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!

Mid-Year Review Of 2009 Goals

It is amazing to me that 2009 is half over, but here we are beginning the second half of the year. Wow!
I thought it would be a great time to take a look at the financial goals I set at the beginning of the year and see where we stand:

  1. Pay regular payments on the mortgage. Admittedly this was sort of a gimmee, but we’ve Achieved Goal and On Track for success throughout the year.
  2. Avoid double digit declines in housing value. Unfortunately, we’re down 11% for the year and the Detroit market will need a lot of time to recover. So we have Not Achieved this goal and I can safely say we are Not On Track for the year.
  3. Sell my car and purchase a new family friendly car. We have Not Achieved this goal but I believe we are On Track for something to happen by the end of the year.
  4. We hoped for a 10% increase in the value of our mutual funds. So far, the market has been kind so we have Achieved Goal, but it’s Too Soon To Tell if we will meet this goal for 2009.
  5. Long Term Savings – We have avoided any unexpected outlays so our reserves are steady. So far we have Achieved Goal, but it’s Too Soon To Tell if we will meet this goal for 2009.
  6. Retirement – We had hoped for a 30% increase in our balance. Between market increases, regular contributions, and matching contributions from my employer, we have already Achieved Goal. Still, it’s Too Soon To Tell if we will meet this goal for 2009.
  7. Level Out Monthly Expenses – So far,we’ve Achieved Goal and On Track for success throughout the year.
  8. Transition to a Single Income Household – Again, we’ve Achieved Goal and On Track for success throughout the year.
  9. Dont’ Freak Out About Baby Expenses – Some close calls, but we had saved well and found some good bargains along the way. I’d say we’ve Achieved Goal and On Track for success throughout the year.
  10. Maximize our rewards for normal spending – We are using a Citi Dividend Card for grocery and gas purchases (paying us back 2%) and have rewards attached to our debit card that gives us nominal points for regular spending. We might be able to do better, but I personally do not enjoy chasing rewards/rates for things like this or for savings accounts, since they change so much. Since we’re getting a level of rewards I’m comfortable with for nearly all of our spending, I’m going to say we’ve Achieved Goal and On Track for success throughout the year.
  11. Reduce student loan balances by 30-40%. Right now, we’ve paid 18% of the balance off. With a single income, we’re not able to pay as much, so while we have Achieved Goal in terms of being on track, I do not expect that we’ll probably come up short so we are Not On Track for this goal. Still, I’m happy with how much debt we’ve paid down and that we continue to do so even in small amounts when we have the opportunity.
  12. Refinance the mortgage – We had hoped to take advantage of the lower interest rates, but unfortunately the declining value of our home has made this all but impossible. We would either have to put another 20% of our home’s current value into a down payment or face PMI costs. Neither of these is something we want to pursue, so we have Not Achieved this goal and I can safely say we are Not On Track for the year.
  13. Begin saving for major home repairs – We want to start saving for long term expenses such as new roof, new windows, new driveway, etc. Due to putting a nice chunk of our income tax refund towards this, we have Achieved Goal and are On Track for the year.

Overall, I think we’re doing very well and I’m pleased with our progress for the year. The biggest bummer is that the home value declines have erased most, if not all, of our equity, making any financial goals around our home pretty difficult until that decline levels out.
Still, given how things have gone for a lot of people this year, I’m very pleased with how we are doing in terms of our financial goals.

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?

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?

Cheap Ways To Extend Your Computer Life

We’ve all had the itch for a new computer. I work with computers, so I know how quickly technology changes. With that comes the ever-present knowledge that today’s technology will become tomorrow’s obsolete dinosaur.

My computer is now four years old, and I have noticed it slowing down. Not just because it is slow compared to other computers, but because that’s what computers do over time, especially if you run Microsoft Windows.

There are some good ways to put the itch to rest for awhile. None of these will get you to where your computer compares to the latest and greatest, but they can get you noticeable improvement over what you have today.

  • Defrag – Most computers have a tool where you can defragment the drive. The operating systems are lazy and will just place data on the drive any old place it can. Over time, this leads to the data being spread out. The computer runs better when the data is on one part of the drive, and the Defrag tool can assist you with this. Note: If you haven’t run defrag in a while, you may want to run it a few times in a row to get things organized.
  • Spyware and Virus Removal – Many people have programs to check for viruses and spyware, but do you really know if they’re working? Check into them to make sure that they have the latest definition files, so that it recognizes the latest attacks. Make sure to do a full system scan if you’re not sure that it runs regularly. You’d be surprised what little buggers might be on your computer slowing them down.
  • Temporary Files – Most programs are supposed to clean themselves up but many do not. Most programs will create files in the system TEMP folder, which is normally under C:Documents and Settings%USERNAME%Local SettingsTemp. Find that through ‘My Computer’ and clean it up. I typically go after anything older than a month, which should help minimize the risk that you’ll delete anything important. Tip: Do this before you defrag.
  • Add memory – My computer shipped with 512MB of RAM. Good at the time, but not so much now. I recently added 2GB to bring it to 2.5GB total, and it’s helped. Memory is pretty cheap. It cost $20 to add that amount to my computer.
  • Start from scratch – After awhile, it might just make sense to start from scratch. You probably want to be pretty savvy or know someone that is, but most computers come with a system disk that will let you re-create it as it was ‘out of the box’. There’s a lot of work involved in getting it up to where it needs to be. You need to re-install any programs. You have to re-create your settings. You need to install all security updates that have come out since then, which can be daunting. But, this is probably worth around the three year mark. Tip: The ideal way to do this is to purchase a new hard drive and start from scratch on that one. You can still keep your old one plugged in and boot to either one. That way, it’s much easier to transport your ’stuff’ over, and it also gives you the flexibility to log into your ‘older’ system if need be.

There are a lot of other things you can do, but this is a few things that might help extend your computer life. In this day where we’re holding onto things longer (a good idea), hopefully this helps get you started.

Happy computing!

2009 Financial Goals

2009 is upon us and it is that time where we start setting out goals. This is the first time I’ve ever publicly stated goals for the entire year, so I may skip around a bit. I’ll try, though to keep it organized.
Balance Sheet Goals:

  • Property – My goals here assume that we pay our normal mortgage payment, which is in our control. The thing that is out of our control is that I’m assuming that our property value remains relatively stable. Hopefully the prices in our neighborhood don’t continue double digit percentage falls this year!
  • Autos – I am assuming that the overall value of our cars goes up, but that we take on a loan. This is assuming that we sell my car, and purchase a used automobile to accommodate the baby. Neither of our cars are very ‘family friendly’ I’m looking at getting something modest and taking on a very small loan, but it’d be nice to not have to take one at all!
  • Mutual Funds – With everything going on this year, we probably will not invest in non-retirement mutual funds. We do hold some, and I’m hoping for a 10% increase in the value, which would mean that the market recovers this year. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
  • Long Term Savings – We hold cash reserves for emergency fund as well as bigger expenses we expect to pay for in the next several years. I’m hoping that this remains stable (i.e. no big emergencies)
  • Retirement – I’m hoping that the value of our retirement account goes up about 30% this year. That would follow the expected 10% market recovery this year, as well as several other things. First, I’m assuming that I will become fully vested in my company match 401(k), which should happen due to the company being sold last year. Second, I’m assuming that I can contribute 8-10% of my salary and realize the full 6% company match.

If we manage all this and things work out favorably in the market, this would increase our net worth by about 20% this year. This is what I was averaging in years past until the free fall in stock and real estate in 2007 and 2008. It’d be nice to get on the ‘right path’ again.
Personal Goals:

  • Continue my quest to level out our monthly expenses
  • Make a successful adjustment from a two-income household to a one-income household as my wife will not be working following the birth of our first child
  • Don’t freak out when the expenses hit for the baby! I took my first walk through of Babies R Us this week, which was my wife’s way of easing me into it!
  • Maximize our rewards for normal spending. We have a Citi Dividends card which pays us 2% for grocery and gas purchases, and 1% for everything else. We also signed up yesterday for our bank reward program, which gives points for using our debit card. I’d like to make sure we’re maximizing our rewards as the year goes on.
  • Reduce student loan payments by 30-40%. If we can hit this number, then the higher end loan that my wife has will be mostly paid off. This would be awesome!
  • Refinance the mortgage – We are currently paying 5.875% for a 30-year mortgage. This is a good rate, but I think that rates will be below 5% before long to where a re-finance might make sense. It’d be nice to reduce our interest obligation.
  • Begin saving for major house expenses – Our house is about 10 years old. I know that we’re getting a few years away from routine tasks that cost a good deal of money. I expect a new hot water system will be needed within 3 years, a new roof within 5 years, new windows within 7, a new furnace within 10, a new deck and driveway within 12 years. I’d like to begin saving for those now rather than figure out how to pay for them as they come up.

All in all, it will be a very interesting year with a lot of changes. I will look forward to updating throughout the year as well as looking back at the end of the year to see how we did.