The Personal Touch – Finally

I’ve been using the stock photo for this blog since day one.  I liked it, and didn’t have anything that looked good enough to replace it, until now.  We got a tour of Busch Stadium, and I took a few pictures to create a panoramic shot while we were on the field.  My brother is in the picture walking away.  The old picture I had showed some random person walking down a road, and I liked that.  I get to keep that in my new photo, but this time it’s my brother, so it has some more meaning.  So I finally got to personalize the look of my blog, after almost 4 months of using it.

Marriage and Finances

Did you know that money is the #1 reason married couples get divorced?  It’s actually really easy to not fight about money.  Want to know the secret?  Communication.  If you talk about your finances, you and your spouse end up getting more on the same page.  It can/should happen a lot.  Take a conversation between myself and my wife, Megan, just last night:

Me: We don’t have a lot of money for landscaping
Megan: I wish we had a lot of money in our landscaping budget
Me: We could put a lot of money in a landscaping budget, but we put our extra money toward debt.  I’d rather get out of debt quicker.  Wouldn’t you?
Megan: Yeah
Me: It’s all about priorities.  We’ll do landscaping one day.  It’ll just be later instead of now.
Megan: I just want it all now (joking)
Me: I know, I do too.  But we have to prioritize…
Megan: I know.

These sorts of conversations pop up all the time in our household.  It’s perfectly normal.  Sometimes I want to spend money on something, and sometimes my wife does.  We talk about it, and prioritize it along with everything else.  Money is never an issue in our household, because we tell each other everything about it.

That’s not to say things are ever perfect though.  Sometimes Megan goes out and spends more money on clothing than we have budgeted.  Sometimes I go buy something spur of the moment, like the MLB At Bat 11 app for my phone.  But we tell each other everything, and adjust for these types of things.

Nobody’s perfect, but it’s much easier to talk about the issues, and get them sorted out, as opposed to keeping everything inside (or worse yet, hiding money from your spouse).  We might get in little fights about money, but budgeting your money, prioritizing things, and communicating with one another on a regular basis makes things soooo much smoother.

Money is just one example of how communication works in a marriage though.  If you communicate well with each other, and always tell each other how you really feel (in a nice way), your marriage is that much more likely to succeed.  I’ve only been married since 2008, but I can tell you our marriage is rock solid, and that’s due to trust and communication.  That goes for finances along with everywhere else.  If it weren’t based on those two things, I think we’d be in a completely different place right now.  I am so thankful my wife has gotten me to trust her enough to tell her everything about me, as I’m sure she is too.  And I hope everyone else that’s married lives that way, in both the financial world and everything else.

Online Business – Motivation

I guess this is a phase in starting up a side business.  I’m having an issue over the past couple weeks trying to balance everything in my life out, and it makes it difficult to stay motivated to this side gig that’s not producing any income yet.  I haven’t gotten a single new product up in the past two weeks, but I have gotten the checkout up and running, and purchased a new camera to use (so I don’t have to borrow a co-workers anymore).  But I’m having issues staying motivated lately, and I’m not sure why.

The last few days I’ve spent my nights outdoors, since it’s been so nice.  I’ve been taking dirt from the new construction across the street (I got permission first) and filling in huge holes behind the fence in the back yard.  For those that don’t know me personally, our backyard goes to a little creek, and there was no grass when we moved in.  We planted grass seed last fall, but there were huge ruts in the back yard from water washing out the dirt.  Some areas continued to wash away while we were growing grass, and I found out why this week.  When I went behind the fence that was up, there were two foot by two foot gaps that were washed out!  So I asked our builder if I could take some of his dirt from the new house he’s building, and he said that would be fine.  I think I got around 2 truckloads (10 or so wheelbarrow fulls) and dumped it back there, and packed it down tight.  If I had to pay for that dirt, it would have cost me $60, so I got to save all that.

Speaking of saving money, I got another little thrill tonight.  Last weekend, we installed a doggie door in our basement door.  I wanted two night lights to put in our basement so our dogs can see to go in and out in the middle of the night if they wanted to, so we looked at a store while we were out tonight.  I found two LED night lights on clearance for $2.48 and $1.74 that were both $9.99 regular price.  Score!

Anyway, back to the original portion of this post.  Other things are keeping me from working on my online store, when I know I still have a lot of work to do on it.  How do you guys stay motivated on side tasks when things get like this?  Let me know your feedback on it.

The U.S. Consumer Debt – Causes and Remedies

This is a guest post by Marc Brown.  Marc is the writer for the Oak View Law Group blog, and has been nice enough to share a post on this site.
 
 

Consumer debt has been a serious issue in the U.S in the post-financial depression period. Do you know that consumer debt in America stands at $2.40 trillion? It is not surprising that millions of Americans are looking for debt relief. But how did the situation become so bad? Let’s try to find out.

3 Main causes behind soaring consumer debt

1) High unemployment rate: The financial depression has caused massive unemployment in America. A lot of people have either lost their job or suffered a wage cut recently. Data from the Department of Labor reveals that the current unemployment rate in the U.S is 9%. Consequently, many families are facing acute monetary crisis. This is an alarming situation since it can force a debtor to enroll in a debt management plan or opt for debt settlement.

2) Lack of financial literacy: Few of us are aware of the importance of money management. We take personal finance issues too casually and rack up debt even when our income is pretty decent. Many people tend to believe that financial advisors are for people who are extremely wealthy. This is incorrect. You do need a financial advisor (FA) to understand your invest options and manage your wealth to maximize profits. Do you know that wrong moves in the stock market can sink you in debt? An FA can help you to avoid these mistakes.

3) Failure to resist temptations: The “buy now, pay later” slogan have been too effective for the credit card companies. Most consumers have become highly addicted to spending. They recklessly pile up debt to live a life which is beyond their means. Therefore, it is no wonder that credit card debt is skyrocketing. The total revolving debt in America is $796.5 million, as per the most recent estimate by the Federal Reserve.

3 effective ways to eliminate consumer debt

1) Say no to credit cards: The good looking plastic cards encourage you to spend what you do not have. This can be a perilous thing. So dump credit cards for good and start using cash. If you are reluctant to use cash, then use debit cards as an alternative. With debit cards, you are at least spending your own money and not borrowing. So avoid credit cards to get your spending under control. Your debt will eventually vanish.

2) Snowball your way out of debt: Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball has helped a large number of people to end their financial crisis. This is a debt reduction process which requires you to make a list of your debts according to their size. You need to make maximum payments on the smallest debt and pay minimums on all other debts. Once the smallest debt is paid off, concentrate on eliminating the next smallest debt. Continue like this to clear all your debts. Debt snowball is an organized method to address your debt problems.

J.D. Note: I have mentioned this strategy before.  For more details on how to eliminate your debt (and what a debt snowball is), read How To Pay Off Credit Card Debt.
 

3) Debt relief process: Are you knee deep in consumer debt? If yes, then use debt relief programs to eliminate your outstanding balances. Popular debt relief processes include debt consolidation and debt settlement. If you chose debt consolidation then you would have to take a consolidation loan to pay all the existing debts. If you settle your debt, then negotiate with the creditors to reduce the debt amount. If possible, avoid bankruptcy because before it will have a serious effect on your financial life.

It is certainly possible to evade debt even during recession. However, you would need to understand the causes behind your debt and plan your strategies accordingly. So remember the above points and start your quest for a debt free living.

Baby Doctor Appointment – Finding Out the Sex

Megan and I had a sonogram appointment for our baby earlier this week.  The nurse said that the baby is ahead of schedule, moving our due date up 8 days (from July 27th to the 19th). 

We also decided to find out the sex of the baby.  Initially, we weren’t going to find out, but we decided it would give us a chance to bond more closely with our baby.  Instead of calling the baby “it,” we could call it he or she.  We could also start picking out names.

Megan’s felt all along that the baby was a girl.  She’s had detailed dreams about it, so I figured it was going to be a boy.  Turns out she was right.  We are having a girl!

I’m glad we found out.  I already feel closer to our baby than I have at any point prior to finding out.  It seems more real now.  We’re almost halfway there, so we still have a lot to go before the baby’s born.  I can’t wait.



Simple Negotiating Tactics – Getting a Better Battery for the Price of a Cheaper One

Something interesting happened to me today.  Last night, I bought a camera for my new online business, and I also bought a spare battery.  I got them at two different sites.  I got a phone call this morning from the store from where I bought my battery, stating they were out of stock for about 6 weeks.

I quickly realized that I might have had the opportunity to get a better battery at the same price.  I would be perfectly fine waiting 6 weeks, but I didn’t mention that to the lady on the other end of the phone.  She said they have a higher end battery that has a longer battery life, but will still work with my camera.  The battery I bought was $37 on their store, so I asked how much the better battery costs.  She told me $59, and asked if I’d rather get that battery now, since it was in stock.

I simply told her I wasn’t looking to spend that much money on a battery, and that I thought the $37 was kind of high for a battery.  I also told her that I bought it from their site because it was cheaper than other locations.  She asked if I bought from their store before, and I told her no.  She said something along the lines of “Let me put you on hold for a minute.  You seem like a nice guy.”  She put me on hold, and then proceeded to tell me she can give me the nicer battery for the same price.  So I told her I’d do that. 

Simply by being patient, I saved $22.  I would have been perfectly fine waiting the 6 weeks, since this was a spare battery anyway, but got a battery that will last longer for the same price instead.  Patience truly IS a virtue. 🙂

Lent – The Next 40 Days

I am Catholic, so I follow the belief that the 40 days prior to Easter are Lent.  Most people (including Catholics) believe this means this means giving up something during that time, and that is partially true.  You are supposed to sacrifice something, or do something to make yourself a better person/Catholic.  I tend to lean toward self-improvement instead of giving up something.  It’s sort of like a mini-goal, if you will.  One that you can accomplish within 40 days.

I keep getting this feeling like I’m not as religious as I could be.  My wife converted to Catholicism before we got married, and she got a couple books explaining some of the detail of what Catholics believe (This Is Our Faith and Catholic Customs & Traditions).  They covered most of one of the books in class, and expected you to read the other book in your own time.  I’ve been meaning to read that book for the past few years, and haven’t ever done it.

So over the next 40 days, I will read both of those books, which I believe will help me get closer to God, and to better understand my own faith.  I also found a few Catholic blog sites I will start reading.  I have been a Catholic my entire life, but I still feel that I don’t know as much about my own faith as I should.  My goal this Lent is to better understand my faith by reading these two books.

Note: I don’t typically post anything regarding my religion, but this is an exception.  I really want to get deeper in my faith, and I found that writing about my goals helps me stick to them better.  So I probably won’t mention much else about my faith, because I know it’s a touchy subject to read about online.

How to Buy a New Car

I want to start this out by saying that if you have any credit card debt,  you should not even consider buying  a new car.  You should also save up and pay cash for whatever vehicle you purchase, but I know that’s not always going to be the case.  If you can though, you should save the same amount you were planning on spending per month for a new car before you actually start looking for a car.  It’ll let you know what you can actually afford, and help build up a down payment (or the entire purchase price). With that being said, buying a new car can be a really fun experience, as long as you go about it the right way.

Most personal finance experts will tell you to always buy a used car, and I partially agree with them.  If you do it right though, buying a new car can be just as cheap (if not cheaper) than a used car with 20k or so miles on it.  I got my truck for $7500 off the sticker price, which was cheaper than I could find a used one with 35,000 miles on it.

Buying a new car gives you all sorts of advantages that buying used doesn’t.  You can specify the color, options, etc. on your car, and get exactly what you want.  You can talk to all the dealers in your area (and even further out if you wish) and get multiple responses back about the same type of car, but each dealer has their own, even with the exact options you want.  And as long as you keep your car for a long time (at least 10 years), buying new makes sense financially.

If you’ve determined buying a new car is right for you, here’s how you should do it:

  1. Figure out how much you can spend on the car.  If you saved up prior to purchasing, this is easy.  If you will have to take out a loan, I would make sure you can pay it off in 3 years.  Don’t just pick an amount you can afford on a monthly basis and tell your dealer that’s what you can afford.  They’ll stick you with a 60, 72, or 80 month payment!  Make sure you can pay it off in 36 months, and you’ll be in much better shape.  After that 36 months, take the amount you were spending, and put it toward saving for a new car later down the road.
  2. Research last year’s models.  The best time to buy a new car is in the fall, a month or two after the new models come out.  You can get great deals on the previous years models, and they are still brand new.  My truck had 11 miles on it, and I bought the previous year’s model.  Narrow down what type of vehicle you want to a handful of makes/models, then test drive them.  Driving makes a big difference on what you’ll decide.  Test drive them multiple times to see what you like, and cut out the ones you don’t.  Make sure you tell the salesman you’re just in the early stages, and don’t plan on buying for a while (you don’t want to deal with them for your buying purchases).  Look on sites like edmunds.com, autos.yahoo.com, kbb.com, etc. to read reviews about your favorite models, and use this information to help narrow down your choices.  Between all this information, you should be able to narrow down to one specific model.
  3. Figure out the options you want and can afford. Go back to Edmunds.com and check out the invoice price and the average selling price for the model you picked.  Add in the options you like, and keep the price to what you determined you can afford in step 1.  You can figure to spend around the invoice price for purposes of this discussion (you should actually get under invoice by a few grand in the end though).  Now you know exactly what you’re looking for, and are ready to start the buying process.
  4. Email all the dealers in your area with the exact options and color you want to purchase, and ask them for their “bottom line price.”  You can email them right from edmunds.com.  It takes a little while to email all of them, as you have to do it one at a time, but it’s well worth it.  Just copy the description and paste it in every email.  Mention that you’re emailing all the dealers in the area, and are looking for the best price.  Also be sure to ask for the mileage on the vehicle.  You don’t want one that has over 100 miles on it.  Picture how most people test drive vehicles.
  5. Wait for the emails to come rolling in.  You’ll get responses from almost all the companies within a day.  Delete the emails that ask you for the same information you already gave them.  You don’t want to deal with those dealerships.  You’ll get more than a handful that will give you a price.  I put all the responses in a spreadsheet with all the detailed information (contact info, dealership location, options, price, etc.), so I could stay organized.
  6. After a few days, respond via email to the 2nd and 3rd cheapest options (leave the cheapest one alone) and tell them you found the same model for the cheapest price you found.  They should counter with a cheaper price.
  7. Take the cheapest response, and go back to the original person who gave you the lowest bid, and tell them what your new lowest price is.  Continue this process until you get deals that come out to be close to the same, if not exactly the same amount.
  8. If you are taking out a loan, contact your local credit union to get the cheapest rate for your loan.  Credit unions are typically the cheapest route you can go.  Get a quote from them on what sort of interest rate they can give you.
  9. It is only at this point that you actually go into the dealership.  Contact the person with the lowest offer, and tell them you want to come look at the car, and test drive it.  You already have a dirt cheap price.  Now you are just making sure that the vehicle fits what they already told you.  Once you test drive it, ask the dealer if they can beat the interest rate quote you received.  If so, go with them.  Otherwise, tell the dealer you want to go with the loan through your credit union.  They should work with the credit union to get you that rate.
  10. Sign all the paperwork, and drive home in your new vehicle!  Your hard work has finally paid off.

Now you know how to buy a new vehicle.  Never just go to the dealership and purchase right from them.  That’s how you end up with a ton of debt, and higher payments than you can afford.  Follow these ten steps, and you will be happy about your purchase for years to come.

New Year’s Goals – Progress Update – Two Months

It’s now March, so it’s time to give an update on my New Year’s Goals.  I will review my goals at the beginning of every month, to help serve as a reminder to everyone to check their progress throughout the year.

  1. Sell old house.
    We listed our house for sale two days ago.  It’s at a lower price than I’d like, but we can still get what I estimated out of it (assuming someone pays full price for it).  Our renters are flexible, and willing to move out before the end of May if we sell it before then.
  2. Reduce non-house debt by 47.57%.
    Reduced by 6.75% so far, which is now behind the pace (according to the pace, we should be at 7.93%).  I had extra money to put toward it in January, but February didn’t work out so well.  Since we live on last month’s paychecks, February was a low income month for us.  Megan took two weeks off (unpaid) between her jobs at the end of the year, so the paycheck came in January (which impacted our budget for February).  We still put a decent amount toward it, but no extra from what I already had planned.   My estimate for our tax refund was too high too, so we won’t have as much as I planned coming from that source either.  I also had some extra planned for a bonus too, not knowing if I’d even get a bonus this year (since I started in the middle of last year).  I got some, but unfortunately it didn’t make it toward our debt.  I also now have to cover the expenses of starting the business, so that’ll put us back a little for the next few months.
  3. Be able to jog 5 miles without walking.
    I just switched from running 1.5 miles per workout to 2 miles per workout at the beginning of this month.  I ran twice since then, and made it the two miles the first time, but still only went 1.5 miles today.  I’m still having some issues getting the third workout in, but at least I’m working out twice a week.
  4. Do 100 push-ups in 3 minutes.
    I switched up my routine for this, but I am still making progress.  100 push ups doesn’t feel as large of a task as it did at the beginning of the year.  I think I’ll make this earlier than the end of the year.
  5. Do 200 sit-ups in 3 minutes.
    This is even easier for me than the push ups.  Today I did 5 sets of push-ups with very small breaks in between, and averaged around 33 push-ups per set.

Other than the debt reduction, I think we’re on a good pace for hitting our goals.  I still have faith in the debt reduction, but the online business and baby are going to hurt it some.

Now that another month has gone by, how are you doing with your workout goals?  Still making progress, or have you slipped now that two full months have gone by?

Home Depot Water Test Review

We had someone in Home Depot ask us if we wanted to get our water tested, and we were curious, so we said yes.  The person in Home Depot said it was a company affiliated with Home Depot doing the water testing, not Home Depot themselves.  The company that came to our house was Tri-State Water, Power, and Air, and they came tonight.

They said the test would take about an hour to do.  They ran through a bunch of different things, like showing us how soft/hard the water is, the impurities in it, etc.  She talked about all the products that are used to deal with all the impurities (fabric softener, laundry detergent, lotion, conditioner, etc.), and how those are not needed anymore if you have the right kind of water.

So after about a 2 hour demonstration of all this (along with showing us the system they have, and how it is much better), we were convinced that we should get something like it.  Then she starts talking about their product, which is called RainSoft Solution.  It’s around this point in time that I realized it was going to be one of those “buy it now to get this great deal” type of sales pitches.  But I thought this was a good product, and was willing to pay a reasonable price for it.  This was different to me than most of those sales pitches.  She worked with us to estimate how much we spend on all those products listed above that would no longer be needed, and it came out to about $30/mo (which fits right in line with how much I budget for them every month).

Then it comes to the price of their product.  $6400 to buy the product and get it installed.  Oh, but they would give us a 6 year supply of a better, organic version of all those products listed above, which she claimed to be an $81/mo value (don’t ask me how it’s so much different from what we’re currently paying for the same stuff).  But we’d only get the free household products if we purchased it tonight.  Yeah, a $6400 decision is fully expected to be made within a 2 1/2 hour timeframe.

So I was totally honest with her.  I told her that I think they have a great product, but I can’t make a $6400 decision in one night.  I said something like this: “So I think you have a great product, but I can’t make a decision that involves this much money in one night.  I like to research everything that costs that much before I buy it.  I mean, how do I know that there’s not a competitor of yours that does not have the overhead costs of going from home to home that sells the product for $3000?”

I think it was at this point that she realized we were smarter than her average household, because she started packing her things up.  She realized we weren’t going to be buying tonight, and explained that we could always purchase it later at the same price, but we wouldn’t get the free 6 year supply of cleaning products.  So she packed everything up and started heading out the door when I asked her if she had any information about the company she worked for (because she didn’t leave us a way to get back in touch with her).  She said she didn’t have anything other than a business card, which she gave to me at that point in time.  The business card had her first name on it (no last name) and was printed on a home computer.

So, like any budget-minded person would do, I immediately went to Google after she left, and looked for “RainSoft water reviews.”  Guess what I found.  A lot of unhappy customers.  I read review after review about how they are pushy to try to make a sale, how they do anything possible to not let you return it once you say you want it, and every once in a while a good comment about how it’s a great system but way overpriced.  Almost everyone said you could find something just as good but much cheaper, which was my gut feeling as well.

Never make a major purchase decision on the spot.  It is almost always a bad idea.  Anything that is semi-major of a purchase (let alone $6400) requires research and patience.  If you feel pressured into buying something, just say no.  You’ll almost always regret it later if you don’t.

I am convinced that we should do something to get better water, but I know it’s not going to be using RainSoft’s products.  We learned some stuff from her, but will find something that is a little more practical (and won’t pressure us into buying it).  Oh well, at least we got a $20 gift card to Home Depot. 🙂

Update: We ended up getting a Whirlpool water softener from Lowes for $400, and installed it ourselves.  It works great, and uses very little salt.  We’ve had it for a little over a year now.  We probably add a bag of salt every 2-3 months.