Saturday, December 12, 2009

End of Year Update

Well, I've really been slacking at creating posts during the second half of the year. It isn't even really that I haven't had time. It just hasn't been a priority. Instead of blogging I've done things like homework, reading books, playing board and video games, and hanging out with family and pets. Now that it's winter though, things are slowing down somewhat. I have a final on Monday and then I'm done with school until January. I also get the last two weeks of December off and am looking forward to that. All that being said, I think I'm ready to start picking up my blogging again. I still won't make a lot of posts but I'm going to aim for at least one a month.

Since our last update a lot has happened with us financially. We continue to be very blessed and have been trying to make wise decisions with all God has bestowed upon us to look after. So, without further ado, let's take a look at the goals created earlier this year:

If you remember from our previous post, 2009 Financial Goals, our goals for the year are:

  • Pay off our auto loan (our last consumer debt)
  • Install a sliding patio door off our dinning room.
  • Fix our Garage door (it's been broken since we bought the house)
  • Update our Bathroom
  • Update our Kitchen (This does not include new appliances.)
  • Partially finish the basement
  • Save 3 months worth of income in our Emergency Fund
  • Completely stick to our budget at least 1 month (We always seem to go over in one or more areas but it evens out because we are then under in other areas.)
  • Increase our net worth to $80K or more
  • Be content with all our financial decisions throughout the year
As of our last update we had met three of these goals:
  • Completely stick to our budget at least 1 month
  • Increase our net worth to $80K or more
  • Pay off our auto loan (our last consumer debt)
We are happy to still be consumer debt free. We have also been able to save up the money to purchase and install our sliding door. Unfortunately we haven't been able to find anyone to do the installation. With it now being the mid/end of December we have decided to put it off until it starts warming up again next year. Knowing Michigan, that means we'll probably install it next April. In the mean time we have set aside this money in a short term CD so we get a better interest rate on it. Although we have met the financial ability to check this one off the list I don't want to remove it until it is fully completed.

We also decided to add a couple things to our goals and have been able to meet some of these items. That means our goal list now looks like this:
  • Install a sliding patio door off our dinning room.
  • Fix our Garage door (it's been broken since we bought the house)
  • Update our Bathroom
  • Update our Kitchen (This does not include new appliances.)
  • Partially finish the basement
  • Save 3 months worth of income in our Emergency Fund
  • Be content with all our financial decisions throughout the year
  • Purchase and Treadmill or Elliptical
  • Save up for a trip to Ireland
  • Start meeting the minimum to get 401K donations from work
The goals that we have been able to meet on this list are:
  • Be content with all our financial decisions throughout the year
  • Purchase and Treadmill or Elliptical
  • Save up for a trip to Ireland
  • Start meeting the minimum to get 401K donations from work
One of the things we decided was to take a trip to Ireland next year. It is something we have wanted to do for years and we felt like this would be the perfect time for it. We have also been trying to increase our fitness level over the last year, to a fair amount of success, and would like to purchase some exercise equipment to help with this.

We have been able to save several thousand dollars to take our trip to Ireland and plan on purchasing the trip within the next couple months (we're making sure we can get an awesome deal.. of course!). We also have our eye on a treadmill we saw on craigslist. It's new in the box and selling for a cool $1000 less than anywhere else we've seen it advertised. It's been a couple days since we emailed the person so I'm not sure it will pan out, but we have enough set aside to purchase one full retail if needed.

In addition to this, starting next paycheck, 6% of or income will be going towards our 401K so we can get the full company match. We had suspended our 401K contributions late last year to focus on pay off debt. Now that our consumer debt is taken care of we feel comfortable bumping that up to 6%. Our other goals will be carried over to next year. I imagine we will have a few more to add as well.

Although we haven't been able to save up 3 months of expenses in our emergency fund, we do have 2 months of expenses saved up so we're making definite progress. With a couple of the fun purchases behind us we will be able to shift focus to saving up for house improvements. I imagine we'll be able to knock of most of the other goals next year, if not all! That makes me very excited.

Well I think that's all for now. Have a Merry Christmas everyone!!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mortgage Refinance - A Look Back

In June of 2008 my husband and I decided to refinance our mortgage due to the large drop in interest rates. Now that it's June of 2009 I thought it might be nice to take a look back at how things have changed over the past year and what this change has been for our finances, specifically our equity and overall amount of debt.

Where We Were

When we originally signed up for the mortgage on our house we setup a 30yr fixed mortgage for 80% and 30yr balloon mortgage for 20%. We had a decent rate on our 30yr fixed at around 7% but our 30yr balloon was quite high at 9%. Because of this we only had about 15% of our payment going toward the principle of the loan.

To give you an idea of what this would look like, let's make a hypothetical situation. Say our payment on the larger loan was $800 and our payment on the smaller loan was $200, our total payment per month would be $1,000. Of that $1,000 only $150 would be actually going to paying down the principle each month, leaving $850 to go toward interest (in this situation I'm leaving out escrow for simplicity's sake).

Needless to say, it was pretty annoying to make that payment every month and see so little of it go toward paying down our debt. At the same time, I was trying to figure out what the heck a 30yr balloon mortgage was. What I was able to find out at the time was a bit scary. With Balloon mortgage payments, you have a certain set payment until such a time as the mortgage Balloons, or comes due. Usually you will see a 3yr or 5yr Balloon, with means that when the mortgage hits 3yrs or 5yrs old the whole thing is due at the time. I wasn't able to find out much about a "30yr" Balloon but the idea of having a Balloon anything was unsettling and gave me another reason to want to refinance.

That brings us to February of 2008 when we decided to go forward with refinancing our house. The lending market was at the point that rates were very low but it was becoming much harder to get a loan. Although my husband and I have excellent credit, we were not sure that we had built up the equity required to refinance in this tough lending market. After several months and some bad experiences with an appraiser, we finally got some good comparables in our area and were able to move forward with 15% equity in our house. Since we still didn't have the necessary 20% down payment we had to settle for paying Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) which I am not thrilled with but it is only for a little while longer.

Where We Are Now

We ended up refinancing to a 15yr fixed mortgage at about 6.5%. We rolled both mortgage loans into this one single mortgage loan which gives us just one payment per month to have to deal with. Although we do have to pay PMI currently, we should reach our 20% equity point at the end of this year. That means I will be promptly calling our mortgage company in January to make sure we get that extra charge off our payment. Although it's not much, $15 a month, that still adds up to $180 a year and I would much rather have that money to put in savings. Thank you very much!

As you probably have noticed we not only switched to a lower percentage, we also changed the term to a 15yr fixed from the 30yr fixed/30yr Balloon. We did this because we were sick of seeing so little of our payments going to pay down the debt on our mortgage. Although our payment increased by about 20% we are both very happy that the percentage of that payment going toward our principle has increased by even more. The percentage of our payment going toward our principle is now about 40%!

To give you an idea of what this would look like, if our old payment was $1,000, it would have now increased to $1200. Of that $1,200, $480 would be actually going to paying down the principle each month, leaving $720 to go toward interest. I like this scenario much more than the one above, with only 15% going toward our principle!

The Downside

Unfortunately, there is a downside to refinancing and that is the fact that you have to pay all the closing costs. We didn't have the money saved up so we rolled these costs into the mortgage. That means that we had to add to the overall size of our loan, which washed out all payments we had made toward our principle thus far, and added a little extra on top. So, the balance on our mortgage actually went UP compared to our original mortgage on the house.

I'll admit, it was disappointing to see this and made me question whether it was truly worth all the hassle. If we had stayed with the old mortgages we would have LESS mortgage debt today, then we do now by almost exactly $1,000. It will still take us until September of this year, 2009, to reach that break even point. Add to this the fact that we've been paying a larger payment for the past year, and now we're also paying PMI and it makes me wonder. Was it worth it?

So... Was It Worth It?

I believe it was. Here are my reasons:

  • I'm happy that we only have one mortgage payment and that it's for a 15yr loan instead of a 30yr. Seeing around 40% of the payment going toward principle feels MUCH better.
  • The word Balloon isn't mentioned anywhere in the contract which helps me sleep a little better at night.
  • PMI is deductible on newer mortgages such as ours and it will be going away January of next year.
AND I think I've saved the best for last:
  • After September we will have reached that magical break even point and will then be kicking the pants off of what our debt repayment would have been under the old mortgages. We're talking hundreds of dollars more a month going toward the principle! That makes me smile... literally. I'm smiling just writing about it right now.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Unexpected Suprise - Follow up

Early in May I had an unexpected surprise when I went to start my classes for the semester. My payment had nearly doubled unbeknownst to me due to my scholarship being canceled for the semester before. My scholarship had been canceled because I dropped a class that I ended up not needing to take. It turns out my adviser should have told me about this when I went to drop the class but failed to do so. I was wondering at the time what God was up to, allowing this to happen, but I've learned that even though I don't understand what's going on and why, He does have a plan.

It turns out that because of this mishap I was able to get in touch with the head of the financial aid department. She has been wonderful to work with and was very apologetic about my having to cancel my classes last semester. She noticed that my current scholarship was only good for two years and this semester would have been my last semester of eligibility. Because of the issues I had just experienced she pulled some strings and got me a renewal for another year of eligibility. So that means my scholarship will now be good until I graduate this April.

In addition to all of this she also gave me her direct number. She was impressed with my good grades (I've pretty much always been a straight A student) and told me that she has a few other scholarships that I will be eligible for when I start up this next semester. I need to have completed 30 credits at the university to be eligible for them and currently have 27 credits. That means that, after my next class I will be eligible for these new scholarships. She pretty much told me that she would hook me up with one of those as soon as I finished my next class. So I'm pretty happy about that. It means that my payments for the last few classes should be much lower than I was expecting, or perhaps non existent.

The morale of the story is that, once again, God is true to His word. See Romans 8:28 "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.".

Friday, June 5, 2009

2nd Quarter Update

And just like that, we're half way through the year! Things seem to go by faster the older I get.

If you remember from our previous post, 2009 Financial Goals, our goals for the year are:

  • Pay off our auto loan (our last consumer debt)
  • Install a sliding patio door off our dinning room.
  • Fix our Garage door (it's been broken since we bought the house)
  • Update our Bathroom
  • Update our Kitchen (This does not include new appliances, although now might include a microwave, keep reading for an explanation.)
  • Partially finish the basement
  • Save 3 months worth of income in our Emergency Fund
  • Completely stick to our budget at least 1 month (We always seem to go over in one or more areas but it evens out because we are then under in other areas.)
  • Increase our net worth to $80K or more
  • Be content with all our financial decisions throughout the year
At our last update, the 1st of the year we had met 2 of our goals:
  • Completely stick to our budget at least 1 month
  • Increase our net worth to $80K or more
I am happy to say that we have met 1 more goal for the year and are close to a couple more. So guess what?

WE'RE DEBT FREE!!!!! ::insert yelling like on Dave Ramsey's show::

It is official as of yesterday, the auto loan has been paid off and we are now debt free outside of our mortgage. So we can check that goal off:
  • Pay off our auto loan (our last consumer debt)
And that means we're going to be saving up next for the patio door and an elliptical. I know the elliptical wasn't on our original list but we've been trying to become more healthy lately and our elliptical is on its last legs. It has been since we got it really. We picked it up for free on the side of the road and my husband fixed it up a bit so it would work. I think it has served its purpose and is ready to move on soon.

It was such a nice feeling to pay off our debt last night. God has been so good to us, it's really amazing. It has been hard work to pay everything off but it's very well worth it. And it's not like we've really been depriving ourselves of that much, we've just changed our taste a bit.

Instead of going to Barns and Noble and spending $75 on books we go to the library now. Instead of going to the movies, we rent DVDs or just watch the ones we already own. Instead of going out on date nights at restaurants we grill out at home and play a board game. It's really been beneficial I think to help us enjoy the little things in life.

Well, that being said, we're going to allow our selves a bit of splurging by getting a patio door for the house and a couple of other things. I shall be posting some other follow up news about school and stuff in the next few days (I think). So stay tuned for that.

Also for those using RSS feeds, I setup a feed which is at the right side of the page.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

How I lose Fat

First and foremost, it’s important to note that this is not a diet, this is a lifestyle change. I say that because diets are meant to make you lose weight, but it inevitably always comes back when you stop dieting, however by changing your lifestyle (from here on out, when I say diet, it will refer to what I eat, as a part of the lifestyle change), you won’t see the weight return unless you revert back to the old lifestyle.

This change in lifestyle isn’t as difficult as it may seem, really. If you include all the steps I have taken so far, its been about a month. I have lost an inch off my waist, and about 13lbs.

So here it is: The first thing I realized I needed to do: control my portion size. We eat way too much. Did you know that eleven French fries is one serving? Did you know a Big Mac has 930 calories? That’s almost half a woman’s daily calorie intake, in one sandwich.

I spent a week just learning to eat less. I took an extreme approach, which I am sure isn’t the healthiest way to do it, but when I swim, I jump in. If you don’t know what portions are, you need to learn them. At this point, I am not counting calories; I wasn’t ready to do that.

Second, get a notebook. Create daily logs of all your eating habits, exercise habits, and weigh-ins. This is another must do, it’s hard work, at first, but has huge payoffs. First, it will become a track record of your progress. Second, it shows how much you eat, and third, how much exercise you do. So when you have a week where you don’t lose weight, you can go back and figure out why. Or when you get depressed and want to quit, you can go back and see where you have made improvements.

Okay, so now you’re eating small portions, time to figure out what your body needs. This is a little different for every person, based on your body style, there are three main kinds. Most likely, you will fall into a mixture of two; however you want to focus on your primary body type.

The three body types are: Ectomorph, Mesomorph, and Endomorph. In short, Ectomorphs are the “super skinny” types; they can eat just about anything, and never gain weight. Endomorphs are the polar opposite of Ectomorphs. Endomorphs have to carefully watch what they eat because it always seems to turn into fat. Lastly, a Mesomorph is the “ideal body”. They appear fit, are never too skinny, but don’t put on a lot of weight either. Chances are you are a mix of Ecto-Meso, Meso-Ecto, Endo-Meso, or Meso Endo.

Personally, I am an Endo-Meso. It is really hard for me to lose weight, it is very difficult for me to lose weight, and I have generally been overweight my entire life.

Figuring out your body type is very important. Of note: Mesomorphs can be overweight, and Endomorphs can be fit, look at your overall fitness, even from early ages. If you are unsure, you can find quizzes online to help you.

After reading up on my body type, I have also learned better ways to improve exercise, and what to and not to eat (just as important is when to eat).

While I initially hated my body type, because it requires so much work to get fit, I have also learned that it does something super cool. Endomorphs can generally heal faster after a workout, which means we can work harder (yay…). Sounds like of supernatural, like Wolverine or something, but it is true. I can run a few miles, break for 30 minutes, and could go run again. I have learned to love it.

Now I know my body type, I am learning other things about the body. For example, we all know calcium is important, it gives us strong bones, but did you know it fights fat? Specifically fat around the abdominal area, so make sure you get your daily calcium intake. Now as far as that goes, your body can only consume 50% of your daily calcium at a time, so if you get a supplement, you don’t need 120% or 230%, because its just going to get wasted. I went to Meijer and found a calcium supplement that gives 50% of your daily need, in one tablet (Made by “True basics”, 250 tablets was $6.00; I take two a day).

Another important note about calcium, caffeine prevents your body from absorbing it. So if you take a vitamin in the morning, say, with a cup of coffee, it will be wasted.

Speaking of drinks, I drink 8 glasses of water a day. Its not hard. In fact, most often when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually thirsty, so drink your water. I could give you dozens of reasons to drink water, but more than likely, you already know them.

I eat more now, than I ate before. I eat 5 or 6 meals every day, but they are portion and calorie controlled. In the book “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle” Tom Venuto talks about calories, and what you should know. First off, how many calories should you eat in a day? A male trying to lose weight (me) should have between 2200-2700 a day (2700-2900 a day to maintain my weight). Women’s numbers are 2000-2100 to maintain your weight and 1400-1800 to lose weight.

It is also good to know what your body burns up on its own (called the BMR or Basal Metabolic rate).

Here is the formula for that:

BMR= 66+ (13.7 x your weight in kg.) + (5 x your height in cm) – (6.8 x age in years)

BMR= 655+ (9.6 x your weight in kg.) + (1.8 x your height in cm) – (4.7 x age)

Again, your BMR is what you burn without exercising, walking, or doing your day to day tasks. My BMR is about 2100 calories/day.

This is a good number to know, when you are trying to lose weight. The other important number to know, is what you intake; which brings us back to that daily log. I started my log on May 1st, and haven’t missed a day yet. While I am currently not recording my caloric intake, I have a pretty good idea of my per meal intake. I do record how many calories I burn while exercising.

The next thing I can think of is meal timing. As I stated, I eat 5-6 meals a day. It was actually difficult at first to do, because that’s a lot of eating. Here is the reason why its important to eat so many times. The simple answer is it keeps your metabolism up. The reason it does that is what’s actually important.

It takes your body 3 hours to digest protein, which I haven’t talked about, but it’s what you be the majority of your diet. By maintaining a high metabolism, your body is constantly burning calories. This is important for an Endomorph, because we generally have a low metabolism rate, which is why it doesn’t take much to get fat.

Eating every 3 hours kick starts your metabolism, forcing your body to burn calories. Now that being said, protein is important. ANY time you eat a carb (including vegetables), you should eat some sort of protein, and it helps your metabolism do its thing.

Lastly, I practice the Zig-Zag method of eating. This truly impressed me; God has really designed our bodies to be smart. When you are on the losing weight calorie schedule, it takes 3 days for your body to realize what you’re doing before it goes into “starvation” mode. That is, when your body starts fighting back.

When you change your diet and start eating fewer calories, you will succeed until your body figures out what you’re doing and starts to correct itself. Using a “zig-zag diet will prevent this. How it works is like this: for three days you limit your calorie intake to the “weight loss” amount. On the fourth day, you increase your calories to the normal amount. This will psyche out your body, and prevent it from harming itself, while maximizing weight loss.

All in all, this has worked for me; you will surely want to personalize your eating habits based on your body type. When you start eating 5+ meals a day, you will see an almost immediate gain in energy.

If you have any questions feel free to ask, I will try and help however I can.
Most of the information I have learned from reading online or in books.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Unexpected Suprise

I was recently able to take a few weeks off of school due to the fact that I ended up not needing to take one of the classes I was enrolled in. This worked out really well since it not only gave me a break but also left a credit on my school account for this next semester. School for this next semester started on May 3rd.

When I signed up for this coming semester, back in March, I was notified that my payments would be about $400 a month for four months. Payments were to start this month so my husband and I have been budgeting accordingly in anticipation of this expense. I tend to be a conscientious person so I logged into my account last Friday just to make sure everything was all set to go for this week. What I found shocked me. There it was staring back at me, a screen stating that our payments were $757.50 per month for four months. WHAT?!?!

After I started breathing again I tried to look at the situation logically to figure out what on earth happened. I went back through my school's email account (the account they're supposed to email if any changed are made) to see if I had possibly missed something. The last email I had from them stated that my payment plan was the $400 amount. So I started going through the last bill, which they only send out quarterly. There was a charge of $1500 from my scholarships to our account which erased the negative balance and left a positive balance of around $800. Added on to this was the already ridiculous cost of tuition. I mean seriously, why should they get to charge $100 for my "registration" when I do it all online myself anyway? But I digress...

So there I was on the Friday before classes start and I had to figure out by the close of business what was going on, if it can get it fixed, and if I can't, what needs to happen. As my husband knows, I can be quite tenacious when it comes to circumventing the mess of automatic phone systems and I put my skills to work immediately. It took me a few calls but I finally got the direct line of a supervisor for the accounting department, who explained what happened.

Last semester, when I dropped that class, it evidently nullified all scholarships for the semester. This is something my adviser really should have told me but failed to mention. That means that my payments from last semester were calculated based on the fact that I had received my scholarships which now meant that we owed money.

To make a long story short I brought my case before the financial aid office both by phone and email and never received a response, I also contacted my adviser and didn't receive a response until Monday. Since classes started on Sunday that wasn't all that helpful. The other issue is that if I waited until Monday to cancel my classes they would charge me 10% of the class fee because it was after the start of class. Ugh!! What to do?

If I dropped the classes that meant that I wouldn't graduate this year after all, which I was really looking forward to. If I didn't drop my classes I would be stuck with a payment we couldn't pay. If I dropped just one class I would lose my scholarship for this semester as well and have a $600 payment we couldn't pay.

Well... I decided to drop my classes. I'm not willing to have us go into debt for school. We will still have about a $250 payment this semester even though I'm not taking classes, to take care of paying the scholarship back. I will have to graduate next year instead which bums me out.

On the plus side though, we had been budgeting for around $400 payment so we have a little extra room in our budget for this month. I also get an extended break which is nice. I'm hoping to use some of the extra time to get more involved in our new church.

Although it might not sound like it, I am thankful for the fact that I can go to school and that we don't have school loan debt. I'm thankful that I am close to graduating after all these years and the end is in sight. Maybe this is just God's way to telling me to slow down and reprioritize for a little while.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

God TV

My wife and I have experienced a new kind of television, and we would both highly recommend it. You wont need to change service providers either, its available to everyone!!

Recently, we have been working on our garden, keep up with me, this is pertinent, this is our first year. We recently removed an above ground pool, which had a deck built around it. We tore it all down, moved the deck up to the back of the house, and we are planning a garden where the old deck/pool was.

In doing this, we decided to hang up some bird feeders. God TV is a lot like the nature channel, only instead of sitting in front of an actual television, you sit in front of a window, or even outside! We have found great excitement in watching birds visiting our feeders.

We have actually used our TV less, and have, instead of eating in front of a tv, eat at our dining room table (this way we can watch the birds eat). To some, this idea might be a radical idea, or maybe too traditional, but to us, it has been amazing to learn the names of the birds, and see how each one is different.

A bird feeder costs about $20.00, and a 10 lbs. bag of feed, maybe $12.00. For $33.00 you can get more entertainment watching birds, learning about them, and sharing time growing together, instead of with actors you will never have a relationship with.

Personally, I have enjoyed sharing the time with my wife, and I think this old fashioned tradition could hold some water on the family values issues we lack here in America.

As we continue to budget, and continue to find new ways to save money (like with a garden), we are finding other great things that entertain us. Watching birds may sound silly, but we have enjoyed it.

So far, we have seen roughly 15 different kinds. With the purchase of our second bird feeder, we sought to attract a specific kind of bird, the yellow finch. It is a very common bird, however one we have never seen in our area. This morning, we had him visit.

In addition to our yellow finch, we have house finches, cardinals, morning doves, a hairy woodpecker, brown headed cowbirds, blue jays, dark eyed juncos, black capped chickadees, robins, the common grackel, the tufted titmouse and many others.

We have placed two bird houses in the back yard also, one already has a family of western bluebirds. We are excited to see how many other birds visit when we have our garden growing.

God TV is something I believe is good for us, physically, mentally, and spiritually. It relaxes us, it calms our mind, its wonderful to listen to them, and it reminds us of how much detail God put in this world for us. Each kind of bird has its own call, each kind has its own special design that was created by God.

I believe this is the kind of thing Christ desired us to marvel at on our day of rest. Take some time this week and marvel at what God has created for you this week, it might just cost less than you expect.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Book Review: The Wealthy Barber

I recently finished The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton. I have to say this was a really good book. This is a financial book for someone who isn't really into finances. Although I love reading financial books I have to admit they can be kind of dry at times. There usually isn't a story binding everything together. That's different with this book.

This book is set in Michigan, mainly in the Ann Arbor and Port Huron areas. It is written from the point of view of Dave, a teacher in the Ann Arbor area. He travels to Port Huron on occasion to see his family, taking several weeks to spend with family over the summer. He and his wife Cathy are newly pregnant and he's just realizing that he doesn't know much about planning for the future or how he should be handling finances. He decides to broach the subject with his father the next time they are in Port Huron, and his father tells him to go see the local barber Roy. Although he is a little taken back, he decides to follow through on the advice even though it sounds ridiculous.

The morning before he goes to see the barber, he tells his plans to his sister, Cathy and his friend, Tom. They decide they too could use some financial advice and tag along for the ride. What follows is a series of visits with Roy the Wealthy Barber and a couple other colorful characters from the barbershop. Each "visit" comprises one chapter of the book where one or more subjects are covered.

This book covers the basics beautifully. It dives into the reasons behind savings, how to set it up, and how much to save. It covers retirement savings, life insurance, setting up college funds, and many other areas. This is a great refresher for those of us who have been reading about finances for a while and a really easy read for beginners in financial learning.

Although I don't agree with all the advice given in this book I don't think it leads you in the "wrong" way of doing things. It's just a personal preference. For example, there is a suggestion that you take all of your debts and roll them into a Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC) so that you can deduct the interest. I tend to disagree with this but I also understand where he's coming from. If you have the ability to roll your current debt into a HELOC WITHOUT getting back into debt, then it may be a good choice. Unfortunately, many people roll their debt into a HELOC and then start charging up their credit cards again, which of course defeats the purpose.

All in all it's a quick and easy read!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Free Investment Tool/Game

I know I havent been posting much lately, so I am going to give you the reason why. Its best described as fantasy football meets wall street, meets facebook. When you sign up for a free account, you are given $1 million dollars to invest into the market (no mutual funds yet, however I am told, improvements still to come).

The site offers communication through messages, groups and a message list similar to the "wall" on facebook.

When you invest your $1 million, you are investing in real market numbers. So if you buy "Gold" at $50.00 a share, you will see your invest grow or decline just like it would in a real investment. This provides a real stock investment experience, without the worry of losing. This is a very, very great learning tool. From the highly experienced, to those completely new to the market, you will walk away with something, possibly even real cash.

Thats right, you can earn money on this site. has contests every month and year, where you can earn cold hard cash, depending on your investment gains. It most likely wont be significant money, like the $3000 advertisement you see, that is unless your top dog, but if you do well, you can pick up anywhere from 1 cent to a few bucks a month.

Now while that doesnt sound like a heck of a lot of money, you get it from playing a game, or depending on your investment style, a strategic one time investment, of fake money.

If you have ever been curious about investing, the stock market, or how you would fair in the markets, here is your chance.

Practice invest

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Book Review: The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets

For those of you who know me, you know I'm always in the middle of several books. I'm currently reading The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton and just finished The Little Book of Bull Moves in Bear Markets by Peter Schiff. I'm planning on doing a post on The Wealthy Barber in the future but for now let's look at Peter Schiff's newest book.

This book gives excellent, in-depth analysis of how America got into the mess it is in today. There are times when it's hard to work past some of the jargon but he does give definitions of all the terms in the beginning of the book. I would occasionally find myself having to flip back to these to find out what he was talking about. I really enjoyed how logical all of his reasoning was and it makes me interested in learning more about the school of Austrian economics which he touts throughout the book.

The premise of this book is to learn how to make money during a time when our country is going to enter a severe recession/depression. When we left the gold standard our money no longer had any actual item of worth backing it, it became a glorified IOU, otherwise known as fiat currency. This allows us to print more of it without having anything to actually back the money. Unfortunately, if too much fiat money is printed, this leads to inflation. If way too much money is printed, such as our current situation in America, that leads to hyperinflation. There is a very interesting article on Seeking Alpha, one of my favourite investment sites, about this issue.

Based on the projection that the American Dollar won't be worth much in the near future (next couple of years at the latest I'm guessing), Peter Schiff makes suggestions of where to put your money. The goal is to have it holds its worth at worst and make more money at best. I won't give the list of countries and industries in this blog because you can check that out in the book itself (it's free at a library). I can say that all of the choices are, once again, backed by sound logic.

Although I don't want to believe all of the doom and gloom touted in his book I can't help but admit he's been consistently right on these issues in the past. Just take a look at his last book, or at the clip below:

This guy clearly knows what he's talking about and has been spot on, even when people laughed at him to his face (3:40-45 for example). It scares me to realize what may become of this nation in the near future. It disturbed me so much so that I had to put the book down at one point and just walk away because I couldn't deal with it. Each bailout we have and each attempt the government makes to get us out of this recession is just worsening the problem in the long term. Our economy is a deck of cards already crashing to the ground.

Of the many things that he says people can do to help keep their wealth, one thing in particular hit me hard and that is to actually leave the country. As far as I know, people have been trying to immigrate to America. I think we're going to start seeing the reverse happen after things crash. It's hard to fathom for some reason since I am very proud of our country, albeit currently very disappointed in its actions.

I don't know what is going to happen but I do think that some hard times are coming for us as a nation and we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. I would highly suggest people read this book, I just want to warn you that it's a difficult read due to its hard to swallow truth factor.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Worth Your Time

I have a pet peeve I must rant about: pennies or small change isnt worth my time.

Here it is, if you can get free money, where do you draw the line on how much time to spend? For me, I will spend time finding coupons, print them out, and take them to the store with me. If your in a rush, and dont feel coupons are worth your time, dont get in line behind me. IF YOU DO, know this, I am not embarrassed to use coupons, and I personally find you less intelligent for not using them.

I also am a member on a few sites where I can earn money, while playing a game. Of course it is based on performance, and the money is generally 10 cents to 50 cents a month, yet it holds possibilities of up to $3000 a month. To me, its worth it.

Is free money worth your time? I am not trying to sell you on something here, but I am curious what you consider worth your time.

Would you spend 5 hours a month, to earn 50 cents, by playing a game you enjoy? At what point do you decide, its not worth it?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Adventures in Grocery Shopping - Emergency Evacuation Edition!

Well, I officially had my first full grocery shopping experience at Walmart last night. My husband and I make it a point to go grocery shopping at Meijer instead so we support local business. Sometimes I will pick up a couple things here and there at Walmart but our actual grocery shopping trip is always at Meijer.

So there we were, comparing coupons and picking out items when a broadcast comes over the loud speaker at Meijer. "Attention all shoppers, due to an emergency situation, all shoppers must leave the store immediately. Please evacuate in an orderly fashion out of the closest exit. All employees, evacuate to parking lot B." This was repeated several times.

Some people started running out of the building other people started taking their shopping carts toward the checkout. I'm not sure why, since the employees were being evacuated as well. I think it was just the shock. My husband and I simply left our cart in the aisle and walked away. There were police by the exits to help people remain calm. Once outside there were about 5-8 police cruisers in front of the building.

After looking it up this morning, it turns out it was a bomb threat. They brought some bomb-sniffing dogs in and didn't find anything. There were a couple of news reports from local news stations. They were all just little blurbs though.

Thankfully, we left unharmed. We had also just started our shopping trip so it didn't cost us too much of our time. Another blessing is that It was about 8pm so the store wasn't too packed. I felt bad for some of the people I saw who were ready to check out with a cart full of items and had to just leave their stuff in the cart and come back some other day... or do what we did, head down the road to Walmart instead. I can't help but wonder what the Walmart greeter was thinking when a line of cars suddenly turned into the Walmart parking lot, 8pm at night to go grocery shopping.

All in all it made for an interesting first experience shopping at Walmart and an interesting day in general.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

1st Quarter Update

It's hard to believe we're in our third month of the year already but I want to give an update on how our financial goals are progressing this quarter. If you remember from our previous post, 2009 Financial Goals, our goals for the year are:

  • Pay off our auto loan (our last consumer debt)
  • Install a sliding patio door off our dinning room.
  • Fix our Garage door (it's been broken since we bought the house)
  • Update our Bathroom
  • Update our Kitchen (This does not include new appliances, although now might include a microwave, keep reading for an explanation.)
  • Partially finish the basement
  • Save 3 months worth of income in our Emergency Fund
  • Completely stick to our budget at least 1 month (We always seem to go over in one or more areas but it evens out because we are then under in other areas.)
  • Increase our net worth to $80K or more
  • Be content with all our financial decisions throughout the year
I am quite happy to report that we have met 2 of our goals already!!
  • Completely stick to our budget at least 1 month
  • Increase our net worth to $80K or more
Last month we really hunkered down and got serious about following our budget and we were under in every single category. Most categories we were under by over $100. Very exciting! In addition to this, we've been able to put extra money towards our debts which has bumped up our net worth to over $80K. We're hovering around $83K at the moment but have been up to $85K over the past month.

God has been richly blessing us this last month, let me tell you. We've been able to make several hundred dollars from selling books and video games on We've also gotten reward points from our credit card (used for work-related travel) which we cashed in and put towards debt. Last but not least, I won an award at work and was given an extra bonus of $50 for my accomplishments (not to mention a pretty snazzy binder). Even just today I got to work and there was a congratulations card waiting for me. Inside was a $20 Meijer gift certificate from my boss for passing my CISSP certification. Having a boss as cool as mine is is a blessing in and of itself, might I add.

All that said, we have had one minor set back this past week. Our microwave broke! Ah! I know a microwave isn't really a necessity but it can be missed once it's gone. We've been cooking things on the stove and baking things in the oven instead this week. I have a feeling we might even do some grilling soon as long as the weather cooperates. All in all, it has been a minor inconvenience really. My husband and I talked it over and agreed that a broken microwave doesn't really classify as an emergency, so we're not going to dip into our emergency fund to buy a new one. I think we're just going to hang tight for now and see what we can find at a garage sale.

As a side note: Aren't garage sales wonderful? It's one of the signs that spring is on its way!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Importance of Tithing

Let me start out here, by sharing that tithe is a topic I have been studying and learning about recently. While I have given to the church throughout my entire life, I have never been taught the basics about tithing.

Lately, it has struck me that sex and money within the church, are an equal to religion and politics in the work place. Religion and politics are the two topics most people refrain from talking about at work because of the controversy surrounding them, however these are two very important topics to discuss.

The same is true for sex and money. Many churches tend to skirt these issues because it brings up topics that many dont like to hear. Sex, a huge topic, brings with it abstinence, homosexuality, and can lead into topics like divorce. Money, well thats just a topic everyone seems to get uptight about.

Money is a foundational topic in the Christian faith. If we look at tithing in the Old Testament, God commanded His people to tithe, whether you call it a tax or not, I believe it is something we should all be following.

Tithe is 10%, no more, no less. If you are not returning 10% of your total gross income, you are not tithing, you are giving. Confused? Tithe belongs to God, and so it never really belongs to us, which is where we get the phrase "robbing God".

Tithe is a starting point for your giving, not the ending point. We are called to return to God His portion of our income, and anything above and beyond that if a freewill offering (something that your heart has lead you to give). Tithe teaches us the joy in giving, something many Americans dont have. Studies have shown that the more money we accumulate, the less we give, which brings up the proportional aspect.

Proportional giving looks at how much you keep, after you have given. This is important, so important we see Christ talking about it as well (Mark 12:41-44 and Luke 21:1-4). I widow gave her offering of two mites, which in totality is next to nothing, until we look at it proportionally.

She gave two mites, which was all she had. Likewise, if a person with an income of $40,000 a year gives 20% annually, or $8000, it seems little in comparison to someone who gives $20,000 on a million dollar income. Proportionately, the smaller gift is actually a larger gift, because that household has less to live on, but requires a greater faith. They are living on less than 80% of their income, and trusting God to provide for them.

Tithe teaches us faith. When we tithe we are trusting in God to provide for us. The more we give, the more we are forced trust. As a new believer learns about God, he/she must first learn to tithe. Tithing is a basic tool that a new believer ought to learn to use, because it teaches many lessons about faith.

First, it requires the new believer to trust God. Second, it will show the new believer that God does provide. Third, it shows God is not a big angry God, He asks us to test Him in our giving, and if we do, He opens up so much for us, its hard to keep track of it.

If you are not returning to God 10% of you gross annual income, I challenge you to start. Test God in this, and see what He does in your life.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tax Time Part 2

My husband and I went to have our taxes done today. We handed our accountant all the paperwork and should hear back on the results in a couple of weeks. It's going to be hard to wait, I SO want to know now. I'm nervous that we may end up owing taxes this year.

There have been some changes since my first post on Taxes and I thought I would follow up with the new information. As you might know by now, Obama's Stimulus Package is now signed. Don't worry, I'm not getting into my feelings on that whole thing here, I only mention it because that has an affect on taxes as well. You might recall in my other post I mentioned the $7,500 tax credit for buying a house this year or last year. That has been been increased for this year to $8,000 and, best of all, is no longer a loan that has to be paid back.

Also as a reminder, in order to have the best shot at getting grants, scholarships, and other financial help through FAFSA, taxes should be done and entered by March 1st. I'm not sure if I will make this deadline myself but I will enter the information as soon as I can.

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

So, Last night hubby and I had a great grocery shopping trip. I actually think we might be able to meet our budget this month. We left Meijer last night and spent... get this... UNDER $100. It's pretty rare that we're able to do that at Meijer. In fact, we only spent $79. Because of sales and coupons we got $16 off so it would have cost us $95 regularly. I think we should be about set for groceries for the rest of the month.

I think the largest eye opener for both of us is when we started comparing prices in the paper product aisle. We had toilet paper, paper towels, and Kleenex in the cart and we were up to about $20 already. We took some things out and my Hubby noticed a pretty awesome sale at the end of the aisle which was 1$ for 4 rolls of toilet paper which allowed us to cut the amount we were going to spend in half. Nice! It was a little annoying, walking up and down the aisle a few times to check all the prices and try to figure out if it was a better deal to get 2-ply with more sheets or more sheets with 1 ply but overall it was worth it.

On another note, we had to really be careful with coupons. In the paper product aisle we had a few coupons that we ended up not using because the sales on other brands beat the price of the coupon brands, even with their coupons applied. It can be really tempting to use the coupons just for the sake of using them up before they expire. In addition, at the checkout our cashier scanned one of the coupons and it only showed up as 40 cents instead of the 75 cents it was supposed to scan as. Hubby and I were ready to argue, which I think he realized and ended up just crediting us the other 35 cents. I felt a little petty but really.. money is money and every little bit helps.

I'd love to learn more tips and tricks about saving money at the grocery store. What tips n tricks do you use?

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tax Time!

It's the lovely time of year again, Tax time. I'm a bit odd, as I truly do enjoy doing taxes. I just love to add up all the totals and see what was made and what I can write off, I find it very interesting. Sometimes I think maybe I should have been an accountant. But I digress...

There are a few things I wanted to notify my readers about, making sure you all get the most up to date information before your file your papers for this year. Here are some things to look out for:

  • Stimulus Credit - There is a question on this year's form relating specifically to the stimulus credit we got last year of about $600-$1200. This was basically an advance on the credit we would have gotten for taxes this year. Because of this, if you had a child after receiving the credit last year, you are eligible for another $300 per child in 2008. Make sure to grab your credit on this year's taxes! If you didn't have any little ones then you will most likely have to enter zero on this line instead.
  • New Limits - New limits have been announced for 401Ks and Roth IRAs. The previous limit for 401Ks was $15,500 annually, it is now $16,500. The previous limit for Roth IRAs was $4,000 per person, it is now $5,000. There is also the option for catch-up payments if you're 50 or older, making these limits $22,000 and $6,000 respectively.
  • For Those Who are Retired - Due to our economy being on a downward spiral, the Worker, Retiree, and Employer Recovery law was passed in 2008 allowing a one-year moratorium on 2009 minimum required disbursements. This allows people the option of not taking our money from their retirement accounts at a large loss in hopes that the economy will be back on track by 2010. NOTE: If you setup automatic withdraws from your retirement accounts they will not automatically stop. You will still have to contact your retirement center (Fidelity for example) to stop the payments.
  • Deductions/Credits for Refinancing or Home purchase - If you refinanced your mortgage or purchases a home in 2008 you are eligible for a couple more deductions and credits this year. For those refinancing in 2008 or this year, not only is your interest for your mortgage tax deductible, is your PMI (if you have it). For those who purchases a home, you're eligible for a $7,500 credit. NOTE: This "credit" is really just a 0% loan at this point which will be paid back over the next few years of your taxes. There has been talk about making this a true credit that taxpayers won't have to payback... we shall see.

So there you have it! Some things to keep in mind when you or someone else is doing your taxes this year. Make sure if you are having someone else do your taxes that they don't miss anything, that's why it's helpful to keep yourself informed. I have had to correct taxes done at H&R block because they missed credits that I knew about in the past (namely the credit for moving expenses due to job relocation).

Have a happy tax season!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Does the End Justify the Means?

I've read my fair share of financial books but there are a couple which really stick out in my mind as having a major impact on my outlook. One of these is Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki.

There are many things I have been able to take away from this book which have challenged my thinking. The greatest challenge however is Kiyosaki's idea of "good" debt and "bad" debt. Kiyosaki believes that you should leverage other people's money to make money for yourself. How you leverage other people's money is by borrowing from them, another way to say you have to go into debt. Although I understand his outlook and it does make sense to me I really had to stop and match up this concept with concepts from the Bible. This is something I touched on briefly in my post on "what is debt?" but I would like to go into more detail here.

The logic behind leveraging debt makes sense. If you buy an apartment complex with borrowed money from the bank and turn a profit on that regularly, a profit that more than pays for the monthly payment you now have to the bank, then this processes will gain you money in the short term and probably in the long term. Mathematically it's sound.

Another example is leveraging 0% offers to make money. It is argued that you should take 0% offers on credit cards or other debt opportunities because this can also make mathematical sense. If you have $2,000 on a credit card with 0% interest it would make more sense to put $2,000 in an interest bearing account than to pay off that $2,000 credit card.

I tend to be a very logical person who likes to run the numbers on everything. I think that's why it was so hard for me to see the truth in this instance. The truth is, the end doesn't justify the means. Just because going into debt could earn you more money or because it makes mathematical sense when you run the numbers, doesn't make it right. This was, and sometimes still is, a very hard concept for me to grasp.

God is very clear about his stance on debt in the bible, just check it out for yourself (Romans 13:8, Proverbs 22:7). Although it never says going into debt is a sin, it makes a very clear case for why you don't want to do it. It doesn't make any concession for debt that makes you money or for debt that doesn't have an interest rate.

The really tricky part in all of this is truly applying it to my life. What does that mean about buying a house? It can't possibly mean that you shouldn't buy a house until you can pay for it 100%.... right? Well, from reading what the bible says, I have to conclude that's exactly what it means. The same thing goes for buying cars or furniture or education.

As you know by now, if you've been reading this blog, I do have debt. So I have not followed what the Bible has to say on this. To be honest with you, even now knowing what the Bible has to say I don't think I would follow it when it comes to the house. The truth is I'm impatient and don't want to wait the 5 or 10 years it would take to save up that kind of money. It's harsh reality but I have to be honest with myself.

I'll just leave it as something I'm working on. I'm not perfect yet. I hope to not get into debt again, now that my choices are made. I will work hard on getting out.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Paint By Numbers

As it nears the end of the month, my husband and I tend to look over the monthly budget and see how we're staking up. So far, we're under in 3 out of our main 4 categories. Under by enough that it looks like it will balance the one category we've gone way over in; Pets. As you may remember, one of our goals for this year is to stay under budget in all categories. It seems like it would be easy to do, but it always eludes us.

My husband likened this to painting by numbers last night, which I thought was a good analogy. We can see what colors (money) we have to work with, and where we want them to go (amount budgeted per category), but when we start painting we can't seem to stay within the lines.

Neither of us is sure why. It seems like something just always comes up that we're not expecting.

This month, for instance, we got one of our dogs neutered. We knew this expense was coming up but we weren't quite sure when we'd be able to do it. There was some extra room this month so we decided it was time and we bit the bullet. Of course, this put is over our monthly budgeted pet amount. (Although, I am happy to report, we cut the cost in half by checking with more than one vet for pricing.)

We were throwing some ideas around to fix this issue in the future, like coming up with a list of long-term expenses we know will be coming up and starting to work those into our budget. Christmas would be one such expense. I'm just curious what other people do for these things. Anyone out there have any ideas?

Sunday, January 11, 2009


Decluttering can be a great way to find some extra room at home as well as make some money.

My husband and I are in the process of trying to fix up our house, which includes finishing the basement. In preparation for this we were down there a couple nights ago to help envision what we want to accomplish. One of the things that came up in are planning was decluttering. It can be truly amazing to see how much clutter can accumulate in the span of a year or two.

Long story short, we ended up going through all our stuff and sorting it into 4 categories:

  • Keep
  • Donate
  • Sell on E-bay
  • Trash
We now have a large pile of stuff to donate to Goodwill next time we head into town. We also got rid of a big box of trash and I have another big box of things to sell on E-bay.

It seems the main money maker of this stuff is actually my old Super Nintendo games. I have to admit, it's hard to give my old games up, especially my favorites (Earthbound, Secret of Mana, and Zelda), but I have to be honest with myself as well. I'm probably never going to play these games again. I've resigned myself to just look back on them with fond memories of yesteryear. I have to say I was a bit amazed at how much I can get for one game in particular, Earthbound. It seems this was rather rare and I happen to have not only the game but the player's guide as well, both in mint condition. According to E-Bay I should be able to pull down about $150 for the pair. Not to shabby.

I'm going to try and keep track of how much money I'm able to get from this decluttering adventure and then post that at a later date.

Friday, January 9, 2009


It's that magical time of the year again for those of us entering a new year of college. Oddly enough this not only includes myself but also my niece this year. I can honestly say I never thought I'd be in college the same time as my niece. That makes me feel a bit old. But I digress...

For those of you that may not know, FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) is the necessary government paperwork that every student must fill out if they hope to get grants, student loans, and scholarships (in most cases). Grants such as the Pell grant are given out on a needs basis and is also first come first serve. That means the sooner you fill out the FAFSA the more likely you are to get aid.

Since I already know that I'm not going to qualify for need-based aid there isn't too big of a rush on my part, but I will still complete it as soon as possible, after my taxes are done this year. That way my scholarships can be renewed without delay for next semester.

By the way, you did read that right. I have two scholarships this semester. It turns out the surprise scholarship from last semester has carried over and will be a help this semester as well. It was perfect timing as my company is now pushing back on educational reimbursement and has declined paying their half of my tuition this semester.

To make things a little easier on you, you can fill out the FAFSA by clicking on this link:

Just a warning, as all things in government seem to be, this is a long and arduous process. Good Luck!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

2009 Financial Goals

One thing you should know about me is that I'm a very goal oriented individual. I have specific goals for where I want to be professionally, personally, and fiscally at different points in my life. Thankfully, my husband indulges my goal oriented ways and we sat down earlier this week to hash out our financial goals for 2009.

We have a lot of things we want to accomplish. To be honest, I'm not sure we can do it all, but I would rather set my goals high and not reach them or be pleasantly surprised than set my goals low and reach them. That being said, here are our goals for 2009:

  • Pay off our auto loan (our last consumer debt)
  • Install a sliding patio door off our dinning room.
  • Fix our Garage door (it's been broken since we bought the house)
  • Update our Bathroom
  • Update our Kitchen (this does not include new appliances)
  • Partially finish the basement
  • Save 3 months worth of income in our Emergency Fund
  • Completely stick to our budget at least 1 month (we always seem to go over in one or more areas but it evens out cause we are then under in other areas)
  • Increase our net worth to $80K or more
  • Be content with all our financial decisions throughout the year

Like I said, it's a lot to try and accomplish but I'm somewhat bolstered by our accomplishments from 2008. You may notice that a trip to Ireland is not one of the things listed on here. After some discussion my husband and I decided to put that off until later in our lives and focus on fixing up the house. We would like to move in the next couple of years and we both agreed that investing in our house at this point in our lives should be the priority. Maybe a trip to Ireland will make it onto the list in 2010. We'll see.

What about you? Do you come up with yearly financial goals? If so I'd love to hear what others are looking to accomplish in 2009.

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