My Son, The Cardinal Fan

I found out last night that my 7 month old son is a Cardinal fan.  How do I know this?  He normally gets a bath around 8, drinks his bottle, and goes to sleep by 8:30.  He’s been on this bedtime routine for most of his life, but last night he decided to change it.

He took a two hour nap before the game started, so he could be rested enough to stay up late.  That’s unusual for him.  The game was delayed until 8:15 due to a rain delay.  Blake got his bath, and drank his bottle that his mom was feeding him.  Typically, once he finishes his bottle, he falls asleep on mommy.  Not last night.  With his eyes wide open, he stopped sucking on the bottle, and stared at me.  Then he got a big smile as if he was telling me something.  So Megan gave him to me to hold for a while, and I sat him on my lap facing the TV.  He sat on my lap and watched the game until almost 10:00, until we finally decided just to put him to bed.

He must have heard me talking earlier in the week about how I was excited to watch Michael Wacha make his first big league start, so he planned out the whole thing so he could watch as well.  He must be a Cardinal fan, don’t you think?

How to Have a Great Lawn on a Budget

I figure now that the mowing season has gotten underway, it’s a good time for a post on saving money while still maintaining a great-looking lawn.  The short answer is to do all the work yourself.  It will still cost you some money up front to get all the supplies you need, but you can use them from year to year.  Based on what I’ve seen, hiring out the results gets lower quality work at a higher price.  Nobody cares as much about your lawn as you do, and it’ll show in the results.  I’ll give you everything you need to know to have a great looking lawn, and not pay anyone else your hard earned money to do it for you.

A few of my neighbors pay to have their lawns taken care of, and I’ve seen some of the people working on their lawns.  They just don’t care.  I’ve seen a couple of the companies aerating lawns, and one of my neighbors borrowed the aerator I rented to redo it afterwards because it was so poorly done.  So here’s your complete guide to maintaining your own lawn, and actually making it look good, all in one article.

Believe it or not, it all starts with fertilizing.  You should fertilize your lawn four times a year.  Once early in spring (usually right after you mow the first or second time) with a crabgrass preventer, once in mid spring (typically early to mid May, but at least 4 weeks after your first feeding) with a weed killer, again when the summer heat starts to disappear, and finally in late fall to get your lawn ready to take off next spring.

I use a drop spreader so I can accurately measure how much fertilizer is put down.  I prefer to use Scotts brand of products, and have seen good results from them.  I buy the biggest bag, which costs more up front, but I put any remaining into a 5 gallon sealed bucket with the label cut so I know what type of fertilizer is in there and what the instructions are.  Just duct tape it to the bucket, and reuse the fertilizer next year.

Other than fertilizing the four times per year, you might need to spray for weeds a few times.  In mid spring, if you see just a few weeds, get a big spray container of weed killer you can spray directly to the weeds.  I have had decent luck with the Spectracide brand, which isn’t quite as expensive as Ortho.  It just takes a few weeks to kill the weeds, but it works.  I do use Ortho Weed B Gone Chickweed Clover killer for the non broadleaf weeds though.  In my lawn, I spot treat the broadleaf weeds, since the fertilizer seems to keep them at bay, and spray the entire lawn with the Ortho Weed B Gone in mid spring to get rid of the clover that seems to want to grow in my lawn.  This combination seems to work for my lawn, but you might need to test it out and see how it works on yours.

The cheapest thing you can do to make your lawn look good is to make sure you’re mowing at the right times and right heights.  Most grasses should be kept at 2.5 to 3 inches tall.  Grasses stay healthier if they are taller, so I lean toward the 3 inches height.  Just put your mower on a flat surface and measure from the mowing deck to the ground.  Adjust that to be just under or right at 3 inches, and you should be fine for the height.  Keep it that way all year, until your last mowing.  Drop it down to about 2 inches for your final mowing of the year.

As far as how often you should mow, it depends on your lawn.  You should always try to cut 1/3 of the grass blade when you mow, and ideally you’ll mulch it so the grass gets the nutrients.  No matter what you hear, mulching all the time will not cause thatch build up.  Mulching breaks the blades into tiny pieces that decompose relatively quickly.  Ok, back to timing.  In the spring, you’ll probably need to mow every 3-4 days.  But when summer comes, you can cut back to around once every week or two, depending on how much rain you get.  In the fall, you’ll probably be back to mowing once a week or so.

As far as watering your lawn goes, just make sure you get at least 1 inch of water a week.  Your lawn can handle less for a short time, but you’ll probably need to water it during some of the dry summer months.  Just get a $3 rain gauge that you can stick in your lawn, and put it in the middle of the range of your sprinkler to see how much water it takes to get to one inch.  Water your lawn that much once a week during the dry times, and don’t worry about it the rest of the time.

If you have bad spots in your lawn, or the summer heat kills some areas (which it probably will to an extent), plant grass seed right after the summer heat dies down (temps start hovering around 80 or below for the highs).  I also recommend overseeding almost every year, just to maintain the grass.  Plant grass seed, and fertilize for the third time on the year.  Make sure you water your new seeds every day for two weeks.  You don’t need to give much water; just enough to keep the seeds wet.  After two weeks, you should start to see grass growing, and you can cut your watering back to once every two days for a couple more weeks.  Once you fertilize one last time for the winter, the grass should start growing thick next spring, and look good by the end of May.

Once every 2-3 years, you should rent a lawn aerator and aerate your lawn.  I’ve done it the past three years on my lawn, because it’s a new lawn.  It doesn’t hurt to do it more often.  I’ve coordinated with my neighbors, and it can be really cheap that way.  Aerate right before you overseed/fill in bare spots, and your seeds will have the perfect home.

Sharpen your blade at the beginning of each mowing season, and you should be all set.  Just buy a gigantic hand file to do the filing.  You don’t need anything fancier than that.  The blades are soft, so they are easy to sharpen.  If you have a push mower, turn the mower on it’s side (with the air filter side up) and stick a scrap piece of 2X4 under the blade so you can loosen the bolt.  I just hold the blade up against my workbench with a couple clamps and one hand while I file down the blade with the other.  I’ve used the same blade the past 7 years, and might finally have to replace it next year (we’ll see if that happens).

So there you have it – everything you need to know about how to maintain your lawn.  It’ll take a few years to get it in great shape, but eventually you’ll be the envy of the neighborhood if you follow everything in this post.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments below.  I’ll try to clarify anything I said, or help you with your individual situation.  Doing all the work yourself will save you a ton of money, and you’ll still have a great lawn.  Good luck!

Online Business Update

I haven’t given an update on my online business in a while, so I figured it’s time.  I got a lot of products up on my online store (about 110 or so), but still had a lot to add to get a full line of products.  When our second baby was on the way last year, I started to evaluate the business model a little differently.

I was drop shipping my products, and started to imagine what it would be like if the business took off.  I’d have to order a whole bunch of items, and keep the inventory somewhere in our house.  Probably 200 or so items, and multiple of each, so I could ship the items out myself.  Drop shipping wouldn’t be as viable of an option once I started selling more, because I would want to include my own packing slips, and the cost dramatically goes down when you buy in bulk.

So the time it would take to ship everything out would be a lot, and the margin just wasn’t there to make it worth all the time it would take (especially with two kids under two).  Not to mention all the work it would take to get all the products up on my site.  And all this work for just a few dollars per order.

So I decided to shut down the online store portion, and just keep open the custom installations.  Throughout this process, I’ve found that the products aren’t where I’d be making the money.  The revenue is in the labor of doing the actual installations.  There’s less cost with this as well, as I already pay to have one site hosted, so a second web site doesn’t cost me anything extra.  I just created a basic website talking about the installations, and replaced my online store (if you’re interested to see what it looks like, it’s http://www.archwayhometheateraccessories.com).  There’s no merchant account to pay, no online store fees to pay, no SSL cost, etc.  Just a basic website that doesn’t cost me anything extra.

Now the work I have to put in on a regular basis is basically non-existent, but I am still available to do home theater installations for people if they want.  If you’re in the area I live and google “home theater installations,” I pop up as number one in the list.  It’s gotten me a couple of calls so far, and hopefully more in the future.  From what I’ve heard, big stores like Best Buy charge a fortune to do an extremely basic job (they don’t even install the speaker wire in the walls).  I charge less, and make sure the job is done right.  We’ll see how this new twist to the business goes.

New Blog Name!

After weeks of trying to come up with a better name, I actually ended up picking the name from Josh’s comment.  I had five other ideas, but liked Pohlman’s Personal Finance the best.  Thanks for the help, Josh!

So say goodbye to the generic “My Life and Views On Personal Finance,” and say hello to “Pohlman’s Personal Finance.”  I’m not 100% sold on the slogan just yet, so I might end up changing it a few more times.  But I like the name.  It’s simple, clean, and fits nicely.  Maybe I’ll have to work on a new image at the top at some point as well.

New Year’s Goals – Progress Update – Four Months

It’s been May for a while, but I haven’t gotten a chance to post this until now.  Things have been pretty busy lately, which I always enjoy.  Here’s a quick update on my 2013 New Year’s Goals:

1) Reduce debt by 68.33%.
Target: 17.26%, Actual: 10.76%.  I originally planned on this being a big month (it increased by 8.5 percentage points), but it didn’t turn out that way.  We decided we wanted to save up a little bit of money to finish part of our basement this summer (by doing the work ourselves of course), and we had to set aside a bunch of money for some dental work that we weren’t expecting, so this month fell pretty flat.  I’m not adjusting the original estimate yet though, as I hope we can recover before the end of the year.  It’ll be hard, but I still hope we can do it.  Here’s a graph of the progress so far:

debt-reduction2) Run a 5k.
I started running a little when the weather got warmer.  I’m just starting a routine on it, but I still hope to run one this fall.

3) Complete a bike race.
This one will be a little harder, since it takes more time to get good exercise on a bike.  It’ll probably be later in the year when this training starts up.

First Family Trip With the Trailer

This past weekend, we took both kids and both dogs to visit family that’s about 3 hours away.  We left Friday, and came back Sunday, so we needed things to entertain them along with everything that’s needed for naps and overnight items.  Since our youngest is only 6 months old, we have a bouncy seat and a mat for him to play with on the floor, and those two items are all he really needs.  The problem is that they take up a lot of space.  Throw in two strollers and a baby gate because the house we stayed at had a basement, and we couldn’t fit everything in either one of our two vehicles.

As those that follow this blog knows, I used to have a truck.  This would be no problem with a truck.  Load everything in the back and go.  And my truck had a tonneau cover on it, so everything would be nice and dry if it rained.  And it poured all day while we made the trip.  I saw that we got 2.5 inches of rain while we were gone, and most of it was the day all our items sat outside in the weather.

But we don’t have a truck anymore.  I replaced it with a covered trailer for days just like this.  We loaded everything into the trailer, covered it up, and hooked it up to my Honda Fit to make the 3 hour trip.  In order to make good time, we decided to meet at a commuter lot so I wouldn’t have to drive all the way home in the opposite direction, so I had to take the trailer to work with me.  Did I mention it rained all day long?

Well, after sitting in the pouring down rain for 8 hours while I was at work, and another 2.5 hours on the drive up, everything was dry for the most part.  There were a couple of items that got wet from the bottom of the trailer.  Once we got back home, I saw some holes in the bottom of the trailer that would allow water to come up from the road as I drove. So I just caulked those up so they won’t be a problem next time.  Problem solved.

The best part about this is that my “truck” has a lot less maintenance than any vehicle.  I just checked the tire pressure before we left, verified that the lights worked, and caulked up a part of it when we got back. No oil to change, no brakes to fail, or anything like that.  And when I drove to work Monday morning, I got my 40mpg vehicle back.  With the trailer and a full load with wife, two kids, and two dogs, it was down to 34mpg, which is still better than most vehicles on the road.  As an added bonus, I got the higher mpg’s while we were at her family’s place too, as the trailer was disconnected just sitting in the driveway.

In basically every way, the trailer is a better experience than having a truck.  You can attach it when needed, and just let it sit when you don’t.  You get much better mileage than you would in any truck, even with the trailer attached, and you get even better when you simply detach the trailer.  Once you get over the whole stigma of attaching a trailer to a car, you’ll realize it makes a lot of sense.  Sometimes it pays to be a little weird.  It gives you a good conversation starter too.  Maybe you can educate others on how to be more efficient with their vehicles as well…