or, what happens when the husband grooms the cat for a few days.
The cat floof is collected in a bag in the kitchen. Mr. P claimed he didn't know where I stash it. :-)
Here's a question. I have five little pine-needle baskets. One is purple, the others are natural with just touches of color, except that one in the back that is all natural and more rustic. I am inclined to ... touch it up a little.
To mess with it, or to leave it alone?
This is a short piece for the Flash Fiction challenge at terribleminds.com. Inspired by true events. :-)
It was a measure of the catastrophe that, at the moment, the easiest thing to tackle looked like the old two-drawer file cabinet. If anything was bound to be disposable, surely it would be in there. They’d been through twenty years’ worth of records already and kept so infuriatingly few bits and pieces. She needed a quick win, something that could go OUT without so much consideration and angst.
She turned away from the eighteen milk crates and twenty-plus cardboard cartons full of books, away from the shelves loaded with rusting tools and boxes of who-knows-what, away from the trash bags full of old household linens that “someone might want,” and levered open the top drawer.
It was full of maps. Automobile Club of California maps. Dozens of maps.
She started pulling them out. Like everything else, they had to go into empty boxes, boxes that had already held multiple iterations of outgoing stuff. God forbid they just hand the whole file cabinet over to 1-800-GOT-JUNK without going through it. God forbid this was the place the old man had hidden something that was actually important. They’d looked at every single piece of paper going out so far, why stop now.
Unfortunately, she loved maps. As much as she loved books, which made it harder to throw away these maps than she expected. But there were so many versions. It was as if the old man had gotten new maps every time they left the city, and had kept every single one from every single trip.
Where had they been going, and why? Did he get a new map for every county or city they’d be driving through on a given trip? Maybe so; she’d been known to do that herself. You never knew when you’d want to dive off the freeway and go exploring.
Before she realized it she had started her own small collection of the oldest versions of each city map. As she dug deeper, as the drawer emptied, as she moved to the bottom drawer, the versions got older and older. Did she really want that city? What about this one? Why the hell was she doing this?
Los Angeles before the 405 freeway was constructed? Well, that was a frame-worthy artifact. But Santa Rosa in 1958?
Well … why not? What would happen if she actually went up there with this map? Would the city be negotiable, at all, using it?
When the cabinet was emptied, nothing “important” had been found, and she had ruthlessly cut down her own gleanings to three: the 1960 Los Angeles map, 1958 Santa Rosa, and 1954 Sacramento.
She’d never been to Sacramento. It wasn’t on the way to anywhere they’d ever been except that time they drove to Seattle. And then they didn’t stop there, just went around it and kept going.
Santa Rosa she’d been through. It was pretty much destroyed now by the ever-expanding freeways. She thought there was no chance the old map would get her anywhere; she would give it to the cousin they liked, who lived there. It would be Sacramento.
Could they go the next day? They’d been working nonstop for a week. The husband didn’t want to go. He had too much to do. The clean-out stopped when she wasn’t there, but the catching-up and the fixing-up and the dealing with a neverending cascade of emergencies never stopped.
He was being hit with ten years of Business Not Dealt With and taking an exploratory road trip didn’t sound like fun. She should go, though. He had to go back to IKEA for a proper file cabinet, one that locked, so that the financially-revealing records that they didn’t want the rest of the family to mess around with - the family who had been in and out of the house for the last five years without mentioning, maybe without noticing, that things were going to hell - could be secured. He would take his mother’s car, and she could use theirs. When she got back she could tell him all about it. It was a day’s round trip, no more, and she’d been working like a mule. Have fun and drive safe.
Okay. She would leave after morning rush hour, and wouldn’t waste time once she got there. Not too much time anyway. She would be home for dinner, or she would call him to let him know she’d be later. There was always the chance she’d actually get lost, since her phone didn’t have GPS and the Thomas Guide in their car was ten years old. She made sure the phone was fully charged before she left.
Getting across the Bay was no more than usually awful. She didn’t love the bridge, and the highway through Berkeley was as horrible as a highway could be. She was tempted to get off and regroup on Muir Parkway, but reminded herself that she promised not to waste time. She drove on.
When she got to Vallejo, she did pull off. Did the old map cover that? Glory be, it did. Should she cheat? Should she look at the Thomas Guide to check where the correspondences were? Or should she trust the old map? Surely the old map’s road numbers were still the road numbers. She used the Guide to make sure that the now-freeway existed on the old map, and carried on.
She was driving outside time, through a landscape that surely bore little resemblance to its fifty-years-ago existence. She had memorized the next two turns, and got off the freeway where the old map told her to.
The next two roads were small, mostly straight, with numerous traffic signals where - she was sure - there had been none in 1954. According to the map she was still a good distance from the city. But almost out of nowhere came strip malls and shopping centers, and side streets that clearly contained housing developments. The city had come to her well in advance of itself.
The next turn wasn’t there anymore. She had to stop and pull off again, and look for a workaround route to try to find the road that used to exist. It just wasn't there. She needed a break. There was no longer a country road to Sacramento, but there was a Starbucks.
Public Service Announcement
When I first started writing this blog - seven years ago - I intended it to be an adjunct to a self-employment strategy involving fitness training and dance coaching. I had just gotten my qualifications, and was looking for an exit strategy from working in law firms.
Obviously, things changed!
And so the things that I write about have changed. I used to write about fitness a lot, searching the Internet for articles of interest and commenting on those, or just blathering about professional reading I'd been doing. I'm not doing that anymore. I think those posts were of interest to very few people, and since I wasn't actively developing a practice I did not have clients who might have learned from them.
So, long story short, I have deleted almost two-thirds of the posts from the Fitness & Health archive. Most of those that are left are also relevant to the Ballroom Nerdery posts (which will get combed through at some point as well). I have kept what I think are the best F&H posts, and hopefully not so many of them that no-one will ever read the archive.
What can't I do with $500 wiggle room in my budget, every two weeks, for the rest of my working life?
I can't save for a replacement car AND an international vacation, so I have to pick one.
Being practical, it's likely to be the car, because there is no scenario where our two cars last the rest of our lives (mine is a 2010, his is a 2005). By the time I have enough money in the Car Replacement Fund, we are likely to be past the point where international travel looks attractive. We may get back to Canada, for my dream trips there. So we'll say "overseas travel" is pretty much out.
And also, of course, there is the saving for inevitable big-ticket maintenance.
I can't get plastic surgery, so I have to maintain as much of my looks and shape as I can via nonsurgical options.
I can't do pro-am competition with any of the top-notch male professional dancers in L.A.
I can't try self-employment.
and, of course
I can't retire early.
There is a little bit we can do to reduce joint expenses. We can cancel the landline and go with a VOIP service - which is likely to happen in May of this year. And we can look into switching from AT&T to Time Warner for cable internet, if it turns out that is a) less expensive and b) faster, more stable service. For a long time, AT&T had a monopoly in our neighborhood. It's nice to have an option, but we'll only go to the hassle of switching if it will be an improvement - especially since we will still need an actual phone line for the business fax.
We've already greatly reduced our eating-out expenses. I have a short list of food delivery options, and under the new regime we are paying cash when we order out, which is a lot less frequent than it used to be. We have dinners out with friends occasionally, and under the new regime these also will be paid for in cash. But for the most part, dinners are prepared at home. I also take my lunch to work almost every day - I'd say 19 days out of 20 - and my breakfast at least twice a week.
It is cheaper to buy breakfast out three days a week than to buy lunch two days. I can get three breakfasts for less than $20. And since I am never not in a hurry in the morning, this is a luxury I find excusable (and sustainable).
Other things I don't buy: massages, facials, manicures, hair-care services, waxing, dry-cleaning, car washes. Seriously, I got the Insight last May and it has not been washed yet. I may get it washed once this year.
By the way:
Moving wouldn't help at all. $2600 sounds insane, but it is actually a screaming deal for the square footage we have in the type of neighborhood we have. The closest comparable I've seen in the last year was $3750/mo. (And buying would be more like $6500/mo, IF we had a $180K down payment, which we don't. That's most of our House Building Budget, right there.) ... Also, in the current space, we can have a legit home office that Mr. P can deduct legit expenses for. A smaller space wouldn't provide that.
There is a chance that my income will increase over the next 10-15 years. My base may not go up much, but my job is bonus-eligible. But you can't (or shouldn't, anyway) make financial plans based on what might happen. It is roughly as likely that this job will go belly-up as that I will get annual bonuses. I simply can't plan on a bonus, or a major raise.
And a minor raise isn't going to end up in my discretionary fund - it's going to get shunted into the 401(k).
What about Mr. P you say? Well, he is self-employed, in a personal-service business with high expenses, and he is going to be 57 this year. It is statistically improbable that his annualized income is going to be higher, in any given future year, than it was last year. And just as my job may go belly-up, so may his: if he is injured, if he has a stroke or a heart attack, or if he simply burns out and can't do it anymore. In that last scenario, he might be able to get a job as a physical-therapy tech in a hospital. It won't be the same pay grade.
Basically, my plan is based on what I can save, and on crossing my fingers that Mr. P doesn't ever face a disability (for which he is, aside from Social Security, completely uninsured).
It constrains my imagineering.
What does the monthly money do?
Mr. P and I divide our living expenses according to a complex negotiation first performed when I voluntarily disemployed myself, and then got re-employed at a 30% pay cut:
Of our joint expenses, he pays ...
I pay ...
This may seem inequitable to those in non-crazypants rental markets. But: our rent is $2575, and I expect it to go to a round $2600 this year.
Now, I pay all of my stuff listed above out of after-tax dollars. Pre-tax, I pay our health-insurance premium (about $600/mo) and contribute to the HSA and the 401(k). Mr. P pays for all of his stuff out of pre-tax dollars. This has led to some money juggling in past years, because while I work from a budget, he does not. I am hoping to change that this year. It is not always easy to make an annualized budget when you are self-employed and monthly income is variable. However, the closer we get to retirement, the closer a watch we need to keep on our money.
I get paid every two weeks and my budget leaves me an average of $500 wiggle room at the end of my actual bills. That is pretty prosperous; it lets us have just enough of the benefits of big-city life that I can tolerate the (abundant) downsides.
It will look even better when the car is paid off - by October if all goes to plan - meaning a five-year car loan will be retired in 17 months; and better yet when the lot is paid off - by end of 2017, again if all goes to plan - meaning a seven-year property loan will be retired in 4 years.
Except that I plan to immediately sock the car-payment money into extra payments on the lot, so I won't see that. And when the lot is paid off, the liberated money will be socked into the House Building Fund.
So my "wiggle room" is never really going to get to more than $1000/mo - which is still a nice chunk of change, bearing in mind all the incidentals it covers. Vet bills, for example, which are going to get more regular as the cats age.
Travel is completely discretionary, but going to Lompoc for a weekend is going to run around $500. That's my entire "disposable" income for two weeks. Going to a weekend dance event, another $500. Flying us to the East coast to see my family would run between $700-$1000 depending on when we travel. So basically, I can't plan to take a cat to the vet in the same month we are going somewhere ... everything has to be scheduled and/or leveraged.
Emergency fund? Well, sure. A trip is not an emergency, nor is an oil change - or new tires, for that matter. My emergency fund is presently $6000, which is two months' worth of our rent + utilities, or six months' worth of my share of same. It is there in case one of us can't work, and for basically no other use.
What else can't I do with my wiggle room? Stay tuned.
'Tis the season to be thinking about money, and also to be thinking about how best to manage it.
Not too many years ago I did a serious decluttering of my finances, sufficiently serious that I was able to coast along paying very little attention to my various accounts for a long time. Things have gradually gotten re-complicated, though, and it's time to make several new arrangements.
Health Savings Account: I now have three, one of which is completely empty because Previous Employer set it up automatically when we enrolled in a high-deductible health plan but no contributions were ever made because I already had an HSA.
I rather lazily did nothing about this when I left Previous Employer, but got a letter recently that reminded me I needed to do something, i.e. close the account. (I think they are legally restrained from automatically closing a tax-advantaged account, even when there is no money in it.) I called, they are supposed to be sending me a letter which I then have to execute and return - by snail mail. How very 1970s.
The newest HSA was set up automatically by New Employer for the same reason, but this time I am contributing to it (and so are they. Thanks, New Employer!). Because the new HSA is in a brick-and-mortar bank, for which a branch is conveniently located adjacent to my office building, I plan to roll the oldest HSA (which is associated with an online bank, headquartered on the East Coast) into the newest. All of this will take me from a messy three accounts to a neat and tidy one.
Then there is the 401(k). As indicated in an earlier post, I need to roll my 401(k) from Previous Employer into the 401(k) from New Employer; reducing two accounts to one. This is as much a time-management move as a money-management one; I have no reason to expect that the new 401(k) will be any better managed than the old one; they are very likely functionally identical; but I don't like having to log in to, monitor, or balance two accounts, so one has to go, and obviously I don't want to NOT participate in the new one because New Employer contributes to it via profit-sharing (thanks, New Employer!).
Last year I had three credit cards; I cancelled one because I didn't need three, so now I have two (both "rewards" cards), and one has a zero balance. The other one is used for operational spending - Hulu, my cell phone plan, cat food, etc. I am making a real effort in 1Q16 to get back to a "cash basis" for quotidien expenses, as I know from experience that this will ultimately result in more money left over at the end of the month.
Full disclosure: I also have a Macy's card because the deals you get with it are too good to pass up, and I can do almost all my job-related clothes shopping there. I plan ahead for clothes shopping, and pay off the charges in full right after using the card.
For a breakdown of the monthly money, stay tuned.
You can call it a Life List or a To Do List or a Must List or a Things to Do Before You Die List, but pretty much everyone knows what you mean if you just call it a Bucket List. So, it's a convenient shorthand even if you think, as I do, that the term is rather an eye-roller (I for one never think of death as "kicking the bucket").
Some people think making a list of things you want to do is a waste of time. Some people think it's self-indulgent fantasy (and for those lists that include things like "win the lottery" I'd agree). But David at Raptitude has a take on it that I can get behind.
I think that a Life List should be both categorized and malleable. There are hundreds of books I would like to read in my life but at this moment there are only a few I want to put on my "must" list. And ten years from now I might think "why did I ever want to read that?". So, I'll change the list. In fact, knowing me, I'd change the list pretty much every year. I'll start more simply.
Top Five Things I Want to Read (Literature) That Are Already On My Kindle:
Then there's the category of "places to go." A lot of people seem to put faraway places on their must lists, and yet many of these people don't travel. Like, at all. Mr. P and I love to travel, but over the years going to faraway places has gotten less important. We have a lot of demands on our time and money, just like anybody, and the cost-benefit ratio has to be applied. Properly seeing Australia would cost as much in time and money as three separate Canadian vacations, for example. So again, my travel list is pretty simple. (This doesn't include in-state travel.)
Top Five Places I Want to Go Within the Next Ten Years:
Another common element of bucket lists is physical achievement. People might say, for example, "hike Kilimanjaro" or "climb Everest." Neither of those holds the least appeal for me. (If I were going to climb any mountain, it would be Fuji. But the odds are decidedly against.)
Since we're already involved in a sport, to me it would seem like cheating to put anything related to that sport on my list. I mean, we will either achieve our goal there or we won't, but we are (or will be again soon) actively working on it.
Top Five Physical Things I'd Like to Try:
Top Five Physical Things I'd Like to Do Again & More Often:
Another common category is the arts. Now, thanks to various life choices I have already had a lot of great artistic experiences. I've had work in an art show; I've appeared on stage in a featured role and as a backup dancer; I've worked as a dance extra in a feature film and a short; I've had a piece of music performed; I've published four novels; I've sold my own created jewelry and artwork.
But since this is a highly rewarding category, it would be self-defeating to say "well I've already done all this, so whatever." I'm not going to list the stuff I'm already doing, or planning to do in the near future - again, that's kind of like cheating.
Top Five Artistic Endeavors I'd Like to Try, Do Again, or Do More Often:
One thing I'd like to point out about this very personal set of lists, which the alert reader will have already noticed: None of these things-to-do depends on anyone else.
These are all things that lie within my present powers; they are not reliant on a windfall, a statistically-improbable stroke of luck, or anyone else's input. To me, it just seems much more likely that I will follow through and achieve things that I know I can achieve.
I'm practical; I'm not a fantasist. That said, I would also get a kick out of one day seeing my play performed on stage. It's not a one-woman show, so, we'll see.
*updated; originally published June 2014