Authors Posts by Brainy Smurf

Brainy Smurf

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I'm three apples high and nearsighted. I like yellow-haired smurfs, robot invasions, sarcasm, and anything where the secret ingredient is love.

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Car LeaseIn the past I’ve gone on and on about how leasing a car is a terrible idea from a financial point of view.

I made the mistake, once, almost 20 years ago now.

I went so far over the mileage limit (auto leases usually put a limitation on the number of miles you can put on the vehicle each year), I had no choice but to purchase the car as the lease was expiring.

In the end, it worked out for me as I probably should have bought the car right from the get-go but didn’t have the funds for that to happen (or the credit history — requiring my dad to co-sign)…which is why I went with the lease option.

Fast forward to today and, well, things have drastically changed.

I have the funds available to purchase pretty much any vehicle I’d like — all the way up to an entry level Lamborghini.

So here I am, in the final days (yes, days), of my most recent auto loan — and I’m looking at my currently daily driver (a 2005 Scion xA) and thinking, hmmmmm, will I get through another winter with this thing?

I’m not certain.

While it hasn’t let me know…yet…it also fails to give me that “reliable transportation” feeling lately. I’m often quite prepared for it to just, you know, die at the next stop light.

Another shortcoming, and really the biggest of them all, is that in 2005 I was a single guy. Now I have a family of five…and a car that can only seat four comfortably.

With that forcing my hand, I need a bigger and more reliable ride…sooner rather than later.

And that brings my back to my finances…

With it still fresh in my mind (from the loan I’m eliminating now) that a roughly $25k loan equates to a $450 payment and my complete disdain to, you know, continue making $450 payments (weekly, no less) seemingly indefinitely AND the fact that, deep in my heart, I know this next vehicle will simply be a stop-gap until I can get the car I’d really like, well, the lease offers out there are really, really, enticing.

New car with a smaller payment than what I’m paying now and…no huge new debt taken on.

Financially, today, for me, that sounds pretty great.

Hang with me here, I’m trying to convince myself that it’s okay to lease…

Now, about those mileage limitations…well, I don’t foresee those being an issue.

See, when I was in my early 20’s, it wasn’t out of the ordinary to, you know, drive to Ohio for lunch or whatever.

In the last decade, I haven’t driven 500 miles for lunch…yet.

Further, I now live less than 2 miles from the places I visit most often (work, elementary school, and daycare) so clocking under the mileage limit shouldn’t be an issue. And…I have two other vehicles that I OWN should I start getting close to making it cost prohibitive.

So, here’s what I’m thinking off of the top of my head right now.

The “new” car has to be reliable. Duh.

It has to fit my entire family and an assortment of hockey equipment comfortably.

And it has to cost me less than the Swagger Wagon has been costing me.

Notice that I did not say it had to look cool. Or fit in the new garage I’ll be having built. Or last a long time.

Stop-gap, remember? Once this thing is gone and my kids are out of their enormous car seats, I can go back and get another Land Rover like I really want.

For now, though, I’m leaning towards the Ford Transit.

A what?

Sure, you’ve never heard of it but, trust me, you’ve seen them. They look like delivery trucks. Plumbers and electricians use them. Florists. Kind of like the modern day version of a panel cargo van — somewhere between a regular old school van and a full blown box truck.

But here’s the thing — you can also get them with windows and seats in the back making them look more like handicapped vans or shuttle buses.

Ford Transit Titanium

Hardly cool — for real, it’s another Swagger Wagon — but way, way, practical.

And amazingly affordable too…

Hmmmmm….

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MolassesThroughout my years in high school running cross country and long distance on the track, the coaches would often say things like “finish strong”.

Not such an easy task when you’ve already gone around the track a dozen times as fast as you could and are on your last legs.

My finishing “kick” could only be described as “slow as molasses in February”.

No joke, my track coach called me that.

Frequently.

ALL FOUR YEARS.

Thankfully my pace for the previous dozen or so laps greatly exceeded nearly all of my competitors so it was pretty rare event that I’d actually “need” to finish strong.

In fact, I can only remember having to actually sprint down the final straightaway once… ever.

I lost, obviously, you know, being slow as molasses in February…

So here I am, fourteen weeks into my aggressive auto loan payment plan and the finishline is in sight.

I’m excited to rid myself of this monthly, err, weekly bill.

But like on the track 20+ years ago, even though I’m nearly done, I’m worn out.

My checking balance has fallen to the point that, well, I probably should be “re-arranging” some payment dates or dipping into my savings so as to not only avoid fees but also maintain my own personal finance standards of pretty much always being a month ahead of myself.

Basically, the extra payments I’ve been making, while painful from day one, are really getting to the point that they’re crippling.

Okay, crippling is too strong of a word.

They’re restrictive, I guess. I treading water, yes, but slowly sinking. Not sure how much longer I’ll last…

But I’m not suspending the payments.

I’m too close.

And based on my past experiences, the moment you start to veer of course and start making excuses, well, you lose.

I might not have the kick I thought I’d have for these last few weeks of payments (in fact, I thought I’d pay it off by August at one point), my fast pace will get me there soon enough.

Just over $3000 to go…

– – – – – – – – –

PIAC Tangent
Usain BoltIt’s funny, the first time a coach yelled that on my final lap, I was thinking, “Huh? Does he want me to flex on the straightaway?”

Seemed like a goofy request considering I’d already lapped the competition…

Finish strong?

Dude, I’m so far ahead, I could start walking and still finish first.

But here’s the thing if you’ve never really watched distance running… The further you go, the more your “form” breaks down. Your shoulders start to rise, you bend your elbows more, your head flops around, and you start taking smaller and shorter steps.

Even marathon runners run like Usain Bolt at the start. Twenty six miles later, only the really elite ones still have that form.

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IranJust for one minute, I wish the average person living in America would listen to both sides of the story. Like, really listen.

The polarization in this country is at a comical level.

Just this past week, open enrollment for health insurance came and went with the usual groans about more and more being taken out of each paycheck to cover health insurance.

I find it comical that they still call health insurance a “benefit”.

Anyway, one co-worker outwardly denounced Obamacare left and right — apparently to blame, in their eyes, for our insurance premiums going up — and then proclaimed that they’d be better off moving to Canada.

Wow…

I mean, those two stances are complete opposites.

You can’t stand on both sides of that fence… except here in America where the average Joe (and Jane) often times have no idea what they’re talking about.

If Obamacare were actually what it’s supposed to be (and what Obama would actually like it to be), the healthcare system in this country would be just like it is in Canada.

Get it?

So, supporting Obamacare (the way it was originally proposed) would ELIMINATE your health insurance premiums.

Yeah, gone. ZERO. Like, a “real” benefit to paying taxes (which is how the Canadian government pays for it all).

It’s not Obama’s fault you’re paying more for health insurance — he tried to make it so that it would be FREE. For everyone.

How that fact is lost on so many is a real mystery. And how anyone could be so passionately against such an idea is also very puzzling.

A no-brainer, really.

And that brings me to the past few weeks and the whole Iran thing.

I don’t even want to get started down the path of how or why the United States thinks it has the right to decide which countries get to progress and which don’t.

Iran or not, it’s a very un-American way of doing business taking on the global role of judge, jury, and executioner.

Anyway… watching tv this week, it’s been nothing but a long line of conservative Republicans eating up air time as they growl on (still?!) about the Iran nuke deal.

But here’s the thing — it is a good deal.

No, it’s not a perfect deal but it’s a hell of a lot better than no deal at all — which is what Republicans on their soap boxes are trying to turn it into.

And that’s hilarious to me, someone who actually LISTENS, and here’s why…

Republicans or Democrats in this country often say things simply to keep power, whether it’s the specific office they hold or just towing the party line — a HUGE flaw in the two-party political system.

In other words, the conservative Republican office holders on tv are likely wise enough to know that the nuclear arms deal with Iran is a good one but will still vow to defeat it publicly.

Their brain numb constituents, the base, eat it up and vow to vote their reps in over and over again.

Whether or not the conservative Republican office holder thinks it’s a good deal is irrelevant in this case as it’s a no lose situation and that’s because President Obama has already said he’ll veto any attempt to defeat the deal.

Republicans in Congress don’t have the votes to override a Presidential veto so… the deal gets done not matter what, even if they make a big scene during the process.

Of course, being seasoned politicians, they already know that but they’re counting on the fact that YOU don’t know that.

So, even though they likely actually SUPPORT the deal, they’ll continue opposing anything Obama does simply for political reasons.

It’s stupid.

Sure, Obama wins because the world will be a mildly safer place for next decade and the Republicans get to rile up their base just before an election cycle opposing it.

But it also makes our country looking incredibly petty on the world stage… (the deal is NOT just between the US and Iran like it’s portrayed — that’s all propaganda.)

I mean, this deal is clearly better than no deal yet our government (the Republican led Congress, actually) is going to reject it simply for political theater.

Ridiculous.

I guess to the average Republican voter, narrowing the “Axis of Evil” down to just North Korea is a bad thing.

Does that mean the Democrats would promote adding to the “Axis of Evil”

Sadly, if a Democrat weren’t in the White House today, the answer would be “Yes!”

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Oh, you forgot about him? Well, as a quick recap, we added our third child back in January, another son, and he came out, well, less than perfect.

For real, I heard the words “birth defect” in the delivery room.

Not cool. Not cool at all…

He was tested for this and tested for that.

He even had a toe removed back in May.

Crazy, right?

Here he is just a few days ago:
Baby in a Bumbo Seat

Go ahead, count the toes, if you must. I’ll wait.

Thankfully, there isn’t *really* anything wrong with him that can’t be fixed.

As such, today we spent the day going from one waiting room to another in the local children’s hospital.

AbacusYou know, for a children’s hospital, you’d think they’ve have better waiting rooms. Not that I’ve ever really found the “perfect” waiting room in all of my adventures in waiting but, really, a children’s hospital of all places should have children friendly waiting rooms.

No, sorry, a fancy abacus looking thing in the corner doesn’t cut it in 2015.

Anyway, we signed off on all of the forms with doctor and spoke with the anesthesiologist too.

Long (and purposely vague) story short, the poor little guy is going under the knife for a 4-hour procedure on August 28.

As a parent, it’s a pretty scary thought to imagine putting your infant under anesthesia…

You want to talk about a horrible waiting room experience? Yeah, get back to me on the 28th…

But by that evening, he’ll be as good as new. Well, almost.

Hey, at least he won’t remember any of this.

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Tre CoolI remember once watching Green Day perform at some festival on television, probably around 1995, and my dad remarked, “That guy is terrible” in reference to Tre Cool, the drummer in the band.

I mean, I could tell that Billie Joe Armstrong was terrible at his instrument but didn’t notice how “off” Tre Cool was — and still is in every single performance I’ve ever seen since by Green Day.

My dad was spot-on. The guy can’t play.

Fast forward a few years, and it’s the same type of deal where Blink 182 (essentially a Green Day ripoff) is playing live at some awards show or something on television and my dad utters, “Hmm, maybe he’s not so bad…” assuming it’s the same guy.

Travis Barker

Through all of the noise, all my dad would listen for is the snare — and apparently Travis Barker had “it”.

I’m not totally certain what ‘it’ was — my guess is that his rudiments are spot on unlike Tre Cool who, while fast, is actually about as (un) talented as Animal is playing with Electric Mayhem.

Either way, it was quite a sight to see a guy in his late fifties drumming away on the steering wheel to a Blink-182’s “Rock Show“.

Dennis & Randy

My dad played snare for Preston Scout House and later the Flying Dutchman, following his older brothers’ footsteps, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

It was kind of a big deal… and not, like, just locally. It was renowned. World famous, even…which back then simply meant “famous in North America.”

Still, keep in mind that this was way before marching bands, aside from DCI, turned into what they are now — social outcasts that often turn out to be the folks that own cats by the dozen later in life. These kids were cool.

From what I can gather, he was pretty good at it too as I’ve been told by a number of people who wouldn’t just say it cause I was his son or because he’d died — I’m pretty certain he *was* really good at it.

When it came time for me to play an instrument, my dad laid down a few rules.

Absolutely no reed instruments – clarinet, oboe, or that god awful instrument called a saxophone.

No flute.

And never, ever, drums.

Didn’t leave me with a lot to choose from — and I think that was his plan all along…

I ended up on a trumpet in third grade, getting a jump on most of my classmates who took up instruments in 5th grade and beyond.

I believe my dad steered me away from drums mostly because he knew that, even if I’d managed to get really, really, really good at it, for the most part, the “talent” would always go completely unrecognized.

To be just awesome at something but have most people see it as, eh, yeah, that’s pretty good.

“Have you heard the new Beatles’ song? That Ringo is to die for…”

AnimalTalk about unfulfilling.

And now, when listening to live music, I totally get it.

Most of these guys are hacks just smashing away behind a wall of drums semi-randomly most of the time — and most people think they’re gifted musicians.

They’re not.

Kind of explains why nearly every song you hear on the radio was actually performed by studio musicians and not the “talent” on the cover of the CD or in the music video.

Anyway, while I was the best trumpet player in our school through 7th grade, it was never really my passion…and other kids were quickly catching up.

tubaI soon switched over to tuba. Yeah, the tuba.

No joke, our band teacher had a poster in his office of all of the brass instruments. I went in for my trumpet lesson one day and said, “I want to play that one” while pointing to the tuba.

I’d picked it cause it was the biggest and once the school system actually secured one for me to play it was so big, in fact, that I had to sit on a couple telephone books to reach the mouthpiece.

Played tuba through high school — getting a trip to Germany in the process — and then left it in my past the day I graduated.

While I was never very good, no one ever forgets the tuba player.

That is pretty fulfilling.

– – – – – – – –

PIAC Addendum

Total lie up above.

I actually was pretty good at the tuba.

I mean, I didn’t have a lot of competition as there were never more than two tuba players in our band at any given time so it wasn’t much of a challenge to be the best or anything, but, yeah, I was a pretty good tuba player.


– – – – – – – –

Tangent from the Deep End

Glory DaysFurther, I sometimes think about how people “peak” at a certain point in their lives before starting a steady decline.

For me, I’m not certain if my own peak came in high school (like it does for so many people) at the height of my track accomplishments or if it was in my 20’s when it almost seemed there was nothing that I couldn’t accomplish on the computer and money, honestly, came easily and from so many sources. (I bought a freakin’ plane?!)

Perhaps I haven’t peaked yet?

Who knows…

Anyway, I’m pretty sure my dad peaked while he was still marching and playing snare and it was a pretty important time for him.

It’s the only reason I can think of that he had about a dozen pairs of drum sticks from the 1950’s always somewhat accessible (though almost never used) in our basement for all those years — the ONLY thing I can think of in our house from his youth.

Kinda like my track trophy that I received when I ran a 4:18 mile in 1993 — it’s not on display at my house or anything but I know EXACTLY where it is and don’t plan on ever misplacing it.

The sticks were his trophy.

After he died, I remember seeing a pair of them in the garage of my parents’ new gated community “retirement” house.

I left them there.

I’m not certain why. Maybe cause it was in the garage, literally feet away from where my dad had died just hours earlier.

But after the surreal funeral, just as I was getting ready to go to the airport to head back home, my dad’s older brother came over with a pair of fat Ludwig sticks in his hand to take home.

I’m not sure if they were the same pair that I’d seen in the garage a few days earlier, I assume they were.

He didn’t say much of anything — he didn’t have to.

Anyway, I tucked them into my backpack and hoped like crazy the overly aggressive TSA agents at the airport wouldn’t confiscate them as weapons of mass destruction or something.

For real, I’d have started walking the 1200 miles home if that had happened.

So, sitting right here in front of my keyboard are a couple of 60 year old Ludwig drum sticks.

Ludwig Sticks

They’re not on display or anything — actually mostly buried below mail and empty Capri Sun pouches most of the time — but I know exactly where they are.

Probably always will too.

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ConstructionSo it’s been quite a while since I last mentioned that 3-car garage we were planning on having built.

During my nearly two year long hiatus from the site, we took out another mortgage (you may have noticed on the net worth reports) to get the finances in place, worked with a local architect, and had a survey done of our property to ensure we wouldn’t run into any building permit issues.

That was 2013.

We’re midway through 2015 now and we still haven’t broken ground.

What’s up with that?

For real, with the money to fund such a project readily available (currently sitting in a savings account), you’d think that we could have our old garage torn down and the new one up in it’s place in a matter of months.

And, for the most part, you’d be right.

I could totally make a phone call tomorrow to get one of those Amish barn-raising groups out here prepping the site and have a full blown garage up sometime next week. [or maybe not]

But that’s the thing — I don’t really want a pre-fab (Amish guys in hats with mallets in hand or not, they’re still pre-fabricated) garage.

Especially when we’re talking six figures…

I want something that, well, that I didn’t pick off a sales sheet that only offered three or four options to begin with from a pushy salesman at a big box store.

So we decided to contact an architect and, let me tell you, while there are a lot of residential architects out there, most of them only work on $1M+ projects or entire new construction sub-divisions.

No joke — if you’re not asking them to design a palace made entirely of marble or an entire neighborhood, they’re not interested.

And that’s the pickle we find ourselves in…

Sure, we could go out and hire a general contractor like we did for our interior renovation and get this done but… well, while our contractor did exactly what we asked him to do on that project, in hindsight, I wish we would have hired someone that would have done what we’d asked but ALSO advised us on what we should do too.

The goal isn’t to find someone to build it for us — that’s easy.

The goal is to find someone that’ll guide us towards a building that we want but will also stop us and say, “Actually, it’d be a better idea to put that here so that the this doesn’t get in the way of that.”

You know, things we never even thought of cause, well, we’re not architects. Where does the plumbing fit in? Should there be an outlet there?

Often times, when you work directly with a general contractor, you’re playing the role of architect. I’m a pretty smart dude but I’m certainly not an experienced architect.

If we’re spending this much money on a freakin’ garage, I want it done right…and that’s why it’s taking so long.

The good news is that the old garage hasn’t tipped over yet and, somehow, I’ve managed to keep from spending all of that “garage” money sitting in my savings account.

The downside is that our current architect doesn’t foresee the project happening until 2016.

Hey, maybe I’ll be able to save a little more by then!

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StairwellEveryone knows about elevator etiquette.

Seemingly, anyway.

You know, where you let people off before you get on? That type of thing? Even my 4-year old knows…

Bafflingly, there are actually countless people who are apparently unaware that’s how it’s supposed to work.

Whatever, that’s fine by me as I’m a stair climber.

I take the stairs at work at least nine out of ten times — and only take the elevator when it would be socially awkward not to, like, when I enter or leave the building with someone I know.

The unwritten rule in a stairwell is kinda like the rules you should follow on a desolate sidewalk or even a grocery store aisle — you don’t pass people that are moving the same direction as you are and you NEVER ride their heels either.

(This rule, of course, doesn’t apply on busy city sidewalks that are both wide enough to not make it awkward and crowded enough so as the slower of the two parties doesn’t feel at all threatened or hurried.)

So, without fail, every time I’m cruising down the stairs at a pretty decent clip — skipping a stair with each stride — some bonehead on a lower floor enters the stairwell and procedes downward slower than those darn folks that stand stationary on those people movers at the airport…

Ugh?!

For real, people! Those people movers are so that your walking speed is increased dramatically…like almost a 100% increase in speed.

They’re not for standing on!? Argh?!

Anyway, in the stairwell, it drives me bonkers.

I mean, I know they heard my pace in advance as they opened the door so they’re totally aware that now I’m behind held up.

Are they going slow on purpose?

I can never be certain as etiquette requires that I stay back at least one landing but, c’mon, seriously…

If your standard stairway pace can’t beat an elevator down 10 stories or up at least 5 stories, well, take off your FitBit and stay out of the stairwell.

We don’t want you here.

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July 2015 Net WorthAnother month, another net worth update.

So, I dropped $1196 overall but that’s almost entirely due to the situation in Greece and the inexplicable reaction to it in the North American markets earlier this week.

If you’re not following, the decline in the value of my 401k is because the markets dropped a little over 2% in reaction to the most recent round financial woes in Greece.

How a country like Greece can effect the markets over here is a discussion for another day…

Aside from that, though, I was pleasantly surprised with what transpired during the month.

See, while I’ve been focusing nearly all of my attention towards paying down the auto loan, I’ve been using my credit cards with, what feels like, reckless abandon and not really paying much back towards them.

Or so I thought…

I expected my credit card balance to be far more than $441 deeper in debt.

Truthfully, I was prepared to be $1k more in the hole.

Can You Dig It?

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