Sunday, December 29, 2013

Just Five Goals

Like most folks', I imagine, my goals were a bit hit or miss in 2013. I won't run through them all, but let's just say that some I missed by a bit, some I missed by a lot, and some I simply ignored. I fell prey to the normal problems: not making my goals public, not checking in on status regularly, and setting negative goals instead of positive goals. Stepping back a bit though, I can see that part of the problem is that there were just too many goals. So this year, starting anew like so many others this January, I decided to whittle my goals down to just a list of five.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Irrationality of Fantasy Football

The Irrationality of Fantasy Football
This past Sunday, instead of thinking about the birth of our Lord and Savior as I should have been, or even thinking about all the cool presents I would be getting later in the week, I was instead obsessed with half a dozen real football players collected on my not-real fantasy football team. Worse yet, I wasn't even concerned with how these half dozen players fared in the real games. I couldn't care less whether they won or lost. All I cared about was their stat lines: how many yards they ran, caught, or threw for. (For those who are luckily unfamiliar with the game, here is a primer.) If my fantasy team won, I'd go to the championship game next week and I'd be in the money. Both first and second place get paid ($500 for first, $100 for second). But if I lost, I'd play for a meaningless third place game that paid butkus.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Use Value and Exchange Value

Use Value and Exchange Value
These days, we are in a constant state of trying to get rid of things. I have too much crap. Our method, imperfect as it is, is to try to rid ourselves of one thing a day, thirty things per month. Most of the items are small and just get donated. But when an item we own actually turns out to be worth money (this is rarer than it should be), we have to decide whether to keep it or try to make some cash in a sale. This makes for some interesting decisions, as the ongoing process of selling and donating things requires a tricky first step: deciding how to value an item. Luckily, Adam Smith has given us two concepts that help make that decision easier: Use Value and Exchange Value.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Case for Outsourcing

A Case for Outsourcing
Like a lot of personal finance junkies, I am a big fan of Mr. Money Mustache. Latecomer that I am, he was the first blogger I found who was writing about early retirement through frugality. And one of my favorite early posts of his was on the subject of outsourcing housework and, more broadly, about outsourcing in general. The MMM approach is to "insource" everything: domestic chores, home improvement, car repairs...do everything yourself. His argument for insourcing states that, regardless of your hourly wage, you cannot work any job or freelance activity for all waking hours: you would burn out. The breaks taken to clean your house, maintain your property, cook your own food, and wash your own dishes provide variety, prevent burnout, and save money. In addition, insourcing larger tasks, like home improvement, builds your base of skills. What's not to love?

But is the approach to "insource everything" truly possible, or optimal?

Friday, December 13, 2013

One Case of Homelessness

By now you've probably seen Tom Corley's list of twenty habits of the rich, compared to those of the poor. Corley studied 233 wealthy people and 128 poor people, and surveyed their habits over a period of five years. The list outlines the behavioral differences between the rich (67% of whom exercise aerobically 4 times a week, for example) and the poor (only 3% of whom make their children volunteer for 10 hours a month or more).

It's not great when I let someone else's writing bother me, but for some reason this list did. It's likely my politics getting in the way again. I've also heard some defenses of Corley's research, claiming he is simply talking about correlation and not causation. And that's a reasonable defense. But I also know that the author's point was not to list a series of interesting correlations, but then immediately caution readers that no one should infer that those actions had bearing on those people becoming wealthy or poor. The author's desired conclusion was not for readers to think, "Hey, that's interesting - but clearly we should not conclude that poor people might improve their lot if they changed their habits." In fact, it was the opposite. As Corley states in his interview with Dave Ramsey, "If you have good daily success habits, or 'rich habits'...you are going to be successful; if you have more poverty habits then rich habits, you are going to be poor. It's really not that complicated." That's a clear argument for causation.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Why I Cannot Watch Extreme Cheapskates

Why I Cannot Watch Extreme Cheapskates
I am late to the game, but I recently saw my first episode of Extreme Cheapskates. The show broadcasts on TLC and documents the day to day lives of extremely frugal people. Like all TLC shows, the allure is that by showing people who are very different, viewers get to feel very normal.

I try to be a positive person when I get an insight into other people's lives. I want to be sensitive -- I'll do me, and you do you. But there is something about this show that makes me cringe. Watching the extent to which the show's subjects go to save a few pennies is, somehow, almost impossible for me to sit through. Which makes no sense because, even if these people go farther than I do, shouldn't it be refreshing to see one program out there that showcases the merits of frugality rather than the typical life of excess? But when I watched my first episode, which followed around Jeff Yeager for a couple days, I could barely make it to the end.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Notes from Peru & Ecuador...With Pictures!

Good afternoon, readers. Things are easing back into a routine now that I am back in the states. Though I did get some bad news yesterday, as H.R. states that my request to work in Peru for three months violates some US tax and payroll laws. It seems working for a US entity while actually working abroad is not permitted. I am in no position to dispute this, but if anyone out there has experience (or even knows of someone) who has worked abroad while still working for a US company, please send me an email. It might be a long shot, but I'm hoping to draw on the awesome network of readers to get to see my wife next year. If not, it looks like we'll be apart for a while longer.

Monday, November 25, 2013

We Give Airbnb and Tiny House Living a Try

Hi everyone! After a series of short plane rides, we are in Ecuador now and having a great time together. We're staying in Cuenca, the second largest city in Ecuador, nestled up in the mountains in the southern part of the country. It's a cool city that's been welcoming to us, perhaps because of all the expats that seem to be here. The streets are beautiful, lined with old buildings and bordered with stone streets and sidewalks. It's a walkable city, too. Except for the ride from the airport, we haven't had to take a cab anywhere. I'll write a full review at the end of the trip, but today I wanted to write about our first foray into two new experiences for us: Airbnb and tiny houses.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mrs. Done by Forty Negotiates Abroad...

One of the things I am getting used to here in Peru is being completely reliant on Mrs. Done by Forty. She's been to Peru several times before, each time visiting for a few months, at least. So she knows the culture, she knows where to go and how to avoid getting run over while getting there, and, most importantly, she knows the language. Sadly, I can barely put together a full thought in Spanish. But since she is very white with red hair and I am half-Filipino (and pass for a Peruvian at first glance), we have this ongoing confusing situation that happens. Everyone we interact with thinks that I'm the native speaker, and just starts talking to me in Spanish. It isn't until I stare back at them blankly and say, "¿Que?", and Mrs. Done by Forty starts talking in fluent Spanish, that they realize which one of us they need to talk to. Even if Mrs. Done by Forty starts speaking to someone in Spanish, they will just start talking to me as if I am the one who will understand them. It's kind of our ongoing joke now. Just yesterday when we were walking by a movie theater, some guy stopped me and asked me if this was the right line for "Thor". It was not a phrase I had practiced, so I had no idea what was going on...luckily Mrs. Done by Forty saved me again. (And yes, we did go to see Thor in 3D. Only 15 Soles..or $5.30.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

First Impressions of Peru

Hi, guys! Mrs. Done by Forty and I are safely here in Lima, which is bigger and faster-paced than I was imagining. We were trying to think about which American city we think Lima is the most like, and the closest we could come to was Los Angeles...at rush hour. It's a coastal city with temperatures that, at least now, fluctuate between a low in the 60s at night and highs in the 70s during the day. But with all the buildings, traffic, and constant honking, you wouldn't know there was a tranquil ocean within walking distance most of the time. It's a tricky city to get your arms around because it just keeps going: walk and walk and you just see more city. We're kind of smaller city folk. So while it's great to visit Lima and we are having a great time being together again, I don't think it's a place we'd want to retire. Lima is exciting, but it's also kind of scary at times. Here are some random tidbits:

Friday, November 15, 2013

Leaving on a Jet Plane...

Tomorrow morning, before the sun rises, I'll kiss my dogs goodbye and leave for the Phoenix airport. And before I go to sleep that night, I'll be in another country and back in the arms of Mrs. Done by Forty. We'll get two whole weeks together! One in Peru, one in Ecuador. While we're gone, I'll be logging in briefly and posting when I can. But I have to apologize to all my favorite bloggers, as it might be a while before I can catch up on your posts and comment. Sorry, guys! I will be reading, but it probably will be delayed. On the plus side, if there is anything you'd like me to write about covering either country (e.g. - local customs, negotiating abroad, using airbnb, etc.) just let me know in the comments and I'll try to put together a post on that.

Monday, November 11, 2013

They Want to Help You...

Over the weekend I sold an old DirecTV receiver on Craigslist. It had been sitting in our garage for over a year, back since the company sent out a new receiver model at my request. DirecTV told us we could just keep the old one. It was an older model and they didn't want it back. So it sat in the garage for months until, after changing my scooter's oil and spying the old receiver box in the garage, I thought, hey, why not sell this for some cash? I called DirecTV to verify I could actually sell the box and they said, sure, just take out the little card in front, and I was free to see what I could get for it.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Government Assistance and Backwards Incentives

The other day Stefanie, the author of a cool personal finance blog set in New York City titled "The Broke and Beautiful Life", wrote a post on unemployment and part time work. I loved the post because it was a detailed and transparent look at one woman's experience with government benefits. The part I found most interesting is how the system reduced her benefits ($251 a week, before taxes) by $63 in one week, as a result of earning just $40 after selling an article. In effect, by working, she actually reduced her income. Had she sold another article on another day that week, regardless of the amount paid for the work, her benefits would be reduced by another 25%. At that rate, the more she worked, the less she earned. This is a case of improper incentives: for every dollar Stefanie earned in this scenario, she lost more than a dollar in unemployment benefits. Rather than providing an economic incentive to work, the system is, in this case, ironically punishing the very behavior it wishes to encourage. So, unless employment with an income that significantly exceeds the weekly benefit becomes available (or if there is some other long term payoff, like a significant raise or health benefits), it makes little financial sense to accept the offer of work. It simply results in a lower income.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Embracing Either/Or and Opportunity Costs

Tonya at Budget and the Beach wrote a thought provoking article last month that, among other things, discussed the dichotomy of the "either/or" versus "both" approach. In a nutshell, she posited that when you are presented with two good options, there are benefits, especially as a freelancer, of choosing "both" rather than one or the other. The either/or mentality represents a self-imposed glass ceiling of sorts, that unnecessarily limits your potential. While I agree that having both is a great option, this post takes the counterpoint and argues the merit of choosing between two good options.

Friday, October 25, 2013

May Be Living In Peru for a While...

So Mrs. Done by Forty's research is going a bit more slowly than we'd planned. She is putting in crazy hours, usually not leaving to go home for the night until 10 or 11 pm. And she works seven days a week. Still, she is not progressing at the rate she needs to in order to actually finish her research by February. The bottom line is that it's likely that she'll have to go back to Peru for a second stint early next year. This poses a significant problem since this research is gathering the data for her dissertation but, more importantly, it means I might be away from Mrs. Done by Forty even longer. This isn't going to work because, readers, I really miss my wife. We're only a month in and I am hurting. Life is not going great without her. I'm not eating right, not sleeping right, I can't focus at work or on this blog, and the thought of even more time apart is a deal breaker. So, if things proceed like they are, I have to figure out a plan to go to go down there and work from Peru while Mrs. Done by Forty finishes up.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Cherokee Land Lottery: What Happens When You Randomize Wealth

Cherokee Land Lottery: What Happens When You Randomize Wealth
Back in August I wrote a post on Give Directly, a charity that simply gives money to poor people, and it sparked one of the better debates on the blog. CashRebel recently wrote a post on the subject as well, and he specifically asks whether such a program would work here in the United States. Would simply providing wealth to American familes have long term positive results? Would the lives of those families improve?

As interesting as these questions are, they are a bit academic. It makes for good debate, but how do you get data? Because even if you could give life-changing sums of wealth to people here in this country, it would take decades to see the long term impacts of that charity. Maybe generations. Wouldn't it be great if someone had performed a natural experiment about randomized wealth a long time ago, here, in this country? Well, thanks to an idea of Georgia politicians in the 1830s, an article by economic professors Hoyt Bleakley at the University of Chicago and Joseph Ferrie at Northwestern, and the excellent podcast from Freakonomics, we get to learn of a quirky and sad bit of American history. (And if you have thirty minutes, I definitely recommend listening to the podcast.) Their work reveals what happened when a huge sum of wealth was randomly distributed in the Cherokee Land Lottery.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Do Credit Cards Actually Increase Spending?

There are surprisingly few studies that explicitly examine the impact of credit cards on spending. Several studies have noted a correlation of higher spending with credit cards, but there are several possibilities that can explain the correlation. For example, credit card users as a whole may be more affluent, which might account for higher spending when compared to cash users. And consumers may segment their purchasing behavior, paying for smaller ticket items with cash simply because they have enough cash in their pocket to cover the cost of the smaller purchase, but will pay for more expensive purchases on a card out of necessity or convenience. Additionally, cash buyers may simply spend less due to liquidity constraints: buying fewer items or less expensive items simply because they do not have enough cash on them at the moment. All that goes to say that the correlation observed in prior studies between higher spending and credit cards doesn't necessarily point to credit cards causing that change.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Do It Now!

Emily Capito writes an excellent blog about lifestyle design, leadership, productivity, and unconventional living. Today she wrote a post about striking while the iron is hot, and it reminded me of a similar idea I had started writing about weeks ago, and then, of course, let it sit untouched. I have dozens of these half-started, half-baked posts lying around in my draft folder. Most of them haven't been touched for months, and this particular post was sitting there ironically since it is all about doing remembered tasks now, contrary to the typical prioritization of activities that Covey and other productivity gurus recommend.

Friday, October 11, 2013

We're Getting a New Housemate

Remember when our housemate (let's call her "N") gave notice that she was leaving at the end of October? About that...it turns out she and her boyfriend ("C") are open to the idea of moving in here. We'd all talked about it before, but the general thought at the time was that it might be too crowded. Well, after some consideration, C and N decided that $400 in rent split between two people sounds like a pretty good deal, and we'll have four people living under our roof come December 1st. I'm both excited and a bit apprehensive about the change. Let's run through the pros and cons, and maybe you readers can help me decide if this is a good idea or not.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Notes from Peru

I have no financial insights or opinions today - just a quick post on how the missus is doing in Peru. Mrs. Done by Forty and I have been talking every day over Skype. (And let me cast my vote for VOIP as the best telecommunications innovation of my lifetime. How does this exist?) While a lot of our talk is about missing and loving each other and stuff like that, some of my favorite things to hear about are the differences between life in Peru and here in the U.S. She's too busy right now to type these out herself, worker bee that she is, but here are some of the interesting bits:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Appalachian Trail & an Interview with Haley Miller

Haley Miller
So I've owed you a post on my section hike on the Appalachian Trail for a while now, but I first wanted to include a story of a cool person I met on the flight out east. 

I had a direct flight to Pittsburgh on Southwest but somehow managed to be the very last person in line, in the dreaded "C" group. Seating choices were limited but I did find a middle chair near the front. And being one of those people who tries to meet his neighbors in the plane aisle instead of immediately pulling out a book, I turned and introduced myself to both the women next to me. We got to talking about the reasons for our trips to Pittsburgh and, wouldn't you know it, the woman I was sitting next to just happened to work on the Appalachian Trial in the past, and now works on trails in the state of Oregon. Her name is Haley Miller and she is an insanely cool person with a career to match. So I asked if she'd let me interview her for the blog.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How Should FIRE Timeline Affect Asset Allocation?

I was reading an interesting post over at Save & Conquer about the risks inherent to investing, and in the comments Bryce suggested that I consider a glide path for our asset allocation as we get closer to retirement age. We currently use Bernstein's Simpleton's Portfolio, consisting of equal parts of US large company stocks, US small company stocks, foreign stocks, and short term US bonds. Bryce indicated that asset allocation would be fine for now, but as we approach retirement age, we should probably reduce risk.

This got me thinking. We are supposedly seven to eight years away from early retirement, making us the financial equivalent of a typical fifty-eight year old. In retirement years, we're flipping old! Is our asset allocation appropriate for our retirement age? More importantly, with the especially short acquisition time frame & correspondingly longer period of retirement, does the typical glide path asset allocation logic apply? That is, can we afford to get conservative if we are planning to live off our nest egg for sixty years, instead of the typical thirty?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Football, Losing, & Bad Behavior

It's Sunday, which means I'm about to watch my Steelers lose, again. They cannot run, they cannot pass, and, just to keep a healthy balance, they've built a team that cannot score, either. This week they're scheduled to lose to the Bears, and you can watch it yourself since the game on national television in prime time. I have come to terms with Pittsburgh's ineptitude this year. They are a bad team, and help is not on the way. Still, I love watching the Steelers, terrible as they are. Just like Carrie Underwood, I've been waiting all day for Sunday night.

But what happens after a loss? You know, besides occasionally swearing at my television and maybe punching a pillow. Might there be some unintended changes to my behavior based on a loss or, worse, an entire losing season? An NPR story provided some interesting insights and it turns out, yes, there are notable consequences for fans of losing sports teams.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Where My Property Taxes Go

As we paid off our home this summer, we are now paying property taxes directly for the first time next month, or so says the bill that came in the mail last week. Along with the preposterously low bill ($762 for one year), the good people from the City of Scottsdale provide a breakdown showing where our tax dollars go. And along with each individual charge, they also included a phone number to call if you wanted to ask questions about how that portion of your property tax was spent. So, naturally, I called around, if only to get more grist for the mill here at the blog.

I was completely amazed at how little we have to pay to get world class amenities in our little city. Below is a full outline of what we pay, and where those dollars go (rounded to the nearest dollar). All the information comes from the pleasant & helpful county & city workers who picked up the phone when I called, and who were probably a little surprised that some random taxpayer wanted to ask about every single line item on his tax bill.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How We Negotiate, Part II

In a previous post on negotiation, we covered the idea that a plan should be established, research performed, interests identified, & a BATNA established, all before you start talking to the other party. But at some point, we have to actually negotiate, and we have to begin the prickly process of talking about price. And this is where we typically get uncomfortable, because we spend most of our lives simply looking for good prices via sales & coupons rather than trying to actually generate better prices via a negotiation.

But how do we do that? I’ll try to cover what we do in our household with negotiations in the post below. For the most part, I am writing from the perspective of a buyer because, as consumers, we are more often buying things than we are selling them. And rather than trying to cover the entire subject of negotiation holistically in the span of 1500 words, this post instead gives some quick and dirty tips that should improve your results.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Is it Moral to Let a Sucker Keep His Money?

I know I owe you an article on negotiation.  But in planning out the post, the Mrs. and I got into a good discussion on the ethics of making a purchase or sale, which is way more interesting than negotiating tactics anyway. That article will come soon enough.

Mrs. Done by Forty took issue with a phrase I throw around from time to time: "It's immoral to let a sucker keep his money." I first heard the line in Rounders, when Mike McDermott quoted Canada Bill Jones, justifying a poker hustle he and Worm were running on a group of trust fund babies. Jones is also credited with saying that a "Smith & Wesson beats four aces," which gives a better understanding of the kind of person he was. Canada Bill Jones was a real and true riverboat gambler from the 1800's, who amassed a fortune off of marks using a three card monte scam, and then lost it all back just as quickly to professionals gamblers and short card cons. Jones died broke in a hospital, as Chicago area gamblers had to pay the local mayor for his funeral expenses. I don't know what it means that I agree with the ethos of such a man, but there it is.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Lessons from Chip Kelly

Last night Chip Kelly's Eagles picked apart the defense of the Washington Redskins, in a way that I hadn't seen in professional football before. The Eagles were playing fast, moving even faster between plays, going for it on fourth down, and mixing up their attack to the point that offensive linemen were split out wide. It got so bad that Kelly let his foot off the gas in the third quarter and nearly let Washington come back; but the game really wasn't as close as the final score indicated.

In a way, the result shouldn't have been surprising at all: Oregon & other college football teams have been doing this sort of wide open, up-tempo stuff for a while. But the NFL is a bastion of conformity: it's odd when we see someone doing things differently & still succeeding. There is a right way to coach and to play and those who think otherwise will learn that lesson sooner or later. Or so the story goes.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

How We Negotiate, Part I

Negotiating is a lot like sex. Negotiations involve (at least) two people. The stated goal is for both parties to walk away happy...though it's not uncommon for only one to truly be satisfied. And while negotiating is something we all do at some point in our lives, few of us were ever properly trained. We may have one or two good moves, but that’s about it. We probably aren't as good at it as we think we are. Most importantly, if you ever find yourself about to negotiate with a real pro, it's time to walk away.

Part of my job as a procurement professional is to negotiate. The longer I work in the field, the more often I run into the skilled and seasoned few, and I realize I am no expert. But in this post, I will share some of the lessons I've learned. They may be of some use if you are negotiating a large dollar purchase, such as a car or ongoing services with a supplier; and the concepts can also apply to smaller negotiations as well, such as a phone bill or craigslist purchase.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Confusing Yard Work Experience, Part II

I am traveling for work for the first half of the week, attending some all day training sessions, so I only have a short blog post today. Apologies to those whose blogs I haven't been able to read or visit lately. The bosses have us going back to back all day, and then there is the networking at the bar after work. I see a bunch of great stuff in my reader but it will have to wait until Wednesday evening, when I get back. Such are the complaints of the first world yuppie. Poor me, being forced to learn about my field in an air conditioned building, and then not being able to read interesting articles through a magic wireless device when I want to, because I'm drinking beer and eating bar food instead.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Things We Carried on the Appalachian Trail

From last year's hike
On September first, I'll leave for my annual section hike of the Appalachian Trail with my lifelong best friend from Pittsburgh. We are starting our hike in the cool town of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, where the AT goes right through old timey streets lined with historic buildings. We will hike a little under sixty miles to the edge of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Our plan is to eventually walk the whole Appalachian Trail one section at a time.  At our current rate this is going to take the rest of our lives, which is fine by me. An annual hike is as good an excuse as any to go back to Pittsburgh and see old friends, and getting to spend a week in nature is pretty nice, too.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Football, Persistence, and Television Failure

Remember a couple weeks ago when I charted my time in the Frequency Continuum over at the Cash Rebel blog, saw that I was watching way too much television, and decided I needed to cancel DirecTV? Yeah, about that. It turns out that I really like watching football. I saw a few preseason games, had some beers, watched my Steelers fumble and stumble their way to a loss, and I fell in love all over again. They are a terrible team this year, but they are my terrible team. Plus, my wife is leaving the country for five months. My friends love me and all, but there are only so many times they'll hang out with me during the week. Some evenings, I'll be happy to have a recorded NFL game to watch.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Breakthrough Charity Idea: Give Money to Poor People

Happy Monday, everyone. Today's short post centers on two podcasts I recently listened to on NPR, which followed a charity called GiveDirectly that has a simple mission: to give money directly to those in need. Instead of providing training or equipment or performing work or building schools...what if you just gave money to poor people? The simple idea is based on an old economic principle: people know what they need, and how to best get what they need, better than anyone else. Give them money and you not only get the best results--it also dramatically simplifies the charity process. And the concept is being put into action: GiveDirectly is giving away $5M this year.

I won't ruin the podcasts as they are both excellent shows worth listening to. Here is the short podcast from Planet Money, summarizing the concept; and here is the slightly longer podcast on This American Life. But I want to just discuss the idea, as my wife and I did, each of us coming to a different conclusion.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Value vs. Getting What You Pay For


I only have a short post today, as work has picked up, and a lot of my free time is going towards planning for my section hike on the Appalachian Trail at the end of this month. Also, I wanted to announce that I just joined the Yakezie Challenge.

My wife and I recently were discussing two of our favorite ideas over coffee: value (which we think of as getting more than you paid for), and the contrary idea that you do, in fact, get what you pay for. Being frugal, we are naturally drawn towards value because we love the idea of getting more than a dollar's worth for our dollar. But it's clear to me that we have a bias. We overvalue the value, per se. And we have a lot of examples of the opposite thing being true. I buy the inexpensive drill bit and, yes, it breaks. The brand name drill, however, is still running after 15 years with no signs of slowing down.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

So Long, Perkstreet

I received an odd email from our bank on Monday, opening with this:  "We have some bad news to share. PerkStreet Financial will be closing permanently and ceasing all business operations as of September 26, 2013."  Well, then.

This is not the first time my wife and I have dealt with our bank going out of business.  Our last brick and mortar bank in California, Washington Mutual (affectionately nicknamed "WaMu") shuttered its windows during the financial crisis in 2008.  It freaked us out a bit as we didn't really know what that meant for the money we had in our accounts.  Would it just go away?  Would we be reliving those scenes from the 30's and make a run on the bank?  Would we farm the earth like the Joads?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Birthday & 7 Years from the Goal: Progress Update

Today is my thirty-third birthday, and my loving wife made sure I had a great weekend. She and I had a fancy pants dinner at home, complete with my first taste of grass fed beef, along with snow crab legs and way too many vodka tonics. I had thought that was going to be the celebration, but then yesterday when we rode the scooter back from the gym I noticed there were friends inexplicably in our living room. I thought, "Hmm, that's odd...maybe we had scheduled a hangout and I just forgot about it." I didn't realize what was happening until I saw the candles. What can I say? I'm gullible. It was a fantastic birthday weekend thanks to my wife and friends, who baked a cheesecake and a pecan pie and played board games with me. I'm going to extend it one more day by, yes, having another steak dinner at home tonight. Too much beef is bad for me, I know, I know.  But I wants me some steak and I'm going to get it.  

And as we're exactly seven years out from my fortieth birthday, it's time to check in on the crazy multi-year plan and see if we are on track.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Should I Buy Investment Property Locally?

Today we are hosting our first guest post, ever, from Brandon Turner at BiggerPockets.com.  Brandon reached out and graciously offered to answer a question I'd recently asked about rental property.  His article addresses how, and where, you should look for a rental home.
I’m not a hippie.
However, living in Western Washington, I’m surrounded by them daily and tend to pick up on some of their habits (it’s contagious, apparently.) One such habit is the importance of buying locally grown food – from farmer’s markets, farm stands, and selectively shopping at the supermarket. I understand that it is good for both the environment and my local economy to buy local.
But what about rental property? Does that need to be local, also?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Fantasy Football Trades & Behavioral Economics

It's August and the fantasy football season is upon us.  There are draft sheets to be built, preseason games to be watched, FFG podcasts to listen to, and research to be done.  It's a great time of year, and a reminder that, yes, life is good.  I look forward to draft day more than I do my birthday or Christmas.  Who needs gifts when you have beer & a room full of friends ready to ruthlessly insult every draft mistake?

Today's post is on one of the oddities of fantasy football:  trades, and why there are so few of them.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Produce Haul

I just have a quick post tonight on produce. Like a lot of people, my wife and I are trying our best to eat more fruits and vegetables. But we find we are not being consistent because of two things. One, our eating goes in waves. We'll have smoothies for breakfast and eat a salad with dinner every night for a week or two, then every night turns into every third night.  Then we get a bit sick of it all and go back cereals or bagels for breakfast, and to starches as side dishes for dinner. The other problem we have is variety.  Because we shop the circulars of the big grocery stores in the area, and try to buy only what is on sale, we often end up buying & burning out on the same seasonal fruits & vegetables, too.  I know this is the height of first world whining, but if I eat any more peaches this summer I'm going to start sweating yellow nectar.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Frequency Continuum


It's a week of firsts for the Done by Forty household, as today I am guest posting for the very first time over at the Cash Rebel blog. [edit: Cash Rebel's blog seems now to be defunct, but original post is now included below.]  If you don't already read Cash Rebel, do yourself a favor and take a look around: he has a ton of great posts in the archives and an entertaining writing style, to boot.

And luckily for you, 99.9% of the posts on his site are not written by Done by Forty.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Thirty More Days, Thirty Fewer Things

Last month Mrs. Done by 40 and I realized we had way too many things in the house, and decided to come up with a plan to reduce.  We settled on a plan to get rid of thirty things every thirty days, because it seemed more appealing than trying to do one huge purge.  And lately I'm trying to think about my behavior largely as a string of habits, rather than a bunch of individual actions that were each intentionally decided upon.  So by regularly looking through our possessions, I am trying to form a new habit of taking inventory of the things we have, rediscover the best ones, and then donate or sell the ones we don't use.  I walk out to the garage every few days to open a box and take stock.  Slowly but surely, we're making progress.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Outsourcing Yard Work, or Exploiting My Neighbor

14 bags of leaves and needles from our front yard
I hate doing yard work.  The whole thing seems like a weird punishment we inflict upon ourselves. We don't like the way nature arrange plants in the plots of ground around our houses, so we decide to make it look "better" by an ongoing series of planting and fertilizing and cutting and raking and bagging and...gag me already.  So as a result of my disdain for yard work and my general laziness, I pretty much let our yard go. I'll get out there every month or so to mow the bits of our yard that have grass (which is more of a weed- grass mixture at this point) and once a year I'll go through a massive weed pulling exercise that spans several weeks.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Use Your Tax Dollars

We all pay taxes.  Federal income taxes, state income taxes (most of the time), social security & medicare taxes, property taxes (directly or indirectly), capital gains (we hope), & sales taxes.  Sometimes, especially if you're single or if you earn a great income, you might pay a bit more than your fair share.  Rather than complaining about it (as Snark Finance notes, complainers suck), the best step you can take is to learn about the fruits of that taxation, and to make good use of them.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Our Values, the Goal, & the Plan

Emily at Evolving Personal Finance wrote an excellent post a couple weeks ago about the importance of establishing clear goals & values before you charge off, developing strategies.  While this blog started out almost a year ago by stating our goal, which is to reach financial independence by the time I am forty, it didn't do a particularly good job of linking that to our values.  This post will attempt to do that, while revisiting the goal itself, and trying to map out a more detailed plan than I had back in September 2012.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why We...Take Navy Showers

Why We Take Navy Showers
Today I'm writing about one of our quirky frugal activities: the navy shower.  It's also known as the sea shower or military shower, and was originally used to allow crew members to stay clean while still conserving the precious fresh water aboard naval ships.   It's a pretty simple idea.  Instead of running the water the entire time you're in the shower, you just get wet, turn off the water, soap and shampoo up, and then turn on the water again rinse off.  Easy peezy, lemon squeezy.

On the odd occasion that this alternative showering method comes up in conversation (you know, in shower optimization workshops, and the like), we get some varied responses.  Some people say it's cool, while others recoil in disbelief, as we show ourselves to be the living embodiment of their fears of frugality: people who deny themselves even the very basics just to save a nickel.  So, why don't we act like normal people and just leave the water running?

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Ads, Coupons, & Savings

When I step out of my home every afternoon to get the mail, I end up finding a lot of ads and coupons in the mailbox.  Some, like those in the grocery circulars, I actually kind of enjoy looking through, and will plan our shopping around them.  Others though, like the "Money Saver" envelope stuffed with fifty different companies' inserts, seem like a real waste of resources.  I'm sympathetic to the marketing needs of our local small businesses, and I'm sure direct mail does a lot of good for them.  But there's something about coupons that I really dislike: the way they purport to save money.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

When it's Hot, Go Slow

It's hot here in Phoenix.  Like, painful, disorienting, make-you-question-why-you-live-in-this-flipping-desert hot. About a week ago the temperature pushed up to 118 degrees (48 Celsius), which is ridiculous no matter how "dry" the heat happens to be.  And around this time of year, because of all the blacktop the city planners have laid in this sprawling metropolis, it never really cools down.  Today's low temperature, at seven in the morning, is 90 degrees (32 Celsius).

This puts a damper on our preferred methods of transportation: the scooter and bike, because by the time we get off work to run errands or go out, it just happens to be the hottest time of the day.

Monday, July 8, 2013

We're back, with Gratitude

We are back from California, where we were able to spend five days with my mom's side of the family over the 4th of July.  While we were there, I got to read an excellent post from Tonya at Budget at the Beach, guest posting for Debt and the Girl.  Tonya wrote about how our lives are a mixed bag, even for those who look like they have it together.  It's a good reminder, because we typically put our best image forward and the net effect is that we can feel like we're doing worse than our peers by comparison.  Tonya pulled two good lessons out of this observation: one, you're not alone in your struggles, and two, the best response might just to feel some gratitude for the things going well in your life.

No time like the present.  I am grateful for...

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Being Frugal with Time

When it comes to our family rubles, I search out signs of waste and do my best to eliminate them.  I look for ways to avoid pointless spending, and ways to better stretch our precious grocery, utility, and entertainment funds.  I optimize.

But when it comes to my time, I'm a different person.  I waste hours in front of the computer or the television.  I don't try very hard to allocate my precious hours to the most fulfilling or worthwhile activities. I procrastinate. What's up with that?

Friday, June 28, 2013

Happiness...Rent & Recycle it

This is the final post in a series on happiness, based on the research covered in Sonja Lyubomirsky's book, The Myths of Happiness.  Click here to read the previous posts on Happiness and ThriftDebt, Experiences, and Small Pleasures.

Happy Friday!  Today wraps up the series on happiness with two topics: recycling happiness and renting it.  These were my favorite suggestions from Lyubomirsky's section on thrift, mainly because they challenge the way I typically do things.  Take recycling: if I look around my house, I see a lot of books I've read one time (or none), things that were gifted to me but were never used, and boxes of unknown old stuff that sits around in the garage.  A lot of these are one use items.  But even with too much stuff in my life, much of it unused, I keep buying more of it.  Instead of acquiring new things, wouldn't it be better to go through the things I already own and rediscover them?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Thirty Things Lighter Update

Last month I set a goal for myself to become thirty things lighter over thirty days.  While I definitely have more than thirty (or even three hundred) things I could easily do without, I chose a smaller number so I could establish a healthy monthly habit of reducing items that I could maintain going forward.  So here's a list of my former possessions:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pulling the Debt Free Trigger

After months of hemming and hawing, we've decided to pay off our mortgage and to be, for the first time in years, completely debt free.  We're both pretty excited about the possibility. (Though my wife is keeping a level head about the whole thing, while I spent today walking around the house smiling and half-dancing and occasionally making up little songs about paying off the house.  Dah-dah-dah-dah, gonna pay off our house...yah-tat-tat-tah, gonna own that house!  That's not weird, right?)