Thursday, October 27, 2011

the price of beauty

I took a look at the average beauty routine that most women have and noted some of the expenses that comes with "looking good".  There are 2 categories I consider: basic is what you can get a drug stores or low end salons, premium is boutiques, dept. stores, or nicer salons.

Here are the basics that everyone will need, and let's say you replace these once every 2 months:
Soap/shower gel - $2-4 basic, $10-25 premium
shampoo - $2-6 basic,  $10-25 premium
conditioner - $2-6 basic,, $10-25 premium
face lotion - $4-20 basic,,  $15-50 premium
body lotion - $4-10 basic,, $15-30 premium
shaving needs - $5-10 basic, $20-30 premium

Total per year - $114- 336 basic, $480- 1110 premium

Here are some of the extra, but some might say necessary, and you get these once every 3 months, except for waxing:
face make up - $4-10 basic, $10-25 premium
eye make up - $4-10 basic,  $10-25 premium
lipstick/gloss - $4-10 basic,  $10-25 premium
hair styling products- $3-10 basic, $10-25 premium
hair dye/ treatments - $4-20 basic at home, $50 -150 premium/salon service
hair cuts $20-75
nail products/service - $4-10 basic, $15-50 premium
waxing $10-50, monthly

Total per year - $292- 480 basic, $1320- 2300 premium

So the cost of beauty can range from $300 a year if you are getting 2 hair cuts and not wearing a lot of make up, to close to $3000+ a year for premium brands and services.  From what I have read over at, the ingredients in the premium products are much like the basic stuff.  So I get the basic stuff that works for me an forget the rest.

Shelling out 3k+ seems like a a lot of money every year for looking.  Is it worth the price?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

my strategies at the grocers

There are some many ways to spend or save at the grocers.  Not all of them work for everyone.  Here is a few ways that do and do not work for me.

1) plan out what I want to eat for a week, because things change during the week, and if I have to buy stuff for just one meal it gets more expensive that way
2)only look at on sale items.  sometimes they are not cheaper than store brand that is not on sale.  If the store brand is the same or better.
3)clip coupon for things you don't normally eat.  just because there is a coupon doesn't mean you have to buy it.
4) stock up on prepackaged foods, we have a few on hand, but too many will run up the cost and take up room in the freezer

1) look at what is on sale before I think about a few possible meals for the week
2) stock up on things that can be frozen, or have a longer shelf life, like pasta sauce.  They are handy for when you are in a hurry.  We like to get a pack of salmon and freeze individual portions for later.  Also bags of cut corn when they are on sale, a good quick side veggie.
3) eat with the seasons, the fresh produce are cheaper when they are in season
4) run to different stores for sales, but only if they are near each other.
5) ask for rain checks of they are out of the sale items.
6) eat simple meals, they are easier to cook and better for you

Thursday, October 13, 2011


A while ago I mention that I was going to refinance my home.  We had a 4.675%  fixed for 30 yrs.  Good rate.  A month ago the rates dropped again and we decided to refi.  Why?  Because it was a no cost refi, meaning we don't pay a dime.  So now our rate is 4.125% fixed for 30yrs.  It's only a .5% drop, but it's still worth it.  $100 a month in the bank is better than 0.

Now we are looking to refinance our investment property.  We get some money back from loans we loaned out, so we paid down the investment until it was 70% of the assessment.  Now we can look at lowering the 6.5% to maybe under 4.5%.  Hopefully, we'll have a net 0 from that property instead of negative cash flow.  In time, it'll be positive, but for now net 0 is good.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

confession time

OK I have to make a confession.  I posted previously about the cost of having extra things.  I just bought one of those: a smartphone.  Yes I have succumb to the temptation after holding out for so long. 

I have wanted a smartphone for a long time.  The reasons that stop me from getting one so far  has been
1- my previous job did not allow me to have my phone with me during work hours
2- the cost of the phones and plans were pretty expensive
3- the phones were lacking some of the  features that I would want to pay for - front facing camera for video chat, good picture taking response time, solidly develop apps were few.

However, in the recent few months, the technology seemed to have caught up what I have imagined in a personal communication device and plans are starting to come down a little in price.  I had wanted to get the next gen iPhone.  However, seeing that it's not 4G, I opted for the Galaxy S2 4G instead.  I know that the technology is still new, but that's where the networks are headed.  I don't always get the latest and the greatest, but in this case, I want my phone to be able to last me a good while before I upgrade.  It's all about stretching the few bucks that I do spend.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

October Check up

There is huge gain this month, again.  I had "loaned" some money to family and now some of the money is being returned.  Yay for returns!

Here we go:

Liabilities: $719,804
loan from mom - $20,000 (nothing has changed, I know I really should pay that off  and soon)
House Mortgage - $335,732 (mortgage has not come out of account as of yet)
Rental #1 Mortgage - $138,328
Rental #2 Mortgage - $225,744 (mortgage has not come out of account as of yet)

Assets: $1,245,100
Liquid assets - $36,500
House value - $590,000
Rental 1 value - $250,000
Rental 2 value - $315,000
Investment - $53,600

Net worth: $525296 +5.77%

Monday, October 3, 2011

5 important HR things when you start your career

I am so happy and excited for my sister.  She's starting her first teaching job next Monday.  It's been a nervous summer beginning of school year.  Now, she's got a job and all the benefits to go with it.  She asked me to sit with her to go over hrr benefits(actually, I asked to sit with her first when I hear she got an offer). 

Here are a few HR things that I think are very important when you start your first job:
  1. health insurance - this includes all the prescription drugs, vision, dental, and medical health insurance that are provided.  Get at least the basic ones.  It's a no brainer, I just had to explain the difference between HMO and POS  Al of that only cost her about $700 a year.
  2. retirement plan - for this, she is offer 2 employer sponsered.  I asked her to put close to the max for each(15k each, max is 16.5k each).  I know she only makes a small amount right now($46k), but since she live at home and has no loans to pay off (good girl, sort of, because my 'rents paid for her school).  I also told her this is only for the first year, and she can change that any time she wants.  Also, I wanted her to not have too much money on hand all of a sudden so she'll learn to manage her money and think about what she wants to do with it. (I wish I had $30k to put away).
  3. life insurance - she as a little confuse about life insurnace.  Since my parents had bought a policy for her, she wanted to know if she can still get one.  Even though, she doesn't have a lot of asset or debt to cover, the basic is soooooooo cheap, that I made her get it.  CHEAP meaning it is $0.02 per thousand of her income per paycheck and the paid out is 2x her income.
  4. budgetting - so I went over with her how much money she can put away for retirement by looking at her spending:  I asked her what she spend her money on and so far it's only food and cell phone bill and she paid off her credit card bill every month which is around $250.  Let's double that which comes to $500 x12 months = $6k(this is mostly just spending money).  She wants to get new clothes for work, and she thinks it's $1000 (either that's some expensive stuff, or it's a lot of stuff, but ok whatevs).  Also, she wants to help my parents out by giving them $300 every month (good, since she lives with them).  So her expected expenses are $6k + $1k + $3.6k = $10300, plus the benefits she pays for $11000.  I said if she put $30k of her salary($46k) in the retirement accounts, she'll be paying taxes on $16k.  Her taxes will be $3110 (15% fed, $90 + 4.75% of anything over $3000).  So she'll have $12890 left, minus her expected expenses, she'll have $1890.  Which I suggested a Roth IRA, but we'll discuss that later.
  5. spending tracking - I asked her to make a speardsheet on her spendings to see what she spend her money on.  I didn't ask her to do much of trimming or budgetting because she has an good idea what she want to buy.  However, I wanted her to see for herself of her spending is good or not.
Things we have not dicussed yet but will discuss in the future: emgerency fund(I know she should have one ASAP, but since she lives with my 'rents I can delay this a little tiny bit, plus I built in a padding into her spending money), Roth IRA, investments - both real estate and stocks, and the bank of little sister (just kdding), and large item money, i.e. vacations, computer, car.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

bicycling BS

Recently, there has been a push to go car free.  The alternative is bicycling around town.  This is a great thing for the environment, the wallet, and health.  I am 100% behind this movement. 

However, I got a bone to pick with the bicycling culture.  It's about the basic of bicycling that people either are not familiar with or forgot. 

1) get a bell/horn -  I don't understand why bicycles don't come with one.  Every bike sold should have one.  It warns drivers and pedestrians that your are coming.  I don't know why every person on a bike expects both drives and pedestrians to watch out for them, but not the other way around.  GET A BELL AND USE IT!!!

2) follow traffic rules - so many times I have seen bikes on the road or on the sidewalk and not follow either set of rules.  When you are on the street, safety should be your priority, and the responsibility on the biker as well as the driver.  When you are on the sidewalk, be nice to pedestrians.  People on bikes seem to want everyone to get out of their way.

3) get a basket or rack for your stuff - I don't understand why this is not part of the commuter bikes as well.  If you are going to buy stuff, put it in the basket in front or rack on the back.

Where I grew up (until I was 10), these things were very common because biking was how everyone got around.  However, it seems that the biking community in the US still has a lot to learn.

Monday, September 26, 2011

tracking your mortgage

J$ has posted about paying off his mortgage with a plan.  He used a calculator for  looking at how much he can save interest by putting extra month every month.  I am much more of a spreadsheet addict.  I track my mortgage payment with the mortgage amortization spreadsheet.  This way, I can look at how much extra i put in and when. 

At the top is your basic numbers from the loan.  However, some the spreadsheet is protected.  I would unlock it and put in extra cells, one for the amount of interest I would pay if I don't pay extra principle, and one for the interest I am saving with early payments.  I do this with my investment mortgages as well.  When I refinance a loan, I would copy the old spreadsheet and change the numbers in the new one, so I have a record of what interest I paid already on one house.  Seeing the numbers is a encouraging way for me to put in the extra payment.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

cost of extras

Remember when life was simple?  There was once upon a time, not long ago, when life was not run so much on electricity.  There were very few television stations, so TV watching was limited to a couple hours, same with music.  There were not personal music players, no cell phones, no GPS, no laptop, no game systems. 

I really think living in that environment would be a lot better for the mind and the pocket.  Think about how much money we spend on these "extra" thing.  They are extra because we can live without the, but have to learn to accept it as must haves.  Things like cellphone, Internet access, entertainment, and etc. 

The Cost per year:
This is the basics if you don't include all the accessories and peripherals.
cable TV: $1000
Internet access: $400
cellphone plan: $500
cost of phone: $100 (because these phone are slow and obsolete in a bout 2 years, and a 2 year contract will get you the next one)
TV: $100 (because we are expecting the TV to last about 5-10 years, so cost/years is about this)
game systems: $50 (again how long before the new one comes out and make this one obsolete)
computer system/laptop: $300 (same principle above

Total: $2450

Now add on to that the additional cost of games, apps, accessories, and not to mention the electricity bill. The cost of these extra things in modern life is about at least $3000/year. 

I not am saying that we should ditch all of these, but $3000/year is a nice chunk of change in my pocket.  I know, I know, I gotta live a little.   But do I really need all of these?

Monday, September 19, 2011

expect the unexpected

For the past year, I have been looking at my expenses.  For the alst 3 months I have been tracking them on a spreadsheet.  Every month, I notice that there is a one-off expense.  By these one-off expenses, I mean appliance replacement holiday shopping, house maintenance, or refinancing costs.  Most of these are not recurring every month or year.  However, they seem to occur more often that I expected.

Before I tracked them on a budget spreadsheet, I used to tell myself that my expenses will reduce next month because I don't have this one-off expense.  However, every month, I see the same high expenses and wondered where my money was going.  So I put them on a spreadsheet.  These one off purchases are $300-$1200. While the $300 purchase is not a huge deal, the $1200 is, but both are necessary.  

I was pretty shocked at how often they come up, and it seems like every 2 months on average. Now, I don't go and buy new appliance unless one is on the brink of breaking.  It seems about every 15 years, the house needs some major maintanence, and it's well pass that time.  So fro then next 2 years, I will be budgetting an extra $400 a month for maintenance.  If it doesn't get used, it goes to the savings.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

get a f****** job!!!!

This is a rant so I apologize in advance if I am going to be offending those who don't have a job right now.

Recently, my sister graduated from college and is looking for a teaching job.  Over the summer, she went to a few interviews, but did not hear back from those places.  I asked a couple of people that I know who works as teachers about the hiring.  I was told that the school will still hire as the school year begins.  The school year has now started and she's still without a job.  Meanwhile, I hear from others that principals have hired people as soon as they meet them.  

I asked sister what she has been doing while she's not working?  She mentioned that she's taking classes to be able to teach Montessori, which is great. 

However, I looked at the postings on the county sites.  There are still spots open, and quite a few.  I am beginning to wonder how hard has she been working on getting a job?  Did she expect to just send in her resume and wait?  Did she call the HR dept. to ask about her status?  Did she call the schools directly and ask if they have her resume?  The answer is likely no.  WTF?  If you really want a job, you'll pursue it persistently right?  Am I crazy to expect her to be more proactive about it?

I can understand too that the current economy is not great, and lots of places are cutting positions.  But if the listing is up there, you bet they are thinking about hiring.  I expect no less than calling one school a day and ask if you can send in the resume, can calling back after a couple of days to see what they think.  Worst case is that they don't like what you have or you after the interview, but you can still get feedback for you next one.

This is not the first time that I have seen it happen.  I had friends who decide they want to go for a career in some field.  I am all for supporting them in getting into something they want to do.  However, when I ask what they are doing about getting into the field, they usually answer "I gotta get through this and that first."  OK fine, but in the meantime, what are you going to prepare?  Are you surrounding yourselves with the right people, people who working the field, who has experience and connection?  Or are you waiting for the opportunity to come?  A year later, these people are still not in the field that they said they want to be in, and still getting through the this and the that.  Seriously, WTF?  If you really want it, don't wait for it, go get it. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

college shouldn't be for everyone

This post is not to discourage anyone from going to college or to get education.  However, I don't believe that college should be for everyone.  I would be the first to tell you that learning and education should be the priority of anyone who is under 18 (age people who usually graduate high school).  Continual learning through a lifetimes is and will always be a personal value.  What I don't believe in is that kids are expected to go to college and get a degree.  I understand that a lot of companies look for grads with some sort of degree.  It is tough to compete with someone who has one if you don't.  However, I often wonder if these degree are really helpful? 

First of all, are the grads working in a field they studied in?  Some yes, a lot no.  Yes,  college is a go place to find out what you do best and what you enjoy, but it also costs a lot of money.  Do you need to spend so much to discover yourself?  Some kids are pressured to go to school because that's what is expected of them.  When they are done, sometimes they work in the same field, and sometimes they choose other fields.

I would prefer that instead of college, there be more trade schools.  The current workforce is starting to become academic heavy, so heavy that they can't find a job with their degree.  Trade training is in decline.  While trade school does not have the same prestige, trade professionals earn as good a living as "degreed" professionals, some times more.

So for all those who are considering going to college, but also dread it at the same time, trade school would be a excellent place.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

what's wrong with this picture?

Last week, I was reading some financial news and came across an article for Tiffany's quarterly earnings report.  It was up 25%+ every quarter the last 3 quarters, domestically and worldwide.  With the domestic and world economies in near crisis every other week, how is that possible? 

There are only a couple of possible explanations
1) the truly rich people are unaffected by these economic problems, and are spending as they like
2) the not so rich are aspiring to live like the rich, in which case is just sad that they think this is truly how the rich lives.

Seriously, one would think that luxury brands like Coach or Movado will not be raking it in because of the poor economic growth,  but they are.  J$'s guest's post  points out that aspirational spending, and I agree that the practice is just asinine.  Are people still chasing that luxury life style that brought the housing market and large financial institutions to their knees?  Did they not learn?  Apparently not as much I think they would.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


Recently, the mortgage interest rates have been very very low.  We decided to refinance out home loan, because the broker we know can get us a deal for no cost.  Awesome!!
There were 2 options

1) 15 yrs fixed @ 3.75%

2) 30 yrs fixed @4.125%

The total interest for the 15 years loan would be less than $100k, while the interest of the 30 yrs will be $200k+.  However, the month payment of the 15 yrs is twice the amount of the 30 yrs, which reduces the "left over" money to about $1000.  By "left over" money, I mean after all expenses, and which we put into savings.  We don't usually have a savings budget because we didn't need to budget that in. 

Other family members feel that we should get the 15 yrs loan and pay off the mortgage ASAP.  However, with only $1000 in savings every month, money can start to get tight if we need to use it for emergencies.
Along with possible pay and benefit cuts for Mr. LLF, and no promotion/pay increase for myself (because of congress, not me), inflation, rapid rise of cost of living, and possible consideration of private schooling, the $1000 left over could dwindle fast.

Another note that Mr. LLF made was "we gotta live too!"  Mr. LLF made note that while he is fine with not traveling, dinning out, or spending money on entertainment, I will want those things even if I can hold off for a couple of years.  15 years is too long to go without those things.  I know they are luxuries, but they are important to me.  I would be unhappy and burnt out on saving if that's the case.

So in the end, we opted for the 30 yrs loan for some peace of mind and a better balanced life.  In the event that we want to travel, we can afford to, though we don't do it very often.  At the same time, I could take a big chunk of "left overs" and put it in the mortgage if we're so inclined.

Friday, September 2, 2011

September Check up

There is huge gain this month.  I had "loaned" some money to family and now some of the money is being returned.  Yay for returns!

Here we go:

loan from mom - $20,000 (nothing has changed, I know I really should pay that off  and soon)
House Mortgage - $336,182 (mortgage has not come out of account as of yet)
Rental #1 Mortgage - $138,727
Rental #2 Mortgage - $298,930 (mortgage has not come out of account as of yet)

Liquid assets - $82,000
House value - $590,000
Rental 1 value - $250,000
Rental 2 value - $315,000
Investment - $53,457 - this is only person's 401k

Net worth: $496,618 +12.57%

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

5 important things for all grads

Recently, my sister graduated and is looking for a job.  It's been 3 months and she has yet to get an offer.  Granted, she's looking for a teachinc job at elementry schools.  So the hiring is still going in at the beginning of the school year. 

From my personal experience, there are a few things that all grads need to remember:

1) Interviews are great experiences.  It's good to get feedback from the interviewer, especially if you don't get the job.  The more interviews you go on, the more comfortable you will be speaking about yourself.

2) Keep searching.  Don't stop send out your resume if you get an interview or interviews.  Don't even stop if you get an offer.  Still keep an eye out even if you have been working.  It never hurts to know about opportunities.  Just be sure not to have your information posted as open and searchable once you start working.  Some companies don't like that. 

3) Ask questions and do research.  It always a benefit to you as the prospect to look up information about the places you want to work at. Call the human resource number on the job listing and ask as much information as they will give.  Information such as what do the qualification really mean, what extra skills would they consider.  Also, ask to speak to the department that is hiring for the posistion because HR does not always have the answers.

4) Get to Know the right poeple.  This the toughest for "shy" people.  Going events or joining groups for the profession you want to be in will get you insight and inside tips on what is going on, how things work, and connect with people.  This is a good way to getting information.

5) Any opportunity is a good opportunity.  This is a point that I many people pass up.  It doesn't matter if it's volunteer, pro bono, or short term.  Any experience in a field that you want to be in will only add to your resume and your connection.  I have seem quite a few people not be able to work in the profession of their choice because they believe that they should always be paid for it.  Companies like to see experience before they want to hire someone.  So get some experience anyway you can.

In fact, these things should be important for anyone at any stage of their career.  I know something pro bono, and volunteer work is hard if you have bills to pay, and I am not saying you have to do that, or for long term.
If you get yourself out there, you never know if that might bring the next big job.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

insurance companies are the worst

Last week there as an earthquake and a hurricane in our area.  Luckily, there weren't any damage to our properties as I can see so far.  However, other people did not fair as well.  From the images of the earthquake, some homes were pretty badly damaged in the earthquake.  On top of that, the hurricane come a few days later and battered those homes even more.

Even though the earthquake as a small one, it's effect was magnified by the fact there we don't expect it on the East Coast.  Most people don't have earthquake insurance.  Why would they consider something that would maybe happen once every one hundred years?  It turns out that if there is any substantial damage, they can't claim it against their home owners policy because the didn't buy earthquake insurance. 

Same thing with the flood insurance.  Hurricane don't usually hit the Northeast with that much force.  So for most people who live above a certain flood line, they don't bother getting flood insurance.  Then once every 10 years, a hurricane comes a bit strong.

I can understand how insurance companies would not want to pay out because potential fraud, but  it seems pretty heartless when people are out of a home.  If we are all to buy those plans for the once in a 10 or 100 years occurrence, it would add to our already high expenses.  However, seem that their people who lost their homes, and insurance companies won't pay for it, what are we really to do?

Seems like only the insurance companies win,

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

in case of emergency

Yesterday's little earth quake on the East Coast was quite thrilling.  It got a lot of people worked up, nervous, and frustrated that there's a lot of traffic going home.  Even though it was small comparing to what happens on the West Coast, I got to thinking about emergencies that no one anticipates.

I know there could be a number of emergencies that would effect my life and my family's.  Life insurance covers some of the expense.  But what about what to do with your kids, and other things that were in my life?  I know that both my in-laws and my parents will take care of raising the kids no doubt.  What about everything else?  What would they do?

I think I will need to write up a will.  Wills are not only for the leave inheritances and estates.  They are a set of instructions as to what to do with you and your things after you have pass.  A living will will be the same, but for while you are alive.  So in case of any situation, there will be less questions and a little reassurance.  With some online legal services, wills can be doable for anyone.

Monday, August 22, 2011

staying current

Punch Debt's post today asked a very poignant question:  What if you lost your job today?
I think most people don't want to think about that possibility.  That is understandable, considering the topic being depressing and nerve recking.  However, regardless of the economy, that possibility is very real.  At any given time, some one could loose their job, whether it's due to company trimming cost, or large company taking over and replacing staff. 

With good preparation, the possibility of loosing a job is not as scary as it could be.  A few simple things can make the idea seem less frightening or sudden.

1) have an updated resume - regardless of how much you like your current job, or how secure your job is, always, always, always update your resume at least every year.  It a about 10-30mins to put down what you have accomplished with in the year.  If nothing seems good enough to put down (unlikely if you are doing well at your job) update the references and phone numbers.  If you never need it great; if you do need it, it will take a lot less work to update and send out (and the soon you can sent it out, the better, right?).

2) be on the look out for opportunities - again, regardless of how much you like your job, keep an eye out for positions available from other companies.  If you can have a job search site email you a list of results every 2 weeks or so, you can see who is hiring, possibly what the jobs will pay, what qualifications companies are looking for, etc.  Even if you don't apply to any of the listing, you can still call the HR and ask for more info.  More information will only help in the event you need it.

3) network - networking is a good way to learn about companies and other professions.  Just talking and getting to know people will open up opportunities.  Never burn bridge no matter how much you dislike someone. You never know when and if it come back to bite you in the ass.

4) have a back up career - have something you always wanted to try but never thought you could do it?  learn about it while you have safety of having a job.  When you have to look for a new job, you can better go into that new career.

5) emergency income supplement plan - no, not some kind of insurance, but that would be great.  Have a plan of where you could get work easily for a short period of time before you find your professional job.  Maybe working at a restaurant for a few hours a day to supplement your emergency fund while you are booking interviews, or stock shelves at night at the grocers.  Your income at the jobs are only to help extend your EF, so don't try to take on full time status because your focus should be on looking for that new full-time job.

Like everything else, if you plan for it, a job loss will not come as a shock and it will be easier.  Always keep your options open.

Friday, August 19, 2011

CAO wedding gifts

A friend told me about a dilemma the other and got me thinking about gift reciprocity. 

The background story: 
There is a CAO that is family.  When this CAO attended 3 weddings of my friend and his siblings, the gifts were very very cheap.  How cheap?  Not the cheapest-thing-on-the-registry cheap.  It's the not-even-on-the-registry-I-know-you-got-it-for-$10-and-it's-not-something-I would-use-or-want kind of cheap.  Worse thing?  The CAO is okay financially.

The dilemma:
The CAO is now inviting my friend and siblings to the CAO's wedding.  What gift to give?  The friend's wife wants to give the usual they give to others for wedding: $100.  My friend disagrees.  He think he should give $10. His wife thinks that's stooping to their level.

I know the idea of gift giving is not about getting equal in return.  However, when someone is consistantly cheaping out, it seems that they don't deserve alot in return.  I can understand that if there is a financial difficulty, the gifts given may not have a high retail value.  I can total fine with that. Maybe that person could offer something that does not cost them a lot financially, like helping to move or paint or babysit.  However, when you can afford nice things for yourself and are not willing to put a little more thought or money into a wedding gift, then maybe you don't deserve the same from others.

In the end, I told my friend what I thought would be the middle ground.  If he's upset bout giving so much more, and his wife thinks they should not stoop so low, they should give $40-60.  It's more than what the CAO would give, but it's not as much the friend would give.

What would you do?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

refi or to pay off

Interest rate at again very low.  So the question is to refi or not to refi for the investment property?  The mortgage on the investment is at 6.5%, I know it's crazy.  I can potentially get it down to 4.5%.  My rent does not cover the mortgage and expense for the place.  My cash flow is not $-1000 per month.  All signs point to yes.

With the refi, I could have a net $0, or positive cash flow. The catch is that the value of the property is much lower now than when it was bought.  So to refi, I would have to sink in some cash.  Do I want to tide up the cash?  It's not like the bank is pay much for it.  I do plan to own it for a few more years.  If I sink $60k, which is likely, I would have net $0. If I sink in $120k, I would have $100 in the positive.  So I gain $1000 and  $1100 respectively.  The closing cost on the loan would be recouped within 4-6months.  The dilemma is that it would take 5 and 9 years to build back up the cash I sink into it.

Yet another option is that if I don't refi and pay off the place in 3 years.  After the loan is paid, my cash flow would be +$2000.  Sweet deal.  It would take 13 years to rebuild that cash, plus the 3 years.  Also, I would not get the tax break if the investment is paid off. 

I think my best option maybe to refi and sink some money into the place.  The only thing is how much to sink in? minimal? to get some positive cash flow?  Cash flow would eventually be positive since rent would rise faster than property tax in this economy, but it would be a while.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


The LLF family went on a weekend trip to the beach this past weekend.  It turned out to be a lot cheaper than I expected.  We left Friday and come home on Monday.  So that gave us 3 nights of dinning out, and 4 days of lunch.  We opted to bring some food and buy some at hte grocers there, as well as dinnig out.  Breakfast is usually cheap, consisting of mostly cereal and milk, and maybe eggs and toast.  Lunch was not expensive and healthy with packed lunch and snacks.  I had expected dinner to be expensive because it usually meant dinning out.  Since we stayed with relatives, the rent was practically none.  I usually buy the host a couple bottles of wine and pay for dinner.

What I didn't expect is that it rain pretty much all weekend so we only went out one afternoon, and eat dinner out once.  We did pay for some take out.  I was quite bummed out about not bing able to go to the beach.  However, being in a new place with new people kept the kiddies entertained and conversation with hosts were very enjoyable.  The staycation ended up being better than expected.

Here is a run down of the expences:
cereal, milk, fruit, veggies, dressing : $20
gas: $50
wine: $25
treating the hosts for lunch: $40
junk food at the beach : $12
dinner at the beach : $48
parking: $7
lunch on the road: $15
total: $214

Of course, dinner would have been cheaper if we got pizza, but I wanted fish and chips.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

alternative living - part 4

Previously I posted about retirement planning and lowering cost of living options.  Here is a further look into another one of the alternative living arrangements to lower the cost of living:  reverse mortgages.

Here are the pros and cons to reverse mortgages:
-you can still live in the home that you have bought
-you still own the home
-you have a set amount of income every month in addition to your other retirement benefits
-you can mortgage part or all of the equity of your home
- the bank owns a part of your home because they are paying you for it
- depending on what portion and how you mortgage, it may run out
- depending on your mortgage and home equity, you may not leave much or anything to your heirs
- you still have to pay property tax, and other home owners expenses
- there are quite a few restrictions on setting it up, like if you get one through HUD, you have to be 62 or older and not have defaulted on any loans
-your house has to be paid off or very low balance

The drawbacks of reverse mortgage are many.  For one, you may not have much to leave your heirs.  Since this is relatively new product that got a bad rep due to sleazy sales people taking advantage of the elderly, many people distrust reverse mortgages.  Rightly so, since there is little regulation of this.  Banks are also stopping the offer of these while home values are sliding lower still.

However, for those who Social Security, an other retirement funds are not enough to live on, and they cannot live with the alternative means that i have mention in my previous posts, reverse mortgage could be a great way to supplement retirement income.  The catch is to be diligent in reading all contracts and understanding the fees and loan structure before signing anything. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

August Finance Check up

This time, the numbers are closer to what they really should be.  It looks like a big gain, but it's really not since my tax assessment came back higher than what I estimated.  Here we go:

loan from mom - 20000 ( forgot this one last month, this was from few months ago for help with buying our house because we came up short on the closing cost)
House Mortgage - 336,181.66
Rental #1 Mortgage - 139081.06
Rental #2 Mortgage - 298930.37

Liquid assets - 30000
House value - 590000
Rental 1 value - 250000 - tax assessment came
Rental 2 value - 315000 - tax assessment came
Investment - 50350 - this is only person's 401k
Net worth: $441156.91 +6.1059%

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

alternative living - part 3

Previously I posted about retirement planning and lowering cost of living options.  Here is a further look into another one of the alternative living arrangements to lower the cost of living:  long term travel - living in hostels
Here are the pros and cons to living in hostels:
-no owning anything, unless you want to own a car
-there is no property tax because you don't own land.
-you can live where ever you want
-you can travel as much or little as you want
-utilities are included in the fee
-keeps you from owning too much junk
-no yard work
-some places even come with breakfast
-most places come with free wifi, a shared kitchen, and some even free computer to use.
-you get to meet a lot of people from all over the place

-these isn't a lot of space
-to get cheaper price per night,  most places have a dorm styled shared bathroom.  Rooms with private in-room bathrooms cost more
- depending on the places you live your stay could add up to the price of rent, but it's still cheaper than most rental apartments
-you may have to do some work for the cheaper fees, like man the desk a few hours a day

Traveling long term and living in hostels are a great way to see the world.  In fact, there are a lot of hostels in Europe than US, but hostels are becoming more popular.  For single people, the dorm style rooms can be as cheap as $10 a night, and private rooms are $25 per person.  The down side is, you don't have a lot creature comfort things with you unless you have a car, but parking can get expensive if you are in a city.  If you are traveling by bus or rail, you really can't pack too many things.

I have stayed at hostels during vacation trips.  They are usually located near all the places I want to be without paying the high hotel prices.  I have had really good experience with them and would recommend them to any budget travelers.

Monday, August 1, 2011

alternative living - part 2

Previously I posted about retirement planning and lowering cost of living options.  Here is a further look into another one of the alternative living arrangements to lower the cost of living:  living aboard - on a boat

Here are the pros and cons to living aboard:
- boats are a cheaper than homes for the most part.  We are not talking about getting million dollar yachts.
-There is no property tax because you don't own land.
-you can live where ever you want, as long as it's on water
-you can travel as much or little as you want
-there are ways to provide for your utility needs without being on the grid
-keeps you from owning too much junk
-no yard work
-you can go fishing for you food, but you have to like fish and know how to clean it

-these isn't a lot of space
-you have to know a little about maintaining the boat
-you have know how to swim and sail
-you have to have you sea legs
-water usage has to be monitored well
-if you stay at a place that you can hook up to the utilities there, you still have to pay for slip fee
-you have to rent a car if you want to travel on land, or if you have room, have a motor cycle on board.

The cost of living aboard can be a lot lower than in a house.  The down side is the you have to live kind simple. With the Internet and cellphone coverage getting better, communications isn't a problem.  Same with TV and other entertainment formats.  TV and electronics are getting smaller and more energy efficient, that having them around doesn't take up a lot of space.  Though you may not fit a 50" TV in you boat and you could if you really wanted to), you wouldn't need it.  With the prevalence of solar panels, and other solar base ideas, your utilities will also be lighter even if you are docked at a slip.  For those who are extreme minimal in owing things, space isn't an issue. 

This would be a great way to traveling the world.

There are a couple of site that will detail cost, how and why of living aboard:

Of course,  in the meantime, we can still take a page from the aboard life style book on lowering the cost of living.  Habits like not owning a lot of stuff and monitoring your energy are good ideas anyway.

Friday, July 29, 2011

alternative living - part 1

Previously I posted about retirement planning and lowering cost of living options.  Here is a further look into one of the alternative living arrangements to lower the cost of living:  RV or mobile homes.

Here are the pros and cons to living in an RV:
- RVs are a lot cheaper than homes for the most part.  We are not talking about getting million dollar RVs.
-There is no property tax because you don't own land.
-you can live where ever you want
-you can travel as much or little as you want
-there are ways to provide for your utility needs without being on the grid
-keeps you from owning too much junk
-no yard work

-these isn't a lot of space
-you can't always park it where you want
-you have to know a little about maintaining the vehicle
-your guests any really stay over
-water usage has to be monitored well
-if you stay at a place that you can hook up to the utilities there, you still have to pay rent for the site, but it costs a lot less than a house rental
- you might develop a reputation as "the man that lives in a van down by the river"

The cost of living in a RV is a lot lower than in a house.  The down side is the you have to live kind simple. With the Internet and cellphone coverage being so great and getting better, communications isn't a problem.  Same with TV and other entertainment formats.  TV and electronics are getting smaller and more energy efficient, that having them around doesn't take up a lot of space.  Though you may not fit a 50" TV in your RV(and you could if you really wanted to), you wouldn't need it.  With the prevalence of solar panels, and other solar base ideas, your utilities will also be lighter.  For those who are extreme minimal in owing things, space isn't an issue. 

This would be a great way to travel both North and South Americas.  Depending on the cost of shipping and conversion, not a bad way to travel Europe and Asia as well.

There are a couple of site that will detail cost, how and why of living in a RV:

Of course,  in the meantime, we can still take a page from the RV life style book on lowering the cost of living.  Habits like not owning a lot of stuff and monitoring your energy are good ideas anyway.  For me personally, I would love to install solar panels on my house.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

job vs job

I have been looking for a job close to home for a long time.  Nothing has ever popped up where it would be close to home, and I mean less than 30mins commute by car.  At least not for what I do, which is in the graphics arts area.  I have job that I like.  The pay is good.  The only thing is the commute is longer than I would like, especially for having kiddies.  I spend about 1hr each way on the train.  Driving is not really an option. 

I didn't want to leave my old job, but they were moving to an area that would mean 2hrs commute each way.  My current job has a slight shorter commute than my old job, but better promotion potential.  I was grateful that I found my current job before my old job was moved.  Since I got my current job almost a year ago, I stopped really looking. I still get the email for the search results and read them occasionally. 

What did I get  in my inbox yesterday?  A search result that has a job opening 10mins drive from my house.  OMG, I want to on apply.  So why am I hesitating? 
1. Well, the job is not what I am currently doing exactly.  It is what I was doing 7 years ago and I am not sure if want to go back to doing that.
2. Salary wise, I am almost topped out at what they are offering for salary, while I am still go up 10-20% were I am now.
3. I know spending time with family is important, and should be important.  BUT, do I want to be doing this job when my kids are in school? in 5 years, 10 years?
4.  the time I spend commuting, I get to enjoy a little quite time.  I read or watch TV episode on my media player.  I feel like if I were close to home, I'd spend all my time with my kids and go crazy not having some self time, which is what happens on the weekends.
5.  The pension system is that I get an average of my highest paid few years.  I wold have better retirement if I stayed where I am.
6.  I don't want to look like an @$$ if I only stayed less than a year at a place where they really like having me around to go to do some job that I am not sure I want to do.

Reasons I should:
1) 2 hrs more with my family - the list should really just end here with me applying to the job.
2) with the money I am saving on transportation it would not seem so bad without the high salary increase, at first.
3) we are already comfortable with our current income without the salary increase, inflation might change that soon

In the end, I feel like I am being selfish if I don't apply, regardless if I can get the job or not.

all you have to do is ask

While I was poking around the giant online store that is yesterday, I looked at what I bought for my mom last week.  Holy crap-o-la!  The item I bought just went down in price.  I was a bit annoyed.  It had only been 5 days and the price dropped $8+ dollars. I know, this is penny pinching at its best.  I got annoyed over $8.  But it's only been 5 days. 

So I called  I asked the person if they will honor the new lower price and give me the difference.  They said yes so I got the money back.  yay!!!

Then, I figure I give another company a call like that as well.  We got some LEGOs a few weeks back.  While we thought we got the free shipping promo, there was a $17 shipping charge on the invoice.  I called LEGO and asked.  They clarified there because there was another promo on the order the free shipping for bumped, but they will credit me this time because of the confusion.  2 for 2.

Recently, we got some work done for the house.  When we called Costco for the quote, it took them 2 weeks return the call.  By then, their promo was over.  We got a quote with a different promo, which was not as big a discount.  However, I asked if we could get the 1st promo since we did call while it was going on, and not our fault that the call was returned too late.  I was expecting just one promotion being honored, but they decided to give us both promotions.  3 for 3.

Some times, it doesn't hurt to just ask.  The worst is the answer being NO, which is not really a big deal if you don't EXPECT to get it. 

Now, I will go ask the powers-that-be to give me that $74million Mega Millions jackpot ticket.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

planning for retirement - part 2

Last post I concluded that if I had $1million in the bank, then I could retire if I live in a very cheap area.  Now, what if I don't have that in the bank?  I think there are a few alternative ways of living that would be affordable on low/restricted income.

1) living aboard - the cost of owning a boat and living on a boat seems to be less than owning a house, plus mobility
2) living in a RV/mobile home - not like trailer parks of yore.  Some mobile homes are really nice, especially if you don't own a house, you can put that money into the mobile home
3) long term travel - you can travel extensively and live in other countries for much less than in the States, rent out the house we own to generate income.
4) reverse mortgages

Of course, some of these require that I am in good health or some of these will have set date of stop, like the reverse mortgage.  I'll look into the pros and cons of each in my future posts.

Monday, July 25, 2011

planning for retirement - part 1

I was reading RB40's post about $1million not being enough for retirement.  I got to thinking, what if that was enough?  Where and how would I live if that was what I had?  Maybe I sure plan for that.  Let's take a look at what retirement would be like in about 25 yrs:

1) kids would be out of the house - I really hope so!!!
2) house would be paid off and downsized
3) investment/rentals would be paid off or sold - hopefully paid off so it just generates some income
4) cars - will probably only need 1 and would be paid off
5) smaller house = smaller utility expenses
6) health and other insurance will rise
7) food cost will be the same per person, but only 2 people in the household.
8) more money spent on hobbies
9 taxes will still be about the same

Over all, the expense is dramatically lower in 25 years than now.  So if I am in the habit of living frugally will $1 million be enough? If I get 1% interest like the current saving rate, that's $10k /yr, and $600 after tax.  My rentals/investments will have to generate additional 2-3x that for me to live where I am living currently, which is a pretty expensive area.  However, if I am living in a lower cost of living area, my rentals will only have generate another $600 net for me to live well.  So the aim should probably to pay off all debt first, which include mortgages of personal use and investment.  Then comes savings.  And I should choose a lifestyle that will fit my then earnings, and not my earns to chase after a life style.  But isn't that what we started with anyways with frugal living?

P.S. I am also not counting Social Security because 1) I don't know if I will get to see it 2) if I do, it would just be travel money.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

keeping up with tech

Recently, I started looking into getting a new cellphone plan.  While I compare the plans from different companies, I also have to look at their phones.  Why?  Because there is no one standard for the various networks, and the companies can't/don't want to flash phones over.

I found a plan that I liked (can live with the cost).  Then I started to look at the phones.  These were smart phones (because the plan requires them and because that plan was better than the non-smartphone plan).  I always worry that if I bought the phone, then something new will come out and I will have to buy another one soon (in less than 2 years)because they will stop supporting it or it can't keep with the network. 

I always worry about that when I am buying anything electronic.  I don't want to spend money on technology that will be obsolete, which is inevitable.  It's even more worrisome when you are looking at new technology.  Remember the battle between HD DVD and Blue Ray?  No?  It's because BlueRay won and no one buys HD DVDs now.  Of course, I'd never buy the newest thing then it first comes out, even though I really want to.  I get all geeked up when I see something new, like all-electric vehicles.

I remember when I didn't really worry about spending some money every 2 years to upgrade.  I must be getting old or something because I am starting to think that spending money on  new tech every 2 years is getting to be too much.  I want something that will last me at least 3 or 4 years.  That's asking a lot since Wirth's law, Moore's law, and Kryder's law basically makes everything obsolete within 4 years or less.  I would like to get the best or close to top of the line, so I can wait longer between having to upgrade. The longer I wait, the worse it seems get. It's a love-hate relationship I have with technology.

Monday, July 18, 2011

cellphone plans are ridiculous

Recently,  I took a look at my cellphone bill.  What a shocker.  I was on a very old plan that I shared with my mom.  The cost of the plan is a little ridiculous consider in that neither of us has a smart phone and I only recently started to use texting - yes, I lived under a rock for several years.  This plan wasn't the most expensive, but with all the surcharge BS, it's expensive for the amount of talk you can do without overage charges.  These giant telecom companies are just legalized robbers, IMO. 

I poked around a bit and discovered that some of the pay-in-advance or pay-as-you-go plans are much much cheaper than signing the 2 yr contracts, even if you have to buy your own phone.  I guess these no contract plans don't have the latest and the greatest phones, but does anyone need the latest and the greatest?  I am guessing that most PF focused people with think not.

But what about the coverage?  Most of the no-contract cellphone companies are own by one of the big telecom networks.  So the coverage of the no-contracts use the network of the biggies.

The only down side I can see is that most no-contracts' unlimited plans are just as expensive as the contract plans, and the minutes plans don't have free nights and weekends or free mobile to mobile - every minute counts.  My answer to that: Google Voice!   I love this little free call forwarding service.  I am contemplating on porting my current number to Google Voice, which is $20.  After that I can just make sure to set up my forwarding, with the time and phone # presets.  Also, this way I can use any cellphone company and not have to worry about a new number.

PS.  I think Google maybe become SkyNet when it becomes self aware. =)

Friday, July 15, 2011

sugarbabies: the new gold diggers

I was flipping channel last night when I stumbled upon MTV's Real Life: Sugar babies.  The show followed 3 people as they try to catch a sugar daddy or sugar mommy to fund their expensive life style that they can't afford.  All three are around 21 or 22 and fairly attractive.  All three want things that they don't have money for.  All three said they think it's awesome if they can get someone to buy them stuff.

It seems like these people are chasing life styles  they can't have.  One girl wants a singing career, but have not been very successful so need some funding to continue her pursuit.  The other girl like jet setting, partying, dinning and shopping at expensive places, things.  The guy moved to a affluent area and wants to keep up with the Joneses while working as an entry computing job.  They all want these things, but don't want to work for them.

As I started watching the show, I thought to myself "WTF? This is like prostitution!"  The girls said they don't want the relationship to get sexual.  Really?  Some guy will just pay for everything for you because they want to hangout with you?  Even if the guy doesn't say he wants that on the first date - one actually said he expects it at some point -  all of them may just want that eventually.  I would think even the cougar will want it eventually.  These young people are in it for the money.  Trading companionship for money or material things.  Isn't that prostitution?  How is this different from the high priced escorts?  Well, the life style that these young people want but not to have to earn it, they are working for it but they just don't know it.

Maybe I am just jealous that I can't get off my moral high horse and see that this is a good way to get stuff?  This seems like a slippery slope kind of life. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

the cost of commute

Just how much does getting to and from work cost?  Around where I live, it's about $15 a day, and that is the cheapest.  I work downtown and live in the suburbs.  I don't live in the city because the schools were I am now is better than in the city.  Mr. LLF's job gives some perks for living where we are, and he has a sweet commute, which is good for taking care of kiddie stuff.  Living closer to the city means more expensive house, which we can not afford at the moment.

Why does it cost so much?  I drive to the train station (20mins).  It take 2x times as long to bike there.  The train cost close to $5 a trip, plus parking which is 3.50 to 4.75, depending on which station I go to.  So the gas, plus train, plus parking is about $15/day x 5days.  So my cost of commute which is $65-75 a week.  My employer subsidize $100 a month, so that covers about a week and a half(no complaints there).  That is only if I take the train.  If I drove, it would be more gas, plus $12-15/day parking, downtown.

To reduce cost of the commute, I worked four 10 hr days each week.  Which great because I had 3 day weekends every weekend, and 4 on holiday weekends.  However, that means leaving at 6am and not getting home until 7pm.  This is not a problem for singles and married with no kids.  Since I would like to seem the little LLFers(..haha.hmmmmm) I work only five 8hr days.

Adding to the equation is that I started a new job 8 months ago, and was told that someone up the chain didn't like the telecommuting idea because there was a bad precedence once a few years ago.  I did not want to push the subject, being a new person.  Now, that someone has retired, and it will be 1 year for me in 4 months, I will ask again for the telecommuting 1 day a week, to start off.  Maybe withs some luck, I can eventually get to 2 days a week.  Here to hoping for the best!

Monday, July 11, 2011

wardrobe pieces to save money on

My last post was about items to splurge on.  Here is a list of item that I would spend less on, but still make my wardrobe updated and fun.  These items will and should not cost a more than $50 a piece(usually 20).

blouses - this includes dress shirt, short or long sleeves, any top that is not a tee shirt.  Keep it colorful or basic.  These will change your trouser or skirt and make it for the office or night out on the town.  These you can update once or twice a year to keep your colors and designs current.

cardigan sets - just one or two is great form office to PTA meeting to afternoon tea.  Also the cardigan can be used separately for your dresses

dresses - a nice cotton sheath dress will also go office to PTA meeting to afternoon tea pair with a cardigan, a drapier dress can be office appropriate with a blazer, or night out with a shaw/wrap.  Target's Merona brand has surprisingly good quality dresses for around $30 (just have to make sure they fit is correct) Just be sure the length is appropriate for age and setting.

slacks/jeans-  These are great for every day wear.  Just one or 2 will get you a long way.  Plain front and slight boot cut is the most flattering on every body type.

Tee and tanks - these can the most fun, go for a couple of glam ones to dress up your jeans or layer under blazer for a edgier office look. 

skirts - these are fun to have, and one or 2 will get you a long way in maxing up your looks for both work and weekend wear.  Again, be sure the length is appropriate for age and setting.

accessories - jewelry don't have to expensive to look nice.  Scarves and hats will change up you outfit quite a bit.

Friday, July 8, 2011

5 basic wardrobe pieces worth splurging on

In my effort to sort out my closet, I took a look at what I wear the most, which is work clothes.  I work in a business causal and sometimes business attire environment so I have some flexibility.  I find these pieces to be stables and can fit both formal and causal work environments, so I think they are worth spending a little extra.  

Trousers - a couple of pairs of trousers in black and gray are essential.  I would leave brown or tan to slacks.  These will have to work with the blazer, which I will talk about.  It would be nice to get machine washable wool, so you don't spend a ton on dry cleaning.  A good fitting pair of trousers will can also be a part of of night out outfit.

Pencil Skirt - I would also get one or two pencil skirts in gray or black.  One of them should be the same material as your trouser and blazer.

Blazer - One good blazer will take your trousers or pencil skirt from business casual to business attire.  Make sure that it's the same material as one of your skirts and trousers - this way you have 2 suits without buying 2 suits.  A single breasted, one or two button blazer, with minimal hardware details will stand the test of time.  Make sure to have the sleeves hemmed.

Coat - Depending on you local climate, you will want a coat with the right weight.  A good coat will  last you a long time so be sure to  get one in a classic cut and color.

Bag - Same as the coat.  Better to spend a little more and get more year out of the bag then spend less and having to get a new one every year.

They don't have to be a designer label or be very expensive.  Usually, places like the Limited, BR, J. Crew, Ann Taylor have sales that can get you at least first 3 of these for less than $500 total.  Of course, this list to taking into account that you don't our grow the size of these clothes.  More reason to stay in shape. =)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

to insure or not to insure

I am talking about life insurance.  It's kinda of a morbid game insurance companies play with you.  They bet that you won't die, you bet that you will.  If you die,  your beneficiaries win.  If you don't the insurance companies win.  Very depressing, but kinda necessary. 

The basic term life coverage is pretty low cost, and only goes up drastically as you reach 60+.  With that, you get a very small amount that just pretty much covers the expense of you funeral.  This is worth the small payments so your loved ones don't have to dig into their emergency savings. 

However, if you have debt that your estate can not pay, your loved ones will be inheriting that elephant.  So getting a little more than basic would be good. Right?  How much?  Do get coverage equal to your salary of 1 year, 2 years, or a set amount, like equal to your mortgage?  These extras will start pushing the premiums up.  So at what point do you say I have enough coverage?  Or do you say I can afford this much $$ per month so I'll get as much I can for that?

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

something worth celebrating

This is my first ever financial check up, and it's a rough estimate.  I like to keep it at a conservative rough estimate because I don't like to depend too much on the house equity to blow up my number.  Here we go:


House Mortgage - 336,629.45
Rental #1 Mortgage - 140,000
Rental #2 Mortgage - 300,000

Liquid assets - 22400
House value - 590000
Rental 1 value - 220000
Rental 2 value - 310000
Investment - 50000

Net worth - 415770.55

Hopefully, the rental values will not plummet further in the next year.

Friday, July 1, 2011

budgetting for leeches

This is a continuation of the previous post  regarding the friend, the friend's significant other, and the friend's SO's financial habits.

The friend's SO had children from a previous marriage that will hit up the SO for money.  Large sums of money for things they can't afford, but want or feel like they need.  When these children's demands come around, they really throw a wrench in the new and responsible financial plans that the SO is trying to follow.  My friend was fuming at the fact the SO cannot change his way of saying yes too often to these children, or teach them to be more responsible.

So I suggested to her that maybe he should budget for their leeching.  They both know that these children will come around from time to time.  They also know that the SO has a hard time saying no to the kids.  Well, why not set aside some money for them? This way, the SO can say yes to them, but does not ruin the personal plan for other things.  When these accounts run dry, the SO can tell them so.  Maybe over time, the SO can learn to say no or at lease prioritize the yeses.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

is debt normal?

The other day, I was having dinner with a close friend.  We got on to talking about personal finance, and how we are doing. The friend's significant other's spending habits came up.  It turns out that the SO had quite a bit of debt before and my friend had helped him get debt free.  However, as soon as the SO's children from a previous marriage came around, the debt started piling up again. 

These grown children had no problem asking  demanding large sums of  money for things they could not afford.  What is worse is that the SO felt guilty for not being around to raise them and says "yes" without thinking about the ramification of his financial decision on the current relationship, and the fact that these children will come back again and again for more money.  So the friend said "that is so American", meaning that the SO and most of America live with the idea that debt is OK.  I would tend to disagree with the friend American comment - it's not only Americans that carry debt.  However, I do see the point about carry debt in America is seen as normal. 

Is it normal?  Should it be?  To some degree sure.  It makes owning things easier.  It sure as heck feeds the banking/mortgage industry billions of dollars.  But why do we need to own things?  Does it make things more stable to own things?  Let's take home ownership.  Is it really "safer"?  In the current economy, you can be put out of you house as easily as a rental place.  That's it's not really safer.  Is it for passing down to your children?  That seems to more of a pain to them when the inheritance tax and legal issues come up.  So why do we rack up debt to own things?  Not that I don't advocate it, just wondering what drives us to do so.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Rolling over

Remember when people still counted minutes on the usage of their cellphone service.  I do because I still do that.  I don't have an unlimited plan, so I am conservative with my usage.  And also remember the rollover plan some companies have with unused minutes.  What a great idea.  It's stuff you paid for, why should you throw it away?

Some times, I like to "roll over" the money I didn't use but was budgeted for.  For example, there is $50 budget for small repairs around the house every month.  If there is nothing to use it for, it gets added to the $50 for the next month so I have $100 and so forth.  So if I need to get a new water heater the next month, I have $100 already for it, so I am only need to add $200-300 more instead of $400.  I don't keep it in a separate account.  There would be too many accounts to keep track of, if I had one for every category.  But it would be nice to look at!

Not sure if anyone else do that or I am doing silly mind trick with myself.  If I rolled over my personal spending amount every month, it would give me more motivation to "save" for something that I want to splurge on.  Let's say I have a budget of $50 spending per month. Every month, I just have to stay under budget.  After 6 months, I could potential have $100 unused money rolled over in my personal spending.  Then I could splurge one something that is the amount in my rollover, in this case it's $100.  I wouldn't have to justify to myself that I am splurging once or feel guilty that it comes out of any other pile of money.  It's money I already "spent" or budgeted for but not used.  Or think of it as prepaid installments instead of credit card balance minimums after.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

spending tracking addiction

In order to reign in my spending, I have started to track my every dime with a spread sheet. I break down all amounts spent to a few categories and look at the sums of each.  Then I realized that I was spending too much on things that I didn't need.  So I made a game and aimed to reduce the personal, dinning out, clothes, and misc spending by a small amount each month.

I think I have displace my addiction.  Every time I want to by something, I think about what category it would fall under.  If it's not something that's a need (diapers for my kid, food- not junk food, etc) I would put it  back.  When I do go to the store, I can't wait until I get to break down the receipt when I get home.  I want to see how much is that category adding up to.  I look at the calendar and see what the total is at the particular part of the month.  I feel good about keeping things low through the 1st half.  The game to keep it well below the budget AND the previous month.  Of course unexpected things come up, but that's OK if it's a need (busted water heater or fridge), cause I have been good.

So now, instead of spending, I am addict to looking at my bank account and spending spreadsheets.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spending addiction

I know spending can be an addiction.  I have experienced it myself.  I didn't realize it until recently that when I went into a store I always feel like I have to come out with something.  There are a few reason why I would go into a store:
a) someone needs something
b) someone wants something
c) I am stressed about something
d) I had nothing else to do and/or want to procrastinate on something I don't want to do so I tagged along with someone else.

While both a and b are very valid reasons to go to the store, they still present a horrible excuse to over and/or unnecessarily spend money.  Why?  Because I always feel like I need to buy something.  Even if the store did not have was I was looking for to satisfy reason a or b.  I always feel like "since I am here, I should get something" or "wow, this is on sale, I should get it", or "this would be good to have" regardless if I or someone else need it or not.  Sometimes I return the stuff I bought, some times not.  The return trip will always bring on more buying.  I also spend a ton of time just browsing, because I wanted to buy something.

This is spending addiction.  At least to me it is.   Since I had made up my mind to reduce my spending, I started thinking about when, what, how and whys of my shopping habits.  That's when I started questioning this feeling of the urge to linger in the store when it didn't have the things I was looking for.  It was a strange revelation that I was lingering in the store so I can find something to buy.  WTF?  I think it's not just stores, but online shopping too, which can secretly creep up on you since you do have to out anywhere.

Realizing this, I decide that I need to break the habit.  I don't mean taking a vow to not buy anything or cut up my cards.  I mean tracking my spending on a spread sheet, then analysis compare it every month.  Then make a game of trying to beat the last month by reducing a small amount $10-$20.  Also, I budgeted in some free spending money that rolls over every month to satisfy some splurge urges.  Next time, I'll post about my progess.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Salon service for 1/2 the price

I usually only get my hair cut 2-3 times a year.  Most of the time I get a style that I can grow out for a little while without it looking ragged.  Going to a Hair Cuttery is okay.  The price isn't very expensive, but the quality of the cut is hit or miss.  Going to a nice salon will cost me $40+.   The quality is much nicer even if it's sort of a miss.

My solution to this is to go to a beauty school where they offer discount cuts by students.  I can usually get a nice hair cut for less than $20.  The student is monitored by a professional who will look over their work once they are done.  Often times, the professional will fix anything they think is not quite there.  So that means you will get a cut that is same as the professional service you get from a salon, for a student price.

The only down side is that it take some time for the student to cut your hair.  They tend to be very timid about cutting too much or too fast.  So they take their time to make sure the cuts are right.  The shorter the hair style, the longer they take to cut your hair. So if you have a little time to spare, give the student a try.  You'll be surprised at the money you can save for a great hair cut.

Friday, June 10, 2011

green and frugal: 10 tips for home and garden

being green and being frugal can go hand in hand.  Here are 10 tips for the home:
  1. Use a 2:1 baking soda and water paste to rub out crayon marks on walls
  2. Revive potpourri that's lost its scent by spraying with vodka, be sure to stir to saturate every piece
  3. Rub candle wax on window sill to prevent dust and mold from seeping into cracks.  be sure to match the wax to window sill color
  4. Rub a dime-size dab of petro jelly over a light bulb thread before putting into outdoor fixture to prevent rust
  5. Remove sticky labels on hard surfaces using 1/2 vinegar 1/2 warm water soak.
  6. Dissolve driveway oil stains by pouring baking soda on and rub with a wet hard-bristle brush
  7. Use plastic lids as coaster for your cans so they don't leave scratch or rust marks on surfaces.
  8. Clean you disposal by grinding vinegar ice cubes
  9. Clean your microwave by boiling juice of 1 lemon combined with 1 cup of water in the microwave, let sit for 5 mins, then wipe.
  10. Apply car wax to your patio furniture for easy cleaning and keep from fading fast.
Most of these things can be found around the house and are safe for use around kids and pets.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

an inspiration to live thankfully

Mr LLF came across this video yesterday, and suggest that I watch it.  I didn't want to take time to watch some stupid video on YouTube.  He insisted.  So I sat down begrudgingly, look at how look the video was and thought 8-minute was too long.  However, after I watched the video, I was glad Mr LLF insisted.

The video is about a young man on the Korea's Got Talent show.  His story was that he had no family, lived on the streets for 10+ years, and worked to hard to survive.  His wish is to be able to sing well.  When he started sing, you thought you were listening to some opera sing who's been training for years.  That voice was a gift.  I was humbled. This young man can be thankful to just be able sing for people, regardless of his economic/financial health because he probably has none or very little to speak of.  This young man has a dream and pursues it because he had nothing else to lose.

Everyday, we work hard to have the life that we have, so we can spend the money to live better.  But what really is our goal?  To amass wealth? To what degree?  Have I been thankful that I have a roof over my head or do I take that for granted?  I think most people take it for grant it.  I sure do.

I am not advocating that we all take a vow of poverty, or not care about finances.  I am saying we should be thankful for the things we do have before considering the things we don't have.  I think if we appreciate the thing we do have, we will want less, thus waste less time and money chasing our wants. 

Monday, June 6, 2011

are sales really sales?

I often wonder about sales at stores.  Are they really sales?  More specifically, are items on sale really marked down compared to what they should cost?  Sometimes I feel like the store mark up the normal prices just so they can mark it down again to call it a sale.

For example, pasts sauce.  When it's not on sale it's $2+ a jar for a non-premium brand.  On sale, can get as low as $1/jar for the same thing, without using coupons.  These sales are usually every other month.  If they go on "sale" so often, why would any one buy it when it's not?  There is no limit to how many you can buy and the exp is 6months+.

Another example, appliances.  They have holiday sales for these things every holiday you can think of.  And these "sales" sometimes lasts a month long.  Unless something broke and you can't wait like 3 weeks for the next sale, why would anyone buy it at "regular" price?

The only truly sale items I have ever seem is things that are about to expire or new models coming out and they want to move the old ones.  I often wonder why people will buy "full price" items.  What's the reasoning?

Friday, June 3, 2011

small sacrifices add up

I have been lazy lately and don't really want pack my lunch in the morning.  I have also wanted to get ice coffee or blended drinks every day.  Does warm weather make people lazy?  It seems to make me that way.  So I have been telling myself to stop every I wanted to buy something. 

I told myself that I will not buy anymore clothes unless I need it.  And when I meant need, it's not want.  It's I don't have anything at all to cover my body so I can be decent in a public place.  So I have been good for the last month about buying anything clothing related.  But now it's food.

I have to constantly remind myself that it's the $2-$7 purchases that add up to $200 - $300 of necessary spending.  If I spend $2 on coffee everyday when I am at work that's $45 for the month(2x22days).  Also, $7 on lunch is $154.  Which is $2340 per year. Which is That's on the cheaper end.  If I am not vigilant about the small purchases, the money will just drip away like a leaky faucet. 

Sometimes you have to treat yourself, and budgeting that in will keep you from forsaking it altogether.  Like a cheap day on a diet. So I tell myself everyday, OK we can budget for buying lunch once a week.  Coffee, nothing more than $2 a week.  $10/week is about $520/year.  That's much better than $2300+/year.  What will I do with extra $1800+? It's a nice problem to have. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Splitting the bulk.

I love the warehouse stores for bulk items like toilet paper and laundry detergent.  It's good quality.  It's lower in price when the other stores don't have sales, and you don't have to wait for coupons and sales if you are in a pinch.  They can be a time saver too.

However, I don't like to get food there so much.  It's great if you are entertaining or have a big family that will eat the food in bulk fast.  The problem in buying food in bulk is that you may not eat it fast enough before it goes bad.  If part of it goes bad and you throw it out, then you would have wasted some money.

Let's say you wanted some hummus.  It comes in a big tub.  Well, not everyone on your family will want hummus.  For a dollar less, you can get 1/4 of the hummus at the grocery store.  You want to eat hummus, but not every day for the next 2 weeks to a month.  Do buy it at the warehouse store? Or do you buy it at the grocer er? Same with salads, dip, and any other perishable.

My solution is to split it with someone.  Since my family live very close and are very close, we will split the bulk food sometimes.  If I get a tub of dip, I would give 1/3-1/2 to my mom.  This way we can have variety, not waste food and money, and keep the cost lower.  I know that this isn't a solution everyone can use, but are there friends/neighbors that are willing to split the items?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tax holidays

So my state is considering a tax holiday for July 4 and Labor day this year, meaning they will possibly not levy the $0.20+/gallon of gas during the holiday weekend.  That's a great relief. consider it's is about $4/gallon right now.  Of course this isn't the first that the tax holiday is in effect.  Usually you can find it near the time for school to start again.  It usually tax free week for school related stuff like clothing and paper products. 

I usually may or may not stock up on some stuff.  This year, probably kids clothing.  But if there is a tax holiday on gas, you bet I am stocking up on gas.  We usually have a few gas tanks we keep in the garage for stocking up gas in case a)we run low and have no time to go to t he cheap gas station, b) gas is getting crazy expensive so we buy some more when it's not as expensive, and c) during winter, a snow-in.  If there is a tax holiday, we'll be filling those up.

Hopefully our neighboring state will consider that too so our stations won't have crazy lines or maybe they'll consider it in the fall.

What would you do if there's a gas tax holiday?

Friday, May 27, 2011

credit cards are my BFF

I don't know why everyone is always giving credit cards a bad rep these day.  Credit cards a great.  In fact I charge everything I can on a credit card.  I even wish I can pay my mortgage or car payment on it.  Why because I can get cash back.  In fact, I love credit cards so much, I don't even care what the rates they are charging. 

"That's INSANE!!" you say, "What about the interest?"

Well,  I don't worry about the interest.  I never even look at what they are charging for their rate.  Why?  I pay my credit card in full every month.  I never pay any interest on my CC bill.  EVER.

Credit cards did not doom America to have bad finances.  America doomed America to have bad finances.  Most people tend have the thinking of buy it now, pay for it later.  OK LATER is fine, but how much and when? The practice of not thinking about how much you can afford at-the-moment leads to thinking you can afford it in the long term.  If you can't buy it now with cash, why would you buy it at all?  Credit cards get a bad rep because most people do not consider paying for it later in installments means paying more, even if you got it on sale.

I hear people say they have high credit card debt for years.  Why years?  I understand that if you had some really bad situation and had to rack up a lot of debt.  When you can rebuild, pay that debt off should be a priority.  If you think of it as a utility bill, it works the same way.  You make sure that you don't own the utility company money because they will cut off your utilities, so you make sure they get paid.  Put the same reasoning in CC bills and you are sure to not rack up debt waist deep.

In college, I did something stupid.  No, not rack up CC debt.  In fact, it was the opposite.  I called the CC company to lower my limit to the bottom ($200) every time they raised it.  This is to ensured my spending didn't go that high, although it was probably not good for my credit score at the time.  However, over the next 2 years, I have learned to think about what I spend my money on.  Since I didn't like to pay for over charge fees, I was careful about I was buying.  If I didn't have the cash for it, I didn't buy it. 

Now it's the same.  If I can't pay for it, I don't buy it.  I don't charge it.  If I do buy, I better be damn well willing to write that check and pay for it in full when the CC bill came.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

money drains & alternatives

Recently I have considered canning my cable, but Mr. LLF wants to keep it.  Since we don't spend a whole lot on entertainment, I am keeping it, for now.  I am looking into alternatives to cable TV with netflix, hulu, and amazon prime.  Then I wanted to look into other money draining expenses and their alternatives.
  1. New kids toys - I am not saying all new toys are bad, but I have found decent and gently used kids toys at garage sales and craigslist.  The only toy I haven't found used is LEGOs.
  2. Fancy hotels - it seems that the pricier their get, the more the charge for the extras, like internet.  Plus, I am only really just sleeping and keeping my stuff there. 
    ALT: hostels and budget inns, they often have free internet and breakfast.
  3. In car DVD players/GPS - one more thing to break and cost a lot to fix.
    ALT: portable DVD players, you can take it with you anywhere other than the car
  4. Unitasker gadgets - they just take up space in your drawers, unless you use it more than once a week for that purpose or no other what of getting around it
    ALT:  multitasking gadgets
  5. Bank and credit card fees - unless they give me a reward greater than the fee, then maybe (like earn in 5% cash back on everything, and fee was $50 annually)
  6. Trash bags - do we really need to pay so much for re enforced bags, plus these are awful for the environment.
    ALT: we get more than enough bags from grocery shopping, or composting and recycling will reduce 90% of trash.
  7. wrapping paper -
    ALT - gift wrap bags
  8. Books & magazine - I am all for reading, but I don't want to keep all this stuff that I will never again
    ALT: use a book swap, the library.  If you really want to support the writers, send them a check.
  9. Big weddings - it's nice to celebrate people getting married, but there's a lot of fluff in weddings that no one but the bride cares about: flowers, brides maid dresses, the cake, fancy invitations, table dressings, favors
    ALT: a small and simple wedding and a kick ass bash afterward - that's what most guests would remember anyways: the food and drinks, the band/DJ, and the fun they had or not.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dinning out on a dime.

OK not really a dime.  But dinning out can be inexpensive if you look for happy hour specials.  Recently,  I went to dinner with a friend.  She is in the process of buying a home, and I thought maybe she'll appreciate the fact of not spending too much if we go out.

I found this site for great happy hour list near me.  So we picked a place that had $0.25 mojitos and decided to meet there.  One mojito and we can look for a different place to eat right?  No one said you had to buy more.

Unfortunately, the place was no longer there.  It was another restaurant,(I really wish people would update that site).  So we decide to try the place anyways after looking at their happy hour menu.  It turned out to be a gem.  We got plenty of really good food (sliders made from beef aged in a Himalayan salt lined cellar, mini lump crab cakes, etc)and drinks.  The bill was $26 total, without the tip.  $13/person is not bad with alcohol included.

I was so happy about happy hour that I went back to the site and added to the list.  I hope they update the thing.  If only there were other sites that lists food specials.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bigger is better?

I thought about what it really meant for people to live comfortably.  I think the American philosophy "bigger/more is better" and suburbia has really gotten us in trouble over the last few years.

Before the recession, houses were getting bigger, cars were getting bigger, waistlines, mortgages, bulk food packages,  Is bigger really better?  I think getting back to the basics will make us appreciate thing we have more. Sure I would like a nice size house with bedrooms for the kiddies, but the formal living room where no one can use, and the formal dinning room that gets used 2x a year seems kind of wasteful.  Do we really need to drive a XL SUV to get the kids and groceries?  Other than toilet paper, hulk size things like food just scares the crap out of me.  I see people at warehouse stores with cart loads of food, and I wonder how much that will actually be eaten before it goes bad?  Then I think "they must be having a party, there must a lot of parties going on because there are a lot of people with cart loads of stuff".  I find that with living in the suburbs, we tend to want to have all our creature comforts in the house, instead of just the few things we true need.  I think our mind set has "become let's get that because we can afford it",  instead of is that what I need? 

When the recession started, people started to think about what they spend their money on.  People started to want better gas mileages,  more efficient appliances, even extreme couponing to save money.  I am so happy that the government is ever more interested in green energy now (should have done that years ago).  But has the philosophy changed?  I don't think it really has.  Costco earnings were up in 2010.  I love the place for selling hulk items that are good quality, but seriously, hulk CAKE, bulk SPINACH DIP?

Now that the recession is maybe over, the "bigger is better" behaviors are slowly creeping back.  Now even lattes are getting bigger.  Are we getting back to the behavior that got us in trouble again?  have we not learned?  I think the only thing I don't have a problem with getting ever bigger is my bank account.

Monday, May 23, 2011

I heart the library

A year ago, I was very excited about the new Sookie Stackhouse novel that was release.  I put my name on the library's waiting list and when I got the email notice 4 months later, I picked up and read it in 3 days.  Since I had 3 weeks of time on the book, I lend it to a co-worker chose share the same enthusiasm for the series. After she took it home over the weekend to read it, she told me the next Monday that her friends were a bit shock that she had a library book.  "Who goes to the library anymore?" they asked her.  Well, hello!  Me, pick me!  I <3 the library!
That got me questioning "Why not the library?"  Is it a faux pas?  It's free, it's convenient, and it keeps clutter down in my house.  Have people really forgotten about the library or are the old images of  the card catalogue still stuck in there mind?  It is not fashionable to carry around a book with the little date sticker in the back with the due date stamped on it?   Most libraries have online catalogues that you can search.  Then you can place holds and tell them which branch you want to pick up at.  You get email notifications when it gets there.  There's self check out. So you are in and out of there in 5mins.  Some even have ebooks you can check out.  And if they don't have it in the system, you can request it from another system or they'll buy it.

I don't see why people are spending a butt load on stuff they don't reread often.  Even if it's ebooks, buy books after books adds up especially if you only read them once.  I know, I know.  What about the writers/authors.  How will they make money?  I personally am all for supporting them if you love their work.  In that case, yes buy their ebooks(paper just takes too much space).  Why not just send them a check directly? 

I wonder what other "free" resources people are not using, like parks, community centers, county events.  I put free in quotes because we pay taxes for these things.  If we don't use them then we are just throwing away money.  The simple dollar has a good list of things to start with.

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