Thursday, May 25, 2006

Even More Rent or Buy: Renting is for Suckers

We have had a few discussions in the past on the topic of renting a place versus buying a home...check these out for more information:
To add some more information to the discussion, Chris over at Investor Geeks has written a great article that comes down on the side of the renter, entitled "Misconception: Renting if for Suckers." I tend to agree with him on most of his points, especially now that we have our new house, it has been a total time and money sink thus far, especially with all of my landscaping projects that I have undertaken (Starting Tomorrow: Money Flowing Out and Landscaping Project Update).

My basic thought on the whole situation is that, when you buy a house, you are paying for a certain lifestyle. It is not necessarily the best investment, there are many situations where renting is better, but some people really enjoy having a lawn and house projects to do (I, unfortunately am not one of those people). So, I think that it can really depend on the person...there is no clear cut answer to if it is better to rent or buy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sharebuilder Bonus Arrived

Some may remember that I was thinking about signing up with Sharebuilder, mostly just to take advantage of their $50 bonus offer. I finally did signup in mid-April with $50 of my own money. I invested my $50 in VWO (Vanguard Emerging Markets Viper) which is at just about the same price as when I bought it. After that it was just a matter of waiting to get the $50 bonus.

Well, my $50 Sharebuilder bonus was credited to my account after about a month and it should be getting invested today. The entire process was very painless and it seems like a good service so far (although I don't have a ton of money in the account). Most of my investment money is in either E*Trade or Vanguard and I am not really interested in moving that money at this time. It isn't as though I love E*Trade, their fees are a little steep compared to many others at this point, but it will cost even more to move the money out of there, so I will keep it as is for now. Vanguard on the other hand I am a huge fan of and I would not consider moving money out of that account.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Carnivals - 5/22/2006

The latest batch of Carnivals are now up. Make a point to check them out, there is always good information contained in them.

For those that don't know, the purpose of carnivals is to gather the best articles out there on the specified topic and to expose you to some bloggers you may not know about.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Young Professionals Frugal Living Guide - Part 15

The Frugal Living series will take a look at some of the steps that the Young Professionals use to save a little extra dough on the things that we buy.

Today's frugal living post comes to us from Educating the Wheelers and is something that I know Mrs. RS and I could be doing better at. They have put together A Lazy Person's Guide to Eating More Meals at Home and it is a place where we could probably save quite a bit of money. The problem is, we really love going out to eat, if we eat at home all the time, we will miss the social aspect of going out with our friends. That is the reason that I cannot bring myself to bring my lunch to work even though I know what a waste of money it is to go out everyday. So, hopefully some of you can be better at this than I am and save some money.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Carnivals - 5/15/2006

The latest batch of Carnivals are now up. Make a point to check them out, there is always good information contained in them.

For those that don't know, the purpose of carnivals is to gather the best articles out there on the specified topic and to expose you to some bloggers you may not know about.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Young Professionals Frugal Living Guide - Part 14

The Frugal Living series will take a look at some of the steps that the Young Professionals use to save a little extra dough on the things that we buy.

Today's entry into the Frugal Living Guide was sent to us by fellow Young Professional, Jonathan. We really appreciate it Jonathan and would love to hear from any other readers if you have some Frugal Living tips.

Jonathan wrote to tell us about Upromise. This site grants small rebates when purchasing certain products or through using their links to buy from associated online vendors. The stated purpose of the site is to provide funds for educational loans or 529 plans, but the money can be removed for any purpose. You tie your grocery discount cards, debit, and credit cards to the account and the site dumps a few cents in, here and there, as you earn them. It isn't much, but if one could establish a large enough network of cards tied to the account ( e.g. friends, family, spouse), the funds could add up to something decent eventually. You may also be able to find several sign-up codes across the internet that will result in a few bucks being thrown into your account to jumpstart your savings.

Thanks a lot for the heads-up Jonathan.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Rumors of My Demise...

Have been greatly exaggerated. However, the demise of my free time is completely accurate. I am really noticing the difference in the amount of free time that I have now compared to how much I had over the winter. I have so much going on with the outside of my house right now that I have not even had any time to sit down and watch TV or play some XBOX 360. Between my regualr job all day, working with China at night, and working on the outside of my house, I am beat.

The retaining wall that we are building outside is still not done yet, but we have been working on it like crazy. This past weekend we decided that we actually needed to go up two more courses on the wall in order to get rid of a little more of our slope. So, we now need to order 3 more palettes in order to achieve this. We also need to order about 10 yards of gravel to fill the back of the wall. So, the new grand total for the wall has now climbed to about $9,000. I totally messed up by doing this wall first. This wall was not a priotiry for me and I should have saved this for later in the summer or even next year. My priority should have been working on my lawn, since right now it is pretty much just a dust-bowl with a few tufts of crappy contractor-grade grass growing. Now, it is starting to be too late to get a new lawn going and I am not even sure that I have enough money left over after this wall to start that next project. All of this outdoor work is turning out to be way more costly (financially and mentally) than I ever imagined it would be.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Young Professionals Frugal Living Guide - Part 13

The Frugal Living series will take a look at some of the steps that the Young Professionals use to save a little extra dough on the things that we buy.

Today's post on Frugal Living saved us a lot of dough a few years ago. It probably saved us between $40 and $70 a month on average. What could possibly save someone that much a month you ask? Switching from a regualr telephone service to a VOIP (Voice Over IP) service.

Let me start by saying that we live in New York and my wife's family lives in New Jersey. They talk quite a bit and every call is long distance. Our monthly telephone bill averaged around $90 with our old telephone company. What a rip-off that was.

That is why we decided to drop the landline and go with Broadvoice. Their service was only $19.95...can't beat that. They started out really well, but after about a year, they had some really big problems with their service for some reason. There were outages and poor quality during this time period. They sent notices that it was not a problem directly on their end but a dispute with another company that their data traveled through or something like that. These problems started occuring just about the time that we were moving, so we cancelled with them, though I would give them another chance if I was switching again.

In our new house, we have Cablevision as our cable provider and they have the Optimum Voice phone service. They offerred us the triple-play package that included cable, internet, and phone service for $30 a piece. We are currently using this at our new house. So far, the service is great, you would never know that you weren't on a landline quality-wise. It kind of stinks that it is $10 more a month than Broadvoice was, but it also gets us a discount on the other 2 services, so we will keep it for a while. That is, until our 1-year deal ends. Then we will be switching if they won't let us keep that price because I refuse to pay $40 - $50 for the service. I would rather just drop it all together and just use our cell phones.

I know that many will point out that 911 service could be an issue with VOIP, but I thought that they had that solved now. Also, we always have our cell phones that we could use as well (although there might be problems with them at times also).

Overall, our experience with VOIP service has been great and it has saved us quite a bit of money as well.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Carnivals - 4/26/2006

The latest batch of Carnivals are now up. Sorry that this post is a little late this week, I am still trying to catch up on all my mail and blog reading after vacation. Make a point to check them out, there is always good information contained in them.

For those that don't know, the purpose of carnivals is to gather the best articles out there on the specified topic and to expose you to some bloggers you may not know about.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Young Professionals Frugal Living Guide - Part 12

The Frugal Living series will take a look at some of the steps that the Young Professionals use to save a little extra dough on the things that we buy.

Today's post on Frugal Living is a tip that can really only be used once a year...your birthday. There are many places where you can get free stuff on your birthday, here is a small list of birthday freebies from Smartmoney. My personal favorite is the Red Lobster Overboard Club since that is one of my favorite places to eat (the cheesy biscuits are the best things in the world).

The places on this list are not the only places to get stuff free on your birthday. Pretty much every restaurant that I have ever been to will at least give you a free dessert on your birthday. Some will even add the bonus of singing you an embarrasing song and if you go to Bugaboo Creek, you can even get to kiss the creepy moose puppet. Sounds great doesn't it?

Monday, April 24, 2006

Back From Vacation

Just a quick update to say that I just got back from a wonderful vacation. Mrs. RS and I went on a cruise with 5 other couples to the Western Caribbean. It was a lot of fun, but it is good to be home too. We woke up in Florida at 2AM this morning and finally made it home to New York by about 3PM this afternoon. Long day on just 2 hours of sleep. Must get some sleep soon!!!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Landscaping Project Update

Let me start this post off by saying that it is a really good thing that I went to college. The reason? Well, if I wasn't a computer programmer and had to do a job that required a good deal of physical labor...I would probably not be good at it. How do I know this? Our landscaping project is not going very well.

That last statement isn't entirely true, the first retaining wall that we started looks great so far. The problem is that it is taking a lot longer than we originally planned and costing a lot more that we originally planned. The original plan was that this wall would cost about $3000-$4000 and that my neighbor and I would take off 1 day of work. So, we took off of work last Wedensday and thought that we could finish most of the wall. We then thought that it might take a little longer to finish some parts, but that it could be done in a few hours after work on Thursday and Friday. Boy were we totally wrong on all accounts.

Timewise, we have now spent 24 hours on the project...not including the 20 hours that it took to dig the hole for the wall. So, 44 hours and we are still not done yet. We are figuring that we will still need another whole day (12-14 hours) to finish it up. That is quite a bit of time spent on this (and this does not include the many, many hours spent planning it, getting materials, and going to Home Dept for tools either).

Moneywise, this project originally was going to cost around $3000. Now it is up closer to $8000. My thought is that we didn't originally take into account all the new tools that we would need and we also didn't have enough materials planned originally. We also ended up hiring some laborers for 2 days to help dig the trenches for the wall (my neighbor originally planned to have us doing this work ourselves, but it was way too much for us to handle).

One additional cost that is not in any of these numbers is the cost that we will have to landscape this area when we are done building it. Flowers, shrubs, and trees can add up quickly even though we are going to be doing this ourselves.

Overall, I am happy with the look of the wall, but I am very unhappy about the cost of it. I just have to keep telling myself that it is an investment in my house. Someday when I sell it, I should be able to recoup all this cost and more.

Here are a couple of pictures of what it looks like so far.

My Coin Jar

Jeffery from Personal Finance Advice has a post asking what others coin jar looks like. It is a very timely post since I was just about to write a new post for the Frugal Living guide about coin jars. Mrs. RS just emptied our coin jar so that we could use the proceeds for extra spending money on our vacation next week. We are going on a cruise with 5 other couples to the Western should be a blast.

Back to our coin jar...let me start by saying that I hate change. I would like nothing more than if the government suddenly made it all worthless (well, after we change it in for us on the cruise) and we would no longer have to deal with getting change back. Pretty much without fail, anything that I buy comes to $x.08 and I have to carry $.92 around for the rest of the day. So, to keep it interesting, when I get home, I leave my change in different places around the house for my wife to find...she really loves that game. My wife loves change..actually, I think that she really likes the end product, when the jar is full and she gets to see how much we have. We usually play a game where we each guess the total that we have accumulated...just for bragging rights. The other day, we had $244.50...not too bad if you ask me.

When Mrs. RS finds the change that I leave in various places around the house, she puts it into our change jar, which is an old glass flower vase. I am not actually sure how this vase came to be our change jar, I am pretty sure that we had something else that we used to use, but for the life of me, I cannot remember what it was. We probably use a vase because it is of no use to us for flowers ever since we got our cat (he knocks everything over and apparently, some flowers are bad for cats). We might as well get some use out of it.

Here is what our coin vase looks like, but without those initials on it (our camera is already packed, so I can't get a real picture right now).


Thursday, April 13, 2006

First Jobs - SL

After conversing with RS and DD, my "first jobs" experience was pretty different/almost sheltered compared to their first jobs. I never had to run the fryer at McDs, work construction or make cold calls for sales pitches. Here are my first jobs:

1) I first entered the work world as KUMON teacher. The program handed out booklets of additional English reading sets or math homework sets for children to do at home. Depending on where the children placed into the program, they would soon be "ahead" of their classmates. I have seen first graders walk into my class who were doing booklets on multiplication and division. These kids are probably smarter than I am (which isn't too hard).
I would hardly call what I did there teaching, but more like answer correcting. The kids seldom needed explaining on mathematical concepts; but the majority of the time, needed a pointer on some careless mistake that they made. The job paid well and the hours were great, so I could not complain.

2) I graduated from the school of KUMON, into copy boy at a major pharmaceutical medical services company (think baby powder). They made up a fancy title for what I was to do (called the Disaster Recovery Program), but I was basically making copies of the labs exact findings, putting them in a box and shipping the copies offsite. I spent my days there chatting on email, making long distance calls, and working out at the onsite gym. Since copy machines at that time already had those paper feeders, every ten minutes or so, I would walk over and place another stack of papers on the machine, and continue on with my "work" life. Since I was also considered an intern at the time, I was able to attend all sorts of cool meetings with employee/intern retention executives, as well as enjoy the benefits of the company store. The pay was awesome, the perks were great and the hours were standard. The only thing was that the job was not challenging at all. If my godparents are reading this, thank you for setting me up with that awesome job.

And in the end, we are all in the same place! In fact, I'm the junior member in this group, so I guess first jobs don't matter that much?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

First Jobs - DD

I lived near a golf course and my brother and I would often search for golf balls then sit at the 15th hole and sell the golf balls. We had egg cartons for them and had 4 price categories based on the golf ball condition... most expensive being like 75 cents (pristine condition, no scratches or marks). This hole was also near a lake so there were those that would buy a bunch of the cheap 10 cent ones just to hit into the water. Here's my first few real jobs tho:
  1. My first job after graduation was at McDonalds. That was a place close to me and the only place I actually put an application in at. I knew I was heading to college, so I wasn't looking to do much more than get some money for books, gas, etc. They had me working the cashier and I was often blamed for using up the fries without putting down a new batch in the fryer. Needless to say I was never employee of the month. I was a little shocked that some had this in mind as a career though and talked about wanting to get to manager some day. I was also surprised at the older people who came in the mornings and expected me to know what they ordered every morning including how many creams and sugars they took with their coffee. My fondest memory was once being given the "privilege" of doing drive thru and once walking out to the counter to find a line of people with no one at the registers. It was just me and the cook; apparently someone had gone on break! I was then talking to 2 people at the same time....over the headset in drive thru and in person at the front register. A little confusing for both at times, but I managed to keep the service flowing and remove the line. There was even a woman there that told me she was impressed how I was able to handle it all. My career in drive thru would be short lived however as I sometimes would forget to switch between the breakfast and lunch menus correctly so the cooks would see a breakfast order coming in and we'd have to figure out what it converted to on a lunch menu. My great smile did manage to help keep me employed there for the rest of the summer tho.
  2. The following summer after freshman year I decided I'd try to look through the paper for employment. I found this ad for Vector Marketing and decided to check it out. Turns out they were really doing door-to-door sales type stuff for cutlery, but for some odd reason I still filled out an application and accepted a job with them. Cutco knives, if you've heard of them, trully are some of the best cutlery out there and really was a product that mostly sold itself. I was a little hesitant at first about calling people up and giving a sales pitch, but a number of people had heard of Cutco before and loved the product and wanted to buy more. My most memorable day was when I gave 2 sales pitches (2 hours total work that day) and sold full sets to both for over $1000 in sales ($200 commission). Vector Marketing gave me some pin in recognition and invited me to some conference for it all. In the end, I didn't like the calling people up bit or trying to get them to tell you about friends of theirs you can call. I stuck with it the whole summer though and managed to get about the same amount as I would of working at McDonalds for alot less hours of work. People asked me for many years after even if they could buy more from me.
  3. My final summer job (after sophmore, junior, senior years) was as a camp consellor. This job I trully loved though the pay was very little. I fortunately had parents paying my college bills though so I could afford the small pay. I would not trade the time I had for anything. Some of the most challenging times and some of the best. Working with mentally handicapped was a very new and interesting experience to say the least. But they all have such great hearts. Many great experiences I could share, but you'd probably get bored if not already.

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