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Updates, Not All Financial

October 29th, 2013 at 02:17 am

I guess I've waited long enough to post again here.

My mother and father are doing as well as can be expected. My father had a simple heart procedure - pretty much an external one-time pacemaker-level shock - to quiet his atrial fibrillation. Everything is now hunky dory, there. He also had a stress test and pretty much passed with flying colors. He has the heart of a thirty year old. Not bad for a 78 year old, I'd say.

On the not-so-good side, my mom's dementia is progressing. She's also been diagnosed with mild osteoporosis. My younger brother (divorced and kids are grown) moved in with them to help them out. My dad is in great shape, but he is still 78 years old. Getting old really stinks. Baby brother is now job hunting in the Richmond, VA area. I don't know the job market there, but he's always managed to do well. I'm just glad there's someone younger around in case my folks need the help.

MIL is now in a convalescent home recovering from her surgery. She's not extremely healthy, but they're very optimistic that they got all the cancer. They're still putting her through a round of treatment (I think radiation), but I think that's more precautionary more than anything else. She is slated to be back in her house before Thanksgiving.

My knee MRI results are "bad, but not bad enough for surgery." They didn't add, "So deal with it," but it almost sounded like they said it, to my ear.

On the financial front, DW has finished installing the new french doors. I really like them, and they came in a few thousand dollars under budget, but still a few thousand more than I wanted to pay. I will admit that the installers did a better and much quicker job of it than I could have done. I know they're better than the old doors, because when DW and I were on Facetime, she opened the new door, I immediately heard the train whistle from about ten blocks away. With the old doors, I'd have heard the train before she opened the door. DW also says they seal better than the old doors. Maybe this will get our utility bills under $100 per month. That's a milestone I wouldn't mind hitting. The bills were originally in the $400 per month range when I first started energy upgrades.

The painters have also finished repainting inside and out. When they started, I felt this wasn't really necessary, but they found some water damage, which was repaired relatively early. If they had not found that damage, I'm sure I would have had a much larger bill to fix the additional damage whenever the damage would have been later found. So, although I didn't want the house repainted, it was a good thing DW had it done, after all.

Debt repayment is progressing apace. The doors are two payments away from complete. We put them on a 0% card just for the convenience factor. We could wait longer to pay them off, but I'm just as glad that they'll be paid off before January. I hate credit card balances. DW's car payoff is going OK. Still a ton owed, but with a 1.19% interest rate, I'd rather leave my money in the mutual funds than pull it out for the car. We'll just cash-flow the payments. It should be paid off in less than two years, and maybe sooner.

I sent the "contract" about the Bank of Mom & Pop loan to DD2 and SIL2. I told them that there was no need for a signature - it's not like we'll sue them if they don't repay it - but I wanted to make sure everyone was aware of the terms. I included a "late payment" penalty of 1% per month after 90 days, but I set back the "first payment" date to January of 2014. They were happy with the terms (0% interest and about a ten year term), which is not surprising.

About my bonus... I'm quite upset. They still haven't paid me for my April bonus. They have reasons, but those reasons are now sounding like excuses to me. Things go more slowly over here, but we are beyond a reasonable delay, in my mind. I plan to speak to our CFO tomorrow to sort this out once and for all.

I will be traveling back to the US over the Thanksgiving holidays. I hope to see my folks and all of my brothers. All four of us children are planning to be there, but I haven't got the details of their planned visits. Time is growing short, so I need to get on the stick about this. It has been over 25 years since all four of us got together at the same time. Two of us live in Texas, though I reside in Dubai. One lives in the DC area. My folks are just outside Richmond, VA. Baby brother just moved in with my folks from Kansas. Maybe his move means we'll all get together more often, but probably not. We keep in touch by phone and such, but to actually get all of us in the same city has just not happened much. It is mostly my fault, as I've lived in Europe and the Middle East for much of my life, and traveled frequently for my entire adult life, rarely visiting when I'm not on the road.

DW and I slowed our mutual fund purchases to cover the water damage repairs. It turns out we pretty much skipped October, but we'll make it up in December, or when I get my bonus. I could pay off DW's car with the bonus, but it's ear-marked for retirement instead. That's part of the "great car compromise" DW and I made. DW's early move back to the US is having more of a financial impact than I would have liked. She has held off on buying new furniture, at least, other than the beds and other assorted items. Only one room really needs new stuff, but of course it's the living room. That's better than another Tempurpedic mattress, anyway.

More Medical Maladies

September 17th, 2013 at 08:16 am

My father is 78 years old. He's in excellent health over all.

I got an email from him. He was admitted to the hospital with atrial fibrillation. At least, I think that's what it is called. They monitored him overnight, then changed his prescription for BP medication and released him. He's downplaying it, but 78 years old is still 78 years old.

The same day as the above, I finally went to the doctor. I told him what happened, and will be having an MRI soon. The orthopedist thinks I've torn my ACL (is there more than one of those?). The thing is, I tore it when I was in my 20's, but it's just now causing me intense pain. I must have turned my knee wrong while working or climbing onto a drilling rig last week. I'm in a knee brace, taking pain meds, and rubbing cortisone on my knee three times a day.

MIL had a scan done, and the doctors are very upbeat about her condition. They think that a mastectomy, removal of the lymph nodes, and a short period of radiation treatment will take care of all of her issues. Prayers or wishes for the doctors' correct prognosis are welcome.

DW, at least, is doing well. She's mostly moved back in, and has finished most of the unpacking. Our storage locker has been released, so we're now $132 more per month into our pocket. The price had just increased two months earlier. I forget what it had been, but it was around $10 per month cheaper. She is upbeat about her mom when I talk to her, but I know she must feel stressed.

I offered both DW and my father the option of me coming back for a couple of weeks. Both of them declined. I'll wait and see, and keep my options open.

I can't win for losing

September 15th, 2013 at 06:28 pm

This isn't very financial in nature, though it definitely touches on financial plans.

The doors arrived and once unpacked were damaged, so the house updates are not even started. Most of the interior is painted, and DW has moved everything out of storage and back into the house. That's $132 (there was a recent increase) per month no longer being paid out.

We received news that MIL has breast cancer that has already metastasized to the lymph nodes. MRI coming soon to see the extent. DW will be going up to visit, so that's a plane flight that wasn't planned. Also, dog watcher to pay. Also, all the other associated travel bills.

Of course, DW had already allocated the main EF for her move back to the US, so we're hitting investment funds for this; not already-invested money, we're just not putting any more toward retirement while we get over this hurdle.

Luckily, I have a bonus coming within the month. That should set things right again, but some of it will need to be sent to Uncle Sugar for taxes. Just when we needed the cash, too.

At least DD2 has finished her move in to her new place. I'm sure she and DW are glad to be under different roofs. (editor's note: Why is the plural of "roof" = "roofs" but the plural of "hoof" = "hooves?")

We've postponed DW's return to Dubai so she can take care of her mom. Sometimes you just have to make sacrifices for the good of others. DW lost her father years ago, so her mom is all she has left.

Both of my parents are still alive. My father is doing very well; still very active in his late 70's. My mother, though, is having severe age-related memory problems. It is not impeding her apparent quality of life, but her lack of short-term memory is very noticeable. She's seeing specialists and on medication. My father says her symptoms seem to be arrested at the current stage. It's really quite sad to see this happen.

Getting old stinks, but it certainly beats the only alternative I'm aware of: dying young.

What is your life worth?

September 11th, 2013 at 08:09 am

So, you would think that this question would be philosophical, but in my case, I think it is literal. I've been in contact with a company in a very unsafe country, especially for Americans.

I qualify for the position they need to fill - there is no doubt of that - but eventually, I'll be required to state how much money it would take to get me to the location.

I've been in dangerous locations in the past. In the military, I was shot at and had mortar rounds lobbed my way. They didn't pay me any extra. We weren't even in a combat zone, because of Congress. Personally, I figured if someone was trying to kill you and folks around you, it should count, but I'm not a lawyer or tax accountant, so what do I know?

The position I have now has great growth potential, and I'm in a secure area. It pays well. I have a great bonus plan and its limit is pretty much set by me.

The question becomes, how much would you have to get over and above your present position to go somewhere that is relatively unsafe? Figure you'll be there for ten years, for maximum benefit.

What do you think? Is $100K per year enough? How about $250K more than you're making now? Or would you need even more? I'm considering the position, but I know the "How much would you cost" question will eventually be asked.

How much is your safety worth?

...And One Step Back

September 4th, 2013 at 10:34 am

Well, the elation didn't last long.

Just got a call from DW. It seems that when the painters showed up to do the back bedroom - let's just say that DD2's style doesn't match our own - they found a sponge where the wall should be in the closet.

Further investigation (tearing out not-so-drywall) revealed that there was some damage to the sill plate, and water coming from somewhere.

The good news is that it is not from the plumbing. Apparently, our AC drain is too close to the wall, and it's been seeping onto our slab and from there to the wall. It was caught early, but it's going to cost about $1K to fix it. If I were there... maybe $100.

Anyway, the main problem is to eliminate the situation and then repair the house. Total cost will include new sill plate, some dry wall, some texturing to match the existing wall, and the paint.

That doesn't sound like one thousand dollars to me, but it certainly looks like that on the quote sheet. I have to pay. This is yet another cost of living overseas while maintaining a house in the US.

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.

Quote I Disagree With

July 21st, 2013 at 07:15 pm

You know the quotes that come up on top of the page on SA. Well, there is one that comes up periodically:

"Enjoy your job, make lots of money, work within the law. Choose any two."

I completely disagree! I have thoroughly enjoyed two of my last three jobs (spanning over 10 years) and made very good money. Of course, I don't violate any laws.

This quote is flawed on the surface. Dave Ramsey (sorry to bring up his name again, after the forum wars that I'm currently engaged in) doesn't seem to even be working. He's definitely enjoying his job, making a lot more than lots of money, and not violating the law.

There are many folks who do all three. What about you? Do you enjoy your job? Do you break the law? You may not be making "lots of money," but you're probably doing well enough and most likely making more than many of your peers.

Sorry to vent. It's just been bugging me, and I finally caught it when it came up in the banner.

Porcine Lipstick and Reality

July 14th, 2013 at 12:17 pm

I just got off the phone with DW. She's met with our financial advisor, and of course sent me forms to sign and instructions to follow. She said it might rain today, so we'll save a few dollars on watering the new sod we put in.

DD2 and SIL2 have started the structural changes in their new house, and found that one of the walls she wants to pull down contains the risers for the plumbing upstairs. She's bummed, but they're going to do an archway with support beams (rather than just a stand-alone column to conceal the plumbing) instead of only the breakfast bar with no verticals. I'm sure it will look fine.

The Bank of Mom and Pop has extended the credit line to DD2 and SIL2 to accommodate a new fence. SIL2 had great plans to put in a new fence by himself, but I'm not surprised he's not doing this one. I've done fences before, and even using a two-man auger, postholes are a pain in the butt to put in. He's not all that mechanically inclined, so they got a bid for others to do the fence. The old one is already torn down and the new one should be going in as I type.

DW asked why parts of our house are cold and other parts are not-so-cold. I told her it's because it is an old house, and DD2 doesn't run the ceiling fans, closes all the doors, and blocks all the air flow from the registers back to the inlets. I told her to just leave the doors open and all the ceiling fans running and that things would moderate. DD2 cannot be told anything that doesn't agree with her preconceived notions. She thinks that air conditioning should work according to her desires and not according to physics. I can't wait until she starts seeing the results of her ideas in her new place. Remember that I've done thousands of dollars in energy updates in my 1950's bungalow. She refused to do the updates in her 1970's Brady Bunch place.

The puppies are loving the yard, still. I, on the other hand, mopped the floors this evening. I miss the vacuum cleaner aspect of those two.

Back in Dubai

July 13th, 2013 at 09:56 am

Well, the hectic trip was "hecticker" than I imagined it would be. We made it to DS's wedding and met his bride's family. They seem to be really nice folks. Almost all of the older men at the wedding were US military veterans, from both sides of the family.

My parents were not able to make it to the wedding. I was warned that my mother has symptoms of dementia, but when we flew to VA to see them, I found out the brutal truth of the situation. My mom remembered me, but she kept asking my wife who she is. It is really quite sad, but my father is coping with it well. Luckily, they are well-set financially for their retirement, so his only worries are taking care of my mom.

DD2 and her hubby (SIL2) have closed on their house. They haven't moved in yet as they are having a lot of work done before they move in. They are replacing all of the floors and painting. I suggested they replace the windows and put in more attic insulation, but instead they are doing the cosmetic changes.

I helped SIL2 put in some purlins in the attic (like there would be purlins anywhere else). I left my nailer and compressor at his place and showed him how to determine if a wall is load-bearing. I also showed him how to brace back to a load-bearing wall for the additional purlins he's going to have to put in. DW is working with DD2 this weekend to help her paint the inside.

Their contractor has finally given them prices for some of the interior changes. His prices are in line with the amount of work to be done. In addition to our house-warming gift of $2K, we're making them a substantial "Bank of mom and pop" loan as well. We're making them sign some papers, but that's more so that everyone knows the terms than for any legal purpose. I seriously doubt that we'll do any legal action if they don't pay us back. Of course, I'm sure they will pay us back, else I wouldn't have approved of the loan.

I spent the remainder of my time doing repairs on the house DW will be staying in. She insisted on a new Tahoe, and I made her get the LTZ model. If you're going to have a new car, you might as well get a good one. We financed it with our CU, who offered 1.49%, but after negotiating the deal, the dealership asked what our interest rate was. He said he could beat it, and therefore our rate is actually at 1.19% through Capital One. That's not a bad rate, in my book. DW should have it paid off in about 1.5 years by the amortization schedule we worked out.

Homes in my neighborhood have fully rebounded from the "soft" hit they took during the downturn. Empty lots are going for exorbitant levels. The house beside ours is listed for $1250 per month as a lease, and it is significantly smaller and less well-kept than ours. Rental estimates for our place are about $2K. I have considered selling it, but every time I look at its value, it has gone up yet again. Right now, it has increased by over $60K in less than a year. Although those are unrealized gains, there's no way I'm going to sell until that pace of increase abates.

So, now we have a car payment again. I can't say I'm happy about that, but at least DW has a safe car to drive in. This trip also put our house payoff schedule back a few months. It looks like we won't have it fully paid off until the first quarter of 2014 now. Oh, well, the best laid schemes of mice and men oft go awry, as the Burns poem states.

I'll be back at work in the morning, and have already received about 10 phone calls about minor issues that needed my input. I guess I'll need to get back into office-work mode this evening. I won't be taking any more time off for at least 6 months.

Ramadan started this month. "Ramdan Kareem!" to those of you who follow the tenets of Islam.

Credit Scores

April 20th, 2013 at 04:06 am

DW and I were looking at our credit scores on Credit Karma or Credit Sesame (no way I'm paying for curiosity information). Her score is up to "deity" level. Mine is still somewhat below "hero," probably in the "champion" range.

Basically, her score shot up by about 35 points to the "nowhere to go but down" range. Mine is still "very good," but there's a lot of both up and down potential. When we look at the basis behind the scores, we both score A in every category.

I'll never understand credit scores. Our credit has been married for over 6 years. Anything bad on mine from before should have fallen off.

Good thing we pretty much ignore these things. There's something about walking into a car dealership and saying, "We don't care about payments. All discussions will be referencing bottom-line, drive-out , we're-done-forever pricing. If you send me into the room with the lady who wants to sell me undercoating, pin striping, and extended warranties, I'll say 'yes' to everything she asks. Just be aware, though, that the number you and I come up with is the final answer, so you won't get another penny above that, no matter what you throw in for free."

We're currently saving to purchase our retirement home outright. I doubt I'll need a mortgage broker, and the title company will be someone I hire, not one hired by the bank or some other entity. I guess I've learned that doing things yourself saves money.

Still wish I knew why my credit score isn't moving at all. We pay our present mortgage on time every month.

No spend week

April 9th, 2013 at 07:42 pm

Not that it took any real effort. I was in Saudi Arabia for 8 days. The day before I left, we put aside some food for DW, who never really makes much when I'm not home. This also meant no weekend date, either.

Of course, when I got back, I had gotten a rash on my wrists. Overnight, it spread to my arms, back, legs... basically everywhere but my face. That meant a trip to the doctor. The diagnosis is "contact dermatitis," which basically means I touched something that gave me a rash. I have no idea what I had touched.

Anyway, I now have four different pills and two tubes of cream I have to use. The cost? About a $15 co-pay, which I'm definitely not complaining about. I took all my pills and had a small snack for breakfast - I usually skip morning meals - but I'm not allowed coca-cola at all! I was down to about two cans per day (that's like a radical cutback, for me), but now I'm allowed nothing. We'll be shopping for that fruit-flavored water today sometime. At least "alcohol" was not denied me by the doctor, so I can still drink beer!

Going back to work today for a two-day workweek. Of course, not having had a day off for two previous weeks means that this isn't much of a bargain at all.

Easter and Passover

March 30th, 2013 at 09:16 pm

If you think religion is a fairy tale of imaginary sky friends, you should probably skip this post.

No matter one's religion, I think this time of year is ideal for a "Springtime Thanksgiving." Whether you believe G-d passed over the true believers in preparation for their deliverance from Pharaoh or that Christ was risen and cleansed us of our sins, I think this particular time of year is a good time to assess where you are in your life and give thanks where they are deserved.

I'm truly blessed by a loving family, good health, a good job, and a good life. Thanks, God. I couldn't have done anything without Your help. I'm doing "better than I deserve."

If you're interested in languages, you might find it interesting that Pasqua (Italian for Easter) and Pesach (Hebrew name for Passover) are derived from the same root. Yet the two words commemorate totally different events, unless you want to speculate that deliverance from Pharaoh and deliverance from sin are somehow the same lesson in different forms.

If only Burt Reynolds hadn't done that movie, we might be able to have a common holiday called "Deliverance."

Cue the Banjo music.

Money, Debt, and Credit

March 22nd, 2013 at 08:49 pm

CreditCardFree posted an article about her friend spending her tax return on unnecessary items.



http://creditcardfree.savingadvice.com/2013/03/22/backwards-...

This got me thinking about how I used to view things. I started to reply in the comments, but my "reply" turned in to a longer post than CCF's original musings. That, in turn, spawned this post.

In the US, and probably much of the developed world, "available credit" has become synonymous with "money." Think about how you were before you devoted yourself to paying down your debt: As long as you were still below your credit limit, you could afford to buy something.

Did you not think "I still have room left on my credit card, so I can afford this?"

From this revelation, I realized that "available credit" has become conflated with "money." If you thought that the two were the same thing, then there would be absolutely no reason to pay off debt with your tax return. Follow the reasoning in the next paragraph.

I have a $3000 tax return. I have a $12000 balance due on my $20000-limit credit card. Therefore, I have spending power of $11K. If I pay off my debt with my tax return, I have $0 in cash, and $9K due on my $20K balance. Therefore, I have "spent" my tax return for no gains in my ability to buy things. Therefore, I have "wasted" my tax return for nothing.

How many of you had thought processes similar to the preceding paragraph? You may not have thought it through quite so logically (self-anointed nerd, here), but does it not encapsulate how you actually thought about money and credit? They're the same thing in the minds of those who have not had the epiphany that "debt is bad" that most of us writing in the blogs on SA have had.

And this is why most folks don't understand us, and most folks are not paying off debt, and why most folks are going to panic again when the next downturn happens.

Money does not equal available credit. If you realize the wisdom in referring to them as "debt cards" instead of "credit cards," then you understand why we're paying off our debts. Maybe we should all start calling them "debt cards" instead of "credit cards" when we talk to others. Maybe we can start a trend that has a positive effect.

More likely, though, we'll get talked about behind our backs for not knowing the "right" words for those plastic swipe things.

Home Improvements and Spreadsheets

March 22nd, 2013 at 02:06 am

I'm a spreadsheet nerd. When I make an important financial decision, the first thing I do is break out Excel and start to do comparisons and "what-if" checks.

My house in the US is up another $20K in value in the last two months by the online estimators and my own research into the neighborhood sales online confirms these figures. Also, its apparent rental value is up $200 per month. I already had a spreadsheet for the "sell or rent, which is better" scenario, and put the new numbers in it. As usual, when all factors are considered, there is only a $50 per month differential between renting out the place and selling it and investing the profits. I use a conservative 7% for my investment return calculations.

I opened a new sheet in the workbook and listed my electric, gas, and water usage from figures I could find online in my accounts. I've been making energy efficiency improvements to the house nearly every year since purchasing it. Honestly, I have pretty much run out of improvements to make. The house is in Houston, TX. I've added ridge and soffit vents. I've added a radiant barrier. I've upped the ceiling insulation to absurd depths. I've put in wall insulation as the bungalow was built around 1950 and no one used insulation back then. I have high efficiency everything including washer, refrigerator, air conditioner. I have double-pane, e-squared, argon-filled windows. I have one sliding glass door left to replace with some French doors, and my upgrades will be complete.

As I said, this was all done over a course of years. I finally got around to working out my total energy and utility usage for the place. I had paid as much as $400 for only the electric bill one month, though usually the electricity ran closer to $300 or slightly below during the summer months.

My spreadsheet did not disappoint me. My maximum TOTAL utility bill for the last two years was right at $170. That was only one month during the drought where my water usage was over $100. I told DW while we were doing the watering that "it's cheaper to water than it is to put in a new lawn."

My electricity provider went out of business, so I lost previous billing data, and cannot go back any further. The house is costing about $110 per month for total utilities: gas, electric and water. That's $200 per month right into my pocket when I move back. Right now, DD2 is enjoying this bounty with her husband as they house-sit while I'm overseas.

Since I started doing the upgrades, I have probably invested just about $30K in the changes. That means it is a 9 year payback at 7% per annum. I'm a good five years into the payback period.

Those improvements are as good as money in the bank, in a few more years.

Free eBook for One Week

March 18th, 2013 at 03:59 pm

I posted in the freebies section, but more people probably read here, so I'm double-posting this.



The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown, is being offered free by the publisher to promote Dan Brown's newest book. If you have any kind of eReader (I use Kindle on my iPad and iPhone), then you can get it free from your favorite publisher.

I got my copy from Amazon. I had to go down the list to find the $0.00 Kindle edition, but it was there. I would assume GoogleBooks, iTunes, Barnes&Noble also have free editions, according to the press reports.

The offer ends on 24 March, so if you want a free copy of the DaVinci Code, now is your chance.

Ouch!

March 17th, 2013 at 02:00 pm

I went to the doctor today. About 10 days ago, I went and found out I have bone spurs and plantar fascitis in both feet. Ten days of pills and creams basically did nothing for the early-morning pain.

The doctor gave me steroid shots, one in each heel. Now you know the reason for the title. Steroid shots directly into your heel are the reason curse words were invented. I didn't do any more than scream, but I can assure you I was THINKING curse words as I did so.

So now, 12 hours later, I'm sitting up in the middle of the night in intense pain. The nausea and general body aches I got after the shots were bad enough. I cannot even walk now. When I say pain, I'm mean so bad I cannot even comfortably move from the couch.

This had better work. The doctor said that in extreme cases, three shots would be required, each 10 days apart. This had better work!

Take That, Washington!

March 15th, 2013 at 08:34 pm

Well, at least this year living in Dubai worked out. I just finished my taxes, and I owe a whopping ZERO dollars.

Plus, I'm getting a refund. I usually don't take my refund, and leave it in for next year's taxes, so this year, the tax package I used didn't give me that option hence the fact my last year's "leave it in" option is now this year's "get it back" requirement.

I realize that leaving my "refund" with the IRS means the government gets my money tax-free, but they need it worse than I do, and I prefer to have a bit more buffer at tax time than most people. Besides, it's their money anyway. Just ask them.

Next year, I'm going to have to pay quite a bit in quarterly payments, which is a bit daunting for me. The way my pay is structured worked out for me this year. Next year (2013 taxes) is going to hit very hard. I hope they don't make too many changes at the last minute (sequester and end-of-year changes like 2012, anyone?) since the quarterly estimates are going to be hard enough to figure out without last minute changes.

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.)

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.


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