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Last first day of school

September 6th, 2017 at 02:11 pm

Today is our daughter's last first day of school. She officially begins her senior year of college. We have one more tuition payment to make in December plus any graduation expenses (yearbook, cap and gown, etc.) but the end is near.

We will spend about 32K out of pocket on college costs this year so it will be nice to have that income for other purposes beginning in 2018.

Big car repair bill

November 12th, 2008 at 08:34 pm

The downside of keeping cars forever is that periodically the planets align just so and a bunch of things wear out or break at the same time.

Our van is a 2000 Toyota Sienna. I took it into the shop this morning for what I believe is a failing starter. The last time it was in for service, they also told me that the front brakes were due for replacing, the rear shocks were shot, the rear wheel cylinders were leaking and the tires were worn. I put off all that stuff at the time until we got past the Bat Mitzvah expenses, but today I told them to go ahead and fix everything. My wife has noticed the car slipping a bit on wet roads so I definitely wanted to get the tires done.

End result will be a nice big repair bill. Hopefully, though, this will hold us for a while. I don't mind spending $1,000 or so each year to maintain a good quality car.

Too many shoes

May 5th, 2008 at 09:01 pm

I left the house on Thursday and flew to Florida for a funeral. When I arrived back in Philadelphia, I drove straight to Princeton, NJ to attend a Bar Mitzvah (a 2-day affair), meeting my wife and daughter who were already there. Yesterday morning, as we were packing to return home, I realized that between the 3 of us, we had worn or packed 14 pairs of shoes!

Normally, I would blame my wife, but I was just as guilty. I had 4 pairs: my sneakers, my casual black walking shoes, black and brown dress shoes. I had 3 different suits with me, one needed brown shoes, the other needed black. I wore sneakers for traveling and the rest of the time and brought the casual black shoes in case we went out with friends before or after the affair.

I realized that many people in the world, and even here in the US, are lucky to have one pair of shoes to call their own. Here we were, 3 people with 14 pairs between us, and that's just what we had packed. We truly are a spoiled bunch. Even those of us who think of ourselves as fairly frugal live with such incredible excess when you really think about it.

What's my point? I'm not quite sure, but it just seems like we could all use a bit of simplification in our lives. It would benefit our finances. It would free up space in our homes. It would decrease the strain we each put on our planet's resources. And it would make packing for travel so much easier - LOL.

Death in the family today

April 30th, 2008 at 01:00 am

My aunt died this afternoon. She has been critically ill for a few weeks and on a ventilator in ICU for the past 2 weeks. There had been no sign of improvement and her condition started to deteriorate so the family made the decision to take her off the vent.

The funeral is Friday morning in Florida (I'm in NJ). I just finished making all the arrangements for my mother and I to fly down Thursday night. Unfortunately, we will need to fly back Friday evening because we have a Bar Mitzvah to attend Saturday morning here in NJ. So it will be a crazy few days running back and forth but I was always close to my aunt and her family. Her daughter and I are age peers and grew up spending a lot of time together. They lived a block away from me growing up so we were always over each other's homes.

Just another reason to keep an emergency fund.

Did 5-mile March for Babies today

April 27th, 2008 at 08:42 pm

Nothing financial about this post.

The 3 of us participated in the March of Dimes March for Babies today. It was a 5-mile walk done to raise money for the March of Dimes. Our daughter's class got involved after one of her teacher's had a miscarriage earlier in the school year.

Even though we are all in decent enough shape, a 5 mile walk still represented a fairly ambitious activity for us. We did do a couple of 2-3 mile hikes in New Hampshire last summer so I didn't really doubt that we could do it. It was just way outside of our normal activity level.

The walk began at 9:00am and we got back to the starting point just before 10:30am. We were a little achy, but enjoyed the sense of accomplishment and knew we had raised money for a good cause.

My wife and I keep saying we need to get into better shape, and we have been walking in the evenings although not as regularly as we could be and usually for less than 30 minutes. Having done this 90-minute walk today, I can definitely use that to push us to walk more regularly and for a little longer than we've been doing. Knowing that we did today's walk is pretty motivating (though we're waiting to see how we feel when we get up tomorrow - LOL).

Invited to do speaking engagement

April 25th, 2008 at 01:41 pm

A few months ago, I went throught the speaker-training program for one of the pharmaceutical companies and did do one speaking program for them. I was hoping it would become a regular thing, but so far it hadn't.

But today, the rep from that company was in and said she'd like to have me do a program sometime in June. That would be great. I told her I was wondering what had happened as I'd like to do them more regularly, maybe every couple of months if possible.

I enjoy doing it and the money always comes in handy. I think the current rate for speakers is $625 per program. So at least I know I've got one coming up.

Suit shopping today

April 24th, 2008 at 07:09 pm

I just got back from shopping for a couple of new suits. I went to Men's Wearhouse, which is where I bought my current tuxedo a couple of years ago. I knew they had decent prices and excellent customer service. And I was not disappointed. In fact, my wife came along and she was jealous of how easy the process was compared to shopping for women's clothing.

We walked in the door and a salesman came over. I told him I needed a suit and he pulled out a tape measure and checked my size right there. He walked us over to the racks, asked what color I had in mind and picked out a jacket for me to put on. I didn't care for the design (3 button) so he took it back and gave me a 2 button one which we liked. Plus, the 2 button one came with 2 pairs of pants, making it more versatile and it was cheaper than the 3 button suit.

Then he explained the current 2-for sale and what I'd save if I needed anything else. I did want a 2nd suit, so he picked one out that I probably wouldn't have looked at on my own, but it was very nice and looked very good on me, so I got that as my 2nd item.

We walked to the fitting area and the tailor came out and marked each piece for altering. Then we paid and were on our way. The whole process took barely 45 minutes. Oh, and I also brought in a pair of suit pants that needed the hem resewn and they did that for me while we were shopping.

The total damage for 2 suits with 3 pairs of pants and alterations on those items and the pants I brought in was $633. They do have a rewards program and I had a few hundred points from buying the tux. With today's purchase, I earned a $50 gift card which I'll get in a couple of weeks and I'm within a few dollars of earning another $50 card. So when I get the first $50 card, I'll go back and pick up a couple of shirts and make sure I spend enough to get me the other $50 card.

There are places I could have gone where the suits would have been cheaper and still acceptable quality, but the service wouldn't have been nearly as good. I'm not often willing to pay for service. I'm more of a "leave me alone and let me shop" kind of shopper. But once every 10 years when I need a new suit, I appreciate the extra attention that a place like Men's Wearhouse offers.

Happy Earth Day - philosophical musings

April 22nd, 2008 at 04:55 pm

Today is Earth Day. Today is also the 10th anniversary of the opening of Disney's Animal Kingdom park in Florida. That means 10 years ago today, my wife and I were enjoying a wonderful day exploring the wonders of the new park as we were there for the grand opening. In fact, our first visit to the park actually happened a few days before they opened to the public when we attended the preview for annual passholders.

Does any of this have anything to do with finance? Kind of, in a philosophical sort of way. Something that we discovered very quickly upon entering Animal Kingdom (AK) was that it was different from other Disney parks. The focus wasn't on glitz and fantasy and manufactured experiences. The focus, instead, was on reveling in the wonders of nature. What did that mean? It meant that the best way to enjoy the park wasn't to get through the gate and rush to the most popular attraction to get at the front of the line. And then rush from there to the next attraction. The park WAS the attraction.

We spent 2 full days opening to closing exploring every path, every display, every shop, all the decor and carvings and artwork. It was a wonderful experience.

How does that apply to money and finance? I think the "stop and smell the roses" theory applies. Your financial goal might be paying for college or buying a house or retiring or all of those, but you still need to take time along the way to enjoy the journey. You can't work toward retirement with blinders on, never stopping to enjoy all that surrounds you.

I spoke to many, many people who were disappointed by Animal Kingdom. Their main complaints were that there wasn't enough to do, not enough rides and shows. They were bored after a couple of hours. In speaking with them, invariably they took the guide map and raced from attraction to attraction and did little else. When I told them about all the great stuff we saw and showed them the hundreds of pictures I had taken, they didn't recognize much of what I spoke of because they hadn't taken the time to do those things. They zipped right past them.

I think that's how many people live their lives. They focus on the big stuff and forget to take time to enjoy the details. Sure, retirement is important. Sure, that multi-thousand-dollar vacation was fun. But it is often the little things that make life worth living. I have a little sign on my desk at home that says, "Enjoy the little things because one day you may look back and realize they were the big things." Animal Kingdom was a "little things" experience, admittedly located within a "big things" destination.

Far too many people to this day fail to appreciate that park in the way it was designed. As a result, Disney has been forced to add thrills to keep people coming. In fact, since adding the Expedition Everest roller coaster, AK has become the attendance leader among the four parks in Florida. I have to admit that we love that ride, but we are saddened by what the park has become and how the original message has been lost in the process.

We also have a poster hanging in our family room with quotes from Adair Lara's book, "Slowing down in a speeded up world" which also applies to this topic. She talks about making time to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, things that don't cost a penny but really can make a difference in how you feel and your outlook. It is all lessons that more of us need to follow, myself included a lot of times.

Our daughter is 12. Every night at bedtime, for years, we have each taken a turn saying what was special that day, the point being that even in our mundane, repetitive schedules, there is always something that made that day unique and memorable. So pay more attention to that stuff and enjoy the journey of life.

Surplus building in checking account

April 19th, 2008 at 03:19 pm

For quite a while, especially when my wife wasn't working at all for several months last year, our cash flow was kind of tight. We were still doing all of our standard saving and investing, but there wasn't much of anything left over each month, a situation I wasn't really used to.

Since she went back to work part-time, and 50% of her gross goes to her 401k, her actual take home pay is minimal, but it is enough to give a cushion to the cash flow. I guess partly as a result of that and also from watching our spending a little better, we're finally building up some surplus in the budget again.

I keep thinking I'm forgetting something, like some bill or expense that is coming that I haven't accounted for, but I really don't think that's the case. In fact, as I posted earlier, I paid our auto insurance bill in full recently instead of paying it over a few months like I had been doing. Plus, I put our entire tax refund into our Roths and plan to do the same with the tax stimulus payment next month. Also, the final payment for my daughter's braces is due in May. After that, we'll have an extra $150/month to work with.

We do have our daughter's Bat Mitzvah coming up in September, but we already have money set aside for those costs.

I guess the bottom line will be that we'll be able to have our Roths maxed for the year by the end of May, a month ahead of schedule. Then, I'll work on making extra payments to our home equity loan. I'd like to get that repaid by the end of 2009. That will free up another $218.01/month. Of course, by then, we'll probably need that money to fill our tanks and our pantry if prices keep climbing like they've been lately.

Planned Obsolescence - Cell Phones

April 15th, 2008 at 11:27 pm

Planned obsolescence is when a product is manufactured to have a short life span, forcing customers to replace the item on a regular basis.

I think that describes cell phones perfectly.

I've had my cell phone for a couple of years. It is in excellent shape, works perfectly well and has the 2 main features I demand of a cell phone, the ability to make and receive calls. Despite all of that, I will be replacing it in the immediate future. Why? Planned obsolescence.

When I first got the phone, I needed to charge the battery every 2 weeks or so. Then it started being every 10-12 days. Then 8-10. Now, a charge only lasts 5-7 days, even less if I actually use the phone. I'm tired of listening to that annoying low battery tone beeping through my conversation.

I could just replace the battery. I did a little searching online and found a replacement for as little as $13.99 plus postage. Perhaps, I could find one in a local store and avoid the postage. However, I can get a brand new phone for FREE (after rebate). So why would I spend $14 or more to get a new battery for the phone I've got? I really wish a new phone wasn't the best option, but there's no way around it. My cousin, also on our family plan, had to do the same thing a couple of months ago. I have to wonder how many thousands of phones end up in landfills each year for this very reason.

More Bat Mitzvah shopping

April 12th, 2008 at 06:27 pm

My daughter will be celebrating her Bat Mitzvah in September. Both for creativity reasons and to save money we are making our own invitations, place cards, sign-in board and centerpieces. Since we're using a bunch of craft supplies in the process, we've been making a point of using the weekly AC Moore and Michael's coupons for the discounts.

Today, we first went to 2 different scrapbook supply stores. We need cardstock to back/trim the invitations. We also wanted to get a corner punch to embellish the corners of the invitations rather than just having plain square corners. We got some good ideas but didn't actually purchase anything.

Then we went to AC Moore and Michael's (they are across the street from each other). As AC Moore, we used a 50% off coupon to get a 24x36 inch canvas to use as the sign-in board. At Michael's, we got adhesive we need for the centerpieces and used a 40% off coupon to get oil pastels, also for the centerpieces.

We saved $12.00 plus tax with the coupons. I figure by going every week, we'll probably end up saving a couple hundred dollars by the time we're done.

$640 to Roth

April 8th, 2008 at 01:28 am

I just made my latest Roth contribution, $640 to my wife's account for 2008. That brings us up to $5,800 total so we're past the halfway point of the $10,000 max.

Phyllo Phrenzy

April 6th, 2008 at 08:20 pm

For some reason, when we got back from a morning event at our temple, I decided to tackle the pack of phyllo dough that's been sitting in the fridge since I bought it a couple of weeks ago.

I thawed a pack of frozen spinach and mixed it with a container of feta cheese and made a batch of spinach and feta puffs.

Then, I asked DD what she might like because she doesn't care for those. She said she would like mushroom and green pepper ones. So I chopped up some baby bellas and green pepper, added some blended pizza cheese and some garlic and oregano and did a batch of those.

Finally, I had told DD a while ago that I'd make dessert phyllos some time. So DW chopped up an apple and I mixed in brown sugar, flour, oatmeal and butter, seasoned with cinnamon and nutmeg, and made a batch of those.

They're all chilling in the freezer now. We'll make dinner in a little while - cook up some pasta and have the spinach and mushroom puffs on the side and the apple ones for dessert. The rest will stay in the freezer for quick snacks, sides and lunches for a while.

Portfolio recovering nicely

April 5th, 2008 at 01:57 am

Thanks to recent market performance and relatively low spending lately, our balance sheet is looking a lot better than it did a few weeks ago. We're still down for the year, but only by about $5,500. A few weeks ago, we were down close to $20,000. We've also paid down $2,300 in debt so our net worth is only off about $3,200 YTD. I'm certainly not used to seeing it in negative territory, but at least it is a lot less negative than it was not too long ago. Those numbers also don't include the paycheck I got today because it hasn't been deposited yet. That'll make us close to even for the year.

Top 5 Tips for the Casino

May 25th, 2007 at 12:40 am

1. Know the odds - The casino, or house, has a mathematical advantage in every game played in a casino, but that edge is not the same for every game, or even every bet within a given game. In a game like Keno, the house edge is 25-30%, meaning for every $100 you wager, the house can expect to win $25-$30. On the other end of the scale are the Craps and Blackjack tables where the house edge is just 0.6% and 0.8% respectively. So compared to that Keno game, at the Craps table, for every $100 you wager, the house can expect to win just $0.60. Where do Slot Machines fall? It depends, but isn't good in any case. The house edge on slots varies from about 3% to 25% depending on the machine. The worst table game odds can be found at the roulette table where the house edge is 5.25% (with double zeros).

2. Learn the game - The odds I just discussed apply only to players who are utilizing perfect strategy. An untrained blackjack player gives the casino more like a 20% edge, instead of the 0.8% edge from a knowledgeable player. There are numerous websites and books at your local library or bookstore where you can study the games (craps or blackjack hopefully) and learn basic strategy to maximize your odds and minimize the house advantage. There are also many online casinos where you can play for free to practice your skills before setting foot in a real casino wagering real money.

3. Establish your limits - Other than learning the game, the most important things to decide before you start playing are how much you are willing to lose and at what point you will stop if you are winning. Many people do the first one and forget to do the second. As a result, when they are doing well and find themselves ahead, they don't stop playing. Instead, they keep on wagering and, inevitably, end up losing money when they could have walked away ahead had they set, and stuck to, a winning limit, not just a losing limit.

4. Get a Player's Club card - On your first visit to a casino, stop at the Promotions desk and sign up for their Player's Club. It goes by a different name at every casino. You will get a card with a magnetic strip. You then insert that card in any slot or video poker machine or hand it to the pit boss at any table game. Your play will be monitored and recorded and you will earn points toward comps, or complimentary gifts. Comps can range from free parking in the casino garage to free meals to major stuff like TVs, stereos or free vacations. Contrary to common belief (I was surprised to learn this myself) but comps are not reserved only for the high rollers. After just my 2nd trip to one casino this year, wagering just $300 each trip (and winning several hundred one of those times) I received offers for free hotel stays at that location. It definitely pays to get the card and to stay loyal to one casino (or family of casinos).

5. Gambling is entertainment, not investing - Since this is a personal finance site, I should point this out. Money that you take to the casino should come out of your Entertainment budget or envelope. This should be money that isn't needed for anything important like rent or college or retirement. If you win, you can certainly put some extra money toward those things. If you lose, however, you don't want to come up short where it really matters.

Go and play and have fun and GOOD LUCK!

My ebay 10th Anniversary!

May 15th, 2007 at 12:34 pm

I registered for ebay on May 15, 1997, 10 years ago today.

My first sale was a pre-opening commemorative guide to Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park which I think went for about $17.00. My most recent sale was 2 days ago for a lot of 50 promotional pens for $15.50 to a woman in England. Along the way, I've logged sales to every state and most major countries.

My best month I had sales of just over $2,600. My best year I had sales of over $13,000.

For a few months in 2000, I did ebay full-time after leaving my old job.

At my peak, I was running 100 active auctions at all times. Back then, auctions ran for 10 days and I would list 10 new items every day.

I currently sell pretty casually, 16 listings in the last 60 days, and that was after a very extended period of not selling at all. I just started back recently, but I'm looking forward to many more years of active selling.

A bad day at the casino

April 26th, 2007 at 12:20 am

I am currently in Atlantic City to attend a professional conference. I arrived this morning and plan to stay until Saturday (possibly Friday night unless my wife is able to join me Friday and stay over with me).

Anyway, I do enjoy playing some blackjack when I have the opportunity. Over the past couple of years, I've studied the game and learned basic strategy (something very few casual players bother to do). Although it definitely doesn't guarantee you will win (as was obvious today), it does nearly eliminate the casino's advantage, making it less than 1%.

I got off to a decent start and at one point had more than doubled my starting stake. I continued playing and ultimately gave back almost everything I had sat down with. I played again later and did even worse, losing all I sat down with.

I do plan to play more while I'm here. Hopefully, I'll have better luck next time around.

Lucrative online surveys - sometimes backfire

December 30th, 2006 at 02:43 am

As you know, I'm a physician. One of the few perks of that occupation is that I am frequently invited to participate in market research surveys which pay quite well. While most people are doing online surveys to make a few dollars, I'm doing ones that pay $50-$100 for surveys that I can sometimes zip through in 15 minutes or so.

Even so, I ignore 80% of the invites I get because some of the surveys are so incredibly boring and tedious that if I'm not in the right frame of mind, I can't stand doing them.

I decided to do one tonite while we were all sitting around watching tv. They said it would take about 35 minutes and pay $70. The opening screen said there would be about 50 questions. The questions weren't numbered and there was no progress bar indicating how far along I was in the study. So I got started. The format was incredibly boring and tedious, but I kept at it for what seemed like a very long time. Eventually, my family and I decided to play a board game, so I took a break. When I came back, I continued the survey and began counting questions. After 50, I stopped reading and just clicked randomly to see if there was an end to this torture. After 75, I just gave up. I e-mailed the survey company to tell them their survey was faulty and had no end. I also told them that I felt I was entitled to some compensation for the huge amount of my time they had wasted with their defective survey. I've done a lot of surveys for them, so I'm curious to see if I get a response, and, more importantly, if I receive a payment.

This is the first time anything like that has happened, though, so it is probably some software glitch. Oh well. Such is life. Earlier this week, I got checks for $60 and $80 for other surveys I have done recently, so I can't complain too much if once in 10 years something like this happens.

I'm never selling my house!

December 29th, 2006 at 07:41 pm

Ok. I've decided to take the plunge and start blogging. I don't know how often I'll add entries, but when the mood strikes me I will.

On to the topic at hand...

My mother is in the process of selling her house. She has lived there since 1955 and has never sold a house before, nor have I. We bought our home in 1994 and I remember what a pain that was. Well, selling is even worse. The house was put on the market June 1 with a realtor. One day before the realtor's contract was to expire, he received an offer. To make a long story short, the potential buyer was preapproved for a loan but turned out to have almost zero money to his name. He wanted my mother to finance the purchase. Even the realtor said that was crazy, so that deal fell through.

House goes back on the market with a new realtor. Many more people view the house, at least 40 I think. Finally get one offer. Again, the buyer is preapproved for a mortgage. Settlement was scheduled for today. My mother got a call from the realtor 2 days ago that the guy got turned down for the mortgage, so that deal has fallen through.

On her own, my mother had contacted a guy who advertised in the local paper that he buys houses. On the phone, without seeing the house, he made her an offer. She explained that she couldn't sell it to him yet as it was under contract, but she'd keep him in mind. He called her a few times over the weeks to see what was up. Finally, knowing the latest deal was done, we met with him yesterday. He still wants the house and came with contract in hand. I wouldn't let her sign it until her attorney reviewed it and we settled some other issues with the realtor. All of that got done. The buyer altered the contract based on the attorney review and my mother will be signing it today. So at this point, closing is supposed to be sometime on or about 1/31. We'll see what happens with that.

My mom is 76 and still pretty sharp and this has been outrageously stressful and draining for her. I can't imagine what kind of ordeal it is for someone older or infirm or less educated.

After I got home from meeting with the potential buyer and showing him the house, going to the lawyer to have the contract reviewed and going to the realtor to get a release from her contract, I came home and told my wife that we are never selling our house. We will live there until we die or we will give it to charity if we ever decide to move. It just isn't worth the hassle. Actually, what I'd probably do is call one of these guys who buys houses, just like my mom did. Even though the deal isn't done yet, the process is much more streamlined. The house is being sold as is. No inspections or certifications. No mortgage contingency. No prior home sale contingency. Just an outright sale. Why can't the deals all be that simple?

There! I've done it! My very first blog entry. I hope to post more soon.