A Community College Class!


In March and April, I will have the opportunity to conduct a Basic Financial Management course at the local community college. It is the “Widow’s Financial Bootcamp” that I have envisioned since about April, 2014 (when I started realizing how much financial craziness there is out there for widows to deal with in addition to losing her life partner).

The name of the class is it’s Only Money. The Dean (and her supervisor) wanted to widen the scope to anyone who needs assistance with basic financial management skills, so the word “widow” was removed from the title.

This will be a BASIC course – how to

write checks

manage a checking account,

organize financial records

read statements from banks and investment companies

and the biggie:

How to Develop and follow a budget

Eight classes from 1 to 3 in the afternoon (one a week from March 7 to April 25). I hope enough people register for it to run. So now I will start visiting the offices of every CPA and lawyer in my little town, and talking to the ladies groups in the area.

Wish me luck!!


Halloween # 2


Tonight was my second Halloween in the new community. This year I was ready! My sisters and their spouses had joined a small group including some neighbors to witness the Halloween Magic. All invited were advised that the only thing they needed to bring was LOTS of candy! We were ready. One of my neighbors brought his camera. Little did I know that he was an amazing photographer! We stationed him and a couple of other adults on the front porch to hand out candy and COUNT people.
The Celebration started for the children on the Town Square (yes, we have one – the traditional grassy city-block area surrounded by Main Street). Once the Town Square program was finished, the ghosts and goblins made their way (about a mile) to our little subdivision. Throughout the year I had been questioning the teenagers (cashiers at the grocery store, clerks at the shops in town, youth at church, etc.) about Trick or Treating in town. All had affirmed that our little cul-de-sac had been the destination of choice for as long as they could remember.
The revelers began to arrive – a trickle at first, and then the crowd arrived. As you can see from the photo, it was not unusual for there to be thirty people ranging in age from babes in arms (in costume!) to accompanying grandparents standing in the yard and street in front of the house. While a few of the costumes were Wal-Mart Wonders, most were home made – and amazingly original! As it got darker outside, someone suggested that all we needed was a little spooky organ music. My brother-in-law (a former speaker engineer who had made an AMAZING set of speakers for me) cranked up my recording of the Saint Saens Organ Symphony #3 on his speakers – and provided great atmosphere for the porch.
I had asked the “candy brigade” to keep count of all our visitors. The official summary was 383 Trick-or-treaters in costume (not counting parents and dogs). There were 142 support staff (parents, grandparents, non-costumed babies). I did count the dog in costume.
My move to this small town has been one of the great blessings of this year.
Halloween is just an extra joy!

The Mortgage Bank Draft Mystery


After the family home sold, the loan was cleared.
I went into my local credit union online account to cancel the monthly draft which paid the mortgage on a timely basis. No problem. The sale of the house came very close to the time that the draft was due, so I wasn’t sure exactly how the account would be paid the last time.
About 30 days after the house sold and the mortgage was paid, I received a check from the mortgage company refunding a monthly payment. OK, I thought, just processing that last payment, made after the close.
Then, the next month, I received another refund check. Luckily, I had an unusually high balance in my account to cover all the unexpected fees related to selling the house. So I went into my bank account software and confirmed that the payment was no longer scheduled.
Then, the next month, I received another refund check.
This time, I went to the local branch of the bank, death certificate in hand, and asked to speak with an official. I brought my bank statement, the refund check, and had her log into my online account. She confirmed that there was no draft request for the mortgage company payment. So – she called someone who specialized in bank drafts.
The real explanation was certainly interesting. My husband and I each had a username and password for the online account. I really don’t know why, because he never accessed it, and he never made online payments. Evidently when the account was new, I just used one username and password for both of us, but later added one for myself (again, I do not remember why). I had been using my personal username and password for setting up monthly drafts for quite some time.
The mortgage payment draft had been set up using my husband’s user name and password, so I did not have the “authority” to cancel the draft using my username and password. The bank official used her magic, and confirmed that the draft was, indeed, eliminated.Finally, I have no more drafts.
After more than a year, the widow’s life just continues to be interesting.

A New Major (again)


The saga of my daughter’s search for a college degree continues with increasing complexity.

Now, after studying American Sign Language for three years, (changing colleges due to the general poor product quality of the prior ASL department), the Interpreter Program has informed my daughter that she cannot continue in their department.  She did not pass the nationally proctored exam (after six months of study in their program), so the department has booted her out. THIS mom is NOT a happy camper.

The irony here is that Daughter received 5 A’s this semester, has a 3.9 GPA, and is a gifted linguist.  She was fluent in Japanese at the age of 17, and majoring in that language through her freshman year (after spending a summer in Japan). Some extenuating circumstances necessitated her departure from her first college, and the subsequent transfer to the Sign Language major. Now, as she looks back on the field where she excelled, we find that there are VERY few schools in this state that offer a major in Japanese.

So, back to square one, essentially.  An additional challenge is that the state of our residence has a maximum on the number of in-state tuition rate hours that any one student can use toward an undergraduate degree. Just one more piece in the new puzzle.

The next step is to talk to a counselor at the new University.

Life continues with its twisted sense of humor.

Finally – A Sale


Late yesterday, the official word came – the house is FINALLY sold. Papers signed – after only eight months on the market.

But, of course, not before one last kink in the chain. In mid-afternoon my Manager called to say that the buyers did not want the appliances that I had left – an upright freezer, and a washer and dryer. All three appliances of excellent quality, and in working order, but none anywhere near new. They had not been included on the contract, and the buyers didn’t want them.
So – I tasked my Manager with disposal (suggesting the Thrift Shop I had managed for a brief time). No – the Thrift Shop wasn’t interested. Mr. Manager has discovered a group in town that has a truck and hires “college hunks” to move things locally for a reasonable fee. What a find this service was!! But, before that was scheduled, a casual conversation with the across-the-street neighbors (of 25 years) revealed that they would like to have them for their beach house. (Yes!!)
There are so many things that have just happened “by coincidence” related to my relocation. This is yet another. The appliances vacated the house. “The check is in the mail” (or rather, in the hands of some courier service, soon to be invested in the new community.

Late Credit Card Payment Fees


When I became a widow I had a credit score of 800.

My husband liked to sign up for credit cards.  At his death, there were 33 on his credit report. I started canceling the credit cards in his name. Of course, I was the second card holder on many of those cards.

As I talked to financial advisors, going to classes on financial management and credit, and started purchasing a house, I was advised to STOP CANCELING THE CREDIT CARDS – that it would have an adverse effect on my credit score. Fine. So I stopped. The credit cards are in a drawer. I really don’t know where my credit score is right now. Last time I checked (when I got the mortgage on my townhome) it had dropped to 760.  I suppose I should go to the bank and ask if my current mortgage holder will run another score for me.

Then today, when I picked up the mail, I had a letter from American Express that my last payment was late, and it had triggered the Penalty APR (27.24%). American Express has the fastest turn-around of all the cards/payments that I am required to make. After returning from our cruise in December, I realized that I was close to a late payment on AmEx, so called and made the payment on the phone. I also changed my address in their files.

Imagine my surprise when I got another bill at the old address, and the payment by phone was not recorded as timely.

Soooo…I called American Express.  On the letter where I received the notice of “late payment” there was a number to call to pay online.  However, they could not assist with my late penalty challenge.

So I called the number on the regular monthly bill I had received.  This card is the required Costco Amex. That bill actually had a “Customer Care and Billings” number listed. Please keep in mind that Costco is one of my favorite vendors. The stores are well run, their CEO takes a reasonable salary, the staff are well compensated. I was not surprised that there was a Customer Care number. And I was not disappointed.

After passing through three or four suggestions that I handle my business by computer, I actually was able to talk to a very polite, efficient and effective young man. I explained my challenge with the address change.  He confirmed that the new one was now the one of record, that the latest statement had still gone to the old address , but all future correspondence would be correct.  I also explained to him that as a new widow I was experiencing some challenges with creditors as the changes in address and primary account holder were being made. He could see that I had been a cardholder for sixteen years, and that my payment record was excellent.

Now here was the amazing part – I tried to pay the amount on the statement.  He could see that the prior statement had been paid, and that the only new charge was the $26 late payment fee.  He waived the fee, and confirmed that there was no current balance. He also confirmed that the 27.24% late penalty APR would not go into effect, and that no report would be made to the credit bureaus. It will be interesting to confirm that in the next month or so.

Through all this my little black kitty has been sitting beside me, walking across the keyboard, crawling over the shelves/printer, and making me laugh.  She just somehow knew that I needed some comic relief.

Selling and Donating Cars


Last March, ten months ago, I found exactly the car that I was looking for – A red Subaru Forester (see the post A New Car). I bought it the day after it magically appeared on the dealer’s lot close to my new town home (although I had NOT purchased the house yet). It has been the perfect car to meet my needs.

At the time that I bought the Subaru, it made me the proud owner of FOUR cars…the one that I now drive, my daughter’s ancient Mazda Protégé, the little red Mazda 6 that had been my husband’s 60th birthday present to himself, and a vintage Toyota Previa van.

In that ten month period, I had disposed of the Previa by donating it to a local charity. They provided a letter stating that they were able to use it in their exempt purpose, even inviting me to the blessing ceremony, where the keys were handed over to the new owner. The Internal Revenue Service has very specific rules on the deductibility of donated vehicles (See IRS Notice 2005-44). It explains that if the charity resells the vehicle, the donor’s deduction is limited to the actual sales price of the vehicle when it is sold by the charity. However, the donor may claim a deduction of the vehicle’s fair market value if the charity makes a “significant intervening use of the vehicle, such as using it to deliver meals on wheels”.  The difference in the deduction is between $250 or $2000.

AND – on Friday, my brother was able to sell the Mazda 6 to CarMax. One of the great gifts I have received in the last ten months is a series of meetings with two professionals. One is a CPA who has been a friend and colleague for many years.  The second is a Wealth Planner whose clientele include a significant number of widows. Even with my background in finance, I do not know how I could have managed the financial challenges without their continuing sound advice. At our last meeting, I was bemoaning the fact that I had not been able to find a buyer for the Mazda 6.  Both suggested taking the car to Car Max (they had both done that in the past).  I had not even considered that option, thinking that because they were going to resell the car, the price that they offered would be very low.

HERE ARE THE FACTS related to my Mazda 6.  When I purchased the new Subaru, they offered me only $4500 to trade in the Mazda.  Last week at CarMax, I was offered $8000 (and that was ten months later!) So…DO NOT automatically trade in an older car when purchasing a new one! Make sure you at least get a quote from CarMax! They made an offer that was good for seven days.  My brother was selling the car for me. It provided enough time for me to sign the title and send it overnight it to him in another city. Now, strangely enough, when he presented the notarized title, they demanded a Power of Attorney as well (which I also sent by FedEx).  We have an excellent Credit Union in town where I keep my more liquid funds.  I had walked in the first day with the title, and they notarized it for no fee.  The SECOND time I went in, the attorney I had spoken with the day before said, “They don’t need the Power of Attorney!” I just smiled at him and asked him to please provide the document, which he did, again for no fee.  One thing that I have learned over the last ten months is that it is much simpler to provide information which people request than try to convince them that they really don’t need it!

I currently own only TWO cars, instead of FOUR.

Now, if I could just reduce the number of houses from two to one I would be in great shape!

A New Year


OK…a new start.  New house, new town, new car. Still working on selling the old house and the old little red sports car. The family van was donated to a local charity who has been able to use it in their program.

So what’s next?

I know myself well enough to realize I need a regular place to go to work/volunteer.  I am not enough of a self-starter to just make things happen on my own. In my new town, I have already accepted positions on two volunteer boards – a local theater company, and the Homeowners association for my townhome community. I am a true believer that  “when the time is right, the position will appear.”

There is a rehabilitation center in town – a great organization that provides an excellent work-out space, exercise machines and classes.  I have completed a volunteer application there – the main reason being that everyone in town seems to rotate through there in some capacity at some time. The first day I worked out, I saw three people that I know already – and considering how short my list of acquaintances is here, that was impressive.

I have also started attending a church close to my house that fits my belief system very well, and I participate in the music program. Again, a way to reach out into the community in a gradual way.

But until the next regular work/volunteer opportunity arises, what shall I do?

This blog started as a cooperative effort with another widow. We will be getting together soon to write a curriculum for a community college course (non-college-transfer). There is a branch in my new town, so I am optimistic about that upcoming effort.

House Sale Price Incentive (Lower the Price)


After having the house on the market for 12 weeks, it’s time to increase the buyer’s incentive by lowering the price.  I learned that if you change the price, the listing goes back up to the top of Multiple Listings – plus the potential buyers are encouraged by “bargain buying”.  We lowered the price from $350,000 to $339,900.  My Move Manager immediately noted that the decrease “looks bigger than it is”… a concept that would not have occurred to me, but is absolutely true.  By reducing it to $339,900 instead of $340,000, it gives the impression of a much lower price by putting it in the 330,000s group instead of the 340,000s group.  Now, at Christmas time, we are having our highest traffic level to date.  When I expressed my surprise, Mr. Manager stated that if large corporations are going to transfer families (by giving the employee a big job opportunity in another city), they will often give notice to the employee in October, so that they have time to travel to the new site over the Holidays with their families to scope out the possibilities.

As the weeks go by, my out-of-pocket costs related to the “empty” house on the market have stabilized, but are still at $1400 per month. Granted, this is all not real expense, because after living in the house for 25 years, most of the payments now go to capital rather than paying for interest.  I will get most of the money back when I sell the house. But, the cash out is still $1400, and I’m paying it out-of-pocket.  That was also a factor in “speeding up” the sale by reducing the price.

An interesting technology experience came from the real estate agent sending me an Agency Agreement Amendment through DocuSign. I was not able to make the signature function work on my Smart Phone (an Android). When I tried to add the signature, the next screen was blank, but it did fine through Gmail, and I was able to print it for my file after a little encouragement.

We will see how the latest “trick of the trade” affects the sale of my lovely old house.

The Kitty’s Gift


Just now, while I was sitting at the computer, editing a blog post, my little cat just came and sat in my lap, quietly. Just sat, and purred. Of course, I stopped what I was doing, and rubbed the cat in long strokes. She responded by purring her very quiet rumbling purr. She stayed there for about three minutes, then moved on.

Now, my little black cat, Arya, is an interesting little girl (about eighteen months old). She is not a lap cat, but is always in the room with me.  If I am working  and move to another room, she follows within a few minutes.  She quietly sits on the highest point she can find, (or, in contrast, on a chair under a table, or just on the floor under a chair, under some “cover”), tucks her front feet under her chest, and snoozes. Very quiet, very subtle. Just there, just company.

Arya very rarely purrs, and her purr is so quiet you feel it if you pet her, rather than hear it.  My other cat, 14-year-old Mew, has the world’s loudest purr – and she purrs often.  It also is a gift…in the evening, she will crawl up in my lap, or beside me on the couch and purr, and then, often, go to sleep nearby, seeming to purr when she is asleep sometimes.

But little Arya’s gift of a lap minute and a little purr was rare, and special.

I am blessed with two lovely feline friends.