Monthly Archives: November 2009

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I-Bonds are earning 3.36%Actually, I should say, “I did it.”

Yep, I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was tossing the idea around and I pulled the trigger… I purchased $3700 worth (across 6 bonds) this week.

I’ll purchase another $300 worth next month to hit the allowed maximum (online) for the year.

The guaranteed and entirely risk-free 3.36% return for the next 6 months just felt too good to pass up.

Okay, it’s not *that* great but when compared to the dismal rate that savings accounts are offering right now (and for the foreseeable future), it’s the right thing to do with money that I don’t actually need in hand in the immediate future but would also like access to in the not-so-distant future.

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Our hungry little indian.

Pilgrim HatIt’s good to know that Duncan’s pre-school isn’t too worried about being politically correct and had all of the kids go all out in honor of good old Squanto.

I didn’t see a single pilgrim hat…

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Duncan's hand turkey.
So tonight when I picked up my son, who turns 6 months old tomorrow, from school, as we made our way through the hallway back out to the car, four people stopped to wish him a Happy Thanksgiving.

By name.

Granted, three of them *were* employees of the school but, still, it’s apparent that he makes an impression on people. I have no idea who the fourth woman was but apparently she knows my son, again, by name.

That’s pretty cool considering I’m one of those people that thinks most babies look the same.

I once had a math teacher in high school that thought my name was Jeff for the entire school year. Mr. Sopelak was his name.

I’ll always wonder how I managed an A- in his class when, in his mind, Brainy Smurf never once attended one of his classes.

Anyway, I thought of that today as I loaded Duncan into the car because it was Black Friday back in 1992 when my mom and I ran into Mr. Sopelak and his wife outside of a now defunct department store called G. Fox.

The doors weren’t open yet and there were only a handful of people outside waiting for the store to open. Mr. Sopelak recognized me, came over, and had an impromptu parent-teacher conference with my mother to pass the time.

He referred to me as “Jeff” repeatedly. Thankfully my mom, though confused, just went along with it.

See, it wasn’t until that moment that I realized that my math teacher had absolutely no idea what my real name was.

Sure, I should have noticed in class that when he’d call on “Jeff” to answer a question and no one would answer. And then I’d notice him staring at me as I silently stared back wondering why exactly he was looking at me. I guess I just thought he was, I dunno, weird.

Either way, I never did respond well to “Jeff”. In fact, I still don’t.

Over time, though, it almost became an inside joke in the classroom. He’d call on Jeff. I’d, as you’d expect, completely ignore him, the girls in the class would giggle, and then I’d kick in with an answer after like 20 seconds of awkward silence.

In hindsight, it *was* pretty funny.

The guy must’ve thought “Jeff” was a space cadet.

Brainy, however, was worth an A-.

Go figure?

So, basically, I never made an impression and, based on tonight, I doubt that Duncan will have the same problem I did.

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So I noticed today that one of the historic mansions in town is up for sale.

Apparently, it’s been on the market for quite some time but never publically listed — until now.

Now I’m a sucker for old houses — ideally from the 1800’s — preferably architecturally unique and well maintained over the years too.

There are two homes in town that I wish that I could some day live in. One is so large that it has a real honest-to-goodness ball room and will likely be eternally out of my price range.

The other, in some obvious disrepair, would probably be too much of a restoration feat for me even if I could afford to purchase it. Still, it’s an awesome looking home.

Both homes are very similar to those found in Newport, Rhode Island.

The house that I currently live in is, well, from the 1800’s but most of it’s architectural style was decimated over two or three decades of neglect.

The vinyl siding project that I had done a couple of years ago quickly cleaned the place up — on the exterior — but certainly didn’t add to its authenticity.

So, back to this home that I found on the market…

Though it’s not exactly the style of home on the outside that I really get excited about, it *is* right around the corner from the house with the ball room that I *really* want.

One step at a time, right?

Seriously, though, in its own right, it’s an 8,000+ square foot home so it’s certainly nothing to sneeze at. I should also mention that the house has a “name” and a history as it was built by and for one of the very successful businessmen of the industrial revolution — a real nerdy history buff or Jeopardy freak would recognize the name.

Apparently it was even the first home in town to be electrified.

As you’d expect, the inside looks incredible — the type of house that you could easily play basketball inside, not that I like basketball, I’m just saying, you know, there’s something to be said for 16-foot ceilings.

It has one of those double curved staircases with a huge balcony overhead just inside the entry way, a modern kitchen, seven fire places, a carriage house that’s bigger than the house I live in now, and just, well, space galore.

Oh, and three more staircases cause, you know, there can never be too many staircases…

Best of all, since it’s been on the market for so long (apparently), its price tag is comparable to your typical (and characterless) 3000 square foot McMansion.

I can afford that.

I’m not going to go so far as to say that I can afford to maintain a home like that though…

I mean, can you imagine how much it would cost to re-paint an 8000 square foot home under historical site requirements? Or just the cost to heat rooms with 16-foot ceilings?

If I had to guess, I’d say that’s exactly why it’s on the market at such a bargain price. The historical restrictions of owning such a home as well as the routine utility costs might be unbearable — I don’t know for certain.

I mean, if re-wiring the place for cable internet isn’t permitted because it would damage the historical integrity of the home, well, that’s a deal breaker for me.

At the same time, I don’t want a McMansion either. To me, they look (and feel) like a couple of double-wide trailers stacked on top of one another — something a tornado *could* conceivably create.

Yeah, no thanks…

So, for now, I’m going to delay the dream and stay put in my 1800’s de-Victorianized vinyl wrapped home.

Great street, great lot, great neighbors, and cable internet.

Hey, at least I already have some of what I really want.

And now I know that the real deal isn’t as far out of reach as I once thought.

(anyone wanna go halfsies on it with me?)

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I’m almost ashamed to admit that the last home improvement project that I took on myself was over two years ago…

That time, it was replacing an ancient light fixture — this time I was taking on the kitchen sink.

Leaky faucet.

Look at that thing?! It’s like a combination of a kitchen and bathroom faucet all in one. It’s horrible!?

Now, it’s also dripped since I bought the place back in 2002. I know, I know, I should’ve done something long before this weekend but it never really seemed to be a priority…

A couple of weeks ago, though, the drip turned into a stream. Then it started to whistle. And then I noticed that it was the hot water that was running 24 hours per day.

Hey, this is probably costing me a pretty decent chunk of change…

So off to Lowe’s we went to pick up the cheapest (but better) “kitchen” faucet they had. It was around $39.

The instructions said that the new faucet should take around an hour to install.

No problem, I thought, I can do this…

I turned the water off and proceeded to remove the old faucet.

Hmmmmm… It didn’t take to to realize that this was going to be harder than I’d thought… Nothing was moving. Nothing.

I made a quick trip to Home Depot to buy a monkey wrench and some WD-40 to loosen up the the nuts on the copper pipes.

With-in minutes of being WD-40’d, I had the water pipes disconnected but I still couldn’t get the old faucet off of the sink.

The underside was held down by these big plastic wing nuts that were fastened so tight (courtesy of corrosion) that I couldn’t get them to budge. Really, even if it weren’t such a tight cramped space, I don’t know that it would have been possible loosen them — they were that tight.

Another trip to Home Depot — this time to purchase a mini hack saw. My plan was to hack saw through the plastic wing nuts.

The plan was a total failure though as there wasn’t enough room under (and behind) the sink to get the saw blade up to where the wing nuts were. Argh?!

In the process of attempting the impossible, I’d managed to loosen/mangle things up enough on one side to slip the hack saw between the sink and the faucet so I cut right through the copper pipe (above the countertop). Hack saws are the best.

On to the other side… Crap. It was still flush with the sink so the hack saw wasn’t going to get the job done…

Out came the drill…even though it wasn’t listed a tool “needed” for installation.

From under the sink, I started to drill the plastic wing nut, here, there, from this side, from that side and then, suddenly, it started to give! No, not fall apart, but actually spin!

I unwound it, thinking, sweet, I’m almost there, and then it stopped. It wouldn’t move. Ugh…

So, since it worked on the other side and now that I had a little give, I went back to the hacksaw method.

Five hours later, I’d drilled and hack sawed the old faucet from the sink. Really, the one plumbing tool I’d purchased (the monkey wrench) was of no use. None.

Twenty minutes later, we had a new faucet.

I swear, the home improvement projects that I attempt would be *so* much easier if they were more of the addition kind rather than the renovation sort.

It’s not pretty but at least it doesn’t leak…

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Home ValueNo one has actually posted such a thing in the comments yet but I’ve received a few borderline obnoxious emails regarding the home value that I list in my monthly net worth reports.

Specifically, the aforementioned and suspected one-and-done readers usually question the validity of the number that I post, call me a a few names, and then accuse me of inflating my numbers.

They justify it to themselves by saying that my home’s value fluctuations (or lack thereof) have never really reflected the widely reported “housing crisis” that I’m personally sick of hearing about.

I’ve posted this part before but here it goes again…

Here’s how I calculate the number that I post each month…

In 2007, the city that I live in did a revaluation of every residence in town in order to, well, in blunt terms, significantly boost their tax revenue.

I know that all cities do this from time to time but this one was rather suspect. Anyway, the city’s assessment of my house was $210200.

That’s my starting point. From there, I head over to on the last day of each month to get their “Zestimate” of my property.

I then take the weighted average of the two numbers — with the more current Zillow estimate weighted 3 times that of the 2007 assessment.

There, that’s how I come to that number each month.

So, back to the lack of fluctuation…

Back in June of 2008, I estimated my home’s value at $212300. The lowest the value has fallen since then was $193175 (May 2009). That’s a drop in value of 9 percent — not a small number but not something that would cause a responsible homeowner to go underwater.

As of last month, though, the value is right back up to $207050. That’s a mere drop of 2.5 percent since the housing market apparently started to tank.

I’m fortunate in that respect – not padding my numbers.

I only mention it because a Reuters story caught my attention today:

Northeastern Cities Perform best in Job Growth

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Several cities across the northeastern United States were among the biggest gainers on the Milken Institute’s Best Performing Cities 2009 index, the economic think tank said on Wednesday.

Fourteen cities across the Northeast, including some in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York, were among the top 20 gainers in terms of job growth and sustainability.

The institute compiles the index annually by ranking 200 of the largest cities in the United States based on measures such as wage and salary growth and short-term job growth.

“In a period of recession, the index highlights (cities) that have adapted to weather the storm,” said Ross DeVol, lead author of the report.

“As we move forward in a recovery that still lacks jobs, (cities) will be further tested in their ability to sustain themselves.”

Hartford, Connecticut, was the largest gainer this year, jumping 101 spots from its 2008 ranking to 48.

Hartford was followed by New Haven, Connecticut, which rose 96 spots to 88.

“These cities didn’t experience extreme housing bubbles and therefore avoided a major correction,” said the report.

“They also tended to have a smaller dependence on durable goods manufacturing and instead have a larger stake in the services sector.”

The biggest decliners were cities in Florida and California, which have suffered most in the housing downturn.

Twelve of the 20 worst declining cities were in Florida, including Pensacola, which fell 124 spots to 157 to lead the laggards.

So, guess where I live?

Yep… the Northeast.

Somewhere right between Hartford and New Haven.

While this article certainly contradicts my recent comments regarding salary growth in the area (and the country as a whole), it certainly substantiates my relatively steady home value…

I think my 2007 assessment and monthly Zillow zestimate calculation is pretty darn accurate.

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    Smurfs in the toy box.

    It’s been, well, over 5 months since I last did a “Photo of the Week” and since I don’t really have anything on-topic to write about today, I figured I’d just go all Mommy-Blog…

    Today while cleaning Duncan’s room we decided to put him in the toy box too. And then take a picture.

    Exciting stuff, let me tell you, at the Smurf household…

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    Okay, so I mentioned the other day how I-Bonds purchased right now will earn over 3% for at least the next six months.

    Dare I say it?

    That sounds pretty good to me.

    The last time I said that (back in April when the 6-month rate was over 5%), I threw a cool grand towards TreasuryDirect and, in hindsight, it was a move that I now feel was pretty wise…though opening a Roth IRA or buying some Ford stock at the time would have made me more money.

    Hindsight is 20/20.

    But for a totally safe no-risk investment — I did the right thing. My only mistake was not maxing out my yearly contribution back then.

    The big downside with I-Bonds is that the money is “locked-up” for 12 months and you can only “buy” $5000 worth per year online. You also forfeit 3 months worth of interest if you redeem them with-in the first 5 years.

    I’ve little doubt that I’ll cash out well before the 5-year mark but a 3-month interest penalty doesn’t really turn me off enough to turn another direction. A 12-month holding period isn’t unbearable either — especially when it’s not enough to tap out my savings account.

    But on the subject of my savings account…

    My ING Direct account currently has $15k in it. On it’s own, it earns a paltry 1.292% or around $16 per month.

    Now, I still have the option of purchasing another $4000 worth of I-Bonds in 2009 (because I only bought $1000 worth back in April).

    And $4000 at 3.36% (the current rate for the next 6 months) will earn me a little more than $11 per month for, again, at least 6 months.

    Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this one out…

          $4000 earning $11 vs. $15000 earning $16

    If even for just six months, the I-Bond is more attractive than stashing money with ING.

    If the rate gets better in six months, I’ll let it sit there. If it gets worse, I redeem them next November and take the 3-month interest penalty which certainly won’t amount to much since, in that case, the last three months will be earning substantially less than $11 per month.

    I haven’t done anything just yet but I’m pretty certain that I’ll be moving some money around at the tail end of the month…

    Can You Dig It?