, etc.

But she stopped me and said the reason she thought I should go now is that my mom isn't doing too well.

My mom is 81. She's really out of shape and probably has lots of undiagnosed problems; she refuses to visit doctors because she doesn't want to find out, basically. She did visit a doctor in 2012, because she had a small heart attack. They fixed her up and recommended she get some exercise, but of course she didn't listen and continued to sit around 23 hours a day. Her legs and knees tend to bother her when she does move around so she just avoids it as much as possible. She's been going in this direction for decades, ever since she hurt one of her knees in her 50s or 60s.

My sister explained that her legs and arms hurt constantly now, and she can't even stand long enough to make a cup of coffee in the kitchen, so when my dad is out and about (which he is a lot, because he's very active with lots of travels and projects) she just sits around, not even able to get coffee. My sister said her hearing is really going as well.

My sister and her family live somewhat close so they try to stop by when my dad's out of town, but it sounds like my mom is basically lonely, in pain and going downhill faster than before. She told me I should come see her before she's in so much pain and her hearing is so far gone that she won't be able to enjoy a visit from me.

It's hard to tell how fast my mom is going (especially hard with no doctor opinions to go on, and I know no one is going to be able to get her to visit one), but it did sound to me like she's on the decline.

So I made the decision to visit her next weekend. It's my only free weekend until late November. My sister said it wasn't THAT urgent, but after hearing all that, I didn't want to start gambling with how much fully lucid time my mom has left or anything.

I'm taking the kids since she really lives for her grandkids. The three of us are traveling Spirit for $948. Probably could have gotten there a lot cheaper in November, since this purchase was so last minute, but again, I didn't feel like quibbling on price.

I'll be staying with my sister, so no costs in that area. Maybe some eating out but I bet family will take care of most meals. I'll also try to see AS's mom, since she'd also like to see the kids.

I'll get there 8pm Friday night so not sure if I'll see my mom that first night or go straight to my sister's. Stay all day Saturday and leave 11am Sunday morning. So I don't know if I'll see my mom Sunday either. I'll have to work it out with my sister. I suppose there's some chance I could stay at my parents' house. My mom is a controlled hoarder (held back by my dad's organizing and decluttering) and they used to have a roach infestation, but I heard they got that taken care of. So maybe I'll try to stay at my mom's house Saturday night so I can have some time with her Sunday morning. (My sister lives about half an hour drive away from my parents.)

Hopefully I can just get AS's mom to visit at my mom's house, so I don't have to be away from her for a few hours in the little time I have there.

Still ironing out the details. We'll see.

If I sound calm, well, I DO feel pretty calm. I really faced my mom's mortality in 2012 when she had the heart attack. And I got a lot of crying out this past Saturday. I still feel freaked out that I'm writing about my mom as if she's going to die. But this last blow from my sister has made me finally accept it. It may not happen for months or even over a year, but of course she is, just like anyone else.

Anyway, I'm taking the money for the plane tickets out of the $4K I'd saved for the bathroom, since we only need $2850 plus some for DIY tiling supplies. So I'm not worried about the money. We have been spending a lot of money this month, but facing mortality makes me less afraid of spending, if it's spending that's really giving me something. The stuff we're doing to make our house our own, and money to hang out with my partners, my sister, my mom and dad -- these are things worth spending money on.

Think I'm giving up

October 15th, 2015 at 09:31 pm

I've tried every which way to max out AS's Roth, but the mistake I made when opening her SEP -- which I only realized after I opened it I'd opened as a traditional IRA -- has made it too difficult.

I had AS call several times -- once she was on the phone for over an hour. Finally I just started calling as her (sue me) because she was intimidated by all the technical lingo. I don't blame her! They finally said I needed to fill out a form to recharacterize SEP funds to Roth funds. I got the form but couldn't figure out some of the answers, so I called them. This time they said the form wouldn't work because the Roth was a "legacy" account and the SEP was a "new" account. So they made me upgrade the Roth and call them back a day or two later.

Today I called and at first the guy said the only way I could contribute to the Roth would be through an outside bank account. I re-explained my situation to him, he put me on hold, and came back to say I was right, recharacterization was the only option. But -- too bad, so sad -- it could only happen during market hours. I could call again during market hours and they'd handle it right away.

Guess what? I don't think I can stand another call. It's no longer worth it to me. I contributed the amount I would have used to max out AS's Roth and put it into her SEP instead, and there it will stay. At less than $1000, it's just not worth another phone call and possibly some complicated tax reporting. We'll start maxing out her Roth next year.

Grump grump grump.

I'll still work on maxing out mine and NT's before the April deadline. I think I can get pretty far even if I don't max them out completely.

Semi-controlled spending spree

October 13th, 2015 at 05:19 pm

Whew! Our staycation at the beginning of October turned into a "spendcation," and we're still going. I've been holding out buying more decor for our living and dining rooms, but the new seating looked so weird and out of place in the mostly empty room. Plus we're having a Halloween party which will be our first major gathering at the new house, so I'd love to have the two main rooms done.

So we spent much of our Friday off going to various thrift, antique and furniture stores. We also supplemented with shopping online. Some things still have yet to arrive, but what we have so far is making the living room look much better.

How am I paying for it? Well, I decided to take some of the money allotted for future stuff. I felt like it would be worth the saving-up later to have a finished-looking living room/dining room sooner.

I took $800 from utilities line item, realizing I probably have way more than I need set aside, since next year's budget includes monthly line items based on real amounts.

I took $1000 from our UK airfare savings. I reckon we'll still have enough to buy tickets by the end of this year.

I took the $1500 I had saved for lawyer/application fees for transferring part ownership of the duplex and applying for permission to build an accessory dwelling unit (granny flat) on our property. I can't really move forward on these things until our downstairs neighbor (the lawyer) finishes drawing up the contract for joint ownership. He's been dragging his feet on it, so I figure if it takes me a while to save up the fees for MY lawyer to review it once he's done, fair is fair. I've been holding onto that money for months and months. He can wait once he gives me the draft of the contract.

The rest of the money for our new decor/renovations is coming out of money I'd earmarked for maxing out the 2015 Roths by January. I have until April to max them out, so I could still hit that goal. So far I've only taken about $600 of that line item, but I might use more of it before we're done. (We seem to be pretty close, though.)

The result is going to be rooms that look great, are comfortable and make us happy. And I can re-fund those other budget categories.

What did we get for the money? Let's see if I can remember (some of these are rounded numbers).
Vintage side table $45
Materials to build a behind-sofa table $60
Wood blinds for living and dining rooms $600
Radiator covers (including shelving and window seat) for living and dining rooms $1150
Lucite floor lamp $350
Modern side table $150
Flannel drink coasters $25
Art (three small framed pieces) $150
Picture frames, wall clock, plants, bedroom curtains $180
Dining room ceiling light $400
Wall clock $70
Wooden robot decoration $30
Wooden ferris wheel decoration $95
Wine fridge $100
Drinks cabinet $425
Magazine rack (to hold laptops while charging) $60
Throw blankets $60
Decorative bowls $25

We also "borrowed" about $1000 from the UK tickets fund for our staycation meals out, as well as a couple other wants/needs (sneakers, Halloween costumes, school lunches, cat adoption fee, underwear, etc.) We're getting at least $1700 of shared spending money by the end of November, possibly more, so we'll be able to make that up pretty easily as well.

Feels heady and weird to spend allocated money on something other than what it was intended for! But at the same time, not stressful or scary like putting stuff on credit cards would be. This is after all our money, and we can change our minds about what order we do things in.

To end on a savings note instead, I put nearly $1000 more toward AS's retirement, and it appears all our accounts have recovered (possibly temporarily, if the bear market comes back) about 75% of the value lost during the downturn.

Debt payments for October

October 7th, 2015 at 07:49 pm

I had a staycation Friday through Monday (more on that when I get a chance!), and what with catching up on work and other stuff, I'm just now getting around to checking on our mortgage payments. They all hit:
US: $657 to principal
UK1: $224
UK2: $46
UK3: $49

All told, that's $976 of debt paid for the month. Our current debt stands at $484,730. (That includes $5000 loan from our friends, which would be erased if we signed a joint-ownership contract -- but so would a commensurate amount of our home equity, so it'd be a wash in terms of net worth.)