Tuesday, September 16, 2008

200 Pounds

For anyone who's still following this blog, I reached my goal of weighing 200 pounds today. The spurt of weight loss was mostly caused by some sort of sickness. My throat has been too sore to swallow much for the last three days, and for the three days before that I had a high fever and no appetite.

Still, that's 40 pounds lost in 9 1/2 months. That's approximately 38 weeks, so just over a pound a week. That doesn't seem too extreme does it?

Now I just need to hold myself to my new weight till New Years.

--

Financially we're still budgeting and saving. We've kind of hit the planes of persistence, where nothing exciting happens. We're happy to have our finances under control, but that means that I'm not actively learning new things about money. And that means I won't be updating this blog again.


Thanks for reading!

The End

Friday, August 22, 2008

Best Breadmachine White Bread

We got a bread machine for free from Freecycle a month or so back and have been playing with different recipes. We've finally got it down to the best white bread recipe, but we're still looking for a reliable good whole wheat recipe.

Making your own bread can save money, can be fun (depending on your definition of fun) and can be a lot of work. A bread machine is a good way to reduce the amount of work it takes.

We have a 1 1/2 pound (1.5 lbs.) bread machine, but we make a one pound loaf. We like our bread to be cut right side up, instead of sideways, and our bread pan is vertical...so we just make it shorter.

1 pound basic white bread


3/4 c. warm water
2 tbsp. + 3/4 tsp. vegetable oil
2 1/4 c. all purpose flour
2 tbsp. + 3/4 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 3/4 tsp. active dry yeast

Add the ingredients in the oder listed to the bread machine pan, then set it to run a basic cycle. As soon as it's done, pop it out and eat it! Let it cool before you put it in a plastic bag or it will get soggy.

The bread this makes is really fluffy and light. It's so fluffy that you need to cut 1 inch slices for it to stay together. This means it's great for eating with dinner or on it's own, or as toast, but not so much for sandwiches (who wants two inches of bread in a sandwich?!).

Sandwich Bread Modification


For sandwich bread, we want something a little denser so we can make thinner slices. When we want sandwich bread, we add 1 tbsp. of Vital Wheat Gluten to the mix, right after adding the flour. The bread still rises to the same size, but it's more firm and can be sliced in about 1/2 inch thick slices.

Other Tips


We mix up the dry ingredients (except the yeast) for 5 batches all at once and store them in plastic containers.

You can use the same recipe with whole wheat flour, but it won't rise as much and will be quite dense (though still tasty). Occasionally with whole wheat flour the loaf will rise up high and then collapse. It's still edible, it just looks funny and is disapointing.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Wells Fargo is Dumb

I check my on line accounts nearly daily, except for the Wells Fargo account which I check about weekly. We've had poor experiences with Wells Fargo in the past, so we don't actually use the account. We're keeping it open till we get a mortgage though since credit scores include the length of time you've had credit cards open, and our Wells Fargo has several years seniority compared to our other cards.

Today when I went to check my Wells Fargo account, I found an unexpected surprise.


Two new accounts were opened in my name. I was the co-signer, my social security number was tied to them and everything. And the one account had a negative balance.

I was initially concerned about identity theft, but it seemed odd since I don't think we haven't used checks, the credit card or the debit cards associated with this account in a year or more.

I called Wells Fargo of course, and they had no idea what was going on. They did tell me the name of the other person on my account, and where the account was opened. I've driven through the city where the account was opened, it's only an hour or so north of where we live, but we don't really do business with anyone up there. I'd never heard the name of the other person on my account. I was told to go to a local branch, which I dutifully did.

It turns out that when Mrs. A and Mr. X when to open the joint business account, instead of checking Mr. X's ID to see that they'd found the right person, the Wells Fargo banker just searched for Mr. X's name in this state. Now, our names are the same and the state we live in is the same, but that's where the similarities end. Our addresses are different, our Social Security numbers are different, our phone numbers are different, and he's over 30 years older than I.

It took the banker I spoke with 20 minutes and 10 or so phone calls to get everything sorted out.

Although the situation is supposed to be completely resolved now, I'm going to order a credit report in a week or so to see if there are any side effects of this screw up.

Note to self: Wells Fargo still isn't somewhere you want to keep your money.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Freeish TV : MythTV + Miro

I have posted previously about how we use the internet to watch shows for free. Recently I've been adding polish to that setup by setting up a computer in the living room with MythTV. The computer hooks up to the TV, can be controlled with a Wiimote and is completely free.




What Do We Watch?


Home Videos!


The longer term goal is to get all of our home videos and photos easily accessible. We want our kids favorite movies to be our family movies, which means it needs to be as easy to start "Our Family at the Beach, 2005" as it does Finding Nemo.

We only have a couple of our home videos ripped from VHS so far, but we'll be doing more shortly.

Free Downloads!


We use Miro to subscribe to video podcasts we are interested in. Although they are called a subscriptions, they are all free. Miro has over 2,500 channels covering almost any subject.

If you've looked at video podcasts in the past, you might want to look again. It's not just independent content anymore. We subscribe to shows from Nick Jr., Seasame Street, CNN and PBS to name a few.

All of these shows are automatically downloaded when there are updates, and we can pick which videos to watch when we choose. While Miro doesn't have all the mainstream shows your local cable provider does, Miro does have the advantages of being free, allowing us to choose exactly which programs to subscribe to and allowing us to watch them on our schedule.

I'll post the full list of shows we subscribe to in a comment.

Online Streaming


Most TV companies have already realized that people want to watch shows online. While most won't let you download their shows, nearly all of the popular networks have some way streaming their shows to your computer.

Hulu.com is probably the best known location for watching commercial TV online ondemand. They typically have the last two weeks of a show available for your viewing pleasure. While owned by NBS and News Corp, they carry shows from "
Hulu carries shows from other networks such as Comedy Central, PBS, USA Network, Bravo, Fuel TV, FX, SPEED Channel, Sci Fi, Style, Sundance, E!, G4, Versus and Oxygen." (according to Wikipedia). The Simpsons, House, Psych, The Office...yeah, they're all there.

Cartoon Network's site is less refined, but still usable. We use it to get Powerpuff girls, Johnny Bravo and Dexter's Laboratory.

Both Hulu's and Cartoon Network's sites allow you to make the video player fullscreen. Remember that this is being played on our TV (through the computer). Once we start the show, it's almost exactly the same as watching regular TV...except that there aren't as many ads.

More Features of MythTV



MythTV has some other neat features. It's got a dedicated weather 'channel' where we can see the 1, 3 and 7 day forcasts for our area. A decent built in jukebox with visual effects for playing music, and an image gallery / slideshow program for viewing family photos.

There are lots of other plugins available (Net Phone, TV recording, Recipe manager, Games, more...) which we don't use, but which you might be interested in.

Cost


Getting MythTV up and running smoothly has cost us about $150 so far. Our wireless wasn't fast enough to play the videos, so that required a network upgrade. I wanted to be able to use the Wiimote to control MythTV so we needed a Bluetooth adapter, and the machine doesn't have enough RAM to play high-def videos smoothly (it only had 384M of RAM).

The computer we used was one that we acquired two or three years ago and were using as our 2 year old's kid-computer. He still gets to use it, but now his screen is the TV. Before I ordered the extra parts, I set up MythTV and ran some tests to make sure that the system would be capable of doing the things we wanted it to.

Conclusion


The $150 or so that we spent getting MythTV set up will quickly be recouped compared to the alternative of Cable TV. It will be even more quickly recouped when compared to a full out commercial media center that can do slideshows, be a jukebox etc.

MythTV takes a bit of tinkering to get set up correctly, but if you have the skills and the time, it can be a financially good decision, and a fun one too.

Monday, August 18, 2008

I made $780 an hour yesterday

Yesterday we got our insurance statements for the dental checkups and fillings we had done last month. With the insurance that we had at the time, preventative work is covered 100%, and we were only going to have to pay $127 for $488 worth of fillings. Except that my two year old's preventative services weren't covered for some reason, and I was going to have to pay the $78 for it.

Instead of sighing and just assuming that it was for some clause in the insurance agreement (as I might have done in times past), I called the insurance company and asked why it wasn't covered. They said that the flouride treatment (preventative work!) had been billed with an incorrect code from the dentist's office. That call took about three minutes to make.

Of course I called the dentist's office next, the checked and sure enough, they had used the wrong code for that service. They agreed to resubmit the insurance claim, and I assume that next month I'll get an insurance statement saying that the fluoride was covered in full. That took another three minutes.

Even though I hate making calls, the 6 minutes spent chasing down the $78 were well worth it. Too bad I can't always make that good of use of my time.

Weight Loss Update -- New Low 206 lbs!

Background



When I stepped on the scale over Christmas holidays in 2007 I weighed 240 pounds. I decided that I wanted to get to a healthy weight. BMI charts indicate that 200 lbs. is the very top of 'Normal Weight' for my height. My goal is to reach 200 lbs. by New Years Eve, 2008.


206 Pounds!



On both Thursday and Friday last week the scale said '206' when I woke up. During the day I've gone up to about 209 or so with eating (yeah, I still do that) and drinking lots of water (it's been hot).

Squashing my Weight


I attribute the last few pounds I've lost to us having a garden. Not due to me weeding it -- I haven't stuck with my 3 x weekly goal at all -- but because the crook-necked squashes are out of control.

Every 3 or 4 days we can go pick four or five more foot long squashes that are ready to eat. Now, we have absolutely no intentions of becoming vegetarians, but we feel bad letting food go to waste. As a result, we leave the pork chops and burgers in the fridge and have been having squash everything.

In the last two of weeks we've had :

Squash and veggies with noodles (2x)
Squash with rice and beans (2x)
Veggie noodle soup, staring Squash (2x, plus lunches)
Tin foil dinners, staring Squash (ok, there was some meat in this one)
Veggie stir fry, staring squash (2x)

That's nine of our dinners in the last two weeks. Good news though, we've got four and a half more squashes on the counter! If we're lucky, we'll get to pick some more squash by Tuesday or Wednesday.

Our garden hasn't been making just squash of course, tomatoes are starting to come in, green beans are on their second bloom, cucumbers, peppers and corn have also started to make a showing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pros and Cons of Working From Home

I've been working from home for nearly a month now. I've been liking it so far, but it has definitely been an adjustment. In fact, the adjustment process isn't over yet, I don't think.

Here are some things I've learned so far


* I like working from home.
* The length of time I work without a break reflects how deep the problem is I am working on. If it's a tough problem and I get down inside it I might go for 4 hours without getting up. If I have a bunch of short problems, I'll get up between problems.
* I feel an obligation to provide 40 hours worth of work...even if it takes me 50 hours to do that (I'm not as good at the Ruby programming language as I should be).
* I can't work in a cluttered environment. I find myself picking up and organizing periodically throughout the day. I feel incredibly antsy that my desk and office still aren't all tidy.

Here are some pros and cons I've noticed

Pro of working at home


* I can be here to watch the kids if my wife has an exam or something
* I can wear the same clothes three days in a row and no one complains (hey, they're still clean)
* I can set my own hours
* I control the thermostat (my last office was cold!)
* If my 3.5 month old is being cute, I can take a break to see him
* No commute and no gas
* I don't have to remember to bring a snack or lunch. I've got all sorts of good food here at home.
* I can just take off early on Friday and go camping without asking anyone

Con of working at home


* Kids and Spouse often want attention when I'm working
* Personal time and space boundaries are pretty blurry (I'm working to fix that though)
* The computer isn't as much of a 'fun-place' as it has been. When I'm not working I don't feel inclined to blog (have you noticed?), draw or do my own programming
* The fridge and cupboards call my name with tempting snacks and treats
* My 3.5 month old is cute a lot and can distract me
* I have to be responsible enough to get my hours in each day
* If no one else is online, I don't have anyone to ask questions to.
* Projects I do want to do are here distracting me

I'm still feeling my way through this whole working from home thing, so I'm sure I'll learn more. Anyone else out there working from home?

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The never ending process of de-cluttering

Decluttering seems to be a never ending process. I'm not really sure where we get all the *stuff* that we have, but it just keeps piling up.

Bathroom Surplus



Somewhere near the bottom of the list of rooms I thought would have clutter was the bathroom. How much extra bathroom stuff can you possibly have?

For starter we threw out a large grocery bag full of frebee pre-natal vitamins, nasty smelling (think cranberry cinnamon) lotions and various low quality cosmetic bags. We kept both open floss containers, both of the chloraseptic bottles, and all three of our deodorants (three each!).

The extra new toothbrushes were a surprise to find, as was the whole bag of disposable razors. Less surprising were the countless fruity and girly smelling hand lotions that my wife has received as gifts over the years.

Product Rotation



Besides organizing our bathroom supplies better, we've put the smallest and most used containers near the front. We'll be using the small face wash and small lotions before moving on to the big ones. And we're not buying any more chloraseptic until the two we have a gone.

Monday, August 4, 2008

July Budget Blown

We were terrible with our budget in July, though not quite as bad as the raw numbers below suggest.



Excuses


I'll try to explain a couple of the highest budget overruns here. The biggest reason is that we're pretty new to budgeting and may take a few months to get the hang of it.

Double Rent



We started paying rent electronically in July. Previously we would pay with a check by the fifth, which meant that the payment was processed in the month the rent was for. With electronic processing I wanted to make sure the rent wasn't late and sent August's rent at the end of July....so technically it was spent in July, but it's for August.

Post-tax Babysitting


With my new job we suddenly didn't have the Flexible Spending Account available. Previously whatever we spent on babysitting was taken from that pre-tax account and we didn't include it in the budget.

Last Run On Costco


We decided not to renew our Costco membership next month. We're hopefully moving in January and don't know if there will be a Costco nearby. We decided to buy enough of bulk supplied to last us till January, including 50 lbs of rice and flour, 25 lbs of sugar, lots of diapers and toilet paper.



...

I'll finish this post with charts, percentages and a budget for August tonight after we finish making the budget!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

...and We're back!

This week I put in 58 hours at work. I've rarely reached, much less passed 40 hours on the job before. I realize that 60 hours isn't that many for some people (hi dad!) and that there are many people who work much harder than I do (hi dad!) on a regular basis, but for me, this was a first.

Wednesday to Thursday went like this : Woke up at 5 AM and worked till 7. I took an hour to get my kids ready for the day before the baby sitter came. I then worked from 8 to noon, had a 1/2 hour lunch with my wife and my trainer and then got back to work. After a quick dinner (1/2 hour, maybe) I worked till around 4AM when my eyes started acting funny. At 6:30 Thursday morning I was back in the chair again and worked till 11 or so that night.

Enough excuses. I'll be back to my normal once daily postings again on Monday. Thanks for the patience.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Better : Serving More Willingly

As I mentioned on Monday, I'm trying to get a project done by August 1st. The company being sold depends on it, and a $5000 bonus for myself and a co-worker depends on it. We've made good progress so far, but still have a ways to go.

Stingy Service


Sunday night my wife and I were talking about becoming better people, and I came to the conclusion that I needed to do more service and better service. It's not that I don't do service, but I usually have to be asked and I usually am running a cost-benefit analysis of my time while doing the service...in other words I'm stingy with it.

Changing My Attitude


In light of that discussion, I tried to have a good attitude on Tuesday and Wednesday nights when I needed to go and do some service instead of working or sleeping.

Tuesday night was a meeting with the leaders of the mens organization at church. I'm the secretary now. We spent an hour an a half discussing how to help different families in the church who are struggling with different issues. The issues range from spiritual doubt to the emotional stress of someone who was driving during an accident which killed her mother and injured several others.

The seriousness of some of the problems discussed and the lack of easy answers makes me all the more grateful for my minor problems of not getting enough sleep so I can get a nice bonus.

On Wednesday I went and helped a friend of mine's mom replace the ceramic lighter in her gas oven and to fix her computer. The repairmen wanted $200 to fix the stove, and $150 or so to look at the computer respectively. It took about two and a half hours, but she really didn't need to be spending her money on fixing those things when I could easily fix them myself.


Service Doesn't Count As Sleep


The down side to service this week has been that I've had to work later and get up earlier to make up for the time. I think I did a good job this week being happy to serve, but happy service doesn't make my four make me feel rested.


Reset Button



It's 2AM Saturday morning and I'm configuring my computer to run tests against the code I've been working on this week. I will likely read this tomorrow or next week and say to my self 'What were you thinking? That doesn't even make sense'.

The point I was trying to make is this : Service can be a sacrifice. Sometimes we need to give up things we want (like sleep) in order to get the things we really want (to be better as serving others). Some people we serve because we are in a position to reach down and try to pull them up. Others we serve because we can help them in a way that they can't help themselves.

Whatever your reason, find a way to serve and don't be stingy with your service.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Did We Learn?

My dad made a good point on Tuesday when I was discussing my job situation with him. The company I'm now working for (until it's sold!) essentially did what I had considered doing a month or so ago. That is, they hired me and then disclosed that it wasn't for the long term expected.

It's kind of funny being on the flip side of the equation. The situation isn't exactly the same (I will supposedly have a job at the purchasing company), but it serves to confuse my sentiments further on the issue of telling a company if you're leaving soon or not. So, we'll revisit the arguments once again:

The Real Company Treatment



Here's me last month on companies:

...I don't think for a minute that they are going to worry about me if they need to lay me off. I don't think that company loyalty or employee loyalty is a true principle or a moral obligation.


While I will supposedly have a job, the company didn't tell me about the change until after I had been hired (and after I'd quite my old job to take this one).

The Invisible Hand


The company was acting in its own best interest. They offered a reasonable salary and I failed to ask the appropriate questions. I thought I was acting in my own best interest, but me not doing my due diligence in understanding what I was signing up for is pretty much my own fault.

I'll still get value from the job in the month or so I'm there. The bonus and salary are good for the time. It's just a bit of an adventure right now.

Implications For Interviewers and Interviewees


So, if I were interviewing again with the intention to leave in 6 months, would I disclose that information? Yes, I think I would. I would personally rather be overly honest then appear dishonest. If someone else were to not disclose the same information in an interview though, I wouldn't hold it against them for a second.

I think the lesson I need to learn here is that when interviewing from either side of the table it's important to ask the right questions and be sure that what you are expecting from a situation matches the reality of the same situation.

Monday, July 21, 2008

New Job Turbulance

Sorry I didn't get anything posted this morning. My new job started today and I wasn't able to get to all the IRA research I wanted to. I did get open a Roth IRA at Fidelity, and I'll post about why I chose them soon.

The New Job


I started my new job today. The company is small, about 8 people. The salary is a step up from what I was making ($59,000/year vs. $52,500) and the work seems enjoyable.

Taking this job made sense for us. It seemed like a career step forward.

Stuff I Wish I'd Known


So, it turns out that a) my friend who I though was going to be my boss is actually training me to be his replacement and b) The company is being sold and I will be one of the assets being transfered to the new company.

It would have been nice to be able to factor those things into the equation when deciding if I should take the job.

Naive Optimism


Despite a sentiment of gee-you-should-have-told-me, I still feel good about deciding to take the job. We prayed about if it was the right thing to do, and we felt that it was. I put my trust in God that He knew these details and that taking this job remains the right thing to have done. It may be the case that I was supposed to take the job, but wouldn't have if I had known all the facts beforehand.

Here are the reasons I'm still naively optimistic :

  • If me and my friend get everything fixed up by August 1st for the sale, both he and I will get $5000 bonuses when the sale completes (Mid to the end of September)

  • With the type of product the company has, I have a few guesses on who it might be being sold to, and I wouldn't mind working for any of them. They're places I wouldn't have thought that I could get into very easily.

  • I'll be having more of an architect position than I thought I would.

  • As we were programming together today I was able to help spot several errors and make several important optimizations. I thought that I would be pretty rusty in the language we are using, but it looks like things will be just fine.

  • This looks like fun project to be involved with. It combines several areas which I have been interested at a hobby level, which I don't have professional experience in.

  • The new company my current boss is starting sounds pretty neat too, and if things don't work out at the company that is buying the current company I think I'd be able to get a job with him at the new place.



Expect Less Posts For The Next Couple Of Weeks


As I said, if we can get a specified set of features working completely by August 1, I'll get a $5000 bonus...so I probably won't be blogging as much till that's done. I'll try to post two or three times this week and next.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Retirement Investing Crash Course : IRAs

While I can keep my 401(k) where it's at if I want, I still need to set up a retirement account for my new job. This is the start of a three part series on retirement investing.

In this series I will cover

  • IRAs, what are they and what is the difference between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA

  • A comparison of the major companies where you can keep your IRA

  • An overview and comparison of investing styles



Please Note: I am not a trained financial expert. I'm not even an un-trained financial expert. I am a computer programmer who suddenly has a salary and a realization that I need to get my money in order. Please talk to a financial adviser or at least get a second opinion before following any of this information.

What Is an IRA and How Does It Work


Like many people, I knew that IRAs are a good way to save for retirement. Also like many people, I didn't know the details of how they worked, or how to make them work for me.

For the 2008 tax year you can contribute up to $5,000 to your IRA, unless you're making a huge amount of money. If you are making enough to be disqualified from IRA contributions, I'm not really sure why you're reading this...go pay for an financial planner already.

An IRA is an "Individual Retirement Account". You put money in and then choose how to invest it. Where you have your IRA account will determine what you can invest in (eg. Vanguard's options are different than Fidelities, etc.). Some options may include money markets, CDs, Stocks, Bonds, Mutual funds and Index funds.


Roth IRA vs. Traditional IRA


Contributions to a traditional IRA are made with pre-tax dollars. You have to pay tax when you pull the money out at retirement. With few exceptions, you cannot take money out of your Traditional IRA until retirement time.

Contributions to a Roth IRA are made with taxed money. You do not have to pay taxes when you pull the money out, including on the earnings. You can take out the amount that you have contributed at any time for any reason without penalty.

Proponents of Traditional IRAs often say that they don't trust the government to keep Roth IRAs tax free until retirement, they would rather get the tax deduction now. Proponents of Roth IRAs will counter than if the government tried this they would need to grandfather in all existing Roth IRAs. I think that the government would simply phase out the Roth IRA program if they decided they wanted to change it...but our government can be an unpredictable beast.

The real guessing you have to do when deciding which IRA to use to maximize your returns is what your tax bracket will be when you retire compared to what it is now.

If you will be in a higher tax bracket when you retire a Roth IRA may save you on taxes. If you are in a higher tax bracket now, then you may want the tax reduction now.

I personally think that when I retire I will be in a higher tax bracket. I think that a combination of inflation and career progression will have me withdrawing more per year when I retire than I am making now.


On Monday, a comparison of some of the major companies which will help you manage your IRA accounts.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Life Without a TV

When we got married we had a 12 inch Walmart TV, with a built in VCR. That was our TV for three and a half years.

We turned it on one day only to be greeted by the smell of a puff of smoke and to see the screen's final burst of radiant whiteness before giving out forever. Unbeknownst to us, our TV apparently looked suspiciously like a piggy bank, which caused our two year old to shove a handful of change in it. TV's don't like change very much.

It didn't phase us too much though. For most of our married life we've lived as poor college students with too little money or time to spend on a cable subscription. We aren't anti-TV exactly. Two of the apartments we rented included free TV and we enjoy watching shows together (like Hawaii Five-0, The Simpsons and The Office).


The Internet Is My TV


Yesterday I realized something depressing though. The Internet is my TV. I don't mean that we use it to watch TV shows (though we do that too -- that's not the depressing part). What I mean is that I still get to keep up with all the dumb scare news stories, all the most 'important' celebrity gossip and am exposed to (close to) the same amount of advertising as when I had TV growing up.

My main news sites in the past have been : news.google.com, nytimes.com, bbc.co.uk and reuters.com. My entertainment came from Slashdot, Digg, Engadget and Technorati. And there may have been the occasional indulgence in watching just plain stupid stuff over at YouTube.

Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of cool and worthwhile stuff on all those sites. But although I may not have a TV, I can't join in the moral superiority of the rest of the non-TV watching world.

The Internet, Advertising, and Me


I had though that I had tricked The Internet from attacking me with advertising. After all, I have Ad Block Plus installed and I use Firefox. I don't get pop ups, I can't remember the last time I was asked to punch the monkey, and I don't know the name of any 'single girls in my area' who want to meet me.

Advertising comes in many forms. For the last several years I have been actively seeking out stories, news and articles which pitch, promote and expo things I can buy!

Maybe it's worked too. We bought my wife a Mac and we own a Wii (and a new TV. Christmas present from my Dad).

Do you find yourself seeking out "news" and "updates" on things you would like to buy? Do you think that maybe you're purposefully and willingly exposing yourself advertising, re-enforcing your desire to get those things, under the guise of keeping up to date?

Where Does the Balance Lie?


Here's where I'm stuck. I studied computers and technology in school. I have a solid base in the fundamentals and am currently on top of what's the latest and greatest for a lot of different technology sectors. If I don't keep reading about the coolest latest technology, I will likely end up like so many greybeards in the tech industry -- they know the fundamentals and know what worked well back in their day, but are too far behind to implement new and better solutions.

If I take that view all the way, then I should keep on top of all the technology I can.

On the other hand, keeping up with it all can be draining. I haven't visited Slashdot, Digg or several other tech sites in more than a month. I get sore fore-arms really easily because I'm typing and programming for up to 10 hours a day.

If I do keep up with everything, I will get burned out. Besides getting burned out, I don't have as much time with my family or other hobbies as I'd like.

Dreams of Change


I'm incredibly blessed to have gotten a good education in a field that pays well. I have skills, experience and a network which allow me to get a new job pretty easily. I can make a good living for my family with technology related work. I usually love what I do too. I love to make things work and to fix broken code.

...but...sometimes I resent computers. I hate that I am a slave to system updates and upgrades. To new hardware advances. To security flaws. To power outages. To hacking attempts. To cool new programs that I just have to try out. Mostly though, I hate that I love working on them.

A part of me yearns to break free from them. Something in me wishes I could go weed the garden and plow a field and chase down runaway cows on a dirt bike. I'd have a wood shop in my shed with a lathe, a router, and a table saw. I'd be outside enjoying and working in reality instead of changing the magnetic orientation of particles on a metal disk fabricating a new artificial world online.

Reality and Me



What will I really end up doing? Probably I'll go get an MBA and become a manager somewhere. That'll get me off of the computer and away from the eternal upgrade process. It'll give me a bit of insurance against my RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury) which could one day turn into carpal tunnel syndrome. It'll also let me keep feeding and caring for my family; I don't even know how to drive a plow.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Job Transition Process : 401K and Insurance

Friday is my last day at my current job. Monday I'll start my new work from home job.

With the transition I need to make sure to take care of a couple of important things, namely my 401K and insurance.

UPDATE : Both sections have been updated with their respective resolutions

401K


At my current job I have $1,194.76 worth of funds in my 401K. That isn't enough for them to keep me in it. Sadly I've put in $1312.52 so far and haven't had it open long enough for the company match to have vested yet.

I need to decide if I'm going to roll it to a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. Once I know which type I want I'm going to need to choose a company to get it through. That'll be a something to research today. The only thing I know right now is that I don't want to cash it out.

I believe that I have 30 days to get it rolled over.

UPDATE : It turns out that I will be able to keep my 401K right where it's at. I won't be able to make any more deposits though, so I'll still need to open an IRA of some sort for my new job.

Insurance


I should've asked more questions at both jobs. I'm not sure if my current insurance will disappear on Friday when I leave work, or if it'll continue through the month. I would assume that it would stop the moment I stop working for the company.

I won't be filling out the insurance paperwork at my new job till Monday, which means I might need to pick up some basic insurance for a weekend. If that's the case I'll try to find something with a super high deductible, just in case of an emergency.

I would just risk for the two days except that :

1) In 2006 my wife had been without insurance for a week or so. The same day her new insurance started we were in an accident and she broke her toe.

2) My wife is taking a ~500 mile (round trip) car trip this weekend to go to a cousin's wedding and I'm going camping. Both of those activities have a higher than normal chance of accidents occurring.

UPDATE : The insurance here is monthly, so I've got old-work insurance till the last day of July, so that's good. On the down side, I found out that new-work insurance coverage doesn't start until September first.

I looked into the COBRA plan as suggested by chackoc in the comments. COBRA for the four of us was going to be $900+ for the month of August.

We found and bought a one month policy with Assurant Health. My wife used them once before for a few months between coverage and found them easy enough to work with. We got a 100/0 % plan with a $1000 deductible for $220.64 including the $20 setup fee.

That'll cover us if something big happens and we'll be able to handle paying $1000 with our savings if something small happens.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Leftovers for Breakfast : Completely Random Snippets

I didn't have enough coherent thoughts to make a post on a single subject today, so you get some follow ups on a couple of subjects!

It's time to pay off the Credit Card


The credit card is due next week so I transferred the money to pay it off from ING yesterday. We'll be paying off $1,492.26.

At ING we made $2.29 in interest this month in the sub-account that money came from. There's still almost $400 in the account, so the $2.29 isn't solely from the Credit Card float. The $2.29 doesn't account for interest earned between when I paid off the Credit Card last month and the end of last month. I call it close enough.

We also will be getting $14.92 cash back for this month's charges.

That's $17.21 we wouldn't have if we were going cash based!

The Garden is Still Growing


The first crook-necked squash was big enough to eat. We had it in stir-fry. There are a whole bunch of green tomatoes on the vine. There are several gum ball sized watermelons now, and some fifty-cent piece sized pumpkins.

We planted two types of cucumbers (English types and regular types). One of them has probably close to 100 blossoms in the row, but we're not sure which row is which type.

The Okra, Kohlrabi and newly plated lettuce have sprouted and are growing well.

Learning to Live on A Budget


As of the 11th we'd used up about 2/3 of our budget while being only 1/3 the way through the month. Some of the expenses we'll get back (from the babysitting flex spend account, for example) but some of it is just us learning to live within our budget.

At the start of next month you'll get to hear our reasons and excuses...and our plan to do better.

Freecycle Saves Us Money


Once upon a time we had a bread maker which I had bought a thrift store for $5. We made home made bread for three or four months, decided we were eating too much bread and sold the bread maker for $15.

After the Easy and Cheap Home Made Bread post on Get Rich Slowly yesterday, I decided I wanted to get a bread maker again. My wife agreed as long as we buy and use whole wheat flour instead of the white flour we currently have.

I sent an email out to our local Freecycle list to see if anyone had one they didn't want. Someone responded to my email and all I have to do is drive the 10.1 miles to pick it up. That'll cost less than $5 in gas to get there and back.

Monday, July 14, 2008

With a Sound Financial Base, You Don't Need Many Rules

At church yesterday we were discussing how the difference between doctrine, principles and rules. I realized that the same concepts applied to personal finance, and present them here for your feedback.




  • Doctrine -- Doctrine are the final answers on everything. In the finance world this would be the laws and regulations in the finance industry, the details of your credit card contract, etc. There are a lot of points of doctrine.

  • Principles -- Principles are attitudes and beliefs which guide your actions. They should be built on top of the doctrine. For example, the principle of "Spend less than you earn" is built on top of the doctrines of fiscal responsibility, bankrutpcy and the laws governing reposesion, among other things. There are less principles than doctrine.

  • Rules -- Rules are the actual implementation of your principles which you follow day to day. Rules are what you need to do to stick to your principles and be in line with the doctrines which you need to follow. Rules might include things like "Only use the Credit Card when I have sufficient funds in my Savings Account" or "Any non-budget purchases need spousal approval" etc.



The point of the lesson at church was that if our doctrinal base is solid we don't need as many guiding principles. If our guiding principles are good we don't need to keep track of as many hard and fast rules.

I think the same thing applies to finance. For me, the less absolute rules I have to keep track of, the better. I also don't want to learn all of the financial regulations that might affect me (there's a reason I didn't major in finance). So, I have some basic financial rules I use in my day to day, and if something seems to fall outside those rules, I can consult my principles and see what I should do.

What financial Principles and Rules do you live by?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Weight Loss Tip : Brush your teeth?

I'm not quite ready to chalk this one up as a fact, but the timing is interesting at least.

This week I had some cavities filled, and the and the week before I had a dental checkup. In the 10 or so days leading up to the checkup I kept my teeth extra clean and flossed almost daily. Between the checkup and getting the cavities filled I did the same thing, and now since Tuesday when I had them filled I've been brushing more often to keep food from getting stuck on the new fillings.

During this same time period I finally broke through the 215 pounds barrier, which I posted about last Friday, and as of this very moment I weigh 211 pounds.

If the two are by chance related then this is how I would explain it :

I am too lazy to brush my teeth; I would 
rather not eat than eat and then brush.


Are they related? I don't know, probably not. Still, I'm going to try to keep brushing.

-----

Side note:

I hadn't been to the dentist since either 2000 or 2003. I know I went before my mission, because I remember having my wisdom teeth out at that time. I don't remember if I went after my mission, but before I got married...I may have. I know I haven't been since we were married.

I had two small cavities (didn't even need Novocain for them). My wife had one big cavity (almost a root canal, but not quite!) and two small ones.

We went to the dentist mostly because my new employer doesn't have dental insurance, but my old job does. Since the 18th is my last day we figured we might as well use it while we've got it. Talk about good timing!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jumping On the Garden Band Wagon

Gardens seem to be a popular trend among personal finance / self improvement bloggers. In my own defense, we've been into gardening since before it was popular. I grew up with a garden, and we've planted one several times since we got married.

Anyways, I thought I'd add a little here about mine. This picture is from a few weeks ago, and things have grown quite a lot since I took the picture, but it should give you an idea of what's happening.



We've got corn, lettuce (several kinds), cucumbers (3 kinds!), crook necked squash, watermellon, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, okra, bush beans, pumpkins and kohlrabi.

We got a bit of a late start this year because we had to get permission to till up the back yard from our landlords, and we didn't think to do that until the snow was gone.

The tomatoes and peppers came from starter packs from Lowes, everything else except the potatoes was from seeds. We had finished planting the seeds and had a little room left. I remembered we had some older potatoes in the fridge, so I sliced them and thre them in the ground, and three of the four chunks turned into plants.

The Kohlrabi and Okra were kind of mistakes. There were a couple of patches where beans, lettuce and carrots hadn't come up. I hated the thought of wasting the space, so we went back to Lowes to see what we could get that would grow quickly. The Okra and Kohlrabi both had "45-60 days" as their time till maturity, so we bought them. I've never eaten a Kohlrabi, and my wife has never had Okra. We added three more tomato plants, more cucumbers and lettuce at the same time.

I spend about 15-20 minutes watering the garden each night. It's kind of nice to just stand outside and not think about anything except the garden. I spend most of my day working on computers and worrying about computer bugs, so escaping to the real world is something of a reprieve.

My goal is to spend 30 minutes 2-3 times a week weeding the garden. It looks like I'm going to have to do that today and tomorrow, because I haven't gotten to it yet this week!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Home Buying : Should I use an agent?

We're hot in pursuit of a house. We think we know which one we'd like to buy. As we're about to get into buying the house, I'm wondering if we should use a buying agent. Here are the pros and cons as I see them so far. Remember, I am a first time home buyer at the very beginning of the process. I don't know much about it and my current opinions could be bad ones.

Pros of a Buying Agent



  1. Proximity to the house We're 1400 miles away from the houses we're looking at. An agent could look at the house for us, do local paperwork, etc.

  2. Professional References A buying agent would know who to get to do the appraisals. They'll know which appraisers run high and which run low. They'll also know which building inspectors are on the level and which do a shoddy job.

  3. Bargaining They know the market and the business. They may be able to do a better job at knocking down a high price.


Cons of a Buying Agent


  1. They have conflicting interests Since the agent is paid a percentage of the house price they make more money if we spend more money. This removes motivation to help us find a lower priced house, or to bargain hard to get a price lower.

  2. They Do Nothing I Couldn't Do They may know what forms to fill out, but if the selling agent is interested in getting the house sold, they'll make sure I sign everything I need to.

  3. Higher Price The buying agent's pay has to come from somewhere. With the right negotiating it may be possible to have everyone else come out ahead by cutting the buying agent out of the picture.



Higher Price


This is the one I really wanted to talk about.

I called a friend yesterday who works at a real estate company and who has her real estate license. I wanted to get the scoop on buying agents to see if we were going to need one when we go to buy this house.

The quote which made me discredit everything else she said was
...and it doesn't cost you anything because the seller pays the agent fees...

OK, yes, it may be technically true that I will not be the one who writes the check to the agent, but isn't the check paid with money I just barely gave the seller?

One strategy I think we will be trying to use to lower the price is to not use a buying agent. By not using a buying agent we can pay less, the selling agent can take a larger incentive and the seller can keep more. Here's how it works in my mind.







With Buying AgentWithout Buying Agent
House Price (we pay)$100,000$98,000
Selling Agent Commission3% ($3,000)3% + $400 as motivation ($3340)
Buying Agent Commission3% ($3,000)0% ($0)
Money Left for Seller$94,000$94,660


We give the selling agent extra beyond the 3% commission so that he/she stands to gain from the deal. I pay $2,000 less on the house and the seller makes an extra $660. The benefit margins increase for everyone as the price of the house increases of course.

Since the selling agent and the house seller have more than likely already signed a contract stating what the commission is, reaching some sort of arrangement like the one listed above will depend on what their contract says and on their flexibility within the contract. They may be willing to break the contract if they will both come out ahead.

It will also depend on the house seller being smart enough to realize that selling the house for less money still nets him a higher return.

The Seller Agent Takes All (and splits it) Scenario


Removing the buyer agent commission will only work if the seller contract has a separate percentage for the buyer agent to earn. In some cases the selling agent will simply take a higher percentage (like 7 or 8%) and then split that with the buying agent.

In cases like these the seller doesn't have much, if anything, to gain, but I'm hoping that we'll have more power over the selling agent. We could
  • Tell them that at the current price we would want the buying agent's percentage
  • Tell them that if we don't get the house reduced by an appropriate amount that we will get a buying agent so that their commission is reduced



Have you used a buyers agent? Should I?


Does anyone here have experience using a buyers agent and think I should? Has anyone not used a buyers agent? How hard is it to do the paperwork on your own? We'll see how well the negotiating goes once we get closer to buying. For now we're still looking, but we're narrowing in on choices and will have to start talking to sellers soon.

New Job : I Am Now Free To Move About the Country

I got a job offer last Thursday. It's for the position I interviewed for last Tuesday.

The salary is $59,000 a year. That's $6,500 more than my current salary. There are less benefits, namely no 401K, or life or dental insurance. There is health insurance though, which is nice.

The best benefit though is that it's a work at home job. Besides getting an office with a window (my current office is solid walls) this means that when we go to move in January I can take my job with me. It means that even in a new city we'll know what I'll be making before hand.

The work is more up my alley too. Less of a computer-for-computers-sake type product and more of a computers-as-a-tool-to-help-people angle. It's a small (6-8 people) company which gives me more autonomy, which I've been wanting.

Mostly though we're just happy that we'll be able to save more towards our house and that we'll be able to move there more easily when we find one we like.

--

I think we might just go out to eat to celebrate, even though it wasn't in our budget (neither was an extra $6500 a year!).

Monday, July 7, 2008

Reading : The Sun Also Rises

I just finished Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises". Wikipedia says that The Sun Also Rises is considered Hemingway's best novel by a majority of critics. His only other book I've read is The Old Man and The Sea, but I don't remember it being so abjectly boring, slow paced and meandering.

No Plot



I couldn't figure out a plot to this book. It follows the lives of several characters between France and Spain. There is a little bit of a love triangle story, they go to some bull fights, and that's it. No struggles, no triumph over evil, nothing.

It reminded me of this classic Calvin and Hobbes cartoon which says "not having my emotions manipulated is such a weird experience".



My Recomendation


Read something else. At least Old Man and The Sea was shorter. I thought it was more interesting too.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Weight Wait : Slow Progress, but Progress None the Less

Getting below 215 pounds has been a drudgefully slow experience like trudging through deep snow made ofmolasses. I would get down to 215, then bounce around between the 215 and 220 marks on the scale for a few days, then back down to 215. This has been going on basically for the last month.

It didn't help that we went to visit grandpa-inlaw or that my dad and siblings came into town (and treated us to dinner several times). It didn't help that the frozen lunches I had made to bring to lunch were meat-and-potatoes type meals. And it certainly didn't help that I was doing consulting instead of exercising in the evenings.

Hooray!


That's behind me now though! (I hope!). For the last four or five days I've now been bouncing between 214 and 217. My spreadsheet says that I need to lose 0.5297 pounds per week for the rest of the year to reach my goal. I would rather do better than that so that in November and December I'm not trying to lose weight over the holidays (just trying to maintain it).

Plan : Eat Less, Garden More


Being a highly environmentally conscious person (joke), I've been known to eat the remaining four pieces of sausage just so we don't use a ziplock and put them in the fridge. After I've already had breakfast. Including three pieces of sausage.

My new plan is the same as the old plan. Eat less, exercise more. Here are the specifics:

1) I'll leave half of my lunch in my scooter's trunk. If I really get hungry or stay late, I can go get it. If I don't use it for lunch it I can eat it for dinner.

2) I'll go weed the garden like I should be doing anyways. I should probably weed for 30 minutes two or three times a week to keep them under control. That's more exercise than I'm getting now and as long as I do it near dusk I enjoy being outside.

Weighing Less Is Nice


Weighing about 215 is a nice feeling. I have more energy, my clothes fit better, I probably even get better gas mileage on my scooter. The best thing for me so far though was that when some friends invited us to go to the pool last week I didn't feel embarrassed when I took off my shirt.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Interview Tip : They Know Who You Are

I had a great job interview today. I don't know if I will get the job, but the interview itself went well. It's for an online company, and would be a work from home position. Working from home would have it's own challenges but at least I would be able to take my job with me when we move in January.

Before the interview the interviewer already knew a ton about me. About the projects I've done, about my family and more. All sorts of things which I never told him and which certainly weren't on my resume.

Also today my wife interviewed a girl to be our baby sitter. With just her first name and Email address, we were able to track down her livejournal site, her facebook page, photos of her on MySpace and her profile on YouTube. Although the interview went well, based on what I've found about her online I don't think we'll be hiring.

How did my interviewer find out so much about me? How did we find out so much about this babysitter?

Digital Archaeology


I sent my resume from my Gmail. My Gmail users name is the same as the handle I use everywhere online. I also have a domain name or two which match that same handle. And one of those pages links to my wife's blog, etc. etc. etc.

In this case it was beneficial. I have done several projects which piqued the interest of my interviewer. There is also quite a lot of material on my website which showcases my programming abilities, but which aren't things I'd bother to put on a resume.

For the babysitter things didn't end up as well. It started the same way. She replied to our Craigslist posting, listing only her first name in the email. We googled her email address and got nothing. By dropping the '@yahoo.com' portion though we got enough leads to find out more about her. She's had 8 siblings, two died of cystic fibrosis. She says she is a Mormon but her pictures and words say she doesn't practice what she says she believes. (Note: Our baby sitter doesn't have to be Mormon, but we'd rather not have a hypocrite).

Shots in the Dark


Sometimes you can hit a dead end and can't find any more information via Google or other search engines. If that's the case it may be time for a couple of shots in the dark to try to locate the individual. Teens and college students can often be found on Facebook or MySpace if you know their name and school. Brazilians can often be found on Orkut, other South Americans on Hi5. Business professionals can sometimes be found on Linked-In (although most of Linked-In is also indexed by Google it seems).

Hiding Your Tracks


Being found online is a mixed blessing. It makes it possible to reunite with old friends and find out about others before meeting them. It also makes you more vulnerable depending on what you've put online.

If you have material online which you don't want a future employer, date or colleague to see, you need to hide your tracks. The best way to hide your tracks is to create a new online identity strictly for business (or nefarious!) purposes. For example instead of artickat9912@hotmail.com I might send my resume in via my new and improved college_alumni99@gmail.com address.

If creating a new identity isn't really an option, or if your name is unique enough that someone could search and find you (eg. not John Smith) then you may need to work to remove or hide the existing bad data.

The first thing to do is to remove pictures which don't portray you in a positive light from social networking sites. Make your profile private while you're at it.

Next, do some research on yourself. Make note of what information you can find about yourself via Google, Altavista, MSN Search, Yahoo, etc. For any site which you do have control over (eg. old forum posts which you can still edit) be sure that the content is what you want seen.

For content which you don't want to show up, it's a bit more difficult. You will likely need to do a bit of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for yourself. You will need to create enough new pages with your name (or handle) on them that Google and other search engines will link to those good pages before the bad ones. You can create good pages for yourself by blogging and posting in forums among other things.

Conclusion



Taking care of what of your data shows up online may help you land that next job interview. Be sure to research the person you're interviewing with if possible. And if you're going to be blogging about your salary and financial situation be sure to use an alias so future employers don't know how much they *really* need to pay you.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Moneythly Report : June / July

I'm going to start a monthly money report on the state of our finances. Each month I'll post how we did for the month (charts and category breakouts) and post our budget for the upcoming month. In future months I'll post budgeted vs. actual expenses as well.

June Report





The huge recreation fee is where we went to visit my nearing senile Grandpa-in-law. His girlfriend thought that he'd paid for the hotel for us, but we ended up having to pay for it. She had tried to be nice and put us up in the nicest hotel in town too. While we were there they probably gave us that much in camping gear, so it kind of evens out anyways I suppose. It's still a huge chunk of unexpected expenses.

July 1st Assets and Liabilities



Here 'Due' means when it starts charging interest.

Money:
ING Savings: $3891.11
ING Checking: $424.24
Credit Union Savings: $5.00
Credit Union Checking: $123.18
Credit Union Money Market: $0.14
Credit Union CD: $6,082.79
Credit Union Credit Card: -$1,145.14 (Due July 25)
Big Bank Checking: $100.08
Big Bank Credit Card: $0
401K Vested Value: $1,254.30
Student Loan: -$6075 (Due June 2009)
Car Loan: -$15,580 (0% interest. We start payments in November [$380/month]).

July Budget




Green is income or remaining positive balance. Salmon is variable expenses, red is fixed cost expenses.

We should actually save a good deal more than the $390 listed above. We have roughly $900 coming in to our account in the next few days as we cash a check and get the reembursements for child care expenses (via. our flex spending account)

You'll note the $0 on groceries. We are using our grocery gift cards and are planning to not spend any grocery money beyond the gift cards.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Better: Less Clutter

I've been decluttering my home lately. Most of the things we've gotten rid of we gave away so this definitely falls under the 'Better' umbrella and not 'Richer'.

Between a local used clothing store, Craigslist, Freecycle and an extra bag of garbage we've given away:

* Two broken Mac Plusses
* 20-25 German novels
* Pair of shoes that didn't fit
* A box of firestarters for camping
* Baby front carrier
* 6 or so large boxes which electronics (cameras, computers, etc.) had come in.
* A joystick I only used once
* Two extra diaper bags
* A pile of extra clothes that don't fit
* A book on tape
* Bag of extra baby clothes
* Extra microwave
* Extra toaster
* An extra wireless router, Ethernet cord, and other miscellaneous small electronics
* A tea kettle we've had sitting on our stove for four years (and used only ~6 times)
* An extra DVD/CD burner

That's a lot of extra junk sitting around. Some of it is hard to part with. I know that some day I'll wish I still had the wireless router. When we move we may wish we had the microwave. If our toaster burns out we'll wish we had our backup. My hope is that by giving these things away now, when we need them again someone else will be decluttering their life.

In the four years we have been married we've gone from pretty poor to depending on my parents for support to doing pretty well. During the rougher times we both developed a habit of accumulating things for free when we could (for example from Freecycle) so that we wouldn't have to buy them later. My collection of electronic parts has kept my computer running for far cheaper than buying new ones.

Because of that 'collect it when we can' mentality though we're both somewhat overly attached to our backups. Do I need three wireless routers? No, of course not. Do we need two extra diaper bags? The odds are slim we'll ever use them. We could have tried to sell everything, but we've been blessed with everything we need and more, now it's our turn to share and help others who need it. Also, if we'd waited maybe we would've grown attached again.


(Video: Quartet Reprise sings 'Because I have been given much' on Music and the Spoken Word)

Monday, June 30, 2008

Making Career Decisions

So far we have been looking at job types in a two dimensional. In our 2d model your job is in the same position on the chart no matter your abilities for the given job type. The 2d model is good for understanding why you are making money, but it doesn't help determine how to make more money. For that we will need to look at the same chart in three dimensions.



We now hove a qualitative quotient rising vertically from each of the job types. In each case the vertical factor represents qualities which increase the attractiveness of your work to those who will be paying you. For example, a professional musician vs. an amateur.

In order to use this model to maximize your profitability we are going to need to find what jobs we are able to do and choose the best selection of to maximize the pros for each job type, while minimizing the cons.

I start by making a list of which skills and abilities I have, some major personal characteristics and things which I can make. I rank each of those abilities based on how much I think someone could potentially pay for each activity.

What I do :


  • Programming (8)

  • Wood Working (4)

  • Network Security (5)

  • System Administration (7)



What I make :

  • Informative websites (7)

  • Cool Program (9)

  • Wooden kids furniture (5)

  • Digital drawings (5)

  • Cooking (2)



Who I am :

  • College graduate (7)

  • Son of well respected man in my home town (9.5)

  • Young conservatively dressing tall man (7)

  • Yet another personal financial blogger (4)

  • Eagle Scout (10)



Now I plot them on the chart (either for real, or just in my head).



After listing and ranking my abilities, I add which abilities I would be interested in improving and to what level.

System Administration (9)
Wood Working (8)

Based on my chart I can see that I currently could probably make a cool program and provide something which is in higher demand than my current programming position.

In order to provide a more demanded skill in System Administration I would need to improve my skills a little bit -- maybe take a class, or study online.

To maximize my income right now, I should make a cool program. If I would rather maximize my income by doing system administration, I should improve my skills enough to command a higher salary.

To be good enough with wood working (Which I enjoy), I would need to get a lot better. If my life dream were to support my family as a wood worker then such improvements might be worth their effort. Since that's not my dream, my self improvement time could be better spent elsewhere.

Odds are good that you too will have several skills which will are in higher demand than others. Besides just trying to maximize your income, be sure to also consider that certain skill groups (eg. Programming + System Administration + Network Security) may prove more valuable as a cluster of abilities than a single higher valued skill (eg. Writing a single cool program). Also balance the different positions with the pros and cons discussed in part two in order to find a level of job security and type of job risk you are comfortable with.

Conclusion



This isn't the be-all end-all theory for deciding what to do for work. No model is perfect, and making the most money isn't the most important thing in life. What this model can do though is help you visualize potential areas to improve your income, and help you find ways out of a field you're not enjoying.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Why You're Paid Job Model (Part 2)

Yesterday I talked about my theory on jobs. Today I'll discus the pros and cons of each of these job types.

Who You Are



Pros:


People find some quality in you which is worth paying you for. It is likely that you enjoy who you are, so work is probably enjoyable on some level as well.

If your are paid for the mental or creative side of who you are, you may be able to continue your job after physical disasters.

There is only one of you (limited supply), so if you are popular enough (high demand) you can charge top dollar just for showing up.

Cons:


It may be hard to break your stereotype if you want to change what you do. Eg. A famous baseball player is going to have a hard time being recognized as a serious CEO. He will always be a baseball player who is also a CEO.

You can only be in one place at one time. This limits how much you can make from speaking arrangements, CEO positions (one at a time probably!), concerts, etc. You may be able to overcome this through What You Make.

If you are paid because you are a famous singer and dancer and suddenly can't sing and dance, you will find yourself out of a job.

People are ficle and may change their minds about who they like.






What You Do



Pros:


If you like what you do and are getting paid for it, that's terrific.

If you are better than average at what you do or poses a skill most people don't (limited supply) that enough people want (high demand!) you may be able to command a larger income.

Depending on your skill you may be able to do extra consulting outside your normal job.


Cons:


Many 'what you do' positions are warm-body positions that don't require any skill. Low level programmers, burger flippers, etc. are all easily replacable.

You can only do one thing at a time. This limits how much Doing you can do. Again, you may be able to overcome this through What You Make.

If your skill is boring you may not feel as fullfilled as you would doing something which would make you less money.

What You Make



Pros:


Factory made items and easily copyable items (eg. software) can be created in whatever quantity needed to meet demand.

If you get paid for Who You Are, you may be able to produce CDs, Videos, Books on Tape or other materials that serve as a proxy of yourself.

If you get paid for What You Do, you may be able to use those same skills to create something which can be replicated and sold (eg. software, art prints, etc.).

If you create something which can be sold again and again (eg. art prints), you can bring in money for a long time after the initial work is done.

Cons:


Custom work and hand-made item production don't scale well.

Anything which depends on the whims of fashion can't be counted on as a long term plan.

If what you make is easily replicatable there will be imitators (excess supply) driving down prices.


On Monday: Using this job model to maximize your income and make career decisions.


Part One : The Why You're Paid Job Model

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Why You're Paid Job Model (Part 1)

This is my job model. There are only three reasons people pay you:

a) Who you are (celebrities, famous speakers, successful CEO, etc.)
b) What you do (Flipping burgers, programming, etc.)
c) What you make (Books, music, programs, etc.)

Any given job can be a mix of the three. Each of these pay-reasons has different benefits and down sides to it. We'll hit the benefits and downsides tomorrow. Today, an explanation and examples of each reason.

Who You Are


If you get paid because of your reputation, looks or past successes then you are paid because of who you are.

Examples of Who You Are Jobs



Paris Hilton - No redeeming qualities whatsoever.
A successful CEO - hired for his name so that investors feel comfortable with the start up company.
Steve Jobs - People hang on his every word because he's Steve Jobs. Any other Apple employee making the same announcements wouldn't draw the same interest.
Programmers - When they're paid because they're famous (eg. Joel Spolsky)



What You Do


If you get paid for showing up, for doing specific tasks or serving people you job includes What You Do elements. Examples of What You Do positions include:


Examples of What You Do Jobs


Garbage men
Programmers -- when programming for pay
Burger Flippers
CEOs who can actually turn around a company
Clowns
Skilled laborers


What You Make


If you are paid for the product, art or other creation of yours, your job is in this category.

Examples of What You Make Jobs


Artists (unless their art sells because they're famous)
Woodworkers
Programmers -- when selling a program they've created
Skilled laborers


Tomorrow I will discuss the pros and cons to each of these three pay-reasons.

Part Two : The Pros and Cons of Each Job Type

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Working For A Cause (you don't believe in)

I've been doing some consulting as a web developer at night to bring in a bit of extra money. One job is paying a pretty generous $25/hour. For a couple of hours a night I don't mind the programming. The dilemma I have is that the work is for a company I don't approve of. It's a MLM company.

They sell some sort of amazing cancer curing, hair restoring, kidney cleansing, life changing beverage (which hasn't had any FDA trials, of course).

I hate MLMs* and I initially resisted doing work for them. Where do I draw the line though? I wouldn't make a website for a brothel or drug dealer at any price. How about for a scummy used car dealer?

There are certain things which are black and white. Any time people get involved though, things turn gray rather quickly. I still have a preference to not do work for MLMs, but I don't think I could get enough jobs working for world saving charities either.




* I realize that they're not technically scams or pyramid schemes. So many of the people doing them though seem to think that they're going to get rich quickly from them. Also, I hate dubious health claims which is what most of the MLMs are about around here.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Financially Stable. Now what?

As I've become more familiar with personal finance blogs, I've slowly come to realize that I am very blessed. Most of the finance blogs are about getting out of debt and reaching the point where we are now.


  • Our Credit Cards are paid off

  • We have money set aside to pay off our student loans before they start charging interest (and it's making interest for us in the mean time).

  • Our car payment is 0% interest, so there's no rush to pay it off ahead of time.

  • We have more than $2000 sitting in ING doubling as an emergency fund and a start on a house down payment.

  • We're putting away 15% of my salary into a 401k

  • Shoot. We've even got a budget.



Ok. Great! Now what?

Now What?



Well, we want a house, so we're putting more money aside each month for that. We know that we're still spending more than we need or want to and we're trying to trim the fat. That one's a continual process though.

Beyond still saving, I'm not really sure what our next stratigic move is supposed to be. If we had a house it would probably be investing. There are plenty of sites that talk about investing. My problem with that is that we want our money back in 6 or so months for a house down payment -- I don't want to make that short term of investments, I want long term stuff.

In other words I have no idea what the next step is. Maybe it's time to buy a new car (I kid!).

Monday, June 23, 2008

CDs VS. Savings at ING

I looked at putting the $2000 or so that I've got in my ING savings account into a CD instead, but the ING CDs are only making 3.3% interest vs. the 3.0% interest.

The difference comes out to just a couple of dollars after the six months are up.

Even though part of my philosophy is to keep our money in the highest earning account possible. The other part is 'while keeping it as liquid as needed'. The two to three dollar difference isn't enough of a difference to get paid for the loss of liquidity I would get hit with.

There's also a chance that the savings account interest rate would go up. Several other banks recently upped their savings rate slightly. If ING ups their savings rate to 3.2 or something, the money locked in the CD would be even less beneficial. (Of course, the interest rate could go down too.).

Friday, June 20, 2008

Credit Card Reasons Revisited

Anonymous Says No To $350



Or, How To Miss Out On $29.20 a Month By Not Using Credit Cards



I recently listed 8 reasons to use a Credit Card which caused someone under the bravery of 'Anonymous' to call my advice crappy.

I understand that Credit Cards can be trouble for some people and I have no problem with people disagreeing with me. I did however take issue with these two segments of his response:

Why not keep the money in a high interest account and transfer it online,free, to your checking account as needed. problem solved
...
Rewards,benefits. Virtually useless. For most people the rewards/benefits do not outweigh the risks with credit cards


Great idea! And if one wasn't using a Credit Card at all, I'd agree. However, I found the line 'Virtually useless' rather suspect. I decided to run an analysis and see for myself (and for you, dear reader) what exactly is the financial benefit of using a Credit Card in the manner I use it.

Remember, our financial plan says to use the Credit Card wherever possible (and to pay it off on time, every time).

My analysis involves the following three scenarios:

Scenarios Under Analysis


Checking Account Only



  • One 0% interest, $0 fees checking account

  • Salary goes in, checks come out



Checking Account and a 3% APY Savings Account



  • Salary goes into Savings

  • Money is transfer ed over as needed


3% APY Savings Account, 1% Cash Back Credit Card



  • Salary goes into Savings

  • All expenses go onto Credit Card

  • Credit Card is paid off at the end of the month



The Results!


With a monthly salary of $3,013.26 and monthly expenses of $2,187.50 using a 1% cash back credit card and a 3% APY savings account I will make $29.20 more a month than if I were just using a checking account. I will make you $24.96 more a month than if you I were using a checking and savings account (but no Credit Card).

See the whole sheet for a more detailed look including assumptions I made to simplify the calculations.

Table: Monthly Difference Between the Three Scenarios






Blog Sized ExcerptChecking OnlyChecking and SavingsSavings and Credit Card
Vs. Checking Only$0.00$4.24$29.20
Vs. Checking and Savings-$4.24$0.00$24.96
Vs. Savings and Credit-$29.20-$24.96$0.00




A Partial List of Flaws


  • Not everything can be paid for with a Credit Card.

  • Expenses aren't actually evenly distributed throughout the month

  • It is possible to get an interest bearing checking account

  • Using multiple savings accounts will give you finer grained control over transfers to the checking account

  • Some people really really really hate credit cards, so this won't work for them

  • Some limitations may apply to 1% cash back purchases

  • Carrying a balance even once will wipe out months of returns



Conclusion


I stick with my recommendation to use a Credit Card. I realize that my numbers are rough estimates, but I believe that they are strong enough and close enough to show that there is a clear financial benefit to using a Credit Card.

Using a Credit Card isn't for everyone, and I respect that, but just because they don't work for you doesn't magically make them crappy for everyone.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Comprehensive Financial Planning: Initial Thoughts

I've been slowly getting up to speed on how money works, on the importance of budgeting and appreciating the principle of compound interest. In this learning process I've realized that there are several expensive milestones which I should be planning for now. As I look at these events, I realize that I need a comprehensive financial plan.

Some Large Financial Milestones




  • House

  • Kids College

  • Sons' Missions

  • Helping my kids become financially stable

  • Retirement



Some of these are so near it's scarry (House). Others are so far off it's hard for me to be able to estimate how much I need to save. All of them will require large amounts of money. Some (retirement, college) can get extra help from special types of accounts (529, 401k, IRAs, capital gains vs. earned income taxes) if I plan wisely.

Complicating Financial Factors


There are complicating factors for me to consider when thinking about these financial events. Markets will change, my job will probably change, I don't know how many kids we'll be having.

Side Note : Inheritance assets


On a trip last weekend to visit my grandpa-in-law I was also reminded that there are some people in my life who will be leaving something to me in their wills. My father and grandpa-in-law have potentially large assets, possibly my grandpa too.

Inheritance assets are hard to include in a comprehensive financial plan since there's no way to know when someone is going to die, or how much their assets will be worth when they do.

How To Get Started


I don't know how I'm going to make my comprehensive financial plan. I think that I'm on the right track to create it though. The first steps are to 1) get my day to day financies in order then 2) understand the events I need to be planning for then lastly 3) make educated guesses and estimates about the situation.

In a few weeks you should see an initial revision of my plan. If you have any suggestions before then, I'd love to hear them.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Job Interview Full Disclosure

Morality, Honesty and Applying For a Job



I have been pretty excited about this new job I'm applying for. I've felt confident that it would be a great fit and that both I and the company stood to gain from me working there.

Then my father in law asked if I felt there was any moral issue in not telling the company that I am planning on moving in January. I hadn't even thought about it before that, but his comments got me thinking.

Big Business


First of all, I've never really liked big business. I don't think for a minute that they are going to worry about me if they need to lay me off. I don't think that company loyalty or employee loyalty is a true principle or a moral obligation.

This is the logic that I use when I decide not to talk about my real future goals at work (move out of state, get a more interesting job). The same logic was what I'd been using in this job application process.

I figured that if they didn't ask, I wouldn't tell them. I don't think any business has the illusion that an employee they hire is going to be around for life. After my father in law's comment, I started considering different factors.

The Invisible Hand


First of all, I thought about Adam Smith's principle of the invisible hand which is summed up by Wikipedia thusly:

...[I]n a free market, an individual pursuing his own self-interest tends to also promote the good of his community as a whole through a principle that he called “the invisible hand”. ...[E]ach individual maximizing revenue for himself maximizes the total revenue of society as a whole, as this is identical with the sum total of individual revenues.


I was definitely acting in my own self interests -- who wants to hire an employee for only six months? The business was acting in it's own self interests, they were trying to hire the best employee they could get.

Could I Provide the Company Value in 6 Months


I would have worked there for six months. My skill set was very closely aligned with what they were looking for. I believed (and still believe) that I could have been profitable for them within a month or two.

That is, I think that my benefits for the company would have offset the cost of training and of the hiring process within one or two months. Some sites however say that the cost of hiring an employee is 150% of their salary. Obviously I have no way of knowing exactly how much the company would have spent, but I find that number very high for this position.

Job Hopping Is Normal Now


My generation is the slightly maligned job hopping generation. There are many different sources saying that this is a normal practice for younger workers like myself.

Granted, I've only been at my current job for 10 months, and I would be at the new one for 6, but when we move I plan on finding a job to hold for a longer time.

Am I being Selfish? (And is that wrong?)


The wonderful MPR asks if my generation is 'the selfish generation', and you know what? Sometimes I feel like I deserve better. I can't blame businesses for doing what is best for them financially going forward, but when they cut pensions and 'let go' older workers I feel like if they're not going to give me a fair shake, so why should I give them a fair shake?

I think that I don't want a lot. I just want to do something that I can support my family with and which will leave me happy at the end of the day so I can enjoy my time with my kids and wonderful wife at home.

My current job doesn't do that. I feel frustrated, bored and grumpy at the end of the day without enough energy to say "Hey! Let's go to the park and play!", which is what my two year old would really like the most.

In part that's what this whole site is about. A big part of my self improvement is that I'm trying to find out how to support my family and be able to spend better time with them. If that's selfish, then by all means I'm selfish. If that drives me to not disclose to a future employer that I'll only be around for six months, then yes, I am inclined not to tell them that.

Is it Honest?


This is where all my invisible hand job hopping selfishness broke down. After several days of introspection, I decided that


  • I wouldn't tell a lie to get a job

  • Telling only part of the truth could be as bad as lying

  • I would hate to be in the employers position and not have all the cards on the table

  • If they were planning on laying me off in six months I would want to know

  • Even if they are a big business, that didn't change the fact that deals should be done honestly

  • I felt that if I withheld information that was critical to making a good decision on their part, I wouldn't be being 100% honest with them.



*sigh* I really wanted that job. It looked like it could be fun, certainly more fun that where I am now.

I sent an email to the manager I was to interview with last week, explained my situation and said that I felt that I could provide value in the next six months. I also said that I'd be happy to telecommute from new new location if that was acceptable. They sent me back an email saying that they needed someone local and long term.

I am disappointed, and still job searching, but I feel that it's what I had to do to be honest.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Groceries Without the Games

What's the Grocery Game



If you've been to a couple of personal finance blogs you've probably heard of "The Grocery Store Game". If not, here's a story on it over at Get Rich Slowly. The idea is that you combine coupons in such a way that you get most of your groceries and toiletries for very little cost.

It's Hard Work


Frankly, it seems like a lot of work. You have to go through all the store fliers each week, find the best coupon deals, find the manufacturer's coupons that match with the fliers coupons, etc. Oh. Then you have to drive to each of the different grocery stores and get all those deals, figure out what meals you can make with whatever products you may have been able to get for cheap.

As noted in the comments of the story over at GRS, most of the goods are actually toiletries or unhealthy foods. For me, I don't think it's worth the work.

Saving 14.5% On Groceries With (almost) No Work


As you'll see below, I save 14.5% on groceries before coupons even enter in to the equation. The process I use depends on the store having the two programs I use in place, so my process may not work for you.

Of course, playing the grocery game depends on you having the right big-chain stores in your area anyways, so I think this is a viable alternative for many people who could play the grocery store game.

Full Sheet : http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=pFOJsib3bG6Gbi-GWZVFXRA

Here are the factors that let us save 14.5% whenever we get groceries:

  • Grocery Gift Cards
    • Our grocery store sells gift cards which give you a 10% bonus. Eg. Buy a $300 gift card, get a $330 gift card. We bought $1200 of cards five weeks ago.

  • Buy the Gift Card on your cash-back Credit Card
    • We get 1% on our Credit Card purchases. That's $12 back on our $1200 purchase

  • 5% Student Discount Card
    • The grocery store has a special student affiliate card which gives you 5% off your purchase beyond the normal affiliate card price. My wife is still a student, so I don't think this is dishonest in the least.




Affiliate Card Price Caveat


The grocery store we go to doesn't always have the best overall prices, however when using the affiliate card the prices are competitive with other stores in the area. For this reason, I do not include the "mark down" that the affiliate card gives us. That mark down is only present because they mark the prices up for anyone who doesn't have the card.

Downsides


1) Be sure that the grocery store you do this at is one that you like, otherwise you get stuck with $1200+ of gift cards locked up in the one store.

2) It's easier to be spendy if you're spending gift-card money than real money.

3) You have to put down a large chunk of money right at the start. If the 10% bonus is going to be an ongoing thing, we will buy the smallest denomination possible, and leave the rest of the money in our ING account to further stretch our grocery money.

Real Life


Between May 9th and June 16th we bought $306.94 worth of groceries for a cost of $265.08. Considering that we had agreed to increase our grocery spending (we did) and decrease our eating out (we did!) we are about where we expected to be for grocery spending for the month.

Other


I have no idea where the extra $41.86 I saved went. Probably into my ING account...