Does It Feel Like We’re Stuck In Neutral?

When it comes to personal finances, every so often I take a look at things over the long term.  For as much progress as our family has made paying down debt, contributing 10% of my income to retirement, and the like, from a personal finance perspective it often feels like we’re stuck in neutral.

Here are a few examples of how it seems like we’re spinning our wheels:

  •  Income level stagnant – I’ve heard it said so many times “I’m happy to just have a job” that few complain about not getting raises.  I was lucky enough to avoid a salary cut during the recent recession, but haven’t had an effective raise in years.  After more than tripling my salary from when I first started in the workforce in 1996 to 2005, this is frustrating (even though I *am* happy to have a job)
  • Stock market – It seems that the stock market has been stuck in neutral for over a decade.  Levels have risen and fallen a lot during that time, but aren’t the Dow and S&P pretty close to their trading levels from ten years ago?
  • Housing levels – OK, so everybody knows the housing market sucks but how bad is it?  Let’s put it this way, I bought a condo in 1999.  It went up in value over the years, but when I sold it in 2007, it had already started going down in value, and I sold it at 2005 levels, which I was bummed about.  Even though I don’t live there anymore, I still track what’s going on, and I’m pretty sure now it wouldn’t even sell for what I paid for it.  That’s pretty typical around here anyways.  So, in other words, housing values are below 1999 values.

I’m still fighting the good fight and keeping my chin up, but every once in a while, it seems like the one-step-forward two-steps-back adage.

The sucky part for me is that most of these ‘neutral’ indicators have happened during the prime of my working career, and the same probably holds true for those around my age (mid-30s).  In the past, this is where many people would get established financially, but now it seems we can barely keep up from the month before.  This could have long lasting repercussions as the effects of this personal finance neutrality will certainly impact us for the rest of our lives.


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:
“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?

Answering A Reader: Our Own Child Care

In a comment to my last post, reader Dog Ate My Finances (love the name, by the way), asked why my wife doesn’t start her own child care to make up for the difference in pay that we’ll be taking once she leaves her job to have our baby.
There are some financial reasons and some non-financial reasons for not doing so. I’ll start with the financial reasons:

  • The local economy in Michigan is not that good. Many parents are pulling their kids out of day care as they are losing their jobs, so the market is very tight. As such, there would be no guarantee that it would even take off.
  • The costs involved are not something we’re interested in. To open a home day care would require significant costs for certification, licensing, as well as changes I’m sure that we’d have to make around the house. Not to mention insurance that would have to be taken out. While I wouldn’t mind someday taking the venture into a start-up, this isn’t a risk that we really want to take.

This leads me to the non-financial reasons of why this idea wouldn’t fly around here. The biggest is that my wife simply has no desire to continue in that role in a long term fashion. Right now, her and I are both excited for her to have the opportunity to focus on our baby.
Her background in college was in Child Development. She had hoped to do something to the level where she could work within a health system or some other parallel position, and work with children who needed special assistance or had developmental needs. She didn’t have her teaching certificate, although this is something that she briefly considered, so classroom instruction was out of the question.
But to get the type of jobs that I described, at least here in Michigan, she would have needed a Masters Degree. She didn’t want to simply accumulate loans, so before she made that jump, she wanted to work for awhile, and see if she even was interested in pursuing that. Which would give her time to pay down some of the student loan debt she accumulated in her undergraduate studies. The job that was most available was working in child care facilities. These decisions were made solely by her as her and i were just dating at the time.
While she enjoys the interactions with children and is great at what she does, the bottom line is that she doesn’t have the passion to commit to it for a career. Now, before anybody says that taking care of our children is parallel, let me just say that there’s a huge difference in taking care of our children versus taking care of somebody else’s. She has a passion and a fire for one and not the other. I’ll let you guess which one!
And, honestly, once we started talking about when we wanted to start our family, we came to the conclusion that the timing wouldn’t make it so that going back for her Master’s was a good idea, at least not yet. Why? Because either way, we wanted my wife to take some time to focus on our family. This was something we discussed before we were even engaged, so we’ve been on the same page with this for a long time. Going back to school now would simply have added debt that we knew we wouldn’t have time to pay off before we started our family.
So, while there are financial reasons involved, the non-financial aspects hopefully fill in the rest of the picture.

Changes To Benefits For 2009

It’s that time of year where it’s time for open enrollment for medical and other employer sponsored benefits.

My company sold a 51% stake in themselves to a private equity firm, so we changed insurance providers, though they kept benefit offerings along the same line as they did with the old company. Hopefully that carries past 2009 because it seemed to work out well.
Some changes I made in our benefits for next year:

  • Changed to a no-deductible PPO – This past year, our PPO had a deductible of $150 per person for in-network charges. This year I switched to a no-deductible PPO. The zero deductible applies to in-network providers, with the trade off being that the out-of-network provider deductible is significantly higher, as well as the annual ‘out of pocket’ cost have a higher cap. I went through all of our medical bills for 2008 and confirmed that all of our doctors are in-network, and also spent time talking to the hospital that will be doing our delivery to make sure that all aspects of our expected childbirth is covered. They are and were very helpful in answering questions. I think this will be a good trade-off.
  • Added extra life insurance – My employer offers life insurance up to 10-times my salary, and also offers a policy for my wife. With a newborn on the way, this is something I wanted to address. I contacted our normal insurance provider to see what a comparable policy would be, and it was almost three times as expensive, so I’m sticking with the policy from work. The downside, of course, is that the employer policy would go away in the event that something would happen to my job, but I figure that if something were to happen, I would address that when the time came, but will enjoy the savings for now.
  • Contributed to an Health Savings Account – I have never contributed to this, but I wanted to this year since there will be some bills coming with the delivery of our baby as well as costs that are incurred for a newborn. The benefits of this are that it allows us to contribute throughout the year, and also is tax deductible, which reduces the overall cost. The downside is that you have to use all of it in 2009, so if you over-contribute, you could potentially use it. However, I’ve found that there is pretty good flexibility in how you can spend this, in that drugstores will allow you to spend it on many items, including humidifiers, first aid care, off-the-shelf medicines. In other words, the chances are pretty low that this will go to waste, especially in the first year of having a newborn.

The costs aren’t too bad. If I hadn’t added the extra life insurance, the cost per paycheck would actually be about the same as 2008. The extra life insurance will raise it slightly, and of course the HSA contributions will deduct as well, but this will be offset by less recurring monthly expense in money that I personally earmark for medical related expenses. I also calculated what the contributions will be once we have the baby and move to family insurance. This will add an extra $50 or so per paycheck once Baby Beagle comes to the world. I’m going to just start setting that money aside now to ensure that the effects won’t be noticeable once we have to sign up for that coverage.

Luckily, I just got my annual raise so the ‘bottom line’ won’t result in less take home after the contributions. That’s good to know.

Also, I wanted to give a special thanks to ShtinkyKat, a fellow personal finance blogger. She read my earlier post in which I was unsure about the possible out-of-pocket costs for childbirth. She asked a friend who had recently gone through it, and provided some very helpful information which led me to come up with a more firm number for my HSA contributions. Part of the fun of blogging and motivation is building a rapport with fellow bloggers and readers, and it’s nice to know that there are people reading and willing to help. Thanks again!

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