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A professionally successful couple in their late 30s discuss the complexities of investing, family finances and deferred parenthood.

Updated: 2017-09-21T06:18:52.084-05:00


Healthy sleeping tips


My favorite tip from consumer reports is that you:

(this is from National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, and individual sleep-medicine experts they consulted):

Use the bedroom only for sleeping or sex.

I wonder how many other things we use our bedroom for?

Little children make it very difficult for parents to have private time for intimacy / romance - especially when the little ones join you in the bedroom (every night!) it's unlikely if impossible that the bedroom will be used for anything other than:

1. sleeping (a little)
2. jumping on mommy and daddy to wake them up
3. jumping because it's fun
4. vomiting or anything else that comes out of a sick child
5. a place to watch tv in bed with mommy and daddy (think safe secure nest)
6. a great place for folding laundry
7. an inconvenient place for building puzzles (try moving the puzzle to go to sleep)
8. a second kitchen when under the weather
9. a mysterious warren of comforter and pillow tunnels ripe for exploration

regards, makingourway

Losing our transit benefit


It's unfortunate, but big company has decided to economize on certain HR benefits.
One, which I really enjoy and will be sad to miss, is our transit benefit.
I was able to pay for more than $200 a month in transit costs using pre-tax dollars. This is like an $80 decrease in pay!!! bummer!!

Oh well. Think hard, make more money!


updating our children's furtniture


Looks like our little ones are getting a bit too big for the hand me down furniture they've been living in (a day bed from my bachelorhood) and a convertible crib (now bed) from our first.

Our strategy looks like we'll do the following:

1. convert the convertible crib bed to a full bed $200 (conversion rails). I'm hoping we can save the full size mattress from the day bed.

2. buy a new bedroom set for our littlest. I'm sure it doesn't mean that mommy and daddy's bed is any less attractive, warm, cozy and less scary, but... it does make a nicer cozier room for our littlest. I'm guessing this will be a full bore furniture set from costco $1200 - $1800.

Anyone have any alternatives?


quick update on net worth - overall about 13% down on investments


Did quick overview of investments.
Very difficult to track in quicken when rollovers seem to reset investment performance at the time of rollover.
However, most of the rollover assets were similar, so I'm estimating my investments to be down 13% since the market plunged - that's a fairly good recovery.
I did manage to convert some cash back into stocks and did make nice returns on the upturn, but i didn't fully leverage the rebound and kept most of my cash in cash for maximum liquidity.
Anyone have good ideas for tracking absolute portfolio returns?

Overall, our networth is up at about $830k. Not the progress we'd like, but nonetheless progress.


ipod choices


i finally gave in and bought an ipod touch. something i'd been avoiding for a long time.
Now the question is what do i do with my CD's i'd like to rip? rip them in mp3 format or put them in apple's aac format?
Honestly the only way we listen to music is through the ipod or an ipod clock radio (at least for now), so I am uncertain which format is best.
i'll investigate further.

finally getting satelite tv


Well, we've been offline without any cable tv for a long time. Seems like inlaws are the primary driver of having satelite so they can watch overseas tv. I'm ok as long as we don't have English channels. It'll force the children to work on their foreign language skills and we can maintain control over what they watch in English by controlling their DVD purchases.


Watching our investments slowly come back (maybe 6.66% off)


It's been quite a while since our investments lost about 35% at the bottom of the market. They're slowly getting better at about 6.66% off accroding to quicken. However, i think they may be further off as I rolled over my old 401k and I suspect that quicken reset the cost basis. This could get tricky.

How do you handle it?

I've been thinking about some fun / speculative investments.

IFF has done very well from me, having lowered my average purchase point far below what I had originally bought it at, unfortunately, it's not very leveraged.

I've been thinking about other ocmanies like Grainger, which seems to have a very interesting business model (as retailer and distributor). I need to look more deeply into their stock performance and fundamentals. I wonder if they're at the peek of their cycle - they've managed phenomenal historical growth and have a very compelling history. They sell must buy products at healthy margins.


start thinking about your 2009 income taxes


It's time to start thinking about your 2009 income taxes.
Will you owe money, will you be owed money?
If you plan and project your tax situation now, you'll be able to accrue / save extra cash and be prepared for the april 15th tax bill.

On the other hand, you would add withholding allowances to keep extra money and eliminate the wait that you would otherwise have for the federal government to pay you back.

Another item to think about is multi-state income - do you work in more than one state? will your employer report such earnings? many state income taxes vary. plan with the right numbers.


Rethinking the basics


When's the last time you re-examined how you do common activities and decided to learn how to do them better?
Reinvesting in the basics can be a huge liberator, bringing minutes or hours back into your schedule every day.
Just ask yourself simple questions, such as how much time do I spend in Microsoft Word or MS Outlook or Firefox? If I spend alot of time there am I using them well? Could I save time by doing it better?
When I go grocery shopping, would i save time by bringing a list - perhaps one that was sorted by section?
Am I commuting to work in the most time efficient manner?

Granted these questions should be asked periodically and not constantly, but they can bring you very big answers and results.

Regards, makingourway

blackberry vs. iphone


i'm wondering if i should switch from my personal blackberry to an iphone. Switching would entail:
1. canceling my current phone contract (est. $150 fee)
2. buying an iPhone and a bunch of chargers
3. figuring out how to balance the cost effect on my remaining non-at&t phone accounts; i.e. no longer free mobile to mobile calls

Why i might switch:

1. iPhone is more fun
2. Coverage isn't that different
3. I don't really use most of the blackberry features for personal use
4. much bigger screen for personal internet use
5. better than the horrible chicklet keys on my blackberry - i hate the number of typos (this is really pain #1)
6. i could download and use gps aware apps - like trapster and metromix
7. I would get a bigger discount through my employer (23%) on monthly service

Overall, cost for a personal plan at 900 minutes seems to be about $60 cheaper per month. Rate of payback would be 2.5 months for disconnect fees, for total costs including disconnect, equipment and apps would be 13 months.

hmmm... something to think about. I'm ready to throw the blackberry through the window due to typing frustration.

Regards, makingourway

paying attention to corporate discounts


My former employer provided a 17% discount for verizon wireless. May new employer provides a 23% discount for AT&T.

After looking at the various plans, it seems cheaper to put everyone on at&t.

I wonder how many other corporate discounts exist that we can take advantage of?

Do you have a favorite discount?


Woe to the mortgage bankers


Just had a very interesting conversation with an old friend - a mortgage banker.

I think he's going to quit his job.

He talked to his other friends at other big banks, like BofA. His other mortgage broker friends are considering quiting too.

I asked him why - he says: "no business".

He complains that the underwriting standards and product guidelines keep changing. Getting someone approved is a multi-month ordeal - maybe five months in duration.

By the time they're ready to close the underwriting guidelines have changed too much.

My suspicion is that the underwriting criteria are much more conservative.

The mortgage brokers that grew up during easy money have far fewer clients to sell mortgages to.

I asked about other real estate opportunities. The perspective was equally negative.

Many mortgage brokers diversified into real estate ownership. He says short buying is too difficult to finance right now.

I'm quite amazed how things turned upside down.

Regards, makingourway

blogger buddy


Life has been crazy and hectic, so i've had little time to keep up. during a break i found blogger buddy, it's made by the same company that makes the xm vista sidebar client.
I'm testing it to see how it works.
Any common experience?
Regards, makingourway

cheap exercise vs expensive exercise


After leaving big company, I joined aspiring big company, which brought several new lifestyle changes:
1. I don't travel as much (yet)
2. There's a health club in the building
3. I spend 3 hours r/t commuting

On the advice of a friend I tried very gradually exercising at home. Simple plan to exercise briefly each day.

Day 1 pushups trying to worky my way up to 150 a day in 20 pushup sets. Followed by dips (against a table or chair)

Day 2 crunches and leg lifts with similar goal of 150 in arts of 20 or 40.

I've been doing thud for 2 months and have begun to see muscle definition in chest and arm muscles. Back stengthening, too.

Unfortunately belly still there although some minor definition in upper belly. Very minor.

Seems that there is strength resistance benefit but not enough aerobic to manage weight loss.

So I joined the $60 building gym. But with long commute am challeneged to find workout time. Am wondering if i'll be able to do it.

One question is whether to go to work in workout clothes, shower after workout and change there?

Would save time, but would I actually work out or just shower somewhere else?

Regards, makingourway

Brief notes on our 2008 Strategy Recap


2008 was a crazy and busy year.

I was traveling almost 100% for work, we still had (and have) the other house we could not sell and work was increasingly unstable (as it was for so many others). We also had some very sick children, which made matters more difficult.

Our goals for the year were simple, minimize expenses and try to bring our spending in line with our unfortunate overhead situation.

All in all, we had net savings and by the end of the year managed to rent out our old house.

I became increasingly disenchanted with my employer and began a gradual job search.

Our new house, we had decided to minimize expenditures, which we did, however, the cost of landscaping and home swimming pool maintenance were still quite large. Inconsistent weather and equipment breakdowns with the pool led us to decide to return to professional care. I hired a landscaping company on a fixed price basis, but overall was unpleased with the quality of their work.

Our house has many appliances and core plant equipment (hvac, water heaters, etc...) that are at or past their expected life span. Although we maintain them regularly, there's little certainty as to when they'll no longer work. we replaced our water heating system. We also shifted to CF light bulbs, which seem to have a $70 impact on electrical fees per month. Wow!

To save interest rate payments as stock market returns wavered, I liquidated much of our non-retirement holdings and used the to pay down our HELOC. This was a fortunate move, as it reduced our market exposure just as the collapse was starting. Though we certainly did not follow this strategy with an eye to timing the market. By the end of the year, I maxed out our HELOC upon hearing of a neighbor who's line had been frozen by his bank. The money now sits in on-line savings accounts. My cost for flexibility is the spread.

Overall for the year, our networth had dropped 71,504.10, mostly driven by substantial declines in our investment portfolio, which had declined about $170,000. This implies we did a good job saving and (most likely) deferring expenses.

We ended the year with a networth of $637k, down from the prior year, which was about $706k.

2008 set-up 2009 to be a year of substantial change and improvement.

Regards, makingourway

last minute thoughts before sending in your income tax returns


1. Always make sure you've matched and collected your 1098 and 1099-div/interest forms from your banks and other financial institutions. The IRS gets the same forms and if you've forgotten or missed one they'll find it via computer match and send you a letter requesting a correction.
2. Consider, if you can afford the change in free cash, an after tax IRA contribution, big earners, in 2010 will be able to convert these to roth IRA contributions without the previous earnings cap (which otherwise prohibits them).
3. Make sure you have letters or written receipts confirming your cash contributions to charities.
4. document your charitable contributions well. They can't exceed 50% of your income and contributions must be in good condition. I always create a spreadsheet detailing my contributions. information contained indicates: item, description, quantity, condition, estimated or actual market price (for new), and a link referring to a comparable item to justify the price itself. I also take photos of everything possible to prove they really exist. The charities I give to usually sign off on the sheet and give me a formal receipt.
5. If you're filing for an extension, try to estimate what you owe and send that payment with your extension, otherwise you will face penalties for a late payment.
6. Don't be afraid to use a tax professional if you have complex issues like multistate income, rental properties, family businesses and complex stock trades.
7. Always make sure you track post tax ira contributions in order to establish your cost basis - you'll need to have this documented in the future when you begin withdrawing money. You'll use form 8606.

Good luck. makingourway

check out the new carnival of personal finance


MOW is included in this week's carnival of personal finance. The topic is learn the basics of personal investing. I plan to flip through it myself.
Regards, makingourway

Why do i still need my blackberry?


It looks like my employer may be providing me with a company phone.
Which is certainly nice if I no longer have to file telephone expense reports.

However, what do I do with the BlackBerry I currently own?

It won't be connected to a Microsoft Exchange server for real time corporate e-mail, calendaring and contacts.

It does still connect to my other e-mail accounts, but that's about it.
No more calendar synchronization, though e-mail calendar invites do seem to show up on the BB calendar.

However, what benefit am I really receiving?

Why not go for an iPhone or something similar?

I'm thinking I pay for alot of corporate overhead that I'm not using in a BB and I miss out on the more convenient consumer features, like a much bigger screen, cool apps, etc....

What would you do?

Regards, makingourway

late night shopping for diaper rash ointment


I recently had to buy Desitin for one of our younger children. Desitin has the highest percentage of zinc oxide (about 40%) of all the products offered at walgreens.

Traditionally, we've slathered large amounts all over our children's nether regions. The zinc oxide seems to create a thick barrier that protects and "water proofs" there tender skin -- quickly dissipating emerging rashes and irritation.

We've tried many medicines, triple ointment, boudreaux's, etc... Desitin seems to be the hands down winner.

Although it was the least expensive by weight at Walgreens, it was still $15 for a 1 lb. jar. If I remember correctly, I was able to buy it for about $10 at Baby's R Us in the past.

I bought one jar for tonight, but i'll load up on several at baby's 'r us if the price is reasonable.

What struck me is that emergency creams, diapers, etc... available late night at the drug store are most likely to be priced like cold cereal or cigarettes at a convenience store.

I've always been one to plan ahead, but it strikes me as prudent to create a list of things you should always have stocked at home and buy them pre-emptively. Although this may be difficult in today's economy, the extra cost, might be an unaffordable penalty. What would you put on your list?

Regards, makingourway

a nice way to help others... make a meal


While helping a very sick family member, I was very impressed by the help their neighbors and community provided.

Often people wonder, how can I help? The family has someone ill, can we do something?

The first inclination is often transportation or errands - these are always excellent things to offer.

The second inclination is a question of money or resources, however, if the family is well insured or financially comfortable, money is not always a big need - at least right away.

The third offering, which I hadn't seen much before is help with meals. This is clearly one of the nicest and most helpful things friends and families can offer. Families caring for sick relatives find it difficult to prepare home cooked meals. The meals friends bring over restore a great degree of the normal every day routine that the family so desperately wishes to return to.

The fourth offering is money again. What can a fund raiser(s) do? If the family is financially comfortable, establishing a foundation to give money to others or to support medical research can be a great thing. Otherwise, money may be helpful in paying for expensive medical treatments that are not covered by insurance. Frequently, families know little about what is needed right away, but as things progress, treatment strategies become more clear, as do their associated expenses and insurance coverage.

Regards, makingourway

what a hilarious video "are you good friends"?


I was recently watching a you tube video when my eyes wandered to "are you good friends"? I followed the recommended link and low and behold it was hilarious!

A young lady discusses her experience at clothing store where she felt compelled through verbal manipulation to buy a much more expensive gift for her friend.

How often do you have challenges with sales people when shopping?

My strong recommendation is to establish a clear understanding of what you want and what your looking to spend up front. It avoids confusion and might restrain the sales person from cross-selling and up-selling (well at least some times).

The most important tool is a strong sense of discipline - either that or shop on-line! No sales people there.

Here's a link to the video for your enjoyment.

Regards, makingourway

Thoughts on what it takes to be rich in Chicago


I recently read an old blog posting from US News by Rick Newman. He published a discussion and table of what the top 20% and top 5% earned in 40 of the largest metro areas.

The article was most likely spurred by Obama's tax initiatives aimed at those families who earn more than $250,000.

I was very impressed by the great disparity of what qualified as rich <$200,000 in El Paso for families without children and >$750,000 in NYC for families with children.

Although I'm strongly against increasing taxes in general, I'll avoid a polemic here.

One thing I found is that if being rich means being in the top 5% of income earners in the Chicago area, it means your family has income of greater than $578,000 a year. While it's substantial, I do know people who earn that much and virtually all of them do not consider themselves rich.

Fundamentally, very few high income earners succeed in holding or sustaining their living expenses as their income increases. Far too many people "live up" to their incomes. I myself am far too guilty of this, as well.

Part of the problem is the stage of life when these large incomes appear. I've noticed that the younger people are (under 50), the more these incomes are absorbed in every day expenses or luxurious upgrades of the same expenses.

For me, rich does not seem to be a measure of what you earn as much as the ability to live off your savings without diminishing them. That's a very different definition of rich than annual income.

Regards, makingourway

ps, here's the link to the article and table.

Financial models for catastrophic illness


I have a relative who is quite ill.
I was wondering what information would be out there to create a budget for all of the medical expenses that will occur.

I have to say there was very little if anything available.

Based on my understanding, insurance companies must have models for various illnesses - otherwise, how would they predict the costs in order to set premiums?

I find this conundrum perplexing.

Regards, makingourway

creeping socialism


What does it mean when the federal government takes over and owns our banking system? Will political entitlement, logrolling and general corruption displace profit oriented decisions?

The long term consequences of our current situation frighten me greatly.

The best example of what the public can do is a public bathroom. Sure it's there, but does anyone want to use it?

Regards, makingourway

a wonderful link to great financial listening


Subscribers to the economist can listen to word for word reading of the entire magazine. I find it better than NPR's marketplace, however, the link to the consolidated articles was always hard to find.

So, I'm sharing it with you here:

It's free if you're a subscriber.