My First Real Landscaping Project – A Berm

When we moved into this house a couple years ago, I had this idea to create a berm around a cluster of utilities in our yard.  All nestled together was an electrical box, a water pipe, a fire hydrant, and a cable box.  I wanted to plant a tree to give us some shade in the driveway, and enclose it all with some landscaping.  I planted the tree last fall, and cut it down over the winter so it would grow back straight.  Read up on that in my Royal Empress post.

So now I had the tree, with the plan of adding the landscaping this spring.  I finally got my car put back together, so I could finally move on to this project.  I spent an entire weekend working on it, and had to make several trips for dirt, rock, brick, mulch, flowers, etc. during the process.

It was a fun project, and I’ve gotten a lot of compliments from the neighbors.  I don’t have a good before picture, but I did take this one showing the tree that was chopped down.  I just sprayed not too long before this picture to kill all the grass in preparation of the berm.

The electrical box technically isn’t on our property, but there’s an empty lot next door.  So we just landscaped around it, which should be a benefit for the house they will eventually build there.  Here’s what it looked like after we were all done:

All the flowers and grasses will grow to hide the box and fire hydrant, but my plan allows everything to still be accessible if needed.  I think it turned out pretty good.  What do you think?

Royal Empress – A Fascinating Tree

We are still new to our house, and we don’t have any trees in our yard.  I wanted to plant one when we had our first child, so we planted one last fall.  I did some research, and decided on a Royal Empress tree.  It is hard wood, grows extremely fast, provides a ton of shade during the summer, but loses it’s gigantic leaves in the fall so the sun can shine through on the house during the cold winter months.

I wanted to plant it on the south side of our driveway.  I ordered one online for $15, and it came in the mail basically as a stick.  It grew about 4 inches the rest of the fall.  I read that if you chop it down after the first year, it’ll come back quick and straight the next year.  So I cut it down over the winter.  I wasn’t sure if it would come back or not.  April came, and I finally saw two little sprouts growing on the tree.

I got really excited.  The tree was probably going to make it, but I still wasn’t 100% sure.  I was curious as to how quickly it would grow, since I’ve read some really unbelievable statements online.  I even read one place that said it grew 11 feet in one year!  I thought that was crazy talk, but I was curious to see how much it would grow this year.

So another month goes by, and one of the sprouts turned into this (the second sprout quit growing, which is good):

It’s about 18 inches tall, in just one month!  It’s already grown larger than that, as this picture was taken on May 12th.  My plan was to create a berm around all the equipment we have here, so that’s why the grass is dead.  I sprayed it and this was the in-between time.  I’ll have to post a picture of the berm in another post.  Here’s a picture of Brooke (my 9 month old daughter) next to the tree, so you can get a better idea of the size of it.  Keep in mind that it’s only 1 month from non existent.

She’s sitting right next to it.  The leaves are almost as large as the tree itself!  I can’t wait to see what it’ll be like in the fall.

Marketing Tactics of Car Commercials

Have you noticed the way car companies show pricing in their commercials over the past couple years?  They heavily advertise the low monthly price ($159 per month!) but never mention any other terms of the loan.  If they even show you the fine print (I’ve seen some that don’t even show that), the loan is usually for something ridiculous like 80 months!  I’ve even seen one that went up to 84 months!  How about a 7 year loan on a car?  Are you kidding me?

Of course, you should just ignore the monthly price for anything you see advertised.  The only thing that matters is the price of what you’re buying anywhere else, so why is it different for cars?  You need to find out the price of the vehicle you want to purchase, then you can worry about getting the best deal on a loan (if you need one).

Really though, you should not take out a loan on a vehicle.  You should just save up until you have enough cash on hand to pay for it.  It should be treated just like any other expense: if you don’t have the money to buy it, you can’t afford it.

Now, I know we’re not all perfect.  I have a car loan.  We shouldn’t have done it, but we did.  And now we’re working really hard to get it paid off before our second child is born.  We should have it paid off in just over 2 years though.  We wouldn’t have even been in this position if we just kept our old car for a couple more years.  But the plan is that will be the last car loan we’ll ever have.  We are going to start saving for a new car as soon as that’s paid off, and we will only spend what we have saved.  That’s what we should have done before, and what most people should do.

Wondering how you can set the money aside?  Using YNAB, it’s really easy.  You just create a category, and treat a car savings fund just like a car payment fund.  Decide how much you can afford for a car “payment,” and put that much into the car savings fund every month.  It’ll automatically build up every month, and when you reach the amount you want to pay for a car, you can go get it without a loan.

If you aren’t using YNAB, you can still set up a savings account, and set up an automatic transfer to it at the beginning of every month.  Still too hard?  Set up the automatic transfer on the day you get paid, but make it for half of what you want to save for the month.  This will even get you a bonus savings of an extra month throughout the course of the year (assuming you get paid every two weeks).

So don’t listen to those stupid car commercials.  If you’re looking for a new car, follow my post on how to buy a new car.  If you’re looking used, try to find the best deal you can that fits your budget.

Timing: Home vs Work

It’s funny how things happen at the same time.  At work, I’ve got a project that feels like it’s dragging on longer than it should be, and it’s taking up a ton of my time.  I’ve been working extra to try to get it completed, and sometimes I feel like I’m not getting any closer when the day is done, even with the extra time.  It almost feels like the more hours I work, the more issues that pop up during the day.  And I keep running into more and more obstacles that make the project take longer and longer.

Last weekend, I took on my biggest project with my car.  I’m changing the timing belt along with all the other belts, and more importantly a leaky seal behind the belt.  That project isn’t progressing as I’d like either.  I’ve broken several tools trying to loosen the bolt that holds the timing belt to the crankshaft, and am borrowing tools from three different people to try to complete it.  If it wasn’t leaking, I’d be putting the car back together with the current timing belt, because it doesn’t look like it’s in bad shape.  But I really want to fix the leak, so I have to figure out some way to get it apart.

Just a few weeks ago, things weren’t so busy at home or work.  Now all of a sudden both are taking up all my time, and it seems like I can’t get anything else done.  I know it’ll settle back down once both of these projects are complete, but there’s still a ton left to do once they are done (both at work and at home).

It’s just strange how things go in waves, and right now it’s even busier than usual in both my professional and personal lives.  Hopefully it’ll calm down soon.

New Year’s Goals – Progress Update – Four Months

I haven’t posted in a month on here!  It’s been a busy month.  Our entire family got sick, we took a vacation for almost a week, and we’ve been dealing with trying to refinance our rental property (which has been a long process).  With all that going on, I haven’t had a chance to post all month.  That should change this month.  Here’s an update on my New Year’s Goals for this year:

  1. Reduce house debt by 44.11%.
    Target: 14.7%, Actual: 29.76%.  We have crossed the halfway point!  But this is still part of the revised plan.  Since we’re pregnant again, we won’t have as much to contribute to this once the baby’s born in October.  I’ve updated the graph to show our revised target.  We should be able to pay off more debt, but it’ll be much more irregular.  This revised target takes the new baby into account.  Here’s a graph of our progress so far:
  2. Run a 5k.
    Not yet, but it’s still early.
  3. Work out at least 2 times per week.
    I ran twice this month.  This has been more difficult than I thought, and I don’t see it getting easier next month.  I will be working more over the next few weeks, so my exercise time will be even more limited.
  4. Add at least 2 products to
    I added one group of products this month.  I don’t know where all my free time has gone, but it’s definitely not here.  I feel like I’m falling behind on this one.  The only group of products I added were the high quality component cables.
  5. Make our home  more energy efficient.
    Nothing this month.  But I’ve made some real progress in this area so far this year.  Just about the only thing left on my list is stuff in the basement, which isn’t as high of a priority.  I knocked this one out early.
  6. Participate in at least one bike race.
    The race I plan to do is the Tour de Donut.  I found someone else to race in it with me, so now I’ll know two people in it.

Overall, I’m doing ok, but I have slipped this month.  I’ve gotten a lot of products added overall, but that hasn’t reflected in this month’s report.  I do need to get the custom products up though.  I can basically check the home efficiency item off my list, but the exercise has been slacking all year.  I also keep adding to my list of things I need to get done around the house.  It seems like everything’s piling up with me right now, and I can’t seem to find the time to get any real work done with a 9 month old around.  She takes up my old work times – from the time I get home until dark.  I have to figure out how to work all that in.