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There goes the Budget!

March 14th, 2013 at 01:27 pm

I got a call from DS a few days ago. He has decided to marry his (now) fiancee. They've been dating about three years. She graduates in May. They're getting married in June. At least they waited until after college to get married. DS has been out of Uni about three years, so he's just now hitting his stride on earning potential.

The problem is that we had not planned to come back to the US until July or August. Two months isn't a lot of time to change our plans, and we have promised to "help out" on the wedding. How much we help will probably depend a lot on how well DS is doing with his income. If he's making wise choices, we'll help more. If he's not making wise choices, we'll help less. We really can't make that decision from a distance.

DW and I are thinking of giving the new couple a gift of enrollment in Dave Ramsey's class. I don't really agree with 100% of DR's teachings, but you can't argue with success. I am about 99% sure DS has put himself in over his head in debt, due in large part to my past performance which he witnessed. It's never too early for him to start to think about retirement. There's no way to plan for retirement while "improving" your credit score.

Anyway, this is only a bump in the mortgage-pay-off road. If we get my bonus on time, then we should be able to overcome any difficulties that this wedding will cause with our budget. If we don't get the bonus on time (you'd have to know our CFO to understand why this is a possibility), then the timing of the wedding will hurt. DW and I have decided to slow down the mortgage pay off and concentrate on vacation/wedding savings instead.

I am certainly blessed to be saddled with the "good" problems I'm now facing. Of course, I've worked for over 30 years to get this overnight success. God's been smiling at me recently, and I'm really thankful for His help. (I apologize to those of you that might find this last statement offensive; however, I am obliged to acknowledge Him in my current situation.)

Death and Money

March 10th, 2013 at 06:41 pm

Sorry for yet another long post.

I have lived a very charmed life. My parents are in their 70's and are still alive, as are all of my brothers. Very few people who are or were close to me have died. Due to this, death is still very foreign to my experience, and any deaths that have occurred have left a profound impact on me.

In other posts, I've alluded to losing my girlfriend of many years when talking about my retail therapy binge. A recent thread in the forums (actually, I think the word is "fora," but no one uses it, so I won't either) got me to thinking about my outlook when it comes to money, which brought me to write this post.

My father came from a very large family. He had five brothers and two sisters. Most of them are still alive and in their 70's and 80's. When I was about eleven, my father's father (my paternal grandfather) passed away. The family all gathered at his small house and had the near-reunion that always accompanies the death of a family patriarch or matriarch.

With that many children in their 30's and 40's, and all of their children (my cousins), you can imagine the scores of people in my grandparents' house. I would say the house was about 1000 square feet, and two bedrooms with only one bathroom and one common area plus a kitchen. All of us kids were basically left to our own devices. The older teens wandered off to the local hangouts - there was a park nearby where they could go sit on the play ground equipment and smoke cigarettes unbeknownst to the adults back at the house - while us younger kids pretty much just hung around the house and probably made pests of ourselves until we were given something to occupy our time.

My cousin Roger and I were eventually dispatched to my grandfather's bedroom. We were given the task of clearing out his dresser. Roger was about a year younger than I was, and his father and mine were the two sons who had made decent livings for themselves. My father's family was not rich by any means, my grandfather being a retired police officer from the 1950's when pensions were small but sufficient; however, my father had put himself through university to get a BS and eventually an MBA, and my Roger's father had opened his own successful business. The other aunts and uncles, though, were basically living paycheck-to-paycheck like most Americans still are doing today.

While clearing out the drawers, Roger and I came across my grandfather's old service revolver. We were southern boys, so we knew about guns and merely set it safely aside with the other items we were cataloging. We also came across a "blackjack." I asked my father about it when we told him about the revolver (which my father put out of the reach of our younger cousins). A blackjack is a leather device that looks much like a very small dumbbell, and has a small weight made of lead - maybe a fishing lure weight - at either end of the "dumbbell." The wielder holds one piece of leather-covered lead, and swings the blackjack as a small club. The leather and the weight of the lead increasing the force of the subsequent impact. A blackjack is a close cousin of "brass knuckles." My father explained that my grandfather had disarmed the blackjack wielder after being struck by it, and had kept the blackjack as a souvenir. I can tell you no more of the fate of the blackjack wielder.

Roger and I continued to go through my grandfather's things. We came upon a pencil cup full of pens of various types. My cousin ran his fingers across the top of the pencils and pens, and remarked, "Wow! There are enough pens here that all of the grandkids can have one." Now, I immediately realized that Roger was thinking, "What can I get out of Grandpa's death?"

This statement had a very profound effect on me. I was disgusted with Roger. I must admit that to this day, I cannot look at Roger - we're both in our 50's now - without remembering this statement. My grandfather had died, and Roger was wondering "What's in it for me?"

About 15 years later, my maternal grandmother passed away. Although my mother's family was much smaller than my father's extended family, we still had the typical near-reunion gathering.

We dutifully gathered at my grandmother's house - not much larger than my paternal grandparents' house - and talked about my grandmother's life and death. My mother and her three sisters were going through my grandmother's things and I was told "to take something for myself." I demurred, but my mother insisted I take something with me. One of my brothers had taken the color TV, and another of my brothers had taken my grandmother's Buick.

I remembered as a kid, we would sit around listening and basically being bored as the older folks talked, and I would mostly stare at a "century clock" - also called an anniversary clock - that my grandparents had on their mantle. I was always fascinated with that clock and the small weights at the bottom that would spin one direction and then the other apparently forever. This clock was the one item I always equated with my grandparents' house.

So, of course, that's what I asked for. My mother's younger sister immediately chimed in very vehemently, "No! That's mine! I have already packed it away." Now, I had only spoken up because I had been forced to do so, and I had chosen that item because it was what most reminded me of my grandmother. Immediately upon my aunt's tone and statement, I saw images of my cousin Roger and his coveted pencil cup. Instead of the anniversary clock, I asked if I could have the "rag rugs" that my grandmother had made herself.

Rag rugs are made by taking old scraps of material and making them into long, thin tubes. The tubes are then braided, and lastly the braids are sewn in a spiral fashion to make oval throw rugs. After the clock, these rugs, hand-made by my grandmother, most reminded me of my grandmother, so that's what I asked for instead of the clock. Even with a lot more cajoling, I took only the three rag rugs. When asked, I said, "These are what remind me of Grandma, so these are what I want."

I have a few other stories and memories, but these two tidbits illustrate why I've never put much value on things or money. I really don't need much, and I never saw the reason to accumulate wealth. I was born smart and I have always had the ability to make as much money as I wanted to; I just never really wanted to make money.

Now, I'm setting aside cash for my retirement, which is why I came to SA. As I never saw any value to money, but realize rationally that I need to save some for my DW when I eventually pass away, I came here to Dubai. I love my job, but I've had other jobs I love more. When I leave here, I'll go back to training - my true vocation. I doubt I ever "retire," as I actually love being in front of a class and the interaction and challenges of putting across the information so folks can genuinely understand the material. It's just that here in Dubai I make enough money to easily save and that's really all I'm here for.

Trees and Chores

March 7th, 2013 at 10:06 pm

Joan of the Arch published her recent entry about raising some trees from seed. If you have read it, you'll see why her post elicited this response. It will be too long to post as a comment.

My father's hobby has always been organic gardening. He started back in the late 1960's when no one else had even heard of organic produce. He never has used any synthetic chemicals on his plants and always has the best harvests one could imagine. He had the first ever "compost pile" I had ever heard of, and he kept it out near the garden. All coffee grounds, egg shells, and other appropriate waste was correctly discarded there, including 100% of any plant or vegetable manner we did not actually eat such as husks, skins, pits, cores, or other jetsam of the plant/food world.

My father has always raised a wide variety of vegetables, and about 35 years ago, he decided to plant some fruit trees. He went through his seed catalogs and found some dwarf tree saplings that he purchased. These came as small sticks sticking out of burlap bags, to my memory.

My parents had four sons, each of us in our teen or near-teen years when the trees were purchased. Where I grew up, four teen-age sons is typically called "free labor." My father, at least, used us for any such purpose when needed.

My father decided the best way to plant the saplings was to dig holes in a very precise fashion. The holes were to be cubical in shape, and three feet (0.9 meters) on the side. They were to be 20 feet apart (6 meters or so). Once the holes were excavated, we were to layer one foot (30 cm) of rough gravel for drainage, then a layer of rough dirt for a few inches (10 cm) and then place a large rock directly in the middle of our now 18-inch hole. We were to spread the root ball around the rock, to encourage the emerging tree roots to spread laterally before plummeting to their ultimate depths.

The last layer of soil around the root ball was some organic concoction created by my father. We were emphatically told where the lowest point to be covered was on the saplings, and we were loathe to do any task other than how we were instructed.

My brothers and I, duly instructed in the above procedure - do you wonder why we're all very good at math? - commenced to dig the holes and construct the sapling beds accordingly. It never occurred to us to cut any corners, because we all knew that would mean only that we would get the pleasure of doing the chore yet another time, and this time correctly.

We used power tools to do the digging; arm-power and leg-power, that is. Our shovels were not particularly sharp and we had no pick. This was done by main-strength, as were almost all of our labor-intensive chores. Also, we were doing this in late Winter or early Spring, which in southern Virginia means "already hitting high 70's (metric mid-20s)."

We dug four such holes precisely arranged in an arc with our father's dimensions reasonably approximated. I don't remember how long it took to dig the holes - only three of us were harnessed to the task as our youngest brother was not very healthy at the time - but I can assure you that it was hard work and not done in a single evening.

The trees were planted precisely according to my father's plan, and watered precisely on his schedule. We were also tasked with keeping his garden weeded and watered, though it actually needed very little maintenance due to my father's year-long preparations.

Our tasks included turning the compost pile every two weeks. This was done by using the same shovels and, starting in the middle, digging down to the hard soil and putting a bit of hard soil as well as the decaying/composting material to the top of the pile, and the old soil/material that was on the top to the bottom or middle. Basically, it was using a shovel to stir the pile. The heat from the decaying material as well as the dry cold air that any growing roots so-turned would be exposed to meant that most of the compost pile had no weeds growing and nearly all the weed seeds killed before they germinated or shortly after sprouting. Still, we had to pull some minor weeds from the edges.

About three months after planting the trees it became evident that the trees were no longer in the realm of the living. They were rotting in the holes and one actually broke off and fell over. My father called the seed company and obtained new saplings without additional payment as we were all certain the saplings were DOA, as our preparations and care were precisely according to the schedule laid out by my father.

About the time we were waiting for the replacement saplings to arrive, my father was tending his garden and compost pile. He saw a "weed" on the edge of the pile and pulled it up, only to find it was actually a germinated peach pit. We had been to Georgia the previous summer and this pit must have been one from the bushel or so of peaches we purchased on our drive back to Virginia. My father replanted the pit and told all of us boys to avoid "weeding" it when we cleaned up and turned the compost pile.

About 20 years ago, I had a chance to visit the old house. The peach tree back by the tree line that originated from the volunteer pit was about 20 feet tall and gorgeous. The four replacement trees were also doing well, after having been re-established in place of the failed crop.

I'm always amazed that my father never mentions how the volunteer peach tree grew unaided, while the meticulously-planted and painstakingly-cared-for saplings died out of hand.

Paid a Stupid Tax

March 2nd, 2013 at 06:08 pm

Followers of Dave Ramsey know what a stupid tax is. For those of you who do not know, a stupid tax is money you lost, spent, or had to pay for doing something that, in hindsight, is stupid.

In our case, DW and I are intent on eliminating our mortgage. We are so intent on it, that when a milestone presented itself as being "in reach," we reached out and grabbed it by paying more than we had planned for February.

Well, the bank statement had a $12 fee... What the heck?! It's "free checking!" As I live overseas, I cannot make a direct deposit. Therefore, free checking requires a $1500 minimum daily balance. Well, we dipped below $1500 for a couple of days, and whammo! $12 down the tubes.

Now, a lot of folks would tell me to go to the bank and complain to get my money back. I have a very strict code of ethics. If I were in the right, I would definitely complain - loudly and long - until I got the charge rescinded. In this case, though, I was in the wrong, and therefore will pay the fee.

The real kicker is that we have enough money in our other accounts that we could have easily transferred the money before sending the payment and avoided the fee altogether.

I hope it is "lesson learned," and we don't incur the onerous fee again. I think the $12 amount is outrageous, and when I get a chance, I'll be transferring my accounts to my "other bank." We have avoided doing this so far, only because of all of the direct withdrawals we have coming from the current account. The twelve dollars is our incentive to make the effort to get away from what Clark Howard terms "the big monster megabank."

Not such a good trip

February 15th, 2013 at 06:45 am

I finally get to go to East Timor day after tomorrow. When I arrived, I went straight from the airplane to the helicopter. I didn't even clear Timor L'este's customs or immigration, but I get to on the way back. I have one night to overnight in town.

DW hurt her back while I was over here. The boss is helping out by getting her to the doctor and physical therapy. They're doing some kind of massage, steroid, and machine-assisted (shock and ultrasound?) therapy, but it isn't helping. There's nothing I can do from over here.

This job has been the definition of "snake bit." Every time we fixed something, something else was found to be wrong. We go "back on contract" tomorrow morning, which means the folks paying for this excursion start getting money from the client again. At least we saved them on the two-year contract overall.

The only good outcome from all of this is that I have had nothing but "no spend days" since I've been here. DW was left with minimal funds and there is absolutely no way to actually spend money here offshore. DW has an account with several thousand dollars in it at her fingertips. Were it an emergency SHE deemed worthy, she could spend it, with the understanding that I reimburse it immediately upon my return. Apparently, in her mind, doctor visits and medical treatments are not emergencies.

I wonder what IS an emergency in her book? I'm thinking "alien invasion or asteroid strike" apparently.

Oh, she has credit cards, as well. I did not leave her without resources. I travel fairly regularly and on short notice, so we have contingency plans set up for just such instances.

This means that we'll be 100% back on track for the mortgage pay off. Although it is still 8 months off (maybe more, maybe less), I can almost smell the smoke of the paperwork. I hate this part of paying off things; the anticipation when it is still a bit far off.

Country 72

February 2nd, 2013 at 06:32 am

We have a good client who has an emergency. I sent my best engineer out to his site, but even he has failed to find and correct the problem.

So, it is up to me to head out there. I'll either be a knight in shining armor, or a goat. There's not much room between the two in our industry.

Regardless, due to this trip, I get to chalk up country number 72 in my travels. East Timor gets the spot. I looked it up online. By the street names, it looks like they speak some variation of Portuguese, but I'm not certain. I guess I'll find out when I get there.

Now, all my other projects have to be put on hold for a week. I'm none too happy about that, as we have a very large project coming up that needs some up-front work. Oh, well. That's why they pay me.

Exercise and Flying

January 26th, 2013 at 06:51 pm

I have been working out in the gym in our apartment building for the last week. This is after a 20 year hiatus from weight lifting, and ten years after doing any organized sport activity.

I ache everywhere. If you remember the old Dick van Dyke episode where he went skiing and got hurt, you have an idea of where it hurts. (Season 2, episode 22 if you have netflix. Don't Trip Over That Mountain)

I hope that continuing the visits will alleviate some of the pain.

Just saw an article on Yahoo. http://finance.yahoo.com/news/when-is-the-optimal-time-to-bo...

It says that you should book 7 weeks in advance for domestic flights (49 days) and 10 to 11 weeks in advance for international flights (81 days). I've heard that 21 days is best for domestic flights in the past. I have to book flights all the time, but it is usually at the last minute, so there's not a lot I can do to lessen my fare. Of course, it's business travel, so it gets charged to the job, but it comes out of my office budget, so I'd still prefer cheaper fares.

Hit the Emergency Fund

January 24th, 2013 at 06:51 pm

On January 10, a notice went up in the elevator that on 21 January 21, the barriers and building access systems would be activated, so you needed to have your cards.

I had applied for my card in November, but - with typical Dubai efficiency (NOT) - I still had not received mine. I waited until two days before the "drop dead" date to finally go to pick up the access cards.

Well, even though I had a receipt that said all fees were current up until July 9, 2013, it seems a new fee was due at the end of the year. Note that had they issued the card when I applied, this fee would not have been due, and I would not be in a position to need access cards in two days.

The fee due was about $4,000. I called my landlord who said, "No, I'm paid up through July." Yes, he had the same receipt. As I needed access, I paid the fees, then wrote a synopsis of the problem and copies of all bills and receipts to the landlord.

As I now had access to all of the paperwork, I worked out the amounts. My Landlord has to pay over $6,000 per year for maintenance fees, facility-access fees (gym, beach, pool, etc.), and parking fees. In addition there is a general-fund fee that goes to who-knows-what. How would you like to have condominium fees at that level? That's what the high price of living in Dubai is like.

Landlord has promised to refund the amount. I don't know when or how we can get the money, though.

DW and I went out and got groceries at a new store last night. They had American items like pop tarts and taco mix. We cannot even find chili powder over here - we did find cumin and cayenne, so we have the basics of our own - so we spent a bit on some "home country" food we wouldn't normally buy. It came to just under $200 for maybe 6 bags of nearly nothing. Just to give you an idea, a can of red kidney beans is over $4. DW likes beans in her chili, and also decided to make "Three bean casserole" this week. I don't think she realizes that instead of being a frugal meal, over here, it is going to run about $30 for a single casserole.

Anyway, we're now low on our EF for the rest of the month until the Landlord repays us for his fees. As an aside, we have to pay our rent in a single check for the year, so he already has our money until next November.

Milestone Reached

January 18th, 2013 at 08:48 pm

But not a financial milestone.

I broke the 200 lb barrier yesterday! At 6'4", that puts me into my optimal range, but my goal is to get down to about 193 or so. I'm averaging just over 2 pounds per week, so another month or so and I'll be there.

We have contacted a personal trainer. DW and I will be supplementing our evening walks with some weight training. I went down to the gym and saw like 500 different machines that have whatever purpose... At least I know what the free weights are for. Also, there are some of those stationary bikes, but looking at the control panel on them makes me think of flying a 747, except there are probably more controls on the bikes.

I wonder if they come with an auto-pilot? Just hop on, and let it do the work. Smile

Newspaper Article

January 17th, 2013 at 12:42 am

I need to stop reading the news.


This doctor and her husband apparently committed suicide over money problems.

Some facts from the article:
They drove up in a Mercedes.
They paid $1100 cash for the hotel room.
Her clinic has now been taken over by someone else.

So, they had significant debt, I would assume, and apparently decided to kill themselves instead of facing the problem and trying to solve it. The fact that someone else has taken over the clinic tells me it was or could have been profitable.
I don't understand why they couldn't make the sacrifice to buckle down. Were they unable to accept a lowering of their lifestyle?

I really don't understand why anyone would commit suicide over money.

Lottery Winner

January 16th, 2013 at 12:01 am

There is an article out today about an unemployed guy buying an $8.00 lottery ticket and winning $1 million. Good for him! He got a check for $670K after taxes were withdrawn.

Now, I seem to remember that they just raised the tax rates, and a quick check on Yahoo finance shows that anything over $450K is taxed at nearly 40%. That means that he'll owe $340K to the US government alone, although only $330K was withheld.

Now, with any State income or sales tax, I'm pretty sure he's going to already be below $640K.

He said he tithed 10%. Assuming that was $67K (ten percent of his take home), he's now down to $570K.

He bought two jeeps: $520K. And now he's made an offer on a house. For convenience sake, I'll estimate $250K for that.

He just won the lottery, and he has no job. He has a paid-for house and $270K in the bank. I will guess he has a lot of credit card debt, so I'm going to arbitrarily put his bankroll at $220K right now.

How long do you think it will be before he's borrowing on his house to pay bills? I'm guessing no more than 2 years. After all, this guy immediately started spending after he got some green in his palm.

Dreams, Wishes, Goals, and Plans

January 13th, 2013 at 08:26 pm

I saw a post on the forums here where the OP stated (paraphrased), "I want to save more and buy a house some day."

That's a dream. Dreams are things we like to think about as if they might magically happen. Most of us like to dream about what we'd do with our money, jobs, and family (and to our bosses and neighbors, sometimes) if we win the lottery.

The idea of what we do here at SA is "goal setting." A goal is an objective with the following criteria:

1. A time frame in which to accomplish it
2. A metric that tells us what the goal actually is.
3. A plan that gets us to the metric within the time frame.

Taking the original quote above, we can turn it in to goals with plans instead of dreams with wishes.

"I want to save more" becomes "I will save $25 per biweekly paycheck, putting $1300 into a Roth IRA. I can do this by cutting out four beers (plus tips) at my local pub every two weeks."

The time frame is 1 year. The metric is $1300.00 in a Roth IRA. The plan is to cut back entertainment spending.

"(I want to) buy a house someday" becomes "I am going to save $50,000 within 10 years to purchase a $250,000 home with 20% down and no PMI. I will do this by setting aside $200 per paycheck in a mutual fund account with a target date of 2023. I will get the $200 by turning off my cable TV, scaling back my cell phone plan in 14 months when it expires, bringing my lunch to work 4 days per week, and quitting smoking."

The time frame is ten years. The metric is $50,000. The plan is to cut back on entertainment, luxuries, and bad habits.

Note that neither plan counts on pay raises, but also that neither plan expects a job loss. I feel that these two occurrences are "plan changers" whether to the good or to the bad. In other words, either event will require a re-working of the goals, metrics, and plans, but both are more or less beyond my direct control.

I used to be the first guy from the quote. I am pretty much the second guy, now, when it comes to planning instead of dreaming.

Do you know why most people don't hit their savings target? Because they don't aim at anything; they wish for it to happen.

So, when I buy a lottery ticket, I used to say, "I'm just doing a little retirement planning."

Exchange Rates and Spending

January 10th, 2013 at 07:29 pm

As I've said many times, I am a US citizen living in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. I have lived overseas for maybe 12 years in total over the last 35 years. You would think I would be used to different monies, and for the most part you would be correct. I can easily convert from one currency to another in my head, as I've traveled extensively and it is imperative that you be able to do such calculations to enable you to both stay on budget as well as not get ripped off in marketplaces.

The interesting part is that even though I know that 99 Dirhams (the local currency) is just a bit more than 25 US dollars (around $27), in my head I still THINK of it as if it were ninety-nine dollars.

Tomorrow, our "Saturday" - which is actually Friday on the calendar, but it is the first day of our weekend - DW and I have plans to meet some friends for a mid-day brunch. The whole gig costs 99 Dirhams per person for food and drink, but in my head I cannot help but think that we're paying nearly $200 for a day's entertainment and food.

This has the beneficial effect that I tend to buy less than I otherwise would. When I see apples for 14.50 per kilogram, I immediately think "$6.50 per pound for apples is a LOT of money" - my head also automatically converts metric to "real" units of measure such as we use in the US. Of course, it's really about $1.75 per pound as the 6.50 represents the local Dirham currency, which is still a lot of money for a pound of apples, but not nearly as bad as my head automatically applies to the price.

Too bad I can't transfer this to the US when I return. When I get back, $1.00 per pound for apples is going to be $1.00 per pound, and no brain-tricks are going to be able to help me.

Just as an aside, typical apples imported from the US can cost twice as much over here. Red Delicious from the US are about 29.50 Dhs per Kg, which is about $3.50 per pound.

Kids are gone...

January 8th, 2013 at 08:09 pm

and so is much of our money.

DW and I actually spent only about 60% of the amount budgeted for the kids' trip, so we actually did quite well. I asked her if she wanted me to send some of the surplus back to the US for loan repayment, but she deferred and said to send it at the end of the month. She's right. I've been sending too much back the last few months and leaving us with a tight week at the end of the month... making us actually stay on budget!

Anyway, we're going to make our full goal this year unless something very expensive intervenes so a one month delay on a partial payment won't make any difference.

The kids left at 6:00 Monday morning, and arrived that evening in Texas. They called the next morning with news that the kitchen drains are backing up again. Due to this, it is quite likely that we're going to need to hit the EF for a significant amount to square away the plumbing drains. That will leave ONLY the "front of the house" water supply plumbing to complete the renovation of the house 100%. The back of the house plumbing - supply and drain - was done before, so now we have only the front of the house left. We don't want to pay $13K for both at one time, since only the drains are in need. That's the lion's share, anyway.

We got to watch the fireworks at the Burj Khalifa and the Burj al Arrab from our balcony on NYE. It was quite a show. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LO8G5jUp9KA and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FKYebXq-PY. The Burj al Arrab show went on for a full 15 minutes and never slowed down. We couldn't see the Atlantis Hotel display from our balcony, but we got to see the other two. DD got some great photos (she's a professional photographer). The photo attached is approximately the view from our balcony, though it is a professional photograph and not one I've taken.

We did the desert safari (rode camels and 4x4's nearly rolling over in the sand dunes), went up the Burj Khalifa, shopping, Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, more shopping, the Big Bus tour, and pretty much kept busy every day the kids were here.

I have to do a report in the next couple of hours, then I'll have off until Sunday (our "Monday"). It's the first real vacation I've taken in over 4 years. I really needed it.

Off to the Airport

December 28th, 2012 at 06:21 am

The flight for DD2 and her husband is running about 30 minutes late. Otherwise, we'd already be on our way to the airport.

We got some new blackout curtains in the living room. We were hoping to have a "grand unveiling" to show them the view from our apartment. Wouldn't you know it that tonight appears to be the worst weather in Dubai this year? I hope the haze clears, though I'm not expecting the wind to die down. It has a few hours to go, because Dubai customs and immigration are very slow.

We're planning to arrive at the airport in plenty of time to get them. They plan to stay about 10 days. We have lots of plans for them, but they'll get to choose which things to do or not.

Attack the f*m* spammer

December 26th, 2012 at 08:54 pm

You all know the forum spammer I'm talking about. I went to the site, and grabbed the contact email address.

I suggest we all go to as many newsletter and other signup sites we can find, and put this email address in to receive all the newsletters, etc., that we can. Let's flood his inbox with legitimate email to force him to wade through it just like he makes us pass over his forum spam.


I might even do a web search to find more forums to sign this guy up to.

Does anyone have any other ideas to get this guy to stop spamming us, or at least make his life more difficult for doing it?

New car, new me

December 22nd, 2012 at 06:59 pm

After nearly a year at the new job, we were finally given "our" car. For the last 51+ weeks, we've been driving a rental Toyota Camry. Now, this isn't a bad car, unless you're 6'4" tall, which I am. This means my knees were in the dash for the last 11+ months.

Thursday of last week, we picked up a new Nissan Armada. Gas over here is a little less than $2.00 per gallon, so being a V8 isn't that much of a drawback.

Thursday was also the last day of work before my Christmas vacation. Except I have to go in today to meet with a prospective new customer. We get to pitch him on using us as his one-stop shop for upgrades. As we've done this for others, we have a great chance of doing this for him, as well.

The "new me" is that I've started exercising regularly, so I'm down about 8 lbs (3.5 kg). I'm at 205 (93 kg). As noted, I'm over 6' tall, so that's very close to my target weight. I was getting a bit soft in the middle, and my legs weren't able to get me going like they used to.

I read an article where folks over 50 have a new test. The object is to start from a standing position, then sit on the floor, then stand again, all without help from the floor or using your hands. That means "no hands on knees," or any "kneeling as you stand up." The object is to go from standing to seated to standing without using any other body parts.

You lose one point for every "help" you give yourself. Eight or higher is good. Three or lower is bad. I've been doing this every night for about ten days. I've gotten ten all but three times. Not bad for a guy over 50, but my goal is to keep this at 10. You also lose half a point if you struggle too much, even if you don't touch anything.

The point of this is that the researchers found that folks who scored less than 3 had like an 80% mortality rate over the 6 years of the study. I think it was three; don't quote me on it, though. The explanation was that those who are overweight are more prone to diabetes and similar problems and those who lack the lower body strength and coordination don't get enough exercise/activity. I don't think this addresses smokers directly.

Time to get ready for work... I hope your vacations are better than mine, in this respect. DD2 gets here with her husband in five more days. We're really looking forward to their visit, even though it puts at least another month on the home payoff. Sometimes you just have to get off the rice and beans, and forget about the lions chasing you. We've set aside a considerable amount of blow money for this Christmas, starting with the plane tickets.

I had gone to Bath and Body Works to get some candles for DW, but they didn't have the correct scent in stock. I gave them my cell number and told them to call me when they were in. I was driving with the car pool, including DW, and my phone rang. I don't take calls while driving most of the time, so I handed my phone to DW, who answered. It was B&BW, telling me the candles are in. So much for that surprise. She doesn't know about the others, though, so at least not all of Xmas presents are known.

I Smell a Scam

December 18th, 2012 at 05:48 am

I was speaking to a man who works in our shop. He is from Ghana. He has been in correspondence with someone in the US who claims she is interested in meeting him and wants him to come visit. I've warned him about the "romance scams," but he's wanting to know how to get to the US.

I have told him NOT to send "her" money for any reason whatsoever. I fear this is one of those "Russian Bride" scams reversed. The phone numbers he showed me belong to a restaurant and a cell phone in Alabama. I am tempted to call them and speak with the person myself, but if it is not a scam, I really shouldn't be getting involved.

The man has only come to me asking how to get a visa to the US. I've looked it up. The only thing I can find is that a Ghana citizen must go to the US consulate in Ghana (Accra), but that's not feasible as the man lives in Dubai. I am fairly certain he can do all the paperwork from the consulate here in Dubai, but maybe not. I'll be calling them tomorrow to follow up on that.

Net searches have turned up nothing on her name in Alabama, and the only information on the phone numbers are what I have related above.

What next step would you take in this position?

Suck it up

December 2nd, 2012 at 07:50 am

I just read a post by a guy who is complaining about having to work long hours, his wife is sick, his daughter can't afford a school trip, and he's tired of working long hours. Well, that prompted me to write this post.

I started my working career in the US military. The military works long hours. I used to deploy to far off places, and I've been in tight situations. I didn't see my wife or kids for months at a time, sometimes. Yes, it was hard, but someone has to do these things to keep America free. If the folks still in the military were not there, the rest of us would maybe actually appreciate them in more than words. But that's not the point of my post.

Everyone always has it better than someone else. I have an old military buddy who had over 10 years of hard times. Mostly, they were his own fault, but that's not the point. He finally got his stuff back together. Within a year, he was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer.

Are you better off than him?

So, the OP of the offending post thinks life is hard and everyone's out to get him. I've worked thirty years to get to where I am. I live on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai (look it up online). It's like a resort. I still put in about 50 to 70 hours per week. I love what I do, and my retirement - if I ever actually retire - will be comfortable, to say the least.

I had hard times. I had tons of debt. I had medical bills. I had people close to me die without warning.

Yet, I survived. I love my life.

I don't care if I seem to be bragging. I've worked my butt off to get where I'm at, and I'm "living the dream." I only wish I had smartened up sooner and stopped borrowing sooner.

Anyone else reading this, you can be a lot worse off than you are. Count your blessings and flip off the evil that besets your life. It happens to everyone. If you keep working, you can make yourself and your family comfortable, too. Hard work is always rewarded, eventually.

But if you have a pissy attitude, don't expect anyone else to be there for you. You make your life what it is, and you have to live with what you make.

Question While Listening to Dave Ramsey

November 26th, 2012 at 08:23 pm

I know his name is a curse word to many, but I like to listen to DR for a variety of reasons. The least of which is that I like to hear the stories of people who have gone from staggering debt to financial security with great effort. What I have learned is that most of them changed their way of living to become debt free, and it is that "change of modus operandi" that I listen for to decide in my head if the person screaming "Debt Free!" is going to remain debt free.

As I've posted before, I put myself into considerable debt over a relatively short period of time due to a variety of reasons. Lost job, contracting business that barely paid the basic bills, retail therapy, and plain ol' stupidity being four of the major causes. Note that my divorce didn't even make the top four.

Well, I sold some stuff including a lake house and a third car, both of which I didn't need, and concentrated on paying off the other loans and such. Right now, I have no debt except my primary mortgage. I'm within a year of paying off the mortgage. I have plans to start purchasing houses to use as rental properties during my retirement for an income stream.

I was listening to Dave Ramsey, and someone with a remote house and payment called to ask about selling the house or keeping it for rental income. Dave asked the caller, "Would you borrow to buy that house?" Now, simplistic questions don't fit every situation, and my situation is different.

I can pay off my mortgage 100% within a year. At that point, I plan to save up $80K as a down payment on a second house, which I plan to purchase when I return to the US. I have no plans to live in my current house again, but it is in a neighborhood that is appreciating at about 6% to 10% per year, plus I can get rental income of about $1000 per month after taxes and insurance. I see no reason to sell such a cash cow. I can reasonably make $150K off of it if I do sell it, though.

My secondary goal, after I save the $80K, is to start saving for a second and third home in the same neighborhood, for eventual retirement rental income. As I'm the spreadsheet king, I have the financials worked out fairly well.

So, after hearing Dave's question, I am questioning myself as to whether I am doing the right thing. I have basically no bills, so everything I make goes into investments such as mutual funds and real estate. I plan to be real estate heavy, because God stopped making land, but lots of folks are still developing mutual funds. I just feel more comfortable with a house in hand versus a number on a piece of paper.

What would you do? Pay off the mortgage and buy property, or sell the house and invest in mutual funds?

Or something altogether different?

Editorial note: I know that many folks reading this are in debt and would love to be having this "problem," but believe me when I say I have not arrived here without a ton of effort and not just a few months where I was glad that the light still came on when I changed the calendar. You're reading about someone who has made it down the road after a very rocky start and quite a few missed turns and flat tires.

Hazards of Teaching

November 19th, 2012 at 04:59 pm

I taught an entry-level course about a week ago and have another one coming up this week. So much for Thanksgiving! Honestly, I miss more holidays due to these obligations than should really be allowed.

But that's not the point of this post.

I get students from all over the world. This last class had a South African, two Indians, a Brit who grew up in Kenya, a Kenyan whom you would think is a Brit, and a guy from Burma (now Myanmar in the news), not to mention a few generic out-of-towners.

One of my students is now out sick with a horrific cough. I'm drinking cough syrup like a ghetto party animal (look up the reference if you are not familiar with the latest drug craze). I wake up every few hours coughing like a 40 year twopack smoker.

Now I have a sore throat and my chest feels like a boa constrictor is thinking about making a meal of me. The worst thing is that I'm going to have to teach again in just two days. That means I won't only be trying to project while almost dying, I'm going to probably be passing this on to several others who are not yet infected with this bronchial infection.

Not-Quite a Job Offer

November 17th, 2012 at 06:07 pm

I was out with a friend the other night. I have a new job possibility, but the location is in Saudi Arabia rather than Dubai. The cost of living is less and the pay is higher - significantly higher. The problem? It's in Saudi Arabia. There is no way I'd take my wife there for the money they're offering. In fact, I cannot think of any level of money they can offer to get me to take my wife.

One possibility would be for me to stay in Bahrain and commute to KSA, but that's a remote chance by itself. I think I might start looking towards Singapore instead. One good thing about the oil patch is that we drill for oil wherever there is oil, so except for the Caribbean and a few other off-limits areas, my choices for where I work are fairly unlimited.

How much of a raise would it take you to move to Saudi Arabia?

Retail Therapy has Causal Link to Sadness

November 16th, 2012 at 05:27 am

A few of you may remember my post where I talked about spending a lot of money when I lost someone very close to me. Well, according to this link, sadness apparently causes people to make bad financial decisions.


From the article:
'"Our results suggest that individuals who are sad after the death of a family member might exacerbate their financial hardship by making intertemporal choices that favor immediate consumption more than is wise," the researchers wrote.'

What I find interesting is that being behind on everything tends to make people feel bad - which must be close to being sad - which might cause them to become even more behind due to bad decisions.

I know that I did exactly what the research indicates. Anecdotal, assuredly, but still it jibes with my personal experiences.


November 14th, 2012 at 01:43 pm

DW and I just signed the rental agreement for our new apartment. We are moving to the Palm Jumeirah, the man-made islands here in Dubai that look like a palm tree from the air. We got a sea-view where you can see the Burj al Arab, the Burj Khalifa, and the indoor ski slope. DD and her husband are coming to visit in December, after we're all moved in, so they'll get to see the view from our window.

As I've been reading the posts of others, I keep seeing people who are trying to save to "retire before we're XX years old." I don't think I'll ever fully retire. Part of my job requires travel. Right now, I'm in negotiations for a job in Australia. If the negotiations come through, I'll take DW with me. For the cost of a plane ticket, she'll get two weeks in Australia at the company's expense. Often, the hotels I stay at are resort hotels or similar. Why should I retire and pay for the vacations out of my own pocket. I may have to work for 8 or 9 hours each day, but I often get weekends off, so there's still time for tours and short excursions.

Does anyone know where Credit Karma and Credit Sesame get their real estate value estimates? One of them has me listed at about 75% of my US house value. The other has be listed at about 20%. Neither of them is right, but how can one of them be off by so much?

Apparently, I have a credit card I don't even know about. It says I've had it for like 5 years, and it has no balance (and never has had a balance). I'm going to call the bank and ask them to send a new card to my US address. DD can bring it with her when she comes. I won't use it, but I hate to have the credit without the card. I don't want to close the account, but it won't affect my credit score if I do, I don't think. 0% of X is the same as 0% of Y credit available.

Speaking of credit cards and Credit S and K, it looks like my score has finally recovered from my depression spending. The Amex that I let go into collections is still showing on one of the reports, but it's gone from the other two. Of course, I paid it off when I started recovering, but it was still hanging around as a reminder of my "don't get a hoot" days from a few years back.

Looking back, letting the bill go ended up being a good thing. Because I did that, I got fed up with banks and bills altogether, and paid off everything. All's well that ends well, I guess.

DW and I are trying to decide if we should buy a house now or wait a bit longer. Interest rates are probably at all-time lows, but the closing can take quite a while, so we'd have to make time to come back to the US for all the paperwork. I'm not sure how my oversea's pay would count toward salary. I guess I'll need to talk to a banker when I make my trip back to the US.

Speaking of the trip back, I was scheduled to leave today (my time), but had to postpone due to job happenings. Basically, a customer had an emergency, which forced me to cancel my reservations. In the end, it turned out that I could have left after all, but now it is too late. Oh, well... things happen.

Next week is DW's birthday. I asked her what she wanted. She said, "new clothes." I told her she'd have to buy them herself. Trust me. She and I don't see eye-to-eye on fashion. Maybe I'll get her a burka. One of the problems with budgeting is that you don't have extra money "hidden" to buy surprise gifts. I really have no clue what to get her. She specifically said not to get her any Pandora charms, which is one of the reasons I got her the bracelet. It gave me a fullproof gift to get her every occasion. I guess I cashed that check too many times already.

November begins

November 3rd, 2012 at 10:10 am

I'm heading back to the States for a few days to catch up on some personal business and grab some "can't get them over here" items... well that's not quite true. You can get ANYTHING in Dubai, but the shipping costs are often more than the item is worth. So, I'm grabbing some low-dollar items while I'm back.

The main reason for the return is some house maintenance. The Son-in-law isn't the most handy of individuals, so I'm going to put in a peep hole as well as find out where the vermin droppings are coming from. I sealed the house very well, and treated the attic with boric acid powder, so there shouldn't be any insects, but it is Texas, and that means there are always bugs. Daughter has gone from the droppings from rats, to mice, to maybe roaches... I'm wondering if it isn't something else altogether. In any case, though, I'll make sure there are no new holes in the walls or siding and also make sure any other minor things are taken care of.

We're moving within Dubai, so we've spent the last couple of weeks looking for places. Right now, we're kind of partial to the Palm Jumeirah, but we may end up in the Marina. There's more to do in the Marina, but the Palm has better traffic. We'll find out when we decide, I guess.

Daughter and SIL are going to be coming out in December. We've set aside some money that we plan to "waste" while they're here. This will likely be their only chance to visit us for a year or more, and it is quite likely that wife and I will return to the US before they come again. We want to certainly do the desert safari and probably a lot of sightseeing such as going up in the Burj Khalifa just so we can take pictures. Daughter is a published photographer, so I'm certain that photography will be high on her list while she's over here.

Financial Truisms

October 29th, 2012 at 05:08 am

A truism is a short statement that is a self-evident, obvious truth. Below are a few I'm pretty much making up on the spot; however, if an oldie occurs to me as I write this list, I'll include it as well. I'm not saying these are original, but I'm not grabbing them off of some internet post somewhere.

1. Debt consolidation means you're borrowing money to get out of debt.

2. A more accurate name for a credit card would be a spending card.

3. Money is like air: As long as you have enough for your needs, it doesn't matter how much extra there is, but if you run short, it becomes very important in a very short period of time.

4. The personal adage is "It takes money to make money." For the government, the saying should be "It takes money then wastes money."

5. I wish the government hated spending my money half as much as I hate paying my taxes knowing they're just going to waste 80% of it.

6. How small does something have to be to be small enough to fail?

7. It's an amazing coincidence that all of the businesses that were too big to fail were also headed by large campaign contributors.

8. The difference between the IRS and a burglar is that a burglar can't take everything you own without a second visit.

9. I could balance the federal budget overnight. I would tell Congress that they have to come up with 1% of the deficit spending out of their own pockets, but that they get to keep 10% of any surplus. Tax increases do not count toward their positive total.

10. If it were true that you can only borrow money if you don't need it, then all of the banks would be out of business.

11. Most of the time, people in financial trouble don't have a debt problem. They have a spending problem.

12. I wish I had put forth one quarter of the effort to stay out of debt compared to the effort it took to get out of debt.

13. I find it hard to seriously commiserate with someone who posts on Facebook "I never have any money at the end of the month. Sent from my iPhone5"

14. If you want empathy from me, I'll show you some. Look in the dictionary between "effort" and "employment." If you get to "entitlement," you went too far.

15. I think most people complaining there are no jobs missed a great self-employment opportunity: They could have made "Help Wanted" signs for fast food places.

16. The easiest way to get a job is to work hard enough that you keep the one you have now.

17. I've never fired anyone who was making me more money than he was costing me to employ.

18. When I was in my 20's, I told everyone that I wanted the rich to pay lower taxes and have more ways to evade taxes as well. Why? Because I wanted to be one of them one day. If more people felt this way, there'd be more rich people (and more opportunities for others to get rich).

19. When I hear talk about "entitlements," I always wonder, "What makes someone else more 'entitled' to the money I worked for than I am?"

20. If everyone in the US stopped buying things that didn't say "Made in the USA," then we wouldn't have exported ANY jobs to China, India, Mexico, or Viet Nam, no matter what law the Congress enacted or the President signed.

21. After seeing the results of the "war on poverty," the "war on drugs," and now the "war on big oil," I think the government should declare a "war on American Jobs." If it works half as well as the other three, we'll be BEGGING Mexico to send us more aliens to fill the vacant positions that are created.

22. The problem with common sense is that it's not very common.

23. With all the money I've flushed down the drain, my toilet should be made of platinum by now.

24. The reason "debt" and "death" sound so much alike is because most people spend their entire lives living in fear of both of them.

25. Why isn't there a word "Fruguy?" Sexism, plain and simple.

Easy Organic Gardening Tips

October 23rd, 2012 at 09:42 pm

My father was an organic gardener back in the 1970s before anyone else had ever heard the term "organic." It was his hobby then, and gardening is still his hobby now as he approaches 80. One of his tricks is to mulch and compost non-pine or -spruce type of leaves over the winter. He makes piles of mulched leaves about 5 to six feet wide.

About once every two weeks in the winter, he turns the piles and puts water on them if it hasn't snowed; if it has snowed, the snow melt is the water for the compost process. You'll know if the material is composting because snow will melt off the tops and you'll have brown mounds among the snow.

Now, in the Spring comes the "secret:" In the piles, plant potatoes throughout the pile of "now dirt," then grow corn in the middle, and tomatoes along the edges. My father puts up 4 inch welded wire "cages" along the perimeter. Just use 3.1 times the diameter for the length, or about 18.5 feet for 6 foot piles; he does about 15.5 feet for his 5 foot piles. The welded wire holds up the tomato plants, and they're going to need the support with all the tomatoes that will be growing on them.

Each of those crops pulls different nutrients from the ground so they don't interfere with one-another. He gets bushels of each item from one pile, and normally has about 6 to 10 piles. The size of his harvests is amazing. Also, the weeding is minimal, because the heat from composting and the freeze on the top of the piles from turning kills 99.9% of the weed seeds that make it into the piles over the Winter, and his harvest plants choke out the remaining random weed seeds that make it, with only minimal manual weeding.

He also has an eye for tomato plant "suckers." I don't know how he knows, but he pulls off these baby branches and every branch that remains bears fruit. He says that the "suckers" he pulls off would not have borne fruit. He also finds suckers on his corn plants and removes those, as well, but even I can recognize corn suckers.

The Autumn-Winter compost gives fresh nutrients every year, and he just collects bags of leaves from around his neighborhood in the Fall (now's the time), from houses that don't have anything but deciduous trees such as oaks and elms and suchlike. Just no pine needles is his main goal. Once a guy told my dad that he'd sell his bags of leaves. Needless to say, my dad just drove away and went to the next house. He always asks the owners before picking up the bags of leaves, and will explain to them why if the owner is curious.

Remind me to tell you the story about his plum tree that was so heavily loaded with plums that it fell over.

How to Know You've Turned the Corner

October 23rd, 2012 at 05:31 am

How to know that you've turned the corner on your debt:

1. You look forward to the end of the pay period because you'll get to pay more toward a debt so it will be gone that much faster.

2. You see someone drinking a Starbucks Veinte and think, "How can someone spend over $7 on a cup of coffee?"

3. The phrase "Ramen noodles" no longer brings up memories of your college dormitory.

4. Any animal product for less than $1.00 per pound becomes part of your gym routine as you lift it into your cart.

5. The new car smell now makes you wonder the length of the loan and how high the payments are.

6. You use the past tense as you talk about money problems.

7. You save up for Christmas rather than dread paying for it over New Years.

8. Your kids stop complaining when you say "No," because they realize it won't get them the candy, toy, or new video game.

9. Your kid points out something on sale at the grocery store instead of complaining in the first place.

10. You read this list and say, "He forgot one."

The Deposit made it

October 22nd, 2012 at 07:23 am

Apparently, CITI didn't want me to look for the deposit right away. They wanted me to wait until a new business day. They never mentioned it in the email that told me the deposit had been made and to go check my balance.

The good news is that our US CITI account is now open and ready for business.

Next step: Open the Dubai CITI account and figure out how to do the transfers. I'm waiting until after payday for that one. The last time I tried banking stuff over here, I lost my money for over a month.

The Disappearing Deposit, a new tale

October 20th, 2012 at 09:21 pm

If you read my first "Disappearing Deposit," you know that it dealt with using a broker to send money from Dubai, where I live, back to the US, where I'm going to return. Eventually, I got my money back, and sent it via telegraphic transfer back to the bank in the US.

Well, being cheap, I found that I can get a CITI account here, and a CITI account in the US, and using their online tools, transfer money between the two accounts.

To get a free account over here, I have to keep about $1000 in the account at all times. To get a free account in the US, I have to keep about $1500 in the account at all times. I decided to open the US account first, as it is a bit harder to do from a distance.

I won't go in to all of the problems with CITI and its online account opening algorithm, but I will mention one of them. To sign in to my account the first time, I had to give my account number, which they never sent by mail, by email, or by any other means. I had to call them to get my account number so I could sign in.

When I signed in, the balance was zero. The problem with that is that I had $1600 withdrawn from my Chase account two days ago, and I have an email from CITI telling me that my account deposit has been made and to go check the account.

Another phone call, and all I'm getting is "I'm sorry, but that department is closed." So much for "24 hour service" that they advertise. At least I did get to speak to a human who kept apologizing, but who had no clue what to do.

I'll call back later to see where my money is. Is it any wonder that people hate bankers nearly as much as they hate politicians and used car salesmen?

After I track down this money, I'll be opening my Dubai CITI account. I am not looking forward to my my first attempt to do an online transfer between the accounts. I hope it does end up being free, and I hope that it also is as easy to do as I was told when I asked about the possibility of doing this at all.

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