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.


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).


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


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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!


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?


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.


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.


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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Monthly Goals – Review and New Ones for October

Let’s review the goals I set for September and see how I did:

  1. Continue to work out – Mostly accomplished – I was doing great up until my wisdom tooth surgery.  I haven’t gotten back into it yet, just because my recovery has taken a bit longer than expected, but I am gearing up to get back into it full swing next week pending doctor approval.
  2. Recover from wisdom tooth surgery – Mostly accomplished My surgery for extracting teeth was rather complicated, and as an update to my post, I had a further complication last week when a small hole appeared between my sinuses and one of the extraction sites.  The surgeon was fairly confident that this would heal on it’s own.  I’ll find out more next week.  So far it seems to be doing well, and I’m back to eating all but really crunch foods.
  3. Figure out what to do with my MY money – Somewhat accomplished – As I mentioned, I bought a pair of running shoes with money that my parents gave me for my birthday to spend on myself.  I still have some left, but am in no hurry as I don’t want to spend just for the sake of spending, but would rather wait until something truly important comes along.  In any case, the money is earmarked accordingly.
  4. Sell a car / buy a car – Not accomplished – Again, I’ll blame the wisdom teeth. I have a few small things I need to get straightened out, as well as do a thorough cleaning.  I’m moving this to October.
  5. Do good in my fantasy sports leagues – Accomplished – I had dropped from first to fourth in my baseball league, but am now at second.  Either second or third is likely for me, and that will ensure me some prize money.  I also started off 2-1 in my football league, so I can’t complain.  This week might be brutal, though, as I’ve got a double whammy of injuries and bye week players that are leaving me no choice but to field a bunch of scrubs. 
  6. Get caught up on insurance co-pays – Accomplished – Everything is finally caught up with the bills from Baby Beagle’s delivery.  I also had an issue to work out with regard to coverage for Baby Beagle’s immunizations that was straightened out.  Even the oral surgery bills are pretty much finished off, except for one claim that I’m expecting to run through any day.  

October Goals

  1. Get back on the treadmill – By the end of the month I should be fully back into the workout routine unless something really creates a setback with the wisdom teeth removal.
  2. Sell a car / buy a car – I’m moving this one up a month and see no reason that it can’t happen.
  3. Winterize around the house – Some of the windows need re-caulking and I’d like to have the furnace tuned up to make sure everything is running efficiently.  
  4. Donate – I have stuff that needs to be donated that has been with us for way too long.  Getting rid of those piles in the basement and the garage will help get those areas clean, and hopefully help others that can use the items.  
  5. Figure out our Netflix plan – Right now, we’re on the $4.99 minimum plan where you get two movies per month.  We’ve actually now gotten into a habit where we like to watch a movie on Saturday night.  So, this leaves us two or three movies short per month.  I am convinced that our library has a decent enough selection where we could supplement our Netflix rentals with free library rentals, but my wife is skeptical.  We need to go check it out and determine if we can stick to our current Netflix plan or if we will need to bump back up to the next highest plan ($8.99) that would allow us to watch a movie a week.

Happy autumn!


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