Mid-Year Review of 2014 Financial and Personal Goals

I listed a couple of posts which addressed financial and personal goals at the beginning of the year.  Since we’re just past the mid-point of the year, I thought it would be a good idea to get a check of where things stand.

Financial Goals and Progress

  1. Adjust to ‘new’ employer – I’m doing the same job with the same pay sitting at the same desk, but because IT services were brought in house, there were changes that I’d have to adjust to, most notably going from being paid twice a month to every two weeks.  So far, this has been a smooth adjustment.  COMPLETE.
  2. Modest gain in our home value - I’d hoped for a modest 2% gain in our home value, but based on pricing through our neighborhood, this has been far exceeded, to the tune of an 8.9% increase year to date.  I think the housing market is running a little to fast, but it’d be nice if this held or continued.  ON TRACK.
  3. A 20% decrease in the value of our autos and camper – I’ve already taken steps mb-2014-07goalto realize this in terms of our net worth.  Bottom line, as all of our ‘wheels on the ground’ are now 7 years old or older, I want them to be less of a contribution toward measuring our net worth.  COMPLETE.
  4. A 10% gain in our personal investments – I’ve been making some short term trades and things have been going well.  So far, this has been exceeded by about double.  ON TEACK.
  5. A 5% increase in cash savings – I did some shuffling here in the short term, so as of now, we have slightly less cash on hand than we did at the beginning of the year.  I expect we’ll make that up here very soon, but I’m not sure we’ll hit the 5% gain mark, though it’s still a target.  NOT ON TRACK.
  6. Retirement balance increase of 12.5% – While I have been more aggressive and confident with individual investing, I got more conservative than I probably should have with our retirement accounts, so we are behind on this.  Rebalancing and focusing extra contributions will hopefully get us back but right now we are NOT ON TRACK.
  7. A 6.6% reduction in debt – As this included simply making our regular payments, we are ON TRACK.
  8. A 13.6% net worth gain – Overall, we have already exceeded this, which in theory is great.  However, since the home value increase was a large part of this, I still am not happy as I want the retirement account to be more in balance with our projected goals.  CAUTIOUSLY ON TRACK.

Overall, I’m happy with our financial situation from a year-to-date perspective, but I will now take the rest of the year to get more in line with the individual goals on which I see us as behind, while also keeping an eye to try to protect the areas where we are on track.

Personal Resolutions

  1. Floss Regularly – Unforntuately, this one has gone largely as in years past, as once I stick the floss in a drawer, I can go a few weeks without it.  I’ve been back on the wagon for a few weeks now, so hopefully can keep it up.  FAIL.
  2. Redesign the blog – Unfortunately, I have not even started this.  FAIL.
  3. Lose six more pounds – I started off at 156 and am currently at 153-154.  I touched my goal weight for a day but that was after a bout of nasty, nasty stomach flu, so it doesn’t count.  SORT OF ON TRACK.
  4. Have treats primarily in social situations – I can’t say that I cut back to the level where I wrote, but I’ve definitely cut back on my snacking compared to last year.  DOING OKAY.
  5. Simplify my finances – I have started the process of revamping our financial tracking.  I consolidated two Excel tabs down to one and archived the old data as of July 1st. There’s still much work to be done. ON TRACK.
  6. Be more patient with our kids – This is hard to measure.  I’ve tried to be more attentive and patient, especially as our kids are now of the age where one bad conversation can leave an imprint, but it’s also challenging, especially when we have a 5-year old that is currently testing boundaries big time.  NOT SURE.

All in all, it seems like I’m making a lot more progress on the financial side than on the personal side.  I suppose the financial goals are more measurable and more black and white, so perhaps that’s why.  Either way, I do like the opportunity to look back and realize that there are still 5.5 months left in the year.  A lot of progress can still be made!

Readers, how are you doing with your goals for the year?

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.

Why I Pushed My Wife To Spend More Money

My wife has started to really enjoy drinking wine.  I’m more of a liquor guy (neither of us likes beer), but she’s started to really get to know different things about different types of wines, and whereas it was usually ‘white’ or ‘red’, she knows and is continuing to learn more and more about what’s out there and what she likes.

One of her first big steps came last fall when she went on a weekend trip to Traverse City, MI.  The surrounding area is home to many wineries (yes, Michigan has great wine) and was able to learn quite a bit.  She went with her mom, sister, and aunt, and they had a great time.

Earlier in the year, she talked about what fun it was and how she really thought she’d miss it this year.  I looked at her and asked why she didn’t plan something with her sister.  Her sister has had a bit of a rough patch, with a somewhat recent break-up, and I thought some bonding time would be great.  They talked it over, agreed on a weekend, and started planning.

The original idea is that they would go up and stay at the nearby campground.  They looked into hotels but given that it’s peak summer season, they were around $250 per night, and that’s pretty expensive.  Given that they both love camping, that it was low cost, and that they knew the area and the campground, everybody was happy with the idea.

Except I came up with other ideas.  I actually sat down and proposed the idea of re-visiting a hotel stay.

Here is why:

  1. A third person had been added – A mutual friend of theirs had got to talking about wine, and my wife and sister-in-law decided to see if she was interested.  She was.  This now meant that the costs of the trip could be split three ways.
  2. Camping takes away time – A girls-only weekend is fun, but there’s not as much sitting around the fire or cooking camping meals as is part of a normal camping weekend.  Just the act of setting up tents, air matresses, etc. and then tearing them down would take considerable time, time which I knew they would rather spend doing wine related activities.
  3. I'm glad to say that the wine enjoyed nowadays is a bit more upscale than this!

    I’m glad to say that the wine enjoyed nowadays is a bit more upscale than this!

    Costs are not always what they seem – Even when I brought up these things, the restrictive price was noted as a remaining obstacle.  I pointed out Priceline.  I advised that they go and try to name their own price.  My wife spent considerable time finding properties with the star rating that she was looking for, and was prepared to make an offer of $129 per night.  Then, she stumbled across a ‘Priceline Instant’ where they offered a deal of $145 per night.  There was one particular hotel she was really gunning for, and her research (she was able to see the ‘parent company’) gave her reason to think that was the hotel that was being offered (you don’t know for sure until you sign up).  They talked it over, she took a chance, and got exactly the hotel she was looking for.  Between the extra person and the lower price, the cost per night per person went from $125 to $48 (plus fees).  Not bad!

  4. She can afford it – As I’ve mentioned before, my wife runs a side hustle doing digital designs for invitations, thank yous and wall art.  Her primary savings for this is our planned 2015 trip to Disney World, but her shop has been a greater success than she could have originally hoped for, so she’s well ahead of the original target savings she had set.
  5. She deserves it – I know more than anybody that even though she doesn’t go to work and bring home a paycheck, that she has a full time job taking care of our kids and our home.  Even though we take trips for camping and such which certainly are vacations, I know that she deserves a break from it all (yes, even yours truly).

She’s heading out this weekend and I hope they have a great time!  With all the new savings, I have a feeling she’ll be coming home with an extra bottle or two of wine!

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.

Winners And Losers: Seven Years of Woot Purchases

Woot has always been a pretty nifty site to me.  They were the first and most popular site to offer one deal over one day.  They would put something up, and it would be available for 24 hours, or until it sold out, whichever came first.

They really got famous when they started their Woot-Off days, which were unannounced and would consist of deal after deal, at even lower prices, presumably to clear inventory from unsold daily days.  These often included what is now legendary among Woot followers, the Bag of Crap.  For $5, you got whatever they sent you.  In most cases, it was just as the title described, but people went crazy for them because every so often you could receive something like a flat screen TV, laptop, or a whole bunch of stuff.

I have tracked Woot for years, and have purchased a handful of things.  I just made a purchase on Friday of last week, during an event that was had sales of one-hour-per-item.  Right at the top of your account, they have a link where you can look at ‘Stuff You Bought’ and it gave me a full list.   The prices include shipping.

May 2007 – Dyson DC07 Low Reach Vacuum – $304.99

This was my very first Woot purchase as I’d just recently heard of the site.  We were weeks away from moving into our new home and we’d been looking at getting a new vacuum cleaner.  My wife-to-be had locked onto getting a Dyson, which typically ran for around $400-500.  When I saw this deal I jumped.

VERDICT: We still have this vacuum and it does great.  I’ve had to replace the hose, but that was through my own fault (I dumped part of a bag of sugar on the floor, tried to vacuum it up, only to find that it had landed in a wet spot, which led to the hose getting moldy on the inside).  GREAT PURCHASE!

November 2009 – Bag of Crap – $8

I purchased a Bag of Crap, having gotten in during the few seconds that they’re available, only to find out that I didn’t.  They oversold and ended up cancelling the order.

VERDICT: Never got it, but still kind of bitter.  STILL WAITING!

August 2010 – Five Gilmour Impulse Lawn Sprinklers – $9.47

We have an inground sprinkler system, but there are times when I want to do some very specific areas, so I’ll use the hose and sprinklers.  This particular year, I’d decided to do some overseeding, so this was an incredible deal, as just one is normally $9 at any of the big box stores.  These can daisy chain together so I’ve been able to use more than one at a time when needed.

VERDICT: One is broken but I still have four of these that I use occasionally.  For the price and what I’ve gotten out of them, this has been a GREAT DEAL!

November 2010 – Six LeakFrog Water Leak Alarms – $43.97

I’d been looking for some water alarms to place in areas where water might potentially leak, so when I spotted this deal, I jumped.  They’re easy to use (just put batteries in them, test, and go), and they’re cute, as they’re shaped like little frogs.

VERDICT: We have five of the six remaining, as one got ran through the washing machine.  They have definitely paid for themselves as two leaks were detected (one under the sink with a loose pipe fitting, and the other under the dishwasher, saving our subfloor and finished basement underneath).  GREAT DEAL!

May 2012 – HP TouchPad 32GB Wi-Fi Tablet – $199.99

I had wanted to get a tablet, and even though HP came in and out of the tablet market, I jumped on this deal.  Since it originally went for around $500, I fell into the trap of thinking I was getting a great deal.

VERDICT: When I first got it, I was pretty impressed and it wasn’t bad. Luckily, I bought a SquareTrade plan, because the touch screen went bad.  Once I had it replaced, it pretty much went into a drawer, as I realized quickly that the HP WebOS was a dud.  Eventually I pulled it out and installed Android over the top of it, which does make it useful, but I don’t get nearly enough usage out of it.  FAIL.

November 2012 – Canon EOS Rebel T3 Digital SLR Camera – $404.99

My wife indicated that she would like an SLR camera for Christmas, and I started saving to surprise her with one.  Every other deal I saw on this camera was for $500 or more, so when I saw this, I jumped on it.

VERDICT: She uses it all the time.  She has since gotten a second lens for it, as the one it came with was pretty basic, but it’s taken lots of great pictures for us of family, vacations, and other events.  GREAT PURCHASE!

January 2014 – Roku 3 Streaming Media Player – $69.99

I had wanted to get a streaming player to eventually get Netflix and also look at potentially ‘cutting the cord’ from cable.  This normally goes for around $100 so I nabbed it.

VERDICT: We use it for Netflix, and I’ve found a few other cool things that we use regularly.  The recent verdict regarding Aereo has curbed our interest in potentially cutting the cord.  This one is getting ranked slightly lower just because we don’t utilize it to it’s full capacity.  I probably could have gotten a version lower (the Roku 2) and saved some money, and gotten most of what we get today.  Still, it’s a PRETTY GOOD DEAL.

July 2014 – Hoover Power Scrub Carpet Washer – $94.99

Years ago, I had a steam cleaning device, and it was very useful.  It was very heavy, though, and poorly designed for cleaning it out, which was a problem with my two cats.  As much as I tried, eventually the thing got too clogged down with hair, and became useless.  I’ve been looking for the right deal since.  On Friday, I saw this, and after reading reviews that say it’s very lightweight, very easy to clean out, and that it does an excellent job, I took advantage of it.  A similar version sells on Amazon for $170.

VERDICT: We haven’t received it yet, so it’s TOO SOON TO TELL.

Overall

Not counting our recent purchase and the one I never received, we have FIVE wins and ONE loss.  I’d say that’s pretty good.

What has made the numbers work in our favor is that, if you look, I only purchase items which I was looking for anyways.  I know that Woot and other sites prey on those who purchase based on impulse, and I’d venture to guess that the ‘winning’ percentage for people who fall into those traps is probably much lower than 83%.

Readers, do you use Woot or a similar deal of the day site?  What are some of your wins and losses?

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.

Hazardous Waste Is No Longer Cluttering The House

I’ve been working slowly to reduce clutter around our house after looking around and seeing that it’s been creeping slowly from closets, corners, basement, garage, and just about anywhere else it’s allowed.

Just about every week I’ve been breaking down cardboard from some area or another and adding it to the recycling pickup.  I’ve also got a few stacks of items to go up on sale at eBay or Craigslist, some toys, collectibles, and plumbing fixtures.  Nothing that’s going to make us rich, but it’ll get rid of clutter and add a few bucks to our pocket.

Recently, I was able to tackle a significant area that has been building up: Hazardous Materials.  Specifically:

  • Paint
  • Electronics
  • Motor Oil
  • Old Batteries

All of these are items that should not simply be tossed out, as they can pollute landfills and groundwater supplies.  So, when I saw that the county was having a hazardous materials event, I put it on the calendar a few months in advance, and started working to plan for it a few weeks leading up.

Paint Cans Galore

mb-2014-07paintMy wife loves color around the house.  As such, every room is a different color, which means lots and lots of paint cans that get stashed away once painting is complete.  I had three shelves of paint cans in the basement from various painting we’ve done since we moved in, as well as a bunch out in the garage that was left by the previous homeowner.

I went through the basement cans one by one.  In some cases, shaking the can yielded basically nothing, so I knew that they were gone.  In other cases, when I popped the top off, you could smell that they’d gone bad, or in other cases, rust had built up around the lid, which contaminated the paint.  There were a few instances where we had paint that was no longer on the walls, like rooms that have since become kids rooms, or a can of bathroom paint which got painted over because we couldn’t stand it after just a few short months.  We had some ceiling paint and primer, both so old that last time I attempted to use them, there were solid chunks.

The paint in the garage, I didn’t even bother with.  It’s been out there for at least seven years, since we moved in, possibly longer.  That’s a lot of extreme heat and cold.  I knew it was worthless.  In fact, one can of paint was basically sucking itself in.  It was no longer round.  So that was time to go.

After all was said and done, I had 29 cans that I took to the event.  For each paint can that corresponded with paint that we still have, I wrote down the manufacturer, the finish, the blend number, the blend name, and the room where it goes.  If I ever need more for any reason, I can go get a reasonable match.

Electronics

I had been building a stash of old, broken or useless electronics.  I had some laptops from the 1990′s, PDA devices (remember your Palm Pilot) from the same period, a broken Discman, and a few other goodies.  I ran a magnet over the drives and such, and was able to get rid of that pile.

Motor Oil

I take my lawn mower in every couple of years to get checked up, and they change the oil, but on years where I don’t, I end up changing the oil at home and storing it.  I was able to pull that down off the shelf and get rid of a few bottles.

Batteries

Where I work used to have drop off points for batteries, but they stopped doing that. Now, we have a battery drawer, and I just have a ziploc bag that I throw the bad ones into.  I was able to grab that and take it.  All told, there were probably at least 100 batteries.

Simple Process, Low Cost

It was a very simple process.  They took care of everything for you.  They had you pull up to a big parking lot in a nearby college, where there were cones that had you weave through in line.  You had to show your proof of residence, an in our case we had to pay a small fee ($10), which varied by community depending on how much the local community contributed toward the event (residents of some communities paid nothing, others had to pay upwards of $60).

Once you pulled up, to the unloading area, you had three stops, one where they pulled out anything liquid other than paint, so the motor oil came out, the next for paint, and finally the electronics.  They also took medicine, household cleaner, and other assorted items.  We didn’t get into any of that, but by getting rid of 29 cans of paint and everything else, I have a lot of shelf space freed up for items that we’ll never need.

How much clutter is hazardous material taking up around your house?  How do you handle the stuff gone bad so that it doesn’t take up unneeded space and gets disposed of properly?

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.

Why I Hired A Financial Planner

Note: This is a post by contributor Jim Kelly.  This is timely information because I’m just exploring the possibility of dipping my toes in the water as far as working with a financial planner.  Jim and I share many of the same underlying circumstances in life, so I felt that sharing this info was timely and valuable.

This year we decided to enlist the services of a financial planner. Now, you’re probably thinking that we have to be rich to be able to afford to pay someone else to manage our money.

That’s not true.

My wife and kids and I are your average middle-class family, with a mortgage and bills, just like everyone else. In fact, a lot of people who use financial planners are in the same boat. After managing our finances ourselves for several years, here’s why we decided to go with a professional.

We can handle our own finances, but don’t have time. 

We’ve never bounced a check, we’ve never paid bills late, we have retirement accounts and college savings for the kids, we’re doing all right; but we also know that we could be doing better. Instead of keeping us afloat, our money could be working getting us ahead. But between work and kids and other obligations, we don’t have the time to really spend time on our finances.

Our financial planner does, because he has one job – to manage our money. He also has skills and tools that we don’t have, like years of experience doing nothing but managing money, and access to financial planning software for advisors.

We’ve got big dreams, and we want to make them real. 

In an earlier post, I talked about being realistic when setting big goals. Well, two of our big goals are being able to retire and maintain our current standard of living, and to send our kids to college without saddling them with student loan debt.

While we knew those were both realistic goals, we weren’t entirely sure how to get there. Our financial planner helped us come up with an actual plan for achieving our goals, as well as tracking our progress. Our dreams look a lot more possible now than ever before.

We have kids to plan for. 

Planning for our kids goes beyond preparing for college expenses. Neither one of us had any idea what would happen to our kids financially if, God forbid, something were to happen to the both of us. We don’t like to think about it, but the both of us dying prematurely is a possibility, and we need to be prepared. A financial adviser can take care of all that, so that our kids will be provided for.

Our investment portfolio needed an overhaul. 

As I said before, my wife and I both have retirement accounts, but there really isn’t much rhyme or reason to them. Some of the investments were things that we had chosen ourselves, others were part of our 401K offerings that we never really let go of when we rolled them over.

The truth is that our retirement plans could have been a lot more cohesive than they were. Our financial planner took a close look and helped us come up with a more efficient financial strategy.

For us, hiring a financial planner was the best thing we could have done. Does it cost money? Absolutely, but the peace of mind we get is worth the adviser’s fees. In fact we are better off financially than we were this time last year, even with his fees.

About the Author: Jim Kelly is a husband, father, and a self proclaimed finance geek. Jim is always looking to mainly read and sometime write on PF, especially on his own strategies and struggles. When Jim isn’t nose deep in a blog you can find him on the softball field with his daughter or the soccer field with his son!

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.

Random Assortment: It’s The Middle Of Summer

It’s only a couple of weeks into the official definition of summer, but in terms of the traditional Memorial Day to Labor Day observance of summer, we’re near the tipping point.  We’ve already hit the longest day of the year, and the ‘average’ temperatures (at least for our area) tend to peak between now and around the 20th of the month.  I hope you’ve enjoyed summer so far, but make sure to enjoy those weekends.

Here are some random thoughts that have been piling up:

  1. McDonald’s really doesn’t care about this – A survey of satisfaction ratings in fast food restaurants was recently released, and McDonald’s ranked dead last for the 20th year in a row.  Since the survey itself is only twenty years old, chances are this could go back even further.  In any case, while McDonald’s representatives talk a good game about wanting to improve, the fact is that they have no real incentive to improve.  After all, they have the lead in so many fast food categories, what motivation would they really have?  The only way you’ll ever see them really strive to get out of the cellar is if some other company really puts a dent in their sales or image.  Drive past any drive-thru line at just about any point in the day, and you’ll see that McDonald’s probably isn’t all that worried.
  2. Same goes for Panama City, Florida – Years back, I spent the better part of a year on a work assignment in Panama City.  I really like it down there, and try to keep up with what’s going on by reading the online local newspaper.  It cracks me up because every year, following Spring Break, there are numerous stories about how to clean up the image that they get as a ‘Spring Break’ city and how they want to reduce the debauchery…only to have nothing change the following year.  Lip service at its best!
  3. Life Time Fitness redefines upscale – I recently joined Planet Fitness, which charges $10 per month.  There’s a Life Time Fitness a couple of miles away that charges $77 per month.  I was apparently naive enough to think that was an ‘upscale’ gym, but apparently I was wrong.  Life Time is now opening Life Time Athletic clubs, which are even fancier.  They charge $144 per month.  I wonder when people will figure out that the more you pay won’t improve your results.  You still get what you give in terms of your work out.
  4. Blackberry lives on – Over two years ago, I predicted the demise of Blackberry.  While they definitely looked to be heading down that path, it now appears that my prediction was incorrect.  A new CEO seems to be turning the page, and they look to be redefining themselves toward a viable company.  They will never be the rulers of the smartphone industry again, but as that’s no longer their primary goal, they can now focus their efforts on security, enterprise communications, and other areas that may not be as sexy, but can deliver results.
  5. Everything is cyclical, especially shopping centers – Recently, there have been some stories about malls in the Detroit area.  One closed for good a few years ago, and there are two others that are stressed.  Yet, at the same time, three new ‘outlet malls’ are planned for the area.  I’m guessing that in 40 years, they’ll be talking about the death of those malls.  Everything seems so temporary, but nothing more so than retail.
  6. I really hate mosquitoes (but they really love me) - The long winter followed by a pretty rainy spring and summer have made this one of the worst summers for mosquitoes on record.  As someone who mosquitoes love, I can attest to this.  In the past, I would apply bug spray after going out in the yard (or out of the camper if we’re using that) and seeing that they were biting.  Now, if I’m planning on being outdoors for more than five minutes, the bug spray is on, no questions asked.
  7. Sandboxes drive me nuts – We got a sandbox for our kids.  Last year, we put it at the back edge of the yard, only to realize that being right up against the woods allowed for too many bugs, including yellowjackets that built underneath. This year, I moved it to a different location in the yard, and now it keeps leaking water.  The design doesn’t make sense.  There are small cutouts on the side of both the sandbox and the lid, presumably to allow air, but this seems to be allowing water to trickle in. Not enough to turn it to mud, but enough to annoy me and also attract ants.  We spend more time airing it out to let the sand dry than the kids get to use it.  Frustrating.
  8. mb-2014-07elmNow I sort of understand the benefit of tree free neighborhoods - I’ve always hated the practice when a new subdivision goes in, and every tree is taken out.  Yet when we moved, we wanted a newer house.  We had the best of both worlds when we found a neighborhood with homes that we loved which also had a lot of original trees.  This has been great, but now all of our elm trees are being attacked by beetles.  I had one taken out two years ago, and now another one is dying.  This is the biggest tree on our property, and also overhangs our deck, so it has to be removed piece by piece.  I have a ‘tree guy’ that I would use over and over again….the only problem is that I have to!  This will cost $700 for the removal and stump grinding.  I love having trees, but holy moly, it’s getting expensive.  At least the people who buy those brand new houses without a tree in sight can plan on not having those types of costs…at least for the first 10-20 years until their planted trees mature

What’s going on in your neck of the woods?

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.