Coffee heat rising

Money Happens: Planning ahead through 2011

Reviewing the first quarter of post-Canning Day finances, I’m amazed to discover that I’ve not been spending as much money as I budgeted, and not anything near the amount that’s been flowing into the checking account. In fact, on average I’ve spent about $1,100 a month less than income!

The reason for this, of course, has been the part-time teaching, which will end in May and bring in nothing for two and a half months, when expenses rise into the stratosphere.

But…but my $805/month nondiscretionary budget, which includes those soon-to-be-stratospheric utility bills, is based on the bloated summer rates. So in theory, as long as I stay within the discretionary spending budget of $800, even in the summertime I shouldn’t be spending much more than $1,600 a month. In June and July, my income will drop to about $1,390 a month (maybe less, if I put my latest scheme in action—see below). That’s about $210 short. But with $3,400 sitting there from the first-quarter budget underruns, in theory it shouldn’t matter. Those two unpaid and two underpaid months would eat up only about $420 of the three thousand bucks residing there from the first quarter.

Here’s how this shakes out:

Yipe! The average monthly net left in my checking account, income minus expenses, has exceeded $1,100 a month!

Part of this happened because Social Security has been dragging its feet on withholding income tax from the benefit it’s paying. I’ve now asked three times and am assured that in April my SS payment will be $1,008, down from $1,257.

So, in April Social Security income drops about $250; in May teaching income drops in half and in May and June drops to zero. In August teaching income starts up again, with one paycheck that month, two a month from September through November, and one again in December. Net Fidelity income is $389 a month, giving me a net income of about $1,389 in June and July. For the entire year 2010, the result looks like this:

Can that possibly be correct? This suggests that teaching 3 and 2 and collecting $385 net a month from the Fidelity 403(b) will leave me with a surplus of over $9,000 at the end of the year!

Amazing, isn’t it…

Well, the state General Accounting Office demanded that I take a drawdown from my Fidelity 403(b), lest my request to collect my RASL be rejected. This worked contrary to my purposes, because that money needed to be left in investments in hopes that during the time I still have the strength to work, it will recover some of the losses incurred during the crash of the Bush economy. So I asked for $500, the least I thought I could get away with. The net on that is $389 a month.

The fact is, now that the first of the three annual RASL payouts has been approved and transferred to my keeping, it’s unlikely the RASL administrator is going to notice what’s going on with my drawdown. So, I’m thinking I should continue to draw down $500, but have only $100 deposited in checking, rolling over the remainder to my big IRA, which is professionally managed and doing quite well. Another advantage of this strategy is that it would drop my gross income into a lower tax bracket and might insure that none of my Social Security would be taxed at all.

To get 100 after-tax dollars in my sweaty little hand, I’d have to ask for a $125 transfer to checking (i.e., $125 – 20% tax = $100). This would leave $375 a month to roll into the IRA: $4500 a year. It would look like a $500-a-month distribution, but in fact the lion’s share would be extracted from the plain-vanilla 403(b)  into my better-managed IRA with no tax consequences.

In terms of my cash flow, what would happen? Collecting $100 instead of $389 a month would remove $2,601 ($289 x the remaining 9 months) from the bottom line above for 2010:

Okay. So, what if I cut Fidelity income to $100 a month for the entire year of 2011? Could I survive? Let’s assume a 3% inflation rate for expenses, since everything but our paychecks is going up fast. In this scenario, I again teach 3 & 2 instead of 3 & 3:

Huh. Almost $5,000 left at the end of the year. These figures translate to after-tax funds I can use to pay toward my share of the mortgage ($9,000 a year) in 2011 and 2012, delaying serious drawdowns from retirement savings another two years!

So, if there’s that much play in the budget, why on earth am I working at all? What would happen if I didn’t teach in 2011 but instead collected the net $389 on a $500 monthly drawdown from Fidelity?

Yes. The Copyeditor’s Desk, Inc., would earn enough to cover the shortfall and more over the course of a year. As we come to the end of the first quarter, the corporation is holding $2,218, and I’m doing precious little freelance work! Net after a 20% tax payout would be $1,774. That’s for a single quarter in which I’ve made no effort to find work.

Teaching one section would net $1,920, more than enough to break even.

I have to ask you, isn’t that the most amazing thing you ever saw? I can’t believe my expenses are that low in this four-bedroom house on a quarter-acre with a big pool and a forest of fruit and ornamental trees.

And yes, it has occurred to me to wonder if I’m being too frugal here. Surely I can afford to get my hair done by a better stylist than the $30 guy—last week he left me with a tuft sticking out at the neckline and a kind of box-like cap on top. Possibly I can afford to buy some clothes somewhere other than Costco. Or, who knows? Maybe I could even afford a cell phone.

I don’t feel like my life is pinched. I still shop at AJs and Whole Foods; I still buy plants at the fanciest nurseries in town. So…is this money happening, or what?

Financial Freedom: Building the bankroll, part 2

We’ve seen that a key part to underwriting Bumhood is living below your means and using the resulting extra cash from income to build savings.

The corollary to this important principle is that your money needs to work for you. That means it has to earn money instead of you having to go to work to earn a paycheck.

How to make this happen? Invest. Your strategy should not be excessively conservative, because truly safe, FDIC-insured instruments such as high-interest savings accounts and CDs don’t return enough to keep up with inflation. Although clearly some cash should reside in your bank or credit union, where it will be insulated from a major market crash such as the one we recently saw, to grow your money you have to take some risk. This means investing something in the stock market or (yes!) in real estate.

Investment plans that work to support bumhood are long-haul arrangements.* Savings should be invested for the long term in reasonably stable instruments such as fairly staid mutual funds and left there, even when the market slides. Low-overhead mutual funds are an excellent choice, because the various costs involved in maintaining them do not bite significantly into your gains. Vanguard and Fidelity funds lead the pack here.

Some mutual funds buy stocks; others buy bonds; still others are balanced funds with a variety of investments. Read the prospectus for each fund that interests you, and be sure your choices don’t duplicate each other. Most advisers suggest that equities investments be allocated about 60 percent to stocks and about 40 percent to bonds, because as a general rule when stock values fall bond values rise. (This is a huge oversimplification, as I’m sure we’ll hear from readers. Study up on investment products. Several “For Dummies” books on the subject have good to excellent reviews, and regular reading of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times business section can be instructive.)

Stocks and bonds are not the only places to grow savings. Some people have done well investing in rental real estate. This also is a long-term hold: expect to keep the property for 10 to 20 years before it turns a profit. As we’ve seen, for investors real estate presents no less risk than the stock market, and so you  need to be prepared to watch values go up and down. A quick perusal of Amazon’s offerings on real estate investment will clue you to the amount of snake oil out there: be extremely careful, and do not operate without a trusted adviser who can prove his (or her) expertise. As with the stock market, it’s important to do your homework and know what you’re doing before investing. If real estate interests you but the prospect of dealing with renters does not, consider a real estate investment trust (REIT) or an REIT mutual fund. Sometimes limited partnerships invest in commercial real estate, although this tool is probably not for everyone.

Because money sitting in the bank does nothing for you—it just sits there—it’s crucial to put your savings to work by investing in a diversified set of financial instruments, ranging from the relatively safe (CDs, the money market) to relatively risky. The degree of risk depends on your age (i.e., how many years you have left to make up any losses) and your personality. To make money work for you, you’ll need to take some risk with some part of your savings. But as you draw closer to your projected escape from the day job, it makes sense to pull back from riskier investments and shift funds to more conservative tools.

One way or another, at any age your savings should be working for you, and some part of it should be in stocks or instruments that earn similar returns. Over the years, my savings have returned about 8 to 9 percent, on average. Of course, that faltered when the Bush economy crashed. While the artificially pumped-up economy was hot, some months I would earn $8,000 on a $250,000 investment. Although all that went away when the market collapsed, returns are now back up in the 8 percent range.

Thus if I draw down the widely recommended 4 percent—more than I need to live on, as a matter of fact—savings will continue to grow even without my adding any  new cash.

And voilà! Full-blown financial freedom: Return on passive investments that meets or exceeds the amount you need to support yourself. The less you spend on your lifestyle, the more you can save, the more you can invest, and the sooner you can get off the day-job treadmill. Living below your means, faithful, regular saving, and wise investments can spring you free sooner than you think.

The Financial Freedom Series

An Overview
The Health Insurance Hurdle
Own Your Roof
Bankrolling Bumhood, Part 1


* I am not an investment adviser! I am just a writer sitting in front of a computer. No part of this information should be taken as investment advice. For advice on financial planning, consult a tax professional and a certified financial planner. Always read all prospectuses and related information before investing in any stock, bond, or mutual fund.

Financial Freedom: Building the bankroll, part 1

In the quest for financial freedom—the search for a way off the day-job treadmill—it’s important to build the habit of living not just within your means but below your means.

When you live within your means, you spend no more than you earn. In living below your means, however, you spend less than you earn. This allows you to put money aside for future use; to wit, early retirement. The scheme is pretty simple:

Live below your means;
Save a specific amount each month;
Also set aside whatever else you don’t spend;
Stash your savings in investments and leave it there.

Saving is a strategy you can start at quite a young age, from the moment you begin to earn. My first full-time job paid a grandiose $300 a month. After paying the rent, I had $200 to live on. From that I budgeted $15 to buy myself some clothes or shoes and $20 to put into savings. Following the old adage, I always paid myself first. We didn’t have automatic electronic funds transfers in those days; I had to physically go into the bank to deposit my paycheck, and while I was there I had a share of it deposited to a savings account. If I hadn’t spent the previous month’s clothing budget, I transferred that or the amount remaining from it to savings, too. I still do the same today, only instead of $20 I put aside $200 plus anything else that doesn’t get spent.

It doesn’t sound like much, but over time it adds up. And when you’re young, your greatest financial asset is time. Twenty dollars a month invested at 8 percent starting in, say, 1967, when I began working, today would amount to $89,498.86. If you began investing $200 a month today and worked for twenty years, in 2030 you’d have $117,804. That’s a respectable amount, especially if you’re saving from after-tax income so that this is on top of your 401(k) or 403(b).

Yes. That’s what I’m talking about here: not only investing before-tax income in whatever savings plan your employer offers, but also setting aside something from take-home pay.

For most people, $200 a month is minimal. In fact, while I was still working I was setting aside about $370 a month, plus whatever was left over from my general operating expenses. Over 20 years at 8 percent, $370 a month would add up to $217,937.55—about as much as my 403(b) accrued in 15 years with matching contributions from my employer. In other words, the habit of saving and investing on your own can double your retirement savings…and at least some of it will be in instruments that you can access before age 59½, a crucial factor for those of us who do not intend to stay in the traces until we drop.

Even if your earnings are modest, it’s surprising how many ways you can find to unearth cash for savings and investment.

If you’ve recently succeeded in paying off debt, then you know that you can break loose a certain number of dollars from your income for purposes other than mere survival and indulgence. If that’s your case, instead of diddling away the newly freed-up income that you were having to use to service debt, put it into savings.

If you’re using the “snowball” approach to debt payoff, once you’re out from under the debt, put the snowballs into savings. If you’ve “snowflaked” debt away, keep on putting every little windfall aside, only put it into savings and investments.

Similarly, when you get a raise or move to a better-paying job, don’t change your standard of living. Put the increase into savings.

More proactively, start a side income stream and invest all the after-tax proceeds for the future. My freelance endeavors, for example, have earned around $8,000 to $10,000 a year. Eight grand amounts to about $666 a month; invested at 8 percent over our 20-year period, it would add up to $392,288.

Living below your means entails downsizing before you upsize. Instead of buying the biggest, most grandiose house you can afford, for example, buy a more modest but comfortable house. Or rent instead of buying and save the difference between the rent payment and mortgage payments for comparable digs. Refrain from buying the largest, fanciest vehicle your paycheck will support; get a car you can pay off quickly and use the amount you’d have to put into payments to build your Bumhood stash. Find better ways to entertain yourself than sitting in front of the boob tube, and then ditch the cable TV. Get rid of the land line. Learn to cook, and eat better for less by eating in instead of haunting restaurants.

If you never develop the habit of buying more than you need, you’ll never miss what you don’t have. Obviously you don’t have to live like an anchorite. But too many apparently middle-class Americans fail to distinguish between indulging their wants and providing for their needs. As a result, they’re really not in the financial middle class: they’re actually poor folks who are in way over their heads.

By April of 2009, the average household saving rate was only about 4 percent of disposable income. Let’s say you have $48,000 left after taxes from a $60,000 household  income: that would give you an annual savings rate of $1,920—significantly less than the rather modest $200/month we started with in this discussion. If your 4 percent includes your required contribution to an employer’s deferred saving plan, then you’re not even putting $160 a month ($1,920 ÷ 12) aside from take-home pay.

Meanwhile, economists at the Federal Reserve estimated (also in 2009) that despite the slight increase in U.S. households’ savings rate, most savings were going to pay off debt, which had accrued at a staggering rate during the recent boom, when consumption far exceeded income. To eliminate this household debt, the Fed observes,

Assuming an effective nominal interest rate on existing household debt of 7%, a future nominal growth rate of disposable income of 5%, and that 80% of future saving is used for debt repayment, the household saving rate would need to rise from around 4% currently to 10% by the end of 2018.

Clearly, if you start out with little or no debt and never accumulate debt, instead of pouring your savings into some already spectacularly wealthy banker’s pockets you can put your money to work for you. Living below your means is, then, the first stage of building your Bumhood bankroll.

The Financial Freedom Series

An Overview
The Health Insurance Hurdle
Own Your Roof
Building the Bankroll, Part 1
Building the Bankroll, Part 2

Financial Freedom: Own the roof over your head

Life on the treadmill

We’ve been talking, on and off, about routes to financial freedom, defined as a life off the day-job treadmill that leaves you free to do what you want to do with your time, not what someone else decides you should do. It takes time to achieve this freedom. You need get enough education or vocational training to land a job that will produce enough income to allow you to build some savings, and you need to live not only within that income but below it. An important part of your early-escape strategy is to get a roof over your head that’s paid for.

Yes. Pay off your mortgage.

In some circles, that’s tantamount to sacrilege. But the fact is, the largest chunk of cash flying out most people’s doors is the mortgage payment, and most of that payment consists of interest. The putative income tax break, if you look hard at it, is negligible compared to the amount of money that goes down the toilet in the form of loan interest. Mortgage interest can more than double the amount you end up paying for your house.

If you have a program like Quicken, it’s easy to figure that amount. Using the loan calculator, enter your principal, the interest rate, and the number of months to pay-off, and the program will generate an amortization schedule showing, in detail, how much each payment reduces the principal and how much, in total, you will have paid by x or y date. You can accomplish the same calculation, though, with Excel or an open-source spreadsheet. Over at The Simple Dollar, Trent provides an easy step-by-step guide to setting up your own loan calculator in Excel.

However you arrive at the full picture, what you find can be startling. M’hijito and I owe $211,000 on the downtown house. At 4.3 percent, over 30  years we will pay $164,907 in interest alone, meaning that if we hang onto the place that long (and it this point it appears we will be forced to do so), we will pay almost $376,000 for the house. When I bought my first house, I paid $100,000 for it, borrowing $80,000 at 8.2 percent on a 30-year traditional loan. At that rate, I would have paid $169,200 for interest alone, way more than doubling the ultimate price of the house.

Whether it’s worth that much in 30 years is beside the point. The point is, a $211,000 mortgage represents $376,000 that doesn’t go into savings. It’s $376,000 that doesn’t go toward achieving bumhood. Every month that we pay toward this loan is a month that a principal-and-interest payment of $1,044 goes into someone else’s pocket.

If he were paying toward rent instead, that also would be money down the toilet: the renter puts money in someone else’s pocket with no hope of ever owning anything and no end to the outgo. At least when you buy a house, you have a chance of paying it off and putting a roof over your head that costs you little or nothing, from day to day.

(It must be noted, though that owning your house is never free. You still will owe taxes on it, and you’re crazy if you don’t buy insurance. Maintenance and repair costs can be significant. These expenses require most mortgage-liberated homeowners to self-escrow something each month in an account to cover such costs.)

The key to bumhood is getting out of debt, and that includes mortgage debt. A thousand bucks (or more) that stays in your pocket each month represents a large fraction of the amount a bum needs to live in comfort and contentment. Given that a person who lives modestly in a city with a reasonable cost of living really needs only about $2,000 to $3,000 net a month, a thousand dollars gets you a third to half-way there!

So…how on earth do you go about doing this? The cost of a house is crushing. What human being can possibly afford to pay for one in full in anything less than an adult lifetime?

Well, I suspect most people can. Here’s the strategy:

1. Buy a house that’s within your means.

Where is it written that you have to live like Pharoah? No one really needs a McMansion. Many smaller houses offer charm, comfort, decent neighborhoods, and ease of maintenance.

If living in a prestigious district is your thing, look for middle-class neighborhoods that border fancier areas. My house, for example, is in a very ordinary neighborhood that abuts a district of million-dollar homes, two blocks from a lovely park. Obviously, if you have kids the school district is important, and so you’ll need to add that consideration into your calculation. It’s worth investigating whether sending a child or two to parochial or private school might actually be cheaper than buying a more expensive house in an area with top-rated public schools, especially if you can qualify for scholarships or tuition assistance.

2. Get the shortest conventional loan you can manage.

Because interest rates on a 15-year loan are lower than those for a 30-year loan, the payments are not that much higher. For example, with a 6.5 percent rate on a 15-year loan for my original $100,000 home, the principal and interest would have been only $128 more than what I was paying toward the 30-year instrument.

Never take on a variable-rate mortgage. Adjustable rates always adjust upwards. Even when the prime rate goes down, banks find excuses to raise the mortgage payments.

And, given the communal experience of the past couple of years, we know never to accept anything “creative” from the loan department.

3. Pay extra toward principal.

Even if you have a 30-year loan, you can speed the payoff date by paying down principal each month or, if you’re paid semiweekly, by applying some or all of your so-called “extra” paychecks to principal. Another strategy is to apply all of one spouse’s net salary to principal, if you can afford to live on one partner’s income.

The downtown house, for example, cost so much that there was no way we could have made payments on a 15-year basis. However, if we added $130 a month in principal payments, we would pay the house off in 24 years instead of 30. Applying all of his roommate’s $400/month rent payment toward principal would pay the loan in a little over 17 years. Combine the two—$130 out of our pocket and $400 from the renter—and we could kill the loan in 15 years.

4. Build side income streams and apply that money to principal.

A spouse’s salary, a second job, a roommate, a hobby monetized: all these sources of cash can be used to pay down the mortgage. Because lowering principal cuts the interest portion of future payments, it’s helpful to pay extra toward principal on a regular basis (whether it’s monthly, quarterly, semiannually, or even just once a year). But no law says the extra payments can’t be sporadic. Whenever you get a chance to earn extra money, take it, and then use the net to pay down the loan.

5. Apply all windfalls to principal.

I paid off my first house by saving every post-tax penny of spousal support (having lucked into a decently paid job) and investing it. About five years after I bought the house, I used the cash I’d saved plus a small inheritance to pay off the mortgage.

Was it easy to break a chunk out of my savings to throw at the house? Nope. Have I ever regretted it? Nope.

It probably was the smartest thing I ever did. Once SDXB moved out, I could not have paid the PITI and survived on my net income without a roommate or a domestic partner, neither of which was in the cards. The house’s value continued to grow, so that when I was ready to move to a somewhat nicer house in a quieter corner of the neighborhood, I could pay for the next place in cash. And when I was laid off my job, there was no worry about whether I would lose my home.

6. Choose your house wisely.

Purchase with an eye to staying in the place permanently. That’s right: for the rest of your life. Consider whether the neighborhood is likely to remain stable or even improve over several decades, and whether the construction will stand the test of time.

Remember, your house’s value will increase in lockstep with all the other real estate in your area. While the place may appear to double in value over 15 or 20 years, so has everyplace else! This means that if you’ve paid off your mortgage and you want to avoid taking on new mortgage payments when you move, you’ll have to buy a comparable house. Paying off a mortgage means that you’ll be living in similar housing forever, unless you’re willing to take on new debt.

As you can see, this project entails some trade-offs. Unless you earn a ton of money, you likely will not be living in an elegant palace. To get into a decent school district, you may have to take a lesser house than you could have afforded in a neighborhood with weaker public schools. And you’ll need to seek contentment and ego gratification from sources other than real estate, downsizing your housing expectations to fit your long-term goal.

Freedom’s not free. But it’s worth it.

Financial Freedom:

An Overview
The health insurance hurdle

Image: U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt Araceli Alarcon. Public domain.

A New Plan: Retirement

Over the past few days, I’ve about made up my mind that if I get laid off after the Board of Regents meets in December, I will not try to get another full-time job at all. Nor will I take regular draw-downs from my much-stressed retirement savings.


Yes. I think I can live on a combination of Social Security and freelance editing, if I can earn a minimum of $1,000 a month. This would allow me to do the following things:

1. Quit. Yes!!!! Quit, quit, quit!
2. Leave the planned 4 percent retirement drawdown invested until the market turns around.
3. When I reach 66, return the money I’ve drawn from Social Security to the government and reset my payments to the “full retirement” level, substantially increasing my monthly income and collecting a chunk of tax refunds for the Social Security grab I paid at ages 63, 64, and 65.

Life would be very pinched for the next 2 1/2 years, until I reach 66. However, at 66, the increased Social Security payments would put me back in the middle class, and, with any luck at all, my savings will have recovered enough that I can safely draw down 4 percent. These two factors would make the rest of my life tolerable. When M’hijito and I sell or rent the Renovation House, I would then have enough income that I wouldn’t have to do any paid work at all to maintain a reasonable lifestyle.

Here’s how I see this:

Health Insurance: I will be eligible for Medicare in 18 months. COBRA lasts 18 months. The cost is $475 a month, but most of that will be covered by the amount GDU will owe me for accrued vacation pay. Thus that amount will not have to come out of month-to-month cash flow.

Renovation Loan: I will pay that off, using the money I have earned and squirreled away for the purpose. This will save the $170 payment and the $204 a month I pay toward principal, cutting my monthly expenses by $374. The amount of the loan, it is to be hoped, will be returned in a few years, after M’hijito and I sell the Investment House, on which I spent the funds.

Emergency and unexpected expenses: The amount I can generate from freelancing and Social Security will cover only routine costs. It will not cover a plumber’s bill, a car repair, a veterinary visit. However, I have about $18,000 saved up to buy my next car; this amount doubles as an emergency fund. I can use some of that to cover surprise expenses, or make an occasional drawdown from the big IRA.

Routine savings: The $200 a month I normally set aside to buy such things as clothes and other little indulgences will go away. The only way I can survive on freelance income plus Social Security is to dispense with regular savings. I am, however, allowed to earn as much as $1,125 a month without having Social Security taken away from me (isn’t THAT generous?). My plan assumes a regular freelance income of $1,000. Any amount more than that can go into a savings account. I hope.

Budgeting: In addition to foregoing the routine $200/month savings deposit, I will have to cut $300 a month off my living expenses budget. That means, basically, that $300 will have to come out of the grocery budget. Since there’s a little play in that budget anyway, this probably can be done simply by changing the way I eat and by purchasing nonfood goods second-hand at thrift shops and yard sales, rather than buying everything new.

If I do these things and they work (second part of that is the big IF), I will be OK in the winter months when utility bills are low. During the summer, when temperatures exceed 110 degrees day after day, staying out of the red will be difficult, but I think it can be done. I will start with a cushion of about $900, back-up money that’s already sitting in the credit union. That will rise to around $1085 by the end of June, as budget underruns stack up. As utility bills bloat, my cushion will drop to a low of about $815 in October. In November, though, it will begin to grow.

Should I sell my house and move to Sun City, where real estate and living expenses allegedly are cheaper?

Hell, no! First, after the foreclosure across the street, my paid-off house is now worth less than I paid for it BEFORE the bubble. My house is very pleasant, it’s centrally located, and it’s paid off. I did a little math and discovered that it costs me about $93 a month more to live here than it would to live in Sun City, assuming I do not engage in full Scrooge McDuck lifestyle. I believe that after commissions and closing costs, I could net—if I’m lucky—about $258,000 on the sale of my present house. In Sun City, I could buy a house for around $200,000.

Such a place would need about $10,000 worth of upgrades and renovation to bring it more or less up to date and make it into something I’d want to live in. Consider: My house is pretty nice, with a big lot, a beautiful pool, wonderful bearing citrus trees, a private front courtyard, skylights in three rooms (real skylights, not aluminum tubes), a new roof, expensive tiling throughout, an updated kitchen, and a spiffy gas stove. For $200,000, what you get in Sun City is a 30- to 40-year-old tract house whose quality and style come under the heading of “better than living in a trailer…just.” Cabinetry and trim are veneered in plastic; there’s no gas service, so you have to use an electric stove; landscaping is gray, green, or (worse!) white pebbles; and the general atmosphere is Early Mausoleum. Spare me, God!

Well, my friends, I think She will. Spare me Sun City, that is. I really do believe I can hop off the treadmill, delay drawing down savings until the market turns around, and live on Social Security and freelance earnings for the next three years.

Now. All we need is for President Raven to croak “Nevermore” come the first part of December: declare a state of financial emergency at GDU and lay me off. Ohhh please, Mr. Raven: d-o-o-o-o-n’t throw me in the briar patch!