Every time I travel for work, I incur some sort of out of policy expense that our finance division tells me isn't reimbursable. On this past trip, I really hit the jackpot: Three claims were rejected, to the tune of over $170.00 out of pocket for company travel.
I actually expected to have problems with one of them: I took my team out to dinner at a really nice place, and we went beyond the standard approved dollar amount per head for dinner. I remember cringing when a second round of drinks arrived, but I think it looks terrible to nickel and dime good, hardworking people over stupid things. The total overage was $25, so I submitted the expense anyway to see if it would get kicked back. It did, so I decided to just eat that one and be done with it.
The other two expenses that got kicked back ticked me off. They were for insurance and GPS for my rental car, and that just seems petty. I wrote a business justification stating (truthfully) that there was no guidance available about insurance policies when I booked the rental car, that I was driving in an area I've never been to, and that I asked for all the insurance I could get because I drive so seldom that I was terrified of getting into an accident. For the GPS, I added that the office complex and nearby hotels are a good hour from the closest airport, with directions that are not straightforward. The bossman was nice enough to write a supporting statement instructing Finance to cover the charges. Several hours later, I received same-day approval and reimbursement.
I hate pushing back when someone says no; it's just not something I enjoy doing. Similar to the point about always checking return policies in my last post, though, when it comes to money, the first NO shouldn't always be the final answer.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Every time I travel for work, I incur some sort of out of policy expense that our finance division tells me isn't reimbursable. On this past trip, I really hit the jackpot: Three claims were rejected, to the tune of over $170.00 out of pocket for company travel.
Saturday, August 3, 2013
Another month down, and we're on the backstretch of 2013. It was a pretty good month overall, and here are the highlights:
--I came back last night from a visit to the state where my job might move. This was a business trip for work, but not directly related to the question of my job or anyone else's relocating. While the place I went was a lot nicer than I expected, I really, really, really don't want to live there. That said, I'm getting ever so slightly more confident that my job won't end up moving. We have new senior management weighing in on this decision, and it's starting to look like the new leadership thinks there are benefits to not deporting the majority of our umbrella group out of state. It's all rumor at this point, except for one thing: I need to hire some new people, and I requested and received approval to do so in our current location. I hope it's a harbinger of how the job location question is ultimately going to play out.
--The stock market came rip-roaring back, and my net worth tapped $900,000 midway through July. It immediately dropped after that, but a general recovery plus my end of month investment brought me back to that figure on the very last day of July. That's an increase of $48,000 since the end of June, $43,000 of which came from investment gains. With investment gains totaling $125,000 in seven months, I'm holding my breath in hopes this trend continues for the rest of the calendar year.
--No decision yet on shacking up with A, but I'm also not pushing the issue. I've decided to hold off on any renovation or apartment shopping for the time being: I want to focus on my financial goals for the rest of this year, and the New York residential market is way too hot to even consider buying a new apartment right now, anyway. As it is, I'm on the hook to spend several thousand dollars on full window replacements at the end of the year: It's a building-wide initiative, and it's long overdue.
--As stretched as I feel both personally and professionally these days, it's about to get harder: After doing some research, I'm increasingly convinced that it would be very much in my interest to obtain an additional professional certification related to my job. It's one I can do via self-study for a really hard exam (I've done it before for other certifications) and applying relevant job experience, so I'm about to pull the trigger on ordering study materials. I talked to a few people in another group who already hold this certification; they gave me some really helpful advice and immediately agreed to provide supporting statements affirming that my work experience applies, so it's time to get moving.
--I got all the paperwork done and submitted to move my last investment into my revocable living trust, so all that's outstanding is my apartment. Maybe I'll take that fight up with my building later in the year, but it's not a priority right now.
--New York State finally provided my adjusted tax refund, just in time for my end of July investment.
--Finally, a little retail win: Yesterday in the out of state office, I zipped up my pants in the restroom, and the zipper promptly broke. It's a bad break and not repairable, and the pants were not cheap and I've only had them for seven months. I contacted the retailer, who has a really good return policy, and they confirmed that as long as I can provide proof of purchase (which I have in the form of an order confirmation, since I shredded the receipt months ago), they'll refund the purchase. Even better, the same pants are still available in my size from the same retailer at the same price, so I can just re-order them. (I have another pair of the same model but in a different color that are just fine, so I think the zipper problem is a one-off defect. If the retailer had been uncooperative, I was going to raise the issue with the manufacturer.) The moral of the story is that it ALWAYS pays to check on return policies. You may end up with a pleasant surprise like I did, but even if you don't, you won't be any worse off than before.
How was your July? Any special highlights or lowlights?
Sunday, July 21, 2013
One of my minor vices is that I really, really like non-fat vanilla latte drinks. This is a pricey jones to indulge, so I used to limit myself to one only for special occasions. As is often the case with treats, the "special occasions" morphed into "Well, I work so hard, so I deserve. . . ", and the frequency increased to about one per week. That's not a huge deal in itself, but whenever I have a 7:00 a.m. meeting, I usually slam a strong, black coffee from the same chain (the big one; you know which one I mean) on the way to work, and 7:00 a.m. meetings are now a weekly or bi-weekly event. As a result, the costs for coffee outside of what I make with my really, really nice drip coffeemaker are adding up to more than I'd like.
While I was on the West Coast last week, I learned about a nifty little gadget, shown in the picture above: It's a battery powered wand for frothing milk for cappucino or latte drinks, and one rated quite highly online costs $20. Sugar-free vanilla syrup is expensive when bought by the liter, but works out to less than $6 per bottle in packs of three liters. Those two things alone wouldn't motivate me to make a purchase except for one other thing: Someone gave me a really good stovetop espresso maker (also shown above) more than ten years ago from a trip to Europe. I haven't used it much because espresso alone is a little strong for me, but I kept it because it's a pretty little gadget and I always thought that maybe one day I'd find a use for it. The current model, which doesn't look any different to me, retails for $90 online.
I had the opportunity to drink homemade non-fat vanilla lattes just about every day while I was out West, and that's a habit I can really get behind. I ended up ordering a frothing wand of my own, plus three liters of sugar-free vanilla syrup for $38.17. Add to that half a pound of Italian espresso ($4) and a liter of skim milk ($3.19), and for $45.36 plus the stovetop espresso maker I already have, I'll be alert for a long, long time at a heck of a lot lower cost than the cost of buying a non-fat vanilla latte once a week.
The best part? I can drink it without having to put on my pants and go out!
Have you figured out any cost-effective ways to indulge your favorite vices?
Monday, July 15, 2013
My favorite Chinese fortune cookie advice reads Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Commenter and awesome long-time reader goldsmith raised some questions about my pension after my last post, in which I mentioned that leaving my job is a very expensive decision. I thought it would be worthwhile to spend a little time explaining what I mean by that, as well as clarifying some of the factors around my pension that make it such an integral part of my financial decision-making.
At my job, I have both a 401k (mostly traditional, although I've been contributing to a Roth 401k ever since it was introduced five years ago) and a pension. I fund my 401k myself, with my employer kicking in a deferred 3% match as long as I remain employed through December 31 of the contribution year. If I leave for any reason before December 31, I won't receive the match for that year.
My pension is funded by my employer, and I vested five years after my start date. About five years ago, my employer made a pension benefits calculator available to employees. Like the dork I am, the first thing I did was calculate out what my benefit would be if I left on my hire date for every year of my employment up to age 65, and then plotted it on a graph. The results were interesting. Things I learned were:
--Pension growth was flat from vesting date until my thirteenth anniversary.
--My pension doesn't increase by the same amount every year. 2011 and 2012 were sweet spots in which my monthly benefit increased by more than $250. The sweet spot gets smaller in 2013 and 2014, and from 2015 through 2019 the monthly benefit increase is less than $150. By 2019, my pension will be worth $14,000 per year more than it is today.
--In 2020, which is my 25th anniversary year, my pension hits a major sweet spot and jumps by over $1000 per month. That year alone, it will increase in value by $14,000.
--Growth from that point onwards levels out to about $175 per month for the next five years, stopping altogether at my 30 year mark.
I update the graph every year to account for my pay increase. While the curve shifts upwards, the shape doesn't change at all.
The fun part comes with the actual numbers: If I left my job today, I'd be able to collect just under $30,000 per year starting at age 65. If I hang in there for another 12 years and never get another raise (unlikely), I'll collect just under $70,000 per year starting at age 60. If I factor nominal raises into the calculations (which I'm doing via Excel, since the pension calculator doesn't do that), I think that figure will actually be between $80,000 and $90,000 per year from age 60.
Assuming a very conservative withdrawl rate of 2% per year, a guaranteed annual income of $30,000 represents 1.5 million dollars that I don't have to have in the bank at age 65. (2% of $1.5M = $30,000.) That's what I would get if I left my employer today. Using the same conservative withdrawl rate, a guaranteed annual income of $80,000 represents 4 million dollars that I don't have to have in the bank at age 60. (2% of $4M = $80,000.) In addition, getting my pension at age 60 instead of at age 65 means an extra $400,000 in real cash.
This is why I say that leaving my company at this point is a very expensive decision: I don't think a pay package elsewhere would be remotely competitive to what I'd be leaving behind in terms of retirement benefits. As a result, the job situation has to be truly intolerable for me to voluntarily walk away. At the very least, I should do everything I can to hang in there until I reach the year 25 sweet spot.
Of course, the caveat is that I'm assuming that my employer's pension program will not be cancelled (many have been), that I don't involuntarily lose my job, and that the company itself doesn't go bust. If any one of those things happens, all bets are off. I've actually seen colleagues who were counting on the pension as their only source of retirement income lose their jobs, and the sudden realization that their retirements will look vastly different than anticipated isn't pretty at all. As a result, it's also critically important to keep saving and investing and not think of the pension as anything other than a nice side benefit to working hard for many years.
The take-away I'd hope other people get from all this is that if you have a pension with your current employer, make sure you understand when you vest, how benefits are calculated, what the growth curve looks like (you can usually work this out manually from the documentation if you need to. That's what I did before the calculator became available, although it was a huge pain in the butt), and what the odds are that you'll actually be able to collect on it. All of that information should be factored into decision-making and/or salary negotiation when looking for a new job.
That said, I still think that people with pensions should save, invest, and live like the pension doesn't exist, simply because unplanned benefits are in every way better than horrible surprises.
Monday, July 1, 2013
The first half of 2013 is in the books, and it's been decidedly mixed. In no particular order, here are a few highlights and lowlights that come to mind:
--Last night, I celebrated the close of June with a plumbing emergency that kept me up until 2:00 a.m. There was a blockage elsewhere in my building, but it caused my kitchen sink to erupt with really foul black water. The eruption became so bad that the water to all of the apartments in my line had to be shut down until an emergency crew came out to fix it. A. was fantastic: He bailed nastywater with me and then refused to leave until the plumber arrived, even though it was getting really late by that point.
--Work is still unstable. I really don't know how it's going to play out in terms of my job being relocated. Odds are increasingly high that we'll also end up with a massive reorganization and although I don't think I'd lose my job out of it, that's certainly something that will impact who I work for and what I do.
--I'm working a ridiculous amount, not less than sixty hours per week since February, and usually more. That said, I'm not leaving my employer voluntarily: I have too many years in the pension system, and that makes it a very expensive decision. There's one exception, though: If my job moves to another state, I'll take severance and be done with it. I'm pretty burned out, and I don't want to leave New York.
--My will and trust are set up and I moved all but about $1300 of my assets outside of real estate into the trust. (I'm leaving my apartment out for now both for tax reasons and because my co-op is incredibly difficult about this, but the rest should be done in the next few weeks.) I'm waiting to see what my employer offers in the way of long term care insurance during our next annual enrollment before I do anything further about that.
--I paid some stupid tax this year: I filed my taxes in March, and not only did I not get a refund, I ended up paying out of pocket for the taxes on the $12,000 I converted from a regular IRA to a Roth last year. That was painful enough, but I totally forgot one important piece of information when filing: I sold a dog of a mutual fund for a significant loss last year with the intention of offsetting my taxes for the IRA conversion, but guess what? I forgot all about it! I had to refile my taxes, and that was another $200 I paid to my accountant. I ended up getting $500 back from the IRS, but New York State still hasn't sent me a check for the nearly $400 the refile is supposed to bring. I'm still out of pocket on the conversion fees, but I keep reminding myself it'll pay off later, when I start cashing it in and don't owe taxes on the growth.
--I saw a web posting for a larger, sunnier apartment for sale in my building, and that gave me the upgrade bug. I agonized over it, but finally concluded that this isn't the time.
--I also have the renovation bug: There's a long, long list of mostly cosmetic changes I want to make to my apartment, but none of them are cheap. The question then becomes whether it makes sense to invest in an apartment that I don't think is going to be my lifetime home, or just plan on selling as is and upgrading when the time is right.
--Part of the reason I want to change my living environment is because A's coming up on the end of his lease, so the question of whether or not we move in together is going to come up again. It already did, briefly, and we agreed not to discuss it just yet. He's not crazy about my apartment, and I'm sure that my urge to change my living environment is driven in part by wanting a home where he wants to live with me.
I know that potentially furthering a romantic relationship is a TERRIBLE reason to make changes in a place that's totally paid for and one in which I've been really happy up until now. It would also result in putting myself at financial risk at a very bad time, given that I don't know what's going to happen with my job. I also suspect that A's not totally ready to take that step in our relationship, and truthfully, I go back and forth myself on whether it's really something I'm ready to do. We don't want kids, and at 44 and 46, there's really no compelling reason for us to ever think about marriage. We're each pretty set in our ways as well, and we both need a lot of emotional space. While moving in together (assuming we moved into my place) would be great for us financially, I'm not sure we'd be happier with each other or happier in general for it. That's potentially a big contrast to where we are now: We drive other nuts from time to time, but we're very much in love and the time we have together is precious. Stay tuned if you want to see how this shakes out, I guess.
Reviewing the financial aspect of the past six months, it's been an overwhelmingly good start to the year. Despite the nasty thump the stock market took in the last two weeks of June, my net worth is up considerably. I started the year at about $735,000 and ended it at $852,000, excluding real estate. Here's where the (rounded) $117,000 increase came from:
--Deferred 401(k) match: $4500
--Savings, including 401(k) and IRA: $30,500
--Investment returns: $82,000
The calculated return is a little over 11%, but since my net worth also includes cash and bonds, my actual return from the stock market alone is closer to 15%.
At the start of the year, I thought there was a very long-shot chance at hitting a million before the end of December. I still think it's a long shot, but perhaps not quite as long as it seemed six months ago.
Meanwhile, I'm about $2000 behind on my savings goal of $65,000. Part of that is the result of the tax event I triggered with my IRA conversion and subsequent idiocy about the loss I forgot to write off, but not being as careful as I should be about spending has a lot to do with it. I'm trying to buckle down harder on this one in the second half of the year, but I'm not as focused as I was when I had the really concrete goal of paying off my mortgage.
All in all, there's been more good this year so far than bad, and I'm slowly learning to live with uncertainty, which is a hard thing for a carefully calculated risk-taker to do.
I do believe that better days are coming. I have to.
How was the first half of your year?
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
This is where a goals recap post is supposed to go, but I don't think I'll do one this month. The short story is that I'm a little more behind on savings than I was last month (the Boston Marathon trip was budgeted, but it was still expensive), and I've knocked off one marathon out of the three I had planned. The second is this weekend, and I'll be glad to see the end of the spring season. I hope this one helps make the horrible events in Boston recede a little.
The biggest progress I made towards goals this month was to do something really grown-up and completely overdue: I finally signed my revocable living trust, pourover will, advanced health directive, and power of attorney forms. The hangup on my trust was that my co-op's attorney has very specific requirements for incorporating my apartment into the trust. While the lawyers were wrangling it out, I came across an article in the New York Times Real Estate section stating that due to a change in the tax laws this year, co-ops that are owned by a trust instead of an individual are not eligible for STAR tax abatement, a plan that cuts me a small break on taxes. (My building issues a shareholder assessment in the same month to suck that money right back up, so there's no extra cash in my pocket. This is pretty common in New York City.) I checked it out with my lawyer, and he confirmed the change. As a result, I decided that because of the tax implications, it would make more sense not to put the apartment in the trust at this time. That made it easy to wrap up the paperwork.
The next part is to move assets into the trust. I can't put my 401(k) or IRA assets into the trust, so I've been making phone calls this week to find out what happens if I make the trust the beneficiary of the 401(k) and IRA's instead of my designated beneficiary. I found out a few important points:
--If my designated beneficiary is a spouse, the assets can be left in the existing accounts, or placed into an account in the beneficiary's name. The beneficiary can then take distributions at any time after age 59 1/2, or cash it out as preferred. The assets would not be subject to probate.
--If my designated beneficiary is a person but not a spouse, the assets can be rolled into an inherited IRA or cashed out within five years. The assets would not be subject to probate.
--If my designated beneficiary is a trust, the assets must be cashed out by the beneficiary of the trust within five years, or systematic withdrawls need to be initiated within a year. There is no option for an inherited IRA.
Since these assets don't go into probate and the options are more limited if a trust is the beneficiary, I'm leaving them as is. This weekend, I'm getting my checking and savings accounts moved into the trust, and then I'll do the same with my investment accounts. It's kind of a hassle, but not nearly as complicated as I expected. My co-op will not be in the trust (for now, anyway), but even though it means probate, the pourover will takes care of it.
The next big grown-up item on my list wasn't on my goals list, but it should have been: I need long-term care insurance. Out of curiosity, I recently got my genotype done through one of the companies that does DNA analysis for both medical and ancestry results. I learned quite a few surprising facts in both areas, but what made me the happiest was the fact that I actually have less risk than average of developing Parkinson's and a whole host of stomach and bowel cancers from genetic causes. Apparently, I'm also highly resistant to the most common strain of the cruise ship vomiting and diarrhea bug as well. I'm not planning to take a cruise (no interest), but for some reason, I'm weirdly proud of that.
While there was nothing horrible and scary in my results, they did have a fairly sobering element: My genetic risk factors for two medical issues with the potential to be quite serious are higher than average, significantly higher in one instance. There's still less than a 25% chance of getting one of these things from genetic causes and less than a 15% chance of getting the other from something inherent in my wiring, but it's enough for me to get the religion about long-term care insurance.
I'm sorry I'm not going into detail any further on these risks. I might come back to this topic after I get long term care insurance, but there is no legal protection against genetic discrimination for long term care insurance in the US, so I don't think it's wise to say more right now.
I should also add that I don't think genetic predisposition is predetermination. For many serious medical conditions, there are a variety of environmental factors that can raise or lower risks. As a lifelong athlete, I have a really good shot at reducing my risk factors significantly, and now I'm more motivated than ever to stay fit and active. Nevertheless, though, I guess thinking about these things is what you do when you're ambling towards middle age. It all seems so grown-up, which made me think of this one-hit wonder from my youth. Sorry about the sound quality, but enjoy the '80's hair!
Friday, April 26, 2013
I can't stop thinking about the bombings in Boston. It's been nearly two weeks, and it's on my mind constantly. I'm sure the fact that I'm obsessively following the news (even though I don't have television) isn't helping.
I'm functioning just fine at work and sleeping all right. My relationship remains great, and in fact A. (love that guy) just landed a new job he really wanted today. I've had a terrible cold this past week, but that's pretty normal after a marathon. There were a few close calls among my friends (not me, not even remotely me; I was long past the finish and two blocks away from the blasts), but no one I know was injured. I just can't get it off of my mind: Every minute of every day, there it is.
I lived here in New York through the bombings on 9/11 too, and I don't think even that weighed on me as much as this does. The job stuff that's going on at the moment (waiting to find out whether my job will move out of state or not) should really be at the forefront of my mind, but it's not: I've been too innundated with work to give it much much attention, so I haven't been doing much on that front other than working every angle to give my team the best possible shot at not being forced to decide between moving and losing our jobs.
I'm not afraid to go back to Boston. I requalified for next year's marathon, so I already made hotel reservations at the same place we always stay. There are a lot of crazies out there, and what happened in Boston could happen anywhere. I just hate the fact that right now, I want to let it go and I can't.