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Archive for December, 2017

New Year's Eve Reminiscing

December 31st, 2017 at 08:28 am

I like the yearly recaps some have been posting, and I thought I would summarize my year, too:

Good stuff:

Financial - Despite a challenging budget, I managed to end the year with my net worth not only intact, but a little higher than last year.

Vacations - I went on my first-ever cruise (using my first-ever passport) from New Orleans to Mexico. I had a total blast with my kids and grandkids and my dear friend C. Then a few months later I had a beautiful long weekend getaway with my girlfriends in Madison, Indiana, where we stayed in an adorable historic home, ate some great food and went antiquing. I went to Florida twice (in quick succession), once to visit my son's family, and again to help out my DIL, who was on crutches. I went to visit my brother in Michigan often, including family get-togethers on July 4 and Thanksgiving. And I also went to visit BFF and she came to see me, and we never failed to have a great time. I had lunch with my man friend P whenever I went to Michigan, and I hope to keep seeing him in the new year.

Work - I really retired! My work at the museum ended rather abruptly in February (no fault of mine), and though I miss the extra income, I do not miss the commute, nor the stress.

Medical - I went to a nephrologist for the first time and got good news about my chronic kidney disease -- it is progressing very slowly and I learned I did not have to follow a special diet. I also learned from my GP that I did not have to take a statin any more.

Family Triumphs - My son completed his Master's in Predictive Analytics. My grandson made first violin in his middle school orchestra and is therefore concert master -- the youngest ever! My other grandson earned his yellow belt in Tae Kwan Do.

Family History - I started transcribing my mother's diaries (and got side-tracked, but that's another story!) I researched C's lineage and updated the family tree, and I got my DNA tested! I'm very British!

Bad Stuff:

Personal - I lost my good friend C to cancer. She lived approximately a year after the original diagnosis. I was privileged to be one of her carers at the end. She had an amazing last year and I was so happy to be part of it.

Car Repair - I had to replace the master switch assembly in January, and brakes in June, along with a lot of other little things. Car repairs cost me $1889, but that was a lot better than the previous year, which figured above $7K!

Medical - I had to pay $325 out of pocket for physical therapy, and I was troubled by knee pain for about half of the year (it still isn't completely gone!)

Overall, despite the tragedy of losing C, it has been a good year.



Wow, It's Cold!

December 30th, 2017 at 06:16 am

I'm not going to the gym today, or running any errands. I do need to walk over to my son's house to feed the cats, and I'll also go downstairs to do another load of laundry. But those will be my only ventures into the great outdoors.

I paid my big Discover bill this morning, which covers a lot of my Christmas spending. In a few days, my auto insurance premium will be withdrawn.

Meals today will be the rest of the fried rice, and spinach salad. I have some leftover chicken and mushrooms and evaporated milk, so I'm planning to make a cream sauce to blend with both and serve over noodles. But I won't do that until tomorrow since I already have plenty of food to eat up today.

I got a renewal notice for AARP. It is only $16, and I do use it for hotels and Walgreens discounts -- and restaurants, when I remember. But since I have dallied about renewing, they are now offering a luggage organizer set as a bonus. Looks like the set is comprised of four zippered containers in graduated sizes. I think it might make a good gift in my upcoming gap year, so I think I'm going to go for the renewal.

I intended to get more Christmas lights yesterday, but Walgreens was out of the clear ones. I even checked a second Walgreens, and they were out altogether. Oh well, at least one strand is a start.

Feeling pretty content. I love to just snuggle up in winter!

This and That

December 29th, 2017 at 05:44 am

On the way home from the gym yesterday, I stopped at Walgreens. I needed scotch tape and Command hooks. While there I looked at the discounted Christmas items, and I ended up buying a string of fairy lights. The reason being: DIL is going to give me C's Christmas tree, which is much nicer than mine, but is not pre-lit. The string of lights I bought (for only $2.50) includes 100 bulbs and is 21 feet long. Is that enough for a 7-ft. tree? It's been so long since I had to buy lights. I wonder if I should buy another set. They will be double the price if I wait till next Christmas.

I spent $21 altogether.

I also spent $1.50 on a load of laundry.

I applied for a BOA credit card which will award me $150 for spending $500 in the first ninety days. That is easily done.

I made fried rice yesterday using up sloppy joe filling, along with celery, onion, spinach, Brussels sprouts and mushrooms. Seasoned with teriyaki sauce. It was delicious! It made enough for two meals.

I was going to make sauteed chicken breast with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts for dinner, but my Fitbit told me I had already eaten enough, so I skipped dinner. It wasn't hard, because I actually wasn't too hungry. I'll make the chicken and sprouts today.

I got my check from the credit union, so I'll be depositing that today, then tomorrow, when it clears, I'll pay the big Christmas Discover bill.

I hung some pictures and replaced some ceiling bulbs yesterday. While I had the ladder out, I decided to tackle hanging a drapery rod. After looking over the hardware and the instructions, I decided I do indeed have to wait for my son to do it.

Once I get those curtains hung, I also want to replace the shade in that window. Right now I have an accordian shade that doesn't go up very far. I want to make a rolling shade out of fabric. Has anyone here done that? I wonder how difficult it is. I'm not very crafty. Maybe a Roman shade would be better? I already have the fabric, which beautifully coordinates with the curtains I bought this summer at a garage sale. I think the window will be stunning, if I can ever get it done.

Happy New Year!

December 28th, 2017 at 04:49 am

So, my new year (financially) has begun! My first spending in my January budget was $23 at Aldi and $28 at the gas station.

My ten items at Aldi were: tea, coffee, graham crackers, granola, club crackers, flour, spinach, frozen pizza, frozen chicken breasts, and white vinegar.

In keeping with the pantry challenge, I'll try to make that my last grocery shop in this budget cycle.

The gas was $2.40 per gallon, about as good as I can get in this area. I get a .03 per gallon discount for using my Food4Less card.

That puts me at 7% on my variables, which have been reworked for 2018. I am working with about $10 less per month. Assessment fees went up, and utilities went up a little, but taxes/insurance were less than the year before, so I made that adjustment, and came out with only the $10 reduction.

Today I'm going to use up some leftover sloppy joe filling, as well as chopped celery, onion and Brussels sprouts, in fried rice. I got free shaved Brussels sprouts from my DIL before they left town. I had some in a salad yesterday, but I need to figure out how to use it up faster. May just steam and eat as a side dish.

It's VERY cold here, and I would just stay inside, but I have to go out to feed my son's cats, so I might as well go to the gym, too. I will wait till it's light, though!

It's Pay Day!

December 27th, 2017 at 06:51 am

I'm getting ready to head out to the gym, but I'm reveling in PAY DAY! Weird, pay day is more exciting than Christmas.

I paid my mortgage and a Chase bill. I'm holding off on the Discover bill until my check arrives from my credit union. (End of year expenses required some moving about of funds.)

I saw that I had forgotten to add my insurance premium to expected expenses, just an oversight, but glad I caught it.

After the gym I'll stop at Aldi and get a few items.

So, I've been thinking about how to cut expenses in my gap year (which doesn't actually begin till July.)

At first I was going to do a gift moratorium, but I decided that would feel too bad, so I'm going to give token gifts of $10. Of course, I will explain to all the circumstances.

I will not contribute to college funds in 2018.

I will observe a clothing moratorium. Will not buy anything unless it is an actual, incontrovertible need.

I will not eat out unless there is a social benefit. On those occasions, I will order cheap.

I will work harder to stretch food at home. I will make more from scratch.

I will be more mindful to run full loads of laundry.

I will stretch out haircuts by doing a bangs trim myself.

I will drive less and walk more. I will also use the train more.

I will continue Goodwill shopping, but will not buy books (use library instead.) I will only buy items to resell. If I find "wants" I will ask BFF to buy it and give it to me as a gift later. (We already do that a lot.)

On the income side, I'm going to start selling things on eBay. Any little income I can generate will be helpful.

Nothing big, but all of these things combined, along with "gazelle-instense" mindfulness should get me through.

The Day After

December 26th, 2017 at 05:43 am

Whew! What a day it was! I got up at 6 to go over to my son's house. The kids opened a mountain of gifts. There were a few meltdowns, especially when GS1's "fitbit" (not the real thing) wouldn't work properly. He was mainly overexcited and overwhelmed. They would do well to downsize Christmas, I think, but they are very influenced by other relatives and they are caught in a keeping up with the Joneses kind of thing.

After the gift opening we had homemade cinnamon rolls for breakfast. Then I took some time to shower and clean up, and we went to my nephew's house for Christmas dinner. We spent the rest of the day there.

For my part, I got a real fitbit from my kids, some other fitness-related gifts like a water bottle and a foam roller, some pictures, ornaments, and more hand cream! (Guess I've complained about rough hands.) I never asked for the fitbit, but I'm delighted. It will really help me tackle my creeping weight gain, which I hope to eliminate this year.

I always enjoy Christmas, and I always enjoy seeing it come to an end and getting back to normal!

Planning to go to the gym this morning, but the car is covered with snow and the temperature is really low. It might be really hard to clean off the car. But I guess I have to do it sometime.

I'm looking forward to pay day tomorrow and a fresh start for the new year.

Because I won't be spending anything today, I did my December recap, and here it is:

Gifts/Charity: $1669 (this includes $1080 for college funds, earned in snowflakes)
Housing: $695
Medical/Health: $345
Utilities: $262 (Comcast bill came twice)
Fees/Services: $214 (wheel tax, I-Pass, Amazon Prime)
Vacation/Travel: $190
Groceries: $132
Entertainment: $107 (includes $95 for Art Institute membership)
Phone: $52
Eating Out: $44
Vet/Pet Supplies: $42
Gas: $25
Personal: $18
Car Repair/Maintenance: $14
Furnishings/Equipment/Decor: $11
Laundry: $9
Household Supplies: $6
Fares/Parking: $1

Grand Total: $3847

Now -- December begone!

Christmas Eve Plans

December 24th, 2017 at 10:05 am

More baking today. My grandson is coming over in an hour and we will make a Christmas cake together. This is a cake he has imagined -- green cake, white icing, red decorations. I've just checked to make sure I have enough flour and butter. I don't have much in the way of cake decorations; I hope he will be satisfied with the marzipan fruit and plastic holly. And sprinkles, of course. If not, we'll take the cake to his mom's and see what we can find there.

The snow is coming down outside. I don't want to drive anywhere -- actually not until Christmas is over! I will walk over to my son's house this evening and then again tomorrow morning for the gift opening. After that, tomorrow's plans are in the air. I believe DIL will make a Christmas dinner, but I'm not sure. She also mentioned going out in the evening with my nephew's wife, so I'm unclear whether both things will happen.

The bread I made yesterday is rather coarse and dense. I always seem to have this problem -- the bread doesn't rise enough. And believe me, I gave it PLENTY of time. It must be that inside the cool oven is not warm enough. Bread is so tricky. But I will eat it! I'm just not going to offer the second loaf as a gift.

Wishing everyone here the best Christmas ever! And I hope Hanukkah was the greatest ever, too. Peace on earth to all!

Yeast

December 23rd, 2017 at 12:14 pm

Ah, I couldn't make it a no spender, because I had to buy some yeast. It was $2 for six packets.

I made bread from scratch this morning, but it did not rise. I was worried that the yeast was too old, and I was right. So I read that you could work fresh yeast into a failed loaf and I decided to try it.

I still don't know if the dough will rise, but the new yeast was definitely a lot perkier when I dissolved it. Here's hoping. I love homemade bread, and the extra loaf would make a good addition to Christmas dinner.

I finally got my bill for the assessment fees. It was $1 cheaper than I thought it would be, so woo-hoo! $392. I adjusted my variables budget for next year. From January to June, I'll have $690 to spend, and from June to December (and thereafter until August 2019), only $515. This year the monthly spending amount has been $710.

Later on I'll do a post on how I intend to make cuts and get through those lean months.

When I went shopping for the yeast, I found a nice man's ring in the parking lot. I turned it in at customer service. I hope the guy who lost it will realize he lost it at the store, and come back for it.

Variables

December 22nd, 2017 at 10:09 am

My variables are up to 105%, and that's with the removal of Christmas spending, and a combination of fees (wheel tax, I-Pass & Amazon Prime) that totaled more than $200. I have five days to go till pay day.

My gas level is hovering just below one quarter tank. Ordinarily, I would fill it up, but I am wavering. I really don't want to add more to variables. Can I make it on the gas I have? I don't really HAVE to drive, though I should go to the gym daily. I would hate to miss five days in a row.

So I think I will go on Sunday and Tuesday, and I think I should be okay, gas-wise. I don't have to do any grocery shopping, and the boys will be out of school, so I won't have any pick-up duty. (Though it's possible I could be called upon today.)

I can actually spend $13 and still be even for the year, so if the needle drops to rock-bottom, I can put $13 in the tank. It would just be nice to come in under for the year.

This may seem ridiculous, when I actually have plenty of money available, but it's very important to me to meet my goals on variables spending. This is how I know my money will last, and that I will have the cash in savings when I need it.

I'm still waiting to hear what my new assessment fee will be in 2018. This will decrease my variables budget a bit more, which is clearly already a challenge!

And then there's the gap year coming up in July. So my main new year's resolution this year will be to focus on new ways to cut expenses.

Freebies

December 21st, 2017 at 12:01 pm

It's been a no-spend day, and I even got some freebies. DSW gave me a gift box for being a special customer. I guess I did buy quite a few pairs of shoes this year!

The gift box included a mug, a portable charger, a fleece blanket, some chalk, some drinking straws, and some earbuds. Most of those will be regifted. I wanted to give my son a few little things in addition to his big gift, and the charger and earbuds will be just the ticket! My grandkids will get the straws and the chalk. I would give away the mug and the blanket, but they're clearly branded "DSW."

I shifted around some money in my accounts yesterday so I could pay the grandkids' college funds. The check to the Florida grandkids was mailed this morning. As soon as I finish this, I'll take care of the local grandkids. For them, I give directly to an education savings account and it's a little more complicated.

It wasn't strictly a no-spend day since I did a load of laundry in the morning.

I am really ready for an uberfrugal month! December wears me out with all its financial demands.

Back in Town

December 20th, 2017 at 04:54 am

I'm back from my brief trip. I spent $28 on gas, $4 on food and $7 on a car wash. (Sloppy road!)

I had a lovely lunch with P in a new restaurant that was excellent. He appreciated his little gift, especially the wrapping paper! Just like a kid.

My cough got worse and I didn't get much sleep on Monday night, but I got through the day and now that I'm home I feel much better.

I have one more gift to wrap, cookies to bake (not yet, though!), and I need to distribute the college money for the grandkids. Not bad, with Christmas still five days away, and having been sick for a while!

Today I'm going to be watching for an email from my property management company. Assessment fees are going up, and I have to change the amount that will be automatically withdrawn from my bank account. But I don't know the exact amount yet. Supposedly today we will get an e-bill. I expect it will be somewhere around $393.

Wrapping Things Up

December 18th, 2017 at 08:17 am

Well, I'm heading up to Michigan today, staying at brother's tonight, having lunch with P tomorrow and then heading home again.

My cough is still hanging on and I almost canceled yesterday, but I think I am good enough to soldier through.

I am giving P a little gift, a paperweight with the name of our college on it. He always buys lunch, so I just wanted to do a little something at this seasonal time of year. I was going to make something, too, like cookies or fruit bread, but that just didn't happen. I think this will be okay.

I am taking my laundry to my brother's -- it's just so much easier than all those stairs! I'll be getting gas when I get out of Chicago and into the land of cheap(er) gas.

I'm still a little concerned about my elderly cat, but I don't think she is sick, just old. She is eating, drinking, using the litter pan. I'm sure she'll be okay for one night.

I'm going to listen to Christmas music on the way up, relax and enjoy myself. I think I will also get lunch on the road -- I just filled and started the dishwasher, and I don't want to leave dirty dishes in the sink!

I ordered one more little gift for my son -- I had a credit on my Amazon card, so it didn't cost me anything. It was something from his list and it seems like kind of an odd choice, so I hope it isn't a mistake! But I have to trust the list.

After this little trip is done, I just have Christmas Day to manage! I'm going to make cookies for the boys, but other than that I'm done. Then I'll have a week of peace and quiet, as everybody will be out of town after Christmas Day. I will enjoy that. I'm planning to catch some movies I want to see.

Then comes my favorite holiday -- New Year's Day! Because I love to reflect on the past year and make plans for the new one. I'm a great believer in the fresh start!

Ho, Ho, Ho!

December 17th, 2017 at 05:27 am

Yesterday was such a busy day. In the morning, I made the sugar cookies which I gave as gifts. The recipe actually yielded 17 large cookies, so I was overly pessimistic about how much the dough would produce. As soon as they were done, I cooked the veggies for the Christmas dinner. Then I packed up everything and went to my grandsons' recital in the city.

It was held in a beautiful seniors residence. The boys both did well. This recital had more of a Christmas bent, and it was fun to listen to.

The home had a valet service. I let them take my car, not knowing where else I could park. I noticed the rates were like $23 for an hour! Luckily, we were validated and the final cost was $5 per vehicle. My son & DIL paid for me because they felt bad that I had to pay to park for an event for their sons.

As soon as the recital was done, we headed to my ex's house to begin dinner. My ex and his wife were attending a play downtown, so DIL and I got the ham started and made the potatoes.

In a few hours, everyone else showed up, and the dinner turned out great. Then we had the big gift opening -- almost a non-event for me, since I only exchange with my ex and my nephew's family at this gathering. I gave my ex & his wife a Paris-themed picture frame and ornament. (They have vacationed several times in Paris.) I gave my nephew's family a $25 gift card for Bonefish Grill. Everyone got cookies in Harry London tins. What I got in return was two tubes of Crabtree & Evelyn hand cream, a box of marzipan and a $25 gift card for Barnes & Noble.

I'm used to it, but it's still shocking to me how much the others spend on Christmas gifts. They must have spent hundreds on each person.

It was a late night for me. I was certainly ready to go home earlier, but everyone was having a good time, and I didn't want to be a party pooper.

Now today will be a day of rest, and then I will go to Michigan on Monday to visit my brother and to have lunch with my friend P. I need to get a little gift for him, too. I'm thinking I might make more cookies, maybe krakelingen this time.

I got my auto insurance bill (not to be withdrawn until January 1). It is $337. I was certain it had gone up yet again, but it is the same. Just seems like a lot for an old car without collision coverage. Life in the big city.

Crummy Day

December 15th, 2017 at 12:52 pm

So far this has been a pretty awful day. First of all, I slept very poorly (darn that Mucinex -- I thought I took it early enough!) When I got up I realized that one of my cats had thrown up in the bed. I had to wash the sheets and mattress pad. With my other whites I had two loads. I washed them and then put both in two dryers. THEN NEGLECTED TO START ONE! The one with the mattress pad was the forgotten one, so I had to wait a long time to make my bed.

While I was making my bed, my elbow hit the lamp, which fell and broke.

Then I discovered that one of the cats had either peed or thrown up on one of the gifts under the tree. Luckily, the gift was undamaged, though it had to be rewrapped. Everything else appears to be okay, but I'm not totally sure.

My cookie making went fine, until I realized I did not have powdered sugar for the rolling-out process. I'm going to pick that up in a little while, when I go out to pick up my grandson. Meanwhile the dough is chilling in the fridge. The recipe did not make much, even though it said it would produce 3 dozen 2-inch cookies. I think not. I am making large cookies. I think I will only be able to manage 6-8 cookies, if I'm lucky. Whatever it makes, that's what I'm going with. At least I have nice tins to put them in.

I am really, really tired, as a sleepless night will do to you. But I have promised to go to a flag football game tonight, and I missed the last two, so I'm kind of beholden. At least they're short -- unlike the baseball games!

Who ever said retired life is easy? Smile