Consider Epoxy Grout For Your Bathroom Remodel

Every once in a while I look around our bathroom and dream wistfully of a ‘down to the studs’ remodel.  Then, I realize that there’s no functional need to re-do it, and the costs are prohibitive.  But, regardless, I still think of new fixtures, a luxurious shower, improved hardware, and big tiles (as opposed to our white ones).  One of the things I can’t stand about new bathroom jobs is how quickly the grout often gets dirty and wears out. As it turns out, your standard grout is cement based, and while cement is a hard substance, it absorbs water slightly.  This means that dirt and such that comes from the water in your bath ends up making it dirty, and the wetter areas lead to cracking.

Epoxy To The Rescue

One of the ways to address this is to avoid using cement grout.  The best alternative to this and becoming more popular is to use epoxy based grout.

Benefits of Epoxy Grout

Epoxy offers a few distinct advantages over the cement counterpart in terms of grout:

  • Waterproof – Epoxy is completely waterproof so it will not take on any water.
  • Easier to clean – Since the water does not lead in any dirt, the dirt will not absorb into epoxy grout, keeping the look fresh for years after installation.
  • Stands up to chemicals – While normal grout can often be cleaned, the harsh chemicals required to get all the dirt from the grout can end up weakening the grout, leading to failure.  Although you shouldn’t need strong chemicals to clean epoxy grout, you can be assured that whatever your cleaner of choice, epoxy grout proves much more resistant to breakdown from any chemical or cleaner.

Why Not More Widespread?

With these advantages, the first question I asked was why the entire world hasn’t switched to epoxy grout.  The biggest reason for many is that it’s more time consuming and more difficult to install than cement based grout. Time: Epoxy grout takes longer to setup than cement grout.  Since it takes a few passes to get the joints filled, the common approach with cement grout is to mix a batch, go through and lay the grout. By the time you’re done, often enough time has passed for the first pass to set up, so you can just keep using your batch.  Epoxy takes longer to set up, so not only is there more time in between coats, you also have to mix multiple batches, resulting in more pre-work. Difficult:When you’re installing cement grout, if you get some on the tile, it’s not that big of a deal.  Just wipe it off before it dries and you’re good to go.  Epoxy grout does not simply wipe off, as it will leave a haze on your tile that is difficult if not impossible to remove. While an amateur or semi-pro can often lay cement grout, an epoxy grout installation is best left to a professional.  Megasealed is a great option and they have more information on their website about the benefits of epoxy. Epoxy definitely doesn’t sound easy, but the benefits sound like they make up for it in many ways.  Since a bathroom is expected to last for many, many years, I would definitely consider epoxy as it stands to make up for the extra resources needed up front. I’m only dreaming of a new bathroom for now, but if you’re doing more than that, give epoxy grout some consideration as part of your planning.

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

This Big Winner Sees Beyond The Jackpot

I was reading through some Yahoo headlines, when one in the sports section caught my eye, basically talking about how a poker player who won a $15 million jackpot had the opposite reaction that pretty much anybody would expect.

Most people, upon knowing that they are $15 million richer, would celebrate, yell, jump up and down, thank God, hug their family, or any number of things.

Daniel Coleman, the 23 year old winner of the ‘Big One For One Drop’ tournament, didn’t even crack a smile.

In fact, he almost looked sad and upset once he won.

The Big Picture

Most winners of a $15 million jackpot would stop and start right there.  They just won $15 million dollars, end of story, right?

Not Daniel Coleman.

As it turns out, his thoughts on the winning was not the money that went into his pocket, but beyond that.

His thoughts also included the people who didn’t win.  The people who lost money along the way to get there.

Not everybody in poker wins.  In fact, most people probably lose.  People lose money.  People lose their families, their homes, their jobs.  Many people chase the dream of winning the big jackpot, and sacrifice everything to get there, only to end up with nothing.

Daniel Coleman saw that.  He knew that, although he was the big winner, there were many others that weren’t.  Hundreds.  Thousands.  Nobody was covering them or putting a microphone in their face.  Nobody cared about the expression on their faces or what they were going to do with the money that they had (or no longer had).

That bothered him.  He couldn’t knowingly celebrate the fact that he was the lucky one knowing that there were so many others out there who weren’t as lucky, or lucky at all.

Seriously, what person who has ever received $15 million dollars has ever had that as their first emotion?

Now his point wasn’t that poker should halt.  He didn’t say that jackpots should cease to exist.  Heck, he’s not giving his back.  I think he just recognizes that in order for one person to get there, there’s a toll, a cost, and probably a pretty big one, that nobody really thinks about.  He recognized that and his conscious would not let him just put that aside so that he could celebrate.

We love to celebrate the winners, but who in the world thinks about the losers when a $15 million jackpot is being won?

Daniel Coleman, that’s who.

In my book, that makes him a pretty big winner.

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

How You Should Allocate Mileage Reimbursement

If you do any driving for your job and use your personal vehicle to do so, chances are that you are familiar with mileage reimbursement.  Basically, a company should pay you for the use of your personal automobile while doing company business.  My understanding is that it is not a requirement, but is fairly standard practice.

The general rules I’ve seen is that the mileage must be for company purposes, on company time, and that you have to back out mileage that you would have driven anyways.  So, if your normal commute to the office is 10 miles each way, but you are sent out to a location 30 miles away, your first 10 miles would not be eligible for reimbursement, with the thinking that you would be driving that no matter what.

There seems to be a lot of different rules that each company or organization is allowed to follow.  One thing that is often used as a standard is the rate at which mileage is reimbursed.  Most companies that I’ve worked for have used the IRS rate, which is set once per year.  I would imagine that there are tax implications for the organizations, and that using the rate provided offers the maximum benefit to companies who offer this.

The current rate for 2014 is $0.56 per mile.

The Big Mileage Mistake Almost Everybody Makes

There’s one mistake that many people make.  They look at the rate and think that it applies only to gas, and they figure to use it as a money maker.

I’m here to tell you that isn’t true, and if you’re doing it that way, you need to stop.  Now.

The Math Behind The Mistake

Using my earlier example, say you take a 30 mile round trip drive one day, whereas your normal trip was 10 miles.  That would leave you eligible for 20 miles each way, or a total of 40 miles.

When you submit your request, you’ll then get a reimbursement of $11.20 based on today’s rates.

Many people will then look at their mileage, and look at the actual ‘cost’.

Say gas is $3.50 per gallon and your car gets 25 MPG.  You would burn 1.6 gallons of gas to cover the extra 40 miles, which would work out to a cost of $5.60.

Since you’re getting $11.20, you think, cool, I just got paid double for what I just drove.

mb-2014-07carFor people that get reimbursed for a lot of mileage, this can work out to a pretty big number.

There’s a couple of reasons that this is a big mistake.

  1. Gas is not the only cost involved – Receiving reimbursement is to cover your entire cost of driving.  This includes not only the gas you pay for, but also goes toward other costs involved.  Think about this.  If you drive a lot of extra miles for work, you’re going to need more frequent oil changes.  You’re going to need tire replacements faster.  In fact, the car will likely need to be replaced earlier than if you just drove a standard commute.  One 20 mile day isn’t going to make much impact here, but if you drive thousands of miles per year for work, these costs will end up being significant.  If you don’t allocate the reimbursement money accordingly, you will end up scrambling when these costs get realized.  And, trust me, they will.
  2. You start thinking of the extra as income – If you get mileage checks on a regular basis, the natural behavior is to start allocating that as part of your paycheck.  No big deal, right?  Wrong.  Not only will this bite you for the reasons above, there might come a time when the mileage reimbursement is no longer there.  If you no are no longer required to make that longer commute, that will reduce your costs, but if you’re not careful, it will reduce your supposed income by a greater amount. If you’d started relying on that regular reimbursement, you could end up scrambling.

The Correct Approach To Mileage Reimbursement

I have a pretty strict rule for how I allocate my mileage reimbursement.  The rule is simple: It all goes towards elements related to my car.  If you break it out into three categories, you’ll be covered:

  • Gas
  • Car Repairs
  • New Car

The simple rule I use is to allocate it one-third toward each. If I get $90 in reimbursement, I’ll pay $30 toward the credit card, which has gas costs, and I’ll take $60 and put it into our savings accounts, where I have a ‘fund’ (tracked exclusively through my Excel spreadsheet) each for New Car and Car Repairs.

No matter how you track this, the important thing is that you put the money aside accordingly.

You can even split the percentages.  In my example above, gas was roughly 50% of the cost.  If this is the case for you, then take 50% and pay for the gas, and split the rest between Repairs and New Car.  Whatever.  As long as you don’t start ‘spending’ the extra, you’re in good shape.  If you’re spending the extra, then you’re doing it wrong, because as you now see, there really isn’t extra.

Readers, how do you handle the divvying up of your mileage reimbursements?

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Thankfully, Yesterday Was Just Another Day For Us

We woke up yesterday and it was just another day for us.  For many around the Detroit area, that was unfortunately not the case.

It never really made national news as it would have had it taken place in a bigger city along the East or West coast, but on Monday evening, the Detroit area was hit by the worst flooding the area has ever experienced in history. As water levels rose throughout the night, the damage across the area was mind boggling once the sun rose Tuesday morning.

What Happened

Rain is what happened.  Lots of rain in a short period of time.  The area got 4.57 inches of rain, most of which fell between the hours of 5pm – 9pm.  To put it in perspective, August usually sees a total of 3 inches of rain.  We got that plus 50% more in just four hours.

A slow moving system of rain provided light rain throughout the day, which was no big deal, but a stronger part of the storm came over the area around 5pm, and the entire system ran into another system further north…and basically just stopped.

When I pulled up the radar on my weather app, you can hit a ‘Play’button which animates the radar for the last hour.  It barely nudged.  The blob on the radar would normally pass through in 15-30 minutes on a normal storm, but it stuck around for a few hours, with devastating results.  The thing about this type of ‘weather stall’ is that it is basically impossible to forecast until it’s actually taking place.

For a few hours, it poured.  It poured more and then when it seemed like it was done, it started pouring again.  Many storms have a period of heavy rain that might last a few minutes to a half an hour.  It was steady for hours.  More than once I would hear the rain let up (but not stop) and figure it had to be done, only to have it start up even stronger.  It was past dark before it finally calmed.

Nearly A Record

Only one day in recorded history has ever seen more rain.  In July 1925, one day saw 4.74″ inches of rain, a scant 0.17″ more than we had on Monday.  However, everybody agrees that because of the changed landscape, the flooding from Monday’s event was way, way worse.

In 1925, you didn’t have as many roadways, buildings, parking lots, and other hard surface areas, all of which create runoff and reduce the ability for the ground to soak up the water.

In 1925, you didn’t have the complex sewer system that exists today, that under normal circumstances diverts water from where you don’t want it to someplace harmless, but when it starts backing up, can put lots of water in the worst possible places.

In 1925, you didn’t have sunken freeways that filled up with up to 14 feet of water once the water started cascading down, the sewer lines filling to capacity, and the pumps shutting down…or in some cases literally washing away.

The Next Day

As I mentioned above, the coverage didn’t get much national attention.  Detroit doesn’t seem to get a lot of love, and honestly, the media was focused on the sudden death of Robin Williams, so that it barely got a blip for most of the day.

However, locally it was all that anybody was talking about as people woke up and saw the real extent of the damage.

I have a feeling that it will become a part of local lore and people will pass along stories of their memories from the 2014 Flood.

Some of the reports from the news or personally that I saw:

  • I-75 and I-696, one of the biggest interchanges of two of the biggest freeways in the area, was under 14 feet of water (see the picture…the yellow sign showing the height is now up to the top)

    This is the area of I-75 and I-696, which as of Tuesday morning was under 14' of water.  Courtesy: MDOT.

    This is the area of I-75 and I-696, which as of Tuesday morning was under 14′ of water. Courtesy: MDOT.

  • Around the same area, the service drive buckled, at one point, taking out the entire pumping station in the area.
  • An embankment around the interchange collapsed and will have to be rebuilt.   Engineers will have to study others that could possibly be damaged.
  • Every other major freeway in the area had at least one shutdown due to flooding. And, we love our freeways here in Detroit, so that is no small number!
  • At least two people died, after having heart attacks during the flooding
    2014flood2

    After the water subsided around this part of the interchange, the amount of mud left behind was incredible. Courtesy: MDOT.

    2014flood3

    Plows aren’t going to be just for winter around here as roads will need to be scraped clean before they can be reopened. Courtesy: MDOT.

    2014flood4

    There was a pumping station located here to pump water from the roadway below. It was completely washed away and will have to be rebuilt (along with the adjacent roadway). Courtesy: MDOT.

  • A pizzeria that I frequented many times served as a place for people desperate to get off the road to gather within, until water started rushing in and people were literally standing on tables.
  • My Facebook feed was filled with people who had flooded basements
  • One of those people not only had a flooded basement, but was asking for help if anybody had cat litter and a box available.  Her box had gotten submerged, as had her spare supply of litter.  Poor kitty!
  • Several co-workers reported partially flooded basements
  • There were so many pictures of cars submerged in water that you forgot what a big deal this is to have happen.  Insurance adjusters will be crazy busy.
  • General Motors closed their entire Tech Center because of flooding around the area
  • Other manufacturing plants were shut down or at reduced capacity because of flooding and because suppliers could not get their trucks through.

The list can go on and on.

Personally, we were lucky.  We had no flooding.  Our sump pump kept up no problem.  We were at home shortly after 5pm (from getting haircuts for my son and I) so everybody and our cars were safe and sound.  I went the next day to check on our camper, and she stayed snug and dry as well.

We are lucky.  And we are thankful.

Readers, what type of natural disaster have you witnessed or been close to?  

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Spending Money Around The House

We had a couple of bigger bills hit last month for some stuff around the house.  In both cases, we had the money saved and both were (sort of) planned.

Bye Bye To Another Tree

There seems to be something knocking off elm trees around our neighborhood.  We live in a newer neighborhood (15 years old), but the developer left many of the mature trees intact, so we have a substantial number of trees of different variety in our yard.  Several of these are elms and this is the second one that I’ve had to get removed from the attacks.

Decades ago, a disease swept through that took out many of them.  In fact, the city of Detroit was majorly impacted, as many of the residential streets were lined with mature elm trees in front of every house.  Block after block saw the trees die, and this changed the landscape of the city.  I have to believe that this probably furthered the decline of many of the worst neighborhoods.

Since then, it appears that while some survived, they are still somewhat under attack.  My neighbor had one pulled down earlier this year, and just looking down the street, you can see others that have been affected.

We still have a few more on our property, including one pretty big one that I would hate to lose, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they get spared for now.

The tree was right over our deck so the removal service had to climb up and take it down piece by piece.

Cost on this was $600 so far, plus I have to spend another $125 to get the stump ground, and probably $25 or so to get grass over the spot.

Updating Plumbing Fixtures

I’ve had it on my radar to do something about a few of the plumbing fixtures, and decided to surprise my wife when she was out of town for a recent girls weekend.

I didn’t do the work myself, instead turning to a handyman that I’ve known for a number of years and has done various project work.  He was willing to do the work and had some time on that weekend, so it worked out.

The project ended up consisting of:

  • New Kitchen Sink – Our old sink was white, had chips, and was only about 5.5″ inches deep.  We replaced it with a stainless steel sink with an 8″ depth, which is pretty standard.  The cost was $139
  • New Kitchen Faucet – The faucet was old, had been rebuilt once when we moved in, and wouldn’t have looked so good, so we got a new brushed nickel u-shaped faucet with a sprayer.  The cost of this was $169.
  • New Master Bathroom Sink – The sink was metal and had a couple of chips which had started to produce ugly rust spots.  We bought one for $59 but it was actually slightly too small for the opening, so we found a different one that looks just as nice and was only $39.
  • New Master Bathroom Faucet – I decided to upgrade the single handle faucet to a more modern faucet, with a double handle, a u-shaped faucet, and in brushed nicke.  Cost was $79, then I got a price adjustment the following week for $69.
  • New Half Bathroom Faucet – Just to improve the look of the common space, I decided to get the same faucet for the half bath.  That was the same price of $69.
  • Parts and pieces – New gaskets for the kitchen sinks, water supply lines, and tools needed ran around $20.
  • Labor – The guy I did this was happy with $175 for the project.  As he was out there for about 5-6 hours total, this was more than reasonable.

Total cost, roughly, was around $700.  Since I surprised my wife, I was a little nervous on how she’d react, but she loved everything and we’re both very happy with how it turned out.

Overall

Both projects were money well spent.  The tree was disappointing, but you don’t want dead trees hanging around, especially one that’s right over the deck, as they’ll eventually cause a lot more damage.  The plumbing work was well worth it, because we get enjoyment out of using a new and better sink with new and nicer looking fixtures, and I think those costs actually work their way back into the value of our home.

Readers, have you done any work around the house lately?  Any upcoming projects?

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.

Today’s Job Market Is The New Norm

Every morning I read through the Seeking Alpha headlines and click through to various posts that catch my eye.  Last week, I was browsing and saw “Steady And Disappointing – July Jobs” and decided to give it a read.

As I was reading through the article, I got a sense that people still do fully understand the fact that the job market has fundamentally changed since the last recession.

The Cycle Of The Job Market Pre-2008

I’ve been in the job market full time for about 18 years.  I’ve seen a few recessions, and have worked through enough companies that have gone through some sort of cost cutting measures, so that I got a sense of how the job market worked.  It was a pretty standard cycle, and I’ll pick things up in what was the best part and go from there:

  • Full Profit and Job Growth – Profits would go up, and companies would expand jobs and wages, as more jobs meant more work which contributed to the bottom line.
  • Declining Profits, Continued Job Growth - The economy would start slowing down,  but there was always a lag, so job growth would continue.  The difference resulted in declining profit margins.
  • Continued Declining Profits, No Growth – Companies would finally start recognizing the slowdown in the macro economy and would cease hiring and likely freeze wages.
  • Job Cuts, Profitability in Free Fall (maybe even losses) - Recognizing that there were too many employees to justify slowing sales, layoffs would commence.  Jobs would be cut and the bleeding on the bottom line would hopefully be stopped.  If companies were lucky, they just had narrow losses, but in some cases, they would be in the red.  This would, of course, factor into how many jobs were lost.
  • Stabilized Profits, No Growth – No more jobs are added here, but the idea is to stop the bleeding, otherwise further cuts are required.  If things are stable and the economy as a whole hits bottom, the recovery can start.
  • Improving Bottom Line, Moderate Growth – Eventually things pick up and growth starts occurring.  Jobs start to get added in key areas.
  • Full Profit and Job Growth – The circle is complete.  If things went well, sales were soaring, profits had recovered, and headcount was back up.

That’s the way things were.  But, with the last recession, things changed.

The Post-2008 Job Market

The model I described above worked pretty regularly, but the 2008 recession was so severe, and other factors came into play (which I’ll get to in a minute), that the cycle was broken.

Effectively what happened is that companies went through the cycle where they hit rock bottom, but the panic set in when things didn’t get better.  The 2008-09 recession was one that broke the cycle and it forced companies to drastically changed.

And they did.

When the cycle didn’t get broken, companies fundamentally changed their business models.  They restructured their operations.  They got more efficient.  They restructured or eliminated debt.  They shed business practices that they had previously been able to keep on even though they weren’t hugely profitable.

A lot of companies didn’t do this or were unable to do this. Most of those companies are gone today.

The ones that made it found that their changing business practices led them back to profitability.

And this time, companies learned that job growth was not key to getting back to profitability.  Yes, jobs were needed, but by becoming more lean, more efficient, more focused, and more driven to innovation, they could get their profitability back without bring back employees en masse, as had been pretty standard practice.

This is going to sound harsh, but the thought pattern emerged was “Why bring employees back if we don’t need to?”

As an employee, that’s scary.  We all want to see everybody with jobs, with great jobs that we love that give us big raises every  year.  For a good portion of my career to date, that’s what I was used to.  My friends and I, we all grew, we all got raises, we all knew that if one door closed, there was another somewhere that was waiting to be opened.

It was secure.  It was comfortable.  It couldn’t last.

Not after 2008.

But, I don’t think everybody really gets that.  Max Wolff, the author of the article I linked to, writes in one paragraph:

“We are now 4 years into an impressive profit and asset price recovery.  Our leading indexes have recently been setting new highs.  The Q2 earning season…was strong again.”

With that in mind, I was thinking that he ‘got it’ and understood that this is the new reality and why it is.  But the cracks appeared when, in the next paragraph he says:

“The economy we have been rebuilding is not generating job opportunities sufficient to steadily increase labor force participation…..This means that many more folks are left behind than are included in the recovery.”

I started shaking my head when I read that.  Here he acknowledges that profits have recovered, that leading indexes are showing strength, and that corporate earnings were strong.  Then, he laments asking why jobs haven’t followed suit.

Answer: Because they don’t need to.

Question: If companies are hitting all the high notes with the employees that they have, what motivation is there to create more jobs?

Answer to that question: There isn’t any.  I’ll repeat that, there isn’t one reason in the world that companies should hire more if they’re hitting all of their goals and objectives, have solid balance sheets, and have debt under control.

Look at most of your strong performing companies, and you’ll find that by and large, those things hold true.  They also hold a benefit that I’ve mentioned before, and will outline again, that being that the profitability and balance sheet standing as things exist today provide a more fundamentally strong economy than existed prior to previous recessions.  This means that while the robustness may not be there that many economists and job seekers are looking for, I also believe that the economy is much more insulated from the potential of future recessions and the impact that they could have.

The Next Driver of Job and Wage Growth

What will drive job growth next is opportunity.  The marketplace will have to create opportunity above and beyond what we have today.  That could be through new technology, new or additional needs in the certain sectors above what we have today, or any number of reasons.

When I read articles like this, I almost get the sense that many out there think that job and wage growth is something that is not only desired, but expected.  Almost like companies owe the marketplace more jobs and higher wages.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case.  Companies owe it to themselves and their shareholders to be profitable.  If they can do that with less jobs than they had provided in the past, then that’s what they are going to do.  If this means that you think that the economy is broken or hasn’t fully recovered, that’s fine.

But, until something fundamentally shifts, I don’t think this is going to change. There is no magic fairy dust that the marketplace is going to suddenly provide.  Hopefully this gets recognized, and we can stop reading articles about how today’s job market equates to a weak or unsteady economy.  The two simply are not correlated as many would suggest.

Readers, what are your thoughts on the job market and the current state of the economy? Do you agree that the old way of equating economic strength with the job market is no longer valid?  Discuss below.

Copyright 2014 Original content authorized only to appear on Money Beagle. Please subscribe via RSS, follow me on Twitter, Facebook, or receive e-mail updates. Thank you for reading.