Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Observations from a Country Mouse

Recently Christine from Money Funk blog wrote a post about impulse spending and boy did she hit where people live…. There were many comments from readers who described emotional buying as their biggest challenge in bringing their budget under control. For those who don’t know Christine or her blog I have often enjoyed and praised her work as I have followed it through the blogisphere. (I admit, I sometimes like to make up words and pass them off as real; I learned it from my son when we played boggle.)

Personally, I don’t enjoy going to the mall unless I have $200 cash in my pocket and have some specific items I’m looking for. That right there makes me somewhat unusual. Around the time Christine’s post came out I received an invitation to go to the mall. Normally I would have begged off but decided to go just to see what the fuss was about.

Off we went to a gigantic outlet mall. We wandered and I watched and observed. Having lived in a small town for the last many years it was like country mouse headed into city mouse’s domain. Here are a couple of my impressions:

1. What if I get lost? I kid you not. The place was big and lots of people. I don’t have a cell phone. I spent most of the time trying to stay with the people I came with or looking around the stores to find them. At one point I ventured off by myself and spent the next few minutes noticing how many people were dressed similarly to the people I came with. I really thought that maybe I should hold someone’s hand. I wanted to ask but knew I’d get one of those “Are your crazy?” looks.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

21 Things You Should Never Buy New - Yahoo! Finance

21 Things You Should Never Buy New - Yahoo! Finance

If you are looking for ways to cut expenses here are some items that I wouldn't have thought of. The article was written by Wise Bread, a well known personal finance blog. The bottom of the article recommends a book called 10,001 WAYS TO LIVE LARGE ON A SMALL BUDGET. Have any of you read it? What do you think?

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Michael Orbino makes the Wall Street Journal

good-schools-bad-real-estate: Personal Finance News from Yahoo! Finance

Well you know that I try to share some housing articles and this one is especially fun as it is posted in the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo news.

And, it's my son who was interviewed for the article! Toward the middle of the page. Michael Orbino.

Am I happy for him? Yessiree.

An Investment with Abundant Return - Fruit Trees

Most of us think of the stock market or real estate when we think of investing but there are many other ways of investing that can provide a return that can be fun and a new hobby. Fruit trees, berries, and even rhubarb can fall into this category.

Just to get your imagination going here are a few:                               

I guess for those who feel more comfortable with the stock labels we can call them APP, PEA, PLU, BLU, etc.  A fruit tree normally takes about three years to begin bearing well which is faster than a savings bond.

Friday, June 25, 2010

On Location - Dream of a Home Takes the Shape of a Victorian Retreat -

On Location - Dream of a Home Takes the Shape of a Victorian Retreat -

Hope you will take the time to check out this article. The pictures alone make it worth taking a look. And if you read the story you will find one woman's dream and how she eventually fulfilled it after being homeless in her youth. Inspiring.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In The Trenches - Education

With unemployment so high right now we easily know two things:
1. Many people have a lot of time on their hands.
2. Competition for every job is fierce.

Skills, experience,  and education are the primary criteria that employers are reviewing as part of their screening process.  Even if you have all these things the going can be rough. 

Did you know that most employment agencies offer free training for many office programs?  I have been calling around and the best program I have found so far is offered by Manpower  Employment agency.  They offer up to 5,500 hours of free tutorials and online instruction.  So far I have had a harder time finding one for Quickbooks so if you know of one please let us know.  These can be done from your home,  in their office, or wherever you can find a computer to use. 

Yes, that's free.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The difference between saving and investing by Personal Fianance by the Book

Personal Finance by the Book has a very good dialog going on regarding the difference between saving and investing.  Joe Plemon has written a post that removes the gray from the subject and his readers are hashing out the pros and cons. Here's the link so you can join them in progress and put in your ideas.

Joe and his wife are also working on a home redo investment.  Watching the progress is interesting.  Joe's blog is written from a Christian perspective and covers Bible topics as they relate to managing finances. 

Monday, June 21, 2010

The China Cabinet

My project this week is to clean a china cabinet. The cabinet is packed to the gills with everything from fine German china to cheap nick knack bric-a-brac. There is so much in the cabinet that nothing can be seen and the crystal is dusty and common looking.

I’m excited about it. My first step will to be to box up all the bric-a-brac and seasonal items. There will probably end up being a Christmas box, an autumn box, and a not worth keeping box. They will go in the garage for now to be ready for the holidays and some items may be the beginnings of the next big sale. Then, all the crystal will be washed and displayed so it can sparkle along with the teacup collection from around the world in memory of those who have gifted them. We will then find some display holders so that the china can be shown with its intricate patterns and graceful designs.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

In The Trenches - Too much of a good thing?

A couple of days ago I spent all morning writing and reading financial blogs and came away with new commitment and motivation. My goals of saving were fortified and in order to achieve this I would have to keep the goal in sight, scrutinize every expenditure and bump up the self-discipline.

I awoke on Wednesday ready to face the world with my newly invigorated self. For the last month I had been making a little list of small things I needed to purchase and had a mental amount of what I was willing to pay for each item. For the sake of the story I have to mention that one of the things on the list was a new nightie. Now it could have been anything but that’s what it was and I mention it only so you will see how ridiculous what happened next really was.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Financial Blind Spots

Anybody who drives a car knows what a blind spot is. It is the spot just at the driver’s side by the rear quarter panel. You can check all your mirrors but the only way to actually make sure that there is nothing in the blind spot is to turn your head and look. This can be especially important on the freeway where drivers come up on you fast. I am ashamed and embarrassed to say that I actually backed into a telephone pole (very slowly) that was in my blind spot. How can anybody not see a telephone pole!?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Garage Sale (Part 2) - Sale Day

Up at 5am to be ready for a 7am opening. The homeowner’s association sponsored the sale but so far there were no signs and up to the very last minute we wondered if the sale was even going to happen or if our labor had been in vain. We realized that in the hurry we had forgotten to get change so that meant a quick trip to the 24-hour store to get $40 in change and small bills. 15 minutes before sale time the garage door opened and we pulled out everything that we wanted in the driveway still not knowing if the sale was really going to happen. We also found a child’s easel and made a cute sign advertising “Girls room”, size 0 to 16. Promptly at 7am the gates opened and the community sale had begun.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Garage Sale - Preparation

The Goal – Clear out enough space in the garage to park one car.
The Strategy – Have a garage sale.

Many have joined the ranks of those who hold garage sales. For us it was a first attempt. I volunteered to help a friend with this project because I had always wanted to do one and she was overwhelmed. We opened the garage door to view a ten-year accumulation of stuff that belonged to six different people and had been through three moves. We stood with hands on hips wondering where to begin.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Millions forced to wait for food stamps benefits - Life-

Millions forced to wait for food stamps benefits - Life-

If you are wondering how bad it is out there this article states that 40 million are now on food stamps - one in 8. Hopefully that raises a lot of eyebrows and thoughts.

Thank God for our daily food.
How is this impacting the state and national governments?
Where is this food produced? U.S. or imported from overseas?
If your family is on food stamps do you know how to budget to make it last?
What is being done to insure that these dollars are somehow replaced?
Are steps being taken to increase the amount food produced in our own country and in our neighborhoods?
What should be done to address any of these questions?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

In The Trenches - Are you grouchy today?

We are all grouchy at times.  It's just part of being people.  Stress can really press us to our limits and it's easy to let grouchiness take over our attitude and mood.  We can all forgive the occasional slip but when being grouchy at business contacts, friends, and family starts to be the norm it can really get on people's nerves and cause harm to our relationships especially to our spouses and children.  None of us enjoy walking on eggshells or giving the wide berth to the bear in the corner.

I was surprised to find that the gallup poll actually tracks this.  If you want to check out what percent of the American people are feeling unhappy or depressed here is the link you can do so along with other important topics like presidential approval rate, unemployment, and consumer spending.  If you want to know what America thinks check out the gallup poll.

So regardless of what is going on in your life right now there is one positive way of dealing with it:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

the-housing-market-recession-is-not-over: Personal Finance News from Yahoo! Finance

the-housing-market-recession-is-not-over: Personal Finance News from Yahoo! Finance

Time will tell the facts of these assertions but I for one strongly agree. Important information for those making critical housing decisions at this time. Whether you want to buy, sell, invest, or just hang on the housing market is still in flux. When neighborhoods have almost half of the houses empty it's hard not to ask the questions.

See my June 1, May 10, and June 3, 2009 postings for more information on this subject.

Note added June 15, 2010:  Here's another very good article that speaks about what economists are projecting for the near future.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Steak or Hamburger?

Given the choice what would you pick? 

A well cooked t-bone (insert your favorite here), um, um.  Add to that a big baked potato with all the trimmings, sauteed mushrooms, steamed asparagus, and a green salad with croutons.  Desert?  Oh, yes, please.  A meal fit for a king.

Or, a hamburger (or vegie burger)? On toast or on a bun? My favorites are what I call the Western burger that has lots of barbeque sauce and onions. The All American has mayo, lettuce and, tomatoes. There are so many things you can do with a hamburger. Add a side of potato salad, slaw, macaroni salad, chips, or fries. The possibilities are almost endless.

Most people consider being In The Trenches as doing without. Sometimes that is necessary but most of the time it means just making strategic economical choices, at least sometimes. A dollar or two may not seem to make a difference but over a period of time it adds up. Whether you want to call it frugal living, cutting back, living simply, or sticking to your budget it can still taste good.

So, what's your favorite?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Moving forward

The most difficult thing about moving forward can be what we leave behind.  I have spoken often about the choices we must make while we are In The Trenches.  Many of us can and do get there by circumstances that are not under our control or within our ability to choose.  Among these are job layoffs, illness or death in the family, or divorce.  We don't always have the ability to choose the circumstances but we can choose our response to it.  In moving forward we may have to leave much of what we love behind. 

Consider the scenario of a job loss.  We may have to move to another area to earn a living income. To move forward we may have to leave our home (or have it foreclosed), our friends, our pets, and hardest of all our dreams. 

No matter how many financial books you have read and no matter how much you look at the options they do not prepare you to leave your dogs.  But, these choices must sometimes be made.

Okay.  I'm bumming myself out now and probably you as well.  What can we do to turn this sad situation into a positive one?

Look to the future.  Try to look forward and look back at the same time and you will find you cannot do it.  Choose to look to the future.  It will take all your energy to build a new life.
  1. Set your goals but be willing to adjust them as needed.
  2. Look  for the best possible situation for your pets or other things you need to leave behind.  Find someone who will love and care for them as much as you do and maybe even more.  When we love we will look for the best.  Put your time and energy into this process so in the end you can rest assured that you have made good choices.
  3. In line with this, put the word out.  Tell people what you need so they can help you.  Do not let pride, hurt, shame, or embarrassment get in the way of finding good homes for your pets or things.
  4. Make sure you give out your email to friends so they can keep in touch.
  5. When you hear of others in this situation help them.  Life hits all of us.  If it is them today it may be you tomorrow.  If you can do nothing else be lavish and generous with a kind word and big hug.
Moving forward.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

In The Trenches - Healthy Living

How are you feeling today?  Do you have your head held high, shoulders back, and a bounce to your step?  If your answer is no then the stress of being In The Trenches financially might be robbing you of your joy.  One of the quickest ways to combat this is to focus on healthy living and make a concerted effort to take charge of some of the habits you might have been neglecting.  We may not be able to control all of the circumstances and events in our lives but we can use the time to get back to the basics of good health.  I'm personally starting my own program and working my way down the list.  Here are some ideas to get you started.  And, they don't cost money.

1.  Get some sunshine and fresh air everyday.
2.  Drink 8 glasses of water.
3.  Eat vegetables and fruit.
4.  Cut back on bad habits like smoking and drinking.
5.  Take a walk everyday.
6.  Sing a happy song.  Leave the blues and country until you're feeling better.
7.  Pick up a new excercise.  Here are some I have tried:
     Shoot hoops
     Hit a tennis ball against the backboard or find another player.
     Badmitton.  That's a fun one.
     Take the family or the family dog for a walk.
     Walk to the elementary school and play on the jungle gym.
     Throw a baseball or football around with your kids.
     Run or jog.

Speaking of running.  Forest Gump had the right idea.  When faced with heartbreak he just started running and didn't stop until he was done.  My son picked up running a while back and now has done a couple of marathons.

Yes, I've tried all of these.  They are not habits I have necessarily continued but at the time they were a big help and cleared my mind and body with fresh circulation and ideas.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Owners Stop Paying Mortgage ... And Stop Fretting About It - Yahoo! Finance

Owners Stop Paying Mortgage ... And Stop Fretting About It - Yahoo! Finance

One of the most interesting and controversial effects of the economic crisis is the growing number of Americans who are choosing to walk away from their homes and mortgages to wait for the foreclosure to take place. The reasons are many:
1. Underlying anger at financial institutions for creating the mortgage crisis.
2. Personal frustration at a banks unwillingness to work with the home owner to find reasonable solutions.
3. Viewing the home as a losing investment in the current market conditions.  Dumping the home like you would dump a losing stock.
4. My credit is messed up anyway so what difference does it make?
5. Others are doing it, why not me?
6. They view it as a necessary step for their own survival as it has come down to a choice between food and the mortgage payment though income reductions brought on by job loss and then when calling to work out payment arrangements reaching a customer service representative overseas.
7. Those not behind may view it as a step to their living under their means strategy.
8. Some view the move as a step of consumer solidarity in protest of the strong arm tactics they feel banks have usedin mortgage repayments, credit cards, and overdraft fees.

The opposing argument is:
1. The view that if you signed on the dotted line it is your moral obligation to pay.
2. The more people that abandon their homes the greater it will impact the entire economy.
Joe Plemon at Personal Finance By The Book has written a very good post making a number of thoughtful points as to why walking away is not a good idea.  His readers have also provided some lively comments. The link is at the bottom if you would like more information. 
The fact is that whether you personally agree or disagree, whether you feel you need to take this step or not, it is happening all over the country and is the next big wave to redefine the American Economy. The effects will impact the housing market for years.  Personally, I'm not so sure that the issue is even about housing anymore as much as it is about consumers saying "no" to the banking industry.  The American people are going on strike.

Am I offering any advice?  No, I'm just watching along with the rest of the country and trying to maneuver through my own In The Trenches experience.  What do I think will happen?  I'm not sure but a couple of things seem evident:
1. The number of foreclosed houses will continue to grow and effect the value of all homes.
2. With this fall in prices the local governments should lower property taxes to the new lower assessed value. But, that is unlikely and so we need to be watchful of other new inventive ways in which county governments will try to make up for lost revenue.
3. The lost revenue from mortgage payments and no bailout can put the large banks in big trouble so watch where you put your money especially if you invest in mutual funds that are comprised of mortgages.
4. Those that have saved money and kept their credit rating decent will be in a position to invest in real estate at lower prices though it may take years to see the value go back up.

I am not and do not profess to be an economist. These are my understandings and opinions and should not be used for making your decisions.  All we can do is pay attention and be very prudent. 

In a post I wrote on June 3, 2009 called the future of the American Economy I stated that I believed that what we were experiencing was just the first wave.  This is the beginning of the second.  Government resources for assistance are being exhausted and many families are still not where they need to be to weather the storm but the sirens are still sounding.  Save money, get out of debt, live within your means.  It only sounds dramatic because it is.

I hope you will take a few minutes to read some of the posts in the American Economy category and continue to read whatever you feel is valid and trustworthy.  There are many excellent blogs and websites to give tips on everything economic and the latest news and commentary on changing events. Staying away from all the political hype can be difficult but by listening to a number of different sources and then comparing what you see with your own eyes things become more clear.  And, then just keep working your plan.  In God We Trust....

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.

Link to Personal Finance By The Book:

Link to Owners Stop Paying Mortage... And Stop Fretting About it - Yahoo! Finance