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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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

Plumbing Problems

October 20th, 2012 at 07:34 pm

Daughter and son-in-law staying at our place in Houston called to say that yet again the kitchen drain had backed up. This is a 1950's bungalow, and the plumbing in the kitchen is still the original. The old bathroom and the new bathroom both have new plumbing - well, 95% of the old bathroom drain is new or refurbished. We still have about 50% of the supply lines to be redone, as well.

We have asked them to get an estimate on the drain. So far, the estimate has ranged from $13,200 to $6,500. We have one more estimate to go. Of course the lower-priced plumber said that the guy who does official estimates was off, and that they should come back with a camera for a fee to look in the pipes. I guess that means that the lower estimate is the estimated estimate.

I told the SIL that we would not pay anything for an estimate. The $13,200 estimator had a boroscope and also cleared the clog while he was there, both for free. Of course, if I was looking at $7K in profit, I'd probably do a 'scope for free, too.

This is going to make Christmas not so cheerful. We had known the plumbing was going to need to be replaced as we had already done two of three areas, but we had hoped to put it off another year or two. There's still the supply to do, too, when this is done. Luckily, I can do the supply myself. I won't mess with drains, though. Too much can go wrong with drains; supply lines either do or don't leak when you're done.

My wife wants me to sell the bungalow. It is in my name from before we got married. I want to keep it as we can get about $1300 to $1500 per month if we rent it to other than her daughter. So, the time has come for us to make a decision. Do we sell it and use the equity to buy another house or do we keep it and use the rent to help pay off another house? The wife believes the former. I believe the latter.

Financial Blinders

October 4th, 2012 at 10:15 pm

There are two types of financial blinders. I have used both of them.

The Bad Blinders
These are MUCH more comfortable to wear than the Good Blinders (coming up). These blinders allow you to look at your finances - or not look - and not see the debt piling up. These blinders let you borrow 100% of your house loan, get zero-down car loans, get and run up several credit cards and tens of thousands in their debt.

The benefit of bad blinders is that you get a very good credit score, until you wear them too long or something else interferes. You also get to have lots of cool things like new cars, big houses, the newest cell phone and computer.

The detriment of bad blinders is that eventually your habits catch up with you. The first time you have to decide which bill not to pay because your loans, credit cards, mortgage, utility bills, and Starbuck's addiction add up to more than your income, your eyes open up and you see the result of living beyond your means. Yes, no matter how much you earn, you can spend more than that with very little effort.

At the point where you see "rich people's income" and "poor people's balance" you find out the bad blinders only stopped you from seeing the truth that paying thousands in interest every month only benefits the institutions receiving the payments.

The Good Blinders
A couple of two or three years back (that's Texan for "a while ago"), we threw away the bad blinders and put on some good blinders. We made drastic changes and sold one car for what we owed, gave away another car that I loved (still do, actually) but someone else needed more than we did, sold the vacation home we really didn't need - or could afford - again only breaking even. In short, we first got rid of things we really didn't need.

Now, the good blinders came in to play. These blinders let you ignore income you don't really have. If you make $1200, and have fixed bills of $1000, you only have income of $200 to play with. The old blinders would let you look at the gross income and ignore those medical payments, FICA, and other deductions. Why not? If you can ignore the fact that the amount of the actual check is already accounted for, and more, then why not also ignore the above-the-line deductions that also can't be spent?

So, now, the good blinders allow us to have the wife's check go directly into a stand-alone account that doesn't exist; at least, it doesn't exist on our balance sheet. We also don't have any retirement accounts. What do I mean? I haven't retired yet, so that money doesn't count toward our finances.

These new blinders aren't terribly uncomfortable. Sure, every once in a while I check the balances in the accounts, but overall, we keep the blinders in place 99% of the time, and are just waiting until one of the peeks lets us give our jobs their two week notice. I haven't even written one of my Excel spreadsheets to see when we will have enough to retire. We have very lofty retirement goals, so I know we're not there yet. We're throwing every penny at the funds so it really doesn't matter if I know when we will get there before we arrive. There's no way we could send more and still eat.

Yep... these blinders may not be as fun to wear, but the end of month bill payments take up a lot less of our time.

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