Monday, February 20, 2012

LOL - Living on Less

I've spent a bunch of time in the last few days looking over my due bills and trying to figure out where I can cut down.  I hesitate to even write about this since I am so blessed - compared to so many people, I have so much to be grateful for.  I keep hearing stories of people who have lost so much over the past few years of this damn recession and I am so grateful that it has not been as harsh on me.

I saw a few minutes of a 60-Minutes segment last night and the subject was long term unemployment and its effect on a person's self-esteem.  It is sad but true that our purchasing power often dictates our self worth in our culture, but that is fodder for another post.

At 62, after a decade of one upheaval after another in my life, I do have my cash flow challenges to be sure.  I am becoming semi-obsessed with cutting costs. I'm of Scottish descent, a culture known for our "thriftiness".  This always seemed lame to me in better days, although never having been a big earner, I was not able to really afford a "lifestyle" similar to some of my Baby Boomer compadres.  I always managed to live within my means, mostly, and my Dad in years gone by, would help me out with major unexpected stuff like car repairs.  So I guess considering we Baby Boomers are the big spenders, I guess I do have that "thrifty" trait.  It's all relative, as my Dad used to say.

It is easy to find articles and blog posts on shopping at the dollar stores or thrift stores, both of which have been my habit for years.  I'm a lifelong thrift shopper - I used to go with my Mom and buy doll clothes, that's how little I was when I first started!  All through the years, I've been a collector of various things, and in every city I've lived I find thrift shopping very entertaining and very productive!  People give things away for many reasons and there are treasures to be had at a fraction of retail in all categories.

A friend and I have three categories of shopping - TS (thrift shop), GS (garage sale) and DS (dollar store).  I have not been to the mall in years.  But for my downwardly mobile semi-retirement life, I guess it doesn't matter.  I shared with a twenty-something acquaintance that I used to think older people looked so bad - bad clothes, bad hair, old cars - now I get it!  They're (we're) trying to get off the treadmill and hang on to what money we have.  So our store-bought image goes out the window, instead of the money to maintain it.

Consolidating errands to save gas is another no brainer.  My car is nine years old, and with the ever rising cost of gas, a new car with better gas mileage has great appeal.  But I don't want a payment and higher insurance costs, so I just live with the dorky old Accord.   I was thinking of eliminating the collision coverage but I better not go crazy with this thrifty thing.  It only has 51K miles on it!

For years, I've cut fun and entertainment to the bone - I rarely drive all over the county the way I used to, attending various events.  I do miss that.  My world has definitely gotten smaller and more virtual.  Perhaps that is age, perhaps it is a cultural trend.

I am on COBRA and medical insurance is one of my biggest monthly expenses.  I recently had the chance to lower my coverage level and I took the risk to do so.  It's not a big difference in routine coverage, but if I need to go to the hospital, I pay big time. I guess this kind of cost sharing is a good business model to encourage good health habits.  So I'm on board with Kaiser's hope that I stay out of the hospital.

Last year I 86'd my landline - I miss having fax capability but otherwise, I'm not a big phone person and I don't miss it.  I also left Verizon in favor of a no-contract provider.  Just this past weekend, I ordered a $20 CDMA no-contract phone so I could go with a lower service plan than they allow for my smartphone.  Right now, I'm in between clients, at home alot, and really don't need the unlimited everything on the higher service plan.

I stopped getting DVDs from Netflix and just get the minimum instant play subscription.  I do think they were cold to their loyal customers in raising their rates for DVDs, but they are in business to make money not cater to customers like me who have TVs from 1999 and a VCR/DVD player from 2006.  Would love to upgrade the TVs and get a new computer and printer, but while everything is still working fine, it stays, that's my rule lately.

I lowered the speed of my cable modem Internet connection, and cancelled my extended TV cable channels.   I have received two great gifts recently to help me with some of these video cutbacks - my new Kindle Fire is great for watching stuff on the very small screen! It's funny to have my cat on my lap when I'm watching something on the KF, for him, it's a perfect size screen!  I also have found some of my news shows that I miss on CNN on CNN radio which I get on the Kindle. The other wonderful gift is a Roku gadget that connects me to Netfilx instant play and other free and pay channels, on my ancient TV thru my wireless Internet connection. 

Again this year, I'm using TurboTax and hoping for the best.  I'm not smart enough to cook the books, if I make an honest mistake, the IRS can write me a letter.  This is my fourth year using TurboTax.  I'd much prefer to use a tax preparer, but the cost savings doing it myself is substantial, like $50 compared to $250 or more.  And at my (shockingly low) level of income, I figure I have the time to spend to DIY.

And then there's home repairs, and this subject causes me a ton of angst.  I have a long list of deferred maintenance on this old house, built in 1968, including needing a new roof.  Not making the repairs is only a temporary fix.  I've felt so stagnant here in this house - I've lived here ten years in March - longer than I've lived anywhere not counting my childhood.  The housing market is so anemic - I'm not underwater - yet - but making big financial decisions like buying and selling real estate is not my forte - I do better with the little daily purchasing decisions.

At least I have the little decisions somewhat under control in my world.  I am no math genius but I do get that cutting spending is only a tiny drop in the bucket, all things considered.  It really is about earning more, not just spending less.  I wish I got this message when I was 25 - I'm sure I was told, but I didn't "get it".  I had no concept of being prepared for retirement, until I was in my 50's and took care of my Dad, who was well prepared.   I've reflected on my options and my talents for a life reinvention at 62 - I note that most of what I'm good at doesn't pay...traditional "woman things". I've made my peace that being of service is my contribution in this life, but to date, the pay has not been good and the cost of living keeps going up!  So it is a struggle not only to keep the bank account balanced, but to keep my head and heart from plunging into despair.   Cutting monthly bills is easier than re-tooling my self-worth in a world gone mad.



Sunday, January 01, 2012

What are you doing on New Year's ...

New Year's eve is just a memory, and it for me was as blah as New Year's day is turning out to be.  It is a fabulous day here, 80+ degrees, clear and sunny, but I have not been out.  I have been trying to relax a little, and not bury myself in the usual chores and desk work that fill my days "off".  I am trying to stay off my feet, supposedly I have a slight fracture in my right foot, which has been bothering me for months.  Staying off my feet is a simple plan, but like many good intentions, not so easy to actually do.  The situation has not been readily (or definitely even yet) diagnosed, and I am hoping this lovely boot they sent me home with will do its job.

So it is just a regular Sunday for me I guess, maybe a slower than regular day.   I continue to feel uninspired, perhaps a little more so today, after reading and watching all the motivational articles and videos on New Year New You and Getting it Together and all that good stuff which I am always attracted to, yet lately it all just seems so overwhelming.  I try to counter the inevitable entropy of life - since it is the nature of things to so readily fall apart, I try to improve myself in as many ways as I can, just to stay on an even keel.

I have been remiss in taking time for myself in recent years, my spiritual and self development path has disappeared from my life.  I haven't done any writing in ages.  I seem to just chase cash flow in all its convoluted and time consuming forms.  Keeping the wolf away from the door could be considered a form of self care, but I am wearing down. I have not really been a person to define myself through my work through the years, so I am spending most of my energy on a portion of my life that is not all that gratifying.  Somewhat gratifying at times, but not what I would consider a calling or life purpose, not in present form.

The subject of underemployment crossed my mind this morning, I am very grateful to be working at all in this economy, yet the stress of the past few years has not been lost on me either.  Underemployment has dampened my enthusiasm for making plans and goals for the future, to say the least.  And at my age, staging a life reinvention is not so easy either.  Years gone by, I could make changes very easily, now I feel the quicksand of inertia under my feet. 

Not surprising I am having pain in my foot - Louise Hay in Heal Your Body says foot problems are an indication of "fear of the future and of not stepping forward in life".   I like her Beginnings and Endings post for the new year, but I am feeling lazy about setting any resolutions and directions.  I do have a mental list, but have not gone so far as to put it on paper or call the list "resolutions".  I feel sometimes as a woman I knew years ago once said, that she one day just walked out the door literally on her old life.  I fantasize about doing that, move to a new city (country?) starting over with a couple of suitcases and boxes as I've done many times years gone by.  But I am not young anymore, not sure how that would "fit" into my sixth decade of wandering around LOST on this planet.  I'm hooked on the creature comforts, and some of the trappings of midlife.

Well it is time to tackle some chores with what is left of this day.  Perhaps I will post more often in this old journal blog.  Used to do Morning Pages - maybe I should make a big list of things I used to do and call that list New Year's resolutions...

another year, another lame Christmas letter, another cat picture...

“Multitask, multitask, busy every day - Oh what fun it is to try to have a holiday!” - Well, you get the idea.  It’s an “Attention Deficit” holiday for me – not a lot of jingle in my bell.  This year my life has been about as stable as the stock market.  I’ve barely done a traditional holiday thing – I’m just distracted.   I put up a kitschy red tinsel peace symbol on my front door and sent a couple of cards, but for me, this holiday is about charitable donations not “stuff”.   I’ve enjoyed receiving some holiday cards and letters – I’ve read some fun stories, and some sad stories.  We all have our times of joy and sorrow to be sure.

Each year we are more deeply immersed in technology, which connects and isolates us.  I log too many hours of screen time, mea culpa.  I troll Craigslist and many job sites for work, read tons of news, and of course shop.  I am addicted to Redfin studying local real estate.  I have a website, two FaceBook pages, LinkedIn, a blog, plus the usual PC software, my calendar, Quicken, QuickBooks and smart phone.  Argh.   I am the proud owner of a Kindle Fire, an early birthday gift which has been a lot of fun.  And fun I need!

I’m self employed again, after having two receptionist jobs this year – one at a retirement facility and one at a skilled nursing facility.  I felt that I had better become my own boss again, or risk being wheeled in there myself on a gurney.  I turn 62 this year and I am very aware of the impact of constant stress on health.  I’m a hard worker, but I have no interest in drama or dysfunction - I want a peaceful life!

I applied for early “retirement” Social Security.  Not that I’m actually retiring, but my work as a freelance personal assistant is part time so I can maintain a healthy life balance.  The only benefit of self employment is that, yes, I can work in my pajamas with a cat on my lap!  It is surprisingly challenging work – my clients by nature are not good at the things I do.  If they were, they wouldn’t NEED me!  So there is plenty of opportunity for MY self development too - in terms of patience and communication skills. I am working now with three clients who need some type of office support, but I’ve also returned to senior companion care.  I enjoy working for seniors, and I have made several lasting friendships.  Friends becoming clients and clients becoming friends is another benefit! 

I’m volunteering as a driver with our local Rides & Smiles program and as a receptionist at a senior center, both as networking opportunities and community service.  I have joined a local political group also.  I joined a new gym about three minutes from home, and have actually been going!

My home life continues to be very quiet.  I have three BFF cats, all of whom are spoiled and demanding in their own way. No such thing as a low maintenance pet – that’s an oxymoron!  Have not done a thing to my house, it has been turning back in to the fixer that it was when we bought it in 2002.  I’ve held off moving due to concerns about housing prices and employment.  I continue to feel restless and ready for a change in many ways, but the crystal ball remains a bit hazy as my Dad used to say.   I have lived in this house for almost ten years.  For me, that is a long time.  So I’ve been practicing gratefulness for my comfortable, if not terribly exciting life, and counting my blessings and taking one day at a time.
 
 “Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are only days away from the winter solstice, which celebrates the return of the light, and the promise that the days will once again grow long and warm. But until that time, perhaps our energy would be best spent aligning with nature, and like the trees, pulling our energy deep into our roots, in preparation for another year of growth.”