Tag: money and finances

Depressioning

Last week I mentioned how one of my retirement accounts took a $6,000 loss in the first quarter of 2008, and then wondered if this was not really a depression. Today, I got my other retirement statement. On this one I took a $5,000 loss. So for the first quarter of 2008, I took a total retirement loss of $11,000. This may not be a depression based on some economists definition of the number of quarters in which the GDP has done whatever it does in a depression, but I can’t tell you how depressing this seems to me. I should have moved some of my retirement funds to bonds a while ago. It’s kind of like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped, but I’m reshuffling my retirement distributions so that 20-25% of the contributions go into bonds. The remaining will stay in the depressing market. I might not make a killing in bonds, but at least I won’t loose another $11,000 (I hope!).

Taxes

I paid my tax bill today. $3,231.00. Plus an $87 penalty for not withholding enough. I think I’ve finally corrected this and hopefully next year won’t be so bad. Still, I find the whole procedure a nuisance. I like Isaac Asimov’s idea. When asked what he’d do with a billion dollars, he answered that he’d turn the whole thing over to the IRS. “I’ve just earned one billion dollars,” he’d say. “Here is every penny of it. Now never bother me again!” It would be totally worth it never to have to worry about filling out paperwork each year, and certainly the government would get it’s fair share. Besides, what would I do with a billion dollars?

The late depression

Although it was impossible to tell when I was at Disney World last month (what with how crowded the parks were and how people appeared to be spending money left and right), but I guess there are problems with the economy after all. Set aside the Dow’s 250 point drop today. I look at my retirement accounts perhaps 4 times a year, when I get my quarterly statements. The statement that arrived for one of the accounts today showed a net loss of $6,000 from the period between January 1, 2008 and March 31, 2008. Granted, I’m in it for the long haul, and so seemingly big losses like these are eventually offset (one would hope) by big gains down the road. But still, it makes me wonder how bad things really are. Obviously we don’t see breadlines yet, but then again, we have some protections that were implemented in the 80 years since the Great Depression.

I don’t like the word “recession”. It seems like a made-up word to me. It’s like putting the words “efficient and effective” in a performance review. They really don’t mean much. Besides, it doesn’t seem to fit the description. After all, “recession” implies a scaling back–it’s what waves do when they retreat from the beach. But I don’t really see much of a scaling back (I’m thinking of Disney World again, I suppose). A depression is much more descriptive–a massive hole in the ground. With the mortgage crisis, many people are finding themselves in hole trying to make their mortgage payments.

And here, I must pause to congratulate myself a thousand times over for not caving into pressure to purchase a house a few years back. Given what I could afford to have put down, and given the change in the market, any house which I would have purchased would have been worth less money than what I paid for it, and I too, would have been digging out of a hole from the get go. True, the money that I pay for rent is not earning me any equity, but neither would the money I put into a house these last few years. And at least with rent, I’m not out anything except what I pay for the service (housing) which I get in return.

Others, myself not withstanding, have a credit card bill to pay off. But, except for scaling back on gasoline (what with the runaway prices), I don’t see people “recessing” their spending. I work above a big, busy mall and I don’t see stores shutting down. It always seems pretty crowded to me (and overpriced!) and still people are spending.

Obviously, the is not (yet) a great depression, but then again, after the great depression, and the New Deal, efforts were put in place (like social security and other social welfare programs) to protect against or fight future depressions. It seems to me, however, that the government’s recent issuing of a economic stimulus check to taxpayers is a clear indication that the government feels we are in a depression. The checks might have a fancy name, but I don’t see how they are any different than social welfare payments–except that it’s a one-time payment to all taxpayers. But it is for our welfare. It is hoped these checks will stimulate even more spending than is already going on. What happens next, I don’t know (I was always terrible at economics). Let’s just say, “magic happens” and then we are out of our depression and the economy is roaring again.

Except that I keep forgetting: I’m not at Disney World anymore, with the Magic Kingdom ever looming over my head, looking out for me.

Lunchtime roundup

My right hand feels as though it’s about to fall off. I wrote 8 “thank you” notes for my birthday celebration this past weekend. It’s a good thing I generally don’t write longhand or I wouldn’t make it as a writer. A computer (or typewriter at the very least) is a saving grace. But it just doesn’t seem right, typing a thank you note, so I did them long-hand. They probably won’t go in the mail until Saturday, however. I’m out of stamps. Everyone seems to borrow stamps from me but when I ask to borrow a stamp in return, they never have any.

I sent an updated W-4 to payroll today. Per my accountant, I’m having an addition $100 taken out of each paycheck, which should keep my tax bill somewhat lower next April.

I’m 196 pages through In Memory Yet Green and just about to begin one of my favorite parts, where a young, 18 year old Isaac Asimov visits John Campbell for the first time. How I wish I could have been there! Coincidentally, last night, I purchased and downloaded mabfan‘s short story, “Cosmic Corkscrew“, in which “a fan goes back in time to retrieve the lost manuscript of Isaac Asimov’s first story.” Re-reading it, a decade or so after I first read it brought tears to my eyes last night. It’s made my reading of In Memory Yet Green even more delightful.

Dad and I received two “This is Birdland” t-shirts from the Orioles yesterday (well, I received them, but I’ll bring one out to him when I visit in a week and a half). The shirts are bright orange while white lettering. We got them as one of the perquisites of being season ticket holders.

It’s supposed to be well into the 70s today. When I get home from work, it’s my plan to do my first lawn mowing of the year. The yard needs it, and since it is spring, frequent mowings are required and I don’t want the grass to get so long as to make the job too tedious.

Sometimes it’s taxing

My account called this morning. My returns are mostly done and it looks like I will be owing the Federal Government $3,300, plus a $90 penalty for not having enough taxes taken out of my checks. That’s about $400 more than what I owed last year, which surprised me a bit. On the other hand, I received a bonus at work, and had a story sale (for which tax was not taken out) so maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.

It looks as though I’m going to have to have an additional $100 withheld from each paycheck if I don’t want to continue owing these sums each April. We also discussed additional write-offs. My accountant is modifying my return slightly to include some writing-related write-offs: dues to SFWA, a percentage of my account’s prep fees from last year, and expenses related to two conferences I attended in 2007, RavenCon and Capclave. She told me to keep track of all writing related expenses this year so that I might have more write-offs for next year.

She’s emailing me my return so that I can confirm it all looks “good” (a relative term, I suppose) and then she will e-file the returns for me. I am getting a small amount back from the state, but it’s small consolation. Meanwhile, I try and take this in stride and without too much complaint. After all, all I’m doing is giving money to the government. There have been countless far greater sacrifices than my measly $3,300, and in comparison to those, I have little to complain about.

April Fools’ Day

Happy April FoolsDay everyone! I was tempted to post that the Rainbow Room Birthday Bash had been canceled, but I was afraid I’d freak out too many people and so I’ve forgone having my fun in order that you all maintain your sanity.

I’ve already had a busy morning at work, developing some reports with SSRS (SQL Server Reporting Services). Later today there is a paper airplane contest here, but I’m not sure I’m going to have time to make it. I was thinking about spending some of my lunchtime on the novel outline. Remember, I’d like to have my 44 sentences (or so) done today. I’m also eager to do more work on my story, “If By Reason of Strength…” and I may try for some wordage there, too.

Several bills due today, none of which I had to remember to pay because they were all paid automatically through my BillPay service. I’ve been using the service for years, but just last month, switched to have it pay bills automatically. Very convenient. Saves time.

It’s rainy and overcast here today, as April should be, I suppose. But warm. Temperatures will be up around 70 degrees.

Last day of March

Wow, this year is flying by. Already April is here! Today seemed more like an April day than a March day, what with the rain showers we had. It’s also opening day of the baseball season, and naturally, the Yankees/Blue Jays game was rained out. They’ll play tomorrow instead. I don’t feel quite as enthusiastic about it this year. I think it’s because of the whole steroid controversy. I’m sure baseball will get passed it–after all, it has survived two World Wars, several smaller skirmishes, strikes, gambling controversies, etc.

I emailed my accountant this morning to make sure she received my tax papers which I sent out more than a week ago. She did. I heard from her later this morning. She’s got them all entered into the computer and I should be getting a call from her tomorrow to “discuss things”. Stay tuned on that one.

Mostly junk in the mail today, although I did get a birthday card from my financial adviser and his team. And I got the June issue of ASIMOV’S, which still says it’s my last one, even though I sent in a renewal some weeks back.

I took my suit to the cleaners to have it cleaned and pressed. $4.50, which to me seems reasonable, but I rarely take in dry-cleaning. When I do, I always walk out feeling as though I’ve gotten a bargain. After all, $4.50 is barely more than a gallon of gasoline these days.

I’m 305 pages through I. Asimov.

Staying at Kelly’s tomorrow instead of Wednesday. She is getting her wisdom teeth removed tomorrow. The dentist says it will be a quick and easy job, but I’m going to stay with her tomorrow just in case.

Some interesting mail

I had some interesting mail when I got home this afternoon. First, was a note from the IRS telling me that I was going to be getting some kind of economic stimulus payment. It seems to me to be self-congratulatory in tone. For those who have not yet received the letter, it begins as follows:

Dear Taxpayer:

We are pleased to inform you that the United States Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed into law the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, which provides economic stimulus payments to be made to over 130 million American households.

Was it necessary to mention that the law was passed by President George W. Bush, as though he is somehow the mastermind behind the plan (and not the architect of the economic problems we’re having to begin with)? And how about how they used the words “Economic Stimulus” twice in the first sentence?

I went to the IRS website and used their calculator to see how much money I’d be getting as part of this deal. If my calculations are correct it will come to $269. So it looks as thought the Isaac Asimov Memorial Debate will find itself at least $269 more flush with cash in 2008.

Also in the mail was my copy of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America 2008 Directory. It’s got a listing of all members and their contact information. There on the upper-left corner of page 37, between Josh Rountree and Rudy Rucker is “Jamie Todd Rubin”. Pretty cool!

Saturday afternoon

Yesterday afternoon began late yesterday morning. After Kelly cleaned off her desk and I finished my book, we headed out for a day full of errands and fun. First we went to the post office so that I could mail all of my tax papers to my accountant. With that out of the way, we headed a short distance down the street to the Silver Diner, where I had my first-ever egg salad sandwich. (How it it I’ve missed egg salad sandwiches? The same way, I supposed, I have missed many other types of foods: there’s so much out there it takes a while, but eventually, you get around to it.) I enjoyed it. The atmosphere at the diner was fun too. We stopped at the vet to pick up some cat food for Kelly’s cat, Simon, and then we headed down to Potomac Yards.

We met Kelly’s friend Sarah there and proceeded to do a bunch of shopping. There was shoe shopping (or browsing). We went into PetSmart and Target. We dashed in and out of shops. Kelly and I even bought a basketball because she’s had the urge to play now that the weather is starting to get nice again. (This has nothing to do with March Madness, I can assure you.)

Next we headed over to the movie theater and the three of us caught a 2:15 PM showing of Under the Same Moon, which turned out to be a pretty good movie. I found that, for the most part, I could understand the Spanish without the English subtitles.

After the movie, we stopped at the grocery store, loaded up the cars, and finally headed into D.C. where we went to a Mexican restaurant just south of the Capital South metro for dinner. They had pretty good Margaritas, but remarkably, they were all out of avocados, so there was no guacamole to be had with any of our meals. Still, it was a good meal, and a good afternoon.

I drove us back to my place after dinner and Kelly started in on something like 5 loads of laundry. Tivo had recorded What About Bob? and so we watched that, but we were tired and headed off to bed at 10 PM, as soon as it was over.

Odd and ends

I finally got around to putting together all of my tax paperwork today. My accountant supplies me with a list of things I need to include. This year was a little more “paper” than most. My taxes included my 1099-MISC for the sale of my first story, as well as a number of papers supporting charitable donations and itemized deductions. It’s all packaged up now and ready to go in the mail tomorrow so the accountant can work her magic. Without factoring in itemized deductions and other stuff, a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation makes it look like I’ll owe $3,300. But I’m thinking that will drop to somewhere around $2,000 by the time all of the deductions and stuff have gone in. I sure hope so.

I also got around to re-upping my subscriptions to Asimov’s Science Fiction and F&SF. I had 3 year subscriptions on each and both run out in a month or so. I’ve re-upped for another 2 years each.

I’ve got about 30 pages left on The Left Hand of Darkness. I really will finish tonight. I took a break last night and watched a movie (Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven.) I’m eagerly awaiting Robert Silverberg’s Up the Line, which I’ve heard is a fantastic time-travel story. But it won’t get here before I leave for Orlando tomorrow night. In the meantime, I’ll be reading joe_haldeman‘s short novel, War Year.

Another busy day at work today, but nonetheless productive. I got home around 5 PM and continued working for another 3 hours. It’s Tuesday and I’ve already worked 33.5 hours this week. I’m working from home tomorrow, and then, tomorrow evening, Kelly and I fly down to Orlando where we are meeting vickyandnorm for 4 days of fun at Disney World.

Thursday

Another busy work day, but I did get to sleep in a little because I was at Kelly’s and that’s a much shorter commute to the office. Busy all day long and once again, didn’t really get a lunch break.

Got home this evening and did a bunch of chores: cleaned the kitchen, cleaned up Zeke’s litter, collected the mail, took out the trash. I got my renewal for United Mileage Plus Premier in the mail today. Also, it looks like FedEx tried to deliver the Orioles season tickets package yesterday, but I wasn’t home. They said they’d try back today before 7 PM. We’ll see. It’s 6:30 PM now. Also got my Amex bill in the mail.

I finally–finally–set up automatic payments of all my bills through Premier America’s bill pay. I’ve been using Bill Pay for years, but in a manual fashion. Now it’s completely automated. One less thing to think about.

I started reading The Left Hand of Darkness yesterday but didn’t get very far. I’ve made better progress so far today, although it’s still slow-going. The book started off very slowly. It’s dense and full of imagery that requires thought on many levels. But it has picked up somewhat and I’m finding now that I’m enjoying it.

Less than a week until we head off to Disney World and I am so looking forward to that right now. I can really use the break.

I’ve got Macaroni and Cheese going on the stove. Dinner. Yum.

Catching up

Work has been so busy that I’m behind the curve on my blog reading. I’ve got to carve out 20 minutes tomorrow and get caught up.

It was a beautiful day today, with highs in the 60s, but I was indoors all day and couldn’t enjoy it, except for the drive home from the metro station. I rolled down the car window for the drive and it was very pleasant.

Paid the phone bill yesterday. Mail today was all junk.

The kitchen is cleaned up, including the table that I usually just pile stuff on. I wonder how long it will take before junk accumulates again.

I’ve got nearly all of my tax documents together and hope to send them off to the accountant this weekend. I’m expecting a tax bill in the neighborhood of $2,500. We’ll see.

I started reading Rob Sawyer’s The Terminal Experiment at lunch today, and so far, I’m really enjoying it. Rob has a way of sucking you into a story that defies explanation. I want to model my story-telling after his style, but I can’t quite figure out how he does it.

Finally, several people sent this to me today, so I might as well repost it here for anyone who hasn’t seen it. Back when I was flying, I sometimes had to land in pretty strong crosswinds. The Cessna 172 I flew was tested in up to 14 knot direct crosswinds and there may have been a day when I landed the plane with 11 or 12 knot crosswinds. You “crab” the plane in these cases, with the nose pointing into the wind, rather than straight down the runway. It looks strange. But it was nothing like this (thanks to kevnyc for the YouTube link):