Net Worth Review: March 2010

It’s time for a monthly check of our Net Worth.  As always, I don’t give ‘real’ dollar amounts, but the trends in percentages are worth a look.

Things were looking up this month after a blah February.  I’m happy on most fronts especially the bottom line!

Assets:

  •  Property – Zillow and CyberHomes is what I use to track this, with a modification based on ‘gut feel’.  Zillow lowered our value a little bit for the month, causing a slight decrease, but overall the value is showing a bit less downward trend over time, leaving me to continue keeping my fingers crossed that the bloodbath worst is behind us.
  • Autos – Kelly Blue Book dropped the value of our cars big time in February, but maybe they realized they went overboard, because the values went back up for the month.  So, unfortunately, I didn’t increase the value of the cars by adding spinner rims or hydraulics.   I’m just following the KBB value model.
  • Investment Accounts – We saw a nice gain for the month of almost 6%.  We haven’t made any new investments, so this figure merely represents our gains or losses with the investments already in the market.
  • Cash – Cash dropped significantly, but this mainly because I subtract our outstanding credit card balances (which we pay every month) from our cash holding.  I have a rather large balance thanks to the $358 $658 for plane tickets (including the $300 stupid tax) that is currently there and will be paid off at the end of the month, so this is not an unexpected amount (except, again, for the $300 stupid tax)
  • Retirement – Our retirement went up 7% putting it at an all time high.  I contribute 10% of my pre-tax salary towards our retirement so the gains were market gains plus new contributions.

Debt:

  • Property – We made our standard mortgage payment.
  • Student loans – I had a little ‘tax refund’ cash account that was added to every month based on our withholding rate.  I allocated some of that money towards an additional debt payment, so we were able to knock a few extra percent off Student Loan 1.  We will still be getting actual tax refunds later in the season that will help us knock this down even further.  Still, being able to pay extra was a luxury we haven’t had in quite a few months, so this felt great!
  • Credit cards – We carry no credit card balances from month to month!
  • Auto – We’ve paid off both cars outright so we have no auto loans!
  • Other – I’m proud to say that we have no other debt, short term loans or otherwise!

All in all, I think we’re moving in the right direction.  When I look at our Net Worth Excluding Property, we have hit an all time high there for five out of the last six months.  I’ll take that with a smile!

Here’s hoping for another good report next month.

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Taking The Yakezie Alexa Ranking Challenge

One of the things I recently stumbled across was something that Financial Samurai came up with called the Yakezie Alexa Ranking Challenge.  Long story short, Alexa is a site that tracks other sites all across the web and rates them for popularity.  The more popular you are, the better Alexa ranking you have.

Financial Samurai’s idea was that personal finance bloggers (like Money Beagle) support each other with the end result being that word of mouth will build, networking opportunities will be created, and a buzz will slowly take place that benefits all participants.  Sort of a blogging co-op if you will.

I think this is a great idea and the approach that Samurai is taking is commendable.  One of my biggest frustrations in personal finance blogging is that those bloggers with the most clout, being the most popular, tend to network and build buzz for other popular blogs.  That’s great if you were in that circle, but it tends to propagate the ‘rich get richer’ momentum.

This challenge strives to accomplish the same thing just on a level that makes it opportunistic for personal finance blogs of all shapes and sizes.

According to the site, my goal would be to move up in ranking to 200,000 or above by the end of 2010.  This would mean that Money Beagle becomes one of the top 200,000 web sites out there.

When I agreed to join the challenge, I was ranked 3,250,230.  In other words, I have a long way to go!  Still, early results (some bloggers have been going with this since January) are extremely encouraging, so I think it’s doable.  There’s a little box in the bottom of the right hand column that (if it works right) will keep my ranking visible.  There’s also a graphical link to the Yazekie challenge there that links to Samurai’s page, where he’ll keep updated on how things are progressing.

So, while I strive to keep Money Beagle the type of personal finance blog that highlights my own voice, I also would love for that voice to be heard, and that’s why I’ve decided to enter the challenge.  In other words, I promise I won’t switch to writing the same ‘9 Steps to Doing This and This’ that many personal finance blogs focus on.  While there’s nothing wrong with those type of posts, I’d prefer to give you the rundown on the steps I’m personally taking, simply because that’s the type of posts that will keep me motivated to write.

If you’re a fellow blogger, take a look and see if you might be interested.  It seems like a great idea and it will give personal finance bloggers a network and a team to keep us motivated to writing the best posts and making personal finance blogging more credible on the web.

If you’re a casual reader, all I ask is that you keep reading and drop a comment from time to time to let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!

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Confession Time: I Got Charged With The Stupid Tax

So yesterday I wrote about how we’re planning a vacation.  Awesome.  Well, the vacation just got $300 more expensive without a thing to show for it, and it’s completely my fault.

Yes, I made an error and got charged with the stupid tax, and what really sucks is that it’s to the tune of $300.

When planning our trip, we were working along with my in-laws as well as my sister-in-law.  We all had input at various times to things like where we were going to go, where we were going to stay when we got there, how we were going to get there, and most importantly, when we were going to go.

Everybody had to look at their work schedules.  We had to look at the availability of places that we were interested in.  We looked at the costs of flying versus driving.  There was a ton of back and forth.

So, when it came time to the booking of the flight, I went back when I should have gone forth (OK, maybe the other way around when you read on, but that way just sounded better).

Yes, I sat down to book the flight and, for whatever reason, my mind remembered a previous iteration of the week we had decided to go.  So, I happily booked the flight, received the e-mail confirmations, and was happy as a clam.

It took me a week to actually realize that something was wrong when my wife and I were having an innocent conversation about her getting her hair done, which she scheduled to occur before we left on our trip.  She mentioned the date and how it might be hectic since it was the day before we were flying out.  I commented that, no, her hair appointment is a week and a day before we are leaving.

No sooner than the words were out of my mouth and I felt the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and I knew what had happened.  A dead run up the stairs and a few mouse clicks confirmed my worst fear: I had lodged in my head the exact wrong date(s) for our trip, and had booked with the wrong dates in my mind.  I checked and I even requested the wrong week off at work.

Luckily they’re not going to charge me to move my week!

So, I had previously been very happy to have found our flight and what I thought was a reasonable rate.  I had even commented that, since my in-laws were driving down, that we were avoiding the excessive fees that they’ve been piling on everything.

Yeah, not so much.

When I went to the reservation system, I found that the charge per ticket for changing flights was $150.  That’s $300.  I called Delta in hopes that I could plead my way down.  I first spoke to someone that was about as unsympathetic as could be and even hung up on me when attempting to ‘check into’ things.  Sure.  But, I called back, and spoke to a great customer rep and a great manager, but as great as they were, they couldn’t/wouldn’t help.

So, I grudgingly made the change and ended up paying airline fees that I had bragged about being able to avoid.

That’s the part that kills me is that I was able to avoid them, but with all the confusion, I skipped the step of verification.  I should have never made the booking alone where my wife, as a second pair of eyes, would have caught the mistake.  At the very least, I should have sent her the e-mail confirmations, in which case she might have realized my mistake and could have alerted me to the problem (you do have 24 hours to make a change without the charges).

I guess I thank my stars that we found out when we did, because it could have been a lot worse.  As it was, the correct flights were the same price as the originals.  I’m sure if we had discovered our error closer to the actual time, the prices could have doubled, in which case we would have had to deal with fare increases on top of the $300.

Still, I am very disappointed in myself.  It’s hugely discouraging to see a good chunk of money disappear that could have been avoided.

In short, it sucks getting hit with the stupid tax.

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Planning A Vacation!!!

My wife and I enjoy traveling from time to time.  Since we really didn’t go anywhere last year since Baby Beagle was just a newborn, we were looking at options for something to do this year.  Initially, we had thought about going somewhere in Michigan along a lake, renting a cottage or something along those lines.

However, my in-laws brought up a trip that they were planning, and that changed our plans.  My wife and her family had gone down to the Tampa Bay area (Maderia Beach / John’s Pass) a few times over the years.  They hadn’t gone for a couple of years but mentioned that they were going to plan a trip this year.  My wife got to talking to my in-laws and soon we started looking into doing that.  They know the area and have had wonderful times down there.

We’re going to go in late spring.

There was some back and forth on:

  • Whether to go – Initially, my in-laws weren’t 100% sure that they were going.  We were interested but only when everybody had committed did we finally make the final decision to make that our big trip for 2010
  • Where to say – My in-laws and family had always stayed at a particular hotel along the beach.  We looked into that, but they came up with the idea of splitting the costs of a two bedroom condo.  The place that they found looked nice, is on the water, and is actually cheaper than a hotel would have been.
  • How to get there – We had talked about driving.  My in-laws drive pretty much straight through (it’s an 18 hour or so drive) but we had concerns about sticking Baby Beagle in the backseat for that long.  Even if we drove overnight and he slept through, the waking hours would leave a lot of time for him to be confined in the backseat and we knew the trip would be further extended with more frequent stops to take care of his feeding and changing schedule, and just to give him time to avoid being cooped up.  When we looked at some flights, we found that the extra cost to fly was only about $100 versus what we would have paid in gas costs.  Those are using today’s gas prices, so the difference would probably be negligable by the time it was all said and done.  So, we have decided to fly.

My in-laws are going to take most of our luggage while they drive, so we won’t have to pay the excessive luggage fees that are now the industry standard.  We might have to check Baby Beagle’s car seat, but we’re not sure of that.  We want to take his stroller and car seat.  The website says tha they don’t charge, but it’s vague as to whether that’s just for the first item or if we can take both at no charge.  Even so, one item charge wouldn’t be too horrible considering.  Everything else we’re taking will either go with my in-laws or be put as carry-ons.

So, right now, we have estimated the following costs:

  • Our share of the condo for one week – $400
  • Two round trip airline tickets (Baby Beagle will sit on our laps since he’s under two) – $359
  • Boarding of our two cats (they can’t come) – $144

We’ll have some additional costs for food and activities once we get down there, but right now it’s shaping up to be a pretty reasonable trip for what is hopefully a great week of fun in the sun!

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