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!!!!!

Pickin’ up the tab

I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post a while back titled “Wife = Asset or Liability.” I asked the question as bachelor Ninja, but now that I’ve been married just shy of a month, I’m pretty much an expert on the topic (haha, yeah right). So, to answer my own question, “Is Wife Ninja an asset or a liability” I’ve come up with a few areas of my life where she has added (or subtracted) value…

Stuff (liability):

I can not process the amount of stuff Wife Ninja has. The number of purses, shoes, candles (lots and lots of candles), picture frames, etc she brought in to this marriage are staggering. Her clothes alone have exploded, out of her closet and in to baskets under the bed, baskets in the linen closet, and of course in to my closet space. I always heard women come with a lot of baggage, but I didn’t  know it literally meant women come with A LOT OF BAGGAGE!!!!

Food (Asset):

Seriously one of my favorite things about living with a girl is my meals. When I was living alone I typically ate, spaghetti, PB&J, and chicken. Since Wife Ninja is all in to being healthy and stuff, we make sure to whip up some well rounded meals. We have a salad with dinner just about every night as well as one or two other sides. She is the primary grocery shopper and meal planner, but when it comes to the preparation we make sure to implement some teamwork. Cooking with her has been some of my favorite times together.

Insurance (Liability):

Wife Ninja is a substitute teacher (but we are keeping our fingers crossed for a teaching contract) which means she gets absolutely NO benefits. Since she is under 25, she was able to stay on her parents plan. That is until we got married. The torch has been passed and she is now on my insurance policies. Across health, dental, and car I think the insurance expenses have increased about $250/month. Which means my take home pay is smaller. Not super excited about that.

Dual Income (Asset):

Today is the first day of the school year and Wife Ninja is already at a school subbing. We are hoping, of the 20+ school days in a month, she will get called to work at least 15 of them (So keep your fingers crossed a lot of teacher get sick, just kidding). If she could work at least 15 days she’d bring in about $1,500 to $2,000 each month, which I would then use to buy ridiculous man toys like a jet ski or a tiger.

Hair/Bobby Pins (LIABILITY!!!):

You have got to be kidding me women. I mean I can’t believe all the random places your hair and your bobby pins end up. No joke, somehow a hair from Wife Ninja managed to embed itself in my belly button. When I discovered it, I almost threw up. I don’t know how she isn’t bald, because I find globs of her hair in the most random places all the time.

And why is it, she can’t seem to keep bobby pins in her hair? I’ve found them on the floor, in the shower, on the couch, and even in the refrigerator. IN THE REFRIGERATOR!!!! I’ve decided I’m going to start collecting these stray bobby pins, and then at the end of the month, I will sell them back to her.

Great Smells (Asset):

Alright, I have to give credit when credit is due, and Wife Ninja always smells phenomenal. Even when we return from a 4 mile run (where I smell like hot garbage and death), she still manages to smell of roses and angel food cake. While this wonderful smell comes with a price, the cost of the various lotions, cremes, and products, it is well worth it in my opinion. I seriously am addicted to her perfume, in fact, I think I’m going to go take a hit of it right now 🙂

So, without all the scientific mumbo jumbo, I think I’ve pretty much proven that Wife Ninja is both as asset and a liability to my life. I, however, am probably just a straight liability. I’d love to hear what “assets/liabilities” your significant other brings to the relationship.

Frugal mans paradise

As I shared in an earlier blog post, I am the proud owner of a 46″ flat screen HDTV. It’s pretty much the most glorious thing I’ve ever owned and it was definitely my favorite wedding gift. But with a great TV comes great responsibility. One of those responsibilities is ensuring I’m putting that television to use. Only problem is, I’m not a huge TV guy. In fact, now that I think about it. I haven’t turned the thing on in over a week.

But that doesn’t mean I haven’t figured out how to put it to work for minimal cost. I thought I’d share with you all, a few ways I try and get the best bang for my buck.

TV:

Like I mentioned, neither Mrs. Ninja or myself, are the biggest TV fans, but that doesn’t mean we don’t poke in from time to time to see what’s on. I called the local cable companies and the cheapest “decent” package I could get (with ESPN, HGTV, MTV, etc) was $60/month. Even if I wanted just the basic local channels it would still cost $15/month. So instead I spent $20 to buy an HDTV antenna. It’s awesome. I still get all the major local channels, in high definition, with absolutely no monthly cost. It’s seriously legit. Sure, I may not get the cable channels, but I bet I could find them online if I really wanted.

Movies:

I’ve known about Netflix for a real long time. In fact, Mom Ninja bought their stock a long time ago because she knew they had something good going for them. I never really felt like I needed it because I could rent at redbox for $1/day. But then Sister Ninja got me a sweet Blu-Ray DVD player that streams Netflix, Pandora, Blockbuster, etc. Since I can watch a ton of movies via Netflix streaming, I figured it is worth the $9/month cost. I signed up yesterday for a one month free trial. I hope it is as awesome as I’m thinking it will be. Any suggestions on what to add to my “Must watch list?”

Phone:

Goodbye landline and expensive cell phone plan. Hello MagicJack. This thing is legit. It plugs right in to my computer and operates like a normal phoneline. I have a cordless phone plugged in to it and can make unlimited nationwide calling! The best thing about the MagicJack is the price. The service is only $20 for the year. That’s right. For the year!!!! That’s less than $2/month for unlimited calling anywhere. The local cable companies land line plans start at $19.99/month. You’re probably thinking “I don’t need a landline, my cell phone works just fine,” but I’d be willing to bet you would be able to lower your cell phone plan minutes, which in turn would save you a ton! MagicJack isn’t the only internet phone option, but it’s the only one I’ve tried, and I like it a lot.

I’m sure these three things are nothing knew to you, but I can’t help but share how awesome they are. They truly are a frugal man’s paradise. Now if only I could figure out a way to get internet for cheaper. Perhaps steal the neighbors? Just kidding.

Are there any other services you all know about that help save ya’ll a buck? I don’t want to be missing out on some sweet deals. And I’m serious. I want to know what movies are on your “Must watch” list, so I can add them to my Netflix queue.

p.s. I was not paid by Netflix or MagicJack for this post, however, if they wanted to pay me for it, I would gladly accept contributions in the form of burritos or tacos 🙂

Autopay gives me the heebyjeebies

Nothing on this earth scares me more than initializing auto-payments from my checking account. Actually, I take that back. If I came home expecting to see Girl Ninja, but instead saw this guy, I’d probably be more freaked out…

…but not by much. I’ve never liked the idea of giving another company permission to access my checking account. In fact, it freaks me out so much that I willingly pay extra fees to manually send the payment each month. Sure it doesn’t make much financial sense to do that, but it sure does give me a peace of mind.

The only company I’ve ever established auto-debit authority to was Sallie Mae, only because it lowered my interest rate by a quarter percent. I flirted with the idea of granting my car insurance and cable provider access to my checking account, but decided it wasn’t worth it after reading horror story upon horror story of the auto-pay feature. For example, one person tried to cancel their auto-payments with their cable provider as they switched service, but three months later, money was still being taken from their account. Or how ’bout the person who agreed for $200 to be taken out each month, but was shocked when $2,000 was extracted. Or the numerous people who unknowingly became delinquent on their car payment because the auto-debit transaction freaked out and didn’t pull the money, but said person never realizes this as the payment is suppose to be automatic, and next thing they know they’re getting harassed by Toyota for being two months late on their car payment.

No sir. I’ll gladly pay a few extra bucks if it means I keep sole access to my bank accounts. Besides, I feel accomplished when I go through each month and manually schedule my payments. I also find comfort in knowing exactly how much will come out of my account. It basically reminds me I’m in control of my money.

Do you use the auto-pay feature on any of your bills? Have you had, or heard of, any auto-debit nightmares? Am I the only one that finds satisfaction in manually paying my bills?

p.s. Did anyone else notice the creepy dude’s inner thighs are tanner than the rest of his body? Does that means he tans with really long tube socks and a long sleeve shirt so that only his groin gets tan? Awkward!

I’ve lost touch with my money

Before I get in to today’s post, I just want to take a minute to say thank you to everyone that volunteered yesterday to help me out and provide an article for PDITF while I am gone participating in wedding shenanigans. I’ll be getting in touch with each of you over the next few days to discuss details. Thanks!

I’ve been a very naughty ninja lately. I’m breaking one of my most important PF rules: Manage your money. For the first time, in probably two years, I don’t have a handle on my financial situation. It’s a very odd/disturbing/uncomfortable feeling. Fortunately after, a few hours checking my bank accounts, doing a little quicken reconciling, and a sexy date with my TI-83, I should be back to normal.

I’m totally obsessed with knowing where my money is going, and when it is going there. This means if I have $5,000 in my checking account and $2,000 in charges on my credit card bill, I would immediately transfer $2,000 to my online savings account so that money can start earning a higher yield than my checking account.  This would leave $3,000 in my checking. I’d eventually send another $2,000 to my credit card, to pay that bill in full when it came due, which then leaves my checking with $1,000 for emergencies.

But instead of initiating bank transfers, I’m just trying to calculate/predict how much cash flow I will have by the end of the month. I know I have a redonkulous balance on my credit card (honeymoon, furniture, wedding stuff) and an even more redonkulous sum of money in my checking account (haven’t transferred money out in over a month). I know that my checking exceeds my credit card statement, but for the first times in recent years, I don’t know by how much. And even worse, I haven’t initiated a transfer of that excess in to my savings accounts.

Right now, I’m the perfect example of WHAT NOT TO DO when it comes to managing your money. Tomorrow, I’m buckling down and figuring all this mess out so I can ease the financial anxiety I’ve been feeling these last couple weeks.

Am I going to PF hell for letting my finances get away from me? Do even you BUDGET NAZIS get a little lazy sometimes? How do you keep your money moving, even when you don’t have the time to sit down and tell it where to go? What software/method do you use? Slap some sense in to me will ya?!

I know many of you will suggest establishing automatic payments, but auto payments are not my thing…they kind of freak me out.

The real issue with money

Last night, Girl Ninja and I completed another pre-marital counseling session (which I would recommend all couples do) and dabbled a little bit in the financial aspects of marriage. We have not yet gotten to the ‘finances’ section yet, so the BIG “money talk” is still looming.

One thing, though, did stand out to me during our conversation with the couple mentoring us. The husband said “Money is the number one cause of divorce in America.” Nothing shocking right? If you listen to Dave Ramsey, he spits that statistic out all the time. Call me crazy, but I’m going to have to disagree with Mr. Ramsey. I don’t believe “money” is the number one cause of divorce. I’m willing to bet behavioral issues, tied to money, are the real root of the problem.

I did a little internet research (I know the internet is not always the most reliable source) and here were a few of the most common reasons people have money issues….

Access: one family member feels another won’t allow enough access to shared financial assets and/or financial records.

Ownership: family members fight over ‘my money’ or ‘your money’ instead of ‘our money’. Variations are… who manages the family checkbooks and savings accounts, who’s responsible for paying bills

Incomes and earnings: a family member resents that another isn’t earning enough (or anything), and should ask for a raise, change jobs, or get a job. A variation is someone feeling chronically inferior (ashamed) and/or guilty because they’re earning or contributing less than a mate or other relative.

Lack of compromise: One person handles money one way, the other handles money differently. Instead of discuss things and meet in the middle, all anyone is concerned about is having things done THEIR way. The money discussions they have are not discussions, but debates. Where one person is trying to convince the other “My way is better.” Neither person is willing to sacrifice their financial preferences for the sake of a healthy relationship.

I don’t buy for one minute that money causes divorce. In fact, it’s impossible. Money is an inanimate object. It has no capacity to cause controversy. Instead, it is the differences in financial perspective, honesty, compromise, communication, and a whole slew of relational issues that are the real cause of divorce. I believe money is the symptom of divorce, but it’s definitely not the problem.

For those of you that are married, or in serious relationships, what have been the sources of your money fights? What means have you taken to work through those issues? Did you use LegalZoom for prenuptial expectations? Are there any freaks out there, that are in relationships, but have ZERO money issues? If you want to check out some of the most honest money problems I’ve ever heard, check out the comments on this post I did on financial secrets.

Are you an account whore?

So the motivation for this post came from J’s post yesterday about about ING’s sub-accounts. I am a very happy customer of ING, especially after switching from evil Bank of America.  I shamelessly promote ING to anyone that asks where they should keep their money. You’d think ING was paying me to say all these wonderful things, they aren’t, but I wouldn’t mind it if they did (ya hear that ING…hook a ninja up!).

With ING, you can have multiple accounts, and label them different things. For example, I have an Emergency Fund, a Wedding Fund, and an “Extra Savings” fund. A lot of people think these sub-accounts are all part of their primary ING savings account. Those people are wrong. Each sub-account is actually a new account. So while some people may think they only have one account with ING, they actually have 2, 3, 4, or more.

While ING does make having multiple savings accounts easy, it also makes me want to create a bajillion more accounts. Just think I could have a “Big screen TV” fund, a “Vacation” fund. and a “Don’t tell Girl Ninja about this money” fund. With all of these new possibilties I’ve come to realize something: I think I might need to join A.A. No, not not Alcoholics Anonymous, but Accounts Anonymous. I’ll be the first to admit it…Yes, that’s right. I’m a bank account whore. It’s kind of scary when I think about it. My personal information isn’t so “personal” when I have accounts with a zillion different companies. Here’s my current account stats…

Savings Accounts: 3 accounts (all ING)

Checking Accounts: 2 accounts (ING/Chase)

Retirement Accounts: 2 accounts (Wells Fargo/Employer)

Credit Cards: 3 accounts (BoA, Chase, Employer)

To further fuel my addiction, I got an envelope from Chase today saying they will give me $100 if I open a money market savings account with them. I think I’m gonna have to open up the account. Deposit the minimum balance necessary to qualify for the promotion ($5,000). Keep money in the account for the 10 days it takes to receive the $100 bonus. After 10 days, withdraw all money from Chase . Put money back in to ING. Close my Chase money market account. Send Chase a letter saying “How ya like them apples?”

I have a total of 10 different accounts, soon to be 11. At least one person confessed to 9 different savings accounts on J’s post (I can’t imagine how many TOTAL accounts they have). How many accounts are you sleeping around with? Can anyone out there beat 20?