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Let's Get Personal (please comment)

October 3rd, 2011 at 11:33 am

Blog posts have been pretty sparse from me lately. This one is going to get a little personal. I am going to share with you all some things that I do not usually tell random Internet strangers. 

This past weekend was quite emotional for my family and I. To make a long story short, we live with my parents, in their upstairs (bedroom, bathroom, and living area), while I pay down our debts. My oldest brother (32) also lives there, in the basement. This weekend, my father held a household meeting because of the recent goings-on in the house. My wife and I thought it would be an intervention to try to get my brother to straighten up. Week before last, he left the oven on with a pizza in it for four hours, scorching the pizza. We - my wife, infant, and I - woke up that morning with killer headaches, sick stomach feelings, and our 7.5 (8 months today!) month-old was super cranky that day. Obviously she had some physical issues going on other than just her normal teething. This is a health hazard. 

Last week, my brother attacked me for trying to get him to stop yelling at our mother. My wife was worried for my safety and the safety of our child. I was fine, as I have military background. However, that does not lighten the situation by any means. He is physically and verbally abusive. 

A couple weeks ago, we came home from running errands, to find smoke wafting up from the basement. The kind of smoke? Marijuana. 

So we have this meeting on Saturday evening. And what is it about? It is about how my brother has "agreed" to shape up or get out (though he is drunk and high during this meeting). He was given 30 days. Which, mind you, has been a previous ultimatum given him by them before. They fail to execute. My father went on to say that the fact that my wife and I "practice false religion" (being that we do not go to their religious gatherings; instead, we attend a different "religion's" congregation, because that is where our spirits feel at home), is a negative aspect of what "goes on in his house." I protested, remarking on how my brother was behaving during this meeting, pointing out how he was smiling awkwardly, and obviously pretending. They wouldn't hear it. I also pointed out the recent goings-on and how it effects us, but they would not hear that either, and even said that there were no harmful elements emitted from that burnt pizza, and that my daughter's life was not in danger. They kept saying that we needed to move forward.

Yesterday, at church, the message hit home for us. It was about worship. Where and how it is conducted, and where it should come from within yourself. Basically, the most important PLACE of worship is from your spirit, your heart. The physical place of worship is hardly a matter (within reasonable limits, of course). There was a lot more said, but I DO NOT want this to become a religious or spiritual debate, or even a topic. Just giving a look into who we are and how this has effected us. We then spoke with our pastor and he gave us some real insight and encouragement. 

We are now looking at other options.

My wife's mother is in an LPN to RN bridge program currently, and will be out in April or so. She is out of school by 4. I should be moving to that new position with the new employer in the next week or so. That position will net me about $250 more than I am netting right now. It will also allow me to go to school in the Spring. My wife suggested that she go to work at her previously employer, Macy's, where she worked the same nights as my new shift will be. Her mother would come over to watch our little one during that time. Though she will be out of school and back into the workforce in just a few months, she will do what she needs to help us out. Even if that means taking a job that coincides with our schedule. While I hate to put that on her, she has insisted. 

My wife and I would also be donating plasma regularly. One person who donates plasma the maximum amount of times per month can make around $200 in that month. However, since they are so strict about your urine and blood contents, you are not guaranteed or even likely to be able to donate that often. So, we are not including this in our future budget plan. 

All of this would help us to move out of my parents' house. The goal is to find a one bedroom for no more than $500/mo. It is doable. The university I will be attending offers family housing. One bedroom for $480/mo, and two bedrooms for $500/mo. However, in order to be accepted into the Spring move-in dates, you must apply in November. And the Winter move-in dates application periods have already passed. So, while these rates are far above any other we will find, it looks as though this will not be doable... We need out ASAP!

This brings me to the more financial side of things... We have been trying to decide... Should I take money out of savings in order to pay off a monthly bill of $100 (payoff is $549). We have $793 in our main savings account, $590 of which is EF. We also have $1,154 in another savings account, that might need to be used for airfare later next year for a somewhat expected emergency (sorry that I cannot provide more information on that), that - of not taken care of when it comes up - could spell unemployment for me. 

If I do not payoff this $100/mo bill, we will not be able to afford to move out.

Thoughts on this?

Also, I have a $200/mo bill in which I owe a total of $11,600. This is a no-interest loan from my parents. They paid-off a car while I was in college before (yes, I graduated). They did this without me asking, abd considered it a graduation gift. That car is now gone, and so is the loan. The loan was part of their second mortgage. Their second mortgage is being written off as a loss at Wells Fargo. Currently, this $200 goes to lay for my Mother's addictions to beer and cigarettes (which she spends $300/mo on). 

Since this loan was written off at the bank, I feel that when we move out, I will stop paying it. Their total disregard for my family's safety is inexcusable, and I do not feel obligated to pay this bill anymore. 

The worst thing about stopping payment to them is that I am going back on my word. However, they have gotten $8,000 from me ($600 of which is since the loan was written off). Also, I would be severing ties with my family. I feel they are - with the exception of my father - an endangerment to my child. For instance, my Mother's addictions get in the way of her ability to watch our daughter. She once placed her on the kitchen counter so she could reach into the fridge and get a beer. This is one of many dangerous situations she has put our daughter in...

Would you continue to pay, or would you stop?

Thank you for reading and for providing your opinions. This is an important post to me, personally.

More Free Money!

September 27th, 2011 at 09:12 am

Recently, coming up with money for consumer goods that we actually need has been difficult. We need winter clothing and shoes and some odds & ends.

However, we have gotten a little help. A few days ago, my wife took in some clothes of hers that she does not wear, and sold them. She got $31 and was able to purchase one new outfit and still had some left over that we put into our clothing budget savings.

The other day, we were able to afford $115 worth of items at Target. 1/3 of that was regular expenses, while the rest was - thankfully - a coat for each of us, and a pair of pants for myself. That means that I now have three pairs of pants. Yay? And my wife only has one...

The other day, we received an offer from Target, saying that if we create our wedding registry, print it out, and take it to customer service, we would get a $20 gift card. We signed up for this before we got married over a year ago, so we felt that it would not be entirely dishonest if we were to take advantage of this offer.

So we did just that. Sunday, we got the card, and my wife was able to get some much-needed undergarments.

It's slow, and it's paycheck-to-paycheck as far as getting things we need, but it is working so far. Thankfully, we still have a good amount in savings, though we do need to payback our EF. But I am currently working on paying my auto repairs fund, as tires are an upcoming purchase of about $350.

On Saturday, I changed the oil in our car. Now, most people pay about $20 at any old lube shop for their oil changes. Not me. I have had far too many negative experiences at tire, lube, and mechanic shops. So I take it upon myself. Also, the oil we get costs $50 for 5 quarts. "Why?!" you may ask. Wel, it is AMSOIL Signature Series 100% Synthetic oil. This oil lasts up to 25,000 miles or 1 year. You do the math... Actually, don't. I already did for you. Well... For me. Using this oil costs $0.0027 per mile. Motorcraft (Ford brand oil) synthetic blend is $0.007 per mile. And Mobil 1 ful synthetic is $0.006 per mile. Quite a difference. Also, AMSOIL is proven by independent sources to cause less wear, to warm up faster, and to burn cleaner. So, it's a great buy.

As for those tires I will be getting later... They are Kumho Low Rolling Resistance tires that will last up to 100,000 miles or 6 yrs, with a warrantee, and cost LESS than the standard tires.

It's all about the quality of the maintenance you put into your vehicles. Smile

Okay, so let's end this rambling and let you get on with your day!

eBaying Again

September 26th, 2011 at 07:11 am

After not having used eBay since I sold my MacBook Pro over two years ago (simply because I have not had anything to sell that merited the use of eBay over Craigslist), I have posted $250 worth (if you use Buy it Now) of auction items.

If you read my last entry, you would know that our computer – that I built just before I sold that MacBook Pro – recently had a power supply failure, which resulted in some damage to the motherboard, adding up to a little over $300 worth of repairs, if I did it myself. About $450 if I had someone do it.

Rather than repairing, we opted to get our new iMac that we'd planned on getting come tax return time. The total for the new iMac came out a little more than planned, but it was less than $450 in difference, so I believe it was a wise choice. And, since I remembered having received a letter from BillMeLater saying that I now qualified for their 'no interest or payments for six months if paid in full at the end of six months' deal, we will not be making any payments or accruing interest on this. When we receive our returns in - hopefully - February, we will be paying-off the BillMeLater account.

Nice to know is that my BillMeLater account was approved for a $2,608 line of credit. While that is more than I need and more than I used, it is great knowing that I qualified for that. I am sure than my credit score of 715 helps. In February, before we got real serious and organized about this debt reduction and overall healthy financial habits, my score was at 647. I'd say that is a pretty good improvement in less than a year. Smile

Back to eBay... In a matter of one minute of being posted, the processor that I listed sold for $100. I purchased it for $200 when I built it. So I think I got $100 worth of use out of it. Smile

Eventfully Crazy Week!

September 21st, 2011 at 10:59 am

Lots of stuff has been going on recently. So much so, that I have not been able to complete a blog post recently. Here is a run-down of the most recent week, only:

Thursday, 15th - our custom-built computer took a plunge, leaving us with no way to watch Grey's Anatomy, movies, or anything for my wife to do on downtime (besides walks and what-not that she usually does).

Friday, 16th - All three of us - my wife, 7 mo-old, and myself - come down with a pretty harsh cold or flu. I got a head cold mainly, with small instances of stomach yuckiness. The wife had the same, with more severe congestion and stomach yucks. Our baby was whiney, and kept trying to clear her throat by growling. Smile 

Saturday, 17th - Still sick. Our friend, who is married to my best friend, is in town from South Korea until the 27th, and Saturday was her baby shower. We missed it, as we did not want to get anyone sick. 

We went to Other Mothers and sold some baby items. We got $31. $10 went towards a treat, as we had not had one that week, and $20 went into our winter clothing fund. Also went to K-Mart and picked up some eyeliner for my wife and two bags of dog food with an old K-Mart gift card we had. Played a couple games of Scrabble.

Sunday, 18th - Not much happened on Sunday. Still sick, so we had to miss church for the second week in a row. Went grocery shopping and got lemon and honey to make Hottie Totties with the Jack Daniels we still have from our wedding. Great remedy for sore throats and congestion. Played a few games of Scrabble. 

Our baby had a fever as high as 101, so we were pretty worried and kept a close eye on her. 

Monday, 19th - Work. Ugh! I was feeling a little better. Before work, our little one had a fever of 101 again, and was unhappy. Later, while I was at work, her temp went down to 96.8, while she is normally 97.1. 

At work, while I was driving my two DDA clients to run some errands, one had a behaviour that involved slamming on the dash of our car, popping off the trim of the vent. He then slammed against me, grabbed my head and neck, and dug his nails in, leaving cuts on my neck and temple. 

Tuesday, 20th - After picking up my paycheck from the office at work, I headed to pick up our computer from the repair shop. The power supply unit went out, which blew out one of the SATA ports (connects the motherboard to the hard drive), and three of the four memory card slots.

So, obviously a computer cannot function without power, memory, or storage. 

$55 was the flat rate for them to diagnose the computer.

Got home and my dad was in town (truck driver), and as some of you know, we currently live in my parents' house. Unfortunately, so does my oldest brother. He has been there for a few years, and has made no progress towards financial stability. 

Long-story-short, my older brother attacked me. It was quite the scuffle, and it created much unrest in the house. My wife is even more uncomfortable with him in the house, what with his explosive behaviour and booze and drug problems. Her parents are very unhappy with how the situation was handled. Basically, he will continue to be allowed to live there. Now, I was not beaten up or anything (ONE good thing I got from the Army), but I do not like to fight. I can. I choose not to. I am a Christian, and a family man. 

Anyways... So, we are stuck with him living in that house, where my baby and wife reside. How's that for stress?

Later that night, I ordered an iMac. Now, our Windows computer is fixable with a motherboard and power supply. However, a good power supply unit is about $100, while the motherboard would be around $200. $300 for a computer we are replacing in March anyways? No, thank you. 

So we ordered the iMac we wanted and planned on getting in March with our taxes. While we do have money for the computer, it is in emergency funds and other savings, so that is not an option. I remembered receiving a letter saying I was pre-approved for BillMeLater's 6-month period of no interest or payments. That should take us to March 20th. We should have taxes back before then. 

I am going to part-out my current computer. Should be able to get a few hundred out of it. 

Quite the week we have had, eh? Any positive vibes, prayers, etc. are much appreciated!

Historically High U.S. Fuel Export

September 9th, 2011 at 11:56 am

Wondering just how much the govt cares about gas prices?

Take into account that the U.S. has recently reached a historical high for exported oil...

U.S. News - Historically High Oil Exports Helping Keep Gas P...

By PATRICK DEHAAN
September 8, 2011
Many Americans know supply and demand can make an impact on how many dollars they shell out at their local gasoline station--the lower the supply the higher the price. Is part of the reason supply is low because refiners are keeping it there deliberately while sending refined oil overseas?

[Read: How Much Oil is There?]

Refiners have been shipping historically high amounts of refined products out of the U.S., much of which is bound for Europe or Asia. Since diesel demand is high from Europe, where a majority of vehicles burn the heavier fuel, refiners can make a few extra dollars from each barrel by shipping it across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, domestic supply of diesel fuel currently sits nearly 11 percent below where it was last year, or some 19 million barrels lower.

[Read the U.S. News debate: Should offshore drilling be expanded?]

Certainly the fact that U.S. refiners are exporting such a high volume of product overseas is not only keeping domestic supply tighter than years past, but it's also supporting high prices. Gasoline exports are also at record highs, some 395,000 barrels per day, according to the most recent Energy Information Administration numbers. Just earlier this summer, we were exporting 200,000 barrels per day of finished gasoline, so refineries are now sending nearly double the amount of gasoline out of this country. Looking at gasoline inventories, we see a similar deficit because of the amount of gasoline being shipped out. Not surprisingly, the latest EIA numbers show gasoline inventories some 7.4 percent or nearly 17 million barrels below there year ago levels. [See a collection of political cartoons on gas prices.]

The bottom line is this: historically high exports aren't allowing U.S. domestic supply to grow and are certainly a part of the culprit behind high gasoline and diesel prices. So for those motorists out there rounding up reasons why prices are high can certainly add products being exported to their laundry list of reasons why motor fuel prices remain seasonally high. Keep in mind refinery maintenance season is right around the corner, and if these export rates remain high, we could see even more pressure on gasoline prices, perhaps pushing the fragile U.S. economy closer to the brink of another downturn.

Autumn Cleaning = PROFIT!

September 7th, 2011 at 08:35 am

Okay, so we missed Spring Cleaning, and it's not even considered Autumn yet, but temperatures here are so nice right now that it almost feels like it.

Since this last weekend, we have been cleaning out closet space for storing our new 70's Schwinn bicycles. This means possible profit!

A few of the items that we have put on craigslist include:
- 1 pair GORE-TEX Vibram service boots $70 - I wore these once during my military career. These have yet to sell.
- 2x DVI cables (for computer displays) $5 - not sold
- Rolltop desk needing a little TLC $10 - sold
- Quarter bag for game buck $10 - not sold
- 2x Swagman Hook It wall hooks for bicycle storage $18 - sold
- Oakley Half-Jacket XLJ Positive Red Iridium lenses $20 - sold
- 2x Clear/Clearwire broadband modems $15 - sold one
- Nokia USB to USB mini data cable $5 - sold
- Aero road bike helmet $20 - sold

As you can see, $88 worth of stuff we have sold in just a week. Not bad, if you ask me. And will we miss any of it? Absolutely not! We have some more items that we could post as well, just have yet to get around to it.

Craigslist is great! With their new feature of being able to renew posts, it takes the hassle out of having to create another post and deleting the old one! Renewing simply does it all for you. What else is great about craigslist, is that you get the opportunity to meet all sorts of people - from the trashy to the trendy!

This money that we are making is going straight into things that we need - things we need for our bicycles and for others. We are finally getting the chance to get our one-year old miniature schnauzer finished on her vaccines this Saturday, and then will get her a beautiful AKC standard hair cut, as well as a full groom, at Pet Smart. We cannot wait! Smile

Save at the Pump

August 22nd, 2011 at 10:20 am

Here I am to tell you about more ways to save money at the pump. I focus on cars - more specifically, fuel consumption - so much due to two reasons: 1) auto-related expenses are the second highest expense for most households, 2) fuel economy is one of the easiest things to improve. 

Are you ready to be put in your place? Here we go...

Gas Brands
Most people would think - and do - that gas brands are the leading influence in fuel economy, second only to the vehicle itself. WRONG. In fact, so long as you are purchasing widely-known fuel brands, you are doing what it takes. The top fuel brands are:
Chevron/Texaco
Shell
BP

Some people place BP far above the rest, because of their supposed 'superior refining processes'. Whatever. If you have BP in your area, great. If not - those of us on the west - don't sweat it. 

The two main things to keep in mind for gas brands is: 1) popular brand, 2) fueling up with the same brand each time. Do not mix brands. Also, do not mix fuel grades...

Fuel Grades
Some people believe that higher grade gasoline gets better mileage. Not so. Go by your manufacturer's specifications, found in the owner's manual. Put in the lowest grade possible. For us, it is 87. If your manual says premium, put premium. And NEVER put diesel in a gas engine, or gas in a diesel engine! 

Just remember to choose the lowest grade suggested, and stick with it.

Maintenance
Maintaining your vehicle is the most important thing you can do to extend your vehicle's life, and to save money. Regular oil changes are the bare minimum of maintaining your vehicle. The typical suggested interval is 3 months/3,000 miles. However, I have never had a vehicle that needed oil that often. In fact, full synthetic oil lasted my MINI Cooper S 15,000 miles. And the oil still showed no sign of breaking down. Remember to check your oil.

Your owner's manual will suggest a specific oil viscosity. Most vehicles these days run 5w30. However, most passenger cars can get away with running 0w20 during the warmer months. Running a lower viscosity oil means less resistance in your engine. Which, in turn, means your engine does not have to work as hard, which increases fuel economy. Running a synthetic 0w20 will get you around 6,000 miles between changes as well. 

The level at which to fill your engine's oil is also something to consider. With the lower viscosity 0w20, it is suggested to fill it to halfway between full and low. 

Oil is not even close to the end of maintenance for your vehicle. You should also keep an eye on coolant (also should be halfway between high and low), your filters (suggested replacement every oil change), tire pressure (more on that below), steering fluid, etc. The general rule is to keep all your fluids and filters clean and full, changed regularly, and watch and listen for wear in all areas. You should know when your vehicle starts to perform differently. Do not ignore your vehicle! If it feels wrong/different, do not put it off!

Another way to maintain your vehicle is to regularly give it a bath. Dirt and grime build-up never did anyone any good. 

Tires
Tires can account for a large percentage of fuel economy. Also, replacing them is a large expense, though it is one that is easy to plan for, as you can simply track your tires' wear.

Tire wear is an important indicator to the overall condition of both your vehicle and your driving habits. 

Tires should wear evenly throughout the tire. If they wear more on one side, it could indicate under-inflation, over-inflation, aggressive cornering, aggressive braking, or even possibly poor alignment or worn suspension components. 

When your tires reach the wear bars, it is time to replace them. 

Tire inflation should be checked every month, at least.

Low Roll Resistance tires are great new products. You will find them on all the hybrids, and on new fuel efficient gas/diesel models, such as the Ford Focus SFE and Chevrolet Cruze Eco. These tires are designed to, well, provide less resistance to the tire, thus making it easier for your vehicle to propel itself down the road with ease. 

TireRack.com has great deals on LRR tires, even after shipping. 

LRR tires also offer extended life periods. The highest mileage tire currently offers 100,000/6 yr warranty. 

Driving Habits
I made a previous post about how to save $500 a year on gas, simply by changing the way you drive. I suggest you give that article a read. 

Driving safely is absolutely the best way to improve your fuel economy. When I started changing my driving style, I was getting 35 mpg. Now, every tank, I am up to 39 and 40 mpg. This is 90% city driving. Our car is rated at 24 mpg city. What does that tell you? 

Too often I see people in huge trucks speeding around me because they wanted to the first ones to the red light, first ones to the lane merge, or what-have-you. Just yesterday, I caught up to someone who did not like my driving, sped around me, continued on out of sight, only for me to catch up to them at the red light at the end of the off-ramp. Ridiculous! 

Not only is this behaviour irresponsible for our environment and our economy, but also for the lives of those around them. 

If you think driving safer is not in your best interest... That you do not have enough time, or are too impatient, or what-have-you... Honestly, shut up, look at your life, and change. Haha. There is no reason that everyone cannot drive this way. 

As you can see in my aforementioned post, I am saving $500/yr. That equates to about 70 gallons of fuel. What if every driver were to save 70 gallons of fuel per year? There are over 255 million non-commercial vehicles on the road today. Let me type that out for you. 255,000,000. Times 70? 17,850,000,000. See that? That is 17.85 billion gallons of gas that can be saved, simply by changing the way we drive. 

On average, one barrel of crude oil (42 gallons) makes about 19.5 gallons of gasoline for vehicles. The rest goes to other things, such as heating oil, lubricating oil, etc. So, 19.5x2.15 = one barrel. So how many barrels of crude oil could we save each year? 

17,850,000,000 / 42 = 425,000,000.

That is 425 million BARRELS of crude oil that we could save... Simply by driving safer. Accelerating slower. Braking more gradually. Obeying the speed limits. Not running the A/C below 50 mph. It's too easy, people.

So if you think you cannot do this, think twice about the kinds of values you hold...