Tuesday, October 27, 2009

If I Could, I Would

If I could, I would make personal finance a mandatory competency in our educational system. It doesn't matter who or where you are in life, everyone participates in the economics of this society. For goodness sake, I have a business degree and still came out of school not knowing diddly squat about how to manage my own finances. If I didn't get it in a business program, where is it being taught? I'm not crapping on my school because I think the problem is universal. And yes, it would also be nice if some of this was taught at home as well.

How often do we hear, "if I knew then what I know now ...?" For me the ellipses would say, "I would not have spent my entire 20's getting in and out of debt." Certainly I'm not alone in that. Why can't personal finance, which is a fundamental life skill in my opinion, be as important as the other primary subjects such as math and science?

Furthermore, I'd love it if those who were in government offices that influence fiscal policies and/or spend taxpayers dollars were required to have some sort of higher level of personal finance training. No where else in this county can you legally write a blank check other than Washington, D.C and other state capitals. Each year my local newspaper publishes an article that lists all of the elected officials who are delinquent with their taxes. What in the ham sandwich are they doing in elected office, governing fiscal policy for a state, and they can't govern their personal finances? Maybe, just maybe we wouldn't have so much waste in government if financial education was a requirement. Maybe we wouldn't have social services that have run amuck if everyone (with the mental capacity to do so) had some sort of basic financial understanding. Maybe the real estate crash could have been avoided or at least tamed. I can go on and on but I think you get the picture. Do I think financial education is a panacea - no, it's just a good place to start.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Home Value Down ... Property Taxes Up

Earlier this year I was all gitty because my county sent a letter telling me that the taxed value of my home had changed, it had decreased by a few thousand dollars. I purchased my home about 6 years ago in a somewhat mature neighborhood so we didn't see the cost run-ups that occurred in the last decade. Nonetheless we, like everyone else, felt some level of impact by the real estate burst so the letter wasn't totally unexpected. However, the letter the followed a few months later was a gitty thief.

Imagine my surprise when I received the property tax bill and it was a couple of hundred bucks more than it was last year. What? That's not how the relationship works. When values go down so do the associated taxes, and vice versa. What's up with this inverse relationship between home values and property taxes? Hmph. Luckily my friendships are such that we can talk about personal finances. I was one day away from harassing my county tax commissioner when my dear friends reminded me that our beloved state is NOT providing the homestead credit this year because, eh hem, they're in a fiscal fiasco. Oh, yeah, I forgot about that, rats.

Because my property taxes are escrowed my mortgage is sure to increase by roughly $20 each month to accommodate for next year's taxes (the mortgage company use last year's figures to determine the monthly amount for the upcoming year). Additionally, I'll have to come up with the shortfall by February since this is when the mortgage company reassesses my escrow account. I'm anticipating that letter so I'll begin planning for the extra expense. What have we learned here today ladies and gents ... the government giveths, and the government takeths away.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Going Chartreuse

It's been a minute since I developed an interest in being more environmentally conscious. Going green can be such a huge lifestyle change so I thought it would be best for me to tackle it in very small baby steps. My first steps taken were purchasing reusable grocery bags and replacing blown light bulbs with those CFC energy efficient light bulbs. Okay, those steps are operating effortlessly now so I think it's time to make another move. So, what's next on project going light green, chartreuse if you will ... a couple of cleaning supplies.

1. All Purpose Cleaner. The Healthy Hostess has several simple, green clean recipes that I will try eventually. The first on deck is her all purpose cleaner recipe below. You can check out other great recipes for oven and toilet bowl cleaners by clicking on her link.
  • 2 cups of white distilled vinegar
  • 2 cups of water
  • optional - drops of essential oil (your choice)

2. Laundry Detergent. Now I must admit, I'm a little shy about this one because I've bought into the spiel that I must purchase one of the top brands to get the best results. Nonetheless, I'm going to try it since trusted bloggers such as The Lost Goat and Jabs at Debt Free Adventure have all tried it with great success. There are also a host of great tips and recipes here, at Tipnut. I plan to make a powder version with this simple recipe found on both Jab's and Tipnut's sites.

Basically it's a 2 to 1 ratio from what I can tell; 2 parts shaved soap to 1 part borax and 1 part washing soda. Jab did a great job with his pictorial tutorial and he does an excellent job with the cost breakdown as well - I'm not as much concerned about the cost but it's great info.

Who knew I would be so excited about making my own laundry detergent. Geez louise, what's happening to me? Hmm, I'm not sure but I like it so off to the store I go. Have a great weekend everyone!

***FYI ... I'm not sure why the hyperlinks don't show up with a line under them if you receive these posts via email. For those who receive e-mails of the posts I believe the hyperlinks show up as blue colored words, such as The Healthy Hostess and Tipnut. Just in case it's not blue for all e-mail readers, you can tell if a word is a hyperlink or not because it would be the same color as the post's title. For those who read via the blog, the same is true except the color isn't blue - it's the same reddish-orangish color used for the title and signature. Are we all clear as mud now? Thanks loyal reader who brought this to my attention;-).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Playbook - HSA

I'm excited to report that I have found a financial institution where I can transfer my Health Savings Account. Initially I was going with Bancorp because they seemed to offer what I was looking for - easy maintenance and fee free - with a $2,500 balance. I didn't like the balance requirement but it was the best offer that I could find. I've been building my HSA for a few years so I have the required minimum balance, but still, I don't like contingencies with my bank accounts. If I leave my HSA with the current bank I will incur a $3 per month fee since I'm no longer at the corp gig. My ex-employer picks up the monthly fee on their employees' behalf.

Luckily for me I never stopped perusing and looking around. One day I happened to look at the website of a credit union that's very close to my house. To my surprise I saw that they offered HSAs but I couldn't find the fee schedule. I called the credit union to inquire about the associated fees and the rep said, "we don't have any." LOL. I love it. Awesome. No minimums, no fees, no shenanigans. She then asked if I was a member and I said no, what are the qualifications? Her first question was "where do you live?" After I responded she said, "okay, you're qualified. You just need to open a savings account with at least $5." How funny. Okay, keep in mind that this credit union has been around for many years and its membership was reserved for employees of a specific family of companies, now the rules are more relaxed and membership is available to those who otherwise wouldn't have been able to join.

Loosening the membership belt is a great business move for the credit unions in this ailing economy. After all, it's the financial institutions that are buckling at the knees the most. Who knew that the infamous USAA would ever open their membership to who-so-ever will? You don't have access to all of the products but hey, they were as closed as a secret society fraternity at one point. Okay, a bit of an exaggeration, but they, like all credit unions, were reserved only for a specific group of people - thanks to the recession (or just a weird coincidence), things are changing. Yippee for those of us who never found themselves in the right circle to be a member of the credit unions ... with all of their lower rates on loans and higher rates on savings and fee-less banking. Gotta love it.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Should I Dip Into the E-fund?

I'll try to keep this short since I'm so pee-d off and highly irritated. I took a bunch of clothes to the dry cleaners in preparation for the changing season and guess what ... they lost them! This wasn't just any bunch, this was my good bunch. You know the kind, your power suits, perfectly fitting slacks, that classic white blouse that your hardly wear because it has to be dry cleaned and you can't wear it more than once, comfortable fitting sweaters, so on and so forth. What timing! No steady income at this point, season changing, and now I need to go shopping and buy more clothes.

Supposedly there was a break-in and seven orders were taken, mine included. There was no glass broken, why, because according to the worker or owner that I spoke with, their sliding door is easy to break into. What? Are you kidding me? Why was that not fixed? So I asked about the alarm? What luck these thieves have because apparently it happened on the night when we had a lot of rain and the electricity was out. Really. Uh huh. This is sounding more and more like an inside job to me. So, they have an official police report and their insurance company is coming out this week to go over estimates. What estimates? I bet it won't even meet their deductible because THEY didn't suffer any losses, only 7 customers! Oooooh I'm so pissed. Okay, I have to stop now because I'm getting too worked up over something that is completely out of my control.

I shared all of this to ask one question ... is this a valid reason to dip into the E-fund? This will be the first time I've had to do so. I don't mind using the E-fund because that's what it's there for, but to have to use it because the dry cleaners stole my clothes, Urrrrghh!!!!!!

***I'm told their policy when they "lose" your clothes is typically 10x what you would have paid them to clean it. It just so happens that this dry cleaners was running a 10 pieces for $19.99 special. I've been w/them for years so I had no reason to suspect anything. Based on their sale price, for every 10 pieces they would normally reimburse someone $199.90. Oh heck no, one of my suits cost $150 alone, and that was on sale! He told me that he's not sure what they're going to due since this was a break-in ... hence why they're meeting w/the insurance folks this week. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Great Exodus

Yes I've been ghost, but with good cause.... I did it, I left the corporate gig! I'll have to catch everyone up but in the meantime I just wanted to let you know what's been going on for the past few weeks. (here are a few oldies if you're not sure what I'm talking about - 1, 2 and 3)

Initially I was hoping for a 12/31/09 or 1/31/2010 exit date but I couldn't take it any longer. Exhaustion was setting in and my productivity level was sliding fast. No longer could I pull double duty, mentally or physically and it wasn't fair to me or to my employer.

Did I accomplish my savings goal - no, but you know what ... I realized that it will never "look" like enough money. After all, the worst thing that could happen is I will have to rejoin the workforce as an employee again. I know, I know, we're in a recession, jobs are scarce, blasey blasey blah - hey, what can I say, I'm willing to see where this road takes me. If not now, when? Here's a quote that I recently wrote and have since meditated on daily:

Fear is the greatest disability and comfort runs a close second. What's stopping you from pursing your passion, living your dreams and proactively designing your future?

***on another note, the running isn't coming along too good. Let's see if I can do it by the end of the year. The odds are against me, but hey, I'm willing to keep up the embarrassment for a little while longer.