My Creed

"I thank God for protecting me from what I thought I wanted and blessing me with what I didn't know I needed." Anonymous

Friday, October 21, 2016

Over Three Months Without An Income. How Long Could You Last?

This summer, my husband was diagnosed with life-threatening heart failure. Under his doctors orders, he was advised not to work, go on medication and come back for re-testing in late October. That will be next week. That's when we will find out if DH's health has improved and what his work future (if any) will be. In the interim, he and I had to rely on our savings and our passive income to get by. DH is self-employed and not qualified for any financial assistance.

This is the kind of financial nightmare that could cripple most anybody. If they weren't prepared. Most advisors recommend having at least 6 to 8 months cash available in order to tide yourself over till you get another job. But what if, like my husband, you may never work again? Then what? And what happens if you just bought a new house or a new car or returned from a family vacation or signed your child up for college and just send in the first semesters tuition? What if you were like me and just bought a vacation home and had almost just wrapped up furnishing it when you found out your husband might not be there to enjoy it all with you? Not be able to help pay off the bills you just incurred? And an avalanche of medical bills were coming your way?

I have to admit I choked. I panicked. I freaked out. But thanks to experience, I quickly realized this was not my first rodeo. This was not my first financial upheaval and it most assuredly wasn't going to be my last.  I knew I had to calculate what reliable income I had coming in and I had to adjust my expenses to meet the challenge. I had to set up a new budget. I knew pain was going to be involved. And I knew I was going to change my lifestyle drastically BUT I was determined to live my life with gusto and enjoyment. How's that for a challenge?

I wrapped up my decorating by putting an end to it. I finished the living room and guest bedroom as best as I could and just stopped everything. Our Number One Priority now was eating healthy and getting enough exercise. Thankfully because of Florida's warm weather we were able to swim every day and take long walks around the community lake (1.5 miles).  Due to DH's stringent no-salt diet eating out in restaurants was near impossible. All meals had to be prepared and eaten at home.

In the interim, I paid the property taxes and HOA fees out of our savings. I paid all our monthly expenses in full and on time, from our passive monthly income. I got our grocery and gas consumption reduced and in line. It took me a while to get everything under some semblance of order. The only expense I couldn't contain was DH's medical costs. Thankfully, however, he's on a newer, less expensive medical plan and I can see a resolution in the very near future. If we can manage to keep the status quo, we can probably coast like this for a few more years till DH can officially retire. How many people can make that claim?

As DH's health improved, we went out more socially. Having a social life and being with other people at a time like this is very, very important for one's mental state of mind. I didn't let our lack of entertainment funds deter us. I searched for free or almost-free things to do and I think we scored very well in that department.

Sculpture of Superhero Guide Dog
We've gone to friends homes for dinner and DH and I reciprocated. We've met friends for $5 cocktails and $3 margaritas. We went to a Friday Night Dance Party (free admission). I went on a Girls Night Out with .99 cent tacos and $1.25 beers. We've gone to the beach for free, a car show for free, the Farmer's Market and the Red Barn Flea Market all for free. Every Thursday I go to my free yoga class at the club. I've gone to free lectures at The Ringling Museum. We've gone window shopping at the UTC Mall (amazing place!). We joined The Italian Club ($10) and I joined The Photography Club ($30). I've gone on two (free) field trips with my photography club. DH and I went to our first Western Rodeo ($15 each). DH attended a free lecture and demonstration at the local Power Squadron Club. We've gone to downtown Sarasota to view 'Superheroes On Parade' and all the while I've lugged my trusty camera along to photograph our journey.

Next week DH meets with his doctor again. More tests will be done and we'll find out if his time off combined with the medications have done their magic. DH has his good days. He's had some bad days. He blames the meds. I clutch my rosary beads. I can't believe we made it this far and we're still standing. I'm trying to maintain some semblance of balance and order. I want to give ourselves a pat on the back but I won't. Because I know how fast and how quick everything can change. I'm just glad for these past few months here in Florida. It was a blessing, for sure.

I'm ready for the next challenge.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Election Stress Disorder

Have you tried to express your 2016 presidential election, political feelings to your friends and family lately? There's a 40% chance that therein will lie some political tension between the two of you. Or three of you. Or four. It's been called 'Election Stress Disorder' and it's real and it's not going to go away for another 18 days.

A survey, conducted by Harris Poll, found that the stress is bipartisan, affecting 55 percent of registered Democrats and 59 percent of registered Republican. Stress levels have almost certainly risen since the survey was completed. Senior citizens are the most stressed (59 percent), followed by millennials (56 percent), baby boomers (50 percent), and Generation X (45 percent). Whatever your age, here are some suggestions on how to cope with the Donald Trump–Hillary Clinton grudge match.

You can turn off the news, stay away from social media (stay away from your friends and family too, for that matter!) You can take a vacation in Siberia, bury your head inside you work space cubby hole,  go for a walk in the forest and hope that a bear eats you. Or you can make yourself like Pamela Anderson and bring Julian Assange a poison veggie sandwich at his hideout in Equador never to be seen or heard from again.

I hadn't realized how real Election Stress Disorder was until I posted a teeney, weeney little thing on my Facebook page. Almost instantly I got a message from my daughter telling me that what I posted was disgusting and I had better take it down immediately. She went on to tell me that all her friends and family were messaging her demanding that she contact me and order me to take down my political support of one of the candidates. I realized almost immediately that none of my daughter's friends are MY friends, so who were these people who were harassing my daughter?

Instead of taking down my post, I put up another message, in bold capital letters, I wrote that I was NOT taking down my post. And if anyone had anything to say about it, they were to contact ME directly and TO LEAVE MY DAUGHTER ALONE! Should anyone have a problem with my post they could either block or unfriend me. My daughter immediately replied and told me she was so embarrassed by me, she wanted to be the first one to unfriend me. When I looked over my friend list, I noted my daughter and her mother-in-law (a liberal ex-teacher) were the only two people who unfriended me.

Yup, this current presidential political run has made strange bed fellows to be sure. Now, my own flesh and blood, most favorite daughter was being bullied by a spiteful, hateful mother-in-law who didn't even have the courage or the decency to speak to me personally and directly. Who's the bully now?

I messaged my daughter back and told her over the years I have supported her (and her husband) 100% in their aspirations. I had expected the same support for me. Obviously, I didn't get it. We stopped talking for a few days. Then unexpectedly, she sent me a pic of my granddaughter in the center of a giant pumpkin patch with the biggest smile across her face. It was my daughter's way of reconnecting back to me.

Family (friends and co-workers) are thicker than presidential runs. Eventually all of this will be over soon and we all will still be standing. I realized it's silly to argue with other people over this election. We all need to agree to disagree. We all need to respect each others' opinions. Let them say whatever it is they want to say and not make nor pass any judgments. We The People get to express our opinion by voting November 8, 2016.  What will be, will be. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Don't Make A Plan. Form A Strategy.

One of my readers, Sue, made a comment to me yesterday that started me to thinking. Sue's comment was (and I am paraphrasing) I am always making plans but I never stick to them for more than a day or two. Sue is absolutely right. I'm not going to go into a series of excuses as to why I never stick to my plans (it's because my life keeps changing almost daily). But I am going to delve into the reasons why I keep making plans.

Stock image of human thinking
After much soul searching I came to the realization that I am NOT making plans after all. What I am doing (because my life keeps changing) is forming a strategy. I do have an end goal in sight (which will not change or falter.....I think) and that is to get as much passive income into my life, pay my monthly bills on time and maintain/sustain some sort of a lifestyle. I wouldn't call it survival because as Sue pointed out, I'm living a life most people can only dream of.

Life throws us curves. We can either accept them, deal with them and move on. Or we can fight them and face constant upward battles. I apologize to anyone and everyone who is getting as frustrated about these things as much as I am. I'm sure I sound like the Constant Dieter who announces each and every Monday they have started a new diet and by Wednesday you can find them at Five Guys chugging down a bacon double cheeseburger (not that I would ever eat those things, but you get the idea).

So, let me re-categorize. I'm NOT making plans. I'm strategizing my future. Life is a maze. We hit walls. We either back up and try a new route or just sit there. Most people, when asked about their life plans, tune out within 25 seconds.

A recent study conducted by Theresa Colmaryk, published in the American Journal of Psychology, found that when asked about their plans for life the average person was only able to sustain their line of thought for 25 seconds. Colmaryk noted, “While most individuals’ plans for the future hold together for the first few moments of explanation, we found that by the 20- or 30-second mark, people typically begin trailing off into ambiguity, equivocation, or flat-out silence".

I'm faced with problems daily (aren't we all?) and my strategy is to solve them. I guess I'm obsessed with solving my problems by quickly finding solutions. Strategy is an exercise in problem solving. We are faced with many problems in life and it makes sense that we need strategies when addressing these problems. Strategies can be tuned when they are not effective. It is important to set a strategy and really focus on it so that even if you are far away from your goal you can reflect on your strategy and change it as needed.

The reason why I so openly post my problems, plans, goals and strategies here on my blog is because I think I can help others who are going through the same exact thing I am going through. I know I am NOT alone. Perhaps the difference is that I am not afraid to let people know I make mistakes, I can be a jerk sometimes and oftentimes I don't know what the heck I am doing. But I do it anyway. Sometimes I win. Sometimes I lose (and lose BIG!). That's all part of life.

Plans are just illusions. I fool myself into thinking I am in control of my life, but I'm not. Nobody is. Plans skew perspective. What I imagine oftentimes isn't real.  Plans are just guesses. Plans can blind us. Sometimes I get so fixed on a plan I miss other opportunities. Plans are a waste of time and energy. Plans are a source of un-necessary stress. Plans are party spoilers. I'm giving up fun instead of just letting loose and taking a chance. Plans lead to disappointments. Face the fact. Plans fail. Give yourself a break!

Instead of making a plan, set a goal. Then strategize how you are going to get there. I know my end result. I want to be 100% financially free from depending on any work-related income. I want 100% passive income. I have several options. I have several game plans.  But I want the route of least resistance. I'll have that in two years. Now, I have to strategize and find solutions on the waiting game.

The light at the end of the tunnel is near.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Oops. I'm Doing My Budget All Wrong.

Perhaps I am like most people when it comes to budgeting and paying one's bills. I add up all the monthly income coming into my life and then strategize how I am going to pay all my monthly bills with said money. I thought I had it all worked out perfectly. My monthly bills added up exactly against the monthly income. After my bills were paid, I had a zero balance.

But I forgot one (really, two) important things.

I haven't been paying my weekly food bill and gas for my car from my monthly income. Sure, it's written into my budget plan. I allotted $300 a month for groceries, $100 a month for gas and I also was benevolent and added in $100 for misc extras/entertainment/splurges.  Instead, I have been mindlessly paying for these things on my credit card (because I get double points). Duh?  Now that I am in the process of paying off hubby's medical bills, I wasn't concentrating on myself and what I was doing. Maybe it's a senior moment. Maybe it's pure laziness. I don't know. In any event, when I logged onto my credit card account to prepare for next month's bill paying, I got a rude awakening.


I guess that's why Dave Ramsey recommends the cash envelope system. You take your monthly income, pay your recurring bills and then with the rest of the money you set up cash envelopes to cover groceries, gas, entertainment, travel etc. When the money is gone form the envelopes, your spending for that month is over. Time to eat out of the pantry, or just stay home and wait it out.

So, back to square one. I had to look over my bills, start making more cuts and adjustments and rearrange my lifestyle. Apparently, our income arrives near the end of the month. Starting next week, I'll extract most of our grocery and gas money, in cash, and put the money in envelopes. I can't trust myself leaving the money in the checking account. Money always finds a new route when you do that. LOL! I'm allotting $75 a week on groceries, $25 a week on fuel for the car and absolutely no money towards splurges. They're on hold right now till I can get our spending habits in a better line.

When you take on the responsibility of paying off your credit cards (as in my case, we're paying off DH's increasing medical bills) everything changes. You have to take on the debt 1000% and concentrate. Everyone who has done it before me always had the same thing to say: it's not easy. It's hard. Lots of sacrifices. Lots of saying 'no' and going without.

In order to get out of debt you have to stop incurring any more debt. Dave Ramsey says you have to make a decision to stop using credit cards and see what happens. You are to pay your groceries first. Then electricity and a roof over your head. Then gas to get to work. I was doing it all backwards. I was paying everyone else before paying for our own vital necessities. You have to get serious about paying off your debt. I guess I wasn't taking it seriously enough.

I sat down with DH this morning. I showed him our expenses vs income. He thinks it's just an easy solution of his going back to work.....but what happens when his doctor tells him he can't return to work? After all, it was his job in the first place that ruined his health to begin with. How can he go back to doing what destroyed him? I'm a realist. He's a dreamer. I deal in black and white (and red). This isn't going to be as easy as I thought. We have gotten so used to buying and doing whatever we wanted to do before DH lost his job AND his health. It's a brutal wake-up call.

Already, within minutes, DH and I were arguing. "Well, I need this and I need that and I can't drive the car unless I get this or I can't live unless I get that!.Oh yeah. This is going to be fun. "I need to have my special foods" (which are currently rotting in the refrigerator) "I need to have my vitamins (and they can't be generic) "and I need to have special shampoo, toothpaste, shoes.........." and the list will probably go on and on. This is NOT going to be easy.

The only thing I have to say now is this: when the money is gone, the money is gone. If we don't make changes immediately, we will spiral deeper into our mess and we will go broke. I know all the signs. It happened to us twice before and I am NOT going to make three times a charm. It happens fast and it happens quick. I drew a line in the sand and I am sticking to my plan with or without DH. I can live on a stricter budget. I can eat quite well out of the pantry. I can go without.

DH just had the oil changed on our car this morning. It cost $75 and he put it on his charge card. He could have done this himself and if he didn't have the easy credit available he would have found a way to do it. He excused himself by saying you can't change your car's oil in the condo parking lot. Yes, that's true. That's why they have rental spaces where other frugal condo owners go to do their own car mechanics for less money. After the dealer oil change this morning, DH told me he had to go buy an extra quart of oil @$10 because the dealer never puts in enough oil. "If you knew that, why didn't you have the dealer put in the extra quart of oil?" asked I. "All the other people who get dealer oil changes don't go out and buy another quart of oil, do they? They just go and drive their cars happily ever after!"

We had just taken $200 cash out of our savings account because we're heading home soon and we pay cash all the way back. I could see DH itching his fingers in his pocket. He was going to use some of that cash to buy more motor oil. "Do what you want", I said. "when the money's gone, the money's gone and we'll be stuck on the road because I'm not using credit cards anymore. I made the decision and I'm going to see what happens." I promptly removed all the cash out of DH's pocket. Needless to say, he didn't go out and buy any more motor oil.

First step taken. Dave Ramsey is right. This is not going to be easy.

Monday, October 17, 2016

My Crock Pot Is My New Best Friend Forever.

Life can't get any easier than cooking your next meal in a Crock Pot. I scoured the thrift shops and Goodwill for a decent crock pot. Most charged $10 for a used 4 qt style. For $13.77 I bought a brand new one, in my new fave black color, and I've been cooking in it ever since.

This morning I threw (and I do mean 'threw'!!) six skinless chicken thighs (@$1.29 a pound at Aldi) into the bottom of my crock pot, tossed in half a cut-up onion, a few tablespoons of BBQ sauce, a dash of salt & pepper, some garlic powder, one squirt each of mustard & ketchup, a tablespoon of vinegar and voila'.......... five hours later, I have a great, tasty 'stew' that I served over jasmine rice.
I made a side of stir-fry brussel sprouts ($1.79 for whole pack from Aldi), and I have a fantastic, healthy dinner!

Once you go crock pot, I don't think you can ever go back.

Have a favorite crock pot recipe? I'm all ears. Please share!!!

My new black crock pot and todays' chicken BBQ stew

side dish of sauteed brussel sprouts, garlic, olive oil

Sunday, October 16, 2016

All American Rodeo.

DH and I have been doing so many things lately, I haven't been able to keep up and post all our experiences. Especially with my photos. Yesterday, however, we went to a fantastic, all-American rodeo in Arcadia Florida with my photography club.  Nick and I have never been to a rodeo and who would have thought you can find western rodeos in Florida? (other than Texas and the other western states, etc.)

I'm just going to post some of my photos today because DH and I are on to the next party event. Time is of the essence. I'll try to catch up sometime in the near future.

Click on any photo to enlarge and start the sideshow. Enjoy:

EVERYONE stands for the National Anthem

Official Sheriff

Friday, October 14, 2016

Here's Why Retirement Surveys Are Usually Wrong.

I get a kick out of taking quizzes, surveys and tests. Since I am no longer in school, tests don't bother me anymore. I passed and already have my degrees. Two of them to be exact. Surveys are just my opinion and quizzes are just for fun.

I took a 'When Can I Retire Questionnaire' the other day, just for fun, and here are the results:

Here are your results:
Based on your answers, you could retire on August 26, 2071, when you are over 75 years old.
This comes from you indicating that you would like to retire with $500,000.00 and monthly contribution of $500.00 toward your retirement accounts.

Once you enter retirement, your estimated monthly Social Security payment of $2,000.00 will help cover some of your anticipated $1,900.00 in monthly living expenses, and your $500,000.00 nest egg earning 3% annually is expected to run out when you are over 90 years old.

I found these results to be hilarious because in reality, I retired at the age of 50. I didn't have to save a dime nor put a cent away towards my retirement because I sold just one investment (a home in the Hamptons, Long Island, NY) that qualified me to retire promptly in 2001 for the rest of my life. By living frugally, downsizing, living below my means and paying cash for everything (as I have no debt) living on $1900 a month is quite easy. In reality, I'm living on $2800 to $3500 a month, but I can survive quite nicely on the $1900 if I just paid my basic bills and didn't have a lifestyle.

I don't think questionnaires take life choices, such as mine, into account.

I took my Social Security Benefit at 62 because basically, over my work history, I never really earned more than $28K a year. So waiting, would NOT give me much more. A half mill nest egg pays 2% today, if you're lucky. 3% is just another pipe dream, if you ask me.

Because of my own, special, personalized retirement planning, I was able to retire twenty-five (25) years sooner than the experts could have predicted.  You won't find my special retirement planning written in any book. If it were, most financial experts would be out of a job. I bought a house in a prime location, during the housing crisis in 1985, raised my family and lived in it for sixteen years. I never refinanced nor pulled out any of my homes' precious equity. Any updating or remodeling was done by my husband and myself. We called it 'paycheck remodeling' and we paid cash the entire time. We learned the value of 'patience'. We learned the value of staying out of debt (the hard way, but we learned nonetheless).

Retirement is not a cookie cutter event. Each of us are different and each of us will have our own retirement stories. People make plans and God laughs. My only advice is to have a dream, imagine your retirement inside your head, and follow your dream as best as you can. If you can envision the end result, you can make it happen. Read and learn as much as you can. Talk to other retirees. Do your very best. Prepare for the worst and enjoy the rest.

And please don't take those retirement surveys!