Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Eating through my food stocks!

I have a food budget of about $40 per week in my spreadsheet. I have spent about $28 in the last two weeks.....that's total for the two weeks, and about $10.00 of that was to buy a 15 pound bag of rice! (so that will be lasting a lot longer for sure)

How can this be....and I starving?

Hardly...I have been eating like a horse. I simply decided that with one person in the house, there was no need for all the food we had squirreled away in the house.

So I have taken to making different soups, or other concoctions from the various canned and frozen foods. I haven't even dipped into the real basic things yet...and I actually have quite a few pickled things I have not even moved upstairs. the variety will soon begin to go away, and I'm about out of I know I'm going to be hitting the store sooner than later....but still, even so, I should be able to get away with just buying the things I need to "augment" the various staples I still have lining the shelves.

I guess I'm just a cheap guy at heart....but I'm still a cheap guy who likes to eat!

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Do I really support the "How Many Legislators Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb Act"?

I am a user of compact flourecents in a big way. I believe every light bulb in our house are CFL.

But what I saw reported today in this news story made the hairs on the back of my back stand up.

Apparently the State of California is looking at passing legislation to outlaw standard incandecent lightbulbs. They want to make everyone buy CFL.

As I said, I think that using CFL is a great thing, as whitnessed by my own usage.....but I really don't like the government telling be what is good for me.

I agree that changing my underware every day is good....but do we need a law for that? Don't get me going on seatbelts....I wear them and have since about 1976 when I got my license.

I think our economy, and in fact society in general operates best when things are "pulled" rather than "pushed". Yes, there are larger projects that would be too difficult to muster the needed grassroots support for to make them happen.....but let me use my brain and give me some sense of freedom.

If California is considering this, how far behind can Massachusetts be?

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Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Have to get my eye back on the ball! (it's the economy stupid)

Yes, I have to admit that my focus has not been on the big picture these days. But I feel the hairs on the back of my neck bristling as I peek over my breakfast and look at the papers. (or talk to my brother in-law for that matter)

I sense that things are not are rosy as we are led to believe. I see houses in my neighborhood going up for sale..."by owner" the middle of the winter.

What's up with that?

My brother in-law is developing a property down in Mass and talk about the ultra-slow housing sales environment....and how it isn't getting better. (I guess we have seen that for the last year or so)

Perhaps it is my caution that makes me look for the dark cloud behind every silver lining....I'm not sure. But with words of possible war escalation brewing....and just minutes ago I see something about Congress warning the President about war in Iran....that would be horrible.

So, our investments have been doing just fine on "auto-pilot"......but in early December I did ask my advisor to cut back from 70 / 30% Stocks to bonds back to a 50/50 split....and with better diversification. I'm glad I did that.

As I said....time to poke my head out of my shell and start paying attention again.

I have two daughters in college and a mortage to pay.....I can't be losing money right now!


Tax Time is rolling around....

I'm sorry for the large gap in my posts. I guess I have been getting sort of wrapped up in things around the house and work.

It is good to be busy at a time like this, but it is also good to get some sleep.

When I laid eyes on the cartoon to the left, it wasn't very funny. But it did take a situation that I was very much afraid of and bring it into perspective.

I was very afraid of approaching the taxes this year because this is the thing that Cheryl did so well. She was very organized and prepared. I on the other hand will have a tough time.

But the cartoon made me recognize that taxes are certainly not the worst thing that I will have faced this year...they will be a walk in the park compared to the last month or two.

We actually do or taxes with a friend of ours who is an accountant. I actually recommend him to everyone, though I think he mainly does small business work.

He sent me what he called an "Engagement Form" which was basically a through checklist of possibilities that gets you thinking about the documentation I need. I started off a bit worried as I flipped through the list....but after a while I would see the value of it because I gave me great clues as to the sorts of things I would be looking for and why.

I will not feel comfortable until the process is complete....but trust me, doing the taxes is not that bad....if you think so, it is something you can change using that thing that sits between your ears!


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Hmmm....this guy got me thinking.....

I was looking at the finance bloggers for a bit this afternoon and I came across this guys post and it seemed pretty interesting to me.

It seemed interesting for several reasons. First, I am a cheapskate, and I actually enjoy saving money. I like being cleaver about things and cutting corners.

I also liked his thinking because I too have been trying to cut I have been creating spreadsheet budgets and cuting back on things like cable TV and cell phones. (and food purchases and other things)

I also took to cooking more myself in an attempt to save money. I found that buying certain things that do not spoil in larger bulk and then using them as the center of a larger dish makes things cheaper. I just have to make sure I freeze or otherwise aportion out the resuting food properly or the spoilage costs will quickly outweigh the savings.

I have purchased things like dried beans in sizable bulk, as well as rice, nuts and even squash. (Which keeps well in the basement)

I have been making soups and all kinds of squash is surprising what a few onions, butter, a bit of olice oil, some garlic a bit if cheese and spices will do for just those basic ingredience.

Oh, and the other thing is that I am quite lucky to love eating about I'm easy to please.

Oh, and here are some sites that I might check out further to get myself started:

There may be some BLOG posts coming this way from me on this sort of thing.....we will see.

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Sunday, January 21, 2007

Cool Approach to Creating Demand Solar Energy Use through Lowering the Cost of Entry!

I went to a local Home Show today in Manchester, NH and I came across a cool is company called CitizenRE, at the website

They take the up-front cost of solar energy and make it go away! They do this by essentially leasing the solution to you....but with a very interesting wrinkle...they calculate your average power usage, design a system to meet that average daily load exactly, and then install the system for FREE
(no purchase or installation cost)...all you have to do is sign a 25 year lease to them for the exact amount of your average monthly energy bill.

This is kind of cool because your energy bills then remain constant for the next 25 years....which a actually a great deal, unless you think energy costs are going to go down.
(Which I suppose they could....but I doubt it given the rate of energy growth world is currently has and the amount of energy we import into the USA.) If energy costs continue to rise at least at the rate of inflation, then the system will actually be "saving" you significant money in a few years....and the unit is transferable to the next owner so it will actually raise the value of your home!

Another great aspect of all this, the CitizenRE company takes care of all maintenance and repair! (as part of your lease)

The company itself is very vertically integrated with the company incorporated in Delaware, the hardware design happening in Cambridge Ma, and their solar array assembly plant being constructed in Maryland.

Their system is also quite simplified as well with what they call an inverter-less design. Ok, it isn't actually sans-inverter....the inverter is integrated into the solar panel when you add arrays, you automatically add exact matching inverter all scales perfectly!
(and there are no batteries because it relies on net-metering laws to run the meter backwards when you have a surplus of energy being made)

But this means you need to have a good Net-metering law in your state to make this interesting.....but they have a page on their site that talk about those laws in all 50 states.


Friday, January 19, 2007

My Dissapointment with Citibank Mastercard and search for another card

I am a one credit card guy. In fact, my parents were one credit card people too....and I suppose this is how I came to be as well. (Ok, I do have two cards....but the second one was never used and we had it just in case we had a problem with the first)

My primary card was a Citibank Mastercard. It was a Drivers Edge card which gives you dollars toward the purchase of a new or used car.

Well there are 4 drivers in the family, and even though Cheryl and I would drive our cars into the ground, we figured with four drivers and as many cars in the driveway, we would ALWAYS be in the market for a car every few years. (we have driven each of our last 4 cars for about 10 years and just about 200,000 miles each.....some a little more, some a tad less)

Well, my circumstances have changed quite a bit with my wife passing away and my two daughters being away at at college. I will not be needing to get another car for a few years. (and I also have a motor scooter in the garage)

So I got to looking at my Drivers-Edge card and I said, gee.....these credit dollars only last 3 years and having a new 2005 Civic already, there is little chance I will use the over $900 dollars in credits I have already...and I certainly don't want to accumulate new credits.

So I called Citibank and asked about my situation. I asked if I could change my current card to another card with a different sort of credit system...for some other commodity. They snapped back with an instant "Absolutely...what sort of card would you like?"

Well, I was talking to them about the many various cards they had to offer. I was just about ready to do the deed when I just happened to ask the magic question...."So what about those $985 dollars in credits I have on my current do they get transfered?"

The guy simply answered "well, nothing happens to them".

So I asked "Nothing, like they sit there forever, or they transfer somehow to the next card?" He said, "oh they will vanish"...and I said, "At what point in this discussion were you going to tell me that?"

He then says to me "Well this was clearly in your car agreement and there was no need to tell you about that because we expect that you are fully aware of your card agreement."

I was starting to come to a full boil inside....OK, maybe I should know every inch of my contract, but this type of attitude was not what I expected from a company I have used since about 1990. This guy seemed only interested in whatever SPIF he received for converting me over....heck, he probably gets the $985 I would lost when I changed cards!

So I am on the lookout for another card. I actually already have an American Express Gold card, and have been using it for the past 4 days or so, and everyone seems to take it and it has been just fine. I never thought of American Express as a "Generic Card", but I guess it has gotten to be a bit more so.

I'm not sure if I should be upset at Citicard or Mastercard. My first inkling was to scrap Mastercard and Citi all together. But having the AMEX, I wonder if perhaps a Visa or Discover card might be better?

Any thoughts or opinions?

Discover seems like they have very low rates...I always pay my card off, so I'm not really worried about interest rates, but I wonder if those sort of rates signal something "wrong" with the company?? me a comment and give me your card feedback.


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Thursday, January 18, 2007

My new Budget

After a little bit of noodling and a lot of looking at past expenses, I came up with what I think is a budget reduction plan that will allow me to keep my current level of 401k saving and still allow me to no spend more than I take in.

Why do I think it is important to keep my 401k savings rate where it is....especially since it is only me, and I should be able to retire on "less" than me and my wife....

Well, I figure I want to make sure I stay out of my kids pockets when I get older. I don't want to be a drag on them financially. Cheryl and I didn't come this far so that I could screw it up now! :-)

Also, if I happen to pass on before I spend it all down, then it goes to the girls, which would be fine with me too. (trust me, it's never going to be the Bill Gates fortune....they have never had silver spoons anywhere near their mouth, and any money they get from me will never make that happen either)

Up until now I have not given out any specifics on my budget situation. I guess I'm still thinking about how far to exactly go, but I guess I will wade in a little with some expense numbers. (at least those I am going to change)

I'll start by note that our house income has recently dropped by a bit over 25%. That is a fairly sharp decrease, but we are lucky enough to not be in massive debt. This means that quite a bit of our expenses are discretionary.

It turns out I am currently about $227 per month ($2723 per year) in the hole at my current spending rate. So I wanted to come up with savings that would balance that and give me a slight savings every month.

I decided on the following:
1) Cut out Vonage and move my home number to my Cell Phone: With my kids off at college, I am the only one home and so I can use my cell phone and perhaps get Skype Out for home outbound calling. (only $15 per year vs $20 per month) That is a savings of $18.75 per month.

2) Cut out all cable except for Internet access: Again, being the only one in the house, and NEVER watching TV, I am fine with this. This will lower the bill from about $89 per month to about $40 per month for a savings of $42 per month, or $504 per year.

3) Drive for better mileage: Ok, so this seems like a stretch, but I literally drive to work at 80MPH or above...and I get about30MPG in a Civic. When I was breaking in the car, I was driving it like it was fine crystal and getting about 42MPG, so I think I can gain something by driving in between those two. I did my estimates on a 9% fuel economy increase, which I think is possible. I happen to drive about 70 miles per day, so it adds up...and to the tune of about $14.61 a month for about $175 savings per year!

4) Decrease my food costs: We spent about $100 a week, and I figure that being me along, I can cut that to $60. Not only am I eating for one alone, but I also intend to cook more simple things with more inexpensive items. Stir fries, rice, to be eaten over days and taken in for lunch. This will save about $172 per month, or a bit over $2060 per year savings.

5) Take a car off the road: I currently have 4 vehicles on the road right now. I have a 2005 Civic, a 1990 Honda Odyssey, a 1998 Jeep Cherokee and a 2005 Kymco Scooter. I am going to take the van off the road. Taking this car off the road will save $4.17 per month or $50 per year. NOTE: As an aside, I am going to sell the Van and my 1999 VW Beetle that sits off to the side waiting a driver. Those sales are not really a cash flow move, but will get rid of a couple of idle vehicles and perhaps add a couple of bucks to the checking account.

6) Taking the Van off the road will also save me insurance money. This means a savings of about $29 per month ($348 per year). I also suspect that with one less driver, the total rate may also go down a bit too...but I have not estimated this at all.
My final savings total per month is $271, which means I end up with my saving about $3256 a year.

NOTE: It was noted that I made a serious mistake typing this in so late and tired.....having made a ton of typo mistakes. (I did my budget spreadsheet in terms of a monthly budget, and really botched things going to years here) looking back over my spreadsheet, I find that I have forgotten two fairly major being church donations and the second some money I transfer to my daughters every month. This results in a spreadsheet change of about $300 per month, so I am not again about $163 per month in the I need to sharpen my pencil a bit more!

Yes, I know I didn't give you all the numbers.....and I know that my savings doesn't really come up to the level of my wife's salary, but that is the best I can do without doing a total zero based budget. I will be doing that over time as I get my own payment history documented.

So back to the calculator for me....but not right now!

I hope to keep you updated on my experiences in 'Saving'.

Oh, BTW...being the Engineer that I am, I have been thinking about how I was going to track and follow all my spending activity, and I have been considering Quicken, Microsoft Money, etc.... I think I might play with quicken, but I think the most straight forward system is a manual one that my mother in-law described to me. It has the benefit of not only being simple, but it also will leave a much better "paper trail" for anyone coming along when I pass they can better pick up the pieces.

My wife did a very good job of this with a fairly manual system she used....and the only things I have screwed up on (mostly double paying) are the two or three items she took care of online of with auto payment from checking!

My next post will probably be about an "issue" I have just had with Mastercard. (and I'll be looking for suggestions on another card....NOT Mastercard and NOT Citibank...but more on that later)

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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Why are these Northern New England pieces of land suddenly coming my way?

The past three days have seen about four pieces of email come to me from realtors I have communicated with over the past 4 years?

A few years back Cheryl and I were looking at property in either Northern NH or VT, and there were several parcels of land that we almost bought.

We liked the area up there, and wanted a piece of land to eventually build on. Something that had more than a postage sized plot that might perhaps have a pond or nice stream on it. Big enough to have a lot of privacy, and be a part of the wilderness up there.

There was this 600 acre piece of land in Northumberland that was absolute heaven. It contained the peak of Morse Mountain, and when you stood on that 2000 foot peak and looked down at the Connecticut river you felt like your head was in the clouds! (and there was one time that it actually was, and I felt as though a lightning bolt was up there with us!)

But that land was a bit too rich for my wallet....

Then there was the 258 acre parcel in Western NH that was an old piece owned by a hermet farmer. It was sort of hidden in the woods, but accessed by car. That was within my price range, at only $45,000, and I should have bought it. But 20-20 hindsight is just that...hindsight.

Well, I'm not sure I want to be moving up to northern NH all by myself at this point, but when the email has been coming in I tend to rush to the listing and look at I did when Cheryl and I were looking those years ago. But this time there will be no trips to the property to check it out.

But for those of you interested in Northern NH, VT and Maine land, I recommend going to the Northern New England RealEstate Network and search there, There are good deals to be had in Northern New England. (and after Global warming takes hold, it will be a great place in the winter!)

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The loss of income after a passing

I feel a little funny talking a lot about money and cash flow after my wife's passing, because this isn't really what I spend my time during the day thinking ab0ut. In fact, it really has not been on my mind at all.

But last night a friend of mine came over and we were just talking. At one point he asked if everything was going to be OK financially. My first comment was, I'm not worried about things like that. Everything will work out.

Well, I honestly believe this will be the case, but he hit me with a couple of thoughts that I honestly had not considered. Even though my salary was considerably higher than my wife (she being a new teacher), her salary was not insignificant at all.

In fact, he pay was about 30% of mine...which means that in an instant, our household income will be dropping by 25%.

Lucky for me, we have been savers all our lives, and we have never been the kind of people to live on the edge of debt. Our cash flow was always pretty solid, and I'm not saying I will not have to make any adjustments.....I will certainly have to. But we were on a pretty good savings trajectory and with some hopefully minor cutbacks and readjustments, I should be able to stay in the black. (albeit at a significantly slower savings pace)

Cheryl and I never calculated all this down to the penny, but we did consider all of this when we decided how our will would be set-up, and how much insurance we would carry.

I was the one heavily covered because the family really depended on my income. Thank God the kids are now older because we very much depended upon Cheryl staying home with the kids....not for monetary reasons, but because we felt this would offer the best foundation we could give our kids as they grew up. (most of our goals and moves were done to optimize the opportunity for our kids....and that will continue to be the case)

Life is complicated....and death can really complicate things if you have not considered that possibility. I thank God that Cheryl and I had thought a bit about this and had a decent plan.

As I said before....create a will, and think about whether you really need insurance!

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

My foray into FAFSA

I thought this was actually my first connection with FAFSA, but apparently I had filled out a PIN application before this. Having done that, when I approached FAFSA again for a PIN, I was stopped at the moat!

Of course, I forgot my PIN from 3 or so years ago, so the FAFSA people had to check me out by asking all sorts of personal questions and then asking me to answer my "secret" question. (which for some reason I was able to remember)

But why does it take FAFSA 4 hours to email out the PIN? Are there really computers processing this request, or people looking in huge rolodex?

If you have kids and you they are going to school beyond High School, you need to know about doing a FAFSA.

Here is how the website describes their function:

Federal Student Aid, an office of the U.S. Department of Education, plays a central and essential role in America's postsecondary education community.

Federal Student Aid's core mission is to ensure that all eligible Americans benefit from federal financial assistance—grants, loans and work-study programs—for education beyond high school. The programs we administer comprise the nation's largest source of student aid: during the 2004-05 school year alone, we provided approximately $74 billion in new aid to nearly 10 million postsecondary students and their families. Our staff of 1,100 is based in 10 cities in addition to our Washington headquarters.

Among our most visible and essential services are the development, distribution, and processing of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), the fundamental qualifying form used for all federal and government-guaranteed commercial lenders' programs—as well as for many state, regional and private student aid programs. By filling out the online or paper FAFSA, applicants start the process of qualifying for aid. Each year our staff processes approximately 14 million FAFSAs.

Because we oversee $391 billion of outstanding student loans, it's our job to ensure that all of our partners in the student aid community—schools, lenders, servicers and guaranty agencies—operate fairly, honestly and efficiently. Another key role we perform is to make students and their families aware that financial aid is available and is a necessary first step to further education. As America's premier source of federal student aid information, we distribute numerous publications, host multiple Web sites and run several customer call centers.
Before you attempt to fill out a FAFSA, you really need to get your hands on the Checklist of Documents Needed form and collect up those documents. The main papers needed are your prior year's tax returns.

You will of course need Social Security numbers, bank statements, and other investment, income and Federal Tax records.

FAFSA is the main clearing house for all loan and grant money information. It isn't all that hard,. but requires patience to finish.

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Thank God for our simplicity and my wife's organization

I wrote a post along the same lines a week or so ago, but I thought I would update people on the progress to date.

Money does NOT make the world go around:
My wife's passing has been an emotional roller coaster, and I have commented on that quite a bit in my Journal....but I wanted to keep this BLOG at least somewhat related to personal I don't mean to make our situation sound like it is all about money....far from is MOSTLY about family, and as my father ALWAYS told me: "Money does not make the world go around....but it sure greases the wheel."

Translation....doesn't doesn't buy happiness, but life is sure harder if you don't pay any attention to it at all.

Well, I want to report that I have not quite finished a month and I feel a bit more in control of the finances. I did have an initial problem with cash flow....not having enough money in the bank to feel safe about writing checks against any bills....but once I pulled a little from savings in as a buffer, I felt a lot better. (actually, there probably was enough, but not having an actual knowledge of what we really expected for bills, it made me unsettled to be as close as $200 from zero)

Bloated Mastercard Bill:
I fully expect about a $14,000 Mastercard bill coming in about January 15th....but that is mostly due to the funeral expenses of about $11,000. That is the largest credit card balance I have ever had....though there was one time we paid part of my daughters college semester on the card in order to grab some of the cash back we get from Mastercard. (but we always paid it off)

The Roll of Insurance:
This brings me to the topic of insurance. Get some....make sure it at least covers burial costs. it isn't all that expensive, and it helps your survivors. We have a fairly large policy on me, and only the policy my wife had at work on her.

The concept behind our doing that was that I am the big bread winner, and it is "mostly" my salary that ran the house. In fact, for a number of years my wife stayed home with the kids because we both agreed this was the best thing for my salary was critical and had I died back then, she needed to replace that salary in order to live. (and not in a cardboard box)

So we really had little insurance on my wife...but enough to make a dent in things we owe in all this. But let me be clear, the big problems in life are not money problems.....they are generally emotional in nature and are often connected with health, love and people.

Oh, and our insurance only covers us for our daughters time in school. We bought term policies for just a couple of years longer than they would be in school. Term was cheaper, and we were trying to guarantee the viability of our payment for school....after that and we figured we could live on our own savings. (but our daughters education was very critical to us)

Current Cash Flow & Long Term Investment:
My short term cash flow is under control....I need to focus a bit more on my long term investment situation, since I think this will be changing given our new family configuration. Also, my youngest daughter wants to change schools, and keep going for her PhD....which I want to support in some manner. (for tuition)

We certainly are NOT millionaires, but Cheryl and I had goals to get our daughters into school and to pay for their education. So this is part of the plan. (I just need to make sure things are "tuned up" to maximize our opportunity to do just that)

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Friday, January 05, 2007

Tomorrow I tackle the world of College Finances and FAFSA

This is another area where Cheryl and I discussed matters, but Cheryl pushed the keyboard and made it happen!

FAFSA....this is going to be a brave new world for me, and one I really need to master if my daughter is going to transfer to another school. Tomorrow I set off on a learning experience.

I need to create my own FAFSA log-in and get synced up with the rest of the family.

Technically speaking, I should have had my own already given that I am also going to school nights for an MBA....but since I wasn't going to be getting any federal money, I didn't think it made any difference. (well, it might have calculated into the entire family education "load" bad)

So at least this is a more "standard" process that I can learn about. There are plenty of online help pages, and even books written on the I become a FAFSA student come tomorrow!

Wish me luck.....

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The Wall Street Journal Does an Article on Saving Electricity

You may have remembered the BLOG entry I wrote about the Kill-A-Watt energy measuring device....on back a few months ago?

Well it seems the Wall Street Journal has finally found the device and one writer has gotten so excited about it he turned out an entire article on how to use it to save money.

Well, I love the device....and I bought one on Ebay for about $19.00....but you don't have to have one to do your own saving. Check out my past BLOG entry here that talks about a website you can use to learn and calculate your own savings. ( talked a little about mine in a BLOG post too)

Or even this Wisconsin Public Service web site that has a simple spreadsheet to help do the same.

It's all within with most things in life. We just have to get up off the couch and engage life....grab it by the horns as the Dodge commercial says!

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Thursday, January 04, 2007

Wow...was I out of it or what?

Today I drove my oldest daughter back to school in NYC, and on the way back I was along and able to think about all sorts of things.

One of those things was the financing of my two daughters education. My wife Cheryl and I had it all figured out and I actually thought I had it all figured out.

But I was the "idea guy"....I operated at the 20,000 foot level, and Cheryl was the person who had a degree in accounting. (but ended up as a Librarian!)

So I thought I had everything under control until I found myself at home trying to untangle another puzzle. As I said, Cheryl had taken care of the "details" actually paying the bills and handling the FAFSA submissions. We agreed on what we would do, but she pulled the trigger.

So here I am, looking at the process for the first time after driving for 10 hours today...and boy is it confusing. Both of my daughters schools appear to have totally different processes for payment and billing. Both appear to have different invoice timing and structure, and so the only thing I have to go by are the old canceled checks and invoices of past payments.

I have not unraveled that big hairball quite yet, but lucky for me Cheryl was great at dropping breadcrumbs that I can follow. She really did document quite a bit if her work.....

Lesson for all out attention to what your spouse is doing. Pretend you have to pinch hit for them from time to time, and make sure you know what the drill is.

Also....if you are in control of a particularly important home process....document it in some way. Drop breadcrumbs so that those following you can figure out what you were up to and how you operated.

Maybe this is all obvious.....but I guess it wasn't to me!

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

My latest wrestling with our home finances.....

I thought I would just post some of the finance thoughts and things I have been pondering these days. I have not written as often as I had in the past, so you may not have followed our families situation.

My wife passed away just before Christmas last month, so quite frankly, money has not been anywhere near the top of my priority these days. Not that it isn't important, but as my dad used to say..."Money doesn't make the world go around, but it sure greases the wheel."

But let's face it, taking care of my daughters and family affairs is top priority....because blood is thicker than money. ( I did a mash-up on a couple of old get the guist)

But I have to admit that I can't just "forget" money....neither Cheryl nor I were born with a silver spoon in our mouth....and life isn't free.

Neither Life nor Death Are Free:
So here are a couple of things that have come up that you might never have considered. First, passing away isn't inexpensive. Even if you have some form of insurance, it is at least a cash flow problem. Simple services and burial costs between $10,000 and say $13,000....and the cemetery plots up here in NH are actually quite reasonable. (my wife and my plots costs $750 per site with a cost of another $750 to "open" the site for burial...but remember this cost pays for upkeep of the cemetery forever. Even inexpensive when you consider it "by the acre" :-)

The funeral home arrangements were about $9300. (I don't think that is too personal to disclose) I never looked into these costs, but I guess I wasn't surprised by any of them. Then there were all the costs for various ceremonies and participants. (no, I will not itemize those....but they include donations to the priest, church, organist/singer, and other people who worked along the way...all donations, but customary)

But back to that comment I made about the NH funeral plots being inexpensive..... my cousin who came up from Florida for my wife's funeral, and he wants to be buried with his parents in Woburn Mass. He took a ride over to size it up and get a price for cemetery plots. (Not my idea of a fun time....but he wants to have all his ducks in a row so that he doesn't impact his mate when he passes away...hopefully many, many years from now)

Anyways....the plots there in Woburn cost $2200 each! (Both are Catholic Cemeteries too!) I knew land was cheaper here in NH, but that sort of difference is crazy.

So I suggest everyone at least consider how their passing will impact the remaining family members, and either set money aside or have some level of insurance.....I suppose that is a tough thing to consider, but it doesn't have to be. We talk about health and auto insurance and we clearly never want to use it just the same.

Short Term and Long Term Planning:
Besides this cash flow crunch, I have also been starting to think about my youngest daughter's desire to transfer to another college. Cheryl and I had a financial plan worked out where we have saved money to help our daughters get through college, so this is a topic we have discussed many times.

My focus now is around Kristen's desire to go on for her PhD.....and believe you me, I am thrilled that she understands the value and wants to do that! (My dad warned me not to stop my education because it would be tough to get back to it...and I have to say, my dad was 100% correct!)

So I'm not so much stressed about Kristen transfering (I am taking a week off from work to take a grand tour of a few colleges on the east coast with her soon)...nor am I too worried about her leaving $30,000 in scholarship money behind at Hofstra, since I do want to support her and Kim to the fullest. As we talked about this the other night, I realized that I just moved my investment portfolio on to a more "conservative" tack. (I am worried about our economy, the falling dollar, and the housing bubble....but you know I worry a lot less about it when I don't pay attention! the old saying is right-on: "Ignorance is bliss!!!")

So I guess I need to add one more item to my massive "to-do" again look at our long term financial plan for everything and re-balance it given a slightly higher (and longer) cost of college.

But like I noted earlier....I have my priorities....and unless the market is crashing down around my ears, I have more pressing priorities at the my kids! The finances can wait until they get back to school and I get back to my empty house. (not actually empty at the moment with both my girls and my mother in-law here right now :-)

I hope this sort of BLOG entry isn't so boring or "frightening" as to turn people off....please bear with me as we get through our family problems. I will attempt to keep all my posts at least tangentially related to personal finance...and perhaps bring up topics like this that some may not even consider thinking about. (but will probably unfortunately affect every one of us at some point in our lives)

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Monday, January 01, 2007

Change in financial focus

I have not given this much more than a short thought in the shower this morning, but I think I will BLOG about it since this is how I tend to get clarity of some ideas.

My personal finance thoughts in the shower revolve around my wife Cheryl's passing and how I am going to think about our savings. (both retirement and otherwise)

We had always thought of these savings as having two or perhaps components to them. The first component is more of a short term component where we had always planned to make sure our daughters had their college schooling paid for. We have two daughters, and we have squirreled away a bit of money for that purpose. (and are also relying on a reasonable level of return on the whole nut as well as continued contributions in savings in order to fund the costs)

The second component of our nest egg was the money we needed to ultimately retire and maintain some sort of standard of living. Once again, we were pretty well on our way to getting that saved, but certainly could not there yet. Again, we had plans to continue our savings regiment, and baring any sickness or loss of job, the trajectory of this portion of our savings was going along OK as well. The savings held in our home equity was a bit piece of this, as well as most of our 401K money.

The third component of our plans revolved around money we wanted to save in order to do more traveling in our retirement. Nothing fancy, mostly around our own country and perhaps a few other interesting places in the world....but this was sort of going to come from money that came above and beyond the second net egg component above. Neither of us had champagne tastes, so we would be doing all this on the cheap....but still, we had plans to do a lot more slow, sight seeing kind of travel.

My thoughts this morning have changed quite dramatically. I guess not having my wife here makes me consider my priorities.....well, not so much my priorities, but the goal of each. You see, I still keep as my priority the idea that our kids need an education. But having lowered my need to travel, I think I would like to try and see if they are interested in as much education as possible. My daughter Kristen is already talking about a PhD in Archeology, but I think I will try to figure out how I can ore properly support that. I am not sure what Kim's ongoing education plans are, but I guess I need to talk to her. (and soon since she is a Junior now)

In terms of travel, I will still travel at some point. But my idea of fun is loading up a van with a sleeping bag and camping across the country, seeing the local sights and sounds. (It sort of comes from the stories of my Uncle Joe who was the Merchant Seaman, and who was a very free spirited soul who loved to travel simple and light.....all he seemed to NEED was a guitar and a local bar to drink and play in.....I can't play guitar, and don't my traveling will be different for sure)

We currently work with a financial planner, and one of the things we have worked on is making sure he understands our risk tolerance and our financial goals. I think I described our previous goals pretty clearly above.....but I admit that I still need to formulate and solidify my future goals....well, in the future. (the near future)

So perhaps later this quarter, perhaps in spring, I will be going off to see Larry to get my finances perhaps heading in another direction. Sort of like my traveling plans in the future, I am not quite sure where my mind will lead me on this journey....but like the name of my BLOG, I am the conservative type, so I will almost certainly "Measure Twice and cut Once."

Happy New Year to All!

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