Friday, July 5, 2024

Keeping Busy with Bottle Kittens

After last summer's adventures in fostering puppies, which included a gnawed door, 3am poop-tastic playtime and very little sleep, I decided to try something different. Bottle-feeding itty-bitty kittens.

10 days old

I think I found my new calling. Sure, the first week is rough if they are newborns, with feedings every two hours. But after that it gets easier with each week. 3, 4, 5 hours feedings and then that fabulous day when they eat on their own. I am on my second group of kittens. This is much better than puppies because puppies get more difficult as they get older and kittens get easier as they get older. Also, kittens don't wake me up whining or barking, they are easy to keep in a small area and they don't go outside so no trampling my plants or chewing the watering system. I do love fostering puppies but until I build a sound proof, self-cleaning kennel, I will stick to kittens.

8 weeks old

I am still working from home for my day job. This week was our company shutdown and I love this new mandatory vacation. Sure, I have to use 4 vacation days but it gives me a glimpse into my life once I retire. I am not getting as much accomplished as I had hoped but I am enjoying my time off. The closet can wait to be cleaned. It is supposed to be 106 today and it is warmer in my closet than the rest of the house. 

I am still selling on eBay for the local animal shelter thrift store. When I started doing that in 2020, I brought home a lot of stuff that is challenging to list like old cameras, watches and junk jewelry. My living room is cluttered with unlisted things which I have to hide somewhere when I rent my house out in the winter/spring. It is my goal to clean off the couch this week. And yet when I see something like this face vase in the thrift store's outdoor discount area, I can't help but bring it home. Listed and sold within an hour for $80 despite the damage. If only everything sold that fast.

So far, no major expenses this year, yet. My microwave died this week after an issue with an electrical outlet that cost $150. I thought the microwave was going to live but it stopped heating. A new one is on the way for $120. One of my dogs had stomach issues which cost $600 but pet expenses are budgeted and my sister contributes to the fund since she gave me two dogs last year. I also spent $400 on rock, dirt and grading work on my tiny house property to fix the driveway and clear some weeds. The summer rain is working hard to wash away the driveway again. It needs a culvert instead of just bandaid fixes.

My retirement plan is still on track. Less than two years and then I will be putting the money toward projects like the tiny house, finally. And maybe a soundproof puppy kennel? 

Friday, January 19, 2024

Where Did 2023 Go?

I didn't realize it had been so long since I had written. 2023 was a whirlwind of spending. First, I amused myself with online shopping for shoes and a dress for my nephew's wedding. Not the nephew that lives in my mobile home, it was his older brother that got married. I spent way too much money on dresses that didn't fit and were unreturnable due to high restocking fees making it more convenient to put in my alterations pile but will probably get donated soon. I should have read the fine print but I was so hopeful that they would fit and that I would love them. I did return the Amazon purchases. The shoes were all uncomfortable no matter how much money I spent or insoles/pads I added. I just can't wear any heal without pain. 

My nephew and I headed out early in the morning to make it to California by 1pm for the rehearsal dinner. Only an hour away from the hotel, a truck or van hit the back corner of my Camry and spun us across all of the lanes of the freeway. The car in the next lane hit us in the driver door/wheel area and we ended up stunned in the carpool lane. I don't know how we escaped without injury or worse. We made it to the center of the freeway and called for help. I was sure my car was totaled but surprisingly it still ran. The highway patrol blocked off the freeway so that we, and the other car, could get off the freeway. The truck/van that started the accident was long gone. No one saw it, at least no one stopped to offer information. The tow truck driver said the wheels were still in alignment and miraculously the tire wasn't cut so we limped to the hotel an hour late. The rest of the weekend was gratefully less exciting. I drove the car all the way back home and besides an increased wind noise from the crushed door hinge, it made it just fine.

Now for the insurance part. I was on hold with State Farm for hours. First they said it was covered. The next day they said it wasn't. It was true, the damage wasn't covered. In 2020, after I started working from home, I reduced my coverage to save money. I didn't realize that "hit and run" was only covered by Collision coverage. Oops. I decided to keep the car and ignore the damage until I had more money saved. The only problem was that every time I saw the car I relived the fear of the accident. The wedding was late April. I decided to buy a car for my birthday in May. I knew that I wanted a small SUV with the same reliability as a Toyota Camry but with higher clearance so that I could drive out to my property in Vail and not scrape the underside of the vehicle on the rocky road. After some research, I found 6 Honda CR-Vs at used car dealerships in Tucson. One dealership had 3 of them so I drove up for a look. I compared the ones on the lot and settled on a 2010. I loooove it. The only things I miss from my Camry are the automatic headlights and the remote trunk open button. But the cargo room and higher clearance are awesome. The CR-V was $12,000. The dealer took my beat-up car as trade for $1500. I could have waited for a private party to sell for cheaper but I am happy with my purchase and I didn't have to look at my sad car anymore. Buying a car did put a dent in my cash emergency funds but that is what emergency funds are for. I stopped my automatic investment for 2 months to give me more cushion in my account. I added Collision coverage for this vehicle.

Also, in 2023, I had snowbird tenants in my house until the end of April, which is the longest that I have had tenants stay. After I moved back in, I started fostering for the county animal shelter. I fostered cats, 2 small dogs, and lastly a mom and puppies. It was fun but expensive and I had a lot of cleaning to do when they left. 

Cute puppies. They all got adopted in a few hours at a Petco adoption event 

The puppies got bored.

I fixed the puppy damage by gluing vinyl floor tiles to the door.

Oh, and my sister sent me two chihuahua because her neighbor passed away and the family couldn't take them. Originally, I planned to get them adopted but it turned out they were older than we thought and they have health issues. I put them online for adoption for about a week but no one was interested so with my sister's help with medical expenses, I decided to keep them. They are 13 and 14 so they probably have 3 or 4 years left. They fit in well with my other old dogs. I think I should call my house: Daizy's Senior Pup Retirement Home. 

In August my tenants from my rental house in Tucson mentioned that shingles had come loose after a wild monsoon storm. I bought that house in 2004. I know shingles last around 20 years but I didn't like the timing. $8,000 to re-shingle the roof. There went the rest of my cash savings. I put my automatic investment on hold for a few months.

My tenants for March and April said that they wanted to come back in 2024 so I was very happy. But then they both changed their plans. One shortened their stay and the other cancelled because they decided to buy a house here. I was able to get another tenant for January 2024 and at the last minute I got a tenant for Christmas-New Years week. Moving out is always annoying and hard work but I did it. I am currently in my neighbor's guest room with 5 small dogs who all, luckily, get along with her 2 small dogs. As of now, I will be moving back to my house April 1st but it is available on VRBO so I could get a last minute booking.

So, how is my retirement fund looking? Not bad actually. Even with all of the expenses in 2023 and the stock market roller coaster, I am still on track to meet my goal in less than two years. And if I wait until I am 55, then I should have enough to support my hobbies like dog/cat fostering and crafting. I might even travel but the thought of going on road trips right now doesn't sound very appealing even though I still watch all of the van life, car camping videos and I have an SUV so I could do it. I even learned that my SUV has foldable seats by watching one of those camping videos. Of course, I had to run out to the garage and try it. It worked! Do you think I can sleep in there with 5 dogs? Maybe not.

Monday, October 10, 2022

What's the Plan Now?

 Now that one rental house is sold, I technically have enough money in the bank to retire with a $2,000/month allowance until I am old enough to access my 401K. There are a few things that make me hesitate to take the plunge though. 

1) My job has been work-from-home since Nov. 2019. I really like the convenience and so do my dogs.

2) Inflation. Now doesn't seem like a good time to stop adding to my savings.

3) The wobbly stock market. Very hard to watch the dips but I am still investing new money.

4) Health insurance. I am in the process of getting a tooth replaced. Can a handle a big medical/dental bill if I stop working? Plus, my nephew is on my health insurance for another 3 years.

5) My propensity to spend money on new hobbies and habits. I bought a lottery scratcher ticket for the first time. Spent $10, won $10. I should probably stop while I've broken even. The local horseback riding business has a "buy 6 rides, get 1 ride free". That's a goal I would like to reach but at $50/hr. I probably shouldn't. On the other hand, if I can't afford a "fun money" category in my budget, I don't think I should retire yet. 

 And there are a few things that make me want to quit the full time job now.

1) Time is not unlimited.

2) Both of my parents died from dementia related issues after years of ill health in their 70's. 

3) How much money do I really need? Is it worth the trade-off?

4) Peer pressure from my friends in the 55+ community where I live even though I am only 50.

For now, I will keep working and do a few little things like weekend trips. First trip: Lockhart, Texas to visit my sister. She visits me twice a year (ok, so my house is kind of on the way to her vacation destinations) and I have never seen her house or met her dog. I am also stopping in Houston and dragging my college roommate with me. I haven't seen her in over 5 years and it is my turn to visit. It will be just like old times only a little grayer, with reading glasses.

After that, I want to go to Spokane, Sacramento, Portland, maybe Cincinnati, and Hungary. I am lucky that my nephew is willing to be my house and dog sitter. Hopefully he won't have too much trouble although all of my dogs are old, half blind, and prefer if someone accompanies them out to the yard.

One of my old dogs barking at the road runner who was pecking the glass.

It's even more fun to make plans now that I am closer to my goals. My dad retired at 55. I definitely need to retire before that! Maybe 54. 

Friday, September 23, 2022

Busy Summer Months of Sweat equity

That was an exhausting summer. I know summer isn't officially over but I'm calling it done. The two bedroom rental was trashed, of course. Yes, I know that is my fault for not inspecting it once in a while. I bought it trashed and had 3 tenants who trashed it. Cleaning it out 4 times was my limit. 

My realtor saw it at the same time I did and recommended listing it as-is for $125,000. I said no. A little clean up and I want $160,000. She was skeptical. I bought it in 2017 for $65,000. I also said I wanted to make it available for VA and Fannie Mae loans. My intent was to sell it to someone who would make it their home. This area of South Tucson is low-income and investors are buying homes and raising rents.  I could have kept it and waited for gentrification to move in. It is located close to downtown and homes sell for $300K and up in the right area. But I wanted out. Less stress. Time to move on.

They left me a car and a trampoline. No thanks. The car was towed for free. My realtor gave me the name of an awesome junk hauler and yard guy who took the junk away and trimmed up the shrubs.

A friend helped me bag up the trash. I helped her clean out her house and she helped me with mine. Win-win.

Looks like the tenant enjoyed his beer. His dog enjoyed eating holes in the drywall. The mice were living safely under the refrigerator.

You can't see it but the ceiling and walls were coated in nicotine yellow. Actually, the ceiling was still coated in nicotine when I sold it. I tried a few methods to clean it but I didn't want to damage my neck. Scrubbing a ceiling is hard.

More presents left behind.

From the oil on the kitchen walls, it appears he only knew how to deep fry. You are lucky this blog doesn't have smell-o-vision. The cigarette smell was very strong.

I tried a few different methods to clean this hard water stain. Ended up using sand paper.

That's much better.

Tried scrubbing the grease off the walls. Finally used oil based stain cover. I wish I had skipped right to the paint. It would have saved a lot of time and frustration.

Love this paint. It stank but even that helped improve the over-all smell of the house.

I couldn't pass up the chance to add a little bit of color to the kitchen. I had never tiled anything before. I spaced them so that I didn't have to make any cuts and used grout from a tube. I don't recommend grout from a tube. It was messy and probably too thin. I think it turned out ok though. I did touch up the grout with some white caulk. I bought a fancy kitchen faucet but took one look at the 1950's water lines and gave up on that idea. 

My sister came out from Texas and painted this room for me. I was so happy for the help. It looks (and smells) a lot better. I bought a paint sprayer but she opted to roll it. She probably got less paint in her hair that way.

In order to get it on the market as soon as possible, I bought a quart of the adobe color and touched up the living room paint.

Dining room end of the living room area. The house is 950 sqft. I've never liked the layout but originally it was a 1 bedroom 1 bath and then they made a second bedroom out of the back porch and added another porch.

The bathroom didn't need much work except...the tenant had disconnected the drain under the sink because the drain was clogged and had a bucket under there to catch the water. I never did find all of the parts. The plumber charged $800! to unclog the sink, put the drain back together, and replace the shower control. That was the cheaper plumber than the first one I called. I poured drain cleaner down the shower drain and bought a low-flow shower head for $15. I think it worked because the inspector didn't mention the water backing up in the shower.

This side of the house has always had a stucco peeling problem. I painted it for the third and last time. It started pouring rain but it didn't seem to bother the wet paint.

The landscape rock was well worth the $350 for a finished look. A few weeks later the weeds came back with a vengeance.  Paid the yard guy another $100 to weed-whack and spray weed killer.

I got the house on the market at the beginning of August. Google kept suggesting articles about the housing market crashing. Thanks, Google. Inventory in this area was very low with only 2 other houses as my competition. I got 3 offers within 24 hours. 1 from an investor for $130K cash, 1 Fannie Mae for $160K and 1 VA for $165K. I went with the VA loan person and decided see what hoops needed to be jumped. The inspection report took 2 weeks and the appraisal took 3 weeks. It was a nerve-wracking time wondering what they would want and whether I would have to dump them and re-list. 

The inspection list was long, as expected, but my realtor said to wait until the bank tells us what has to be done for the VA loan. The buyer wanted a new roof, a home warranty for the appliances, the stove fixed or replaced, a grounding bar added to the electrical panel, water damage fixed on the two porches and a termite warranty. 

After the appraisal came in acceptable for the loan (they didn't share what the appraisal said) the bank said that they only needed the clear termite report which included the water damage on the porch. My realtor was able to recommend a guy to replace the wood. I had to convince him to just replace the damaged parts because he wanted to do more. We had to extend the closing for 10 more days because The wood guy wasn't available yet but it finally got done and he did a good job for only $350.

I somehow fixed the stove by wiggling the wires (one burner wasn't igniting) and agreed to buy the home warranty. I had already paid for the termite warranty so that just got transferred to the new buyer. I tried to get an electrician but no one was available for such a small job. I took a gamble and said no to the new roof. The buyer accepted my terms, the house closed and I have a much bigger retirement nest egg. Whew. I am very happy. $3,500 in repairs, 1 month of Saturday cleaning and projects. It was a lot of work but worth it and I'm so glad it is over.

Friday, May 13, 2022

Is It Still "Early" After 50?

I turned 50 this week and I'm not retired yet. Something must be wrong. Or not. Plans change. Lifestyle inflation happens. I can retire at a basic level, I just don't want to quite yet. I work from home, I love staying home with my dogs all day. My investments haven't reached their goals yet. Next year though, I am taking my birthday off, at least. Working on my birthday was depressing.

 I have given notice to one tenant to vacate so that I can sell the home. It's the 2 bedroom, 1 bath near downtown. I was fine with keeping it rented until I found information that makes me think the tenant has moved out and left her adult son to live there alone. There have been a few issues with the air conditioning unit needing service and a water leak. Repair people are harder to find and replacement parts take longer to get. She was patient, her son is not. When he called me on a Friday night to yell at me to get a repairman there instantly, I suddenly wanted to sell the place. They have 7 weeks to find a new place. It will be tough since he has a dog and a project car in the backyard. I have kept rent low through the pandemic. It's $700/m and I was planning to raise it to $900 over the next couple of years. Now I like the idea of cashing out. Hopefully, they will leave without causing damage. I don't know if the housing market will still be favorable in July but I'm going to see what happens. I can always rent it out again.
My nephew says that he is planning to move out of the mobile home and into an apartment with a friend. I think that will be a very good experience for him. I am not going to sell that property yet because that is where my tiny house is and I still want to finish it. I consider the tiny house my "vacation" home even though I haven't stayed there since March of 2020.

My other rental home is ok for now. It has needed some repairs but the tenant is very nice and patient. It helps that her nephew runs a handyman company so I can call him for some of the repairs. 

I spent all of the money that I earned from winter tenants at my own house to pay for a new A/C heat unit. It was 20 years old and I didn't want to risk it going out while a winter tenant was there.  The crane was fun to watch. $7,400 for that. I hope it helps my electric bill since this unit is supposed to be more efficient. My maintenance account is low right now. All other projects besides the house I want to sell, are on hold.

So, that's the latest. Still plugging along and working on my short and long term plans. I'd like to say I can take the summer off from big projects but that house is not going to fix itself up. It will be a relief when it is cash in the bank.

Friday, March 4, 2022

Spring and Wind and Bills

It's a very windy day here in Arizona. Still sunny and 70's so I'm not complaining. My last tenants of the snowbird season arrived on Tuesday. Hopefully, they will have a great time and no problems. So far I have had a few issues but nothing major. 

My big TV decided to only play Netflix. Luckily, the tenants were happy with Netflix. I was able to do a factory reset after the tenants left and it works fine now. Cost $0, well, it took 45 minutes on the phone with Vizio help desk so not exactly $0 if you count my time. 

My dishwasher died. I bought a new one rather than try to get a used one mainly because the tenants use the dishwasher a lot and handymen and spare parts are in scarce supply. Cost: $550. 

The February tenants forgot to lower the patio umbrella during one of our wind storms. It blew over taking the glass-top table with it and shattered everywhere. They were really nice, cleaned up the mess and replaced the table before they left. Cost $0 for me. 

One of the hose connections froze during our 3 days of winter. The drip system connection was rusted onto it and it couldn't be replaced but I figured out how to use part of the garden hose to replace the whole thing. Cost $25. I was proud of myself for figuring it out and my rose bushes will be very happy to have water. Wait time for an appointment with my plumber of choice is 5 weeks. My handyman got a full time job so he is not available either. I'll find a new handyman eventually. 

A new HVAC system is still a priority and they do not have a wait list so I will make an appointment in April when the current tenants leave. 

Another extra cost that I added was an exterminator to spray for bugs twice a year. I've never had a bug-guy before but after the great cricket invasion of 2021, I hired someone when the tenants saw a "bug" and bought cans of Raid. The bug-guy assured them that the house was not infested and it was just a harmless cricket. I didn't bother to tell them about the giant sewer roaches or Huntsman Spider that I saw on the ceiling in the Summer or the increase in Black Widow spiders up against the house. They don't need to know that. Most venomous stuff is sleeping in the winter.

I cleaned and set-up the house 4 times this season. Of course, I was the messiest person to clean up after. The tenants have all been very neat and courteous. The dirties thing has been the carpet in the back bedroom. I've had to scrub it twice. I don't know why people track stuff in there but I am very glad that the carpet is brown and that it cleans fairly easily. I'm glad that is the only room with carpet.

The one room with carpet.

I'm still trying to beautify my little yard. In the summer it is green with flowers. In the winter it just looks like everything is dead. Maybe I need a mural on the block wall.



My little princess was having issues walking so I made her an appointment at a new vet office. 5 week wait for an appointment. 2 weeks before the appointment she starts crying and holding up her front paw. Of course I rushed her to the emergency vet. 7 hours later, all the tests were negative. She was on pain meds for a few days and was better than before. I think she sprained her shoulder when her feet slide on the polished concrete floor. She won't tell me where it hurts. Then, her brother's eye swelled up. I got him some ointment from the feed store and it was better after 5 days. I decided to take him to the long-awaited appointment. They said it might be a tooth infection but his bloodwork showed high kidney values so he is not a candidate for sedation and dental work. He's on special kidney food now. My pets like to remind me that I need to have enough money in my pet budget before I retire.

The princess and the pea

My retirement spreadsheet is looking pretty glum. It's doing the one step forward, two steps back dance. I suppose most people's investments are doing the same. Except for the housing market. That is still going up but it means nothing because I am not selling. Current projected retirement date is still 2 years away as it has been for the last 3 months.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Happy 2022!

 Another year full of hope and promise. So far this year I have gotten a raise, my sister agreed to let me buy her half of my house and my neighbor, who I live with during the winter, adopted a new dog. Of those three things, the one that affects me on a daily basis, is the dog. He is young and energetic and, of course, too cute. So far the other dogs are annoyed by him.

I am thrilled to be able to own the whole house. Although the paperwork isn't complete yet, it will greatly simplify my retirement calculations. Trying to manage a hybrid rental home with partners was too complicated. I should have known better since I don't even like the property management company that I have for one of my rental homes. I like making decisions alone.

This is a good time to review my properties:

1. House near the airport - rented through a property management company.

2. House near downtown- rented out by me.

3. Nephew in mobile home on 4.5 acres in the desert - I banished him there.

4. House that I live in but rent out in the winter- rented through VRBO.

5. Tiny house next to mobile home in the desert- currently unfinished inside. This is my emergency backup housing.

So, the exciting news is that I added up my account balances and I could safely retire in two months. The bad news is that I raided both of my maintenance funds to pay for half of the house so it wouldn't be prudent to quit yet especially since the house needs a new heat/AC unit ($6k).  I must focus on replenishing those accounts and keep working towards my backup funds of $1500/month. My spreadsheet says in 2 years I could do it. I bet I can do it quicker!

Friday, November 12, 2021

Autumn 2021

 Hello from the downhill side of 2021! It's been a generally uneventful year, just the way I like it. I have been keeping busy with my regular job, doing eBay sales for our animal shelter and working on puzzles with the neighbor. Add in home improvement projects and dealing with rental house issues and I don't have a lot of spare time left over.

Obligatory picture of one of my dogs. I've had her for a year now and she only tries to bite me occasionally. She refuses to look at the camera but she does like to be near me.

I bought some seeds from the local Native Seed/SEARCH company and grew these lovely Mexican Sunflower bushes. Both yellow and orange grew but mostly orange. I have never had so many butterflies in my yard! It wasn't only the flowers, it was also the extra rain we got this summer which caused a boom in the butterfly population. My sister bought me a hammock chair and I hung it off the back porch and watched them frolic.

I mostly saw Queens, Painted Ladies, Snout-nosed, Sulfur, and yellow and purple Swallowtails but sometimes a Monarch would come by too.

I decided to give the quail away. They went to live on a farm (at least that's what the guy told me).
Since I am still moving out of my house for the winter months it was easier not to have to move the quail too. Plus their food was expensive, they were messy and I only had 2 quail left.

One of my house projects was to paint the enclosed porch (aka Arizona room). And since no project is ever simple, I hired a handyman to replace the bottom 6" where it had been water damaged and crickets had taken up residence under the bottom of the wood siding.  Much better now and I am really tired of painting but I am not finished yet since I haven't painted the side with the white door.

The handyman also replaced the sagging porch beam so that I could hang my hammock chair, installed a gutter and added this rain chain which goes to a 50 gallon barrel. It hasn't rained since so I don't know if it will work in an actual storm. I did try it with a hose and it worked well.

Both of my rental houses are rented with good tenants who pay on time. One of them did fall behind last year when she lost her job but caught up again with the help of the eviction prevention funds. One house needed painting because the HOA said it was time. It was faded so, yes, it needed it. It took me 4 months to secure a painting company because the first guy strung me along and then got overwhelmed with the rain delays. The other company was faster and cheaper so in the end it worked out. Then the A/C started having issues and I paid a lot for those repairs. It's a good thing I have a maintenance fund for those houses.

Regarding my early retirement plan, well, I'll be 50 next May so if I keep working like this my "early" retirement plan is just going to be a regular retirement plan. According to my calculations, I am still at the 1 year 10 month mark. It never seems to get any closer. I blame lifestyle inflation which is completely within my control.

I did not do anything with my tiny house. I think about it often, designing and redesigning the interior in my head. My nephew still lives in the mobile home next to it and reported a big rattlesnake at the front door. He doesn't maintain the fence that I built to keep snakes out and isn't too concerned with keeping the gates closed. He might be a little more concerned now. I found a baby rattlesnake in my walled yard a few months ago. I hadn't blocked off the drain holes and there was also a gap under the gate. I'm glad that I saw it before the dogs did. The fire department came and took it away.

In two weeks I will move in with my neighbor again and rent my house to snowbirds from December through March. The eBay stuff and packing supplies make the move a lot more difficult. I will have another two weeks to clean the house and finish up my projects before the first tenants arrive. I hope there won't be any surprises like the leaking roof of last spring or Covid of the year before. Nice and predictable, that's what I'm hoping for.