Monthly Archives: June 2009

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Drum Corps rehearsalWell, I certainly fell off of the wagon…

I was keeping my spending in check for a few months (April was amazing) there but now I’ve officially gone off the deep end.

To my credit, I did fire a warning shot on June 7th.

In fact, I was already “over” budget then…

Okay, here goes:

  • $2400.00 : Mortgage
  • $617.77 : eBay
  • $282.45 : Business Expenses
  • $109.26 : Cable/Internet
  • $95.14 : Electricity
  • $65.26 : Natural Gas
  • $52.64 : Gas
  • $49.39 : Phone
  • $40.00 : Drum Corps Tickets
  • $34.35 : Target (Diapers, wipes, and some side snapping baby t-shirts)
  • $21.16 : Lowes (Plastic lawn chairs)
  • $20.00 : Cash
  • $15.00 : Car Wash

All of that adds up to $3802.42.

That’s nearly $1k more than last month. Back in April, I spent $2500 total — this month I spent $2400 on the mortgage alone

So while the mortgage expenses were the obvious budget buster (term stolen from Debt Destroyer over at Happy Rock), I still have a little explaining to do in some of the other categories…

Yep, I spent a nice chunk of change on eBay this month… And yep, game worn hockey jerseys were the culprit. Again.

Technically, though, I made these purchases right at the end of last month. I just didn’t actually pay for them until June. Doesn’t make it any better, I’m just sayin’…

The business expenses line is also quite inflated. Before Duncan was born, we’d planned on creating our own birth announcements rather than use the kind you can buy at any store that sells stationary.

We wanted full color. We wanted gloss. We wanted alligators. We didn’t want to have to write something in any of them. And we wanted it to look professional.

I designed them myself so that part was technically “free”.

I did spent around $100 on stock imagery, though, and the printing company that I use (and recommend highly) also hit us up for over $100 for printing the cards. Then we had to mail them all.

Costly, but totally worth it. If you were fortunate enough to recieve one of the announcements a few weeks ago, I hope it stood out as a Brainy original. Maybe I’ll post a picture of them here on PIAC…

All of the related costs fall under “business expenses” because I use all of the same vendors for my, well, business. This was essentially just a non-paying project for myself.

The car wash expenses will end this month though — that’s for certain.

In short, a bird pooped right on the door handle on the side where we have the car seat installed. That just wouldn’t do. And it seemed like a fun thing to do at the time…

I’m not going to say that next month will be better — what I don’t spend on eBay, I hope to send towards the mortgage — but I’m going to try my best to perpetually keep my monthly expenses under $4000.

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Pay off the house?Well, we’re six months into the year now and I’m really starting to regret not setting some concrete financial goals for 2009.

At the onset, I really only had two goals for this year.

  1. Find a contractor to gut and remodel the entire first floor of my house. New kitchen, new bathroom, new floors, new walls, and new ceilings throughout.
    Preferably, I’d like to have the project nearing completion by May 2009.

  2. Pay for all of the work done by the end of the year. Realistically, we’re going to have to find financing for a great deal of the work and, again, I’ll probably use my credit cards for most of it.

Well, my second goal can’t happen without the first actually happening. And we’re beyond May 2009 and we’ve made zero progress on that. Hmph.

It’s not that I’m stuck in the mud or anything, I’m just not aiming towards anything either. There isn’t any excitement to be found on my spreadsheets of late… (How nerdy does that sound?)

Of late, I’ve fallen back on an old habit, debt repayment, to try and salvage the year. My only remaining debt is the mortgage so I’m attacking it like I did my old credit card debts.

See, while I’d love to have the first floor of my house remodelled, I dunno, for some reason it doesn’t excite me the way that not having a mortgage payment does — and when the time comes that I don’t have a mortgage payment, well, that’ll free up a lot of money for all of the remodelling I could possibly dream of.

That’s how I’m looking at it now anyway… (Apparently, I was thinking this way back in January too.)

So how soon can I get there?

I put together a chart this morning detailing when my mortgage will be paid off and how much of an extra monthly payment I’d need to make to get it there.

I went in increments of $250 all the way up to $2500. Yeah, $2500 per month extra. That’s crazy buy when I was at the height of my credit card repayment, I was sending VISA and MasterCard just shy of $2500 each month.

I could afford it then so there isn’t any reason I can’t afford it now — though at the time I was throwing every last penny towards it and somewhat struggling to have enough in my checking account to cover the bills as a result…

Mortgage Prepayment ScheduleLooking at the chart — if I just pay the minimum, the mortgage will be paid off in September of 2026. Seeing as I’ve never paid just the minimum on my mortgage, this isn’t a scenario I’m looking at…

I mean, in September of 2026 I’ll be turning 50. I can’t imagine still owing money on something that I bought when I was 25. I just can’t imagine that.

Really, the first few rows of the chart don’t interest me at all. I know people say that every little bit helps, I say it too, but I think that this chart proves that every “a lot” of bit really helps.

On the other side, the last few rows look a little too lofty. They also don’t seem to make enough of a difference to the end date to justify how much we’d struggle financially to make the payments in the first place.

The $1250 mark is where things start to look attractive to me with the end date of May 2014. For another $500 per month, we could fast forward things over a year.

In that scenario, my house will be paid for in less than 4 years?!

Can I delay the first floor remodel for 4 years? Probably not — I’m not really sure.

At the very least, we’d need to have “some” work done between now and then. Maybe not the remodel I picture in my head just yet but, either way, it’ll slow our progress towards this goal some.

So, for the remainder of the year, I’m going to attack the mortgage like it’s a nasty credit card balance.

I won’t throw every penny at it but I’ll be sure to fall somewhere between $1250 and $1750 each month.

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Duncan has some outstanding balances.So get this, my wife got a call today from the hospital.

They were calling to let us know that “Ducan” (yep, they massacred what I’d consider, while rather uncommon these days, a very simple and traditional name) had an outstanding balance for his May 26 “procedure” and that we’d need to “set-up” a payment plan.

Like a seasoned telemarketing pro, they proceeded right into the list of various payment options.

Confused, my wife interupted with a “What?

Obviously used to this type of treatment, the caller just pressed on until my wife finally got a word in edgewise.

“We’re not going to set-up a payment plan without a bill.”

Makes sense, right?

The caller then said that the bill had been mailed…


Now, mail service is pretty prompt around here but not *that* prompt.

My wife futher explained that we hadn’t yet recieved a bill and until we had a bill in hand, we weren’t paying anything and definitely not over the phone.

Now I know that the person on the other end of the phone encounters a lot of deadbeats that also claim that they never received a bill in the mail — I realize that — but when the they’re the one that offers up the information that the bill was mailed out YESTERDAY, I mean, c’mon…

We’re not late — we haven’t even recieved the freakin’ bill. (That was just the insurance company’s explanation of benefits last Thursday.)

So, after making my wife feel like a deadbeat, the caller apparently came to terms with the fact that it was plausible that we hadn’t yet receieved a bill…but she still insisted on knowing how we intended to pay the outstanding balance…

“Sorry, we’ll pay you when we receive a bill.”


Plain and simple, this was a collections call thinly disguised as a courtesy call…

I’m not terribly impressed.

I actually find it completely ridiculous…

Disgusting, even.

And with that, we’ll probably sit on the bill until just days before it’s due.

Had they left us alone, they probably would have had payment in full before the holiday weekend.

(For the record, it wasn’t a scam — it really was the hospital calling.)

The nerve…

Can you believe that?

5 1981

Billie Jean is NOT his lover...Unlike my previous post, this one actually is about Michael Jackson.

Even though I wasn’t born in the US, if I had been, I’d be one of those bicentennial babies. What that basically means is that the Jackson 5 were a little before my time. But it also means that I was the perfect age for MJ’s solo career.

My parents were still listening to popular music when “Off the Wall” came out in 1979 so I got my share of “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough” and “Rock With You” riding in the back of the car.

I don’t remember either song being a favorite (neither could top Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” or Christopher Cross’ “Ride Like the Wind”), but I certainly remember hearing them an awful lot.

By the time Thriller came out, sure, my parents had turned the dial to the oldies stations instead but I was six years old by then — I had access to my own radio dial.

Best of all, our next door neighbor was an audiophile. His “band” was the Who but he also had the Michael Jackson album before anyone that I knew. I’m not sure he’d be willing to admit it but he had it in his collection probably the same day that it came out.

We used to go over there, put on his enormous headphones and giggle endlessly wondering what on earth “Ma-Ma-Se, Ma-Ma-Sa, Ma-Ma-Goo-Sa” meant… Back then, you couldn’t just jump to a song as easily as you can now (partly because we weren’t allowed to actually touch his turntable) so we listened to “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” (the first track on the album) more than any other song on the record. In fact, I’m not sure we ever listened to the flip side…

My friend Chris and I even used the “Ma-Ma-Se” thing as a greeting? Weird.

We were living outside Chicago at the time and I remember walking to school with Chris and his older brother Kurt pretending that the sidewalk was lighting up in front of us like it did in the “Billie Jean” video.

I also remember very long sessions of attempting to moonwalk on the kitchen tile with our slipperiest socks on. I never quite mastered it.

I remember the hi-fi guy, Kurt and Chris’ dad, saying that it was a fake special effect but we kept trying anyway…

As 1st graders, we had no idea what the song, “Billie Jean”, was about but we certainly knew all the words. When “Beat It” came out, well, game over, everyone that I knew was asking for the Thriller record for their birthday.

I got it on tape that summer — along with a tape recorder.

Then we moved to Connecticut and my access to Hi-Fi music was dashed. But with the move to New England came something new — cable television and MTV.

Not only could I listen to MJ, now I could see him too! I’d seen the videos before, probably on Solid Gold or something, but never over and over and over again.

I remember when the Thriller video came out — I think it was even listed in TV Guide — my parents even watched. And they enjoyed it!

Imagining my son being 7 years old now instead of one month, I’m not sure I’d be able to “enjoy” the music or the videos he might be watching right now. Somehow, in the early 1980’s Michael Jackson was able to appeal to 7 year olds AND 37 year olds.

My next big MJ memory came a few months after the big Thriller music video.

I had the jacket from Thriller in 3rd grade — it was awesome.

Yeah, my parents were too cheap to buy me a glittery glove that I also wanted but they totally went all out and hooked me up with a red and black pleather jacket.

Did I mention yet that it was awesome?

I remember it almost having a Michael Jackson like effect at the bus stop.

No, the girls weren’t passing out or anything just being in my presence but they were asking to try it on and I thought that was pretty cool.

While I can’t prove it here with photographic evidence as I’m not sure a photo of me in the jacket even exists — thank god, too, evidence like that would have jeopardized my popularity in high school — trust me, I had it. And it *was* awesome.

I’m sure that if I dug through the attic enough, I’d find it. Or maybe my parents still have it? Mom?

Anyway, I’m not really sure where it ended up but I’d hate to think that we just threw it away…

The next time Michael Jackson came up was when I was just heading into junior high school.

It was the end of the summer and I had a birthday party to go to and I wanted to buy the “Bad” tape for my friend Ryan.

Problem was, the album was being released the day of the party *and* it went over the $10 birthday present limit my mom had set. (Yeah, back then, cassettes were $16.99 for a new release).

My mom ending up buying the tape last minute (going over the $10 limit) and as my friend was opening his other presents, I was a little worried about how he’d react to mine.

See, Michael Jackson wasn’t as cool as he’d been when we were in third grade but when he opened it, everyone at the party was excited. (I did a little fist pump in my head. Yes!)

I remember after the party, when his mom was driving us all home, she had the tape playing in the car (they were loaded so, unlike the rest of us, they had a tape player in the car – remember, this is 1987!) and we were all in the back clapping along to “The Way You Make Me Feel” which was the first song on the album that none of us had ever heard before.

If I remember correctly, that was pretty much the last real birthday party that wasn’t just a sleepover with a few friends that I ever attended. Later that week, we were, afterall, junior high schoolers and far too grown up for “Fudgie the Whale” cakes.

His next album was “Dangerous” with the big prime time network debut of the “Black or White” video and the morphing faces at the end.

I was in high school at this point and while it was okay to admit that you thought the end of his video was cool, it was best to keep being a fan on the hush-hush.

I bought his Dangerous album in Germany on tape because, yeah, I didn’t have a CD player yet and because I was certain that I would probably never again see any of those Germans there to witness me purchasing it.

Yeah, in 1992, there was a little bit of shame in admitting that you liked Michael Jackson *and* Pearl Jam.

I’d say that it was the first MJ album that I didn’t play the crap out of.

It’s not that it wasn’t worthy, but I think my tastes had begun to slide over to less mainstream stuff like They Might be Giants. And, um, Pearl Jam.

Crazy to call a guy like Michael Jackson mainstream, huh?

June 20, 1995 receipt from the last Michael Jackson purchase.The last time I gave Michael any thought, prior to Thursday, was when HIStory came out in 1995. It was in the summer of 1995 and I was taking a few courses in University.

My friend Alison, almost as a joke I think, suggested that we line up to buy the album at midnight.

Thinking that sounded like more fun than watching Baywatch and Unsolved Mysteries reruns I said that I’d be up for it.

When we got to “House of Sounds” on Princess Street in Kingston, which still sold records at the time, there was already a line up?!

I couldn’t believe it!? At a time when few would admit to even liking Michael Jackson, he could still get people to line up in the middle of the night to buy one of his albums. Amazing.

Anyway, 6 minutes and 15 seconds past midnight, I owned HIStory… and Disc 1 (best compilation EVER!) is the CD player in the car right now…

(Though I must admit, I had to dig through a few boxes this morning to find it.)

2 1474

Keeping a keen eye on the baby while still at the hospital...This post is about how much it costs to have a baby.

Put simply, I like real world examples…

For any programmers out there, the classic “Hello World!” example on page one of every compter geek book is the most useless example of anything ever created.

Now, I know I’ve read a similar posts to this on other sites but I’ve never actually seen real numbers.

Just meaningless guesses really…

Like, this may be a huge tangent but remember that time that I had that plumbing problem where my whole house smelled like Starbucks coffee?

Well, I researched the crap out of that on the internet trying to get a ballpark figure of how much it might cost to get fixed…

I found a lot of advice, yeah, but every single place I found tip-toed around an actual number…

“Anywhere between $300 and $1500” just doesn’t cut it — way too wide of a window.

I couldn’t find anyone that actually flat out said what they were charged for the same, apparently very common, type of project. No one.

Trying to fill the void, somewhat, I posted exactly what it cost me.

Sure, for some, it could be higher or lower, but that’s exactly what it cost me. A starting point for anyone in that situation…

So here’s a real world example of how much it costs to have a baby — not to take care of a baby, but just to “have” one:

Costs of having a baby

I’m sure some out there will find this very informing. I know I would have…

Sadly this is just the “explanation of benefits” from the insurance company but once the more detailed hospital bill arrives, well, I’ll post that too.

Seriously, had I known that “Nursery R&B” were costing us nearly $1k per night, I probably would have insisted that we be able to take him home the first day…

What a rip off — the room wasn’t anywhere near nice enough to cost that much. ;0)

    13 3477

    The little man smiled for the first time today.
    Today I took the day off from work so we could check out a few daycare facilities.

    While I have little doubt that my wife would love to be a stay-at-home mom indefinitely, it probably wouldn’t be in the family’s best interest for a host of reasons…

    You know, health insurance, schedule flexibilty, and job security being the three biggies that come to mind first…

    We’ll play it by ear but, for now, the plan is to drop the little guy off at daycare each morning once the maternity leave ends in another 6 weeks.

    Not really knowing what to expect on a daycare tour — I was envisioning a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” type of set-up aimed at little kids — we pretty much walked in blindly.

    Sure, we checked out a bunch of websites for the daycare providers in our area but, like so many other things, they never list a price.

    Now I’m not saying that the pricetag attached to the care is all that matters, I just don’t want to be caught off guard when the price drops — like I have been for a few of our home improvement projects.

    Not really knowing what to expect, the first place we went was right upfront — care for the little guys (6 weeks to 3 years old) for all five weekdays runs $231 per week.

    Not that we were taken aback by the number, they further justified it by saying that that’s only $4.86/hour.

    Sounds like a deal, though we don’t intend to have him there as many hours as it would take to get the hourly rate down that low — they just took the $231 and divided it by the number of hours that they’re open during the week.

    It was a nice modern looking place — everything was new and it showed. Nice and bright, well-staffed, and equipped with a security system that rivals the vault at any downtown bank. I’d say that we were impressed. Presentation-wise, from the glossy handouts that they gave us to the person that walked us around, this place was going to be tough to beat.

    The next place we visited is a little off the beaten path. It’s a place that I know a few people from work have used and, six months ago, if you’d asked me to name a daycare place in town, well, this would’ve been the only one I could name off the cuff.

    When we walked in, well, it just had that nursery school feel, you know, there was a hint of “controlled” chaos in the air even though we weren’t anywhere near any of the children yet.

    The director gave us the pitch and then we ventured behind the big wooden door for the tour portion of the presentation.

    Wow. It brought back memories of my own nursery school days…

    Little cubbies with name tags for all of the kids to put their stuff.

    Children just talking everywhere about, well, nothing at all. There was one kid, probably four years old, that just wanted to say “Hi” to us. Repeatedly.

    While it was a little messy and cluttered, it seemed pretty structured and under control at the same time.

    I couldn’t help but notice all of the Fisher-Price toys from the 1970’s all over the place — the kind that I’ve looked for but haven’t been able to find because they don’t appear to make them anymore.

    Seemed like my kinda place, though, I suppose I should expect daycare to have modernized some since the 1970’s. I’m not saying that I’m against pretend plastic cell phones for kids…

    (No wait… That’s exactly what I’m saying. Give me that plastic rotary phone any day of the week and don’t tell me that the coiled cord is a choking hazard…)

    In short, it was cool to see the kids playing with the *exact* same toys that I played with.

    One thing that was very different though were all of the hand sanitizer machines on the walls. I was a little turned off by the whole germ-o-phobe vibe. We even had to cover our shoes with little shower cap like things.

    I understand it but I don’t agree with it. It’s almost as if one OCD parent changed the way things are done for everyone.

    Somewhat related, While the director was telling us about the no-peanut policy in the building, I couldn’t help but think back to my own childhood.

    I was one of those kids that was allergic to peanuts. I’m still one of those kids. But you know what? Just because I couldn’t eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich didn’t mean that no one in my entire school could eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. That would’ve been ridiculous…

    I dunno, it seemed a little overboard to be so heavy handed but maybe that’s just me?

    I was smart enough to know that I couldn’t eat a peanut M&M. I like to think that kids today with the same death allergy are smart enough to know it too…

    So, the comparable weekly rate for this second place is $225 per week. They didn’t bother to justify it, just threw it out there. They also told us that there wasn’t an opening for when we’d like to start but that they’d keep us posted.

    So, at then end of the day, we were kinda torn.

    I don’t want to bash one over the other so, for the record, both places had the no-peanut policy. Both were also crazy with the wall-mounted hand sanitizer machines. Both seemed to have a great staff working there. And both also seemed to be filled with kids that were respectful, happy, and having a good time.

    I’d be comfortable leaving him at either place.

    The costs, which will fit into our budget, are all but identical too — around $1000 per month — so it comes down to which place gave us the better vibe.

    I won’t lie, I thought it was really cool to relive my own nursery school days at the second place. I’d like him to go there.

    At the same time, it was old. It was a little run down. And it, I dunno, just didn’t seem with the times. (Obviously?!) Really, they don’t accept credit cards — they’re that old fashioned.

    My wife prefers the nice, new, and modern place. For $6 more per week, it probably is the better choice.

    Best of all, they have an opening for us too.

    12 4991

    hop-chop...Well, I suppose it was only a matter of time…

    At the end of the month, my employer will no longer be offering a match on our 401k plan.

    The hammer fell in the form of a limited release memo that made it seem as if something new and exciting were being offered but, hidden deep within paragraph two, the dire news was delivered.

    You’re on your own now.

    So I’m at a bit of a crossroads here…

    Should I stay the course?

    Should I lower my contribution to focus more on paying down the mortgage?

    Or should I just elect not to contribute and invest on my own where there are a lot fewer limitations…

    I think I’ve made up my mind on staying the course… I’m not going to.

    While my 401k has been a real money maker for me in the grand scheme, regardless of what I’ve said in the past, I can honestly say that the employer match was what fueled me the most to stick with it.

    Sure, there’s that tax break in there too, sheltered income or whatever, but let’s be honest… that’s like saying the mortgage interest tax break is a big deal.

    Yeah, I fell for that hoax. Oh, buy a house and you’ll get so much back on your tax return… Nearly 7 years in now and I’m still waiting to see that nice return…

    Unless you’re right on the ege of moving up or down a tax bracket — it doesn’t make that much of a difference.

    I’m not anywhere near falling into a different bracket.

    Perhaps lowering my contribution, therefore increasing my bi-weekly paycheck, would be the wisest option?

    That way I’d have more coming in to manage my own way — whether it be to pay down the mortgage even faster, save up for that much needed home improvement project, or finally get around to setting up and funding a Roth IRA. Maybe a combination of all three?

    Or is that spreading myself too thin? Little sums all over the place never seem to add up for me. Hmmmm…

    Maybe I should go all in and say “to hell with it all” and stop contributing entirely?

    Based on the success of my weekly transfers, I’m confident in my ability to continue to invest on a regular basis and this way, if needed, I’d have access to the money in the instance that I needed it. That’s not an option under the current strategy.

    Another strike against the 401k plan that I have is that my investment options are very limited. I’m pretty certain that I could do better picking out mutual funds on my own rather than being stuck picking from a handful of investment options that I’ve never even heard of. That’s not a knock against my employer — it’s just another gripe I have towards for John Hancock.

    The other upside is that my paycheck would go up considerably and my cash inflow would be far in excess of anything I’ve ever experienced. Kinda like giving myself a 15% raise!

    Sure, there’d be that tax issue that I mentioned, but let’s be real — I’m not raking in millions so the realized number would be insignificant over the span of an entire year.

    That, and now that I’ve got a sizeable amount in savings, if my regular paycheck deductions don’t cover the difference on their own, I’m sure that I could swing it.

    Besides, I just had a kid last month. Doesn’t that line me up for a sweet tax break or something? (Based on the mortgage interest lie, I’m not holding my breath on this either…)

    In the end, the last two options are obviously the most attractive to me right now.

    Based on a gut feeling, right this minute, I’m thinking that I’ll lower my 401k contribution to around 5% just to keep my foot in the door and pocket the rest to do with what I please. (Yep, accelerate the mortgage!)

    Later tonight, I’ll play with that nifty paycheck calculator to see how things might fall…you know, a gut check of sorts…


    5 2482

    Home ImprovementAnd let’s not talk about the elephant just inside the front door

    Yes, the room *still* looks like that.

    I feel shame.

    Anyway, while we aren’t quite up to green lighting a project of that scope (financially), we are on the edge of actively getting a couple of other projects done around the house.

    One is inside. The other is outside.

    Unfortunately, neither will make our living conditions nicer in the short term…

    The first project is something that I’ve been putting off since, wow, October of 2003.

    My original-to-the-house coal burning furnace (converted to oil in the 1950’s) died and I made the decision to switch from oil to natural gas.

    I had some contractors come in — three outrageously friendly Jamaican guys — to replace the furnace (which was roughly the size of my car) with a much more efficient gas burning one roughly the size of a 19-inch television.

    Total cost was $5208 and was certainly not a welcome expense at the time.

    Thankfully that was paid off in January of 2005.

    So what’s the deal now?

    Well, being Type-A, in September of 2003 I had my oil tank filled in preparation for the winter. Normally, that would be a really wise financial move.

    I never used a drop of it.

    So, for the past 6 years, I’ve had an environmental disaster waiting to happen in my basement.

    If my oil tank were in great shape, I wouldn’t sweat it, but that’s the thing… The oil tank looks, well, prone to failure.

    Comments from the peanut gallery are welcome!

    Now is the time to get it pumped dry and out of there, you know, before I have the government labelling my property as some sort of environmental wasteland and forcing the whole neighborhood to be evacuated for some sort of clean-up by strange men in space suits.

    I have no idea how much this will cost.

    I like to think that I could make some money on the deal — heating oil today is worth a lot more than what I paid for it back in 2003 — but from what I’ve heard, that isn’t the way it works.

    Some local oil company will come in, pump it out, charge me, and them pump it right back into someone else’s oil tank and then charge them. Hardly seems fair.

    The second project, well, I’ll talk about that later…

    Can You Dig It?