Monday, April 30, 2007

Carnival of Debt Reduction #85

This week the tao of making money is hosting the 85th Carnival of Debt Reduction. I submitted my article "disappointed with the women in red,". Sadly MP Dunleavy and her women friend's have sort of lost track of the goal of being debt free it seems.

One of those ladies who is not disappointing but actually moving along is Tricia at blogging away debt, she submitted an article called "I've come a long way baby,". Very nice website.

Another cool post is "Steps to reduce CC spending" by Mr. Credit Card. His 5 steps are great, I pretty much do steps 2-5 but not number 1. I just can't let go of my CC, but no biggie. I try not to eat out too much, we had a not bad April, mostly ruined by going out with people. And I borrow not buy books, never shop at a mall, and I check my bank balance daily. Great and easy tips. Glad to know I do most steps to stay out of debt.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Car Lease?

So on Saturday we went out to dinner with friends, again splitting the bill equally, and again pissing us off. Anyway though one of the people we were out with told us something really interesting and cool.

His bonus from the company was a car, toyota prius to be exact. Instead of more stock options or a cash bonus the company leased him a toyota prius. Of course cash would be better, but a a free car was better than nothing.

DH and I were discussing this later and decided would we take a car if offered it? I suppose we would, after all its' a free car. And it would be rude not to take the offer. Plus it's not like the company was offering a cash bonus in lieu of.

But why a leased car? DH says it's because the amount paid is monthly, instead of a lump sum. So for a business that cash flow is handled better. Also buy leasing a car, the company doesn't have to worry about the guy leaving and taking the bonus. Another issue is a car lease is tax deductible to a business, unlike a typical bonus.

So I guess having a car leased for you a nice bonus. But would I sell my car if I were offered this perk? I don't know, probably because it would be wasteful to have 3 cars and 2 drivers. What would you do? And would you take the car lease? Is it a typical perk/bonus of a job? We'd never heard of this before, usually people who get company cars are salesmen, not just office jockeys.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Living on Food Stamps?

This past week Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski decided to take a weeklong challenge of living off of food stamps. He would have $21 in food stamps for the entire week. Gov. Kulongoski is doing this to raise awareness of the difficulties of living off of food stamps. To raise awareness that government handouts were insuffiecient to feed a family on..

I have often said that it's very expensive to eat healthy, and this article showed that to be true. Gov. Kulongoski started out by heading to the organic foods, only to discover that they were much too pricy. Though he desired Progresso soup, it's cost was too prohibitive and thus instead he chose instant ramen noodles at 1/5 the price.

One wonders if he would have made out better if he had coupons to help? Also the woman helping him Mrs. Sigman-Davenport, who also lives on food stamps, suggested that he eat lots of filler foods like mac and cheese and beans. Not exactly a balanced healthy diet, but cheap. Even with coupons, many of the foods on sale were "filler" foods.

Also food stamps I think are not meant to be the sole source of food for a family. I think they are meant to supplement the income coming in to allow a family to have enough to eat. Of course the food they eat will not be healthy or condusive to losing weight. No the foods they are able to purchase will be full of empty calories, unhealthy, and most likely very processed. I guess there is a support of the idea that being thin goes hand in hand with being rich.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cheap Vacation?

So DH really wants to go on vacation. And no we haven't got the money for it. But he said a weekend vacation would be acceptable if we went somewhere. I think he'd love a week and we'll discuss maybe going camping or renting a cabin for a week somewhere close. But he really wants to weekend in Niagara Falls.

So we disscussed it and came up with $600 for 4 days/3 nights driving. That includes the 3 nights hotel, 4 days of dog boarding, gas for driving, and eating out while we're there. Do you think that's too expensive or about right?

We decided to drive because otherwise we'd have to fly to Buffalo or Toronto and rent a car anyway so we might as well drive. Also since we had to drive to the falls it'll be not that much longer if you factor in driving to drop the dogs off, which is on the way, then driving to the airport, waiting before departure and time to get the rental car.

Our biggest expense is probably the dog boarding, but it can't be helped. Since we have two dogs now it's twice as expensive, oh well. So anytime we plan on going anywhere we always have to add that expense, even a weekender. And we've considered a dog sitter, but I'm not sure who'd we trust. And our dogs are sort of high maintenance so I'm not sure if we could just allow a neighbor or friend to watch them. Well we don't know anyone who'd take two dogs anyway. Plus one of them is still a bit problematic.

Anyway I'm just wondering, is this what most people would spend for a weekend away? Are we far off? Does anyone have any suggestions for a cheap weekend vacation?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Walgreens Easy Saver Rebate

Today I shopped at Walgreens for the first time to do the Easy Saver Rebate. It is a program where you shop and get money back for items purchased. You have a choice of cash back or a Walgreen's gift card which gives you an extra 10% back on the rebates you earned. Now I'm doing great about getting a ton of free stuff at CVS so I'm not sure if this is worth it. But they did have two items with mail in rebates which made me do it.

The ove glove was sold for $14.99 and there was a $5 rebate for it. So it was $9.99, and I decided what the heck. Perfect timing because I really wanted to buy that for a long time. The second item I was dying to try was the scubbing bubbles automatic shower cleaner. This item was sold for $24.99 with a $5 MIR as well, but I also had a $10 off coupon so it will be $10 to try it.

So I was sold on the idea of buying these items, thus I decided to shop more and buy the 3 items which were free after rebate (FAR). One was 20 count Aleve for $3.99, but I had a $2 coupon so I guess just scored and extra $2. I also bought Gum toothbrush for $2.99 but again I had $1 coupon. And finally I also bought 24 count Excedrin for $3.99 with a $1 coupon, so I felt a bit better.

And I asked for a Walgreen gift card so I can make an extra 10% on my 20.97 rebate I expect to get back. That means I should actually get back $26.37 in walgreen gift card. Is it worth the $38 I spent today? I am not yet sure, but I hope to get my rebate back asap so I can use it on my May purchases. If not I'm going to be out a lot of money in May as well. I'm hoping to roll this every month and just purchase items FAR or stuff I really want like the ove glove and scrubbing bubbles.

Also if anyone has comments on the ove glove, I'd love to hear them. I don't know if it's the best thing, but I'm willing to try it. It looks like next month might be a good month as well. Lots of free stuff in the Easy Saver, I think I'm going to do at least two deals.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Festival of Frugality #71

This week the 71st Festival of Frugality is hosted at the tao of making money. My post about "vacation want or need" was submitted to the festival.

One great article at the Digerati Life was "Do you know how much your car cost you?" I really enjoyed reading it. I've thought about dumping one of our cars because now that we live on the East coast it's sort of unnecessary because I usually use public transportation. However both cars are paid for, we've taken care of them, and we know the history. So it would probably cost more for us to sell it now and buy a used car later. One which we don't know the history. Besides we've already eaten the depreciation of our new cars, which are nice cars, but really it didn't depreciate as much because they were super cheap cars to begin with.

Second article I enjoyed was "cutting grocery costs without clipping coupons" by Amy Fontinelle. It made some great suggestions, I might also add don't shop when hungry. Also always shop with a list and stick to it. But her list is good and informative.

Enjoy the festival!

Becoming Frugal again?

I am starting to think that DH and I more frugal than I thought. I don't think we're living quite as large as I would think we are. I hate to admit it because I feel that we spend A LOT of money very wastefully, compared to our families. Our families are ultra conservative and very, very conscious about not wasting anything. So I feel very luxurious having cable, internet, cell phones, two cars, two dogs, and we love to eat out.

Now before we had little choice to about being frugal. We didn't have much money, lived in a very expensive area, and often dumpster dived and did other crazy stuff for money. We never ate out, never watched movies that wasn't free, and often did surveys or interviews for money so we could maybe get a burger or rent a video. Money was definitely scarce. Then well our circumstances improved almost 18 months ago and we were able to "almost start living large," hence the nickname.

Anyway I began to look retrospectively back these past months and have determined recently that we haven't changed our lifestyle very much. For example we picked up two rugs from neighbors who were throwing them out. We also got free garbage cans from other neighbors moving out. We went to our neighbors homes and got free plants for our yard, with their permission off course (free hostas). And last night I picked up free newspapers from people's recycle bins for the coupon inserts. Yep, I guess my old habits are resurfacing more and more.

I'm starting to wonder if we aren't just frugal to the bone, or if we had more money, and less expenditures we would spend more? I don't know. I would love to eat out but we refused to start the habit, so DH has eaten out probably less than 1 hand's worth at his job. Big deal? Yes. I very infrequently eat out lunch, I can't remember the last time with a coworker.

Do you think that frugality is something your born with or not? Do you think it's based on how you were raised? Or is just mind over matter?

I guess as my nickname suggests I hope one day to live large and really be able to spend my money freely.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Carnival of Personal Finance #97

This week the 97th Carnival of Personal Finance is at the Endless Gibberish. My post about "jealousy/envy" was included and actually highlighted as one of the three favorite posts in the carnival.

The Endless Gibberish also picked out Everybody Loves Your Money Post about "Top 13 money saving ideas." This was an absolutely hilarious read. I found it very amusing and wonder if anyone will take some of the suggestions seriously.

The other post I enjoyed is by Free Money Finance "why Dave Ramsey needs to consider his credit score." It really hits home why even those of us who are well off need to consider our credit score.


Carnival of Homeowner #2

The second edition of the Carnival of the Homeowner is up at Home Insurance lowdown. My article trusting trust deed is up.

I enjoyed this second edition of the carnival. One simple and elegant post was "4 Red Flags for home repair fraud" by my simple trading system. It listed simple 4 things to look for when hiring someone to do repairs to your home. It was nice neat and simple. The second great post was "buying a house impossible in some markets," a the digerati life. I overall enjoy the digerati life, but this was a very thought provoking homeownership post about high cost of living areas.

The idea is that there are 10 seriously unaffordable home markets. Of which New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Washington, and Boston are part of these markets. So I guess when people talk of unaffordable and expenesive areas to live they should think about how bad it is in those cities before they say where they live is unaffordable. What can I say? I've only bought, lived and owned in three of those 10 seriously unaffordable home markets. Sigh, so I've never known how to live in a cheaper area.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Part four coupon journey...

Okay so I've been spending almost nothing at CVS with coupons this month. And I have enough extra bucks so that I spend almost nothing next month as well. Pretty nice deal, I think I have enough toothpaste 10 tubes to last a lifetime. There's only two of us and we use a tube about every two months.

But since I've been couponing I will say I've been more consciously looking for savings. And today I found a steal of a deal. I went to Target and bought dog treats for 99/cents a bag. The purina eazy chew meats. They are small and while not the typical 100% meat treats I buy, they were substantially cheaper than usual. There was a coupon attached for $1 off and the sale price was $1.99 so I bought 7 bags. Sure before I might never have noticed the coupons so this was an awesome deal.

I also have been using my coupons on stuff like gogurt again something I never bought before, or dole juice. Yes they are prepacked foods, so I feel really guilty, but DH loves eating the yogurt while driving in the morning and I never bought him juice. We're soda drinkers so this is sort of an alternative to his 3-4 can a day habit. Granted we still have about 40 cases in the closet of Soda, but we're weaning him off of Coke. And no soda doesn't affect us, we go to bed with a can of soda next to DH. We drink it, brush our teeth and can sleep no problem.

But I guess the best thing for me about couponing recently is just I've become more conscious about our spending, more conscious again about pricing items and calculating the best deals, and just overall watching what we buy at the grocery store.

Plus I had a coupon for $1 off fresh express salads (prepackaged salads I never buy), which I have 4! I nearly lept because the store was having a Buy one get one free deal on top of that, so I lucked out. $2 for 2 bags of 1 lb salads. Awesome!

So I guess overall I've been saving a lot, I have enough medicine, toiletries to last a lifetime. I no longer need to buy any shampoo, bodywash, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc. I could even donate some. I also have a ton of toilet paper and paper towels. So I have I made huge progress in couponing? Yes/no, yes in non-perishables and no in food, but we're getting there. I am at least saving the cost of a the paper $3/week in food from coupons so I'll continue.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

CNBC Portfolio Update

This is a short post because today is a beautiful day outside. But I'm still doing the cnbc portfolio challenge. Currently I am

Rank - 49688
Percentile - top 5%
Value - $1,177, 302.42

Not too shabby and I thought I'd be doing a lot worse.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Tithing while in Debt?

Do you believe it's okay to tithe while in debt? Why or why not?

I've looking at this question on a few message boards, and have gotten a huge variation of answers. I think it's okay to tithe while in debt as long as you are not behind on any payments. I think tithing can be a line item in a budget. But it is NOT reasonable while you are behind on your payments to the CC, utilites, mortgage, etc basically if you are not current with your bills. Any debt not current needs to be focused on and brought current before a budget can be set up. Because otherwise you are dealing with late fees, interest you can't predict, etc. So once you have a balanced budget and are able to properly budget every dollar tithing while paying off debt is great. I also feel if you cannot pay for services rendered, then you need to stop tithing.

There was an argument that you should never stop even when times are hard. Even if you are not current you are thanking God. He deserves your giving because without giving to him, you aren't showing appreciation. And if you can't live on 90%, 100% isn't going to help.

What is your opinion and why?

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Okay I was reading another message board when I came across a thread about how people are
"productive" because they earn $150k. The tone of the post was very jealous, nasty, and envious. I couldn't help but wonder, is it so wrong to earn money?

What is the problem people seem to have with others being successful? I have no issues with other people making good money, I just hope that I am as fortunate. I also am happy for people who earn 6 figures, I think "Wow they work hard, good for them." I thought that when I was making $20k/year, except I also thought "I can't wait until I make that much."

So to me it's not about what others have, it's about what I have. I also refuse to be ashamed at the money we make, because we work hard for our money. And we've made sacrifices. The person who wrote that is 24 with 3 kids. Am I jealous, you bet, I am choosing to not have children at this time to financial secure our future. I could easily have had kids by now, but I am making a conscious decision and sacrifice to not have kids. But I can't let my own decision, influence making her feel bad for her decision. Yet she doesn't see the other side of the argument, that perhaps to make that much money other sacrifices had to be made.

I guess that's the maddening part, is that people only see what they want to see. They see the high income, but don't think about maybe it took years of schooling. Or it took years of working long, long hours starting your business. Or that the person works 90-100 hours a week. All they see is the money. But there must be reason to earn that sort of money, some sort of sacrifice that the person earning less is unwilling to make. Would they take on that job? Would they work that many hours?

I guess the thing is whether you earn a lot or little, it's what you keep. Meaning that you are able to spend less than you make is the main thing. When we earned a lot less I thought earning more was the answer. Not true, our needs changed. But now earning more, do I think earning 2x what we make would be the answer? No, because I've learned that it doesn't matter as long as you are happy with yourself and your earnings.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Vacation: Need or Want

Okay the WIR message board is really giving me some good topics to write about. The question is a vacation a want or a need? I say it's a pure want, there really is no reason to go on vacation when you are in debt. But a lot of people on the board say that a vacation is a necessity when paying off debt to stay motivated. I can see their point and possibly concur.

However what I can't fathom that people can justify a vacation as only a trip that is a week or longer. That a weekend away is NOT considered a vacation. I think this is just pure spoiled and selfishness, "I want it, and I want it now syndrome" coming out. This easily explains why so many people in society are in debt. Because we sit here and justify our wants as needs. We look to others who actually support these crazy ideas. Think I'm nuts? Look at these two different threads here and here.

These two threads, especially the one by MP Dunleavy "Can I afford a vacation" makes me physically ill. The materialism and support of it was galling. These women on the board said it was "okay" for her to take a vacation though she's in debt, and has been in debt for over 2 years! And she makes enough to have paid it off over and over again, but instead she keeps racking up debt. Also MP Dunleavy, knows it's wrong or else she wouldn't be asking.

In the second thread asking about vacations following up MP's thread, even called MP's vacation a "euphamism" for week in Spain! Week in Spain, and MP is already taking 2-3 vacations to visit family this year. MP Dunleavy just justifies rampant spending, overconsumption, and materialism. I used to be a huge supporter of the Women in Red, but now I feel that it's just a place where women go to get support for out of control spending. They instead have no idea what the words "delayed gratification," means.

This excesses are disgusting and puts a face on overconsumption. People who say that by talking about the harsh truth and calling the person on the carpet about their spending mean. I wrote on both threads, yes maybe to a weekend vacation, NO to a week in spain. I also called MP Dunleavy on making $80-$100k/year and still unable to pay off $40k in debt in 2-3 years. But another poster said it was hard, as - if! I know because we make that much and can easily save $40k in 1 year. Please. She's just running wild on spending and everyone supports her overconsumption.

Well my rant is over. I understand now why I left posting on the board a few years ago. It became a place to justify expenses not be held accountable for spending.

Festival of Frugality #70

This week No Credit Needed is hosting the 70th Festival of Frugality. For some reason I was on a carnival binge this past week, so I submitted my article "addicted to CVS".

Check out a few great posts Basenji mom's "I love petsmart," I love them too but for reasons other than she posted. Also Not made of money's post reiterates what I say about "eating out of the pantry," it saves me a ton of money, eat what you buy. Funny how simple and easy it is but so many people don't do it, myself included. Finally I read this wonderful and powerful post by the Frugal babe about "selling her engagement ring".

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

hiding money?

Do you stash cash in your house? Or are you a bank sort of person? At the Personal Finance Advice Blog, the author interviewed a former burglar about the best places to look for money. The former burglar gave many interesting suggestions.

The number place to leave your cash is at the bank! Because no matter how smart you think you are, these burglars are smarter than you would think, this is their professional job, and they have done it a lot. So they have experienced many scenarios.

He said to leave money out and about. Sometimes theives will take money that is left out and leave. So they won't bother tearing your house up. Burglars want to do two things, get money and get out fast. So trying to hide money sometimes is more detrimental than helpful.

The truth is that many burglars know all the typical hiding places for money. So you should strategically place money in these places like dresser drawers, closet, etc. This will prevent the burglar from tearing your house apart as he looks for money. Second he'll leave much quicker if he thinks he's found your stash. Third don't put things in out of place sorts. Like a campbell's soup can in the bedroom. This makes it an obvious place to stash money. Fourth, if you have a safe deposit box make it obvious, label a folder or envelope with that information. That way the burglar knows you have nothing valuable. Also if you have a safe, lock it down. Also if you stash money make sure you tell someone where you put it, in case you die or something. So your family doesn't just throw out the cash with the item.

We keep our money in a fire safe, not much either like $100 I think. We also keep important documents in there mostly. And yes I think maybe we should get a safety deposit box, but I'm not ready for that step yet. However our firesafe is very, very heavy over 50 lbs and I doubt a burglar could just up and carry it easily. He'd be better off stealing our flat screen tv or something. So I'm not worried about it.

One funny thing I thought, is telling your family about the money. Why? Because I guess my grandmother doesn't trust banks or something so she keeps everything in cash. And she squirrels away money everywhere in the house, and it's super easy to forget. She just "misplaces" the money, then has my mom run around the house looking for it. I doubt a burglar would find the money if she can't even remember where it is. So that being said, tell your family where you leave your money. After all what if something happens? I think we'll be tearing my grandmother's house apart for her savings all in cash. Sigh.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Carnival of Personal Finance #96

This week the 96th Carnival of Personal Finance was hosted by JP at AllfinancialMatters. This looks fantastic as well. I submitted my article "the risks of being a stay at home parent." Which thus far has generated some discussion.

But an entry that grabbed my eye is "maxing out retirement = saving too much." Somthing near and dear to my heart. I don't fully agree with the article, since I think saving now leads to more choices later, but there are some valid arguments about spending too (Guess most people would never think I would say that). But I know if I had a lot more money and was able to do one thing, I'd buy a new car. Yep you read that right, but it's not a priority and I can't afford it to back to my car it is.

Second post I really enjoyed I have to really REALLY recommend is "financial train wreck - my pastor's house." Wow, what a unbelievable story. I guess I should say I don't believe in organized religion. Am I an atheist? Maybe, I'm not sure yet the jury is still out. But I can't believe that someone who goes to church could be taken by their PASTOR! This is compeletely unbelievable. But I can understand why you never do business with FRIENDS or FAMILY! Before you do anything with someone you wouldn't want to be suiing, read this post!

Carnival of Money Stories #9

This week the Carnival of Money Stories #9 is hosted at Fire Finance Blog. I submitted my article on the Goals of my retirement. Looks like a great carnival.

One article which caught my eye was Money loves Money by the Queercents. Looks like a blog I intend on reading a bunch more later. The posts on Sleeping with money is about all the money lessons we've learned from relationships. I love it. Very engrossing blog. Hmm..maybe I'll political and write about why I think gay people should get married.

The other article is "how to save a buck a week". I can do that in my sleep. But it's good for people who are looking to save a buck.

Cash Advance Options - devil's advocate post

Why would someone need a cash advance? Well first possible that someone has an emergency come up which requires more money than a person has cash on hand for. Say a person is unable to pay the rent because they were expecting a paycheck but it was late or not processed.

Where would they get a cash advance? There are two options, either a cash advance on a credit card or a payday loan. Neither option while ideal, sometimes are required for those who are in trouble financially. Which option is better? I’m not sure but I’m going to investigate the matter. I do not promote cash advances, but I do understand that there are people who utilize them. Perhaps they need to examine their spending habits if they are utilizing cash advances, because they are likely living beyond their means. However this post is to examine the options of cash advances.

First a cash advance on a credit card is only possible if you have a credit card. People who need cash advances might already have maxed out credit cards, no credit cards due to poor credit, or are here illegally and thus unable to obtain a credit card. Thus for this subset of people they would be unable to obtain a cash advance from a credit card.

However if someone did have a credit card, say a Citibank general CC, they could insert the CC into an ATM and take out a cash advance. However the caveat is that there is only a limited amount of money which can be advanced either by the credit card or the ATM. What are the fees involved with using this method? First the ATM company will likely charge you a fee for using their machine. Second the CC company will charge a fee for each cash advance, usually a minimum of $5 or 3% of the cash advanced. Third, the CC company often charges and interest rate of 20-25% for the money advanced instead of the typical 10% interest charged for purchases. This interest begins accruing immediately unlike a normal CC purchase which typically has a 30 day grace period. Another caveat is that if you have charges on this credit card, any payment you make will be applied first to the purchases, then to the cash advance. This means that if you do not pay it off in full, the cash advance will be continually accruing interest at a much higher rate than normal and without a grace period.

Now the second option for a cash advance is a payday loan. Payday loans are where borrowers go to a lender say National Payday and apply for a cash loan due in full with your next paycheck. These loans typically require a fee for every $100 borrowed, similar to the CC company. But typically the borrower will leave a post-dated check for the amount borrowed plus fee with the lender who will then collect the money. The fees for this type of lending ranges from 10-15% for the two week period of the loan. Thus, you pay the fee up-front unlike a CC cash advance and know how much interest you are dealing with. For example you might write a $500 check but only get back $400 cash and that would be a payday loan. Often times people who do payday loans keep going back for more because their need for more cash enters into a vicious cycle.

I personally think a payday loan is a better option than a CC cash advance. Solely because CC cash advances accrue interest immediately and are paid last when you pay your CC bill. Thus unless you have a CC with zero charges and only use it for a cash advance, the payments you make will otherwise be to your current charges. Thus it could take a long time to pay off a cash advance. However payday loans are supposed to be a one time cash advance using your paycheck. And the borrower will know exactly what percent interest they are paying on borrowing say $400. There is no possibility for extra interest.

However, I think if you are using either a CC cash advance or payday loan you are in serious financial trouble. There is no easy way out. A person needs to sit down and really examine their financial circumstances and determine how much money they really are spending and if there is a possibility of them not using a cash advance. It could take selling things, getting a second job, or just spending cash instead of using a debit or CC. Whatever it is, a person who is depending on cash advances to survive is quickly circling the drain of being financially fit.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Carnival of Money, Growth, and Happiness #2

I participated this weekend in the second Carnival of Money, Growth, and Happiness at Credit Card Lowdown. Amazingly there was over 30 submissions for this new carnival. I submitted my post about the "continued saga of eating out with people."

Other great entries was Getting Greens "Getting fit without spending money, " something near and dear to my heart. I used to be a total gym person out in CA, but now I find myself unable to commit to the expense of a gym out here. It's ridiculously expensive compared to the ultra cheap rates I'm used to. And I loved being a gym member because I would spin 4-5 mornings/week and work out in the evenings occasionally. It kept me in great shape, now I'm a couch potato. But this article does motivate me to go running or something outside.

I also enjoyed Micheal Cook's post "Option Arm Resets are here." I think his article is simple and well written, anyway enjoy the carnival!

Disappointed in the Women in Red

I have been a fan of the Women in Red Column by MP Dunleavy since it's inception 2 years ago. I was an original fan and poster on her first message board on MSN. I have avidly followed people's journey's to become debt free and leave the red to become black. I believe that it MP is one of the few financial writers out there in major financial trouble. And she is definitely the only one so honest about it. That is what drew me to the Women in Red (WIR). Her honesty, her openess to write about things she didn't know or understand, and how it applied to everyday people.

But this week she wrote and update on the WIR here. She says that it's been a pretty rough two years and not quite what she expected.

She starts with Carole, who has bought a home this Valentine's Day, but also has acquired $5k in CC debt. Yet even with this regression she has been allowed to graduate from WIR. I think she needs another 6 months to finish off her debt and then should be allowed to graduate.

Next up was Beth, another WIR member who increased her consumer debt and education debt. BUT the article says she wiped that out with a home equity loan. Which I'm not sure was the wisests move, and yet she is ready to graduate from the WIR as well.

The next member Stephanie has made great progress in her journey however. She has earned a major promotion and paid off $7k in debt while saving $10k at the same time. She too is graduating from the WIR, however this seems like a well deserved graduation.

The fourth member is Tricia, a single mother in debt. Another member who incresed her consumer debt from the last update, however that was mainly due to starting up a business which failed. However she has decided to not graduate from the group until possible the fall.

Unfortunately the next member Anna, though she does not have any consumer debt, some retirement savings, and home equity, because her husband is a stay at home spouse they have been tapping savings to make ends meet every month. This needs to stop before they spend their way into debt.

Lyndsey the next WIR is probably the worse of the bunch. She increased her salary by $25k over the past two years, and yet her CC debt has increased by $1k. This is very disappointing and instead of moving towards the black, she's moving more red.

However newer addition Bryce, has done amazing well. She has paid off about $9k in debt in 1 year and is quickly moving towards being a woman in black.

Finally the article wraps up with MP's own situation. She has decreased her debt by $2200 and incresed her savings by $5700. Not much terrible when you consider they had a baby this year. However it appears that her debt dipped in the fall of last year to nearly doubling this Spring. And that is very disappointing. She is nearly back to the same level of debt she had one year ago.

Typically I would be happy for the women in red as people trying to get their fiscal lives in order. But right now after reading this article, I wonder how much progress they've really made or will make. It seems like they are spinning their wheels more than gaining traction. So are they really making progress or are they falling further into debt?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Less than $25k saved for retirement?

On April 11, 2007 the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) released a retirement confidence survey here. This survey was done by a nonpartisan research group of Mathew Greenwald and Associates. Major change have been occuring this decade with pensions and the retirement benefits people would previously have received from such plans.

First the survey round that less than 50% of workers are confident about receiving a pension. However less than 40% of these workers who are not confident about receiving a pension have done anything in response to these cuts. They have not yet accepted the potential dearth of their retirement pensions.

Second 41% of workers have indicated they or their spouses are covered currently by a pension plan. However, strangely 62% of workers think they will somehow be covered by a pension plan. That means a serious disconnect is occuring between actually having a pension plan and expecting a miracle pension to arise.

Third and not unexpectedly 50% of all workers have saved more then $25k for retirement not in pension plan. While 70% of workers who have not saved for retirement at all, have assets less than $10,000. While perhaps one can argue young workers without much saved have skewed the $25k amount because of their lack of savings. However in a time when people should be saving $1 million dollars for retirement to generate $40k/year in income, it appears that people have barely saved 1/10 of that amount (or $100k).

Fourth strangely is that 72% of workers feel confident for having saved enough for retirement. Which is unusual given the fact that in the last two years alone 20% of workers have had a cut in their retirement pension benefits. And that 45% of workers are worried about their pension benefits being cut.

Fifth, only 50% of workers say they would or have taken advantage of the advice given out by the 401k management companies regarding retirement. However of that 50% only 2/3 or 66% of those people would comfortably follow the advice. Which means that half of all people would ask for advice, and even less would implement it.

Finally less than 50% of workers realize what their medical costs in retirement will be. 30% think it will be less than $100k, 52% think it will be $250k. However EBRI has calculated that the average couple will need $300k to cover health care, prescription drugs, and nursing home care not covered by Medicare, and assuming the levels covered by Medicare stays the same. This number should increase because companies are cutting the acceisibility to medical benefits for retirees, from 2006 the number went from only 31% of companies to 26% of companies offering medical benefits to retirees. A 5% drop in one year. Eventually it will be phased out, sooner rather than later.

This means that medical costs are potentially the reason why people need to save more for retirement as I mentioned earlier. However if anything people are counting more on pensions that do not and will not exist. And they are expecting greater medical coverage than will be available.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Need versus Want

Well found out that my cousin just bought a Toyota Sequoia. They traded in their Toyota Camry, a relatively new car they bought used in 2005 for Toyota Sequoia. I'm not sure if it was new or used, but it's still a pretty expensive car. I understand why they bought it, because they wanted a cooler car than a camry. But I'm not sure it was a need.

They really want 3-4 children, which is awesome. But I think they probably should have gotten a minivan because of the better gas mileage. Granted they only are on child #1, going on two, but still, I personally would have planned for a vehicle that can carry many children but has good gas mileage. And yes the Toyota Sequoia fits 8, but it doesn't fit 5 car seats the way the Sienna (Toyota's minivan) does. Of course my cousin's plan could be to sell their small car, a Chevy Aveo in a year or two and buy a Toyota Sienna. That would also work, because as their kids get older they don't need car seat and they can still fit in a Toyota Sequoia for now.

But is this a want or a need? I'd catergorize it under a want. Because while they did need a larger car with their growing family; I think that they could have bought something a bit more practical long term. But at least they are happy.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Growing up rich or poor?

I grew up mainly middle class. I think back about everything I had, was given to me by sacrifice of my parents. They worked hard and felt their children came first. But this came later in my life. My life I think started out a bit on the poor side. Do I think this is bad? Nope, I barely remember the sacrifices made by my mother.

I've never talked about this time in my life before and it's a little strange. My mother was a single parent, thus she didn't have a choice about allowing me to be raised by both daycare and my grandmother. Why? Well my biological sperm donor did not provide any financial or physical support and was out of the picture after a few months. Actually if anything he contributed to more work than necessary. One day my mom came home from work to a baby crying and no husband present. Guess I'm lucky to be alive.

I have to add that earlier this week when I posted about the risks of being a stay at home parent, I'm really offended by people who think that daycare is bad. They obviously have not walked in the shoes of someone whose been divorced, widowed, or living with a disabled spouse. Life is not always how you plan it and to immediately say that daycare is bad and staying at home superior obviously is very narrow-minded.

Were we poor? I certainly didn't feel poor. Fortunately my mother had worked since 15 helping to support her family who were very, very poor growing up. She had worked through college 3 job, and earned a master's in less than 4 years. She had support from her family, including my uncle who took 8 years to finish college to support his younger sisters and parents. He also started picking pineapples at 12 for money. They grew up in a 2 bedroom shack on a farm, which I remember fondly. This shack did not have plumbing, but an outhouse, which was an improvement over my great-grandmother's home which didn't have a bath for years. Instead they used the public baths at a penny a bath. My grandfather drove a tour bus, so money was always an issue. But the love and support were priceless and cannot be measured in $.

But my mom had a great job, worked hard and though we didn't have a lot, we always had food, shelter, and clothes. My mom worked so hard, I remember her sometimes crying because she was so tired and lonely. She would rush back and forth to drop me off/pick me up, and we would often go back to work after picking me up. My grandparents were fantastic, they would watch me at night when my mom would go back to work to pick up extra shifts so she could pay the bills.

I know we often did not have material goods, but my grandfather knew everyone in town and would often barter services for goods. So we were able to get a bed, car fixed, in exchange for help with painting, gardening, etc. He would often find things my mother needed for free in exchange for his physical labor. He really was a good man, he also would find things people were throwing away and fix it for us to use. I saw my biological sperm donor at my grandfather's funeral for the first time in over 20 years, I think I've seen him 4 times in my life (maybe).

At the age of 18 months I developed grand mal seizures, but fortunately my mom had great medical insurance from her job. But she had to cover her portion of the massive medical bills. During this time she would barely sleep 2-3 hours a night because she would be washing sheets from when I was ill and wet the bed. She would also have to wake me to give me medicine and stay with me in case I had a seizure. She also spent time with me in the hospital when I was ill. During all this she was already a single parent. Stregth? Will? My mother had it in spades.

My grandmother would often come over by bus and try to clean our house to help my mom out. She would also try and cook dinner every night so my mom could come pick me up, eat, and drop me off with them so she could go back to work. My grandmother also worked by putting newspapers together, sewing, washing clothes for other people. Working was a necessity, not a luxury. I know my mom often laments over not being able to stay at home with me, but if she didn't work, we wouldn't have had a place to live or food to eat.

Though we were poor my mom NEVER took government help. She cut up all her CCs, after her divorce and didn't pay for anything if she didn't have the cash. We were so lucky to have so much family around to help though. Not financially with cash, but with love and support. We were often invited over to people's houses for dinner, sent home with food, and I was often watched so my mom could work. My aunts and uncles all struggled to make ends meet while trying to help their parents who had never had much money. Their sacrifices have built secure retirements for all, and all could be considered upper middle class with their impressive net worths.

My mom and I are still really close, I call her everyday. Every weekend she would work, but I remember her taking the time to make sure I studied. The only thing my mom recited to me growing up is "education will give you a better life. Education can never be taken away. It is your ticket out of here." My mom meet my now father when I was about 7 years old. During this time we had definitely moved from poor to lower middle class. I could tell because my mom no longer cried.

I remember taking our first trip to disneyland when I was 5. My uncle paid for a good chunk of it, till today I think of the many things he did which were a godsend for us both. And my other aunt also helped us afford it too though she was single. But that's what family does, that's where our strength comes from, our families. I live right now saving money because I hope that in case my mom should need it or my grandmother I will be able to give them money financially to help out with anything.

I am so proud that I come from a line of strong women. Women who worked to support their families, and sure it would have been easier to stay at home and take hand outs, but they didn't. Instead they worked 2-3 jobs both in and outside the home.

I remember my grandmother sewing me clothes or wearing boy clothes until I was quite old. My cousins were all boys, and I just wore what my cousin M (8 months older than me) outgrew. I also had a boy haircut because it was easier. I remember eating the farm raised chickens, eggs, and vegetables. I remember my grandparents trading services for food. My grandmother till today washes saran wrap, ziploc bags, and recycles everything. I learned garbage picking from her, when we used to collect cans and bottles for extra money. But I never considered us poor, I thought we were quite wealthy. After all we had a house, a car, and my mom could support me ALONE.

If anything I always felt so rich. I had so many experiences, so much love in our family. We were constantly together, I miss it even today. A day never went by where I wasn't with a part of my extended family. I think that those experiences shaped my life now. When I see single parents I know that their hearts break as they leave their children in daycare. And yet there are people who make them feel "lesser parents for not staying at home." This is a fact because my mom often wonders if she was as good a parent as everyone who stayed at home. These people need to get off their high horse and stop thinking that only you can love your child. They are obviously the same people who only believe families are bonded through blood. But something to consider is that these single parents are doing it to show their children that taking a hand-out from the government is not the answer. That hard work will be rewarded.

My mom remarried when I was 10 and I was adopted by a wonderful man. Our lives changed immediately. We had a lot more money and opportunities. This too shaped my understanding of people. I learned that family is built on love, not blood. That a person can love a child not their own because they participate in the raising of the child. That adopting a child can mean as much as one sharing your genetic material.

So did I grow up rich or poor? I think I grew up rich.

My family has risen from poor to probably upper middle class. We got there from helping each other, giving each other strength, encourgement, and a hand. I believe that families are built from love not blood. I feel bad for people who think that parenting is only done if you stay at home. Obviously that's not true, it's built by the values you instill in your child, the bond you build with your child. You can be at home and not spend as much quality time as a single parent who works 2 jobs. I also feel bad about people who think you can only love your biological children. Or that bond occurs at birth, rather than being nurtured through love, compassion, and participation in their lives.

All of this has contributed to making me a lot more conscious about money, a lot more cautious about life. I worry that if I stay at home and my husband dies or is disabled I will not be able to provide for my children. But I mitigate this by saving money now before we have children so that I can cushion any possible problems.

And yes because I was adopted by a wonderful man, I do not feel pressured to have my own biological children. People always say if you keep waiting, you won't have your own, but I can't say that's important. I already have a 529 started because I know I will have children no matter what. If I am unable to have them I will adopt without hesistation. I even hope that perhaps I can adopt after having a child of my own anyway. And my parents would cherish all of my kids equally. I know that my views are not shared by others, but this is my perspective on money and parenting.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Counting on a Pension?

An article in MSN this weekend called "Retirement plans under Siege" discusses how companies are moving away from traditional pension plans. I've discussed this before, but I think it really bears reminding, that people who are financially secure in retirement have a traditional pension. They get a set amount of money every month for the rest of their life.

This amount is determined by years of service and income earned during set period. However companies cannot afford to keep funding such plans and thus are moving towards a cash balance plan.

What's a cash balance plan? It's where the company put ins 10% of your salary since you start working and it earns 6% every year. Then when you leave they give you this amount and say good-bye. This is a great deal for companies because they are able to end their retirement obligation to you the moment you walk out the door.

However this is horrible and bad for the average consumer. Most people do not realize that they are not like their parents/grandparents. They will not have a pension plan to replace 50-7% of their income for the rest of their lives. They will instead need to draw from a cash balance plan/401k/IRA combination. Meaning if you do not save on your own the company will no long bail you out.

Want to guarantee pensions are dying? Look at Enron, or more currently GM, FORD, Chrysler. These huge automakers have large pension liabilities. Because of these obligations they are unable to turn a huge profit on selling cars. Thus American Car companies in Detroit are going bankrupt. The Motor city is dying and fast.

Japanese autocompanies don't have this obligation, and thus their companies look like better investments. For one thing their plants are not in states with strong unions. They are not going to set up pension plans that will destroy their companies. I don't forsee there is a way out for GM, Ford, or Chrysler without cutting future benefits.

I am not personally involved the automakers decisions in Detroit, but at least where I am from in Hawaii, there has been reform of the retirement pensions. It used to be very generous and comprehensive. Now it's much tougher to get a full pension including medical benefits. A person has to work for 25 years for the state instead of 10. They only it get for themselves and not their spouses. They are now obligated to work until 62 instead of 55.

Just this little changes have eased the burden for the state. And yet the state is slowly easing more and more reform, by introducing the 401k for their employees. By making it a longer duration needing to work for one entity without leaving to qualify, etc. So how many young workers will really stay 25-30 years with the state?

Thus companies are the ones changing the landscape of retirement. People will retire on less than 50% of their pre-retirement income. And there are those who say "great, I have no mortgage." But then I remind them what about medical premiums, what about property taxes still escalating, what about replacing a failing car, etc? Just because some bills go way, there will for sure be an increase in others.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Festival of Frugality #69

This week the Festival of Frugality #69 is hosted by the Digerati Life here. She provides a cute setup making days of the week focused on different areas of frugality. My post about my coupon update III was included for the carnival.
I enjoyed two articles "the joys of frugal living" at Frugal for life, and "10 baby items you don't need" at pfadvice. I think these two articles are great posts about living frugally and enjoying it.

I especially enjoyed the baby post because the truth is society and marketing tells you that you need everything for a new baby. And this is probably how and why people go overboard with their first child. However on their successive children they are a lot more frugal and into reusing goods. I totally understand why people do this, and I'm thinking that I may go overboard when we have our first child. But I'm hoping that I can try to curb my impulses and rein in the spending just a little bit.

Monday, April 09, 2007

The risks of being a stay at home parent

Everwhere there is the argument for staying at home versus working outside the home when you have children. But is there a clear cut answer? No. But what are the risks involved.

The biggest risk is losing your job skills. One may argue they make minimal amounts of money, but if you take 5 years off, those years of making say $10/hr could be $15/hr if you had stayed working versus having to come back and start again at $10/hr. Also that $10/hr purchasing power during those 5 years has taken a hit so it's worth less.

But it's family time. And I fully support this, and will probably stay at home for awhile (1 year) with my kids. But I think you really need to understand the risks involved.

With the loss of your job skills getting another job could also be difficult. Actually it's more than 50% likely getting a job after years away from the job market will be tough.

But parents who stay at home would argue "why would I need another job? My job is watching the kids." True, but what if your spouse dies, or more likely is disabled? Can you live on 50-70% of their income? And you only get 50-70% of their income if you were prepared enough to buy disability insurance. Also it only lasts I think 5 years in many cases, and what if your spouse is permenantly disabled? Who will be the breadwinner? The disabled spouse in a new career? Or the stay at home spouse (SAHP)? There is a huge risk in staying at home if the primary breadwinner is hurt.

A second reason the primary breadwinner doesn't provide anymore. What? Well think about it, if 40% of US marriages end in divorce, then 2 out of every 5 couples don't make it. IF that is a true statistic, then there is a very large chance that a couple will get divorced. So if your spouse leaves you for another person they meet at work, then what?

Sure that spouse will still be earning money, but their money will now have to support two households. And you really believe they will be able to maintain the lifestyle you have become accustomed too? Some will argue I'm being negative. But realistically, if there are so many divorces, but everyone says they are happily married, then who the heck is getting divorced?

Where are all these problem marriages? Is everyone just lying on the internet? My cousin has already been divorced at 35, but without children. So it's possible that a good chunk of those divorced were DINKs, because people with children stick it out for purely financial reasons.

But realistically there is a great chance that at some point the SAHP will have to work again, and the biggest risk of staying at home is not having any marketable job skills.

I guess the choice is personal, but if it were me, I would really consider keeping up skills by volunteering, working part-time, taking classes to make sure that I could transition back to the workforce easily. Also I would have kept up with networking to assure I could get a job.

Thus a great many people start staying at home without a plan to transition back or thoughts about the future. Sort of like buying a home, you never buy a home without considering 3 steps out.

I am not writing this post to be negative about staying at home, because I personally think it's a full time job and honestly harder than just working 9-5. BUT I believe a lot of people don't carefully weigh the issues involved with staying at home more than just a loss of income.

Carnival of Personal Finance #95

This week the carnival of Personal Finance #95 is up at Accumalating Money. One post which entwines nicely with my entry about the risks of retiring early is a post by Broke Now, Rich Later. He writes about choosing a HDHP/HSA instead of a traditional health insurance plan. Excellent well write post, and something people who are paying a lot for insurance should think about. I advocate HDHP/HSA for people who are younger and don't get sick a lot. I do not reccomend them for older people necessarily. And what about those retiring before 65? That's a tough call.

There were many other great posts in the Carnival. One I liked is in line with my thoughts about CC usage, over at Grad Money he writes "Stop blaming CC". Ever notice how people who use CC always rail at those who don't?

A shout out to the weight of money blog for making their one year anniversary. Sounds like they made great progress this year.

Finally as homage to my DH and his ability to understand sunk's a post for you at Tight Fisted Miser about "Sunk Costs." You know it takes others years to learn this but my DH's always known it and preaches it to me constantly. Do I listen? Nah, I just sort of roll with the flow and can't let go. That's maybe why I married him.

CVS addiction

I have a CVS addition. I now have about 10 tubes of toothpaste for two people, about 10 bottles of bodywash. Most of which I got for free, so I'm not upset about it, but I need to stop. I also got 5 toothbrushes for free, and two shampoos, almost free. The problem is that I need to stop buying all this stuff. I bought this weekend Kotex hopefully for free, definitely got more toothbrushes for free, and possibly more toothbrushes today as well. The Kotex was a 2 for $5 with 2 x $1 coupons and hopefully $5.98 ECB. If it happens great, if not I'll be returning the Kotex.

I think that even though it's free I need to stop buying more stuff I am not going to use. Yes I will use it eventually, but I just don't need it right now. So I need to slow down, I am getting a lot of free stuff, but it's only great if I use it.

Thankfully theses are not perishable items. I have also been using coupons for groceries. On Friday I saved $17.50 at Costco using their personal coupons. All on food products so that was worth it. But typical week I don't save large amounts using coupons on food unfortunately. But I guess this is better than nothing. I should look back at my spending and see.

In Feburary I didn't buy anything for toiletries. In March I spent $50.72, and this april, well I think I'll spend maybe another $50? But it could be due to the fact that I'm segregating toiltetries out from groceries.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Condo Living Update

So turns out one of the neighbors couldn' t meet on Wednesday. So we only meet with the "coupled" neighbors. They were very nice, but couldn't help but complain about the downstairs unit. Complain about what? The noise mainly. This is the reason why we chose to live on this side of the house, because our unit is over their bedrooms/basement. The other townhouse is over the living room, dining room, and kitchen. They have their entrances on the same side.

Of course on Friday night as we were heading out to dinner, we were caught by the second set of neighbors. Also a nice set of brothers, but they were complaining about the upstairs neighbors. The were complaining about money and pickiness, etc.

So here we are the couple in the middle. We're more reasonable and tolerant for sure about the noise (we can't hear it at all). We're also more easy going about money (the couple are accountants). The brothers are very young and immature 22 and 25. So we have to play mediator.

My DH just wants to sell our place and move. Sometimes I do too. I wonder if it's worth all this headache?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Regular versus ethnic groceries

Okay, so yesterday I went to costco and spent $31.88 for this list of foods: 4 lbs tilapia, 4 vegetable lasangas, 1 brie, 2 bottles of 100% white grape juice, salad, and a 12 pack of breakfast sandwiches. Great deal and this should last us for about 2-3 weeks. My freezer is absolutely jam-packed full of stuff. I can easily manage now after spending this to spend probably for the rest of the month $50/week or less on groceries. Most of which will be for vegetables.

However last night we went out to eat Japanese food, which was great $23 for the two of us. Not a bad deal, not cheap but I'd rather eat that than a chain restaurant for the same price. That being said since we took the time to drive there, I decided to stop at Kotobukiya, a Japanese Market. One of two I believe in the entire state where I live. Unfortunately where I live there are very few Asian grocery stories. And they are all very small, and very pricy.

Because of this, it's been harder for us to eat like we used in SD. I admit to be really spoiled out there because probably once a week I would shop at Mitsuwa, Ranch 99, Marukai, etc. And the prices were usually better than a regular grocery store. Out here, the exact opposite is true. I'm paying a premium for Asian goods which are lower quality than I'm used to.

But anyway last night I spent $42.80 on groceries which included 4-6oz Frozen Eel (unagi) @ 4.95 each, 1 piece sashimi grade Tuna (maguro) @ $28.99/lb, 1 piece sashimi grade Salmon (sake) @ 28.99/lb, and 1 piece Yellowtail (hamachi) $29.99/lb, 1 bottle eel sauce, 2 packages Seaweed and this cost me $42. Plus the sashimi grade fish was not pretty, but we never eat sashimi anymore so I decided to splurge. And I might add I'm worried the pieces are not enough for a meal for the two of us. I also add this market didn't even have my favorite furikake (seaweed rice condiment).

If we go out to eat sushi we can easily spend $100 at a restaurant we sort of like out here for the two of us. Ridiculous, when you consider it's not grade A quality. This summer we spent $100 at Tsukiji Fish Market and it was worth it. Fresh caught fish in Tokyo where all the fish in the world is sent to be graded. So yes, a lot, but at least I felt better eating it. Plus Japan in general is expensive.

But what to do? Since moving out here I feel very lost and apart from my culture and heritage. Lack of ethnic things to see and do, lack of ethnic restaurants. When people ask why we're both so desperate to move back to the West Coast, I yesterday identified it. I can't imagine living my life out on the East Coast, constantly paying a premium for my "comfort" foods and not being able to even get some. Is this a reason to move back?

I think so. I miss eating my asian food, being near asian grocery stores and having great asian restaurants. I can't fathom the idea of driving one hour to send my kid to foreign language school every weekend. I don't want to. I don't want to have my children raised here without a concept of where they are from or heritage. I think having lived close to where my parents are from, like DH, we were able to visit family more often and be more aligned with our cultures.

So financially I'm glad to be living out here for now. And I'm even more thankful that I learned how much we're missing living out here now before we have kids. At least they don't have to live out here with us and suffer. Sigh. Thank god Costco sells rice.

CNBC Million Dollar Challenge Week 4 Update

Okay I've been slacking off on updating everyone on my portfolio for the million dollar challenge over at CNBC. I think I'm doing pretty well. I had money in New Century Financial which went bankrupt, but overall I believe that I am doing pretty well.

My total return has been 12.19%!

Rank: 50465

Percentile: Top 9%

Total Portfolio Value: $1, 121, 871.71

Not good enough to win, but I'm doing okay. My DH is going for broke this coming week. He's gone all in on one stock. I'm not naming names, but if it goes well he'll be coming out ahead and potentially winning the week. We shall see if he can pass me.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Facing Foreclosure?

There is a blog called "I am facing foreclosure" started in September of 2006 by Casey Serin. He is a 24 year old "would be real estate mogul". He bought 8 houses in 8 months in 4 different states. Unfortunately he bought at the peak of the market and has been unable to sell these homes.

This blog is following every single mistake and attempt to rectify his mistakes. He has currently had 4 homes foreclosed, sold 2 homes, and 2 are trying to sell. He is trying to even just "short sale" the homes for less money than he bought it for. He was $2.2 million in real estate debt.

This guy even if he sells everything will end up deeply in debt from this mishap. Is it a mishap? I don't know. Is he to blame? Yes. Is the mortgage company also to blame? Probably, he admits to using stated income loans, as he calls them liar loans, to try and finance the homes. This meant on his application he lied about his income.

I can't help but wonder how could he do this? Didn't he worry at all? Probably not, he really bought into the Kiyosaki mindset. That you make income by generating passive streams of income like RE. To be honest there probably are many more people out there in the same situation as Casey Serin.

Maybe not on the same scale, just one home they live in, but possibly there are a ton of other "flippers" in the same boat as him, just not blogging about it. The truth is I bet a lot of people bought into making easy money in RE. Which is not true.

If making money in RE was easy, everyone would do it. Also not true is that RE is a guaranteed investment. Um, guess Casey Serin is case and point that there is no "sure" investment, or else it wouldn't be an investment if there was no risk. Want no risk, buy a CD or money market. Don't touch RE or stocks.

I am not against using RE for investment purposes, but I really wonder if people fully understand the risks involved? Well this blog gives so many details about everything which can go wrong, that I am HIGHLY reccomending it to ANYONE thinking about investing in RE outside of their primary residence. If you are going to be a landlord or flip houses, you need to read this entire blog first.

Everyone should read it and understand his explanations for how he's losing money. There is money lost on closing costs, money on rehabbing homes, money lost on selling a home/staging, money lost on carrying a home for any length of time because of the mortgage involved. Thus RE is not a sure money maker, nor is it easy.

I think what he did is terrible, but I have to say it's one of the most insightful/truthful blogs about RE. He's laying it out on what the real issues and problems are with RE investing. So before you jump I'd read this blog.

Festival of Under 30 #20

This carnival of the Festival of under 30 was hosted by One Big Mortar Board. The theme of the carnival was how did your family help you learn personal finances.

I submitted my article "Learning my financial Skills". One of the best of the carnival is "should you quit school if your brilliant?" by digerati life. Excellent post talking about choosing further education or not. It was spawned by an interview with Casey Serin, who is facing mortgage fraud and foreclosure!


Thursday, April 05, 2007

Carnival of Homeowners #1

I participated at the very first carnival of Homeowners! It iup at the Homeowner's Insurance blog. There were only six entries, but hey it's a start. I included my article on "why I hate condo living." From earlier this week.

I also enjoyed reading "Why pets are better renters than kids" by Josh Dorkin. I can totally relate since I only have my fur babies. I hate renting and ended up buying our townhouse because it was impossible to find a rental that would take dogs! When we moved cross country we sent our boy to DH's parents in Canada to chill until we found a place. He was gone almost 3 months. It was sickening. And he's one of the best dogs ever, though I can't say the same about our new one.

Anyway I also enjoyed "Stuck in this housing market" by digerati life. Interesting read. I know the CA market is in trouble.

Anyway enjoy.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Customer Service Nightmare

Have you ever complained about a company? Well my rant for today is my experience shopping at Walgreens. They were absolutely horrific. The fact they were completely out of their sales stock was not a big deal. I would have dealt and been okay with it. But when I went to check out, it turned a bad experience into a nightmare.

I've worked before in customer service jobs like waiting tables, selling clothes, etc. So I know how difficult customers can be. I try and be pretty easygoing and cool because of it. But because I've worked these jobs, I am definitely more picky.

I tip 20% or better depending on the service. BUT I also walk out without tipping too. When that happens there is usually a reason and I talk to the manager or supervisor before leaving and explain why I am not leaving a tip. The service was poor, food was wrong, etc. They usually are very understanding, what happens to the poor waiter/waitress I'm not sure. But I don't care. Because when I worked those jobs I made sure I was nice, friendly and on top of things. I made a point of doing so because I lived on the tips.

Today at Walgreen's my experience was miserable. The main problem was the cashier. She was god-awful rude, obnoxious, etc. There aren't enough words to describe her behavior. She yelled at me for grabbing the wrong item I wanted to use with a coupon. Then she decided to yell more when I said I didn't want it. She yelled for the manager, said nasty words. She also said to me "I work in a grocery store, this is a great deal, just buy it." I said no thank you. She was so angry about having to void the transaction she kept complaining about my refusal to buy the canned Tuna.

I asked for a raincheck and she says, why bother, we normally don't carry that item. She then gets upset when I say please give me it, and then she gets out the raincheck pad and does it. But she's arguing with me the entire time, saying it's stupid and why bother. I didn't know what to make of her.

Then I bought a dog treat with a coupon but it didn't ring up the expected price. I was a bit miffed so I asked about it. She yelled at me it was right and tough luck. At this point I gave up and bought the damn item and left. I was so pissed though that it's still bothering me. That this woman could actually work there and have a job.

I can't believe the woman has such nerve. It was so aggrevating. I'm still seething over it. I can't decide what to do. I already called the survey and gave them a bad response. I also am debating taking the item back and demanding the right price. But I'm thinking I should call first? But I'd hate to get her on the phone, she's just so aggravating.

Is this how customer service is happening nowadays? What's going on?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Why I hate living in a condo...

Living in a condo/townhouse sucks. I'm glad for the anonymity of this blog because I can say what I really think. We bought this townhouse because we were tired of condo living and this was the next step up. We could not afford a single family home anywhere near the city, and this was a compromise.

But anyway, we need to repair the retaining wall holding up the parking pad of our townhouse. We don't park there, the neighbors do, but it's association business. The problem is that everyone has different financial situations and different ideas about how to handle this project. So tomorrow night we are meeting to discuss two different options and the costs. Also we need to decide when should people pay. This will not be a pretty discussion.

A second topic under discussion is the fact DH and I flooded the lower unit with a pipe burst in January. We were gone to my grandfather's funeral and though the heat was on, it got really cold and a pipe burst. So we submitted it to insurance and turns out instead of our personal insurance being charged, the master condo insurance is having to take the claim because of our condo by-laws. Yep it won't be on our record so when we move we'll be claim free. Also we only pay 40% of the deductible instead of the entire thing, not exactly fair, but I'm not sure what we'll end up doing. So another issue to argue about tomorrow.

Third we have to discuss the fees for our 3 home association. Part of the problem is one of the tenants hasn't paid his dues since August. This confrontation about paying it will again be horrible. Arm-twisting someone for money is never fun.

All these issues combined along with many other issues have caused us to hate living in our townhouse. This is the 5th year we've lived in a townhouse/condo and we're ready for a single family home. Of course that probably is another 3-5 years out from now so we'll have to deal until them.

My advice live somewhere cheap, such that you can afford a single family home. We have lived in 2 out of the 5 most expensive RE markets in the US and it's not fun. But hopefully we're on track to get into a single family because we're building equity by paying down the mortgage and slow appreciation.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Tax Carnival #15

This week the Tax Carnival #15 is up at Don't Mess with Taxes. My very old post about paying off the mortgage or not was included in this Carnival.

Some of the posts which I found really interesting was Tax breaks for expanding your family by Queercents. Also I enjoyed Phil from humanity's post about to Rent or own? Finally Quang at Poor Wealth discusses why Rich people love taxes.

Great carnival, only one I participated in this week. But next week look for Living at Festival under 30, Festival of Frugality, Carnival of Personal Finance and probably Homeowners.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Coupon Shopping Update III

I started examining the use of coupons as a money saving strategy in February arguing whether coupon savings is worth it? However I decided in March to move forward with a 13 week process of examining my savings using coupons. Why 13 weeks? Because that's how long I prepaid the delivery for my Sunday paper to get my coupons.

I started on 3/03/07 coupon shopping and my first try was disasterous, read about it here. Which I followed up a week later on 3/11/07 with another post about another disasterous coupon shopping experience where I spent more money because I had coupons! This caused my DH to chastisize me for spending more than I normally would have because of it, and trust me I felt bad already.
So anyway for the month of March we saved $75 using coupons for our purchases. However we spent $241.09 on groceries + $50.76 on toiletries. We also spent $324.65 on eating out. Which was all under budget. I usually budget $400 for groceries+toiletries and $400 for eating out.

Do I think my decreased spending from Feburary $454.56 for groceries was due to coupons? Not really, it was mainly due to the fact that I stockpiled a lot of meat in the freezer and 50 cases of soda. So my bill was higher than usual and I was able for the month of March to buy less meat and save a lot on my typical grocery bill.

Do I think couponing is worth it? Well most of the $75 of savings came in the form of toiletries like bodywash, shampoo, lotion, etc. And about $33 of it was from groceries. So about half and half. I saved a great percentage on toiletries, and a smaller percentage on groceries.

But I haven't given up yet and am going to continue on this journey another 10 weeks. I guess I should post more often about what I'm saving. But for now I think I'm pretty happy with our monthly spending and our savings. Maybe it'll become greater savings and smaller spending.