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I had a very pleasant meeting yesterday with a realtor who I selected based on researching recent local sales on zillow. Nothing quite like a demonstrated record of selling items in my neighborhood for the sort of price I'm interested in. Based on the initial contact and look-round it seems like we may deal well together. We chatted about what sorts of buyers might be interested in a property like mine and what sorts of prep work would be needed to pitch to that sort of buyer. We also chatted about different budget levels. (For example, the benefits of being able to offer a completely empty and totally refurbished property versus my ability to cover the mortgage without rental income for however long it would take.) His approach is to draw up plans for several levels of staging, so we'll see. A lot would depend on how quickly the property would move and that's not very predictable. At any rate, he's quite confident that I can get the sort of price I have in mind, and definitely has in mind a complete clear-out of my unit for the staging, so I'm back on track with packing things up.

On the down side, I took yesterday off sick (so no friendly hand-shakes with the realtor!) and other than the hour of showing the house I spent the day in bed, mostly sleeping, occasionally sipping chicken broth. Nothing much -- just a sore throat and feverish. Roused enough in the evening to do the taxes only to find that there's one schedule still being revised and I can't submit until Monday. Well, it won't be that much delay in the refunds, but still annoying.
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Emptied another file drawer. The "get rid of all but one filing cabinet" project is going forward no matter what happens on the real estate front. It's fascinating to contemplate the half-life of "important papers". Eventually, everything becomes obsolete and irrelevant. It's comforting, in a way, that decisions that may seem nerve-wracking today may be crystal clear in five years. There will be no more linguistics undergrads popping up in my in-box asking me to dig through my memory of their classwork in order to provide a recommendation letter. The receipts and presentation handouts from the conference in Paris are long since irrelevant. And, as previously noted, there's no point at all in saving the hard-copy printouts of my dissertation data when I have the original computer files. (Although it occasionally reminds me that I should at least leave the world the legacy of the tidied up database of Medieval Welsh preposition data.) On the other hand, I found some things stuffed into the file folders that had no business being treated as old reference materials (e.g., the commercial pattern for the Boksten Man's clothing that I bought back in '99 in Denmark). This is why I actually look through the files before tossing them in recycling.

My excessively-over-engineered integrated financial tracking database has passed its next test: rolling over to the new year. There are certain features built into the files that assume each year's data will get archived out of the working file. Well, ok, one is a feature and one is a bug. The cumulative budgeting figures (i.e., whether I'm on-target for the categories with a specific budgeted amount) work off a "total in-category divided by day-of-year" so there's an awkward period between the start of the new year and the point when the old data gets archived when a year-plus's expenses get divided by just the "plus" number of days. The bug is that some of the internal complexity of the files makes navigation start to get r---e-----a-----l-------l---------y slow as more and more records are added. For most data entry it doesn't cause problems, but when I want to review the running balance for one of the sub-accounts, I'd better have a solitaire game handy.

I haven't done the full end-of-year financial analysis yet, but I'm delighted to find that I stayed under all but one of my tracked budget categories. (The one I missed on was "office supplies". Not sure if I would have been on-target if I hadn't had to buy a new laptop. Also, I was on-target for "food" only if you combine the sub-categores "groceries" and "prepared food". I went under on the former and over on the latter, but only by small amounts.) Since the budget tracking is something I use as a reference reality-check, rather than having unbreakable set-asides, this means that I've internalized my budget targets sufficiently.

And I believe I have all the paperwork and data necessary to do my taxes! So that's a project for tomorrow.
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The theory is that I'm supposed to sit down and update the financial data a couple times a week, but in reality today is the first day I sat down to make routine use of the newly programmed FileMaker finance package, including reconciling the MC bill. In general, things worked the way they're supposed to. There's one macro routine that didn't call up quite the right set of records. (Easily worked around on the fly, but needs to be fixed.) And the statement reconciliation doesn't go entirely smoothly unless you create records for any additional fees and whatnot before starting the reconciliation routine. But other than that, it does what I wanted it to, including the very useful system snapshots with running balances that point out what my cash flow for the month looks like. I am pleased with myself. In a very geekly sort of way. Now I need to get off my butt and do the taxes so I can get my refund.

Geeking!

Feb. 19th, 2010 09:45 pm
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I am having the most insane amount of fun converting my previous all-encompassing financial tracking system (in Excel) into a new all-encompassing financial tracking system (in FileMaker). Yes, I'm having fun re-inventing Quicken from scratch (except that it's designed specifically to do exactly and only what I want it to do).

There wasn't anything particularly wrong with the Excel version, but I wanted to automate a few more processes, and I wanted to remove some redundancies (like, when I enter the mastercard payment, I didn't want to enter it both where it came out of the checking account and where it went into the mastercard account, or when I get cash from an ATM, I didn't want to make separate entries in the checking register and the cash tracker). And rather than having separate Excel tables for each financial "system" that I'm tracking, I wanted a completely integrated record. I wanted a more elegant, push-button way for doing the statement reconciliation. I had a number of very long drop-down menus for my various budget-tracking categories and I wanted to set up a more dynamic interface where initial selections would narrow down the next set of options.

I've done a couple of tear-down-and-start-again rounds in the last day, but I now have the basic framework set up and it's just a matter of tweaking some of the interfaces and setting up the budget-goal reporting screen. So far, the hardest part has been explaining to co-workers just what I was working on over my lunch break. (Quote: "I just look over my bank statement to see if anything looks funny, otherwise I don't worry about it.")
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I signed the papers for the refinance today. Cut for financial boasting of a socially inappropriate nature. ) So now I can figure out what my budget is for redecorating the guest bedroom and get to work.

I've been having fun this evening putting together a little "lady in waiting kit" for my time on [livejournal.com profile] duchessletitia's court. I've left out several of the items on the recommended "How to Serve on Court" list, but I have reasonable confidence that I will be ready to pull rabbits out of hats as necessary.
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Had the appraisal for the refinance today. The fellow was cheerful and friendly and seemed impressed with the house, but I don't know if that's a good sign for getting the appraisal I need or whether it's just his "game face" and doesn't mean a thing. I keep reminding myself that worst-case is no change from my current perfectly comfortable rate. (Well, it would also mean I'd be out several fees to no end, but that's the only gamble involved.) I should know sometime next week, I think.
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Having done some preliminary research and number-crunching, today I set things in motion to take advantage of the current low mortgage interest rates by refinancing. My initial rule of thumb was that if I couldn't get at least one percentage point lower than my existing, it wasn't worth the hassle. It looks like I'll be getting slightly more than 1.5% better than my current rate, which is a nice chunk of change shaved off the monthly bill. I do feel just a smidge guilty that the reason I'm able to take advantage of this is precisely and exactly because I don't need to. (So I guess that "shameless" in the subject line is just a good turn of phrase.)

Taxed

Mar. 2nd, 2009 10:53 pm
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Ok, now I've finished my taxes. Clicked "send" and all. Now we'll see if the Great State of California actually has any money to pay refunds. And this time I'll backup the TurboTax file in multiple media (not just the print-out) for next year.
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Well, I didn't quite manage to finish the taxes completely, since I discovered that I don't seem to have received the official 1098 for my mortgage. (Got the 1098 from the same institution for my equity-line loan.) I guess it's possible that I received it and it's somewhere in the unexcavated part of the dining room table. At any rate, I'll nag Wells Fargo about it tomorrow. I have the numbers roughed in from the monthly statements, but if I'm saying "X appears on the 1098" then I want to be certain it's true. At any rate, I have some notion what my refunds will be, which is nice. (And yet one more nice thing about Turbo Tax is that if my roughed-in numbers aren't quite correct, the changes will be propagated automatically. Yay.) I don't know why this process is so mentally exhausting. Maybe it's all the ancillary activities, like making sure the year's receipts and statements are all organized and filed. And doing the 5-year archiving of the various document folders. (You know, all those old utility statements, bank statements, etc. etc. that one keeps forever.) And running around tracking down random numbers that I forgot I was going to need. And deciding how the odd random deductible expenses should get categorized. And ... yeah, mentally exhausting.

Today To-do

Mar. 1st, 2009 01:43 pm
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First step in Getting The Taxes Done is accomplished -- I've crunched up the 2008 expenses in order to have them conveniently available for inserting in the forms. (Actually, the first step was buying the 2008 copy of Turbo Tax.) Now to excavate all the relevant tax-related statements from the pile of non-urgent mail on the dining room table.
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Ok, ok, so I freely admit that I trend data reflexively, even in my spare time for fun. One of the things I've been doing for the last several years is that when the gas & electric bill gets paid, I note down the individual gas and electric charges for the month in a spreadsheet. (And then graph the trend on a 12-month chart with the years and charge types color-coded.) As it happens, I have one month's bill that corresponds to the month after I started going to my new gym and before I turned on the heater pilot for the winter. The former is relevant because it means that I do my showering at the gym rather than at home. It appears that during a typical non-winter month, fully one third of my gas consumption was going to heating my shower water. Mind you, this isn't as massive a consumption as one might think, given that the bulk of the remainder is running the laundry (with a smaller amount for cooking). But ... amusingly ... it gives me a tangible number to discount against the monthly gym membership. In contrast, during the coldest winter month, gas consumption is 3-4 times that of a typical summer month. Ok, back to writing out bills.
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My friends, this is how they do it -- remember and be paranoidly vigilant.

You know how I had my Wells Fargo credit card cancelled and replaced after the burglary? Well, today I got an e-mail purporting to be from Wells Fargo saying they're concerned about unusual activity on my account and I need to fax them all my personal and account information to verify my identity or they'll cancel my account.

Yeah, right. Other than my knee-jerk assumption of fraud, what were the clues? Well, once you pull up "view source code", the e-mail address of mine that they're sending it to was harvested off my web site and is clearly one I would never have given to my bank. And the area code for the fax number is a toll number in New Jersey, not the expected toll-free number. And, oh yeah, what was the other problem with their approach? I'M NOT STUPID!

Of course, I get dozens of phishing spams like this every month -- hundreds in a year. Most are instantly recognizable as such because they're for companies I don't have any dealings with. But remember: pure chance means that they're eventually going to hit one you do. And like any good "cold reader", the bait is vague enough yet specific enough that if they get a chance hit on your immediate circumstances, you supply the rest of the scenario in your head. There is absolutely no reason to suppose this scam e-mail has any connection to my burglary. It doesn't need to. They shotgun this thing out to hundreds of thousands of e-mail addresses and all they need is one or two people who have recently lost a Wells Fargo credit card who will panic and respond without thinking things through.

Now to see if Wells Fargo has a fraud reporting e-ddress I can forward it to.
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I just got a sales call from a Wells Fargo representative (the company that holds my mortgage and credit card account). It was a heads-up about a great new personal insurance offer they're going to be sending me in the mail -- along with a $25 gas gift card no-strings-attached just for considering the offer. But in the middle of the spiel, I start twigging on this phrase he keeps mentioning about "calling to decline the offer" and I ask straight out, "What happens if your 60-day period to respond goes by and I don't call you to decline it?" Oh, he says, then they assume that I've accepted the offered insurance policy. And -- although I couldn't quite get him to say so in as many words -- they start charging my account for it. Oh, he assured me that if the 60 days passed and they started charging me I could tell them "oh silly me, I just utterly forgot to tell you not to sign me up for this" and they'd reverse it. Yeah, right. Like that makes it better.

So, oh my friends in finance and business, how can something like this actually be legal? How can a company -- even one with whom I have an existing business relationship -- create an "opt-out" type of contract for an insurance policy where I can be considered to have become a party to a contract without actually taking positive action to enter into the contract? (Note that I'm not asking whether it's moral or ethical -- we already know the answer to that.)

And is there any governmental agency I can complain to about this? I'm not feeling sufficiently gratified by having given the sales guy an enormous piece of my mind and requested him to take official note of my feedback. (I would like to note that no four-letter words escaped my mouth even when I was asking him how he managed to sleep at night after participating in as nasty a piece of work as this policy was.) I think I even managed to get him a little uncomfortable by the end of the call, although that's probably just my imagination.
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It was an errandy day. (Hey, "errandy" is a word in Medieval Welsh, after all.) On my lunch hour I picked up the check from Toyota refunding my useless deposit, so now I'm officially free of any consequences of going elsewhere. The dealership in Vacaville claims in its on-line inventory to have two red Priuses, although it doesn't include a mention of the interior color or which options package they include. (I can make guesses from the listing price, though.) After the weekend I may wander up there and see what's up.

Then I took off from work early for a hearing test at Kaiser (the last item from my Major Tune-up ... uh ... checkup). I seem to have passed the test with an A-minus. The usual minor loss of certain frequencies, but evidently the tinnitis doesn't interfere with tone discrimination under test conditions. Kaiser was once again startlingly efficient: I was out the door again within 15 minutes of having arrived. This meant that technically I could have gone back to work and still had maybe 20 minutes before my usual quitting time, but it hardly seemed worth the bother. So instead I swung by the credit union to deposit the Toyota check then finished (most of) the food shopping for the party. (I still have to pick up disposable plates and napkins; I didn't get the ice cream this time because it would have sat in the car while I was working out; and I'm leaving the shrimp for the BBQ skewers to pick up Sunday morning so they'll be fresh.)

I decided not to start the food prep this evening, in hopes of getting to bed at a reasonable hour. Instead i'll be organizing the various recipes to make sure I don't forget anything. (If I don't make up a full flow-chart, I have this annoying habit of forgetting entire planned dishes on occasion.)
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After work today I biked up to the Toyota dealership to do some paperwork for them to do any necessary car swaps with other dealers to get my desired model. (The salesman tried to get me to back down on the gray upholstery and be willing to accept the beige instead, but I'm holding my ground. I feel like if I start compromising on the specific features I decided on, then it'll all start eroding. Since he started talking about alternate paint colors, too, I think my wariness is well founded.) There's currently one (1) car that matches my specs within a 50 mile radius, but I OKed a wider search if necessary. We're still working on having it ready for me to pick up next Monday. We also did the price negotiation. Of course, I'd get a better deal if I were willing to take something they already have in stock, but I got at least a little reduction from his first offer. The final price is a bit more than I was hoping for, but within what I have available. And I reminded him that I wanted a bow on top (which he hadn't forgotten).
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Last night I tossed together a new pair of hose to wear for the feast this weekend. Just need to finish the lacing holes this evening. Actually, I chalked out two pair (because they fit the fabric nicely that way) but only cut one because it's a radically new pattern draft, for which I'm glad because the pattern could still use some tweaking. (There's a smidge too much bag at both the ankle and knee, and the seat is just a little ... peculiar. Not so much that I need to fix the existing pair, but enough to need modification for the future.)

Also pinned the overgown in pleats to the stay-tapes, which looks like it's going to work decently. So they need to be sewn down.

I've decided which of the archaeological-clothing dolls I want to take to Costume Con for the doll display -- and realized that I can pretty much canibalize the write-ups on my web page for the accompanying documentation. (Not particularly in-depth documentation, mind you, but enough to explain what's going on. I have no idea what the usual standards are for this display, but I'm definitely in "showing up is 80% of success" mode at the moment.) Since the doll display runs through Monday and I'm only taking Friday off work but not Monday, I'll have to see if I can arrange for someone else to pack them up for me, or whether I'll have to pull them out early. (Or whether it'll be ok to drive down Monday after work to pick them up.)

So I figure I can get all the sewing finished tonight. That leaves me Wednesday and Thursday evenings (and Friday morning, for that matter -- but you know me: no last-minute packing) to make sure I have everything packed and organized for both Collegium and Costume Con, and continue reviewing my stage directions and responsibilities for my part as Butler at the feast.

It looks like the state tax refund has also hit my bank account (and the remainder of the annual bonus is due to come in this Friday). I suppose I could call the credit union to verify the refund, but the balance looks right for it and I'll have the April statement in hand to confirm everything before the time comes to write a check for the car. My Toyota rep has checked in by e-mail and they don't have my desired model in stock at the moment "but new shiments are arriving every day" and he's checking around with other dealerships. And, when it comes down to it, it's more important to me to get the package I want than to get it by my due date, so I'm not stressed about it.
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Spent part of my lunch hour wandering around in Oakland's rent adjustment board (aka, rent control) website. They have some handy-dandy tools there, like a spreadsheet that can calculate your allowable rent increase for properties that haven't had increases for multiple years and other justifications for increases above the allowed % for this year. But they also have a list of properties exempt from the rent control program, including "2 or 3 units on a single assessor's parcel when one of the units is occupied as the owner's principal residence". So what it comes down to is that while I might find it useful to use their other tools to calculate a reasonable rent increase, I'm not legally restricted by the ordinance. I'm still likely to end up only slightly above "pussycat" on the Evil Landlady scale -- although I'm sure it won't feel like that on the other end.

Refunded

Apr. 17th, 2008 01:35 pm
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Yay, my federal tax refund appears to have entered my bank account. One step closer to Prius Day!
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I like e-filing. And I'm quite fond of the notion of having my refund automatically deposited in my account within two weeks, too. This is cool. (And, like all good computer games, it's kept me up entirely to late at night.)
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I've completed my jury duty obligations by virtue of a mid-morning check of the web site. So back to the salt mines. I spent my lunch hour reviewing the printouts from Turbo Tax. Somehow my writing royalties have managed not to end up in the right place (which I've had my hand slapped for before, so I know I need to get it right). And for some reason there's a spot where it's counting my entire gross income from the 1040 as "business income" on a worksheet for calculating some limitation or other rather than pulling the Schedule C gross income. It doesn't affect the taxes, but it just looks wrong. There are two miscellaneous expenses (one for the rental property, one for the publishing) that I think I'm going to split out into the "other" category so I can annotate them. But other than that, things ended up in the same spots as on last year's forms and all the calculations look right. Eventually I should put in for changing my withholding based on the ways that the rental property affects what I owe, but I think it's going to be several years before I have a good idea of what the baseline is going to be and I'm lazy enough to prefer letting the government earn interest on my withholding to figuring out how to cough up a chunk of change if I underestimate.

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