Things are looking up. The departmental chair has assigned me not one but two summer courses, God bless him! Even though it appears the magazine writing course will not make, that’s still seven sections for 2011 (assuming three sections materialize in the fall). Pay for seven sections amounts to $16,800, or a net of $13,272. We await the credit union’s offer in the pending renegotiation of the upside-down mortgage on the house M’hijito and I naively got ourselves into, but it can’t be any worse than we were paying before we got the loan modification at the time I was laid off. In the worst-case scenario, I would owe $9,600 in 2010. My teaching income is the sole source now of cash with which to pay my share of the payments. Think of that: $13,272 − $9,600 = $3,672, a nice little windfall!
What on earth am I going to do with $3,672?
Seriously. After a year of living frugally, I actually had to think about how I could spend an extra thirty-seven hundred bucks.
The obvious, of course, is stick it in savings! But in February another unpaid sick-leave reimbursement will come in. It will fund my Roth IRA with about $1,650 to spare; what I can’t put into the Roth will go into the brokerage fund. The net represents 31 percent of net 2011 earned income. So I don’t feel any great urgency to stash the the cash I’ve earned by actually working.
Au contraire. It’s time for me to have a life.
There are a few things I’d like to spend some money on. For example: air conditioning. I do not ever want to have to spend another summer sweltering inside my home with the thermostat turned up so high the activity of tapping on a computer keyboard breaks a sweat.
Then: water. In the summer of 2009, as some of you may recall, I kept a mostly unsuccessful container garden under the orange trees. Because plants in pots have to be watered every day and because I could afford to be lazy while I had a job, I would carry the hose to the pots and set the timer for ten or fifteen minutes…every single morning. The container garden was a fail, but the water bill was cause for celebration down at the city water & sewer department: $214 in July 2009! That’s about $90 over my water budget.
The $214 water bill, as it develops, produced nothing that summer, but it did buy a fantastic bumper crop of glorious oranges. By last February the trees were loaded with big, juicy fruit as sweet as candy.
Last July’s water bill was a far more modest $96.10. I shut off the drip watering system, dragged the hose to the landscape plants, let the xeric planting in front go without, and most certainly did not indulge in container gardening. Or much of any other kind of gardening, come to think of it.
The result: Tiny little parched fruit on the orange trees. This spring’s crop, what there is of it, is hardly usable.
The fruit took a beating from the hail storm. About a third of the oranges dropped off the trees; maybe half the surviving fruit was all bruised up, left with brown scars on the orange skins. The fruit that managed to cling to the branches is stunted—no larger than a tennis ball, and many pieces smaller than that. While most of the surviving pieces are reasonably juicy, they’re not very sweet. Some are almost flavorless.
Obviously, orange trees need a lot of water to thrive. And since I adore those oranges, I want them to thrive.
The highest electric bill of last summer was $239.08, which was $14 over budget. It was hotter than the hubs of Hades in my house—truly uncomfortable, enough to start me thinking about moving away from Arizona. Supposedly the new hyper-efficient air conditioning will hold the power bills down a bit this year.
Right. I’ll believe that when I see it. The first power bill with that unit in place came to $85.64; the January 2010 bill was $104.34. Difference was only twenty bucks…but then, we didn’t have a hard frost last winter. Until the summer bills come in, we can safely assume the new Goodman will cost about as much to operate as the old Goettl unit did.
So, I figure that to cool the house to a reasonably comfortable state (say, no hotter than 76 or 78 degrees) and to irrigate those citrus trees adequately will take about an extra $300 per month.
Okay. That’s $900 for the three hottest months of the year.
Now. I need a pair of shoes, and I wish to shed the Costco jeans and start wearing some decent clothes. That’ll be $150 for one new pair of pain-frees and let’s say $200 per shopping spree in the midsummer and post-Christmas 2011 sales: $150 + $400 = $550 to upgrade the wardrobe.
The house needs a lot of work. To repair the foundation crack on the west side, repaint the sun-blasted gables, touch up eroded exterior paint, paint the office door (a job that never did get done!), spray-paint the grungy interior of the garage, and build a French drain to direct ponding rainwater water away from the patio will cost about $500.
I need a new pair of progressive shades in the frame style I favor, which I’ve already ordered. Price tag: $720.
And this last week I made a surprising discovery: going to concerts makes me feel happy. Yes. Very happy. Music tameth the neurotic beast. A week of attending Bach concerts every second day left me feeling an unaccustomed calm, unruffled by the usual minor aggravations. As you can imagine, I wish to continue this.
Season tickets to chamber music are $200 for eight concerts, which works out to a fairly reasonable $25 per performance. When you buy them one at a time, it’s $30 apiece. The Downtown Chamber Series is only $10, but they don’t do many performances. The Phoenix Chorale is doing four performances this season plus several special events; prices are $5 less for us old bats, and you can attend their rehearsals for free. The Louise Kerr Cultural Center has a jazz series; price is about the same. The Desert Botanical Garden has its “Music in the Garden” series, mostly jazz. Plus the community college and the university music departments mount performances all the time, at very reasonable prices. So there’s a lot going on. Five hundred dollars would buy two series and entry to a number of miscellaneous events.
Soooo…. What would this spend it or bust budget look like?
Holy mackerel! I can’t even think up enough ways to spend the extra money!
Whence this spectacular new lucre? Well, it’s happening because I finally gave up trying to avoid drawing down retirement savings. The nest egg recovered pretty well in 2010, to everyone’s amazement. Really, I don’t think the boys down at Stellar believed, in their heart of hearts, that the market would come back the way it has. On their advice, I tried my level best to get by on just Social Security and the piddling $14,160 that Social Security allowed me to earn from teaching last year. That was difficult; it just wasn’t enough for me to live on.
With happy days here again (except for the 17 percent of Americans who remain unemployed or underemployed, myself among them), we’ve changed the strategy. Right now I’m spending down the post-tax savings I had accrued before GDU laid me off, to the tune of about $1,100 a month. This should last until September, at which point I’ll start a 3 percent drawdown from retirement savings. That plus Social Security amounts to just enough to meet my base monthly needs. So, everything I earn teaching can be used to meet expenses beyond bare survival.
My initial thought was that the teaching income—virtually all of it—would go to pay the mortgage on the downtown house. And that would have been so under the onerous earnings limitation imposed by Social Security in 2010.
However, in 2011, I’m free at last of the earnings limit. That allows me to take on two extra courses, about the max the community colleges will hire me to teach. Net income from two extra courses is almost $3,800.
If a miracle happens and the magazine-writing course makes, then I would net about $5,570 more than needed to pay the mortgage.
It’s a miracle!
Now, if I saved the money instead of spending it on myself, in three years I’d have enough to buy a brand-new car in cash, despite the low trade-in value of a decade-old gas-guzzling minivan.
But I figure…what the hell. Since I can’t dream up enough ways to diddle it all away, unspent cash is going to accrue in savings willy-nilly. My car has 100,000 miles on it. The mechanic par extraordinaire thinks it will run to 150,000 miles. That’s five more years. By then, we should have much better choices of fuel-efficient vehicles, and some of them will be a year or two old, available at post-depreciation prices. Hang onto the Dog Chariot until it’s ready to fall apart, and I’ll only have to buy one more car during my remaining lifetime. How to go about paying for this new vehicle is a problem that will have to solve itself when the time comes.
As for how we’ll cover the cost of the mortgage when I can no longer work—about four years from now, by my estimate—fifteen or twenty grand in savings would delay but not solve that problem. The mortgage also is something we’ll have to deal with in due time.