Poor, neglected blog. Poor, neglected finances.

I’ve been busy. Busy packing, dealing with the sellers of the house I’m buying (technically my agent has been dealing with their agent who then speaks with them directly, but it’s the same thing), worrying that I might have to back out of the deal and start looking again… My buyer lost her cosigner so I had to go back on the market. Fortunately the market is still crazy because I got a new contract in a day.

In the meantime I’m still working, keeping the house up to a high standard of maintenance, hosted a bbq for Father’s Day, and other stuff like that. I swear “house stuff” has taken over my life. I didn’t even update my spreadsheet last pay day, and I think I get paid again this week… Yep, just checked the calendar and it is yet another pay day. How time flies.

Although I’m neglecting the blog and the spreadsheet, I’m trying not to neglect my finances. Which is hard because my brain is busy processing information for two real estate deals, figuring out why the exact same code run on three different environments is behaving three different ways, keeping track of the day of the week so I don’t miss a softball game or drive to work on a Saturday, making sure my dogs get attention and food, figuring out what the move will cost, shopping for insurance, trying not to get too wrapped up in figuring out where to put my stuff and picking paint colors for the white walls since the deal might not go through, making sure the roofers don’t over charge me for the work they did, my boss has asked me to take on a side project that involves writing a plugin for a program I know very little about so I’ll have to do extra research before I even get started… I’ve been trying to save my vacation time for next year when I go to Ireland but it might not be a bad idea to take a day or two after the move. At least I’ll get the 4th of July off before then.

So yeah, that’s why I haven’t been posting lately.

But I will! The attention I pay to this blog reflects the attention I pay to my finances. In the past few weeks I’ve written about half a dozen partial posts but haven’t actually finished anything. Same with my money, I’ve looked enough to make sure the balances are about right but haven’t been going through each transaction to make sure they’re correct, I have some large expenses coming up so I’ve left the extra from my paychecks in the checking account but haven’t figured out how much is actually extra and how much is reserved for my regular expenses, stuff like that.

But I should. Just because I’ve been busy doesn’t mean I can’t take ten minutes a week to go through and do the above. It might even be relaxing, dealing with pure numbers for a bit. Except I have a $5,100 check to write to the roofers, so probably not. But I’ll be more relaxed afterwards when I’ve looked at the upcoming expenses, both regular and house related, and know for certain where the money will come from.

And that goes for you too! Being “busy” is no excuse. In fact, there are very few excuses for not staying on top of your finances. Being in a coma is one. When money’s tight it might be tempting to say “it’s tight, let’s just keep spending to a minimum right now.” But no, you should know just how tight. Maybe it’s better than you thought, maybe it’s worse, but only by knowing the numbers can you deal with the situation properly.

Now back to work and that really annoying “it should work, but it isn’t! What’s going on?” issue.


I’m Under Contract!

A few days ago I posted that my house was on the market and wow, has it been a whirlwind.

As I posted before, Tuesday afternoon was packed full of scheduled showings. Wednesday was even worse, I didn’t get home until almost 9. But Wednesday evening I got my first offer and it was for more than asking! Later that night I got another, and a third came Thursday morning.

The first offer was good and would net me $1,000 more than asking after I gave the buyers help with closing costs. They were late getting my agent the lender’s info and the contract was full of errors, not good signs.

The second offer was for less but asked for less help with closing costs and netted the same as the first. My agent spoke with the lender to make sure the buyer was already approved.

The third offered the same as the second but wanted more at closing, netting $3,000 less. The report from the lender was good, and it was the only offer for a conventional loan.

There were at least two other people interested in making offers, I’m not sure if they changed their mind or decided not to compete with the other three.

I went with the second offer with a counter only to clear up a couple of details and change the closing date. Not only would it get me the most money but the buyer had the best story (a disabled kid meant she needed a ranch and she’d already lost the bidding on several homes) and she lives with her parents now making her very flexible with closing. Which I need because now I need to find a house to buy!

Last week was a total whirlwind. Except for Friday, when I sat at my desk constantly checking my phone for an update from my agent, a call to set up a showing, something. But my phone was silent because 3 days is all it took. Which is further evidence that the real estate market is seriously messed up.

I don’t live in a destination neighborhood. People don’t come to the city and say, “Oh, I want to live there.” The thing that draws most people is a) they already have family living here and b) the prices are lower than average and but it isn’t a rough area. If “affordable” housing is getting this expensive – my house increased from $88,000 to $168,000 in 5 years – then what’s happening to the rest of the city? Fortunately I’m looking outside of civilization where the market isn’t nearly as hot.

I went out with my agent on Sunday and found a few houses that I could make work but just aren’t right for one reason or another. I expanded my search to another county which is further out but still commutable (and some of the properties closer to the highway have shorter drives), has lower property taxes and better bang for the buck. I’m much more hopeful about this next batch. I’m willing to make some compromises, but there’s a limit. Carpet and paint? No problem. Two blocks from the highway so I can’t help but hear road noise on an otherwise ideal lot? Eh… It could become white noise I stop hearing but I’d like to see if I can find another great lot that isn’t as loud. Another house I’m considering has no such noise and truly, truly awesome views but has a long, long, winding drive followed by sharp curves going up an almost washed out dirt road to the top of the mountain. Great house that could be worth the effort, but let’s see what else is out there. I’m still sticking to my original budget and commute time.

Part of me wants to start packing already, except there’ll be at least a few more weeks before closing and I’m going to need my dishes before then. I also need to put my energy more towards the buying first, because without a buy there won’t be a close. Unless I decided to rent an apartment for a bit but I hope it won’t come to that, I only want to move once.

And regarding my last post, my selling nerves are pretty much gone, of course :) My buying nerves are starting to calm a bit as well, although the “gotta make the right decision” anxiety is starting to poke it’s head up. But I know I’m making the right decision, just gotta keep thinking with the right part of my head!

My House is For Sale. Or, Moving Forward Despite Nerves

Last Sunday my agent came over to give me feedback on the house and I signed the paper. Yesterday, around noon, my listing went live in the MLS. That afternoon I got a showing request for 3. Then another for 3:45, and another, and another… I didn’t get to go home until after 8. Then an agent knocked at 8:30, said they were running late and could they please see the house anyway? Today’s showing schedule isn’t as crazy (yet) but still pretty busy. Fortunately my youngest brother is going to be keeping the dogs out during showings today, I can’t afford to take that much time off of work.

When I signed the paperwork, I was nervous. My house isn’t as fancy as some of the fresh remodels nearby, although it does have some good points and is in move-in condition. But the back patio is still in progress, the sod guys didn’t come as scheduled because of some mix up (they should be there today), there’s still some debris from various projects on the side of the house, I never did clean the oven, and every other imperfection in the house stood out like they’d been highlighted in neon.

But I took a mental step back and a deep mental breath. The interior is clean, neat, and complete. So what if there are a couple of scuffs in the baseboard, most people won’t even notice or care. The backyard isn’t the neatest but the lawn is mowed and the unfinished patio is finished enough buyers can see what they’ll be getting. The front is tilled and clearly in progress as well. If buyers were put off I’d just keep working and later shoppers would see the finished product. I was still nervous but decided to push on.

Well, I don’t think buyers were put off. I already have word that one, possibly two offers are coming. Which doesn’t mean anything until I have them in hand and can see what they’re offering, but the feedback has been good.

So, I’m pretty much over my nerves about selling. I might have a contract this week, it might not happen until next, but I’m reasonably confident it will happen and soon.

But I’m still nervous about buying.

What if I can’t find what I want at the price I want? My main priority is the lot rather than the house, but I still want a house in solid condition. And if I do find something to buy I’ll have a higher mortgage. I’ve run the numbers a dozen times and I can afford it and still save, but… but… it’s more money to spend each month! The easy answer is to stay where I am but I’ve given this a lot of thought and I know the extra expense is worth it, but… but… it’s more money!

And what about the timing? I’m using my current house’s equity for the down payment so it has to close before my purchase’s closing. What if the contract falls through? Or what if I sell then the buyer withdraws and I’m stuck without a place to live. Which would be very difficult because I have 2 large dogs and although I have a few couches I could crash on they aren’t welcome in those homes and would have to stay at a kennel.

Just as with the selling process, my nerves will calm when I get going on the buying process. Once I have a contract I’ll know about how much I’ll get from the sale and won’t be working on guess work as much. I’ll start looking at actual properties and my fears that there will be giant holes in the wall hiding behind the pictures will recede and I’ll focus on more likely concerns. Not that I’d turn a house down because of some simple drywall issues, I’d just want to make sure it’s included in the price. There are worst things than having to board my dogs for a few weeks and renting while house shopping is a viable option as well.

I’m also nervous about the move itself, but that’s only because I have no idea what I’m buying. Once I have a house picked out and under contract I’ll get excited again when I can start planning out what to do with each room.

I don’t always handle change well, or at least the anticipation of change, especially when the future is up in the air as it is now. I know this, and I know the nerves will calm as each step becomes more concrete and the number of what-ifs is reduced. It can be a bit of a fight, but I need to keep my rational brain in control because if I let my nerves take the reins I’d never do anything new.

My Real Estate Story

In early 2009, I lived in a one bedroom apartment. It was an older but nice (to my low standards) apartment, I got along well with the manager, and it was was more affordable than many others in the area. It was my first time living without family or roommates and I was loving it.

Except for the noisy neighbors. And the noisy street. And sometimes even the neighboring complex was loud. I spent at least 6 months getting up at 3am to start work at 4:30am, which meant early bedtimes for me. Sometimes even ear plugs weren’t enough to drown out the thumping bass. Still, I learned to cope.

Then my idiot neighbor robbed my apartment. That was the final straw.

I had 6 months before my lease was up but I started looking at craigslist ads anyway, looking for basement apartments, carriage houses, garage apartments, or even small houses that might be affordable, anything where I’d have my own four walls. I didn’t find much, even carriage houses smaller than my apartment cost $200 more.

It was a good thing I’d started looking early because that gave me time to consider buying. I stumbled on some articles talking about FHA loans, which led to mortgage calculators showing how much I could afford, and eventually I took a plunge and talked to a mortgage broker at my bank. The result? I could afford a house!

The above process took several weeks. On one hand, I loved the idea of owning and being able to do whatever I wanted to the property. I helped my parents with enough house projects to know I could handle quite a bit of maintenance myself and having a yard would be worth having to mow. On the other hand, I was still a student with two years left and didn’t quite know what I’d do for a career when I graduated – what if Google wanted to recruit me? There are several clusters of tech employment in and around the city, if I stayed local I had no idea where I’d end up working.

Eventually I decided to pursue buying a house. The odds of Google calling were practically nil and having my own four walls and a yard was worth a commute. There’s enough work in the tech field locally that my chances of employment were very good. I also like the region and have no desire to move anywhere else.

The house hunt process was pretty bumpy. I bid on a few HUD homes but kept getting outbid. I worked with one agent who was totally clueless and lost me one house. Finally I found someone who knew what they were talking about and was actually interested in working with me despite my low budget ($100,000). That’s a tip I give any first time home buyer – get a referral if you plan to use an agent. And not just “my cousin is an agent,” but someone they’ve actually worked with.

Finally we found my house! It was listed at $92,000, my agent put a bid in for $80,000 plus help with closing costs, they countered at $88,000 plus closing with a note that there was another offer but mine was first so I got first crack at the counter offer. I accepted, and the house was mine!

I bought the house with a 30 year FHA loan and put 3.5% down. I’ve been paying $36/month for Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI) on top of the principal, interest, tax and insurance (PITI) payment. The PMI can be removed this summer when the mortgage is 5 years old and my loan to value ratio is at least 80%.

I love owning my own home. There’s a certain freedom in knowing that it’s yours (and the bank’s) and being able to make changes as you want. There’s also more responsibility, when something breaks you’re the one who has to fix it or pay to get it done, but I even enjoy that part of it. My insurance company told me to replace the roof or they wouldn’t cover the house, so I did the job myself. I’ve impressed quite a few people with it, even the city’s inspector.

Even though the market was at the bottom there wasn’t a lot of inventory in my price range, but I was still picky about certain things. I knew I would have a hard time affording major repairs so I avoided houses with shoddy work visible, clear signs of foundation troubles, or just big question marks, as in “what will it take to get rid of that smell”. My house was a “toucher upper” with good bones and solid construction. It fit all my needs and most of my wants with enough room for future growth. It’s near 3 interstates giving me easy access to most of town. In short, it wasn’t my dream home but it was someplace where I could settle in for a while. I also got it for a great price and expected to build equity quickly.

There’s an element of luck in there, but I was right about all of the above. Especially the equity – after less than five years my house is now worth at least $150,000. Looking at recent listings, maybe even $160,000.

The short version of all the above?

  • I got tired of apartment living and wanted a house.
  • After a tumultuous search I bought a house for $88,000 with 3.5% down.
  • That house is now worth $150,000-160,000.
  • I’m getting ready to sell. Wait, I haven’t gotten that far yet.

I like my house, but it isn’t where I want to live for the rest of my life. I want space, privacy, elbow room, trees, fresh air, a yard large enough I don’t have to worry about throwing dog toys over the fence. I want views, nature, and no light pollution so I can buy a really nice telescope. Do I have to get it now? Of course not. But if I believed in astrology I’d say that the stars have aligned to make this the right time.

And so I’ve been getting the house ready to sell and should have it listed next week. Once I have a contract I’ll start looking for my next (and hopefully last) house and try to time the closings so that I buy right after I sell. Is taking on a more expensive mortgage the best financial decision? Nope. Will it be good for my mental health and well-being? Absolutely. And for that, it’ll be worth it.

DIY Painting Budget Considerations

I’d say all my free time has been spent on the house but that implies that I’ve had time that could be considered “free”. It’s been worth it though, I have just a couple little things to do and it’ll be ready for the market. Since I’ve been so focused on home improvement I thought I’d do a post about it.

Painting is something just about anyone can do, is relatively inexpensive, and most mistakes can be easily fixed. Changing the wall color in a room can have a huge impact as well, more so than hanging a picture or adding an area rug.

There are plenty of sites that can teach you how to paint better than I can, but here are some money tips. I’m no expert, but I have painted almost my entire house (everything but the ceilings) and I used to work in KMart’s paint department.

Prep Work Is Priceless

The biggest hazard with painting is getting the paint places where it shouldn’t be. A .7mm drop cloth is fine for mild use but if you’ll have a lot of traffic and ladders it’s likely to rip, which you really don’t want if you’re painting over carpet. Splurge on a thicker, more durable drop cloth instead. If you’re painting over tile, laminate or other solid surface flooring you could choose to skip the drop cloth but be prepared to deal with paint getting into the seams, grout and other hard to clean places. Basically, you should assume that you will be dripping on the worst place possible.

Painters tape is well worth it as well. Unless you whip out a razor sharp edge in no time, but if that’s the case you probably don’t need any tips I can give you. Regular masking tape works too but leaves behind adhesive residue if left on for too long. The narrower rolls are cheaper, of course, and I usually just use the 1″ stuff, but wider gives you more protection. If you plan to slap paint up as fast as possible, get at least 2″ wide tape. You can go without tape if you’re very careful, but expect to spend a lot more time on edging. Seriously, a lot.

One more quick, not really money related note: clean your walls thoroughly before painting. It will save you a lot of work later on.

The Paint

If you want your paint to last a while, don’t use the really cheap stuff. I’m talking about the $10/gallon stuff KMart sells (or used to sell). It doesn’t cover as well and doesn’t last. The mid-grade stuff you find at the hardware store is good enough for just about any project. A flat finish is usually the cheapest but glossier sheens are easier to clean. Spend the extra few dollars per gallon to get the finish you want.

If you have new, unprepared walls, tough stains, or are painting over different colors with the same new color, consider getting a paint and primer. It’s more expensive per gallon, but you’ll use less and it’s still less expensive than doing a separate primer.

If you don’t need a specific color take a look at “oops” paint. Depending on the person manning the paint station, they might even be able to add some extra tint to make it closer to what you want. The only problem is that if you have to buy more you might not be able to get the exact color, so make sure you get all the paint you’ll need first.

Applying the Paint

The faster the method is for getting the paint where you want it, the more paint it uses. Paint guns over spray like crazy and require much more prep, especially inside, but they’re very fast and almost necessary on surfaces with deep textures. They also use a lot more paint. A good paint gun will cost $100+, although my cheap Harbor Freight gun was a bit more than $20 and did the job just fine.

Brushes are the slowest, use the least paint, and give you the greatest control. Foam brushes are the cheapest but generally can’t be reused. They used to be my go to for most painting but I’ve now fallen in love with bristle brushes. A good bristle brush is more expensive but you can get a lot more use out of it and the coverage will be better as well. Even my dollar store brushes are better than the hardware store’s more expensive foam brushes. In short, skip the foam and get a decent bristle. You’ll need at least one for edging and possibly touchup.

Rollers are my preference for the bulk of interior paint jobs. The really cheap roll covers are a bit of a gamble so I typically go mid-grade. High grade rollers are a bit better at holding paint and are more durable, but I don’t reuse my covers so it isn’t worth the extra to me. I used to use the thin 4″ rollers for small areas but found that they had terrible coverage and required 2-4 coats instead of 1-2. I’ve now switched to using 4″ rollers that are the same diameter as the full size. For the roller pan, buy something firm enough to stand up to the pressure. I hate cleaning paint stuff so I typically buy the cheap biodegradable pans and throw them out at the end of the project. They can be reused several times, but can easily be damaged in storage.

Hired Labor

Painting can be a one person chore but if you have a lot to do why not make a party out of it? Call your friends and family, or post the date on Facebook, and offer pizza and beer (or soda) to those who help. The job will be done faster, you’ll have more fun, and I think the extra cost is well worth it.

Or, you could hire pros. Which wouldn’t make it a DIY job anymore, but sometimes it’s worth paying people to do things that a) you don’t have time for or even b) you really don’t want to do. This assumes you can afford it, of course. If money’s tight, do it yourself or live with current wall color. Painters come in a variety of qualities and costs, so make sure you get some good references instead of calling up a company because they posted on craigslist.

As with any project, you can get it fast, good, or cheap – but only two at a time. It’s up to you to decide what your priorities are, although I wouldn’t recommend leaving the “good” out.

I’m Not Sweating My Debt, but Sometimes You Should

If you listen to some financial experts they’ll tell you that debt of any kind is an emergency, enslavement, or other terrible thing. Some make an exception for a mortgage but still insist it be paid off ASAP. A few go as far as to talk down to anyone who ever borrowed money as if they were fools and idiots.

I disagree.

Going to school was a terrific investment. A year after I graduated my income had doubled, I’m in a job that I really enjoy, and I have many more options in my career path. The formal education also gave me a lot more confidence in my skills and has helped accelerate my job growth. The minimum payment is easily manageable and doesn’t block me from being able to do other things. I’m on the standard 10-year repayment plan and will have it paid off years ahead of time.

My car loan wasn’t as smart and although I have some regret there it isn’t enough to make me hate the payment. I was at least somewhat smart about getting the loan – I bought an inexpensive car, did enough research that I got exactly what I wanted in the car and it has a low interest rate. I also made a large enough down payment that I haven’t owed more than it’s worth. When it’s paid off, however, I will start setting aside cash for my next car. Which hopefully won’t be for at least another 10 years because I really do like my car. I don’t live in the city so a car is pretty much a necessity.

I’m very glad I bought my house. It was cheaper than renting and I really, really love having my own four walls. A discussion over whether a mortgage is a good thing or not is a whole ‘nother post, but I do think a house is one of the few things where a loan is ok. Within reason, of course, and it should be paid off eventually, but a house will usually retain or even build equity as you pay it off and will return something if you sell. If you don’t buy you still have to pay rent and you get nothing back from that. (Not that buying is right for everyone, but it was for me.)

I think the biggest reason I’m not sweating my debt is because I know it will be gone. It’ll take a few years but I’m not looking at lifelong “enslavement” to my loans.  My balances get lower every month and I have the tracking spreadsheet to prove it. If I was pushing to get them done as fast as possible and stopped spending money on all fun, then I’d feel like a slave.

When should you sweat the debt?

When the balance is growing or stagnant. If you can’t make progress on the principle, or if you add more than you pay each month, it’s time to do something different.

When it has a high interest rate. For me, that’s anything over 7% or where the monthly interest accrual is at least half your payment. This includes the rate that will be in effect after an introductory period.

When it has a high minimum payment relative to your income and savings. If you lose your job will the debt become a burden?

When it’s obstructing other parts of your life. If you can’t save for vacations because of the payment, time to start kicking it in the butt. If you want to take a better but lower paying job, if you can’t qualify for a mortgage because of your debt to income ratio, you know what to do.

When it stresses you out. Why would you want to keep something around that causes stress?

When you’re worried you’ll be paying it off forever. Worry is a kind of stress and tackling it head on can help ease the fear.

When you hate the debt. Maybe you do feel enslaved every time you send in a payment. Maybe you regret what you did to collect the debt. Don’t keep things you hate.

Debt is a tool and like any other tool it can help or hurt. Sometimes both. Ever get hit by a piece of flying wood that got caught in the saw? The board got cut, but so did you. The key is to plan ahead, wear safety glasses and be careful.

End of the Month Reflection

It’s April 30th, and time to look at the month that was and the month that will be. Not that I actually do this every month, but I am today.

Early this month I made the decision to sell my house and buy another. I’d been waffling for months, worried that I wouldn’t be able to find something in my price range that I’d want to buy, so I went out with my agent to look at a few houses. They were all in good shape, soothing my concern that they were affordable because something was wrong, and so I’ve started the process of getting my house ready for sale.

I made $145 at the beginning of the month for a company I occasionally do work for. They’ve mentioned bringing me on for more projects in the near future but nothing’s happened.

I usually budget $50 for eating out but extended it to $100 this month. Partly because I knew I’d be busy and would be cooking less and partly because my youngest brother helps me out in exchange for fast food. So a lot of the extra is really a house expense. I might keep the budget the same in May.

I spent money on clothes! I budget $20/month but haven’t spent on of that until this last weekend, $30 for water sandals and $12 at the thrift store for 4 shirts. I’m one of those women who doesn’t like shopping and will only buy clothes after I’ve identified a need. I want to get a couple more button down short sleeve shirts so I’ll hit the thrift store again sometime in the next few weeks.

I made one large purchase, a new vacuum. It took me 6 months to pull the trigger on that $150 purchase. I don’t need the sleep on it rule, I need a “just do it” rule. Now that I have it I wish I had done it earlier, this thing is way better than my old one. The old vacuum was listed on Freecycle and was promptly picked up by its new family.

I saved $1100 in my DP fund (it used to be for the down payment, now it’s for house projects) and $450 went to my Roth. This was also my first full month of withholding for my job and I’m putting 6% into my 401k and $50/paycheck into the HSA.

My sleep disorder really hit me this month making everything more difficult. It’s finally getting back under control which means I should be starting May off right.

May will be all about the house.

I want to get my house listed this month. Which means deep cleaning the entire house, packing away the “clutter” and getting those projects finished off. I’ll definitely be hiring a handyman for some of those projects just so they get done faster, and possibly better. I might hire a service for some of the cleaning as well and will probably have the carpets professionally cleaned. Or maybe I should just call my mom and sister-in-law, they’re both almost fanatical cleaners… The clutter packing is all on me but I really don’t have all that much. I still need to send some of my instruments to my mom’s so they don’t “clutter” the living room and will be out of the way and safe from the whole house packing madness that will occur later.

After my house is listed it probably won’t take long to get a contract. Once I have that contract it will be time to start looking for my next (and hopefully last) house while I start to pack everything. I’m excited and yet nervous about this. I get nervous with any big change and have learned to push through it anyway but it’s probably part of the reason it’s taking me longer than it should to get some of this stuff done.

While my house is on the market I’m going to need to do something with the dogs while I’m at work. One option is to pay my youngest brother to take them out during showings, but he isn’t sure if he wants to do it. If he says no I’ll talk to my next door neighbors to see if they can help. Worst case I’ll put them in doggy day care, which isn’t cheap but they enjoy it.

My side projects will be taking a back seat this month but I’ll still work on them when I have the time, including this blog and an Android app I’ve been working on. The nice thing about these projects is that they’re totally digital which means they won’t make a mess in the house which will be exactly what I need when the house is on the market and I have to keep it in show room perfect shape.

I need to start getting my paperwork together for the loan pre-approval. Very, very tedious work.

I don’t have a posting schedule planned. Now you know why.

Is your May going to be crazier than mine? Let us know!

Blowing the Budget. On Purpose

Budget – “an amount of money available for spending that is based on a plan for how it will be spent,” according to Merriam-Webster. When I make a budget, I don’t want to budge from it. That’s the plan, let’s stick to it. But sometimes things happen and sticking with your budget is more about being stubborn than smart.

I’m getting ready to sell my house, which means completing all those little projects that I haven’t gotten around to yet. Nothing major, painting the kitchen is probably the biggest, just lots of little things to really get the place touched up to get a good offer. I have a savings bucket of $500 for paint and other materials. I planned to do it all myself with some help from my youngest brother on the weekends.

Unfortunately my sleep disorder has been flaring up which makes getting to work hard enough. Working on the house after I get home? Not happening.

And so I’m caving in and hiring a pro for some of the tasks. My mom’s happy, she’s been after me to hire someone for a while. I’m not so happy, I enjoy working with my hands and really take pride in my work. I also like saving money. My mom’s position is that it will be done quicker and I’ll be contributing to the economy, which is true. I’m finding the prospect of working with the handymen more stressful because it’s something new. At least when I was doing it I knew what to expect.

I’ll be pulling the extra money out of my savings for the new house if I don’t just cash flow it, so it isn’t an issue of not having the money. It’s an issue of not wanting to spend the money.

But budgets aren’t set in stone. They’re guidelines that can be crossed if the situation warrants it, and this is such a situation. If I don’t spend the extra money I’ll either have to wait longer to put the house on the market or settle for a lower price. If I do spend the money I will recoup the expense and more at sale, I’d guess around $5,000 minus the cost, and I’ll be able to get listed before the summer rush, or at least at the beginning.

I could work through the exhaustion but I know from experience that when I’m that tired I get sloppy, it takes longer to do even simple tasks and I can only do it for so long before I crash. My mom’s right, it’s time to just get this stuff done and move on. Even if it blows my budget.

Where I’m At

Yes, I ended the title with a preposition. Sue me.

As I said in an earlier post the first step to getting control is figuring out what you have. Here’s my answer.

Note: Although I’m posting anonymously I might decide to reveal my true identity. Also, I’ve given the link to a few friends so some of the readers know who I really am. Therefore I’ve decided to be vague about certain details as I figure out where my comfort zone for disclosure is.

I’m not earning six figures but I do make a decent living, especially since I don’t have kids.

In savings I have $10,000 emergency fund in case of layoff, injury, furnace explosion or other emergency. I also have a few savings buckets for upcoming purchases, house projects and vacation. Finally, I have a few thousand set aside for a purchasing a new house. The down payment will come from the equity of my current home, this cash is for paint, flooring and other repairs that need to be done. Or things that I just want to do to the house.

For retirement, I have a Roth IRA and a brand spanking new 401k. I also have a TSP from a previous job. As I mentioned before I don’t have full access to this account because I lost the PIN. There isn’t much in there, less than $1000, but I still need to make a firm decision on what to do with the money.

My debt includes about $80,000 of mortgage debt at 5.5%. I haven’t bothered to refinance because I plan to sell before I’d recover the cost.

My student loan balance is around $21,000 at interest rates between 2-6.5%. I have automatic payments that include an extra $60 above the minimum and sometimes drop in to make non-scheduled payments as well. I’m on the standard 10-year repayment plan and all my loans are federal. I’m on a stashing cash phase right now, once I’m done and the house thing is settled I’ll be ramping up my efforts on paying these down.

I still owe $10,000 on the car at 2.7%. I round up the payment to the nearest hundred because I like round numbers but otherwise haven’t made any early payoff efforts on this.

I’ll discuss my debt more in another post.

When I look at my balances I think I’m doing okay, but could be doing better. I’m the kind of person who likes having a large savings account, it’s like a security blanket to me. I’d also like to start investing outside of retirement accounts but want to build up my on hand cash first. Add in the whole “I’m selling my house and buying another” thing and I really want to have cash reserves “just in case”.

I’m okay with my debt. School was a great investment, I’ve enjoyed my house and have really lucked out with the rising property values, and although I could have been smarter with the car I have no regrets. Again, more on my debt and attitude towards it in a later post.

According to Mint.com, my net worth is $70,000. Most of that is home equity.

When I look at my balances I mostly see wasted years. I wish I’d done more in my 20s, even a little more savings in an IRA could’ve been a nice boost… but for a variety of reasons I didn’t, and considering the short time I’ve actively been dealing with my money I think I’m doing okay. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is wealth.

Do you know where you’re at? What do you think about it?

Excuses I Made Not To Save For Retirement (and why they were lame)

Like many adults, I didn’t start saving for retirement until I was in my 30s. For my first several years of adulthood I just didn’t think about it. I had no idea what a 401k was and while I knew the math behind compound interest I didn’t think to apply it to retirement. I worked jobs that didn’t offer retirement benefits so I didn’t get any exposure or encouragement to think about life 40 years down the road.

Then I started working for the federal government and after a few months I had a Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), the federal job equivalent of a 401k. I think there was even something of a match. But I didn’t take it. I had excuse after excuse and here they are:

I can’t afford it. Yes, I could have. And if I couldn’t then I needed to reevaluate my budget.

I don’t want to lock the money away. Once I realized that yes, I could afford to contribute I was terrified of needing the money and not having it accessible. I put the money in my savings account instead, even though I already had a few thousand for an emergency fund.

It’s too early to think about retiring. It’s never too early to start saving for the future.

I have no idea when I’ll retire, or where, or what will be happening. Doesn’t mean I couldn’t have saved a few bucks for it.

I don’t know what to do with it. I remember looking at the investment options and being completely confused. I knew nothing about investing, managing risk, any of that, but instead of doing the research I just left it alone then forgot about it.

Everything’s in flux right now. Of course things were in flux, things are always in flux. Every time life settles into a stable pattern something comes along to disrupt it – a job change, a move, even a new hobby – all the more reason to be putting something away.

Huh? Wait, whah? After I left that government job and started earning more money I realized that it was time to start saving, sort of a now or never type situation. Unfortunately I was working as a contractor with no access to an employer’s plan and was completely lost trying to figure out what to do on my own.

Eventually, I did figure it out. I opened up a Roth IRA in 2012 and although I didn’t max it that first year I did put in close to $400/month. But then I got stupid again and when I set up automatic contributions last year I set the amount for $200/month even though I needed $450/month to hit the max. Why? Because things were in flux and I was thinking about selling and buying a house. I wanted to have more cash on hand during the transaction in case I needed it for repairs, closing costs, etc. But when I decided to wait another year, I kept my settings as they were.

The fact is I still don’t like locking my money away for “someday”. I still worry that some opportunity or emergency will arise and I’ll need that money now. Except, I do have savings outside of retirement in case of such emergencies and opportunities, and family history suggests that I could live 20-30+ years past 65, so not only do I have no excuse for not saving but I have a darned good reason that I should. So I am saving for retirement. I’m easing into it instead of doing the really smart thing and maxing out my 401k this year, but I’ll get there.

If you’re hesitant to save for retirement I recommend you start with something, even $50/month. If you can’t do $50, do $25, or $10. If you have a 401k with a match, contribute the minimum for the full match so you aren’t giving away free money. When you realize that you can handle that amount, bump it up. Keep bumping it up until you can’t. If you’re even more scared of locking your money away than I am, use a Roth IRA where you can at least withdraw your contributions whenever you want, or use a taxable investment account. If you have massive amounts of debt go ahead and take care of them first, but you don’t have to be in a perfect financial situation to start saving for retirement.