January 11, 2012

A New Way To Look At Last Year

One of the steps I take every New Year's day is to pack away the previous year's receipts. Usually it is a mundane process that takes just a few minutes. But, this time I decided to look at them a little more closely as each month went into the box. Suddenly, I had my own year in review through bills and receipts.

Cable cancellation: Last March we cut the cord of our cable company and went to an off-the-air antenna, Netflix, and DVDs for our entertainment. I found the receipt for the turn-in of the cable box, remote, and assorted cords. This was the first time we have been without cable for 35 years of marriage. It was a big step and one that changed our nighttime schedule.

Receipt for Cabin rental in Greer. As recounted in the end of the road post our family had reserved a cabin the northeast Arizona hamlet of Greer for the first weekend in June.The idea was a good one: escape the desert heat for a few days of 70 degree weather in the mountains. After a 5 hour drive we settled into the cabin only to see a a huge plume of smoke on the distant horizon. A massive wildfire was burning, out of control, heading right toward Greer and my family. Shortly after 1 AM we were awakened and told to get out of town. Packing everything in 30 minutes, we beat a hasty retreat and drove 5 hours home, arriving at 6 AM. 

For the next few days we followed news reports as the huge Wallow fire ended up burning hundreds of thousands of acres, destroying dozens of homes in Greer and eventually burning its way into New Mexico before dying out. What started out as a quiet getaway became a story to add to our family's history.

Condo receipt for Hawaii. After a 10 year break,  Betty and I made it back to Maui. The receipt for the condo in Kihei brought the 18 day dream trip back again. In fact, the first thing I did was go to the digital files to look at all the the pictures again. Just last week we made our vacation plans for this year. I mentioned the idea of going back, but Betty strongly suggested we do something different. Reluctantly I agreed.

Income slips for guide work. For almost 5 years I had an interesting part time, seasonal job: tour guide for business people visiting Phoenix/Scottsdale for conventiuons and seminars. I was paid to show people some of the sights, take groups on horseback rides, hikes through the dessert, cookouts, or kayak floats down the Salt River. I spent many hours exchanging stories with bus drivers and fellow guides. The job paid quite well and added a few thousand dollars to my pocket each year. 

Through a combination of events I stopped the job last June. Though I will miss the people and money, I have found more satisfaction in other uses of my time: this blog, prison ministry, and more picnics, reading, and spending my nights with my wife. It is quite liberating to not have to make time for the job, but I will miss the money!

The repairs bills for our older car. Last year was not a particularly good year for our 8 year old car. I saw almost $600 in over-budget repairs, Betty and I wondered if it was time to cut back to one car, or buy a new one. The final decision was to do neither, but to keep the clunker running for another year or two. With only 81,000 miles it should be OK for awhile. Since depreciation instantly steals 30% from a new car, budgeting hundreds of dollars more for the 2003 Hyundai seems like a better decision.

It was an interesting experience - recreating some of the more memorable moments from last year out of a stack of receipts. I wonder if this year will have as many. We'll see.

What others are saying


  1. Bob, We're not retired yet, maybe five more years. So when I read about your cable cutoff, I can't help but do the math in my head of how much we could save over that period of time. We need to follow your lead on this one!

  2. Scott,

    When I thought about the cable bill I realized I had spent over $28,000 during our married life on that service. If I then looked at the number of channels I was paying for that I never watched, the cost became way out of line with the value received.

  3. You live in the valley of rental car sales. When you are ready I'll connect you!

    Being in a wildfire can be a life changing experence. You learn, quickly, what is important.
    Wishing you a wonderful 2012!

  4. Janette,

    Our newer car is a former rental vehicle. It included most of the original warranty and has yet to have any issues. I'll take you up on your offer when the 2003 finally becomes too much of a hassle. I'd love to make another year with it.

  5. I track my expenses. My goal is to live on my pension alone as long as possible without touching investment income,IRA, and not taking SS until 66 or later. I was able to do that last year-with a little surplus. So far, I haven't cut the cable-but I find that I am watching it less. There are always little things I could cut back on-but as long as I'm enjoying them and there is no financial problem I think I'll just leave things as they are.

  6. Donna,

    If your budget is in balance, you are spending less than you make, and you are happy with the way things are, then absolutely leave things alone!

    The folks who find themselves in trouble are those who don't do the type of on-going analysis that you do. Good job!

  7. Steve in Los AngelesThu Jan 12, 05:38:00 PM MST

    Hi Bob,

    I have been living without cable since I moved into my place in October 2008. I certainly do not miss watching television. When I am at home, I usually am on the computer, preparing meals and eating, reading, or resting or sleeping. With regard to my car, I rarely drive it (which I believe I mentioned in an earlier post on your blog). I usually walk or use public transportation. I do go out to eat on rare occasions, mostly for special occasions, such as birthdays. However, I prepare and eat most of my meals at home, where I can control portion sizes (depending on how hungry I am). As I still have a high metabolism, I eat to my heart's content. I am five feet - ten inches tall and weigh only 140 pounds. I will eat more often several years from now. Paying off my mortgage no later than March 31, 2017, is my highest priority. I do not plan to start collecting Social Security until my 70th birthday (provided that I continue to remain healthy). Unless the Federal government changes the law, I plan to start Medicare at age 65.

    One of the great aspects of your blog is that you help me stay focused on my finances and lifestyle. Thank you.


  8. I just did a similar thing today by printing out a Quicken report for 2011 and comparing it to the two years before. Not as intimate as actual receipts, but it did trigger memories!

  9. Steve,

    5'10" and 140 lbs...I need to take you to an all you can eat buffet! Seriously, I am sure you are quite healthy based on your overall lifestyle. Living in LA with little driving is an amazing accomplishment, too.

    I'm pleased you find info here that helped you in developing a satisfying lifestyle.

  10. Galen,

    My wife uses photographs and I use receipts to remember last year!

  11. I use Quicken also to track the spending. Then I can start the new year's budget with a realistic estimate.

    For memories, I create a softcopy book of my blog postings for the year. It's a wonderful read! Blog2Print.com

  12. Linda,

    I've used Quicken for years and find it easy to use and modify. The company wouldn't be happy to know this but I'm still using Quicken 2002..it works just fine on Windows XP. I haven't had the nerve to try it on Windows 7.

    I've seen the notice on blogger but never followed through on the Blog2Print.com I'll check it out right now!

  13. Steve in Los AngelesThu Jan 12, 08:53:00 PM MST

    Hi Bob,
    I actually do go out to eat at all-you-can-eat buffets once in a while. I love Hometown Buffet on Friday evenings, when one of the entrees is salmon. I also enjoy some of the Asian buffets in the San Fernando Valley. I typically am in those buffets for about two hours. I never leave those buffets hungry! Living in Los Angeles and driving my car only sporadically may be a major accomplishment. However, I have been walking and especially using public transportation for many years. These days, with the exclusive right-of-way bus routes and the trains (both at ground level and subways), public transportation in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area is wonderful and continues to get better.

  14. Steve,

    Good news about the better public transportation in the L.A. area. I assumed it was almost non-existent.

    My wife and I just returned from a new Asian Buffet near our home that has one of the most incredible range of choices this side of Las Vegas. We just did the happy hour appetizer specials for our dinner this time but will return. We have vowed to skip lunch and go very hungry.

  15. Steve in Los AngelesSat Jan 14, 10:24:00 PM MST

    Hi Bob,

    Public transportation is very much alive in the Los Angeles area. However, still too many people prefer to drive their cars. One small but significant reason I was able to retire at a relatively early age is that I have kept my transportation expenses quite modest.

    It sounds like you and your wife enjoyed the Asian Buffet. I know of three such buffets that are within 10 miles of my residence (and accessible by public transportation and/or walking although my car always is available whenever I wish to drive it). Although Los Angeles has many buffets from which to choose, in my opinion, Las Vegas has the best choices for buffets. With regard to going to Las Vegas, my car stays at home. I take Greyhound when I go to Las Vegas.