Friday, January 16, 2015

Easy come, easy go?

I've had money on my mind lately.

A friend volunteered to cut her hours to halftime, but only after the fact did she crunch the numbers and realize that means she's now running in the red by a few hundred dollars every month. I haven't seen the numbers she used - I hope and assume there's some room for belt-tightening to make it work, but I don't want to stress her by asking. I may broach it in a few weeks, very very gently.

However, her situation inspired some number-crunching, and I'm  happy to say I feel absolutely certain that I could get by on half my income, but it wouldn't be fun or pretty. I've also got enough in savings that I could support myself for eight months, which is a good solid feeling to have.

AND - there's lots of room for improvement in my fiscal life. I just looked at all my spending and saving last year. I saved 16% pre-tax for retirement, and saved 19.5% post-tax. Not bad, you say? Well, it's true but I could do a lot better. Most of my post-tax saving was from various bonuses, contract work, my tax return, and other non-work income. If I just look at what I earned vs what I spent each month, I saved 5.6% - meaning 14% of my savings came from sources of income I can't count on next year!

Travel was what killed me (and thrilled me!) the most last year - 16% of my post-tax income went to that. So... I guess that's the biggest place to focus for savings this year! Here's how my numbers broke out:

Category Percent of income Notes
Eating out 6.96% 10-12 times per month on average
Groceries 4.92% That's about 75-80 meals/month
Coffee out 0.20% 2015 will include all at-home coffee expenses
Bills 42.71% That's all mortgage principle/interest/insurance/taxes; plus water, gas, elec, trash, cell, internet, driver's insurance...very little to trim here. In a pinch I'd get a roommate to offset this.
Entertainment 1.64 Netflix, NYTimes, movies, the occasional play or concert in town.
Gifts 1.20%
Charity 1.72% I'd like to double this for 2015, and ideally hit 5% annually.
Travel 16.41% wow! 2015 travel should be half or a third that amount. Good thing nine of my 2014 flights were practically free.
Transportation 1.41% No idea how the car thing will affect this
Clothes 3.05% If my weight stays down I'm going to have to get a few more items, but I'm slowly buying clothes.
Household 1.84% Cleaning supplies, decor, small furniture expenses, etc.
Upkeep/Health 2.64% Haircuts, doctor copays, vitamins, etc.
Hobby 2.71% Knitting, biking, sewing class - bought a number of biking items pre-Cycle Oregon last year.
Misc .15% Glad this is so tiny - means my categories are good.
Booze 1.49% wine, beer for home. Toning this down this year.
House 1.25% Things like a ladder, a couch.
Big ticket 4.02% Big irregular expenses like glasses and other $$ outlays. New-to-me car will go here.

Some of my categories have crossover: is running gear for health or for hobby or for clothing? Is a framed picture household or house? How about a ladder? I just try to be consistent - the art is household (since I'd have paid for it whether or not I owned a house) but the ladder is house (as a renter I wouldn't own one). So far I've slotted running gear into clothing, but as I buy extras that are beyond the bare minimum, I'll probably put them into hobby spending. Registration fees for 5k events will be hobby for sure. If I needed physical therapy, it would be health/upkeep.

The best spots for trimming spending and boosting saving are travel (16%!) and food (when I combine eating out + grocery I see I spent nearly 12% of my income there). Funny that they are the fun ones. We'll see how it goes!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Two years

I just realized that tomorrow is two years exactly since I moved into my house! Saturday was two years exactly since I wired a whole lot of money and signed a whole lot of papers. I'm so glad that process is behind me, and that my house continues to be delightful. It's more than enough room, is great for hosting visitors, and is so quiet and light-filled and there's very little about it I would change (I would add a half-bathroom and make the bedrooms a bit bigger..but there are no deal-breakers).

I've even done a few projects lately - I fixed a paint job (I'd used the not-quite-right color when doing a patch job), and I added key and bike storage!

Key storage was easy, and I did it all on my own. I wanted to sort out the thicket of spare keys that lived in my junk drawer: 7 keys to four different bike locks, three keys & a remote to my sister's car & apartment, a key to a friend's house, a spare key to my back door, and my front door key. Crazy!

I spent a little time looking for key organizers, and then decided that the answer was staring me in the face - the inside door of my broom closet + sticker-hooks. Voila!
Yeah, they're crooked, and yeah, I meant for them to line up better. Oh well. I'm still happy with the decision!

The other project required help from friends. I'm providing long-term bike storage for a couple of friends, and those bikes were IN THE WAY. Though getting rid of my car did help clear a lot of space in the garage.. but still. My friends installed one ceiling-mounted bike hanger as a surprise over Christmas, and we added a second one yesterday. It looks so so great:
I can walk under the bikes without hitting my head, they'll still be out of the way when I have a car in the garage, and we also did some other little garage projects: put some boxes up out of the way, tightened the punch-code remote that triggers the garage door from outside, and installed hooks to hang my hoses. Goodness, it was so awesome!

There are lots of other non-pressing items on my house list. My yard is an extremely slow-motion project, without a master plan. I want to have a deck built and am saving slowly for that - at my current pace I will have the money in another 2-and-a-bit years. That's not so bad, really: it could be completed by the time I've been in here 5 years. I'd like to remove/possibly replace the front chain link fence; the wood fence around the back is rickety and will have to be fixed eventually. When the deck goes in I'll have to move two of my three garden beds (to the back where there is a LOT of direct sun). I want to print and hang more of my photos, and change the light fixtures, and swap out the kitchen sink, and gut and refurnish my office ..

So yeah. Happy two years, house! No wonder the time has been flying!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Looking back

No doubt about it, 2014 was a great year! I was midway through being 42, and everyone knows that year is considered the answer to the life, the universe, and everything. I felt empowered & ready to make some changes, like fixing a cosmetic dental issue that had been bugging me for years, getting fitter, and dropping some weight. Pictures are a much more pleasant experience now!

I work from home and I took advantage of that flexibility to spend a couple weeks in Toronto visiting my best friend - sure, February in Toronto is COLD but we also drove a couple hours' north to spend a weekend with a bunch of friends crammed into a three-bedroom house playing games, eating food, and hanging out. This fall I worked remotely for a week from my brother's place in Hawaii - it was nice that he and his wife could work, and I could work, and then we could socialize on the nights and weekends. I also did a combo work/play trip to Detroit/Toronto in the spring.

Me and my siblings at the wedding.

I did a lot of non-work travel, too: I spent two weeks in Hawaii in the early summer for my brother's (awesome) wedding AND I spent a week biking in September AND I spent a week in the Dominican Republic AND I went to plays in Ashland on two different weekends. But that's not all! I also spent a long weekend at a friend's epic birthday party, and a quick weekend in Nashville at a family reunion, AND went to the Bay Area three times (twice for work, once for play) AND spent ten days in Rhode Island for Christmas (two days of which I worked).
Sunrise in Hawaii, while I was working.

Sunrise in the Dominican Republic - strictly play, this time.

Fortunately, I only paid full price for the holiday travel - three of my trips were work-related, and the six other flights were all paid for with miles and points. High five! However - for those counting, that's 10 flights this year, three road trips, and one bike trip. WHEW.

On the first day of Cycle Oregon.

I also had several house guests (and one came to visit three times - oh, the charms of my fair city - but is a very good guest so that wasn't a problem), maintained membership in two book groups, ran 116 miles, biked 1641, and ...did not track my walking. As far as I can recall I have not been sick a single time this year - that is largely due to working at home, I suspect - and I mostly feel really great.

Career-wise I've sort of plateaued lately, though I was handed some new responsibilities at the end of the year which are pushing me a little outside my comfort zone and are giving me resume fodder.

Hobby-wise I kept knitting, obviously amped up the fitness, and of course I ate out plenty (if that can be considered a hobby!).

Fiscally, things are decent. I do have to deal with that whole no-car thing, but it hasn't been pressing yet, and may not be any time soon! I'm saving 16% of my salary (with a 4% match) for retirement, and have started making house-payoff plans (that will bear fruit in 2030 or later). I've been saving for a deck but it'll still be quite a while before I have enough saved, unless I get a thwacking raise or a roommate - equally unlikely at this point. 

The only real lacks in my life are volunteering and having an awesome boyfriend. I can definitely do something about the former, and I keep figuring I'm going to live an awesome life and hopefully the latter will show up eventually - and if not, well, I regret nothing!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking forward

I intend to do a separate post that reflects on the past year, but who knows if I'll get around to it. At any rate, I've been thinking about any sort of resolutions/hopes I have for the coming year. I have a few!

Fitness: My city does a series of 5ks that cost $5 each that runs from May to October, and if they’re not an insane mass of people, I’d like to do those this year. I also want to find a 10k to run in the fall (or sooner, if things are going well – we’ll see).

Weight: I'm going to keep eating healthily and will keep tracking what I eat. That, coupled with running, should do good things.

Mindfulness: I received a 5-year journal for Christmas – each page is for a day of the year, and there are 5 writing areas of about 4 lines each. I want to just take little notes about good things that happen on most days, so I can look back and see what was going on each day without having to dig through lots of boring navel-gazing (as in my previous journals that I got sick of writing!).

Money: Keep up the good work, mostly. I'm saving 16% of my salary toward retirement, returns have been good, and I feel like my savings in that area is adequate. This year I started saving the equivalent of four mortgage payments per year (mortgage only, not interest/taxes/insurance) in an investment account to use toward paying off my house in another 16 years or so (barring any emergency use of those funds!). I'm going to have to replace my car eventually, but I'm holding off as long as I can, as I want neither a car payment nor to pillage my savings. There's definitely room for improvement in my various spending categories, so we'll see how I do. I haven't reviewed my spending, but I already know that my travel was off the charts, even though I only paid for one plane ticket this year! I regret nothing, even though it WAS a bit too much by the end of the year!

Community: I could stand to give back by volunteering in a meaningful way this year. I'm mulling it over.

So those are my plans for the coming year. Not bad! Happy New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

Adventures in transit

Modern apps make transit SO much easier than I remember it being back in the old days of paper schedules and memorized bus routes. 

It's amazing to me that I've ridden buses and trains in lots of cities in the US and Europe, but I've rarely ridden a bus in my home city since I got my first car in late 1997. When I lived in Boston, I was all transit all the time. In the Bay Area, I'd often ride BART and would occasionally ride a bus in San Francisco, since driving there is SO not fun, and parking is the worst! If I was staying in the East Bay I'd either drive, walk, or opt to stay home and avoid traffic completely. In Portland the city traffic is usually reasonable, and parking can always be found if you're patient, so my default (lazy) choice is to drive. Honestly, I remain proud of the fact that the city is driveable - but let's face it, using transit or biking is a big factor in keeping it liveable here!

Thanks to iPhone apps, I've started expanding my horizons beyond borrowing cars and using Car2Go. The most useful is PDX Bus:
As in any good mapping app, I can put in start and end places and times, and it'll tell me what my trip options are. It also checks on the status of the bus and updates the actual vs anticipated arrival time, AND will let me set an alert to make sure I get to the stop on time, or get off at the right place. Finally, it integrates with our transit agency's app, so I can buy tickets and store them there, then access them right from this planner. Genius!

Another terrific app is called RideScout. I tell it where I am and where I want to go, and it calculates how long it will take and what it will cost, depending on how I choose to get there.

So if I want to go from Point A to Point B, it will cost me $2.92 and 12 minutes in my own car, vs $7.61 and 13 minutes if I walk to and use the closest Car2Go, OR I can ride a bike and burn 144 calories in just under a half-hour. (The second Car2Go entry assumes I walk farther, so drive a shorter amount, making it a bit cheaper but requires a longer travel time.) The app also calculates bus routes and costs, and provides great directions for transfers. I can tell it not to include my own car in the calculations, but I think it's instructive to see what it would have cost to do a given route.

For example, looking at the above options, at first it seems like a no-brainer to just drive. BUT when you factor in that it's a round trip, so I'd  have to find and pay for parking, suddenly the car really costs more like 40-50 minutes and almost $6 in gas, and $2-3 in parking. The bus remains about an hour, 1:10, and $5. If it were lighter and warmer out, I would totally hop on my bike to burn some calories before (and after!) I hit happy hour.

I've been without a car for three months now, but I'm clearly still getting in the groove of using alternate transportation options. I'm really glad I didn't rush out and get a new-to-me vehicle, though I'm still certain that will come with the new year!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Thanksgiving is around the corner! I love this holiday, as it's the official beginning (in my mind) to the holiday period, I usually have a couple of days off, and I get to stick around town and be lazy.

This year I'm continuing a tradition of having TG with a couple I've been friends with for quite a while. They do the turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes, and then the other guests bring the rest. This year the guests are me, my sister, and another friend. We are bringing/making:
 I think my sister is also in charge of gravy, and I can't remember if we were ALSO doing Brussels sprouts or not - but for five people, I think we have more than enough food.

I'm hoping to go for a hike in the  morning before coming home and doing tart assembly; we're eating in the early evening so there should be plenty of time for that, weather permitting. I'll have YET ANOTHER friend's car to drive, since she'll be out of town. This is at least the sixth household that has helped me out since I totaled my car in September, for which I am very grateful.

I did spot a super duper cute car on Craigslist, but it sold already (at least, the post is down). I feel a little sad to have missed it (red! two-door!) but I know it would have been silly to try to rush it through. On Friday I have a red-eye to the Dominican Republic where I'm spending a week at an all-inclusive resort with a bunch of my Canadian friends. When I come back I'll have ten days in town before heading East for Christmas (holy crap I have to shop), and then I'll be back before the New Year and THEN I can see what's happening, car-wise. Yep, I plan to obsess about it until then.

Monday, November 10, 2014

More car thoughts

This weekend I borrowed a car (a Mini!) from friends so I could go to the suburbs and get re-certified in scuba. Then I dropped their car at their apartment and wandered through NW Portland and the Pearl District before I hopped in a Car2Go and went home.

I noted a few things:
 - I do like being the person who shows up in a cute car
 - The Mini had great highway handling and good lines of sight
 - The clutch on the Mini was a bit stiffer than the one on my Hyundai; I didn't love that
 - It was great to be able to wander around downtown without caring about where I was heading, as I could see from my app that there were lots of Cars2Go so I was confident I could meander to my heart's content and then easily find a way home.

I'm narrowing down my car wish/want/must have list. It's been helping to think about where I've been, since I've only had three cars in my life.
  1. My first car was my dad's old car that I shipped cross-country for about $1,500, then learned it couldn't pass emissions, so I only had it for a few months before giving it to friends (who lived south of me in a less-emission-strict area). So really, I've only had two cars for any period of time... 
  2. In 1998 I bought a 1985 Honda Accord two-door hatchback for $1,800. That car was totaled twice while I had it - the first time was body damage only, but the second time I was T-boned by a Caddy and the axle snapped, so that was the end of that, in 2005... months before my car was going to turn 21!
  3. Since I was commuting 20 miles each way to a suburb (i.e. had no remotely reasonable transit options), I had to replace my car right away. I got a one-year-old Hyundai Accent two-door hatchback with 15,000 miles on it for $6,300. I kept it for nine years until my little incident a couple of months ago. Fortunately, this time I can take my time shopping.
 I've always been proud that in my entire life I've spent less than $10,000 on car purchases, and I never minded very much when my car wasn't fancy. I DID wish that my last car had air conditioning, so that is pretty high on my list for Next Car. Here's what I've come up with, in descending order of importance:

  1. Low price
  2. Clean title
  3. Manual transmission (I figure there is less to break, and they are usually cheaper)
  4. Low mileage
  5. Reasonably newish vehicle
  6. Air conditioning
  7. Cute factor
  8. Hatchback
  9. Four doors
I'm leaning further and further away from going with a four-door. In my 16 years of cars, it's never been a huge problem that I only have a two-door. I really appreciate all the room that the hatchback model gives me, and I can rent a bigger car if I foresee the need for more passenger space. Yes, ideally I'd have a four-door.. but we'll see how it plays out.

Anyway, I'm not buying just yet. I still want to make this purchase with cash, though I'm not fully clear on the specifics - if I go to a dealer can I just charge it and then pay the bill later? If I buy from a private seller will they wait around for two-three days while I get a check from my out-of-town bank?  I want to leave the vast majority of my six-months-of-living-expenses in the bank untouched, and I don't want to tap my early house payoff fund, and I don't want to tap my fence replacement/new deck money, so I need a bit of time still to save up.

Of course right now it's sunny and dry: It's easy to contemplate forgoing the convenience of a car when the sun is shining!