Monday, June 30, 2008

The Bucket List

Once in a great while, there is a truly remarkable movie worth watching, and The Bucket List is one of those.

and now you’re thinking, “wait a sec… this is a personal finance blog, not a movie review site!”, but bear with me…

In the movie, (which, btw, is absolutely worth watching, and I not only recommend it, but HIGHLY recommend it), Carter (Morgan Freeman’s character) told Edward (Jack Nicholson’s character) a story about the Egyptians’ theory of death… and it goes something like this:

Basically, when you die, you are taken to the gates of Heaven and asked two questions. How you answer those questions determine whether or not you get admitted…

The first question is “Have you found joy in your life?”

The second question, and the more poignant one, is this: “Has your life brought joy to others?”

Regardless of my particular beliefs, I still feel these questions bear asking. So in considering these questions, the easier to answer of the two is obviously the first one; although, I am realizing that the burden of debt seems to decrease the amount of joy I find in life.

But what about the second one?

Is the joy that I bring to others limited because of my position financially? I believe that it is.

The key is, I can’t let this be the over-riding factor in my life. But I think it is still good to realize how much better I can be, and allow that realization to spur me on to further accomplishment.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Site Changes

I did the 3-column layout a few weeks ago, but I wanted to get a few tweaks in there.  First of all, I’ve wanted to have a visual representation of my current debt picture posted so that I can remind myself that people can look and see my progress every month.  I made a few changes to my spreadsheet, so now I can run the numbers very quickly whenever I need to edit it.

I also have added a blog list – a new feature in blogger – on the right side.  This will have the most recent post of the blogs that I stay up-to-date with.  Well, the blogs that pertain to personal finance, anyway.

Since my advertising is pretty minimal anyway, I’ve decided to move that over and below the blog history on the left.

Let me know what you think!

Thursday, June 26, 2008

My Thoughts on Dave Ramsey

Rich over at Richer and Better (an excellent blogger, btw, you should definitely check out his thought-provoking site) asked what my take on Dave Ramsey was, so here are my thoughts:

  1. I believe the man knows exactly what works good for him, and he sticks to it, and recommends that others do the same.  So, while I may disagree with him on a subject, I still have the utmost respect for him.  He, obviously, has been more than successful at employing his methods, and so I value his opinion highly.
  2. I agree that intensity is more important that mathematically figuring out the most effective way of paying down debt.  I really feel that it is 80% attitude and 20% math.  I do, however, have a few differences from his plan that I employ:
    1. I have not sold my vehicles to drive beaters.  I am pretty “car-heavy” right now, given his thoughts on how much car you should own, but I have decided to own more expensive, reliable, and newer cars simply because of my extreme bad luck in cases where I’ve driven beaters.  The beaters end up costing me as much or more than a new vehicle, and I spend less time worrying/fixing the newer vehicles.  I still adhere to the philosophy that the “cheapest car I can drive is the one I’m in now”, for the most part.  Hopefully, I’ll pay off the vehicles faster than their life, and have enough time to purchase my next vehicle outright.
    2. I have a credit score, according to Credit Karma, of 821, and that’s up 4 points from last month.  Although I know that Dave refers to this as an “I love debt score”, I’m really not willing or ready to sacrifice that yet.  Prudent use of credit cards, if it is possible, will end up saving me more money than not having a credit score will.  (My wife’s cell phone is what jumps to mind first)  Now, if you are the type that is prone to abuse credit cards, I recommend staying away from them.  I take the same stance on alcohol.  I don’t feel there’s anything inherently evil about alcohol, but if you are prone to being an alcoholic, its probably best to stay away from it…
  3. Beyond his debt-reduction strategy, I don’t know too much, because I’ve not gotten to that point personally.  However, I do have some sub-thoughts that I’m willing to explore a bit further…
    1. He is a big fan of term life vs. whole life/cash value insurance.  I haven’t investigated this fully, since I intend on getting life insurance after we either a) pay off all credit card debt, or b) the first kiddo comes along (whichever is first).
    2. I’m not sure about his investing ideas, although he seems to do well by them.  I know less than I really should about stocks, mutual funds, etc., but, then, I’m not out of debt yet, so I don’t really need to be spending my time thinking about investing.  Right now, my best investment is the elimination of my debt.
  4. “If you live like no one else today, tomorrow, you will be able to live like no one else.”  It makes sense.  If I am willing to limit my spending today, and, rather, invest that money, it seems to be reasonable to assume that later I will have more to spend than the ones who didn’t live on less than they made.

Bottom line, I respect Dave where he’s gotten in life, and I value his opinion for where I am in life.  Do I disagree with him in some areas?  Sure.  But there are very few people that I agree with on everything, even within a given subject.

As to his ELPs, (Endorsed Local Providers) I’ve never used their services, and don’t know if I will in the future or not.  I don’t know that I’ll buy insurance from Zander Insurance, or subscribe to, or buy into whatever his next endorsement is, but, at the same time, I don’t fault him for endorsing products/services, and promoting people who follow his line.

I hope that answers your question, Rich…  If not, just let me know what you’d like answered more specifically and I’ll get to it…  (This was just too long of a reply to leave it in the comments section… :-)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Butt Scratching and Bass Fishing

Dave Ramsey goes off!  This is a good read…

Here’s the text

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Spending Pressure

I’ve spent a little extra every week for the past few weeks.  Our storage room needed organizing, so I bought shelves and containers for it.  Our cables needed organizing, so I bought pegboard for that.  I “needed” a break, so I bought a 360 for that.  Everywhere I turn, headway on debt is slowed by pressure (inward or outward) to spend, spend, spend.  The latest and greatest is only one small step away.  Getting out of debt is at least five large steps away.

I wish that I could just release myself from the pressure, simplify my life, and have just enough to get by without worrying about whether or not my next decision is going to set us back.

I’m posting this more as a personal reminder when I begin to feel pressured to spend money that the pressure isn’t always good – and if there’s an alternate route to take, I need to at least consider it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Weekend Project

In our pursuance of simplification, my wife and I decided to tackle our storage room this past weekend. What. a. mess.

Our life looked very simple, until that daunting task was strewn everywhere to be sorted through. We still are only about halfway through, but it will be well worth the time when all is said and done.

Here are some things that I thought about as we cleaned/sorted/organized/simplified…

  • Device Driver discs
    • With the advent of technology, there is no need to keep driver discs around, since you can download nearly everything from the web.
    • The only exception I make to this is the driver for my network hardware. I may be able to download everything off the internet, but I’ve got to be able to connect to it to download it.
    • And, if you are a belt-and-suspenders kind of person, collect all your device drivers in one folder, and burn the folder to a CD or DVD.
    • This little example cut 10-15 discs from our storage.
  • Old Program CDs
    • I had a photo program that would only work if you put the 3.5” floppy in the drive and had the CD in the drive at the same time. Since I no longer own a 3.5” floppy, there wasn’t much use in keeping either disc.
    • I had 2 full copies of Windows 98. 98? Seriously? Let’s see – that’s now 3 operating systems ago (wow. really? Millenium Edition/2000, XP, Vista... yeah.). Chances are slim that I’m going to need to install that on a computer. Especially since it wasn’t even a business-class operating system. I’ve done some computer consulting in my time, but these were two discs I could drop without losing any sleep.
  • Old Technology
    • I had an analog TV Tuner card for my computer. Unfortunately, it’s practically worthless, especially after the all-digital rollout next year. Best thing to do was freecycle it to over to somebody with more creativity than me on how to put it to good use.
    • I finally bit the bullet and got rid of my Nintendo 64. Actually – its still in the apartment, but its waiting on somebody to come by and pick it up.
  • Nostalgic
    • I have a box left over of things that I’m just so attached to that I don’t feel I can give or throw them away… But there was a limit to my nostalgia. If it doesn’t fit in the box, we are dumping it. Fortunately, my hockey tickets from 4 years ago have found a safe home for now. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll dump them. And I feel better since there’s a limit to it. The movie stubs from years gone by? Didn’t make the cut.

One of the most amazing things about everything I mentioned is how little space the individual items took up, but how much of a difference it made when we started getting rid of stuff.

Another thing we did was take all of our audio/video cables and computer cables, etc. and zip-tied them instead of just throwing them all in a box. The space we saved by having them individually tied vs. balled up in a massive wire conglomeration was significant.

I’m sure that other things will come to mind as we come across them, but these were the beginnings of the organization of last spot in our apartment that hadn’t already been gone through. Now if we can just get the rest of the house back in order, I’ll be happy. :-)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

You have got to be kidding me.

Wall Street Journal reports on Obama’s Economic Plan…

here’s the link.

Most notable was this sentence:

“Globalization and technology and automation all weaken the position of workers, and a strong government hand is needed to assure that wealth is distributed more equitably.” [Emphasis mine]

So much for free enterprise, small government, personal choice, and the American Dream.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

My Footprint

There is a lot of discussion these days of watching our “carbon footprint” and ways to “go green”, etc.  all to aid the environment we live in.  While I do believe that we should be responsible as a culture and not do things that harm our environment, many of the ways people “go green” actually end up being a higher cost item.  Take a hybrid car, for example.  In order to recoup the cost of a hybrid over a regular vehicle, you would need to own the car for over 5 years just to break even (source:  WSJ)  So, clearly the decision to drive a hybrid is not fueled by economics (pun intended), but by a concern over the environment.

Here we reach a critical juncture in what I believe to be the argument for green living.  If “getting back to nature” requires the bleeding edge of technology, are we really getting back to nature?  It sure seems to me that simplification, not complexity, will do the most to reduce toxins in the air, wasted time and energy, etc.  However you look at it, whether you are looking to simplify the economics in your life, or reduce the carbon footprint you leave on the earth, the end result is the same.  Simplification, not complication, is what we need to strive for.

From an economic perspective, reducing my expenses and the “things” in my life will have at least as much effect on my overall finance success as raising my income.  In fact, raising my income without concern for controlling my expenses will have a negative effect on my finances, not a positive one.

As I continue to push to get out of debt and move to a positive net worth, I am going to begin the process of analyzing not only our expenses, but also our overall way of life.  If we can simplify our lives, we will see an economic impact to that.  I think it will be far easier to accept changes in lifestyle based on simplification than purely for an economic benefit.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Weekend Break

My company had a retreat this past weekend, so I was out on a 4,000 acre ranch, "roughing it".  Over the course of the weekend, I spent about 8-10 hours on a four-wheeler, ate a 30+ ounce ribeye steak, had about 50 lbs of food, went skeet shooting, had fishing available (although I only got out on the man-made pond once, and didn't fish), played some Texas Hold-'Em, and the list goes on...

The time away gave me some perspective, but also reminded me that there are things that I would like to own, but the stress that debt causes makes it not worth it.  Perhaps someday I can afford some of these "toys" outright, and not have to worry about putting them on a card...

BSafeOnline Special Deal!

June is Internet Safety Month, so BSafeOnline is offering a 40% discount for their services during the month of June. Just use the word "safety" in the promotion code box to get 40% off either package they offer...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cell Phones

Our contract for our cell phones ends this week.  We are on a family plan that has been discounted because I worked at a major electronics store in the past, and I never bothered to inform them that I no longer work there...

Thing is, since I no longer use my phone, I had the calls forwarded to my work cell phone.  Bad move.  The company charges me 20 cents/minute on forwarded calls, so my bill has been outrageous the past few months.  I'm very much looking forward to cutting the bill down.  I'm just not sure where to go...

We can sign on with a local carrier and not sign a contract, but features are limited, as is the range of the phone.  In most cases, this isn't a problem, there are a few times it could present some difficulty...

So I'm not really sure what direction to go yet - but I do know this:  I've got to get away from the call forwarding.  That little "add-on" is killing our cell phone budget.

Starbucks: A Cheap Wi-Fi Alternative?

Just saw this over at Lifehacker...  Apparently, for the purchase of a $5 gift card that gets used every month, you get free wireless internet at Starbucks...  Might be a viable alternative to having internet access at home if you happen to own a laptop and live near a Starbucks...