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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.

...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.

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.

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.

Trip back the US around the Corner

May 26th, 2013 at 06:16 pm

Well, DW and I are getting ready to head back to DS's wedding. We're going to do quite a few around-the-US trips as well. We got our airplane tickets and car rentals already arranged and paid for. Total out of pocket for two cities and about ten days is just at $700. That includes rental car, hotels, and plane. I used up some of my frequent flyer and frequent stayer credits for this, which made the price less than 30% of the fares and fees otherwise.

Our dogs go to the vet next week for their "preflight" check up. That should be all in order.

I have hired three people at work this week, and still have two more contracts to sort out. We're growing by the proverbial "leaps and bounds." My group has tripled in size since I arrived, and it looks like we're going to double again this year. That will be literally a 6 times increase in just two years. It's hectic, let me tell you.

DD2 has purchased a house. DW and I are going to give her $2K toward new floors. We're also helping DS pay for his wedding. June is going to be a "thin" month for us.

DW and I have worked out a compromise. She is going to get her new car. She's also going to live at our "old" house, at least until the car is paid off. We're going to use "her" money to go toward the car, then use "our" money to cover the remaining payments. Had we had more notice, we would have saved up for her car, but we're moving up her return to the US by six months due to circumstances beyond our control.

We also have to budget for her return trips to Dubai. I'll be staying on in our apartment over here. I've hired a "number two" in my group, and will be leaving him in charge when we return to the US. It isn't fair doing this right before we return, but he knew the score when we made the job offer. I'm really happy to have hired both him and our new operations supervisor. They wanted large salaries, but they're both worth it, in my opinion. Only time will prove out my beliefs.

Things are looking to be pretty good for June. I should know my bonus amount this week. I hope it is large enough to offset some of our upcoming expenses. It should be, but one never knows until the figures are written down and certified.

Financial Decisions

May 12th, 2013 at 10:54 pm

DW is planning to split her time between the US and Dubai. The summers here are oppressively hot, and she just doesn't want to suffer through another one. I, on the other hand, actually like the hot weather, and as I'm the one working, there's no real way I can go back to the US and work here part time.

Because of this, we'll need both a car and a house in the US. For some reason, DW doesn't want to live in the house we already own, and have nearly paid off. She wants a larger place for only her and our dogs. Her car is being used by DD2 and SIL, and DW doesn't want to ask for it back. I'm not even going to discuss my opinion of that. I gave my car to BIL (DW's brother) when we left to come here to Dubai, because there was no way I could sell it for what it was worth, and BIL needed it more than we did. No regrets on that front.

So, it looks like we'll need to buy both a house and a car upon our return for DS's wedding. I have DW convinced to buy the house first, at least, but because of that, we won't have the cash to buy her new car outright. I hope she will come around and let me get her a gently used car for $20K or so until we can save up enough for the car she wants (list price around $55K). If not, we'll end up with car payments and we'll have to beat those down while simultaneously attacking the last of house(1) mortgage and new house mortgage. At least we have no other debts to worry about. House(1) is nearly paid off. If it weren't for the need for the down payment for new house, we could pay it off completely.

So, DW is putting a crimp into our retirement plans. The only point we're in full agreement on is that we aren't touching any of the retirement accounts for this, and we'll still fully fund both Roths. She wants a place with a large fenced yard and a pool. We also want the place to be energy efficient, well-made... all the "normal" house desires. She also wants "close in to town," and "new construction." We're talking five times my annual salary to get everything she wants, and that's just not going to happen. She also doesn't want to work, which I don't mind. But she's going to have to "give" on at least a couple points or it's just not going to happen.

I should find out my bonus amount this month. That's going to decide a lot of what we're going to be able to do right away, and what we're going to have to put off until later. I'm hoping for a very large bonus.

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.