April 17, 2017

File this under: 2017 is trolling me

Navigating rent increases and a complicated family situationThere really is a good reason I haven’t had my dad move to a cheaper place yet. There aren’t any cheaper places to be had within a 50 mile radius of his current space (and also family support) so it didn’t make sense to force a move that would further isolate the two of them and save maybe about $50, if that, while also racking up moving costs.

He’s earning minor income on his own which is erratic, to supplement his SSI check which is small, but I pay for all his major living expenses – rent and utilities.

This month, a 60-day notice landed stating that they’re raising the rent by 50%.

As a renter, I’m horrified. As a landlord with some experience, I’m not surprised. We’ve been there a really long time and he hasn’t been good at upkeep these last few years. If he had been, I’m pretty sure they would have just kept on with the same rate. But even if we didn’t have huge house-hunting expenses coming up, we aren’t able to just absorb that 50% increase.

I had to have a conversation about what he’s going to do with him. That conversation didn’t go all that well. But this is a process. I’m weaning myself away from financially supporting him since he’s shown me that I’m not a daughter, I’m the Bank of Daughter from which you just keep taking.

That may not have been his intention, that may not even be how he feels. But it’s how I’ve felt since he royally betrayed my trust.

It’s taken me months to reconcile. It’s taken more months, and a bit of a housing crisis, then to figure out that I had to ask for help. Those were huge, unsettling leaps.

***

Facing down this history, and our upcoming expenses, I had to suppress the reaction that it was another problem that I’d have to handle.

I made myself leave it all in his hands to determine the next steps and what to do, with the understanding that I simply cannot shoulder this increase. That was uncomfortable and unfamiliar but it had to be done. We can’t keep going like this since I haven’t miraculously doubled or tripled my income in the last year.

***

At the moment, his plan is shaky at best.

The apartment hunt has come up dry, nothing within a 30-50 mile radius is reasonable, but he’s finally gotten the ball rolling on applying for housing aid which he should have done years ago. He’s also finally wrangled Trainwreck Sibling into getting evaluated for disability and housing aid as well. It’s about dang time. But this is the state of California we’re talking about – it’s going to take weeks or months for them to approve, if they approve, the applications.

In the meantime, he’s getting a job. It doesn’t pay much but he can probably come up with about half of the current rent for a few months. If it works out, he can come up with about 60% of the new rent after then.

While he’s doing that, he also has to keep looking for a new place.

All of this hurts my heart. I hate every bit of it.

For all the mistakes he’s made, he’s also nearly 70 years old. The idea that he’s going back to work kills me, turning on the guilt like a firehose. It also infuriates me to feel that way because I have been doing my level best for ages. These are steps he should have taken years ago, and in fact, it’s highly likely that his poor behavior of late has come out of his inability to gracefully accept my help. Instead of being glad he had a back-up and working toward independence, he’s spent this time trying to justify his acceptance (such as it is) of the help and acting rashly trying to free himself of his dependence.

This conflict sucks. But after sitting quietly with the discomfort, and talking it over with trusted friends, I am coming to an uncertain peace with it. These steps feel painful but they’re necessary. I’ll feel horrible about it, because I’ll always feel my duty to support my family, but there are times the support needs to be direct, and there are times that it has to be from afar. I’ve been doing direct support so many years, waiting for him to fulfill his end of the bargain and as a result, waited a decade longer than I thought it’d take.

I have pushed him to make changes for years, to no avail. That was all I felt that I could do at the time. 

Now, though I hate how it’s happening, he’s finally stepping up to at least try to do his part. That he let it go until this late date was his choice.

So now that it’s finally happening, I can’t, I will not allow my guilt, to push me into putting him back on my soon to be seriously strained household budget. I can’t do everything for everyone and it’s a disservice to them that I try. Everyone needs to feel like they can do for themselves, that they are capable for as long as they want and need to be. Taking over for them when they finally show willing would be the opposite of support.

If this does work, if he does start to earn enough to pay his own way, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll able to leave the money resentments in the past and try to rebuild our relationship. I don’t know if it’ll happen, but this way, there’s a shot.

The other way, we weren’t ever going to have a relationship again.

It’s too soon to hope but I am open to the idea that it might be possible.

:: Have you ever had your housing costs skyrocket? How do you handle sudden unexpected increases in expenses?

 

April 12, 2017

LASIK: our unplanned expense

PiC’s eyes have been getting a little bit worse with every year.

It wasn’t that scary until we added up exactly how much vision he’s lost over the years. Then the thing that became apparent to us in all our emergency planning is that his eyeballs are a huge liability. Without his contacts, he’s effectively blind. He can make out the blob that is me, the blob that is Seamus, the streak that is JuggerBaby coming for his legs, if we’re within 2 feet of him, but he can’t do a darn thing about it.

Worse, a panicked or attempting-to-escape JuggerBaby flails wildly, dangerously. We know this because ze has already knocked his contacts out several times, leaving him half-blind.

On a less fraught daily basis, his day is much more frustrating when he has to stop and put in his contacts before he can do anything.

After getting some background info from Crystal, whose husband had it done, about the pricing and a few other friends who have had it done recently, we decided he should have a consultation with the recommended eye docs in our area to see if he’s a candidate. I wasn’t sure if he could do the classic procedure, or if he had to go with PRK, but I hoped he was a candidate for the standard procedure that’s been done many thousands of times.

The consultation was good. They were confident that they could improve his eyesight substantially and the results had a good prognosis for stability because of his age and gender. The one time being older pays off!

Now, to be clear, this is just about the worst timing possible for this on a financial basis considering the house thing. But we had committed to it before the house thing happened and JuggerBaby isn’t getting more coordinated. You’d think ze would be but ze is my kid so that’s not happening. He’s taken several more hits to the eyes since starting this post! It’s dangerous being a parent.

The quote for the LASIK procedure was $9250.

An additional benefit through his employer, the Vision Service Plan, netted us a 20% discount, taking that down to $7560. The referral from his regular eye doctor took another $300 off the bill, bringing that down to $7100.

They required a $1000 deposit before they’d book another appointment, so I jumped on the case.  I called them for a cash discount – boom, $300 off, bringing it to $6800.

And because I don’t stop until we run out of options, I asked if we could leave the $1000 on our credit card and pay off the balance in cash, which gets us a tiny 1% cash back ($10.00). They normally make you bring in the full cash amount and refund your card, but heck, why not ask?

That, my friends, totaled up our discounts to 27% off the huge original cost.

The timing is / was terrible of course.  We had some flexibility with our FSA but really, this wasn’t the right time to be paying so much more for essentially an elective procedure.

In many ways, this decision was more emotional than logical: for the first time, PiC felt vulnerable in a way he’d not felt before. As the consummate worrier and planner, I worried about an earthquake or fire or other emergency happening at night where you only have seconds to vacate, and certainly not enough time to stop to put in contacts! It was less worrisome when it was just the two of us plus dog. Seamus has pretty great vision.

On the logical side of the decision, we were looking at spending hundreds of dollars to replace his contacts thanks to the aforementioned knocking out incident and his glasses were woefully out of date as well. They both needed updating at the same time which usually costs near a thousand dollars when appointments and orders are said and done. I’ve never liked him being dependent on only one set of vision aid because it’s so easy to find yourself up Can’t See Creek and that’s not the place you want to get stuck.

We committed and I have never been more of a wreck worrying – what if something goes wrong? what if he sneezes? what if an earthquake hits during the procedure? This is San Francisco, it could happen.

Thankfully, the procedure seems to have gone well. The afternoon after the procedure was a bit fraught – it’s really hard to put in eye drops when post-surgical drops glued your eyelashes together! He hasn’t had any side effects like excessive itching or worse.

The clinic does day-after, 1 week after, 1 month after and 6 months after check-ups, and so far so good. We’ve had some close calls with JuggerBaby smacking him in his “special eyes” after the surgery which was horrifying but so far, he’s come through it ok. I’ll breathe easier when his last check-ups are done and he has a totally clean bill of eye health.

As for the bill, we’ll have them help us take it out of our FSA over the next few years so that particular pain is spread out.

:: Do you wear eyeglasses or contacts? How do you take care of your vision?

March 13, 2017

What are your home dealbreakers?

On the trail of a likely home: Shh! We're huntin' houses!We’ve been going over our priorities for a new home for weeks now. There are the obvious ones: near public transit, in good school districts, walkability score, safety.

Then there are the personal things: I don’t want anything with stairs, my joints need to avoid that kind of daily up and down. He wants something facing east.

What’s tough is that this market is unnerving and bizarre. Most listings are in contract within 7 days of the open house, if not sooner, typically sell for  20% over their list price, and it’s not uncommon for them to go for more than that.

It’s such a seller’s market that we’re at a huge disadvantage making offers against people who have oodles and oodles of money. We can’t make an all cash offer, and we aren’t willing to go into a multi-million dollar loan. In some ways, it’s a good thing. We simply can’t be tempted to buy too much house! (And who wants to clean 5,000 square feet of living space??)

I looked into foreclosures but they’re priced just as badly, well north of $500K, and the buyers would have to take on the property as is. It’d be one thing if I were healthy, we can learn to be handy, but since I’m not, and we’re not renovation experts, that’s out.

We’re seeing some trustee sales which mean there’s less information available, but that doesn’t stop people from buying, and some are even buying sight unseen before the listing agent has a chance to host an open house!

Speaking of weird, I’ve even seen houses renovated without things like full showers or ovens. What? Who completely removes an oven from a kitchen? These Bay Area people, I don’t understand them. Who puts in a shower so narrow that I’d be claustrophobic in it? I’m tiny, and can fit into some bizarrely small places, but those showers are scary. Then there’s the places with almost mini-fridges. I think that’s an old timey thing, when fridges weren’t the monsters they are today, but we need our fridge space. We’re big eaters, here!

It’s strange, I tell ya.

The other half of my work this quarter is getting our place ready to sell, which means going through all kinds of disclosures that we’ll have to declare (nothing major, a few dents and scratches), and learning what sellers are required by law to declare.

One of the disclosures stood out to me: sellers must declare whether there’s been a death in the home in the last three years.

Would you be bothered if there had been a death in the home that you intended to buy, assuming it was because of natural causes?

I’m not sure if it would bother me, but I’m not sure we can afford to be picky about that, either 😀

As PiC said, “what are you gonna do when you’re bringing a knife to a gun fight?”  (Me: “Bring TWO knives!”)  We are enormous dorks.

Edit to add information people have shared on Twitter

Death doesn’t seem to bother anyone but you have to actually asked if meth was ever made in the home, they aren’t necessarily required to disclose that, and you can still get sick even after it’s been cleared out.

!!!

:: Would you consider a home that didn’t have a built in stove, oven, dishwasher, or fridge? What would you be willing to give up? When’s the last time you had to go home-hunting?

 

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich.*

March 8, 2017

An ode to massages

When massage therapy is physical therapy and makes living possibleMost people get massages for relaxation and pampering. I used to, once upon a time. They were a treat to get me from one bad flare up to another. Over time, they became the only effective physical therapy left in my toolbox. I stay active, walking as much as I can every day, stretch, do deep breathing exercises to complement my medication regimen. But that’s not enough.

The gift of fibromyalgia is ever-present pain, waking or sleeping, forever. It might be localized to a couple of areas, or generalized to my entire body, or shift from area to area. The one thing it isn’t, is gone. This may mean radiating muscular pain, shooting pains up my back, or twangs in my shoulders so they permanently attach themselves to my ears. It could mean that on an otherwise pleasant walk with Seamus, my knee gives out with every third step, or that the ball and socket joint of my hip grinds bone against bone. It might also mean that my fingers and toes suddenly swell up, making typing more than awkward, and walking even more so.

It definitely means that whatever twinges, shrieks, and burns, the rest of my body tenses up in response to the assault.

This produces a less than salubrious effect on the rest of my body, transmitting panic and trauma down the spinal cord, sending fight or flight messages to overworked and confused neurons which respond by clenching my jaw tighter than a vise in shop class, my neck muscles lose elasticity and become like steel braided rope. This repeats over and over with every muscle down to my tippy toes, and no amount of stretching will release the tension. Pain breeds stress which breeds tension which breeds pain. It’s a cycle that only a massage therapist can break.

Applying the kind of pressure that could double for an MMA submission hold, my therapist bears down on stubbornly wound-tight muscles, bringing tears to my eyes. I breathe through it as best as I can, until she moves on to the next one, and the next one. An hour feels like three, as the pain I chose forces out the aftereffects of the pain I didn’t choose. By the time it’s over, I’m nearly gasping with relief that it’s stopped. A true bargain!

I pride myself on not actually crying, which would stop the therapist in her tracks, because after it’s over, and I’m laying there, endorphins I can no longer summon through a good hard workout flood my body. And for a few hours or days, I can turn my head, turn at the waist, bend my knees (carefully) and not send a freight train of pain screeching through myself.

The money part

Because there’s always a money part. I could once claim back the cost of the massages from our FSA, with a doctor’s note, but our FSA account is overcommitted now so that’s a savings route we can’t take.

My other way to make them more affordable is to buy SpaFinder gift cards at a 10% discount. Or it was, anyway. My spa stopped accepting them without warning this year, after many years of taking them. I found myself mournfully holding a $250 gift card for the year that I couldn’t use. Thankfully, though it took several days, I finagled a refund.

This means getting fewer massages since only a few therapists can do the kind of bodywork that I need without injuring me – I learned this lesson the very hard and painful way.

With any luck, this should still be better than last year when I was so sick for most of the year that I couldn’t get any massages at all! Savings: not worth it.

:: We all need something to make it through the day, week or month. What do you do for yourself to reduce stress and live better? 

February 27, 2017

Feeling rich and poor, simultaneously

Rich or poor: how much do you need? What would it take for you to feel rich? Specifically money rich? Joe at Retire by 40 asked.

I feel rich and poor at the same time. A very strange feeling, that. I told Joe that we’re at this weird crossroads of nearly being there, for us, and then having the rug pulled out from under us with the house thing. It wouldn’t matter in another COLA but it matters a great deal here.

About 80% of our assets are invested in real estate and the stock market, intentionally. That was a long term plan I developed based on the assumption that we would pay off this mortgage in approximately 7 years. During that time, we’d go on to save at least half the same amount of cash that we do each year now, and invest that cash. At the end of 7 years, I’d legitimately feel wealthy, if all went according to that outline.

Ignoring those categories of assets, as I do in covering a contingency of this size, we’re not near the shouting distance of the neighborhood of rich.

It would be shortsighted to sell off our budding portfolio or rental property and I’m not prepared to toss either of those to the winds. It would require a far bigger catastrophe for me to be willing to liquidate our long-term assets.

On the other hand, a couple weeks ago, I started the conversation with our lender. Apparently he thinks we’re great borrowers and is totally competent as well because after 4 days, he approved our loan for a vast sum. (This is in stark contrast to our refinancing with SoFi that took almost six months. I’m at least a little bitter that I wasted all that time, now!) I don’t even like to think the number, but it’s real: $800,000.

Even with that large a loan, we’re still priced out of most homes in this area. Even smaller places, and more rundown places, than what we have now are running more than $1M. I’m just not willing to take on more debt than that.

Pardon me as I shudder in the corner for a while.

Safe to say, where we are right now? Weird. I also don’t like our financial stability to be dependent on “as long as nothing else goes wrong” because in my experience, that’s an open invitation to my old friend Murphy to come kick me in the ribs.

:: How much do you need to feel rich? Are you on a steady trajectory to that point or is it more of a waltz?

*Part of Financially Savvy Saturdays on brokeGIRLrich, and Racing Towards Retirement*

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