Can I buy that?

The beautiful thing about having money in the bank is you can afford to buy things. The ugly thing about having money in the bank is, well, you can afford to buy things.

Although I’m grateful to be in the financial position we are currently in, sometimes I miss the days of paying down debt.

That does not mean I miss debt. 

But I do miss the clear and simple objective one has when working their way out of debt.

Overtime income?

Pay off debt.

Tax return?

Pay off debt.

Side Hustle?

Pay off debt.

Birthday money?

Pay off debt.

No matter the situation, the solution was always the same. 

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Within the last month or so, there have been a handful of relatively expensive items I’ve wanted to purchase, but haven’t managed to pull the trigger yet because I feel like it would be irresponsible. Here are a few of the items on my list.

Upgrade my iPhone 5 to a 6+: 

It’s kind of disgusting that we operate in a world where we believe our ridiculously expensive cell phones are essentially garbage after two years, simply because a newer model of the same phone exists. I’m a victim of the “ohhh, pretty-shiny-thing” cult as well. In a week I will be out of my ATT contract. I can upgrade my iPhone 5 to the new 6+ for $299. I’d get a better screen. A better battery. And a better camera.

That said, the primary purpose of my cell phone is to make/receive phone calls, make/receive text messages, make/receive emails. The iPhone 6 doesn’t do this any better than my current phone. Why would I pay to upgrade to a phone that has negligibly better features? Or a better question I suppose is, why do I WANT to do that?

Buy a Weber Grill: 

Five years ago, I got a relatively cheap ($199) Home Depot grill for my birthday. It has lived a long and glorious life, but after two moves, and years of use, the lack of quality is apparent. The burners no longer self-ignite. The thing is ginormous and eats up an excessive area of my patio. But most importantly, it doesn’t burn hot enough.

A burger should take 8 minutes to cook (about four minutes on each side). My grill has declined so much that it takes about 25 minutes for me to grill three burger patties. It’s a waste of propane and a terribly frustrating experience.

A Weber Grill would solve all of my problems. Just as Nordstrom is known for it’s superior customer service, Weber is known for manufacturing stellar grills. They aren’t cheap (base model is $399), but they are unmatched in value.

I love to grill and have been scouring craigslist like crazy trying to find a lightly used Weber. So far I’ve had no luck finding one that I feel is priced fair. The frugal part of me says I should wait until September to buy a new grill as that is typically when the big sales are to be had due to the end of the summer season, but the other part of me says that is stupid as I’d have to endure another grilling season with my barely functioning BBQ.

I’ve made a deal with myself that if I haven’t found one on craigslist by Memorial Weekend, I’m going to Home Depot and buying a brand spanking new one.

Pay for Electrical work:

This one isn’t so much a purchase, but more a “should we pay to have this work done.” We have an outlet in our pantry that we plugged our microwave in to a few months ago. Within one second of turning the microwave on, the outlet went out and our exterior security lights went off. It’s not the breaker. It’s not the outlet. It’s not the fuse. I’ve exhausted my electrical skills and can’t troubleshoot the problem on my own.

I had two electricians come by last week to get quotes. Since they aren’t yet sure what the problem is they could only give me estimates on how long they think it might take to identify the problem. Essentially, it’s going to cost about $300 for them to simply diagnose the problem, and potentially a lot more depending on what the issue is.

I hate having lights and outlets that don’t work. That said, these are probably the least important lights and outlets in my entire house so I don’t feel a rush to necessarily get them fixed. Why spend $300-$500 when we don’t need to? But when the time comes to sell our house, we are probably going to have to pay for this service anyways since a home inspector would surely note the issue.

I’ve never understood why people wait on upgrading their home. People will live 20 years with their builder grade laminate counter tops, only to replace them with granite when they decide they are ready to sell their house. Why not pay for the upgrade earlier and actually enjoy your counters? This is how I feel about my outlets. If I’m going to spend the money now, or down the road, why not have the electrical work done today?

I guess my issue is that I never want our financial privilege (money in the bank) to cloud my judgement and distort my perception of being a good steward of God’s resources (the money he has put in our bank).

Do I believe it’s okay to enjoy nice things? Absolutely.

Do I believe it can also be crippling? Absolutely.

 

I’ll still be so pissed if student loans are forgiven.

Back in the Occupy Wall Street hayday, Circa 2011, I wrote my 8th most popular post ever. It was simply titled “I’ll be so pissed if Student loans are forgiven“.

Yesterday I read an article by the New Yorker titled “A Student-Debt Revolt Begins“. Here’s a snippet from the article, but make sure to click through and read the whole piece.

On Monday, Heiney and fourteen other people who took out loans to attend Corinthian announced that they are going on a “debt strike,” and will stop repaying their loans. They believe that they have both ethical and legal grounds for what appears to be an unprecedented collective action against the debt charged to students who attended Corinthian schools, and they are also making a broader statement about the trillion dollars of student debt owed throughout the country.

If you took the time to read the whole piece, you’ll learn that it’s pretty clear Corinthian was likely not putting the students’ needs first. But then again, what would one expect from a for-profit entity? Of course the executives primary concerns are going to be how much money they will make, and how much money they can make for their investors.

It’s also abundantly clear Corinthian was taking advantage of the government’s generosity just as much, if not more, than they were taking advantage of their students.

Does this sound familiar? How about just a few years ago when all the financial institutions utilized predatory lending practices, knowing the fed was there to bail the bank out in the event the crap hit the fan.

Tons of upside. Virtually no downside. 

But to be honest, I actually feel for Heiney and think she should pursue legal recourse. If the college operated unethically, and the Dept of Education, requires that colleges do operate ethically, then I don’t know if the blame can necessarily be placed on her decision to enroll.

If she was deceived and lied to, how can I demand she pay back her loans. Lord knows if I was unknowingly ripped off, I’d like a chance to plead my case and get some type of relief.

BUT

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If she is successful in getting her student loans forgiven, then I would demand she forfeit any degree or credential she earned from her student-loan subsidized education.

I mean, her whole case is predicated on the fact that the school she attended sucked, wasn’t actually worth a single penny, and she feels her degree is useless.

Fine.

Give up the degree and I’m cool with you being able to explore student loan forgiveness.

Treat student loan forgiveness the same way that we treat foreclosures and bankruptcy.

I don’t get to revolt against my mortgage AND keep my house. No. The bank will kick my butt out, take back the house, and essentially forgive my loan (and damage my credit a good bit).

I don’t get to file bankruptcy, but keep my vacation properties, fishing boat, two dirtbikes, and $40,000 in personal savings. If I go to Bankruptcy court and convince the judge I can’t afford to pay back my creditors, the court takes whatever I do have, and distributes it amongst my creditors. My loan is forgiven, but I have to forfeit most of the things that debt allowed me to acquire.

So yes, even in Ms Heiney’s situation, as sad as it is. I will still be SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO pissed if her student loans are forgiven.

You can not have your cake and eat it too. 

Where do you see the student loan forgiveness issue going?

I think it’s inevitable and within 10 years student loan forgiveness will be a thing. And I’m sure it will be abused just like bankruptcy and foreclosure often are.

Heck, I’d take a damaged credit score for a couple years if it means I can swoop a free degree in the process.

*** keep in mind I graduated college with $28,000 of student loan debt, which was above the national average for my graduation year, so I’m intimately familiar with the “Frick, what did I do” feelings that come with a student loan obligation***

Retirement

Hope you enjoy a guest post today from none other than my better half, Girl Ninja. 

As of June 13th, 2014, I am officially retired…and it feels so good.  I spent all nine months of my pregnancy looking forward to the days I get to spend at home holding my baby.  I know challenges are definitely coming my way, but along with that I am excited to help take care of a household, without feeling worn down from working all day long.

As Ninja and I transition from a DINK family, to a single income household, I am surprised by the challenge.  It isn’t a tighter budget, more mindful spending or being bored and stir-crazy at home.  It isn’t the guilty feeling of spending money that I am not bringing in.  Instead, it is the surprising feeling that I miss kindergarten.

I love teaching kindergarten.  I’m not sure I really knew how much I loved it, until I left it.  In the frenzy of kindergarten graduation, packing a classroom, and a rapidly approaching due date to meet my little one, I was busy checking off to-do lists.  As I was literally walking out the back door of my classroom, I turned back one last time…cue cheesy slow motion scene with sappy music in the background.  Then the tears came.  I cried my whole drive home.  I cried as I thought back over the lessons I had taught, and the lessons my 5 year olds had taught me.  Inside those four walls, there was safety to try, to fail, to achieve, to be challenged for both my students and myself.  Names and faces poured through my mind, and I was overcome with thankfulness, joy, and sadness to be ending this chapter of life and moving on to something new.

Walking by the “Back to School” sale at Target last week, I had to stop myself from browsing the sales and stocking up for the next year. Rather than spending my days teaching, loving on, and learning with 22 five-year olds from 8:30-3:30 each day, I will be spending my day (and currently my nights) teaching, loving, and learning with Baby Ninja.  Some daily challenges will be similar, some will be different.  I won’t have those 15 minute recess breaks, 30 minute lunch breaks, or that 3:30 end time for each day. September will be hard, as I know my friends and coworkers will be gearing up to set up their classrooms and prepare for a new group of students.

Will giving this part of my life up be worth it?

Yes, I know it definitely will.  I know these are years and days with Baby Ninja I won’t get back, and I can’t wait for each of them.

So, what’s my plan? Am I just going to go through my day-to-day with this back and forth mindset of missing my teacher days, while learning to love being a stay at home mom?

Well, we have a plan.  I am excited to have the opportunity to substitute (saying yes or no to work based on what works for me? Yes please!), and I also hope to begin tutoring a few students next year.  Ninja’s schedule will allow us to make this work without having to pay for childcare for Baby Ninja.

I’m so thankful that my love for being home with my baby boy, and my love for teaching don’t have to be mutually exclusive.  I am thankful for the ways that my career have prepared me, and given me at least a glimpse of what motherhood holds. I am thankful for a husband that works hard to make it possible for me to be home with Baby Ninja during these little years.

We hope you’ll stick around to see how it goes! 

 

 

Short term investing is the worst.

About two months ago, I took $14,000 out of our savings account and put it in a taxable investment account. To date, it’s probably been my least favorite financial move I’ve ever made.

In fact, it’s the worst.

It’s also, apparently, the responsible thing to do, but that’s besides the point.

 

Responsibility is totally overrated.

drink and drive

To be clear it’s not the investment that I picked that sucks. The interest I’m earning in my Vanguard fund is blowing my savings account out of the water, granted that’s not saying much when my savings APY is a measly 0.7%.

As great as having my money make more money is, I just can’t shake the uneasy feeling I’ve had. I hate feeling less liquid.

I loved having fat stacks of cash in the bank. 

Around this time last year Girl Ninja and I had $100,000 in our savings account. After putting $70,000 of that towards a down payment, and $14,000 in to our taxable account, we are left with about $15,000 in our savings account now.

There is no logical reason why I would need to keep more than that in our savings account. I should be patting myself on the back for diversifying our money across retirement accounts, real estate, and now short-term investments, but instead I want to crawl in to bed and start sucking my thumb.

Investing in our taxable account is certainly the most uncomfortable thing I’ve done in regards to managing our money. I just need to keep reminding myself to stay the course. No pain, no gain right?

What is “that responsible personal finance thing” you know you should be (or currently are doing) that makes you uncomfortable? 

The best test out there to tell you if you should buy a home.

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My hunch is that most first-time homeowners buy their first place with the best of intentions. They imagine spending decades in their future abode, establishing roots, and engaging in their community.

But then life happens.

They have more kids than they originally thought they wanted (or discover they can’t have any kids), they get a job offer somewhere else, a loved one gets sick and needs constant care, or maybe they still love their house but hate their neighbors and decide to move. The statistics don’t lie, most people in their 20’s and 30’s, who buy homes, don’t live in said homes long enough to realize much of a financial benefit.

The average length of homeownership is hovering right around seven years.

Many of these homeowners kiss any potential profit goodbye when they pay nearly 10% in commissions and fees. At the end of the day, these homeowners were nothing more than glorified renters who could paint their walls.

So how can you determine if you’ll be able to make homeownership profitable?

Introducing my patent pending Vehicle Litmus Test.

Unless you live in the heart of a major metropolitan area (San Fran, LA, or NYC), I’m going to assume you own a car. (If you don’t, this whole post is pretty much a waste of your time). If you own a car, you should take the test below. If not, then this entire blog post is irrelevant.

/Begin Test

How long have you owned your current car? And how long did you own your previous car?

/End Test

It seems about 99% of people who buy new, or even new-to-them, cars always say something like “Oh, I’m going to drive this car in to the ground. I’ll have it at least 10 years.”

You probably said, or thought, something similar. Didn’t you? DIDN’T YOU!!!!!

But did you actually follow through with that promise?

How you answer that question says a lot. You bought a car thinking you would drive it in to the ground, but then made a total 180 and justified a change for something more fuel-efficient, more modern, larger, smaller, newer, cheaper, faster.

I get it.

Your priorities and desires changed. This is why the vehicle litmus test is so important.

Are you really going to stay in the house long enough to make buying worth it? You like to think you will, but does your track record say otherwise?

Drop a comment below with your answers to the litmus test. Be honest 🙂

My answers to the vehicle litmus test…

Car 1: Bought my Scion tC in 2006 brand new. Eight years later, still love it and have no plans to sell.

Car 2: Our 2006 Honda Pilot purchased in 2012 with 70k miles on it. Bought with intentions to drive to 150,000 miles.

Previous car: Girl Ninja’s 2005 Corolla she bought in 2006. Sold after six years so we could buy the Pilot. An upgrade that was totally unnecessary.

That time being responsible was dumb.

For three years Girl Ninja and I worked diligently to build our savings account up to $100,000. If you didn’t know, we picked $100,000 for two reasons. First, it sounded super sexy. Second, it would give us the ability to put 20% down on a home priced up to $400,000 (leaving $10,000 for closing costs/furniture and $10,000 for our emergency fund).

By April 2013 we hit our $100,000 savings goal. Two months later we put in our first, and only, offer which resulted in us buying our current $350,000 house. We locked in at a 4.125% interest rate, have a reasonable PITI payment, and a renter that pays us $400/mo to live in our basement.

Being responsible came with the following benefits: 

    • We don’t have to pay private mortgage insurance
    • It made our offer very competitive since sellers like cash
    • We had immediate equity in our house the day we moved in.

That said, I’m not convinced responsibility is necessarily the best choice. What would have happened if we started our house hunt when we would have had less than a 20% down payment?

Well…

We could have taken advantage of what pretty much everyone knew were the lowest interest rates we’d ever see. Somewhere around 3.3%. Instead, we locked in at 4.125% which means we pay $120/mo more in interest than some of our friends who bought in 2012.

We could have taken advantage of better inventory. By August 2011, we had $50,000 banked. Had we started looking then we would have had 4 months of inventory to pick from. When we actually started looking in early 2013, there was only 1.5 months of inventory. Meaning we had a SIGNIFICANTLY smaller selection of homes to pick from. Which in turn meant every home that we did look at went for OVER asking and had multiple offers on it (including the home we bought).

We could have taken advantage of lower prices. Between 2011 and 2013 prices jumped 10%+. This means we could have gotten a $350,000 for about $315,000 back in 2011. Normally calling the bottom of a market is pretty sketchy, but just about every one and their mother knew in late 2011 early 2012 we were virtually bottomed out.

 

So as you can see, being responsible is not always the responsible thing to do. In our case, it’s literally costed us tens of thousands of dollars.

Long story short: Being irresponsible isn’t always a bad thing.

 

Screw being a millionaire

Ninja Mansion

When I graduated college, at 21 years old, I really only had one goal for myself in regards to my personal finances.

GET FILTHY FREAKING RICH

But here I am, seven years later, realizing that I don’t actually care about being wealthy.

I know, I know. You’re probably thinking, “Ninja, you’re a hypocrite. Some of your posts definitely seem like you’re all about building wealth.”

After all, I haven’t been shy about sharing how we’ve…

…averaged a 50%+ savings/investing rate since we’ve been married.

…rented out a room in our home to help bring in extra income.

…increased our net worth a silly amount each year (up $70k in 2013)

Meh, you say tomato, I say to-MAH-to.

You see, we aren’t saving an obscene amount of our income, living frugally, or investing in our retirement accounts so we can reach the coveted millionaire status. That couldn’t be further from the truth. 

AN EXAMPLE:

Instead of talking about money, let’s talk about physical appearance as related to fitness. At 6’2 and 175-ish pounds, I tend to be a little leaner than most other men my height.

But make no mistake, I don’t ski, take Nova on walks, or coach high school tennis so that I can be in better shape. Instead, I’m fortunate to be in decent shape because I have a proclivity to do active things; like ski, go on walks, and play tennis.

I care more about the cause, less about the effect. 

The same is true for our money. I never want to lose sight of what is important. I have an innate desire to live well below my means, and save or give away my excess. This was true when my household income was $38,000 a year, and is still true today at $120,000. I don’t measure my value by my net worth, square footage, or income.

So while yes, I do think I’ll be a millionaire one day, please let me make it clear: I don’t care to be a millionaire. 

I just want to be a good steward of the resources God’s given us. It just so happens stewardship often begets wealth building.