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Archive for September, 2008

Customer Appreciation Day at WaMu

September 27th, 2008 at 06:23 am

Yesterday my WaMu branch had Customer Appreciation Day. (It had been scheduled before WaMu failed and was purchased by JP Morgan Chase.) I got a goodie bag that had a T-shirt, a BBQ spatula, and an ice cream scoop. All had "WaMu" printed on them. Also got chips, cookies, and a soda. (There was "hot" food as well, but since it had already been sitting out at room temperature for several hours by the time I got there, I decided to play it safe and pass.)

Most of the branch workers were on the phone with rather glum-looking faces ... Whether it was business or personal, I do not know, but I imagine it was a mix of the two. Twice back in my corporate world days I showed up to work in the morning to find an announcement sitting on the fax machine stating that our company had been bought out, so I understand that even when you see it coming and even if it turns out to be a good thing in the long run, it is still a bit of a shock to the system initially. Unfortunately, the gal I really wanted to talk to (I guess you'd call her our banking representative at WaMu) was out to lunch. To the young man who came over to greet me I just said "Congratulations on the big news." I know it sucks for the employees if they had stock options, but at least they still have a job (for the time being and hopefully long-term). Sure beats what would have happened if the bank had failed and not been bought out.

As a WaMu customer who must now decide whether or not I want to stick around, I found this article on Bankrate interesting:

http://www.bankrate.com/brm/news/investing/bankrate_investin...

Of most interest to me was the "Chase May Disappoint On Yields" section. Kind of what I was expecting to hear, as DH & I have looked at Chase in the past but have not opened an account there.

DH kind of cracks me up ... He told me "Please find out what is going to happen to our rate" but I told him I think we're just going to have to wait and see on that. (One of my "jobs" when it comes to our finances is rate-shopping. I take it seriously.) I pointed out to him that our principal is safe, and at least for a day or two we should try to be grateful for that. Smile

I will give JP Morgan Chase a chance. (When BofA took over our AAA Gold Savers MBNA account, I was expecting our rate to plummet. Was therefore pleasantly surprised when our rate structure was grandfathered in by BofA. So I am not automatically assuming that our new rates will suck.) But of course, I have started looking around, checking rates, including a peek at Poundwise's fabulous thread over on the forums.

Right now on my list of banks to consider are EverBank, Capitol One Direct (the offer for Costco members), and Amegy Bank of Texas. All three have a 4-star rating from Bankrate and offer attractive yields. No doubt there will be many others looked at in the days and weeks to come.

Oh, have a mentioned that I also have an account at Wachovia? Yea, I'm gonna stick it out with them too.

If I Were Queen of America...

September 26th, 2008 at 10:34 am

I would put every single American on "time out," explain the difference between a Money Market Account and a Money Market Fund, over and over again if necessary, and not let them leave time out until they really understood it.

So much for the Fed only seizing banks on Friday nights

September 25th, 2008 at 08:20 pm

By the time anyone sees this, I'm sure you'll have heard the news. JP Morgan Chase Buys WaMu:

http://www.fdic.gov/news/news/press/2008/pr08085.html

http://www.jpmorganchase.com/cm/BlobServer?blobtable=Documen...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/09...

Well, baselle and Paulette Goddard's son (and anyone else who has an account with WaMu), I suppose this is about as good of an outcome as we could have hoped for.

I just checked my on-line account, and I can still log in. Nice. Not anything in particular I wanted to do with it, just wanted to see if it was still up and running.

I suppose this means I can go back to writing checks on my WaMu account, tho' I may wait a few days on that.

What I'm most curious about is how much the interest rate I am earning will change. When people started pulling money out of WaMu, they started offering pretty sweet APYs. I'm pretty sure I can kiss those good-bye, but again I'll just wait and see. I know we looked at Chase once, but weren't all that impressed with their rates.

My WaMu branch was going to have Customer Appreciation Day tomorrow with goodies ... I wonder if that's still on? If it looks like they are being mobbed (and no reason they should be), I'll stay away. But if it's on and the lobby is empty, I'll go in just to offer my moral support to the nice gals who work there ... If I were in their shoes, I'd be relieved, but of course when an employer changes it's stressful.

So ... Why San Diego?

September 25th, 2008 at 08:15 am

After all of the effort to relocate to a lower cost part of the country (from Seattle to Austin), why are we now planning to pack up and move yet again to San Diego?

Short Answer: Becaue we can, so why not? If you have to ask, you probably haven't ever been to San Diego! It's gorgeous. We both love it. And for the first time in our married life, it is "comfortably affordable" for us.

Longer Answer: When we got married, DH was not instantly enamoured with Seattle (to put it mildly). We married in the spring, and Seattle unfortunately had a very wet summer that year. It wasn't long before he started talking about moving to California. Keeping an open mind, we discussed that. He was okay with San Diego and LA; I was okay with San Diego and the Bay area. San Diego was the one area we both liked...in fact, it was the first choice for both of us. But at that time, it was just too expensive for us (as were SFO and LA, frankly). So, we stayed in Seattle, and DH learned to like it. But he never cared for the rain or occasional snow. After we sold our house and started thinking about relocating to another area, a warm climate was important, as was a lower cost of living. We spent months researching and thinking about it, and finally settled on Austin. (At that time, we did not really think about San Diego because real estate prices there were still so high.) I like it here, but DH has never really felt like he fits in. Knowing DH wasn't really loving it here, while we were house-hunting, we continued to keep an eye on the markets in other parts of the country (especially on the West Coast). As everyone knows, the market in Southern California has really plunged. One day I just looked at DH and said something like "You know, I think we could move to San Diego now" ... and that was it. Within a day we had decided to go, and it felt absolutely right. No need to do months of research this time. It's just that it is now feasible to live someplace we both have always wanted to live, so why not?

Our expenses are going to go up. They will be much more than they are here in Austin, and because of the state income tax will even be a bit higher than they were in Seattle.

DH thinks being back on the West Coast will help his business a bit, and it probably will, but we can't plan on that. So our income will basically be the same as it is now and bit less than it was in Seattle (because I don't have my business anymore).

But we will both be happy ... and DH much more so. That is worth a lot.

The temperate climate will mean DH can get out and golf much more often, and the dog and I can take longer walks (and on the beach to boot).

I have a friend from college who lives in San Diego, DH has a couple friends who live in the LA area, and I have family in LA. (LA's not San Diego of course ... but it's a heck of a lot closer than Texas.)

All of our family wants to come visit us there! What's not to love about being a tourist in San Diego?

So, in spite of the higher cost of living, Sand Diego just has so much going for it that it makes perfect sense for us.

The move is going to be so easy, since we sold off so much before moving to Austin, and have held off on buying any new furniture until we had a house. I think this will be my easiest move since I was a college kid heading off to the dorm.

As easy as it will be, that doesn't mean I look forward to it. I look forward to the destination, but moving is indeed a pain. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this really will be our last move until we make that final move (condo, retirement home, nursing home, or hereafter).

House hunting has been very interesting. Bank owned foreclosed properties, short sales, trustee sales ... We're seeing it all. I've looked at several houses (on-line) where the home was foreclosed mid-renovation ... flooring torn up, kitchen counters off, interior doors lined up in the garage, etc. For anyone willing to put in some time/effort/money, there are some real bargains out there!!! We will spend less than what we sold our house in Seattle for ... it will mean a smaller and probably older house, but we will still come out ahead as far as we're concerned.

Thank goodness for the internet. It makes house-hunting so much easier. We are working with an agent this time (since we are on a strict time table for making a purchase and we are commiteed to buying) ... He sends me new & updated listings everyday, and I look them over. If they look interesting, I can Zillow them, and look on Mapquest to see where the nearest grocery stores are. Smile

We have already purchased our tickets, reserved our rental car, and book our hotel room for our house-hunting trip out to San Diego (in early December). We also have our game plan. The only things I still have to do, in addition to continuing to house hunt, is to buy a digital camera and make a boarding reservation for the dog (I have narrowed my choices on both down to just a few, but am waiting to pull the trigger).

Ideally, we'll move late-Feb or early-March. But we have been warned that if we buy a short sale, the negotiation stage can take months. So, we are "hanging loose" about the move date. If need be, we can extend our lease here on a month-to-month basis.

And do we regret having moved here to Austin just to have to pack up and move again? Absolutely not. When we made the original decision to move away from Seattle, San Diego just wasn't a good option financially. Austin was, and it was the right choice at the time. It has been really, really, really nice having such low expenses, even if it was just for a brief period of time. And it's a great town.

P.S. - Did you notice my updated Cool Quote in my "About Me" column? I guess a bit of Texas has rubbed off on me.

How My Boring Portfolio Did: Today vs. Friday

September 15th, 2008 at 07:37 pm

Typically, I wait to check our mutual funds' balances until the end of the month. But when I heard the news over the weekend about Lehman & Merrill, I thought it might be "fun" to check our balances at the close of business Friday and the close of business today, in order to share how a boring (conservative) portfolio like ours does on a day when the stock market goes down big time.

For anyone interested in a recap of our conservative portfolio, and the reasons behind it, and how I understand that it is not for most people, you can check out this post:
http://scfr.savingadvice.com/2008/02/25/peekaboo_35981/

I'm sure you're all sick of hearing it, but here's a recap of the stock market today:
Dow down 4.4%
S&P 500 down 4.6%
NASDAQ down 3.6%

And here's how our funds did today:

Vanguard LifeStrategy Conservative Growth down 2.3% (from $15.83 to $15.47)

Vanguard STAR down 2.5% (from $18.68 to $18.22)

Vanguard Balanced Index down 2.5% (from $20.29 to $19.78)

Overall, our mutual funds are down 2.3% today compared to where they were on Friday. I can live with that. I'm not going to change a thing. I just cannot stomach wild swings (due to my fairly low tolerance for risk combined with the risk involved in owning a business). But 2.5% down compared to 4.6% down for the S&P is something I can handle. In fact, it's days like today that make me glad I'm invested the way I am.

And to those of you who are invested heavily in the stock market ... who have a high risk tolerance and are taking this crazy market in stride ... I salute you! Really, you are to be admired.

Sign of the Times: New "What If's?" to Ponder

September 11th, 2008 at 08:33 am

Here are 2 "What If's?" I pondered yesterday that never would have crossed my mind even 6 months ago:

1. "What if WaMu fails while DH is overseas on one of his month-long business trips, like the one he's getting ready to go on? Will I have to wait until he gets back to recoup all of the money in our joint account? Should I have him sign some sort of PofA?" (Conclusion: Needless worry, silly nilly. According to the FDIC, when a bank fails and is not taken over, the FDIC sends account holders a check. If it's a joint account, the account balance is divided in 2 and checks are sent to both account holders. I have never had a problem depositing a check made out to DH, as long as I'm not asking for cash back or opening a new account. So ... I'll just take his check and deposit it in one of our other bank accounts.)

2. "What if WaMu fails this Friday? If I pay my quarterly estimated taxes to the IRS (due Sept. 15th) with my WaMu checking account, and the check gets sent back, will the IRS assess me interest and penalties? (Conclusion: Yea, this one has the potential to be a problem. But odds are pretty slim. When a bank is closed and not taken over, checks that have not cleared do get sent back marked "Bank Closed." Obviously, I'd need to send new payment to the IRS. But in spite of their bad rep, I have actually found the IRS to be pretty understanding when it comes to "unusual circumstances." If WaMu failed, that would not exactly be a secret; the folks at the IRS would know about it! Since paying the estimated taxes from a different bank account would have required a fair amount of money shuffling, I decided to go ahead and just pay using the WaMu check, and if need be I will throw myself on the mercy of the IRS and ask for an interest & penalty waiver.)

Is there anyone else out there who has not closed their WaMu account? (There probably aren't many of us. I went in to my branch last Friday afternoon to make a deposit. Normally Friday afternoons are busy at any bank with people cashing their paychecks. I was the only person in the branch the entire time.) If so, any odd questions like mine crossing your mind these days?

Like Kashi? Get to Super Target!

September 9th, 2008 at 03:59 pm

Super Target's offering a pretty good deal. 4 Kashi items for $11, and you get a $5 Target gift card at the register. So that translates to $6 for 4 Kashi items, or $1.50 each. You can buy any combination of Kashi item: cereal (hot or cold), granola bars, cookies, crackers, or frozen entrees. I forgot to take note of how long this offer is going on (sorry).

I bought 2 boxes of Vive cereal (full retail $3.99 each) ... would have gone for a granola, but they were already sold out ... and 2 boxes of cookies (full retail $3.09 each) ... yum, yum.

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

September 4th, 2008 at 05:08 pm

As mentioned previously, one of the things I really wanted to do while I was visiting my mom was fill in her "Letter of Instructions." Mom has the "proscratination paired with perfectionism problem" that I sometimes struggle with, and had been promising for several years to fill out a "Letter of Instructions" for me but just had not "gotten around to it."

Over the course of my 15-day visit, we had several sessions where we sat down in her office and worked on the LofI in 2 or 3 hour stretches. She talked and occasionally retrieved information while I wrote.

A couple times we came to sections of the LofI where Mom would say something like "You know ... I'd really like to sit down and write you a much more detailed letter about this." I just replied "That would be great, and I would love to have it. But in the meantime, let's just fill this out, and it will do for the time being. It will be better than nothing." To tell you the truth, I doubt very much that I will ever receive those detailed letters.

One critical piece of information was missing, but I received in from her by Email this morning, so the LofI is done!

I am very relieved. I feel much, much better prepared to handle her estate effectively when that time comes.

My trip was also helpful for me in that I was able to come to peace with the fact that my Mom is not going to do anything to reduce the amount of STUFF that she has (way too much stuff by almost anyone's standards). My sisters and I have all tried to encourage her to sell, donate, or get rid of things, but it has not worked. We've also tried very hard to encourage her to stop buying so much stuff, because frankly she can't afford it as far as any of us are concerned (except for Mom herself). But it hasn't worked, and I don't think her habits are ever going to change, so no use beating our heads against a wall. At least we know we tried. Someday I am going to have to deal with the mountain that is my mother's stuff, and there is nothing I can do about it but deal with it when that time comes. C'est la vie. (Or, for the benefit of Paulette Goddard and her studies, "shoga nai" as the Japanese would say, which literally translates to "It can't be helped.")

Finally, I was able to help my brother's finances out a bit. He has been buying trail mix to snack on at work (at $2.55 per bag), and has been buying Vitamin Water to drink when he works in the yard (at $1 per bottle). I took him to Costco where he bought a 4-lb bag of trail mix for $10 that I broke down in to 20 little baggies (or 50-cents per bag), and a case of 24 bottles of Costco's Vita-Rain water for $12 (again, 50-cents per bottle). That saved him $53 bucks.

I also looked over his employer-sponsored retirement plan and made some suggestions to Mom on possible changes ... He was very aggressively invested, and Mom had no idea (never looked at the statements ... just filed them away). Mom told me she has already called and changed his investments to a more conservative mix.

Lest you think all I did was fret over financial matters, we also had lots of fun: played w/ my niece & nephew the 2 days they were there, took daily walks, went shopping at the farmer's market for great fresh produce, played board games, watched movies on TV, went out to eat a couple times (including a very nice dinner at PF Chang's which was a birthday gift to Mom from me) and visited a museum.

Any major news in these parts the past 15 days?

September 1st, 2008 at 09:22 pm

Hello all,
I am back from a great visit with my mom. Haven't been able to check the blogs for 15 days. Any major news around here?