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Archive for December, 2020

Recap of 2020 Expenses

January 1st, 2021 at 01:28 am

It's that time of year when Patient Saver tallies up all the spending she's done throughout the year to see where she stands.

Here, then, are my ranked expenses with commentary:

Property taxes, $6,792. No surprise here. My property taxes have always been my #1 expense. This won't change til I turn 65 and can take advantage of discounted senior property taxes which will make a big difference.

Garage stone veneer, $5,900. This was the most expensive home improvement I did this year, but even though it was strictly cosmetic, I have no regrets. I love the look of the stone, and the stone veneer and  paver driveway now have the look of a side courtyard. 

Food, $4,754. This represent a small, 4.5% decrease from 2019, so it's a small victory in a multi-year battle to contain my food expenses.

Health Insurance, $3,524. This was actually 18% less than what I spent in 2019, when my monthly premiums were higher.

New Water Tank, $1,276: My old water tank, which strictly services my 2 outdoor water faucets, began to leak unexpectedly late this year, so I had no choice but to replace it.

Cat, $1,171. I felt like I was bringing Luther to the vet a lot, for various reasons, but his problems were nothing too serious, which kept the bills down. This was actually 18% less than 2019.

Stairway Railing, $1,100. Pretty pricey. I wanted to get the railing years ago, so I'm glad I got it.

Heating Oil/Cleanings, $1,087. So while my top 5 expenses, not including the one-time home improvements, were all down compared to 2019, this expense was higher than in 2019, by 25%! It's somewhat surprising since oil prices on a per-gallon basis are way down, due to the pandemic, but since I've been working from home most of the year, I keep the heat at 67 all day long.

Electricity, $970. This is about what I spent last year. I go to some effort to shop around for electricity whenever I can achieve some savings, but evidently it doesn't really make much difference.

Lawn & Garden, $970. This cost was down by 23%, which surprised me since I wound up having to pay someone to mow my lawn for most of the season after injuring my knee. I do plan to do my own mowing in 2020 to save money and get good exercise. (I have more time than ever to do this as I don't expect to be returning to the office, even when the pandemic is over. I think the co-owners of the company have discovered they really CAN rely on their loyal staff to get the job doneeven working remotely, and so they're doing fabulously since they're not paying for office lease, phone/Internet, electrictity, etc.)

New Computer, $912. I bought an "all-in-one" computer that doesn't have the tower or a lot of wires. I like it.

Out of Pocket Medical/Dental, $910. This is a 35%  increase over last year. I didn't get all my usual checkups due to COVID, but I did have some unexpected issues with my menescus tear, floaters in my eye that had to be repeatedly checked, along with a physical, lab work for that, eyeglasses purchased very cheaply at Zenni's, and a DEXA scan which told me I have osteopenia. (The reason why I plan to mow next year.)

Car Upkeep, $824. This is down 16% from last year, a pleasant surprise for a 7-year-old car, but I still have well under 100,000 miles on it.

Raised beds, $747. My neighbor built them for me at no cost as part of a barter deal, but I did have to pay for materials, and I opted for the more expensive cedar wood, plus the fencing. I got plenty of great produce from the garden, inlcuding my last butternut squash which I just cooked up a few days ago, oodles of tomatoes, eggplant, kale, etc.

Homeowners Insurance, $691. It didn't rise too much from last year.

Entertainment, $652, a bit more than last year. The bulk of this is due to several subscriptions, including,,, a bus trip to Hudson Yards in NYC that was cancelled due to COVID and rescheduled, along with some free weights since I couldn't go to the gym and of course my monthly Hulu.

Car Insurance: $619, no big changes there.

My remaining expenses don't add up to a whole lot. Of note, I spent just $487 on gas for the car, a 45% drop from 2019 since I'm not commuting. This past month, I really felt I was getting a little out of control on clothing spending, but it turns out I spent about the same as in 2019, at just $376. I bought a lot of comfy fleece pullovers.

In total, my expenses came to $41,276, which is in keeping with the past 5 or 6 years at least. I never feel deprived, and I never try to "budget," other than to have a general idea of how much I should be spending on stuff. I'm pleased that my top 5 expenses all either stayed the same as last year or dropped. And I eked out a small decrease in my food spending.

And, just like last year, aside from home improvements, my Top 3 Expenses were: Property taxes, Food and Health Insurance, in that order.

On the subject of Home Improvements and looking ahead to 2021, I would love to replace the decrepit cabinet in my upstairs bathroom.  And replace my small refrigerator which periodically malfunctions with something bigger, which would require some carpentry work. Don't know if that will happen due to COVID manufacturing slowdowns, but these are the only 2 home improvements I'm really keen on at the moment. 

I wish all my friends at Savings Advice and safe and healthy New Year. Tonight will be a quiet New Year's. I enjoyed a glass of Reisling just now, and next plan to rewatch the trilogy of Lord of the Rings, which I discovered is on Hulu. I don't think i ever saw the 3rd movie, so will be a treat.

Holiday thoughts and preparations

December 16th, 2020 at 08:54 pm

After many years of not putting up a full size-tree (partly due to it being just me, plus my cat may get overly curious), I decided to spring for a 5-foot artificial tree. I joined a Facebook group made up of people who collect vintage Christmas ornaments/decor a few weeks ago, and it's easy to get seduced by all the glam this time of year. 

But I didn't want a plastic tree, and that's 90% of what's available if you're looking for artificial. I settled on a wrought iron tree that, since it's devoid of actual green branches, really shows off the ornaments themselves. I have a fair number of old ones collected over the  years from my grandparents and other family, and I also have some precious handmade ones from my sister, mother and grandmother. They sat in boxes in my attic for years when I chose to make do with small, tabletop trees.

I've been living like a monk since late March, just so that when I get together with my dad, once a week, that I can rest easy knowing I'm not exposing him to any virus germs. I was going to only BJs, once every 2 weeks, for months, solely becuse they had early senior hours and very wide aisles, but more recently, I've discovered how wonderful it can be to avail myself of Stop & Shop's curbside pickup. I can't understand why they're willing to charge so little ($2.95) for this service; one of their workers still has to spend at least 20 minutes running around collecting all your groceries (which you order online) and then bring it out to you in your car. I absolutely love it and think it's worth every penny, and it means zero exposure for me, which is something I tend to get anxious about.

Still, when the pandemic has subsided, I doubt I will stick with Stop & Shop, since they are noticeably more expensive than Aldi's, BJs and Trader Joe's. But I could see where their service, if they continue it, could really be a godsend if I should ever have surgery, or even if i had a bad cold and didn't feel like walking through a supermarket. So far, they've been 100% accurate in filling my orders.

I'm still working at home, and word is that in my small company, the husband/wife owners have already sold their home and moved to an island where they regularly vacation. She is a very recent cancer survivor, and I think the pandemic may have pushed them to possibly fast-forward that part of their retirement plan. 

So what this means for me is that I could be working remotely until my own retirement in 4 years. This would be wonderful. How I longed for this during much of my career! No more 40-minute drives, nice as they were (but not at night), and no more putting up with the total lack of acknowledgement that I can do a better job editing with some peace and quiet.

Plus, I have worked out a pretty sweet deal with my pay structure so now I earn a fixed weekly amount and have much better stability of income that I can plan around.  Most weeks I earn the equivalent of about $65/hr although my official rate of pay is half that. Of course, I am tied to my home as I'm essentially on call, but there's much I can do of a personal nature while I'm waiting for the next assignment.  These days I'm working about 10-14 hours a week but am "on the clock" for 3 full work days.

Yesterday I made my $7K traditional IRA contribution for 2020, and am still thinking about making a SEP-IRA contribution since with the change in my pay structure, I'm now self-employed. I may skip doing any backdoor Roth IRA conversons since that will increase my gross income and right now I'm happy to be smack dab in the 12% federal tax bracket as I just work part-time.

Christmas, like Thanksgiving, will be super quiet. I would like to plan a nice meal with a bottle of wine for just 3: me, myself and I. I will call a handful of friends and family, and hand-deliver some gifts for a local friend who lives nearby. Trying hard not to get depressed. If the weather's decent, I'll go for a walk.

Today the Northeast is gearing up for a pretty major snowstorm; we're expecting around a foot. I am somewhat better prepared for an extended outage, although that is not being forecast as the snow is expected to be light, not heavy. I have several phone power banks now and also sprung for a jackery 500 lithium battery bank with a bunch of plugs on it. Although it won't power a full-size fridge or microwave, it would let me stay in touch with the outside world during an outage with TV and charged phones, plus a few lights. Scattered around the house I also have 5 light bulbs with built-in batteries; they'll work for about 4 hours with no power, so you could conserve all but 1 til it runs out, then move on  to the next, so you have something more than flashlight at  night. I love little gadgets like that.

I did also recently purchase a "smart" scal to replace my rusting old one. The new scale syncs with its app on your smart phone and records your daily weight, BMI, bone density and more, then tracks it over time. Apparently, my old scale was off by 2 lbs.