Our War Against The Chipmunks

This is the third summer season that we’ve been in our house. I really don’t count the first one (2007) because we moved in late June, so we barely had a handle on things and I really didn’t know a lot of what was going on.
That year, I did the basics, mowing the grass weeds and pulling weeds from the beds. But, it was only last year that I really started working on really making the outside look better. I attacked the weeds that were filling in the grass and made it look like a real lawn again, mulched the beds, and we also got some flowers to adorn our deck.
The flowers themselves didn’t do so hot, and it turns out we weren’t getting the right type of flowers for the type of sun we got.
So, this year rolls around and we went to the nursery, armed with the knowledge of what flowers would thrive on our deck. We bought them, planted them, and watched with glee as they thrived.
At first.
Now, they aren’t looking so hot. Well, at least the yellow pansies that we have aren’t looking so good. The other flowers (mostly geraniums) are doing OK.
It turns out that the chipmunks are the culprit.
That’s right, chipmunks. Alvin, Simon, Theodore, and they’re host of friends and family.
After the winter thaw, I noticed some strange holes in the ground in the front planting ed under the tree. I figured something was underground, and sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed when the hole kept re-appearing after I filled it in. I even placed a rock that weighed a few pounds on top, only to find it moved.
After keeping an eye on things and consulting with my father and father-in-law, I confirmed that we had chipmunks.

I decided our property needed to be ridded of these beasts. Initially, I had done some research and found that an effective way of eliminating them is to drown them. A five gallon bucket of water with sunflower seeds placed over the water, and a small ramp so they can get to the top is a pretty effective way to get them. They love sunflower seeds, they go to get them, fall in, and that’s all she wrote.
Unfortunately, my wife made me feel so guilty about this plan that I decided against it.
Instead, my father-in-law loaned me one of his traps. The idea being that I would trap them and take them elsewhere. While releasing animals isn’t exactly legal where I live, it is more humane than killing them off.
So, I started setting the trap and caught eight of the little buggers (as well as one really annoyed squirrel) and released them a couple of miles away. Still, I knew that we weren’t rid of them as I still saw them around occasionally.
But, I got lazy as I got tied up with other projects, including staining the deck.
The deck staining involved me moving the flower pots out of the way underneath trees and what not. Apparently, this attracted the chipmunks to ’sample’ the flowers, because when we went to put the flower pots back on the deck, it was with sadness that we noted that our yellow pansies, which previously had been taking over the pots, were now largely wilted messes.
At first, we attributed this to the heat wave that we had last week, when temps were in the 90’s.
Still, the condition didn’t improve even with extra watering and fertilizing, and I couldn’t figure out the deal.
Until a couple of days ago, when I looked outside and saw a chipmunk reach up and yank on the flower, tearing pieces off and uprooting it from the soil.
I actually went outside and chased it off the deck, but either it or another one was back at it a bit later.
I have cayenne pepper spray repellent that is supposed to keep the animals away. I sprayed that on the flowers, and tried my best to replant them (though not sure if they’re too damaged yet or not).
After my wife saw this, she was finally understanding of why I wanted to rid our property of these pests. Prior to that, I think she watched with some level of amusement as I was catching and transporting them, but after seeing what they were doing to her flowers, she was all for the war to continue. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if she opened up to the bucket idea!
So, I went back to trying to catch them last night. My father-in-law caught 25 or so before it slowed down, so I could have a ways to go.
Last night was the first time I went back to setting the trap, but was unfortunately not able to catch any. The reason, heavy winds in the area that kept tripping the trap.
I’ll have to try again.
Let’s hope that we can ‘re-locate’ the chipmunks and save our flowers!

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?

Can You Really Save Money On Utilities By Cutting Back?

When you Google “saving money on utilities” you get 18,700,000 results.
This is obviously a very well written about subject.
However, the rationale behind the most recent water rate hike by the City of Detroit for water (Detroit provides water to the city and most of the outlying suburbs) made me wonder how much money we can truly save by cutting back on utilities.
From the Detroit News, here is a summary with two reasons as to why water rates went up:

Customers are set to see bills go up about 8 percent, an amount Detroit Water Department officials say is needed to bolster declining revenues and counter surging interest rates on money the system has borrowed for capital improvements.

The reason for the declining revenues? Lower consumption.
People in the Detroit area have been cutting back water usage. With the economy in a downturn, people are trying to cut back the non-essentials. Whether it’s letting their lawns go brown or taking quicker showers, the average water usage has gone down.
So, how are people rewarded for their ability to use less? They simply get charged more.
See, the water company depends on a certain amount of revenue a year to cover costs. If they don’t meet that revenue, they can’t pay for the employees, for the electricity, for the maintenence of the infrastructure, and all the other costs that it takes to deliver water to millions of households.
It then begs the question as to whether you can really save money on utilities by cutting back? I suppose the ‘above-average’ saving household could still save, but if you if you cut back by the rate at which consumption drops, you really won’t save money. Yes, you’ll be preventing your bill going up even more than if you hadn’t cut back, but it is still discouraging to reduce consumption and see your bill come in the same. Or more.
And, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that this type of pricing model holds true for just about all utilities. Electricity. Gas. I would guess that they all have a level of expected revenue that they will figure out how to cover, no matter what.
So, is it worth it to cut back?
Despite evidence that I’ve presented, I still say it is.
Why?
First, I think that it’s important to preserve our natural resources. Bottom line, the water and the electricity use natural resources that are limited in supply, and also can cause pollution, global warming, and other problems with our planet. Reducing usage will only prolong the life of our precious Earth.
Second, it does slow down the increase in hit that you’ll feel in your pocketbook. The argument could be made that the utility companies would raise the prices even if demand didn’t go down. In that case, your out-of-pocket costs would rise even faster.
And, quite honestly, even when I’ve ‘cut back’ on usage in the past, I’ve never reduced the budget that I expect to pay for utilities. Simply because I expect that costs will continue to rise. I might not budget an increase over time, but I guess I have sort of accepted the fact that the utilty companies, by and large, are going to collect what they feel they need to no matter what. Short of getting ‘off the grid’ altogether, which simply isn’t possible for the majority of people, we simply have to try our best and hope for a delicate balance between increased costs and cutting back.

Resume Tip Number 1: Proofread Your Personal Information

Every day, there are new articles about things to do to improve your chances on a job search. Many of these concentrate on tips tied to your resume, and how to make sure it stands out and presents you in the most favorable light to get that ‘dream job’.
I’m here to reinforce one tip, and that’s tied to proofreading: Make sure you proofread EVERY part of your resume. And I mean every single part.
Here’s a true story that illustrates the reason for this:
A week or two ago, I came in from work, excited as always to see my wife and newborn son. I heard my wife’s voice from another room and could tell that she was just answering the phone. Her end of the conversation went something like this:
“Hello?”
“No, you have the wrong number.”
“It’s OK, but this is like the third or fourth call I’ve received today for that name, so I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’d really appreciate if the calls here could stop.”
“Oh, really, then she has the wrong phone number listed on her resume, because this has been my phone number for years.”
“Thanks, goodbye.”
That’s right, folks, the calls that my wife was receiving was for someone else’s job search. They posted their resume online, and had my wife’s number listed as their own. The person obviously must have had quite a resume, since she seemed to be getting a number of calls.
Still, this is one of the more bonehead moves I could think to make when posting your resume. It’s one thing to spell a word incorrectly or to make a gramatical error, but to get probably the most key piece of information besides your name incorrect?
I just hope she wasn’t applying for a position of proofreader.
So, it just goes to show that reading every part of your resume is critical before posting it or sending it to prosepctive employers. Who knows how many of the recruiters that had been calling simply bypassed her and went on to the next resume after realizing that the number they were calling was incorrect? In this job market, I certainly wouldn’t blame a recruiter for saying “Hmmmm….doesn’t list own phone number properly….REJECTED” and hitting the next resume. Somebody may have been kind enough to alert her (possibly through e-mail or snail mail) of the error, or she realized it herself, because the calls have stopped.
Yet, I wonder, could she have missed out on her dream job because of not re-reading every part of her resume?

Seven Things I’ve Learned Since Becoming A Dad

It’s been just under two weeks since God blessed us with Baby Beagle, and there have been a lot of changes. Here are just a few of the things that I’ve learned since the arrival of our son.

  • How to change a diaper – I actually never had changed a diaper before. Let me just say that you catch on pretty quickly.
  • You need more diapers than you could have ever planned for – Baby pees and poops more than I think we had ever thought possible. I actually went out on my first ‘diaper run’ late last week as we were running low on his size.
  • Hours seem to simply disappear out of the day – I think that once a baby comes, the laws of time change and there are only 21-22 hours per day for parents. It’s the only way that I can explain how every single day since the arrival has seemed to end much more quickly than they did in the past.
  • Don’t plan on getting things done with any sort of efficiency – My wife will love this one. See, before the baby came I had this list of things that I wanted to get done in the week following coming home from the hospital. A lot of different projects for the house, the cars, and my blog were on the list. I figured that the baby needs attention but since it sleeps 20+ hours per day, there will still be plenty of time to get things done, right? Wrong. Somehow there is always something to do, whether it be laundry, dishes, changing towels, planning for bath time, whatever. I got a few things done from my list, but probably 25% of what I had hoped. Still, the week off was amazing and time that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.
  • Sleep schedules change – Gone are the days of sleeping through the night, at least for a while. Feedings and diaper changes are the new order of business. Our son is actually doing very well at sleeping in his crib without fussing, and about going back to sleep once the business is taken care of. Still, I was unprepared for what a drastic change would occur in sleep patterns.
  • Everything changes in an instant – Oh, I knew well in advance that things were going to change once the baby arrived, but nothing could prepare me for how much it does and just like that. Your entire heart opens up, your priorities are completely shifted, and your joy and awe reach heights that you could never have thought possible, all in a heartbeat.
  • Mrs. Beagle is amazing – It’s true that men could never go through the pain of childbirth. My wife is a truly amazing woman for carrying our son, delivering our son, and how she now takes care and loves him in a way that only a mother can.

What a blessing!

Net Worth Review: June 2009

June was another positive month for our net worth. That’s three months in a row that we’ve seen an increase, which is the first time we’ve seen three consecutive monthly gains since a four month stretch between November 2006 – February 2007!

Property –I use a combination of Zillow and CyberHomes. I make a small adjustment based on what I’m seeing things sell for, and I remove 7.75% for expected selling costs. For the month, the value stabilized, which is a rarity, actually going up a small fraction. I’m not sure how long that will continue, given that Michigan will most likely see further battering with the GM bankruptcy, but we’re not going anywhere, so no big deal here.
Autos – The value of our two cars has held pretty steady the last couple of months as the used car market has heated up. We saw a modest decline, but nothing unexpected.
Investment Accounts – We had a good month, going up slightly above 5%. Still for the last 12 months, our investment account balance is down over 35%. Still, I feel like we’re hopefully in a good re-building mode that can continue the positive strides made.
Cash Accounts – We continued to slightly add to our cash accounts raising another 2.66% for the month.
Retirement Accounts – Our retirement account went up 7.6% for the month. The total value is down roughly 14.5% over the past year. My employer stopped matching, but we’re still contributing 10% of my salary at this time. Unfortunately, we’re not maxing out our retirement, but I still feel like we’re moving in the right direction.
DEBT:
Mortgage – Nothing special, just the monthly payment. Our mortgage is a 30-year loan at 5.875%
Car Loans – We paid off our car 11 months ago and we have no outstanding car loans!
Credit Cards – This is the balance that’s accrued since the last statement. We pay our credit cards off every month. We have a little lower balance than last month but still quite a bit higher than usual (as evidenced by the increase from 12 months ago) simply because of the added costs of our newborn.
Student Loan 1 – This is the loan that had a higher balance and a higher interest rate. After paying the car loan off, we concentrated our debt payment on this loan. We’ve paid 60% of the balance from a year ago, which just thrills me to pieces! We got a decent chunk down this past month as a portion of our federal tax return went to paying it down.
Student Loan 2 – This is the second loan but it is at a very low interest rate. We make the minimum payments on this loan. After Student Loan 1 is paid off, we’ll have to decide whether to snowball the payments toward this loan, or switch to something else (such as the mortgage, investing, or adding even more to our retirement)
Overall, our net worth went up 8.2% for the month, and is down 24.8% from a year ago.
I think it was a good month. I’m still extremely happy with how we’ve transitioned into a single-paycheck household. Our next challenge will be to add the month-to-month costs of a newborn into our budget.
I think we’ve made some great strides and am keeping my fingers crossed that we continue to positive momentum built over the last several months.