Rethinking Social Security Plan

my social securityI’ve posted about Social Security a couple of times before but, after reading a book, have recently begun to change our plans. The book is Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security. I highly recommend it.

In the past I’ve looked at Social Security from a break even perspective. The book shows you why, instead of worrying about missing out on money in case you die before the break even point, you should look at it as insurance in case you do live a long time. Life insurance and home insurance are not based on any break even calculation. We buy it to protect ourselves in the event of a catastrophe. If you can afford to wait, Social Security should be viewed no differently. It is insurance in the event we live a really long time, which can be catastrophic to your ability to make ends meet.

So, I think we’ll be waiting to file for benefits. You get 70% more if you wait until 70 to file vs. filing early at 62. 🙂


No More Lladros

lladrosMy mom really likes Lladros so I, too, accumulated some along the way. I bought a couple in Europe (when I was 20!), inherited one from my Grandma, and got some as wedding presents. I also had some Hummel figurines. Egads!

Thing is, Jay hates Lladros and Hummels.

Over the years I started to like them less and less, as well. They were a reflection of my mother’s taste, not mine. After our last move most of them ended up not getting unpacked. After close to five years, it was clear I really didn’t have any attachment to them. And our kids won’t want them, either. Turns out kids don’t like their parents’ stuff. I keep reading this. And hearing it from my friends. So it must be true.

The turning point for the Hummels came when watching an episode of Better Call Saul. He’s practicing elderlaw and is at an old lady’s apartment waiting for her to take the lift chair down the stairs. She has a curio cabinet full of Hummels. Dozens of them. That was enough for me.

The turning point for the Lladros came when I was checking out a townhouse in a community we might be interested in someday. The homeowner had a curio cabinet full of Lladros and it screamed “old”. The fact that I’m getting old, myself, is clearly making me sensitive to it. 😉

I gave one of the Lladros to a friend of mine and I sold everything else on Craigslist. I probably netted less than $200 for all of them, but I haven’t regretted it – yet.

Citi Double Cash Card

citi double cashI recently applied, and got, a Citi Double Cash Card. I’ll be retiring a couple of my other cards or, if they have no annual fee, keeping them as a backup.

Here’s the breakdown of how I’ll be using them:

  • American Express Blue Preferred ($75 annual fee) – use at all grocery stores for 6% cashback
  • Ink Bold Mastercard ($95 annual fee) – use for Comcast, Verizon, and office supply stores for 5X United points, hotels for 2X United points
  • United Explorer Visa ($95 annual fee) – use for all United travel to get free checked bags and for foreign travel to avoid foreign transaction fees
  • Costco Citibank Visa (no fee) – this card will replace my existing Costco American Express and I’ll use for Costco (2%), gas (4%), US restaurants (3%)
  • Citi Double Cash Card (no fee) – use for everything else for 2% cashback

While it looks complicated, on a day to day basis I’ll pretty much only be using the American Express Blue Preferred, the Citi Double Cash Card and the Costco Citibank Visa. I’ll use a sharpie to write on them, as a reminder of what to use them for.

I’ll be canceling the United Explorer card I got for Jay (in order to get 50,000 miles) once we’ve used it for a trip we’re planning. Our current Costco American Express will expire. And I’ll keep our American Express Blue Everyday and Bank of America Cash Cards as backups since they have no annual fees.

Toothpaste and Travel

IMG_1684I just got back from our annual girls’ week at my friend’s place in Florida. Seven days of beaches, bike riding, and taking it easy! So wonderful…

The night I got home, I unpacked and went to brush my teeth with my expensive* prescription toothpaste (Prevident 5000 Booster Plus). When I opened it tons of it oozed out. Lots. Jay was able to salvage a bunch and scrape it into his container.

I’m terrible at anything resembling physics and didn’t understand why this happened when I got to Denver, but not when I arrived in Florida.

It’s the altitude change. Denver’s at a higher altitude, and the air in the container expanded. I think that’s what he said. 😉 The upshot of it is squeeze out as much excess air as possible from containers before packing them.

* Our dentist recommended this toothpaste to help with some issues we’re having (ie. old people problems), so we’re using it. However, I’m not allowing her to send it home with us anymore. She originally charged us each $20 for it. I asked her to write a prescription for me and I can get it for $11.35 and pay with pretax dollars from our HSA account.

Keeping Track of “Bonuses”

money stretchedI thought it would be interesting to keep track of bonus earnings – money, gift cards, rewards etc. we earn from using savings websites like TOPCASHBACK, for credit card cashback or bonus programs, from participating in company programs (eg. the safety program at Jay’s work, or my company’s B-Fit program), rebates, health insurance reimbursements, etc.

April has been pretty good:

  • $250 for our American Express Blue Preferred bonus
  • $25 cashback from our American Express Blue Everyday card
  • $30 from our American Express Blue Preferred 10% cashback for Verizon
  • $40 from United Healthcare for our monthly fitness reimbursements
  • $73 for two rebates that arrived in the mail
  • $100 Macy’s gift card from Jay’s work for working the storm the other week (in addition to all the overtime)
  • $40 Macy’s gift card (I had purchased tons of stuff online (which I mostly returned) and got $40 in my “wallet” but their website wouldn’t let me use it so they sent me a gift card instead).

That’s a total of $558 and the month isn’t even over yet! Granted, this is more than we will usually see. The $250 bonus is a one time thing, and the Macy’s gift cards are unlikely to occur again. Other month’s totals are $40 for January ($1,540 if you count the HSA seed money from Jay’s company), $835 for February (another good month with a credit card bonus and a $450 recreation reimbursement from our city), and $130 for March.

It is definitely worth the trouble to sign up and submit the necessary paperwork for things!

Uber Organized

clean deskBoy, does it ever feel good to have my office and files so organized! I’ve been even more effective than usual. I just finished my Canadian passport renewal application which had been languishing in a pile since November. I went, yesterday, to get the passport photo taken. And I’ll be dropping it in the mailbox later today. It so easily could have languished for another six months and then, guess what, my old passport would have been a year expired and I wouldn’t have been able to do just a renewal. I would have had to apply, which requires a guarantor’s signature and is more of a hassle. I applied for a ten year passport (new to Canada). It was such a pain having to do it every five years!

I’ve also made an appointment to get our wills signed and notarized next week. This has been on my To Do list for a year! We subscribe to Legal Shield and I’ve decided to drop it once we get this done. I kept thinking I’d bring all the docs into Jay’s office and have one of his colleagues (a notary, obviously) notarize it all for us. But, luckily, I read the instructions and we need two witnesses which would be a pain. And I never managed to make it happen, anyway. I don’t care that the law firm charges $140 to do it. We will get it done. They will do it correctly. And I can cancel our subscription, which has been costing us $25.95/month.

Still on my To Do list is reapplying for Canadian passports for each of the kids.

Loving New American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card

blue cash preferredI’m loving our new American Express Blue Cash Preferred Card. We’ve already gotten the $250 bonus cashback credit and the first 10% credit for Verizon, which came to just over $30. We’ll get that amount every month until we hit the $200 max.

I love the way they just credit the amount directly to your balance. I’ll be interested to see how they process the regular (ie. non bonus cashback) and how much the 6% cashback for grocery store purchases ends up being. I’ll be sure to always buy things like stamps at King Soopers from now on. And gift cards. I think everything at grocery stores counts.

I know from experience that Target purchases used to earn me double points on my old United MileagePlus card, which earned 2X miles for grocery store purchases. But I’m not expecting to see 6% at Target on my Blue Cash Preferred card. I’ll test it out, of course – because, if I do, I won’t have to use my Target credit card anymore. That would be awesome. But, I’m betting they use a different set of MCC codes for determining what qualifies.

Snow Day

patio snowWe were snowed in this weekend. Well, not completely – Jay has a big truck, so he was able to get out and about. Plus, we lost a tree out back, which he started to cut up. So, he went outside.

But I just stayed indoors. I decided to tackle my office. I started by dusting and ended up going through drawers and piles of paper. I must have thrown out 30 lbs of old documents. Was it interesting to look at the paperwork from 1970, when the original owners of our “old” house purchased it for $38K. In a way, yes. Do I really want to keep it? Duh – we don’t even live there anymore!!

My office looks SO nice now that I’ve decluttered it. Also, I bought some curtains at Pier1 last week that I’m really pleased with. The first time one of my friends saw our house, almost five years ago, she said she would replace the heavy burgundy ones that were there. I have to agree that she was right! The room is much lighter with the new ones.

Primary Residence Capital Gain Exclusion

lowes home depotWe bought our house during the summer of ’11, before the housing market had rebounded. The plan was to stay for seven to ten years and, hopefully, realize a “buy low, sell high” scenario, without having to pay any taxes. The IRS allows you to exclude up to $500,000 (married – filing jointly) on the sale of your primary residence, something you can do every two years and one day. (I’m wondering if they are ever going to increase the amount above $500K, since it’s been that for years.)

See https://www.irs.gov/publications/p523/ar02.html#en_US_2015_publink100010750 for details.

Well, who knew how quickly that might happen! We haven’t done much to the house in the four and a half years we’ve lived here, but the property has probably appreciated $400K already. The metro Denver housing market has come back like crazy. So, while this is awesome, I’ve been fretting that we should sell in the next year or so rather than spend money fixing up the house because I don’t want to go over the $500K capital gains exclusion.

First, I think I’m obsessing too much over the tax ramifications. 😉 But, secondly, I just did some research and found out that I didn’t understand exactly how this all works. I didn’t think that improvements made would increase the cost basis, but they do. So, if we spend $25K redoing our driveway and landscaping, we can add that amount to the basis that we use to determine our capital gains. Yee ha! This really makes me excited at the prospect of making some much needed changes.

This also means I need to start keeping track of any qualifying expenses. And I also had to document all the improvements we’ve already made – the swamp cooler, some landscaping, a new chandelier, insulation, and the almost total remodel of the downstairs bathroom. Luckily, this was easy to do and all of it totaled less than $11K. I started a spreadsheet to keep track of this and everything going forward.

Jay has already ripped out the master shower!