2014 Goals

I recently realized (in july) that I never really talked about my goals for 2014 here on the site. Of course, that does not mean that I did not set any, it just means that I didnt put them down here. I firmly believe in the importance of setting goals and have done so every year with varying degrees of success since 2007. At the beginning of the year, I was not quite sure what to make of this year, and didnt really expect the first 7 months of 2014 to turn out as they have, but that doesnt matter now. All that matters now is there are 5 months left till the end of the year, and we are going to go after these few goals pretty hard for these 5 months.

These are just our financial goals, and they are what my wife and I have talked about and fit into a broader financial plan that we have been discussing for the last 4 months (which I will be writing about in the future). We think these are the most important things right now for us, so we are going to go after them.

One thing to note – these are in addition to our normal savings deposits for the accounts that we maintain – an emergency fund, a fund for home repairs and upgrades, a fund for our child (or future children) and a fund for a vacation that we are hoping to take in the summer of 2015. Without further ado, here is what my wife and I will be focusing on (financially) for the next 5 months.

  1. Max Out My Roth IRA – I am listing this one first because this is the second to last year that I will get to contribute to a roth IRA. This is for a few reasons, chief among them is the retirement plan that my employer has requires a traditional IRA, and if my employer is putting pre-tax money in there I may as well also. I have also been reading up on conversion strategies to avoid taxes on one of my new fav blogs the MadFIentist and think that I am unnecessarily giving away money to the government at ~27% tax rate, where as I could be accessing that money down the line for a far lower tax rate. I have been contributing at a rate of $330 per month (and will continue to do so), which should be $3,960 by the time the last contribution hits in december, so I will just need to find $1,540 some time between now and next April, which should be doable.
  2. Max Out H’s Roth IRA – She opened hers up this year sometime in the second quarter, so her needs to top it off will be greater than mine are. If I recall correctly, she should have $2,640 worth of contributions at the end of the year, so we will need to find an extra $2,860 to top hers off. Again, not difficult, but will be a challenge.
  3. Get our house under $97,500 – This is our third and final goal, and will probably be the most difficult one. Given our current balance of 109,201 left on the house, this means we will need to come up with 11,701 worth of payments to hit this goal over the next 5 months. Subtracting our normal monthly payments, we will need to put an additional $5,561 to put towards this note. H and I have talked about diverting some of our cash flow here now that the student loans are gone, but we probably will not be able to divert this much. We have discussed a few options, and I’m pretty confident that we will be able to make this goal (or be happy failing either way). 

These may seem like some lofty goals, but I am hoping that these will all be taken care of with the bonus that I’m expecting to get from my new employer. I am estimating the size of my bonus conservatively (as I know you’re not supposed to expect them), and that should be able to take care of a significant part of these goals. If not, my side business has been doing well lately and I am hoping that it will only get better, so additional cash can be taken from those efforts as well.

We will see what happens, but right now H and I are going to keep working towards these goals and hope to close out 2014 with some huge financial milestones reached. Those milestones of the freedom from consumer debt and getting our home under 100k!

Readers: How are you doing on your goals for 2014? Any need to be reshuffled because of life?

Image: Flick’r

Sustain Yourself: Stop Smoking

If there is one thing that I find amazing, it’s watching old tv shows. You may wonder why, but here me out on this. Occasionally my wife likes to watch sex and the city, and I sometimes watch it with her. It’s not the acting or anything like that I find fascinating, its the fact that they are basically chain smoking through the entire series!

I seriously can not believe it. Everyone on the show is smoking all the time (filming started around 2000 I believe).

Now, I cant think of a tv show where anyone smokes as consistently as they did, nor as frequently. It seems to have fallen out of favor just as much with the general public over the last 15 years as well – no one seems to smoke anymore.

Quite a few good reasons to as well

  • It’s bad for your health – It will literally kill you. Enough said
  • It’s expensive – They tax the hell out of cigarettes, and no one cares but smokers. They typically dont have the votes to beat it back though, and they pay for it. I think in some of the higher tax states (NY) they pay over $7 per pack! and some people go through one (or more) a day! that’s 50 bucks a week right there.
  • It can lead to other positive life changes – I think this is because people realize that they can take on and accomplish a bit task like this, so they start doing other things as well.

It just really floors me why anyone would still smoke – I honestly dont understand it. I was always taught that it’s a gross habit and never to start, but for people that have started I imagine it’s difficult to quit.

Readers: Do you smoke? If so, how did you get started? If not, Why not? Do you remember what 1 thing led you to decide not to?

Baby Update

As a warning, this post is fairly personal (more so than probably any other one on the site). There are no financial tips or ways to save money by going green here. Feel free to skip this article if you wish and we will be back to our normal programming next time.

A few months ago, my wife and I found out that she was pregnant with twins. As of that moment, we knew exactly 3 people that were our age with kids (and one of those couples had a 1 month old, another a 8 month old). Needless to say, both of us were pretty unfamiliar with pregnancy and everything that comes along with it. For instance, I still cant comprehend why my wife was sleeping like 14 hours a day during the first trimester, but I’m more familiar with it now. What I really mean is that the while we still cant claim to know everything about pregnancy, we know a lot more than we did when we started (if you’re curious, she’s 26 weeks/6.5 months along as of this writing).

I was excited for a lot of reasons when we found out. I could generate a lot of interesting baby related content for the site, begin a new chapter in my life with my wife by creating a family of our own. We can develop our own traditions for the holidays and experience the joys of raising a family.

One thing that my wife or I did not expect 6 months ago was the emotional roller coaster we had just gotten in line for.

See, when we first found out we were pregnant, I frequently joked with my wife that it was twins (before we found out officially). That ended up being true, and we both were excited. Personally, I was excited because the odds were high that we would be having one child of each gender and they would have a buddy to grow up with.

I was also excited to have a son (and a daughter – but I’m more familiar with a father son relationship) so that I could have a relationship with him similar to what my dad and I had. Playing sports, being outside and sharing a close bond. I could still do all of these with a daughter, but it was exciting to have a son as well.

We went to the 20 week ultrasound (where gender gets confirmed, typically) and the doctors confirmed what we had suspected. Unfortunately, the excitement that I had about having a son lasted for all of an hour. After the ultrasound lady left, my wife said

“I wonder if she found anything wrong she would tell you, or if she tells the doctor and has them look at it first”

I of course wasn’t sure, so I simply said “Well, we are going to find out soon enough” – not really thinking that we had anything to worry about. I was simply commenting on the fact that we were soon going to figure out the process. Well, soon the doctor came in and a black cloud rolled over the pregnancy.

The ultrasound lady found some “abnormalities” with the baby boy, and the doctor was there to take a look and let us know what she thought. I was shocked initially, and listened to what the doctors said. Then I was crushed. They told us they thought a few things were wrong, and that we needed to go down to a hospital in Denver for further testing. As soon as we got home from the doctor, my wife and I went and searched for some of the different conditions that the doctors mentioned, and then sat down and told each other what we thought. At this point, my hopes were not high but we decided that we would hold off on doing anything else until we got an official diagnosis from the doctors down in Denver.

The trip to Denver came about 1 week later, and my wife and I were pretty nervous (and personally, I was not very hopeful). We left Wyoming early, and spent a grand total of 12 hours (or so) at the hospital. We met with cardiologists, perinatologists, geneticists, fetal care specialists and a whole bunch more people.

Even though H and I were as prepared as possible for bad news, I think we both held out a little hope that the problem would be correctable with surgery (as opposed to chromosomal, which we feared). Each doctor we talked to looked at what they needed to look at, and then we went on to the next doctor. Personally, I just felt like I was going through the motions – I had long ago put together the pieces that the doctors in wyoming told us and came up with a diagnosis. Of course, it goes without saying that I’m clearly not a doctor, but was still fairly confident in what I thought was wrong. As the day wore on, it started to bother me that no one was mentioning it as a possibility (even though I know there was no way to be 100% sure without a genetic test). I knew that the doctors wouldn’t say anything without 100% certainty, and I knew that it could only be gotten with a genetic test, yet still I would get annoyed with them not mentioning it.

Poor H had to undergo all of these tests, ultrasounds and everything, and it was a very long day. Not shockingly, I wasn’t involved much in testing and was the answering questions while discussing genetics and trying to help out my wife as much as possible. Finally, at around 6 pm, the doctors found us a spot to sit and relax (as if we could) and met for a while before delivering their conclusions on the case.

After waiting for around 45 minutes to an hour, we got to meet with all of the doctors and they gave us conclusions. Unfortunately, the results were not pretty. We had begun to suspect that it was a lethal chromosomal abnormality and the doctors did not confirm what we suspected, but confirmed that our son may not live to full term. In the event that he did live to full term, his conditions were so numerous and severe that he would die during birth, or immediately after. Thankfully, H and I didn’t hold out hope that he would be fine, only to have it ruthlessly dashed at the meeting with the doctors.

They sent us back home, and the next day we headed out to visit family for Christmas. Merry Christmas, right?

source: cheezburger

A few days after we got back, we had genetic testing done to confirm what the doctors suspected. The results came back, and it turns out that he had a condition called Patau Syndrome, sometimes called trisomy-13. Basically, there were 47 chromosomes instead of the normal 46 (23 from me, 23 from H), which screwed up development at just about every step of the way. While we initially suspected a duplicate copy of a different chromosome (18), the results were no less bad.

Not long after the amniotic test, we had a follow up visit with the doctor in Wyoming. Unfortunately, during the ultrasound, they were unable to detect a heartbeat for our son. While not unexpected, it’s no less damaging or easier to deal with.

Personally, I am more concerned about what is going to happen to our daughter. Twins share a special (read: weird) bond, and I wonder if she will feel like a part of her is missing growing up. I wonder if I’ll be able to look at her without thinking of the brother she had for a brief time.

Thankfully, the pregnancy isn’t a total loss (as it would have been if there were not twins) but it doesnt make it any easier. For now, my wife and I are just taking it a day at a time, trying as best we can to prepare for the other baby (who is totally healthy) and are looking forward to welcoming her into our family.

The Cost of Energy Savings

This is a guest post from my dad, who posts occasionally (typically when he’s spending a boatload of money on something that he finds annoying). If you want to read other posts from my dad, check here

We recently also have moved into a new home that I would consider a “fixer upper”.  As I told my wife “we are moving out of a lot better home than we are moving into”.  That took some getting used to and it is an on going process.  When we found the house and moved, we suddenly got the opportunity to look at new thing and upgrades that are on the market, especially when you have a fixer on your hands.  At our old house everything was good and we liked it so there was not much incentive to spend money for the latest and greatest things, even if they would save money over the long haul.  We went to a home improvement show and I for one was shocked over what is on the market now and how much it all costs!

We had a list of things we wanted to fix up but soon were derailed by reality.  The living room had very little lighting and none of it was over head.  It was dark and hard to use after the sun went down.  We looked around and decided we wanted to go with flush mounted, ceiling LED lights.  Needless to say they were quite spendy, but we decided to get them anyway and have been very happy but have not gotten the bill to see the effect of the much lower power consumption.  They are totally sealed units and have a 25 year life, we shall see, but I am fully expecting to see a noticeable change in our electrical use.   We had tried the CFL’s but they are a hassle at best, and do not last as long as they say in the real world, and a con job at worst.

We are now looking at ways to cool the house since it is hot water heat which everybody always says “it is the best heat you can get”.  They always fail to bring up that you cannot use central air because there are no ducts in the house.  There are several different types of choices but again we are looking at a Mitsubishi heat pump/AC inverter unit.  The box is outside but you have blowers in the house that you control the A/C room by room.  Looks like a nice system and at 18-22 SEER rating very efficient and cheap to run.  The down side is of course COST.  A unit that will cool 2 rooms will run about 8000.00$ and the more you add, the more it costs all the way to 19,000$ for 4 rooms.  I do not think I will live long enough to pay back that kind of investment, but I know the heat with 3 large, west facing windows may kill me quicker, if my hot, sweaty and irritable wife doesn’t do it first.

Sprinkler systems are another thing that we need and low flow, rotating heads cost more than fine mist pop-up heads.  Not bad I think so quote me the rotators.  Well by the time you add 25 heads, it adds up to a 6500.00$ system to save a little more water.

Window replacement was something we had done before and knew the ups & downs of that, but decided to replace 5 old steel frame casements windows with Marvin aluminum clad wood windows.  The Marvin brand is not as well known as Anderson but in my opinion have a much better product for a little more money.  Our last house we had replaced the windows and never had any issues with the Marvins we used.  Very energy efficient but again 6500.00 for 5 windows I am not sure there is a realistic payback in money saved.

Like a lot of people my kids have helped educate me about energy savings and as a native westerner I have always been conscious of things like saving water.  After all we have seen and looked at I would do it all again and pay more for energy savings, I’m just not sure that my desire to save energy will leave me any money to pay the utility bills when they come in.

 

 

Minimalism

I live a fairly frugal life, but the minimalist lifestyle movement has always intrigued me. You may think that you live a frugal life, but people of the minimalist mindset really focus on saving money at a different level. Minimalists adopt any activity that saves time, space, resources, money, the planet, or individual health.

Hardcore minimalists go to extremes by selling their homes, engaging in dumpster diving, and living off the grid. However, most people won’t take on those types of radical changes. To give you a glimpse into the life of a minimalist, I broke the concept down into the four main traits that define minimalists. If you can incorporate even one of these traits into your lifestyle, you can live more frugally.

1. Rethink Your Necessities
Minimalists rethink what defines needs vs. wants. If you can rethink the necessities in your own life, you can improve your finances. The basic necessities in your life to survive include food and water, and a roof over your head.

If you begin to focus on your necessities, you can redefine them, and begin eliminating non-essentials. For example, do you really need a cable TV package with 600 channels and every premium movie channel? Do you really need an unlimited text and a data plan for your phone? Do you really need a home phone landline? Once you rethink your necessities, you can begin taking action to declutter your home and downsize your life.

2. Downsize
In addition to canceling cable TV and your landline, take a look at the items in your home and begin to get rid of what you don’t need or no longer use. Donate or sell the items on eBay to make some extra cash. This might include unneeded clothes and unused electronics.

Open up every drawer and closet in your house and begin to de-clutter. After you’ve finished this first attempt to downsize, determine if you can downsize in other ways. For example, if you live alone in a two bedroom apartment or in a three bedroom home, think about what you could eliminate in order to move in to a smaller home.

Also, acknowledge your emotional attachment to furniture and other belongings in your home and ask yourself if you can move on without these items in your life. In addition to downsizing, you can also benefit by simplifying your life.

3. Simplify
Although it may take some time, simplifying your lifestyle saves you money, and additionally leads to a life with less stress. Take an approach that focuses on reducing consumption, accumulation, and spending. By focusing on the necessities in your life, including food, electricity, water, and gas, you can save money and improve the environment.

Walk to places close to your home and ride your bike to work instead of driving. Try eating less and eliminate junk food and fast food to decrease expenses and improve your overall health. Buy less stuff in general; borrow items that you only need a few times a year and look into the many items†that you can get for free.

4. Go Green
Consider the effect you have on the environment by driving your car excessively, using non-energy efficient appliances and light bulbs, not recycling, and filling your life with electronic gadgets.

Try consolidating all driving trips for errands, seriously consider investing in energy-efficient CFL light bulbs, recycle everything you can, and reduce your reliance on electronic gadgets that cause e-waste†if not disposed of properly. Granted, some of these ideas have upfront expenses involved, but they save you money in the long run and they help to reduce your carbon footprint.

Final Thoughts
These four basic traits only scratch the surface of minimalism. I don’t advocate selling your home or dumpster-diving for food. Minimalism is about so much more than the salacious stories you see on the news. Minimalists have common-sense, easy-to-implement ideas that can save you a lot of money.

Minimalism means living a simpler life. You can find a number of ways to rethink your necessities, downsize, simplify, and go green to save money. In addition to saving money, minimalism has many other benefits, too. I’ve found that as I continue to aspire to a minimalist lifestyle, my life has become more peaceful, less stressed, and more rewarding.

What are your thoughts on minimalism? Is it something that you strive for on a daily basis?

 

Expanding My Empire – A Small Business Story

For the past few years, I’ve wanted to start up my own business doing something.  I’ve never really been able to figure out what, but I know I’d like to get some extra income coming in and find something that occupies my time and pays me a bit of cash.  Of course, I make a small amount of money from this website (I think my hourly wage is somewhere around 34 cents an hour) but I’d like to continue to expand my ultra micro empire.

I’ve been using the proceeds from this website to fund these ventures, so obviously I cant do anything too capital intensive.  I cant do anything too time intensive either, as I’ve got a wife, hobbies and a “real” job.  Basically, I was looking for something that wasnt all that time intensive, relatively high margin per unit, and didnt have high set up fees.  That essentially ruled out my preferred option of rental properties, as well quite a number of other things.  Also, while I realize that there’s plenty of opportunity to make a lot of cash online, I’m not exactly into that either.  I prefer to deal with real, physical products.    Given those preferences, I saw an opportunity as a small scale vendor selling extracts.  I noticed that these extracts were something that was found in lots of homes, widely used , and cost quite a bit in stores.  I noticed I could undercut the stores by about a buck a purchase, and still make a nice profit for myself.  No problem with that, I thought, so off I went.

First, I needed to find a market.  I thought about selling to friends and family, but decided that I couldn’t get the volume of sales that I’d like for the time involved.  There’s a commodities co-op in my area that has online ordering as well.  I looked into that and started to get geared up to sell there (making labels for product, taking pictures, etc) but never pulled the trigger and listed my stuff.  I got the impression that it was just sellers selling, and sellers buying (therefore, no one would really “make” money – they’d just trade it).  Finally, I decided to look into the farmers market.  My town has a winter farmers market that’s for baked goods, jams, and winter veggies.

After careful consideration, I applied to retail at the winter farmers market. and was put on the waiting list for the days that I selected.  Not bad, I thought – could be a good primer on how I figured that I’d do in future years.  At the suggestion of the woman that runs the market though, I put in a call to the state department of agriculture to make sure that I didnt need a food or sampling permit.  Who is going to sample extracts, I thought?  I called a lady at the state, and then my house of cards came crumbling down.  After I told her what I was planning on selling and the method of extraction, she sighed and said “that’s what I was afraid of”.  She then suggested that I call the feds and gave me a contact number of a person in St. Paul, MN.  Obviously, this was not what I wanted to hear.  I’m just 1 guy, working for myself, trying to make a few extra bucks where I saw a hole in the market.  The federal government is exactly the last entity that I want to deal with in this little side venture.  Ok, perhaps the greek government is, but that is not even remotely possible.

So, I placed a call to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (formerly the ATF).  I got on the phone with a nice agent, and again, I explained my process of extraction.  He confirmed my worst fears, and said that while he thought what I was doing was just fine, I needed to make sure that I get it in writing from the feds, so that I could provide it to the farmers market, the state and anyone else who asked.  He then pointed me to a section of the website that housed instructions for “non beverage alcohol” or something like that, and told me to poke around.  He was surely helpful, I just wished that he would have been completely able to answer my question and end this little goose chase that had started right there.

Unfortunately, I had to start poking around the CFRs (Codes of Federal Regulations) for the appropriate area.  It led me to a long form, lots of questions involving math that I thought I left behind in college, and of course, a whole boatload of federal paperwork.  While the form is “short” according to the feds, I’m just one guy.  Just trying to open a small roadside stand selling some stuff that I’m hoping people want to buy, and now I’ve got to deal with this.  Awesome.

Of course, I’ll update you when my situation changes, but right now I’m trying to figure out how to fill out the form correctly.

Readers:  Do you have any side businesses?  If you do, do you have to deal with onerous government regulation?  What sort of agencies have you dealt with, and how have you handled the problem?  Do you think I should go through with it, or find something else to do on the side?

Is Getting Your Own Food Cheaper, Part 4

Now that it’s fall, hunting season has started and it’s time for another entry in the series of getting your own food.  For those new here, I write down what I spent on hunting and how much meat I got in the end (sometimes it’s none), and determine a cost per pound of what I got.    One of the reasons that I do this is because I really am interested in and care about where my food comes from.  I dont really trust the people who prepare food for the grocery store, and what they did to it while the animal was living and while the animal was being cleaned and processed.  Hunting and fishing for my own food is a reasonable way for me to make sure what the animal went through during its life (or what I assume) and how the animal was processed and what was used to do so.  For the record, I dont do anything to the meat I get other than rinse it off, pat it dry with paper towels, wrap it in foil (but H and I did get a food saver for a wedding gift that I’m hoping to use) and toss it in the freezer.

This is the fourth time that I’ve done this (and hopefully not the last this year).  If you’re curious, I talked about Halibut fishing, Duck Hunting and Elk Hunting.

Typically in the fall, I go with “the in-laws” (still weird saying that) out for an antelope hunt, which I had planned on writing about.  Unfortunately due to some oversight, we were unable to  access the area we normally went for antelope hunting, and went grouse hunting instead.  Here’s what it cost:

  • Guns:  I used the 12 gague that I got for christmas a few years back, so this was free.
  • Ammo: $46 dollars for 2 boxes of steel shot, and I think I shot about 5 shells.  I’ve still got most of them left, so I’ll be able to go again for free
  • Game bird tag: $20 – This is good until the end of the calendar year, I believe.
  • Conservation Stamp: $0 – Last year, I bought a lifetime conservation stamp.
  • Gas: I didnt have to drive, and we only were out for 1 day.

Total Cost $66.

For this hunt, we hit the bag limit before lunch (Even after 2 terrible shots from me first thing in the morning), and then went back to town and decided to go after a different species of grouse in the afternoon.  Unfortunately, we were unable to find any grouse in the afternoon, so we headed home.

Cleaning the birds is much less work than cleaning the elk, because they are so much smaller.  The downside of that is that you dont get nearly as much meat.  With my bag limit of 3, I ended up with 3 grouse breasts, each weight at most 1 lb.  This gave me a total of 3 lbs, for a total of $22 per pound.  Clearly, not a price I’d be willing to pay in the store under any circumstance.

The benefit of this though is that I can go again for basically free, which I may end up doing while I’m out on other hunts.  That will further drive down my costs, but it’s not always a winning proposition.

I’ll continue to update this as the year winds down, but as of right now, I dont have any specific plans for heading out grouse hunting again.

Readers: Do you think grouse hunting is a fools errand based on my calculations?  Would you still give it a try?