Budget sacrifices

We have a couple gifting occasions coming up this summer. Normally I don’t give it a whole lot of thought – if it’s a wedding I go to their registry, pick something out, order it, ship it, done. If it’s a baby shower, I do the same thing. If it’s a baby announcement, though, I like to go to some baby explosion store and buy some cute wearable. Because it’s a baby and they have amazingly cute, tiny things. And it’s remains a novelty for me to shop for tiny things.

Essentially, I make giving gifts all about me in the convenience and fun factor. Plus buying from a registry ensures the couple or parents get what they want or need, and the post delivery baby gift selection is typically functional as well as ridiculously cute. At my core I am pretty practical.

I never think about whether I’m being cheap or anything else. I typically have a budget range in mind that depends on who the person is in my life, their own circumstances, etc. In my mind gifts should be given and accepted graciously with little or no thought to cost. Of course, I am a complete Pollyanna who truly believes it is the thought that counts.

Lately here, discussion in my own life about weddings and baby showers are coming up more and more, and there seems to be a great debate over how much to spend on a gift. With 2 kids having weddings last year, apparently I should be more in the know about this stuff? Nope, not this mom of both a bride and a groom. The kids are adults, capable of handling their own gifting and financial affairs, and frankly the biggest concern I had was being the mother of “those kids” who did not write their thank you notes in a timely manner. Thankfully, both of mine got theirs done within a month of their weddings.

Sorry friends, I’m the last person you know to ask if a gift makes you look cheap. If you put some thought – even if the extent of the thought was to check their registry and select something – it counts. A few years back a client’s son was getting married and when I checked the registry, a single piece of their china was over $100, crystal was expensive as well. I felt weird giving a coffee cup or salad plate, so I wandered over to towels and such and purchased a set of towels that happened to be on sale. It was a registry item; obviously that’s what they wanted. I didn’t blow my budget and got them something they indicated they desired. My work is done.

This comes up periodically because I work with younger folk, many with a lot of student loan debt hanging over their heads and influencing their choices in jobs and career pathways. Something like gifts for a wedding and a shower can be major budget busters. One of my associates was recently asked to be a bridesmaid. She immediately said yes but is now having serious reservations about the idea once she began adding up the costs. There is an engagement party, so that means a gift. A shower gift, a wedding gift, the dress and shoes and jewelry, the bachelorette party, and it’s also a destination wedding. Ugh. I would have been tempted to say no to the invitation out of budget constraint, but I’m also middle aged and if my friends are getting married now, they are more far less concerned with the modern day wedding experience.

When is enough I wonder? I don’t know. I had the minimalist experience with my daughter last year and then the more modern tradition with my son. Both turned out beautifully and all parties are happy. My daughter had the small courthouse wedding she wanted, my son and daughter-in-law had the wedding of the decade (it was so much fun). The work leading up to the bigger wedding event was enormous, but that was what they wanted, so that’s what they had. I think they did a good job of managing costs and expectations, but it was still an expensive event. I also think it helps enormously that G and K are reasonable people – no -zillas that I saw or heard about – and were able to work with their friends to make the important parts of the wedding happen.

But I still know a lot of folks who worry about appearances. I suggest to my peeps that living within your means always looks good, but when you are a young attorney saddled with debt, most people only look at the profession and make the assumption that passing the bar automatically equates to healthy salaries. Perhaps, but when you factor in long hours, living expenses, and the burden of 5 to 6 figure students loan debt, they healthy salary sudden feels a lot like minimum wage.

This does not mean feel sorry for the well educated young professional, they have such a rough life. But it does mean that their lives are not so rapturously golden because they have a law degree and a professional job.

Once upon a time I was a budget coach, in that I helped people figure out their income and expenses and all the live they were presently living and really could not afford. It was some of the worst and most painful work of my life. Going through it myself was bad enough; trying to help people understand that their “needs” did not equate to cable television, 2 cars (with car payments), new electronics every year, etc. was a huge challenge. Once they realized they would have to give up most of if not all of their wants to pay down their debt, they wanted to get out debt as quickly as possible, which meant unsustainable budgets and more month than money and having to hit the credit card again for basic living expenses.

It was an ugly cycle.

I rarely do that kind of thing anymore. Dave Ramsey has getting out of debt pretty well covered if someone is serious about taking those steps. But chatting with my associate and her stress about the minimal expenses and bridesmaid obligations saddens me. Her heart is in the right place, her friend is her best friend since childhood. But the expenses are going to pile up and she is not going to be able to afford a cup of coffee for the next 7 months unless she diverts any bonuses (90% of which have been used to pay down her student loans) for the wedding expenses.

At least she has options; few people get work bonuses. Small comfort when she is trying so desperately to relieve herself of the debt burden.

Hard choices, difficult conversations ahead. But no, I don’t think she looks cheap for not wanting to spend thousands to be in her dear friend’s wedding. And yes, I do think her friend should understand if she says she cannot afford to be a bridesmaid and attend a wedding in Hawaii. If anything, I wish everyone were as disciplined and as driven to break out of debt enslavement. Law school was worth it, and student loans felt like her only choice at the time. I don’t care about that; what’s done is done. But I very much respect her smart choices now and the sacrifices that may have to be made to slay that dragon.

I am very proud of her, no matter what happens next. I advised she be true to herself, her values and priorities. True friends will understand or work with her to make it happen.

Blur, funk, bounce

Like everyone else, I have days that are so jammed with work and commitments that the work and the commitments and the whole day all fly by in a blur of activity. Yesterday was one of those days. Yet … yet … I still made time for my gym practice first thing in the morning, a yoga class late afternoon, and a quick cardio queen session at the gym after meeting with the new membership manager.

I also billed 14 hours yesterday. Legally and with some marketing and write-off time excluded from those honestly billable billable hours. I was hopping.

Most of the time, I really have to work at my time management and almost look forward to office days because of the basic structure of being somewhere and focused on a particular line of work for a set number of hours. Trust me, there are a lot of distractions here as well, with staff and bosses running in and out of my office, the phone calls, the emails, the appointments and the drop-in-without-appointment surprises. Still, I am not at home looking at a mostly organized stack of work to be done and yet another completely unorganized stack of work that must be sorted and placed into the mostly organized stack so I can finally get to work. Setup time – major time suck.

It’s normal for friends to suggest I am a workaholic. It’s common to be told I need to take a “real” vacation or to take some time off from work, the gym, my life and lifestyle. Relax, they say. Have fun, they tell me. While it generally comes from a good and caring place, it is irritating and nearly impossible for me to not get defensive about my choices. And since I hate that such sentiments make me feel defensive, I have been trying to figure out why the concern grates on my nerves.

One of my closest friends is recovering from a life-threatening illness. A byproduct of this and his ongoing recuperation is evaluation of his life and his choices with regard to his career, geographic location, and the quality of his life and lifestyle. How much money does he really need? What is more important – being part of a large social group or having a few people nearby he can be real with? Retirement is still 20 years away (minimum), but he is starting to wonder what it is he wants from that.

His reflective state seems to be contagious.

While it is true that I work a lot, the work is not physically taxing. On the contrary, the very sedentary nature of the work I do makes it dangerous to my health. It’s why I have a treadmill desk at home that I am resolving to use a lot more routinely than I have been lately. Having a steady gig with the lawyers provides a better than average silver HSA plan (starting November 1) health insurance for a very nominal cost ($100/month for M and I) along with dental and vision. It also fulfills my desire for balance in face-to-face interaction with people, although I admit it can also overflow and tip the balance to the too much side of the scale.

Expanding my side gigs into a full-blown small business has brought its own joys and headaches. As I have written about previously, when I first started I took any and all referrals for work. My law firm job started that way. A year later, I am being more selective about new work, subcontracting out work where it makes most sense, and trying to maintain some sort of balance that does not leave me working 60, 70, 80 hours per week. I have made some passive attempts to terminate contracts by raising rates or limiting my availability, yet they stay. Just yesterday I contacted a couple of my smallest firms with thoughts of referring them to someone else, but by the end of the conversation I was agreeing that ours is a very good and productive business relationship and only modestly raising their fees for the upcoming year. It’s hard when it only takes a few hours each month, is work I’m good at and could likely do in my most sleep-deprived state, although it is not work I especially enjoy. It’s easy and having a few easy projects each month can be a good thing.

On the flip side there are projects that I am drooling over to the point of the point of temptation to work for free. Except I won’t, because that would be really bad for business. This type of work is typically deadline-driven and interesting to me to be part of in whatever capacity. And it’s my heroin with work, typically very lucrative financially, as interesting and exciting for me to work on as it assuredly as pain-in-the-ass it will eventually become. The PITA is a given for these types of projects; nothing ever goes as smoothly as hoped, and even anticipating problems and shortage of time is inadequate for how many problems and how overblown on time such projects typically run.

Still, I live for these. I love the rush that comes with a short-fuse project, and pursuing that kind of work challenge fuels any and all characterizations of me as a workaholic. Unlike my early days toiling in a civil service environment where the motto seemed to be “there’s never time to do it right, but always time to do it over” would vex me to no end, consulting seems to be competitive and driven by smart people wanting to do and be best at their assigned projects … or moving on to civil service jobs.

As I have stated a lot, I really like my work. It’s not going to ever cure cancer or provide solutions to world hunger or lasting peace, but it keeps my days interesting and pays the bills. Although ours is a pretty simple life, we are not especially frugal and actively working to minimize our fixed expenses. Our health is important to us, so a higher than average percentage of our disposable income goes toward those pursuits. Gym and yoga studio memberships, personal training, running shoes, running accessories and equipment, replacement clothing for exercise pursuits. supplements, etc. There are expensive home remodeling projects in the future plan (kitchen remodel, replacing existing tile, landscaping) and we save for those rather than going into debt. M really wants to train to be a pilot and to build an airplane; those dreams are already mostly funded when he is ready to get started studying and enroll and/or finds the airplane kit he wants to build. The where is a bigger mystery to me and we have already done some idle looking around at shop space for rent.

Then there is the whole retirement savings topic. We have no plans to travel the world or for amazing, exotic trips as retired folks. Hopefully we will continue to enjoy good health, go out and remain active, and more time to pursue hobbies and interests. If I allow the marketing and internet hype to sink in, my fear gene starts twitching and I start panic thinking we’re way, way behind and must cut any and all luxuries (including those that enhance our overall health and quality of life) and live this miserly existence. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of keeping expenses low wherever possible, but at the same time, I know what is working for me and I am loathe to give it up for a future I am unlikely to have much less enjoy if I stop taking care of myself now while I still have opportunity to make better choices that will pay long-term dividends.

I would much rather find the balance between working really hard now and have reasonably ambitious savings goals for future projects and older-and-grayer years. We are fortunate to have woken up earlier to the trap of debt and gotten out of consumer debt before purchasing our home. Unless something surprising happens and we choose to switch things up, our mortgage will be gone within the next 7 years and we will have no further debt. Part of me believes working hard to establish my self-employment habit now will aid me in the future when I do not want to go to leave the house to earn income.

If anything, I feel like I am in a give-away stage of life, where I want to pare down our possessions and volume of crap we keep. Last weekend I did a little more exploration in my endless closet and found several things saved in the last purge that will be going on the block via ebay or some other sale site soon and even more into my donation bag. I am being ruthless with clothing I have shrunk out of and not keeping it just-in-case. If I go back up a size I will either have to suck it up and buy new things or grit my teeth and get back on track. I regret donating a designer handbag last week in a fit of declutter fatigue when I saw the same bag on ebay with multiple bids. Ah well. I’m sure the reseller who ends up with it needs the profit more than I do.

So while I have a good handle on my life and reasoning for the choices I make, I remain a little or a lot fuzzy on why others are so unhappy with their own. Personality differences? To a lesser or greater degree we project our biases on those around us or closest to us, and perhaps that is the issue.

When I began blogging a few years ago I was well traveled in personal finance circles. When I actually began this blog, though, I found out how little I have to say on the topic of personal finance, other than it truly is a very personal choice. I knew then, know even better now that M and I are not terribly frugal people, and I find it annoying that people wear their frugality merit badge like some sort of judgment statement. Either that or I am hypersensitive to it, which is entirely possible as well. But whatever; everyone is different.

Thing is, I worry about money for a living. Because of that, my own spending and saving habits tend to be on autopilot. Our budget is set and we do a good job of sticking to it without much tinkering on my part. I do not want to be quibbling or quivering over meaningful services or saving even more of the money we earn. I also do not want to be feeling anxious about whether or not to tip my esthetician just because she happens to be in business for herself. More unique situations – like trainer J or RD (who will not accept money from me for his advice and dietary guidance help) – I just go with my gut on what seems fair and reasonable to me. Plus they are sort of swept up into my inner circle tribe and benefit from the spoils of goodies (booze, gift cards, etc.) that I acquire from clients and vendors and cannot or will not use.

And because of my job and my past as a budget coach, a lot of my online friends and acquaintances have money worries. Having been there, done that, bought and shredded the t-shirt, it seems natural that many I know see my life as simpler or easier with our financial house in good order.

All this finance and work and thinking stuff has been pinging and ponging around in my head. Because of it, lately here my mind feels like mush. If I am not discussing something with specificity – like training recaps or eating strategy – I am all a-wandering in these posts. Here today I mulling over a snarky tossed off comment in real life about working too hard, taking time off, whining so much. Huh. I do not tend to whine much in person – work-life balance choices start and end with me – and I know she does not read the blog. But her income has to stretch far and includes debt and debt service, children, and limited choices and courses of action to increase her income and limits herself on reducing her expenses. She gets a pass because I find her negativity is the limiting factor on becoming closer friends. She has a nasty habit of “yes, but …” to any and all suggestions about helping herself. And that’s fine; I listen with half an ear and change the subject.

As individuals, we are not powerless. We control our attitude and our emotions. There are a lot of choices we have to make that are unpleasant, uncomfortable, or just plain unfair and awful, but reality and circumstances are not always what we want or feel we deserve.

I have struggled this week with various things, and honestly, I have no clear idea why. At work my bosses are effusive in their assessment of and praise for how I am conducting myself and the business matters at hand. My particular management style, while very different than their own, works well with the staff dynamic. Self-employment work is chugging along and gaining more steam with renewals and new clients, short-term projects. M and I are fine, busy pursuing our own objectives at  home and doing a fair number of standing up dinners enroute to something else that needs to get done. Trainer J is not raining pitiful looks in my direction that say I’m a sad sack broken bird in my efforts or giving me any indications that something has changed to where I feel as crappy as I have been about my own efforts and performance in practices of late. Kids, tribe, other friends are fine, on the mend and doing well in their own lives.

So why the mild funk, I wonder? M suggests it seasonal affective disorder. That would be a new twist if that were the case; I have never been bothered by the time change or the shorter daylight hours.

It’s certainly nothing serious. Even mild funk might be a bit strong to cover the higher self-critical tone I have had of late. Today was good, better than I have been in the last couple of weeks, in that while imperfect I went through my List of the day this morning with stronger focus and resolve. Work is perking right along, and walking at lunch today we were discussing funks, depression, anxiety, and the medications available to battle such issues. Having a day where I am so busy that my time to navel-gaze and overthink my own life’s miniscule drama is also always a good thing. Tends to put things into better perspective for me.

Righting my own ship – action is not always required. Occasionally I just need to ride out the squall and let mind find its happy place again. Of course, limiting social media and reading some of the many books piling up on my Kindle and in my “you should read this” recommendations list makes Janelle a much healthier, happier, positive-outlooked person.

Tomorrow is Thursday – training day! How I know for sure I am on the bounce and enroute to righting the mind ship? Earlier today J told me the Thursday 8 a.m. tribe member is out of town, which means if we run late we can take some extra time. That’s always a happy thing, even if I am spoiled, Spoiled, SPOILED (as friend J remarked earlier). But also, it’s likely a teaching day. We just finished our review of another series of workouts we began a few months ago, interrupted with another style of body part splits, and only recently returned to. Next could be kettle bells or some new version of mix-and-match exercise Lists. Whatever. I don’t care. I’ve had a self-imposed weird week with exercise (although today was quite good) and look forward to interactive Q&A rather than just letting my curiosity sit and spin in my own head about what I or others in my line of sight are doing.

And even this deep into regular, consistent exercise nearly every day, I am still ridiculously excited about training days.

Financial freedom vs. financial empowerment

I found this line in another budget/finance forum I follow. Being in my mid-50s now it seems a bit late to be contemplating financial freedom (aka early retirement) right now, but I find it curious the trend and thinking from others far younger and better planners than I have ever been.

Financial empowerment, however, is intriguing. It spells a wider variety of choices and freedoms than being enslaved to a job for the paycheck. For us it meant M could retire early, and here we are, 6+ years later and both pretty happy with the low-key lifestyle we have carved out for ourselves.

There was a comment on this post that also got me thinking about such matters:

Good for you, Janelle! You really seem on top of things. I am curious though…it sounds like you employ a veritable team of experts to help you achieve your personal improvement goals. What percentage of your income do you allocate to these professional services? Also, in a long-term marriage, how do you find time to nurture your relationship in between all the personal goals? What kinds of things do you do together?

My village of experts does not exactly come cheap, and her question is a valid one. Training with J, once I realized its value to me, became a consistent line item in the monthly budget. While I only have to revisit this every 4 or 5 months (sessions are purchased in blocks of 40), I budget it out because I am a planner and I have every intention of continuing. Unless he fires me, of course. Or moves to Dubai to work at the most expensive private gym in that country. Or perhaps goes into some witness protection-like program for super nice guys who become entangled with bunny boilers. (Hey, it could happen.)

TM and RD are healthcare expenses. Since I have an HSA-compatible insurance plan, I contribute the maximum to our HSA every year and hope not to have to use those funds until our much older and grayer years when healthcare is projected to consume a lot of our retirement cash. However, the money is there and ready to be spent if needed now to pay for healthcare expenses, including sessions with TM or with RD. Both are also generous with their off-the-clock time, as is J, so I do get extra help as needed. I endeavor to not take advantage of their kindnesses towards me. Thus far this year, I have not had to make withdrawals from our HSA for services received, and hopefully the trend continues.

The real way I manage the luxury of such paid expertise is by increasing my income whenever it feels like we are approaching a pivotal tipping point and something must be sacrificed in the budget. I have taken short-term projects just to pad self-improvement funds, because I am not the only consumer in my household. While I am training with J and working with RD and TM, M is running, running, running in the mountains and shoes and socks and clothes and packs and supplements and gas to get to where he goes to run canyons and such adds up. As I said, I am a planner, and I craft our monthly budget so funds are squirreled away year round not just for my training but also for summer’s peak running expenditures. And if I need to work harder, bill more hours, I let it be known to my network of clients and business contacts that I have time available in my schedule if there are special projects or other work that could be done now versus later in the year. One way or another, opportunities for cash flow come up and the money leak is plugged. In worst cases, I use our savings to cover the shortfall that tightening our belts on expenses cannot overcome.

So essentially I am not above hustling to generate more income for our self improvement luxuries. I also think the money I save on not having to buy insulin and diabetes-related medications and supplies will easily cover my sessions this year with TM and RD, including the gift cards I get for them as thanks for their off-the-clock time investments in me. I know all members of my village have choices in how to spend their personal time; that they choose to share some of it with me is extraordinarily generous of them.

As for our long-term marriage and nurturing our relationship along side our personal goals, I think that’s a big part of what strengthens us – room to pursue our individual objectives to become the better, stronger, faster versions of ourselves. M gets up at 3 a.m. and goes running every single day, usually straggling in around 8:30 as I am preparing to leave for the office (on the days I leave the house for work). I am up at 4 a.m. for the gym on weekdays, by 6 a.m. on weekends. Other than sleeping in together, there is not much else we would likely be doing at those hours if we were not pursuing exercise. Ours is also a very simple, low-key life. We do chores around the house together, we grocery shop and cook and run errands together whenever possible. Mostly we live the normal life of a middle-aged couple – we hang out, talk, pursue things that interest us, and are present with each other. Ours is not a big, flashy, social media worthy exciting lifestyle; we simply enjoy our time and strive to make the most of it.

Over the course of my adult life, I have found that financial stability allows me to sleep restfully. Financial empowerment lets M be at home and unfettered by the responsibilities of a job that ends up having a negative impact on his nervous system. Financial freedom seems to have past us by, seeing as I am probably within 10 to 15 years of actual retirement, and in all honestly does not interest me much. If not working, what else would I be doing with the majority of my time? I can only cope with so much travel – I feel better when tethered to our home – and my hobbies and outside interests would be less enjoyable if I spent large chunks of time pursuing them. Maybe I will feel differently in 10 years, or even 5 years. But for right now, it is best for both my emotional and mental health that I continue to toil at paid employment.

Fortunately I have always liked my jobs and gotten a psychological boost from work, so our present arrangement suits us and our marriage. Working at the law firm provides benefits and the human interaction I enjoy and thrive upon. Self-employment gives me the flexibility and more control over our monthly income in the present and funds our long-term plans. Right now I have the very best of both worlds. If there was something I was missing and really wanted, I would be working on mapping ways to make it happen for us. As it is, we do not feel especially deprived or as if there is a large crater of emptiness in our world.

I feel very spoiled, I admit. But I also work really hard and do not take our simple lifestyle or anyone present in my/our life for granted. I make sure to say please and thank you and try to help others when and where I am able. My kids are grown and living their own lives, and I love, Love, LOVE that we are as close and so much a part of their happily ever afters.

Ours is a good if simple life. I have no strong desire to pursue more outside the objectives I am presently chasing. And personally, I think that is a huge bonus – to be happy and satisfied with all that I have.

Money-related stuff

I am in the midst of waiting for brokerage statements to finish our personal taxes. Yep, with some trepidation I am attempting to do them myself again this year. For whatever reason they seem a lot more complicated in this transition from most of our income from a full-time, permanent, salary-and-benefits job to the bulk of our income from self-employment and only some income from a part-time, permanent, salary-and-benefits job. Next year could be the time to take all my crap paperwork to a CPA and let them sort it out for me. Maybe. Possibly. I have another 365 days to mull it over.

But for this year, I have all our stuff together and entered into the tax program. With a maximum contribution to the HSA opened for our new health insurance plan we go from owing money (again) to having a refund due to apply to our first quarter estimated taxes instead. Amazing, happiness-inducing event.

Between January being its business-as-usual busy, hectic, crazy, I have barely bothered looking at our personal budget for stuff we are doing, planning to do, wanting to do in 2016. The deck estimate has not arrived yet, but I have lit a fire under our contractor and am threatening to withhold his beloved diet rock star or worse, donate it to trainer J if he doesn’t get my deck estimate done soon. Not that I would ever actually do that (well I might donate to trainer J, only because it takes up so much space in the fridge), but what else can I say? Don’t make me call your wife? Yes, I know you’re busy remodeling kitchens and bathrooms and building decks for other clients, but damn! I have a wedding coming up in September and need my decks in working order this spring.

Until I get that piece of information, my home improvements planning is at a standstill. I would like to get the exterior of the house repainted and some cosmetic fixes done, but the deck is the priority. Seems like we will be heading to the home and garden show this weekend to see what’s new in the home improvement world, and maybe we’ll find some amazing painter who works really cheaply (not likely, but I can dream). I would also like to get M building planter boxes for around the deck and want to look at some of the displays for ideas for nice flowers and plants. We tried really hard last year, even going so far as to spend a minor fortune on pretty flowering plants that sort of died when we went on vacation and I forgot to ask C to water them when she came by to feed the fluffbuckets. M has plans for a drip system in conjunction with the flower boxes so that should alleviate the watering issue.

It would also be nice to have something other than dead lawn out front, where everyone and all their pets on leashes see it daily, but again, we are waiting for a M’s bestie, a landscape contractor, to be less busy with everyone else’s lawns and gardens. I freely admit to not being the most patient person, but it’s been nearly a year since the new concrete was poured, we still have nothing but dead grass out front, and I have yet to do more than make an idle comment when we discuss other items on our 2016 list and 2015 project carryovers. If it were not so ridiculously expensive I would have lobbied harder for fake grass and a fence to keep the dogs of the neighborhood from using our front grass as a toilet on their daily rounds.

That is truly the most pressing budget issue right now; everything else seems to be on autopilot based on the salary I pay myself and M from my little self-employment business and my part-time job with the law firm. Food is probably our biggest issue as far as the budget goes, in that we are still exploring and experimenting with what we want/like to eat versus what is most convenient to prepare and eat at home (aka mostly prepared and processed food). M likes the smoked meat that comes from the Traeger, and I think the crockpot is the best invention for the busy person who dislikes working with food. Like so many other things between the 2 of us, our taste in food varies widely. He uses this horrible smelling spice that apparently makes beef taste great, but I cannot get far enough past the smell to actually taste  the beef. Most of what I prepare he enjoys, once he has doctored it up with pepper and the spicier flavors he loves. We are working at continuing to clean-up, tighten up our diets; it is an ongoing process, not really a once-and-done or even a goal-oriented task.

Looking back at our healthcare expenses in 2015, the biggest line item was the prescription drug costs. The insulin was greatly discounted through the mail order pharmacy, but between the medications, the syringes, and pen needles, my out-of-pocket cost alone easily topped $100/month. When I add in the oral medications I was taking, the test strips, and the lancets, I averaged about $160/month for prescriptions drugs and supplies alone – just to manage my diabetes and the preventive protocol for the other complicating conditions. This year, down to the single oral medication and continuing with test strips and lancets, my bill should drop to about $30/month, an 80% cut in out-of-pocket expenses.

Looking ahead into 2016 expenses, I think the biggest discretionary expense line item is our gym dues and my personal training expenses. M mostly leaves money management issues to me, but we talk about our financial priorities a few times per year and pencil in and/or update our plans and goals as they materialize. On the gym and the training, he feels strongly that is the final frontier in our spending and other things should be cut or eliminated completely before gym dues or training are presented for consideration. While I really do not disagree, it seems selfish for me to protect something that primarily benefits me and me alone. Although J has offered to let M come and train with me sometimes, that is a nightmare scenario that is simply so apocalyptic in nature that I cannot bear to even consider it. Thankfully M would agree with my assessment; we are simply not a couple who can pursue our fitness objectives together.

The little financial engine that could continues to power our household and is chugging along nicely. My self-employment venture got off to a strong start and is steadily growing and most definitely thriving. We continue to fund our even older and grayer years, save for 2017 adventuring and home improvement projects, and just toss some coin into the “impulse” bucket that adds some zest to our relatively simple life. It will be an extra exciting year with G&K’s wedding and its social events, plus our usual summer weekends and weeks of hosting out-of-town runners.

Life is good and continues to improve. Money and it’s tracking has gotten simpler for me as the months and years have passed, and I can realistically expect my low-stress levels in this regard continue. It is all good that I primarily have to worry about other people’s money and that they pay me for my efforts.

And would you look at that – an actual money, finance, budget-related post. It has been awhile.

Happy Friday everyone!

Year-end countdown

I feel as if I am on some sort of deathwatch, with the final days of 2015 upon us. While I have some grief and sadness in my life right now, it was actually a good year. M and I are living our lives and things are progressing in good ways, and majority of those nearest and dearest to me are happy, healthy, and planning amazing futures.

Lots of little things going on around here to report on today.

Today we met with the first deck guy and got our plan for the deck rebuilding 98% finalized. We’re going with a composite top and simple iron railing, although we did end up changing our mind (again) about the product we plan to use. The one we originally liked most was significantly more expensive when quoted for us to purchase, but the contractor’s quote will only be about 25% more, versus the 98% more it would have cost us just buying materials ourselves. As of right now we’re going with a simple iron railing, no top affixed to it, although he is quoting both bannisters on all 3 sets of stairs with a grippy topper. I was just worried that if (when?) I slip on those stairs that bony iron is going to be tricky. We also decided on enclosing beneath the deck with siding to match the house, and M will paint it in whatever color we decide the rest of the house is going to be when the time comes. It’s going to be expensive – I already know this  and am braced for it – but we plan to be here a very long time and will be enjoying this deck.

I am also mildly fretting about my year-end spending. For someone who worries about money for a living, I am absolutely blowing up my own budget in the last few days of the year. It was not overspending on Christmas or anything like that so much as hair goo (shampoo, conditioner, product) and getting my hair cut and colored. For some odd reason I did not budget well for this expense and am spending far more money than I had planned. It does not happen all that often, but when it does I go big.

The big fancy Reverie bed we purchased a couple of months ago is going back. M and I both love the bed itself – it is extremely comfortable and luxurious – but M hates the split mattress configuration we chose. I am less bothered by it, but he whines complains expresses dissatisfaction to a volume that I just called and asked if we could exchange or return it for a regular California King sleep system instead. We are within our no-questions-asked satisfaction period, and when I explained our issue to the customer service rep, he confirmed there would be no issue in exchanging the split top Cal King for a regular Cal King, but our 101 no-questions-asked returned policy would not be available for the new set-up. That’s fine; we love the sleep system, M just hates the divider crack between the beds and feels as if he is sleeping on a twin bed again. That exchange should happen sometime in the next 4 to 6 weeks.

K found The Dress yesterday and has ordered it in her size and color preference. It should arrive in about 6 months. The organized chaos of wedding planning continues over there. We had a very brief discussion about the rehearsal dinner, and the guest list for that is between 30 and 40 people. *faint!* M and I had planned to have it in a restaurant, but now we are reconsidering and thinking instead about a catered BBQ here at the house. We have the room and the backyard for it, especially with the new deck. I will start gathering sources for catering and equipment rentals.

Since they have had to keep their guest list small for the wedding and reception, I am toying with the idea of a second party on Saturday here at the house for all their other friends. With the pool and backyard, we have the facilities to accommodate a larger group, and September in northern California is prime swim party weather. As of right now they plan to meet their friends after the reception at a bar in town, but the after party would be starting around 10:30 and I’m just not sure how well attended it will be since many of their friends have to work on Saturday, etc. M and I are still mulling it over.

It’s been a busy and productive day. Between the deck guy appointment and my hair appointment, I was at the gym this afternoon. It is a rare occurrence and time for me and only happened because I could not get myself woken up enough to get out of bed this morning. The afternoon was kind of a horrible experience, and not because of anyone or conditions at the club. Getting up and to the gym first thing is the way to go for me, because I have no opportunity to graze and snack on crap beforehand and am less likely to overindulge once I have been there and worked so hard at it. Today there was See’s candy everywhere I turned this morning, though, and I simply had zero willpower to resist its seductive call. Consequently, the gym was a long, hard slog.

Tomorrow will be better. I’ll drag my sorry butt out of bed and get it done first thing.

Two more official days of work and I am done for the year. Cannot wait!

 

Home enhancement projects 2016

So last night M finally, FINALLY agreed that rebuilding the deck might be bettered hired out to the professionals. It’s not that I think he cannot do it; I am absolutely certain he would do a stellar job. However, it’s been 7 long months since our concrete was finished and we remain stair-less and having to come in and out of the garage to get to the pool and backyard. Have I been patient? Most of the time, yes, and part of that is I just did not want to fight with him about it. Last night I was working on our 2016 budget and telling him that I really wanted the deck done by the spring … and he said maybe we should get estimates and hire it out.

I was online and looking at decking contractors within minutes after that statement. I already have my first choice lined up to come out on Monday.

Since our joint decision to go composite versus wood, it has become a much more complicated project. Plus he would need helpers to get it done, and once the project is started my very limited well of patience will quickly run dry if daily progress is not occurring. Paying a contractor is significantly less expensive that marital counseling or having your wife lose her shit ever single day because it’s taking too long to get a couple of simple decks, stairs, and railings rebuilt.

My point and theory about hiring work out is pretty simple: there are jobs M really enjoys and jobs that are simply drudgery and hard work. Rebuilding the deck is drudgery and hard work, would take him 4, 5, 100 times longer than a contractor and crew, and is it really worth the conflict with me? I am sure he would rather spend his time refinishing the used teak patio set we just purchased. He can take his time and make it beautiful again.

Once the deck is completed, painting the exterior of our home is next … or may happen concurrently. That should be the extent of home projects for 2016, but it’s more than enough to consume our enhancements budget and saving for 2017 will commence.

Spring always seems to be an exciting and expensive time of year.

Vacation – all I have been missing

Today was our second day at the Reno air races. Still up at the top of the bleachers all day long in my down sweater, but not shivering and feeling like there is a potential ice age about to overwhelm us. It was sunny today and that certainly helped the comfort factor. M remarked on the way back to our hotel that this was the best day ever for us at this event. I could not agree more.

Each year we seem to get a little better at managing this event. Last year we discovered the shuttle service. It’s not cheap – $40 per day for a round trip bus ride to and from the event – but for us it’s worth every single penny. Parking is a minimum of $15/day, plus the aggravation of sitting and trying to escape with thousands of others at the end of the day, the walking a half mile or more to the gate, and then the heavy traffic. The last time we drove – 2 years ago – it took us 2 hours to go the few miles to the freeway on ramp. Today it was 30 minutes from the time we boarded the bus to getting off at our hotel. It’s worth the extra money to relax after a long day. We plan for this cost in our vacation budget.

M loves going into the pits and talking to the crews and other aviation enthusiasts he meets. Yesterday he bought a pit pass for $20 and had a blast! He literally spent half our day down there. He was concerned about the cost of an all-event pit pass for $127 and thought he might just buy one for some of the days. It would have saved $20 to buy it yesterday, but that ship had sailed. This money was also in the budget, but he felt like it was too much to plan to go every day. He lucked out today and found someone with an unused all event pass he was selling for $100. It saves us only $7 overall, but M feels better about it and is delighted to be able to go down there as much as he wishes.

From rom my perch seat I have actually been enjoying the races this year. Granted it has not been sizzling heat – a novel and welcome change from normal conditions here – but also aviation enthusiasts tend to be uber nice, friendly, normal people. I have a group of retired military airplane crew chiefs, mechanics, and pilots sitting next to me and a couple from the Midwest on the other side. When not watching racing or chatting with them I can read and relax. There have been a few work-related emails, texts, and phone calls, but nothing serious, urgent, or within my power to change even if I had been home. What is even nicer, and so very strange for me, I am not even concerned or worried about work or what might be waiting when I get home. For the first time in what feels like forever I am actually relaxed and enjoying my vacation. How sad is it that I finally get what people are talking about when they come back relaxed and refreshed after time away?

On the diet and exercise fronts it has been a mixed bag. I did floor work this morning and we are walking a lot for cardio. Eating has been just okay – too much coffee (with milk and chocolate), soda (M and Pepsi are in uneasy alliance), carbs (bread – the bane of my existence). We have had good dinners the last 2 nights, and other than the aforementioned transgressions, I have been eating a quest bar and a bag of almonds with bottles of water at the actual venue. Everything there seems like too much – too fried, too much sugar, just too awful a price after the fact. I am having to be careful with my mess, because I was 43 at 10 pm and dropped to 60 before eating something this afternoon. At least I’m steering clear of shaved ice and its lethal syrups and funnel cake and that ilk and all its fat, sugar, calories.

Vacation is fun as long as I do not stray too far down the the tastes-so-good-and-is-so-bad pathway.

Hope all of you had a good week.