Prolonging the journey

I’ve been in the personal finance game for a little over two years now and it’s been a ton of fun. Many of my goals, during this time, have ebbed and flowed (much like my mother’s love for me), but home ownership has always been an urgent necessity. It would validate my significance and success in how I managed my money. At least, that’s what I thought.

Does home ownership really indicate one’s financial stability? For my wife’s parents it does. They own their home outright and it has significantly increased in value over the 20 years they’ve owned it. For the thousands of Americans facing foreclosure’s and short sales, not so much. “The American Dream” should not be owning a home, but owning a home when you can actually afford to own one. Novel concept right?

Renting seemed like the stupidest thing in the world to me. Why would I throw away $1,500/month, when I could own a home instead? Well, it turns out renting has quite a few perks of it’s own.

It allows me to put more in the savings vehicle of my choice. Taking on a mortgage forces you to save a sizable part of your income in your home, and as we all know, the real estate market is not always stable. I would rather throw $1,000/month away in rent and put $1,500/month in to my savings account, than just have a $2,500 mortgage.

It allows me total flexibility. If I get fired tomorrow, I am not limited to a 50 mile radius when hunting for my next job. Not only can I move wherever and whenever, but I can also determine how much I want to pay. If I ever feel like my rent is too high, I can always ask the landlord to reduce rent. How many homeowners can call their banks and say “Please lower my mortgage for no reason besides I’d like you to.”? And if my landlord says tough luck, I can pack my bags and begin looking for a new place.

But the real reason I most likely wont own a home in the next five years is this. It wont be a good time to buy one. If someone gave me $150,000 right now I’d sign a mortgage tomorrow. Unfortunately I don’t think that is going to happen. This means that I will keep on saving and saving and saving. Who knows where interest rates and home prices will be a few years from now, but if either are at crazy highs (to counteract the current crazy low) I don’t think I’ll be buying.

Renting isn’t a bad gig and one I won’t mind doing for a while longer. One day I’ll join the ranks of you homeowners, but I hope to do so at a time where I am financially able and at a point in my life where I am ready to commit 10+years of my life to one area.

Anyone else care to chime in with their two cents on renting vs owning? Do you think renting is “throwing” money away? For you homeowners, what lead you to the decision to quit renting and begin owning?

I think we can all agree that both renting and owning are stupid when compared to the third option…. living at home with the parents. You hear that Mom Ninja, the wife and I are moving in!!!! Muwahahahaha!!!!!

‘Tis the season…

The season to decorate the crap out of our condo. At least that’s the way Wife Ninja sees it, and for the first time ever, I’m okay with it. Sure it might cost a pretty penny. But eating off Corelle dinner plates is a heck of a lot better than the paper stuff I was using in my bachelor pad.

We rent a small 1br/1ba condo from a pretty cool guy. The key word in that sentence is “rent.” To me, that implies, we are living in some dudes house and we are therefore limited in what we can and can not change. Sure, we might be able to take a towel rack down, or change a mirror out, but that is where I draw the line. Wife Ninja, however, is a little more ambitious. Specifically, she wants to paint!

I tried to tell her that painting was not really an appropriate thing to ask since we don’t own the place. But after a little trickery (darn you women and your cleverness) she convinced me to ask the landlord if we could. Not only was he fully on-board with painting the bathroom, but he paid for it! It turns out Wife Ninja is the first woman to ever live in this place and, as he says, he wants her to “feather the nest.” That means she can pretty much do whatever she wants to the place to make it more “homey”.

I’ve concluded the fundamental difference between man and woman, when it comes to decorating, is the value of form vs function. For a man, function is the only thing that is important. I don’t care if a couch has a horrendous floral print on it, if it’s comfortable (and cheap) I buy it. Who needs a fork and a spoon, when you can purchase a spork instead? And why do I need eleven (yes eleven) different decorative pillows on my bed? Answer: I don’t.

The other day Wife Ninja returned home with a few decorative purchases. When I asked  where she planned to put one of the wicker baskets she bought, her response was “I don’t know, but it’s just so cute.” What? You bought something that serves no purpose in our home, simply because it is cute? Turns out, that is exactly what she did, and something tells me it wont be the last time she does it. Gotta love her 🙂

So I sit here typing in our Crate & Barrel-esque condo, with a freshly painted bathroom, and enough candles to light a small country, and think to myself “It’s good to be home.”

Men/women chime in with the crazy things your significant other does decoratively. Women, why do you sacrifice purpose for cuteness? I just don’t get it.

You are what you eat

It’s a good thing the phrase “You are what you eat” isn’t true, otherwise I would be a french fry filled burrito…

But I did hear something the other day that I think holds a little more truth. Someone told me if you average out the income of your five closest friends, your income is probably pretty close to that average.

While I may not have asked all of my close friends their annual incomes, I think I have a good idea of what they’re making. Let’s see if this little hypothesis works…

Friend 1: $110,000

Friend 2: $70,000

Friend 3: $28,000

Friend 4: $40,000

Friend 5: $80,000

Average salary of all five friends: $65,600.

My salary: $62,000

Whoa. I guess the theory has some legitimacy to it. I need to go find richer friends…joking…kind of. Let’s run a little social experiment today shall we and see if this works out for you too. In the comments below list the average salary of your five closest friends along with your salary. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing that information you can either just say “Yeah it worked” or “This was the stupidest blog post I’ve ever read” or you can always just comment anonymously. Is your salary close to your friends’ average?

What do you self insure?

If you’re like me you pay a pretty penny each month for insurance. Health, dental, vision, car, life, renters, it seems like the policies never stop. Although I don’t mind paying for the peace of mind, I’d be lying if I pretended I was excited about the expenses. This is why I have a goal to self insure many aspects of my life. Here are a few areas I’d like to cover…

Electronic purchases:

I was a sucker for purchasing “extended warranties.” While I thought I was being responsible for doing so, I’ve come to realize that is hardly the case. Come to think of it, I can’t ever recall being able to take advantage of an extended warranty. This makes sense when you think about it. Take for example Apple Care. For $160, you get two additional years of coverage. Do you think Apple would sell Apple Care if their products typically failed within that time frame? Heck no they wouldn’t. They sell the policy because they know the chances of your device breaking down is highly unlikely, not to mention that it only takes one accidental dent/crack/chip to completely void the warranty.  I’ve bought extended warranties on every Apple product I’ve purchased, but have never once had to use them. Next time I’m offered an extended warranty I will politely decline, knowing I have the liquidity to cover any repairs if need be.

Our Cars:

Girl Ninja brought a 2005 Toyota Corolla to the marriage. Last week I was calling to get quotes to add her to my insurance policy. Since she owns her car outright, I toyed with the idea of not paying for the comprehensive and collision insurance. This means if she crashed in to another car, our insurance WOULD pay for the damage caused to the other vehicle, but it WOULD NOT cover any repairs necessary for Girl Ninja’s car. I “Blue Booked” the value of her car and saw it should sell for about $8,500. Although we have the funds to completely replace her car, we decided the small premium increase is worth it to add comprehensive and collision coverage. Once her car drops to around $5,000, then we will probably drop that coverage and self insure and damage that may be caused.

My life:

Right now I can get a $1,000,000; 20 year level term life insurance for about $30/month. I see that as a completely fair trade, but as I age my insurance premiums will increase, or even worse I may become ineligible for life insurance if I develop some serious health issues. This means I have 20 years to build up a large enough Net Worth so that my bank/retirement accounts become their own life insurance policy. If I have enough liquidity, Mrs. Ninja can rest easy at night knowing that even if I am uninsured, she will still have adequate resources to carry on without me.

That said, there are a few areas I will probably never self insure in…

Renters Insurance:

It’s soooo cheap. I pay like $10/month for $30,000 worth of coverage through AAA. It’s honestly my favorite insurance because I pay the whole year up front ($120) and have the peace of mind knowing my place can get robbed at any moment and I will be taken care of.

Health Insurance:

While I hope one day to have a small fortune, I don’t know if I will ever be wealthy enough to self insure my medical expenses. For example, Dad Ninja got in a pretty gnarly motorcycle accident two years ago where he almost lost his leg. After multiple skin grafts, a muscle transplant from his back, two weeks in the hospital, a few months in a wheelchair, and two years of physical therapy he is finally getting back to normal. While I don’t know the total cost of this entire process (probably close to $500,000 in medical expenses), I do know how much  the first night in the Emergency Room cost him…$94,000. That’s freakin’ crazy. He wasn’t in this small hospital for more than 12 hours before being transferred to a larger hospital, but he left with a medical bill of nearly $100k. Suddenly my health insurance premium doesn’t sound too bad.

There are about a billion other things one can choose to insure, self insure, or just flat out ignore. Homeowners insurance, umbrella insurance, ALIEN ABDUCTION insurance (it really exists!) to name a few. Are there any areas of your life you “go it alone” and self insure? Where do you ALWAYS plan to pay the premium?

I think I’m sexist.

There are two things women are better than men at: Peeing sitting down and having babies. That’s it. Okay not really, I just was trying to get your attention.

Seriously though, I think I might be quasi-sexist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a “women are inferior to men” sexist, but a “there are certain things I want my wife to do” type sexist. I realized this through pre-marital counseling (For anyone that is looking to get married I totally recommend doing it. It was free and totally worth it).

One of the tasks assigned to me, was to work through a list of household chores and indicate if I thought each item was a man’s job, a woman’s job, or both. I scanned in my responses for you to see (Girl Ninja’s answers were different)…

Of the 16 different tasks listed, I defined seven of them as typically the male’s responsibility and seven of them as the female’s responsibility. See, I’m not that bad am I? At least I had an even distribution.

Even though, the responsibilities are split down the middle, I still feel a little sexist. I mean come on. I said Girl Ninja should be the primary child caretaker, laundry do-er, bed maker, dish washer, house cleaner, food preparer, and grocery shopper. I basically described just described this woman….

Gender roles are pretty funny when you think about them. I’m totally looking for a “supermom” and not so much a career driven woman. Fortunately, my responses were not grossly different from Girl Ninja’s, so at least we both want the same family model.

Do you and your spouse share similar outlooks on the list above? Any feminists out there think I’m a terrible person for wanting the woman to clean the house? Any role reversals out there, aka…stay at home dads care to chime in? Do you think I’m sexist or just sexy?

*****Update****

I want to clarify. My idea of these gender roles is for when Girl Ninja is a stay-at-home mom (which we both want). And even though I would prefer her to be the Chief Laundry Operator, I am more than happy to help out when/if she needs/wants. I probably should have clarified that better. It appears most of you picked up on that, but some didn’t.

Are you a serial upgrader

So Mom Ninja rocked my socks off two days ago with a freakin’ awesome wedding present. A new TV! She had been tracking them for a while and when she saw a killer deal on a Samsung 46″ LCD TV, marked down over $400, she jumped on it like a fat kid jumps on cake. Next thing I knew, I had a TV in my possession. Go mom ninja!

The new TV was a huge upgrade for me as I went from this piece of junk…

to this glorious conglomeration of awesomness…

Needless to say, I made a serious upgrade in the television department via mom ninja’s generosity. Since this whole wedding/moving process means acquiring a ton of new stuff (i.e waffle maker, food processor, decorations) I can’t help but wonder what things Girl Ninja and/or I will upgrade on a consistent basis. As always, I made a list, and here’s what I came up with.

Cell Phones:

I swear the cell phone companies design these things to break at the two year mark. My iPhone 3G is three months shy of its second birthday, and it seems that each new day brings a slight decline in performance. My “home” button only works if you push it extremely hard, many of my apps take AGES to open, and the battery life is rapidly degrading. I’ve had a cell phone for the last 10 years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever had one for longer than it’s contract. I am a serial cell phone upgrader.

Computers:

Similar to cell phones, my computers  also seem to crap out every few years. I’ve had my Macbook now for almost three years and the CD/DVD drive is completely dead. It makes a horrible clicking sound every time I open the screen, and it’s becoming painfully slow. Computers are exponentially increasing in awesomeness and if your computer is more than a few weeks old, it is already outdated. I’m sure Girl Ninja and I will be buying a new computer every three or so years for as long as we live.

Bedding:

Girl Ninja flew to Seattle yesterday to finish off all the last minute wedding preparations. This means I’m left to fend for myself in San Diego for the next two weeks. On Sunday, we moved all of Girl Ninja’s stuff in to our new place. For now we are planning on using her Full size mattress and frame, but will eventually upgrade to a queen. I’ve slept two nights now in Girl Ninja’s bed (without her), and let me tell you… Homegirl has some incredible bedding. Her sheets are honestly the most comfortable sheets I’ve ever slept in. Now that I know what high quality bedding feels like, it will be a cold day in hell before I ever go back to those crappy 100 thread-count sheets from Big Lots.

Pens:

Anyone that does a lot of writing for work will be able to vouch for me on this one. There is nothing worse than writing with a  spotty pen. I love a pen that bleeds a little as I write. For Christmas, a few years back, Sister Ninja got me a Kross pen. For those that are unfamiliar, Kross is like the Lamborghini of pens. It gracefully glides across my piece of paper with every movement of my hand. A nice pen goes a long way in making my work day more enjoyable.

Sure, there are plenty of other things I will consistently upgrade throughout my life, but these four things are my priority. I can tell you there are definitely some things I plan to rarely upgrade (i.e car, clothes, iPods, sound systems, video game systems, etc).

So, reader, what are some things in your life you “serially” upgrade? On the flippy floppy, what are some things you keep forever?

What are your skillz?

As I promised yesterday, I’ll be writing about my various Ninja skills that help save me some coin. You may think Ninjas are only good for things like breaking a 2×4 in half with their head, but you are wrong. We are actually quite useful. I’m always trying to figure out ways to become more self sufficient, and I’d like to share with you a few areas where I’ve effectively managed cut corners.

Hair Cizzuts:

Paying for hair cuts is so early 2000’s. At least if you’re a dude it is. I haven’t paid for a hair cut in six years now. Back in the day when I was getting trimmed up, I was dropping about $20 a cut. Instead of continuing to throw my money away, I decided to invest in a pair of $20 clippers and cut my own hair. Averaging one haircut every 1.5 months over the last six years, I’ve saved myself over $950. And I’d like to add, I look darn good too 🙂

Handy Man:

The world of “fixing” things is new to me, but one I better learn. I’ve always bought things new, or paid someone else to fix/build stuff for me. It’s about time I start learning how to be more useful around the house. I may not be able to build my own furniture just yet, but I’m getting pretty good at assembling it. On Monday, Girl Ninja and I made an Ikea run, and I ended up assembling a dresser. It may have taken four hours to put it together (damn Ikea), but I still felt “manly” by the end.

I’ve also taken up painting. I got a desk from my buddy for free, but GN wanted it to be black instead of birch. I headed to Home Depot picked up some primer, paint, sandpaper, and a paint brush. Two days and four coats later, we have a beautiful black desk. I’m kinda diggin’ this macho “handy man” thing right now.

Wedding Crap Stuff

Even though we are having a rather expensive/large wedding, we’ve still tried to do as much stuff on our own as we can. You’ve already seen our save the dates (which we made in Photoshop), but we also made our wedding invitations from scratch. All 250 of them. It took us a good week of cutting, folding, ribbon tying, glue sticking, envelope licking, address labeling, etc just to get those suckers in the mail box, but it was worth every ounce of frustration. We called around to see how much our invitations would cost to have professionally done and were quoted around $1,000. We ended up spending about $350. I’ll be sure to put a picture of the finished product up in a couple days of them. They look very “whimsical”, as girl ninja likes to say.

Moving

It will be a cold day in hell before I pay someone to move my furniture. I probably wont always feel this way, but while I’m young and able, I’ll be doing all the heavy lifting. I’ve moved 10 times in the last seven years and have always packed and moved my stuff. I couldn’t fathom paying someone to move my stuff for me. It just seems like a waste of money. Granted, I don’t really own that much stuff. I imagine as I accumulate more furniture as well as become less mobile, I’ll probably be hiring movers. Hopefully that’s a good 10 years off though.

Blog

That’s right. These blogs things can get expensive. There are all sorts of companies out there that help improve one’s blog. From SEO optimization, to custom blog templates, to graphic designs, there are a billion ways one can drop some coin to help improve their blog.

I, on the other hand, am way to cheap to pay for any of that crap. Instead I started googling every topic I knew nothing about, but felt was important to learn. I have zero education as far as CSS coding, photoshopping, and SEOing is concerned, but through the wonders of the internet. I’ve acquired some valuable photoshop/css skills.

That said, if there is any part of my blog that you hate, it’s because I’m simply too stupid to figure out how to change it or too cheap to pay someone else to do it. Sorry 🙂

Okay, so now that many of you shared ways in which you are “lazy”, it’s time to redeem yourself and share the “Do It Yourself” projects you have mastered. Do you handle your own landscaping? Are you crafty with home decorations? Paint your own nails? What skillz are you rockin?