Motivation

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FitBit HR ChargeMy wife received a FitBit HR for her birthday this past weekend and I put it on for around 25 seconds. This is my review.

Pretty solid build — a little like the rubbery material Swatch watches were made of in the 1980’s.

At the same time, while solid, it also kinda looks a bit like a Happy Meal toy giveaway — cheap really.

No one really remembers those days when McDonald’s handed out “tech” things so, apparently, it’s okay to charge $150 for something visually very similar.

On the plus side, while the material feels like a Swatch, they’ve pressed a pattern into it so it’s not arm-hair pulling — think of a really wide and tight elastic on your arm.

Yeah, it’s nothing like that.

It has a couple of flashing lights on the bottom side that touch your wrist that I’m guessing are checking out your blood flow to calculate your pulse — kinda like those one finger clothes-pin style pulse meters.

It also has a real watchband clasp unlike the friction clasp that the regular Charge model has. That alone made it worth $25 more in my book as it can’t just “fall” off.

My wife, though, disagreed and thought the less expensive model would be more comfortable.

The small display bar only lights up with the time when you tap it or press the one button on the side.

I realize that this is a battery saving measure and can totally respect that. However, the trend with most modern devices to have so few buttons is highly annoying.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated trying to turn a tablet on or off. There’s only one button — do you hold it down? Do you not hold it down? Is there some sort of magic pressing pattern required to make it do something?

With a singe button, this “new” wearable technology is akin to the on-board “computer” on my nearly 20-year old car.

You know, where you set the clock using a single button and endlessly frustrating patterns to jump from hour to minute.

Even my current Blu-Ray player only has a couple of buttons. One to turn it on and one to eject the disc. Should I lose or break the remote, well, the whole device becomes a paperweight.

I hate that.

The FitBit HR Charge is also not waterproof. I dunno, if a wearable device is suppose to “track” your daily activities, you’d think they’d ensure that it can be worn in the shower.

I know why it’s not waterproof but whichever company figures out a way to make it that way, well, that’ll be a game changer. Hey, watches are waterproof…and have been for like 30 years, right?

Anyway, in the short time that I wore it (no, I didn’t get a rash), it told me that it was 7:31PM and that my heart was beating 85 beats per minute.

Pretty uninteresting stuff, right there.

It also told me, since my wife had been wearing it pretty much all day, how many steps had been taken (with a little progress bar pushing her towards 10k, I’d assume), how far she’d traveled, and how many calories had been burned.

Now, as a geek, I could tear down the accuracy of all of these number with ease.

I mean, only a moron would think a device like this, straight out of the box, could be accurate with so little to go on and so many variables a strap of rubber with a blinking few lights could never know.

(Yes, I know you can “customize” it to your regular stride length and that sort of thing to make it slightly more accurate but I’m certain that 90% of their owners never even bother.)

That said — I don’t think precise accuracy is the point or purpose of the device.

With the Fibit displaying that she only had about 1200 steps to go until she hit the 10k mark, guess what?

We went on a late evening walk.

At a time when, usually, we’d just be lounging on the couch waiting for the kids to fall asleep.

And, while the numbers are just that, numbers, and essentially meaningless…those tiny numbers got her (and me…and three kids) up and moving at a time when, well, frankly, it was couch potato time.

That’s where the FitBit excels.

And until the current fad of wearable technology wears off, that’s probably a good thing for our society.

Get up, and get moving.


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PIAC Tangent
Hilariously, my kids refer to it as a “Fibbit”.

Somehow I’m pretty sure that their marketing department failed to test the final product name in a focus group of young children.

(Makes you wonder how/why the drug companies approved names like Latuda and Farxiga, doesn’t it? I find both names (and their commercials) hilarious.)

Sure, the FitBit isn’t geared towards that ageset anyway (though the wrist band does get small enough to fit my 6-year old) but I can just imagine people saying to their friends, “Oh, I walked over 14 miles yesterday…” with the group croaking “Fibbit! Fibbit!” in the background.

In Fitbit’s defense, they can always claim that the accuracy is just a “reasonable” guess…so, yeah, feel free to fib a little bit.

For real, though, like with solving money issues, the key is motivation and momentum.

The FitBit Charge HR delivers on both fronts…if you keep wearing it.

But NEVER in the shower.

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I’m now four weeks into to my 20-week auto loan payback plan and, while I stumbled out of the gate and ran out of money early on, things are feeling pretty good right now.

Just knowing that I’m 20% of the way there, already, has me motivated to keep going and I think I’ve managed to settle in to this new budget.

To date, I haven’t been able to send in an extra dime over what I’m already aggressively paying down on a weekly basis but I’m sure that as the balance remaining falls within a striking distance, I’ll be able to scrounge additional funds somewhere to rid myself of my largest monthly non-mortgage expense.

At worst, just 16 weeks to go.

My gut tells me it’ll be gone 12 weeks from now — week 16 below.

Weekly Payment Plan

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I’m often asked why I’ve repeatedly chosen to pay down my some of my lowest interest debt ahead of all of my other “higher cost” balances.

Actually, that’s not true at all.

I’m almost never asked about money since most people are afraid to talk about it. But, I’m going to pretend people ask me that all the time anyway…

It’s about options — and having more of them to choose from.

For most people with pretty decent credit, the debt with the lowest interest rate attached is pretty universally a car loan.

I mean, I could go out and finance an $80k Range Rover Sport this afternoon at a crazy low rate. Probably even drive it home tonight…

It’s cheap money that’s readily available.

Sounds great, right? Well… it sort of is and sort of isn’t.

Nearly everyone can afford a sweet ride. Not everyone can afford to keep it.

Anyway, in my “real-life” case, I’ve got an 2.9% auto loan with a little over $10k remaining on it. And I also have an outstanding $3500 balance on my credit cards with an APR over 10%.

Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, Clark Howard, any televised money guru, really, would recommend that I pay off the lowest balance or the highest rate first.

In my case, the credit card wins on both terms — it has a low balance and a high rate.

I understand the methods — Ramsey wants people to gain momentum and accomplish things quickly. Basically, wipe one balance out quickly to get yourself going.

Totally get that.

The mathmatically sensible thing to do, though, would be to pay the highest rate balance first since it’s “costing” you more each month than the lower rate balances.

And, clearly, that makes sense too. There isn’t any grey area when it comes to math.

But what those two ideologies are overlooking is — insert menacing fanfare here — the minimum monthly payment.

Say that again in a monster truck commercial voice.

MINIMUM. MONTHLY. PAYMENT.

So, back to my real-life example…

Credit cards, by design, have insanely low minimum monthly payments. I mean, their whole business relies on you not ever paying them back in full — that’s why there is no term.

They don’t want you to default…but they want you just short of defaulting…forever. That’s how they make money.

In my case, the minimum payment on my $3500 balance is $55. Hardly budget busting.

In contrast, the minimum monthly payment on my auto loan is $444.

That’s the equivalent of 8 months worth of credit card payments…in the span of two biweekly pay periods.

Financial freedom is all about having options — you know, money available to spend on what you choose to spend it on.

With that in mind, wouldn’t freeing up a mandatory $444 monthly expense be the faster path to financial freedom?

I mean, once that’s gone, I’ll be able to make double minimum payments to the credit card and still have an “extra” $400 to use in my budget where ever I choose.

That’s freedom.

Eliminate the big (non-mortgage) bills first — regardless of the balance or the rate.

It’ll make everything that follows so much more manageable.

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Okay, so there’s some tumbleweed tumbling around here lately.

And a whole boatload of spam comments regarding expensive sneakers, weight loss drugs, and forex schemes. I’ll clean it all up when I get a chance…

First, though, I need to get everyone still stopping by up to speed on what’s happened to my finances.

See, I lost my focus, my motivation, my direction, and as a result, a lot of my financial comfort.

No, I’m not in dire straits. Far from it, but I’m also a long way off from where I’d like to be.

Where I should be.

Where I could have been, you know, had I not stopped holding myself accountable here.

I do still track my finances.

I still check my balances multiple times per day. And, yes, I’m still paying my bills on time.

I’m just not moving towards any kind of goal… like a $1 million net worth (long since abandoned), zero credit card debt, or that 3-car garage we’d like.

So, here we go, starting over in a way…

Here’s the bad news…and what needs to be corrected in a hurry.

  • I’m currently carrying in excess of $6k in credit card debt. Debt that I’m paying finance charges on — that hasn’t happened to me in YEARS?!
  • I have a big auto loan balance. Again, not really anything unusual in the grand scheme of things but we’d grown accustomed to owning our cars outright. Prior to the past couple months, I’d forgotten what it was like to have a car payment and, I’ll tell ya, it’s really crampin’ my stlye.
  • My savings account has been tapped out so there isn’t any kind of back-up reserve. Much of that is due to the fact that I just paid my property taxes this week but… well, it’s troubling me to not having *any* emergency money when it’s just always been there for the past few years.

So, I’m not going to tiptoe around how I got here — I spent a lot of money and depleted my reserves. Pretty obvious.

Thankfully I’m not in a hole I can’t dig out of. Not even close.

But I do need to get back on track so… wish me luck!

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Every now and then my eyes turn into dollar signs and I daydream of how awesome the future will be…

And then I look at my finances and realize, well, most of those dreams, while definitely possible, are a long, long, long way off.

First, we need a new car — a bigger car. I’ve already detailed this plan here and I expect it to come to fruition within the next 60 days.

Following that, I’d like to break ground on the detached 3-car garage — or at least tear down the existing garage — that I’d originally hoped would be happening right about now.

We’re down to three cars now and, I’ll be honest, I’m chomping at the bit to get a little bit more storage space. A two-story 3-car garage will get all of our cars covered *and* really de-clutter and organize the house while also allowing the boys to have their own bedrooms. Win, win, win.

Up next would be the kitchen. We had the rest of the first floor completely gutted in 2010 but left the kitchen as-is. This past winter, we noticed that the half-bathroom adjacent to the kitchen was at risk of falling into the basement…

Basically, decades of a sweating toilet (in the humid summer months) have rotted out the floor. While it’s a very high priority to get this taken care of, the bathroom isn’t in the ideal place (as the laundry room is also poorly placed) and both should probably be roped in under a complete kitchen remodel with a small addition as well.

I have a sinking feeling that we’ll have to spend a couple grand to band-aid the issue until we’re ready and able, financially, to do it the way we really should.

Up next would be our full bathroom upstairs. Plain and simple — it sucks. The layout is all wrong, it’s poorly lit, poorly ventilated, the sink is cracked, and the tub drains far too slowly… Sounds awful, right?

Well, it’s not as bad as I’m making it out to be but…it needs work. If we’re able to get the downstairs bathroom built out and converted to a full bathroom, well, maybe this could wait another 5 years or so. Maybe.

Lastly, we’ve got a large level and clear lot. I’m not opposed to mowing grass but, for the last few years, growing grass hasn’t exactly come easily. The yard looks horrible.

Now, the new garage will eat up a pretty good portion but in behind the new garage, I’d also like to put in one of those sport courts. Not basketball or tennis for us but hockey.

In a perfect scenario, synthetic ice will have become low maintenance and practical so that we could skate on it year round but deep down I know that a concrete slap covered with sport tiles are what I really should be envisioning.

A couple nets, maybe some dasher boards, and lights installed on the backside of the garage to illuminate it for those autumn evening games.

That’s better than a swing set anyday… Of course, I need to get this done before the kids get too old to make it worth it…

And I know, I know, why increase the value of your home like this and then drop a hockey rink in the backyard and destroy all added value?

Well, mostly cause it’s for me and my family.

And we’re not looking to sell.

And, when you really look at it, a sport court is little more than a glorified cement pad so, if it ever became an issue, one dude with a bobcat, a dump truck, and some grass seed could take care of it in less than a day.

So, how much money are we talking about?

Well, we’re expecting to pay $20k for a used minivan, the garage will be at least $60k, the kitchen/bathroom update and addition would probably be $35k, the upstairs bathroom would be $10k, and the sport court would probably be around $7k.

Anybody have $130k handy?

Pulling my head down from the clouds, we’ll likely finance the car, put the garage off for another year, put a $2k bandaid on the downstairs bathroom while continuing to dream of a full blown kitchen remodel, abandon the sport court idea, and keep on using our dismal upstairs bathroom.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

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Early 80s CountachI’m not a gearhead by any stretch so car shows aren’t really one of my areas of expertise but I am sure of one thing — there is absolutely nothing impressive about a Mustang, Camaro, or Corvette manufactured within the past 50 years. Nothing.

What you have there is, well, it’s kinda like the sports car of the mulleted and moustached, sleeveless shirt wearing, tattoo’d arm trailer park crowd.

I know people will disagree with me and I can respect that but you can’t deny that the typical Camaro driver looks like they could have been featured on the “People of Walmart” website.

And Corvette drivers? Well, you can spot them a mile away…

That’s a fact.

Old FerrariSo this past weekend, Duncan and I went to a car show — a real car show, for a change — where Fords and Chevy’s were turned away.

Just five different brands were allowed — Ferrari, Lamborghini, Masserati, Alfa Romeo, and there was one of those new Fiat Abarth models there too…

It was free admission (like all of the car shows we happen upon) but this crowd was…different.

I won’t say classy. I won’t say wealthy either.

Ferrari enthusiasts are their own kind of weird. Seriously.

But I will say that I felt a certain commonality to the crowd — none at all impressed by flame paint jobs, blowers jutting through the hood, or insane stereo systems.

Ferrari TestarossaThese were just beautiful cars, as-is.

And there didn’t seem to be any outward one-upmanship amongst the owners like you see at the “regular” car shows. These guys (and gals) were all openly content with the knowledge that they had amazing cars — silly customizations not required.

Duncan voicing his opinion...One guy, upon overhearing Duncan’s high pitched voice exclaim that our Atlantic Blue BMW Z3 was “better” than his Tahiti Blue Lamborghini Countach offered to give him a “ride”.

Duncan was a little take aback by how the scissor doors opened but still climbed into the car before kinda freaking out a bit before the guy even had a chance to get in the driver seat so the ride never really did happen, but I still thought it was really cool (and modest) how the guy offered to drive him down the street.

His objective (based on his cheerful demeanor) was clearly not to prove to a three year old that a Countach was truly better than a Z3 but moreso to give me a story to tell (and a crappy cell phone picture to show) him when he’s older.

Scissor Door SkepticismWhile I was clearly uneasy watching Duncan navigate his way out of the deep passenger seat, praying that the owner didn’t notice how sticky his hands were, the guy asked what kind of car Duncan was talking about.

I told him it was just a Z3 and the guy got down to Duncan’s level to let him know that he was right, “Definitely right — my blue car only has these tiny windows,” as he shut the scissor door to show him.

“Your car is a convertible!”

So after walking by a few more Ferrarris and seeing a bunch more driving around — either just arriving or changing their spot — we headed home and my mind started drifting…

Am I rich enough to have one of those?

Countach driving byI mean, I’ve always kinda wanted a DeLorean (a guy up the street from me had one when I was growing up) but I wouldn’t mind a Countach or Testarossa either…

A little online research proved that Italian super cars hold their value about as well as a Land Rover does… (they don’t)

Yes. I could afford one.

In fact, my hockey jersey collection alone is worth a really, really, really nice one.

It’s not so much about wealth, it’s more what you choose to spend your disposable income on…

It gives me a little more to chew on, you know, when I next decide to purchase a dirty piece of polyester…

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Having done this a few times now, I’ve learned that it’s not so much about how large a balance you’re carrying but how able you are to make constant and consistent payments while keeping the credit cards in your wallet.

Here are the three puzzle pieces that determine success or failure: Payments Made, Interest Charged, and Purchases Made.

The total balance doesn’t matter one bit. $20 in the hole or $200k in the red, it doesn’t matter.

In hockey terms, it’s a lot like a player’s plus/minus rating.

For those that don’t follow ice hockey, the +/- is a statistic that doesn’t take into account how many goals a player has scored. If you’re on the ice when your team scores a goal, whether or not you’ve influenced the play at all, you get a plus one. If you happen to be on the ice when the opponent scores a goal, you get a minus one. Pretty simple, huh?

Well, sometimes the most valuable player on a team is the guy with the fewest points. Some players are just “good luck charms” for those around them and the +/- rating is what showcases an otherwise un-noticed talent.

Brad McCrimmon, who sadly died in that hockey team plane crash a few months ago, has always been the “stud” of this statistic.

He was a defenseman who never once scored more than 13 goals in an entire season. Thirteen goals isn’t very many.

Casual fans thought of him as a, well, just a generic and totally replaceable player. I know I was never “excited” to see him on the ice — really, just a boring player among the likes of an offensive lineman in football or the guy who bats eighth in baseball.

Simply put, no one was chanting his name.

But when you took into account the +/- statistic, well, he was second to none. It became crystal clear that his team scored often and the opponent pretty much never scored while he was on the ice.

So, even though he wasn’t on the score sheet very often, he was, in a technical sort of way, the best player on the team. By far.

Back to finances…

So, first and foremost, my payments for the month (goals for) must exceed the sum of my expenses and the finance charges (goals against).

It’s really that easy.

I don’t even need to address the total balance — as long as the above holds true, I’ll always be headed in the right direction.

Duh?

I know, this isn’t rocket science but so many people somehow manage to lose track of how simple it all is…

So far, in January, I’ve charged $399.06 and I’ve submitted $1473.95 worth of payments. There have been no finance charges as of yet.

That means that my plus/minus rating is plus $1074.89.
And we’re less than halfway through the month…

Winning!

(I know, I know, I’m 6 months late with the Charlie Sheen references…)

It only took an entire year but, finally, this afternoon, I submitted the paperwork to stop contributing to my 401k.

No, no, it’s not due to the recent ups-and-downs on the market and any sort of economic uncertainly.

And I know that I’m not following my own advice by making this move.

But you know what?

I’ve got more credit card debt than I’m comfortable with and I’ve been dancing around that fact for too long.

Fourteen months ago it was a zero balance. Since then, I’d been tap dancing around $25k — and now the finance charges are starting to kick in.

My first manoeuvre was to sell the I-Bonds.

Hitting the pause button on the 401k is the second.

My debts will most certainly fall now.

They’d better.

Can You Dig It?

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