Monthly Archives: September 2010

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Things have slowed down some on the renovation front. I gave an abbreviated update a couple of weeks ago with an updated view of our floor — thanks for the comments — but didn’t post shots of every room since it didn’t really appear that any progress had been made.

But since the last full update, well, things definitely look different! The floors are installed, they’ve been stained, the trim is probably around 90% complete, and the stairs, well, for the first time since I’ve lived in the house, they don’t squeak.

Yep — midnight snack runs are possible without waking everyone up.

Here’s the progression…

Living Room:






I wish I’d taken a photo before the guys put the paper on the floor — it kinda takes away from the room.

The floor colour is growing on me, though, and I’d have to agree with D’s comment about dark floors making ceilings appear higher. Thankfully we’re not one of those houses with cramped 7-foot ceilings anyway, but it really does make things feel taller.

I’d also have to agree with Ms Money Savvy’s belief that darker floors look more sophisticated. She’s right — I knew that I didn’t want that generic blond colour that you see in all of the McMansions but I didn’t really know what look I wanted. Now I do — sophisticated.

Parlor:





So, you see the darker wall over there? That’s where the tv will likely end up. We’d really like to start moving on getting some furniture back in there but, as you can see, there are still a lot of “raw” materials for the still incomplete stairway taking up space.

Dining Room:






Well, this isn’t goint to be the dining room when it’s all said and done. The arcade games and all of our computer equipment will be in here. It might start to get a little cramped but, man, it’ll be soooooooooo much nicer than our current digs. It’ll also free-up a ton of space upstairs.

Stairs:




Just look at the first photo of the stairs and then the last. I mean, sure, they’re not even close to complete yet but that’s a HUGE improvement. No more warped wood paneling. No more worn-bare shag carpet. No more crumbling plaster falling from the ceiling.

Best of all — it’s not dark and narrow anymore.

Biggest change over the past couple of weeks on the stairway — other than it having been completely rebuilt — is that the triangular stair towards the bottom is gone.

Apparently steps like that are no longer up to code so it’s a full size landing down there. In addition, they added one more step that extends out in to living room.

Hopefully this is the home stretch. Just a few more paint touch-ups, the landing at the top of the stairs, a bit more trim, and a few doors left to be hung and we’ll be done.

I can’t wait to have a couch again.

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So on Friday a memo was delivered to my desk containing my employer’s annual report summary for the 401k plan they administer and that I participate in.

Amongst the legal jargon and gobbledygook, the memo clearly mentions that plan participants are supposed to receive this annual report, well, annually.

Funny, I don’t recall *ever* receiving it and it’s exactly the type of thing that I’d remember… Doesn’t really matter though…

So what I found most interesting are the actual numbers. It lists out the plan expenses, the number of participants, and the plan assets at the start of 2009 and at the end of 2009.

Why it takes over 9 months to report numbers that would have been easy to calculate on January 2 will always be a mystery to me. Again, I digress…

Some of the numbers were higher than I expected. Some were lower. Actually, it was all pretty eye opening. Nothing seemed, well, what I would have guessed.

So I went back and checked out my own personal numbers on January 1, 2009 and on December 31, 2009. The entire company’s net assets increased at roughly the same rate that mine did.

I did a little better. Just a bit, though.

What really blew me away, though, is that my assets alone make up well over ten percent of the total value of the plan’s assets.

While this certainly strokes my own ego some — as it all but verifies my long-standing belief that I’m the biggest contributor in the company — it also causes me a bit of concern because I have zero say in how the plan is administered.

I dunno — with each passing month it (the 401k) seems like a more and more foolish thing to do with my money.

Now, I know that typical employees never have control over their 401k administration unless they’re the CFO or whatever — I totally get that — but I don’t think that most have as large a percentage “in the game” as I do unless they work for a very small company.

According to the memo, there are nearly 700 hundred participants in the plan — it’s not a small operation.

So, with the employer match a thing of the distant past, the inconvenient account administration on the website, and my newly realized frustration over not having any say in what options are offered in our plan (cause, I’m sorry — some of the options we’re offered totally blow and some of the fees are ludicrous too), well, I’m once again considering dropping out all together and doing it my own way…

Not sure if that’s a smarter move or not but I really don’t like having so little, actually, no control over the options of how my money is managed when I (possibly naively) feel like I’ve got enough on the table to, well, be heard.

PIAC Post Extension:
What really shocks me is how little my fellow co-workers must be contributing — if they participate at all — for the numbers to be so out of whack.

While I’m pretty proud of it, I personally don’t think my 401k balance is very high in the grand scheme of things — especially when compared to some other personal finance bloggers out there sharing their numbers.

The fact that my percentage is so high while my balance is so middle-of-the-road, though, I think speaks volumes, you know, when it comes to the generation X and Y workforces’ thoughts on retirement.

We’re not gettin’ social security ever and we’re not saving either…

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Amy ToyenToday is September 11th.

In some ways, I’m kind of glad that the “hype” that’s surrounded the date for the last few years has finally subsided. I mean, is it really necessary to commemorate every single anniversary? I think that sort of thing had gone a little too far in the United States. Everyday on the calendar is an anniversary of something — but does it have to be mentioned every year? I don’t think so.

Now I know, there are people out there that claim 9/11 is different and that its so we “never forget”. Well, I’m not sure anyone in the western world over the age of 15 will ever forget anyway. I know I haven’t forgotten.

I actually knew someone in the World Trade Center that day.

These days it seems most people claim that they knew someone who died on September 11th, so as to feel connected to the event (which, quite honestly, why would anyone want to have a connection?), but I think a lot are just blowing a lot of hot air to get attention or something. That’s sad.

I went to high school with Amy Toyen. I can’t claim that we were close. In fact, I’d have to say that I knew her older sister even better than her, but she knew my name, I knew hers, and we occasionally sat next to each other on the bus to track meets.

She was the “manager” of the track team in high school — a position she took over when her older sister Heather graduated.

What exactly does a “manager” do for the boys track team you ask?

Well, if you tracked down all of the members of the boys track team from her years in high school, I’d bet every single member would remember vividly that she was the girl who brought blow pops for all of us to eat on the bus ride home.

It sounds silly, but that’s just the type of person she was. For some of us, the blow pop on the bus rides home was one of the perks of being on the track team. Actually, when compared to running up hills repeatedly until you couldn’t feel your legs, I’d say it was the only perk. And it was because of Amy.

In addition to being the ever-popular supplier of lollipops, at home track meets, she maintained the score book — that’s where all of the competitors times, distances, and heights are recorded. Scoring a track meet is rather confusing when you get right down to it — but she was second to none.

Sometimes it was like she had the school’s all-time record book at her fingertips too — always handy when striving to break a 20 year old mile time.

In high school, I was a distance runner. I often ran 4-5 events per meet, but when the competition was stiff, the coach had me run my two best events — the long ones.

The first event of a meet was the 5000 meter. The second to last event was the 3200 meter. Looking back, it was probably set up that way so that we distance runners had time to rest between the two longest events.

Basically, I’d have about 2 hours to kill between my two events. More often than not, I’d spend most of that time leaning over the counter into the “tower” shooting the breeze with Amy…

“Hey, what was my time last week?”

“Amy, do you have a pair of pliers? My spike wrench snapped…”

“What time to I have to hit to qualify for the State Open?”

“That kid over there from Tolland — can you see what he ran last year? I don’t recognize him…”

“Any chance I could get a blow pop now? Please? Pretty please?”

She always had the “right” answer to each and every inquiry.

When the news circulated that she’d been in the building, and it was confirmed when I saw her name go by on a ticker on television a few days later, I’m not sure that I was mad. Or even angry. My stomach was in a knot — I was shocked. And I was sad. Sad for her family and those who knew her, and yes, even those of us on the track team. She was one of the few ‘genuine’ people in our high school full of ‘entitled’ snobs.

They erected a statue of her at the local library where we grew up. I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never actually gone to visit even though I’ve driven by numerous times over the years.

I’ve seen pictures though and, for me, it didn’t do her justice. I prefer to remember her for her huge smile, her freckles, her oversized glasses, and with an extended arm holding out a blow pop. And that’s probably why I’ve never stopped by to see the statue.

I’m going to go out and buy a bag of blow pops today.

(Re-post from September 11, 2007)

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Okay, so we’ve hit a bump in the road on the renovation process.

When compared to all of our other previous home improvements — I kinda knew it was bound to happen sooner or later. Things were coasting along far too nicely…

We had the new floors sanded, stained, and poly-whatevered this week. It looks alright, I think…

The problem is that the flooring dudes were sub-contracted out and compared to the real in-house guys that our contractor has used for everything else so far, well, they don’t stack up.

They suck, actually.

So much so that the dry wall guys will probably need to come back in… And then painters will need to come back in again too because of how sloppy these morons were with the stain.

They have so much to touch up — after they’d already finished a job well done that, well, I feel sorry for them.

Worse, is that I think it sucks that our nice and solid brand new walls with a single coat of paint on them are going to end up looking like, well, repeatedly painted walls less than one month into their lifespan. So much for nice sharp corners. Sorry — that just sucks.

They even got stain on our nice new white lightswitches… I mean, seriously, why are so many contractors like this?

Further, guess where all of that remaining hardwood flooring that I’m guessing will be used for the staircase ended up? Well, they put that out on the front porch. Not sure if you’d heard but there’s this hurricane named Earl approaching and, well, our floor is outside.

Now I know that hardwood is supposed to be strong or whatever and I don’t really think we’re going to see much of a hurricane in my neck of the woods anyway but I’m also pretty certain that the flooring we’ve had installed isn’t “all-weather” flooring.

Is it my responsibility to move it back into the house myself?

I don’t think so.

If I don’t move it back in, will it make the cost of my project go up?

Probably.

It’s a crappy situation.

Personally, though it hasn’t been rained on (yet), I still think the integrity of the unused floor boards has been compromised already. That really sucks.

We emailed the contractor already to let him know the remaining supplies are on the front porch — and he just emailed us back (for real — just now) to let us know to bring it back in. I’m sure he’s thinking “wtf?” right about know… Might even be calling the flooring guys to say it outloud…

I guess I’m glad that’s solved.

I’m also thankful that everyone else left to come back in has been here before — we’ve met all of them and you know what? They’ve done a great job. I’m just angry for them since these bozos just made their jobs a little more difficult…

Anyway, enough of the rant…and on to the floors!


(click here for more of the “before” photos from all of the rooms…)

We went with a dark stain, obviously.

I know, I know, some of you are probably thinking, “Dude, it looked better before you stained it — you ruined your brand new floor” and to a certain degree, I know where you’re coming from.

I liked the natural look too.

My wife said it would show dirt more easily.

She’s right and then I started to think that it’d look like a basketball court and, trust me, I hate basketball so we couldn’t have that.

Dark was the way to go. We settled on “Dark Walnut”. I think I’d have preferred an even darker stain — I didn’t expect the grain to pop as much as it did — but this looks pretty good. Again, not what I pictured but pretty darned good.

It doesn’t clash with the colours we’ve selected for the walls (though I suppose we could totally alter the colours now) and it’s not that standard generic blond colour that you see in all of the McMansions still being built during this apparent housing slump.

We’re fortunate enough to be able to totally customize the interior of our house right now so we’re not going to make generic and bland decisions. Thin strip hardwood flooring in a dark colour is definitely not a common sight…

That said, do you think it’s too dark?

Some people think that dark colours make rooms look smaller but I don’t know if I agree… I mean, rooms in a 125+ year old house are pretty small as it is — I’m not sure the floor colour is going to trick anyone into thinking otherwise…

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A nearly $10k loss is hardly a surprise after analyzing my recent spending of late.

I mean, duh, of course my net worth dropped!

Anyway, I still feel like I’m in pretty good shape considering all of the money spilling out to cover the cost of the renovations we’re having done.

Once that’s in the rear view mirror — likely later this month — I’m thinking I’ll recover pretty quickly.

Here’s the breakdown:

Cash:
This should be higher and I’d feel a lot more comfortable if it were higher but my fear of falling back into deep credit card debt lead me to dip a little deeper to pay off the balance.

Savings:
Think the roughtly $6k drop had something to do with a $6k check made out to a contractor? Yep, they’re related.

Gov’t Bonds:
I go back and forth with these. Some days I hate how inconvenient they are. Other days, I like that the money is a bit of a hassle to get at. Eitherway, the interest rates I’m currently earning are quite nice.

Home:
After the renovation is complete, well, I’ll wish this number was higher. At least I’m no where near underwater and never even came close.

Auto 1 & Auto 2:
My BMW still won’t start but its value went up. Gotta love those $6500 paper weights! (We’ll get it running again in the Spring, I’m thinking…)

Credit Cards:
Having paid off all of the vacation expenses that we charged already, this is just the remaining balance on that big cash advance we took. It’s at 0% for another 8 months or so…

Auto Loans and Other Loans:
Zilch. Zero. Nada.

Mortgage:
So I’m back to paying the mortgage. It feels so strange to only be making the minimum payment after years of overpaying two or three times as much as I needed to. I don’t really like seeing that the principle only dropped $125 but I’m going to try to get over it.

With a mortgage payment so low, following the re-fi, it just doesn’t make sense to overpay right now.

Can You Dig It?

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