Monthly Archives: December 2010

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DuncanSo today, as I took on the role of Mr. Mom (daycare is closed today), Duncan came to me and asked to do another guest post.

His first post was a bit cryptic but, to his credit, he *was* only 5 days old.

Then, a month later, when I was practically in full Mommy-blog mode, he did a guest video post.

At the time it was pretty exciting.

Now, though, it’s pretty, well, it’s just another “baby babbling” video on YouTube. You know what I’m sayin’…

For his third post, though, now nearly 18 months later, having grown tired of being seen here on PIAC but not heard, he wanted to do something different and show off his speaking voice and newly discovered command of the English language.

Here’s his 17-second podcast:

Okay. I’ll admit he doesn’t speak much English… but he speaks a mean Tiger, dontcha think?

And, sorry if this ruins the whole Brainy Smurf image for you. I sound nothing like him — I’m actually frequently told that my speaking voice (when recorded) resembles Kermit the Frog.

I don’t hear it, personally.

Maybe it’s a bad Steve Whitmire version of Kermit but certainly nothing like the original Jim Henson Kermit…

DuncanAnyway, the real reason for this post is because I’ve recently found out that a lot of people in my “close” family have been following Duncan’s, well, life through this website.

There are even a few unrelated readers that only seem to enjoy the Duncan photos that I randomly include in my postings — they’ve emailed me saying just that.

So I figured that I’d take it a step further and let you all hear him too (while making great use of the digital audio recorder that Santa brought me).

No worries — I don’t expect to make a habit of this but…Duncan’s time in the spotlight is waning as Smurfling #2 rapidly approaches so enjoy it while it lasts!

Raaarrrr!!!

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Thomas the Tank EngineAnother expensive month in the books to close out the year.

Unlike November, though, I knew that December would be costly as the second installment on my local property taxes needed to be paid and that Christmas would have it’s own set of expenses.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • $2004.05 : Tax Collector
  • $1650.16 : Family
  • $498.72 : Mortgage
  • $403.17 : Christmas
  • $294.13 : Business Expenses
  • $213.68 : Credit Card Transaction Fee
  • $208.74 : Electricity
  • $177.30 : Natural Gas
  • $135.97 : Cable/Internet
  • $135.64 : Allstate Insurance
  • $117.28 : Gas
  • $95.37 : Finance Charges
  • $14.00 : Bank of America Maintenance Fee
  • $21.20 : Cell Phone

Grand total is $5969.41. That’ll take the wind out of your sails.

The tax bill is what it is. In the past, I had them built into my mortgage payment but since re-financing back in June, I took it upon myself to pay them. Every July and December is going to hurt from here on out. And it’ll only get worse.

The family expenses are just a continuation of last month — I don’t really want to talk about them and I don’t think they really need explanation anyway…

The tiny mortgage payment still makes me smile. It’s not paying down the total balance very quickly but it’s such a small payment that it doesn’t bother me.

Spending just over $400 on Christmas presents seems really high considering how little there seemed to be under the tree (from me) this year. I don’t know how the total got that high (Thomas the Train stuff is a wee bit overpriced) but I have a feeling that Amazon’s crazy shipping fees may have had a little to do with it.

Yeah, it’s great that you can buy everything under the sun from one website. It’s not so great that they ship from thousands of different places and hit you with numerous shipping charges over and over and over.

Business expenses were a bit high this month as last month $1300 worth of equipment was destroyed. I frugally replaced it on the cheap just to get by — so, technically, this should have been around $1000 higher. I have a feeling I’ll be purchasing a more adequate replacement when the funds are available — so my frugality on the short term might not have been such a thrifty decision in the long run.

Utility bills continued to climb as the temperature fell. No surprise there.

My cable bill went up a bit as a result of that new television I bought back in October. Seeing as we finally got with the times and got an HDTV, we needed to get the HD service to go along with it.

At first, I thought it’d be a 1-2 month tryout but HD really is all that. I don’t think I can go back.

The finance charges make me angry. I’m not in denial that I’m carrying credit card debt again — I’ve got it under control (even though the transaction fees make it look worse than it is) but it’s been sooooooo long since I’ve paid finance charges that it really feels like flushing money down the toilet. Probably because it is flushing money down the toilet.

Oh, and don’t get me started on that BoA Maintenance Fee again…

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BoA Regular Checking Change of TermsSo while reconciling my numbers last night I noticed that my BoA checking account balance was off by $14.00.

Hardly a troubling sum but I’m seldom off by a penny.

And $14 even? What could that be?

A “fee” was the first thing that came to mind…

Had I used another bank’s ATM? Had I needed a money order or a cashier’s check? Had I done something out of the ordinary in the past 30 days?

Three strikes — I hadn’t done anything unusual.

8 seconds of research revealed the culprit.

Yep, as expected, on December 23rd I was hit with a $14.00 charge labeled as a “Monthly Maintenance Fee“.

Not impressed.

The last time I was hit with one of these, they’d changed the “flavor” of my checking account under the guise of night following one of their many bank mergers.

Apparently, then, BoA was not offering the account that my former bank (which was swallowed up by BoA) was so they just changed it and hit me with a fee.

Crazy, my account number never changed. My PIN hasn’t changed either. My checking account certainly did, though…

I had that all taken care of with a nasty phone call — and took note of the “new” minimum requirements to operate fee free.

The only parameter that applied to my situation was a minimum $1000 balance.

No problem, I thought, I can do that.

I’d been maintaining a 4-figure balance for as long as I could remember so I was under the impression that I essentially had that “free checking” you hear advertised so often.

Then, back in 2008, you know, when the sky was falling, I remember getting a big old mailing from BoA regarding a change of terms for their Checking accounts.

For compassionate reasons or whatever, they’d lowered their minimum balance to $750. They were pretty darn proud of it — like they were heros or something.

Cool — I thought. Though I still maintained a $1000 balance, at least now I had a bit more wiggle room should I need it. You may have noticed in my net worth updates that (very) occasionally my checking account would dip into the $900’s.

No biggie, right?

Wrong.

Apparently BoA changed their terms again back in November. No glossy spread to announce the change this time – Minimum daily balance in checking– $1500 or more.

Nice, huh? They doubled the minimum balance. Un-announced too, as far as I’m concerned.

But, hey, the recession is over, right? It’s all good.

I’m just glad it’s only cost me $14.

Make that $28 — I’ve got less than $1500 in my checking account right now…

Might be a good time to make the switch to my hometown Toronto Dominion, peculiarly dubbed “America’s Most Convenient Bank”…

(For the geographically-challenged — Toronto is in Canada…)

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Christmas, like all of the big holidays for a lot of people, is all about family.

Not so much for me growing up. I mean, my immediate family had dinner together 365 days per year.

Every fourth year, starting in 1980, we’d even have dinner together for all 366 days. Imagine that.

Basically, the holidays weren’t anything outrageously different.

Alright, so we ate in the dining room instead of the kitchen.

Yep, holidays were about eating dinner 5 hours too early in the uncomfortable chairs at a table that was far too large for four people — and a table that was far better suited for building a Lego village on anyway…

Now that isn’t to say that we didn’t *want* our extended family to all be together for holiday dinners (or any meals, for that matter), it just wasn’t a realistic expectation for geographical reasons.

My aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents (10 people total back in 1986) canvassed the eastern half of the continent. We all easily could have fit at any one of the dining room tables in the family — but we never did.

Not in my lifetime, anyway…

We’re not a close family.

I might have met my grandfather a total of a dozen times. My grandmother — maybe two dozen times.

The crazy part — actually maybe it’s to be expected — is that history is repeating itself.

Right now, I live over 1200 miles from my mom. I’m over 2500 miles from my sister.

Duncan only met my dad five times and won’t ever remember him. That kills me. It’ll always kill me but that’s what happens when a family doesn’t stay together in one area.

It’s safe to say that the last couple of generations have spread out.

I used to just take that in stride thinking, yeah, it sucks, but it is what it is. It’s just how we are.

I mean, it’s 100% true that we’re not a close family.

Geographically.

And that’s the distinction that I came to realize at my Dad’s funeral earlier this month. In reality, putting geography aside, we are a close family.

Though my Dad was in a jar, it was the first time ever that my parents, all of my aunts and uncles, a cousin, my sister, and I had all been in the same room at the same time — and on just 48 hours notice.

Seven of us — including my dad — with the same last name in the same room at the same time?

A gathering like that hasn’t occured for over… I’d guess nearly 20 years.

I know that they say that weddings and funerals bring people together and, well, there’ve been a number of weddings and couple of funerals before this one but we’d never once all gathered in the same room at the same time (though that family reunion in 2009 was quite impressive, at the same time, it was also slightly intimidating as it was dubbed a family reunion for my family name and those that actually still carried the name, well, we were drastically outnumbered…so, it doesn’t count…).

Simply put — the circumstances sucked but the surrounding cast was awesome.

This past November 28th and the days following will always be a bit of a blurry memory for me — my real life kinda went into a pause mode of sorts — but I’ll never forget how “neat” (terrible word that hardly describes the scene) it was to be surrounded with such a great and “close” family.

Today though, on Christmas, while it’s just the three of us watching the Christmas Story move over and over and over and over, it’s okay.

My extended family might not be here geographically but we’re a lot closer than I used to think we were…

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Just days after paying my second installment of property taxes, I received a letter from the local tax assessor’s office.

Thinking it might be a reciept or something (though I didn’t include a SASE with my payment to recieve one), I casually opened the unexpected correspondence.

Crap.

The assessment on my home increased over 12%.

Now, I don’t really have a problem with that since we put nearly $50k worth of work into the house over the summer, you know, it was kind of expected but… the last time the city did assessments was in 2007 when the housing market was at an all-time high.

Great luck for them — as it ensured an inflated tax revenue for the city for years to come as the market tanked shortly there after and the tax assessor’s office only does a city-wide assessment once every decade or so.

Basically, they timed it just right and I can’t fault them for it.

What I have a problem with is that they took into account the improvements that I made in 2010 and apparently “added” them to the original 2007 assessment — so now my appraisal is super-inflated.

My tax bill for 2011 (and probably the next six or seven years) will also be inflated. That blows.

Great timing on the city’s part. Terrible timing on mine.

Now I know that tax assessments and real estate values (or even appraisals) aren’t congruent but they are connected. You can’t deny that.

I’m also aware that I can challenge the assessment but the hassle involved is probably only barely worth the added expense I’ll need to pay, the time commitment, and all of the stress involved.

That, and I’ve heard so many horror stories from folks that have challenged their tax assessments that it’s not something that I’m willing to take on right now — though I suspect some of the challenges were less than honest to begin with and there’s probaby some local government propaganda advising against even trying to question their authority floating about too.

Whatever… I’ll just be annoyed for a few minutes and keep on paying my taxes on time.

On the brightside, this should boost the value of my home on my monthly net worth updates a bit as it makes up a percentage of how I calculate its current value.

Hooray for imaginary wealth on the internet!

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Well, it wasn’t as opulent as October (when I spent $18k+) but I still ended up spending a lot more than I’d expected to this past month.

Here are the details:

  • $1190.61 : Toyota (auto repairs)
  • $721.00 : Homeowners Insurance
  • $535.39 : Family
  • $498.72 : Mortgage
  • $211.12 : Electricity
  • $143.67 : Water/Sewer
  • $135.64 : Allstate Insurance
  • $116.14 : Cable/Internet
  • $114.44 : Natural Gas
  • $113.60 : Business Expenses
  • $91.70 : Gas
  • $85.00 : Connecticut DMV
  • $69.55 : PODs
  • $55.93 : Finance Charges
  • $23.30 : Bed, Bath & Beyond
  • $7.39 : Home Depot

All together, that adds up to $4113.20.

The car repairs were a budget killer, for sure.

The homeowners insurance premium was something that I’d forgotten about. It hurt the wallet too but I’m still so thankful to have conventional insurance finally. It’s been two years now since that whole problem kept me up at night.

The family expenses, well, there are a number of expenses that I combined into one heading that made up this number (and more to come in December) and, well, I just wish the circumstances that led to them were different.

Mortgage is the same old story — a great deal! Still can’t believe that I get to own this place for less than half of what a rat infested apartment goes for.

All of utilities were all up significantly since it’s gotten quite cold outside.

The POD storage container is finally out of the driveway — so this month’s bill was the final one.

And I have no idea what I bought at Bed, Bath and Beyond for $23. I remember being in the store but can’t remember what I walked out with. The Home Depot charge was for an overpriced light bulb.

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Years ago I lined myself up quite nicely without even realizing it. Though I only carry one credit card in my wallet these days, I currently have four of them in my arsenal.

That’s not really a unique or powerful spot to find yourself in on its own. Lots of people have 4 or more credit cards…

But when I point out that the cards are all from totally separate banks, well, that’s where it gets interesting.

I have a card from Bank of America, Chase Bank, CitiBank, and Capital One.

None of those companies are affiliated with one another.

Four months ago — all of them had a balance of zero. That situation has changed in the meantime (due mostly to the renovation) but this is where the four un-affiliated accounts come in handy.

You know those 0% offers that you get in the mail on a daily basis? Yep, the ones teasing you with 0% balance transfers?

Well, the fine print on those always mention that you can’t transfer a balance from an affiliated card.

ChaseBank is BancOne. You can’t transfer one to the other. Same deal with MBNA and Bank of America. Chances are, if you have plastic in your wallet, a those names are quite familiar…

Over the past few years, with all of the bank mergers, the landscape has gotten a lot smaller. You might think you have balances with a bunch of different companies but you might, in fact, actually have them all with the same bank without even knowing it.

As a result, your options are severely limited.

The way I’ve got it set-up now, well, two cards have a balance and the other two do not. When a sweet offer comes around (or if a 0% offer is coming to a close), I’ve still got two routes to choose from.

Really, since I’ve maintained a stellar credit rating, I can probably ride the 0% offers back-and-forth indefinitely (as long as I maintain a $0 balance on two of the cards at all times)…

True, I’ll still get hit with the 3% transaction fee each time I make a transfer but with the balances I’ve been tossing around over the past couple of months, well, they “pay” for themselves in a matter of weeks.

Basically, you might want to check your wallet and see if you’ve got avenues to take should you need them.

If not, you might want to consider applying for that credit card you’ll likely never use, you know, just in case…

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How it ended up being a positive month is truly a mystery.

I mean, it started so well but completely fell apart at the end — which is why I’m weeks late with this update.

Cash:
I’m officially cash poor and back to living paycheck-to-paycheck. Okay, the situation isn’t *really* that dire but things are a bit tight right now in the checking account…

Savings:
Obviously I contributed pretty heavily here. Problem is, nearly all of my contributions this month will come right back out to pay my end of the year property taxes so it’s really more of a lateral move than anything else.

Gov’t Bonds:
Yeah, whatever… Another $15 bucks.

401k:
This is keeping my numbers up. Don’t get me wrong, though, I’m thrilled that I’ve exceeded the $100k mark…

Home:
I’m blaming the cold weather for the drop. Yep, definitely the weather.

Auto 1 & Auto 2:
Having just put in another $1100 into my daily driver, well, I should be good to go for another three or four years without having a car payment. That is, until we go out and buy a minivan…

Credit Cards:
These are moving in the wrong direction. They shouldn’t be but… they are. The good news is that $15k of it is at zero percent for another 5 months. An additional $7k is locked in at zero percent for another 11 months.

Sucks to have balances like this but I’m not anywhere near falling back into the routine of paying hundreds of dollars each month in finance charges alone. I’m confident the balances will start to fall rapidly in 2011.

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

Mortgage:
Just another minimum payment. Since the re-fi, I’ve totally flip-flopped and hopped on that bandwagon of folks that say that overpaying the mortgage is stupid. I totally agree with them — but only if your monthly payment is insanely low…

Can You Dig It?

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