Monthly Archives: December 2008

Reviewing My ProgressWell, 2008 is all but over so how’d you do?

I did pretty well on my goals for 2008. I mean, I certainly can’t complain.

In order of completion, I managed to increase my 401k contributions to 15% of my income, I eliminated all of my credit card debt, I paid down enough principle on my mortgage to have PMI removed (though it never actually happened), and I paid off all of my auto loans.

That’s a pretty decent set of achievements and I’m proud of every single one of them!

But there were a couple more goals on my list…

One, that I considered lofty, was to have $10k in savings.

Here, on the last day of the year, I’m finding myself in a bit of a grey area. I don’t feel that I accomplished the goal but by a technicality (my paycheck was deposited today instead of tomorrow because of the holiday), I actually have $10k at my disposal.

Just saying that blows my mind but, honestly, it doesn’t feel real.

And it isn’t all in my savings account right this minute, but it could be, so that goal was pseudo accomplished as well.

The final goal was to increase my passive income. That was a wishy-washy goal from the get-go and though my “side income” decreased by over $13k this past year, I managed to increase my 100% passive income… by just $63 over the entire year.

Hey, it’s better than nothing, right? It’s not like I “worked” for it…

So, with that, I can’t say that I accomplished all of my goals, but I think I took care of the big ones.

Hopefully 2009 goes even better — though my goals for the coming year are far less specific.

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ING LionDrat. Just as I was putting together the numbers for a bunch of “end-of-year” postings, I logged into my ING account and saw the news.

Interest Rate Change to 2.472% (2.50% APY)

Can’t say I didn’t see it coming, but it’s still disappointing…

Why didn’t I start sooner?

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Jenny, Jenny... Who can I turn to?Silly, but we’re actually using that goofy applet over there on the right to keep track. No, really. That’s what we’re using.

Okay, that’s what I’m using. My wife “just knows”.

As of today, it says we’re 140 days in and have 140 more days to go. Of course, if you’re reading this tomorrow (or the next day or the day after that), it says something completely different.

No matter what, as painfully exciting as it is, it still seems like a *really* loooooonnnnnggggg way to go…

To pass the time, or prepare, actually, we’ve been reading a bunch of those eerily similar pregnancy books. I’ve found that most of them are horribly negative and I’m beginning to understand why every single woman claims to have had a “difficult” pregnancy.

Yeah, that’s right, I’m one of those guys at work who rolls his eyes every time a group of women start bragging about how their pregnancy was more difficult than anyone ever since the dawn of time — it’s like it’s a competition or something…

The books, primarily geared towards women, are mostly to blame. They are nothing but doom and gloom.

The doctors, from my perspective, aren’t any better. Everything is a problem…or has the potential to be a problem. EVERYTHING!

It’s preposterous. I mean, seriously, there are an awful lot of people out there having perfectly healthy babies. Even the crack-whores are doing it.

Pregnancy can’t possibly be that treacherous…

One book, or author, that’s stood out so far has been Jenny McCarthy.

Weird, really, if you think about it (and you know who she is), but her books are the only ones that we’ve come across where they tell it like it is and just advise you to roll with it and, well, enjoy it.

She doesn’t dwell on the doom and gloom. That’s refreshing.

The book that I’ve been reading most recently is called “The Expectant Father” by Armin A. Brott and Jennifer Ash.

It’s not very good — just a hodge-podge assembly of a bunch of brutally obvious stuff that’s been fully covered in the books more geared towards women. The “man” slant they put on things is minimal. Really, it’s just like all of the other books, just with a dress shirt on the front.

The book does devote an entire chapter to money though. Month 4, the month we’re in right now, is apparently when I’m supposed to wonder if I can afford this…

Um, a little late for that, don’t you think?

Anyway, the advice isn’t very sound so I won’t go into the details. Perhaps it’s because the book was originally published in 1995 (with an update in 2001).

And seriously, when the baby is still negative 5 months old, I’m not exactly worried about paying for braces.

Should I be?

I don’t think so.

One passage in the book that I did enjoy with was in the chapter for the seventh month (yeah, I got ahead of myself…). It’s regarding the difference in how men and women visualize the coming baby:

Pregnant women generally dream and fantasize about babies, while expectant dads tend to imagine themselves with three- to five-year-old children. That was certainly true for me. In almost every dream or fantasy that I had involving children while my wife was pregnant, I was holding hands, leaving footprints on the beach, or playing catch — all things you can’t do with an infant. My wife, in contrast, dreamed of a palm-sized hairless baby who talked to her like an adult.

Wow, apart from the “leaving footprints on the beach” part, that pretty much sums up how I’ve been envisioning things.

On the subject, my wife got upset earlier this week when I mentioned that I was coming to think that the whole “new baby” experience would almost be anti-climactic.

I mean, sure, it will be exciting — we made a person! — but a newborn doesn’t really “do” anything. Will that initial excitement last? Will all of this anticipation be worth it?

I mean, babies just sit there like lumps, don’t they? They don’t even appear to do any tricks… Even puppies can do tricks. Babies? Well, they eat and poop.

Sorry, but from my perspective that short and limited routine will get old really fast…

So my wife made me feel like a jerk, probably rightfully so, but that passage in the book made me feel like I’m not the only father that isn’t exactly looking forward to the first year or so. I even had to read it out loud to her.

Year two, three, four, or five — well, that’s when I imagine the excitement begins. I’ll be able to teach the toddler how to do, um, tricks besides eating and pooping!

I can still do a mean somersault without hurting myself (though there’s always a possibility of a major muscle pull) and I can’t wait to show someone who’s never done one how to do it my own special way.

It’s funny though how it’s as though my wife has had a total change of heart regarding young, young babies. I don’t think she envisions her baby speaking to her like an adult, but I do think she imagines that it will be able to do all kinds of things.

I mean, for years now we’ve silently poked fun at couples we’ve seen bringing their newborns to the zoo or sporting events or whatever.

I mean, really, the baby’s not going to remember any of that. They’re not. The kid is just there for the ride. That’s right, you paid extra admission for something your child is too young to remember. Ha-ha…

Really, we’d laugh about this sort of thing and then declare that that would never happen with us — but now…well, I can already see it on the horizon…

We’ll be at the Bronx Zoo next summer taking our brand new $450 stroller/swing/car seat contraption out for it’s maiden voyage and a very trying day out in public. Oh, how I don’t look forward to that 2-hour car ride home…

But that isn’t to say that I won’t want to leave the house at all during that first year. I will, I just won’t want to pay admission to do it…or sit in the car for hours…

I mean, I’ll find just as much enjoyment taking the stroller out to see if anything has filled all of the vacant Steve & Barry’s yet…

Guess what? They don’t charge admission for that!

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Farewell to Steve & Barry's

Remember a few weeks ago when I went on my own personal Odyssey in search of an open Steve & Barry’s only to encounter a bunch of dark and shuttered storefronts?

Well, this past weekend, we actually came across one of their stores that was still open!!!

Woo-hoo!

Unfortunately, it was their final day.

Sure, things were 90% off — yes t-shirts cost less than $1 — but they didn’t have *any* adult sizes left. None.

All they had were a bunch of black puffy pleather Sarah Jessica Parker coats for $4 a piece… Might have been $1 a piece — I didn’t really bother checking for certain.

They still had all of the little display cards for their t-shirts...A great deal, either way, but no thanks. Definitely not my style…

Standing inside the store watching people that I guess could be considered “less fortunate” try the jackets on made me sad… Not only because they were losing what was probably one of their only “trendy” shopping outlets but because it was depressing just to see a store that, well, had fallen so far so quickly.

Yeah, it was cheap. Yeah, the stores attracted some pretty grubby people. And yeah, some of the stuff they sold was a little obnoxious, but the quality of much of it was higher than, say, the $40 tasteless t-shirts sold at Abercrombie & Fitch.

I *really* liked this chain — but I never really took advantage of it just “being there” because I’d just assumed that they’d be around forever.

I was wrong.

Now, where am I going to find a “Property of Dad” t-shirt for less than $5?

Really?

I should have bought one (or ten) when I had the chance…

In the end, even though I didn’t buy anything this past weekend, I’m glad that I got to shop there one last time. For closure, you know?

Anyway, here are a few more miserable photos from Steve & Barry’s final day in the State of Connecticut:

Steve & Barry's liquidation

Hopefully another store comes along to fill the HUGE void left in all of the shopping malls.

And hopefully they’ll have a better business model.

Farewell Steve & Barry’s… You were great while you lasted…

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On Christmas Eve I received a check for $225 from one of my clients.

It was a welcome check, being Christmas Eve and all, but at the same time, it induced a feeling that, well, let’s just say that it didn’t exactly put me in a “holiday” spirit.

See, the $225 was a payment for an invoice sent at the end of September — the check even said so.

What’s the problem?

The check that I received on Christmas Eve should have been received back in October.

Further, I’ve sent this client an invoice at the end of October for a few hundred dollars. Again, in November too for an additional few hundred. We’re scheduled to submit another invoice next week.

Plain and simple, I was expecting a MUCH larger check.

All together, what they owe is enough for me to be able to reach my 2008 savings goal.

Given the fact that they are perpetually 90 days behind, well, I don’t see it happening.

That’s upsetting.

Most baffling is that they’re a Fortune 500 company. You’d think they’d have their act together, you know, being a grossly successful international company but you’d think wrong.

Qwest Logo -- The company provides a great product, no question, they just can't seem to pay their own bills promptly...I’ll out them, it’s Qwest Communications.

Ever heard of them?

Yep, I’m sure some reading this right now have their internet through Qwest. Or their television cable. Qwest also delivers telephone service to a pretty large chunk of the United States — mostly out west.

And that got me thinking, what would happen if I were perpetually 90 days late paying my internet, cable, or phone bill?

I’d bet I wouldn’t be publishing this post right now…

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Must be Santa!Okay, so it’s been awhile since I last mentioned *any* specifics regarding my finances…

Well, it was just one month ago that I set out on a goal to save 50% of my income.

So how’m I doing?

If I were to include my 401k contributions, this entry would be a triumphant declaration of success full of gloating but because I “pretend” that my 401k contributions don’t exist as income, I’m instead going to reluctantly admit that I’m not there yet.

Saving 50% of my take home was too lofty.

No, that’s not accurate. I guess I’ve found that I’m just not willing to sacrifice enough to get to that point.

And that’s fine.

The good news is that I’ve managed to stick to my outrageously aggressive ING auto-savings plan for over two months and I haven’t had a a single “low balance” warning from my checking account come through.

I’m not going to say that it hasn’t come close on a few occasions, it’s been tight, but over the past few months, I’ve come to realize that I am capable of getting by while putting such a large amount to the side each week.

Wanna know what’s crazy about that?

After poo-pooing the necessity of having a “six months worth of expenses” emergency fund, I’m on cusp of actually having one myself.

It feels good. Thanks Grantyou were right! Hey, it only took seven months to get there… though most of it came within these last few months.

We’ll see how long I can stick it out for, I mean, my grand plan isn’t to “use” it as an emergency fund, but to finance a renovation our house so desperately needs.

But hopefully my routine has changed enough so that I can just keep on keepin’ on this savings route and seven months after I spend it all, I’ll be right back where I am now.

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18 Week Ultrasound

I guess I’m due for this, right? Don’t worry, I’m not going to turn this personal finance blog into a mommy blog — or at least I hope not.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy those to a certain degree too, but I’m not sure that it’s something that I have enough of an opinion on to sit down and type something out each day…

That said, of late, it’s as if I’m having trouble keeping up with the personal finance stuff too…

Sigh.

Anyway, here’s the latest picture we received from the doctor last week. It was a different one this time, and no, I wasn’t referred to as a support partner.

This doctor was wise enough to put two-and-two together and correctly identified me as the father.

From there, I kept my eyes glued to the monitor as the little gremlin/Skeletor looking thing flailed all about.

Skeletor -- poorly cropped.Really — at one point I swear I saw Skeletor. I wasn’t even a fan of He-Man, but it was him, I swear, inside my wife!

I wish I had the video to prove it.

Speaking of that, I’m surprised they still give you the little photo printouts when it would probably be just as inexpensive, but with a lot more ‘wow’ factor, to just provide DVD’s of the ultrasound appointments.

For now, though, they just provide the little photos printed on that thin plastic stuff that warps itself silly just from the heat of being printed on. As a pro photographer, that kinda rubs me the wrong way.

Further, every photographer knows or has been taught how to crop a photo. It’s a very important aspect.

Often times, the only difference between a snapshot and an award winning photograph is the crop.

Now, these ultrasound technicians, who in a certain sense are just photographers with a really unique camera, take photos all day, five days a week — you know, you’d think that in training they’d be taught some photography basics.

Now I know, someone out there is going to say, “What is this idiot talking about? They’re not just taking pictures… They’re checking for things…”

I agree, they are checking for things, no question, but each time we’ve been there, they’ve spent quite a bit of time moving that thing around trying to get “cute” — their words, not mine — pictures of the baby followed by typing in a silly caption.

That’s artsy. Not scientific.

What I’m saying is that photography — portrait photography — is a part of their job function.

Would it be too much to ask that when they take this classic ultrasound shot, that they zoom out a bit and show that the kid has some legs?

Little Person from back in the day...  My day...  See?  No legs.Every single ultrasound that I’ve seen makes it look like every baby is destined to look like one of those Fisher Price Little People figures from the 1970’s.

There are never any legs because they crop them out.

Zoom is not your friend.

Make sure you have a clean background and never, never, never crop at the ankles!

If you’re going to crop a person, it’s at the bottom of the ribcage or not at all… That’s right. There’s nothing wrong with zooming *out* so as to capture the entire person.

Sorry, just had to get that off my chest. And yes, the Skeletor photo above is a classic example of a BAD crop. See — he’s chopped at the ankles. Tsk, tsk…

Anyway, it’s a boy.

Names already out of the running include: Clumsy, Handy, Lazy, Vanity, Hefty, Jokey, Baker, and Grouchy.

Gargamel was never even a consideration… As if?

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Fake Reindeer Lights

Well, at this point, it looks at though we’re guaranteed a white Christmas this year.

After a foot of snow on Friday, another 6-8 inches forecast for tomorrow, and then another round due on Wednesday, I think I’ll get an entire season’s worth of shoveling in before the end of the year.

This shot was taken from our front window. The deer are across the street and the colorful orbs are reflections of our Christmas tree in the window. Made for a pretty cool sequence of photos.

Hopefully, after tomorrow’s snowfall, the one reindeer’s head will be hidden. That could make for some funny photos.

Speaking of the fake reindeer — I think the first time I ever saw one was about 15 years ago now.

I remember my parents pricing them out, but the price tag was prohibitive. They had to be over $100 each at the time and if you wanted one that had it’s head move up and down, well, those were over $200.

Now, it seems, or at least for the past few years, it appears that the tacky inflatable lawn decorations are more in style. The resulting good news is that you can now find fake reindeer just like the ones in the picture for around $14.99!

A goofy looking inflatable nativity scene will still run you $90…

Go figure…

Poor taste costs more.

Can You Dig It?

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