Monthly Archives: January 2011

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Last week when I posted about needing baby name suggestions for the impending Smurfling number two, of which we received some decent name options that we’ve tossed into the mix (thank you!), Angie mentioned that we should “go outside in the back yard and yell” the name a few times.

I’ve actually heard about that idea — the one of shouting out the name a few times from the back yard — before. A few of the books or baby magazines that we’d read shortly before Duncan was born said the same thing.

We didn’t do it for Duncan and…I don’t think we’ll do it this time either.

Back in the 80’s, as the sun went down, I remember dreadfully awaiting the sound of my Dad‘s voice calling out my name as it was time to come in so I know where the idea comes from.

Thankfully, I was usually one of the last kids to get “the call”.

Either we ate dinner really late or the others kids’ parents were lame. It’s probably the latter. No, it *is* the latter.

Seriously though, with the (unfortunate) direction that American society is rapidly heading (and the main reason I won’t be testing this method), I’m pretty certain that I’ll never have to call out any of my kids’ names from the back porch cause they’ll all be packing cell phones by the time they reach kindergarten.

I’ll just call them on their cell. From my land line (powered by MagicJack and costing me less than $1.75 per month) — since I can bet that I still won’t have jumped on the cell phone bandwagon

Along those lines, but going back to the mid-1980’s again, there was this one kid in the neighborhood that’d get the shout out not only to come home for dinner or because it was getting dark but for a phone call…

“Meeeeeegggggaannnnnn! Phhhh-ooooooone!!!”

And then off she’d run.

I remember standing there completely puzzled, whenever this would occur, and questioning among my friends “What could be so important on the phone that her mom would call out?”

What was wrong with saying “Sorry, she’s out catching frogs… a quarter of a mile from here…”

I mean, in the second grade, well, I didn’t exactly receive many important phone calls. None of my other neighborhood friends did either.

To this day, I’m still not sure that I receive phone calls that would warrant a shout out from the back porch.

So… who are all these kids I see each and every day — some probably still in kindergarten — talking to all the time?

I guess I’ll find out soon…

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We’ve come into a situation and our deadline quickly is quickly approaching. Just over two months from now…

We need a name for Duncan‘s brother.

Though it may be hard to believe, for all intents and purposes, our surname really is Smurf.

One syllable.

Overflowing with consonants.

You know, if vowels weren’t so darn expensive, we’d buy a few, but seriously, the last time I watched Wheel of Fortune, they were up to $250 apiece!?

So, yeah, it’s been really difficult to pick another name to flow nicely with Smurf so that’s what we’re looking for suggestions…

A few notes/guidelines:

Foreign names are in play. We’re hockey and soccer fans so we’re familiar with and totally open to those weird (by North American standards) Dutch or Scandanavian names.

Not essential, but the first name should probaly contain more than one syllable to flow nicely. One syllable names (combined with the single syllable last name) sound very gruff. Dwight Smurf just doesn’t flow. Neither does Bruce Smurf. See what I mean?

Names of characters from Twilight are automatically disqualified from contention. There are far too many 15 to 20-year olds out there named Brandon and Dylan because of that sort of thing….

Star Wars names, as much as I love them, are also a big no-no. Chewbacca Lando Smurf would be freakin’ awesome though…

Names also need to be spelled correctly. If you’d spell Duncan as Du’nkyn, well, you’re not edgy. You’re wrong. Traditional (i.e. correct) spellings only, please.

Lastly, try to avoid names that begin with the letter “D”. We don’t want to appear as one of “those” families. You know, the type that give all of their children the same initials to the point that they need to start spelling them wrong.

Please, please, please comment away.

We really need your help.

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Almost three years ago, to the day, I wrote a post with the same title as today’s post.

I stumbled across the old post by chance while trying to dig up that old chart for yesterday’s entry.

Anyway, since then, I’ve gotten out of debt and then right back into it again…but let’s ignore the second part of that statement for now.

So as I neared the end of my original debt paydown, I listed out a number of things that I wanted to do once the debt payments were no more.

This is that list:

  • Quit my extra job.
  • Start a family.
  • Take a real vacation.
  • Have the entire first floor of my house remodeled. We’re talking the works. New floors, walls, ceilings, electrical work, plumbing…
  • Buy an all new living room set with a sectional couch so we can both sleep comfortably when football is on.
  • Have some trees removed and then have other areas landscaped professionally.
  • Tear down and build a new garage.

Reading it brought a smile to my face.

I quit my extra job — a few weeks before I even wrote the list. After 18 months off, I’ve since taken it back on but with a lot less on my shoulders so it’s no longer as maddening as it once was. It *is* however like being in the dentist’s chair when it comes to being paid in a timely fashion. Yep — they’re over 90 days behind. Again.

I started a family. Duncan was born in May of 2009 and we’ve got another on the way at the end of March.

Take a real vacation? Well… We did take one hell of road trip in the summer of 2008 but I’m not sure I can classify it as a “real” vacation. By “real”, we’re talkin’ about a Wheel of Fortune prize type of vacation. We’ve yet to take one of those.

We had the first floor of the house remodeled in 2010. I still need to have the kitchen done (and the associated plumbing) but everything else was done.

And at the conclusion of the renovation project, I bought a huge sectional couch for our living room back in October!

We had trees removed in July of 2009. And while we haven’t had any professional landscaping done, I’ve had professional landscapers rake my leaves for me since April of 2008.

And we still haven’t gotten to that last “wish” but I think I pretty much accomplished what I wanted to do when I got out of debt — and getting out of debt was the only reason that I was able to accomplish as much of it as I did.

Now to start putting together a new list, you know, as something to look forward to.

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Late last week, I mentioned that I was back in the red…and that I was going to get going on doing something about it.

Well, I’ve started.

I dug into the PIAC archives to dig up the progress chart that I used the last time I was in debt and quickly realized that it kinda sucked.

Sure, it got the job done but this time I think I’m going to take a different approach.

Back then, it was more of a schedule than anything else where I had it all planned out from day one right to the last penny owed.

This time, I’m going to make it more of a journal rather than a schedule. I plan on trying to pay back $2900 per month towards debt.

Lofty goal — and one that I’m not certain I can consistantly make — but if I do manage, well, I’ll be debt free again by the end of the year.

Here’s the chart (which you may want to enlarge):

Simply put, I’ve got three cards carrying balances right now.

The Capital One account, which is actually my wife’s, is the 0% offer that we used to partially finance the renovation. The offer expires in April and we’re a bit behind in our original plan to pay it off before paying any finance charges.

The Chase account is another 0% percent offer that I took advantage of just last month. That offer expires in October of 2011.

The last account is my Bank of America Business account. This is the card that I use to make all of my business related purchases — and will continue to use. Once I get it back down to a zero balance, I shouldn’t have any trouble keeping it there on a month-to-month basis.

For the time being, I’m not pre-populating finance charges (they’ll be entered manually along the way) and I’m not even attempting to calculate minimum payments ahead of time either. In the end, they’re pocket change when compared to everything else…

If all goes as I hope, I’ll be debt free in October. I don’t expect it to work out quite that well but that’s why I’ve given myself a two-month cushion.

Now, eager to get started, I’ve just gotta wait until I get paid later this week to start seeing a dent in the numbers…

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So along the lines of yesterday’s post about my yearly spending trends, I thought I’d narrow my plane of focus a bit.

During any given week, I’d say that I hear at least one person complain about how “everything” is going up while their pay rate remains static.

It’s rare that I agree with one of these folks — I don’t think that “everything” is going up, though I usually just keep my mouth shut when it comes to discussing my finances.

On the other hand, I can’t deny that I’ve heard from the media outlets reporting along the lines that salaries and pay rates are supposed to mirror “cost-of-living” increases and that they’re not because of the economy or whatever. Oh, the disparity…

I think that’s a bunch of bunk…but stick with me here…

Now, “everything” encompasses a lot of things but most of the time I think that they’re refering to monthly household utility bills.

Even if they’re not, I define “cost-of-living” expenses as the monthly utility bills.

Everyone’s got them so using them as a measuring stick will cover a vast majority of the population.

And with such a broad stroke, you have to omit things like groceries because there are too many variables. Some people obviously spend too much on food. I don’t think the same can be said for how much people spend on electricity — at least not anywhere near the variance people spend on food.

Sure, some folks leave the lights on too often but, really, how much does that actually cost? Not very much. And, yeah, the McMansions out there cost a fortune to heat compared to an apartment but it’s all relative.

So, are “things” really going up?

Here are my utility expenses by year from 2004 through 2010:

You can come to your own conclusion but, based on my numbers, I’m going to say that the cost of living has gone down — just like my salary

So it seems that pay rates and the cost of living do mirror one another.

Even downward.

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At the start of each year, I usually do a big comparison to years past to see if I’m progressing or regressing.

This afternoon, I totalled up the numbers from from Spending Reports in 2010 and then went back to my trusty Microsoft Money file (still running strong 16 months after they announced it’s no long supported) to get the numbers from prior years.

The numbers are on the right.

I managed to spend $80810.52 in 2010.

That works out to an average of $6734.21 per month or $221.40 per day. When you break it down that far, well, wow. It’s eye-opening.

And strictly based on the number on the chart, well, it’s really apparent that I’ve regressed and gone back to my old ways…

Or have I?

The three years that I’ve highlighted, including 2010, all have one thing in common. A very pricey thing in common.

Home renovations.

In 2006, we had the roof of our house re-done. Then in 2007, we had new siding put on the house. Both were headache-inducing projects that I’ve tried to put out of mind.

Most recently, in 2010, we carried out the over-chronicled interior renovation.

Major updates, for sure, that skew the numbers significantly.

Sure, I spent $80k last year. It’s true. But if you take the renovation expenses out of the equation, I actually did alright. Not as great as 2009, no, but still decent.

But while I can pat myself on the back for a job well done, it’s not really reasonable to do so.

Sure, classifying the renovations as “one-time” expenses and omitting them from the numbers might look good but it isn’t realistic.

Keeping them in *is* as realistic as it gets — I’ve got at least 3 more 5-figure renovations tentatively planned for the next decade.

We need a new kitchen.

We still need to modernize the second floor to match the first.

And you didn’t think I’d forgotton about that garage plan, did you?

Oh no — I haven’t forgotton about it. If anything, I’ve expanded on it since I first mentioned it. We’ll definitely need a four car garage now!

Anyway, planned renovations aside (none planned for this year), so far in 2011, I’m on the right track.

My average daily expense is a mere $55.40. Compared to 2010, that’s awesome.

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So as I was out shoveling the snow this morning with my shoveling partner, I started to salivate at the thought of doing my taxes…

I mean, usually, a month from now, I’m finishing up my taxes and waiting for that nice big check (I mean, deposit) from the government. This year is no different — February should be pretty nice on the income side of things.

On the other hand, with another shoveler on the way in less than 90 days, well, we need a new car. One that’ll fit four of us. Comfortably.

Yep, that’ll cancel out the tax refund.

And then some…

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So as to never again pay a maintenance fee to Bank of America for my Checking Account, that is, until they increase their minimums on the sly again, I’ve just transferred $2k from my ING savings account into my BoA checking account.

I’ll get dinged for $14 again this month, as my balance was below the “new” minimum for a few days right at the start of my cycle but, from here on out, $2000 is my new floor.

I’ve also set-up a bunch of those “Low Balance Alerts” that they advertise in their television commercials to let me know whenever I come with-in $500 of it.

My largest auto-pay bill is the mortgage and it comes just shy of $500 so this should prevent any inadvertent middle of the night auto-transfer slip-ups…

Can You Dig It?