19 December 2005

Getting my financial house in order, Part II

Reading other people's personal finance blogs has been part boon and part bust for me. On the one hand, given my personal set of circumstances, I am not doing too badly in the Great Financial Game Show of Life. On the other hand, I also think that I realize that I don't make nearly enough money to ever live a comfortable retirement.

The Pros:

  • I own my own condo. I purchased it about six years ago -- before the huge real estate boom in this area. The best news is that I only owe about 1/3 of the property's market value. I guess that makes it a considerable asset, even if, relatively, it is not all that expensive a place.
  • I don't have a lot in the way of outstanding credit card debt (under $1,000). What's left are the remnants of when things weren't so good in life. I am making conscious efforts to pay down this debt -- all of which is at 0% interest.
  • I own my car(s) outright. I do need to get rid of the Seinfeld car (my black 1992 Saab convertible), but it does still have a positive value. The Town and Country that I inherited this year has an Edmond's value of over $10,000 -- and is surprisingly comfortable to drive.
  • This is the first year that my retirement accounts (old 401k from last job and current 403b now total over $25k) total more than my outstanding student loan balance (~$21k). I am psyched to know that the gap between the two will continue to grow.
  • The most brutal line items (a foreclosure, for one) have been removed from my credit report.
  • When you consider how relatively small my current income is, it is pretty amazing that I have been able to own my home, a loan-free car, and grow my savings -- all the while, not skimping out on the life's little things along the way. To be honest, I have no idea how I managed!

  • The Cons:
  • Without a serious upgrade in salary, I don't know that I will be able to meet my mid-range and long-range savings goals. I am doing OK, but there is only so much you can do on what I make.
  • I have too many accounts spread out -- and it appears to be costing me money. Actually, in some areas, I am hemorraging money. I have a TD Waterhouse brokerage account, which has a $25 quarterly inactivity fee. I also have a Regular IRA with Waterhouse that is also bleeding money. I opened the account when my last job didn't offer a retirement plan. I made a few deposits, but haven't really touched the money since. I am willing to bet that it has lost value.
  • Even though I recently opened an ING Direct savings account, the bulk of my savings are still sitting over at Wachovia, earning the pathetic 0.10% interest mentioned previously.

  • The Conclusions:
    I am not doing too bad, all things considered, but there is room for improvement. I spent the better part of the weekend installing Microsoft Money on my computer and importing and recording data. Hopefully, this will help me to identify accounts that need to be merged and/or closed, and target buget areas that could be trimmed or eliminated.

    I don't want to leave my current job (I have expressed that sentiment to those that matter numerous times now) for two reasons. First and foremost, I like what I do and the people with whom I work. I also like living here. As there are no other four year universities in my area, there are limited job opportunities, within my field, in this town. So, I just need to come up with a way to make a few more dollars on the side. I have tried selling stuff on eBay, but that is tough with my travel schedule. I have worked a few days as an indepent contractor for a friend who can provide me with a little bit of occasional high-dollar income. If I can pick up about 10 or so of those days, then maybe this workable?

    Not that this will generate a whole lot of income, but I have started a few new savings techniques. In addition to the ING account, I have opened checking and savings accounts with Bank of America, and I plan on participating in their "Keep the Change" program. They offer a match of everything you contribute to your savings account through this plan for the first three months you are enrolled. After the first three months, they will still match 5% of your contributions, up to $250/year.

    I also discovered this little gem: Of course, that blog references yet another article, so I will spare you the linking and the linking and the linking again -- but, the idea that I liked and have begun to employ is saving all of my $5 bills. I don't get too many of them to make a serious dent in my cash budget, and it seems like something that I can stick to.

    The battle rages on.

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