2011 Financial Year In Review

2011 saw a net worth increase for the Beagle household, though it was not as much as I’d hoped, coming in right around 10% from the end of 2010.

Housing

Every year since the downturn began, I set a goal for the value of the house to remain stable.  It’s always gone down and thus been a drag on our goals, but I was happy to see that it actually went up about 2% in 2011.  I use a formula based on a combination of the assessed value, the Zillow value, the bank estimated value, and comparable sales in the neighborhood.  This is an encouraging sign.

Automobiles

The Pontiac G6 I own actually increased in value throughout the year if you believe Kelley Blue Book.  Apparently the demand is pretty high.  I don’t know if this is really true.  The Buick SUV we own went down slightly, though less than I had anticipated, so that’s good.  But the biggest value change we have here is due to purchasing our camper! I’m probably going to use a straight line depreciation for that rather than try to use Kelley Blue Book or a similar valuation estimator.

Cash / Investments

This was much lower than what I had anticipated for two reasons: The stock market performance did not do what I had hoped so our investments were lower, and we purchased the forementioned camper, which took money out of our cash reserves.

Retirement

Again, because the stock market did not perform as well as I’d hoped, we underachieved.  Our overall balance went up, mainly because of our contributions (10% of my income), so we continue to plug away and grow the number of shares we own.

Debt

We re-financed in 2011 which dramatically lowered our interest rate.  We chose to include some of the closing costs in the loan.  As such, our mortgage balance did not drop by what I had projected.  The good news is that we’ll tip the scales back in our favor by June and the loan balance will be paid off by about $5,000 more per year than it would have been with our old loan.

We also have one student loan that we paid off the monthly payments, but no extra.  It’s a low interest rate and low payment amount per month, so we decided to let it be for now.  At some point, I’ll probably want to get rid of the payment, but for now it is what it is.

Overall

Again, we did OK.  A 10% increase was less than I’d hoped, but it just shows that due to the size of our investment portfolios,namely the 401(k), that we’re largely at mercy of the stock market.

How did you do in 2011?

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Money Beagle’s 2011 In Review

It seems like just yesterday that we kicked off this year.  All in all, it was a great year and I thought I’d take a look back at some Money Beagle highlights from 2011.

January

We kicked off the year planning for the move of Little Boy Beagle from the nursery to his new room.  It took a lot of work, but we got it done and he’s been settled in his room for many months! We were bummed to learn that Costco effectively raised their prices on baby formula, taking away their price advantage which had made them our number one choice for our first (we ended up using Target brand formula for our second).

February

We got our taxes done early and I lamented on one job benefit that remained top-notch in this day of ever-declining perks!

March

Although declining home values suck, the fact that property taxes would be going down helped make up for the sting.  I got a little burned out by the library (which I got over quickly) and noted that Costco gas is a great deal but not always practical.

April

I cracked and bought a Nook, which I use though not as much as I thought I would.  I also noted a personal milestone that indicated the housing market might have finally hit rock bottom.

May

I got a new work laptop in spite of having reasons to avoid the request and pointed out the next best thing to finding a bag full of money.

June

I flat out refused to pay someone what they tried to charge me, but with a twist you might not expect.  Oh, and what else?  Seemed like something big happened….Hmmm…Oh, yeah, we had our second child, a beautiful baby girl!

July

I saved a few bucks on our propane refill just in time for prime BBQ season and took a four-year look back at our debt.

August

I gave some advice that anybody who ever wraps a gift should read and take to heart.  I also added two credit cards to my wallet and did so of my own free will!  Money Beagle also turned three!

September

I wrote about what may well have been the most unbelievable thing I’ve ever heard from a restaurant worker in my entire life and also gave a tip on when you might want to schedule your annual physical.    You do schedule one every year, right?

October

I got a credit card I never really asked for but read why I was perfectly cool with that.  We also completed the re-finance of our house, reducing the interest rate by 2.5%, cutting a total of 10.5 years from the payment schedule, and saving us at least $80,000 over the course of the remaining loan.

November

I posted a somewhat contrarian view of the student loan debt problem.  I also expressed my thoughts (with some glaring evidence) on the value (or lack of value) of Quizno’s.

December

We closed out the year by purchasing a camper, meaning our vacation itinerary for the next 5+ years is pretty well set!

2011 was a year with many blessings.  Not everything turned out as I thought it would, but that’s life!  I was happy that we kept our health and that we were blessed with our beautiful baby daughter.  I hope that 2012 is happy, healthy and prosperous for our family and for your families!

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How Book Endings Are Like Personal Finance Goals

I read a lot of books.  Reading fiction has always been one of my favorite pastimes, both as a kid and now as an adult.  Few things are more relaxing than settling into a good book.

But, as I’ve read more and more books, I’ve realized something.  When I start reading a book, I can usually judge partway through whether it’s good, great, or not worth continuing.  Out of all the books I start reading, very few fall into the ‘Great’ category.  I don’t keep statistics, but say 5%.

That judgment, as I said before, is usually made about halfway through.  But, by the end of the book, that percentage is usually much lower.  By the time I’m done with book, most fall back into the ‘Good’ category.  What knocks them down?

The endings.

For some reason, authors have the hardest time finishing the books.  I was reading a book recently, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, and I was so engrossed during the first and second half that I was ready to proclaim it one of the best books I’d ever read.  But, alas, by the time I was done, it had fallen off.  I certainly enjoyed it and I would recommend it to anybody, but the ending for me kind of fell apart.

As it often does.

I asked myself why?  I think it’s because, just like when we establish a personal finance goal, we concentrate on the parts leading up to the ending.  An author that comes up with a story can come up with the characters and the problems that make the story interesting.  A lot of thought and effort comes into developing those things, and many halfway great books show the diligence that the author put into them.  But, actually solving the problem is another issue.  I think many times the author has a general idea of how they expect to get the characters stories wrapped up, but forget to put as much time into that part of the story, so many endings feel forced.

In the case of the book above, things seemed rushed.  Several characters did things in the ending that did not match anything they had done in the book.  It just didn’t match.  It was still enjoyable, but not up to the same level as the earlier parts of the book.

I think many of us often fall into the same trap when it comes to personal finance goals.  We set goals to change a behavior.  Either to get out of a bad behavior (e.g. continuing to accumulate debt) or to encourage good behavior (e.g. saving for a house).

Relating that to the book analogy, we are the characters and we identify the situation that we want solved.  But, we don’t spend enough time on the ending.

We say, “I want to get out of debt.”  But, what’s the ending?  Even if we get out of debt, what happens next?  Do we do that so that we can get back into debt again?  So we can retire?  The good goal-setter will say they want to get out of debt and will tell you how they plan on doing so.  The great goal-setter will spend as much time developing what they do after the goal is set as they do on the goal itself.

What’s your personal finance ‘story’?  Are you writing a great one that will fade to good at some point or are you going to  make sure that it’s great, cover to cover?

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Why You Should Write Your Personal Finance Executive Summary Today

An executive summary is an important part of most business proposals.  A proposal should contain a detailed step-by-step roadmap that shows the detailed steps and costs that need to be undertaken in order for whatever it is that is being proposed to be successful.

One key element of that is the Executive Summary.

Chances are the person that is going to end up making the final decision on a big project is an executive who has many things going on, and won’t have time to read every little detail.  It’s important to summarize the entire proposal into an Executive Summary.

This should be a couple of paragraphs summarizing:

  • Where do things stand today?
  • Why does something need to change?
  • How do we plan to make the change?
  • What is needed to get there?

Everything is kept very high level, but the key is that it summarizes everything concisely so that if an executive has only a few minutes, they’ll be able to understand what it is that’s being proposed.

I think it’s important to have a personal finance executive summary.  Do you have one?

Your executive summary should spend a couple of sentences on where things stand today.

Example: We have a net worth of $xxx dollars, the main highlights of which are an investment fund and retirement fund.  We have mortgage debt, student loan debt, and credit card debt.

Then move onto the goals that you are looking to achieve.

Example: Our immediate goals are to eliminate 50% of our credit card debt and save an emergency fund totaling $3,000 by the end of next year.

Address how you plan to make the change and how you plan on getting there.

Example: We will increase our debt payments by applying next year’s salary increase towards extra debt payment, as well as avoiding adding any items to the charge card.  We will set up an automatic direct deposit of $50 per paycheck towards building an emergency fund.

With just a few simple paragraphs, you’ve set out a clear path for your financial path in the near future.  You can then use this as a basis to draw a more detailed plan that might include budget cuts across some categories like cable TV or cell phones.  But, with this ‘executive summary’, you’ll have something to go back to every time that you are thinking about making a major (or even minor) financial decision.

Store it on your smart phone and look at it when shopping.

Look at it every time you get a paycheck or calculate your net worth.

Refer back to it when you’re paying a credit card balance.

Something very simple and very easy to put together can end up being a big stepping stone to a better financial path.

Have you written your personal finance executive summary?  If not, what are you waiting for?

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