Mistakes

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Land RoverSo remember how when I bought the Land Rover a few months ago, I said that I was well aware that they have a reputation that comes along with them.

A bad reputation.

Lemons.

Always in the shop.

And, making matters worse, they’re super expensive to fix.

Well, since purchasing it, I had that serpentine belt and thermostat problem that set me back $1200.

Then there was that fender bender (not really the car’s fault) that cost me another $1200 out of pocket.

And have I mentioned that the “Check Engine Soon” light has been on for a couple of months?

If not, well, a couple of weeks ago I took it in to the nearest Land Rover dealership for an oil change.

Actually, I really only took it to the dealership so as to get it looked over prior to our 2000 mile road trip.

Off hand, I also asked them to take a look at the check engine light issue even though the car was driving just fine.

I dropped it off on Wednesday, July 27th, expecting to pick it up on Thursday evening — one day later.

No call came while I was at work on Thursday — so I called them and they said that I needed a new oxygen sensor to make the light turn off and that they wouldn’t have the part until tomorrow.

Fine.

Inconvenient, sure, but we’ve got four cars. We’ll live.

Friday comes and, again, no call.

I call them.

Now they say they need to replace another oxygen sensor and they’ll have it ready for me on Monday.

Hmmmm… I’m not liking how this is going…

I agree to it, disparagingly, while thinking in my head — they’re just throwing new parts at the problem that probably isn’t even a problem at all.

On Monday evening, my wife drives me out there to pick it up and it’s still up on the lift.

It’s not done.

They never called. What’s up with that?

Don’t they realize the crazy daycare preparations we had to make (not to mention, we both had to leave work early) to make this trip? Grrrr…

On Tuesday, I call them again asking if it’s ready. This time they say some sort of gasket needs to be replaced cause it’s all gummed up with oil or something is leaking — I dunno, I stopped listening — but I agreed to have them replace it because he claimed that the car wasn’t running well.

Weird, my car ran fine when I took it in for an oil change and now it doesn’t run well.

I’m really not liking how this is going.

On Wednesday, an entire week after I’d originally dropped it off, the dealership FINALLY calls me to tell me that the engine light is still on and that I need a new “engine harness” to correct the problem.

I let him do his gear-head schtick for awhile before asking how much that would cost to replace.

“Well, they’re made to order so we wouldn’t be able to do it for two or three weeks but the cost with labor would be around $2400.”

Staying calm (and thinking about my looming vacation in a matter of days), I asked, “What’s my bill up to so far?”

“$1675 after a $25 off special.”

I could not BELIEVE he mentioned $25 off on a $1700 bill like it was some sort of gift…

“Um, okay, does it run right now?”

“Yep, it’s running great.”

“Okay, then I’m coming to pick it up… now.”

So I get a ride out there and the whole time I’m thinking — did they really just try to hit me up for over $4000 on an oil change? For real? Is this really happening?

So I get to the dealership just as they’re about to close, charge my $1675 fee, flash a few dirty looks and get in the car.

Yep, check engine light is still on.

Did I just go without a car for an entire week for a simple oil change?

Yep.

And I’m $1675 poorer for nothing?!

Holy crap!?

When I get home, I hop out, and click the key to lock the car.

Nothing.

I try it again.

Nothing.

Are you kidding me?

They broke the keyless entry.

So now I’ve been down a vehicle for a week, I’m $1675 poorer, my car is in worse shape that it was a week ago, and I’m going on a 2000-mile road trip in two days.

Wonderful.

So, on Friday, August 5th, just before we embarked on our vacation, my wife took it back to the dealership to get the keyless entry fixed.

After being treated like a moron at first by being told her key’s battery was dead (and mine just happened to die at the exact same time? Suuuuuure.), and some denial that they did anything that would affect the keyless entry, they tried to “reset” things — for two hours while my wife sat there.

And they were unsuccessful.

Great dealership, huh?

Keyless Entry on a Land Rover Discovery II

So, I don’t blame Land Rover — I still don’t think it’s a lemon and I don’t think that their cars suck.

I do, however, think that Land Rover of Farmington Valley is a complete joke. We will NEVER again take the car there.

And while the lack of keyless entry is a real pain (you try carring two kids and having to walk to the driver’s side door to unlock the car when it’s pouring rain), it’s not the end of the world.

I’ve chalked it up as a $1675 mistake.

But on the bright side, 1800 miles into our road trip when, for no reason at all, the check engine light turned off, I smiled a little on the inside.

So it’s now been a year since we re-financed our mortgage.

On one hand, that move gave us great financial, well, not freedom, really, but…flexibilty, I guess.

I mean, suddenly having a sub $500 mortgage payment when you’ve grown accustomed to a $1500 mortgage payment for years on end should be lifestyle altering…

And it was…

But it feels like we’ve gone the wrong direction.

Back then, we were debt free and living pretty comfortably — a tiny mortgage payment was really just icing on the cake.

The good kind of icing where you can’t feel the sugar crystals in your teeth. I recommend Betty Crocker.

One year later, though, we’re $28k deep in credit card debt and our mortage balance $4k higher than it was.

That’s not progress…

Déjà vu?

Money’s not tight, like, “Oh crap, how are we going to pay the water bill,” but it’s not growing off of trees like it probably should be.

Still, though, while the re-fi may have sparked the tailspin of the last year, I’m still convinced that it was the right move.

I just lost my way shortly thereafter…

I stopped paying down the mortgage like a maniac.

That was a good move, actually, but it also kinda gave me that stuck-in-the-mud type of feeling. The balance isn’t falling — and how could it with $500 monthly payments?

Financially speaking, it’s unwise to overpay it. Mentally, though, I really miss seeing the balance drop each month. For a few months there, I was knocking it down over a thousand bucks per month and it felt great.

Really, though, the big mover and shaker of the past year was the major renovation that we had done last year.

I don’t regret it — it HAD to be done and it’s made our house a safer and more comfortable place to live.

At the same time, I really thought we’d have it paid for in full by now.

And we should.

I just didn’t stick to my re-payment schedule.

And I kept spending. An expensive trip last summer and the new car purchase just a few months ago were crippling, just crippling, and we haven’t recovered.

Making matters worse, in another month or so, Henrik will be joining Duncan in daycare.

Wanna talk about a budget buster?

More on that later…

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Netgear ReadyNASWell that was quick!

Yep, just over a week into the new year and I’ve already spent a fortune — unexpectedly.

I suppose that when the month is over, I’ll classify these most recent purchases as “business expenses” but that doesn’t hide the fact that I spent real money on them…

I hate when people are under the assumption that “business expenses” are freebies. They’re not.

And if you work at a company and freely spend money that isn’t your own, well, you should think about that some time.

Anyway, remember that awful day that I had back in October of 2007?

Don’t worry — it’s okay if you don’t. You can refresh your memory here.

The short of it is that I had a hard drive fail. I went out and bought a short term replacement and, while it hasn’t “failed” yet, it’s running at roughly 98% capacity.

It’s crawling…

Lasting for nearly two and a half years is pretty good but I’ve always feared another drive failure and I’ve also always known that I *need* to plunk down the cash to get a real viable long term and expandable storage system in place.

I finally did that earlier this week — but only after making a bonehead move and attempting to do it the “cheap” way.

I surfed on over to CDW and purchased another Buffalo Technologies DriveStation just like I did back in 2007.

It arrived earlier this week…dead.

I’ve never been a big fan of CDW but with Circuit City and CompUSA no longer in existance, purchasing the unit in person is all but impossible these days and then CDW went out and bought out my favorite online retailer so it seemed as if the only place to turn — and they had the best price too. That’s rarely the case — which is why I’m not a big fan…

Thankfully their returns policy is pretty friendly though they still haven’t processed my return yet — I’m hoping I don’t get hit with a 15% restocking fee for a unit that was dead right out of the box.

Eitherway, in desperate need of drive space, this turn of events put me in the hot seat. I decided that enough was enough — no more nickel and diming my way through this.

I bought a file server.

No more of this USB connection crap. I settled on a model from the NetGear ReadyNAS line of products.

Basically, it’s a computer case filled with hard drives.

Back in the 1990’s, I built a few of fileservers from old computers at zero cost and I considered doing that sort of thing again this time but that was back before RAID and, honestly, I don’t have time for that sort of project anymore.

I paid for it this time instead. So far, between the two purchases, I’ve surpassed the $1000 mark.

Tons of space and loads of redundancy are worth it though — especially having delayed this expense for years on end.

That’s what I decided. Or, at least, that’s what I’m telling myself right now.

It’s still not here and, sadly, it’s scheduled delivery is next Monday (MLK day, ugh…) so I probably won’t have it until that Tuesday.

Here’s to hoping that I can make it through another week with just over that 1GB to work with…

Now the only big ticket item (that I’ve been eyeing for years) left on my list is a good high-quality file cabinet.

Ever priced one of those out? Yikes — they’re expensive…

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Michael Ian BlackI’ve come to the conclusion that I have a low risk tolerance…

Not so much that I’m afraid to invest in moderately risky markets because I’ve done and continue to do that.

My results have been, as you’d expect, fifty-fifty.

Investing in Pets.com was a mistake.

Cashing out just before the dot-com bust was not.

Using that “found” money to buy a BMW Z3 was, yes, a mistake.

Anyway, I say this because there’s been a lot of talk in my social circle about purchasing homes.

I’m certainly not in the market, but living vicariously through these acquaintances (all of which earn an income comparable to mine) while they search for a home, I can’t help but wonder why they’re looking in the price range that they are.

Without actually saying anything outloud (I’m a terrible friend), I think that they’re all nuts. I’d never be willing to take out a mortgage *that* large.

Three grand per month? Yeah, I don’t think so…

But sometimes I sit and think, hey, wait a minute… I can apparently afford to live in a house that commands a $3k mortgage payment so why am I living like this?

I dunno, maybe this is where the often referenced ‘consumer confidence’ comes into play — you know, “Consumer confidence fell 6 percent during the month of July…”

You here stuff like that on the news all the time…

How do they measure that, anyway? Seriously.

So, I suppose my low risk tolerance is due to the fact that I have low consumer confidence.

Is that how it works?

I’m not sure…

I generally like to think my consumer confidence is pretty high.

Perhaps I’m fooling myself?

Either way, I’m definitely not confident that I could pay a $3k per month mortgage payment for 30 years.

No freakin’ way.

Thankfully, I don’t have to.

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WalletOut of no where this morning I purchased three things that, if you’d asked me yesterday, I’d have said I don’t need.

The first purchase was a Canon NB-4L battery for my wife’s PowerShot SD200 camera. She’s had that little camera for a few years now and the battery just won’t hold a charge anymore.

While our household is overflowing with camera equipment, this is the only camera than can conveniently fit in a pocket so it probably gets the most use — you know, the day-to-day family stuff and the silly videos we’ve featured here on PIAC.

Problem is, we always seemed to run out of battery power just as Duncan starts reciting the entire script of the movie Space Balls. Okay, I exaggerate, but the dying battery routine has become very frustrating.

Total cost to remedy the battery issue? Just $14.95 (plus $7.74 for shipping) for a knock-off version.

Next, and still with cameras on the brain, I RSVP’d to a family reunion coming up in September.

Thinking that I’ve got all of this camera equipment collecting dust, I should probably volunteer to take a professional group photo with a wide angle lens, you know, like they did 100 years ago.

That's the actual Smurf family.  I can't name a single person though.

Problem is, I want to be in the photo too…

Hmmmmm…

There is a simple solution — it’s called a remote trigger.

I have one of those.

Somewhere.

I just can’t find it.

And I’ve looked for it, well, at least a dozen times.

I’ve turned entire closets upside down and inside out without any success.

My most recent attempt was just a few weeks ago for when I made that cool time-lapse tree cutting video.

For those that might have been wondering, no, I wasn’t behind the camera all day taking a photo every 20 seconds.

Ideally, if I could have found it, I would have been using a remote trigger programmed to take a photo every 20 seconds.

Instead, I used a bunch of extension cords and an old laptop to act as the trigger.

Took me forever to setup.

Took me just as long to break down.

And, don’t forget, I also spent a few hours hopelessly searching for that darn remote trigger. For the twelfth time.

I should have just bought a new remote the first day that I realized I’d lost the original. So much wasted time. So much frustration.

So, after a little online research, I purchased a knock-off version of what I needed from a company in China.

It cost me $23.99 (plus $8.00 for shipping).

(That’s a SUPER bargain considering the original trigger set me back a couple of hundred dollars. I just hope it works.)

The third purchase of the morning also relates to photography…

I’ve got studio lights and strobes and all that sort of thing in my arsenal. If you know a little about photography, you know that it’s all about lighting and controlling it.

While setting up to take some shots of Duncan, I ran into a problem that I’ve run into, well, dozens of times since I stopped working as a professional photographer.

All of those lights and strobes need power.

Somewhere along the way, I lost all of my power cords. I have no idea where they are.

The good news is that the strobes take the same kind of power cord that a standard computer monitor takes so I was able to work around the issue by “borrowing” from my computers and using a bunch of extension cords to make them long enough to reach an outlet.

I’ve done a few portraits using this method and it’s annoyed me each time.

Deep down, I know those 25-foot power cords are neatly coiled somewhere right next to my remote trigger. I just know it.

So $23.90 (plus $8.96 for shipping) later, I’ll have the proper cords again.

Putting it all together, I solved three issues that I’ve been dealing with for almost 2 years for $62.84 (plus $24.70 for shipping).

Had I known that I could have avoided all of the headaches and frantic attic searches over that time for under $100, well, I would never have put these purchases off at all.

Now the only thing left that I’ve been telling myself to do, but still haven’t, is upgrade my version of Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, and Flash to CS4…

At $199.99 each, well, I’m going to put my wallet back in my pocket…

For now.

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Jreck Subs -- Never been there, you?Just a few weeks ago, I took a break from my weekly savings transfers that were wearing me down and it was just a matter of days before I realized that that’s all I needed to re-energize myself to continue moving forward.

So, today a guy at work walked in after lunch with one of the biggest grinders anyone had ever seen in hand.

As my coworkers ooohd and ahhhed the sandwich, I asked where he’d picked it up, he answered, and I said I’d never eaten there before.

He was surprised — he even said as much.

I felt kind of pathetic. Seriously.

Truth is, though I’ve lived in the same town that I work in for nearly 7 years, when it comes to food, I’ve rarely ventured beyond the Burger Kings, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and Subways.

In fact, aside from the three or four restaurants that I frequent (and just mentioned), I’d estimate that I’ve only actually tried ten local restaurants total.

The phonebook lists hundreds of them — many of which I drive by every single day without even giving them a single thought.

That fact that they’ve remained in business all of these years should be an indication that their food and service is adequate (enough) so starting this week, whenever we have the inclination to eat out (you know, when we don’t want to make something at home), we’re going to try something new.

Maybe start at one end of town and work our way west. Or vice versa.

When my wife reads this, she’ll probably be gleefully excited. I think she’s grown tired of the old routine and would love a little but more variety.

For me, just thinking about it, well, I’m a little afraid…

I mean, I already know that I’ll struggle to find anything on the menu at that place Sammy Garlic’s. Yuck.

And some of those luncheonette places look like the type of joint that only welcome “regulars”. Or perhaps they ask to see our AARP cards at the door and then turn us away.

But all of that aside, it will definitely be a much needed change of pace and soon, when I drive through town I’ll be able to say, “Yep, ate there once… It was pretty good…” instead of blindly driving by…

I can’t tell you how many times going back and forth from university during the late 1990’s that I drove by numerous Jreck Subs in upstate New York and wondered, I mean, genuinely wondered if they were any good (and how exactly to pronounce their name)…

I never stopped.

One time, I even ate a McDonalds next door to a Jreck.

I’ve gotta break from that routine…

By the way, for any readers from upstate New York — how does Jreck compare to Subway, Blimpie, or Quizno’s?

And how do you pronounce Jreck?

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Fell off the tracks...Well, I told myself that I wasn’t going to go shopping yesterday morning…

I managed that.

I rolled over to look at the clock and 4:15 am and told myself, “Nope, not getting up…”

I did the same thing at 5:34 am.

And again at 6:40 am.

See, at our house, we never even received a Walmart Black Friday flyer… I’m not sure why, maybe our mailman ate it or something, but my guess is that it was a blessing that it never arrived.

I’m not saying that I would have bought anything, I never have, but I have made it a bit of a tradition to hang out in the parking lot of BestBuy, Circuit City, and/or Walmart at unmentionable hours on the day after Thanksgiving.

This year, I slept in.

By “slept in”, I mean that I didn’t get out of bed until 7:09 am.

From there, I went through my usual weekday routine and headed to work.

The office was closed on Friday, but not really. Black Friday has always been one of those grey areas.

I sat down at my desk, checked my email, tied up a few loose ends left over from Wednesday afternoon, and soon realized that I really had nothing left to do.

It was 8:10 am.

To justify the time it took to drive in to work, I wasn’t about to leave so soon, so I fired up the internet and headed to one of my favorite game worn hockey jersey message boards.

There, right at the top, just listed moments earlier, were three jerseys for sale from the team we have season tickets for

You’re kidding me?

I’ve been looking for something from this team for nearly a year without any luck, but today, of all days, there are THREE of them for sale?! Ugh…

A few emails were exchanged, some pictures sent, and by 9:53 am, a PayPal transaction had been completed. I am now the proud owner of two of those jerseys.

So much for a frugal Black Friday, huh?

But wait, it gets even more ridiculous…

One of the companies that markets these jerseys for the various leagues decided to have a Black Friday sale of their own — which they announced in a broadcast email…

In a creative way of doing things, their gimmick was for any player’s jersey in stock who played in a game on Black Friday, the price would be discounted by 50%…

Tell me this isn’t happening.

Needless to say, at noon, as the Boston Bruins were hosting the New York Islanders, I was looking up and down the line-ups to see if anyone peaked my interest.

Thomas PockTo my dismay, Thomas Pöck (one of the few truly nice professional athletes out there) was a healthy scratch. Probably a good thing… I mean, that alone saved me a few hundred dollars…

Of course, there were a number a games to be played later in the day, but that would give me more time to rethink the decision that I’d already made to spend, spend, spend…

In the end though, I couldn’t pass it up. A fifty percent savings was too much to shrug off.

When the puck dropped at 7:07 pm and I could confirm that “my” players were playing, I added two more jerseys to the collection — one from the Columbus Blue Jackets and one from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

That’s in addition to the two college jerseys I picked up this morning…

Wow, I’m gonna be holding my head in my hands when the bill comes in just like all those people who bough 50-inch televisions at four in the morning…

Crazy how quickly a sound financial plan can be derailed…

What’d that last, 4 days?

In the end, though, while I unexpectedly spent a lot of money on Black Friday, I feel that I got some great value…

I know, I know, where’s the value in shredded polyester…

But, hey, at least this year I could afford it!

Jim CramerI’m no expert, but a few months ago when Jim Cramer predicted that the DJIA would fall to 8000, I told myself that I’d buy in if it ever closed under that number.

Of course, back then, the Dow was cruising along nicely at the 12000 mark and I thought that he was either high or just an idiot — an entertaining one.

Well, going out on a limb (a tiny one), I’m expecting his prediction to finally happen this week…

So am I buying in?

Reconsidering that Roth IRA idea I was throwing around?

I’ve got the funds available to max out a Roth for the year, and then throw some extra towards some ridiculously diverse mutual fund or something…

But, no… I’m not going to do it.

See, I want to buy in, I really do. I have no doubt that, years down the road, I’d see this as a really wise investment — one of my few really bright financial manoeuvres.

But right now, my primary goals are short term and, right this minute, I’m not willing to sacrifice them in favor of a long term goal.

Dumb move? Maybe…

But have you seen my entry room?

Sheesh…

That place is *still* a wreck…

Can You Dig It?

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