Thursday, December 31, 2009

Welcome to the new Decade

I had not really thought there was a problem with ushering in the new decade until my pal Rick made a quick note about it the other day.

Rubbish. The year 2010 is the last year of the decade, not 2009. The year 2009 is the NINTH year of the first decade of the 21st century. We have another year to go.

Rick is a smart guy, and the logic is sound. I tucked this away in the back of my mind.

It came back again at lunch.

Paying Back Money

I caught part of a Talk Radio show while driving to lunch. The host was having an amiable disagreement with the caller. The hypothetical situation used to prove the host’s position is as follows.

If you owe someone $10.00, you can’t stop at $9.00. You are still short a dollar.

That makes sense, but something did not sit well.

Music

And this is where it hit me. Let’s say that some kind soul gave you an ITunes gift card and you are buy some songs. You download “Another One Bites the Dust (Queen),” “Cars (Gary Numan)” and “You May Be Right (Billy Joel").”

How do you tag these songs that came out in 1980? Are these hits from the 80’s or sounds of the 70’s?

It’s A Floor Wax, It’s A Desert Topping

Perhaps this is not really and either/or situation, but rather, is rooted in the context of how we are use the term decade. Maybe they are not, as Rick points out, the same set of 10 years, but still we frequently use the term interchangeably to refer to both periods.

It’s enough to make your head spin round and round (“right round, like a record baby*”).

See, I told you he was a smart guy!

 

 

*Dead or Alive - 1985

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Spending Habits

There are three things that you can do with money: spend it, save it or give it away. Going along with yesterday’s theme, knowing what we can do with money is another teachable moment that we can pour into our kids.

While you are enrolled in FPU or reading The Total Money Makeover, you are going to spend money. Unlike a diet, you simply can’t starve yourself past a weigh-in. You need to “un-learn what you have learned” and develop a game plan to not overspend and derail your budget.

I think the best way to accomplish this is to choose paper over plastic.

You will spend more with Credit Cards

I remember the first time in 2004 when a local McDonald’s installed a credit card machine in front of the register. I am old enough to remember when McDonald’s stopped taking checks! For many years, McDonald’s operated on a cash-basis. If all you had in your pocket was enough for a Big Mac, fries and a Coke, that is all you could buy. Today, you can add an Apple Pie because it all goes onto the card.

McDonald’s discovered that people spending went from $4.50 to $7.00 once they started accepting plastic. Dunn and Bradstreet also discovered that, on average, you will spend 12 – 18% more when using your credit card.

Why? Because of that wonderful brain in your head.

You brain will register something when you spend with cash: loss. Swiping (or waving) a card, your brain doesn’t registered that you had to give something up in order to make a purchase. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon summed it up this way: “Credit cards effectively anesthetize the pain of paying.”

Even if you are paying with a Visa Debit Card (which I use), you still spend more, but not as much because you know that it is directly tied to your bank account.

Going Green!

When FPU members start getting their house in order, I like to recommend that they start mixing cash back into the equation. Cindy and I waited nearly seven months before we got to this point.

Here is a scenario that you are likely to encounter. You are in the grocery store and you go through the check out. Your total is fifty dollars over what you budgeted for Groceries.

What do you do? If you are paying with your debit card, you swipe the extra fifty – it’ll come from somewhere.

Cindy played that scenario out for many years. We had a number on the budget, but, if we did not honor that number and over spent anyway, we did not have a budget. We had a theory. What she needed was something with here in the store that said “you need to put something back.”

Cindy uses an envelope system that she will put cash in each payday. She will cash a check that covers the Groceries, Sundry (things that you buy at the Grocery Store, but you do not eat), Restaurants and Blow Money (more on that later) categories. The teller is given instructions that states the denominations that she wants. Once the cash has been dispensed, she places the correct amount into corresponding envelopes.

When Cindy shops at the grocery store, she always pays out of the envelopes. Sometimes, this means that she can’t get an item this week and something has to go back. We also use the envelopes whenever we go out to eat – If there is no money in the restaurant envelope, we stay home.

Blow Money

Every budget needs a little wiggle room, or you will always find yourself constantly moving money between categories. Blow money is a concept that recognizes that need for wiggle. There might not be money left over in the Restaurant Envelope, but, maybe we could use some blow money and go out to eat after all.

We’ve taken the concept a little further, and divide the blow money between the two of us. You can do whatever you want to with your blow money. Most of mine seems to go to Starbucks.

How much should you be putting aside in blow? It should be Baby Step appropriate. If you haven’t saved up for Baby Step One, and both you and your spouse are giving each other $125 in Blow Money, that’s not Baby Step appropriate.

Learning how to spend within your budget is a key behavior that needs to be developed. Watch out for things that might make you overspend – start spending with cash so that you don’t bust your budget.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Teaching Your Kids Compound Interest Fu

I love movies. I especially love movies that come from left field and are simply awesome. For me, The Matrix was that type of movie.

The idea that we are all human batteries, living life in an imaginary world is creepy. However, being able to download any type of learning into the brain was the stuff of Cyberpunk. I loved it.

There is one scene where the main character, Neo, awakens after having martial arts fighting skills downloaded and exclaims “I know Kung Fu.”

Let’s teach our kids about compound interest.

“But Chuck,” you say, “There are so many other things I need to teach the kids, and I am sure that they will learn all of this in High School Economics. I don’t even understand it myself.”

Raise your hands out there if, at anytime in your adult life, you have uttered this phrase “I wish I would have started this when I was 20.”

Ok, now that I have lowered my hand, I can keep typing.

Make it Real

I love reality shows. This is the first year that we let the kids watch Survivor with us, and they were amazed that you could actually win a million dollars.

Did you know that most millionaires in America are “First Generation” rich? They did not win it on an Island, they did not hit the lottery – they did a lot of little smart things over a long period of time.

Booyah, as Russell might say.

What is Compound Interest?

Very simply put, it is magic. Seriously. If I was to take five dollars and put in in the cookie jar every day, I would have at the end of the year $1825. You can simply multiply 365 times $5.00. You can then multiply that out by the numbers of years you plan to invest in the cookie jar.

Instead of putting it in a cookie jar, let’s put it into something that has an interest rate associated with it. The cookie jar has a 0% interest rate, and is a lousy investment tool.

However, a mutual fund that averages 12% since it’s inception is a very nice tool. But, what does that mean? You multiply the $1825 by the interest rate (assuming yearly interest for ease of math) and you would have an extra $219.

If you take that $219 and put it back in your investment, instead of taking it home, next year you will not have interest on $3650 ($1825 times two years), but $3869. The second year, your interest would be $464.28.

Rinse, lather and repeat. It just keeps growing.

Drinking at Five Bucks

Consider my earlier post, I picked on Starbucks Coffee because I like their product. I can easily drop two to five dollars a day on any of their drinks and not bat an eye. I simply annualized the money to show how much you could put back into your wallet for the sake of increasing cash flow.

Taking my previous example, instead of putting five dollars a day and calculating interest on an annual basis, let’s do real world. You would normally save that five dollars and invest it on a monthly basis. In addition, interest is calculated on a monthly basis, not an annual basis.

So, let’s invest $150 a month between age 16 and 76. Working a part time job, do you think they could save $150 a month (hint…yes)?

Total Money Invested

$109,500.00

Total Interest Earned

$19,722,690.93

Total Future Value

$19,832,190.93

$1,000,000 Year

2046

Age your sixteen year old will be in 2046

52

You can play around with these numbers using any financial calculator. The reality of the stock market is that we have bear markets (when stock market is down 20%) and bull markets. That’s why the age of your investment tool and the average rate it has returned since inception is so important.

And…what if I am half wrong?

I Only Wish…

Seriously, I wish that I had known this when I was sixteen. I got my first job at eighteen working at a gas station and then moved into ushering theaters. I was making minimum wage and could make more than $150 a month. I had some friends throwing boxes at UPS and the rumor was that these guys made great money.

The thing about compound interest is that it is a slow cook over time. Time is your enemy. An early start changes everything.

Even, possibly, changing your family tree.

New Years Resolution

Are you finding any of my latest post interesting? Want to learn more? Then pick up a copy of The Total Money Makeover. Want to go deeper? Then find a Financial Peace University class in your area.

The class that I am teaching starts on January 14th at Atlantic Shores Baptist Church at the corner of Kempsville and Centerville Turnpike in Virginia Beach. My best buds Ron and Sheila will be teaching a class on Sunday nights starting on January 10th.

Child care is provided through the church.

Each class is comprised of 13 lessons:

Date Lesson
Jan 14 Super Saving
Jan 21 Relating With Money
Jan 28 Cash Flow Planning
Feb 4 Dumping Debt
Feb 11 Credit Sharks In Suits
Feb 18 Buyer Beware
Feb 25 Clause and Effect
Mar 4 That's Not Good Enough
Mar 11 Of Mice and Mutual Funds
Mar 18 From Fruition To Tuition
Mar 25 Working In Your Strengths
Apr 1 Real Estate and Mortgages
Apr 8 The Great Misunderstanding

If you have taken FPU before, remember, you are welcome to visit any lesson. Just bring your work book in with you. If you haven’t taken the class before, you can visit any one of these classes as my guest. Please contact me via Facebook or this blog so I know to expect you and can arrange child care.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Baby Step 3 – Three to Six Months Emergency Fund

Baby Step 3 is an exciting step to start. Once you have gotten to this step, it means that you have paid off all of your debts, except the house.

For some, it was just a matter of minding the store. Getting a budget in order and executing on that budget – telling your money who is in charge.

For others, it was very hard. You had an uncommitted spouse, maybe you are a single parent or maybe the hole was really, really deep. But you made it.

Expenses or Income?

Hopefully, you have called into “The Dave Ramsey Show” and screamed “I’M DEBT FREE!!!” Now, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work on your next goal.

You and your spouse will need to decide if you are going to try and cover three or six months (or in between). You will have different factors to consider. In our case, we leaned more towards the six months – I have the larger salary and work outside the home. Cindy teaches private lessons and teaches our kids in home school. If I am out of work, then I will have to be able to cover the family expenses for the amount of time that I am trying to get another job. We both feel comfortable with that amount.

The mistake that is sometimes made is that people try and save three to six months of income. That’s not necessary. If you have suspended investments, you need to keep in mind that you want to get them plugged back in within 24 months of unplugging.

Hopefully, by now, you know what your expenses are because you have many months of budgets behind you. You know where your money goes and exactly how much you need to live.

Where to Keep It?

I made a mistake when we got to Baby Step 3 – I was “walking like Gomer Pyle on valium” through the first four months. One day, it hit me that the next step was investing 15% of our income into retirement. After a committee meeting, we adjusted our budget so we were putting 15% of our income into the Emergency Fund.

This knocked it out in short order.

Where we put the Emergency Fund was important also. You need to be able to draw on it at anytime without penalties, and that led us to a Money Market Account.

We opened one online when rates where better than CDs, and even today, the rates are still better than a standard savings account. We have check writing privileges and can transfer money into and out of the account.

But, don’t be concerned about the rates. The Emergency Fund is not an investment, it is insurance.

Don’t get fancy looking for a bigger, better deal.

The Long Road

It does take awhile to get to Baby Step 3. The average time it takes for an FPU member to get to Baby Step 3 is 18 – 24 months. This is not a race – it takes time. And, there will be setbacks along the way: life will happen.

And when life does happen, pay minimums on your debt snowball, rebuild the Baby Emergency Fund and then pick it up again.

But the rewards are so worth the effort!

Breath this thought in for just a minute – You and your family are DEBT FREE! The money that comes into your household does not have anyone else’s name on it.

It does not have Chase’s, Capital One’s, Sallie Mae or GMAC’s name it. It simply has your family’s name on it.

What does being debt free do to your Marriage? What impact will it have on your Kid’s lives as you teach them these principals? How neat is it going to be when a single mom at church needs $200 to keep the lights on and you can just walk over and stroke a check without thinking about it?

Breath it in!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hole to Shovel Ratio

There is a part of FPU that is very hard for me: when you have members who have a “hole to shovel” ration problem. This simply means that their income alone is not going to get them out of their current debt situation.

The reason that this is difficult for me is because more often than not, these members have lost hope and some have simply resigned themselves to their current situation.

What can they do? It’s time to get creative!

Old Fashion Garage Sale

This is one of my favorites because it can be played several ways. In my last class, I had a member hold two garage sales and she unloaded over $1000 worth of Japanese Furniture. This wasn’t your typical garage sale where you are nickel and diming over old clothing, but she came back to class absolutely GLOWING!

Garage Sales might not be your thing, but, how about selling stuff on Craig’s List or EBay? It is amazing what you can unload.

What about combining the two? My neighbor has collected quite a few bicycles from garage sales and fixed them up and resold them. By low, sell high!

As Dave would say, “Sell so much stuff, the kids think they are next!”

Part Time Job

Sometimes the answer to getting more money to pay off debt is to look at taking a part time job. It might not be a permanent solution, but if it helps you pay of debt, the sacrifice is worth the time.

A guy in one our classes went to Sears to pick up part time work for the holiday season. They asked him to come on full time as a manager. You never know what opportunities are waiting for you!

Finding Your Career

Have you ever had a job where you worked a lot of hours (50 – 70) but made crappy money? Or, where you are salaried for 40 hours, but have to work nearly 60 hours a week (and none of those extra hours are ever paid out)?

Is that a good employer? It might be time to have a talk with them to adjust the compensation to reflect the work. If not, you might need to really consider your position. I would never recommend that you quit a job, especially if you do not have something to go towards. But, you might want to start putting out feelers.

But, what if you are in the wrong field all together?

I recommend that you check out Dan Miller’s site, 48 Days. It is based on his book “48 Days Till the Work You Love.” In the book, the author is not showing you how to get “another job,” but about finding the work you love (your calling). This is another book that I highly recommend, but it is not a book you can just read. You have to work your way through it.

Awesome Victories

When couple start off in this situation, they often just don’t know what they are going to do – they feel hopeless. It is really awesome to see ideas spark in their heads as they go through FPU and say “Hey, I got nothing else to loose” and try some of the crazy ideas we discuss.

It is really inspiring to me when you see these very same couples complete the thirteen week course winning!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Does Your Stuff Own You?

When new members come into FPU, they come just as they are. The class is a judgment zone free: we’ve all done silly things with money (some with more zeros than others).

The first time I heard Dave Ramsey say “Hi, my name is Dave, and I like stuff” I knew I was going to like this guy. You see, that is exactly who I am: I like stuff. And, if it is computer or home theater related, I like it even more.

I did not even know I had a problem with stuff, after all, I could afford it. But that was a form of denial. I was living with just enough “manageable debt”, with less than $1,800 in a savings account (and feeling good about that), no retirement plan (other than randomly picked investments in my company’s 401k) and no savings towards the kid’s college (unless you counted about $600 in a savings account).

My stuff was owning me and was preventing me from doing what I knew I should be doing.

I needed to change.

I Can Make The Payments!

The last time I bought a car, it was a 2002 Pontiac Grand Am. It was my second car that I had bought from a dealer, and I was by no means an expert at negotiations. Most likely, I had a nice red “Sucker” written across my forehead. I just didn’t know it at the time.

I remember taking the test drive, falling in love with the car on the test drive and emotionally buying that car within twenty minutes of being on the lot.

I was nervous about buying the car because I new how much I could afford to pay each month (I had just finished paying off another car, so I knew I had that much). However, some creative financial magic must have occurred in the back room and the payments where right on target.

I drove off the lot with a brand new car whose payments were not much higher than the car I had just paid off.

The Cost of Opportunity

What I had really done was just committed to five years of $400 payments for a vehicle whose value would drop about 70% in the first four years.

Think about what $400 a month injected into your budget would help you accomplish? What if you had financed two cars? Breath in what an $800 dollar monthly raise would feel like!!

If you have watched the video Drive Free, Retire Rich on Dave’s sight, you might think as I did “sure, I can invest $400.00, but, would I really do that?”

Maybe not right now, but, wait until you get to Baby Step 4 – Retirement. You are going to start putting away 15% of your income to retirement. Do you like to give? 10% is a lot easier when your paycheck doesn’t go to GMAC. Think you can’t pay cash for next year’s Christmas? Think again!

You can only spend a dollar once, and it is gone. You have to choose what you are going to do with it. But, once it is gone, you loose the opportunity to spend it elsewhere.

I want my FPU members to begin thinking about spending in terms of opportunity cost. I really want them to break the “I can make the payments” mentality, because that mindset has not helped them out so far. I want them to get the most out of their budgets by not taking on more payments (aka debt).

Live like no one else, so later, you get to live like no one else.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Increasing Cash Flow

I hope that FPU members get it in their hearts that operating with debt has not brought them blessings. If not, why are they coming to FPU? When they come through our door I hope they are open to making some changes.

Paying off debts is not easy, it takes “purposeful intention.” You did not intend to wander into so much debt – it just happened over a period of time. You are most likely not going to wander out of it either. You will need to get really focused and a bit radical.

I want you to get radical about increasing your Cash Flow! There is always the part time job, but, before we go there, let’s take a look at some other areas.

Habits

I pick on coffee drinkers because I am one. At one point, I would visit my local baristas about five times a week. My drink of choice was an extra hot, non fat, no whip mocha. A medium ran me nearly five dollars (ok, four dollars and some change, but let’s round up because math is hard for me, remember?).

Spending $25 a week does not seem too bad. I get paid biweekly, and really, I cannot live without my coffee. I can afford this luxury.

Then I annualized how much I was drinking - $1300 a year. In coffee!!

I could increase my cash flow to pay of debts simply by decreasing how much coffee I bought.

Short Term Loans to the Government

Another area that I mentioned earlier was by looking at my tax refunds. I was getting $5, 000 dollars back from the Government. It was like Christmas day when that refund was deposited into my bank account. Once I started my total money makeover, I saw that I was sending the Government $5, 000 TOO much and they were just giving it back (without interest).

I divided that amount by each paycheck to figure out how much was going out extra and adjusted the claimed exemptions on my W4 until I got close to that amount with out going over.

With simple paper work, I increased my cash flow to go to the debts.

Retirement and Kid’s College Savings

The last thing we did, and possibly the hardest, was stopping the retirement investments. 401k, Roth’s – everything. Yes, we lost the company match for nearly two years.

(If we were investing for our kid’s college at the time, we would have stopped that as well).

This single action not only increased our cash flow to pay off debts but it also helped us to fund the Baby Step 3 Emergency Fund and to buy a used Toyota Sequoia with cash.

Live Like No One Else

“Live like no one else, so that tomorrow, you can live like no one else” is the motto that helped me to make these life changes.

Today, we are investing 15% of our income to retirement. I NEVER would have been able to do that before while making payments on new cars.

We are not only cheerful givers to our Church, but we also look for opportunities to give outside of the Church. Cindy and I would hear of a need, but have nothing to give. Now, we are often able to find that extra bit in our budget.

We are also funding the kid's college starting this past February. I realize that we are late in getting started, but we are making some headway!

And yes, I am enjoying coffee (all though, today I prefer a tall Americano, and with my Barnes and Nobles membership card it cost $1.99).

I have not, however, decreased my exemptions on the W4. I will keep as much as I am legally allowed to keep.

It can be done!

Addendum

If you are adjusting your W4 withholdings, you might want to investigate the IRS Withholding Calculator. Personally, I found that it went a little too high for my liking.

Also, according to DR, your Human Resources should be able to help you to achieve the right balance. Be sure to listen to the caller (there is a subtle “VCR” control on the page).

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Baby Step 2: Pay off your Debts

Now that you have the baby emergency fund in place, and have committed to stop spending using credit cards, it’s time to start paying off your debts.

To accomplish Baby Step 2, tear off another sheet of yellow paper and list your debts excluding the house. The order that you list the debts is important. You want to write them down based on the amount owed (smallest to largest) and not based on the interest percentage.

It’s Not Mathematical

Earlier, I think I alluded to the fact that I really do not mathematically trust myself – I unapologetically will use a calculator to accomplish very simple task. However, I do know that the longer you take to pay of something the more you will pay because of the interest.

Shouldn’t the mathematically correct order be based on the interest rate?

It would be if we were concerned with the math, which, honestly, we are not. We are concerned with behavior. When you reinforce good behavior with immediate results something happens – you begin to believe that this stuff is going to work.

And, once you believe, brother, trust me, you start having a new kind of hope with your finances.

It’s a Snowball

We want to target the smallest debt to try and get a quick win and give you some positive traction. Pick up your debt list and add a column called Minimum Amount and fill in what the debtors indicate is the minimum amount that you need to pay.

While paying off your debts, you are going to pay the minimum amount on all of your debts with the exception of the smallest debt.

The smallest debt, you are going LOOK for extra money in your budget (now that it is listening to you) and add that to your smallest payment. Here is the mental picture – you want to get laser focused on paying off that smallest debt and knock it off.

Once the smallest debt is paid off, you are going to take the amount you were previously paying on the first debt and then apply that to the second debt.

Each time you pay off a debt, the amount of money that you have to pay the next debt off increases. It’s like building a snowman – you start with a tiny snowball, but every time it flips over it grows bigger and bigger.

And this stuff works!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

BS 1.6 – The Dreaded “B” Word

Please note – FPU only has 7 Baby Steps. I have added the “sub-steps” because I feel that they are important to the overall process.

It’s Our Money

Prior to succeeding with FPU, there is a mindset that married couples have to have – they are not a Joint Venture. A JV is when two companies join for a common venture in order to maximize resources. Your marriage is NOT a Joint Venture. But, if you listen to the words that they use, it makes you wonder:

“Her money, my money”

“His paycheck, my paycheck”

“My account, his account”

God declared you one. That includes everything: it’s our money, our paychecks and our accounts. I have to die to this every time I start to think that I can do whatever I want to do with money. Cindy and I have a trust with each other that is based on three years of doing this program – I will not break that. It doesn’t mean that those attitudes do not slip in, it means that I have to recognize those thoughts and adjust them.

Singles generally do not have this problem. However, they generally have to find some means of being accountable so that they do not spend everything.

Let the Money Know Who Is In Charge

Once we have agreed that all of the money belongs to us, budgeting becomes easier. Most people absolutely HATE the term budget because to them, it represents restrictions and the inability to simply be spontaneous.

Let’s define what a budget really is: it is a imperfect instrument that you and your spouse agree to that tells your money who is in charge.

I like that definition. Why? Because I included the word “imperfect.” No matter how well you budget, something will come along to wreck it – that’s what is known as Life (thank goodness for that Baby Step 1, right?).

Also, I like it because Cindy and I have to agree to it. I generally prepare the budget, but I leave flex room in it for Cindy to tell me about what other family needs exists. We symbolically pinkie swear that we will keep to the plan.

Go Spend All of the Money

Making a budget is not complicated. You really do not need computer software – you need several pencils, a calculator and a yellow pad.

At the top, you write sum up all of the income generated in the family. Along the side of the paper you write all of the categories where you usually spend money (gas, food, entertainment). Finally, you put money in each category until you have no money left.

You spend all of your money on paper prior to the month beginning. Now, that is just the plan. You have to have another page on your budget that tells you when you are going to spend the money.

Along the top, where you have your total income, make some more columns. These columns represent when you get paid and you are going to write the total take home in these columns. Finally, you divide your categories between the total number of payment columns, making sure that you do not overspend your take home.

Easy Cheesy Math that you learned by the time you where in the third grade.

Unexpected Benefits

Here is a secret that everyone in FPU learns– your first budget…it isn’t going to work. That’s ok, because a budget is imperfect: you probably never really thought about how much you need for gas.

But once you get to your third month, things make a lot of sense. In fact, I noticed that I was drinking half of my budget in coffee. Starbucks didn’t taste quite as good once I saw this, and I added a category for Starbucks onto the budget so that I managed how much I consumed.

The first budget, Cindy and I panicked simply because we had too many categories and was trying to fill all of them up with what we wished we made, not with what was actually needed. Now, we know what we spend on Food, Restaurants and Gasoline. And, sometimes, yes, we have to “rob” one category to supplement some spontaneous opportunity (in our minds, Red Robin is a valid spontaneous opportunity). We simply decrease that category and increase the other and we are done. We both agreed to change what we had previously pinkie swore to not change (this is known, in FPU parlance, as an emergency budget committee meeting).

Because of the level of communication that takes place when executing on our budget, that trust I spoke about early has developed between us. It did not exist before: we had some really great fights when we discovered that there was too much month left at the end of the money.

And once we started telling our money what to do, it stopped talking. It stopped saying “Good bye.” On average, most people “find” money in their budget and feel like that they have been given a raise.

That’s really cool, because this getting out of debt thing that we go to FPU for in the first place is going to require that we tell the money who is in charge.

Online Tools

Several of my FPU members have really liked using the Gazelle Light Budgeting Tool. It is simple, but it also helps with the math (I still stink at third grade math).

If you are better with addition and subtraction, these forms may be helpful. The instructions are on the form – just a hint though, you do not have to fill in every category. There is also a form for Irregular income as well.

Monday, December 21, 2009

BS 1.5 – What’s the Deal with Credit Cards

When I start an FPU class, I make one simple assumption about everyone who is in the class – they are sick and tired of being sick and tired when it comes to money.

I liken it to going to Weight Watchers – you are there to loose Weight! WW has a specific plan that has been successful for many, but, before you can blame WW for not working, you have to do the program.

The assumption for FPU is that if you are in the class, you have some kind of hole that you are standing in a financial hole of some size. It might be big, or small.

When you are standing in a hole, and you want to get out, you have to stop digging. The Credit Card is just one of the many shovels that people use to dig their hole.

I am not mad about people using Credit Cards, and I would certainly not judge you personally for using yours, but I was never able to succeed at the level I am now by using mine. My name is Chuck, and I like stuff (“Hi Chuck!”).

The number one reason for using the credit card is that it now represents a financial “security” blanket. The couples coming through our class have one or more credit cards just in case of an emergency.

And here’s the tie back to Baby Step 1 – If you had $1000 saved up, would that cover most of your average emergencies? Flash forward to Baby Step 3 – If you had 3 – 6 months of expenses saved aside as an Emergency Fund, would that cover your average emergencies as well as some of the more unexpected ones, such as getting laid off?

The Credit Card as an emergency money is, in my opinion, a crutch against doing the hard part – saving money for a rainy day. It allows you to spend more freely, as studies have shown that our brains operate differently when paying with cash than paying with a credit card.

When a class member cuts up a credit card they have just committed to the class in a way that will help them succeed. The admit that, like myself, they like stuff…and the credit card has not helped them get ahead. In fact, like Proverbs 22:7 states, they are actually a servant to the bank that owns the credit card. The collection practices violate federal law on a daily basis and, as you can read right now, the Banks are scrambling to adjust the interest rates on existing clients prior to new laws going into affect next year.

What’s in my wallet? My Visa Debit Card and Money!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

For those who liked my Grits

Grits are a definite Southern dish. I figured that I would keep changing how I prepared my Grits until my Yankee Wife liked them.

Originally, I was going to name this “North Augusta” Grits in honor of Old MacDonald’s Fish Camp, where I first learned that Grits simmered in Milk is delicious. However, I think I will call them Yankee Grits in honor of my wife.

I always use Quaker Quick Grits. If there is another brand, I’ve never even looked at them. Then, follow the direction on the box in relation to serving sizes. Around here, I usually just fix four servings.

While you are waiting for your water to boil, place about an Inch of a stick of butter into the water. I never measure this part, but go on feel. Also, salt. Salt is tricky, but I think when it comes to Grits, you have to have a little bit more than you would think. However, the golden rule of salt applies – you can always add more, but you can never take away. So, until you get the hang of it, you can always add Salt to your serving.

By the time the water boils, the butter will be melted. Once the water is boiling, pour in the Grits. You might want to take the pot off the burner, and you will want to stir as you pour. This will help to keep the Grits from clumping up. Turn the stove down (I usually go all the way down to low) and stir some more (actually, this is usually one long motion). Once you are sure that the water/grit/butter combination is not gonna boil over (a regular happening…not to worry, it will just smell like something’s burning) put a lid on the pot.

This is a great time for a cup of coffee and something to read.

Technically, Quick Grits will usually cook in about a minute. I like to let them get just a little firm, so I will stir from time to time. Once they get to the consistency that I like, I will add the following:

A little bit of milk (maybe a quarter cup, but you can play around with this). Too much milk and it will taste like milk. But, once you find the sweet spot it makes them rich tasting.

Two slices of American Cheese. The first slice is for taste, the second is for those you love.

Finally, a little more butter. Cover the pot and let the cheese get soft. Then, stir it up and you should have a bit of yellow color going on. You should be ready to go.

Serve hot to the ones you love.

Bon Appetite.

Baby Step 1: $1000 Emergency Fund

I wanted to go through the Baby Steps that we teach in Financial Peace University. Prior to starting the baby steps, you do want to make sure that you are current and begin paying minimum amounts do. Why? Because we are going to try and accomplish Baby Step 1 as quickly as possible.

Baby Step 1 is getting $1000.00 “Starter” Emergency Fund.

When I first started teaching FPU, I did not really appreciate all of the various backgrounds that people are coming from when they start the course. For some, BS1 is just an automatic step, but for the rest, this can sometimes be a rather challenging process.

Small changes in priorities can make big changes. I am talking about cash flow. You want to adjust things so that you get more cash in your hands.

I like to ask people do they like getting their Tax Refund Checks. It’s kinda of a baited hook question. I know that there are those who take FPU where they are dealing with Tax Issues, but the vast majority answer “Yes” to my question. When I tell them that by adjusting their W4 they will get more cash flowing to them instead of the government, I get one of two responses:

1. The Tax Refund is my Built In Savings Method (that’s ok, it was mine for a while, but I am going to show you a better way).

2. Wow, Really?

In 2008, I gave myself a $200 a month raise by adjusting my W4. Sure, last year I did not get anything back, but hey, at least I was able to use that $200 to help fund my Emergency Fund.

The other area that I like to challenge folks on are the services that they are subscribed to. Prior to Tivo, the idea of paying for recording TV was laughable. Now, we can’t live without these conveniences. If it’s not Tivo, then its XM-Radio, or the Newspaper or, wait for it…Cable TV.

Cable TV is my personal favorite only from personal experience. Most people forget that TV comes over the air for free! However, we get tons more channels with Cable (or satellite or fios) along with a myriad of premium channels. I think the Boss got it right “57 Channels and nothings on.” Doesn’t something bother you somewhere deep down inside that you are paying for so much, yet watch so little?

Here’s my story: on Inauguration Day 2009, we cut Cable TV to our home. It was a radical decision, but it has paid off in spades: $1212.40.

We were paying about $104 with Cox Cable (2 HD DVRs, 2nd Tier programming (which we were told we needed to have in order to get HD) and no premium channels.

Now, I am not saying that I will NEVER have Cable TV again, just not right now. You see, if you choose to live like no one else today, later, you’ll get to live like no one else.

By changing your actions, behaviors and spending habits, you can get that $1000 dollars. I have had members hold huge garage sales, empty out those coin jars and many other ideas. Just get to it…make it happen!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Feeling Good and Violent

I wonder if Netflix’s suggestions knows the real me:

image

What’s your Representative Doing?

This post is not meant to be the ramblings of a Conservative Republican, but, do you know what your representative in congress is doing? Every night, we hear about Congress doing this or that, but have you ever thought about that there is only one person you really care about? That’s right! The representative from your district. That representative is the person speaking FOR YOU. Even if you did not vote for the person, they are still representing you before the house.

So, what is your Representative doing?

Each member of Congress has a web site. I highly recommend getting on your Representative’s email list. My Representative, Randy Forbes, sends out regular emails about his position on the issues.

Here is an example from his email that came last night:

Opposing $447-Billion in Federal Spending

Congressman Forbes voted against the conference report on H.R. 3288, the Fiscal Year 2010 Omnibus Spending bill that funds six departments of the federal government. The bill increased spending by $50 billion over last year's budget, and increased the base funding for the departments by 12 percent at a time when American families are being forced to cut back.
The legislation passed by a vote of 221-202.

Calling for Answers on Decision to Try Terrorists in the U.S.

Congressman Forbes joined with fellow members of the House Judiciary Committee and Armed Services Committee in cosponsoring resolutions of inquiry, H.Res.920 and H.Res. 924, to force Attorney General Eric Holder and the Department of Defense to release documents related to the Administration’s decision to try 9/11 conspirators in federal court in New York City. Congressman Forbes said "The American public deserves to know the potential ramifications of relocating and trying terrorists in the United States."
H.Res.920 failed by a vote of 20-13.

Restoring Fiscal Responsibility in Washington

Congressman Forbes voted in favor of repealing the Troubled Asset Relief bailout program (TARP), and directing any unspent or new bailout towards reducing the national debt. House Majority leadership proposed an increase of the national debt limit this week as a result of increased government spending.
The Motion failed by a vote of 190-232

Monday, December 14, 2009

Trombonist under Fire

Taken from the article Civil War Bands and their Music.

Performing under fire became commonplace for bands under the command of General Philip H. Sheridan. Sheridan loved music and took a personal interest in his bands. This was shown in the equipment, mounts, and uniforms he accorded his bandsmen. To pay for these privileges, his bands performed at the front during battle playing the liveliest airs in their repertory.

clip_image001

At Dinwiddie Court House, Sheridan massed all his musicians on the firing line with the order to "play the gayest tunes in their books .... Play them loud and keep on playing them, and never mind if a bullet goes through a trombone, or even a trombonist, now and then." General Sheridan paid tribute to Army bands when he remarked, "Music has done its share, and more than its share, in winning this war."

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fall FPU Class Completed

I am so proud of our FPU members from the 2009 Fall Semester – they got it! We had members from all stages of life, including a couple that was engaged. Can you imagine starting your marriage over again and being able to work a budget. Not just Budget Theory, but really telling your money what to do? Those two are going to be able to give like no one else later in life!

I was balancing my emergency fund this morning. I keep it in a simple money market account. Not very sophisticated, I know, but, very liquid in case I need it for, you know, an emergency. I haven’t had a credit card in about three years now – and like cable TV, I haven’t missed it. At the start of the FPU semester, I ask the class “Why do you have a credit card?”

Having a credit card for an emergency is generally the number one answer (full disclosure – that was my answer, too). I like to follow up and ask, “So, if you had $1000.00 that you could get to pretty quick at anytime, would that cover most of your emergencies?” People usually nod agreement, but really, we know that it will cover the $1000 or less emergency.

As I am balancing my account, this was what was going through my mind. I can see the interest deposits and the withdrawals that were made through out the year. This past year, we had a total of $653 dollars that we could not, for one reason or another, cash flow. Or, as Cindy likes to say, $653 that did not go onto a credit card.

Thanks to learning how to budget our spending, I was also able to budget our savings. Without that skill, I would never have been able to save six months of expenses. Like loosing weight, it is not easy, but, it is a worthy goal.

I am excited for our FPU class. At the close, I ask them what was the most important thing that they learned. Without fail, budgeting and spousal communication about money is the number one answer.

I love this class!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Thank God We are Weak

If life were stable, I’d never need God’s help. Since it’s not, I reach out from him regularly. I am thankful for the unknowns and that I don’t have control, because it makes me run to God.

Francis Chan
Crazy Love

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The best part of giving a gift…

Is wrapping it.

During those moments when you are picking out the right paper, hunting down another roll of tape and finding the scissors you are thinking about the gift recipient.

When you fold the paper so that the seam is perfectly centered, you imagine handing the gift over to your loved one.

Creasing the corners so that a tight and neat end is formed just right, the curious look on the face of the receiver plays in your mind as they try to guess what might be underneath the paper.

Once the gift has been wrapped and placed underneath the tree, you envision the smile of delight as the paper falls away.

Don’t wait till the last minutes to wrap your gifts. In a moment, the paper will be discarded into the bin, and with it, the anticipation of the giving.

Enjoy it, don’t rush it. Make the time.

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Christmas Express

Yesterday, I ordered a rather large (and cool) gift for Megan from Amazon. It qualified for FREE shipping (but, it would take 5 – 7 Business Days).

The package just arrived.

So, if you are ordering from Amazon and your purchase qualifies for FREE shipping, take it.

Of course, YMMV.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

How to cut Cable, Go OTA and combine Hulu with PlayOn

Ever since I’ve received my “cease and desist,” how have I been holding up? After all, I am getting all of my TV “OTA” (over the air). To be honest, I've amped up my usage of Hulu. Hulu allows you to stream, for free, Television programming from various networks (most notably absent is CBS). However, amid rumors that Hulu will start charging, I have been playing with building a low cost DVR.

The purpose of the post is to to show you that you CAN cut cable if you, like I discovered, find that your normal viewing habits consist of programs that you could get for free with an antenna. I unsubscribed from my local cable provider last year after coming to hate paying fees for underused HD DVRs and programming.

Parts List

Here is what you will need:

1. Hulu – Currently, this is free. Create your account and begin adding shows. They will start showing up in your queue the next time the program airs.

2. PlayOn - PlayOn lets you watch Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, CBS, YouTube, CNN, ESPN and more on your TV. It is a service that runs on your PC and streams video to your DLNA enabled device. If you want to try before you buy, PlayOn has a 14 day trial offer.

3. A DLNA Enabled Device: This is how the video goes from your PC running PlayOn to your Television. There are many devices and PlayOn supports Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Wii. Personally, I have had luck using my Archost TV+.

Setting Up

Honestly, this is pretty easy. Make sure that your computer that will run the PlayOn software meets the requirements. The User Guide helps to get through most of the bottlenecks in setting up.

I have found that, on Vista and Windows 7, I have needed to allow my DLNA device to access the PC running the service. Generally, that PC will tell me that it has detected a device, however, sometimes I have to go into Window Media Player and set up the sharing. Windows 7 was a little different, and these instructions helped me get going.

So, How Is It?

The User Guide recommends that your PC is wired in, but, I have been using a PC that is connected wirelessly to my network (G band). My XBox is connected to the 57” TV and is also connected wirelessly and, to be honest, the setup is nearly always perfect. Upstairs, on my Archos TV+, there is a love/hate relationship. When it is good, it really works well. However, sometimes there is a popping and stuttering that I can sometimes get rid of by pausing the stream for a little bit and letting it get buffered.

I had been using this setup more and more, even prior to getting the C&D from Verizon.

What I like most about PlayOn is that it has a very expansive mod-community that has freely available plug-ins. I’ve become addicted to the Scripts plug-in and the OPML plug-ins. These plug-ins even allow me to legally watch content from shows that are normally on cable (for example, HGTV).

Also, PlayOn is really good with their updates. They are frequent and address problems in an acceptable time frame.

Pricing

If you did not already have an DLNA device, then it might be a little expensive getting setup. However, I was paying about $80 for cable. That could quickly turn into an Xbox or Playstation (I would probably lean towards the Playstation simply because it has built in networking and is a BluRay player). The XBox 360 requires you to purchase a wireless adapter. However, you probably can get killer deals off of Craig’s List or your local Pawn Shop.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A Dress

Cindy and I stole away for lunch and a movie. After getting many recommendations for “Blind Side,” we chose that film. There were several themes in the film, but the one that caught me was how Sandra Bullock’s character just brought Michael into her family without conditions. It was touching.

Afterwards, we decided to stroll through Dutch Square Mall. I wonder how many times in my life I’ve walked through that center hallway. The Cromer’s Monkeys and the Barrel of Fun are long gone. Even the center stage Santa display looks thrown together.

Cindy wanted to go into Dress Barn and I, well, I didn’t. I told her she could find me in the Game Stop. I really thought I was going to be in there for a while, but this particular GS has that Funky Mall store smell that drives you to leave as soon as possible.

I left and found a bench outside of Dress Barn and waited. It was 4:00 in the afternoon and Santa had several visitors. 4:10 came and still no Cindy. There was a Game Stop newspaper insert on the bench and I flipped through, halfway interested, but, not really.

4:15. Ok, I’m going in. It didn’t take long to get through the door before the little “Ding Dong” announced that a customer was entering the store. Ugh, I hate the attention.

Scanning the store, I found Cindy outside of the dressing room looking at herself in the mirror. She was stunning in a little black dress that she had found. So often, I just see her as my wife Cindy, wearing every day clothing. But, caught off guard and I saw this attractive, petite lady.

Cindy was ecstatic about the dress because it was placed on the 70% off rack. I had no problem buying it because a) She looked great in it, b) She wanted it for her cousin’s wedding next summer and c) I spend way more than that on a single video game.

At the register, it rang up full price and the sweet deal turned sour. Cindy, not in the least married to the dress, was prepared to leave. I wasn’t. Pulling some of my best Dave Ramsey skills, I asked for a bargain. The best the manager could give me was 20%. Ok, not bad, but not 70%. We left.

A few steps out of the door, we were talking about the dress. I was really hoping Cindy would buy it, but she was more in love with the deal. I was more in love at how fabulous she looked in it. After a few back and fourths, she decided that she did like the dress.

She went in to purchase it and I walked over to the Game Stop to look at the outside displays (the smell was holding me out). Suddenly I hear Cindy calling my name and I turned. With her was the manager who shook my hand. She told me that she was really touched at how my face dropped when we left, and that she had given Cindy the 20% discount plus an extra 10 dollars. I was stunned that the manager came out to tell me.

So, we didn’t get the “best” deal, but, Cindy got a great dress and we got a neat story.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Election Ads

With the Virginia elections right around the corner, the Campaign Ads are in full force. Most of them, I tune them out because they are utter nonsense. Really, imagine trying to sell any other product the way that Politicians sell themselves.

There is one type of ad that really cracks me up. If a candidate has served in the military, inevitably the line “he will fight for Norfolk they way he fought for America” just makes me giggle.

So, let’s carry this out. Literally.

Say the politician has been elected and sworn in. Then, one day things aren’t going so well for him. Now, it’s time to fight for Norfolk the way he fought for America…Out comes the grenade and the pin is pulled - “Fire in the hole” Boom!!

Only a couple of more weeks and we will finally be able to wash the mud off of the TV.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cease and Desist

I really thought several times about posting this article because I have to admit, it involves me picking and choosing my morals at the buffet of life.

About a year ago, I discovered that I could download Television programs rather easily using a program called TED and uTorrent. TED acts like the TV Guide on your DVR and uTorrent is the mechanism by which the program is downloaded to your computer.

For the most part, I have kept to downloading programs that are from the major networks. Personally, I had no problems with this. For me, it was akin to my Father-In-Law recording Deep Space 9 and sending it to me when I was stationed in Japan. Justification, maybe.

This setup worked very well until I discovered PlayOn and Hulu. PlayOn acts as a Video Streaming service that will take streams from Hulu and distribute to either my Xbox 360 or my Archos TV+. This became my “preferred” method because I was playing within the confines of copyright laws.

However, PlayOn is sometimes spotty, so I still used the other method as a “Backup.” That is, until I got this email from my internet provider:

Dear ****** Online Customer:

 

We are writing to advise you that ****** recently received a notification from a copyright owner of a possible copyright violation that appears to involve your ****** Online account (the "Complaint"). The work(s) identified by the copyright owner in its Complaint are listed below.

We are contacting you because our records indicate that the Internet protocol (IP) address provided to us by the copyright owner was assigned to your service on the date and time identified by the copyright owner. While this activity may have occurred without your permission or knowledge by an unauthorized user, or perhaps by a minor who may not fully understand the copyright laws, as the primary account holder, you are legally responsible for all activity originating from your account.

Copyright work(s) identified in the Complaint:

Copyright infringement level: 1
Notice ID: 19168235
Title: Parks and Recreation (TV)
Protocol: BitTorrent
IP Address: **.***.***.*
DNS: pool-**-***-***-*.nrflva.fios.******.net
File Name: Parks.and.Recreation.S02E03.Beauty.Pageant.HDTV.XviD-FQM.avi
File Size: 183265068
Timestamp: 10-03-2009 07:38:14 UTC

Copyright infringement is a serious matter that violates U.S. copyright law and subjects infringers to criminal and civil liability. It also violates our Acceptable Use Policy (http://www2.******.net/policies/acceptable_use.asp) and Terms of Service (http://www2.******.net/policies/tos.asp). If you, or someone using your Internet connection, are engaged in the conduct alleged by the copyright owner, we urge you to stop (and ensure that anyone else who might have access to your Internet connection also stops).

Protecting Your Privacy: The copyright owner has not asked ****** to identify you, and ****** will NOT provide your identity without a lawful subpoena or other lawful process. However, if the copyright owner does issue a lawful subpoena or other lawful process that seeks information about your identity or account, ****** will be legally required to provide the requested information to the copyright owner.

If you have questions regarding this notice or would like to view Frequently Asked Questions about copyrights and piracy please visit us at www.******.net/copyrightfaq.

We appreciate your cooperation on this matter.

Sincerely,

****** Online

 

I have removed all of the activity from my Network as I do not want to deal with this. Unfortunately, Hulu will become a subscription service in 2010. I believe now, my new goal is to create a Media Center PC. 

Monday, October 19, 2009

Unsocialized

We homeschool our kids.

To be more accurate, Cindy teaches the kids, and I support them in whichever way will not screw them up. My oldest is in sixth grade with her sister a year behind.

I have to tell this story, because I thought it was funny.

At a Pony Club event, one of the girls was talking about her recent break up with a boy. Another girl stated that perhaps they shouldn’t be talking about the subject in front of my oldest because she was homeschooled, and not socialized. This girl did not realize that the broken hearted friend was also homeschooled.

Well, I thought it was funny anyways.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Songs I learned from USC Marching Band

This weekend is Alumni Band weekend, and to kick it off, I have several posts about my time in the USC Marching Band.

Tonight’s topic – Song Lyrics that have been stuck in my head for twenty years. Not a complete list, but hopefully, fairly clean.

Wild Thing…You make my heart sing…you in the red shirt…wild thing.

At some point, the lyrics of any song will inadvertently get changed. Case in point, while playing the song Wild Thing, a young, attractive student was dancing in the stands along with the song. She was wearing a red shirt, and well, she got worked into the song.

Hummala bebhuhla zeebuhla boobuhla
hummala bebhuhla zeebuhla bop

I think this was from my freshman year (1986) and is from the (then) popular song “Just a Gigolo” as sung by David Lee Roth. We played the song, but, when we came to the scat, we put our horns down and sung the words. Of course, to really sell this, we had to all pronounce it the same way. There was a great TA who was assigned to teach us. I am not sure if his heart was in it, but, to this day, I can still sing along with David.

She was a…

Riding to a from the games on the Trombone bus, there were tons of bawdy songs. I want to say that someone complained once and we were asked to stop.

We all love, the old one

Ok, not sure if those are the lyrics, but it is from the Wizard of Oz show. At some point, we put our horns down while marching in a circle singing these lyrics.

We hail thee Carolina

The singing of the Alma Mater by the USC Marching Band always signified the end of either a practice or a performance. We practiced three times a week and finished with the Alma Mater. When all of the fans had filed out of Williams Brice Stadium, we sung the Alma Mater. In good weather, and foul, hot or warm we never left the field without paying our tribute to USC.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Fantasy Football – Let’s Give a Cheer!

This is my first year playing in a Fantasy Football league. There was an automated draft last night, and my team is as follows:

image

I know Warner and Owens, but, I am clueless about everyone else. So, what should I do next?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Friday Morning, Toast and Coffee

I am up unusually early for a particular Friday when I have the day off. I made that decision in light of the fact that the kids still have home school today.

I’ve scanned the usual suspects in my blog reader, and have sat down to enjoy a bit of writing, reading, toast and coffee.

mmmmm….

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Conversation with No one

I am sitting in Barnes and Nobles cafe, trying to finish a little bit of work left over from yesterday. Nothing strenuous, but, maybe a bit repetitious. The cafe americano is helping pass the time.

When I arrived, I noticed an elderly black gentleman sitting at a table. In front of him, was an empty cup of coffee and a yellow legal pad. He was leaning over, talking to a couple that was situated diagonally from his table.

They were not listening. Standing in line, I took quick, furtive glances to see if he had a blue tooth headset attached, but, if he did, it was not visible to me.

The couple at the table left the cafe, and the man continues to lean over and talk to the now empty space.

As I finished my work (and my americano), he has kept the ongoing conversation. Pausing as if listening to a reply, he chuckles at something that I could not quite hear. He has given directions to Gloucester Virginia, pontificated about the state of the church and shared a memory about going to a water park.

I wonder if I could ever have a prayer life with my Father, like the one this man is having with no one.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Rainy Day – No Kindle.

Tuesday was a rainy day. The sky was blue, the air was very muggy, but did it rain. I am not quite sure that it reached the pouring stage, but it felt like it.

In Virginia, we have the annual car inspection, where you pay $16.00 to have a licensed inspector give your vehicle the once around and the official sticker that says you are good to go for another year.

I dropped the car off, and by 10:00, I got the call: I knew the voice on the other side would tell me that I could either pick my car up or…come on, big money, no whammie!!

The tires on the right side of the car failed. The alignment on the car was off (majorly) and it had ruined those tires. He gave me a quote for the alignment, and I hung up. Cindy helped me to call around to the usual tire places to see what to expect, and then I called the garage back. He could beat those prices (and did). When it was all said and done, Inspection, Tires, Balancing, Stems, Disposal, Alignment AND reinspection, I was out $360.00.

That wouldn’t have been so bad had I not just spent $320.00 on fixing the right hand passenger window, which was beginning to slip.

Tuesday was a $680.00 rainy day. However, I stayed dry. One of the line items in my budget is “Car Repairs.” Each month, $30.00 goes over and sits in a money market account, waiting to be needed. Having been used recently, it had not built back up. However, I had been saving for a Kindle (I had made it to $370.00)…and then, there was the emergency fund.

Funny thing about having an emergency fund that can cover you for six months of expenses – once you get it, you do not want to touch it. Thinking long and hard (oh, about a minute), I came to the conclusion that there will always be Kindles. With my Car Repair Money, the Kindle money about $90.00 from the emergency fund, I was able to cover Murphy.

That’s what life is like when you live debt free – you fix what can be fixed, and you delay pleasure in order to save (or in the case of the Kindle, resave) for the items. Here is another bit of insight that struck me – I wanted my emergency fund more than I wanted a Kindle. How weird is that?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Welcome to my Blog

Prior to Facebook, I’ve kept this little blog going for my friends. It has a small circulation, and the writing is only so so, but, it is definitely will let you know what is on my mind.

And that brings me to point.

I have been ignoring my friends by not writing on my blog. The reason is simple: Facebook. FB is billed as a Social Network, where you reconnect with old friends, post your status and play Farmville. For me, Facebook became my outlook for all of the random stuff that pops in my head, and makes me laugh.

But, I started posting Notes on Facebook. Not many, but just enough to remind me that “Hey, that should really go on your blog.”

So, I am re-linking my Blogger account and Facebook. Come on in, browse past posts (say that 10 times fast).

See Ya!

C

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Annual Trip to Hamburg

Yesterday, we made the trek from south eastern Virginia to western New York. Not quite the road trip that Jay and Mike are making (cross country, in case you haven’t been following), but, still, it is quite the haul for a family of four.

This year we took our Pony Puller, which would be the Sequoia. It was fun this time because we were listening to Dave Ramsey AND driving in our paid for car that was achieved by following his advice.

We joked that when asked what kind of mileage we should have a funny response:

Miles? We prefer to measure in yards.

Or…

31….31,000 Yards to the Gallon.

This year, instead of talking about stopping at the Monroeville Mall, we actually did it. The mall is significant only in that it was “the mall” for Dawn of the Living Dead. Of course, it looked like a regular mall, and had a fairly lousy food court. However, the novelty was fun.

We arrived in town around 10:45 and enjoyed waking up this morning to a cool Western New York morning.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Six Years and Counting

Yesterday, the company that I work for recognized those of us who have been with the company for five years. It was actually six years for the ones being recognized, but that was because they did not have a town hall meeting (the venue where such recognitions take place).

Six years is a long time. I had turned thirty-five and was leaving a company that I had worked five years. During those six years, we have gone from nine people to over one-hundred (just in the development shop) and moved locations three times. I miss the days of nine people – it felt much more start up and there was this creative factor. There is still a lot of creativity, but, as a company we have grown up, and sometimes it feels that the creativity got stifled.

I also learned what I am best at doing. I was promoted all the way up to a Director level position. It did not work out for me, and I gave it up after a year and a half. I am at my best when I am learning and teaching and doing new stuff. I still have a manager title, but I am much more hands on the code.

Not wanting to predict the next five, but here’s hoping to see the company at 10.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Governor Sanford and Conan

Heard on Conan Last night:

I still cannot get over Governor Sanford’s press conference yesterday. Did you watch it? Who watched it? That was unbelievable. At a press conference yesterday, if you don't know, South Carolina governor  Mark Sanford admitted having a mistress from Argentina. That’s right. Yea. Then, there was an awkward moment as he waited for someone to give him a high five.

They say he may have broken the law because he left the country without transferring power to his Lieutenant Governor. Apparently Sanford violated South Carolina’s sacred “bros before hos” law.

What a week!

I have had the house all to myself this week. Cindy and the girls stole off to Maryland for a week of seeing their Aunt, Uncle, Cousins and VBS.

My week was otherwise normal. However, I realize that I really need them. I am looking forward to them coming home tonight!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Audible Note

If you like to get audio books for long rides, or working in the yard, I suggest taking a look at Audible. Audible has been around for many years, and provides a wide range of support for listening devices.

But, I have one tip for you.

Find the book that you want, add it to your cart. Then, go to Amazon, find the same item and purchase it. Amazon uses Audible and the price will usually be five dollars less.

Or, you can skip the step above, and use Amazon directly. Either way, you are getting a great service and a slightly lower price.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

D-Day Remembrance

It’s 9:21 on Saturday Morning, June 6th. It was during this hour that my Grandfather, Marvin Morton, stepped onto Utah Beach.

They had been in their landing craft since about 3:30 waiting for the word. A few hours earlier, members of the 82nd and 101 Airborne parachuted behind the lines. When the word was given, it took several hours for the men to leave the Transport ships and hit the beach.

Unfortunately, the Landing Craft that had been sent ahead to act as markers to the LZ had been sunk. The LC that carried the troops landed south of the target.

On one of the first boats was the only General to land at Normandy. He was a veteran of several wars, son of a president and nephew to the current president. Brigadier General Roosevelt wore not helmet and carried his cane off of the boat. It was said that men feared him more than the Germans.

He decided that, instead of going back to the original LZ, they would establish the beach head right were they stood. This decision saved many men that day: the original LZ was heavily defended.

South of Utah, at Pointe du Hoc, a group of Army Rangers scaled the cliffs with ropes and ladders to take out the gun emplacements capable of hitting Utah and Omaha beaches.

1st Lt Richard Winters, of Company E (Easy), 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division devolved (aka – the Band of Brothers), led a group of men to take out artillery located at BrĂ©court Manor. The battery “had initially been reported to be 88 mm guns firing onto causeway exit #2 leading off Utah Beach and disrupting landing forces of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division advancing inland on this route.” It turned out to be much more than that – it was four 105 mm howitzers connected by trenches and defended by a platoon of soldiers. Winter’s attacked the positions, and as a result, there were less guns pointing at Utah.

Decisions were made and heroic actions were performed on June 6th, 1944. Actions that saved many soldier’s lives of the 4th Infantry Division, including my Grandfather’s.

Twitter – I still can’t get into it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

How I gave my Guinea Pig a Purple Nurple

It was, of course, quite by accident. I did not start off trying to accomplish this task, but the result was the same, none the less.

The kids came in last Sunday in a panic. They had taken Butterball, our guinea pig, outside and they had found a tick on him.

I went to the Horse tackle box, and grabbed our “official” tick pulling tweezers. Sure enough, there was what appeared to me, an engorged tick.

Have I mentioned my eye sight is getting worse with age. And, I just had a birthday.

So I went to work trying to rid the pig of the tick.

Until I started suspecting it wasn’t a tick.

I asked for a flashlight so that I could get a better look. It wasn’t a tick, and google confirmed, it was a teat.

So yes, I gave my guinea pig a purple nurple. Thanks kids!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Got Xbox?

This week, the E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) is happening in Los Angeles. On Monday, Microsoft held it's annual press conference about what the future holds. Here are some of the highlights that I thought were cool

1. Social Networking comes to 360 - Facebook and Twitter applications will be coming to the dash board

2. Music - Last.fm will allow you to access millions of streaming songs (I love Pandora streaming through my blu-ray player).

3. Instant HD Movies- You will be able to access 1080p HD in an instant (e.g., no waiting for half the movie to download). I had told my father-in-law that blu-ray/HD wars will be but a blip because I knew this was coming.

4. Shared Movies (XBox Live Party) - I posted on Mot's Blog that we ought to get together for a shared Star Trek movie. Well, we might actually be able to do that. It appears that you will be able to share a movie with another Xbox Live User and it will coordinate the viewing. That, plus a microphone, and we can make our own MST3K Track.

5. Project Natal - Remember when the WII came out? How it had these new controllers that allowed you to use natural movements in order to control your screen avatar? Project Natal takes it one step further - NO CONTROLLER. Your body IS the controller. It combines an RGB Camera, depth sensor, multi-array microphone and custom processor running proprietary software all in one device. It tracks your body movement in 3-d while responding to commands, directions and even a shift in emotion in your voice.

The "vision" video that is demonstrated is very cool and shows the possibilities when this is delivered (2010?). Have you gotten your Xbox yet?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

17 Years

happy-anniversary I probably write the same thing every year, but today Cindy and I celebrate 17 years together. Recalling our 15th, it seemed like we had reached a milestone, now, I am just amazed at how long 17 years is. Putting it in perspective, I told Cindy that she was 17 when she left New York for South Carolina to start college.

We have two anniversaries: the marriage and the wedding. We married earlier than planned so that she could get added to my order to go to Okinawa. I recall standing in line of the JOP in Panama City, Florida. In front of us were two kids barely 18, behind two adults barely sober. And there we were, Cindy in a white dress and me in my Air Force uniform. Two of my AF buddies, Airman Balbas and Hoag witnessed for us.

Traditionally, Cindy and I have fallen out of celebrating our anniversary, but, I hope to change that. Even if we just go out to a nicer than usual dinner alone, I want to do something for her to mark the occasion.

After all, she deserves a medal for living with me for this many years ;)

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

5-25-77

Happy 32nd Birthday Star Wars! It's funny that I woke up thinking about this particular date, and then looked in my blog reader and found this trailer: 77.

Be advised, this trailer is not for little ones hanging around as there is a brief "coming of age" scene (really, no pun was intended).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Last Trek Post (maybe)

I am very thrilled that we have a fresh Trek, so much that I want to see the next episode. I have "Ain't It Cool News" in my blog reader, and they just posted an interview with JJ Abrams.

But there was only one moment in the movie where I actually asked Chris to do a little bit of the Kirk we know and it was literally just one, silly little thing, but it’s this moment later in the movie where Spock is telling Kirk the statistics of how unlikely it is for their plan to succeed and it’s the first time in the movie that Spock calls Kirk Jim. Young Spock calls him Jim.

And then the response that Kirk has is he says “Spock, it’ll work.” And I actually asked him to give that reading of just “Spock” a little bit of the Kirk we know, because it was the first time that it felt like… “Jim” and the first time that Jim said “Spock” in that way, it just felt familiar and it’s a subtle little thing, but again Chris did a great job.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Blog Etiquette

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a way to say something under your breath in a post. All you have to do is use the “strike through” and you can say anything just about anything.

For example, you could say that Congress woman Nancy Pelosi was lied to by the CIA, but she apparently was the only one. See, I just said something under my breath. Or, you could interpret that as carte blanche to say whatever your want. It’s ok. Just put a strike through and it’s all “did I do that?”

Monday, May 18, 2009

Trekkie

My pal Todd published his thoughts on the new Trek film. As I was commenting, I realized that “New Trek” has tainted “Old Trek.” I include “Wrath of Khan” in that.

Yesterday was a rainy day in Chesapeake, Virginia. After church, I got comfortable and watched Trek II and III. The thought struck me that the writing was very laborious. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked them, but there is so much more potential.

I also was reflecting on my three Trekkie encounters (not including Mot). The first was at the Richland Public Library. I honestly cannot remember how old I was, but I think I must have still been in high school. The second was the 25th Anniversary Marathon. Jay and I drove from Columbia to Atlanta. We found that the fans ranged from nice to down right rude. Lastly, Jay and I met in Raleigh, NC, for a full on convention – complete with William Shatner. As far as his wife knows, he was delivering blueprints for his dad (or was it mine?).

I have come to the conclusion that I am a closet Trekkie. I would love to come completely “out of the closet” but there is something that restrains me. I still say that TOS is my favorite, because I grew up on that. I read all of the James Bliss novels, had the Alan Dean Foster set, and saw each show at least a dozen times. Of any of the future endeavors, TNG was the best. I could never really get past the “grit” of DS9, although I loved the Sisko character. Voyager was lost on me. I started watching it while in Okinawa on cassette tapes mailed over by my father in law. Enterprise had a lot of potential, but it never sparked for me.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Birthday Marathon

Thank you for the 4th Annual Birthday Movie Marathon suggestions. I took one of the suggestions and am running with it: 80's Fantasy Movies. Here is the line up:

image

Programming a movie marathon is always tricky, so, I thought  that you couldn't go wrong with a comedy at the end.

And, I got my birthday present yesterday: A Samsung BD-P3600 Blue Ray Player! And, I found a deal on Best Buy.com - Purchase a Samsung Blue Ray Player, and get "Star Trek: The Motion Picture Collection" Blue Ray Disc(s) for $19.99. I watched ST:TMP with commentary by Michael & Denise Okuda, Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens and Daren Dochterman. Awesome quality.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Star Trek II: The Second Viewing

Since last Friday, I have been trying to talk Cindy into going to see Star Trek. Ok, I also wanted to see it again. Last night, after the kid’s piano recital we caught the 9:20 showing. That’s right kids, mom and dad were out late last night.

I noticed several things this time.

1. 9:20 doesn’t seem like a bad idea. However, getting home around 11:30 and getting up at 5:45 am doesn’t make for a good combination.

2. The Sky Dive Sequence. The trailer shows three bodies plummeting towards some obstacle. As a spoiler, I will tell you who they were – the guy in blue was Kirk, the fellow in yellow was Sulu, and the dude in Red was some no-name security guy who has the explosives to demolish the obstacle.

Guess which one dies?

3. Scotty’s prank – Scotty describes an argument with a professor about transporting a melon between two planets. Not satisfied with transporting fruit, Scotty beams the professor’s prized pet beagle (who has yet to materialize). The professor? One Admiral Archer…Admiral Jonathan Archer of the first U.S.S. Enterprise.

So, today I will pay the piper for the late night outing, but we enjoyed the time together.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Boldly Going to 11

Nigel Tufnel:

The numbers all go to eleven. Look, right across the board, eleven, eleven, eleven and...

Marty DiBergi:

Oh, I see. And most amps go up to ten?

Nigel Tufnel:

Exactly.

Marty DiBergi:

Does that mean it's louder? Is it any louder?

Nigel Tufnel:

Well, it's one louder, isn't it? It's not ten. You see, most blokes, you know, will be playing at ten. You're on ten here, all the way up, all the way up, all the way up, you're on ten on your guitar. Where can you go from there? Where?

Marty DiBergi:

I don't know.

Nigel Tufnel:

Nowhere. Exactly. What we do is, if we need that extra push over the cliff, you know what we do?

Marty DiBergi:

Put it up to eleven.

Nigel Tufnel:

Eleven. Exactly. One louder.

Marty DiBergi:

Why don't you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?

Nigel Tufnel:

[pause] These go to eleven.

I was really worried about over-hyping Star Trek in my mind that I would be let down and disappointed. Why not? George Lucas released a less than satisfactory prequel to Star Wars. Indiana Jones’ last adventure probably should have remained in the “gee…wouldn’t it be neat to do another Indy movie?”

But Trek, what can we say about Trek? The TNG films have been, how shall I say this, very unadventurous (I liked First Contact the best).

The TOS crew had a hit-miss pattern with the even movies being the better of the six. Although Khan is the best, I really enjoyed Voyage Home (I remember seeing this with the guys at o’dark thirty at the original Dutch Square theaters).

For years, there had been some rumors of a “Starfleet Academy” movie, recasting all of the TOS characters. I never thought it would work. A few years ago, the rumor resurfaced, but this time, JJ Abrams was associated with it. I like JJ’s work on Lost and Mission Impossible 3. Fringe, which he produces, is very good TV, much in the vein of X-Files.

What was really neat in the movie was that each character “emoted” the original performances. I use the word emote just to indicate that the actors weren’t imitating – they blended the characteristics into their acting and made it their own. I loved seeing little bits of Shatner’s Kirk showing up in Pine.

The movie itself looks NOTHING like any previous Trek. Perhaps what it needed was someone unconnected with the previous incarnations to really spin it off. I have seen the future, and, it has a lot of lens flares.

There was a moment when Spock looks over at Kirk and says “I have been and always shall be your friend.” I choked up. What can I say?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Revenge of the Mockingbird

So, the Mocking Bird that inhabits the Bradford Pear outside my bedroom read my blog, and decided that he/she needed to start his/her song at 12:30, instead of at two.

Thankfully, my Heroes help deaden the sound.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dear Cable.

Last January, I took the plunge and called the cable company to disconnect my Cable services: Digital Cable (third tier), High Def Programming (only available on the third tier and above), two HD DVR and an approximately $150.00 bill. That bill does include my high speed Internet connection of about $50.00.

I can remember when mom and dad first subscribed to Cable back in the eighties. The company was Columbia Cable Television (CCTV), and it came with a handful of channels (TBS, MTV and Nickelodeon were my favorites) and a remote control that was tethered to the cable box. I have no idea how much it cost, but, comparing with the four channels we got "OTA" (over the air) it was amazingly cool. The quality was vastly better.

About a year before we disconnected, we elevated our services from the bare basics ($9.00) to the full Monty. We disconnected Direct TV and started enjoying watching commercials for Direct TV telling us how superior it was to cable. For the first month or so, I was in love with Cable. I could come home and just watch for hours. Discovery HD was my favorite. But, after the courtship, we kinda just got use to each other. Days would go by without even turning on the TV. But Cable didn't mind. She dutifully recorded my shows onto the DVR and I watched them when they were convenient for me. Ironically, I was mostly watching Network Television (you know, the stuff that comes for free OTA).

Then I bought a laptop. I discovered TED and uTorrernt and xTvi and learned how to download the same network programming that I was paying $100 dollars a month. Using Roku digital video player and my Netflix account I had access to a vast library of programming. Then, Netflix went and joined up with Microsoft to allow Xbox Live Gold Members the ability to stream Netflix to their Xbox 360 units. With my Xbox 360 and my Archos TV+ (great price from Circuit City) I can stream my downloaded media to either unit (this translates to upstairs and downstairs). Finally, this week I discovered PlayOn which allows me to stream HULU content to either the Xbox or Archos. This has allowed me to decrease the amount of shows that I have to get from Ted and uTorrent. Also, I feel a bit gray about downloading TV bit torrents: I keep it to stuff that I can get OTA.

So my TV life has been ok ever since writing my "Dear Cable" letter.