Dimes to Dollars- a military wife's guide to personal finance

Thursday, June 05, 2008

 

Six-Word Memoir Meme

A really long time ago, Maria at Cents and Sensibility tagged me for the Six-Word Memoir Meme. I've totally broken the meme, as she made her post on April 15 (guess where I was that day?), but I won't leave her hanging forever. My memoir is...

Whoops! Got distracted by something else.

My mind is a cluttered field of thoughts and ideas, and my life and household are no different. My parents and husband think I have Attention-Deficit Disorder, and maybe they're right. I'm just a little undisciplined in my thinking, and I have better things to do than to stay on top of everything all the time. I ultimately accomplish all my goals, I just don't always finish them in the order they were started. :-)

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Tuesday, June 03, 2008

 

House, Senate panels back a 3.9% pay raise for 2009

The House and Senate budget panels are backing a 3.9% increase in military base pay for 2009, while the President is backing a 3.5% increase for next year. The goal of these increases is to provide for a cost of living adjustment as well as make military pay commensurate with civilian pay for similar jobs. While the increase sounds nice, it hasn't been signed into law yet, because the Congressional Budget is far from being finalized, and if you recall how the process went this past year, don't count on seeing it until February. Hopefully though, a lame-duck Congress and a lame-duck President can get their work accomplished quickly and prevent unnecessary inconvenience to military families.

Of course, we all realize that with the increasing costs of fuel, food, energy, and housing this 3.9% increase will really be a small pay cut, but that's a topic for another day.

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Saturday, May 31, 2008

 

Stimulus

Well, I've just about let this blog go to pasture. We've been pretty busy around the Dimes household, but I shouldn't forget my readers. Since we last spoke, Mr. Dimes and I received our economic stimulus check. We originally planned to invest it, but then we decided, for once, to be frivolous. So we bought an iPod. Yes, six and a half years after the iPod made its debut, we finally decided to buy one. We certainly paid a lot less than the early adopters did (the original iPod cost $400!) and we have a lot more storage space. We also bought a speaker dock for it, so that it can be heard without ear buds. The whole setup cost us less than $300. Definitely a good way to stimulate the economy, respect our budget and purchase something we've been waiting on for years.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

 

2008 NMFA Fellowship Program available

Hey everyone, I'm writing to let you know that the Military Spouse Fellowship for the Accredited Financial Counselor Program for 2008 is now accepting applications. From now through the end of April, the application will be available online through the National Military Family Association website. It's a great program and at the end of it, the selected applicants will have attained the certification of Accredited Financial Counselor under the guidance of AFCPE and FINRA. Please see the linked website if you're interested in learning more or applying to this program. It is definitely worth the effort.

And on a more personal note, tax season will be over in less than two weeks, and I look forward to blogging again!

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

 

Work environments can make jobs miserable

Like I mentioned in my last post, I am doing seasonal tax work again this year. As much as I love the work itself, I am actively seeking other forms of employment, because the job environment is simply unbearable. The reason I failed to update this site from January 22 to February 22 is because I was spending most of my waking hours in the tax office. I completed a hundred or so returns, and I also had to schedule dozens of appointments, file a mountain of paperwork, distribute a bunch of checks, and handle the problems of disgruntled and angry clients for hours on end. I worked 197 hours in a month of what is supposed to be a part-time job.
Things have tapered off quite a bit in the past ten days or so, but the incredible stress of the weeks before that won't be soon forgotten. And a lot of my stress could have been mitigated by effective management and proper training of our staff, as well as the thoughtful use of a temp during our busiest times. Here are some of the biggest problems:
  • Our manager never bothered to give us any sort of office orientation. In previous years, the office managers have required an hour or two of paid office orientation, wherein they explain the filing system, the office policies and procedures, where to find things and what to do in the event of certain problems. Here this was never done and evidently hasn't ever been done. As a result, both old and new preparers are clueless about how the office runs, which leads to a lot of wasted time and dissatisfied clients.
  • Where I work, payroll is king. The #1 goal of all office managers is to keep the personnel budget as low as humanly possible. It's a noble goal but it results in some stupid decision-making. My manager tries to save money by not hiring a secretary, and instead relying on tax preparers to answer the phones and schedule appointments. During our peak season this is a terribly short-sighted move, as this causes most preparers to quickly reach overtime, when we become more expensive than a minimum-wage temp. With the overtime my office has paid me alone, they could have hired a secretary for 28 hours. Even having someone around to answer the phones, help with the filing, and scheduling appointments during the busiest three hours of the day would have helped maintain a lot of sanity. Saving them a few bucks on payroll seriously backfired this year.
  • I have a dreaded micromanager boss. Have you ever worked with someone who hyper-scrutinizes everything you do in an attempt to hide their own incompetence? This is the exact type of person my boss is. He knows very little about much at all, but more than makes up for it by driving me (and everyone else in our office) crazy. His philosophy seems to be that of a headmaster, where he looks and looks for the tiniest mistake, which was probably made due to a lack of proper training in the first place, and then rails on you for it. I'm pretty good humored and turn a deaf ear to it, because I know he's crazy, but he's driven a lot of my co-workers to tears. It will be interesting to see what the retention rate is going to be for next year. I really enjoy the work and am good at it, but even I am hitting my limits with the abuse.
  • Despite being a micromanager, my boss does not delegate tasks well. Generally, delegation seems to be, "Make Dimes do it because she knows how." A lot of things don't get done because people either don't know how to do them or that they are supposed to do them. One preparer steadfastly refuses to answer the telephone, label and file tax returns, call clients, or do anything besides write returns. While not very team-oriented, that behavior was acceptable for peak, but now that business has slowed down, he needs to contend with a lot of other tasks aside from writing returns. Instead, he tries to leave during slow periods instead of checking to see what non-return-writing activities need to be done. I suppose at this point it's appropriate to add that this particular preparer has completed the most returns in the whole office.
  • Climate control in our office is horrible. Our customers are constantly complaining about the temperature in the office, and a lot of preparers have a difficult time working because it is so cold. Fingers get numb, leading to typing mistakes, and the cold is actually a major distraction to workers and clients alike. If we turn off the AC, the temperature soars 15 degrees in an hour, and the office gets terribly stuffy. There doesn't seem to be a workable compromise.
There are other problems, but they're a little more abstract. The point though is that I love the work I'm doing, and I'd like to keep doing it, but the garbage I have to deal with in my working environment is making it not be worthwhile. I don't imagine every company is this bad, and I am willing to try my hand elsewhere to see if I can't find a more enjoyable environment with an equally or more enjoyable job.

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

 

Some don't like lack of RAL option

Greetings, faithful readers! I didn't realize I haven't updated in over a month. I've been very busy with a new but seasonal job. And I have discovered something interesting. Military personnel are not fond of the Military Lending Act as it pertains to Refund Anticipation Loans. While not as expensive as recurrent payday loans, Refund Anticipation Loans are short-term, high interest loans given in advance of an income tax refund. The loan is normally paid off with the proceeds of the tax refund and the lender pockets the difference. The loans are considered by many to be predatory and are illegal to give to members of the Armed Forces or their dependents.

However, a lot of military personnel don't know that the law has been changed to prevent them from getting these loans, and I have seen many disgruntled service members who don't want to wait for their refunds. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem like they have much choice in the matter, thanks to the new legislation.

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Saturday, January 19, 2008

 

NMCRS to release $300 Quick Assist Loan society-wide

To mark their 104th birthday, the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society is going to begin a $300 emergency loan program effective January 23. The program, which had been piloted in three geographical areas during 2007, will now be available at full-service offices society-wide. The idea behind the program is to provide rapid assistance for sailors who need a small amount of money for an emergency need without subjecting them to the Society's normal interview and budget process, which can take several hours. 70% of sailors and marines who use the Society only need to visit once during a career, and this product is designed to help them.

In order to be eligible for the Quick Assist Loan, an applicant must fit the following criteria:
  • Must be an Active Duty sailor or marine. Retirees, reservists, widows and spouses are not eligible, even with a signed POA.
  • Not have any outstanding loans with the Society and not have been a recipient of any grant aid from the Society within the past year.
  • If the applicant has prepared a budget with the Society in the past year, it needs to have been a surplus budget indicating repayability.
  • Must not have received more than one other Quick Assist Loan within the past 12 months.
  • Applicant cannot be subject to disciplinary action from the command, either currently or within the past six months.
  • Applicants under Chapter 7 or 13 bankruptcy protection are not eligible.
  • Applicants must bring their most recent LES, military ID, and a QAL application in order to apply.
The loans are designed for emergency needs of specific types (basic living expenses, medical, dental, transportation, and family emergency). Repay on the loan begins the month after it has been disbursed, and the repayment period will range from 3-10 months. Each servicemember is allowed no more than two QALs in a one-year period. The QALs are not eligible for conversion to grant and must be repaid before the EAS date. If a servicemember is not eligible for a QAL, they are certainly eligible for regular Society assistance. The Quick Assist Loan is just designed to expedite the process for minor emergencies. Like other Society loans, the interest rate on the QAL is 0%.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

 

2008 CONUS COLA rates

A few months ago, I posted about CONUS COLA, as it was a new entitlement for Mr. Dimes. For the uninitiated, CONUS COLA is a taxable income supplement for living expenses in an area (as opposed to housing expenses, which are covered by BAH). It increases or decreases every year, and can appear or disappear altogether for certain areas. For 2008, a handy calculator is available at this site. An official list of sites receiving COLA as well as the percentage rate can be found on this Pentagon site, where the list is a PDF file. If your location is not listed, you are not eligible to receive CONUS COLA. A handful of locations that were previously receiving it lost it for 2008, though they may get it again in future years.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

 

Start planning for your final expenses now

I know this post topic is kind of morbid, but this issue is very important. Recently, Mr. Dimes and his family had to bury his grandmother, who died suddenly but not unexpectedly right around Christmas. She had a modest funeral and burial, and her final expenses clocked in around $8,000. My mother-in-law fronted the money and will eventually be reimbursed when the estate has been settled, as the grandmother did have some real estate and other assets which could be sold to cover the expenses. Not everyone is so lucky, though.
I recently had a client whose mother died unexpectedly who was requesting over $16,000 in funeral assistance. Her mother owned no property, had no life insurance, and had done nothing to prepare for her final expenses in advance. While the client has siblings, neither individually nor collectively can they afford the costs of the burial. Their mother desired to be buried in the family plot in an area where real estate is very pricey and the burial costs are over half the cost of the funeral. I had to help a grieving client find an alternative to the burial she wanted in order to have something she could afford. This was not a particularly fun experience. Please, for the love of your survivors, do not do this to them. Plan for your final expenses now and let your family members know where they can find any information about plots, policies, final wishes, etc. Deaths are difficult enough without creating financial stress and trauma for a grieving family.

Here are a few ways to ease the financial burden on your survivors:
  • Consider prepayment of funeral expenses: If you know where you want to be placed upon your death, consider buying a plot in advance, and make sure your survivors know where it is. You can also prepay for the funeral, casket, and other mortuary services rather than requiring your relatives to front the expenses at the time of your death.
  • Have a life insurance policy specifically for funeral expenses: Both my client's mother and my husband's grandmother had small ($10K-$25K) whole life insurance policies to pay for their funeral expenses, but for one reason or another had let them lapse and when they died, there was no money. If, however, you make sure that you (or someone else) is paying on them and don't let the policies lapse, they can be sufficient to cover burial and funeral costs.
  • Consider less expensive methods of body disposal: Burials are getting to be insanely expensive, and so are funeral plots. Cremation, on the other hand, is a more frugal alternative to standard burial, and is less harmful to the environment. Some people don't like the idea of cremation for religious or other reasons, but it definitely costs less. It also has the added benefit of allowing for portability of remains; for example, if you want to be buried a great distance away from where you died, ashes are much easier to transport than an intact corpse.
  • Have a specific set of assets designated for funeral expenses: This would definitely require either a will or a joint account with a person most likely to survive you, but it could solve the problem of a family member having to front expenses and then wait for reimbursement. If you create an account specifically for funeral expenses, then a family member or the executor of your estate should be able to access those funds in order to pay for your funeral. If you're going to do this, you might as well make your wishes known as well as what should be done with any money that remains, in order to keep your relatives from donating your body to science and then flying off to Cancun with your funeral money.
While not fun, death is an inevitable (and expensive) part of life, and you can help your family tremendously by making provisions for what to do when it happens.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

 

How often do you replace pillows?

Our bedpillows hadn't been washed in some time, so I cleaned them on Friday. After taking them out of the dryer, I was amazed to see what awful shape they were in. The shells were clean and pretty, but the filling was all wadded up and sideways (and I'd even dried them with tennis balls, like everyone recommends). A lot of punching and jumping on them has made them look a lot prettier but they're far from new, and when I fold them in half they don't spring back to their original shape. So should they be tossed or not? I'm sure a pillow salesman would tell me to replace them every two years or something, but what is the lifespan of a pillow?
I'm probably going to replace them in the summer, after they've gotten four years of use. Seems like a reasonable timeframe.