Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

So last night, after watching the most exciting/frustrating football game of my life (UW vs Baylor), I went outside with my future brother-in-law/former college roommate and smoked my first pipe. He asked me to be the best man in his wedding (so pumped for it!) and got me a wood pipe as a gift.

I smoked — well if you consider two or three puffs “smoking”– my first cigar earlier this month with my dad in Las Vegas. I hated it. I’ve always thought pipes were “classy”, not to mention I love the smell of pipe smoke (reminds me of my Grandpa), so I was excited about the gift.

I was pretty nervous to smoke the pipe, however. If it was anywhere near as nasty as the cigar, I knew it would become nothing more than a sexy paperweight.

While smoking a pipe definitely takes a lot of finesse/skill/patience/matches, I was surprised at how mild the cherry tobacco flavor actually was. I mean, I hate alcohol, chocolate, and coffee because the flavor is just too much for me, but I could hardly taste or feel anything as I drew from the pipe. Kinda neat.

I still don’t really know what I’m doing, but I look forward to spending time with my future bro-in-law again as we sit out on the porch, smoking pipes and pondering life.

Here’s a shot I took as we were about to go outside….

Have you ever smoked anything before? Why does smoking a pipe seem so much cooler than a cigarette or a cigar? Any pipe smokers have any tips or advice for me? Or is it really that old school already since I have observed most people now use those vaping gadgets that seems to be becoming the trend now. I have seen one last week, it’s the photo below and seems interesting.

ascent-black-vape-portable Photo by www.davincivaporizer.com

p.s. I’ve never smoked a cigarette. Only taken three puffs of a cigar one time, three weeks ago. And will probably smoke from my pipe once every two or three months.

p.p.s. I also took Engagement pictures for them on Wednesday. It was the first time I’ve taken anyone’s engagement pics. It was really rainy but we had a lot of fun. Here are a few of my favorite shots….

I’m not a weatherman, but I have a forecast.

We were out to dinner with some good friends (a married couple) last night and we started talking about life. They will be moving back to Washington this summer, after spending the last three years in Virginia. We naturally discussed where they would live, which then snowballed in to a conversation about housing in general.

As I’ve discussed many, many, many times before, Girl Ninja and I have been directing a good chunk of our discretionary income towards our savings account each month. We would love to have $100,000 in the bank before we buy a house (don’t know if we will actually wait til we get there, but it sure would be nice). I know $100,000 seems excessive, but that’s exactly why we want to do it. The more we have in savings, the less strapped we will be when we put 20% down. You call it excessive, I call it responsible 🙂

While Girl Ninja and I wouldn’t even be in the market to be homeowners until April 2012 at the earliest, it’s never to soon to start planning. I feel like we have a pretty good handle on the “planning” side of things, but the “predicting” aspect of real estate is a whole new territory for me.

The housing market bubble burst in 2007/2008. It dropped hard and fast for a long, long time. Over the last 12 months, however, it’s remained pretty steady  and in my opinion is probably pretty close to a bottom (if not already there). Houses and neighborhoods that were completely out of the question for us four years ago, are not only a possibility, but could be a reality.

So the dilemma is this. With our current savings stash, we could theoretically buy a house tomorrow and put a reasonable percent down. The only thing we need to do now is make some predictions on the housing market. That way we can figure out if we should buy tomorrow, in six months, a year, or three years.

Here are some of the things I’m predicting….

  • I believe house prices in the greater Seattle area are at, or near, the bottom.
  • I believe house prices will remain relatively stagnant for the next five years, give or take a few. Basically, I don’t think house prices are changing much in the near future.
  • I don’t believe interest rates will be going much, if any, lower than they are currently. Four percent is about as sweet as it will get.
  • I believe interest rates will stay under 5% for another 6 to 12 months, but after that we could see some significant corrections (rates hovering closer to 6%-8%).

I feel like I have a decent perspective on the first three bullet points, but the last one is what really stresses me out.

How long will interest rates stay low?

The interest rate on your mortgage plays a significant part in whether or not buying makes sense. The monthly payment on a $300,000 loan at 4% (over 30 years) is $1,432. Take that same loan, but with a 6.5% interest rate and your monthly payment balloons to $1,896. That’s $464 a month more! For the same freakin’ house!!!! People like to say renting is just “throwing your money away“, but a mortgage with a moderately high interest is no different.

Long story short, if Girl Ninja and I want to buy a home in the near future (which we think we do), we probably don’t have more than a year to get the best deal possible. If we wait too long, interest rates are surely going up, and we may not be able to afford anything worth buying. So my question(s) to you reader is this….

How long do you think interest rates will stay sub 5%?

When they do go up (which they will) do you think house prices will drop further to compensate or be able to hold steady because the market is picking up steam?

Do any of your predictions significantly differ from mine? If so, which ones?

Is anyone even reading this or are you all on extended vacation between Christmas and New Years?

Holiday High.

Don’t have a post for you today since I had so much fun yesterday with family I forgot all about this little blog! I hope you had just as much (or more) fun than me ’cause that would be depressing if you had not-fun on Christmas.

Anywhozzle, I’m taking the rest of the week off from work, and while I hope to post everyday, I gotta be honest and say the chances of that happening are no better than the chances were of Kim Kardashians marriage lasting (Low blow?).

It get’s crazy up in hurr around the holidays, especially when you get myself and Girl Ninja playing Xbox Kinect with my family. It was an intense battle, and GN kicked my butt. Embarrassing? I think so.

What’d you get (or give) for Christmas?

 

Our begging worked! Girl Ninja wrote a post :)

Applying to a private school was something I said I would never do. I grew up in public school (until college) and saw value in the education and experience I had. Private school teaching (although it is in line with my faith) went against my philosophy of why I want to teach, bringing hope and love to students who may not get it elsewhere.

In San Diego, I worked in a tough urban area. It was literally down the street from a well-known intersection called “The four corners of death”. Child protective service agents were in and out of our doors weekly. We had class pets…cockroaches (yuck!). Some students lived in hotels, some came to school on the city bus or in a cab, and rarely was education something to be valued.

This is what drew me to teaching.

I wanted to show love and hope, and invest in lives that many deemed “a lost cause”. This was way more difficult than I ever anticipated. I went through an exhausting year filled with poorly behaved students, a severe lack of support from my administration, and ultimately a feeling of inadequacy in my abilities to be an effective teacher. Fortunately, I had the support of Ninja when I came home. He’d often prepare dinner so I didn’t have to, he’d listen as I cried over my exhausting day, he’d take me out on dates to de-stress, or he’d just fill the bathtub and give me time to relax.

In my job hunt last spring, I was ready to apply for any and every teaching job available. (Teaching jobs aren’t necessarily in surplus right now. This is how I ended up in my current private school job)

The good news is, in the last 3 months of teaching, I have come home from school crying only twice (and once was because I missed San Diego). I get positive feedback and encouragement from my principal and coworkers, the students’ parents are involved and supportive, and I was even given a stipend to help cover costs associated with setting up a new classroom. Until this year, I never realized how neat it is to teach students about the depth of God’s love for them. I get to incorporate God into all aspects of our day. Obviously, this wasn’t allowed when I taught public school. It is such a gift to see the faith of a child, and to experience their forgiving and deep love. Two years of teaching kindergarten, and two totally different experiences.

It seems like a no-brainer; I am so much better off emotionally this year, right?! But let’s not forget I started teaching to make a difference. I have a heart for kids that are in need of hope and love – kids like those in my San Diego classroom. Instead, I am working in a place where most of my kids come from supportive and loving homes, homes where parents are more financially and emotionally invested in their child’s education. Amidst this environment, I have found ways to help, shape, and influence my 20 five-year olds in practical ways. I am learning that I can still make a difference, just in a different way than in public schools.

As the year goes on, I will be faced with the decision of sticking with my lower paying private school job ($10,000 less than public school position) where I am supported and have a better work/life balance, or stepping back into the less stable public school system so I can meet the needs of those who need it most. I still don’t know what I’m going to do.

Ninja’s thoughts: As GN mentioned, she had a very difficult year in San Diego and often came home extremely upset. This year, she has had a much more positive experience. I’m torn. Honestly I could care less about the pay difference. It has been awesome having Girl Ninja come home, excited about teaching, and with plenty of energy to enjoy the rest of the evening. But another part of me, wants to encourage her to give public school another shot. As she stated she wants to “bring hope and love to students who may not get it elsewhere.” We both also agree that the majority of her ill feelings towards public school are probably the result of a lack of support from her Principal (who actually got demoted at the end of the school year) and administration and not from the “challenging” students. She’s got a heart for public school, but has thoroughly enjoyed private school. How the heck do I help her make a decision!?

What are your thoughts on public school? What about private? Any advice for us?

A (Financial) Christmas Carol

Guest post by moneysupermarket.com

Don’t you just hate it when Christmas draws closer each year and all the personal finance blogs start with their laboured and tenuous Christmas-related posts?

You do? Oh. Well, this definitely isn’t one of those, so please read on 😉

Christmas typically means spending more time looking at your finances than we’d like to. It’s an expensive month and one where we have to make our money stretch as far as possible, in order to make it last to the New Year.

With all the furious spending and the avalanche of advertising and sales, it’s good to step back and take a look at your spending before you end up hung-over and penniless on New Year’s Day.

So, like the cautionary spirits who visited Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ classic tale, I present to you the three financial spectres: The Financial Ghost of Christmas Past, The Financial Ghost of Christmas Present and The Financial Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

The Financial Ghost of Christmas Past

How best to make sure you don’t overspend this Christmas? Look at how you funded Christmas last year and the years before that.

If you whacked everything on a credit card and had repayment hangover which stayed with you until summer than it’s probably best to avoid using the credit card this year.

Ghost of Xmas Past

Or you could always look at the way you used the card and see if you could’ve been a little smarter about it. Did you just use the card you had at the time? Could you have shopped around for a better deal? A lower rate?

The Financial Ghost of Christmas Present

Dickens described the Ghost of Christmas Present as a jolly giant accompanied by a large feast. It’s nice to have a big meal with family and friends at Christmas, but there always seems to be a massive amount of left-overs thrown away.

Ghost of Xmas Present

Maybe think about cutting back, or at least being more pragmatic about the size of your Christmas meal this year. After all, Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Present was able to change his size to fit into any space – so why not change the size of your meal accordingly?

The Financial Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

 Want an incentive not to overspend this Christmas? A gaunt, towering spectre in black robes ought to do it. It was enough to scare Scrooge straight in A Christmas Carol and it might help you this year too.

If you overspend this Christmas, to the extent that it follows you into 2012, then Christmas 2012 is going to look pretty bleak. The third of Dickens’ ghostly apparitions served to show Scrooge that if he didn’t change his ways, things would get a lot worse.

Basically, when you’re spending this Christmas, think about how long you’re going to be paying it all off for and change your ways before it’s too late!

Ghost of Xmas Yet To Come

Have you dealt with any of these Xmas ghosts before? Have you done anything differently this year (spent more, less, nothing)? And just for fun, what’s your favorite Christmas movie (the correct answer is Elf or The Grinch)?

Dying sucks.

Life insurance is arguably the most boring personal finance topic known to man. In fact, it’s so boring I’ve only talked about it once before. It’s time to try to make life insurance less miserable, and more tolerable. Are ya with me? (If you aren’t with me, this should be right up your alley).

Since Girl Ninja and I are both young, employed, and relatively healthy we have personally decided that life insurance is not at the top of our priority list. But just because we haven’t made it an uber-priority, that doesn’t mean we don’t have some protection.

Four years ago, when I started my first day of work, the human resources office shoved a bunch of paperwork my way. Without really knowing what I was doing, I ended up making some pretty responsible decisions. I began contributing 8% of my gross pay to my 401K and I signed up for not only the standard life insurance policy my agency offers, but also a little bit of additional life insurance coverage.

Ask me how much life insurance coverage I have? Wait, don’t ask me. I have no freakin’ clue what my coverage is. Ha! How’s that for staying on top of your finances? I’ve been paying for life insurance for the last four years and have no idea what I’m actually getting out of it. Let me go run the numbers.

………

Okay, I’m back. Apparently, if one of you crazy blog stalkers actually tracks me down and de-skins me, Girl Ninja will get a pay out to the tune of $162,000. Nobody tell her that, or I might end up missing tomorrow 🙂

Since we have no dependents and no financial obligations, we don’t plan on beefing up our life insurance coverage in the near future. Once Girl Ninja turns into a baby factory though, it’s time to man up and protect our household (literally, since we will probably own a house by that time). It’s not like I’m familiar with
Insurance Jobs UK . Insurance confuses me 🙂

We would likely go with a 20 year level term life insurance policy to cover myself (I don’t like whole life insurance at all). I’m thinking $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 in coverage should ensure my families well-being in the event I pay an early visit to the big man upstairs. A quick quote says a million dollar policy would cost us $35/month and a $2MM policy runs $66/month.

If I die while Girl Ninja is a stay at home mom, that puts a lot of stress on her. But if she has a few million in the bank she should easily be able to sustain the Ninja house until she finds herself a new suitor (this whole conversation is kind of morbid isn’t it?). I’d be a pretty happy person if I was able to still take care of my family even after I was gone.

We will likely take out a $500,000  to $1,000,000 policy on GN. That way, if something happens to her, we can use this money to subsidize the new childcare expenses we’d incur as I continued to work.

Okay, enough about talking about hypothetical death. It’s depressing. BUT HOLY COW! A million dollar term policy is pretty stinkin’ cheap. I think I’m paying something like $22 a month for that $162,000 policy, so I should probably cancel it next open season and just buy my own million dollar policy for ten extra bucks. Time to quit being lazy, and start protecting my family.

Do you have life insurance on anyone in your household? If yes, how much. If no, why not?

If you like whole life insurance over term, tell me why.

Why is life insurance such an incredibly UN-sexy topic?

Are you banking on Social Security?

Are you setting yourself up for self-sufficiency? Who do you rely on for survival? Do you know what you need to do today, to have ‘enough’ 20, 30, or 40 years from now?

If you’re planning on social security providing for you, like a mother’s milk provides for her baby, it’s time to start “feeding” yourself. Here’s the steps we have already taken, are currently taking, and will take, to ensure we aren’t dependent on the government to pay our bills…

No stupid debt:

I’m not as intense as Dave Ramsey. If you want to take out a 0% car loan, fine by me. But if you are up to your eyes in credit card (or other high interest debt), then you need to get your crap together and start working your way out. The path to financial success starts with paying yourself (not Sallie Mae) first.

A reasonable mortgage:

Do you know how long a 30 year mortgage takes to pay off? THIRTY FREAKIN’ YEARS! That’s insane. I’m not even 30 years old! I couldn’t imagine making a payment for three full decades. Girl Ninja and I have no clue what the terms of our mortgage will be, but I can promise you this, we aren’t going to buy more house than we can afford. Home ownership is still a year or more away, but our goal would be to keep our mortgage payment under 30ish% of our net income. I like the flexibility of a 30yr mortgage, especially since you can pay it down in 20, 15, or 5 years if you want.

Investing/Saving:

This is where true government independence comes in. If you want to retire (aka not work anymore) you better start doing something about it. The Roth IRA and 401K are my investment vehicles of choice. By putting a few bucks away today, I plan to have a couple million waiting for me during my golden years. I don’t care how old you are, the time to start investing was yesterday. Get to it!

There are a few other things that consist of our financial commandments like living within our means or shopping around before we make a purchase, but I figured it’s best to bore you any longer. Moral of the story is this: If you are 50+, you will probably receive at least some social security benefits. If you are 50 (or younger) you may still receive some benefits, but it’s time to wean off the government teet and start feeding your bank accounts.

To those of you that are 50+, did you plan some of your retirement income around social security when you were younger?

To those that are 50 or under, are you banking on the fed financing your years in adult diapers?

Do you think there will be any social security programs when us 20-somethings retire?

What do you think the social security age will be 40 years from now?

p.s. I wrote this article one year ago and moved it to the front of the blog for relevant discussion today.