Letting Things Soak

I eat oatmeal pretty much every day at breakfast, at least at work.  It started a few years ago when my cholesterol tested above what it should have been.  I made some changes to my diet and have been exercising more, and have been in the normal range for quite some time, but I still stick with the oatmeal breakfast.

It’s healthy.  With a few raisins, it’s very tasty, and it keeps me from eating worse breakfasts.

It’s also fairly cheap, which is always a nice bonus.

But, one thing I’ve noticed is that cleaning up after eating oatmeal can be a difficult task.  Or it can be an easy one.

How both?  Let me explain.

Inevitably, I eat my breakfast and I put the ceramic bowl that I use for my oatmeal aside.  After an hour or two, I’ll get up for something and I notice that my bowl is sitting there, and the little uneaten chunks have now melded themselves to the bowl.

There are two ways of handling this.  The first is to take it to the kitchen, work and work and work, and hopefully get all the chunks off.  It takes a huge amount of effort and the results aren’t even 100% as I’ll usually find some uncleaned portions later on, and have to go back and re-clean the entire bowl.

The second option, though, is much better and works out a heck of a lot easier.  I simply fill the bowl with water and let it soak.  Ten minutes later, all the chunks have fallen off and now leave, and a simple wash gets me ready for the next day.

Now, you may be wondering, how is this relevant to a personal finance blog?  Well, I think the analogy works pretty well with financial decisions: It’s simply sometimes best to let things soak.

I find that ‘letting things soak’ is something that I do quite often when making a financial decision.  When we want to purchase something big (over $100), I will often look at it, and then ‘let it soak’ for awhile. Whether that’s a few hours, a few days, or whatever, I find that waiting often makes things turn out better.  Many times, we’ll decide that the purchase isn’t necessary, or if we do decide to make the purchase, we’ll do our homework to make sure it’s the best possible price and that it meets our goals, as well as fitting into our financial goals.

When we don’t let things soak, we’ll often find that we’re plagued with similar problems to not letting my oatmeal bowl soak.  We’ll find that we’re rushing, that we’re working harder, and that we may not have ‘finished’ making the decision in the best possible way.

In short, letting things soak has proven to be a valuable strategy.  Both in cleaning out my oatmeal bowl and in making financial decisions, it works more often than it doesn’t.

Other great reads

Here are some additional posts I’ve read recently by other great, hard working bloggers.  Give them a read if you have a few minutes:

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Financial Moves In The Event Of A Job Loss

With the economy the way it is, I think it’s a good idea to have preparations in the event of a job loss.
My job is what I would consider relatively safe. I recently transferred into a just created position that is fully funded for the foreseeable future. ‘Baseline’ positions, as they are known here, are considered the best type to be in, because the customer funds them for a year at a time, and generally funds them in blocks versus individually.
Still, even though I don’t feel insecurity, I’ve learned that it’s always best to be prepared.
So, I have somewhat of a contingency financial plan in the event that I suddenly found myself unemployed. This would require a lot of changes since my wife is (by our choice) staying home full time.

The Plan


Unemployment Benefits / Health Care

I would expect that any state unemployment benefits that I would receive would be eaten up by health care premiums, whether it be COBRA or a privately funded insurance policy.
Paying the Bills
We have an emergency fund specifically for events like this. The money isn’t earmarked for anything else. We would use this to pay essential bills. It is funded for about 4 months.
If unemployment were to continue for longer than that time, we would look into one of several options. First, we could sell some investments. We have non-retirement investment holdings that I could sell that would sustain us for another 6 months or longer. Second, we could re-evaluate some of our other cash holdings. We have additional dollars alongside our emergency fund that are earmarked for things like a new car, home repairs, etc. that could be re-allocated if necessary.
Concentrate on the Job Search
Due to having a fully funded emergency fund, I wouldn’t be panicked, as I know that we would be able to pay the bills for quite a good long time without running into financial difficulties.
This would allow me to focus on finding a new job.
Reducing Expenses
There are definitely some expenses I would look to cut as a method to reduce our cash outlays. Even though we have a fully funded emergency fund, the fact remains that with a job loss, it would no longer be fully funded after I found new work, and would need to be re-built. I would employ the following strategies to make sure that our cash lasts as long as possible and to ensure that we could get back on track as quickly as possible once I found new work:

  • Postpone student loan payment 1 – We have two student loan payments, once of which is paid ahead. We currently make at least the minimum payments, but we could suspend those if need be with no penalty for at least four years. I’m hoping that I would get a new job by then!
  • Eliminate Netflix – We’re currently on the barebones plan for $4.99 a month, but I’d still suspend that.
  • Eliminate eating out – We spend probably about $80 – $100 a month getting pizza, takeout, or going out occasionally. We would have to buy more groceries, but this would allow us to reduce this amount by a decent amount.
  • Unlevel some of our spending – I currently put aside an equal amount every month so that our monthly spending is fairly even. But, this has increased the amount of cash that is on hand. So, for example, instead of putting aside $35 per month for the cat’s vet bill, I would suspend doing that, although I would have to ‘catch up’ later on. There are other categories that would help us in this regard.
  • Let the lawn go brown – I admit I like having green grass. I don’t water nearly as much as some of our neighbors, but the sprinkler system would be turned off if I lost my job.
  • Reduce or eliminate the A/C – The design of our house and landscaping makes it where we run the air conditioning on most days when it goes over 82 degrees. I would increase this threshold as well as re-adjust the thermostat to reduce the energy use.
  • Cut back grocery spending – If the job loss was short term, we could get by pretty well by eating down a lot of the food we have in the pantry or freezer. I’m a big believer in stocking up just so long as you don’t waste food, but this would give a cushion for cutting back grocery bills as we could go through our existing food stockpile which would cut grocery bills down for a bit.

There are definitely other things that we could look at but I think that these would keep us afloat for a long time and let me concentrate on finding work.
In future posts, I will share some experiences in the past that gave me some of this knowledge. I’ve actually had to employ some of these in the past, but under different personal and financial circumstances.
What plans do you have in place that I missed discussing? I’m always up for ideas!

Copyright 2017 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.

Pack And Move Yourself To Save (And Make) Money

I’ve seen a lot of posts from fellow bloggers about moving. It does seem to hold true that summer is the most popular time to move, whether it be to a bigger place or across town or even across the country.
In a lot of discussions, I’ve seen various points or questions raised regarding whether to move yourself or hire movers.
I’ve done both.

  • After college, when moving from my parents house to my first apartment, I ended up enlisting the help of friends and my roommate to move my stuff. That was a pretty simple decision since I didn’t have a lot of stuff.
  • A couple of years later, when moving from my apartment to a temporary living situation, I hired movers. The justifications were that it was relatively inexpensive since I still didn’t have much stuff, it was wintertime, and I had a (at the time) very nice television set that I was afraid of anything happening to
  • A few months after that, I moved again when the temporary living situation expired. I moved into my own condo. Again, I hired movers (the same movers that had done the first move). The reasons were the same. Overall, I sort of regretted paying for movers twice in just a few month time frame, but they gave me a slight discount for the repeat business, and I also justified it because the reason for the temporary living situation was so that I could live rent-free for a few months.
  • Eight years later, when I moved from my condo to our home, I went back to moving ourselves. With the help of friends and family, we were able to handle everything. We were trying to save some money, we had people willing to help, it was spring/summer, and the TV (still with me) was now 10 years old and no longer a prized possession.

One of the things that I learned with the last move is that by doing it ourselves, we were able to save not only the money for paying the movers, but that I was able to get rid of stuff that I might not have had I not moved.
Let me explain.
When I was doing my own packing (something that I always advocate no matter what, even if you get re-location that will do this for you), I had to touch virtually everything that I owned. Whether it be clothing, knick-knacks, kitchen items, tools, paint supplies. I had to touch everything, and when I did, you tend to start asking yourself the same question over and over:
Do I really want to deal with moving this?
You start thinking about whether this is something that you will use. Whether it makes sense to pack and unpack it. Whether it makes sense to find a new place for once you get settled into your new place.
For most things, the answer is obvious. But, when you’re going through linen closets and basements and the back of closets, and junk drawers, you really start finding things that you can weed out.
So, you can save in a lot of ways:

  • Save money on packing supplies for the unneeded stuff – Less boxes, less packing material
  • Save time in having to pack and unpack items
  • Save space in your new place

Plus, if you’re really industrious, you can take some of that unwanted stuff and turn it into money.
If you have time for a garage sale or can spend some time on Craigslist or eBay, you can turn some of this stuff into cash in your pocket.
In a lot of cases, I imagine that this could even cover the moving costs of doing it yourself.
I couldn’t imagine not having packed all of my own stuff, because I know that if I hadn’t, I would have certainly moved a lot more stuff that would have turned into unneeded and unused clutter.
So, if you can, always pack and always move your own stuff. I guarantee it can add to lots of different type of savings in the end!

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My Brush With Identity Theft

I’ve never had my idenity stolen. I’ve read many of the horror stories that come along with it, but have never had to go through that.
But, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t come close. Or at least feel like I came a little close. Because there was one time where someone came pretty close, or at least a little too close for comfort.
A few years ago, I went through my mail, and there was what appeared to be a bill from UPS. I don’t make any shipments, and when I do, I typically pay for them at the counter. The bill was for a few dollars.
So, I thought nothing of it and threw it away.
A few weeks later, I got a second bill, again, not for very much money, but for a larger amount, but still under $50. Again, I discarded it thinking it weird that I was getting bills for something I didn’t use.
They got my attention a few weeks later when they sent another letter indicating that if I didn’t pay my balance, I would be turned over to collections. So, I immediately got on the phone.
My conversation went a little like this:
Me: “I’m calling about a bill that I got for a bunch of packages.”
UPS: “Yes, we need you to pay that.”
Me: “I’m confused, I didn’t send any packages using UPS.”
UPS: “But it has your name and address here.”
Me: “While that’s true, I didn’t ship any packages. In fact, the ’ship from’ location for all of these is in California.”
UPS: “Yeah, and?”
Me: “I live in Michigan. How would I have shipped these packages from California?”
UPS: *long silence*
Me: “How would someone have opened an account with my name and address?”
UPS: “Well, that’s all you need to open an account.”
Me: “You don’t need a credit card? A social security number? A drivers license?”
UPS: “No.”
Me: “So, anybody could just find someone elses name and address and open an account and start shipping packages, and UPS is OK with that?”
UPS: “Yeah, seems a little strange, doesn’t it?”
Me: “So, you’re going to take those charges off my account, the one that I never opened, and close the account, too, while you’re at it?”
UPS: “You’re sure you never opened that account or shipped those packages?”
Me: “Positive.”
UPS: “OK, then, we’ll take care of that.”
Pretty amazing stuff, isn’t it? Now, this was a few years ago so I’m really hoping that UPS does not simply allow accounts to be created in such fashion. It seemed that before, you could just create an account and start shipping with it. Granted, the number of shipments was small, so I’m guessing (hoping) that for bulk shippers, they would have required a line of credit.
But, really, who knows?
At the time, I didn’t really think much about it, but it was about as close I could have gotten to having my identity stolen without it actually happening.
It taught me a few lessons though:

  • Pay attention to your bills – I simply threw the bills out because I knew that they weren’t mine, but if I hadn’t, who knows if UPS would have somehow been able to find me and put a blemish on my credit report. It doesn’t seem likely since they didn’t have my SSN, but then again, I would have thought it pretty unlikely that they would open an account without somehow verifying the person opening the account.
  • Be careful of your personal information – Keep your personal information, especially things like account numbers, drivers license numbers, and other key information, safe.
  • Check your credit report – I check my credit report (and my wife’s) every four months, using our three free reports from AnnualCreditReport.com. After this, I have always kept an eye on it to make sure that every single creditor is someone I know. So far, I’ve had no surprises.
  • Check your balances often – Did you know that the longer you wait before notifying a bank or credit card company of fraudulent activity, the more you’re responsible for? I try to check my balances every day or two days on my bank accounts and credit cards.

Any other tips on preventing or dealing with identity theft? Any close calls?

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