March 19th, 2006

fourth anniversary, and finances

I mentioned in my post last Sunday that it was the fourth anniversary of my arrival in Seattle, and that I'd have to write more about that "tomorrow". I knew at the time that I shouldn't have said that last part, and sure enough here it is a week later. Oh well.

Last year, to quote that entry, "I marked the occasion with a long walk through parts of Seattle I haven't really been in before, though that hadn't really been my intent." This year I had decided in advance that I wanted to do something similar. As I've already done a fair amount of walking around downtown, I figured I needed a different part of Seattle, but I wasn't sure where. I asked John whether there were any places in Seattle he's always intended to visit but hadn't actually done so in all the years he'd been here. He didn't end up thinking of any, but did say he and Elizabeth would be happy to join me for whatever I thought of.

I ended up deciding we should go for a walk in Seward Park. This is a peninsula jutting into the southern part of Lake Washington, across from the mid-part of Mercer Island. (Click here for the Google Maps page.) I'd driven by the entrance once a few years ago, while out just exploring new parts of Seattle, but had never actually spent time there. It turned out that neither John nor Elizabeth had ever been there either, so it was a nice new experience for all of us. There's a pathway going around the shoreline and several trails through the old-growth forest that covers the peninsula. It was reminiscent of Stanley Park in Vancouver BC, although that park is about ten times larger and, like the Vancouver area in general, more dramatic geographically.

The day was much more restful than last year's four-hour walk downtown, though. We spent at most a couple hours walking in the park. Before going to the park, we had brunch at B&O Espresso, one of my favorite restaurants and certainly my favorite place for brunch, and after the park we went to Kai's Lounge, one of our favorite hangouts, for drinks. It was a thoroughly pleasant afternoon all around.

Because I spent the afternoon with company, I didn't spend time thinking about my time here in Seattle so far, or about places I still wanted to go, like I did last year. However, I did include visiting other places in the Northwest as one of my goals for this year. I just hope I can afford to do any travelling this year. I finished last month with a couple hundred dollars extra, which I attributed to getting the raise at the beginning of February. Then a few days ago I got a letter from the condo association pointing out how I hadn't yet paid my dues that I should have on the first and I should send them in immediately. Oops. With the coupon book for the dues in a file holder, I'd completely forgotten about it, and that was why I had extra money - some of which I'd already spent on new jeans (in fairness, I had to buy new jeans no matter what, as my existing pairs had developed holes in the knees) and also on a few new (used) CDs.

So between the late condo dues and also my high electric bill, I've now used up all my paychecks for the month and I've had to pull some money out of my small savings account to cover the rest of the month. Last month, before I got the first paycheck with my raise, I got my Quicken account caught up from the last time I'd updated it in the summer. Now I need to update it for this month, and then use it to work up a budget. From the analysis I've already done so far, it seems that I should be just making ends meet now that I have the raise, so I'm not quite sure why I instead seem to be just overspending my income.

I also started my taxes a couple weeks ago, and realized immediately that I was missing a form - I hadn't received one for the 401(k) fund that I had cashed out last summer. I had asked the office manager at work to update my address with them, but apparently she never did; although when I called them about it, it turns out she probably couldn't have, because they treat the accounts (my old one and my new one with 3sharp) wholly separately even though they're both for me. I got that straightened out and have the form now, so I'll finish my taxes later this week (I was going to tonight but TurboTax is down for maintenance). I do know so far that I'm going to have to pay taxes, contrary to the claims of numerous people about being able to expect a good refund as a first-time home buyer; but I figure that's because I never actually paid taxes on the place last year (the closing date was late enough that the previous owner paid them), so maybe next year I'll get a refund. On the positive side, so far TurboTax says I won't owe very much, so it comes down to whether they withheld enough when I cashed out the 401(k).

I've gotten over the dismay from realizing I'd forgotten my dues and thus would be "broke" this month, so right now I'm inclined to feel that things are going to work out. I do keep veering from hope to dismay, however, and it's getting quite distressing. I'm feeling insecure a lot because of the uncertainty of continuing to make ends meet and the probability of more major expenses (some kind of car or condo trouble, most likely) coming up and getting added to my credit card debt, which I'm dealing with v-e-r-y s--l--o--w--l--y. I was struck by what a trap property can be, and how risky is this bet that paying toward ownership will be better than renting a place. Much as I love my new place, I'm still not sure I made the right decision last summer, and I only hope time proves it to be the right one.