Josh Bruce
Welcome to the rabbit-hole.

April 1st, 2021 paycheck

Created on:

Updated on:

Two main things remain regarding major changes to how I do the money thing.

The first is the great credit card migration, more on that later.

The second is continuing to consolidate and otherwise reduce future expenses, which includes an annual membership due to an association I joined six years ago; 80 USD per year.

I'm not much of a joiner and always want to get a lay of the land before committing. I ask myself if I want to be associated with these people; particularly the worst among them because that's how in- and out-group preference and bias works. I haven't decided if I want to be associated with the people in the group; however, I haven't run away yet and there does seem to be decent membership benefits, which I would like to incorporate into my Financial Independence lifestyle moving forward.

They offer a lifetime membership. The price goes down with age. For me it was a little over 1,000 USD. When I posted to the Choose FI Facebook group that I had done this lifetime membership, it caused a bit of a stir. The majority of people (over 200) reacted with likes or hearts or similar. Then there were two groups of commenters.

One group didn't like that I had used the word "saved" in the context of no longer spending money. We had an interesting conversation that ended with me conceding that, yes, strictly speaking, I'm no longer spending that money on that thing. However, that means 80 USD per month needs to go somewhere and no matter how we cut it, at least 30 of it will go toward long-term saving.

It’s not the whole 80 because I joined a different association, the Escapees RV Club. This membership is 50 per year. I'm looking at the benefits and forums to check out the community. Given this is the desired future lifestyle the membership seemed a fair investment. So, this first year will be to look at, and take advantage of as many of the benefits as I can; then decide if I’ll pause the membership until I'm ready to hit the road. (They offer a lifetime membership and I’d need to live for 17 more years to break even.)

The other group of commenters from the Facebook group brought up the very real risk the association would be gone before I break even (in roughly 17 to 22 years, I'm hoping to live at least twice that long and if I don't, it won't matter if I spent this money). I did put the risk of them going away into my considerations.

The association has been around almost 100 years. They seem financially stable enough to hold events and do the federated organization thing. The association is more about community than it is about a product or technology, which is where I see people "getting burned" most often. Lodges, POW-MIA associations, and things like the Masons, for example, have been around for ages and will probably continue to be around, because it's about community more than it’s about a gadget or process.

So, let's see if I can break this down:

  1. I canceled my carshare membership, which was 70 USD per year (wasn't near any of the cars and wasn't using it because of COVID).
  2. Canceled my extra cloud storage, which was about 120 USD per year.
  3. I purchased a lifetime membership to this association, which was 80 USD per year (I get the benefits without the cost until death do us part — mine or theirs).
  4. I switched to a prepaid cellphone plan, making my bill go from around 1,440 to roughly 360 USD per year.
  5. I added 50 USD per year for the Escapees RV Club.
  6. I added 3,600 USD per year for the auxiliary medical insurance.

All told, a net loss. I saved (or cut, if you don't like the word saved being used this way) 1,450. I added 3,650. Meaning I spend 2,200 more dollars per year than I did last year. The way I look at the insurance and membership I added is I can cancel them at any time and am looking to see what the full benefits are given their purposes.

If the insurance can cover medical expenses for me, then I can get rid of my employer plan, which saves me 2,400 USD per year; this would mean losing the tax benefit and ability to contribute to my HSA. It also means my medical care would be decoupled from my employer and geographical location.

Financial institutions

Cash reserves going down.

Waiting to hear back on moving my business accounts to a new institution.

I’m hoping to have 3 institutions for personal, business, and insurance. Right now I technically have 4.

Credit cards

Received the American Express card. If I spend 3,000 USD on the card in the first 90 days I get bonus points with a 250 cash value.

I put the association membership on the card, which got me almost halfway there. I’ll be using it for the first couple months of premiums for the insurance, which should get me two-thirds there. I had a 300 USD medical bill for a tele-health call I did after a fall. I’ll move other monthly expenses to it temporarily and see what happens; the key is to buy things I prepared for anyway, not just shop to get points. It's also getting used to replace some of the clothes.

I discovered Instacart comes across as general retail, not supermarket or grocery, which means I’m not getting the 3 cents per dollar I was going for. With my latest order, I went with the grocery store’s app. They use Instacart for the delivery and hopefully it comes through as grocery or supermarket. (It doesn’t come through as a supermarket purchase; so, hopefully I can start going to the grocery like I used to. I’m appreciating Shipt over Instacart.)

I’m using grocery delivery because of COVID and I can afford to delegate that and over-tip the drivers. Going myself after getting vaccinated should lower monthly expenses (hoping to get vaccinated April 2nd).

Received my new cash rewards card. This becomes my card for recurring payments and fallback if a place doesn’t accept American Express; 1.5 cents per dollar regardless of category.

This leaves a third card, which is currently my primary card. The limits for the two new cards combined is 13,000 USD. To maintain the same available credit, I’ve decided to reduce the limit of my current primary card to 2,000 USD. My utilization rate is effectively zero, so, not worried about negative impacts to my credit score due to the reduction. This card is one of the 20 year old cards and I’ll probably keep it open for a couple of years while the other two begin to mature. Experian says the credit history for the card will be around for 10 years after I close it; until then, the card goes on a shelf. It’s open and has a credit of almost 100 USD and some points — they’re sending me a check.

I have another card that’s been open for a while. I don’t plan on making any changes to it.

Once the business accounts are moved, I’ll try moving the credit cards over to the new institution. Still can’t get the current business cards added to Apple Wallet on my phone.

Retirement accounts

Received a letter in the mail from a bank I’d never heard of. It had instructions on how to sign up for an account. Beyond that the letter had the bare minimum information stating its purpose, namely: You had a 401(k) with a balance less than five thousand USD somewhere, we bought it, we tried contacting you about it and the mail was returned, please update your mailing address with us.

Three things hit me upon reading this:

  1. Weirdest spin on the Nigerian scam ever.
  2. There is a distinct possibility this is legit (I blame RIP Medical Debt.
  3. You have my address, unless you sent these to all Joshua Bruce’s and are waiting for a call.

But my brain’s in a money collecting headspace and I decided to chase it a little.

I opened a private browsing window and went to the site. Seemed legit (given my history in web development). I wasn’t about to register an account though.

I called the number on the letter instead.

This means they’d have my phone number, which wouldn’t be too difficult to find if they had my address. One of the first things the automated receptionist asked for was my full social security number.

“Fuck that,” I thought to myself and started pressing zero, hoping to bypass the automated service and get a human; if that didn’t work, I woulda bailed.

I got through to a person.

I explained I’d never heard of them, didn’t remember signing up for a 401(k), and wasn’t about to give them my full social security number. I also mentioned my confusion at being asked to update my address given they obviously had it.

The representative explained he wouldn’t ask for my social or personal information and instead asked me to read a unique ID in the top corner of the letter. Since they generated that number, I figured why not.

They said I had a balance of about 1,000 USD and asked which employer it might be from. I mentioned a couple of my previous employers and they said sometimes employers enroll you regardless (you have to opt-out not opt-in). The agent called out the name of a former employer I didn’t mention, which helped increase my trust.

In short order we pulled the history together and I’d received two emails (once I trusted them). I called Vanguard.

I decided to go ahead and open my Traditional IRA with this money. The money was already in a Traditional IRA invested in a regular savings account at 0.15 percent and being charged a 15 USD administration fee. I filled out the paperwork and sent it to Vanguard to process. It can take up to six weeks.

A “transfer in kind” would take the money from the institution and put it in the same thing at Vanguard. This is what we did with my Roth IRA. We apparently can’t do that this time. It has to be “sold” then transferred and deposited into the settlement account for the Traditional IRA. Once it’s settled, I’ll buy into the ETF equivalent of VEXAX. ETF because I don’t have enough to get the Admiral Share and because the IRAs are almost 20 years away from being used.

So, we’ll see how this goes. Until then it appears my plan of waiting to open a Traditional IRA until becoming separated from my employer and rolling over my 401(k) might not need to be.

Also discovered I had 50 USD in an HSA that was slowly getting feed into oblivion; I thought it had already been feed into closure. Started the paperwork to transfer the balance to Health Savings. The HSA holder wanted me to print and then mail or fax the documents. I haven’t owned a printer since 2005, a scanner since 2007, and have never owned a fax machine. I called Health Savings. They asked if I could email the documents to them and they’d take care of it. I did. Now we wait.

Taxable accounts

I check my portfolio multiple times a day right now. I'm taking my cue from my meditation practice instead of the advice of others who say, "Just don't pay attention and check on it in 10 or 20 years with a doctor on standby."

In my meditation practice, which I'm perpetually performing, I sit with my emotions and responses to things. I don't push away or edit, just sit. Same thing here.

The first month, the final tally for my portfolio was negative 200 USD. The second month, my final tally was negative 54 USD. This month though, I watched as the value soared upwards of 700 on one day and then negative 300, then next morning, after settling while the markets were closed it went to negative 165. Then, over the weekend it was positive 75.

My mentality when it went up was, "Hey, good thing I bought in already." When it went to negative 300 I was like, "Too bad I don't have anything to throw in there right now."

Therefore, at this point, I can say, it shouldn't be difficult for me to stick to the investment policy. Once I have more in, it might become more difficult and that's why I will be checking in with myself regularly.

I did have a moment where I questioned whether to max out the IRA contributions at the beginning of the year or dollar cost average more. Given the ship has sailed for this year, I’ll sit with it and see how the rest of the year unfolds.

I should mention, most of my money in the taxable brokerage account is in VEXAX, so, minor shifts in the value of VEXAX are amplified. VTSAX is acting as ballast; negative 100 the first month, negative 20 the second, and positive 50 as of this writing.

Medical expenses

I scheduled an appointment with the CVS Minute Clinic to get tested for COVID antibodies. I decided to call the medical insurance company first to see what coverage I would have if I used them.

Their website had a COVID FAQ page, with a number to call if I had questions. Making it easy to talk to a human is a plus in my book.

I was put on hold though, which is a bummer.

35 minutes later...I needed to prepare for a meeting and hung up.

Given the timing and circumstance, it's understandable that there would be longer than normal wait times.