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Archive for December, 2008

The Circle Game

December 31st, 2008 at 09:51 pm

I know it really is time to bid farewell to 2008 and say hello to 2009 because the following happened today:

- I wrote my first check dated 2009 ... Wrote the check for the rent due Jan. 1st and dropped it off at the apartment office when I took the dog out for his afternoon walk.

- DH, bless his prompt little heart, printed out the year-end profit statement for his business this evening. I do our taxes (with a lot of help from Turbo Tax), and he knew I'd be asking for it.

- I put a new manilla folder in our financial files, labeled "2009 Taxes"

Gee ... I seem to recall having a very similar day (with just one digit changed) ... oh ... about 366 (2008 was a leap year) days ago! Happy New Year everyone!

And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
Wer'e captive on the carousel of time
We can't return, we can only look behind
From where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game
(from "The Circle Game" by Joni Mitchell)

fern (Wild Blue Yonder) - Broccoli Sprouts?

December 28th, 2008 at 07:20 am

I saw on baselle's blog that you grow your own Broccoli Sprouts. Any chance you'd be willing to share how you do that? My husband LOVES them, but they are far too expensive to buy at the store, and when I have researched how to grow them on-line, I've gotten scared off because of safety concerns.

Coolest Part of My Christmas

December 26th, 2008 at 08:07 pm

The coolest part of my Christmas this year was that 2 people donated to charity in my name instead of giving me a wrapped "thing." This is the first year that happened, and I'm thrilled!

One went to the organization I volunteer with, and one went to Heifer International.

Locked in 5.00% APY

December 23rd, 2008 at 12:50 pm

This is a follow-up to my "Will We Have to Pay Banks to Hold our Money?" entry

Text is http://scfr.savingadvice.com/2008/12/19/will-we-have-to-pay-banks-to-hold-our-mo_46342/ and Link is

We decided to move some money to a 5-year CD at WaMu paying 5.00% APY. While some may disagree that a 5-year CD is not a good place for "short-term money," this CD stipulates that there is no penalty if principal is withdrawn due to the death of one or more of the account holders. (It is a joint CD.) We view our EF as a safeguard against 3 types of events: unexpected negative events such as natural disaster or catastrophic illness, major setback in DH's business, or death (of either of us, but for all practical purposes, it really would probably only be needed if DH died). For the first 2 types of events, the money needs to be kept liquid (MMA or short-term CDs). But for the 3rd portion (the "life insurance" part of our EF), the only thing that really matters is that we can get at it without penalty if someone dies.

5.0% is a lot more attractive than 0.5%, which is where rates might be heading.

Will we have to pay banks to hold our money?

December 19th, 2008 at 09:56 pm

Today I called a bank to check on CD rates, and they said "no rates for new money ... we're only quoting on rollover CDs." First time I have heard that! I guess if they can borrow from the Fed for free, they don't need my money!

It's getting hard to find places to park short-term cash and earn a bit of interest on it. Shoud I be grateful that I don't yet have to PAY a bank to hold my money for me?

Housing Decision Made + Holidays + Pet Talk

December 18th, 2008 at 07:41 pm

1. Short-term housing decision made: We are putting the house purchase off for at least a year (maybe longer). We are deferring the decision of where to buy. We are hunkering down to live in an apartment (here in Austin) for the time being. We are going to move to a 2BR within the same complex; a 1BR has been fine for the short-term, but now that we are looking at longer term, it is important that DH get a room for his office. We have selected the unit, and are just waiting to hear back from the office on the details. We'll hopefully be signing the paperwork tomorrow, and might be moving before the end of the year.

2. Christmas: For years now, our giving has been at what I call a "sustainable" level. Like so many of you, it has not been extravagent, so we have not had to cut back. I did do a couple things a bit differently this year that I am happy about.

Cards: I cut back on the number I sent. I bought only 1 small box of 18 cards, and I took the time to handwrite a personal note (short letter) with each instead of just 1 scribbled sentence. I decided to go for quality, not quantity.

Gift Wrap: As part of my gift to my sister's family, I got some really cool reusable fabric gift wrap w/ attached ribbon (from Etsy) to wrap my niece & nephew's gifts in. My sis is really in to things that are reusable, not disposable, so I know she'll appreciate it and get many many uses out of it for years to come. Our late grandmother used to reuse some Japanese rice paper as gift wrap over & over again, and she somehow learned to wrap and tie a bow without using a single piece of tape, so as not to ruin the paper. We kids never did figure out how she did that ... we thought she was like a magician. I think grandma would approve of our new family tradition, reusable fabric gift wrap.

3. If You Have Been Thinking About Getting A Pet: (Shout out to baselle! Good for you for planning to adopt that homeless cat!) For the rest of you, especially those of you who are planning to adopt a pet "someday" ... There are some good dogs and cats out there in the shelters and with the rescue groups right now that could really use a good home. There always are and always will be animals in need of adoption, but right now, with the economy being so tough, there is really a need for good adoptive "pet parents." Y'all know I do volunteer work, and it probably won't surprise anyone who actually reads this blog to learn that it is working with a small and very dedicated, 100% volunteer-run dog welfare organization. We do a variety of dog-related things, but dog fostering and adoption is part of it. There are always sad stories, but when someone surrenders a nice dog because they can't afford pet food anymore ... it really is very sad. It's happening guys.
(Sorry to end on a depressing note. I guess I should try to end on a positive note by adding that there are still a lot of great people out there who ARE adopting animals ... hooray for them!)

So Much To Think About

December 16th, 2008 at 07:33 pm

Since returning from our house hunting trip to San Diego, DH & I have been doing a bit of house hunting ... in Austin! The Austin real estate market had been holding up pretty well, but some builders seem to have "seen the light" and have taken some pretty significant price drops.

So, Austin seems to be "back in play." So much to think about ... Austin? San Diego? When to acutally buy? And what to do about the apartment lease that is coming up very very soon?

What are San Diego's advantages? Paradise on Earth: Mild climate, and drop-dead gorgeous scenery. DH can be more comfortable & happy there. Housing prices have already dropped quite a bit.

What are Austin's advantages?
Financially, very comfortable. Low cost of living (emphasis on low taxes and low cost of housing). I have work here. The housing market is showing signs that it has weakened and we may finally be able to "drive a bargain."

It almost seems like a "head vs. heart" decision, with Austin being the head and San Diego being the heart. I've been toying with ideas of how we could get both, such as staying here in Austin but planning on vacationing 2-3 weeks each year in S.D. (We've never had a "regular vacation spot." We've always enjoyed visiting new places. But maybe it's time to change that ... at least for a few years, until we get the itch to try some new places again.) I'm also looking in to a couple things that might make DH more comfortable & happier here.

So much to think about.....

Quickie Book Review: "The Net Worth Workout"

December 13th, 2008 at 07:33 am

There is a book I have been meaning to write about, but I thought I should go back and re-read it first to do it justice (since it's been awhile since I read it). However, after reading BA's (as usual) thought-provoking post about earning vs. saving

Text is http://ba.savingadvice.com/2008/12/12/overtime-festivities_46058/ and Link is
http://ba.savingadvice.com/2008/12/12/overtime-festivities_4..., I decided to go ahead and just do a quickie write-up, since it sounds like it might be of interest to several folks.

"The Net Worth Workout" is written by Susan Feitelberg, a financial adviser for JPMorgan Chase and competitve athlete (triathlons and road races). Given her interest in both finance and sports, it is natural that she wrote a book comparing financial health and physical health. She breaks financial health down in to 4 quadrants:

Earning = Metabolism (Maximizing earning strengthens and speeds up other quadrants)

Spending = Calorie Intake ("Junk" spending decreases wealth; "nutritious" spending" increases it)

Saving = Strength Training (Like weight lifting, smart saving builds financial muscle)

Investing = Cardio Fitness (Like cardio work, investing increases other components' capacity)

Early on in the book, she draws a simple diagram which is a circle divided in to the 4 quadrants, with the words Earning, Spending, Saving, and Investing written and arrows going from one quadrant to another in a circular pattern. The point she makes so excellently is that in order to have "financial health" you have to focus on all 4 quadrants. You cannot just focus on 1 or 2 and ignore the others. They all build on and enhance each other, and you need them all. It's all about balance.

For example, if you focus just on earning more, but always spend all of your earnings, you are not going to get anywhere. And if you focus on fabulous returns on your investments, but have very little invested either because you don't earn much or don't save enough of what you earn, you are not going to get very far.

She encourages you to identify your strengths and weaknesses in each area. I'm sure all of us are stronger in some areas than others. I'm strongest in the spending and saving areas. Thanks to reading this book, I was encouraged to help my husband out with his business as much as possible, and to always do some work myself for pay (to boost our "financial metabolism"). And it was immediately after reading this book that I called and set up an appointment with a CFP to discuss our investments; DH & I coordinated our tax-deferred retirement savings (came up with a "couple's asset allocation"), and chose mutual funds that fit with our goals and our conservative investment style, and we have stuck with it.

Towards the end of the book is a section that might be encouraging to folks during these recessionary times. She explains that, if you have been strengthening all 4 quadrants, if you face a serious setback in one area, you can rely on your strengths in the other 3 to get you through. Specifically, if you get laid off for a long period of time, you can lean more heavily on your smart spending habits, your savings, and your investments, and they will carry you through until you can recover in the "injured" earning quadrant.

I can't say that I thought this book was perfect. As with any PF book, don't we always find things to quibble about? For example, I didn't completely agree with her spending categorizations ... she called "ATM/Bank Fees" condiment (nice but not necessary) spending, while I would call it junk spending ... (completely unnecessary and wasteful).

But overall, I thought the book was very good. It has certainly helped me, even tho I am most definitely NOT a competitve sports type.

For someone who IS involved in competitive sports, it should be really informative. If you know someone who is an athletic type but just doesn't "get" personal finance, then I would strongly recommend this as the book that just might get through to them!

Out of the "No Heat" Contest

December 12th, 2008 at 10:22 am

DH got up in the middle of the night the other night and turned the heat on for a couple hours. I did not complain. We had a couple days of unusually cold weather (we even got a bit of snow!), and I've been sick with a cold for the past several days, spending most of my days in bed under many blankets while wearing long underwear, turtlenecks, etc.

So, I'm out of the contest! I thought we'd last until January (we're in Texas after all), but with the unusual cold snap and me not feeling well, it just wasn't worth trying to tough it out.

I've been meaning to write more about our househunting trip to San Diego, but I feel too foggy (not because of the house hunt, but because of my cold) ... I'll just say summarize by saying that we have decided to just keep waiting to buy.

If Those Walls Could Talk

December 9th, 2008 at 06:47 am

DH & I were house hunting in San Diego over the weekend. Among the homes we visited, 2 were vacant short sale homes, and 1 we were pretty sure had been foreclosed on. When you visit a home for sale in the traditional way, you see the version of the sellers lives that they want to present to the world, and it's probably not very authentic. (Hey - when my house was for sale and there were open houses, it was spotless, cleverly decorated, every light was on, relaxing mood music was playing, there were homemade oatmeal & raisin cookies on the counter, and there was not a dog or dog dish in sight. So I know all about not authentic.) Not so with the short sales and foreclosures. No pretense there. You see the warts.

It was interesting to see what was left behind ... in addition to the dirt and grime.

One house in particular was quite sad. It was mostly cleared out, but a few very old (useless) things had been left behind. There were also some women's clothing left in the spare bedroom. It was definitely not a complete woman's wardrobe, just some odds and ends ... including a yellowed wedding dress ... I'd guess vintage late-50's or early-60's. Someone had held on to it for a long time and then just walked away from it. Under a tree in the backyard there was also a hand made garden tile (round stepping stone) with a mosaic heart ... Not the sort of thing that would have been left behind if that tile still meant something to the person who made or received it.

If only those walls could talk, I know there is a story there and I can't imagine that the ending is very happy.

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.