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Archive for August, 2009

I Shot an Arrow Into the Air ...

August 31st, 2009 at 04:59 pm

It fell to earth, and I DO know where!
(Apologies to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

5 years ago DH wanted to source some new product for his business. I researched companies and recommended he buy from "Company XYZ" (which he did, and he still does business with them). 3 years ago "Company XYZ" sales rep "Mr. Jones" flew to Seattle for a meeting with my husband. On his return flight, "Mr. Jones" met flight attendant "Ms. Smith."

Today we received a very special piece of mail:

"The honour of your presence is requested at the marriage of 'Ms. Smith' and 'Mr. Jones' ... "

Tho' we had no way of knowing it at the time, it looks like Cupid lent one of his arrows to DH & I.

My Workouts are "On The House"

August 30th, 2009 at 03:19 pm

My "workouts" this weekend included...

1. Watering my little veggie garden
2. Giving my dog a bath
3. Walks with above-mentioned clean dog
4. A bit of routine housework and laundry
5. Cleaning out all the window tracks (The grimy parts that are under the bottoms of the windows ... they are partially exposed to the outside & get filthy ... you have to lift the windows to clean them. I don't know if "tracks" is the proper name or not.) Gosh - we have a LOT of windows!
6. Sanding & painting 2 old dressers (this included carrying them out to the garage, and moving a bunch of bricks around that I used to anchor the newspaper I used to protect the garage floor. That was followed by over 3 hours hours of bending & squatting & scrubbing & rollering & brushing. Carrying them back in to the house, re-stacking the bricks, and cleaning up will be my "workout" in a couple days (I will let them dry much longer than necessary before I dare to put them back on the carpet.)

Who needs the gym when you have a house, a yard, and a dog?

When I was in my 20's, I would have done the above and then gone out dancing! But now ... well, I'll admit I'm tired & sore (it was re-furbing the dressers that did it) and I think I'll just crash on the couch this evening with a movie (I have "Wall-E" from Netflix). Smile

Interesting Comment from Chase Staffer

August 26th, 2009 at 09:32 am

When I went in to close my account at Chase, the staffer (I think she was a manager) asked why, and I replied that it was because of the rate I was earning. She asked me "did you find a better rate at a Credit Union?" Hmm...interesting. Thought I'd share for anyone who has yet to jump on the CU bandwagon.

And just for the record, yes, we moved some of the funds to a CD at a CU, but some went to an MMA at a regular old bank that is paying WAAAAAY more than Chase.

I remember reading comments (probably in WSJ articles) from both Wells Fargo and Chase executives that one of the reasons they took over Wachovia and Wamu respectively was because of their large number of deposit customers. I had accounts with both banks, but when interest rates plummeted post-merger, I closed my accounts and moved on. I wonder how those high-paid executives thought they were going to keep those deposit customers if they didn't keep paying higher than average interest rates? Do they not understand the correlation? Do they think we are idiots who do not check what rate we are earning and comparison shop?

I "Chased what matter" (earnings) all the way to other financial institutions. How about the rest of you former WaMu folks?

All Veggies & Herbs Planted Just in Time for Stage 2 Watering Restrictions

August 23rd, 2009 at 10:32 am

All my containers are planted.

Previously Planted:
Green Onions
Romaine Mix

Planted Today:
- Basil
- Chives
- Okra (Clemson Spineless, the type used in gumbo, not a vine ... thanks for the clarification Joan.of.the.Arch ... In my mind I was thinking "vine" because I need to figure out if they are going to need supports of some type)
- Rainbow Chard (wanted to do tomatoes but as I learned and others here pointed out they don't go in fall gardens even here in hot Texas ... Also I'm curious to see how it grows here vs in the Pacific NW, and if it's as easy to grow as it was when I was in WA I'll be guaranteed success with at least one item.)

If the okra grows well, we'll probably have way more of that than we can consume, but I know it will freeze VERY nicely. The Basil, if it's prolific, I can make pesto & freeze. The other items I limited to quantities that I think we can consume as we go.

I used only about 1/3 of each seed packet. I'm thinking I can do a 2nd planting very early spring (Feb or so), and a 3rd next fall. All packets are stamped sell by 11/10. The basil says "annual" so I'll either add another container or give the rest away ... I'll see how much my one little container produces.

We're in to Stage 2 (out of 3) watering restrictions effective tomorrow due to the drought here. We can use our sprinklers only once per week. Since our landscaping is new, we will need to hand water the bushes once a week and the trees once or twice a week so they don't die, and we'll need to make sure all the vegetation around the foundation also gets hand-watered once a week to prevent foundation cracks. That's the most important thing! We can replace a dead plant, but we can't grow a new foundation! (Hand-watering is allowed as long as it's done by 10am.) The grass? It's gonna go brown, but it should come back.


Kitchen Garden Part 2: Grounded In Reality

August 20th, 2009 at 11:31 am

A couple weeks ago I did an entry called "Kitchen Garden Dreaming":

http://scfr.savingadvice.com/2009/08/02/kitchen-garden-dream...

Welcome to the new Kitchen Garden Part 2: Grounded In Reality.

Dreaming is great. That's the phase of any plan when you can let your imagine run wild and ... really THINK BIG. But sooner or later (hopefully) reality sinks in and you make decisions that are, tho inspired by the dream, based on what is practical. (For example, when I was furniture shopping, I did allow myself flights of fancy, looking at $4K dining room sets and ostrich leather Williams-Sonoma beds ... yes, really Smile ... It helped me crystalize in my mind what I wanted ... but eventually I came down to earth and bought pieces that would allow me to furnish an entire house attractively for less than what one of the dreamy pieces of furniture would have cost.)

So, in order to avoid having to get permission from the HOA (which would slow down the process and probably mean not being able to start a garden this fall), to GREATLY reduce startup costs, to eliminate worry about how our automatic sprinkler system would fit with a veggie garden, and to take in to account that fact that I am still a newbie gardener and don't know how successful I am going to be, I have decided to go for a modified container garden.

Yesterday I got a large & attractive container on clearance at Lowe's. This morning I planted green onions & a romaine mix in it. I also plan to repurpose 3 plastic black industrial-looking trash cans by having DH drill holes in the bottom and bury them half-way underground (camoflauged from the street by some taller bushes) and I will plant 2 tomatoe & 1 okra vine in those. In addition to keeping weeds at bay, I'm hoping the containers will be tall enough to keep the rabbits out of them and (with sufficient supervision from us) keep the dog from doing his business on the plants we plan to eat from! If for some reason the HOA objects (which I don't think they will because I am really trying to make things attractive/hidden/blended with the rest of the landscaping) I can easily move the containers. And if I fail miserably, I will not have invested a lot of money in this project. (I'll give you a total once the tomatoe & okra plants are in the ground.) Also, the "pretty" container I bought can easily be repurposed for flowers.

Somewhere on-line I read about an article in a Japanese magazine that taught how to start growing Daikon in bags, and I've asked DH to ask one of his friends in Japan who is an avid gardener if he can tell us how to do that.

I'll probably add a couple little containers of fresh herbs on the front steps ... not only consumable, but will provide a nice fragrance when people come to the door.

If I succeed with my modified and greatly scaled-back plan, I'll probably add a few more containers and scatter them in with the rest of the landscaping. And if I prove to have a green thumb and decide it's worth the cost and effort ... who knows ... the full-blown kitchen garden dream may still some day become reality.

Tidbits

August 17th, 2009 at 06:44 am

1. First Credit Union Account: For the first time, we opened an account with a credit union. Our MMA at WaMu/Chase had been earning bonus interest (put in place right around the time of the Chase takeover) but that rate expired and since the Chase interest rates just suck, it was time to go rate shopping yet again. The WaMu bonus rate expired last Saturday and the new account was opened on Monday. (Even with rates overall being so unattractive, I still consider getting the best rates I can one of my top financial jobs.) We ended up getting a 6-month CD. We had not opened an account at a credit union before for 2 reason: 1) terms not attractive enough (until now) & 2) concerns about safety. I learned awhile back that accounts at credit unions were as safe as accounts at banks, but I wasn't as sure of it as I needed to be to convince DH. I studied up on it some more, and was sure enough of the safety of funds at CUs that I was able to make a convincing argument to my husband.

2. Speaking of WaMu/Chase: I still have my WaMu/Chase account only because my paycheck AD is deposited there, and my Half.com account is linked there. I'm changing my Half.com account to another bank this week, and after my next AD hits on Friday I'll be closing that account. I will be sorry to lose my relationship with WaMu, but honestly it has been a long slow fade that began when Chase took over. As the ad says "Chase what matters" ... and that is what I am doing by moving my money out.

3. Major Economic Stimulation: We had accumulated a couple pieces of furniture for our new house, but yesterday was THE BIG shopping day. We have been looking at furniture off & on for the past 3-1/2 months, but for the past several days that has been a major focus of my efforts ... visited a warehouse sale, visited a resale shop, and visited a couple regular retail shops I had not yet been to. I was also purusing Craigslist & Ebay quite a bit. Found a couple interesting items on Craiglsit, but the sellers did not reply so assume the pieces had already sold. Ended up ordering everything on-line, some from Costco & some from Amazon. We ordered 2 office desks (one for DH & one for me ... DH's is more of an "office suite" with storage and mine is more like a big writing table with a couple drawers), one office/recliner type chair for DH, a dining table & 4 chairs (we will pull in odd chairs when we have more than 4 people at the table ... it will seat 6 comfortably and we would very rarely have more than 6), mattress & boxspring (for us ... the one we are using now is going to the guest room), 2 headboards (considerably less expensive than buying a whole bed frame, and DH feels strongly that a bed needs more than just a mattress on a steel frame which is something I'm fine with) and .... Lord have mercy ... that big ol' TV DH has been waiting & waiting for. Nothing brings spouses differences in priorities in to sharper focus than furniture shopping! (Example: Why on earth would anyone want to spend more on a lousy TV than you would on a good mattress set or dining room set? LOL) I'm happy to report that after much-much-much discussion and compromising, and not one bit of ugliness, we are still happily married and now we have thoroughly done our part to stimulate the economy. (Quick! Buy shares of UPS!) But seriously, our first round of house guests arrive in about 2 months, and I feel so much better knowing that they will have a place to sleep other than the floor, and that we'll all be able to sit down at table together to dine. (Oh yea, and the guys can watch the game on the huge TV ... hohum.)

4. Fearless Critic Austin Restaurant Guide: I picked this little treasure up at Costco for $10. I knew this was the book for me when I read the review for Fonda San Miguel, the fancy restaurant I had been dying to go to and squirrelled some gift money away for. Basically, the review in Fearless Critic said, yes, the food is very good, but it's way over-priced ... And I agree 100%! Could have saved the money if I had read this book before going! Anyway ... I've been purusing this book looking for places to try and to take our endless stream of houseguests who will be descending soon. On Friday, DH & I went to Quality Seafood (in North Central Austin). Oh ... yea! Awesome place; best seafood we've had since moving here. We decided to splurge a bit and our final bill came to $30 ... but when you consider what we got, it really was a good deal. We started out with a dozen oysters on the half shell (that was the splurge and added $10 to the bill) ... They were huge gulf coast oysters that we had never had before (nothing like Pacific Northwest oysters) ... 100% fresh & delicious. Then I had a bowl of gumbo (chock full of scallops, shrimp, and fish) and DH had the blue plate special (marlin in whiskey BBQ sauce, cornbread, and choice of 2 sides ... he took cole slaw and fried okra that was divine). We left with big smiles on our face feeling the "splurge" was well worth it! For anyone in Austin who has not tried Quality Seafood, I highly recommend it. A more frugal food choice would be one of the Po' Boy sandwich combos, which I believe run $7. The next restaurants on our list to try are a Chinese place and a Korean place that are both tucked in the back of grocery stores ... not so high on atmosphere, but great food at cheap prices. For anyone interested in The Fearless Critic, at this time they are only available for Washington DC, Austin, New Haven, and Houston.

5. Dallas Doggies: The organization I volunteer with is gearing up to take in some of the doggies from the Dallas puppy mill case (over 500 dogs seized in a raid from deplorable conditions, the largest case ever in Texas history). There are still some legal issues to be worked out but the Humane Society has already put out the call to see which rescues in the area can take dogs once they are allowed by the court to start transferring them. Of course we said yes. We'll be taking around 10 to start with ... they will be cared for and nurtured until they are well enough & socialized enough (and old enough to be spayed or neutered of course) to be adopted out. When you stop to think about it, 10 dogs is only 2% of the total number and therefore just a drop in the bucket ... mind-boggling. As always, I am thankful that my financial house is in order and I have a supportive husband so I am able to dedicate so much time & energy to this work.



Kitchen Garden Dreaming

August 2nd, 2009 at 08:39 pm

In 2007 I tried my hand at a bit of vegetable gardening for the first time for the SA $20 Challenge. I was in a rental house, so I could only do "container" gardening (the containers were anything free I could scrounge up like plastic buckets from Freecycle and no-longer-in-use recycling bins).

Now that I'm in a house I own, I think I may plant an honest-to-goodness kitchen garden. I knew that here in Texas you can plant both fall gardens and spring gardens. The idea of a fall garden is more appealing than a spring garden, both because of the temperature in the fall and because my work schedule is lighter. I thought I had plenty of time still to plan a "fall garden" but today when I was researching on the net (Texas A&M web site has a wealth of info and Gardener's Supply has some pretty nifty stuff too including an interactive plan-your-own garden tool) I learned that fall garden veggies are planted as early as 16 weeks before the first expected frost which is Dec. 1. That means if I'm going to plant a fall garden I need to get cracking!

Here's my to-do list:
- Check HOA rules. See if I have to submit a plan for approval, and if so does that mean I won't be in time to plant a fall garden?
- Figure out where to put the garden.
- Figure out if we'll need to do anything special with the sprinkler system, such as shutting off one or more of the sprinkler heads? (A sprinkler system was not something I had to deal with in 2007.)
- Decide what to plant (I know I want to plant green onions, daikon, okra, tomatoes, and lettuce. Beyond that I have lots of ideas but am not sure.
- Plan the garden, and make a list of necessary supplies.
- Get supplies.
- Get starter plants and/or seeds. I think I'll use starter plants this time as much as I can, since I'd like to have more variety and less of each item than I had in 2007 when everything was started from seed.
- Plant the garden, tend it, and hopefully harvest the fruits of my labor.

For anyone interested, here's a link to the Gardener's Supply site:
http://www.gardeners.com/Kitchen-Garden-Planner/kgp_home,def...

Journey to Balance Sheet Affluent Update

August 1st, 2009 at 02:59 pm

For the numbers geeks and competitive types (but mostly for myself) I've updated my numbers there on the sidebar.

I realized tracking the quarterly goals wasn't making a lot of sense, given the odd variation in income we experience over the course of the year, estimated tax payments, etc. I've decided instead to just do an annual goal, but every so often I'll note where I am throughout the year.

Because I have no debt other than what has been charged on my credit card & will be paid off at the end of the month (inconsequential) plus accrued SE taxes owed (not really inconsequential but too much effort to calculate each month), my monthly "Net Worth Statement" is really just a list of my assets. What I count as assets are:
Liquid financial assets
Tax-deferred retirement savings
Car (KBB Private Party Value)
House (Purchase Price - 8% eventual taxes & real estate comm to be paid when the house is sold = adjusted purchase price. I then adjust by CPI-U to account for inflation.)

Are these calculations perfect? Nope. There are legitimate differences of opinion as to whether tax-deferred savings should be included (or should be discounted for the taxes that will eventually be paid), whether or not to include car & house (or collectibles or household furnishings or in the case of my SIL her Hermes collection-haha), how to value those non-financial assets, and whether CPI-U is a legitimate measure of inflation.

The important thing is that this is how I have chosen to do my calculations, and they help me measure progress over time and how I am doing in terms of reaching my eventual goal.

Brooklyngirl did an interesting post on feeling rich and free, and I posted a rather lengthy response about why managing my finances well is so important to me. I'm providing a link in case anyone thinks that this goal of becoming "Balance Sheet Affluent" by the time my husband is 50 is merely some obsessive goal or about being greedy:
http://brooklyngirl.savingadvice.com/2009/07/25/i-feel-rich-...
I was very interested to read Brooklyngirl's post and glad to see responses. So often we write about the steps we are taking and the "numbers" goals we have, but not about the reasons for taking them. Good to be reminded.