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Archive for August, 2013

Baby Step 15

August 31st, 2013 at 08:24 pm

Anyone who has listened to Dave Ramsey (insert evil or triumphant music here, depending on your proclivities), knows he suggests "baby steps" for paying off your debt.

As a reminder, his steps are:

1. Save $1000 for an emergency fund.
2. Pay off all consumer debt sans mortgage.
3. Save up 6 months of expenses.
4. Put 15% toward retirement.
5. Save for kids' college.
6. Pay off your mortgage.

The last time we were paying off debt - and now we're doing it again, but that was last month's biotch - we didn't follow his plan for the debt snowball (lowest balance to highest balance). We also didn't follow the debt tsunami (highest interest rate to lowest interest rate). We followed the "loans then lines of credit." DW and I figured it's easier to not ask for another loan (paperwork) than to leave a credit card alone (swipe! cha-ching!).

Fast forward to now. DW just bought a new car, made some home improvements, is buying some furniture, and loaned some money to DD2 and her DH for their new house home improvements. So, we have consumer debt again as well as our mortgage.

So, we're on baby step 15:

We're paying off her new loans at a good clip (yes, already): Baby step 2
We're saving up the emergency fund again: Baby step 3 (total: 5)
We're putting more than 15% toward retirement (baby step 4: total 9)
And we're paying down the mortgage (Baby step 6: total 15)

This is possible because the "great car compromise" included NOT buying another house. We aren't building that fund until baby step 15 (or at least through "9") is done. I think we've already got step 3 back in place, more or less. I still have the "float" and there is still quite a bit of "furniture money" in the checking account, so I'm not worried on those lines. I would like a bit more cushion, though.

We should be back on an even keel - only car and house, with full EF - before the end of the year, with both the car and house still being attacked quickly.

Won't Power

August 24th, 2013 at 07:19 pm

"Won't Power" is a new phrase I've just coined. It is the opposite of "will power."

How do you use your won't power? When you're at the store and you see a cute outfit that would be great for work, but that you don't have in your budget? You tell yourself, "I won't buy it." When you pass by the candy aisle at the grocery store, you tell yourself, "I won't need those calories." When you see the iPhone X come out, you say, "I won't need any new functions, my old phone still does what I need."

How do you develop "won't power?" You keep looking at the big picture down the road. Do you want a house more than you want those shoes? Do you want to fund your children's college more than you want that mocha latte? Do you want to get rid of your debt more than you want another 0.3 inches on your phone screen? Do you want to retire and travel to see your grandkids, or do you want to rely on social security to pay your electric bill?

I think I've got some problems keeping my won't power at full strength, but it's definitely better than it has been.

Lastly, the bane to "won't power" is "want power." If you really, really, really want that big screen TV, it's hard to muster the "won't power" to overcome the urge. Maybe tape a picture of your child and a photo of your diploma to your credit card. That should tend to limit the want power and reinforce the won't power, I would think.

Work Woes

August 12th, 2013 at 02:47 pm

Well, I'm up at 1:40 in the morning because of work. We had a meeting with a big client today, and things did not go well.

We're involved in a huge project, and since we're the electrical group, we're always the last ones to finish. Mainly, this is because we cannot start until everyone else is finished. For illustration, think about a house being built: You can't pull wire until the walls and roof are up, and you can't hang fixtures until the drywall and painting are done. It's the same, but different, on large industrial projects.

We're at the final push on this large project. Since "everyone else" is done, electrical is being told we have to finish everything ahead of schedule to keep the entire project on schedule.

I'm up early to work out team schedules to see if we can do three weeks of work in one week. I'm not extremely optimistic, but if I can come close, then we'll be heroes.

I'm not expecting to be heroes. We were given a very large part of the project on 25 July because the shipyard abdicated the ability to finish it in time. They've been working on it since March. We have to have it done and tested on the 22nd; less than a month in total.

The real problem with this is that even if we finish on time, we'll get no recognition for it. And the reason I'm actually upset? I was lied to by the client's project manager. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut and not call him out on it. I guess this is why they pay me to do this job. There's no way I'd do it for free.

No Printer yet

August 7th, 2013 at 06:53 pm

After work today (tomorrow starts a long holiday weekend), I stopped by three different electronics stores. I was looking for the Canon portable printer that's most similar to the IP100. I have an IP90, and I had both an IP70 and another IP90 over the years. I like the quality and durability of the canon portable printers. For reference, I bought an HP portable, and it didn't even survive its first trip offshore.

I went to three different retailers over here, and none of them carried the printer in question. You can definitely find this printer here, but I will have to make a trip to the one store where I know it was carried earlier this year when I saw it and didn't buy it.

Dubai is very cosmopolitan, but the political structure segregates different brands to the importer who got the exclusive contract. If the brands don't choose an exclusive importer among the Emirati elite, they don't get in. It stinks for those of us peons who aren't benefitting from the lack of competition, but it keeps the income of the powerful at a reasonable (from their point of view) level.

I know the same store also had my scanner, so that's where I'll be shopping today.

See? I can spend money if I have to.

I just haven't done it yet.

Maybe It's Me

August 5th, 2013 at 06:57 pm

Many of you have seen and commented on my rant about DW spending and using our debt cards - they certainly aren't credit cards - to do upgrades and changes around the house.

Yesterday, my portable scanner failed. It just doesn't work anymore. I've had it about four years, and I used to use it all the time. Well, about 8 months ago, my portable printer failed. It didn't really fail, but the ink "spilled" (I don't have a better word for it) inside the printer so it leaves a colorful "trail" along one edge of the paper, and that trail is just not going away.

Anyway, I use these a lot when I travel for work, but I haven't been able to use the printer for nearly a year. So, why haven't I bought a new printer? And why did I almost cringe when I thought about buying a new scanner when I decided it was actually broken?

I think the pendulum has gone too far, and I've become too averse to spending money. I think I need to loosen up more and go a bit back toward my old spendy self, just not all the way toward my old self. I'll just have to remember to remove the ink cartridges when I pack up my printer. And that scanner... well, this will be my fourth one in the last 12 years or so. I guess the scanners are just consumable.

There's no "shopping around" over here for anything. Many of the stores have Ramadan sales going on now, so I think I'll go out today and see if any of the electronics stores have printers and scanners on sale. I'm not holding my breath.

There go the Trees

August 4th, 2013 at 09:33 am

When I was back in the US, I noticed some peculiar damage to the trees in our back yard. We live in Houston, TX, and the power company can come in and trim any trees away from power lines to help limit wide-spread, long-term outages when storms blow through.

Four of our trees, three oaks and a pecan, are on the easement, and they keep getting butchered every time the power company does their trimming.

The damage I noted, though, was near the bottoms of the trunks, but above where a weed eater or other lawn tool would hit; maybe three feet (one meter) up from the ground. The bark was splitting, leaving very large spots that had bare wood under them. Trees are very, very long term investments, so we scheduled an arborist to come out and look at them, in the hope that we could nurture the trees back to health.

The diagnosis is dire. First off, the "best tree," which is an elm off the easement and closer to the house has been hit by lightning, probably multiple times. It is dead on the inside, and the arborist said we have about two more years before it must come down. We're not waiting two years. The tree is too large to risk it falling, and I lost a porch on my last place because I went too long before removing a dying tree.

The four trees in the easement have been butchered badly by the power crews - I don't blame the crews, because the benefit to the majority of the people outweighs my personal losses. The damage is so bad that these trees, too, need to come out. Two of the oaks have lost their capillary layer, and just don't know they're dead yet. The pecan is structurally dangerous now, which we already suspected. I don't know what's wrong with the other oak.

Long story synopsis: I'm losing all of my backyard trees, and it's going to cost about $3K to take them out. I've already asked DW to go to the "good" nursery near our house to start shopping for new trees. We're probably going to put in fairly large trees, because we don't have 30 years to wait to have "real" trees.

The good news is that the trees in the front are healthy, including the oak I put in to replace a tree I had taken out 5 years ago after Hurricane Ike. So, the curb appeal is not affected, only the backyard ambiance.

DW has agreed to wait to pay cash for this, at least. It is not an emergency, so we're going to pay for it without hitting the debt cards. We'll probably have it done before Christmas.

I'm going to miss those trees.

Babyboomers' Finances

August 2nd, 2013 at 09:23 pm

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-07-28/35-facts-scare-baby...

This article, which links to sources that may or may not be genuine or accurate*, makes quite a few interesting statements.

I don't know how true it is, but I don't doubt the vast majority of the statements. Some of them that give one pause for thought:

2. According to one recent poll, 25 percent of all Americans in the 46 to 64-year-old age bracket have no retirement savings at all.

8. Today, one out of every six elderly Americans lives below the federal poverty line.

13. A poll conducted by CESI Debt Solutions found that 56 percent of American retirees still had outstanding debts when they retired.

34. According to a recent survey conducted by Americans for Secure Retirement, 88 percent of all Americans are worried about "maintaining a comfortable standard of living in retirement".


That last one is at least a little bit encouraging. At least most people are aware that something is wrong. Maybe a few of them might actually do something about it.


* I didn't check the linked sources and I'm not vouching for the accuracy of any of the items listed in the linked article itself.

Vent or Explode

August 2nd, 2013 at 01:31 pm

Arrrrgh! Just got off the phone with DW.

Begin rant

DW and I used to have very significant non-mortgage debt. Through diligence and dedication, we paid off or sold off well over $100K in a relatively short period of time. We've been "except for mortgage" debt free for quite a while, and the money has been going to retirement accounts and investments since then, as well as accelerating the mortgage pay off.

We were left with our only debt being a relatively low mortgage principal due. Late last year, I had worked out an amortization schedule on that (remember, I'm still an Excel nerd), and determined we could pay the whole thing off in less than a year. I ran some numbers on a refinance and determined that the interest rate reduction wouldn't cover the closing fees over the period we could reasonably expect to pay off the loan.

Fast forward to now. DW is back in the US setting up home again in our "old" house, and she's spending like a Congressman who doesn't have an opponent for the next term. Between the BMP loan to the kids, a new bed (gotta be Tempurpedic, not just memory foam), a new garage door (yeah, that's an emergency, right?), repainting the outside of the house that really doesn't need it except for cosmetic reasons (paint is for protection, not beauty), the two sets of new French doors, and her new car LOAN... well the EF is gone.

She's starting to use the credit cards. I told her that I'm NOT cashing in any of the mutual funds for this (after tax, no penalty, but we're not going to touch any retirement funds until we retire). I guess now she's going to buy all new furniture and probably have the driveway re-paved.... Sorry, that's hyperbole and frustration, not actual plans. At least she hasn't mentioned all new furniture (yet?).

Anyway, all the work to get us out of debt is being thrown away. I let her get the car loan in a compromise, and now she's continuing - no accelerating - the spending without any more compromise.

To top it off, she's even asking to decrease the amount we had agreed to pay toward the mortgage in the "great car compromise." For that one, I told her a flat-out "No, we're going to pay the amount we agreed to." I even "threatened" to pay the note from here rather than transferring the monies to her account which has all the autopays. She agreed to keep that compromise, but I think that she just wants to make those Jones next door envious.

End rant

Now that I have that out of my system...

There's nothing she's doing that we hadn't planned to do over time, but she wants to do it all right now. The problem is that she's putting us back into debt and also killed our EF at the same time to do it.

Does anyone have any advice for me when I talk to her next time? I swear, this feels like she's an alcoholic who skipped out on an AA meeting to go to a bar.