Gas station without pumps

2018 February 19

Retirement planning

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:45
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One of the academic blogs I read recently posted a question about long-term money goals, listing their 6 main goals:

  1. Make sure that we’re ok if DH loses his job.
  2. Continue maxing out our retirement.
  3. Be ready to replace one or both of our cars. [Update:  better be just one!]
  4. Be ready for smaller emergencies and expected home maintenance.
  5. Pay 100% for the kids’ colleges.
  6. (MAYBE):  Save up enough money to move to Paradise permanently(?)

Of the 6 goals listed, I’m not interested in #3 (I have no car), and I’ve already made the other five:

  1. We have enough in savings that we would not have financial worries even if neither of us worked.
  2. I’ve been maxing out retirement savings for decades, so I could retire on my savings even if I didn’t have a defined-benefit retirement plan.
  3. I could replace my bike out of my current checking account—bikes are much cheaper than cars.
  4. I have enough non-retirement savings for replacing all the appliances in the house and for doing small remodeling projects. We’ve been doing major maintenance all along, so the only big thing coming up is replacing the water heater sometime in the next 5 years.
  5. My son will finish his BS this year and his MS in another year, and we’ll still have money in his 529 plan despite paying full tuition—I need to think about what to do about that. He’s the youngest of his generation on both sides of the family, and all of his cousins have had about as much college education as they can stand. I have too many great-nephews and great-nieces for it to make sense to make any of them beneficiaries. I could save the money for eventual grandchildren, but I fear it will be a long wait.
  6. Not only is my house in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in one of the most desirable cities in the country, but I paid off the mortgage years ago.

Retirement is not far off—I’m committed for another year of teaching, and I’ll probably do one more after that.  My most recent plan (see Sabbaticals until retirement) had me working until June 2021, and I considered working until the group health insurance would no longer cover my son (2024), but the 30-hour grading weekends are very hard for me to deal with this year, and I don’t see them getting easier. I could use up my sabbatical credit a year earlier and retire in June 2020.  I’m afraid that my Applied Electronics course would simply disappear at that point, though, and I really would like for there to be at least the seed of a market for my book.

I plan this year to make an estimate of how much our family spends each year, so I can see whether we’ll be living on just the defined-benefit pension or will have to dip into retirement savings when I retire. Since my pension will be 2.5% * years of service * highest-3-year-average-gross-pay *85.7%(for 100% survivor benefit), I’ll be getting about 70% of my current gross pay. Because I won’t be putting any of that into retirement savings or the defined-benefit plan, the taxable pay will be about 80% of the current, and so the take-home should be also. I think that comes to about what we spend in a year, but I’m not sure—when you are consistently spending less than take-home pay, even after maxing out retirement savings, there is not much incentive to keep track.

I also need to figure out whether it makes financial sense to “buy back” the service credit for the times I took sabbatical at 2/3 pay instead of full pay. The computation gets complicated, because it trades off cash now for an annuity in the future, and annuity pricing is pretty murky, being based on weird assumptions about the future of investments and the chance of dying. My wife and I will also need to decide whether to opt for 100% survivor benefit or get more per month with a reduced survivor benefit—she’s convinced I’ll outlive her (based on parent and grandparent ages at death), and we do have enough savings that even the minimum 25% survivor benefit would not put her in financial difficulty.

My wife has suggested a few things to do with our retirement savings:

  • Give more to charity (especially local theater and music groups, but also increasing our charitable giving to Planned Parenthood, 2nd Harvest Foodbank, Southern Poverty Law Center, ACLU, …). I need to figure out whether a donor-advised fund is the best way to do this, as I’ll no longer have payroll deduction as an automatic mechanism.  Some of the donations are also not tax-deductible, so I need a mechanism for keeping track of that also.
  • Travel more. We have done very little travel for the past couple of decades, in part because of work demands, in part because we have very different tastes in travel.  I think that we can resolve the differences in taste (I mainly have to give up on some of my frugality), and we can arrange some separate trips (I’ve not done a bike tour in decades, and she’ll want an opera tour).
  • Go to more theater and concerts.  We go to almost all the local theater, so this would mean long public transit trips, or travel to theater festivals.  I think I can convince her to make the long trip to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, particularly if we go with the Santa Cruz Shakespeare bus group—we can’t do that group trip this year, because it is scheduled when both of us have job commitments.  I have no interest in concerts, being not very musical to begin with and going deaf on top of that, but I’d be glad to subsidize some of her concert and opera excursions.
  • Replace our furniture, most of which is either grad-student specials (futon sofas with worn-out covers) or cherrywood antiques that I bought 34 years ago.  My wife prefers light modern furniture (1950s styles), which I don’t care for, so we’ve rarely agreed on a furniture purchase. I think that our custom-built armoire for storing towels is the last piece of furniture we both really liked—maybe we need to commission more new pieces, rather than trying to find stuff that already exists.  Custom furniture can burn through money fast!
  • Take community college courses and do volunteer work (those are more ways of using time than of using money).

I’m also thinking that I should get the house remodeled for ADA compliance before I retire. With any luck, we’ll never need ramps and grab bars, but it is better to put them in without needing them than to need them and have to wait months for construction work without them.

Other things we’ve thought about but not to the point of having even vague plans:

  • eat out more. I’d like to, but my wife finds once a week about right for her—that may change when she retires and needs more incentive to leave the house.
  • remodel the kitchen.  The laminate countertops are wearing out (they’re 40–50 years old) and my wife would prefer lighter colors for the cabinetry, but there is not a lot we can do about the shape of the kitchen, which is long and narrow, so a corridor kitchen layout is all that is possible.
  • sell off a lot of our books, to make room for new ones—we ran out of bookshelf space years ago, and the boxes and piles of books are beginning to make it hard to move around.  There are a few more walls we could add shelves to, but retirement would be a good time to start weeding the collection (particularly since I have another 40 shelf feet or so of books that would come home from my office).  Selling books is harder now that the great used bookstore Logos has closed (on the flip side, we’re also buying fewer books without their stock to browse).
  • exercise more deliberately. Right now we both rely entirely on our human-powered transportation for exercise, but if we stop going to work our exercise levels will plummet.  I’ve been thinking that I’d like to run a marathon sometime in my life, which would mean soon after I retire.  It’d probably take me about 3 years of training to build up the fitness—I’ve never run more than 15k in my life, and that was when I was 16.  I haven’t done any running (other than when I’m late for class or a meeting) in decades.

One of my biggest retirement planning concerns is figuring out how to keep myself physically, mentally, and socially active.  Almost all my activity revolves around my job in one way or another, and I don’t see any of the hobbies I’ve had in the past 3 decades growing to fill that space.  My summer and fall will be spent, in part, on looking for activities that will hold my interest for the next five years.


2018 February 9

Marcus under the table

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:18
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Our kitten Marcus continues to grow—at his current weight and age, we expect him to get as big as our older cat, Georgie.  That will cause a problem at feeding time, because we currently feed Marcus in a cardboard box that he is thin enough to get into, but Georgie is not.  If we didn’t do that, Georgie would eat all Marcus’s food—Georgie eats like a dog, that is, until all the food is gone, then asks for more.

It is possible that Marcus will remain thin, even if he gets big, because he is very, very active.  Unfortunately, that means the he has shredded every cardboard box in the house, broken one of my favorite mugs by pulling the tablecloth off the table, and left shredded newspaper over half the house.

Here he is in an unusually quiet moment, sitting still long enough for me to take a photo (only one though, as he raced away at high speed after one shot).

2018 February 4

Electric lawnmower repaired again

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:30
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In Electric lawnmower failed again, I reported

My Black and Decker electric lawnmower (model MM1800 type 1) failed again in December, and I finally got around to taking the top off today to look at it.  … The switch and power connections were all working correctly, so I think the problem now is that the brushes for the motor have worn down to the point where they no longer make contact with the commutator.

A new pair of brushes for the mower costs only $9 (, so I think I’ll replace the brushes and see if that fixes the mower.

The new carbon-block brushes arrived over a week ago, but I was grading all last weekend, all week,  and most of this weekend, so I did not get a chance to install them until today.

The old brushes were attached to the wires from the bridge rectifier with a crimped connector that I don’t have a replacement for, so I just cut the braided wire from the old carbon block and soldered the new braid to the old one.  It only took a few minutes (because I had not replaced the screws in the lawnmower cover yet—getting those screws out is what takes all the time), and the mower worked fine afterwards.

I mowed my front lawn and the mower seems to be fine again, though I need to replace the end of the extension cord, as the waterproofing insulation is beginning to crack.  I think I need to sharpen the mower blade also, but that may have to wait for another break in the grading—maybe I’ll have time in a couple of weeks, when we have a long weekend for Presidents’ Day.

The grass in the lawn does not grow much in January, but the oxalis has gotten quite lush and is starting to bloom. The nasturtiums in the back yard are taking over where I removed a lot of blackberries (though they won’t bloom until April or May, if this is like other years).  Lots of other things on our block are blooming from roses to magnolias, but pollen levels are supposedly low or moderate. The acacia trees on Bay Drive seem to be blooming earlier than usual this year, and they are a major source of tree pollen in this area—I’ve not seen the yellow carpets of pollen on the road yet, so I think that acacia flower buds may not have opened yet.

2018 February 1

Twenty-seventh weight progress report

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 22:49
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This post is yet another weight progress report, continuing the previous one, part of a long series since I started in January 2015.

I’ve finally gotten my weight back in my self-chosen target range, but only barely. Keeping it there will be tough.

My goal is to stay in the middle of my target range (~158 lbs), but this may be harder to achieve than I had originally envisioned three years ago when I started on the weight-control effort.

January had me riding an average of 3.85 miles a day—slightly over my longer-term average, but not up to what I expect for February, as I did not start riding to campus daily until classes started.  I’m thinking that I’ll try doing some running this summer, not for weight control but to start training for running a marathon when I retire.  The longest distance I’ve ever run was 15km, and that was about 47 years ago.  Maybe I can get in shape enough to run (slowly) 15km by the end of the summer. I’m not sure there is anything available, though, as the running calendars on the web don’t seem to have events that far in the future.



2018 January 24

Good news in the mail today

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 20:32
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I got two pieces of mail that were pleasant to get:

  • From the IRS: “Thank you for your response to the notice we sent to you about your 2015 (Form 1040) taxes. We’re pleased to tell you that the information you provided resolved the tax issue in question and that out inquiry is now closed.”  Previously, they had wanted a few thousand more in taxes from me, because they missed where I had reported income and because they wanted to tax the withdrawals from the 529 account that is paying for my son’s education at UCSB.
  • From Anthem Blue Cross: “Amount charged by your provider $50, Anthem Blue Cross paid $50, You pay $0.”  This was for my wife’s flu shot.  My flu shot was on last year’s insurance plan, where no paperwork to us was generated, as the flu shot was obviously covered, and there was no deductible to worry about.  This year I went with a much cheaper insurance plan that has a high deductible and less coverage.  I think that the maximum out-of-pocket cost is still less than the premiums on the more expensive plan, as long as only one of us gets seriously ill.  The rather expensive plan is about the equivalent of the free plan I got when I was first hired at UCSC—benefits have steadily been eroding.
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