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Archive for November, 2007

My Thanksgiving trip

November 27th, 2007 at 01:33 pm

My sister and I traveled to Michigan for Thanksgiving -- our usual gathering spot for the holiday. We left on Tuesday and arrived home on the following Sunday. The trip cost me $363. The way breaks down: $230 for hotels, $81 for gas, $47 for eating out, and $5 to "board" my dog (he stayed at my cousin's house and I bought dog food).

We got good prices on hotels using coupons. Each night was $59 plus tax. I paid for three of the nights and split the other with my sister. She paid for the food we brought to our brother's, who was hosting. We split the gas. Found good prices all the way -- mostly under $3. We also spent one free night at a friend's house.

While there, I went to a children's clothing outlet and spent $99 on Christmas gifts for my grandson and great-niece. Got four nice outfits for my grandson in the next size he will grow into, and a fleece sleeper for my grand-niece. I also went to a very posh consignment shop and bought myself two tops and two pairs of pants, plus a sweater for my cousin, all for $34. So I did a bit of splurging.

It was a great time with the family. There were 18 of us for dinner, which included my sister-in-law's parents and niece, and the new girlfriends of my son and my nephew. Plus there were more people in and out during the long weekend. There was lots of card-playing and playing with babies. A good time. A highlight was a trip to my nephew's father-in-law's farm, where a new Shetland pony has been installed.

My next trip is a long weekend in Chicago on December 7-10. I've already bought the airline ticket. I'll stay with my son. Hopefully, this trip will be cheaper!

How I Retired Early

November 16th, 2007 at 02:59 pm

Many of you already know my story, but maybe some of you don’t….

I retired at age 58. I didn’t have a lot of money – still don’t – but I had a 403b through my work which I had been contributing to (modestly) for 23 years. Because my years of service plus my age equaled 70, I was eligible to retire and draw from my fund without penalty.

However, the proceeds from the fund are quite slim, and I had debt, a house payment, and all the various expenses that go with owning a home. I didn’t think retirement was an option – maybe not even till age 70!

Enter my cousin. She is a retired real estate agent, who is on disability for a rare disorder known as NCS. She is financially secure, but her health problems were making everyday living difficult. After her husband left her several years ago, she was struggling on her own. She and I began to talk. We talked and talked and talked, and the upshot is that I decided to take my early retirement and move in with her.

I sold my house and paid off my debt. I moved from Indiana to North Carolina. Meanwhile, she had built on an extra “suite” to her house so that I would have a comfortable area of my own. She covers all the housing expenses, though we argue about things like light bulbs and toilet paper. I think I should pay for my own, she thinks I shouldn’t.

Food was a sticking point at first. Our original plan was to split the grocery bill, which seems logical, but when I realized that she spent four to six times as much on her groceries as I did, I honestly told her I could not afford to spend that much. We struck up a deal that, since I was going to do the cooking and shopping anyway, she would pay for the groceries, and I would contribute my skills in keeping food costs down.

Some of you know she has been hard to convince! She likes her comforts, and it’s been hard to persuade her that cutting the food bill does not mean beans and rice every day! But we are slowly arriving at an area of compromise, and I think she appreciates my efforts to keep her costs in line.

I realize that I have been very lucky to have this unusual opportunity. There are drawbacks, of course. I had to move farther away from my children and some dear friends. And most importantly, I have chosen a life in which I am dependent on my cousin’s continuing goodwill. Some people wouldn’t be able to do that, but I trust her to the core. She has even willed her house to me, knowing that I would be financially compromised if she were to pass away prematurely.

I understand that not everyone can retire early, but everyone can keep their eyes open to opportunity and be willing to make big changes. I could have turned down this offer and plodded on as before, but I have taken a leap and changed my life for the better.

It is totally awesome to wake up each morning – and go back to sleep if I want to!

A trip and a birthday party

November 15th, 2007 at 05:33 pm

I just got back from a vacation which didn't cost me much -- $283. I went back to Indiana for my grandson's first birthday, and also visited old friends. I stayed about a week, but due to the kindness of my friends and family I only had one night's hotel stay, and spent little on food ($58). I spent $112 on gas and $54 to board my dog.

Although gas prices are rising, I was able to find good deals on the road, including a big fill-up at Sam's Club. I also got a free flu shot at my old place of employment (a retiree's benefit) and I got a haircut which was $10 cheaper than I can get at home. I stopped at my old favorite Goodwill and spent $52 on 4 pairs of pants, 3 pairs of jeans, 2 sweatshirts and a sweater set -- finds which delighted me! For entertainment along the way I listened to books-on-CD from the library. It was a good trip.

My grandson really pulled in the loot. I brought what I thought was an appropriate gift for a one-year-old -- three baby books, a little stuffed toy, a cup with his name on it, and some pajamas. I think everyone else way outspent me, which was kind of embarrassing, being one of the grandma's -- but honestly, how much does a one-year-old need? Not that my son and daughter-in-law weren't appreciative, but still.... I know that some of the people who gave big gifts were not all that financially stable, either. Oh well, you have to figure that it cost me to make the trip, and most of the others were local.

I am making another trip next week for Thanksgiving. It will be interesting to see how that compares.

Third try's the charm?

November 2nd, 2007 at 01:54 pm

This is the third time I've tried to make this entry! The last two times -- yesterday -- they just went off into cyberspace, so I just HOPE this is a go!

I finished up the month of October in pretty good shape -- until my dog had to have surgery (a lipoma opened up and became infected). That was $560. My other spending was under my goal of $600. That included a plane ticket, gifts for two birthdays and a new baby, and four new pairs of pants (but one from a thrift shop). So I'm pretty happy. Now I will have to tighten my belt even more, because not only do I have to pay back my emergency fund, I have two road trips coming up -- one for my grandson's first birthday and one for Thanksgiving.

Back to my dog -- I am just thrilled at the outcome of his surgery. He is 13 years old and I was prepared to have to put him down. (And cried buckets of tears before taking him to the vet.) Now he is frisky and happy again and the wound site is healing well. I feel blessed.