Do These Things Worry Me? You Bet!

Saving Money Today had a link to a great article about seven things that worry the middle class.  Click here to read the post. 

I thought this was great and thought I’d comment on how I feel about each of these worrisome things, since I consider our family in the middle class:

  1. Falling Income – Last year our company gave no raises and they also cut the match to our 401(k) plan.  Both of these were presented as temporary, but just how long this temporary situation lasts is anybody’s guess.
  2. Reduced Savings / Net Worth – When we bought our home, the value had already dropped 15% or so from when the prior owners had purchased it.  We thought we had swooped in at the right time.  Unfortunately, the decline continued and it’s lost another 20% or so, pretty much erasing our down payment.  Although our net worth in non-home categories has increased, our overall net worth is lower than it was a few years ago because of the anchor that is real estate.  Luckily, we don’t have any plans to move nor do we consider our home an ‘asset’ in the sense of borrowing against it, but it’s still disheartening.
  3. Higher healthcare costs – These definitely worry me.  One upside from our employer is that we have pretty good healthcare, and the out-of-pocket cost increase from 2009 to 2010 was minimal.  Still, costs are increasing and with the new health care legislation, I can’t see this trend stopping anytime soon.
  4. Child Care / Elder Care expenses – My wife stays home with Baby Beagle, so we don’t have the child care costs yet.  Still, pre-school and other costs are bound to be expensive, and that will come up quick.  Our parents are in good health both medically and financially and I’m going to hold on to the thought that this will continue for a long, long time, so the elder care hasn’t come into play yet.
  5. College costs – This is certainly something we’re worried about.  We have started saving for Baby Beagle’s college fund, but if costs rise at the pace that they have for the last twenty years, it’s going to be pretty tough to imagine being able to pay for college at the current rate of savings, especially when you consider that we’d like to have a bigger family.
  6. Housing costs – We’re not moving so this isn’t a factor.  Still, you never know what might happen within a neighborhood or with a job situation, so this is something that could come up and become an issue in pretty quick time.
  7. False expectations – I’m well educated, motivated, and have been told that I’m good at what I do.  It used to be that these things would almost assure you a job and a good wage.  While I have both of those now, I know enough people and have read enough stories who have the same traits but are suffering.  It seems there are fewer and fewer opportunities and more people looking for them, and this wasn’ the way it used to be.

I am not so naive to think that generations before mine did not have the same concerns.  I think it’s natural to worry about money and finance related issues.  Still, I hope that our future allows for people to avoid being crippled by these and other worries.

How I Maximize What Our Library Has To Offer

I love going to the library.  Even as a little kid, I loved to read books, and the library was a great place for me to go and browse and find new things.

I still love to read and I still love to go to the library.  Our city is lucky enough to have a pretty great library, and in the couple of years I’ve lived here, my wife and I have found a few resources (and tricks) that have made the library an increasingly valuable asset to us.  And, since a good chunk of our property tax bill goes to funding the library, we’re paying for it anyways, right?

Check these ideas out:

  • Going beyond books – Our library has a great book selection but they also have lots and lots of CDs and DVDs, many of which you normally pay.  I get CDs all the time, and we’ve gotten a couple of DVDs as well.  I’m not ready to drop our Netflix subscription, simply because many of the popular titles that the library has are three-day only rentals (as opposed to one-week rentals) and since we only average one trip a week to the library, we’ve found that this is something to supplement our Netflix subscription rather than replace it.
  • RSS feeds – When browsing our library website, I stumbled upon a ‘new releases’ section and found that you could subscribe to RSS feeds for new fiction, new DVDs, and new CDs.  So, anytime something comes in, I automatically know that it’s there.  They also have other categories for kids and teens books, which hopefully will come in handy for Baby Beagle someday!
  • Holds – If an item is reserved, you can place a hold on it.  When the item comes back in, the next person in line gets it placed on hold for them and has up to five days to pick it up.  Once I see an item is in stock, especially if it’s a popular item, I can place a hold on it and wait.  You cal also suspend and re-activate holds at your leisure, so that if you’ve already got a few books checked out or you’re not going to be at the library for awhile, it will pass you up (but still keep your place in line, which is awesome!)
  • Linked accounts – My wife and I both have cards.  Since I read more than my wife, but my wife goes to the library more than I do (see below), we inquired and were able to link our accounts so that she can check out an item that I’ve placed on hold.  So, often I’ll see something come in via my RSS feed, log in and place a hold on it, get it reserved, and have my wife pick it up, bring it home, and later on return it for me.  It doesn’t get much easier than that!
  • Kids programs – My wife takes Baby Beagle to a once per week story time program that she found in the library newsletter.  He isn’t really ‘into’ it yet, as he’d much rather crawl around and explore, but we agree that it’s setting a good foundation for him nonetheless to get used to going to the library.

I have also seen that there are other resources that I’m not even using (yet).  Namely, our city is part of a county / state system where we have access to electronic resources, including eBooks and the like.  There’s also a feature where, if I want a particular book and my library doesn’t have it, you can search within other libraries across the state, and they can send it over to my library for me to loan.  How sweet is that?  Right now, I’ve been keeping plenty busy with the books and such from my own library where I haven’t had to use either of these features, but it’s great to know that they are there.

All in all, I think I’ve found some pretty great tricks that have helped me make the most out of our library and have gotten many hours of entertainment and enjoyment at the same time.  If you regularly use resources that your library offers, take a look and see if any of these (or other) ideas might help.  You can save some significant money in the process by borrowing instead of buying!

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What’s In Your Wallet?

I decided to take a quick peek at the items in my wallet.  Looking through it, I’m not sure that I would qualify for moving towards a money clip, which I know is what a lot of people do, but I don’t think I’m to the point of George Costanza, who as you may remember in Seinfeld, developed a back problem (and a tilt) as a result of an overstuffed wallet.

Going through my wallet, here are the things I have:

  • Drivers license – Can’t get around much without that
  • PMI membership card – I’m a certified project manager, and this shows my credentials.  Not at all needed but I worked hard for the certification, so when I see it, I get reminded of the hard work I put into it.
  • Picture of my Baby Beagle
  • Proof of auto insurance – Another must have for driving
  • Citi Dividends credit card – Gas, groceries, etc. go on here
  • Bank debit card – Most regular purchases go on here
  • Credit union debit card – I could probably move this out and keep it at home.  We have the account open but don’t keep much money in here.
  • Kohls Credit Card – We shop at Kohls now and then, and in order to take advantage of their ‘extra 15%-20%-30%’ sales that come up almost weekly, you have to use your Kohls credit card.  So, that’s that.
  • Speedway Rewards Card – We buy a lot of our gas at Speedway as it’s generally one of the cheapest stations in the immediate area, so I swipe my rewards card.  Eventually, I’ll cash it in for a gas card or something.
  • Caribou Coffee Gift card – Amount: Probably less than $1.  I got this as a gift and I think I used it down to almost nothing when I was on a project where there was a Caribou Coffee in the building.  I’m not there anymore, so I have no use for it.  I should check this
  • Health Insurance Card – Always good to have 🙂
  • Costco Membership Card – Self-explanatory
  • Library Card – Used very regularly to get books, CDs and movies that save us bucks instead of purchasing said items
  • Vision Card – I don’t wear glasses but for some reason, I carry around the insurance card that ties to our vision insurance plan
  • Haircut Place Business Card – The lady I like to go to wrote her hours on the back, so I use this to remind me what days I should go in when I need a haircut
  • Auto Club Card – In case of any breakdowns or for places that give you a deal if you use AAA, I have the auto club card with the phone number and membership number.
  • PetSmart PetPerks Card – I’ve gotten many a savings from buying cat food and supplies at PetSmart.
  • AutoZone Rewards Card – I need to probably throw this in my glove box because my shopping trips here are pretty few and far between
  • Movie Theatre Rewards Card – Our favorite movie theatre gives you free snacks after so many purchases.  We don’t go too often but it’s still nice to have when we do.
  • DSW Shoes Rewards Card – I’ve bought a couple pairs of shoes from this store, and they do a program where you get some credit back.  I should check and see what this involves to ensure I need to keep it.
  • Various receipts – I usually stick restaurant receipts and the like in my wallet and clean it out every so often, once I’ve confirmed that the amount charged (with tips and all) matches what I wrote down.
  • Cash – I currently have $3 that I’ve had for over three weeks.

I could probably cut a couple of things out, but overall, I think my wallet is pretty clean.

So, what’s in your wallet?

Guess What? I’m Not Nominated!

I just read my 103,309th article this week (but who’s counting) with the topic ‘Hooray, look at me, I’m nominated for a Plutus Award’ and the obligatory begging and groveling request for votes.  I just thought I’d join the fray by mentioning that I’m not nominated, so instead of requesting that you leave my site and vote, I’ll ask that you stick around and read a couple more of my articles instead!

Have a great weekend!

To Carry Cash Or Not Carry Cash

Some people find that cold hard cash in their pocket is an invitation to spend.  Others feel that carrying cash makes them spend less.

Some people spend exclusively by cash.  Some would prefer never to have cash.

I started thinking about it and wondering where I fit in.

I used to spend pretty much exclusively in cash for most everyday purchases except for groceries and laundry, where I think I’ve pretty much always used a credit card..  When I’d go out to eat, I’d pay in cash.  When I went out with friends, it was cash.  Things like the dry cleaners, haircuts, clothes were all done with cash.

When rewards credit cards came into play, I moved more and more of my spending to credit.

It was only when my wife and I combined our accounts that I converted nearly all of my cash spending to the use of the debit card.  Since then, I can take out ten bucks and it will often last a month or more.

I find that when it comes to whether I spend more or less with cash, I think that I actually spend more. With me, it all boils down to percentages.  Meaning, that the less I have in my wallet, the greater percentage of cash that each purchase will make.

Say I have $100 in my wallet.  If I pass by the vending machine and decide that a $1 soda looks good, I can think to myself ‘That only represents 1% of my total cash, so why not?’.  In relative terms, the purchase represents 1% of what I have, which, to most is ‘no big deal’.

If I only have $5 in my wallet, suddenly that $1 soda represents 20% of what I’m carrying around.  For me, that will turn a potential purchase into an empty-handed walk away from the soda machine.

Meaning for me, the less cash I carry, the less overall spending that I do.

I think people are wired differently.  Some people see the use of a debit card as a black hole and so they prefer not to use it.  Personally, I track our debit card spending almost daily and we have a pretty strict monthly spending limit, so each purchase definitely makes me consider whether I really want to spend money on it knowing that there might be other uses for those dollars.

I think the trick, no matter what, is to create spending limits, track them, adhere to them, and modify them if necessary.  You need to modify them if you’re finding yourself short on essential things like food, gas, or other important things.  Allowing yourself more so that you can buy a new pair of shoes every other week probably violates the spirit of spending limits.  The key is to set realistic spending goals, and also to track your purchases.

Either way, I think every person should understand their ‘cash’ preference and how it affects their spending.  With so many options available for many people, it only makes sense to make the adjustments that will reduce your discretionary spending.

A Few Life Lessons From An Eight Month Old Who Is Learning To Stand

Our eight month old son is learning new things and advancing right before our eyes.  It seems not a day goes by that he doesn’t figure something new out. In the recent weeks, he has mastered crawling and the latest skill that he’s working to perfect is to pull himself up to a standing position.

Watching him learn and hone this new skill makes me realize that there are things he does in his learning process that we can apply to just about anything, whether it be saving money, getting out of debt, adjusting to a new job skill.

Here are just a few lessons that he is teaching or providing a refresher course on as he takes on the quest that is learning to stand:

  • Look for opportunities – Baby Beagle is always looking for new places that he can pull himself up.  At first, he started small using low objects like the sofa (with a cushion removed by mommy or daddy so he could reach), but once he got the hang of that, he went for the areas on the sofa that had the cushions in place, various toys, tables, whatever….
  • Practice makes perfect – Once he gets the hang of it, he’ll plop himself down and pull himself right back up.  He’ll do this over and over until he can get to his ‘new’ position quickly.
  • Know when to ask for help – Baby Beagle is pretty independent, so he likes to do and figure things out for himself.  Still, when he’s trying something new or going after something that he hasn’t attained yet (a higher pull-up for example), he’ll let you know when it isn’t going well, and will look for an assist.  This might be repeated a few (hundred) times until he catches on, but eventually he’ll master what it is your helping with and make it on his own.
  • Look for re-assurance when things don’t go as planned – Babies are babies and, just like in life, not every attempt works out as planned.  Though there have been hundreds of times where standing has worked out, there have been a few misses that have resulted in a bonk on the head or a face dive into an unyielding object.  The accompanying tears are a cry for re-assurance and comfort, a reminder that it’s not always possible to succeed 100% of the time, and to have people close by to help you during the times that success doesn’t come.
  • Take pride in your success – Very often, when Baby Beagle pulls himself up, he takes a second to look around, smile, and give a little cry of happiness in his accomplishment.  If you cheer him on, he’ll get even more excited often to the point where he topples over!  He celebrates and takes pride in his accomplishments, which gives him the motivation to repeat his accomplishments and to try for greater things.
  • When you fall, pick yourself up and try again – So many times, the first attempt doesn’t go as planned and the solution is just to try again and again.  Don’t give up.

It just goes to show that as much as we teach babies and help them learn, there is a lot that they can teach us as well!