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The price of dignity: $15

October 5th, 2014 at 01:40 am

Yesterday, I did something I haven't done in years.

I went to the salon!

Back in January, my hair was getting extremely long and my co-worker offered to cut it for me. She seemed very confident (and had been asking to do it for months), so I agreed, but it did not take me long to realize that she bit off way more than she could chew. My hair is very thick, full, and slippery, and she was really struggling to cut through it. As tortuously long minutes ticked by and she continued to saw and hack and hem and haw, my distress level was starting to rise precipitously.

Finally, I had to put an end to it. I had started off with waist-length hair, and by the time I made her stop, my hair was down to chin-length, and could barely be tied back into a tiny, pathetic stub of a ponytail. The left side was visibly longer than the right, and the back was all sorts of different lengths. It looked, to put it bluntly, utterly ridiculous. I was completely traumatized by the experience.

But in the interest of good workplace relations, I had to smile and nod and pretend that I loved my new haircut -- as well as endure the painfully polite "compliments" from all my other friends and co-workers. There was nothing that I wanted to do more than to run to a salon and get everything fixed (in a wild moment of panic, I even considered hair extensions), but if I'd went out and got it redone immediately, the charade would have been up.

So I gritted my teeth, ironed my resolve, and spent the next nine months growing my hair back out. It has been a miserable, embarrassing, and painstakingly long wait, but the time has finally come that my hair is long enough to handle a trim without an immediately noticeable loss of length.

I found a coupon for a $9 haircut at a local salon, and went. I was extremely nervous after what I'd been through, but the stylist made me feel so comfortable, and he did exactly what I wanted, which was to even out everything while taking as little off as possible. The difference is subtle but immeasurable -- the comment from the SO was, "You actually look like you have a proper haircut now."

Lesson learned. Some tasks should best be left to the professionals. I don't think the trauma of the past nine months was worth a free haircut. I have never been so relieved to hand over money in a very long while. The guy certainly earned it. That $15 (I gave a $6 tip) was so worth my peace of mind... and my dignity. Whew.

Car maintenance

September 15th, 2014 at 09:01 am

Face punch time! Car maintenance this weekend with the final damage at $232.40 for oil change, air filter replacement, tire rotation, and re-balance. Looking at the itemization, a large chunk of that was labor.

Well, at least nothing else was off, and I'm done with this nonsense for another 9 months.

Comprehensive Spending Review

September 12th, 2014 at 05:45 am

I recently compiled a somewhat exhaustive record our household's monthly and annualized expenditures, I thought I'd share it on the blog.

Housing - $20,739

The mortgage, at $1377/mo or $16,519/yr, is the biggest housing expense, and it includes $2600 property tax and $1031 in homeowner's insurance. I work out-of-state, two hours away from home, so I also rent a room near work where I stay during the work week, which comes out to $310/mo or $3720/yr. I also budget in $500 for various DIY projects such as deck staining and weed whackers.

This is by far the largest part of our annual expenditures, and I’ll talk more about it at the end.

Utilities - $1760

Electricity usage per month is around 320 kWh, which comes out to $60/mo. Water usage is typically 100 cubic feet, or $20/mo. Internet (cable modem) is $30/mo. We don't have (nor do we want) cable TV. Trash and recycling pickup is $20/mo. Cellphones are currently free, because the SO gets reimbursed by his employer and I'm mooching off my parents' plan. Heating oil is spiky and my records aren't great because the SO orders the oil, but I'm guestimating it's about $200/yr.

I'm using long-term (two year) averages for the utility figures, so I think they're fairly accurate. Heating oil is the only exception, because that is highly dependent on the price of oil and the winter weather, but we already keep the thermostat in the low 50s so there’s not much more that can be done there anyway. The only area we might be able to reduce is trash pickup, because we don't generate enough trash to need weekly pickup, but my address is not allowed to use the dump, so I'm kind of stuck hiring a service. If there's no cost to cancelling and resubscribing, I might just sign up for a month of trash pickup a few times a year, but I'd have to look into that.

Automotive - $5413

Currently, we have two cars. Mine is 2 years old, the SO's is 14 years old, and both are paid off. Insurance is costing $1233/yr for comprehensive collision for my car, and $630/yr on liability for his. My maintenance costs are $120 for 2 oil changes per year, but the costs on the 14-year-old car are much higher; maybe $1200 or so? I haven’t really been tracking his car repair expenses, but I'm gonna try to start doing that now. As for gas, mine is around $1300. I have no idea what the SO spends on gas, because he rides in a carpool most of the time and he doesn't track his fill-ups as maniacally as I do, but since he does all the local driving to the grocery stores, I’m guestimating it at $600/yr.

In some ways, cars are a discretionary cost, but we're in a small town, and a car is our primary means of transportation. I have done the research on the public transport options in the area, and it is wildly inconvenient to go to the grocery store or the dentist's office by bus. We also travel regularly to see family out-of-state, and while it's possible to make the trip on public transportation, it was time-consuming and not fun at all. There is also the issue of potential emergencies, like rushing the cat to the vet. At the end of the day, we think it is worth it to spend the money for the convenience of having a car.

With that said, I would love to drop down to a single car in the future. A used but not-too-crappy car would keep both amortized costs and insurance low. Aside from the work commute and grocery runs, we don't drive much anyway, so if I can ditch my commute, I don't think we'd still need two cars. That would save a few grand a year.

Medical - $4682

The SO and myself both get medical and dental insurance through our work. Our health premiums are $1690/yr (me) and $2513/yr (SO), and our dental is $156/yr, and $224/yr. I also threw his $100 annual deductible into the budget, but I haven't been to a doctor in 7 yr (I know! I’m terrible! I better not have cancer). It's kind of sad, how different our health plans are, because even if the SO switched to a high-deductible HSA-eligible plan, his annual premium would still be $1844, which is higher than my normal plan, but it's actually a fair price for insurance.

I half-joke that we should get married just so I can put him on my health plan and save almost $1000 a year. Even taking into account the amount we'd spend on a wedding, we'd break even after a year or two, heh.

Consumables - $5100

This category encompasses all the regular, discretionary but non-emergency spending, including food and entertainment. The figure that drove the last financial advisor crazy was the $160/mo ($1920/yr) I put down for groceries. Yes, that's what we spend, and no, we don't live on ramen (unless it’s homemade, delicious ginger tempeh soup with ramen and bok choy). I don't really dine out either, because unless I'm in a college town or a specialized restaurant, the vegetarian options tend to be either nonexistent or wholly uninspired. The SO does spend $40/wk going out to lunch, but that is how he pays for his carpool, so it should probably count towards the transportation budget. Between these two items, that’s $4000/yr.

Aside from food, the rest of the discretionary budget covers entertainment (generally either Netflix or various video games), pets, and odds 'n ends such as gifts and other miscellaneous purchases. The most costly indulgence is the Broadway tickets we get once a year, but aside from that one night out, I prefer staycations to vacations. All of those total no more than $1000/yr.

Total - $37,695

One-Time Large Expenditures - ???

We do encounter occasional, isolated, large expenditures which I’m not including in the regular budget, but we do have to take into account. Last year, I traveled to California for a wedding, and we had veterinary emergency, all of which cost more than $3000. This year, housing maintenance is shaping up to be the big unanticipated expense.

ANALYSIS

So housing takes up the bulk of annual expenditures. Paying off the mortgage alone would drop expenses down to $25K. If I'm no longer renting and driving out-of-state, that would chop off another $5K, and would drop annual expenditures down to $20K. Most of the other categories, such as utilities and medical/dental premiums, are fairly inelastic. We definitely need both cars right now, but maybe we won't in the future. There isn't much fat to trim in consumables, either.

At our current expense level, I would have to bring in $40K / 2 = $20K to maintain our lifestyle. After the mortgage is paid off, I'd only have to bring in $10K to $13K. Obviously this may change, but I am wracking my brain for what I might want to spend more on, and I'm honestly drawing a blank. I’ve never been big on consumerism, and the only areas where I enjoy spending money is food/cooking and pets. And the pets kind of prevent me from being able to have nice things anyway, because it's all just gonna get shredded by sharp (but adorable!) claws and teeth. Wink

What's way more important to me than planning for possibly higher future spending is making sure that I can be fully independent without the SO -- because he might get run over by a truck tomorrow (yes, that is how my mind operates). That means being able to handle the doubling of all expenditures. This is absolutely essential to my peace of mind, and will likely result in a ton of overcompensation in retirement planning/projections, but I'm okay with that. At the end of the day, I'm the only one that I can truly count on.

When it rains, it pours

June 26th, 2014 at 12:05 am

Back in the beginning of May, during a particularly heavy storm, water seeped into the basement of our raised ranch, and a small patch of carpet got wet.

I'm not home much at all (I work out of state so the only person at home during the week is the SO), and we don't spend much time downstairs in the basement, but as far as we're aware, this was the first time water had gotten into the house.

All right, it's confession time. I'm a few different things, but handy is not one of them. I grew up in city apartments with my nose buried in books, and I'm lucky if I can identify -- much less wield -- a screwdriver. The SO is also very mechanically/manually challenged. He is utterly flummoxed by wonton wrappers and never learned how to ride a bike.

Suffice it to say -- neither of us had any clue what to do. How big of a deal was this leak? Is it a sign of progressively bigger problems to come? Or was it a one-time fluke due to extraordinarily heavy rainfall? I wasn't there to see it happen, so I don't even have a sold conception of how much water there was, although the SO claimed he blotted through an entire roll of paper towels. (But have you also seen boys with paper towels? Do they ever use less than an entire roll on a spill?)

So we try to investigate what might be wrong. There might be a small crack in the foundation where the leak was, but maybe it's been there all along and is just superficial. The gutters weren't quite sloped right and were dripping a bit. The ground near the house has settled a bit, so some water is running/pooling against the side of the house.

Any or all of these could be plausible explanations for the water, but given our lack of expertise in these matters and the number of 'horror stories' one finds on the internet, I feel like I have the housing equivalent of medical students' disease.

First, the SO called some "dry basement" people. It turns out that they all want to tear up the floor of the basement, drill holes in the foundation, let all the water in to relieve the hydraulic pressure, and pump it out with a sump pump and generator -- all to the price tag of $3000 to $10,000. Um, WTF? No thanks, it was a bit of wet carpet, not a full on flood.

Then he called some gutter people, thinking that it's fairly low-hanging fruit, since the gutters shouldn't be dripping anyway, even if the drip is unlikely to be the sole cause of the water. Their offers ranged from a basic repair/tune-up to fancy patented proprietary systems.

Shortly after the initial leak, the SO dug a trench that re-routed most of the runoff around the house. It was kind of hideous looking, but it was definitely catching the water, and there hasn't been another leak since. He wasn't sure if the amateur trench would hold, so he called professional landscapers. Those proposals ranged from "Why are you wasting my time with something so minor? Call me back when you have a real problem to fix" to multi-thousand dollar projects.

If I'm being totally honest, I'm not sure we need most of these services, for a problem that may not even recur. However, the SO is kind of insecure about his lack of home maintenance expertise, as well as a fair bit more paranoid than me (his mind always goes to the worst-case scenario, which is great motivation for saving money, but fairly harrowing for everything else in life), so he feels better about being a bit more proactive rather than waiting and seeing and risking additional water damage.

He hired a gutter guy to replace the leaking gutters and add an extra downspout ($300). He also hired a landscaper to replace his hand-dug drainage ditch with a rock-lined dry creek bed ($900). He's also contracted with another landscaper to reslope the yard ($500) and reseed the lawn (that got torn up by the creek bed installation).

In addition to all of the above, he also wants to take down a dead tree that he's been eyeing for the past few years ($1000), and exterminate some carpenter bees ($200). Now he's also looking at window guys, because one of the windows seems to be rotting out a bit, and he's also considering hiring an asphalt guy to reseal the driveway ($850).

I am trying really hard to stay calm about this, because these are, by far, the largest expenses I've seen. On the other hand, I don't want the house to fall into disrepair, and I'm fine with hiring professionals to handle jobs we can't do on our own.

But we are feeling a little overwhelmed and in over our heads when it comes to dealing with the expense of home ownership and maintenance. I know we can technically afford everything, but is getting all this work done the right course of action? I guess you live and learn. This might be the one area where we will suck at conserving resources.

Expense Log for December

December 2nd, 2006 at 12:06 am

12/1
- $500, rent
- $24, cc payment
- $13, round-trip Amtrak tickets
- $1.25, shuttle bus

12/4
- $1.25, shuttle bus

12/8
- $13, round-trip Amtrak tickets
- $1.25, shuttle bus

Utilities
- cable modem: ($45.95 + $0.18)/2 = $23.065
- electric: $49.51/2 = $24.755
- gas: still screwed up; $8-ish?

Expense Log for November

November 28th, 2006 at 09:22 pm

11/1
- rent: $500
- credit card: $76.02

11/10
- $13, round-trip Amtrak tickets
- $1.25, shuttle bus

11/13
- $1.25, shuttle bus

11/16
- $10.21, HK market

11/17
- $6, pizza dinner

11/22
- $11, Metro-North

Utilities
- cable modem: $24
- electric: $28.10
- gas: screwed up

Wow. Total spending for the month, discounting rent, utilities, and student loans: $42.71.

Food total: $16.21. Because my mother bought me groceries for my birthday, and my father bought me groceries when I went home for Thanksgiving. Not because I, like, stopped eating.

Expense log for October

October 2nd, 2006 at 05:34 am

10/1
- rent: $500
- credit card: $69.99
- B&N: $7.52
- cable modem: $25
- electric: $32

10/6
- $13, rount-trip Amtrak tickets
- $1.25, shuttle bus

10/9
- Ivy Noodle: $8
- $1.25, shuttle bus

10/20
- $12, round-trip Amtrak tickets
- $1.25, shuttle bus

10/23
- $1.25, shuttle bus
- $35, parking

10/25
- M&M: $14.66
- Costco: $21.42

10/28
- HK market: $7.68

Expense log for September

September 1st, 2006 at 03:41 am

9/1
- $75, rent
- $13, round-trip Amtrak tickets
- $1.25, shuttle bus

9/5
- $1.25, shuttle bus (not paid for by me)

9/11
- $4.99, Costco

9/14
- $17.40, HK grocery

9/15
- $5.50, HK grocery

9/18
- $1.25, shuttle bus
- $6.00, Amtrak ticket

9/20
- $17.61, HK grocery

9/27
- $30.05, Shaw's

9/28
- $20.94, M&M farms

Expense log for August

August 12th, 2006 at 02:06 am

8/1
- $173.61, flight to Atlanta in October. (I'm getting reimbursed for this one, though.)
- $200, summer sublet rent (half month).
- $7.50, internet (half month).

8/9
- $16.92, HK market.

8/11
- $13, round trip Amtrak tickets.
- $1.25, shuttle bus.

8/14
- $1.25, shuttle bus.
- $7.16, HK market

8/16
- $12.22, M&M Farms

8/21
- $11.28, Costco

8/23
- $4.56, HK market

8/26
- $9.97, M&M Farms

8/29
- $2.79, post office

I'll edit this as the month progresses. I just want a master log of my monthly expenses in a single place, for easy reference.