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Wish Me Luck

February 10th, 2009 at 06:57 pm

okay ... Lots going on:

- House: We are getting extremely close to making an offer on a house. We have 2 in our cross hairs. The one we are most interested in is a bank-owned foreclosure. Might happen this weekend. DH is due to leave on a long business trip, so all the paperwork and details and negotiating will be left to me. Nothing new there. Smile

- New Little Side Business: As of this evening it's officially up but not yet running. Had to spend a little moolah today to get the ball rolling. DH is freaking out ... I must work hard to make sure I can at the very least recoup what I spent. (Don't worry. It's not enough to hurt us even if I fall flat on my face, but you wouldn't know that from the way DH is acting.)

- Stock Trade: We made our first trade. Bought an individual stock that we sold for an itsy-bitsy-teeny-weeny profit a few days later. Trust me, it was just beginner's luck! Interesting experience. DH got all worked up over the whole business. Been watching a couple stocks since then, but I'm thinking more seriously about becoming a buy & hold stock investor. We're really not "day trader" types and besides I think it would give DH high blood pressure.

- Volunteer Work: It's almost a full-time job right now. I have realized that my unpaid, volunteer work (due to level of responsibility and job title) would look better on my resume than my paid job. Right now is an important turning point for the organization I volunteer with, so everyone is working overtime and the number one gal is doing nothing but eat and sleep and work.

It would be nice if I could have just one or two of these developments going on right now, and save the others for later, but this is life and I am coping as best I can.

Out With The Old, In With The New

January 2nd, 2009 at 08:32 pm

1. Year End Net Worth Calculation: We ended up a leeeetle bit for the year. And when I say "leeeetle" I really mean it! 2%. Considering that ROR on mutual fund investments was -25.2% for the year, we can live with that. It means we retained enough of our earnings to ever-so-slightly more than offset our losses. Just like so many of you guys, living below our means was what saved us from being down for the year.

2. DH's Business (2008 results & 2009 outlook): DH's business for the year was down slightly (compared to his annual average). He had started the year off with a bang and we expected it to be an up year, but it didn't end up that way. In 2009, we expect business to be down more. There are a couple big factors working against us (one of them of course is the overall state of the economy), and a couple working in our favor. We will be satisfied with a year that is "just moderately bad to okay." And we know we will be fine even if it is really bad.

3. New Year's Resolutions: I don't make formal resolutions. My goals are created as the need arises, or as I am inspired by something, or learn something new that makes me realize there is something I should be working on. The ones I am working on right now are continuations of things I was already working on Dec. 31st.

While it's not a resolution, I did buy a special book for the new year ... "The Intellectual Devotional" ... I will be reading my way through that this year. Since it is formatted to be read starting on a Monday, I started it on Dec. 29th.

Again, while not a resolution, the one thing I was becoming dissatisfied with towards the end of 2008 was not using my time effectively. So, since the "devotional" (it is not a religious book BTW) is meant to be read one page each day, and since I am reading it in the evening, I stuck a post-it note to myself on the inside cover asking myself: "Am I satisfied with what I have to show for how I spent my time today?" So far, that has been a help. I hope it will continue to be.

4. In-Laws & Plans for the New Year: My FIL finally did it ... after much dragging-out, he got things wrapped up with his business and is now officially retired! I have mentioned before that DH & I want to give them something special such as a trip to commemorate their retirements (my MIL worked part-time at my FIL's business, so both of them retired). The gift is now in the planning stage! When we called to wish them happy holiday, we asked him where he would like to travel. He said he wants to come to the USA. And then he started listing the places he wants to visit. You'd think it would be something like "San Francisco, LA, and San Diego" or "Philadelphia, NYC, and Washington DC" right? But no! He said, "I want to go to Denver ... and Atlanta ... and Boston" ... LOL! That's so cute. (Places can seem so close to each other when you are looking on a map.) They want to come for 3-4 weeks, so I think we could actually make that itinerary work. We know this will be his last trip here, if indeed he is even able to make it this time. He has had some serious medical issues over the past few years, including a couple times he was rushed to the hospital for life-saving procedures ... Not the sort of thing that could be dealt with easily on a 13-hour plane ride. First he has to talk things over with his doctor, figure out what the risks are, and then decide if he wants to take them. DH & I have talked about it, and if the trip is a no-go, we are going to give them a cash gift and tell them to use it on anything that would make them happy. I mentioned that it might seem impersonal to give cash, but DH reminded me that in his culture it is perfectly acceptable, so that is what we will do.

5. Party: We got our first formal party invite since moving here to Austin. It's a "wrap up the holiday season" party. Isn't that a nice idea for a party, having it the weekend after New Year's? We did not have to worry about being out with the drunk drivers, we were able to stay home and calm our dog when the fireworks went off, and (most important for us old folks) no need to worry about staying up until midnight. Should be fun, and should be especially nice for DH, since part of the problem he has been having with Austin is feeling "out of the loop" socially.

All-Ahead Standard

December 1st, 2008 at 05:16 pm

Calculated our end-Nov net worth today. *sigh* Down over 1% from end-Oct. If we remove our tax-deferred mutual funds (mix of stocks & bonds) from the equation, we are UP about 1% from the month prior. So we are doing what we need to do, spending less than we earn and saving a decent amount. But for the time being, the stock market is causing our bottom line to shrink.

Don't like seeing the "Journey to Balance Sheet Affluent" number falling off so much. Oh well ... In the area we can control (living below our means), we are doing well.

All-ahead standard.

2 Positives & 1 Negative = Net Gain

October 30th, 2008 at 04:20 pm

Positive Number 1 - Electric: Got our most recent electric bill in the mail today. It's back under $100 per month ... yea! (We're 100% electric) And I had hoped to not go over $150 during the hot, high A/C months, and in fact our highest bill was $129.

Positive Number 2 - Food & Bev Budget: Don't expect to have any more food & bev expenditures for October (1 day left in the month and we still have plenty of everything), so I'm prepared to declare the first month of our new food & bev budget a success, with $22 left unspent. DH is completely on-board; even tho he enjoys grocery shopping, we agreed that for the time being I need to be the one to do all of the grocery shopping ... DH has not yet learned to resist the urge to throw some sushi or deli Chinese in to the cart. We have a househunting trip coming up in a bit over a month ... I thought we might have to add a bit to the budget to cover all of our eating out at that time, but now I'm thinking that if we can leave some unspent in November as well, we'll hopefully be able to cover the meals on the trip within our regular budget.

1 Negative - Twisted Metal Mess: Yesterday when I got home from work, DH told me he thought something was wrong with the garbage disposal. I stuck my hand in and found a mess of twisted metal that used to be the removable part of our garlic press! It is beyond repair, and we use quite a bit of fresh garlic, so we will be shelling out a bit of $ to buy a replacement. Not the end of the world, but definitely an unnecessary expense of $15-20. The one we had was about 20 years old ... No doubt there have been some improvements since we bought that one!
I'm thinking about the Zyliss ... Have read good things about it, and it looks nice. Any feedback from my fellow bloggers?

(At least the disposal seems to be running fine.)

Still Around

October 2nd, 2008 at 08:50 am

No, the fact that 2 of my banks (WaMu & Wachovia) went buh-bye within a period of 5 days did not cause me to take a long walk off of a short pier. I'm still around. It's just that DH's business and my volunteer activities have really kept me hopping, and I did not want to crank out a hurried blog entry that would end up sounding completely incoherent.

First, on the bank thing. I know you're all sick of hearing about it, but as far as I know I'm the only one around here who has accounts at both of the "W" banks, so you might be curious to know how I feel about the whole business. It's fine. Really. Since WaMu was a bona fide failure, it was more disconcerting. But we had already done what we could (short of panicking and pulling all of our money out) to feel prepared for a failure. And with Wachovia ... well, the irrational side of my brain thought that it would have been nice if I could have had a couple weeks between bank blow-outs to get myself prepared emotionally for it! Smile But then again, maybe it was nice to just get it all over with at once. I'm still keeping my eye on what will happen with my yields. With WaMu, I have an MMA. Don't have very high hopes there. With Wachovia, most of my money is in CDs, so I am hoping that my rates will be in effect until the CDs mature.
I went in to my WaMu branch yesterday (had volunteer-related business that had to be taken care of), and the mood there was quite upbeat ... A big change from Friday.

On a really positive note, I did manage to earn some respect points with my DH for the nagging I did to get him to switch his business account from one that was not FDIC insured to one that is. (Side note: As small business owners, we are fully in support of raising the FDIC insurance limit, and think it is long overdue. This is something they have been talking about for years. For many small businesses, ours included, it is darn near impossible to operate efficiently and keep your balances under $100K at all times.)

Thrift-o-rama asked how we were coping with all of the turmoil in the financial markets, and someone else asked what we are going to change. This is what I've done and what I am going to do (and whether I'm right or wrong, I really don't know, but I'm doing what feels right for us.)

- Over the weekend, spurred by the WaMu failure, I printed out two well-known poems that I like and they are sitting on my table so I can glance at them any time I need to. They help me stay focused. One is "If" by Rudyard Kipling, and the other is "Desiderata" by Max Ehrmann. BTW, I know many people like the line in "If" about keeping your head when all about you are losing theirs, and I like that too, but actually my favorite part is "If you can fill the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds' worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that's in it."

- On Monday I turned on the news as I was getting ready to make lunch. Saw the Dow plummeting. On top of 2 banks going under, it did feel overwhelming, and I'll admit I felt anxiety coursing through my body. I found myself thinking "OMG I hope the Dow doesn't drop below 10,000 ... no, it's not a logical response and 10,000 really is no different from 9,999 ... it's purely a psychological threshold ... but it goes to show that no matter how rational we try to be, sometimes irrational thoughts take over. I realized I still had work that needed to be done and I needed to focus. So ... and I admit this may sound silly ... I decided that instead of just throwing together a sandwich, I was going to make myself a nourishing lunch of brain food. I fixed a salmon patty and steamed spinach. That's right ... the Dow plummets and scfr steams spinach! Big Grin

- Monday evening, after I had finished the work I needed to get done for DH, I popped a Netflix DVD in the player and watched one episode of the old BBC series "As Time Goes By." I love that series ... It never fails to make me laugh out loud. By that point, I REALLY needed a laugh, and it felt good.

- As far as our investments go, we're not changing a thing. Our portfolio was designed so that we could emotionally handle a serious market downturn. I did write a date on my calendar (in 2015) when I will revisit our asset allocation, and come up with a plan to GRADUALLY, year-by-year start moving out of stocks. At a certain age, I'd like to be 100% out of the stock market. (My thinking at this time is that age 65 would be good ... I do realize this is not necessarily a wise plan for everyone.) I feel for the senior citizens whose portfolios are taking a serious beating. I wonder how many of them still have the same asset allocation that they had when they were 40 or 45 or 50 ... and if it made sense for them back then and they just never changed it?

- As far as cutting back, we decided not to renew our just-expired subscription to the Austin Sunday paper (I get the WSJ Mon-Sat). Because we are moving away, we may have decided to let it go anyway, but the country's financial situation made the decion to save $2.44 a week that much easier. I clip a couple coupons in an average week, but do not save enough from them to justify the cost of the paper. Also, DH & I have been discussing our grocery budget and how we might trim it a bit. I am going to be presenting my plan to him when he returns from his business trip next week.

- I have some scrap gold (broken necklace, etc.) somewhere. I'm going to go ahead and sell it ... If I can find it. Smile

- I'm going to vote. Nothing new here, but I do believe it's one of the most proactive things all of us can do to impact the course our country takes.

- We're moving whole-heartedly ahead with our plans to buy a house.

- And now for the more unconventional, and perhaps controversial, idea: When we open our next bank account (if we decide to bail on Chase or Citi for example), it will likely be with a bank that is owned by a non-USA company. For example, since we are moving to Cali, having an account with Union Bank of California makes sense. They are a member of the Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group. If diversifying your stock portfolio internationally makes sense, then why not diversify your bank accounts as well? Y'all can call me crazy if you like, but as I said, we're doing what feels right to us.

Getting Things Done

July 18th, 2008 at 08:01 am

1. Short Sale House: DH & I went to look at it yesterday. It is a real beauty, and it is being offered at a really good price. I had looked at it once, and was afraid DH would fall totally in love with it and want it. I say "afraid" because while it is a lovely home, it looks like the type of home where we would spend quite a bit of time on upkeep of the house and the yard. Fortunately, DH agreed that the house would require quite a bit of time on an on-going basis. (Actually, he made that comment about the yard only, but I can tell the house would be the same, and guess whose shoulders that work would fall on?) The house is pre-foreclosure and has been unoccupied for 6 months. It has not been trashed, but it has been a bit neglected. When we got home, DH walked in to our apartment, looked around, and said: "I like this apartment. It's so CLEAN!" I replied, "Yes, it is" but inside I was laughing and thinking "That's because the magic cleaning fairies show up on a regular basis" Big Grin I was also thinking "Give me 3 days alone with that house and it will sparkle" but I didn't say that because frankly I'm still hoping for a smaller, more modest house and I did not want to put any ideas in DH's head.

2. 2nd Car: Apparently I was not the only one researching cars the last month. In addition to the SmartCar that I want to test drive, DH wants to check out the new Volkswagen Jetta Diesel. Looks like a reasonable choice to me. Now I just need to find out if it's currently available in our area.

3. Short-Term CDs: BofA is offering a 7-month CD @4.11% (available on-line only). Not too shabby. We decided to go with that for some of DH's post-busy-season money. Higher rates are available elsewhere, but either the terms are longer or the bank is shakier.

4. VMSXX: We discussed, and DH is considering it. He's a bit anxious about putting non-tax-deferred dollars in a non-FDIC insured spot. Why that is any worse than putting tax-deferred money in a non-FDIC insured spot is beyond me. He keeps asking me: "How safe is Vanguard, really?" I'm all for VMSXX, but DH needs a bit more time to process the idea ... He has a couple friends who are both financially savvy and conservative. No doubt he will be consulting with them. Hopefully we won't end up with a mattress investment.

Taking a Deep Breath ...

May 22nd, 2008 at 03:51 pm

DH thinks that we will need to be 2.12 times "expected net worth" (please see the formula on the left regarding "Balance Sheet Affluent" if you have no idea what I am talking about) by the time he is 50 in order for his dream of trying out for the Champions (formerly known as senior) golf tour to a be realistic possiblity.

We talked about this last weekend, but I stuck my head in the sand for a few days and did not blog about it. The thought of what it will take to reach this goal is a bit overwhelming.

Oh boy. I thought 2.0 times was setting the bar high, and last time I blogged about this I talked about maybe dropping the goal down a bit, perhaps to something like 1.8.

It's a hard number to nail down because there's no way of knowing what the actual out-of-pocket expenses will be if DH does make the tour. I still think that 2.0 is generous, but I guess that it's better to overshoot, and I'm sure DH has a better sense than I do of what is required.

So, 2.12 it is. Sigh. I can console myself a bit by thinking about what we will do with the money if we reach our savings goal, he tries out for the tour, and does not make it. (I'm sure that sounds downright evil, doesn't it?)

The new annual and quarterly goals are posted on the left. The annual goal is to move from 1.40 to 1.53 by 4/30/09. I'm hoping for a big increase the first quarter (due to DH's business), initially overshooting the goal, followed by holding steady in the second quarter, tapering off in the third quarter, and then taking a rather substantial drop in the fourth quarter (because we expect to buy a house and I have my own unique idea about how the value of a home should be calculated when calculating net worth).

At least we are off to a very good start for the current quarter (May - July). DH has been working hard and has expanded his business a bit; as a result his busy season started a bit earlier than usual this year. And I have been working steadily. Income is going to be key to reaching the goal.

All and Sundry

May 6th, 2008 at 02:46 pm

Gonna try to get caught up on a big list of things I have been wanting to blog about. Please pardon the long and varied "everything but the kitchen sink" type post.

1. "Journey to Balance Sheet Affluent" Update: Did my end-April Net Worth Statement while the guys were out golfing on Sunday, and updated my number there to the left. Obviously, I fell short of my first-year goal. Ironically, the main reason was a very good year last year income-wise, so when I plugged in our new average income, the goal (number to reach) jumped up. The reason for the bigger than expected 4th quarter drop was due to taxes owed on said earnings. Quarterly income and non-tax spending were fine. This led me to question whether or not this is still a realistic goal. For the time being, my answer is a qualified yes. I'll be posting my 2nd year (5/1/2008 - 4/30/2009) goals soon, and for the time being I am going to continue to pusue the goal of becoming "Balance Sheet Affluent" by the time my DH is 50; however, I am going to revisit this within the next year, and would not be surprised if I wind up dropping my goal to something like 1.8 instead of 2.0.

And for those of you who like to compare numbers, please let me remind you that I have set the bar extremely high for myself, which is necessary if DH's dream of trying out for the senior golf tour is to have a chance of becoming reality. If not for this dream, I would be happy with any number at 1.0 or higher.

2. Investments = Decided to Stay the Course: Thought I would be switching my STAR Fund to Vanguard Conservative Growth, but after studying that possibility I decided to leave things where they are. If I made the switch, I feel I would be under-invested in international stocks. And besides that, my STAR fund shares are where I give myself permission to be a tiny bit daring.

3. Work: My current work assignment ended today. My next work assignment begins ... day after tomorrow. Perfect. Smile One day off and then back to work. Instead of paying bills & doing laundry tonight, I'll be curling up with a book and putting those chores off until tomorrow.

4. Groceries: YES, YES, YES ... prices ARE up! Here are 2 specific examples on prices of items that are consumed almost daily in our home:
- Bananas: Up from 33 to 44 cents per lb. That's a 33% increase!
- Rice: 20-lb bag up from $14 to $17. That's a 21% increase!

I think what is so "big" about the current price increases is that they are so across the board, rather than commodity specific. We're all used to seeing prices on certain items spike due to crop failures or seasonality. But when that happens, we just make substitutions, right? For example, in the past, if I had seen that bananas were up 11 cents per lb overnight, I would have looked at an alternate fruit. But guess what? Apples are also up, 20 cents per lb, and no other fruits come close to giving me the same bang for my buck. So, I buy bananas at the higher price.

I feel fortunate that even if my vigilance to "shop smart" is not enough to compensate for the increases, I am still able to absorb the price increases, and don't have to take exteme measures (such as giving up buying fresh fruit). I cannot believe that the increases are not affecting those less fortunate, and I am sympathetic.

One thing that I am doing to keep my own grocery bill down is teaching my husband some of my shopping techniques (for example: combine a sale w/ a coupon or skip buying that item this week) so that when he goes to the store the bill will be lower. Just recently, he used coupons for the very first time.

4. Speaking of Good Cheap Food: I recently discovered a great side dish ... Texas Caviar! No, it's nothing like Rocky Mountain Oysters ... It's a spicy black eyed pea salad. Nutritious and Delicious! Fantastic with BBQ or really as a side dish with anything. If it sounds like something you'd like to try, just Google it and you'll find recipes.

5. The Jonses House: Previously I blogged about "The Jonses" house in my old neighborhood that went in to foreclosure. After being foreclosed on, listed by the receivier for well under what was owed on the mortgage, and having a couple price drops, the house finally went under contract. I don't know the sale price, but given the latest list price it is very likely it sold for at or near the "lowball" price DH & I threw out about a year ago. This reinforced 2 things in my mind:
- We should continue to trust ourselves and our sense of where the market is.
- By all means look at buying & selling a house as a business transaction. Regardless of how you feel about it while you are living there, while you are buying and selling you are making an investment! Once the receiver took over, they approached the sale of the Jonses house in a very businesslike manner ... Pricing to market (no ego or emotion involved) and dropping the price as needed.

6. Interesting Retirement Tidbits: Saturday's Wall Street Journal published some very interesting survey results ... Definitely gave me some things to think about when considering retirement. Here are some of the items that gave me the most food for thought:

Q: What percentage of retirees say they left the work force earlier than planned?
A: 51%
My Thoughts: Wow! Sounds like it might be a good idea to chop a few years off of the age you enter as your expected retirement age when you run those calculators. For example, if you plan to retire at 65, plug in 60 or 62 to be safe.

Q: Surveyed adults ages 55 to 74 said they spend the greatest percentage of their leisure time doing which of the following? (choices were Socializing & Communicating, Watching TV, Reading, Relaxing & Thinking, Traveling)
A: Watching TV
My Thoughts: That is sad. Note to self = Make a plan pre-retirement for a life of meaningful activities!

 Q: What percentage of workers in the US say they or their spouses currently are saving for retirement?
A: 64%

Q: What percentage of workers age 55-plus report having $250,000 or more in savings and investments (not including primary residence or defined-benefit plan)?
A: 23%

Q: What percentage of US households are at risk of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement?
A: 44%

My Thoughts on the Above 3: Wake up America!

... And 1 Step Back

February 3rd, 2008 at 07:13 pm

After calculating our Net Worth at the end of January, I re-calculated where we are on our "Journey to Balance Sheet Affluent." The result is shown on the sidebar, as is an explanation of the BA calculation.

This was a "one step back" quarter due to the performance of our mutual funds. Ah well, we are still ahead of where we wanted to be at this point, and we will keep running the marathon.

Speaking of mutual funds, I'm glad that we are invested in balanced funds and "funds of funds" ... Our asset allocation gets re-balanced automatically without us having to do anything. It eliminates that ever-so-tempting urge to do a bit of market timing in the guise of deciding when to re-allocate.

Some good news on the savings front:

- We did our second fillup since getting new tires filled with nitrogen gas put on our car. We got 30 MPG, so our mileage has definitely improved. There may be something to this nitrogen gas after all ... Does anyone else use it?

- Since I started reading our electric meter regularly (not every day like Ima Saver, I'm afraid, but every few days) and "whacking the mole" (unplugging & turning things off) we have cut our daily electric consumption by 13%. We're not using our heater (this is Texas remember), so that has nothing to do with it. I want to cut our electric consumption even more ... right now I'm challenging myself to see how quickly I can shower.

P.S. - The new blog color scheme is for tax season, a patriotic theme in honor of everyone who pays what they owe!

Quarterly Results, Journey to Balance Sheet Affluent

November 2nd, 2007 at 08:15 am

Here's a brief recap ... In "The Millionaire Mind" author Thomas Stanley outlines the following formula:

Age x .112 x Annual Realized Household Income = Expected Net Worth

Households with at least 2 times their Expected Net Worth are considered "Balance Sheet Affluent" (or BA).

My goal is for my household to be BA by the time my husband is 50. Then, I think I will feel confident giving DH the green light to go ahead and pursue his lifelong dream of trying out for the Champions (senior) golf tour.

And now for the results for the quarter ended 10/31/07: We are now 1.569 times expected net worth. My goal was 1.435, and I had allowed for our number to decrease this quarter, but it actually increased. Why the better-than expected results?

Expenses: Savings on expenses was the number one reason. Moving expenses were substantially lower than budgeted - This was due to a combination of planning and hard work plus a bit of luck. We did not have to pay rent in September because we had prepaid last month's rent at the start of our lease. Our rent here is Austin is less than half what our rent was in Seattle, not only because the area is less expensive but because we are living in very small temporary quarters to keep costs down. We are down to just one car, which saves on insurance and upkeep.

Income: We sold one of our cars. My little business made a fair amount more in it's final month than I had expected. DH's business is past it's peak period for the year but still he's doing pretty well.

It's nice to be ahead this early on. There is room to have some setbacks and still meet the goal. It's going to get tougher meeting the quarterly goals because passive income will be down due to lower interest rates. We've already scouted out the best rates available, and we can't control what the Fed does, so there's no point in dwelling on this. It can't be helped.

Focusing on what I can control, my goals for the coming months are: 1) to find a fantastic bargain on a house and 2) to line up some temporary work as soon as possible after I return from my trip to DC next month.

I toured a very interesting REO (foreclosed & now owned by the bank) home yesterday; it needs some serious work done to it, and it doesn't meet my "dream home" criteria, but I think it does meet my top 3 requirements (can be purchased well below market + a nice place to live + a good investment). I'm going to take DH through it to see what he thinks; if he is up to the challenge of buying a semi-fixer, then I think we'll go ahead and have an inspection done and get some ballpark numbers for repairs and renovations, then perhaps go ahead and make an offer.

I've also identified a position I'm going to apply for. It is a 3-1/2 month temporary position. Not only do I think it would be interesting work, I like the idea of a temp job because it will give me a chance to see how I feel about being an employee again (after being self-employed for 4 years) and I don't want to take anything permanent until I know exactly where we will be living (so that I can factor in commute time when deciding where I want to work).

What I know for sure is that having a specific "big picture" goal, specific intermittent (quarterly goals), and checking my net worth at the end of every month really helps keep me focused. So does this blog and all of the great tips I pick up from you all! Thanks!

Sold A Car

August 29th, 2007 at 03:07 pm

Forgot to mention that we sold one of our cars over the weekend. It all happened so fast that it still doesn't seem quite real. It was the Subaru Outback, the one we just bought in February at a terrific price, and the one for which we bought new tires and a new HD radio/CD player & speakers.

One of DH's friends wanted to buy a car for his son. The son wanted something with a decent audio system, and with enough space to hold equipment for his band. The parents wanted a reliable safe car that would never end up in a street race.

The dad knew the story of how we got the car and asked if we'd be willing to sell it. He said he'd reimburse us what we paid for the car, plus everything we had added to the car, including a major tuneup at 60K miles. The family came over to look at it and decided to buy it on the spot.

We decided to go ahead and sell it. It's a great deal for our friends who bought it. And it's a great deal for us too, because it means we won't have to drive it to Texas. Instead of DH & I driving separately, we'll all be able to go together in the truck, towing our Camry behind.

My last day of work is Monday, so we should be able to easily get by with one car. We're going to go as long as we can with just one car, at least until after I start working again. I think it would be great if we could try to get by with just one car period, but we'll see how that goes. Cars are such a money drain, not only with the purchase cost, upkeep, and gasoline, but also insurance & licensing.

Even tho' we spent "life energy" researching and buying the new tires & radio, and getting the Subaru serviced, what it boils down to is we got to use that car for a little over 6 months for just the cost of gasoline and insurance. Not too bad.

I'll admit I'm gonna miss that HD radio tho' ... sigh.

Journey to BalAff - 1st Quarter Results & 2nd Quarter Goals

August 2nd, 2007 at 09:47 am

Since I don't want to give Broken Arrow too much of a big head, I will try to remember to title my entries related to my "Journey to Balance Sheet Affluent" something other than "Journey to BA" Smile

Well, even tho' I revised my goal upwards by quite a bit, we still managed to exceed our 1st quarter goal quite handily. Our current estimated* Net Worth is 1.51 times our expected net worth according to the "Balance Sheet Affluent" formula [Age x .112 x Total Realized Annual Income].

*I say estimated because the current balance in DH's business account is just a rough estimate. Just before he left on a business trip, I asked him, "How much do you have in your business account, minus what you owe, plus what people owe you" and he gave me a very round figure as he did not have the time to calculate it precisely. After he gets back and gets all caught up, I will be able to get a precise number from him. Also, DH took all of our foreign currency with him on his trip, so I entered that amount as "zero" even tho' I expect he will bring some back with him.

These are the things that helped us on the positive side this quarter:
- DH's business has been excellent [His busiest season falls in this quarter, and it has been a very good year]
- My little business had been pretty good too
- We got the money from our garage sale in May, plus additional funds have come in steadily from Half.com
- I made $20 on Pinecone surveys ... Hey every little bit counts, right? Wink I am one who believes in focusing on the big AND small things when it comes to personal finance
- Interest earnings: I have gotten our bank accounts (MMAs and CDs) narrowed down to a few banks that have consistently offered the best rates over time. I may not be getting the very best available rate at any given moment, but I'm also not seeing my rates suddenly drop or having lag time waiting for funds to get transferred from one institution to another.
- Mutual Fund Investments: Our choices are quite conservative, and the results for the quarter were fine.

Necessary but unusual expenses this quarter (and there are always going to be some unusual expenses, so we have to anticipate them) were:
- Car repair
- New tires for car
- Teeth cleaning for dog
Unnecessary but very nice "want" purchases this quarter were:
- New radio & speakers for car
- New driver for DH (to replace his old one which had cracked)

My "Journey to BA" goals for this 2nd quarter are primarily related to our relocation:
- Finish pre-relocation sell off
- Keep relocation expenses as low as possible (the less stuff to move the better; keep costs while on the road down)
- When chosing a rental in the Austin area, choose a cheap one!!! [It is so tempting to go for something nicer, but I must remember that it is only temporary housing and it makes no sense at all to spend a lot of money on a rental.]

Journey to BA: Revised 1st Year Quarterly Goals

July 28th, 2007 at 05:12 pm

Well, I have worked out my new 1st year quarterly goals for my "Journey to Balance Sheet Affluent." It only took a minute to do them, but I put it off because I was 'scaird' Smile

I then did a rough calculation of where I think we will be at the end of the month, and was pleasantly surprised to see that we might actually still be a bit ahead of the game, even with the greatly increased target number. Frankly, we NEED to be ahead of the game this first year, because we cannot count on DH's business have such a good year every year.

Even if this Monday turns out to be "Black Monday 2007" I'm pretty confident we'll be ahead of the 1st quarter goal (knock on wood), because our investments are so conservative that we don't go on quite the rollercoaster ride that some folks do with the markets ups & downs.

Major Goal Revamping

July 24th, 2007 at 02:19 pm

Time to revamp the "Journey to Balance Sheet Affluent" goal ... and I do mean a M-A-J-O-R revamping. My DH & I are about to head down a road not many have gone, so we are going to have to draw our own map.

DH is starting to wind down the busy season for his business, and it has been a really good year. I thought that was going to give us a really good jump start on our goal of being BA by age 60. But the goal has changed big time: It is now "BA by the time DH is 50," which is just a bit over 6 years away.

The "goal behind the goal" is that we would like to be in a position where DH can try out for the "Champions (formerly known as Senior) Golf Tour" when he turns 50, and if, against all odds, he managed to make the cut, he would be able to "retire" from his business and go out on the tour without jeopardizing our financial future.

This idea has been a "wouldn't it be nice? ... " sort of dream of ours for a long time, ever since he gave up on his dream of becoming a pro golfer when he was younger. But lately it has started to be more of a "do you think it could be possible? ..." sort of idea, and now with the good business results this year, it became a "we might be able to make this happen" serious thought followed by some serious discussions (and me having to get over my surprise when I found out the age to try out is 50 and not 55 as I had thought), and now it is a "we have a shot at this if we work really hard and don't have any major setbacks" goal.

It may surprise some that someone as cautious as me is even entertaining such an idea, and yes it does give me butterflies in my stomach, however I do know that:
- The odds of DH actually making the cut are extremely slim. Probability says that he will chase the dream, not make it, and then go on with his business and life as usual. But at least he will have had the chance to pursue the dream. He won't have to die thinking that he never got the chance to try.
- This is not a "must" goal, even tho' we will work very hard to reach it. If, when he turns 50, it just isn't a responsible idea financially, I know he will willingly abandon the idea.
- He won't risk bankrupting us in the process. If he happened to make the cut and go out on tour, he would give himself a certain amount of time to start at least breaking even, and then he would give up if he had to.

I have come up with annual goals for the next 6-1/2 years and the numbers frankly are intimidating. I still have to revamp my first year's quarterly goals, but frankly my head is spinning so now that I probably won't do that for a couple days. And I am definitely going to run this by the CFP when we have our annual review in the fall, to see if my idea is anywhere close to reality ... I wonder how many people ask him a question like that?!?

Well ... What do y'all think? Are we crazy?

Making Hay & Some Thoughts on Risk and Pre-Paying the Mortgage

June 16th, 2007 at 09:33 pm

1. Making Hay: For the past couple weeks, DH has been making hay while the sun shines ... and before the sun comes up ... and long after the sun has set! DH owns his own business and he has a "peak season" that lasts for a couple months each year. During his peak time, sleep is a rather precious commodity. This year has been especially busy (which is a good thing when you're self-employed). I've always helped him out a bit here & there with the business when he needs it, but a couple days ago he admitted that it's all too much to handle on his own right now, and so I basically jumped on-board as his assistant. [Fortunately, I used to work in the same field, so I know the business.] For the past couple days, I've been helping him out 5-6 hours a day with office work (on top of running my own little business), and even got his "looked-like-a-tornado-hit-it" desk in order. And I've been taking extra special care to make sure he gets nourishing & healthy meals, encouraging him to go get some sleep whenever he can, and covering for him so he can go hit some golf balls at the driving range (that is where he does his best thinking). Normally I don't "mother" him, but this time of year is different and this year especially so.

It has been great working with him so closely. I have always known he's a REALLY smart guy, but I must say I never fully appreciated what a nimble business mind he has until now.

2. Some Thoughts on Risk: I've been looking for a way to explain my stance on risk and investments. I'm sure some of you on these boards have thought I'm extremely conservative when it comes to investing. And you're right. If you looked at our financial "books" without knowing our whole story, you would probably think that we are invested WAAAAAY too conservatively for our age (plain vanilla index stock & bond funds, Treasuries, and a percentage in boring FDIC-insured deposits that doesn't make sense for most people). But the fact is, where we do take a tremendous amount of risk is with our business.

A couple weeks ago, at the start of DH's peak season, we had a conversation which perfectly illustrates this. One guy DH sells to just left "Financially Rock-Solid Major Corporation XYZ" to go to work with one other guy we know (they're a little 2-man operation now). We have a 20-year history with this guy, going back to when he used to be my colleague (he even came to our wedding), and we know he is a man of tremendous integrity; we trust him as much as you can another person who is not your own family. Nevertheless, any time you extend credit to someone you are taking a risk, especially when it's a new company. Big companies that have "risk assessment / credit departments" (or whatever they are called) probably would not give this guy the time of day. But what DH & I did was sit down and have a brief conversation. I asked DH "Worst case scenario ... How much $$$ could we lose and still survive?" In just a minute or two, we came up with an amount, and that's how much credit we are giving the guy. Ten years ago, hearing that amount may have made my heart stop beating, but now it's not even something I lose any sleep over. Do you think we're insane? I don't. It's a calculated risk, and without taking a risk like that we would have lost a valuable customer and an opportunity to expand DH's business. Besides, we remember what it was like when DH was just starting his business and people took a chance on him ... He has not forgotten what those guys did for him and he and is still extremely loyal to them. [It probably won't surprise you to hear that the guys who took a risk on DH are also self-made guys who started small.]

Having risky financial investments on top of the risk involved in DH's business would just be too much. We have to balance things out in a way that works for us.

3. Pre-paying the Mortgage: Maybe this is also a good time to explain why for us it made perfect sense to pre-pay our mortgage. Whenever DH had an especially good year with his business, we kept our expenses the same, continued maxing out our tax-deferred retirement savings, kept our cushy EF plus whatever was needed to ensure the business could keep running smoothly, and then took anything extra and paid down the mortgage. The alternative would have been putting more in those previously-mentioned ultra-conservative investments. So, for us, paying down the mortgage made sense for 2 reasons: 1) The return on the alternative investments probably wouldn't have been any better than the mortgage interest rate, and 2) Given the amount of risk you take when you're self-employed, there is something very reassuring about being able to say, "No matter what happens, at least we'll have a roof over our heads!" It gives you a certain amount of courage to take the business risks that you need to.

Well ... I know this is probably much more than any of you ever cared to know about me, and I should go get some sleep so I can get back to making hay tomorrow!

Journey to BA: First Year Goals

June 9th, 2007 at 08:49 am

My goal is for my household to reach 2.0 on the "Balance Sheet Affluent" scale by the time we are 60. At the end of April (when I first calculated where we were), we were at 1.32. My first annual goal is to reach 1.36 by end of April 2008.

Although this will probably give the accountants in the group fits, my "BA quarters" will be: May-Jul, Aug-Oct, Nov-Jan, Feb-Apr. This works for me for a number of reasons:
- The most obvious one is that it is based on when I started tracking my numbers.
- Coincidentally, this works very nicely because one estimated tax payment will fall in each of my BA quarters. [As those of you who are self-employed know, US estimated taxes are not done every 3 months, but in Jan, April, June, and September] Each time I make an estimated tax payment, our net worth takes a hit. One hit per "BA quarter" and it all balances out very nicely.
- Finally, with my "BA year" ending in April, I will assure that I have completed my income tax return and will know exactly my past year's income, and can adjust my "7-year income average" accordingly.

So....These are my first-year goals:
- By end July: 1.38
- By end Oct: 1.37
- By end Jan: 1.36
- By end Apr: 1.36

This is why I'm aiming for a big push the first 3 months, then tapering off to my goal of 1.36:
- DH's business has a "peak season" and he brings in about 80% of his annual income in our first BA quarter. When we get to the end of July, we will have a pretty good idea what sort of shape we are in income-wise for the year ahead.
- My business will cease in the middle of our second BA quarter. I do not know how soon after our move I will be bringing in income. Also, I am continuing to bring in a bit of $ from the sale off our our possesions prior to our relocation, but that will stop in our second BA quarter.
- In our second BA quarter, we are going to have the expenses related to our move which are not insignificant.
- So, the overall goal is to make as much money as possible the first quarter, taper off a bit the second and third quarters, and then hold steady the fourth quarter.

To reach our goal of BA by 2.0, we will be focusing on the 4 quadrants of Financial Fitness that Susan Feitelberg outlines in her really excellent (but unfortunately overlooked) book "The Net Worth Workout":
I will explain more about this later, but I do highly recommend this book for anyone looking for a good personal finance book, and it especially speaks to people who are interested in physical fitness because it explains finance in terms of a "workout."

Finally, a brief note on why the BA formula is actually NOT linear (as some have suggested): The income portion of the formula is "Total Annual Realized Household Income" which means that it is not just salary income, but income from all sources (including interest, dividends, capital gains, etc). As savings grow, passive income grows, and so (hopefully) if you chart your Total Ann. Realized Income over time it will not be a straight line but a curve.

Well, thanks for reading this rather dry post! My first goal of 1.38 by end of July is pretty steep, so let's see how I do!

Journey to BA: Current Number and Goals

May 5th, 2007 at 12:18 pm

Okay ... call me a chicken if you want, but I'm just not comfortable posting my Net Worth on-line. It's not that it is so low that you all would take pity on me and send me donations, and it's not that it is so high that you would start plotting to kidnap me and hold me for ransom. Smile It's just a matter of comfort.

What I am willing to share is where I am on my Journey to "Balance Sheet Affluent" - a term coined by the author of "The Millionaire Mind." Here's a quick explanation:

Age x .112 x Total Annual Income = Expected Net Worth

If you are 1/2 or less your Expected Net Worth, you are "Income Statement Affluent" (IA)

If you are double or more your Expected Net Worth, you are "Balance Sheet Affluent" (BA)

My goal is to become BA (2.00 expected net worth) by age 60. If you want to know the details of why this goal, please see my previous post in this category.

So ... drumroll please ...

Our current number as of 4/30/07 is: 1.32 times expected net worth (not too bad, but with still quite a ways to go to get to 2.00). I'm 43 years old, so I have 17 years to get there.

Here is my first goal: To bring this number up to 1.36 by 4/30/08.

Anyone else care to share where they stand on the IA/BA scale? We already know ImaSaver is a BA ... And I'm sure none of us are surprised about that! Anyone else a BA? Anyone want to admit to being an IA?

Also, if anyone can tell me how I can post a "BA" graph (instead of Net Worth) on the side of my blog, I'd appreciate it!

If you're interested in details of how I am doing my calculations, here goes:

Income: Average of the past 7 tax years (because of large fluctuations due to self-employment); Income = AGI + Change in Tax-Deferred Retirement Accounts (new contributions +/- change in value ... except that prior to 2007 it only includes new contributions because I don't want to go back and research changes in value ... from 2007 onward, I will include changes in value) + Tax-Exempt Interest @ TEY

Net Worth: Cash Assets + Home Equity (Based on Purchase Price, Adjusted Annually at rate of Inflation, MINUS 8% eventual sales costs) + Estimated Car Value (KBB)

"The Millionaire Mind" - Balance Sheet Affluent

April 28th, 2007 at 12:05 pm

***CAUTION: Some serious "over-thinking" and a long post follows ... you may want to stop reading now, unless you enjoy mental gymnastics and don't bore easily*** Smile

"The Millionaire Mind" (TMM) is Thomas Stanley's excellent follow-up to "The Millionaire Next Door." In TMM, Dr. Stanley goes beyond studying mere millionaires to studying the most economically productive Americans, those with the very highest net worths (average $9.2 million) and incomes (average $749K).

Among those most economically productive Americans, he compares BAs (Balance Sheet Affluent) and IAs (Income Statement Affluent).

He starts with the following "Expected Net Worth" formula:

Age x .112 x Annual Realized Household Income = Expected Net Worth

BAs are those who have a net worth at least 2 times their Expected Net Worth.

IAs are those who have a net worth 1/2 or less than their Expected Net Worth.

Even tho' I am not a decamillionaire and never will be (unless the guys from Publishers Clearinghouse show up at my door with a bunch of balloons and a big check), and tho' my household's income is not even remotely close to the average income mentioned above, I have set a goal for myself to become BA by the age of 60.

Why this goal? Why BA? Why age 60?
1. I believe in emulating those you admire. I very much admire the BAs in TMM. Among their many admirable traits, they are humble and live well below their means.
2. My husband & I are self-employed business owners, which is very common among BAs, so we already have many of the traits and values of the BAs.
3. By becoming BA by age 60, I believe we will be well-prepared for a secure retirement.
4. I chose the age of 60 because it's on the low end of the retirement range. If we are BA by age 60, we may consider retiring early. If we are not BA by age 60, we'll probably keep on working.
5. I'm happy to say that we've reached the point in our lives where we are able to ask ourselves "Could we maybe spend a bit more? Could we donate more? Could we help our nieces and nephews through college when they reach that age? Could we take a trip somewhere (something we've not done for 5 years)? Dare we eat out more than once a month?!?" If I set annual goals to keep us on track towards becoming BA by age 60, and if we are at or ahead of that goal, then we can give ourselves permission to relax a bit and spend a couple bucks (prudently ... of course!)

So, this is the part where the serious over-thinking begins ...

In TMM, Dr. Stanley does not define what he means by "Net Worth" or "Annual Realized Household Income"!!! Ack!

I'll admit it ... I spent some time doing web searches to see if I could find out exactly what Dr. Stanley meant, and I even tried to find an Email address for Dr. Stanley himself so I could write and ask! I had no luck.

So ... I must come up with my own definitions. You are all welcome to chime in with your own opinions.

- Financial Assets: YES (of course)
- Real Estate, Including Primary Residence: I decided YES (tho' I realize this is open to debate). For one thing, TMM mentions the value of respondents homes many times, so I assume Dr. Stanley included it. For another thing, I personally believe a home is an investment as well as a place to live and enjoy.
- Cars: I'm on the fence, leaning towards yes. Cars are easy to set a value using KBB, are fairly easy to sell, and since we don't drive expensive cars it's not going to have a huge impact on our equation one way or the other.
- Other Household Items: I decided NO, tho' I know an argument can be made for including them. For one thing, too hard to set a value and not easy to sell. For another, we don't have collectibles or expensive possesions, and the only antiques we have are family heirlooms that we will never sell.
- The Dog: Tho' he is absolutely priceless to me, I decided not to include him. Smile

WHAT IS INCLUDED IN "ANNUAL REALIZED HOUSEHOLD INCOME"? [If you are still reading, you may want to go pour yourself a cup of coffee to keep from dozing off...] Keep in mind that we are self-employed, which complicates matters a bit:
- When your income varies quite a bit from year to year, you can't just look at last year's income. You need to take an average over several years to have a realistic picture. But how many years? 3? 5? 7? I haven't decided yet.
- I decided to start with the AGI (adjusted gross income) on our tax returns and start from there.
- Next, I feel certain that we need to add in our contributions to our tax-deferred savings plans (Keogh, IRAs, etc.)
- Tax-Exempt Earnings on Municipal Bond Fund: Should they be included? I think yes, and I think they should be included at their TEY (Taxable Equivalent Yield). But I'm sure others would have a different opinion with good justifications.
- Earnings on Tax-Deferred Savings Plans (the above-mentioned Keogh, IRAs, etc): Do you include your earnings on these????? I have no idea!!! They are part of the net worth, so perhaps the earnings on them should be included? But do you then have to try to guess the taxes you will end up paying on them down the road? This one is very tricky, and it does matter, since we have maxed these out for a long, long time (they make up a sizable portion of our net worth). Help!

Once I've figured out exactly how I am going to do the calculations, I will let you know where we are now and how we plan to get to BA by age 60.

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