Searching

14 07 2008

As many of you know, I started this blog to hold myself accountable for budgeting as my wife and I planned and budgeted to move into our new house.  Over that time, I successfully wrote and grew this blog to over 100 subscribers.

Now that we have moved into our house, I’ve found myself at a loss of ideas and motivation to post.  As I’ve been trying to analyze why I feel this way, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s because I’m beginning to feel like a hypocrite.  We live in a very nice new house, that we have worked very hard for, however we have had a great deal of help getting here.

First, we got a huge leg up from my wife’s brother and his wife.  They currently own two houses in the Dallas area and offered to let us live in one of them, rent free, as long as we maintained it and paid the utilities.  So far we have not been able to thank them enough for the head start they gave us on saving for a house.  We lived there for about a year, and by living frugally we were able to live on my wife’s salary while saving all of mine.  This enabled us to have a good sized down payment on our house and to fully fund an emergency fund.

Next, my in-laws gave my wife her mom’s old car for her graduation.  Which is a very generous gift by any standards, but when her mom’s old car was a mint condition Lexus SC 430 with low miles, it’s above and beyond.  We were able to sell the car for a large sum, which enabled us to put a very large down payment on our Volvo, and put the rest into the down payment on our house.

Finally, something that I have written about previously, but a check that my grandmother gave me when I was young.  I was able to invest and exponentially grow it.  This money paid for Mary’s engagement ring and our wedding rings.  It also paid off all of our debt after college, and for some of our furniture.

Living in our nice new house I have to say it is hard to feel like we are living frugally, in the truest since of the word we definitely are not.  We have a new 2500 sqft house (for 2 people), and we drive a new car that we make payments on (when we could have paid cash), but what I have really come to realize in the last few months writing this is that being frugal isn’t about being stingy, cheap, or not wanting to spend money.  What being frugal is really about is choices.

Mary and I choose to live in a nice new house, we choose to drive a nice new car, and we choose to make sacrifices to afford both of them.  We take our lunch to work.  We don’t eat out much.  We carpool.  We don’t have cable.  We use coupons. We don’t belong to a gym, instead we workout on our own…which will hopefully be a future post.  Mary made the drapes in our bedroom from nice fabric she found deeply discounted.

As you can see, although we may not be the true poster couple for being “young and frugal,” we like to think that we are wise with our money, and we are able to enjoy the choices that we make, while still saving for retirement.





Buying A House and Maintaining An Emergency Fund

20 05 2008

In 8 short days I will make the biggest purchase I am ever likely to make, I will be purchasing a new house.  And the closer we come to closing, the harder it is for me to practice what I preach.

Everywhere I look small “upgrades” are popping up that I know I can find cheaper elsewhere, or that I can do myself without having to pay the builders up charge for, and it pains me every time I give the go ahead for them to do something else when I know I’m being ripped off.  I can’t haggle with them, I’m not in a position to.  I already signed the contract to build the house and put down earnest money, so I’m at my builders mercy.

Why would I voluntarily get ripped off you might ask?  Because as I plan ahead for all of our upcoming expenses like drapes, blinds, rugs, random furniture (although we have most), deposits on utilities, moving costs… It’s easier to lump it all in and finance it so that I’m not out anymore cash after I seemingly drain my accounts at closing, because I will not allow us to dip into our emergency fund for these items.  Really the only thing we aren’t having them do that they can is hang our drapes and install our doggy door ($350 for something I can do myself in a hour is too much for me to bare).

At the end of the day, and especially as our country is testing the waters of economic uncertainty, emergency funds are too important to tap into for non emergencies.  And I’m proud to say that even though we may be paying an up charge on these items, our emergency fund will remain in tact and actually grow a bit due to the rolling in of some of our closing costs, so in the case of an actual financial emergency we will have money to keep us afloat.





Why You Shouldn’t Be Scared To Share Ideas

8 05 2008

 

A key trait of millennials is that we love to be entrepreneurial, we love to take on new tasks, but most of all, we need to know that our ideas are appreciated or at least given the time of day. Being a millennial, these traits are some of the main reasons why I started this blog.Jumping into the workforce where all of my co-workers and bosses are Gen-X and Boomers has been challenging. On one hand it really hasn’t been difficult to impress them, but on the other hand there is no free-flow of ideas. All the people around me seem to think that good ideas can’t come from the bottom of the corporation, and that they always come from the top. Needless to say, it has been a frustrating environment for a millennial to work in.

A couple weeks ago I had a Jerry McGuire moment at work and wrote somewhat of a manifesto for the company, and I must say that it felt great. And it felt even better when I shared it with my boss and I wasn’t fired, in fact he agreed with me! He then proceeded to fall into my generalization that good ideas only come from the top.

Never forget that the free-flow of ideas is something that millennials thrive on. We can build on each other, we can help each other, and maybe some people will start to listen!

All of this takes me back to a phrase that my entrepreneurship professor taught me (one that is impossible to forget):

If you’re scared you’re going to get screwed, you’re never going to get laid.

Vulgar, yes, but it’s also memorable and true. Say you have a business idea, but you’re too scared to share it with people. Then nothing will ever happen (unless you know every aspect…marketing, development, financing…). But say you start sharing it with people, maybe a rich old guy at Starbucks wants to invest, maybe your friend knows a few people who can help you out, or maybe someone helps you build on the idea. Either way, you’re ahead!

But what if someone steals my good idea? Why do you care if someone steals your idea? If it’s your idea I hope that you will have more passion for it than someone else. Sure, greed is a motivator for some, but businesses that are looking to cash in from the start rarely do well. Remember, you can’t fake passion. Entrepreneurs with a passion and a vision are the one’s that surpass expectations. What do Google, Yahoo, Craigslist, Dell, and Starbucks have in common? They all started out with passion and visions, and all are still run by the people that put them on the map. Did other people try to steal their ideas? Yes, absolutely they did, but the people who conceptualized from the beginning have done better. Also, remember that imitation is just another form of flattery. Note: Howard Schultz was not the founder of Starbucks, but it was his vision that grew it from a few stores to what it is today.

 

 





Does The Size Of Your Image Equal The Size Of Your Debt?

31 03 2008

Our society has a perception complex. We are raised to judge and compare ourselves against others and our perceptions of other people become our own reality. We are trained from an early age in this regard. In school it didn’t matter if I got a “C” on a project as long as it was in line with the other students in class. Even on a set scale where everyone knows that an “A” is the best, we judge ourselves against our peers, not the scale. It only mattered that I was considered as smart or smarter than the other kids in the class.

By no means do I consider myself to be smart, but the fact that I am a clean cut, in shape, nerdy looking guy, who can carry a conversation on just about any topic, has really helped me out in life. My image allows other people to come up with their own realities of who I am, and I have found that for the most part, people consider me to be a mature young guy with a good head on his shoulders, though if you read young and frugal you already knew that (I kid). And for the most part I work at my image because I want people to walk away feeling that way about me.

Whether we like it or not, image is important in our society, and our society sees the things we appear to possess as extensions of who we are. Our friend who drives the BMW must be rich, and the guy down the street who drives a ’95 Civic with 225k miles on it must be poor (eww!).

Notice how I used the phrase “appear to possess,” I say this because if I’m leasing or I have financed a 3 series is it really mine? If it’s paid off like the ’95 Civic then of course it is, otherwise…? I don’t know, can you claim half a BMW?

All of this perception is human nature. As kids, we know that rich people drive nice cars, live in nice houses, and watch huge HDTV’s. As we grow up, and learn about money and responsibility we learn that just because we appear to possess these items doesn’t mean we are rich.

Mary and I listened to NPR on the way home from work today and we heard an interview with Moby. Moby grew up very poor, and he and his mother were on welfare and food stamps until he was 18. He knows and understands the merits of frugality, and that perception isn’t everything. He said on the radio today that earning a great deal of money hasn’t changed him and that he still shops at the same grocery store and does his laundry at the same laundromat. He says he still even has a little 13 inch TV.

When talking about his spending habits and his TV, Moby said “will watching Family Guy on a 42 or 50 inch TV make it funnier?” This practically stopped me dead in my tracks. For months I’ve been salivating over flat panel TV’s that I can’t really rationalize purchasing, but I always end up salivating and coming back around to wanting one. Mary and I even went shopping with her mother for one yesterday. I have had my dream home theater in my head for months (with a mac mini at the helm), and this one prompt by Moby made me question my motivations. Yes, Family Guy is hilarious, but A TV won’t make it funnier because it’s bigger, nor would Davidson have beaten Kansas had I watched in HD.

Why do I feel compelled to make such a big purchase? I could definitely put $1500 to better use somewhere else like an IRA/401(k) or paying down our car loan even faster.

I really can’t come up with a good reason as to why I want a new TV. We have two 20″ TV’s and they both work perfectly. Plus, I don’t really watch TV anymore! Yet, for some reason I want one that is newer/better.

Maybe I feel that our new and incredibly nice house is an extension of us and the TV is an an extension of the house that makes it that much nicer. Maybe I want people to perceive that we have made it, when we drive in our nice and practical new car to our nice new house and watch Nightly Business Report our big new LCD. But at the end of the day image is only as deep as the debt you (can) get yourself into.

Here is the anomaly on all of this, I don’t want my friends looking at our house and our car and being jealous. Sure it makes everyone feel good when other people are jealous of them, but Mary and I are in a unique situation where we are starting out in our lives and careers together. We are a dual income family with no kids (ok we practically treat our dogs like kids…but I digress). It is easier for us to afford this lifestyle. I don’t want any of my friends jumping into our lifestyle too quickly and getting in over their heads, I want them to understand that yes, we have nice things, nicer than we deserve, but we also have car payments, mortgage payments, insurance payments, property tax payments, Homeowners Association Dues, and various other things factored in.

Hey, at least we have no credit card debt! 





My Mandatory Class Proposal

11 03 2008

In college I thought I had learned everything.  I learned finance in and out, I learned economics, marketing, advertising, managing, forecasting, social drinking, networking, and every other aspect of business that I could think of.  I was a badass. 

Nope.  As soon as I started work, I ate my piece of humble pie. 

Why is it that I spent four years in college, graduating with honors and a dual degree, to enter the workforce and immediately be slammed by something that I had never been taught? 

Literally, the first thing I encountered when starting my new job was benefits, and I have never been taught benefits.  What kind of medical coverage do I need?  Should I get the basic plan, or the premium plan? HMO? PPO? Extra life insurance?  Flexible Spending Account?  Use it or lose it? How much will all this cost me? It was a very overwhelming experience.  

Who do you turn to in a situation like this?  It seemed like the benefits lady who talked to me on my first day was in the same boat I was in.  She had no idea what she was doing!  Other people asked questions and she stated the coverage that she elected.  Great.  How is a 40 year old, single mother’s elected coverage supposed to relate to a guy directly out of college?  Thank God I had a week to submit my elected coverage, because that gave me time to research and talk to my Dad.  Now am I confident in my selections?…Absolutely not. 

Having had this experience, I propose a mandatory class for all college seniors, regardless of their major.  This class would be taught jointly between a few different departments and would touch on topics that everyone will face after college:

  1. Résumés and cover letters: writing and critiquing
  2. Interviews: How to sound like a better you
  3. Benefits: The pros and cons of certain coverage
  4. Insurance: Life, Car, Home
  5. Personal Finance: How to Budget, and Don’t let your ego use your wallet
  6. Retirement Planning: Yes, you’re 21, but you won’t be forever

I propose that this class be mandatory for all college seniors because regardless of major, everyone will face these issues after college, and not everyone will have someone close to them bail them out (Thanks Dad!). 

I realize that all of these topics vary by person, but having someone lay out some basic guidelines that you will be tested on is something that I think everyone can agree on.  For instance: If you start out saving/investing 10% in a 401k/IRA/Roth IRA when you are in your early 20’s, you will be set for 80% income replacement when you retire (USAA Magazine), and your housing expense should be a maximum of 30% of your take home pay (many financial professionals).  Basic guidelines like these can educate people and make them more aware of their situations. 

I had great professors in college, but unfortunately only two of them did any sort of rundown on personal finance, and both of them were hurried on the last day of class.  In a few of my classes we worked on our résumés, but everyone thinks their way is the best, and I ended up with a few different versions to appease a few different people.  Interview sessions were offered by Career Development Services.  The key word “offered.”  Few people took them up on it. And I know quite a few people who graduated college with a great deal of debt.  Why?  Because they could pay off all their cards when they got jobs. 

I think a mandatory class along these lines would have a great impact on the future leaders of our country.  And maybe, just maybe, it may help make frugality a virtue again.





Planning Ahead

20 02 2008

Not planning ahead can get expensive. This weekend we went on a ski trip with my family, and I didn’t adequately plan ahead. I assumed everything was taken care of (which it was for the most part), but I missed the opportunity to save my family at least $20 a day on lift tickets (we were already getting a good deal, but we could have gotten better via Craigslist or ebay). I also assumed that we would be staying in a cabin or condo on the slopes as we usually do.

Had I fully read the e-mails ahead of time I would have seen that we had to ride a shuttle from the house to the slopes, making it hard to go back to the place for lunch. Without realizing this I paid for lunch on the slopes… BAD IDEA. Not only did Mary and I have to hunt down a table (on a busy holiday weekend), I was price gouged by paying $31 for lunch for the two of us. That amount doesn’t sound too bad, but when we each got a cup of soup, a half a sandwich, and a vitamin water it’s pretty ridiculous. Needless to say, Mary and Stacy (my sister-in-law) got smart and decided to make lunch for day two on the slopes. I volunteered to wear a backpack all day, and we ended up having a great inexpensive lunch, even though it was a bit crushed as the backpack wrecked havoc on my balance in the terrain park.

I usually do plan ahead for things like this, but this time it all just snuck up on me. From now on I will be actively involved in planning trips and I will research before I go.