Sunday, July 29, 2012

Can't see the forest for the trees

Learning to control our spending through budgeting requires an attention to detail that many of us are not in the habit of exerting. Watching every dime, keeping receipts, records, and analysing each of them is not always fun. In our effort to curb we watch unit pricing, sales, and bemoan our morning stop for coffee. All that is a good start to examine and change any wasteful or less than useful habits. The downside is that we can become so absorbed with the details that we lose sight of the big picture and begin to be hyper vigilant in the little things, making ourselves miserable while missing the bigger picture.

The old expression for this is "can't see the forest for the trees"

More than once I have caught myself figuring what sacrifice I can make to save another $10 and have been told I am able to squeeze Lincoln until he squeals. That's good but there are other times when I have missed big things while I concentrated on the details.

This is where goals become such an important first step needed before making a budget. Since I wrote the post titled Who wants to be a Millionaire? it really got me thinking...

Most of us want and hope for the same things at least as the basics:
  • An education
  • A home
  • A family

Our approach for the most part has been as follows:
  1. Graduate from high school
  2. Go into debt getting an education if scholarships have not been received
  3. Rent a place to live
  4. Get married
  5. Have children (for 30% of women number 4 and 5 are reversed)
  6. Buy a house
  7. Put kids through college or let them go into debt
  8. Struggle, remain in debt, or work on getting out of debt for 30 years
  9. Have a midlife crisis
  10. Save money (or not) and long for retirement
  11. Retire

All these steps are taken to achieve those 3 goals mentioned above.

What if we were to change the order of the steps to the following? Of course, it would have to be modified to the individual for we all know that when love enters the door all else takes 2nd priority whether we intend for it to  or not:

  • Begin saving money while living at home as discussed in Who wants to be a Millionaire?
  • Prepare for college by achieving academic excellence
  • Attend higher education using scholarships and/or saved money and parental assistance acquiring no debt
  • Get married
  • Work as a two income family to prepare for the purchase on a home in cash.  Use the income of one person to save and the second to live on thus learning to live on a single income.
  • Have children.  One parent could stay home avoiding all daycare costs.  A home business could also be developed
  • Home school child or any 2nd parent income for private education.  Why not put academic excellence for our children all through their years instead of waiting until they are 18?
  • (Remember the house was paid off before having children so all that is needed is for food, clothing, and transportation which should be manageable on one income)
  • Any 2nd income could be dedicated toward children's early and secondary education or savings for the future. 
Yes, this is an idea and not a common plan  or experience so statistical verification is unavailable.  However, I have heard so many times:
  • We have to have two incomes to live
  • We can't afford private school

Housing is the single biggest expense for most of us. How we choose to handle it can easily become the dictating factor in our budget. 

I love Jacob's book and blog Early Retirement Extreme.  The one subject he does not deal with in detail is those who do want to own a home and have or plan to have children.  Using the strategies as a basis the plan can easily be adopted for those who do want to have a prosperous family life.  I cannot fathom what it would be like to own a home outright at age 25 but I can certainly imagine it.

We need to try and see the forest through the trees so we are able to make the best decisions for ourselves and our families.  Did I know this at age 16, 25, or even 40?  No, time, experience, prayer, and watching the daily news has shown me there is a better way than the road of the average.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Michael Orbino - A Rising Star

Like other mothers I cannot help but share my kid's accomplishments so when he made the front cover of a magazine I could not help but pass it along.  Being the computer illerate that I am I could not figure out how to reprint the article.  For direct access connect to the link at WA Realtor.  The article is on page 14 if it does not take you directly there.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Food Storage - How long could you avoid the grocery store?

The topic came up at work last week and I was again reminded of how ill prepared we are for any unplanned for event.

How long could you go before needed to head to the grocery store?

Most at work said they go multiple times per week just to pick up their supplies needed for meals.

What are some of the reasons one might need to curtail their trips?

  • Weather related
  • Loss of job
  • Sickness or broken bones
  • Transportation outages either yourself or those who bring shipments to the store
  • Rioting - we have seen that this immediately stops shopping and brings looting
  • Major bills or expenses that make financial adjustments beneficial

Or, what if you are looking to save time, save money, or improve efficiency?

So again, the question: How long could YOU go?

My goal in the past was to have no less than a six month supply of necessary food in the house.  Of course this does not take into consideration the desire for fresh fruits and vegetables or bread but if necessary I had canned and frozen foods to fill in the gaps.

Beyond the crisis planning I found that the best reason to have a food storage program was to save money.  My bill was literally cut in half by shopping the sales and buying bulk of the items I frequently used.  Yes, I have posted in the past on the subject but there are basic subjects that are worth a regular reminder.  My freezer was worth almost $5,000 because of the beef that was put in every fall although the cost was less than $1,000.  Pretty good return on investment wouldn't you say?

I remember my Aunt Isabel's home.  Three freezers, a canned goods storage area in the garage, and a pantry off the kitchen.  Yes, there were some draw backs and family jokes because she often kept things that long ago should have been used or tossed but we all can improve our management skills.  I used to get frustrated with my mom because her freezer was not organized.  Being the OCD that I am I would have to pull everything out and put the meat with the meat, bread with bread, etc.  She would just shake her head but had long ago learned that I could not be relaxed until it was finished.

The best thing about developing a food storage program is that you can customize it to your own family.  There are many right ways to do it.  And, yes, a few wrong ways for one does not want their best intentions to turn into an opportunity for waste.  As you have seen in previous posts my #1 item is toilet paper: who likes to run out of that?  The one thing I have found that didn't work well for food storage was Sunny D.  I once bought a case thinking it would last for a couple of months only to find that an unmentioned named child had drank the entire case in less than a week.  Who could do that?

The food storage section gives a number of other posts on the subject of food storage and the link on the right has valuable information for those who want to grow in a systematic way. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


We've all seen the pictures of the athletic, young skakeboarders flying through the air and most of us instinctively know that there is "NO WAY!" we are going to ever do such a thing.

My morning walk to the bus is on the same schedule and route as the local highschool.  I hear them walk up behind me and soon they are in front of me.  It is a daily reminder that I must be getting older.  They walk, they ride bikes, they are on scooters, and are on skateboards. Oh to be young and have that energy again and take it so for granted!  Occasionally I do see older people out for the morning healthy stay in shape jog who are sweating profussly and run by going not much faster than I am walking.  Aroubic activity seems to produce sweat with much less speed the older we get.

I have to admit that I am highly impressed with the skateboarders who use the board simply as a way to increase their efficiency in getting from Point A to Point B.  I am surprised how quickly they are at the next light. 

I think they have got something there.  This is probably the best improvement on transportation that has come along in a while!  With no more effort than I am using they reach their distination in a fraction of the time merely by doing a little leg push and coast.

I realize it will not work for everyone.  I have pictured my sons trying to navigate the city streets of Seattle and envisioned them either panting up the hill or going wildly out of control down the streets unable to stop at the intersections. If one is going north and south instead of east to west it may not be so bad though. In Seattle the hills are like traversing mountains without switchbacks, even in a car I sometimes get nervous when I cannot see the road over the hood of the car or going downhill I wonder when the last time the brakes were checked.

For those who live in the flatter cities of the country the kids are leading the way to improving our ability for clean efficient transportation for those youthful enough in heart to try it.  So much easier than locking up a bike and so much faster than walking. 

It's a good thing.

In fact others are picking it up too!

Watch is video for a funny treat. 

And, I would look like this if I were to try it:


Sunday, July 15, 2012

Short Sale Soapbox

It has been a while since I have been on my soapbox but a recent conversation revealed a dark side that I was unaware of.  I will do my best to recount the gist and welcome any corrections others might provide regarding my facts.

I have often spoke of the underhanded and in my opinion diabolical plan against the American public regarding the bubble created in the housing market.  professional financial experts created mortgage products that were promoted to the population which enticed and allowed people to obtain loans far and above their ability to pay and with terms that almost certainly would result in a high level of defaults.  Short term gains were put above long term economic prudence and many trusting and unsuspecting people lost their jobs, homes, retirement funds,and confidence in both the financial systems and politicians for good reason.  The perpetrators of this pillage of the American people have now moved on to foreign investors to work the same plan.  (Just in case you were unclear of my opinion).

Throughout this blog I have attempted to try and expose this only to find out that the underdog in the story is often just as guilty of the greed and lack of righteous behaviour as the financial industries. 

 When I first heard of the short sale my understanding was that the person who had obtained a mortgage and later found that the value of the home had dropped far below the loan amount who petition the bank to reassess the value and allow the home to be resold for that amount.  This would enable the borrower to sell for a lower amount than what they negotiated the loan for.  This made sense to me because having worked in banking most funds are all on paper and not real money and at times adjustments need to be made for accuracy.  Simple example:  I get an appraisal on a ring that says it is worth $1,000,  You agree to make payments to me for that amount over a period of months.  You later find the ring is really only worth $500.  You come back to me and say that you want it adjusted to the real value of $500 or you are going to give me back the ring.  I all along knew or should have known what the real value was so I know choose the new repayment amount or decide to take back the ring and resell it to someone else. That is really all that happened in the housing market yet on a vastly larger scale. This was the basic concept of the short sale and was designed to bring things into balance in a way that should be fair to both parties.

Wikipedia defines a short sale in the following manner:
"A short sale is a sale of real estate in which the proceeds from selling the property will fall short of the balance of debts secured by liens against the property and the property owner cannot afford to repay the liens' full amounts, whereby the lien holders agree to release their lien on the real estate and accept less than the amount owed on the debt.[1] Any unpaid balance owed to the creditors is known as a deficiency.[2][3] Short sale agreements do not necessarily release borrowers from their obligations to repay any deficiencies of the loans, unless specifically agreed to between the parties.
A short sale is often used as an alternative to foreclosure because it mitigates additional fees and costs to both the creditor and borrower. While credit is also typically damaged much less than from a foreclosure, both often result in a negative credit report against the property owner.

Most creditors require the borrower to prove they have an economic or financial hardship preventing them from being able to pay the deficiency.[4]
Creditors holding liens against real estate can include primary mortgages, junior lien holders—such as second mortgages, home equity lines of credit (HELOC) lenders, home owners association HOA (special assessment liens)—all of whom will need to approve individual applications for a short sale, should they be asked to take less than what is owed."

In our housing search for a friend I had the opportunity to ask all my questions of a very knowledgeable informed agent.  In our search in a search reveals that almost 90% of the houses listed show a status of "contingent",  which indicates that a transaction is at some stage of being processed and is waiting for inspections, financing, title clarifications, etc.  Another site we visit further breaks down those that are "Active"  by showing those which are "Short Sales".

When I asked for further information on this category I was told that it is not even worth bothering with these.  Homeowners have applied for short sales and the homes were locked in a holding pattern awaiting foreclosure and it may take years for them to be available.

My puzzled look must have appeared for she explained that many homeowners have applied for this status and a requirement is that they list the home with an agent to qualify.  Then, they proceed to quit making payments, refuse to allow showings, and continue to live in the house for free until they are legally removed from it.  This may take from six months to six years. Often they quit maintaining the home and go even further and trash it.  When the day finally comes that they must leave they leave whatever they want behind including garbage, damage, and sometimes stripping appliances, fixtures, cabinets, and other vandalism.  My stomach turns as I think of this behavior for I actually have known people that have done such things but didn't realize that this was a common practice. 

Two Wrongs don't make a Right.

Remember our mothers telling us this during the battle with our brothers and sisters? Apparently the actions of countless numbers of those who have gotten short sales is the equivalent.  Yes, I find and have spoken about the actions of the financial industry as being deplorable.  Because of this many have lost much and I grieve with them and hope that this blog and other tools will assist in making the decisions that are needed to keep going.  There is a time where one must walk away but it is important that we maintain the dignity of our actions or else we are no better than those who have wronged us whether it be an industry or an individual.  This is indeed difficult but again as our mother's used to teach us:

Cheaters never prosper.

Our actions will find us out now or in the future for we will reap what we sow.

Other related posts:
Keep your Integrity
Animal Farm 2011 Version

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Banks - same game, new rules

Had a recent situation I wanted to share and warn you about:  A family member recently obtained a mortgage to purchase a home.  The bank offered her the split the payment option so she pays her mortgage in two segments each month.  When this option was first developed it became popular because by doing it this way 7 years will eventually be cut from the time frame of the mortgage due to the positive effect it has on bringing the interest down so much quicker.

After one year of paying this way she inquired at the bank regarding her payments and was told after much questioning that "NO" the early part of the payment was not being applied directly to the mortgage it was being HELD until the second half was received and then a single payment was made to her loan.  Needless to say she was irate!  The bank simply maintained her funds to the benefit of THEIR use but did not apply it to the loan amount for HER benefit.  It was all a smokescreen from which no benefit was occurring.

This is a significant change to the way the bank handles payments than in the past AND the sales pitch is almost identical so one is led to believe that it is the same program.  If you have selected this option with your bank, ASK.  You may just be going down another primrose path expecting that your mortgage is being reduced when in fact it may not be.

One cannot help but wonder how many millions Wells Fargo and other major banks are holding and using in this program under the innocent wrong expectations of their customers and how many rude awakenings there will be in the future.

This cartoon seems to sum it up best:
In other news:

A mother took her 4 year old to the doctor for some tests. After the appointment a $20 bill was received and paid.  A month later another bill arrived.  The mother called and told the billing department that she had mailed the payment .  They looked at the account and said they had indeed received the payment and it was applied to the account under the mothers name not the daughters so one account had a credit balance and the other showed a past due.  They assured her they would fix it. 

Soon a second bill came and the mother ignored it figuring that the timing was off and it would be corrected by the next billing cycle.  The third month past and she called again.  Finally the forth month arrived with a bill saying the 4 year old child had been turned into COLLECTIONS for lack of payment.

The mother then had a chance to work on her new patience (not patients) development skills and called the office again and explaining the situation while trying to keep her irate attitude in check.

From the archives:

Sunday, July 8, 2012


Who would imagine that the disposal of garbage could cost so much?  Recently the people living in my turn of the century (that's 1885) house vacated and clean-up of the property began.  It's a long story... 

I was warned in advance that garbage was going to be a major issue so I had mentally prepared myself for the worst.  Having been a property manager and having worked in a real estate office I knew what the worst could look like.  Few can bear the sights, smells, and touch of a clean up project so I long since have learned that not everyone is cut out for it.  Somehow, for me, under all the abuse a grand old house may exist so I am able to put on my sensual blinders and go for it.

I cannot help but mention that I had prayed much before hand and read the book of Nehemiah to prepare for the project. I was extremely grateful that some people I had never even met felt bad about the situation and gone before me to get the work started. When I got to my home friends from this town I love came to my aid and provided a place for me to stay during the work, food to eat, and a vehicle to drive.  That all in addition to people who joined in the work, loaned lawn mowers, a tractor, and brought lunch to those who were working.  While we worked on this most miserable of projects we moaned, talked, laughed, planned and I for one had a wonderful time.  I was reminded again of why I love small towns and especially this one which has provided a home to generations of my family for over 150 years based on the markers I find at the cemetery.

Most of the time I try to keep my blog posts anonomous but a special thanks must be given to Mike, Nikki, Tamrick, Jimmy, Richie, Tammy, Danny, Keren, and others who participated and continue to be there in various ways.  I love you guys!

So how bad was it?

Two of these 20 yard dumpsters were taken out -

And, it will be about eight of these 4 yard dumpsters -

The cost of all that garbage removal looks like it will come in at about $2,000.  And that doesn't count the burn pile that was going for days or all the scrape metal and tires that were hauled off.

In the process two people puked, we went through almost a box of gloves, and oh my aching back.  But we kept the coffee going and rapid progress was being made.  Underneath it all was the wonderful surprise that there was very little damage except to the carpet and a couple of broken windows.

This old lady of a house is getting a new coat of  paint and a manicure to the outside lawns and trees.  And again she will provide a home just as she has for over 115 years.

One of my best friends Cleo used to say "Look for the pearl in the cowpie"  (for those who don't know what a cowpie is another translation is cow manure). 

My friends and family are the PEARL of all that is in my life.  It was wonderful to see everyone and God bless.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The house hunt is on!

Since my early years I have loved to snoop around vacant homes and even inhabited homes.  I love houses! Old ones, new ones, perfectly maintained and trashed. All have a story to tell and their own personality given to them by their design and by all the people who have lived in them throughout the years.  It may have all started with one of my children's books titled The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton. 

Through the years vacant homes have intrigued and inspired me to jump out and do a little tour.  I enjoy "The Street of Dreams" and touring old mansions and rehab projects.  I have dragged my children along and one son has been in real estate for years so sparks do turn into flames.  I too had the opportunity to work for a small real estate broker and when clients would come in they would tell me their wish list and I would search high and low to find the home that might just fill their needs, wants, and desires.  When a match was reached it always warmed my heart to know that I had been a matchmaker to help find a house that would become a home.

Recently we found that a friend who is working overseas wants to buy a house in this city when he returns.  And the hunt is on!  He was hesitant to have us assist in the looking not wanting to be a burden but after convincing him that it would be a pleasure, in fact a treat, to help with the search he agreed to let us help.  Cannot help but wonder if the pleading convinced or scarred him. is recently my most visited site.  I have looked at probably 100's of photos so far and the last two weekends have gotten to hit the road and peak in windows evaluating the merits and shortcomings of a few properties.  As the search continues questions are raised like "how much does landscaping cost?",  "what is the value of this tile vs. carpet?", "the house is a mess but the neighborhood is great, is it worth taking on the project?", "Does it meet ALL the friend's criteria and more?", and "why would anyone paint something that color?".  Finally, "what does the house FEEL like?".  Some would think this crazy but some houses have a calm feeling and some feel creepy and it is usually not based on visual impressions.  So far we have not been inside any homes and that is when the senses are raised.  How can the details all be taken in and compared to all the others that have been seen?

The PERFECT house and deal is out there.  The challege is the hunt of finding it.  It is boring, frustrating, trys the patience, fun, and compelling, and invigorating all that the same time.  I know the day will come when I walk in the door and am able to say "THIS JUST MIGHT BE THE ONE". 

In the meantime the search goes on...

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

Just have the feeling someone needed this today...

It's so easy to write of the hardship and challenges yet there is something else much harder to pinpoint that happens when a person goes through a season of living In The Trenches. Like the stars at night amidst the blackness. They seem to be small yet they brighten the night sky with patterns and hope.

Who out there has tried to change the U joint (I think that's what it's called) under a kitchen sink? It is one of the simplest yet awful tasks there is. First you assemble what you think are the tools and pieces needed for the job. A wise person may look at a book or talk to the local hardware man. Once you perceive yourself to be ready you lay on your back and squiggle your back side until your head and upper body is in this dirty, cramped, moldy smelling place where usually only the garbage can resides. I am considered a small woman and so can almost fit but for the men out there who are twice my size with broad shoulders this is indeed a major feat. Next time you are tempted to laugh at a plumbers crack consider that he maybe secretly mooning you for asking him to do the job.

Next, in this awkward position you take this heavy wrench that I think is called a pipe wrench and try to maneuver it around the joint. It slips and falls off and more often then not you realize it is the wrong tool and have to wiggle back out and start over. By this time those who are prone to swearing are already doing so. Those of us who refrain are glaring at anyone around including the dog.

Finally the tool is in the right position, you adjust the grip and start turning. If you are like me I always turn the wrong direction making the whole connection tighter. Then the wrench slips again and again a person is tempted to utter words that should not be used.

After a few attempts the U joint is mercifully off. If you have measured the replacement correctly you put it on and tighten it up. If not, you take the old piece and head back to the hardware store and let the men laugh at you for picking the wrong one in the first place. But men do have an innate kindness and will simile and take the time to make sure you have what is needed and tell you what to do if you appear appropriately appreciative of their greater knowledge and experience.

Back home you go and now with the practice attempts out of the way you are warmed up and hook that baby up, clamp it down, and tighten it up. Turn on the faucet and check for leaks. If no leaks you are good to go.

And then the lights flash and the stars come out! You have done it! You actually fixed something that was very important. The new shiny white PVC pipe is almost sparkling. You just couldn't be more pleased with yourself knowing in your heart that you are now Superman or Superwoman whatever the case may be. You wait for the cheering of the fans yet they just look at you like "Whats the big deal?". Don't let them take your joy. Hold on to it and don't forget how awesome you are at this very moment. And definitely do not tell anyone you know that you know how to change the pipe under the sink.

Originally posted Nov 2, 2010