August 2, 2017

Adieu, summer

Summer's waning, what's next?

Right around August 1st, my Spidey sense starts tingling.

It’s Lammas, the first harvest.

For those of us who don’t live by the agricultural calendar, the beginning of the end of summer. Our leaves don’t turn until late September, so the change is just a scent in the air. The heat starts to taper off, with a few days of heat spikes to remind us of summer’s punch, a memory for next year.

Labor Day approacheth! Mingled anticipation and dread! I wouldn’t mind the slide into fall, but for 12 years, saying good-bye to summer was immediately followed by the start of a new school year.

Despite having been out of school well over a decade, a little knot the size of a peach pit still forms in my stomach, leavened only with my love for back to school sales. My peach pit bounces around to the time of “new packs of college ruled paper! New colorful paper folders for a penny!”

Back in the day, my summers weren’t any great shakes, just great long stretches of being out of school. Most were spent at work with Mom, being tutored or running the cash register at their business. One unusual summer, there was summer school which was both incredibly scary and great fun. On the one hand, I hated having to meet new people for a short class. On the other hand, in our science class, we learned to make ice cream with just salt, milk, and ice. Who doesn’t get excited over practical science? #nerd

That enrichment was short-lived, though. We didn’t have money for real summer camp and our school district couldn’t afford real summer programs.

My working-summer theme continued into high school, the more fool me. I worked minimum wage jobs to save for extracurriculars. I was so proud to pay for all my own expenses in senior year. In hindsight, it’s a shame I didn’t ever take advantage of that summer time to be frivolous because there weren’t many of those worry-free summers left for me. As a fully fledged working adult, summer sneaks right on past.

Summers during college were full of overtime. It was also the only time I got a bit of sleep since my reward for working 60+ hours a week was not taking classes for that one quarter of the year.

Summer now? We hardly notice when it starts, except when my teacher friends start attending graduations and then we have Comic Con each year.

I don’t want our summers, and years, to slip through our fingers unnoticed. Most of the time we do well enough staying present in the moment but it’s too easy to take it all for granted as we’re preoccupied with work, school, and growing up.

In a few very short years, JuggerBaby will start school. We’ll have to start making arrangements for JuggerBaby when school is out. Maybe one of my shorter term goals needs to be setting myself up for having half days in the summers so ze and I can enjoy the summer time together. My work is more flexible than PiC’s in that way but who knows, maybe he can arrange something like that too.

It’s never too soon to start brainstorming for that future.

Do we aim to take summers off and do long road trips? That could be hard with an aging Seamus. Right now, he’s usually game for a couple of trips. I can’t tell where JB’s patience levels would be with long stretches in the car.

Do we put zir in day camp and tutoring for half the summer? That’s definitely expensive and time consuming (tuition, commuting), but if there are good educational and fun programs, it could be worth it.

Do I tutor zir in languages and spend our free time playing at the park? (Mother, exercise your patience.)

These are all possibilities.

I’m curious what PiC will want our summers to look like as we go on. I’m guessing it’ll include more home improvement projects than either of us are fully committed to, though.

:: What were your childhood summers like? What do you do now to enjoy summer? Do you love the onset of fall or summer best?


July 31, 2017

On the home(buying) front: money choices

The costs to build our future castle (home!) This whole post is going to be so much money. About so much money, I mean. Lots and lots of money. Stimulating the economy beyond anything I’d ever imagined would happen in this lifetime.

Hiring out work

The contractor’s labor, and the subcontractors’ labor, is a set price for the most part. I’m saying up front that we’re paying a premium for the general contractor whom we’ll call Bob and I didn’t negotiate a penny of that. Those of you who know me won’t even open your mouths to ask if I was “too embarrassed” to ask for a discount like some people thought.

It was deliberate. I’m a star performer at work, and I know how to treat them. You pay good money to get exceptional results. You do not nickel and dime someone who is going to play a huge role in quality control, and attend to your every need. That’s the best way to demotivate them.

Every week, my decision and refusal to negotiate his rate proves that Bob is worth every penny. He’s honest, hardworking, prompt to reply to any and all questions (stupid or not), shows up whenever and wherever we ask, on top of keeping the project on schedule. By the way, he wrote up a highly detailed schedule for us to work by. All of that makes him a total gem and a complete anomaly as a General Contractor, from the anecdotes of all the horrified friends and family hearing we were on a tight timeline.

But that’s not all!

  • He advises us on the best places to source our materials and helps us find discounts without compromising on quality.
  • He’s cultivated relationships in the contracting world: he chatted up the project reviewer which resulted in the job being classified as an update, instead of a renovation, and saved us $2700 in permitting costs. I would not have known to ask for that concession!
  • When we decided to save money on one of the “work in every room” aspects of the project (lighting) delaying it for later, he discounted his own rate by $350 to do the full job now. We didn’t ask, he offered.
  • When he made the wrong call on one of the walls, costing us an additional $500 in work, he made up for it by footing the bill for expensive aesthetic work that I wouldn’t have wanted to pay for, but PiC would have wanted.
  • He’s offered us lots of reclaimed and leftover supplies from previous jobs that the owners just wanted dumped. So far, that’s worth a smidge north of $1000.
  • The quality of his work is top notch so we passed rough inspection with flying colors.

By the end of this job, I anticipate that he will save us at least half the cost of his fees by doing stuff like this for us. Then there’s simply no price I can put on the sanity that he preserves by doing his actual services: coordinating all the work, hiring and managing the subcontractors, picking up all the materials that we purchase and checking them for damage, making all the returns.

The power of a warranty

Pretty much everything in this place is old enough to be replaced but we have to pick our battles. The roof is old, the wiring is old, the plumbing is old, the water heater is older, the furnace probably has a beard.

However, our realtor bought us a warranty that will cover all appliances, minor roof leaks, the water heater failing. She’s not so sure how well it covers plumbing because her experience has been that they’re finicky on which bits of pipes they’ll cover. Neither of us are willing to play the odds on whether or not the old wiring will catch fire, either, so we’re attacking those items now.

We’ll cross our fingers that the roof isn’t damaged and the water heater keeps truckin’ – but if it does, the warranty is more straightforward on those.

Negotiating costs

There are two places where we can really run up the bills, according to Bob.

The first is our selection of the finished materials like cabinets, flooring, fixtures, and so on. You can choose a $200 toilet, or an $800 toilet. A $20 showerhead, or an $800 shower fixture. Oh yes, you can spend $2000 on a door! (We did not.)

There’s not a lot of negotiation to be done but there are some bits you can do, aside from asking yourself if you REALLY need that super awesome rain bath showerhead.

  1.  Ask for large volume discounts. Home Depot’s Pro shop gives a high volume discount on any orders that are over $1500 in addition to whatever other sales and discounts you can get.
  2. Ask for small discounts. Our contractor gets a small discount if you use his pro account. We do!
  3. Bob also advised us that you can often request a 10% discount at Home Depot just because if you go to the assistant store manager, or escalating to the store manager.
  4. Ask for discounts just because! I online chatted with the good folks at to ask if they could beat the pricing I had in my cart and they did.

The second place is scope creep, AKA those AWOs that pop up on our progress invoices: Add Work Orders.

Those come up when you’re taking down walls to studs, thank crepes that you did and howl a few choice curses at the moon for what you found: more dry rot. If you didn’t find it, you would have fallen through the floor in about 8 months. Or your new windows would have fallen out when the dry rotted framing inside turned into a pile of splinters. Or when you realize that there’s black mold creeping across the back walls that the seller’s piles of belongings covered up. These weren’t in your original contract and that’s how the Bobs of the contracting world really make their money.

I’m so grateful that Bob was upfront about this little detail – we restructured our entire plan in the first week based on that advice and the saving is clear.

Spending choices: charge it up!

I could have chased down discounted gift cards to pay for supplies, saving 5-7%. For this project, though, I wanted the price protection from my credit card.

American Express will make it right if a store won’t honor their return policy. If something breaks or goes missing, I have protection for 90 days. We are buying tens of thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. I do not need to expend any personal energy fighting with any single merchant, and paying with the credit card is my insurance against that.

:: Would you (have you) have made any decisions differently? Do you have regrets on hiring someone cut-rate or did you have a great success story in getting a deal?

July 27, 2017

Just a little (link) love: creepy cats edition


Cash makes me super happy, how about you?

“Our odds are beyond scary” applies pretty well to this look at our schedule for climate change

It’s been a few months but I love ZJ’s approach to dealing with this administration and will be borrowing a page from her book.

American women don’t differ greatly from other women in struggling to breastfeed. Where they differ is a loss of support.

Cameroonian children do much better at the marshmallow test. I wonder if it’ll be possible to track their progress later in life though, to compare study results side by side. We are relatively Cameroonian in our strictness with JB. Whining and tantruming is not rewarded, and only just tolerated as long as is needed to break through the whining with either a rational explanation of why ze isn’t getting what ze wants, or food because the whining has nothing to do with desperately needing to see goat pictures on my phone and everything to do with hunger.

This does make me wonder if the Cameroonians also teach the children productive ways to have emotions if they’re not really allowed to express negative emotions. I struggled with that. My parents didn’t allow whining or crying either, which is fine, but I also lacked guidance in how to appropriately express frustration, or anger. We try to give that guidance, age appropriately, and teach the words that do the job better than having a fit.

July 26, 2017

Reaping Dividends: July 2017 report

Reaping Dividends: July 2017

My brokerage was TradeKing which was acquired by Ally this year. I’ve been very happy with TradeKing’s low fees and service so I’m hoping that Ally does that and better. There’s one thing I already like the look of. For investors with at least a $100,000 daily balance or execute at least 30 trades per quarter, you can be part of Ally Invest SELECT.

The one tiny perk that I care about is lower fees: $3.95 per equity trade and $0.50 per options contract.

Other perks that I don’t personally care about right now:
Priority routing to our Ally Invest reps. No additional cost when you place a phone trade. We’ll waive the first six months’ advisory fees for any new Ally Invest Advisors account you open, including custodial and joint accounts or IRAs. No fees on requests for 1099s, paper statements, or trade confirmations. We’ll refund transfer fees on deposits of $5,000 or more to your Ally Invest Securities account.

I’d trade a few of those benefits for free trades, really.

Observations this quarter 

  • Dividends income this past quarter (April through June): $941.20. If nothing changes, we’ll see about $2600 in dividend income this year.
  • I love COST and Costco loves me! For a second year in a row, they’ve paid out a special dividend at $7 per share. Delicious dividends, that can go on to buy more dividend bearing stocks.
  • For two days, I had a triple dividend from KO but it turns out that was just a dirty trick.
  • I was surprised to realize that I’ve been buying more stocks in the “Cyclical Consumer Goods & Services” sector than anything else. Probably not a good idea to be concentrated in retail if I’m worried about a recession. 

Dividend income update: June 30, 2017

Year to Date Dividends: $1,365.20, Fees: $9.90, Net: $1,355.30

Income Replacement

For perspective, I like to think of the dividends investing project in terms of how much of our income it can replace, or how much of our fixed expenses it can cover.

At a whopping $1355.30, this year’s dividends can pay 39% of one new mortgage payment. Our old mortgage payment would have been paid in full!

Since I started 6 years ago, I’ve made a grand total of $2,810.00.

:: How did your portfolio do this quarter? Would you try to replace income this way, or do you have another preference?

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